A Very Scary Woman
I’m a very scary woman now, at least to some people. I can kill with an embrace… But that comes later. After we’d agreed to meet with Black Cynla and crew westwards, we backtracked, got on our horses and went to look for more people. Within a day, we’d found a family, a woman, a man, a toddler, a teen and a very, very old and respectable lady, whose feet were immediately reverently kissed by Mazao.
When I took a second look, I asked the man, in my best Khas, “Well, soldier? When did you desert?”
He started stammering, and his wife told me he had appeared one day, sleeping on the beach, before the country had gone barren, and since she thought he was cute, and already back then, the country was sparsely populated, she took him home and had him make babies with her.
He’d always been the strong, silent type, though, even though he was also caring and loving. Maybe too much happened to him when he was young, before or when he was a soldier. After all the Khas burn gifted children!
But when they first met us, they were very, very suspicious. I’d almost forgotten about that, because it came to nothing, but the first thing they asked us was, “Are you all with the King?”
So we replied, “Of course! We are with the King, and the Queen, like everyone in Valdyas!”
“So, are you going to steal all we have, too?”
That had us puzzled… Until they explained that two years ago, half a dozen people dressed in green soldier’s uniforms had arrived at their house, had claimed they were the King’s men, and had come for the taxes they owed. Now some of Black Cynla’s remarks gained a bit of depth. The King’s men… And Jerna, the young woman, who was gifted, told me they were indescribabily icky.
That sounded like the servants of the Nameless having a jape!
They hadn’t stolen much, a few bits of silver and quite a bit of food, and had made off coastwards again.
In any case, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that we were going to need to round up everyone who was living in this area. Not just because of the barrenness, but also because of this kind of incursions. We’d never be able to maintain a garrison tower here!
So, that evening I tried to find Black Cynla with my mind, and succeeded; and we discussed these King’s men, and she, casually, told us that they’d caught them, killed them, stripped them and buried them, near old Dol Rayen. When that was still accessible. They were Nameless, she confirmed, and had looted more than one farmstead.
I got the impression that Black Cynla and her crew were thinking of themselves as the coast guard for this part of the country, which, actually, made me admire her a whole lot!
Then we started planning the evacuation of the Barren Lands. According to Faran’s wife, Jerna, the mother of Jarn and Aine and grand-daughter of Arni, there was nobody living to the south of their house. Except for Black Cynla and her mates, whom they knew about but did not talk about.
So we split up again. Mazao and Jeran were going to take this family northwards and westerly, in a wide sweep, collecting everyone they could find. Me, Moyri, Captain Ferin and private Geran would go straight west, finding everyone between here and Dadan. And we’d visit the village where Seran had raped this girl, and get the story right.
Because, no matter how long a crime is in the past, I’m going to try to bring justice to the victim.
It got drier and dustier. And we had only one horse left, so we had to walk; but the old lady needed the best horse we had, and our hosts had to take their most prized things and heirlooms with them.
I guess we’re going resettle all of these people in a nice new village, freehold, not leasehold.
A day or two later, we found the next village. It was Brookside, the scene-of-crime village. When we entered between the houses, a four-year old boy ran towards us, shouting with excitement. He was cute, naked and articulate.
Pretty soon we had collected everyone living here around us, and they made their acquaintance with their baroness! They were pretty excited about us visiting, but quite reluctant when we told them about the plans for moving. This had been a real village, there was even a Temple of Naigha, without a priestess now for years, but with the statue and the books.
But when I started talking about the King’s Men, and Black Cynla, one of them, a fourteen-year-old called Rani, clearly gifted at the grandmaster level, she told me she knew where one of them at least was buried. She took me there, and we dug up his grave. There were remnants of a uniform, and also some silver, modeled spoons and a token of Mizran, and a necklace that I recognized from the descriptions from Jerna. Well, that was that!
I thought — until Rani bit her lip and said, don’t go there, when I started to move to what looked like a second grave.
“You get sick there. Animals get sick there, too.”
And I could see something white in the dry pipe straw. Bones from rabbits, hares and running birds…
“Rani, is the land getting sicker?”
“It sure is, madam Sheriff! Our crops get thinner, the animals are getting weaker — easier to catch, but not so much meat on them, and everything gets drier. Our best spring now is pure poison, not salt, but it’s filthy and gives belly-aches and green shit!”
“So, why are your parents and grandparents so reluctant to leave?”
“It’s our land, isn’t it? Born here, families here for hundreds of years. The books in the Temple go back at least three hundred years!”
“You know, Rani, I guess that we’ll just take the Temple with us then, that gives us a center for the new village!”
“Oh, lady! Could that be done? How?”
“We’ll take the statue and the books, and do that really carefully!”
I had completely won her over with this plan, but after that, it was time for the really difficult bit. We went back to the village, and I took Halla aside, the mother of four-year-old Torin.
“I’ve met a man who claimed to have raped a young woman in this village, five years ago, or so.”
She looked at me, a bit of fear in her eyes.
“Don’t worry; you are not in trouble. But it was you, wasn’t it?”
“Yes… But I love my Torin, and everyone loves him! Don’t think I don’t!”
“So, I have met the man, and he told me he found you bathing in the brook, and when you saw him looking at you, you got up and showed him your body, and after that, he only remembers that you were angry afterwards. He also claims he’s been thoroughly punished by Black Cynla, who gave him a thorough trashing…”
“Bah, trashing isn’t good enough!”
“So, you want him punished? Rape is a capital offense.”
“I don’t know… I don’t want to be responsible for his death!”
“Halla, I’ve been there, too. I’ve been raped by someone, since I was eleven or twelve, until I left Turenay for Selday, and when I came back to Selday, I didn’t want to accuse him, because I didn’t want to be responsible.
“But, Halla, my wife told me, that I wasn’t responsible — he was. He did these things, and if the punishment of law came to him, that was still his responsibility, not mine.
“But there is latitude… Some. I can execute him. We can leave him here, in the Barren Lands on his own. Or we can take him to the new village, where he can work to provide for his son.”
“Oh, no!” she cried, “We would always be afraid! And it would be cruel to leave him here!”
So I nodded, and held her close, and decided that depending on how I found Seran in his mind when they came here, I would execute him. Or find another solution still.
The next day, Black Cynla and her crew arrived. I took her apart and discussed Seran with her. And she then let me discuss Seran with himself.
He was in utter distress, I will give him that. His mate, Orian, later told me there was nothing good and gentle in Seran, only superficial bravery and a willingness to take a hit if he could deal out two blows, but…
“Lady, Sheriff, I know I shouldn’t have done this. And Halla, she’s right, I lied… I’ve been lying in my head for so long. I took her in the kitchen, on the table. She must’ve had bruises. And now I’ve seen that boy, and he’s, he’s…”
“Not your son,” Seran, I told him. He could have been, but he’s not yours. Seran, I’ve got a choice, even though rape is in the first place a hanging offense. Banishment is no longer on the books for rape. But I can let you work, so everything you earn goes into your son’s apprentice fee. Or I could leave you here in the Barrren Lands, when everybody else is leaving. Or…”
“You cannot hang me!” he said with a strangled voice, a small attempt at a joke, “There are no trees, nothing tall and strong enough to hang me! But… I’m so tired of hiding for myself, hiding me for myself, and what I’ve done. I would choose. Death.”
“Come here,” I said, and cradled his head between my breasts, and I took his life.
As simple as that: I’m a doctor, I can fight to keep life, but the other way around. That works too, it seems. It helped that the poor man, Seran, was so deeply longing to finally meet Naigha.
Jinla, who had been doing the burying for the village for the past ten years, helped me bury him, and she said the prayers.