Prologue to the Story to be Named Later, VI
The tavern was still as she entered. The faces of the men who a scant hour ago had been contorted in fury and aggression were now sullen and downcast. Most of them were studying their boots or frowning into half-drunk mugs. No one spared more than a glance at the far end of the room, where a row of six blanket-covered bodies lay in neglectful honor. Her own gaze fixed on the largest of the six, and she moved stiffly towards them, as if the muscles of her legs were wooden. She knelt gracelessly beside the body of her husband. One of the men at the bar hurried over, placing a hand on her shoulder. In low words he begged the woman not to pull back the blanket, that it would be for the best. Her head slowly turned to look at the man and he shrank back, flinching at the cold grey of her eyes and the unmoving mask of her face.
With the distraction gone, her head turned back to the shrouded figure. Her long fingers stretched out like claws and pulled the material back, revealing the blackened visage of the man she had loved. The woman who had been loved by this man seemed like a dream, a happy memory of a life with a healthy child and a strong husband that fled with the coming of dawn. For several silent minutes she knelt, aggressively ignored by the morose men throughout the room.
Awkwardly she rose, turning her face from the corpse to the pair of men trussed like game birds. They sat, backs against the wall, next to a pair of corpses irreverently piled in sharp contrast to the six behind her. The one who was conscious blinked and cringed under her scrutiny, but did not take his eyes off her as she approached him, bare feet drumming harshly on the wooden floor. With one stiff hand she grasped his hair above the purple knot that rose above his ear. The other clawed the rag from his mouth and the young man gasped for breath. Her dead eyes bored into his, inches apart, and her mouth began working, opening and closing, as if unused to the movement. A dry crackling noise came from her throat. The simple face of the young man in front of her was frozen, transfixed by the sight of her as well as sights already seen. Finally dusty words emerged from her, haltingly. “Can… you bring… them back?”
Tears sprang into the eyes of the child of the Tower. He could only manage a mournful negation with the movement of his head. For a long minute she gripped his hair, two faces made rigid by the events of the day, only one showing a sign of grief or despair. She loosed his hair and straightened, slowly turning to the score of men studying the floor. Her heels thudded as she approached the closest, stretching an arm before her. The man looked up and froze, eyes wide, as she staggered towards him. He flinched and sucked in breath as her hand reached for his belt. Her cold fingers settled around the hilt of the knife sheathed there and slowly drew it free. She gripped it clumsily as she turned and shuffled back to the tear-streaked young man. Her fingers tangled into his hair yet again, she lifted his head and fixed his eyes with hers once more.
The mageling’s crimson blood drenched her fingers as she inexpertly sawed the knife through his throat. The woman’s dead eyes remained fixed on his as his gasps gave way to gurglings. The life faded from his face as she stared expressionlessly. She did not let go of his hair until his eyes were as cold and dead as her own.