Savage Ep. 6
For Hazel, the unfortunate foxkin caught in bondage at the city's center, the dawn brought despair. Her head and fore paws were locked in a stockade, captured between two heavy wooden planks and a thick iron padlock. She was being held in the cobblestone marketplace at the heart of town, where the townsfolk had only just begun to trickle in with the rising sun. They conducted their business, heedless of her suffering, gathering their needed wares, affording the Savage as wide a berth as possible. They either looked down at her with cold disdain, or purposefully avoided her gaze.
The warming rays of the morning sun did nothing to cool the fears of the foxkin, who had suffered without a hint of sleep during the night. She began to sweat profusely; her body was trembling with chills. Hazel suspected that she bore a fever, but paid it no mind. It, and the world whole, would cease to matter soon.
The Slavers had promised her execution at the crack of dawn that day, and thus when the dawn at length arrived, Hazel began to look around, seeking her executioners, hoping to end her torment quickly. As the hours passed and the sun drew higher in the sky, however, it became evident that these Slavers did not mean to abide by their schedule. They were probably enjoying a hearty meal or a good, long romp in the bed sheets before deciding, at long last, to actually face the day.
Lazy bastards, the whole lot of them. Naught but cowards, unable to even kill her when they had said they would. Hazel hated them all, but she hated the men especially. It was they that were the laziest, and the most repulsive; the pampered, fat oafs of royalty sitting on their bulging posteriors, filling their fat mouths and sticking their little rods into any poor hag they should come across. Each of them deserved death simply for their incompetence and worthlessness.
The marketplace began to properly fill up two hours after the dawn. The trickle of foot traffic became a flood, each of them conducting their morning affairs as usual, but also wondering when the horrible creature imprisoned in their midst would find her end.
They would not have to wait much longer. At long last, several hours late, an entourage emerged from the castle, a progression of five wearing long black cloaks with hoods drawn, obscuring their faces. Each of their cloaks bore a single white hand, palm outward, emblazoned on their chests.
The crowd parted at their arrival, giving them as wide a berth as they had for the alien prisoner. The five approached, releasing the iron locks on Hazel's stockade. She slumped loosely to the ground, free of her restraint, as her sore body began to shiver all the more violently. Out in the exposed cold of the night, after so long in the stillness of the dungeon, it appeared that she had fallen ill. Her color was paled, and her fur was stiff and coarse. They tried to lift her all at once, but the sudden jolt of movement brought an intense wave of dizziness, and she retched what little food she had left onto the cobblestones.
Her breaths came in great heaves, her chest rising and falling with great effort. Replacing the dizziness, a blinding migraine swam in, distorting her senses and impairing her balance. A cruel justice, she thought, that she might die of sickness before they could bring her to the noose. That would rob the men of their satisfaction at seeing another dirty wench hang.
With great effort, Hazel was half-lead, half-dragged to the far end of the marketplace, where upon a large wooden stage six nooses hung, awaiting a victim. Her body was startlingly light, much more than any of them would have expected. It was her dragging limbs, hanging loosely behind her, and her random spasms that made the burden of carrying her difficult for the Slavers.
Once hauled up upon the wooden platform, the five fitted a noose around her neck and left her to stand under her own power. Her body slumped forward, swaying like a drunkard, pulling the rope to its end even before the trapdoor was released. She had scarcely the energy to stand herself erect, even in these fleeting moments before death.
One of the five, turning away from their victim, stood before the crowd on the edge of the platform. He did not lower his hood.
“Citizens of Stonetide!” hailed the stranger in the black cloak, his voice ringing loud in the air, carrying well over the assembled crowd. He raised his hands above him as he spoke, as if addressing the gods themselves. “Standing before you now is a criminal against the fair city of Stonetide, and even your majesty, the great King Haefen!”
A collective gasp from his audience informed the stranger that he did, in fact, have their undivided attention.
“Many of you heard the explosions of night prior,” continued the man, his charismatic voice perfectly carrying the tones of sincerity, sympathy, and gentle resolve to the absorbing crowd. He was a confident speaker, his voice full of fire and power.
“Atrocities were committed during the night; terrible, terrible atrocities. And the most heinous of crimes has been undertaken right under our noses while we slept in our very beds. I come now, before each and every one of you, to deliver a most woeful announcement. Fair King Haefen, friend and father to us all, has been slain in his sleep.”
The crowd behaved exactly as might be expected. The stranger waited, arms still suspended in the air, his form frozen, as cries of horror, sadness, and frustration washed over him. The people were horrified, as of course they should be. They were beside themselves with grief, and the mourning and keening of the assembled could be heard all over town. It was then, several long moments later, when the emotions of the crowd were at their peak, that the stranger moved suddenly, extending a long arm out from under his cloak, pointing an accusing finger directly at the Savage behind him. His next words were a roar, slamming into the audience and drowning out even the loudest wailing.
“And it was her kind who killed him!”
Rage. Hatred. Murderous intentions, boiling over into a heated frenzy. Fists were raised, jeers and catcalls were shouted. All of that accumulated grief and sadness had been instantly transformed into a terrible beast of diabolical proportions.
Throughout time forgotten, the Slavers had never liked the Savages. They had never accepted them as equals, but only as inferiors. They existed only as slaves. And it was they, such a substandard race, that were often the butt of hostility and teasing. They were labeled as animals, and mocking them was socially acceptable, even a pastime for some.
But, this... this was different. This stranger had singlehandedly played on their repressed dislike for the Savages, transforming it into unbridled hatred with one fell swoop. They, each and every man, woman, and even the children of the crowd; they all demanded that blood be spilt in retaliation.
The stranger only stood there, frozen in his grand, swooping gesture, a tight smile concealed behind his hanging hood.
“It was they, the Savages, that planned this attack against us!” screamed the stranger over the roars of the bloodthirsty crowd. “It was the Savages that killed so many of our kind last night! Our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters! It is they who has brought turmoil and unrest to our doorstep! And it is they who need to be punished! Exterminated! Death to the Savages! Death to the Savages!”
The crowd echoed his words after him, screaming the phrase at the top of their lungs in a mad frenzy. They had gone wild; they had turned into a single entity, fierce and terrifying, like a wild beast driven into a frenzy. They cheered for him. They worshiped him with their chanting. They supported him and his cause completely, and they didn't even know his name yet.
“Death to the Savages!” called the cloaked stranger once more before turning back towards his prisoner. The roaring chant of the crowd continued on behind him, hitting his back like a wall of power.
He approached Hazel, who was took overcome with illness to gather the strength to even face her executioner. The maddening roar of the crowd was oppressive. It banged around inside her ears and got into her head, sending the world spinning and causing her head to throb as if it might burst from the inside out. The lights in her vision were beginning to dazzle her; black spots began to form at the corner of her eyesight. She squinted her eyes against the sunlight but it did her little good. Her legs shook uncontrollably under her, unable to support even her meager weight.
The cloaked stranger stood before Hazel, looking down at her from eyes concealed behind his hood.
“Ready to die like the rest of your wretched kind?” questioned the hooded man. Hazel did not offer a reply, and was in fact unable to. Her illness would not have allowed it.
The cloaked man looked toward his associate, another taller man also hidden behind a dark cloak. Without verbal exchange, the second man approached the lever to the trapdoors, flexing his grip upon its leather-bound handle. He was one pull away from hanging their first victim upon the public stage.
Entering the city of Stonetide had been unexpectedly easy. The guards monitoring the walls and gates were strangely absent. So too were all of the townspeople, Slaver and Savage alike. Not a soul could be found within the city.
Velius and Fayre, with Portia in tow, advanced through the city streets cautiously, keeping a weary eye on the windows and open doorways around them. Portia strode with arms crossed over her chest, periodically heaving a sigh of irritation. She hated being here, thought the entire plan was asinine, and she did her best to let the others know it.
Advancing down the main cobbled boulevard, it didn't take long for the three of them to discover the reason behind the missing townspeople. A great commotion was coming from the center of town, and the cheering of what sounded like the entire city could be heard drifting overhead. Quickening their pace, the three moved to back alleys and side roads toward the marketplace. Once there, they saw the entire city gathered before five men in dark cloaks upon a wooden stage. And with them was a sickly looking foxkin. Her eyes were shut, her body drooping to the furthest extent of the rope. She looked unable to even stand.
Fayre gasped in shock when she saw the Savage victim on stage, covering her mouth lest she be overheard by the nearby crowd. They settled behind a stand of crates and boxes, supplies waiting to be handled and processed by the owner of the nearby market stand.
“By the gods that be,” gasped Fayre, eyes wide in horror as she absorbed the scene before her. “Would you look at what they're doing to her.”
“I'm looking,” replied Portia through grated teeth. She tried, in her rising anger, to control the tone of her voice. “I'm looking.”
Fayre looked at the silent Velius, reading from his expression the same shock and dismay that she felt.
Swallowing heavily, she turned back to the scene, unwilling to look but unable not to. In a small voice she spoke.
“We have to do something.”
“Are you as inept as your friend over there?” Portia mocked, her face contorted in anger. “You're daft if you think we're going out there! We'll all hang by the noose by the day's end!”
“But we can't sit back and do nothing!” cried Fayre. “She'll die!”
“Better her than us!” stormed Portia right back at her.
“But...” Fayre stammered, uncertain of herself. Her desire to save the foxkin girl was overwhelming, but so, too, were the odds they faced. “But...”
Velius, meanwhile, had unslung his pack and was rummaging vigorously through it. It was clear that he was in a great hurry.
Curious, her panic momentarily forgotten, Fayre leaned in closer.
“What are you doing? What are you searching for?”
Velius, in reply, put a single finger to his lips, then hastily resumed rummaging through his belongings.
Fayre, exasperated, looked to her older sister for answers, but she only shrugged and shook her head. Portia looked as bewildered as she felt.
Looking out over the crowd once more, hearing their escalating jeering and their hateful cries for murder, Fayre could only swallow heavily and stare. Sweat accumulated on her brow and pads. Desperate, she realized that she had no solution to this, and that at any moment now they would kill the poor girl.
Left without alternative, she could do nothing more than watch Velius rummage excitedly through his pack, placing her complete trust in a man she only just met to save a girl she didn't even know.
May the gods help them all.