The wooden wagon creaked gently from side to side as it rolled away from the tower of the city wall. The approaching spring brought the sun slightly higher in the late morning sky but Shylai’a still felt the lingering chill of the winter breeze. It rustled the banners, emblazoned with House Kaelig’s green maple leaves on red fields, that were affixed to the forward posts of the wagon. Green and red streamers also fluttered from the wagon sides.
Shylai’a stood at the rear of the wagon bed, a formal green and red tunic draped over her gambeson. The layers of padding helped keep her warm in addition to providing some defense against attack. To her right,stood one of her cohorts. He was a little taller than she, and very thin. He held onto one of the wagon’s corner posts, twisting his face like he was trying to get a piece of stray food out of a gap in his teeth.
The distant cheers and shouts of a gathering crowd drifted over homes and pubs as they rolled through the streets of the inner wall.
Five people sat in the straw thrown in the front of the wagon bed: three men, a woman, and a child. They had been marched out of the holding cells beneath the tower and loaded into the wagon. Their clothes were ragged and dirty, though the shirt on one of the men looked like it had been fairly nice a few days ago before his arrest. It was a light tan, with a ruffled collar. He had a few days growth on his beard and a dusty downturned face.
The child was a boy, probably, and not much beyond nine winters old. Maybe only eight. His arms were scrawny and dirty. The woman held his shoulders close against her protectively, but her face showed little hope. The boy’s eyes caught Shylai’a’s for a moment with a look of bewilderment.
Shylai’a looked away to hide her sadness. I’m just doing my job. Just moving the prisoners for trial.
“Traitors!” A shout sounded from the road alongside the creaking wagon. A stone flew into the wagon and hit the far side, bouncing to the floor. Another hit the arm of one of the men. He jolted in surprise and cowered to shield himself. Several more stones hit the wagon. “Death to the wizards!” A smattering of cheers followed.
Shylai’a looked at the other soldier, but he just smirked. A rock sailed up and hit him on the shoulder. He jerked, then shouted, “Hey! Watch that!” More soldiers from the Kaelig militia scurried from ahead to press the angry populace back with their spears.
The distant cheering seemed to be less distant now, as the wagon lurched around a turn in the street. Shyli’a had to grab one of the corner banner posts to keep herself upright. She glanced at the boy again then at the woman. Is that his mother? She must be, the way she’s holding him. How can someone that young be a wizard? Or a traitor? The boy shook from side to side, his head down. When I was that age I thought I was a princess. How could that be treason?
After another turn in the opposite direction, the way opened into a plaza filled shoulder-to shoulder with shouting people. The wagon stopped as the footsoldiers shifted forward to push the crowds away then began creeping ahead. A cluster of people to Shylai’a’s left began chanting, “Let the dragons rule! Let the dragons rule!” Others, on the right, yelled and shook their fists at the prisoners as they passed.
Shylai’a looked beyond the wagon and its banners, over the heads of the crowd, and across the shifting waves of people to the high wall separating CenterTowne from the InnerWall quarters of the city. Built into the wall, between two immense guard towers, was half of the Palace of Ministers. The larger part of the building was built on the other side of the wall, allowing ministers and bureaucrats to deal with the commoners of the residential and market quarters while still living in the opulence of the Centertowne.
Today, the towers were draped in the Gold and blue colors of Royalty, of House Twynnham, with matching banners wafting in the breeze. In the front of the palace, and to the left stood a large raised platform where several of the city guard stood. Shylai’a furrowed her eyes and shifted her head to get a better look around the banners on the wagon as it lurched on the stone street.
A man stumbled up onto the platform as if he had been pushed up the steps. He wore no shirt, and his dark hair was sheared short. His trousers were dirty and worn and his hands were bound at the wrist behind him. Two soldiers shoved him to the center and pushed him to his knees. The crowd roared, and Shylai’a couldn’t tell if the people were angry, cheering, or both.
A burly man dressed in a black robe stepped up to the platform, carrying a long wide sword with an elongated shaft for a hilt. Behind him walked a priest of Three Lights in a white robe. He carried a staff with an oculus gem dangling from the tip. Two other acolytes followed him, one with a large book. Another prisoner was pushed to the top of the stairs and forced to wait by the guards.
Shylai’a’s eyes grew wide, and she sucked in a breath. This isn’t a trial. This is an execution!
The executioner grabbed the hilt of the blade with a wide grip and stepped up next to the kneeling prisoner. The priest began calling out words in latin and waving the staff back and forth. The two acolytes moved their hands, open palms forward, across their chests in the three-step sign of the Three Lights. The acolyte with the book opened it and read the first name from the list.
The priest called out, “Iste decapitandus est!”
The executioner placed the sword on the back of the prisoner’s neck, adjusted his feet and hands, and raised it high over his head. Shylai’a’s guts tensed. She didn’t want to see but couldn’t look away.
Sunlight reflected off the blade as it slashed.