Violence and Variations (Part 1)

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The sun was behind Traumwald, sending its rays through the crenulations, silhouetting the keep in morning light. The day was clear and crisp. The long summer days were over; autumn snapped in the air. A reminder from the gods that they had almost run out of time, Rainhart thought. 

The scaffold had been built in the centre of the field at the base of Traumwald. This was a concession to practicality,the market square in town being preferred, but the crowd too large to be accommodated in such a small space.

The field was packed with people, and had been since dawn some hours previous. Climbing the four steps onto the scaffold, Rainhart saw the tribes as they clustered together. There were the townsfolk of Traumwald, huddled against their sheltering hill, looking dazed and discontented by the straits they found themselves in. The Cimbra barons, standing under their banners, a show of defeated solidarity. Around them, their families in silks and velvets, and around that retainers, retinues and soldiery. The Teuta barons the same, but less. No show of strength or wealth needed to prove their status; they had triumphed and now drew the Cimbra graciously into the fold.

The Jovanis, in formation, under the imperial standard. Lord Cassius had offered that the legionaries surround the scaffold to discourage trouble. Tancred had declined. Reuz and Mullrose men stood around the scaffold, and kept clear a long aisle from the base of the hill.

“Ready, cousin?” said Tancred.

“Ready,” Rainhart echoed. “Where is the executioner?”

His gaze sliding away from Rainhart’s, Tancred turned and signalled to a guard.

A few minutes later, Valdon was brought forward. He was dressed neatly and simply, his face clean and his hair combed. His hands were bound in front of him. The crowd rustled and rumbled. A few people jeered, then were silent.

With measured precision, Valdon climbed the four steps to the scaffold. He saw Tancred and Rainhart, and walked over to them. His two guards interposed themselves between Valdon and Tancred, but Tancred waved them away.

“Well, Tancred Ansgar, you have me bested,” said Valdon.

Tancred studied him for a long moment, then gestured for the guards to move Valdon towards the front of the scaffold. Turning to the crowd, Tancred said, “Valdon Bartosz, you have been charged with the crimes of high treason, regicide, rebellion, conspiracy and murder. You have been judged by the Moot of Barons, and found guilty of all these crimes. According to the sentences agreed by the Moot, I hereby strip you of the barony of Traumwald, of which you have proven yourself deeply unworthy, and of the lesser kingship of the Cimbra. I sentence you to die by the axe this morning, after you have given your statement. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” said Valdon. “I die knowing that I have failed to wrest Deusetats away from the Reuz claws that strangle it. I die knowing Deusetats will open her legs to Jovan, like a whore after a few pieces of gold. I pray that the gods grant me oblivion so that I do not have to watch the fall of my beloved country.”

“Is that your statement?” said Tancred through gritted teeth.

“I am at peace with my gods,” said Valdon. “I want no forgiveness from you or them.” He gestured with his bound hands towards the crowd. “Bring out your axeman.”

Tancred smiled grimly. He began to unbutton his doublet, handing it to an attendant. Then he took the crown from his head and laid it atop the folded garment. The attendant took an axe that had been resting beside him and gave it to Tancred.

“All the fighting men here have deaths on their ledger now, because of you,” said Tancred. “Deaths for which they will have to account when they pass through from this world to the next.”

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