Summer had come. Over the rooftops Elweiss could see mountains green-flushed in the sunlight. The air was so warm that she flung her riding-cloak back over her shoulders.
It was Market Day, and the Street of the Grocers was overflowing with townspeople. The air was filled with the voices of hawkers and wine criers, the murmur of bargaining, the nervous exclamations of geese or goats, and through it all the smells, sweet smells, of meat and spices and wood smoke. There was hardly room for the horses to pass. One of the guards sounded his horn and shouted to make way, but though a low whisper rippled through the crowd—“The White Lady is here!”—and though they jostled faster, Elweiss still could not push through the throng.
“Make way for the Princess Elweiss!” cried the guard again, and set horn to lips, though to little result.
“It is no use,” she said, and pointed. “We will go to the backroads through Hangman’s Square.”
The crowd thinned as they passed through the Merchant’s Quarter, and Hangman’s Square was empty, except for a boy running past on some errand, and an old woman sweeping out the entrance to a smithie. The gallows that Elweiss remembered from childhood stood no longer. In their place stood a single upright post, like a ship’s mast or maypole. Its wood was blackened, and something lay in a heap about its base: charred sticks and ash.
“What is that?” Elweiss asked as they rode through the square. At first she received no answer, and turned in her saddle in time to see a look pass between the guards.
“A post, m’lady,” said one.
“Yes, I can see that. Why is it here? Where are the gallows?”
When they said nothing, she stopped her mare and looked at the woman across the square. “Hoy! What is this here?”
“It is the old Queen,” said the woman, squinting at Elweiss without recognition.
“The old Queen?”
“Aye. Her as was mother to the White Lady, and what ruled before the Prince come.”
Elweiss paused, not understanding. She dismounted and walked over to the post, touching the wood, looking at the heavy chain wrapped around it. She bent down and picked up one of the burnt stick-like things. Some of the caked ash fell away from it. Elweiss leapt up, the bone falling from her hand to clatter on the flagstones.
She must have backed away, because she suddenly collided with one of her guards. He reached out to steady her but she pushed him away. “Bury it.”
Elweiss was already scrambling back into her saddle. “Idon’tcarejustburyit!”
She left the guards there, agape, unsure. She rode away without them, heading back to the castle as fast as she could ride.
Copyright 2005 © Chris Russo Don’t plagerize yada yada yada…