To Take the Fall (excerpt)
She was in air for a fitful moment, but gravity soon interrupted. A vision of legs and lavender fabric collided with earth -
The noise escaped her with the impact, a betrayal of her pride by her body. Her arms followed her legs in a manner equally unceremonious - flailing for orientation.
At once she was still, slapped breathless by the fall. A cloud of dirt held the air above her, and she had every appearance of being dead. The group of men that surrounded her waited curiously, the possibility of her expiration being of little consequence to them. They fidgeted quietly, sleepy-eyed and indifferent.
Lilith was not however, dead; and as her lungs expanded and reclaimed her chest, she coughed fitfully for the dust. She sat up. The men in the circle did not move save for the occasional curious glance at the figure responsible for Lilith’s condition. King Henrick Kane, Lord of this realm, such as it was - continued his surly observation from the deck. He had not moved since launching Lilith off the porch by two fistfuls of her dress.
This King had a penchant for rattling cages. Cruelty - impervious to any counter, a royal indulgence. Preening in self admiration, he ran his palms across his temples and back over an oily sheen of black hair.
Henrick’s henchman - though that term seemed generous - were silent still, some swaying slightly in the breeze of the morning. The collective of their odors was representative of an excess in spirits, and an absence of hygiene. This could be said of their appearance as well, each man looking more like a criminal caricature than the last. They seemed bored by this midmorning drama.
Lilith pulled her legs and dress beneath her - concerned more with hiding her weapon than protecting her modesty. Her dignity, though valuable to Lilith - had proven less useful as of late. It was then that she saw the broken body in the dirt beside her. A familiar man, dead - a bloody broken head. The diplomat!
Her eyes widened,
“What have you done?”
Her voice was hollow, and she paused at the weight of this discovery. The man was a barbarian, and his life was of no sentimental value to her - but he was the political face of a tribe sick with bloodlust. The entire village would answer for this transgression. She stood to face the King, who smiled at her -
“I have done nothing.”
Something in his tone alarmed her. King Henrick continued,
“He was poisoned, some sort of hag’s brew I’m sure. Perhaps in his coffee, I don’t know your methods precisely.”
Her mouth fell open at the lie, and his smile grew wider, delighted by his own performance,
“He fell off his horse once it took effect, and his head was smashed upon a rock. I saw it myself.”
But it wasn’t true, the diplomat was firmly on his horse before Henrick had struck him with the bottle. Half of the hunting party had seen it, and they snickered now from within the ranks. They - much like Henrick, had a penchant for inflicting misery.
“The village already knows you killed one man, what’s another?”
Lilith was breathless - stunned. Though Henrick had unfairly summarized her crime, it was true that many in the village would accept his lie happily - rumors and reputations as they were. The ringing in her ears grew louder, and she shook her head.
“You can’t --”
“Silence, witch. I am still speaking.”
His need for control was palpable.
“You have served me well in your time here, and thus I will allow you one hour.”
She opened her mouth to speak again, and he raised a silencing finger.
“Confess your crime to his people, or I will add the charge of witchcraft. If you do not confess within the hour, you will face justice by my hand.”
His hand would show no mercy, of that she was certain. The king pointed then, gesturing to the forest across the lawn behind Lilith and his men. She turned - wordless, as words would be of no use to her now - and began across the lawn, gathering the front of her dress in hand. Her heart raced in preparation for flight, but Lilith did not want to give him the satisfaction of seeing her bolt in terror. She fought the storm of adrenaline within her.
It was only moments after that there was a shrill whistle - followed by raucous laughter from the fools behind her. A low sound in the distance grew louder, recognition stopped her heart cold - a howl. A damning sound. Instinct took over, and she began to run, her bare feet padding the grass with increasing pace.
The king threw a final taunt before she disappeared into the trees -
“It would seem my hounds cannot measure an hour!”