Section Two – Part Five – Saved


Section Two – Part Five – Saved

Chapter Five

 

“Greetings Lord of Bauska in the name of the Great One,” Rokus began, his resonant voice easily crossing the distance between the two groups. “I am Lord Rokus Yefrem of the village Rokus to the south.”  His voice did not reveal any of the uncertainty his people felt. When Bauska Mikhail failed to answer, Rokus continued…perfect. Rokus would have an opportunity to tell the village of Bauska his people’s plight without the filter of their warped leader.  “Tragedy has befallen us; a great horde of Huns, monsters from the East with weapons unlike any known to man, fell upon us, killing, burning, and enslaving our people.”

 

There were gasps from the people who had gathered around Bauska Mikhail. Mikhail’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.

 

Rokus went on, “They destroyed our homes, drove us from our land, and pursued us, eager to capture more!”

 

 “Have you led them to our doorstep, that they may do the same to us?” Mikhail’s calm façade faltered.

 

“We would never do something so foolish,” Rokus said, his voice still calm. “I beg of thee, allow me to explain.”

 

 Bauska only nodded.

 

“Most of us escaped to a pre-designated hiding place. Some of us returned to our village, or what was left of it, three weeks later. We found then that they had sent a scouting party back to find us. No doubt they had failed to capture as many of us as they had wanted the first time. But they were careless and lazy scouts, so we found them first. My son organized an ambush and destroyed the miscreants before they could report back to their master.” Rokus finished with a proud look at his oldest son.

 

Rihards laid his hand gently on Mikhail’s shoulder and whispered something in his ear.

 

“Please forgive my outburst,” Bauska said through clenched teeth. “I only feared for my people.”

 

“Of course. I, as a leader myself, understand the pressure you are under. We are equal in our concerns.”

 

 Bauska Mikhail walked toward them, no doubt to escape the ears of his own people. Niklav’s hard body stiffened and Ivan moved closer to his father, his green eyes narrowed beneath his red brow.  

 

“Forgive me,” Bauska said, his voice dripping with disdain, “in the name of the Great One and the people of Bauska, welcome.”

 

“Thank you, we receive your welcome and hope we may somehow repay the hospitality we know we will receive. We will speak to all of your extraordinary kindness to our people in our time of need,” Rokus replied the implications clear. “This is my son Ivan, my right hand, and I believe you know Niklav.”

 

“Yes, I remember you, Rokus. It is good to meet your heir, and of course I remember you Niklav. It is good to see you, old friend,” Mikhail smiled smugly. “I see you have finally produced children Niklav. It is a pitiful thing to see a man with no children.  I was beginning to wonder if you were virile enough to plant them in your beautiful woman.” Niklav did not answer, afraid if he moved he would simply kill Mikhail.

 

Mikhail saw his anger, smiled, and continued. “Korina,” he directed his words to Niklavs beautiful blonde wife he had tried to coax into his bed, “you look well.”

 

As he said the words his mossy, green eyes slithered from her face to her feet and up again. “I knew your body would hold up well through childbearing. You know, that offer I made years ago still stands.”

 

That was the final straw, all Niklav could take. He took one step and planted his fist squarely in Mikhail’s face. The man to the right of Mikhail moved quickly, catching the side of Niklav’s face he sent him to the ground.  Ivan stepped protectively between his father and Mikhail’s advancing men.

 

“Stop!” Bauska Mikhail instructed from where he lay on the ground. He smiled and wiped the blood from his thin lipped mouth. Having gotten the rise he wanted, he stood.

 

“Friends, let us not resort to hostilities,” he spewed the words like vomit. His men took a step back, and Niklav jumped to his feet, unconvinced the fight was over. “I was only jesting, old friend.” He spoke to Niklav; his words were sharp and smug, befitting his thick, square face.

 

Niklav knew he needed to calm the situation, though he desperately wanted to pound Mikhail into the ground. A short distance away, Freya smiled uncontrollably as the blood continued to drip from the corner of Mikhail’s mouth.

 

“Of course. I pray thee, forgive the misunderstanding,” Niklav’s voice was smooth and cold.

 

“Aye, forgive the misunderstanding,” Rokus said in the same cold tone. Rokus decided a change of the subject was in order. “I am sorry to see that your father has passed. He was a great leader and a dear friend.”

 

“I pray your pardon! He trained me well and left this people in capable hands!” Bauska barked.

 

“I did not mean to imply otherwise,” Rokus said soothingly. “I was simply mourning our mutual loss of a great man.”

 

Rihards laid his hand on Mikhail again and spoke to us. His gentle smile was calming, and his dark tan eyes exuded peace.

 

“Thank you for your compassion, my brother and I appreciate it. Brother,”  Rihards turned toward Mikhail as he spoke, “our guests,” he gestured toward us, “must be tired and hungry. We should allow them to set up their camp while we prepare a feast in honor of their safety.”

 

Who is this man, and why is he not the leader? Rokus wondered.

 

Fury frosted Mikhail’s features; grinding his teeth together, he simply nodded.

 

“Good, it is settled then,” Rihards said. “If you would like, you may set up camp on the edge of the lake. Please leave our paths clear, so we also have access to the water.”

 

“We certainly will, and thank you.” Rokus used much more respect when addressing this man.

 

“When you are settled, we would love for you to join us in our main lodge’s courtyard to feast, right, brother?”

 

“Yes, yes, if it please you to accept our hospitality,” Bauska regained his smug look.

 

“We will come, many thanks,” Rokus said warily.

 

The light was dancing and sparkling on the rippling water in one of the most phenomenal sunsets made by God when they finally finished setting up camp. The wind whipped across the beautiful ox-bow lake making tents billow and tree limbs sway. Toward the middle of the rows of tents, rocks were placed for a large, temporary, central hearth. The beauty on the horizon was surreal. What an amazing location for a community, Korina thought as Niklav walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. They stood in silence, taking in the sunset on the lake, and turned when Ivan called.

 

“They approach. It looks to be Bauska’s brother and his wife. Come, and bring Korina.”
Niklav and Korina walked toward Rihards, Ivan leading the group with his parents on his heels.

 

“Good day, forgive me for not introducing myself earlier, I am Rihards, second son of the former Bauska Niklav, and this is my wife, Danya.”

 

“Apologies are not necessary,” Ivan said. “I am Ivan, first son of Rokus Yefrem, and this is my wife Stepka. This is my father and our leader,” he gestured for Rokus to take over.

 

“I am Rokus Yefrem and this is my other half, Ona.” Ona smiled at Rokus’ loving explanation of her. “This is my son by marriage, Niklav, and his wife Korina, my granddaughter.”

 

“It is wonderful to meet all of you. I pray you forgive my brother’s rash behavior earlier.” He had come with only his wife, so he could apologize for the offense caused by his brother. “We want you to know you are truly welcomed by this people,” Rihards said, conviction evident in his voice. “Please extend your grace over our people.” His kind, charming features begged forgiveness.

 

“We give our grace freely. I pray thee, know we hold no ill will toward you or any of your people,” Rokus replied respectfully. “You have the heart and grace of a great leader,” Rokus complimented.

 

“Thank you, good sir. You honor me with your flattery. The Great One gives all men what they have, so any honor given me is due Him.” Though Rihards common features and body would make him easy to overlook, his voice and mannerisms captured you immediately. He embodied integrity.

 

“Yes, so true,” Rokus marveled that he could respect Rihards more than he had a few minutes before, but he did.

 

“We have come to invite your people to dine with us. We have prepared a celebration in your honor,” Rihards wife Danya spoke. Her face was warm and pink, complimenting her brunette hair and sweet smile.

 

Rokus nudged Ona, causing her grey-streaked auburn hair to fall in her face, and she responded.

 

“We would be pleased to join you,” her smile lifted her full cheeks. “Many of the women have prepared food to add to your feast. It is not much, only dried fruits and vegetables we have gathered on our journey, but we wanted to contribute something.”

 

“You did not need to do that; we are most honored to feed you,” Danya said. The two ladies smiled as they connected.

 

“I know, but we want to bless your people in any way we can,” Ona responded.

 

“Then we accept your gift humbly, and we will see you for the celebration,” Danya said, revealing her slightly crooked teeth when she smiled.  Ona’s hazel eyes sparkled pleased to make a new friend.

 

Niklav’s and Korina’s people walked past the main village lodge toward the square. An enormous fire lit the sky, sending sparks flying high, shimmering like fairies dancing on the wind. Over the edge of the fire, two large carcasses sizzled and popped, sending a pleasant aroma throughout the air, one a beef haunch, the other a pig. Tables stood on the north side of the square with torches burning above them.  All manner of mouthwatering dishes lay upon them. Hot, fresh, wheat bread with caraway seed paste, sautéed garlic and onions, stuffed goose with white mustard, and honey cakes.

 

Rihards walked to great Rokus’s people with a smile. Two young ladies followed behind him, one with cups and the other with a jug.

 

“Would you be interested in some beer? Our man who makes it is quite good! He is experimenting with barley this year, and it is the finest brew I have ever tasted!”

 

Cups were passed out, and beer poured.  It was a strong, smooth, and robust stout that bit a little at the end, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Freya watched as they devoured the meal as if food had been denied them for months. The pouts on the children’s faces made her heart yearn as she watched their mothers send them to bed. Shame squirmed a little inside her as she contemplated what they had been through. I fuss and cry while little children are murdered and driven from their homes.  As people began to gather in groups talking, playing dice, and gambling, Freya felt hope and faith spring inside her for the foreign people.

 

Full mug of beer in hand, Korina sat comfortably with Niklav in the group while Rokus and Rihards spoke. She was paying little attention to their conversation and instead was people watching. Knowing it was rude, Korina was discreet. She found people enthralling; how fascinating to watch the way they moved, their facial expressions and body language. Mikhail caught her as she looked around, and much to her surprise, he smiled genuinely, tipping his beer and his head toward her.

 

Worrying for her children, Korina whispered into Niklav’s ear that she would check on them; he kissed her, and she rose to leave. Slightly intoxicated, she sauntered back toward the village and Niklav, thinking of his warm skin and callused hands caressing her body. She was almost to the lodge when she noticed someone standing in the shadow of the building.

 

“How now, is someone there?” Shaking her head, Korina tried to dispel the strange feeling and kept walking. Just as she passed the peak of the lodge, he reached out and grabbed her arm.

 

“Oh,” Korina gasped. “Bauska Mikhail, you startled me! What can I do for you?” her voice shook, her fear radiating.  

 

He stumbled a bit as he moved forward. He was thoroughly drunk, and his eyes burned insanely. “Yes, my love,” he started, slurring his words together; “there is something you can do for me.”

 

He still held her hand firmly; she jerked against his grip. Korina tried to scream, but his hand landed firmly on her mouth. Turning her, he slammed Korina up against the side of the lodge, robbing her of breath. With his hand still firmly pressed to her lips, he began tearing at the collar of her dress. It gave way at the seams. His mouth and teeth set hard upon exposed flesh, rubbing and gnashing.

 

Korina’s fist came up and hit the side of his face with a thud, but did little except get him to drop his hand long enough for her to scream. Hand hard across her face. Back driven into the logs of the lodge, Korina cried out. Excited, Mikhail hit her again knocking to her the ground. His massive hand wrapped around her face like iron bent on an anvil. Sharp rocks cut her back, his weight forcing her down. Korina could hardly breathe, let alone scream. His knees were between her legs, pushing them apart, and all her kicking and flailing only seemed to arouse him further.

 

Oh Great One, please do not let this happen to me! Niklav, I need you! Korina prayed frantically.

 

He pulled her dress up. The dried leather of his boots scraped against the bare inside of her leg. Korina wanted to vomit, thinking of what was sure to come next.  Frantically, she thrashed.

 

Oh God help me! Korina prayed.

 

Niklav hit Mikhail; Korina heard the clash of bone and muscle and watched as they flew to the ground. In an instant Niklav laid into Mikhail’s face, breaking his nose. It was a beautiful sound. Half-crazed, Mikhail looked up at Niklav. Adrenalin coursed through Mikhail’s veins along with the liquor. Throwing his fist upwards, Mikhail caught Niklav square in the chin and the force of the blow sent Niklav to the dirt. Niklav righted himself, but before they could clash again, there were men between them. Niklav fought their arms for a moment, but then allowed himself to be restrained. Mikhail was throwing punches at anyone that got close enough for him to hit. He was raving.

 

“She is mine, she belongs to me!” he screamed repeatedly, sweat dripping from his brow, and blood from his nose.

 

Shaking with fear, Korina cried, powerful sobs racking her chest. Her mind reeled, and she could feel blood seeping from the corner of her throbbing eye. People tried to talk to her, but she only wanted Niklav. There were so many people, so many voices.

 

Where is Niklav? She wondered, the question running laps in her head.

 

“Let me loose. I am calm, and my wife needs me!” Niklav said through clenched teeth, and after a moment’s deliberation, the men restraining him released. He ran straight to my side.

 

“My love,” he said through angry tears. “I am so sorry! I love you! I will kill that lying bastard!” He stopped talking because he was unable to control his fury.

 

Others were there, asking how they could help.  Continuous apologies poured from Rihards and Danya. Niklav tried to pull Korina’s tattered dress back over her bruised and bleeding flesh, but gave up and just laid it over my exposed breasts.

 

So many people have seen me this way! So many have seen my disgrace, seen me torn and exposed on the ground! How can I ever face them again? Korina cried inside.

 

“So many,” she whispered once before she passed out.

 

Jerking awake, Korina sat up trying to get her bearings. Her skin recoiled against the heat, and both her body and head ached. The air was thick, making it hard to breathe. The room was extremely stuffy, and Korina could not open either of her eyes. Niklav’s arms encircled her gently, calming. He whispered softly in her ear, his sweet words aligning senses, making her aware of the tent and safety with him.

 

Breathing a sigh of relief, Korina painfully forced her eyes to open. He is so beautiful, Korina thought, like the sound of a voice you thought you had lost.

 

“Are you well? You seemed to be having a nightmare. I almost woke you up,” Niklav said, his eyes full of worry.

 

“I am well, but I am very thirsty.”

 

He was up in a second, fetching water. Feeling helpless but loved unconditionally, Korina watched as he poured the drink and then held the cup to her lips. After he finished, she looked down at her arms to find them spotted with large purple welts.

 

It all flooded back; the image of Mikhail’s hands assaulted her mind, his mouth and teeth searching and devouring! As she examined herself, big fat tears slipped over the black bulges under her eyes, tears of pain and remembrance. Tears in his eyes, Niklav took her in his arms again, and she cried until she could cry no more.  

 

“Many of the women are outside. They want to see you, but I wanted you to sleep, so I made them wait. I do not know how much longer I can hold them off,” he said, feigning a serious look. “Caterna especially wants to see you. She has been outside the tent all night long.”

 

“She has?” Korina said and began to cry again…ugh! “She is so wonderful. Tell them to come in.”

 

Aija, Korina’s sister, was the first one in the tent, and right on her heels was Caterna. Aija sat on the bed, her eyes were red. She had no words; she simply wrapped her arms around Korina. Caterna sat silently on Korina’s other side and laid her hand on her knee. Many women came in, loved on her, and left over the next few hours. Aija left just before noon to prepare a meal and care for the children. She found she did not have to cook. The village women sent more food than they could eat. Caterna never left Korina’s side, and Ludis, the village physician, came regularly. Korina knew she was loved.

 

“May I go to the river and wash?” Korina asked.

 

“I do not know if you should be trying to move around yet,” Ludis said, looking at Niklav to back him up.

 

“I can bring water from the lake, love. You could wash here,” Niklav said hoping to dissuade Korina.

 

“I pray thee, let me go, I urgently need to.” Korina pleaded.

 

“Niklav, may I speak with you outside?” It was the first time Caterna had spoken in hours. He nodded, and they walked outside.

 

“Let us get you down to that lake,” Niklav said when he walked back into the tent.

 

Korina did not know what Caterna had said to him, but she was thankful for it. Standing waist deep in the water, Korina scrubbed viciously, leaving the skin red in an effort to cleanse. Wishing for something to wash thoughts away, tears began once more to burn her chapped cheeks. There was little left of the bar of soap when she finished.

 

Sitting on the shore, clean and wrapped in a blanket, Korina felt worlds better. Caterna picked through her long, straight, blonde hair as Niklav reminded her of their first journey to Riga.

 

“Where is he?” Korina asked, interrupting Niklav’s story.  

 

“He is in the Bauska lodge, bound to the center beam,” Niklav’s teeth ground loudly.

 

The idea of that vile creature bound made her smile.

 

“What will become of him?”

 

“I do not know. I would like to hold him under water until his lungs explode!”  Niklav was not jesting.

 

Smiling, Korina imagined Niklav killing him. The image was thrilling except that she saw Mikhail’s face.

 

“Will they do nothing?” She asked.

 

“Rihards and the Bauska elders are good people. I cannot imagine they will let him go unpunished. I doubt his punishment will be severe enough, but they will punish him.”

 

“I would love to see Emilya. Will you bring her to me? I am not ready to go back to that stuffy tent,” Korina said.

 

“Of course, my love, I will return shortly. Will you stay?” Niklav asked Caterna.

 

Korina felt badly; Caterna had been with her all day, but her presence was salve on her wounds. She smiled in agreement.

 

“You feel ashamed,” Caterna said. She was not asking; she was stating, and it surprised Korina that she had guessed her true feelings.

 

“Yes,” Korina whispered.

 

“If you let him take your dignity and self-respect, he wins,” Caterna said, her voice silky.

 

“But I did not stop him,” Korina moaned. “I should have seen it coming, or screamed sooner. I don’t know. I should have done more. I’m so weak. Our whole village will suffer the consequences of my weakness,” she lamented.

 

“You were unbelievable!” Caterna was suddenly in her face. “You held him off long enough for Niklav to get to you. You are a strong, beautiful woman, and you need to give yourself more credit. Mikhail would love to see your spirit broken. Will you give that maggot the satisfaction of knowing he destroyed you? Or will you stand, straighten your shoulders, lift your head, and condemn him for the filth he is?”

 

Korina gaped, awed at the outstanding woman before her. Even after all she had gone through, she was there, encouraging Korina.

 

“You’re right,” Korina said. “I will not give that beast more than he has already taken.”

 

“Good. Remember that you are a stronger and better person than he will ever be. You deserve happiness; do not allow him to take that from you,” Caterna commanded, and Korina knew she would never respect another woman more.

 

“Thank you.” Korina reached to embrace her.

 

Niklav returned with Emilya in his arms, and as he sat on the ground at my Korina’s, Caterna rose to leave.

 

“Remember what I said.” Caterna smiled as she looked down at Korina. “I love you.”

 

“I will. I love you and thank you again.”

 

“You look different,” Niklav said after she had gone.

 

“Different?” Korina reached for her daughter Emilya.

 

“Yes, you look different. The sadness has dispelled. May I ask what it has been replaced by?” Worry still marred his handsome face, but relief softened the harsh lines when he found Korina unsoiled by more tears.

 

“Determination,” Korina affirmed. “I will do whatever is in my power to make sure he never hurts another soul.”

 

“Good, I will be by your side every step of the way,” Niklav wrapped his arm around Korina, and they silently watched the sun set over the lake.

 

***

 

It was time. Mikhail was to be publicly judged. There had been a private trial. All the leaders and elders had heard second-hand accounts from various people who had witnessed the crime. They had tried to allow Mikhail to defend his actions, but when asked to give his own account, he simply stated: “I am the Great One’s appointed leader of this people. You have no authority by which to judge me.”

 

They then called upon Korina. She gathered her strength and went to meet them; Niklav held her hand the entire time.

 

“Korina, of the village Rokus, you have been called upon to recount the crime committed against you by this man, Mikhail of Bauska.” The elders motioned toward Mikhail who sat to their right.

 

To look upon his face was like being punched in the gut. He saw Korina’s immediate reaction and smiled. Damn, she thought, I will not give him the pleasure of seeing me flinch again. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, meeting the heat of his glare. Glaring back, showing no fear, infuriating him, hah, she thought, take that you weasel. Standing before the elders of both villages, she gave a detailed account of the evening in question, sparing nothing. They heard everything, even her thoughts as he violated her. She only let a few tears escape her eyes. The elders and leaders sat dumbstruck. They had not realized the full extent of the crime; they listened horrified and ashamed.

 

When Korina finished, the silence was deafening, and she could feel Mikhail’s glare burning the side of her face, but refused to look. Squeezing Niklav’s hand, she swallowed hard.

 

The following day, they heard the verdict. Embarrassed, Korina did not want to stand in front of all the people, but Ivan said it would make the punishment more valid in their eyes. Niklav stood with her on the small, raised platform that butted up against the rear of the Bauska village lodge. All were gathered, and the elders rose to begin.

 

“We are gathered here today to pass judgment upon this man, Mikhail of Bauska, first son of the former Bauska Niklav. He stands accused of beating and attempting to rape Korina, of the village Rokus, granddaughter of their leader Rokus Yefrem and guest of this people. Before we pass judgment upon the accused, we would like to allow him one more opportunity to defend his actions.”

 

“What? Why? Have they not already decided?” Korina whispered in Niklav’s ear.

 

“They have decided, but they want people to see that he cannot defend his actions. They need the support of the people to carry out judgment,” Niklav whispered back.

 

Mikhail said just what they wanted him to say. “I am the leader of this people,” Mikhail began. “You have not the authority to judge me. I have been anointed holy leader, and all that I do is holy. Any who pass judgment upon me will suffer the wrath of the Great One!”

 

There were a few huffs and puffs from the crowd, and Korina smiled to find that many of them looked offended by his words.

 

“So be it,” the elders said, and continued. “We here, under the eyes of the Great One of Heaven, find you, Bauska Mikhail, guilty.” Mikhail’s jaw clamped firmly, and his hands curled into fists. “You are hereby stripped of your office of Bauska, leader of this people. You will never again enjoy any position of power among us. You will henceforth be a servant to this people, filling whatever role best serves the group as a whole. You shall move from the village lodge to one of the dwellings on the outskirts of the community. Your family will not move with you unless they so choose. Your wife may stay on as sister to our new Bauska Rihards and her children as nieces and nephews. This is the judgment of this council.”

 

The veins in Mikhail’s forehead bulged, and his face burned brightly with fury; it was too much. He hit the man to his right, knocking him off the platform. Fueled by anger, he struck like a snake, stealing the sword of the startled man to his left. Mikhail pulled the blade across the man’s middle, spilling blood and intestines across the wooden planks. The man doubled over and fell. Lurching forward, Mikhail darted for Niklav and Korina. Unarmed,  Niklav pushed Korina back. She fell to the floor. Niklav tried to spin away from Mikhail’s attack, but the blade caught his upper arm cutting deeply, staining his shirt crimson.

 

Korina was frantic; she looked around for help, but most were still in shock. A weapon hanging from Rihards belt, Korina grabbed it and threw. Niklav caught it and raised it in front of himself. Mikhail’s blade did not find flesh as he had hoped; instead they heard the terrible shriek of iron on iron. Niklav was on fire. He had hoped and prayed for an opportunity, or excuse, to kill the bastard that had dared violate his woman. Mikhail’s blade met Niklav’s and sparks flew. Natural muscle moved earthen minerals forged into sword, as the two men struggled against each other. Mikhail’s blade landed on Niklav’s shoulder and quivered to rip across his chest.

 

“No!” I screamed, flying toward them and distracting Mikhail for a split second. Niklav pounced in that second, his blade singing as it flew through the air. It found the side of Mikhail’s neck and a second later Mikhail’s head fell to the wooden platform, eyes still open in shock. Gasps came from all around us. It had happened so quickly people were still frozen in shock.

 

Niklav, allowing his sword to drop, moved quickly toward Korina and wrapped her in his arms. Tears of relief spilled from Korina’s eyes as the shock wore off. Niklav cupped her face in his hands and leaned back so he could look in her eyes.

 

“Why did you do that? You could have been killed!” Niklav said, terror shaping his features.

 

“He was going to kill you. I had to do something. I could not let you die!”

 

“Throwing yourself at an armed and insane man is never acceptable behavior, you beautiful, silly woman!” He shook his head, and Korina saw the hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth.

 

“I will try to avoid doing that again,” Korina said, smiling through tears.

 

They both laughed with relief, and Korina fell into his firm embrace again.

 

“You are injured,” Rihards said as he removed his shirt and pressed it to Niklav’s arm.

 

It was true. Niklav’s arm and shoulder had stained Korinas clothes with blood. The healers pushed their way through the mayhem of people. Ludis and his apprentice Roburt set to work on Niklav, trying to staunch the flow of blood. Bauska’s healers had a greater task. The man Mikhail had robbed and cut lay dying. In agonizing pain, he struggled for breath to moan; he was cut from side to side, bleeding to death. They gently lifted him and wrapped him tightly around the center. Two women stood off to their right, wailing; hearts ached for them. They lifted him and carried him into the village lodge. Korina and Freya said a prayer to the Great One, begging for his life.

***

They were ready to go; Rokus had instructed the people to be ready to leave at dawn on the third day following the sentencing. Niklav and Korina wanted to go pay their respects to Alexa and Zhorah. They were the wives of the man that died on Mikhail’s day of sentencing. Korina knew his death was not truly her fault, but she could not shake the guilt. They carried a gift of salt. It was not much, but it was highly prized.

 

“Excuse me,” Freya said, stopping in their path, her silky, black hair falling around her bowed head. “I just wanted to say,” she mumbled, looking up timidly, her sky-blue eyes visible and breathtaking, “I just wanted to thank you. You will never know how greatly you have helped this people.” She smiled slightly, and the wind blew her hair away from her neck revealing deep bruises. She quickly pulled her hair back around her neck and hurried toward Robert and his brilliant smile.

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