Lady of Angels - Part 3
New Years Day – 1523
The mood was hard to read. Duke Momdorth was a foreigner of sorts, his place here purchased by the sword. He must show the city that he was hard, that he would tolerate no opposition; and yet, there were lengths he couldn't go to, an unknown point at which enough became
too much. Arangof supposed it must be a fine dance – footsteps on needlepoints – working out exactly where that line should be drawn. The nobility played for high stakes; miscalculation would mean death – public and fearsome, fed into the wide hot mouth of a drooling, crowing populace.
I could almost feel sorry for him.
Almost. Were it not for the men and women who'd been gathered up here today. On a wintry, sleet-wracked day, they seemed more pitiable than ever, some huddled into themselves against the cold, some shielding their faces as much from the cutting wind as from the onslaught of curses and jeers. These were not passionate, Arangof noted, at least not in the most part. Maybe what Dofbin had said about paying men was true. So many shouts of “burn-burn-burn” and “traitor” sounded false and empty. The calling was subdued compared to what it might be when bandits or murderers were brought forth.
Arangof's wife held his arm. She didn't want to be here. She'd said as much. And yet it was New Years, and every soul belonged in the town square. Did she want it to be noted that she wasn't there?
The likes of us? Why should anybody care?
Have you seen the likes of them who're to burn?
We live in a city of thousands.
Still. We don't know.
And so here they were. And we're a city full of cowards. This heavy armed presence could still have been overwhelmed by numbers. But who would go first? Who would want to sacrifice themselves on swords or pikes to begin the momentum that births a revolution? It was one thing to follow - that was just about being carried along by the current – another thing altogether to lead such a charge.
So instead, a line of fires burned. Somewhere amongst the flames there were men – there were women – only lumps of darkness against an assault of dark orange, against brightness and sparks and smoke. It struck Arangof, listening, how alike the screams were – so hard to tell one from another – and how the flames seemed to burn the same around each stake. Whatever had made them unique in life, in dying they were all the same; flesh blackened and blistered on each body alike.
“No more,” his wife whispered in his ear, and her face was wet with more than sleet.
He slipped back amongst the crowd, drawing no particular attention to himself. His head was throbbing, he just wanted to go home and crawl beneath his blankets. It was only as he was almost to a nondescript back-street that he saw Lady Tracegale standing off to the side, arm linked into her husband's. She was dressed in furs, in sober white, with white and charcoal fur poking out beneath her soft suede coat. He couldn't help but be stopped in his tracks a moment – the sight of her drew him in. And as he stopped, he saw her open her mouth, saw her lips form the outline of words. He heard nothing, but his disappointment died quickly: this song wasn't his, it was intended for those who still died in the flames, such comfort as he imagined only she could give. He knew, he knew on faith, that the Duke's traitors heard her, that they died in her arms.