Murderous villagers lined the flooded streets of mud and straw, wielding high above their heads flaming, wooden torches. Features of madness were etched upon their shadowed faces, their eyes wide with fright. As the horse-drawn carriage moved precariously between the shouting hordes, fists from the crowds held tightly toward it crucifixes carved from beech wood and held together with leather, their palms blistered and bloody.
The form inside the prisoner carriage sat with its bony spine against the back of it so it could see its screaming accusers press inward from all sides. Cloaked by darkness, its sides spasmed as if it were ill, or gasping for breath. A rare, brave few from the mob dared to come nearer, where they reared back their heads and spit a projectile-stream of sputum that landed wetly in the abomination’s shining hair, or upon its broken, battered extremities, adrenaline pulsing coarsely through their veins to be in such close proximity to this monster. But then, raising their dilated eyes to seek out its face from the shadows, they cowered back in utter horror when they realized the abomination was not suffering at all.
Dim moonlight glinted off perfect, elongated ivory teeth. And it was clear to those now, whose faces were white with terror, that this monster spasmed because it laughed. And only they knew it now, how evil this being truly was, to merrily mock them and their crosses and burning torches. The others closed in behind them, screaming obscenities – “Witch! Hang her!” “Fiendish whore!” “Her womb aches to carry the spawn of Satan!” – which, to those who could see, only added to the monster’s gaiety.
The pitiful state of the village’s mucked streets made the carriage’s ascent to higher ground a painstaking one. Thunder boomed in the sky, the sound of dread, and echoed down the forested hills to rumble beneath their bare feet. Up ahead, just within sight, was the scaffold the townspeople had erected, the hangman’s noose just barely swinging to the macabre howling of a placid wind.
At this altitude, one could see roots of lightning flash over a restless sea, the waves rising higher and higher before mercilessly swallowing itself again to repeat the cycle of frothy regurgitation.
The carriage stopped just before the scaffold, and two armed guards went round to the rear, where they released the padlock on the cage and violently jerked the monster from its shadows. It was obvious they were anxious, afraid of this creature’s powers.
They had good reason to be.
The sky opened up overhead as her dirty, shackled feet touched the mud, seeping up between her toes, and a sudden downpour of rain soaked her burlap rags, molding them to her malnourished body. The veil of ebony hair clung wetly to her gaunt, skeletal face. Her form twisted beneath the moonlight and the crowd fell silent momentarily as, hunched in pain, she raised her eyes and stared at each person’s face in turn, studying their features, the corners of her lips turned up in a small, curious smile.
Hushed murmurs rippled through the crowd, and the guards shoved her up the hill, toward the scaffold. The executioner waited beside it now, his features contorted in an ugly expression of anxiety and fear. His palms sweated, even now beneath this cold, bleak onslaught of rain, and he wiped them on his tunic.
Dear Lord, he thought, panicked, I pray Your presence is nigh upon us now!
The prisoner mounted the rickety, wooden steps and they creaked beneath her weight. She kept her gaze on the hangman, twisting her head to keep him steadily in her sights until she reached the platform, then she slowly turned to face the crowd, her eyes eerily seeming to reflect the light from their burning torches.
Swallowing deeply, the hangman climbed onto the platform, keeping his distance, clutching in his sweating, trembling hands a black hood. He approached the prisoner slowly, wearily, and with visibly trembling hands, messily tossed the hood down over her head. His heart pounded violently against his ribcage, an erratic beat of utter fear. He was certain it permeated the air – he was certain the beast before him could smell it.
He stumbled back a few steps, gulped down a breath and faced the crowd, keeping the prisoner in his peripherals.
“The woman known as Faine Lowsorrow stands before you now,” he began, shouting to be heard over the rain, “guilty of the heinous, unforgivable crimes of murder and –“
He choked, unable to make himself utter the words. Likely it would be just enough to send this mob over the edge and if he mussed up this execution, well… he would be next. An eery feeling crept down his neck, leaving goosebumps in its wake, and he realized the accused’s eyes were steady upon him, her glare burning through the hood covering her face. She knew the words he had to speak. She knew why the words gathered chokingly in his throat.
He cleared his throat and tried again.
“Guilty of the heinous, unforgivable crimes of murder and unnatural acts upon a corpse!”
Satisfied, the creature faced the crowd, eager for their fury, indulging in their hatred as one might indulge in a goblet of finely aged wine. They spat at her, hurled rocks at her face and head, thrust their torches at her rags, hoping to set them aflame. She only tossed back her head and laughed, blood streaming from the mob-inflicted wounds.
This needed to end quickly.
“The penalty for these crimes is death. May God have mercy on her soul.”
He nodded to a guard standing behind her a good distance and the man approached swiftly to secure the noose around her neck. He hesitated at first, but recovered quickly and tightened the knot at the base of her skull. In the next moment, the hangman pulled the lever next to him and the platform upon which she’d stood seconds before dropped open and she fell fifteen feet before the noose clamped tightly around her neck, separating it from her spine. The sound of it snapping echoed through the night, and was punctuated by a crisp clap of thunder and veins of lightning.
The hangman felt all the tension leave his body and he breathed a sigh of relief. The creature moved no more, didn’t spasm or claw at the rope. The nightmare finally appeared to be over.
The cheers of the crowd weren’t as uproarious as he expected and when he looked, he noticed a portion of the patrons looking frightened out of their wits, casting nervous glances at each other, their faces wan and pale with fear. He recognized the expression — he’d felt it on his own face when he read the notes taken by the coroner after he’d examined the victims’ bodies — how little blood had been left in their waxy-looking bodies.
He shuddered and cast one more glance at the creature swinging slowly at the end of the noose, the breeze the storm brought in passing her corpse gently to and fro. Then he shouted at the crowd to reign it in and go home so he could end this God-awful night at a tavern, perhaps in the arms of a cheap whore.
Her body hung there throughout the night, until the very early hours of the following morning. The hood, soaked through by the rain, clung to her face, outlining her features. Her eyes snapped open and she gasped a ghastly sound as her lungs filled again with life. She gripped the rope above the knot at her neck in one, tight hand, then another, climbing it slowly but steadily. When she again reached the platform, she spread her legs over the gap and steadied her feet on either side, working the knot loose and sliding it over her neck, whipping the hood off from over her face — the whole while, her spine and brain stem are repairing the connections between them and in moments her body is whole again.
She is Fayne. And she is bitter.