The following afternoon, the day of Leese’s funeral, Taran found himself standing beside her funeral boat, but could not recall anything that happened prior to that moment, not the discussions he must have had with people the previous day, not getting bathed and dressed in dark furs for the funeral… nothing. All he knew was that he stood at the edge of the lock with a burning torch in his hand in the warm winter sun. Leese would have loved the weather today. He glanced down at her body, wrapped in a thin yet beautifully embroidered linen shroud, positioned atop kindling in the boat.
Wen insisted that Leese had always wanted to travel to the Other World in a funeral boat. One had the right to choose the pyre or the boat for their funeral, and Taran had never thought to ask which Leese preferred. He assumed they had years and years before the question needed to be asked. This was the moment where he was to ignite the kindling and the men would push the burning wood into Dark Lock, but he could not do it. He looked up at his people. Except for the few warriors guarding the area, the whole village had turned out and everyone sobbed and clung to one another.
Taran then he peered down at Leese again, her beautiful face, now pale white with death, still visible through the sheer shroud. He shook violently. Bili stepped forward and collected the burning torch from Taran. “Will you allow me? ” asked Bili, and Taran nodded his head. Bili reached down and ignited the wood. The flames had already begun to consume Leese’s shroud before the men gave the boat a push into the loch. Eithne spoke her funeral prayers, and Taran stood there, bewildered.
“Taran,” said Bili with tears in his eyes, and dragged Taran into an embrace. I have something for you. ” Bili took a step back and untied a small black bag from his belt and handed it over. “I removed it from her before the women wrapped her in the shroud. I thought you should have it. ” Taran accepted the bag and tied it to his own belt. There was no way he could go to the Center Longhouse and be a part of the funeral feast. Absolutely not. Speaking to people, eating food would be impossible. He felt close to cracking in a permanent way, one where no one and nothing could fix him.
Paralyzed where he stood he waited for someone, likely Bili, to tell him what to do next. Yet before than happened, Drest – whom Taran had initiated into the warrior clan a week prior – galloped up on his horse, his light-blond hair amiss and damp with sweat. “Sire, we found them,” said Drest without a trace of his usual severe stutter. “I overheard men t-taking by the r-river. They’re the ones who t-took Leese! They said so. Dom and I-Iver and I captured them and we p-put them in the L-Longhouse cell. ” Taran didn’t bother saying anything to Drest – he’d thank the young man later.
Instead, he ran for the Longhouse which sat not far off in the distance. People at the funeral babbled in panic, but Taran ignored them ran. He heard several sets of pounding footsteps behind him, but didn’t bother to turn and see to whom they belonged. Taran had only moments to decide what he would do. In the weeks since he’d been elevated to king, he said that all men and women accused of crimes would be given trials, no matter how awful their crimes, regardless of the circumstances. They days of arbitrary revenge killings were over.
They would be a society of laws and justice. He now hated the fact he’d said those words and understood his father’s ways of thinking more than he ever had. Taran arrived at the Longhouse with a good ten warriors right behind him, and rushed for the holding cells located at the far end. As he charged forth, he decided fine, these men would get a trial. I would be brief, but they’d have it. Now. Standing in front of the cell bars, Taran stared at the cowering men. His warriors had worked-over these horrible beasts.
Good, damn it. Did you capture a woman, Leese, from her home and rape and torture her? ” Taran asked the accused. His voice sounded odd, deep and gravelly, like his father’s. The least injured man, the one youngest close to Taran’s age, said, “We did. As per our orders. ” “Taran, let me ask them –” Bili started, but Taran held up a hand to silence his best friend. “And from whom did you receive these orders? ” “We don’t know. Our orders always came in writing with the same wax seal, one bearing an axe. That’s how we knew the orders were real… that is the symbol of our movement.
There is a network of supporters of the Old Ways, the ways that have worked since the beginning of our people, ways you do not uphold. The New Ways will be the death of Pictavia and it will be all your fault. You’ll see. ” Bili charged the cell bars. “Someone open up this gate so I can crush him! You speak to our king, you guilty, treasonous monsters! ” Taran spoke over Bili. “So there is a movement of people who support my dead father, the Old Ways, and defy me, the ruler by right? ” “Yes. ” “And how large is this movement of opposition? ” “I am done talking. Send us to the Other World.
We’re ready. ” “Where are you from? ” “I said I am done talking. ” Bili banged his fist against the bars, enraged. “Taran, these men need no trial. They’ve confessed! Let’s take them out and kill them. ” That’s when the fine thread of sanity inside of Taran snapped. “No. ” Taran turned to face his warriors. “Summon everyone, as many people as you can shove into the center room. ” He turned back to the captives. “And someone get me the chopping block and the largest axe he can find. ” Dazed with near madness, Taran marched from the corridor and for the first time, sat upon his throne on the dais.
He waited for the people to congregate, and for the accused to be presented to him for trial. As he sat and waited, Cadha turned up behind him and settled the crown upon his head. “You need this today,” she whispered before falling back into the crowd. The crowd of villagers – standing shoulder to shoulder in the center room – buzzed with worry until Bili, Drest, and Angus brought the accused before Taran. The three accused were bound with rope at their hands and feet. Bili shoved them down onto their knees before Taran. The crowd fell silent. People of Maetae, these men on their knees before me have confessed to the rape and torture of Leese, my deceased betrothed.
This, their trial, shall be brief. ” He stood up and loomed over the men. “Do you have anything to say in your defense? ” Their ringleader spoke. “We’ve said all there is to say. Get on with the execution. ” Taran sneered at them. “If that is your wish. ” He looked up at the crowd, which now swallowed up most of the room, save the small circle which contained the offenders. “Does anyone have anything to say in the matter of these men? The people, mostly wide-eyed now, shook their heads. No one spoke. “Then I find these men guilty,” said Taran with finality. “Bili, my Chief, how do you find? ” “Guilty. ” Dom and Iver carried the chopping block into the room as well as the longest, heaviest sword available in the village. They placed the heavy wooden chopping block in front of Taran, and handed over the weapon.
“I final question,” said Taran, standing right before the ringleader now. “Do you have any remorse? ” “No. ” Taran dropped the axe, dragged the man to the block, and forced his neck against the wood. Then neither do I. ” He picked up the axe again. “Everyone stand back. ” The villages did their best to press as closely to the walls as possible. Taran waited for them to get situated; he did not want to hurt his people, but by gods, he would make these men, the men who took Leese, pay. Taran raised the axe up over his head as if it weighed nothing, and brought it down with a savage scream. But he did not bring it down on the man’s neck. Instead, he sliced off the man’s feet. The man rolled off the block and cried in agony.
Taran dropped the axe and went for this belt dagger, then cut the man’s hands free of the rope binding it. The man tried to crawl away on his hands and knees, but Taran picked up his axe again, and brought it down on the man’s one arm, then the other. Taran went for the man’s legs next, slicing them off above the knee with vicious strokes. After another round of random axe blows, Taram finally took off the man’s head. Blood soaked the wooden floors and several people in the crowd had fainted. Bili gave orders to have the women and children removed from the room.
“Bring me the next man! Taran cried out, wild and crazed. This wasn’t him. He’d gone to battle, killed when he had to, but right now, burning hate threatened to swallow him whole and the only way to extinguish that flame of loathing was to make these men suffer in the most extreme way possible. The next man was dragged forth, and he begged for mercy, but Taran would have none of it. Taran executed the man in the same way, dismembering the body and chopping away. In the midst of this mad execution, Taran’s crown had flown off. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered but the death of these beasts.
By the time the third man’s head lay on the block, Taran had no more in him. He was exhausted, even some of his warriors has passed out at seeing the extreme gore. With one final drop of, Taran removed the man’s head. The blood-soaked king peered up at the handful of people who remained behind. It was only men now, and while they stood pale and trembling, they nodded their heads in approval. The warriors dragged away the dead bodies (or what was left of them) and shortly thereafter, women bearing buckets and brushes scrubbed away the blood, bone, and guts. As if this had never happened.