Thursday, August 13, 2009

Torches and Pitchforks

Rathinia worked in the stables. She liked the horses because they were not humans, and, as far as she knew, they didn’t think she was crazy. They probably did think she was cursed, but no more than any other of the poor beings who only get to walk on two legs. In the town Rathinia’d lived in before coming to Alder, she’d been a maid, but she hadn’t like that as much. She thought that when she was driven on to wherever she went next, she’d try to find work in the stables again.

Alder was the third town she’d lived in, and Rathinia knew it would be the third town she’d be driven out of. The first time, she hadn’t so much been driven out as kicked out by her parents, but it had been made quite clear by everyone else as well that they’d tolerated her for that long for her family’s sake, but she was no longer welcome there. She’d been fourteen. She’d walked for a week before coming to the second town. She’d stayed there for two years, and then she’d blown it by warning them of an approaching army of goblins. The townspeople had defeated the goblins. They had then blamed Rathinia, and would have defeated her as well if she hadn’t known they were putting up a stake to burn her at, and fled before they could get her.

She’d known that, eventually, the same thing would happen in Alder, but she’d allowed herself to hope. She lived there for three years, happily enough, making an effort to avoid everyone she could. And though she tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, she did act on her dreams a few times. When she’d been there for about a year, a band of raiders had made Alder their target. Rathinia told the people who ought to know, and after they’d driven the attackers away, they were grateful to her, and without excessive prying into how she’d known. A while later, she beat up a boy who’d beaten his dog, though she didn’t think anyone knew about that. And when a girl’s body was found, Rathinia suggested a certain man’s house be checked for blood. Again, people were grateful, if just a bit more curious. And Rathinia had dared to hope that maybe she’d finally found a place she could, if not belong, at least be somewhat accepted.

Then she saw the mayor hitting his wife. She didn’t know why she said anything—she saw that kind of thing every night, and far worse. But she’d met the woman, though only briefly, and liked her, and hearing her cries and seeing the terror on her daughter’s face as she watched, hiding under a table, Rathinia needed to do something.

So she’d told him that she knew—in public, no less. And by the next day, the rumor was that Rathinia had used her witchcraft—never mind that she had none—to put bruises on the mayor’s wife, to twist his daughter’s mind into telling lies, and hey, hadn’t she once set an army of raiders on the town? And been involved with a murder?

That night, Rathinia was asleep in her hayloft. First her dreams showed her a slaughterhouse—a nightly staple, then two goblins torturing something, somewhere way out in the wilderness. The dream suddenly shifted, showing her the people of Alder. Only they weren’t the people of Alder right now, individuals with their own lives and joys and problems. They were a mob, a single entity with no feeling but hatred and vengeance. Its’ arms held a sea of torches and pitchforks, a few knives and hammers, hundreds of rocks. She saw the first rock fly towards the stables-

And then she was awake, as she heard the thud of the rock hitting the wall.

The scene from her window was exactly what she’d seen in her dream, of course. The mob was coming closer, probably surrounding the building from all sides. The horses sensed the turmoil, but Rathinia had more important things to worry about than calming the down. She had to get away. She’d seen mobs tear people apart, felt the victims’ pain, and she couldn’t let it happen to her. But what could she do? She knew better than to reason with them; there was no them, only it, and mobs have no reason. Nor could she defend herself against it. So she would have to flee. But it was surrounding her, would be upon her at any moment….

She summoned up some courage—she didn’t think it was her own courage, but that of someone she’d seen, or been, in a dream—and forced herself to move. She swung down and ran to the fastest horse, Capala. He wasn’t hers, of course, but she was desperate. A saddle? There wasn’t time for that, so she swung up onto his back, praying she wouldn’t fall off, and urged him into a gallop.

They broke through the mob. Pitchforks jabbed at her, but none quickly enough to knock her down. Stones flew after them, but they only spurred Capala on. They flew through the night. Rathinia didn’t know how long she rode for. At some point, she realized it was long enough; that she was far from the mob and the town and her old life.

Rathinia dismounted, and let Capala go back towards Alder; she was no horse thief. She watched him trot off into the distance and pondered what to do next. She knew, vaguely, where she was—in the woods a little northwest of Alder, not on the road but somewhere within a few miles from it. If she kept walking, she would come to a roadside inn by morning, and another town in a few days. She couldn’t walk for much longer, though. She was dead tired, but she didn’t want to sleep and see whatever her dreams would show her.

It wasn’t up to her. The only sleep she’d allowed herself in the past two days was the hour or so she’d gotten before being woken by the mob, and she couldn’t go on without rest. She didn’t quite collapse, but stumbled over to a large tree and fell asleep under it.

She was in a dungeon, somewhere far off, watching someone being tortured. After a bit the dream shifted, and she was a kitten, and was drowning. She tried to struggle for air, but a hand was pushing her down. The dream shifted again, and she was being watched by an evil presence. Then the slaughterhouse, a rape, a man screaming that they should all be killed—it didn’t last long enough for her to figure out who he was talking about; goblins marching on a faraway town, and the mayor of Alder beating his wife.

It was a decent night’s sleep, comparatively. Rathinia continued on the next morning, not stopping at the inn—she’d rested, she didn’t need to sleep again. She didn’t sleep the next night—she preferred not to when she could help it, for obvious reasons, and arrived at the town the next day.

Hoping that the people of Alder were content to have her gone and felt no need to send on a warning about her, Rathinia went straight to the inn and asked if they needed any help in the stables. The town was larger than Alder, and like her previous home, growing, so more travelers were stopping by all the time, and they did need more help in the stables. As she headed to her new room—included as part of her wages—Rathinia placed a mental bet with herself on how long it would be before they ran her out of town.

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