“Here’s an apple for ye, Eldarine bitch!” came a shout from the back of the crowd.
The overripe fruit whizzed through the air, thudding against the middle of the prisoner’s back and sliding down through her long, golden hair to land on the hard-packed earth with a mushy splat. A rancid odor gradually encompassed the granary, causing a few of those closest to the woman to turn their heads away from the sickly-sweet smell. The prisoner ignored the humiliation and stared straight ahead without expression.
The old magistrate looked at the accused with unconcealed contempt, as if the rotten apple smell was somehow her fault. Picking up his gavel, he banged it on the makeshift podium to restore order. The granary at Porter’s Grove, its suspended floor lowered to the ground to accommodate the crowd, overflowed with people, all chattering excitedly as the tall and beautiful prisoner faced the magistrate. The rough-spun woolens she had been given to wear were so encrusted with grime that it wasn’t immediately obvious whether the ill-fitting clothes were grey or brown.
“As I hold the office of Magistrate of Porter’s Grove, and as the barony is vacant”, the magistrate began, “I am charged with keeping the king’s peace. Are there any who challenge my authority to adjudicate this matter?”
The question compelled the crowd to cease the last of their chatter. Hearing no objection, the magistrate proceeded with the hearing.
“Eldarine woman, you stand accused of the crimes of trespass, one count; and vagrancy, multiple counts. These are crimes against the king’s laws and an affront to the king’s peace. Do you admit your crimes?”
“I was only trying to eat, My Lord Magister. I was hungry and knew naught else to do as I had no means to provide my own board”, came a feminine voice; soft, but clearly audible.
“Exactly!” exclaimed the magistrate, his words saturated with sarcastic derision. “That would be a crime called Vagrancy, as it happens. And stealing upon the homes of honest men unawares is a crime we civilized folk call Trespass.”
He paused a moment, adopting a more official tone as he resumed. “So, it would appear as though we have the charges right and you are admitting your guilt. Now, it is our custom in the Kingdom of Arcadia to allow those who are found guilty to make a statement before judgment is passed. What say you in your defense?”
“Wait! I’m guilty? I didn’t-”
“But you did. I asked you if you were guilty. You then explained what you did, describing actions which are the very crimes with which you are charged. Hence, you are guilty and admittedly so. Now, what say you in your defense before I pass judgment? I won’t ask again.”
“My Lord Magister, I meant no harm”, she began, the melodic lilt of her thick Eldarine accent unmistakable. “I presumed that by only picking through the food that was tossed out in the evenings I was actually doing the village a service by giving wolves and foxes less reason to encroach upon people’s homes and disturb the peace.”
The magistrate erupted into laughter. “Disturbing the peace is precisely what you have done!” he yelled. “What need have we for wolves and foxes when we have the likes of you prowling our streets and pillaging from pillar to post? And the word is magistrate, by the way, not magister. If you’re going to insist upon making a nuisance of yourself among civilized folk, then you should at least learn how to conduct yourself.”
“Yes, magistrate”, she answered, lowering her eyes a little. “I will be-”
“Quiet, is what you will be!” the magistrate ordered. “I granted you a statement and you’ve made it. Now I will render my judgment.”
Peering closely at a piece of parchment on the podium in front of him, the magistrate’s brow narrowed in frustration. “Irr… Irra… Watchman, what is this wretch’s name?”
A pot-bellied middle-aged man took a single step forward. “Magistrate, I can’t say. It was all I could do to get the spelling right.”
The magistrate nodded to the watchman then returned his attention to the woman. “Damn you Eldarine and your arrogant foppery. You create unpronounceable names just to mock us, I’m certain of it.”
“My name is Ir’ilynkara.” she said flatly.
The magistrate paused a moment to take up a quill and dip it in ink before scratching a few words across the parchment he held before speaking.
“Kara, it is my judgment that you are guilty of one count of trespass and multiple counts of vagrancy, and for these crimes you are hereby exiled from the village of Porter’s Grove. You are thus to be escorted by the town watch to the main road half a league from the village. If you are spotted in Porter’s Grove again, you will be placed in the stocks in the village square for a period of no less than three days, during which time the people of the village will make sport upon you as they wish. You are to be given no provisions. Porter’s Grove has fed you enough. Do you understand this judgment?”
The prisoner let out a heavy sigh as she resigned herself to her fate. “Yes, I do.”
“Good. Watchman, you may take her.”
“Aye, Magistrate.” the watchman replied as the villagers slowly dispersed to return to their normal business. Approaching the woman, he grabbed her by the arm with far more force than was necessary as he led her out of the granary.
“Hey!” she exclaimed. “No need to be so rough. I’m not resisting.”
“Quiet!” the watchman snapped.
“Or what? I’m already sentenced, you simpleton. Must I be quiet, too? And if I am not quiet, what will you do? Exile me again?”
The watchman’s jaw tightened as his face grew red in anger. “If you’re as smart as your mouth, bitch, once we get to the main road, you’ll take it back west to the wilderness and then on to whatever forest spat you out. But as long as you take the road away from here, the village of Porter’s Grove will be happy enough.”
“That’s as well by me. I surely have no love for this village”, Kara replied.
In a few minutes, they reached the end of the cart path where it formed a junction with the main road.
“You’re right. I should head west for home”, she replied as she turned to the right and started to make her way westward.
“Not so fast.”
“What is it now?”
“Those clothes were loaned to you. That makes them village property. I’ll be needing to take them back with me.”
“You can’t be serious! My clothes were taken from me in the cell!”
“Well, isn’t that a pity.”
They stared at each other for a long minute. Neither moved.
“You are a pathetic man”, Kara said at last.
“Just give me the clothes”, he responded. “Now.”
“Fine. I can’t imagine why I should want to keep such filthy rags anyway”, she began as she quickly disrobed. Finishing, she walked over and held out the filthy woolens to him. “Go ahead and take them, then.”
The watchman ignored the clothes and punched her in the mouth hard enough to knock her to the ground. “That’s for calling me ‘pathetic’ and ‘a simpleton’, bitch.”
Kara struggled up to her hands and knees, spitting blood as the watchman collected the clothes and headed back toward the village.
“Well, I suppose that last bit could have been a lot worse”, she said to herself.
Kara started walking westward. She remembered about a week before finding a stream a short distance before the cart path that led north to the village. She needed it as much now as she did then when she had practically dragged herself to it after making the dry wilderness crossing. The slight slope in the terrain made the stream easy to find and she located it within a few minutes. Walking into the middle where the current was fastest, the cool water reached about halfway up her thighs. Kara slipped beneath the surface, letting the rushing water cleanse her skin and hair before standing up to a half-crouch, letting the water come to her waist. Cupping her hands, she took a sip. The water stung the inside of her mouth. Resisting her thirst, she swished the cool water around, closing her eyes against the burn, then spit it out, watching the water turn crimson then disperse into the rapidly-moving waters of the stream. She took another sip, and this one she swallowed. The taste of blood was faint, but it was there. Either her mouth or her lip was still bleeding, then. She shook her head in disbelief at the needless cruelty.
Once she had quenched her thirst, Kara returned to the road and headed eastward, back toward the path to Porter’s Grove. Returning to the cart path, she looked north but saw nothing. The watchman had apparently gone back to the village, his duty discharged. Kara continued eastward along the road for several leagues. The trees along the edge of the forest that ran along the southern side of the road drew closer as she continued. Before long, she spotted what appeared to be a good place to establish a camp. Kara left the road and moved toward the trees; a lithe, blonde figure, tall and naked, melting into the woods.