The Witch-Queen scowled as she waited for the Assassin.
The Mercenary’s voice still rang with song. The Witch-Queen hadn’t figured out how yet – she was certain that the Mercenary was still missing a tongue – but this would all be at an end soon.
She smiled at that thought.
Out of the clearing, the Assassin emerged, the Tailor she’d sent him to fetch following dejectedly behind him. The Tailor had defied her, by saying that her taxation was too pricey. The Witch-Queen wasn’t about to just let that slide.
The Witch-Queen handed the Assassin a small poach of coins. He took it and nodded, turning away and leaving the Tailor to the guards.
She didn’t have to pay the Assassin.
Of course she didn’t.
It just made her feel that little bit more powerful and important.
It was a lovely sensation.
Nodding to her guards, the Witch-Queen led the Tailor into the dungeons. She wrinkled her nose ever so slightly at the strong smell of damp, the spicy odour of stale sweat and the stench of putrefaction.
She raised her hand, allowing a flickering flame to dance along her palm and used it to see in the darkness.
There it was again.
The Mercenary singing.
“And he who won’t wi’ us comply!
Down among the dead men! Down among the dead men!
Down! Down! Down! Down!
Down among the dead men let him lie!”
The Witch-Queen grimaced and sauntered down the passage. The prison became silent.
“What’s this, Mariqah?” she said, looking into the Mercenary’s cell, “Do you fear me?”
The Mercenary raised her brow quizzically and shook her head.
“Then why don’t you sing with your former defiance – before me, instead of when I’m not here?”
“And he that would this health deny!”
The Witch-Queen turned, following the sound of the voice. No-one moved.
“Down among the dead men! Down among the dead men!”
The Witch-Queen turned again, staring at the faces of the prisoners, wondering where the voice was coming from.
“Down! Down! Down! Down!
Down among the dead men let him lie!”
The Witch-Queen, slightly unnerved, turned back to the Mercenary, “Open your mouth.”
The Mercenary tilted her head to a side, pausing a moment, before opening her mouth.
The Witch-Queen pursed her lips.
“I don’t know how you’re doing that,” said the Witch-Queen, “But no matter. I’m afraid that your delightful stay in my dungeon is at an end. Lord Grumm of Brimone is quite ecstatic in having to meet you, especially after you killed his father. Do you remember that? I’m sure he’ll use you for his sport, his fancy, and then kill you in the most fitting way a person like you ought to die – in humiliation.”
“You talk a lot more, now that you think I can’t…” rang the Mercenary’s voice.
The Witch-Queen narrowed her eyes, “It amuses me that you aren’t even remotely bereaved to be meeting Grumm in a few short days,” she raised her hand.
A chill grew in the air and the Thief was prepared to huddle up in his corner.
But no feral screaming followed.
Instead, in the place of a haggard-looking woman in rags and his cloak; stood a clean and almost beautiful one in golden jewellery and the sheer clothing of a dancer.
“Do you mean to beautify me to death…?” echoed the Mercenary’s voice, as she examine her hands, frowning, “And just when I was beginning to grow old…”
“Well, you must look your best, now shouldn’t you?” the Witch-Queen opened the all prison doors with a snap of her fingers and her guards rushed up to cuff all the prisoners. She waved her palm, and they were all suddenly dressed in such finery and attire as the Mercenary.
The Witch-Queen smiled as the guards led them all out of the dungeon. Some of the prisoners squinted at the sun, breathing in the fresh, clean air.
The Assassin was standing in the bushes. The Mercenary could see him. Her gaze settled on him and she ignored the large cage, waiting for them, that would be pulled by horses, all the way to Brimone.
“Lord Grumm is going to love you,” the Witch-Queen whispered in the Mercenary’s ear, “You won’t like him much though.”
The Mercenary said nothing, but cracked her head against the Witch-Queen’s nose. The Witch-Queen’s skin broke and blood spilled over her face as she jumped and howled.
The Mercenary laughed heartily as she was ushered into the cage.