The Circle was exactly that; a large circular room with several benches lining the walls and a clear space in the middle. There was no marble floor, no grandeur to it it all. Dirt lined the floor and as people traipsed through it, that dirt was kicked up into the air so that you could taste it whenever you opened your mouth. The first thing you needed after any meeting in the Circle, was a glass of water. There was always a queue for the pump.
The Tiger Lord said that the dirt-covered floor was to keep them grounded and as close to the earth as they could be. Since he strongly believed that being removed from the earth was one of the reasons why Kings became tyrants and lost the ability to rule justly whilst sat onto of their fancy thrones.
The Tiger Lord was against dictatorships. Even though the council, and pretty much all the people in the Ship, looked to him for advice and the final say on any policies, he never ever made that say without there being a Members consensus. Even if this procedure annoyed his brother to the point of physical violence. Many a wooden chest had suffered the brunt of that annoyance. From Arianna’s tent she could hear all of the Tiger Lord’s brother’s thoughts on democracy.
As was tradition, the council members cheered as the hunting party entered. Arianna swept down into an over exaggerated bow. When she straightened up the Tiger Lord was frowning at her. She knew what he'd say. She was a thief, not a carnival performer. If she wanted to be one, that could easily be arranged.
Yet she smiled straight into his face, her smile just for him, and she saw his features relax a little. There'd be a punishment for her insolence of course, but he never could punish her with real anger.
The Tiger Lord sat at the point at which the lines of council members converged. Next to him was an empty seat marked for his brother. They were twin brothers. Not totally identical, but they were raised in the same womb. Which must have been hell for their mother, because judging by the size of them both, they were definitely big babes also.
Arianna was glad to see the Tiger Lord’s brother was not here. He made her extremely uncomfortable, even though she could never tell that to anyone.
The Tiger Lords brother was a brutal man, who sat at the head of their army. He relished the action of shoving a sword into the chest of a man and standing over them whilst their life bled away.
Arianna couldn't understand it; she did not enjoy killing. In fact, she tried to keep the casualties by her hand to a minimum, only killing in self defence or absolute necessity.
Of course, she always struggled with what could be defined as needful and needless killing. Though she'd never let the lines go and become like the Tiger Lord’s brother. That was a different kind of human from the one she had chosen to be, even though their environments were similar.
His absence gave her confidence though and the success of today soared through her veins, making her heart hammer hard.
The Tiger Lord bowed to the hunters, as was custom.
"Thanks be to our brave hunters!" he bellowed around the room. The council members repeated their thanks in a deep chant.
The hunters nodded their appreciation.
"Now, what spoils have you brought back to our community?"
Arianna stepped forward. No one challenged her, thankfully, not even Aaron. From a side glance she could see his face was starting to turn a violet colour. Now everyone would see the bruise and ask. So much for his pretty face. It would be months now before all traces of it had left his cheek.
"Illustrious Tiger Lord, your hunter’s were able to intercept the powerful Duke of Rangor. He flew his banner proudly from the top of his carriage, but in defeat, he was just a single man. From him we took..."
And as Arianna said this the Hunters brought forth chests of glittering jewels; rubies, emeralds, and even some diamonds that were stashed in a box in a secret compartment. She took one out, although not the largest, but one that glittered with the full colours of the rainbow, and held it out before the Tiger Lord.
The Tiger Lord brought it close to his eye to examine the precious stone. The Circle went silent.
When he was done, the tiger lord licked his lips. He lifted the diamond into the air and smiled widely. "This truly is a magnificent score!"
And the circle erupted into cheers once more.
The presentation couldn’t have gone better for Arianna.
Except that, it wasn’t over.
"Truly a joyous day."
The booming sound silenced everyone instantly. All eyes went to the entrance of the Circle. Standing there, more beast than man, was the Tiger Lord’s twin brother.
They both had shaggy black hair. Hard faces, all rough surface, like un-sanded wood. This outline made them twins. Both of them were almost seven foot all and as wide as a barge. Meaning that they easily towered over every man in the community, and every man Arianna had ever encountered. Their eyes, however, was where the similarities between the brothers stopped.
The Tiger Lord had enormous green eyes; as green as freshly grown grass. They lit up when he smiled, even though they swirled darker when he was angry. Whereas the brother possessed non reflective stones, totally black, that when turned on you, made your soul burn. Or at least, that's how Arianna felt under his intense stare.
The brother was stood in the point at which shadow met light by the entrance to the Circle. Knowing how menacing he appeared, he remained there whilst he spoke, addressing the whole council like they were nothing but dirt under his boot.
"We have a more pressing problem in our midst."
"Come forth and share with us, brother," the Tiger Lord invited him. Though the Tiger Lord had never said anything on the subject, Arianna was sure that he worried over his brother’s behaviour. Not just in terms of how imposing he was for the council, but the danger of his volatile temper that was a format, yet very active volcano, ready to erupt at any moment. A temper that could explode without the spark of a valid reason.
The brother was all talk when it came to the Tiger Lord though. He’d raise his voice, but never his hand. Though he pushed the Tiger Lord as much as he could, hoping to get a reaction from the naturally calm man. This was one of those instances, where the Tiger Lord had called him into the light, but he’d ignored his request and remained in the dark.
“The problem I am referring to, is Magic!”
An electric current of fear and confusion spread through the council members, jolting them into upright positions and freezing their faces in panic.
"What do you mean?" The Tiger Lord spoke.
The brother strode out of the dark/light and into the Circle. The hunters melted away from him. Only Arianna remained where she was, at the front, close to the Tiger Lord. Her feet were stuck to the ground ever since he’d said that word and she was sure she couldn't move even if she wanted to.
With him he dragged, by the hair, an older looking lady. Her hair was black on the ends and pure white near her scalp. She made no noise of pain but her teeth were clenched. The clothes she wore were barely more than strips of weathered fabric thrown over her witheringly hunched frame. Her hands were heavily scared, chunks missing in some places, the smallest finger the only finger still with a nail. The rest were just empty beds.
Arianna felt physically sick at the sight of this woman. Not because of her appearance though, but because when she met eyes with the woman, she smiled. Smiling despite the torment the brother probably had in store for her and despite his accusation of magic, which was enough to sentence you to death in these parts of the world. Worse, she smiled at Arianna with hope.
How could she be so foolish? Arianna thought.
“Look at this!” the brother said, yanking her up with such force it's a wonder he didn't rip her scalp from her skull.
As ever the firm diplomat, the tiger lord looked expectantly at his brother. "Brother, I'm not sure the council follows what you are saying?”
The brother gritted his teeth, as was typical when the Tiger Lord spoke to him in this manner. It was a subtle frustration though and Arianna was probably the only one who noticed. Which came from studying their interactions throughout all the years she had trained closely with them both.
"This piece of filth you see before you,” the brother declared. “Is a witch!"
Speech erupted throughout the chamber. There were squeals of shock, angry tones and frightened thoughts being thrown around.
All the while the accused looked at Arianna with that hopeful expression. It made Arianna want to slap the look right off her face, but she couldn't. Her whole body was numb. That was the effect of the Tiger Lord’s brother on her, combined with the talk of what she’d always considered forbidden; magic.
The Tiger Lord lifted a hand to silence everyone.
A hush fell all around the circle.
"Do you have proof of this, brother?"
"Look at her. She is proof enough," he growled.
"Did you see her conducting magic?”
The brother hesitated a fraction of a second. "She is a witch, my Lord, you should trust my word on this."
Council member Hakem rose. "We cannot have a witch within our midst. It is too dangerous. She could curse us all!"
The chamber echoed with the agreements that followed.
"Exactly," the brother crooned. "So there's only one thing to do. I will rip her beating heart out of her chest and stab it all before you, so that you need not fear her curses."
"No!" Arianna screamed