The village celebrated late into the night and was fast asleep when it was abruptly awoken the next day. Women and elderly men rubbed their eyes and stepped out of their stone huts upon hearing the sound of galloping horses and trumpets announcing the arrival of whoever considered himself important enough for such a grand entrance.
Sable emerged from her tent and found that most of the villagers had gathered at the center of the village.
She sniffed. A lot of dust had been whirled up. There was the scent of numerous horses. She could smell metal.
She glanced around and saw that the village had been surrounded by men armed with swords and protected by metal chainmail and armor. There was no escaping for anyone.
She followed the villagers to village center. Three men stood on a hastily built wooden platform. A fourth and a fifth man were busy setting up gallows.
The first wore chainmail armor and a metal breastplate that had the outline of an eight peddle flower etched into it—the insignia of the Eisen King. His hands were protected by gold studded leather gloves. He had his hands on his hips, exuding the aura of a leader. The fourth and the fifth men wore similar armor, however theirs was dented and without gold; these were soldiers of lower ranking.
The second man wore a tailored brown robe with a hood and a golden cross hanging from his neck. He held a hardcover book with reinforced golden edges—a priest.
Sable’s heart sank when she saw the third man; he wore thick leather gloves with shining silver plates stitched into the outer surface of the leather. His trousers were made of an unknown black material and his upper body was protected by a black scale mail armor made out of the hide of a creature Sable thought was extinct. Around his neck he wore a silver medallion with the Eisen King flower insignia etched on one side and the shape of a pointy hat etched into the other side.
A witch hunter.
The knight took out a scroll, cleared his throat and read from it.
“Hear now, people of Ellensheim! We are the Eisen Army Police and we have tracked two deserters by the names of Raven and Hens to your village. Deserters are traitors and servants of the devil and King’s Pride. Deserters are the enemy! A deserter brings only shame to your village and his family.”
He stopped and his gaze swept across the crowd of women and old men. He continued. “But worry not, for the Eisen King is merciful. Turn over the deserters and you will all be spared. As punishment, the deserters will be hanged here on this day. Deserters will not receive King Eisen’s pardon!”
There were murmurs in the crowd. The knight continued to read. “If the people of this village do not hand over the deserters and they are found in one of your homes, he and those that hid him will be punished with death. In addition, the taxes on this village will be tripled.”
There were gasps of horror. Such a tax increase meant that the village would not be able to survive the winter.
“Now, people of Ellensheim; hand over the deserters.”