Alun Nikis awoke to the screams of a young woman outside his hovel. He sat up, disoriented for a moment unsure if it had been but a dream. A very real cry of anguish brought him to his feet.
Firelight flickered through the gaps in his door and angry voices carried on the air. He distinguished one above all others, the harsh unforgiving voice of Toltan Miklos. Alarmed, Alun groped for his cape, for the night was chill, and for his stave, for the mood was nasty.
He was enraged at the scene that met him once outside. Toltan, and two of his cronies, were dragging Alyiona Roka across the ground by her hair and wrists, she kicking and screaming the whole way, toward a tree where three other men were stacking fagots round the bole while a lad held a lighted torch nearby. The smell of smoke and oil was heavy in the air. The entire scene was awash in the glow of Alyiona’s home ablaze, just yards away from his own.
“What is this? What is this?” Alun shouted, bringing his stave down sharply across the forearm of Hald Cureil. Hald barked out in pain, releasing his grip on Alyiona’s wrist. With that she twisted round and landed a sharp kick in the meaty part of Petof Kozma’s thigh. Petof retaliated with a swift kick to her side, which took most of the fight out of her.
Alun quickly jabbed the heavy end of his stave into the front of Petof’s knee. There was a sickening snap and Petof fell to the ground, roiling in pain.
The three men near the tree dropped their bundles and started toward Alun, but the way he flourished his stave gave them pause.
Toltan, still gripping Alyiona’s hair, stood forward to assert his authority. He demanded Alun stand down. By now much of the village had come outdoors, gathered in cowed clutches, whispering behind their hands.
“This woman is a witch,” Toltan asserted, lifting his voice so all could hear. “We cannot abide having a witch among us.”
Alun moved to put the wall of his home behind him, keeping his staff at ready, keenly aware of where all of Toltan’s men stood, or lie.
“Why do you claim this, Toltan? What harm has Alyiona ever done you? Or anyone?” He too raised his voice so that all could hear. “She is a gentle and kind soul.”
“She has cursed my chickens,” Toltan countered. “Nine have died just this week.”
“You’re chickens have the flux,” Alun shouted back. “I told you to burn your coops last month. Did you? No. Now it is spread across the valley.”
“He’s one of them!” Toltan said, turning toward the crowd while pointing an accusing finger toward Alun. “He’s a witch too. A fornicator!”
“As are you,” Alun said, then casting a mischievous grin toward the villagers, “assuming you are the rightful sire of Rita’s spawn?”
This perhaps was too much, for as the crowd laughed, Toltan released Alyiona’s hair and lept toward Alun. Alun was too quick, burying the head of his stave in Toltan’s gut, then with a firm follow thru sending him reeling onto his back.
“Go home, Toltan, and take your jackals with you.” He cast an accusing eye at the henchmen. “This woman is no witch. Her father has died, and you just want to take her holdings. The only real evil in this village is you.”
Merd Guri stepped from the crowd to stand beside Alun, bearing no weapon save his sheer size. Then two women rushed forward and gathered Alyiona up, ushering her away.
Toltan labored to his feet, then sensing the mood of the crowd had turned against him, staggered away. Two of the wood gathers helped Petof up from the ground, his left leg almost useless, and followed in Toltan’s angry wake. As Toltan passed Imre, stil holding the torch, he yanked the brand from the lad and dashed it into the oil soaked wood.
“It’s a shame,” Alun said to Merd as they watched the seven men go, “to lose such a fine tree.”
© 2015 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.