Throughout the day, preparations were made for the night’s feast. Various children scampered in and out of the house performing different tasks. A group of young men, including Calin, dragged wooden tables and benches to the courtyard. Each one was a mighty effort and they grunted and cursed and argued.
“Why doesn’t that creature do the work?” one of them asked. She could hear his voice floating up from below her. “Why are we made to toil instead of that beast?”
“Come and take a close look at her,” Calin said. They ran up the stairs and the entire platform shook. Five young men gathered around her, close but afraid to touch.
“She’s filthy,” said the one who had wanted her to work.
“And would you want her touching the tables and chairs?” Franz asked. She recognized his face as he bent around and spit in her eye. “You broke my nose,” he said as punched her in the nose. She grunted but he yelped. He had hit the plank more than he had hit her nose, and the others laughed at him.
“Do you think father would want you touching her?” said that same young man she had not really seen. He walked around into her view and put his arm around Franz. It was the boy from the window. He had flaming red hair and the same green eyes as Hadyn. His body was lithe but substantial, his face clean-shaven. He lowered his head slightly to guard his eyes from the others and he stared into Tinhara’s eyes. He was looking for something inside her, but she did not know what it was. He shifted his lower jaw from side to side in contemplation.
Someone punched Tinhara in the already injured shoulder and she flinched but she did not take her eyes from the young man in front of her. She was certain that he was Hadyn’s twin and she wondered if this was as close to Hadyn as she might ever get again. He turned away when the second and third punches landed, and took Franz with him. “We had better get back to work, or father will be angry.” They headed down the stairs, Franz holding his hand and glaring back at her.
Tinhara waited. She watched as other preparations were made, as other children, girls, headed out to the fields and toward the katl. One would hold the animal by the head while the other milked it, and a third would haul the bucket of milk back to the house. The young men climbed onto their horses and headed out, through the straight rows of plants, down a hill into an area she could not see. Birds flew overhead and dogs sniffed around the grounds. Finally, the young men returned with a dead animal, one of the katl, dragging behind. A small red-haired woman emerged from the house and watched as they brought the animal to the door. She motioned for them to begin cutting it up, and they did. Huge pieces were cut off and laid by the door. The sons went out two more times and brought back two more katl, butchering them on the doorstep.
Tristan emerged from the house and walked around back. Although she could not see what he was doing, she could tell by the smell that he was building a fire. She could hear it crackle and roar, and watched as the smoke drifted past her. The boys stabbed the meat with pieces of metal and carried them over to the fire. The smell of all that burning flesh was making Tinhara nauseous, and she wished for a cold wind and a piece of raw qamux.
Throughout the day Tristan would stop his preparations, mount the stairs and hit Tinhara. He would laugh and head back down the stairs to continue his work. Once in a while one of the younger children would throw a rock at her, with varying degrees of accuracy. They would scream and shout and challenge each other to throw another rock, but would be chased away by one of the older girls. Tinhara tried to count each child that she saw, but lost track at eight. Hadyn had said there were twelve. There were at least five boys, young men most of them, and then the girls. But she heard other voices, even younger children. It seemed that everyone was here, except Hadyn.
The sun rose higher in the sky and it beat down on Tinhara; there was a slight wind but it did not cool her. Her bonds remained tight, her body remained sore and the sun remained hot. A strong thirst grabbed hold of her but she would not ask for water. Instead, she watched, trying to keep her mind off her own pain and misfortune. But her sorrow would creep back into her mind, crawling in from its hiding spot in a dark recess somewhere, scratching at the wall she tried to build up, tearing it down and leaving her to struggle to build it again.
She had barely noticed that the sun was beginning to set. Hadyn had been right, the sun rose and set quickly here, and the coolness of the dusk was comforting.
In the distance, Tinhara could hear horses coming, their thundering hooves pounding over the earth on a path toward the courtyard and the feast. People began to arrive as the sun sank behind the horizon. Torches were lit to guide them and keep the dark at bay. The fire still roared and the children began to bring out the food and drink for the guests. Platter after platter of meat and plant was carried out, and more and more people arrived. Their voices joined together in a great roar, their harsh language slicing through the night and ringing in Tinhara’s ears. Jugs of red and white coloured liquids were brought out and she knew by the shouting and laughing that it was some form of grog. She licked her lips, wishing for a drink.
Calin emerged from the house carrying a metal disk and a large stick. He was dressed in a black leather cloak with small metal disks sewn into it. Red cloth wove in and out of his hair and trailed down his sides. He climbed the stairs sombrely, purposefully, holding the disk and the stick aloft. He climbed onto the platform and stood before the crowd. He hit the metal three times with the stick, sending out loud, low tones. The guests quieted and waited. Tinhara tried to turn to see him better, but he walked past her without looking at her, and headed down the stairs again. He stopped in front of the doorway of the house and hit the metal three more times.
Tristan stepped out in a long, flowing robe of blue. It was similar to, although not the same as, the robe of the magician she had killed in Qan. His grey hair was loose, and it hung majestically down his back. He walked straight and tall, with the bearing of a king about to receive the throne. Behind him emerged the woman Tinhara had seen giving directions for the slaughter. She was older, obviously his wife, but she was small, smaller even than Tinhara. Her thinness showed even though she also wore a heavy blue robe. She seemed to struggle under its weight but she managed to keep four paces behind Tristan as he walked toward the courtyard.
A final figure emerged from the house. Hadyn, resplendent in a thick fur robe, stepped out four paces after her mother. Tinhara’s heart leapt out and she twisted as much as she could to see her lover. Hadyn’s robe had the same metal disks sewn in as did all the other robes, but it seemed to shine more than any of the others. She wore a beaded headpiece, its design arching over her eyes and dipping slightly over the bridge of her nose. It flowed across her forehead and down the sides of her face, finally getting lost in her wild red hair. Strings of gold coins cascaded down her body, jingling with each step she took. Across her chest, running over one shoulder and down around her hip, was a sash of leather with silver pieces sewn into it. The firelight glinted off and shone on the ground, lighting it up like stars in the night. But she did not look at Tinhara, did not turn her eyes to see her. Instead, Tinhara saw a hardness in her eyes that had never been there before. A slight smile crossed Hadyn’s lips as her father began to climb the platform. She followed behind, head held high, back straight, shoulders square.
When Hadyn put her foot on the first step, Tinhara shivered. When her other foot hit the second stair, Tinhara’s leg jerked. Each time the woman put a foot on another stair and climbed one step closer, Tinhara would twitch or wrench in her bonds. Tristan arrived at the top of the platform carrying a torch. He walked up to Tinhara and leaned into her face, and gave her a wink. He proceeded to the other side of the platform where he put his torch into a holder.
His wife was next. She had never seen Tinhara up close and she paused for a moment, perhaps in fear, then put her torch in a holder that was close to the stairs. She did not step any nearer to the bound and beaten woman. Hadyn ascended. Tinhara raised her eyebrows and arched her neck; her breath quickened and her stomach knotted. Hadyn walked slowly, carefully over to the cross, looking at her father and not at her companion. Her eyes were only angry slits as she walked over to Tinhara.
Hadyn took in a deep breath and spit in Tinhara’s face, then turned and took in the applause of the crowd.
“I have returned to my loving father and family,” Hadyn told the crowd as they cheered. “I was stolen from my home and taken to Qan, where this woman beat me. She killed a man, beat me in the streets, concealed me, tied me and brutalized me.” Tinhara squirmed against the cross, pained now not by the cross but by the twisted truth of the words Hadyn spoke, and of the poison in her once melodic voice. “But I am safe now that my father has rescued me,” Hadyn continued. “I am home with my family, and this woman will pay!” Hadyn turned around and kicked Tinhara in the leg and the guests screamed and shouted.
Betrayed! Hadyn had betrayed her. Instead of offering a glimmer of comfort or hope, she had turned to follow her sadistic father’s lead. She could hear Tristan laughing and applauding his daughter’s speech, and her heart sank. Tinhara leaned her head against the plank and began to cry, trying to hide her tears from her captors. They were too busy with their speeches to bother with her now.
“My daughter has returned home, as I told you she would!” Tristan shouted to the crowd. He waited for their cheers to die down before continuing. “And I have on display for you the villain responsible.” It was followed by another cheer. “And you will all have the opportunity to watch her pay for her crimes!” Then a great roar from the mob almost shook the platform. He continued to speak for some time in his native language, screaming and shouting and stomping back and forth across the stage. He knew he had the audience in the palm of his hand and he was enjoying himself. Hadyn had stepped off to the side, near her mother, and waited patiently for her father to finish.
Tinhara stared at her through teary eyes. After all she had sacrificed for this woman, how could she so easily turn against her? Their last conversation had been about returning to Qan, and Tinhara did not understand what could have happened to change Hadyn’s heart, to harden it so quickly and thoroughly. She sniffed and coughed a bit, still watching Hadyn’s every move.
“And now it is time to eat!” Tristan shouted, and his guests hollered even louder. The show was over for the moment.
Hadyn’s father headed down the stairs first, followed four paces behind by her mother. Four paces behind her, Hadyn began down the stairs, turning only at the last moment, with her face barely showing above the platform. She mouthed a single word to Tinhara, “Courage,” and headed down the stairs.
Tinhara watched her walk out of sight, blinking her eyes to dry her tears and remembering to breathe again.
Courage. She gritted her teeth and endured. Over the course of the night, various people would mount the stairs and look at her, marvelling at her evilness and revelling in her sin. They would recount stories to one another, as they came in their groups, of the things she was said to have done, the people she killed and they would whisper of the abuses she heaped upon Hadyn. And without fail, everyone admired Tristan for finding the Qanian villain. And each person, without fail, would spit or punch or otherwise attack Tinhara as she stood bound to the cross.
Hadyn’s mother joined the procession, soaking up the sympathetic words of others who passed her by. She took to the platform on shaky legs and a son, Hadyn’s twin, wrapped his arm around her to support her. She walked behind the cross so she could face Tinhara and stood with the anger that only a mother could feel. “You have ruined my daughter,” she hissed. She stepped closer to Tinhara, her breath stinking from food and drink. “You have ruined my husband. He thinks of nothing but you now. He is possessed. He spent weeks concocting your torture and demise. He practised his atrocities on our animals, he has paid a fortune to have the blacksmith create horrible instruments of torture, and he dreams of killing you.” She spat in Tinhara’s face as her son tried to comfort her. Tinhara simply let the spittle drip down her face and waited for the verbal barrage to end.
“Karn, fetch the razor,” Hadyn’s mother said.
“Yes mother,” he responded as he unwrapped himself from her and headed to a part of the platform that had no torchlight.
“You have ruined my husband and you have ruined my daughter. She is not the same young girl she was when she left,” she said. Karn returned with a long thin piece of metal and waited while his mother ranted. “You do not even have the decency to repent for what you have done. Karn,” she gasped as she reached for her son’s support, “Give it to me.”
He pursed his lips, looked Tinhara in the eye, and handed the razor over to his mother. “Hold her head,” she said. Karn reached around the plank and grabbed each of Tinhara’s ears, holding her face firmly against the plank. The little woman reached up and began to scrape away at Tinhara’s head.
“This is what we do to women like you,” she sneered as she hacked away at the thick hair. Tinhara remained motionless. A few times she nicked Tinhara but she slowed herself and was careful about scraping away only her hair. Tinhara could hear a few voices cheering the woman on, but most people were busy talking and drinking and eating. When the last few pieces were gone, the woman stepped back and said, “So, what do you think of yourself now?”
Tinhara, released from Karn’s grip, laughed quietly to herself. She lowered her head into her shoulder to hide her smile. It was of no consequence to her: hair or no hair, she felt no different. She looked into the woman’s eyes, and her feelings obviously showed. Hadyn’s mother gasped, dropped the razor and fled down the stairs.
Karn shook his head. “You will pay for that,” he said just before heading after his mother.
It did not take long before Tinhara discovered the cost of her arrogance. Calin, Franz and Karn all headed back up to the platform. Karn and Franz turned their attentions to Tinhara, while Calin addressed the crowd.
“Honoured guests, father, mother, and dear Hadyn!” he shouted to get everyone’s attention. While he spoke, Karn and Franz worked to bind Tinhara’s arms with leather ropes; thick and tight and unforgiving, they began to cut into her flesh. Fresh blood trickled down her arms. “We will show you what happens when you attack a member of the Mekka family.” Tinhara was released from the cross and collapsed onto her knees because her legs were too weak to hold her up. Each young man stood away from her, their ropes wrapped around their waists, pulling her arms in either direction. They slowly walked in a circle, turning her around to face the crowd. Tinhara, kneeling just behind Calin, beheld the transformed courtyard.
There was one large fire and a series of smaller ones lighting the area. There were hundreds of visitors gathered in the area, sitting or standing, eating or drinking, talking or watching. “People of Bertik, I present to you, the taksin trader, Tinhara!” Calin shouted as he stepped aside to reveal her. She watched as people jeered and shook their fists. Calin whirled around and struck her with the catch pole, and she would have fallen face first into the platform except hat she was held aloft by his brothers. Everyone went quiet, but Tinhara broke the heavy silence was a moan.
“Shut up!” Calin snarled as he reached back and punched her with all his might. It was one of the most forceful blows that had been landed by any of Hadyn’s family, and she did not believe she could take these blows for long. “You will not escape,” he spat out.
“Whip her!” shouted Tristan from the ground. Tinhara looked at him; he had Hadyn on his lap, one arm around her waist and the other resting on the arm of his chair. He took a drink and repeated his command. “Whip her!” Calin disappeared from sight while Hadyn slipped over to an empty chair beside her mother. She looked askance at her father, but said nothing.
Calin reappeared with a whip. It had three pieces of leather attached to a single short handle, and he swung it around his head. He turned suddenly and brought the whip down across Tinhara’s face and neck, and the leather bit into her flesh. The crowd screamed and cheered, but when she opened her eyes again, she could see Hadyn talking to her mother. The woman waved off her daughter.
“Rip her clothes off and whip her!” Tristan screamed as he got to his feet. Calin smirked at Tinhara and grabbed at her clothing, ripping the seams and pulling her meagre protection from her. When she was stripped to the waist, he whipped her again, aiming this time for her ravaged back. Tinhara howled in agony each time that he hit her.
“Again!” Tristan shouted.
Before the whip was brought down, Hadyn cried out “Stop! Papa stop! I do not want to see this!” Calin whipped Tinhara anyway, and raised his arm again. “Papa, this is my feast, my celebration. I do not want to see blood and hear her howling all night long. Papa? Please, do this tomorrow, but for tonight, let me sing for you.” Hadyn smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck, nuzzling him and softly pleading. Tristan was clearly torn between the pleasure he got from seeing the whipping, and the pleasure of his daughter. Without any agreement, Hadyn began to sing. Tinhara listened to the sweetness that flowed, how it melded with own heartbeat, her own blood pounding in her ears. She closed her eyes and felt the relief of having no one attack her.
Slowly, Franz and Karn got closer together, one step at a time, releasing her weight from their hands. She buckled into a heap and Karn grabbed her by the ear and lifted her head up. She saw him look around at his brothers, but they were listening raptly to Hadyn.
“You had better be careful,” he whispered. “You could be dead soon. Do not taunt my father. I know what you have done for Hadyn, she has told me everything. Everything. I know she wants to return to your home country with you. You will not survive here. Father will kill you and he will eat the flesh from your body and defile your carcass. He told me his plans, and I know he is mad, but he will do everything he has said, and everything he has dreamed of. Only Hadyn can save you tonight. Tomorrow you will beg to have your throat slit. And Hadyn said it would break her heart to watch you die, and she would lay down and die herself. I cannot bear the thought of that, of her death. I promised to help you, for her. If you get free from this, she will be ready. You must get free, for her.” Karn looked around. “Her song is almost over. I cannot help you directly; father would torture me. But I know how to help Hadyn.” He stood up quickly, grabbing at the rope that held her arm.
“Franz!” Karn shouted. “Do not let her go!” Franz hastily grabbed the leather rope and wrapped it around his wrist a few times.
“Be quiet! Father will hear!” he hissed.
“Father has already heard,” Tristan said, startling everyone. “And father is not happy that you let her go. I saw from below. Karn did his best to keep her in check by holding her, but you, Franz, again you let her go. Do you want her to escape?” he asked.
Franz laughed nervously. “No father, of course not. I…”
Tristan held up his hand and effectively silenced his son. “Tie her back up, facing out this time so I can watch the pain in her eyes,” he said. They hauled her backward and tied her onto the cross, binding her arms and legs and waist as Tristan started toward the platform again.
“Tristan! Come back!” a guest called out. “You are spending more time with that dog than with your own daughter! Come back and…”
Tristan’s face went white with anger and he wheeled about. “Get out! Leave my house and my land and leave me!” he screamed. He grunted ran down the stairs toward his now-terrified guest. “Get out! Get out!” he shouted. He began attacking his guests, throwing knives and food and drinks at them. “This is my dinner! My celebration! It is my daughter and my captive and you cannot tell me what to do!” he bawled. Guests fled from him, some taking to the road on foot while others headed for their horses. Members of his family trailed after him, trying to protect the visitors and calm him, but it only enraged him. He punched his wife in the face and sent her to the ground. One of her daughters ran up to tend to her, but caught Tristan’s foot in her stomach.
Tinhara waited and watched, able to see everything now from her platform. Tristan struck out at a young dark-haired boy, but the boy was whisked out of his reach by Calin and rushed to his own family. They ran down the road carrying the crying child and yelling curses over their shoulders. It took only a few minutes for everyone to leave the courtyard, scurrying away from the abuses of the madman.
Tristan paused and looked around him as if he had no idea what he had just done. He looked around as Hadyn approached him, and he smiled at her. He reached out his hands and stroked her face gently. “You have returned home,” he said.
“Father, it has been a long night, come inside,” Franz said as he reached out to take his father’s arm. Tristan cuffed him and pushed him to the ground.
“If you had let that woman escape… If she does escape, it will be you up there. Do you understand?” The entire family witnessed the warning.
Franz nodded his head and glared at Tinhara with anger matched only by Tristan’s.
“Papa?” Hadyn called out. Tristan once again softened his face and his demeanour, touching her tenderly. “Papa, I’m cold and I can smell rain coming in. Please, take me inside. I want to sit by the fire and listen to you tell me a story,” she said as she rubbed her cheek against his hand.
“Hadyn, my little girl.” His voice quivered as he spoke. “My sweet little girl. You love your papa, don’t you?”
She smiled and kissed the palm of his hand. “Of course Papa. Of course.” He took her arm in his and they walked back regally into the house, stepping over overturned chairs and around upended tables. As they walked into the house, the other members of the family, still standing in the middle of the mayhem, began to slowly move toward the house. A younger child began to cry, and was comforted by an older one. Calin carried his mother across the courtyard and into the house.