Chapter 10: A Touch of Cruelty
It was the same nightmare, and Carina was tired of it. The feel of the platform pressed against her knees through the thin dress. The endless roar of the crowd. The rancid smell and taste of blood. And the “ker-chunk, ker-chunk” of the executioner’s ax as it severed head, after head, after head.
None of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting had been spared. They were dragged forward one by one, pushed to their knees, and restrained until the king’s executioner could get in a clean swing. Then their heads dropped and rolled as the crowd roared its approval, and another wave of blood drenched the platform.
Every dent in the execution block dulled the blade and yet the executioner, coated in blood, never missed, never tired, and never slowed down.
The drunken festivities of the crowd were disrupted as the knights dragged out Lady Hana, the late queen’s favored lady-in-waiting. The young woman’s once long, honey blonde hair now a ragged mess chopped just below her ears. The stains on Hana’s dress and the bruises on her arms whispered of perverse abuse at the hands of the king’s men.
The crowd roared louder as she stumbled towards her execution.
“Burn her!” they chanted. “Burn the heretic! Burn the witch!”
Hana knelt without assistance before the chopping block. Her turquoise blue eyes were vacant and emotionless. Her heart and soul numbed from the loss of her lover.
The executioner stepped forward, but he did not touch her as he had the others. He waited as Hana took a slow, quivering breath, and then laid her head down upon the slick wooded block, silently welcoming her death.
Perhaps the dignity she exuded touched him because the executioner took his time, and in one clean cut, ended her misery.
But then it was Maura’s turn. And she did not want to die.
Weeks of starvation and torture in the prison cells had drained her of dignity and strength, but she still fought against the guards who dragged her forward.
The executioner kicked her into submission, and her knees smacked into the pool of blood spread across the platform.
“It will all be over soon,” the executioner promised.
It was a strange kind of mercy, but Maura lacked Hana’s dignity as he pushed her head down against the wood, still warm with Hana’s blood. Maura sobbed. The sound distorted and foreign as the stub of her tongue strained futilely in the back of her throat.
The knights gripped her wrists and held them against the platform as they knelt beside her. The executioner steadied his ax and swung it overhead. Spitting up blood as she cursed her wretched fate, Maura closed her eyes as the blade descended.
She did not hear or feel her end. Just the bitter cold that crept violently through her body and exploded in her chest.
Carina sat up and gasped as she clutched her chest. The dark bedroom settled in before her blurred vision as she clutched her throat. With a weary moan, she shook her head and then turned to check on Ivy.
The older girl still slept, her lips half parted, her brows furrowed in discomfort. Carina pressed her ice-cold fingers against Ivy’s forehead with care. The fever appeared to have broken, but it was difficult to determine when Carina’s body temperature was already near freezing.
Carina exhaled slowly. Her white breath billowing into the room like a ghost. Unable to sleep, she flung her covers aside and rose to relieve herself.
The piss pot hadn’t been changed since that morning, as was evident by the stench that attacked Carina as soon as she opened the lid. She gagged and dropped the cover back into place. Carina had meant to ask Judith to freshen the pot, but clearly, she had forgotten.
‘I’ll just have to deal with this myself.’
With the moonlight to illuminate her search, Carina dug out a candle and match from the dresser drawer. She lit the candle, unlocked her door, and peered through the crack cautiously. The hallway was dark and quiet, but Lincoln was home, and Carina wasn’t taking any chances.
She left the candle on the corner table by the door and retrieved the piss pot. Even with the lid secured, the stench was putrid. Carina steeled herself as she opened her bedroom door and slid silently through the hallway and down the stairs.
The foyer was silent and empty. Carina turned down the left hall, away from the dining room and library, towards the servant’s quarters and Lord Josiah’s office. The candle illuminated the narrow hallway around her in a flickering, pale yellow light.
She occasionally paused to listen as a strange repetitive noise grew steadily louder. Carina shifted her grip on the pot, determined to dump its contents on anything that might leap out at her.
She continued forward cautiously, careful to avoid the creaky floorboards. The disturbing noise, now accompanied by a painful grunting moan, grew louder as she approached Josiah’s study.
Light spilled through the door, which was slightly ajar. Although Carina suspected what lay beyond and wanted no part of it, the undeniable curiosity to identify the participants of such secretive acts pulled her to the door. She pressed her back against the wall, took in a slow breath, and turned to peer around the door frame.
Judith was bent over Josiah’s desk with her skirt pulled up around her neck. Josiah stood behind the young woman, thrusting his hips against her like a bull, as the desk leg creaked beneath them both.
“That’s the trouble with pretty maids and a husband with a wandering eye and prick.” Joy’s words of warning echoed eerily in Carina’s mind as she took in the scar of the bullet wound on Josiah’s right leg and quickly averted her eyes—only to find Judith watching her.
Carina almost dropped the pot in her arm as the air caught in her throat. Judith stared back at her with an expression of loathing. Not shame, surprise, helplessness, or even guilt, but something akin to hatred—the same look she had given Carina in the mirror earlier that day.
Josiah slid a hand into Judith’s hair and yanked her head back as he picked up speed. Judith gasped, her dark eyes fixated on Carina; her lips, adorned with red, curled into a scornful smile before she rolled her eyes back and moaned.