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Chapter 13 - Trial of a Necroturge

When Art next awoke it was to water splashed into his face. He struggled to sit up from his supine position, hacking and coughing and spitting out water even as more of it turned acrid as it went down his nostrils. He found his hands bound. He looked in bewilderment; to him, it seemed as if he'd teleported from the forest to the middle of the village square. About him stood several of the sisters, staring at him with contempt in their faces. He recognized several of their faces: Kashya the captain; her lieutenants Liene and Amplisa; Orianne and Elly and Sasha.

From the way they appraised him, he gathered they'd already been appraised of Liene's version of events. They'd gone this far, without letting him a chance to speak for himself? He'd hoped that after Elly had spoken in his defense, he'd be given an opportunity to explain himself, convince them that he meant no harm to their order, but now?

All about him a crowd had started to form. He found himself feeling some empathy for the peculiar position the roosters had been the day before, for he now found himself in much the same: Helpless and about to receive a terrible beating or worse, as the audience watched the unfolding spectacle. He managed to kneel down, feeling the pain of the hit to his head still hammering at him, alongside the returned, phantom pain of his lost hand, a feeling of dread rising in his chest and displacing his earlier disbelief.

Among the crowd stood a concerned Warriv and Taril, Nathan and Penny, who held an inconsolable Selena by the shoulders even as she cried into Penny's belly. Another sister, her back turned to Art, held her arms across, forbidding their approach. He could only watch as they shouted to him, asking after his health and offering words of encouragement to him.

He could tell that the rest of the spectators felt no such empathy for him. They pointed their fingers at him as they spoke of him to each other and laughed, as if oblivious to the fact that he could hear them. Though by now the crowd had formed a solid spectating line around him, none accosted the sisters to plead on his behalf.

Quite a few of the sisters had gathered as well; several dozen, by the looks of it. Maybe not all of them, as surely many of them remained at their posts, or had gone on scouting or patrol duties; but plenty enough. Surely when Liene had brought him in, they'd asked what had happened, and at least one of them had spoken out in his defense? Why then that none of them looked to him with any look of commiseration? He would settle for doubtful looks as well, yet he found none of those either. Had none of them attested on his behalf?

Kashya walked forward to stand atop a wooden raised platform and raised a hand to silence the audience. It seemed that from the previous day, they'd come to recognize her as a leader of the sisters, for the crowd fell silent at once. "Hear, hear! You see before you, a man who stands accused of several charges. Let us now hear what our fellow sister Liene has to say of this. Once she has said her fill, we shall hear what the defendant has to say, and then we shall pass judgment." She gestured for Liene to take her place atop the platform, then proceeded to a hefty wooden seat on the side, beside an elderly woman in robes of black and cloak of purple who likewise sat upon a grand seat. The very picture of the two of them sitting behind a grand mahogany table left no doubt in Art's mind that they would be the arbitrators of the trial.

"Ladies, gentlemen," said Liene, "But an hour ago I and my party had the distinct displeasure of having stumbled across this man out in the forest, using this," she said, raising up the now familiar torch-and-skull staff. "Know you what this is? You may be forgiven your ignorance, but to the northeast and now our east, are those who have used weapons such as this to work sorcery most debauched: The reanimation of the dead. By means such as this, the dead are deprived the eternal slumber which is their deathright; and forced to work as thralls of a necroturge, heavens forsake them. The redskins had used such as these to make a mockery of war, to slaughter my fellow sisters, many of whom have died that fateful night, and to then turn our dead against us. As had been promulgated by the holy church of the light, such travesty must not be allowed to reside anywhere upon this earth. Wherever we find them, there must they be eradicated, root and all. And as here today we have found this deplorable doing likewise, will not our righteous sisterhood see fit to cleanse him for his sins? Or will it allow this corruption to fester amongst our very own?"

Saying that she turned to all the sisters, who stood arrayed to either side of him, and especially to Kashya and the woman in purple and black. Sisters of the order who, almost universally, looked upon Art with disappointment or disgust. And they, almost as if on cue, began to demand in a cacophony of voices, for Art's swift punishment: "Traitor to the living!" -- "Blasted infidel!" -- "To damnation with you!" -- "I say we kill him, and kill him now!"

Kneeling alone and at the mercy of the sisterhood, Art found his heart divided, one half electrifying fear and suffocating dread, one half hot anger and cold hatred. Such betrayal! Had he not sought to help them fight the threat they faced, he would have fled the monastery. He would not have lost his hand, not suffered through all the hardship thereafter, free to travel the world as he pleased, without a care for the plight of the order. He'd not have slain untold dozens of them upon the cloister grounds, let these unthankfuls deal with the likes of the trio of those midget adepts alongside the necroturgic might of their shamans and the terrible power of the beast. For what had he done that? How unthankful this sisterhood of the Sightless Eye! What a fool he'd been! And how he would pay the price for his folly. What was the order's standard recompense for dabbling in necroturgy? Now multiply that manifold for the hate of such practitioners that the sisterhood must now surely feel, and he doubted he'd be able to escape from this in one piece.

Liene raised her hands, to silence the crowd. "And this is not all. We have spoken to many a fellow sister in the aftermath of that night, and put together a picture of what must have happened then. Had the enemy approached from beyond the gates, where archers a-plenty stood at the watch, they would surely have been repulsed. You have seen yesterday with what mystic arts we sisters may call upon; and my fellow sisters, surely you know best of all. But alas, no, the enemy had not approached from afar, but from below, suddenly appearing from the depths of our cellars, where we had no mind to post any guards. Now then: How could they have snuck into the very heart of our bastion?" She paused, turning to look the assembled rogues in the eyes, before continuing. "I speak of this now, because it is a foregone conclusion that this be no secret to the enemy now, that the catacombs within the cellars connect to a secret passageway out of the monastery, to be used only in the event of a siege the likes of which the monastery cannot repel. Yet that night it hosted the host of the enemy forces, which speaks to one thing and one thing only: A traitor in our midst."

Now, as those in the crowd gasped in surprise and cursed at Art with rising bloodlust, some of the sisters nodded knowingly, and others looked to others in gasps of sudden understanding. One after another they turned their glares upon the forlorn Art, who sank deeper into his misery with each glance sent his way. The sword of Damocles of impending doom hung over him, ready to fall. He shouted in defiance, "I was merely a caravaner on my way through the pass. How could I possibly have known of the sisterhood's best kept secrets?"

"A secret no longer," retorted Liene. "And you, a mere caravaner? No caravaner would have any business wielding the weapon of the enemy." She whirled back to Kashya, giving both her and the woman in black and purple a bow. "I have presented my case and now defer to your wisdom, order-mother, bow-mother." She then stepped aside.

Kashya turned to Art. "Now then, Art Taverley, you have heard the charges arrayed against you. What defense have you for your actions?"

"I admit to having dabbled necroturgy," he said, to the jeers and gasps of the audience. "Not much, yet, but I admit to it regardless. But, I had only done so with the intent of using it to defend myself, to protect those whom I care about, to shield the people of this village and of our former caravan. Before that terrible night, I worked under Warriv, the caravan-master, wielding my sword in the capacity of caravan guard, for the desert to the east be most treacherous and abound with raiders."

"And I would vouch for him, as his employer of many years," said Warriv, raising a hand. -- "By which you would hardly be qualified," retorted Liene. "Who here doubts that after years of working closely with someone and becoming their close friend and confidant, that you would speak to their defense regardless of the truth?" -- "You… how dare you impugn--" -- "Enough, unless you wish to join your friend here," she interrupted, unslinging her bow. -- "You threaten me, yet I would stake my life on his innocence." -- "Then you throw away your life as a fool, for he shall repay your deeds by making your bones dance for him atop your grave."

"I too would attest to Art's good moral character," said Taril, before Liene interrupted yet again: -- "And is this all who will defend this man? People who have traveled with him on numerous occasions, whom we can hardly trust to not all be in on the same plots and plans? Since you have presented us with such a perfect opportunity, tell me, Taril, who else is in on your plot? Whom else shall we have to drag before the crowd, before this corruption is cleansed?" And with that Taril also fell silent. "Well?" Liene asked, scanning the crowd, daring any to speak up.

Warriv and Taril looked pointedly at the Bedfords, and so did Liene; but Nathan clutched Penny's hand tightly, and stared at the ground, and kept his mouth shut, and Penny stood by her husband's side, looking like she'd give the world to be spirited out of the center of attention. The crowd looked at them, at Liene and the other sisters who bore their anger on their faces and bow and arrow on their backs, the power of which had only been demonstrated the day before, then looked away.

With a look of triumph on her face, Liene turned back to Art. "Is that all to your little story?"

"You wish for my story? Then hear it," he said, his left hand clenched into a fist. He would hardly allow her to savor her victory just yet. "I had fought and bled for you, even though you in your ignorance admit it not. This hand I lost is testament, though you in your blindness see it not. But that loss I have suffered, and having lost my right hand in battle against the very enemy that you accuse me of abetting, I can hardly continue on in my occupation, and thus have I turned to the way of the puppeteer, which this staff provides. By its use I had already survived an attempt on my life by the same enemy; by it I have delivered Selena from certain death."

"He's my hero!" shouted Selena as she strove to reach Art's side, hampered only by the sister who obstructed her way. "You can't hurt him, he saved me!" Tears rolled down her cheeks as she cried. "Please don't hurt him!" And as the crowd turned their attention to the little girl, hers the very face of childish innocence, Art could see confusion cloud their faces, doubt erode their bloodlust, for few could doubt the honesty of such clearly heartfelt words of one so young. Oh, how glad Art was, that he'd saved her after all! Should the sisterhood decide to spare him, he swore to himself, he'd bestow all manner of favors upon her, watch after her, he would repay her trust in him a thousandfold…

Kashya slammed a fist down on the table before her. "Nathan, Penny, mind your ward, or I shall mind her for you." Then, as the two rushed to mollify the girl, she turned her attention to Art. "Do not presume that your saving someone out from the forest would absolve you of any crimes, necroturge, even if her claims are true, which no such testimonial would be admissible in any court in any realm. Now, we of the sisterhood are called rogue by many, among them the church of the light, but even so you must know your actions reach the height of folly given recent events. My bow-daughters are out for blood, and yours would do nicely. You understand the situation I am in, do you not?"

Art of course understood: Even as their captain, she was constrained in her actions, for a captain without the trust and support of her subordinates was an ineffective captain, and given the plight of the sisterhood, which could not afford any further setbacks and the villagers here and for dozens of miles around who had none other to rely on for protection, she had judged his life against the lives that might be lost if the sisterhood collapsed, and found his one life wanting.

"Well then," said Kashya as she turned to her fellow sisters. "Fellow sisters, my daughters of the bow, does anyone have anything they wish to add?"

Please, thought Art, let someone speak on his behalf, but he had already doubted that any of the rogues would come forth and save him. His fate rested in their hands, and here they would pass judgment over him, whether to kill him or else. Such helplessness. He despised the very idea.

One of the sisters stepped forward to the raised platform: "I do," Sasha said. She pointed her hand at Art. "When this knave first arrived at our village, he entered with that same staff which Liene has caught him using. Covered in blood from head to toe, he looked so much like the picture of the necroturges of the enemy, that I would shot him, mistaking him as such, but for the intercession by elder sister Isolde. At first I had thought little of his presentation, thinking he had only used its torch end. But the first question he asked me was of how many sisters survived the attack on the monastery. Instead of asking after someone in the caravan whom he knew, which any normal person would have, he asked how many of us survived and how many died. Let me ask everyone here, what business is it to one who is not a member of our order, what numbers we have?"

As she looked around, evoking the oppobrium of the sisters, Art cursed himself for having that question back then. This was it, he thought; done for, even as some among the audience began to mutter, "Spy! Spy!"

Kashya looked at Sasha and Art in alarm, then addressed her, "And you answered him?"

"Yes, but of course I lied." She turned to glare at Art, then stalked off the platform to rejoin her sisters.

Damn it, thought Art; why hadn't he thought that Sasha would be on her guard against him? What number had she given him earlier, the number who yet lived? A hundred and eighty nine? He wondered if that number would be higher or lower. Higher, to present a false impression of strength to an enemy and instill confidence in their allies? Or lower, to trick the enemy into underestimating them and launching a foolhardy assault?

She'd said that the original number stood at two hundred and sixty four; so it couldn't be a significant under-representation; he'd seen a number of the sisters' corpses that night, and just in the parts of the monastery he'd passed through. For that matter, had her quote of two hundred and sixty four been accurate in the first place? Or those numbers been accurate, and she were only claiming them to be a lie now, in case Art managed to escape or to guard against the possibility that someone else in the crowd here might be a spy for the enemy and had already received the number from Art?

Lies upon lies, he thought. He'd fought the sisters' mutual enemy, and he'd been repaid in this manner? Then again, half the war laid in deception. He shouldn't have been so trusting of the sisterhood. They certainly would not make the same mistake with him, no matter how misplaced that distrust, and how he would die… Would no one attest to the fact that he'd gone to help the rogues fight?

"Now then, does any other sister have anything to add?" asked Kashya. She, the other sisters, the crowd, and Art all looked around, and none spoke.

His eyes caught sight of one of the sisters in particular. Diane. He suddenly recognized her: the last sister to flee, she'd run past him when he'd entered the way of the monolith back in the hallway. She looked from sister to sister, from Liene to Art, as if torn and uncertain. Wtih a single look, Art knew that she'd remembered him standing against the beast. She remembered, yet now she said nothing. Was it Liene's damnable charisma, the potential threat of retaliation from the lieutenant, that was now keeping her quiet? He thought for a moment of calling her out on it; but would she stand up for him, or reject his claim in cowardice?

No, he thought; if he tried to force her hand she could very well claim not to have seen him there. It would be the easiest thing in the world to say under pressure, and once she said that she'd find it even harder to renege on those words. He would have to find a way to elicit her cooperation. Why hadn't she spoken? He remembered seeing Liene sending Diane out to compete in the burlesque; it seemed, then, that Liene was Diane's superior. She couldn't very well speak out while Liene stood there, commanding the proceedings. She couldn't speak out so long as all the testimony seemed stacked against him, for she'd hardly be able to save him, and stood to earn the resentment of her fellow sisters, to be seen as a traitor.

Therefore, in order to get her to speak, he had to maneuver the proceedings -- perhaps find a way to rile Liene up so much that she slipped and made a mistake, so that others would be less trusting of her accusations, perhaps find a way to demonstrate his claims enough that the other sisters would be shaken. Now all he needed, was an opening.

Then the moment passed, with all of the other sisters keeping quiet. Kashya turned to the elderly woman in the purple and black. "Order-mother, all sides of the case have been presented. Do you wish to retire for some time to make your decision?"

The elderly one then asked, "Art, why do you yet refrain to speak of that which you saw in the depths?", taking Kashya and the other sisters by surprise, and they turned as one to stare at Art with hard faces, even as the crowd asked in whispers to each other as to about what had been in the depths.

She meant to test him, thought Art, to have him name and describe the beast, whom only those who had confronted would know of. She wanted him to name it for what it is. He'd not wanted to speak on it since the order had clearly avoided mentioning it in front of these villagers; he'd concluded that they wanted to keep it a secret from them, to avoid any difficulty that might arise from the caravaners or villagers knowing of its existence. Who knew whether it could result in the caravaners and villagers fleeing in panic, causing a general rout and loss of morale throughout the sisterhood, or allying with the enemy out of fear and then subverting the order?

Certainly the order-mother -- the abbess -- knew this, but then, why was she asking him to speak on it now, in front of all this crowd? Did she so doubt his ability to answer, that she'd risk him divulging the truth? What did she have planned if he did? Or did she herself not know of the beast? Or had she wanted the beast's existence revealed, and she and the captain weren't seeing eye to eye? He looked from the abbess to the captain, to see only stoic expressions on both their faces.

Whatever the reason he hadn't spoken up, it didn't matter now, thought Art. Most of these sisters wanted him dead, and if he held his peace now, he would be. He nodded to the abbess with a smile, thankful for the opening she had presented him. "Why indeed, hadn't I mentioned what I saw in the depths?" he asked the crowd. "Does anyone wish to hazard a guess? Have any of the sisters mentioned it to you yet? Why haven't they?"

"What nonsense you speak," accused Liene.

"What nonsense indeed! What secret do they wish to keep, for them to stridently avoid mentioning the towering demon, the size of twenty men, with a skin of thick red plates, a most wickedly barbed tail, arms and feet thicker than a man, claws sharper and crueler than claymores, two curved horns atop its head, two lines of jagged teeth?" He could see, even as he spoke this, the facade of the sisters breaking. For him to describe the creature in such detail, that must have convinced them that he'd indeed been there.

He whipped around to look at Liene, daring her to contest his claim. "Is it nonsense I speak, O sister? Would the rest of your sisterhood agree?"

When Liene did not immediately contest his claim, the crowd grew agitated, asking, "Demons? Here?" -- "Is this true?" -- "No way, it can't be…" -- "The sisters wouldn't keep such a thing secret from us, could they?" Art turned to see Nathan and Penny clutching each other's hands tightly and looking to Warriv and Taril for reassurance, but finding none. He saw others among the crowd with scandalized looks on their faces. He saw the sisters looking apprehensively at each other, then set their eyes downcast, as if they could not bear to look the villagers in the eye to admit the truth to them.

Father Beltrand stepped forward to face Kashya and the sisters standing by her side, his eyes baggy and wearied. "Please, sisters of the Sightless Eye. This is a matter of great consequence to us. If the man speaks true, we have every right to know." -- Several of the sisters nodded. -- "This beast, if it be as powerful as you say… What are your plans for dealing with it? Shall we all have to abandon our homes, and throw ourselves upon the mercy of the residents of Stonebridge?"

"No," said Amplisa. "We have sent out patrols continuously, checking all the major roads and patrolling the surrounding forests, as well as the approach to the monastery. If the beast ventures from its lair, our scouts will know. For now we only expect attacks from the other, lesser creatures, which we fear not. We shall hold at this position, and ensure that every one of you remains safe."

"Why?" the pastor muttered, softly, looking stricken and haggard. "Why hadn't you told us of this before?

Art continued, "Why, sisters, had you not told the villagers of the beast's existence? Did you imagine that by concealing it, you would make it easier to break the news in the future? Or did sit and hope that the beast would kill itself and cease to be a problem for you to face? Or did you not intend to keep this a secret, but thought others would break the news, while you stuck your heads in the sand? Did you suppose it would be easier to break the news when only half the villagers remained, once the beast had slaughtered the other half? Because had no one spoken up, and told those here of what we truly face, you know there would be a reckoning." He turned to face the villagers and caravaners, who now beheld him with grimaces of shock. "You think the sisterhood protects you from small fry like those midgets. You have no idea what it is they face. The moment the beast shows up, each and every one of you will lose a loved one or two, mark my words."

"Shut up, you bastard," screamed Sasha, tears in her eyes, her hands clenched into fists by her sides. "You don't know what it was like to see your sisters -- your closest friends and only family -- people you loved and trusted, who would watch out for you, and whom you had a duty to protect -- being slaughtered by that monster, while you stood there, knowing that there was nothing you could do to stop it. You don't know how I felt my heart torn, fleeing and abandoning closest to me, as they fell screaming for help. None of us could bear to speak of it, for we all lost someone close, to its claws. You say you fought alongside us, but anyone who had would know better than to speak of it! You don't know a thing!"

"Oh I don't, do I? What creature do you think took my right hand?" Art shouted right back, fury in his voice. "You and what remains of your sisterhood only had a chance to flee and to breathe today, because I risked my life leading the beast on a wild goose chase all through the monastery. Had I not done so, it would have caught up to you, and the caravaners under your protection. Think yourselves able to take it on, in the middle of the night?"

At this revelation the sisters looked startled and somber indeed.

"You think I suffered any less than you have? The difference between you and I, is that I don't let the difficulty of a topic keep me from broaching what needs to be said. And don't you dare insinuate that I hadn't done my share of the fighting," he added, his vision filled with the memories of his seemingly interminable battle against the midgets and their shamans, the battlefield lit only by the light of torches, the continuous clanging of his sword and shield, his holding two weapons -- how it felt so long ago! -- against enemies approaching from all sides, the dance of death between him and the three adepts.

"I saw the aftermath of the battle, after the rest of you had fled. How long had you stood and fought? How many had each of you killed, Liene, Sasha, how many? Two, four? When I stood at the monastery gates to hold off those who would pursue Selena, I held them off in all their numbers, slaughtered them by the dozens. By myself I held the enemy at the gates, until the padding of my gambeson became immolated by flames. By myself I slaughtered my way through the scores of midgets, broke their defense of their shamans, butchered their shamans in turn, dropped their reanimated minions. You speak of suffering, Sasha? I would trade my suffering for yours in a heartbeat."

"How convenient," said Liene. "Saying that you were the last to leave the monastery, when no sister remained to bear witness. Saying that this battle took place in the monastery grounds, where no sister in her right mind would go to confirm the corpses yet remain. Convenient that it happened some nights ago, so that even if we find no corpses there you could say the invaders had just cleaned up. Convenient to the point of caricature. Who knows whether it is as you say, or whether you yet conspire with our enemy, even as you lie through your teeth, hoping to extract yourself from your predicament?" Liene turned to the two seated. "Kashya, Akara, surely you would not allow this travesty to pass!"

"Liene, Liene, just what would it take to convince you that I have not thrown my lot in with the midgets and their shamans? How's this then: Would one who had done so, explain to you that woad paint indicates the bearer as one who has proven their ability to stand resolute in the face of great danger, who are entrusted with the guarding of their shamans, and will do so upon a cry of 'Bishibosh'?" -- "We know this already." -- "Would one who had done so, also explain to you that black paint indicates the bearer as one who knows the ways of the albatross and by which they can leap over walls three stories tall; and the dancing feather, by which they can sense your every movement right before your strike?" -- "Surely you are attempting to scare us into surrendering to the enemy."

Art groaned in exasperation. How could he get them to understand that he'd not sided with the enemy? It seemed that no matter what he said, nothing seemed to get through their thick skulls. This was it, he thought. He'd run out of things to say.

Kashya and Akara looked to each other in silence. The sisters looked at them in unsure silence as well. Diane looked as if a cat had caught her tongue. Then, in a soft, meek voice, she said, "I, uh, am willing to testify on his behalf." She shrank back from the sudden redirecting of everyone's attention upon her, cheeks flushed with anxiety and bashfulness.

"Say that again?" said Liene, almost as a challenge, as she leered at Diane. -- "Um, I only meant to say…" -- "Younger sister, if he had somehow blackmailed you into saying what you say now, know that he is within our power, and with a single word from our order-mother, we can end him. He has no power now, so do not be afraid of him." -- "Erm…"

"Daughter Liene," Akara said curtly with a glare in her direction. "Can you not see? The only one terrifying everyone here is you." -- "But I only--" -- "One more word out of you, daughter, one word, and I will have you put in the pillory till dusk." Upon which she could only nod in silence, then stepped back. "Now dear," Akara said to Diane, her voice holding much warmth, "If you are feeling up to it, I would like to hear what you wanted to say."

"Thank you, order-mother… I didn't have all that much to say, just that I had indeed seen this man at the end. When all seemed lost, and all my sisters who still lived had fled the fight, and I among the last to flee, I saw him standing there, sword and shield in hand, ready to engage the beast with a look of pure determination that I had never seen. I… I might be mistaken and it might not have been him… I am much ashamed, order-mother. I'd only seen him for a second before I fled straight past him, leaving him to this fate. I gave no consideration to standing by his side then, to lend my strength to his. I could think only of getting out of there. I only knew that however strong he might be, he stood no chance before so terrible a monster, and… I am so ashamed by this, but I had thought that his certain death would at least buy me time to escape." Tears had poured down her eyes, and she wiped them away with the backs of her arms before turning away, sobbing.

She finally spoke out, thought Art. Took her long enough, making him work so hard to defend himself before she intervened. But she had come through for him after all, and the very thought filled him with relief. Whatever he said, that was just the words of a condemned man; but Diane, as a fellow sister of the order? If his words were lead and chaff, hers were gold and the diamond in the rough.

"Do not blame yourself, younger sister," consoled Amplisa as she hugged Diane. "You stayed the longest of us all. In my books, that makes you the bravest." She then patted her on the back as Diane then burst into a wail upon her shoulder. "Now, now, you can't keep this up, or you'll make our audience feel bad."

"Does anyone else have anything they wish to say?" asked Kashya, and when none did, she turned to the abbess. "Shall we adjourn, order-mother?" -- "I believe I have said all I need to say in this matter. Since this man is not one of us, I will leave the passing of the verdict to you." Then she set her arms by her sides, closed her eyes, and began to meditate.

"Well then," said Kashya, "In that case I believe we can proceed forthwith. Art Taverley, understand why I am sentencing you. By engaging in necroturgy, not only have you shown contempt of the teachings of the church of light, you have also shown wanton disregard for the propriety due to our order. Even though you did so away from the village, our patrols had still come across you, and in so doing you have caused us all great distress, and made it so that many of our fellow sisters feel they cannot bear for you to remain in our presence.

"Were I not to sentence you for this, others may be encouraged to follow suit, and that we cannot allow, for the sake of our sisterhood. This village is currently under the protection of the Order of the Sightless Eye. Everyone here would do well not to forget it, for the sisterhood shall surely not forget to hold violators to account.

"Count yourself lucky, that you have friends beside you who would testify on your behalf. That you had done a good deed in saving Selena and bringing her here safety, so as to earn her trust and support. That you had been vindicated by the testimony of our fellow sister Diane. Therefore your sentence is as follows."

His blood pounding through his veins, Art braced himself for her next words, which would decide his fate, hoping against hope that she wouldn't exact a terrible penalty, knowing full well that if she did, none here would speak out against her, here in a village now completely under the sisterhood's control.

"The heathen staff we have confiscated shall be snapped. Furthermore, you shall be stripped and placed in the pillory for a day and a night. Finally, you shall be banished from this village, as well as any other place where our order has established itself, indefinitely. The court is concluded."

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