“At least,” the traitor panted from between his captors, “I never failed my duty, while I had it. Everyone knows that you found everything more important than yours.”
Grauv slapped the unshaven prisoner across the face.
The caught traitor, his name expunged, spat to one side to clear his mouth. “What happened to Kediah? You were supposed to train her but you never spoke to her except to send her away. Did you really thing that weapon skills were going to be enough for the High Forest?”
“You’re in no position to question my attention to duty!” Grauv glared at the man, trying to place the expression on his face. “Bring him along!”
In the morning guards reported that the prisoner had done nothing all night but ask about Kediah, “Where’s her body? Where’s her grave?”
Grauv made sure to control his expression. The traitor had always been a thorn in his side, continually deriding his efforts on the village’s behalf, but Kediah was the one subject where perhaps… He pulled himself together with an angry grunt and told himself again that she had chosen not to return because she’d failed the simple task he’d set her. “Shave him,” he ordered the guards. “Make the traitor go to his death looking like a man, not a beast.”
A razor and foam were fetched, then one of the younger men started scraping the traitor’s beard off his face and neck, commenting, “This is never six months’ beard.”
“Maybe he’s not as much of a man as we thought?” That came with a crude snigger from one of the village’s lesser young men.
A few minutes later the shaver stopped with, “Merry blades! That’s a hexmark! He didn’t have that before. Grauv, what does it mean.?”
Grauv peered at the unnatural lines, half scar and half tattoo, on the side of the traitor’s neck. “I have no idea. Get a wise woman to look at him.”
One of the wise women came and examined both at the revealed mark and its twin still buried in uncut beard on the other side of the traitor’s throat. “He’s been tongue-bound,” she pronounced.
“But he’s been talking,” one of the night’s guards protested. “Asking about Kediah and where her body is.”
The wise woman knelt so she could look the traitor in the eye. “Is that what you were made to say or as close as you can get to what you want to say?” Her voice was serious.
“As close.” The traitor spoke as if it took enormous effort to get the words out.
“So Grauv,” the wise woman turned and stood, “what was the task you set Kediah? The one she didn’t come back from?”
“I sent her to fetch black violets from the High Forest.” He added defensively, “It should have been within her abilities at her age.”
“If her mentor had taught her how to protect herself from what is in the High Forest,” the wise woman corrected gently. “When did you teach her anything?”
“She was always there, wanting my attention,” he complained. “To be headman I needed to concentrate on our problems.”
“You were supposed to teach her every day,” came the soft reply from the wise woman, “but then you sent her untaught into the High Forest. What have you done to us, Grauv?”
“Oh,” the reply came from an almost familiar voice at the back of the crowd, “he sent me a fine, new body.” The speaker swept back a hood to reveal Kediah’s face darkening with the ongoing mummification process. “I didn’t even have to kill her to take it, so I was able to trap her soul in crystal - this one should last a nice, long time.” Absolute silence settled on the crowd and despair covered the traitor’s face. “Right now, I have some long scores to settle with all of you.”