Ever since he came to my village, I wanted to be just like him. He was brave and courageous, and he inspired people. I wanted to do the same. How I was going to do that, I had no idea. Deciding your future is hard.
But not that hard.
As soon as I grew up, I left my village of two thousand and one and sought my own way in the world.
“You’ll find a city that’s filled with people unlike any you’ve ever seen,” my aunt said as she helped me prepare. Well, it’s not like I’ve seen any different people here, I thought. She continued, “It takes five months’ journey to reach it, if you want to go there.” Her fingers trembled as she swooped my traveling cloak around me. Her red hair seemed particularly frizzy today. It did that when she was worried, like the time my brother had been bitten by a snake and we didn’t know what species it was. He survived.
“I’ll be careful, Auntie, I promise.” I gave her a hug and turned to walk out the door. I looked back, and she mouthed the words, good luck. I will, I mouthed back. She smiled. It was our little joke.
I decided not to go anywhere in particular, just in the general east direction where the city was. The scenery was beautiful. There were trees everywhere, overflowing with dark green leaves. Auntie said that some never lose their leaves, even in the winter. I wondered if those were them.
After three weeks of traveling (I know it’s a long time, now shut up), I finally came up over a small hill and saw a town, probably not bigger than mine. I groaned internally. Maybe the city was too much to hope for.
Shouts were coming from the town square. They got increasingly loud as I approached. A group of people surrounded a platform with two men on it. One of them, the bigger one, had tattoos all over his upper torso. His head was shaved, and his skin had a slightly red tinge to it. And then there's this guy. You know, that one crazy guy who somehow plays a vitally important role in the town's’ social structure? Yeah,him. Anyway, he was ranting and raving about something obviously very important, judging from his arm waving.
“What’s going on?” I asked. As someone turned around, I could see it was a young girl with bushy black hair.
“Onraq is on trial,” she said.
“What for?” Her eyes narrowed as she realized I wasn’t from around here.
“You’ll find out soon enough.” She turned away with her nose in the air.
Scoffing, I pushed my way through the crowd to get a better view. I saw the crazy guy pick up Onraq’s chains and lead him to a small pedestal in the middle of the platform I hadn’t noticed before. It had a dark stain on it, like something had been sitting there for a very long time. A shiver crawled up my back when I realized it was a beheading stone.
The crazy guy said,
“Now that the review of Onraq’s crimes are over, does anyone have anything to say? Will anyone take this wretched oath-breaker away? Anyone?”
A memory came back to me, something Auntie had said about other villages and their way of dealing with bad people.
“ All right then. Let’s begin.” The crazy guy beckoned to another man dressed in black from head to toe, so you couldn’t see his face. His sword was like a gigantic butcher knife, at least three feet long with a large, ivory handle. He stepped onto the platform with solemn responsibility. Onraq and he had a small staring contest, until finally Onraq looked away, scowling. The man in black beckoned to the pedestal. Onraq knelt down and positioned himself with his head just barely sticking off the edge.
I suddenly realized exactly what was going on. Without thinking, I surged forward just as the man was raising his sword.
“Wait!” I stumbled as I ran toward the platform. “I’ll take him!” A gasp ran through the crowd. The crazy man raised an eyebrow.
“Well, this is an interesting development, ain’t it?” The man in black lowered his sword. I was panting from my sudden outburst, but I stood my ground.
“I’ll take him,” I repeated. I looked into his eyes for what seemed like an eternity. He cocked his head to the side and said,
“You’re even crazier than I am.” He took Onraq’s chains and led him off the platform to where I was standing. Onraq, who had been glaring at me since I opened my mouth, towered above the old man. He was a lot younger than I thought he was, maybe twenty four.
“You are the first person ever to do this. Are you sure you want him?” the crazy man asked me. I looked up into Onraq’s eyes. He said nothing, and I could tell he was confused. Did a good job of trying to hide it though.
“Yes. I’m sure.” He handed me the chains and stepped out of our way. I started walking. Onraq didn’t move. I turned, giving him a look. He gave me one that said, Fine, but I’m not happy about it. We started walking east, out of the little town. The people parted as if we had a disease. I didn’t care, though. I had just saved someone’s life, even if he was a criminal.
After a few hours of walking in silence, he asked,“What’s your name?”
“Stell,” I answered.
“That was a pretty brave thing you did back there.” I smiled and said nothing. We continued walking.
Maybe being like Sadavir wasn’t so hard after all.