The Huntress in her sky deep blue glittered over Magusford. Scarlet cloaks appeared a bloodier shade this lanterned hour before dawn’s glow. Two entire companies, in effect all that Berengar had tasked to hold the town and worrying school, clattered and wound like a clockwork snake out the west gate. Lances sloped against shoulders. Sharp short swords tap’tapped the hip of every last man of them.
Battling the young skittish horse someone had got him, their commander wheeled alongside them, barking, “Close order, Sergeants! Prince Berengar’s heart shall sing at seeing us. Close them up!”
Lower Magusford lay deaf as a stone. Not one window shutter creaked at their noisy leaving. The tavern ghost regarded the parade passing his Pig n’Bee, passing his remembered, favourite, lane-side bench. He lifted his ever-refilling beaker, toasted the three rattling baggage carts. Lifted his beaker again to Quant, watching from a doorway. The old healer waved a hello. He was gone when next the ghost looked for him. The backsides of the trailing guard, the last of Berengar’s intent rescuers, deserved a lifted beaker: they tramped through the gate, through the forest beyond still in night. They rounded the half-seen bend in the track. They were gone. The pair of brown guards in their huts at the gate exchanged chuckles.
The tavern ghost settled to witness another dawn from his remembered, favourite, lane-side bench. He downed another from his blessed beaker. The Huntress glittered still in her sky paler blue. A rooster crowed over Magusford. The screams started then, falling on the rooftops from the school on its hill.
Sonny, ye should hear the brown guard at the gate. “We gonna go see?” says one. “Here’s our place, watching the town.” says the other…
His dead Da chuckling in his ears, Mecho hurried after Sergeant Pasha and the one other Scarlet remaining. The one cradling the crossbow, and the bolt nocked. Behind them through the great school, the foolish ones who opposed Madame had cried out, barked and bawled, gained nothing. Madame had her six children. As she freed each, took each from the guard, and each child fell in step behind her, she seemed to become more magnificent. More fearsome. She strode the floor in a pale robe and bare feet. Tempest accompanied her. And strange hard light. She had freed her children – and would not let go these last that had locked them up.
Sergeant Pasha’s open hand landed like a punch on Mecho’s chest – “Fall behind. Take the kiddies.”
Mecho shuddered – “C’can’t kill kiddies!”
“Distract her. I’m not saying kill the kiddies!” – The gravelly sergeant's left eye glared.
The one cradling the crossbow muttered, “Too late.”
She had found these last Scarlets…and him. At her back, six children held hands. Their mouths moved. It was more of this magic, of course. Something like moonlight blazed in Madame’s eyes.
“GIVE ME STEIFFA.” she roared, glorious as an angry she-bear.
And that slowed the Sergeant. He had to be as stunned, Mecho guessed, for the Scarlets only locked-up six kiddies in all.
“SHOOT!” he ordered then.
The trooper raised the crossbow. Mecho sprang in between. He remembered the bolt. It was magic, Sergeant Pasha had said. Crafted to kill a witch. He felt its punch. Behind him. Falling, he saw Madame’s shining face. Her pretty mouth round in possible shock. He hoped he would not crack his nose, however hard he landed.
He seemed still to be falling – “Da. Catch me, Da…”
Killed. Again, sonny. You’ll catch it from yer sad Ma now.