Far Horizons: Tales of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Issue #13 April 2015 - Page 149

arms around the harp to protect it, and she heard a sickening crunch in her wrist that sent a spike of pain along her forearm. drummer, looking neither left nor right. She was sickened to see that the youngest had no more than eight summers behind her. Elvienne hissed her contempt, but she said nothing, her paper-dry hands helping Onelle to her feet. Her fingers lingered on Onelle’s wrist where she had landed on it. At the sound of the first drumbeat, Onelle paled, and now she swayed slightly, clinging to her harp. “My mother…” she moaned. “It’s not broken,” she said. “Can you still play?” “I have to, don’t I?” “If you want Rosleen to live…” “Then I can play.” There was sticky warmth on her shins. “My legs…?” “Bleeding, but not badly.” Elvienne lifted the precious harp from her arms, and there was a soft thump as she set it down on the platform. Onelle heard the scrape of a stool and she sat on it cautiously, trying to orient herself now she was robbed of her sight. She groped forward, felt the strings of the harp tremble and thrum under her fingers. A hand brushed her shoulder, dry skin and knuckles like knots. Elvienne. “Will you tell me when?” Onelle asked. Elvienne squeezed her shoulder lightly. “I will,” she promised. # The cloudwood tree the village took its name from stood at the edge of the stream, and this morning its lower branches were decorated with blood red ribbons. A few feet in front of it, a thick stake the height of a man was driven into the ground. A crowd of eager spectators gathered, both on the green and in the specially erected viewing stand where Elvienne and Onelle now waited. There was an air of hushed anticipation, and then, softly at first but growing louder as it approached, came the steady beat of a drum. The people on the green parted as if at a signal, and Elvienne could see the slow-moving procession of white-robed girls, each carefully shielding the candle she carried with her hand. They moved as one, in step behind the PAGE 148 “Your mother, yes. Remember. Remember what happened that day. Remember your song. Now is the time, Onelle. You must sing. And don’t stop, no matter what you may hear.” Onelle nodded, raising her hands to the harp, instinct finding the right strings. She winced as she began to play, twisting her swollen wrist unnaturally, forcing her voice through the pain. As the first notes sounded and her voice rose the people around her fell silent, and stepped back in respect. Elvienne leaned over the rail and watched the procession. Rosleen walked at the back of it like a sleepwalker, hands bound behind her. As she passed the stand she turned her face towards the healer, and Elvienne saw the exhaustion there, the quiet, futile rage. She wished she could call some word of comfort to the girl, but Onelle’s lament filled her ears, working the magic she had given it. The girls in white spread out to form a circle around the stake as two of their number led Rosleen up to it. There was a brief struggle as they untied her hands, then rebound them behind it before picking up the tapering candles they had left on the grass. Rosleen leaned her head back against the pillar. If she was crying, she did so silently. Onelle may not be able to see her, but she turned her blind face unerringly in that direction. Her voice was rising now, lost as she was in the song she had worked all night to create. She sang a counterpoint to the chant of the maidens of Whitewood as they circled the stake like wolves on the prowl. “She who loves true will not burn, She who loves true will be spared, She who loves true will not burn.”