Content Warning: Grisly imagery
When she emerged into the courtyard with the carcass once more perched on her shoulders, she found it all but empty. Most of the castle’s occupants, she guessed, were attending or serving at the feast inside the great hall, and the sounds of revelry emanating from that direction told her the meal had already commenced. She turned her steps thence, feeling grateful to be so near the end of her journey.
When she kicked open the door of the hall, no one marked her at first, so great was the throng inside and so boisterous the spirit of all celebrants. But as she marched down the long row of tables, high and straight of bearing and looking neither to the right nor to the left, each lord and nobleman who caught sight of her fell silent. Their attendant guards and servants, sensing disquiet, ceased their obeisance and solicitations to stare in astonishment and growing dread, and by the time she neared the high table at the far end of the hall, the stillness of the room almost rivaled the calm within her own mind.
She climbed the dais and looked down at the king, grim and silent but—unlike his guests—uncowed by her aspect or the ominous burden she bore. Leaning forward, she pulled it over her head and cast it with a clatter upon the table before him. He did recoil then, as the bloody, meat-stripped skeleton of the great stag scattered the delicacies and sent the king’s silver cup spinning to the floor, splashing the stones with mead as it fell. The empty eye-sockets of the huge skull leered up at the king as he recovered his dignity and sat back again in his great chair. His eyes passed over the reddened, dripping bones and the fragments of the animal’s innards still clinging to the otherwise hollow ribcage. Then he looked up at her again, unable to entirely mask his revulsion.
“A gift,” she cried, in a voice that echoed from every wall and rafter, “for His Majesty the king. May his reign be as long-lived and full as this, the mightiest stag in the royal forest.”
A gasp fluttered around the room, and the king’s left eyebrow rose. “So you have yet again chosen death,” he said, half-mockingly.
“No, you have chosen death!” she said. “The death of the traitor, the death of the usurper, and the Death Beyond Death, the death of him has forsaken God!”
“Fine words from a man who would not leave his lands or holdings to do God’s will in the East,” growled the king.
Ignoring this, she turned, looking around at the multitude and sparing a brief moment for each nobleman, to stare into his soul. “You traitors, all of you, listen to me. You hope your lives will be made full and prosperous, but I tell you that if you cast your lot in with this lowest of criminals, you will be left hollow, starved, and yes—as dead as this deer whose meat I cast to your dogs but moments ago. And those you oppress, those you treat not as dogs, but as worse than your own hounds—they will receive that upon which you hope to make yourselves fat!”
She could feel the king’s patience ebbing away, and she knew that she had but moments before his facade of forbearance crumbled into rage. “I do not beg, for I do not care what happens to all of you now, but I urge you! Forsake this impostor and swear anew to God that you will once again be loyal to your true king.”
She had timed these last words just right, and she knew it as she completed her revolution and looked down once more upon the king. His grimace of fury nearly broke laughter upon her lips, but she kept her face deadly serious. She must not mock so openly, or she would undo the spell she had cast upon the guests.
That spell lasted for the space of one, two, three breaths, and then the king exploded, leaping from his seat. “Give me this traitor’s head upon a pike!”