Content Warning: Grisly images
“And also,” said Mave, tearing off a mouthful of venison as she sat down at the kitchen table, “we heard rumors of strange and disturbing portents away down at Camulodunum. Terrible cries and shrieks of laughter were heard two nights ago in their theater, and only this morning, the water of the river is said to have turned to blood as it flowed through the town.”
“And three nights ago the statue of Victory, their goddess, fell from its pedestal, as if running away from the North,” said Lavena, grease dripping down her chin as she spoke. “The land has already begun to drive them out.”
“Whatever sacrifices you offered, the gods have heard you,” said Mave.
“Let’s hope we do not also have to sacrifice too many swords,” she said, sitting down across from them and smiling at Lavena, who grinned back at her.
Londinium lay grim and black and quiet as they stalked the empty streets together. Passing by the hollowed-out husks of huddled houses and the scattered and charred corpses that lay among the rubble, they walked in silence toward the center of the once-burgeoning town. Although the stench of decay still lingered behind the smell of smoke and ash that seemed to saturate even their own clothes and hair, the quality of the air had improved since the previous day, when the scent of blood and death had nearly overwhelmed all other sensations—before the fire.
They had driven the citizens of the town before them, helpless and mindless with fear at their advent. The men of the clan, wild with exultation at their previous victory in Camulodunum, had thrown off all restraint and wrecked little whether those they slew had played any part in the injustice perpetrated against their tribe. Slaughtering any too slow to flee, they had soon emptied the streets of any living enemy, and even those taken alive did not remain prisoners for long.
“What say you now to my qualms?” she said to Mave as they arrived at the square and looked up at the grisly figures above them.
“They were on our land,” said Mave, her voice taut in the darkness. After a brief pause, she added, “But they did not deserve this.”
“But… you told them,” said Lavena. “You warned them to show mercy—you told them.”
“Such is revolution,” she said, her mouth a hard line. “At best you can guide it. You can’t control it.”
“We—but this mustn’t happen again,” said Lavena.
“There’s no help for it now,” said Mave. “We have to go on, and if that means their people die, better than if our people die.”
“But no one had to die!” wailed Lavena, her voice breaking. “Why didn’t you listen—”
“It’s too late,” she said, pulling her younger daughter to her. Lavena buried her face in her mother’s shoulder and sobbed, while her sister continued to look up at the pitiful shapes overhead.
“Come,” she said at last to both of them, pulling away from Lavena. “We owe these people better than they have now.”
She led the way to the first pole and kicked it over. It cracked, then toppled to the ground with a soft, sickening thump, and she turned it over. Impaled upon the spike, pierced from groin to open mouth, lay the body of an old woman, her eye sockets wide and staring where the crows had picked at them.