She Swears an Oath - Part 9

Content Warning: Violence, oppression

Looking down, she saw the same fear on Walter’s face that she had already witnessed earlier that day: a paralyzing, traumatized memory of violence and horror made present and real by his own body. He shrank against her, clutching her arm and looking up at the soldier with wide, distant eyes, as though seeing once again the faces of those who had first orphaned him so long ago.

She looked back up into the soldier’s demanding face, and her mouth tightened into a firm line. Taking another deep breath, she let the calm of her hottest fury wash over her, comforting and familiar, like a weapon tested throughout many battles.

“First taxes, then terrorizing my family in my own home, and now forcing me to worship the hat of a tyrant? He’ll get no reverence from me.”

The soldier’s face hardened, and he reached out to seize her by the arm, but she grabbed his wrist with invisible speed and twisted him around by it until he fell to the ground in agony. Ripping his drawn sword from his other hand, she swung it around to rest at the base of his throat, but before she could kill or even threaten death, a warning cry echoed across the market square.

“Stay, or your death will follow!”

Looking up, she saw more soldiers issuing forth from the small guardhouse at the edge of the square. Their commander, who had issued the warning, ran toward her at their head, and she recognized at once that they outnumbered her too greatly for victory—at least with a child to defend. Pushing the kneeling soldier away from her, she dropped his sword on the ground and thrust Walter behind her. He buried his face in her back, and she uttered a short prayer that he would see and hear as little as possible of what followed.

The soldiers surrounded her, swords pointing inward to within inches of her chest, and she stood straight and proud to await their condemnation. Then, from within the guardhouse, the Vogt himself emerged, striding across the grass toward his captive.

“How I grow weary of the insolence and arrogance of you Swiss,” he said, a cold severity in his tone and features. “I ask only that you bow once as you proceed through the square, to show reverence to your overlords, and instead you spurn my laws and assault my servants.”

Having reached the circle of soldiers keeping her at bay, he caught sight of her face, and the crossbow at her back, and his expression changed. The outrage and assumed sternness melted away, and fascination bordering on delight replaced it.

“The famous bowman,” he exclaimed. “I have heard of your deeds throughout the land. What a shame you have no loyalty toward your lieges.”

“No man owns me,” she growled through her teeth, still gripping Walter’s shoulders and holding him at her back. “I’ll not be terrorized on my own land, then made to offer thanks for it.”

“And for this, you will sacrifice your life?” said the Vogt, in a credible imitation of astonishment. “What will become of your son when your head adorns just such a pole?”

“He has survived until now. Better another dead parent than a slave for a father.”

“And then I have another rebel in my midst when the boy comes of age? Perhaps I should put both your heads on display.”

“I can take a fair number of you with me into hell,” she said. “If you try to harm my son, I promise you will have more than two heads to dispose of.”

The Vogt considered her for a moment, the smile fading from his face. He looked around and saw, as she now did, that the occupants of the town had begun to fill the square, keeping their distance from the soldiers at the center but thronging at the edges to see what might transpire.

Having taken in the size of his audience, the Vogt looked into her eyes, and his smile crept back again—a sickening grin that turned her stomach.