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Zlata nudged at the corpse hanging from the gibbet with her spear. The flies swarming about the body buzzed around in confusion, only to settle down again a few seconds later. What had once been a boy no older than ten stared down at Zlata from empty eye sockets.

‘Careful, milady,’ Ulyana said. Her voice sounded dull through her full helmet.

Zlata turned to see Ulyana rein in her horse and raise her visor, revealing a brown face with a few strands of short, black hair stuck to it.

‘Why?’ Zlata asked.

‘The boy was skewered,’ she said. ‘I can see the tip of the spear still lodged in his body. Stir it and it may fall down.’

Zlata looked at the dead boy again. The sun--or what passed for it on this frozen rock--reflected on a shard of sharp and well-worked metal that was lodged in the corpse’s side and bore testament to the boy’s death by the spear.

‘How vile,’ Zlata said.

The road before them was lined with gibbets. Every one of them was raised on a low mound; they contained men, women, children, and even the occasional dog or cat.

Zlata wiped the tip of her spear on the wet grass and then rested the weapon on her shoulder plating. Ulyana had insisted they rode armored; they were in one of the safest kingdoms of Adelfán, but that meant little to Ulyana: she was a true daughter of the Odina--or Oestefolk as they called her kind in these parts--and put little faith in the Sorfolk and the peace of their kingdoms. Now that Zlata saw what this peace entailed, she understood why.

‘Why would they do this?’ Zlata asked.

Ulyana shrugged. ‘Who can understand the Sorfolk?’ She said. ‘Perhaps it was a sacrifice.’

‘A sacrifice of children?’

‘They are savages, milady,’ Ulyana said.

‘Perhaps these people are criminals and this was their punishment.’

Ulyana smiled. ‘The city has but a few thousand souls, milady. If it can produce this many criminals, then I suggest we turn now and find a ship that is homeward bound, the work of Damas would bear no fruit in such a place. . .

‘Besides,’ she said, pointing her spear at a gibbet that held the corpse of a badly mutilated pig, ‘I’m not sure what crime a pig could commit, although it may have been an accomplice to adultery, considering the habits of the Sorfolk.’

The wind picked up and carried on it a corpse stench viler than that of most battlefields Zlata had ever set foot upon. Her horse grew uneasy and Zlata covered her nose.

‘For how long do you reckon this goes on?’ Zlata asked.

‘Perhaps until we reach the city, milady,’ Ulyana said.

‘A long time to ride in such a stench.’

‘I can get her holiness a scented cloth?’

‘Are you making fun of me, Ulyana?’

‘I wouldn’t dare, milady.’ Ulyana smiled as she pulled on the reins of her horse, and continued down the gibbet-lined road.


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