The Lark at Dawn
Alondra sits in her damp cell and buries her head in her hands. Through the tiny window she glimpses the moon as the sky lightens. Dawn approaches and Alondra kneels and prays with pleading eyes fixed on the moon.
“Dios,” she whispers in Castilian, “please help me. I have done no wrong.”
Light crawls over the land and creeps through Alondra’s window. She passes her fingers under the tiny ray, as if trying to touch it, but feels no warmth.
With a thunder of boots and a rattle of keys, the jailer, a greasy heavyset man, opens the cell. He grabs Alondra’s arm and pushes her. Alondra stumbles onto her knees.
The jailer grabs her hair, and forcing her head back, whispers, “If you’d accepted my offer, you’d be free now.”
Alondra clamps her jaw. She refused to exchange her freedom for sex and only the charges against her kept the jailer from forcing her. She thanked God every day for her mother’s native English, for nothing could scare an evil man more than a woman speaking in tongues.
The jailer drags her by the hair until she stands. A crowd has gathered and Alondra catches a fleeting glimpse as the jailer throws her into the brightness. Half blind and forced to kneel before the priest—this so-called holy man who dispatches brutality and torture in the name of God—she gazes up at him. He smirks down at her.
“Last words?” His words slither.
Alondra spits in his face.
The executioner, expressionless, grabs her and pushes her onto the pyre; the crowd chants “Sorceress! Heretic!”.
He binds her to the stake as she faces the multitude. They were once her neighbors, her people, but now they have turned against her. Her eyes fix on Rolando; he grins. He’s done this, she knows, because she refused him. Beside him stands Sans, her faithful old servant, beaten and dirty, with head bowed and glimmering tears on his cheeks. Alondra understands Rolando has confiscated her land and possessions and forced her people into his service. He’s traded my life for land, bastardo.
She raises her head and sneers at Rolando; her red curls, once fiery and luscious, now grimy against her cheeks.
“God will smite you,” she says, her words lost in the raucous crowd yet glaring in her piercing blue eyes.
A boy pushes his way to the front. Their eyes meet and Alondra notices his strange clothing; baggy coarse blue stockings rumpled at the ankles. He wears a short tunic with a strange crest of a white dog with black ears laying atop a red house. His ankle boots are white and red with black laces, unlike any she’s ever seen.
“Light the pyre!” The priest commands.
Alondra soon feels the heat of the flame, yet, despite the smoke in her eyes, she stares at the boy. Alondra does not scream as the fire sears her skin.
The boy takes a stone from a small pouch and tosses it onto her feet. It is cold on her toes and its coolness crawls up her body, as if she’d stepped into freezing water. She recognizes the carved line down the middle and grins; it is the rune of Ice, this knowledge also her mother’s legacy. The fire no longer burns her flesh.
“Come with me!” The boy yells in a language resembling her mother’s.
He throws another stone at her feet, this one carved with a crude R—the rune of Journey. The boy jumps into the pyre and embraces Alondra as wind blows around them, and the world spins until screams and fire fade away.