The Winds of Khalakovo

The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu Read Free Book Online

Book: The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bradley P. Beaulieu
while forcing the third boy, Malekh, back to the house. The Posadnik’s men had been alerted, and in short order all three of them had been taken for murder. For days Rehada had felt responsible; Malekh had been heading to Izhny after delivering a message to her. Worse, it was a mostly innocuous warning that a man named Ashan might be coming to her island, that he might have a boy with him, and that she should send word immediately if he were discovered. It was doubly frustrating because she knew Ashan, an arqesh among her people—she knew the boy the note was referring to as well—and so of course she would have sent word immediately upon hearing of their presence on Khalakovo.
    She stared at Malekh, who was just now being led to the third and final position of the gallows. This was no peasant. He was a boy that had begun training as her disciple, a boy his mother—the fates treat her kindly—should be proud of. He wore the garb of the Aramahn: a simple woven cap, inner robes dyed the deepest ocean blue, outer robes only a shade lighter. There was fear and uncertainty in his eyes, but nothing like the simpering of the two next to him. He was facing his death with, if not bravery, contemplation, and it served to raise her already high estimation of him, even in these last few moments of his life.
    When the news of his hanging had arrived yesterday she had gone to the city jail to petition for his release, but because she was not his mother, or any other form of relative, they refused to allow her to speak with him, or to vouch for him to the magistrate. The Landed still did not understand that the wandering people were one. Blood mattered little to them, but it was all important to those that ruled the duchies, and so she’d been forced to leave before they’d asked too many questions about their relationship. It was risky enough coming to the hanging—few Aramahn attended such things, and those that did were often labeled as suspect, as Maharraht, either in mind or in deed—but she could not find it in herself to leave him here to face death on his own. Her presence, at the very least, was something she owed him.
    The shorter and older of the two streltsi began reciting transgressions from the records of the court. As he did, the boy scanned the crowd and finally met her eyes.
    And he smiled.
    He smiled , as if to console her .
    Pain and regret and anger coursed through her. She felt her hardened core crack and fragment, but she did not let those emotions show on her face. Neither did she return his smile, for that would be disingenuous. Instead, she held his gaze with a reassuring look upon her face. She had decided before she came that she would meet his eyes as long as he wished it. She would not turn away, even though the sight of him dangling like a crow from a farmer’s belt would haunt her for the rest of her life.
    Learn , she tried to say. Learn, even in death, and you will be rewarded in the next life.
    The strelet finished by reading the judgment of the magistrate.
    From the corners of her eyes, she saw the seven other Aramahn turn their backs on the gallows, not from any lack of courage, but in protest, as a sign of disapproval. She, however, refused to turn away no matter how much she might wish to do so.
    The rest of the crowd had not brought rotten vegetables or mud, as she had seen happen so often in the cities of the Empire to the west, nor did they shout epithets. They merely watched in silent condemnation.
    The plumes of breath from each of the boys came white upon the wind, but unlike the two next to him, Malekh’s face had transformed into a look of confusion, as if the things he had been sure about only moments ago had been brought into doubt.
    Go well , she wished him, nodding once.
    The strelet, his reading now complete, stepped back. As soon as he had, the other soldier pulled a thick wooden lever. The doors beneath the boys fell away with the clatter of wood. The rope snapped taut, and all

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