The sky above them was shot with blue, and the air was crisp and cool. Ayanna and her father Tyr stood on the wagon that held their worldly possessions. They faced a crowd of people who looked back at them with hard, grim expressions. The crowd was silent save for a drum, slowly beating out a rhythm of waiting. A platform stood nearby, built of the sturdy ironwood trees that dotted the coastal plain, stained red as they dried.
Far beyond the cluster of people, a carriage drswn by two men approached from the center of the village. The people parted to make room for it as the men guided the carriage up the road and toward the high-arched gate that Ayanna's wagon waited under. Its two long tusk-like curves rose high up, alabaster white, and crossed each other to form an X shape with their narrow ends. Beyond the gate was open air, a cliff gazing out over the river that ran to the north of the settlement, far below the precipice of the cliffs that rose from its banks. The path led through the gate, and seemed to disappear to the left at the edge of the cliff.
The Bloodwood strentched out beond the river, as far as the eyes could see, to the north. Red-leaved trees dominated the Bloodwood, full of death and poison and misery. The Blood wood, a place from which no one could return--a place of exile, they called it. Ayanna gazed out over it to take her eyes off the crowd of people that surrounded her. As the carriage drew up to where she and her father were, Ayanna turned her head almost unwillingly to see the woman emerge from the enclosed carriage. She was tall and graceful, her robes moving with her in a practiced elegance. She tepped out of the carriage while the men waited, and walked up the steps to the wooden platform that stood near the gate. Others were already sitting on the raised platform, others in the same robes. But none of them had the deep red sash of high office that hers did. Tanara, High Consiliar of Vindulan, stepped up silently to take her place among the Council to sit in judgement of the accused.
The crowd, who had been whispering and muttering, fell silent without needing to be asked. The drumbeat ceased. A wind blew north, ruffling the roves of the council, kicking up dust in little eddies, and making the wagon creak and shake slightly. All was silent. As Tanara rose and stood herself in the center of the platform, the rest of the council rose from their seats around her. The crowd made a motion with their hands, one of uncovering--those who had hats on removed them, but even those without made the gesture uniformly.
Tyr, next to Ayanna, lowered his head, casting his eyes down to the dirt of the ground. His stubble-grown face had grey mixed in with the dark brown of the top of his head, the long wavy locks hanging down untied in sign of mourning. The wrinkles of his eyes creased to blink back tears that already welled up as High Conciliar Tanara's voice rang out to the crowd to address them in high, strong tones.
"We are here to bear witness to the sentence of exile, the highest form of punishment we can offer. We are not from this world, and we are not of this world. Our numbers are few. We stand here before the convicted with hearts full of shame, that we must take this step--that we must send these citizens into exile, a precious drop of our own blood that we must never spill needlessly.
Yet we cannot abide the wanton recklessness that their actions represents. Ayanna, son of Tyr and Aya, you stand convicted of the highest crime in our society." Ayanna flinched at the mention of her mother's name, her stoic expression breaking for just a moment. "This world is not ours, and it has taken some of us for its own. Those who show their power--those magipotents--have been allowed to live among us as long as they take care to respect the rights of Vindulan's citizens. These two have not. They have flagrantly ignored their responsibility, killing and maiming through their recklessness. And for this crime, we do sentence you to live out the rest of your natural lives apart from the haven of Vindulan."
Tanara paused then, and looked at Tyr and Ayanna. "Do you have any final words to say before your sentence is completed?" Her eyes were cold flint, and the expression on her face was one not of disdain, but of dispassion, as if there were no more connection between them than the connection between a butcher and a slab of meat before him.
Tyr stood mutely, his head still bent. His eyes were closed, and his hands, trembling, were clasped together in front of him. Ayanna turned quickly away from Tanara's gaze, unable to hold it for longer than a breath. There were no words that would be sensible to the High Consiliar, or to the Council, or to the people of Vindulan who had assembled here to bear witness.
After waiting for their reply, Tanara continued to address Tyr and Ayanna in the voice of the Council.
"We do not sentence you to the death that you inflicted upon others; that is a mere continuation of the moral harm you have begun. But you will have no shelter within the lands of our domain, and no citizen of Vindulan will aid you. You are hereby exiled--to the alien wilds of Maroon. Go now, and meet whatever fate awaits you."
Tanara's final words hung in the air over the crowd of people that had gathered to see the convicted, some seeing them for the first time. A pause, several heartbeats, an eternity passed in Ayanna's mind, as she felt the stone in her throat and nothing else. And then a lone voice called out from somewhere in the crowd.
Another voice followed the first. "Mages!"
And then it was like an avalanche of anger, of directed hatred, one person after another calling out epithets. The drum snapped out a taut command, and the drivers of the wagon spurred the beasts yoked to it into action. The wagon jerked forward, and Ayanna's head bobbed in sudden motion. Returned to the present moment, she stared unseeing at the crowd, until she saw a face--a face not contorted in the act of scapegoating her, a face full of sorrow and compassion. Pit was there in the crowd. They had come to see.
And just like that, the dam burst forth--all the anger, all the sorrow, all the fear, all the shame, all the guilt, every bit of it at once. A yell began to build up in her gut, and she felt the pressure of it as she held it in. The wagon drew them away, up the path that scaled the cliff down, down to the bank of the river, and as the descent carried them out of sight of the North Gate of Vindulan, Ayanna could hold back her emotion no longer. A primal howl ripped forth from her lungs, echoing and intensifying as it struck the cliff wall, carrying up and across the river and out into the forest beyond. He cry died as the wind from her lungs exhausted itself, and she drew a raspy and ragged breath immediately resuming the howl of grief, of loss. Her mother was dead, and nothing could change that. She had lost almost everything that was of any importance to her in this moment.