“Finish that story,” I said. “How hard can it be?” I said. “You know how it’s supposed goes,” I said.



The unpleasantries began immediately afterward. Three guards were sent out with torches to look for any ambushers lurking just out of sight (hers were considerably farther away), but Carlotta was too busy being shackled with a long chain to pay too much attention. They did it quickly, without explanation.

After that came a quick examination for cuts and wounds. Fortunately for her modesty, they used women for this. They hadn’t gotten far before one found the bloody, hastily hidden bandage around one arm. The reaction was swift; she was roughly shoved to the ground. By the time she stood up, the women had retreated, one carrying the other end of Carlotta’s chain. Two men with pikes readied them in her direction, in mute warning. And then her chain began to jerk her, slowly but inexorably, towards a cave mouth. Carlotta could almost feel the pikeheads aimed at her back as she followed the chain.

The most horrible thing about it all was how little there was in the way of explanation, exposition, or even gloating. She was now in the grips of some sort of impersonal mechanism, made all the more awful for its basic indifference. Carlotta had clearly been weighed and found wanting, which meant she was already dead to them. Why waste time on outrages to a corpse?