The Hanged Poet
by Jeffrey Lyman
General Veritas sat on his horse, alone on the vast, snow-covered plains of north
Madalan. Before him, in a hollow between low hills, stood a half-dozen winter-bare cottonwood trees and a tumbled pile of stones.
Three wild dogs jumped and nipped at something hanging from a tree, and he
recognized it as a body from the heavy way it swung and spun. He had seen many
men hanged in his long career.
The copse of trees lay days out from the last village, so it was an odd place to come
upon a hanging. He supposed he should be cautious, but instead he watched
absently, his mind far away in the capital city of Inrenae.
It had been a blow to leave, but the young Lord Emperor, in his infinite kindness,
had retired General Veritas after four decades of service. The Lord Emperor had
awarded him an estate in the land of Veritas' youth - a place he barely
remembered. He had been dismissed with a nod of thanks.
He glanced at the sun at the horizon. The winds of the plains whined and
mumbled, gnawing at his cheeks, making him pull his cloak tighter around his
throat. He needed fire.
After all these years, he still had not grown accustomed to winter. He had been
born in a land of dark skin, brightly-colored birds, and most of all, a hot sun all
year round. He wondered if he would miss winter while growing old and fat on his
estate. Probably not. There were too many other things to miss.
"Hey!" he shouted at the dogs, his voice a jagged break through the wind's
constant moan. The dogs jerked their heads up, growling, protective of their
corpse. They were thin, but not starving. Veritas shouted again and they edged
back, keeping their eyes on him. He was disappointed they didn't attack. He
wanted to fight them bare handed, as he had once done in his youth.
They turned and trotted to the crest of a nearby hill where they stood in profile
against the setting sun, watching. Their shadows stretched long toward him. They
might still attack during the night.
He swung to the ground and led his horse into the hollow, then looped the reins
around a branch. Up close, the pile of stones became a ruined hut, bound in dead
vines. A long-abandoned hermit's home? A forgotten hunter's shelter?
The crusted snow crunched below his boots as he strode past the hut to the frozen
She was a young woman, small, pale-skinned as all northlanders were, and long
dead. A weathered shift of gray wool hung down from her shoulders. Her hands
had been bound behind her back, and her bare feet dangled at the height of his
chest. The toes the dogs had not worried over were black with frost.