The crowd parted. Illyana Petrovich stood in the crowd, her finger pointed straight at Viola.

“Pretty words, countess,” the words dripped from the mother’s mouth. “And pretty people to accuse your accusers. You have it all planned out.

“Was that how it was, when you murdered my husband?”

Viola stared back at Illyana. The crowd whispered, suddenly fearful again. This they knew for a fact. Everyone knew what had happened at the countess’ coronation.

“Froze him to death. Shattered him,” Illyana’s tears streamed forth. “I could not even identify his body when your thugs dropped him at my feet. A casualty of your ambition.”

She turned to the crowd. “When you go home, with tail tucked between your legs, know that is who your master truly is. A murderer, who will kill her own people.”

“She will kill!” A voice rang out.

The carriage rolled up to the crowd. Nadia Koskov stepped out, flanked by her children.

They were all dead, Canterwright realized. The others were just too stupid to know.

“Viola killed my husband. And Illyana’s.” Nadia looked around. “And more besides. When they tried to assassinate her.”

“Liberate the Valley!”

“Quiet, you hussy!” Nadia thundered. “By rights the two of us should be dead, conspirators in a coup. But instead Viola saved my family, educated them, and has raised up so many others.

“All while your supposed saviors rolled about in their own filth, tinted gold by their birth. They have sucked the life force from your sons, raped your daughters. They tried to kill my children.”

There was no denial. Who would doubt the word of two children?

“And now they expect to be hailed as the conquering rebels?” Nadia spat. “Disgraceful.”

Several of the nobles tried to raise some sort of defense. But anything they could say, any lie, now just rang out hollow. Other servants appeared at windows, and in the midst of the crowd. Their looks challenged their abusers. There was a silent dare, begging the nobles to risk a lie.

The commoners looked around, confused. Canterwright knew how they must feel. Some awoke to find hatred that they hadn’t even felt. Then swept up in emotion, the mob that he had so carefully constructed consuming their minds. Turned towards madness, and ready to destroy anyone he pointed at.

All dispelled by one show of force, and the kind words of a woman and her friends. The commoner was confused, unsure how to feel. They still wanted to hate, but didn’t hate the countess. Who, then? Who were they supposed to hate? Who were they supposed to kill?

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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