Sienna was released quickly. The bartender was already making excuses as he cut her bonds. He had been coerced, threatened even by the nobles. He was just another unwilling pawn.

Sienna rubbed her wrists, grimacing. How little he knew about Viola’s world. No more would being a servant save the weak. The countess expected all to become strong in their own right. Weakness and subordination would not be a defense.

She walked out of the Serpent and Rose to cheers. Sienna had heard Viola shout her praises, and the cries of the Koskovs. The very town that had unwittingly helped keep her prisoner, now shouted for her release. She didn’t know whether to cry, or to scream at the hypocrisy. Instead, she remained silent, and joined Viola in the carriage.

The young noble woman had heard most of what Viola had said. It had rung true, at the time. Viola had appeared contrite, and subservient. Slave to the will of the people. Only able to claw her way into their hearts by sheer force of will and personality. A marvel that would become legend.

But Sienna could see the shadows now. The guardsmen, in plain garb, scattered strategically across the crowd. All nonchalant, and ready to strike should the crowd turn violent.

And in the trees, she could see the treemen. None else could, Sienna was sure. But they stood just at the edge of the forest, watching. Sienna’s protectors, and even more insurance.

Somehow all this was brought to bear in mere minutes. Or was it always in place? Was Viola always ready to defend herself from her own people?

Sienna rode in the carriage, afraid to speak. Viola sat next to her, smiling. Further behind them, a deputized mob – again with several members of the manse guard hidden in the crowd – the rebel nobles were being dragged to the manse, and the dungeons below.

“Next time, warn me about your heroics, Sienna.”

Sienna blinked away tears. Viola nodded, and kept looking forward. “You may have been anticipating my needs, but there are others to which you are bound. And they are not so skilled in words as I.”

The Koskovs huddled together, happy to be alive and well. Nadia did not worry about showing her tears. She had already thanked Viola twice, and did so again with a glance.

The carriage stopped at a fork in the road. Sienna and the Koskovs stepped out, intent on turning towards the Smyth estate.

Smyth’s soldiers looked at the rabble with disgust. Lord Smyth stood with his men. His eyes narrowed when he spotted Viola, and turned back towards his own manse.

Viola waved, and hugged each of the children in turn before returning to the carriage. Sienna ran up to the carriage, and looked up.

“Did we do well, countess?” Sienna asked.

“Much more than that, Sienna.” Viola said. “The people are finally able to see me, as much as I want them to. And several of our undesirous characters are to be dealt with.”

Sienna chilled, and leaned close to Viola’s ear.

“…with prison sentences?”

Viola’s mouth twitched.

“Of a sort.”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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