Merciless

Her husband was to be beheaded that afternoon. The king’s spies had discovered that he had spoken out bitterly against the king’s taxes, had called him a thief and a leech.

She wore little more than tan rags when she walked into the king’s splendid white marble court, but one did not notice them. One saw only the straight proud body, the imperially lifted head, the calm, unwavering motion forward and the dark penetrating eyes that saw everything. Her hands, too, drew one’s attention, as they swung gently, almost lifting, at her side. They were larger than average, hard and dark with daily work in the fields, swinging the scythe and gathering the grain, competent hands for wringing the necks of chickens, for baking and making, grasping, caressing , loving and living. There was no fear in her, no doubt, no hesitation, as she walked straight forward. Her eyes swept over the king’s courtiers who huddled on either side of the great hall and the talking amongst them stopped, was cut off in mid breath, in half-finished sentences. All knew, though none thought it, that this was their first sight of true majesty. They watched her in resentful silence as she walked to the wide, flower-laden step in front of the throned king, stopped, and looked at him.

She did not bow, she did not courtsey, she did not bend. She looked at him. Through a high window a shaft of sunlight cut across her dark-brown wavy hair and acquired a reddish glow, like a cloud at sunset. Spasmodically he jerked his right hand to scratch his forehead, glancing at the rings on the soft fingers of his left hand, glancing at his silken robes, glancing about at his obediant courtiers and henchmen, swinging his sight to left and right of her, feeling only the power of those independent, dark, seeing eyes and the unconstrained force of her very presence, while running from it, twisting his neck and hiding behind the safety of the things that proclaimed him king, that proclaimed him mighty.

In a rapid, forced, high-pitched voice, a desparate attempt to materialize authority, he quavered, “Speak, woman. What mercy do you seek from your king?”

A second passed, another, and then—-the sound of her voice was so human that they all were petrified. Low-pitched, though not masculine, strong, certain, clear and resonant, it spread through the huge court and filled all men’s ears and minds with an alien wonder. “You. You have decreed that my husband is to be murdered today because he called you a thief. He was wrong. Your hands do not have the strength to steal, your mind does not have the will to move your hands to do the stealing. Others steal for you, others put jewels upon you, others feed you and bathe you and kill for you. And though they fake smiles for you and pretend to bow to you, everyone despises you. I do not seek mercy from a thing, a mere piece of slime, which is not a man. Even now you must call one of your guards to strike me and slay me and take me away, because you are not man enough to get off your infantile throne and strike me yourself!”

They all watched him then as he stood, his face red, his crazed eyes rolling, stood and stepped toward her, towering over her, swinging back his hand to strike.

She tensed, then her right foot slashed out and up, caught him in the groin, and as he doubled over, the flattened palm of her right hand shot out like a bar of unstoppable iron, shot out and hit him square on the nose, driving the bone into his brain and instantly killing him. He fell at her feet.

There were gasps, but nothing more. It was as if time had stopped. None of the guards moved. No one chose to move first and so no one moved at all. She calmly turned and slowly and regally walked out into the light of day.

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