The Savior – Snippet 07

It was time to put a stop to it.

When they reached the interrogation site, Timon saluted von Hoff with a hand across the breast.

“Which one?” von Hoff asked, nodding toward the prisoners.

Timon pointed out Bara. “That one, sir.”

Von Hoff strode forward and knelt beside Bara. He scowled, but spoke to the Hurthman in a low, friendly tone. Abel had gotten in position to translate, but, to Abel’s surprise, his colonel spoke the Hurthish patois tolerably well.

“What I want to know,” said the colonel, “is how many other militia bands like yours are there?”

“Want my mar,” said the youth, gasping between his words. “Want to go home.”

Instead of answering, von Hoff reached out with a hand and placed it on the rope above the young man’s head.

“I won’t lie to you. Your chances of going home are not good.” Von Hoff leaned over and casually applied pressure to the rope. “Now, how many other bands are there? Where are they heading?”

“I don’t…know, sir,” Bara gasped.

Von Hoff shifted his weight, pressing down harder on the rope.

One of the Hurthman’s elbows seem to disintegrate — the cartilage that held the bones parted — and Bara flopped down to one side, his right elbow bent in the opposite direction from its usual fold.

Bara screamed a rasping, almost silent scream, like steam escaping from a pot with a tight lid. Abel glanced at von Hoff. He was trembling, deliberately controlling his breathing, a terrible scowl on his face.

The colonel is not enjoying this, Abel thought.

Von Hoff seemed to have had enough with the young Hurthman. He rose, set his jaw firmly, and moved to another of the staked men.

This man was older. The screams of Bara had agitated him — which had perhaps been von Hoff’s purpose. The older Hurthman was grunting and feebly struggling against his bonds.

Von Hoff put a hand to the rope that bound his ankles, pressed down. “The youngster won’t answer me, and will die in agony for it. So I’ll ask you,” said the colonel, still in the patois. “How many others?”

This man bit his lip until blood ran, but then something inside him seemed to crumble and he answered in a dry, choking whisper. “Seventeen that I know of, bossman, sir,” he said. Von Hoff eased the pressure, but left his hand on the rope.

“Seventeen bands from Hurth?”

“Yes, bossman, sir.”

“Go on.”

“The seventeen First Families, they were to put in two bands apiece, the way I heard it. Twenty men each. One to fight and one to go scouting.” The man closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. Tears welled from his tightly shut eyes. “For the love of the Law, please remove your hand, bossman, sir.”

“All right.” Von Hoff pulled his hand back and stood up. “But my officers may have other questions.” The colonel turned to Abel. “Anything, Major?”

Abel asked the obvious question. “Is there a general agreement between Progar and the Blaskoye? Do all the scouts travel along the Rim?”

Timon took the colonel’s place and touched his fingers against the rope that bound the man’s wrists. One tap was enough to send a paroxysm of agony across the man’s visage.

“Your answer?” said Timon. He took the pressure from the rope.

The Hurthman cried out, gasped to catch his breath.

“Yes. It is known. The eastern paths are open if Kerensky of the Blaskoye has sent guides.”

“So other bands such as this one might be lying in wait as we march,” von Hoff said. He smiled grimly. “Well, we know what to look for.”

The colonel turned to Timon. “Get him out of that contraption, Captain.”

“Yes, sir.”

Timon motioned to one of his men, who stepped forward with a knife and followed von Hoff’s orders. The Hurthmen lay gasping and moaning on the ground. There was no question of any getting up to flee, even if there were a chance at escape. None of them presently had working joints with which to do so.

Colonel von Hoff brushed the dust from his pants. “I think we’re finished here,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” Timon replied. “And what’s to be done with them, Colonel?”

Von Hoff shrugged. “Suggestions?”

Timon answered without a moment’s hesitation. “Recommend crucifixion, sir.”

Von Hoff put a hand to his chin and considered the groaning prisoners. “Yes, that will do, I suppose.”

“I’ll see to it, sir.”

“No, please, master bossman, sir!” one of the Hurthmen called out. The prisoners may have spoken Hurthish, but they understood the word “crucifixion” well enough. It was the same word in Hurthish.

Von Hoff glanced at the group with distaste, then turned back to Timon. “Captain, pierce those Progar tongues with their own nishterlaub crossbow bolts while you’re at it,” he said. “That should be a display the locals won’t forget. Someone of the Land let them pass through the eastern fields without alerting us, after all.”

He turned to Abel. “What was the platoon that was attacked, Major?”

“Friday Company, the Second, sir.”

“See that these prisoners are staked along the roadside near the Friday Company encampment. They’ll want to see justice done.”

“Yes, sir.”

Abel showed them the way to the roadside and stood by to watch as ordered.

Timon knew his business. When they reached the spot for the crucifixion, dawn was beginning to break. Timon’s interrogation baggage train carried three wagonloads of stakes for crucifixion.

Of course they do. Stout riveroak is scare anywhere north of the Delta.

The stakes were lashed to daks. Likewise, the prisoners had been slung over daks and tied in place as well. Once at the roadside site, the riveroak was quickly drilled and beaten together to form crosses. The interrogation detail used wooden dowels made of heartwood maple from the Delta as fasteners.

By the time they arrived, some of the prisoners had recovered enough to stand upright. These were made to dig holes by the roadside. They were then ordered to strip naked and place their remaining clothes — only a loincloth at this point — and sandals in a pile.

A group of four of Timon’s soldiers laid each Hurthmen upon his cross. This was done gently, not out of pity, but to insure proper alignment for the nails that would be driven through wrists and feet.

When his turn came, Bara struggled momentarily, broke free, and tried to crawl away, but Timon kicked him hard, professionally, and the Hurthman stopped moving. This time, Bara’s arms were bound to the crosspiece to hold him in place.

Timon’s squad worked as a well-honed unit. The backs of the wrists and feet were aligned with perpendicular grooves previously drilled in the crosspieces. Then maple stakes were driven through wrists and through the bone cluster on the top of the feet, out the back, and into the grooves. The result was a neat tongue-and-groove bond that was tighter than mere nails driven into wood might have been.

The prisoners writhed and groaned at first. They were soon made silent when their tongues were pulled out with tongs and a crossbow bolt driven through each tongue’s flesh.

Some tried to rip the metal rod through their tongue by pressing it against the inside of the lip in order to rip the bolt out. None succeeded.

Tongues are made of some tough meat, Abel thought grimly.

Upon Timon’s order, the crosses were lifted up, along with the men hammered to them. Each cross was dropped into its hole. Stones were piled at their bases to hold them upright. The staked men were perhaps two elbs from the ground, but the distance might as well have been a hundred leagues. Their feet would never touch the earth again while they lived.

Timon had placed them on the western side of the road, facing east. Dawn brightened to day. The sun rose over the Rim, and the crucified men closed their eyes against the sudden brightness.

Abel considered for a moment whether or not to order them blinded in order to avoid the slow torture of the rising sun in their eyes. It went beyond his colonel’s orders, and he wasn’t sure Timon would do it in any case.

Best not, lad. The sun in their eyes is the least of their worries, said Raj. Besides, you still have the dead to bury, don’t you?

Yes, I do, Abel thought. The Friday Company funeral. He’d almost forgotten.