A glob of spit thwacked her cheek. Her eyes flashed but she clamped her jaw shut as the guards dragged her into the Great Hall of the Eel, past the throng of townsmen.
They hacked and snarled at her, their disgust striking her face like rain. She held her chin high but with her hands secured behind her back, she couldn’t wipe her face clean.
Foul-smelling fishermen, goat-herders in hessian, callous-handed blacksmiths and even merchants dressed in silk shoved and jostled her as she struggled through the crowd.
Hands grabbed her hair. Strange fingers tore at her grubby clothes and groped her breasts. She gasped through clenched teeth, her heartbeat pounding in her ears.
But she said nothing.
Soon she would speak and they would be forced to listen.
The guards shoved her into a chair in the centre of the room beside the others. She grunted as her elbow struck the hard wood. The Masters of the Shield and the Scion sat in front of her. Behind them was the low dais where the High Table sat and the forest green, gold and terracotta tapestry woven with the eel sigil of Ambrovna covered the wall.
The side door opened, hushing the mob and the Duke entered, his golden brooch glinting against his terracotta-red surcoat. The guards thumped their swords against their shields to announce his arrival, a deafening metallic din rising up to the vaulted ceiling. The pushing stopped and the townsmen bowed their heads.
Her belly clenched like a fist.
As he sat on the carved wooden throne, the blank-faced Duke nodded to the Master of the Shield. Lord Kalin lifted a dark eyebrow and began.
‘Men of Ambrovna. According to the laws of the Kingdom of the Four Rivers and the Duchy of Ambrovna, Gerthorn Nyvard, the thirty-fourth Duke of Ambrovna is present in this Great Hall to hear the accusations made against these women. In this realm, the Duke’s decision is final and justice will be served today.’
She rolled back her shoulders and lifted her chin. She was ready.