Riana nodded, tears slipping down her face. She lurched after Elynda, still holding her hand tightly. A voice rang out, a shout above the screams of the crowd.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Elynda stopped so abruptly Riana ran into her with an oomph.
“Uh…” Elynda started.
“Stay right where you are. You’ve the best view. The folks in the back’ll be jealous.”
Riana peeked around her friend’s shoulder, breathing raggedly. The woman was dressed in the black and gold colors of the High King. She was stern and beautiful, with a wicked scar marring her tan face. Pinned to the double-breasted coat she wore was a sigil Riana had only ever heard of: a circle divided into four quarters with gems signifying the four elements. This was a Tyrmini guard, a wielder of elemental power sanctioned by the High King of Aelos to enforce the law on magic. The law that was this: if you came of age at sixteen summers and discovered you wielded elemental magic, you turned yourself into the High King. You would be run through a series of tests where the High King would decide if you could control the elemental power or if the elemental power controlled you. If it was the latter, or you failed to report yourself, you were executed.
Elynda backed up as she spoke. “Yes, jealous.” She spat the words out at the Tyrmini guard, but the woman had shifted her attention to the stage.
The crowd cried out in exultation as a young man was marched onto the raised platform for the town to see. Escorting him was another Tyrmini guard, this one a large man with sandy hair and blue eyes. He too carried scars; these along his neck, as if something very big had swiped at his throat. The guard held a bird cage, but inside were no birds.
Riana yelped and put a hand over her mouth. She recognized the creatures flitting behind the bars. She couldn’t help the tears rolling down her face. She hoped the people on the stage took it for fear instead of sympathy and compassion.
She knew elemental creatures could be dangerous. They could wield elements and humans who were not Tyrmini could not. Because Tyrmini could protect themselves from elemental attack, throughout history an association had been made that Tyrmini often adopted elementals as familiars, or at the very least lived peacefully beside them. Anyone caught in the presence of an elemental-wielding creature could be accused of potentially being Tyrmini.
Riana’s gaze went from the fire nymphs to the young man, bound in manacles on both his wrists and ankles. More tears fled her eyes. She knew him.
“Elynda, that’s Tomas Perry,” Riana said.
“Yes,” Elynda said, looking up at Tomas, her own tears streaking down her face. “Mother told me she’d heard it was him the guards found.”
“I stand before you today,” started the Tyrmini guard on the stage, “to call to justice a rogue Tyrmini who abstained from reporting his condition to the High King when he came into his power at sixteen. He is now seventeen, having waited a full year after the required reporting time frame.”
The crowd went wild. Vegetables, rotten fruit, stones and worse were hurled at Tomas.
“No!” Riana shouted, but no one heard her, except for Elynda.
Tomas turned his head to one side but did nothing else to guard himself from the onslaught. Soon, his face dripped in vegetable juices and one eye was red where it had been struck. He doubled over when a stone him squarely in the stomach. His knees buckled when another struck him in the leg.
“And now we have found this Tyrmini with elementals on his property, clearly marking him as one who possesses outlawed magic. What do we say to those who are Tyrmini and put their fellow community members at risk by not reporting themselves?”
The crowd jeered.
“We say ‘burn him!’,”
“Hang the demon!”
“Slit his throat!”
“Keep us safe!”
“Yes,” the man said, walking to and fro on the stage, the cage of fire nymphs rattling against his leg. He waited for the crowd to quiet. He went on. “Tyrmini must be taught to use their oddities to serve the High King, to serve you!” He jabbed a finger into the crowd.
“We must be tested, we must be trained, we must be tamed or else we pose a risk to all humanity, as once we suffered from the hands of the Tyrmini before the Great High King stamped out the rebels and murderers wielding elemental magic.
“Do you recall, here in this very town of Landsend, the great battle between the High King and the water-air Tyrmini Serena?”
The crowd shouted it did remember.
Riana cast about her, the faces of the people she lived and worked with turned wild and red with rage.
“Five hundred years ago, Tyrmini were born, Serena among them, living here in the northwest region of Aelos. She could not control her magic. And you know what happened. She drowned the town in a deluge, a monstrous storm of her own making! Nearly the entire town died that day. Only a few remained. Your Baron’s ancestor, Aiden Tarbyrwyn and our High King’s ancestor, Achyla the First joined forces to take the Tyrmini down. Along with her elemental familiars: creatures like the haleosphere, a blood-sucking monster that conceals itself in storm clouds; and the water elemental amatsu that moves masses amounts of water, causing tsunamis; and the berubula that eats humans whole if you step into its boggy home.
“And these,” he lifted the cage into the air and shook the fire nymphs. “Fire nymphs who sought the refuge in the aura of a Tyrmini. A Tyrmini who nearly killed his entire family with their flames!”
“That’s not true!” Tomas shouted. “I would never hurt my family.”
Riana looked away from Tomas, searching until she found the face of his mother and father in the crowd. The two pulled their youngest daughter into a shared embrace. The mother, a brown-haired and slender woman in a plain dress and stained apron, bent her cheek to her daughter’s head and sobbed. The father looked at his son with a stern mask of anger.
“You shoulda told us, Tom. You shoulda said somethin’. We woulda taken ya to the High King. He coulda helped you control this. Instead you turned your back on your family and nearly burnt down our entire season’s crops. I’m ashamed you’re my son.”
Riana gasped. How could he say such a thing to his child?
“No,” Tomas whispered, the crowd suddenly silent as they listened to the dialogue between father and son. “Dad, I never meant for that to happen. The nymphs just found me in the field. I tried to get them to leave, but they wouldn’t. I’m not powerful. I bake bread. I stoke the fire and make sweets and confections. I can pick the best grain and I know exactly when the fruit is perfectly ripe for the most delicious pies. How is that even dangerous?”
“You. Nearly. Burned. Down. All of Our. Fields!” his father shouted.
The Tyrmini guard stood by, a smirk on his face.
“What’s the next accident, son? Our house? With us in it? With your mother and your sister? You’re dangerous. You put your family at risk with your secret.” His father shook his head, his arm wrapped firmly around his wife and daughter. “Shame on you,” he said.
“And this is the danger, friends. Tyrmini gone rogue have no control of their power, much less their elemental familiars. The elementals and the Tyrmini thrive in the presence of each other. These creatures and Tyrmini are the same. They cannot be trusted with that raw power, unchecked.
“His disobedience to the Throne is treason!”
The crowd screamed for justice. Tomas’s father among them.
Elynda clutched on to Riana’s arm and shoved her. “We have to go. They’ll carry out their sentence in moments.”
Riana swiped at her tear-stained face, but moved. Tomas caught her gaze. His eyes were soft brown. He was a sturdy young man, gentle and quiet. He’d been one of the few people at school who’d been genuinely kind to Riana. A year ahead of she and Elynda in school, he’d graduated and took up work at his family’s bakery in the spring of the year before.
Tomas gave Riana a soulful gaze and then he said to her in a voice low enough for no one else to hear, “I’d never hurt anyone. You know that.”
Riana nodded. “I do!”
“I’m glad I’ll die knowing someone understood that. Without doubt.” Tomas bowed his head, breaking his gaze with Riana.
Riana’s legs turned to jelly as she cried out with hurt and anger. They couldn’t do this. It was murder.
“Traitor, traitor, traitor, traitor…” the crowd cried out, some pumping fists in the air to the rhythm of the chant.
“What do traitors get?” asked the guard, raising his arms out to the crowd, ready to receive their answer.
Elynda pushed Riana hard. “We don’t want to see this, Riana. Move!”
Riana peered over her shoulder at her friend, and then finding a sliver of strength, she pushed her wobbling legs forward, swiping savagely at her tears to clear her vision. She took hold of her friend’s hand and pulled her through the angry mob. A mob comprised of people she knew. She ducked her head and shoved her way through the crowd.
Riana looked back to the stage once more as the guard set down the bird cage and pulled a sword from the scabbard at his hip. She cringed and turned away, pulling Elynda after her, back through the mass of people.
The crowd reached an exultant crescendo of cheers.
It was done.
Tomas was dead.
Screeching filled the air. To Riana’s horror, the Tyrmini guard had begun the execution of the fire nymphs. It was hideous. The crowd continued to cheer while Riana and Elynda escaped the throng.
The Dragon's Name,
Riana fought to stand firmly in the crowd while bodies jostled her. The cacophony of screams rose. She moved to escape the thick of it but was shoved forward by Landsend’s townspeople behind her. Elynda’s green gaze appeared through a gap in swaying bodies.
“Riana, here!” Elynda said, her eyes wide in her porcelain face, under a dark clutch of curly hair. She reached for Riana.
Riana took her best friend’s hand, gritted her teeth and squeezed her way through the throng. When she emerged from the crush of people, she cried out, wanting to escape back into the masses. Here, at the foot of the stage, she had more of a view than she’d bargained for.
“Why are we here, Elynda?” Riana asked, desperation in her voice.
“We can get past them better this way,” Elynda pointed in front of the crowd, into a small empty space between the stage and the roped off area where Landsend’s townspeople gathered.