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(The Iron Queen) Vale of Tears ~ Part 01
Vale of Tears
They had departed the palace early the next morning heading north from the city into the broken mountains. The Queen on horseback riding hand in hand with the charming and yet still somehow oblivious young prince who saw all of this as some big adventure.
N’jaa smiled, shaking her head sadly in mute disbelief. Was she ever so young and unaware as this young man?
No, life had never allowed her that luxury.
By midday the party had reached their destination. A number of pavilions of heavy white cloth having been erected to provide shade and protection from the burning sun that was nearing its zenith. The pavilions had been neatly arranged to overlook a small valley of sinking sand known to the elves of the region as ‘The Vale of Tears’, A place where the dead of the city both human and elven are collected and left to the elements before the remains are swallowed by the sands of time and forgotten.
A large crowd had already gathered ahead of them. Hundreds if not thousands of elves and other humanoid and sub-humanoid races lining the edges of the vale on both sides having come from the city and surrounding lands to bear witness to the Queen’s Mercy. The throng having made the trek the night before or in the early hours.
Ignoring the roar of voices N’jaa allowed herself to be led to the throne that had been arranged for her. N’jaa closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before nodding her head and motioning for the proceedings to begin.
“ Bring forth the accused. “
The roar of voices of those who had gathered fell into silence as all eyes turned to the throne as the High Templar’s voice echoed through the vale. The first of the accused being dragged from a nearby pavilion forcing the man to kneel before her.
“ Don’abon’tul” The High Templar announced, turning his gaze to the man. The High Templar’s features hinting at some unspoken rage directed at the well dressed man.
For her part there was no need for introductions. The man himself was well known to her. A well respected Merchant of the city and member of a noble bloodline whose name was known throughout Zatar as a master of the trade.
The man was also a pig who exploited every loophole and law that could be used in his favor and used bribery and blackmail when they could not. They man prayed upon the weak and unfortunate. A man who fed upon others using unpaid debt to justify the theft, rape, and murder. No small number of those poor souls buried and forgotten here in the Vale of Tears.
“ Don’abon’tul” N’jaa spoke in a low voice that somehow seemed to reach the ears of all those who had gathered.
“ Your name is known to us, your crimes against both elves and your fellow man, far too numerous to name here today...” Her gaze lingered for a time upon his hateful features searching his gaze for some small spark of recognition or even acknowledgement of his earthly vices but all she saw in those eyes was contempt and hatred for her and everyone gathered to bear witness today. “ What say you to this charge, Merchant or Zatar? ”
“ I say go to hell, Queen of Elven whores. I do not recognize your authority to pass judgement on me.” The Merchant announced spitting in her direction in contempt.
N’jaa raised her to stop her knights from beating the man senseless then and there. Only nodded her understanding.
“ We offer no judgments here today, Merchant, your guilt is without question. My sole and only purpose is to offer you a chance at mercy. A chance to atone… ”
“ I want none of your mercy Whore. “ The Merchant hissed his contempt.
She smiled sadly and nodded her understanding. “ Then none shall be given.”
N’jaa rising to her feet she motioned his attention across the Vale of Tears to the far side of the valley.
“ On the far side of the vial there is a natural stairway that leads to two pillars that are known as the guardians of heaven. Freedom will be yours and forgiveness for all earthly crimes, you need only walk between those pillars. “
“ You lie, “ The merchant frowned, shaking his head in disbelief. “ Your knights will strike me down or put and arrow in me the moment my back is turned. “
N’jaa shook her head. “ None sworn to me will lift a finger to hinder nor help you. The only obstacles you will face are the ones you have placed before yourself. ‘
“ Your word!” The Merchant demanded.
“ My Oath her and now. Witnessed by the God Ar himself.” N’jaa acknowledged loud enough for all gathered to witness. “ None sworn to me will hinder nor aid this man and only obstacles he will face are the ones he has placed here himself. “
That all too familiar smirk of triumph spread across the Merchants smug features as he turned from her and started down the slope towards the floor of the valley at a run. A light haze of dust rising from the earth as he started out across the crimson sands.
The Merchant had not even covered a dozen strides across the valley floor when he was forced to slow. Each step his sandaled feet starting to sink deeper and deeper into the soft sandy earth as he pressed forward.
Another dozen strides and the sands had already reached just above his ankles It was then as the Merchant took his next step that a skeletal hand appeared rising from the crimson sands and taking hold of his ankle stopping the man dead in his tracks.
A shrill scream ripped from man's throat in surprise and terror as more skeletal shapes pushed themselves upwards out of the sand clawing at the man. Taking firm grip of his fine tunic and breeches dragging him down with their weight and pulling him deeper and deeper into the sinking sands while he continued to scream and struggle against them.
It took only a few brief moments for the man to finally lose his footing and fall face first into the sands where one final scream was heard before he was dragged into the earth with no sign that he had ever been there.
There was a long moment of silence as the crowd looked on in horror.
“ It is as the Queen had sworn.” The High Templar announced to the questioning crowd. “ The only obstacles he faced were those that he had placed there himself. Justice has been done here today ”
The High Templar sighed softly turning his attention to the scroll in hand before speaking again.
“ Bring forth the accused. “