The wind hissed and twined like ethereal snakes above the taiga. All was silent save the cawing of crows who high-circled the heads of the prisoners on the creaking ferry and they one hundred and twenty in number, all chained and over-watched by guards who moved pendulously, left to right, machine guns at-the-ready, eyes masked by helmet-dark. One lit up a cigarette and watched a pack of crows tear an eagle from the sky without comment or concern.
No distinction was made nor given to that swelling fearful mass of fletynge flesh, all similarly garbed in gray, tattered wool, white bands of incrimination upon every arm, distinguishable in the failing light due only their size and pallor. Though all fettered shook with the chill casting off the water like the spirit of death, none dared raised their voice in protest to the bandless sentries who stalked the deck like clockwork toys.
Gregor Villavic starred at the chains about his wrists and ankles and followed them to their source in the side of the ship. If the vessel capsized there would, for the prisoners, be no escape. He turned and watched a pale boy look to his arm band and thought of his ragged little body eaten by fish, bloated by wave-churn and parasites. The child whispered that his armband reminded him of his mother’s tablecloth and that it had been tied too tight by the guards. He asked if Villavic would remove it. The man shook his head and leaned against cold steel of the ship, “If I try to take it off, they’ll shoot us. You know why this is happening. Why they put that on you?”
The boy shook his head.
Villavic nodded, more to himself than the boy and arched his back to view the island, fast encroaching. The isle was small and uneven and covered in mist and strange jutting tors that looked like the ferne halwes to a deity beyond all reckoning. When the ship made landfall the guards ordered the prisoners up and set a plank and disembarked and loosed their fleshy cargo on a rock outcrop just beyond the shore as the wind tore above them like an insane curse. The guards threw them four bags of flour and told them that should they try to leave the island they would drown and should they not, they’d be shot by the villagers on the land surrounding who were under orders from the regional regime.
An old woman wailed and began to cry like as the women and the waves lashed the shore and soiled the sediment with foam like the blood of some cthonic beast and then receded as a strange bird loosed a howl as if in welcome.
Villavic stood up straight and addressed the crowd, “I know none of you. Not your names, nor your religion or from whence you came. None of that matters now. All that matters is cooperation. You there,” He pointed to a bald middle aged man missing an eye and most of his front teeth.
“Derrick.” The bald man replied flatly, his glassy eyes flicking to Villavic and then back to the prison ship as it ghosted into the mist and vanished from sight.
“Derrick, you look fitter than most, can you help me carry the flour.”
The bald man nodded.
“Good. Lets try and find a place to sleep. Somewhere further inland.”
The women weren’t listening and the old crone sobbed and hugged herself, muttering a prayer under her breath and rocking back and forth.
“What is her name?”
Derrick shrugged. A reedy waif spoke up with suddenness.
“Olga, sir. She doesn’t speak yer tongue.”
“Do you speak hers, girl?”
The waif nodded and addressed the crone who nodded solemnly and said a final prayer and rose awkwardly, so weak with fear and the depredations of the crossing that she could barely stand. Villavic gestured for all to rise and shortly the crowd was brought under his control and he lead them from the southern shore to the north, up a steep incline which flattened out into a filthy marsh, coated at every turn with skeletal brush and reeds the bones of animals. Up went a wail as the crone fell to her knees in the filth, making a sign that was unfamiliar to all but the waif and she gasping with terror the whole of her pallid frame. When Villavic followed their gaze he cursed neath his breath.
Laying in the muck before the women was a human skull, slick with blood.
Derrick and an old man with a long gray beard sided up to Villavic as the waif led the crone away from the horror.
“That poor soul was hewn to pieces. Hair and flesh still cling to it. Whatever killed the man, they did it not long ago.” The old man intoned grimly.
Villavic surveyed the settling dark apprehensively and responded flatly.
“Whatever or whoever.”