There are times when things are not quite as… well, usual as usual. Henna knew as soon as she awoke that something was wrong. It was not just that the grass was blue and the sky was green. An apprentice wise woman tends to get used to the idea that certain substances, certain fumes from certain concoctions, and the occasional misspoken spell can have less than usual consequences.
No, there was something in the air. She had learnt to detect when things were not right by thousands of small clues. The old wise woman, Chekka, had taught her that much.
Henna blinked and the blanket she’d been sleeping under fell from her face. She spit out a few of the stray horsehairs and noticed that not only was the sky green, it was made of grass.
Her head felt heavy, she could feel her blood pounding in her temples. The breeze blew, and she spun.
Now she knew why the sky was green and the grass was blue. She was upside down.
Again, not all that unusual when you have access to a wise woman’s store of interesting plants, potions and spells, but last night had not been a ritual night. Although, last midsummer morning she’d found herself upside down in a tree… and naked.
She tried to check on her state of dress, but her arms would not move. She tried looking down… looking up at her body. What she could see of it was undressed.
Undressed, bruised and muddy.
Maybe last night had been one of the special days in the calendar, after all. She tried to remember.
Trying to remember made her head throb.
She felt something run down her head, drip though her hanging hair. It dripped onto the dust underneath her where the grass was sparse, near the tree trunk that rose up on her left and then in front of her as the breeze twisted her around. She heard a branch creak above her feet. She looked down to see that it was her own blood dripping into the dust.
The breeze shifted her again. She could see the toes of boots – six of them – all pointing towards her.
Henna lifted her head and saw the rest of the boots, the leggings. She saw two of the men wore chain mail, while the one in the middle wore a long, official-looking cloak. She presumed it must be official because it looked as though it was made of some fine material and some rare white fur.
‘She is awake, sire.’ The voice came from the chainmail wearer to Henna’s left, which would be her right if she were the right way up. At least, she thought so. It was hard to think with the pounding in her skull and the worry about where the slowly dripping blood was coming from. She – now she was more awake – realised she hurt all over.
‘Confess now, and it will all be over quickly.’ The voice came from the one in the middle with the elaborate, luxurious cloak.
Henna realised the voice was talking to her.
She tried to speak, but only a croak emerged. She licked her lips and swallowed. ‘Confess to what?’ she managed to get the words out, but even to her, they sounded weak and defeated.
‘Confess to being a witch, and you will die quickly.’ The voice was silent for a while. ‘Deny it, and the torture will be long. You will plead and beg for release from it.’ The boots took a step closer. ‘Confess now and put an end to it.’
She heard one of the chain-mailed men draw his sword.
‘Never,’ she spat.