The traitor

An expectant hush fell over the gathered assembly. No one was entirely sure what was going to be announced, but everyone expected some dramatic happening. There had to be, what with the town criers calling each and every citizen to attend the event. Not one person was spared the required assembly, not even the smallest of the children.

While the town square had been built for a gathering of the town’s people, it was built many generations before and the population had grown considerably, so the wide, red cobblestone area was crowded now, with people stacked like cord-wood along the outer edges. The sea of people in their drab brown or gray workaday clothes mumbled and speculated on why the gathering had been called. The drone of voices masked the hard, steady thump of the approaching guards.

The first to notice the warriors was a small tow-headed boy, held aloft on his blacksmith father’s broad shoulders. The boy’s short, wide hands knocked on the top of his father’s bald head, drawing the big man’s attention to the deep forest green uniforms that signaled the royal guard.

Before the blacksmith could climb his way out of the street, the lead guard approached, shoving unwary people to the side, clearing a way for the procession to enter the already overcrowded square. The blacksmith was roughly shoved aside. His boy, sensing the fall, jumped from his father’s shoulders just before the man stumbled to his knees. The anguished scream that erupted from the blacksmith alarmed and alerted the square to the new arrivals. Helpful hands lifted the huge man and held him steady, while blood dripped steadily from the protruding bone in his left ankle.

The group of marching men strong-armed their way into the middle of the square, establishing a perimeter around a central figure. Many in the crowd ignored the figure, too concerned for their own safety to notice that the prince, and heir to the throne, stood in their midst.

A town crier, hauled aloft by him companions, quieted the crowd’s growing unease by announcing the prince’s arrival.

With the newly hushed townsfolk gathered and waiting, the royal guardsmen turned to the prince, weapons drawn. With a flourish, the captain of the guard stripped the royal blue robes from the prince, revealing the words “traitor” written in scarlet letters on the prince’s chest and back. The prince bowed his head, resigned to his fate.

The villagers gasped as one, then cheered in a single voice when the guardsmen moved away from the town center. The mob descended before the guardsmen were clear of the cobblestoned square. The green uniformed men dashed headlong from the maelstrom, most barely holding their rioting breakfasts in check.

The captain of the guard was the only one to watch the maddened crowd tear into the traitorous prince. He pitied the prince, not because the prince had been innocent, but because the prince was paying the price for being caught. The tall, blonde man shrugged to himself, sure his part in the treachery had gone unnoticed.

Until the small, white-haired blacksmith’s smiling son pulled the silver dagger from his perforated stomach.

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