Vengeance by Alan Delaney

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SUMMARY: They thought it was over, they thought she was dead, they thought her power had been broken, they thought wrong.

She was executed at dawn - "hanged from the neck until dead", just as the judge had ordered - but that was just the start of their troubles. There was the usual rabble at the hanging - the wailers, the fruit-throwers, the rosary-reciters, the terminally bored - but the presence of several strangers among the crowd should not have gone unnoticed. Of course, in a town of this size, strangers were not unknown or unusual but in retrospect they should have been more suspicious; she had not gone quietly and her people, though scattered and in hiding, were still active. Instead, though the strangers were instinctively avoided as they strode through the gathering, no one raised the alarm. That was their first mistake.

Their second mistake was to bury her. The courts demanded a hanging, for the stake was the resolve of a less-enlightened age, while the priests demanded a burial, for the pyre was the resolve of a despised religion. They did not even follow the precautions that were once commonplace in an interment such as hers for they had long ago left behind the ways of their forefathers and believed themselves beyond such barbarisms. Instead her faithful watched in secret as her remains were sealed inside the coffin and smiled amongst themselves for they saw that her body, and with it their hopes, were still intact.

Their third mistake was to put the grave in swampy wasteland next to an uninhabited forest. They were of course forbidden to bury her in consecrated ground and chose instead the most degrading location they could find, yet their choice pleased her followers and made their task easier. The site was unguarded and well away from the public eye, which was just what they had been praying for.

Their fourth mistake was to assume that the whole sordid affair was over and get on with their lives. Of course, the immediate threat was over - her followers were no longer visibly active and there were a few isolated arrests and trials - but there was no one coordinated effort to destroy the last remaining scraps of her following. Instead her faithful were left alone to meet in secret, regroup themselves, and plot for their return to glory. Their queen was dead but not forgotten. They knew the manner of her interment and their hope shone brightly. The rest was merely a matter of time.

Their fifth and final mistake was the fact that they were not superstitious people. They considered themselves logical, scientific, civilised. Everything had a rational explanation; there were no creatures that went bump in the night, no bogeymen, no werewolves; there was no magic; Satan was nothing more than the postulated embodiment of a theoretical concept - science had it all taped. So when their children disappeared they assumed that they had wandered into the forest and got lost, when they found their animals lying dead in the fields and drained of all their blood they believed the creatures had been attacked by wild animals, and when their church was burned to the ground in the dead of night they complained about the unsuitability of the building materials used in its construction and set about building a more secure one.

Besides, it was a big town, set on the crossroads of several major trade routes; things happened there all the time, no one paid too much attention to the small details.

Time passed, the town moved on.

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