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Judgement & Jeopardy VI

Nannade was trembling. She was hiding it well, but she was trembling, that much Garrett could see. She was standing before a door in a basement of Laeddunn University. Behind the door lay a room that was currently being prepared for her branding. She had been very brave up until now. Garrett had made sure to prepare her mentally, but that was mainly to ease her fear so she would at least feel prepared. In reality, nobody could be prepared for the branding if the soul, only for that of the body.

A knock came from the door, the sign for the two of them to enter. The guards put a blindfold on Nannade, so she may not see the faces of those that brandish her, and a gag in her mouth to give her something to bite down on. Then she was led inside by the shoulders. The room was not unlike a prison cell, except the only furniture was a special bench in the centre. Around ten people or more stood cramped in the room, among the head judge of Sturreland, the tribunal of five and guards. Safe for the guard, all people present wore black robes.

The judge beckoned to the table. “Sinner Nannade, approach!”

She did as she was told and stepped closer. The guards undid her shackles, Garrett could hear her inhale deeply as all shackles, chainmail and even the prison gown was taken off her. With bare upper body she lay down on the bench and was bound down with the iron braces bolted onto the wood, then covered with a large piece of chainmail.

When all locks were closed and secured, the judge beckoned to the person to her right. The small figure took forth a bundle of cloth and from it produced the stone of sin.

A black basalt cylinder, as wide as a palm and as high as three fingers. Its side was engraved with the name of the sinner, the description of the sin and other relevant information. On one of the faces, the symbol of the sinner – made from dark red crystal – protruded, not unlike a stamp.

The judge raised the stone up for everyone to see, then she spoke up.

“This branding will happen in accordance with the establishment of your call sign, therefore it will be placed on your back, opposite of where you have chosen to receive your name seal.”

Then the judge put the stone down below Nannade’s left shoulder blade. She inhaled sharply, startled by it.The judge held the stone with one hand, raised the other one.

“Nannade of Sturreland, with this hand I brand you a sinner, for the abhorrent act of selling your body and mind to a being not of this world, becoming the abominable and renouncing your crolachanity.”

Then she put the free hand on the back of the stone, spoke an ancient word and pressed it deeper onto he skin. A searing sizzle was heard, the stench of burning hair and skin filled the room and a muffled grunt came from Nannade, growing first into a deep whine, then into a heart-shattering scream through the gag. That was the sound of someone who’s soul was being forever marked with shame and pain. Her muscles strained against the iron shackles, forcing a strained creaking from the wood. An angry hiss was audible in the room, making the people in it flinch and wince in fright. Garrett did not know where it came from, it seemed to sound from deep within the very air, but he knew who it was that made this sound.

The process took more seconds than Garrett could bear it to hear her screams, but he did not dare to look away. This was her decision and he respected it. He promised her freedom, this was hers.

After the few unending moments, the stone was lifted and where it had laid now was seen the brand of the sinner, blazing red below her left shoulder, not unlike the seals of mages, but not in fine elegant lines and changing slowly in colour, instead in broad, crude strokes, blazing in a deep hateful red, as did the crystal in the stone of sin. Both of them pulsated with the beat of the girl’s heart.

From this day on, there was a connection between the two, and the stone, as the brand, would blaze as long as the girl was alive. If push ever came to shove, the stone could even be used to track the girl down. This was her new chain, they could not yank on it, but they could always find her, if they wished so.

The locks were undone and the chains taken off her.

“Stand up, Sinner Nannade.”

Nannade stood up from the table and now stood there, blindfolded and stared at by the rest of the room.

“Go on now without the chains. The brand is punishment’s proof. Never shall you be able to lie about your misdeed and never shall you be able to renounce the title of Sinner.”

The words seemed to stretch Nannade’s back out a tiny bit, making her grow half an inch. Was she learning to bear the shame of guilt? Was she revelling in her apostasy?

The head judge turned around and gave the stone of sin back to her attendant, then received a bundle back from her. She gave the bundle to Nannade. “Take these, you no longer need to wear the prisoner’s gown.”

With these words, the head judge left the room and the rest followed her. Only Garrett and Nannade remained. He took off her blindfold and immediately saw her red, tear-swelled eyes. “It’s over.” He gave her a friendly slap on the shoulder. “The entire ordeal is done. Now it is behind you, nothing to do but look ahead.”

She nodded. “I wanted this more than to flee. I did not want to have to hide from law and justice for the rest of my life. I’ve seen the company that brings with it.”

She got dressed and the two of them left the room and the university campus. There was nothing left for her in this city.

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