Dishonor (Book 1 of the In Search of Honor series)

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Chapter 8: Exile or Execution

I woke up with a start when I heard the cell door opening. I automatically cringed to the side, but chains held me upright and my shoulders and arms hurt. Everything hurt. I opened my eyes to Reese standing in front of me sneering, “Look, sleeping beauty woke up.”

I looked over at Kevin and saw that he wasn’t there. “Where’s Kevin?”

“Its past midday sweetheart. You’ve slept most of the day. We started in bright and early on Kevin. You know, he’s lasted longer than we expected. I thought maybe an hour or two… But since he won’t give in for himself yet, what if he watched a friend in pain, or what if you watched him in pain?”

The two guards from last night walked in and I couldn’t remember which one was which. One had curly red hair and the other had dark black hair, but I hadn’t noticed that last night. I’d been focused on voices and what they were doing instead of what they looked like.

“Hello beautiful. Sleep well last night?” that was the guard who was willing to tell me information last night. He was the black haired one but his pale blue eyes were cold. He was cute in dark and cold way. He was lean and muscular and the red of the guard uniform stood out on him.

The red clashed with the red haired guard though. His hair was more orange colored and it definitely didn’t look good with that red. He looked angry and upset about something. Maybe that had been why he didn't want to talk to me last night.

“I slept well, thank you.” I smiled at the dark haired guard and pulled myself to my feet my arms falling tiredly at my side. I put my arms behind my back so it would be easy for him to unlock me from the wall.

Reese laughed shrilly, “Christopher, I think you have an admirer. Your charms have earned you the love of a girl who everyone would swear was the chilliest dishonored and who is on death row. It’s sad how only the desperate like you.”

Christopher. That was his name. He turned and glared at Reese but said nothing. I remembered how Bryan said not all guards wanted to be where they were. Maybe he looked cold and mean but that was just his look. Maybe he didn’t want to serve Reese but had no choice and it had made him bitter serving a person like her.

I wasn’t sure when I decided to be kind to him, or if I did. But the fact that he gave me information last night had raised my esteem of him.

He unlocked the one shackle from the chain and pulled the chain through the loop on the wall. He pulled my wrists together and clipped something between them so they were tight together. He then walked forward pulling the chain that had held me to the wall like it was a leash. I docilely followed after him without pulling on the chain or fighting him.

Reese raised her eyebrows, “Look Raymond, Christopher can tame a wild beast. He has her following him like a dog. I expected her to be like her friend who wouldn’t talk even after we sentenced her to be whipped to death and promised her a quick death if she would just talk. Remember when she bit your lip Christopher? Or when she kicked you in the groin Raymond?”

Neither of Reese’s subordinates looked too happy about her saying what Annie had done to them. I felt proud of Annie, but fighting was futile. I would be better off not fighting.

He led me out of the cell and down the corridor, out a door and through another hall. We turned twice and came to a wooden door. Raymond opened the door and Christopher gently led me through. Since I was cooperating he was treating me kindly.

I could see Kevin lying strapped to a table and my first instinct was to beg for his life. To tell them everything so they wouldn’t hurt him, but he wouldn’t thank me. He had held on for this long. He could hold on till the end.

Christopher led me over to a table that had dried blood, and suddenly without warning picked me up and lifted me on to the table. He reached behind me and unclipped whatever was holding my wrists together. “Lie back,” he commended me blandly. His gaze was blank as if he was acting without actually being there.

I let myself lie down on the table and spread out my hands for them to clip to the table. The two men quickly clipped my iron cuffs to the table and pulled leather straps across my chest to hold me in tight.

Then I heard Reese’s voice, “Let’s start with the iron poker.” I shivered in fear. If they burned the souls of my feet I wouldn’t be able to walk. I stayed silent though even as violent shivers of fear racked my body. From my line of vision I could see Raymond leaning down toward a fire. I craned my head to look for Christopher and found him blankly watching. I couldn’t find Reese. She had moved out of my sight. I looked over at Kevin and found him staring at me. There was another person in the room sitting in a chair with a book on their knees.

“Please, please don’t hurt her. She’s not lying. She’s been compliant and told the truth.” Why was Kevin begging for my life? I was just another dishonored girl. He needed to worry about his own life; not mine. Actually, his own life was forfeited too. He needed to worry about his family’s lives and honor. About Felise. I prayed he wouldn’t speak.

A scream was torn out of me as shearing pain shot up from my leg. I writhed trying to get away from the pain on my shin, but it didn’t stop. Eventually I calmed down. I tried to stifle my crying but I couldn’t as tears leaked out of my eyes and my mouth voiced my pain. I tried to hold it in. I didn’t want Kevin to feel responsible.

I looked over at Kevin and saw Raymond approaching him with a hot poker. I wanted to call out, but it felt like there was something in my throat and I just couldn’t get the words out. Then Kevin screamed and I could see his own body undulating in pain. Then he walked away, but I continued to watch Kevin. Eventually the scream became sobs torn from his throat and which became soft mewing noises.

I looked over at Raymond just in time to see him pulling a different poker from the fire. And then I heard that which I most dreaded, Kevin’s voice, “No, stop. I’ll tell you. Fine. I’ll tell you what you want. Just stop hurting her, please.”

I turned my head, “No… please.” There was a hand over my mouth preventing me from speaking. I could see him, but I couldn’t stop him. His eyes looked tortured and his face was tear stained.

“Sorry Liv, just not that strong.” He never called me Liv. Why was he starting now? He had to stay silent. Stay strong. I was strong. I was willing to die in silence for his family. I was already a lost cause.

“Most of what Liv said is true. She developed the plot. She recruited people for it. She recruited me. Promised me there would be no incriminating evidence and asked me to store her plans in my room. All I had to do was give her and another servant to the king. The original servant was Annie, but when Annie died Liv became obsessed. She recruited Reese into her plans. The girl’s a crazy woman. Is that enough evidence to kill me or will I only be dishonored?” He spoke in a monotone as if he had given up, but that wasn’t quite the truth. It was part of the truth. The full truth was that we had planned this together.

But his version worked just as well. Reese looked like a cat that had just rolled in catnip with a smug grin stretched across her mouth. “You’ll face execution you traitorous bastard.”

The hand came off my mouth at the same time as he proudly proclaimed, “No Reese. I choose exile.” He sounded so brave, like he had come up with the idea.

“I choose exile as well. I’d rather face the unknown outside the walls than the crowds in for a public neck chopping party.”

Reese looked at us as if we were animals that had just talked. “But that would destroy our fun!”

“Won’t you have fun branding us as exiles? Doesn’t exiling include a fun procession to the wall and a huge and somber party across the city in hopes that an exile will one day come back with news of the radiation being gone in a land beyond this one? The fabled land, where one day all dishonored can leave so, that over population taxes the city’s resources no longer?” I hoped to appeal to whatever she considered fun about executions.

Her lips puckered out in a pout, “But then I don’t get to see the best part, your deaths.”

“They asked for exile. Let’s just get on with it and brand them. You know as well as we do that they could have waited for execution day and disappointed an entire city by claiming exile status while up on the platform. At least now all they disappoint is us.” I could hear Christopher’s deadpan voice that he had been using since we came into this room.

“Fine! Get the brand ready. We brand the cheek. That’s the way of the old exiles, though no one has chosen exile in almost a hundred years.” Reese was angry, but she couldn’t hurt us now that we were exiles. If an exile found the fabled land they could come back to the city to deliver the news and to bring any citizens or dishonored with them that wanted to go to a land outside the city. Truthfully, except the dishonored, most people were happy here. Most people didn’t want to leave the place they called home and had known since birth. Some of the dishonored, like Jordan, wouldn’t want to leave. Even Rachel probably wouldn’t want to go because this was her home.

Kevin and I stared at each other from the tables we were strapped to, neither saying a word but both of us sharing in an understanding that our world was about to change. I wasn’t sure why it was so comforting to simply stare into his eyes, but it was. It was comforting to know that someone was still there and would be there with me in the coming trials.

I wished I could stretch out my hand and hold his to lend support and receive support, but all we could do was stare at each other across the room.

“Stop staring at each other like lovesick songbirds! Raymond, tie up Kevin’s head. Christopher, tie up Liv’s head.” Trust Reese and her sharp biting voice to break up a moment.

I saw Raymond eagerly going toward Kevin, and a gentle hand rotated my head so that I looked upward, and then wrapped a strap around my head. He pulled another strap across the table tying the one around my head to it so that I could only stare at the ceiling, “It’s for your own safety, so you don’t hurt yourself when we brand your skin.” Christopher’s voice was quiet and soothed my nerves. I stared up at the wooden ceiling. Beams crisscrossed its expanse supporting it, and they looked wooden. If this building had been around since the city had first been built, either over time beams had been replaced, or those beams were in really good condition for wooden beams that would normally just eventually rot away.

“Are those real wood?” I couldn’t help asking. We had to wait for the brands to heat up anyway.

“Are what real wood?” Reese’s voice cut across like a whip.

“The beams on the ceiling; are they real wood?” I had to repeat myself still be force to stare up at them and unable to move any part of my body except for my finger toes, eyes, and eyelids.

Reese laughed but didn’t answer. A softer and kinder voice answered, “Aye, those are real wood. They are grown from special trees that are planted every one hundred years to bear more wood for his majesty’s best buildings.”

I wish I could thank Christopher for his kindness in some way, and I was glad I had given him the kiss the night before.

I heard him walk away, and I knew what was coming as he walked back. Suddenly pain hit my cheek as he stuck the hot exile brand to my cheek. I writhed in the control of my bonds, but they held firm. Just like where the hot poker went, my cheek still hurt even though the brand was gone. And I had a feeling we weren’t going to be given a change to recover.

The Reese’s voice struck again, “Raymond, take Kevin to the dressing room. Christopher, you can clean up and dress Liv. You both know the exile clothing, right?”

“Yes ma’am,” Christopher called out to the crazy woman. Obviously exiles got some special clothing, or something.

The “or something” was what worried me. No one had been exiled in my lifetime. What would they make us wear?

And God, my cheek was still hurting. It burned as if it was still on fire just as my shins were also burning in pain. God damn Reese and her painful torture methods to hell. Of course, that was the point of torture. Just Kevin didn’t manage to last.

Suddenly the straps holding my head still were released, and then slowly but surely Christopher released the other straps, and then unhooked my shackled from the table, and then he took the hated metal things off my hands. Thank God they were gone.

I rubbed my wrists and looked at him as I got up. I raised an eyebrow questioning him as to why the shackles were gone.

“You don’t need them anymore. You’re branded now, and everyone will know you are an exile and shouldn’t be in this city. If you escape you will just be brought back to be prepared for execution. It’s kind of similar to why the dishonored don’t wear shackles. Come on. We need to go get you ready to journey into your death by radiation poisoning outside these walls.” He looked as if this pained him. As if he thought exile was worse then death.

“When was the last person exiled?” I asked as I followed him out of the room with my hobbling limp from the pain in my shin in the opposite direction that Kevin was being lead.

“I think it was about a hundred years ago. I’ve been trained on the procedure but no one has been stupid enough to choose exile in my lifetime, until you. Why? Why would you choose such a slow painful death?” Hi voice was soft, and kind. He truly believed I had chosen the worst fate one could possibly face.

“I have a chance at life. If no one’s left in a long time who’s to say that I would die from the radiation. Maybe it’s decreased. And I have pride. I know, I’m dishonored. I shouldn’t have so much damned pride and such a sense of honor, but I can’t help it. I do. I feel like dishonor has only made me more determined to keep my honor even if I had to hide it to survive. I couldn’t stand to be publicly executed and humiliated in front of a crowd of people who treat honor like it’s a festival. God damned me to be a dishonored with honor. Maybe it was my little bit of rebellion. To hold onto that pride and honor, but just because someone claims they strip you of honor doesn’t mean you lose your sense of it.” Then I shut up.

I was babbling and repeating myself. I was… I was scared. I was legitimately scared of the choice I had made, but I was less scared of it than I was of the other choice. The choice of straight up execution wasn’t a choice for my want to live and my refusal to be so publicly humiliated again.

I hadn’t really been observing where we were going, but we stopped at another wooden door and I took that chance to rest my leg. It was hurting so damn much. I watched as he unlocked the door and took what seemed forever to pull open the big heavy door.

Behind it was a small walk in style closet with boots on the ground, clothing hanging on rods around the closet, and headgear on a shelf above the rods.

At the back was another door. “First you shower, then you dress. I will wait here for you. And you may take as long as you want in the shower. This is likely to be the last shower you get in a long time. Enjoy it while it lasts.” Christopher the guard was telling me to take a shower? I looked at him, but there was no guile in his face. I looked back at the wooden door, and then I hesitantly walked forward and took the door knob in my clammy hands, but nothing jumped out or tried to kill me when I pulled open the door. Instead I was in an old bathroom with a red wall, a pedestal sink, a small toilet, and what I suspected was a shower encased by glass.

I looked back at Christopher, and he nodded, “Yes. Go in. It is part of the complex within the prison grounds built for the noble family that lives on the grounds and owns and operates this place. The Davinsha family. You have seen them staring at the dishonored from high and mighty heights. Well this bathroom is one of theirs, but it is required that when a person has chosen exile they get to leave the city clean. It was written in the original laws that the Davinsha family shares their bathroom and closet with the exiled. This one is the women’s one and your Konjack friend went to the men’s one.”

I didn’t know the exiled laws, so I accepted Christopher’s words and closed the door behind me. There was also another door, but I figured that lead into the house proper. A woman entered from that door in servants garb. “Ahh, the promised exile has arrived. Lady Lienna told us that two chose exile, and we have come to help you. They must be presentable for the procession to the great gate. And that sack won’t cut it.”

The woman came up meaning to disrobe me, but I quickly took the sack off myself. She clucked her tongue in disapproval, but instead of saying anything she merely turned on the water and pulled off her own clothing. Then she came over, grabbed my wrist and pulled me over to the shower.

I could vaguely remember showers with servants when I was little. And this was just like that except now I was taller and skinnier. The woman scrubbed me with a brush and used smelly things on my skin. When she hit my burns, I flinched and tried to pull away but she held me even as tears leaked out of my eyes from the pain the burns caused. She finally finished with my body and move onto my hair. She scrubbed it multiple times and rinsed it each time before scrubbing it again. Finally she seemed satisfied and then finger combed something into my short two inch long hair. She turned off the water and led me out of the shower. She then grabbed a towel and dried me off.

She wrapped the towel around me and then grabbed ointment from a shelf and put some on my burns. “Leave the towel on the floor of the closet when you leave,” and then she was gone and I was alone in the bathroom. I looked down at the towel and then at the door she came through. It was shut as if she hadn’t even gone through there. She was fast.

I turned back toward my own door, took a deep breath and then opened it. “Ahh you return. And wow!”, he started, suddenly getting a good look at me and making me blush. “You do clean up pretty, even with the short hair.” Why did guys always think I was so pretty? Was it flawless skin or my facial structure, because it sure as hell wasn’t my nonexistent chest.

He held out under clothing to me. “I guessed your size. Tell me if it fits.”

I knew what to do with some of it, but I’d never worn a bra before. I held that one out for putting on last, and when I couldn’t put it off anymore I held up the piece of clothing that I knew what it was and what it did but not how to put it on. I would figure it out though. It couldn’t be that hard could it?

Christopher was looking through the clothing, but noticed my troubles and laughed. “You were just a young girl when you were dishonored weren’t you?” I nodded, too embarrassed to say anything.

He came over and helped me with the bra I was fumbling with. “I’ve helped enough women in and out of these.” If it was possible, I probably turned even redder at that comment and my mind turned back to that kiss. He was a good kisser… I yanked my mind out of the gutter and focused on how the dratted thing went around my chest and then straps went up and over my arms. It wasn’t actually that bad.

“Now, exiled get leather clothing that acts to protect you from the elements and a little bit as armor, but don’t expect it to stop everything. First you have the leather pants and a belt. Try this on.” He passed me undyed brown leather men’s trousers.

“But these are men’s trousers.” Women didn’t wear trousers. We wore dresses and skirts as was proper.

“A long time ago when the rules were written for exiles women were considered the equals of men in everything and wore trousers as well. Not many people know of this anymore. In fact, those of us trained to prepare an exile are the only ones who know, and we are few and far between, and all of us serve the spies.” He was so kind and courteous in here. He had been rough at the beginning but willing to tell me information, and now I was seeing someone different from the first guard I met. I wasn’t sure who I saw. He hadn’t even tried to steal a kiss from me.

I focused on the trousers and carefully put my legs in the holes and pulled up the tight leather pants. There were buttons at the top and I carefully did them up.

He looked over at me from where he was grabbing something from the rack and smiled, “They look sharp on those pretty legs of yours.” I looked down and saw my skinny legs outlined in the pants and felt as if I was horribly exposed. How could women have borne to wear trousers?

The he passed me a strip of leather. “What’s this?” I’d seen it before but I didn’t know what it was for.

“That, dear girl, is called a belt. You put it through the loops on your pants and buckle it and then it, in return, keeps your pants up.” It sounded weird, but I would go with it for his sake. I took the thing and put it on as explained.

Next he passed me a stiff and rectangularish thing with hooks at two of the edges. I quirked my eyebrow up and he answered as if I had spoken, “It’s called a corset. I’ll put it on for you and I’ll also do up your neck collar.” Since I had no clue what the two items were I was happy for the help.

The corset was the same undyed leather. It went around under my arms and over my chest. He latched up the back and then put a neck collar thing on that went all the way up to just under my jaw and then met up with the corset in the front and the back but didn’t go past my shoulders on the side. The front and the back had leather straps that connected to the corset and held the two together. Over top of these strange pieces of clothing he gave me a leather jacket with long sleeves. “This will help protect you from thorns and the elements.”

That upset look crossed his face again and I wondered if it upset him that the leather wouldn’t protect me from the radiation, but that was absurd. He couldn’t care about me. We barely knew each other. I pulled the jacket on as he passed me a small cloth item. “Socks. They will keep your feet from chafing in the boots.”

I didn’t bother to ask what chafing was. I stared at these socks unsure of what to do with them. He sighed and took them from me. Suddenly there were two pieces of fabric and one had a hole surrounded by material. “Stick your foot in there.” I carefully did as I was instructed with the two socks.

He watched for a second and then turned back around and grabbed a pair of tall black leather boots. He unzipped the back of the boot and passed it me. “Try this on. I think it will fit.”

I tried it on, but the boot pinched my toe. “No, it’s a little tight on the toe.” And I passed it back to him. He took the boot back, and glanced back at my feet before grabbing another pair of boots and passing me one.

This one fit perfectly and I could enjoy the amount of padding my foot was standing in. “This fits.”

He handed me the other boot and I put it on as well. It was strange that the only piece of clothing he didn’t guess correctly was my boot.

He looked me over and frowned. “I’m forgetting something… Oh yes, the skull cap.”

The skull cap? He grabbed yet another leather item from the top shelf. This one he pulled over my head and buckled under my chin. The thing covered the back and top of my head and pat of my face around the eyes, but it left completely open my nose and my cheeks so that everyone could see that I was branded and exile.

“You… you look scary. Like you could be a guard.” His voice suddenly sounded hoarse.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll take care of myself out there and return with news of the land beyond the burnt lands.” I promised with a smile.

But he just shook his head. “Don’t say lies. Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.” I shut up. I couldn’t promise him everything would be fine. I couldn’t even promise him I wouldn’t die.

“Am I ready then?” I felt awkward in this strange getup. It felt like I had a thick second skin that didn’t move smoothly with me.

He nodded as if unsure his voice would hold and then he added, “The spy you call Reese had some other guard spies get two horses ready for you and Kevin to ride in the procession.”

He looked me over once more and then turned and strode off with me tagging along behind. I could have run away, but where would I have gone with my branded cheek?

He led me outside, and the sun was just rising. How many days had I been contained in the prison? Was it only a single day?

I looked around at the empty courtyard and realized that this wasn’t the courtyard I was used to. In fact this was the courtyard in front of the fancy house owned by the Davinsha family. We were never allowed near the house unless on a work detail for the family, but I had seen it in the distance. A woman was leading two big black and scary looking horses out of the stable.

“Am… am I supposed to ride one of those?” I was dishonored. I hadn’t ridden since I was a child. In fact I hadn’t dealt with the creatures since I became a house servant. The most I had dealt with them was rolling in horse manure at the end of each day. I looked back and saw the giant cement prison rising up above me with a solid blank and unadorned wall. Not even a window marred its perfect white face. Just the one wooden door I had just walked out.

The door opened again and Kevin walked out wearing similar leather clothing. I couldn’t see what the leather under his leather jacket looked like except that he also had a leather collar encasing his neck. The scruffy facial hair he used to have had been shaved away. The leather looked good on him.

I felt my face turning red and hot again so I quickly looked away. I didn’t want him to know I liked him as more than a brother.

“Yes.” I started and for a second thought Christopher was agreeing with my thoughts, and then I remembered my question about the horses.

He continued, “The horses are calm and bomb proof.”

Technically everyone here was bomb proof, but I didn’t feel like pointing that out. Even a solid horse could get me off. I’d ridden as a child. I remembered falling off when the guards had come for me. I didn’t want to go back on a horse. Especially not one as tall and big as the black horses with the hairy legs.

“But… but I’m dishonored. Dishonored don’t ride. Dishonored don’t get special treatment. You… You can't expect me to ride that… that thing through the city.” I normally try not to be afraid. Fear is something that can be overcome. But I hadn’t been prepared to ever face a fear of horses. Actually I hadn’t even realized one existed till now.

Kevin answered, “It’s not that bad Elizabeth. You used to be a great rider.”

“When I was eight riding a little pony.” Not a giant black creature that could knock me over with his oversized head.

“Where’s the fearless girl I knew growing up?”

“She was dishonored and then put into uncomfortable men’s trousers that are way too revealing.” Why did he have to remind me that I tried to face my fears? I gritted my teeth, walked forward till I came to a stop in front of the horse, and thrust my hand under its nose.

It gently sniffed my hand for treats and gave me a sad look when I had none. The man holding it smiled at me, “His name’s Kingston. He’s only a half breed ma’am, but he’s a good steady lad. He’ll take ya out beyond the radiation, and then you’ll come back to lead us out of this overcrowded place.”

Ma’am? I was dishonored. I was no ma’am. I frowned and looked back to find that the other three men had followed me up to the horses.

Christopher spoke gently, as if I might spook, “when you chose exile you chose an honorable path. You know that no one has chosen exile in a long time. People are afraid of leaving the city, and those brave enough to leave regain their honor for leaving the city and gain the respect of the people. Yes, your family is still dishonored, but your own self is redeemed. If you come back alive your entire family regains their honor.”

I… But I couldn’t regain my honor, could I? Could Annie? Could we have chosen exile and left the walls together. No. Not because of Annie but because of me. I was afraid of going outside just like anyone else in this city. It was just the fear of public execution was stronger than my fear of leaving the walls. I looked over at Kevin who was getting acquainted with his own horse.

He was the brave one. He was facing exile because I convinced him to take it. And we were taking these poor creatures into exile and radiation with us. They weren’t facing execution, but they would give us a ride out of this place. It would be their place to take us out of the radiation if there was a place outside the radiation. Otherwise they would waste away and die with us.

“Are the horses part of the old laws of exile?” I couldn’t see the current king willing giving anything to people who chose exile. He probably wouldn’t even want us to have our honor when we walked out of those giant gates.

Raymond sneered at me, “Yes. The king wouldn’t care about scum like you. The king could care less about if there is a place past the radiation. We have a perfect world within these walls.” His voice was so slimy. I didn’t understand why he hated us so much.

“It’s time to say goodbye Elizabeth.” I started when I heard Christopher’s voice speaking my noble name. That name that had been taken away so long ago.

He held out his hand next to the horse, “Step on up. The whole city is waiting for you.”

Fear washed over me again, but I put my foot in his hand, and suddenly I was being lifted up. I grasped at the horse’s neck and swung my other leg over. A movement long forgotten and yet now remembered.

He put my feet in a metal thing on the… the saddle I was sitting on. And those metal things… they were… st… stranger, stall, stir, stirrup! They were stirrups. That was the word I was looking for.

I looked over and saw Kevin up on his horse. There were bags behind our saddles. I figured those were food for our journey into death. They had to at least make it seem like exile wasn’t a certain death sentence. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was a chance at life.

“Follow me sir and ma’am. Right next to each other so everyone sees the two exiles. Matching horses. Look like nobility you do.” I wasn’t quite sure what we were doing but Kevin rode up next to me.

“Push him with your legs Elizabeth. Move him forward. Let’s leave this place behind.” I pushed, but even as were walking away I looked back, but all I saw were the two guards retreating backs. It was so strange finding someone who could be openly nice is such a place. And the fact that he worked next to Raymond and seemed to be his friend, I would never understand.

I looked forward and saw we were following a road that led out between fancy gates. Beyond that lay the city people. They would celebrate our exile just like it was an execution and just like they celebrated everything else. At least they wouldn’t be lifting my head up in the air to laugh at. At the gate two guards I didn’t know came in front of use and two on either side as the groom went back to his barn.

I guess even with the brands they were afraid we would somehow escape and evade capture in the city. But no one would harbor someone with the exile brand. Exiles were only honored as long as they left the city.

We walked down a silent road past the prison courtyard where I used to line up every day to work, but the place was silent and empty. No one was there. “Why is it so silent?” I asked no one in particular but I hoped someone would answer me.

One of the guards spoke up, “The dishonored wait in their cells. Most of the guards have the morning off.”

I remembered waiting in a cell and my stomach growling and no guards coming. Those were normally execution days. Only for some executions were dishonored present. Those were executions they wanted to make an example of. I had heard before that guards had one day off a week and then the mornings of executions, and I guess the morning exiles left too.

“Why don’t you have off then?” I know some guards are on for executions. I wasn’t sure why they were chosen though.

“We volunteered for this honor. Leading two people brave enough to choose exile over the easy out of execution is an honor.” This sounded like the guard on the other side of Kevin.

Kevin was focused on the road ahead. He was not looking around or seeming to care about anything. His face was scrunched into a frown and he looked fairly unhappy.

He had no idea how strange this whole honor to the prisoners thing was. I was completely weirded out by the honor being given to me for choosing to be an exile. I had had no clue that anyone would think it was honorable to choose exile. I had just wanted to die where I would have no crowd, but now I left the city with honor.

We cleared the prison gates and suddenly there was a crowd lining the street that lead to the gate. People threw grass down on the road in front of our horses. “Find the land beyond the radiation for us lady! “ A woman called from the side of the street. A man ran up next to my horse and the guard let him. I recognized the name. It was Bryan.

He held up a flower to me. It was a simple daisy, but it was pretty enough. Why was he giving me a flower? “To remember me by fair lady. When you find the place beyond the radiation remember me is all I ask.”

Well he answered my question without me having to ask. I smiled down at him, “I will remember you, but take care of my sister. She’s quite fragile underneath her calm and in charge façade. She’s still an honored noble woman underneath that.”

“I promise you Liv. I will look after your sister and do all I can to help her.” He sounded sincere as we walked along the grass covered road.

Bryan fell back and blended back into the crowd as we continued onward. The crowd stayed with us, but the closer we got to the gate the quieter the crowd seemed to get. And at the gate there was no grass on the ground. Everyone stood back from it as if it was cursed.

And the gate was big. It could fit the horse and two or three horses stacked on top of him going through it. The guards walked forward and knocked on the door. It sounded quiet in the scope of the city and the giant gate.

Suddenly there was a loud thrumming noise and the sound of metal scraping, and the gates started to open into the city. They opened just enough for the two of us to pass through side by side. The guards surrounding us saluted us and stepped away. One called out, “Go through the gate and the people in the wall will give you the next step.”

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