Paurel Flint shifted back and forth on the stone steps of the courthouse. He wasn't yet used to the weight of the shield on his arm, and the stiff leather of his new boots was chafing at his ankles. It has been noon when he was assigned to the post, and when they had first led the prisoner in through the big double doors. That's when the crowd had gathered, and now that the sun was sinking low enough to shine in Paurel's eyes, they were growing restive.
The young guardsman looked nervously at the three others standing on the steps with him. They were all four new to the Stormwind Guard, only Stenly having more than three months of service. Paurel wasn't sure why they'd been picked for the duty. It seemed important, guarding the door where the Wordweaver was being tried. He would have expected more experienced guards to be given the job, and a lot more than just four of them. In fact, the young man wasn't sure at all why he'd even signed up for the guard in the first place. He wanted Annswy's father to think he was respectable enough to marry, but surely there was a better way that putting on a tin suit and having to worry about whether or not The Worm or The Butcher or The Oathbreaker were going to show up and gut you. He should have been a tailor. Or, better yet, a brewer. Still though, the orders had come down, and if there was a lesson that Paurel had learned in his short time as a guard, it was that you follow orders.
The crowd filling the courtyard was filled with the best and worst Stormwind had to offer. A lean one-eyed man in a silver cape was selling hot cider to keep off the cold. Paurel had heard enough people in the square talking that he knew the fellow was taking bets on the day and hour of the Plaguefather's execution. A little girl sat perched on one of the griffons worked into the side of a city building, eating what looked to be a fried rat on a stick. The general feel of the crowd had taken on the air of a fair earlier in the day, but now people were beginning to get antsy. People were forming up in big groups ringing the stairs and casting evil looks up at the guards. One big bastard stood only a span away from the bottom step and kept cracking his knuckles over and over, staring at the door. Paurel had a hard time keeping his eyes off of the whitened flesh of an evil looking scar running across the man's neck.
Something dinged off of the young guard's breastplate and clattered onto the ground. A small pebble spun on the steps next to Paurel's feet. It took him a moment to realize that someone had thrown a rock at him. He lifted his shield up a bit and scanned the crowd, fear mounting in his throat. He tried to bellow in a fierce voice, "Hey there, who threw that?" The words came, but they sounded thin and squeaky. The big man looked at the rock, and then at Paurel, and grinned. Most of his teeth were missing.
"How long can it take to convict someone?" A hoarse cry rang over the masses, and was quickly echoed by a hundred other voices. The crowd surged forward a bit, all hint of jollity gone. The streams of people met at the base of the stairs and became a mob. The noise, which had carried at levels ranging from reasonable to explosive throughout the day, surged up to a point where Paurel was sure he would be deaf for the rest of his life. They it raised to a point where he wished he WAS deaf. He and the other guards backed up a few stairs and pressed closer together. They tried to raise their voices and call for the crowd to move back, but it was useless.
Paurel nearly soiled his armor when something hard bumped into his back. He turned quickly and raised his shield, preparing for the worst, when saw that the great doors were at last swinging open. The crowd figured it out with him, and the silence hit the square with the force of a canon, thudding into the young guardsman's gut.
Emerging from the door were only two men, instead of the unit that Paurel expected. One, fully armored, only came up to Paurel's shoulder, but still the guard looked away when he felt the eyes within that dark helmet turn upon him. The other was Strichter, the courthouse crier. Why only two had come out of the courthouse was beyond the guardsman. He knew that only happened when . . .
"Citizens of Stormwind! You have gathered here today to see that the justice of the crown be done. Uthas, called Wordweaver and Plaguefather, has been secured in the safe cells of the Stockades awaiting trial for weeks, awaiting justice at your hands. Now, after these weeks, you may at last lay your fears to rest, for ruling has been made. The crown finds that the pardon extended to all members of the Knighthood of the Ebon Blade shall also include Uthas and all of his followers, called the Unblinking Eye. From this moment on they stand as free citizens of the Alliance. In the name of King Varian Wrynn and Stormwind, so it is judged." And with that, Strichter darted back through the doors, which were already swinging closed before he finished the proclamation.
The quiet laying over the courtyard was a dark pool before a rainstorm. Cool and crisp, a wind sprang up over the steely waters, causing the gentle stir of bodies swaying slightly in time. A single pennant hanging from the courthouse wall lifted and fluttered in the breeze. Paurel stared openly at the short man in question, newly freed to walk again where he would. In normal circumstances it would be the guard's job to escort the man back to the Stockades to collect his belongings, but as the guardsman shifted his gaze to the crowd through which he would need to pass, he knew there was no leaving these stairs. The pennant slowly dropped back toward the wall as the wind died away. When the first rock flew through the air, Paurel already had his eyes closed, his mouth whispering Annswy's name.
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