1 Prologue

The boggy marshes of the North were a difficulty to navigate at a slow pace, let alone a hurried one. For every large step the man took, mud, or what he hoped to be mud, splashed in his face, coating him with the dirt and grime of the swamps, the cold of the night struck deeper than any steel sword could.

The sound of horse riders pursuing behind him, the feeling of slamming his boots on the mud of the bleak and barren wasteland. Damn you, Gareth. Damn you, he silently cursed himself, he knew that practicing magic was punishable by death in the North. I thought myself more subtle then I am in actuality. He'd hoped that he could catch a boat to the West before anyone had found out, how could he have known that those sailors charge damn more than what they were worth? 10 golden coins? He scoffed silently, yet he couldn't help but gape at all the past grievances he'd suffered at the hands of others.

Such as the time when he was seen to have potential for magical capability, and his uncle tried to turn him over to the Northerners by kidnapping him, and killing his parents. During the night in their camp, Gareth slit his throat open ear to ear for that, he found the act of it rather simplistic. Although his uncle's eyes staring back at him for some type of amnesty, only to receive none still haunted his dreams.

Another sin against him, was when he was promised to the princess Rose, of the West. He'd remembered how the marriage would grant him legitimacy as a lord, yet he also recalled that the marriage was called off, in favour of her being wed to a Northern lord instead. "We apologize, but the marriage must be called off, it's all politics, believe me." The messenger had told him. Politics, bah! A slight against my magical abilities most like.

The most inexcusable of all the slights against his very name? His only semblance of family left, his elder brother, John, was killed in a battle in Rivington, in a battle against the North some years back. It always comes back to those bloody northmen. The merciless savages had taken everything from him, his family, his name, his very identity, taken. And now they chase me through a marsh of dirt and horse shit, he thought bitterly to himself.

Despite this, he continued to run. If the Northerners are to kill me, I'll at least make them work for it. His legs became heavier and heavier the more that he fled, he could feel the weight becoming more and more until he couldn't bare to sprint at this pace, he looked back and the last thing he remembered was getting hit with the blunt end of the man's sword, and all turned to black.

He woke up in an equally dark and dank cell, as his eyes slowly but surely adjusted to the pitch black darkness, he saw that he was bound by his ankles as well as his hands with iron shackles. He saw that the Warden of the prison was looming on the other side of the cell, grinning at him as if he'd heard the greatest jape ever told. Gareth dare not point it out, he knew that he was in the North, and if he was in the North, he was going to die, best not upset the hand who swings the sword. As his eyes fully adjusted to the light, or lack thereof, he saw that the man looked much like akin to a snake, in that he was both incredibly gaunt and tall. He also had eyes as green as a viper, Gareth was sure that if he'd stare into the man's venomous eyes that he'd die of poison.

"Welcome back to the land of the living, for however longer you'll remain, that is." The man seemingly hissed at him.

"Where am I?" Gareth asked, playing the fool.

"The North, where else? You thought you could flee?"

"I swear, I did naught wrong." Gareth heard himself say.

"Silence, worm!" The man hissed at him. "You dabble in the arts of witchcraft, a capitol offence here in the North, you're lucky that your throat's still intact."

"Here I thought the preferred method of execution in the North was beheading," Gareth said, half a jest and half a question.

"That's for those who've committed lesser crimes, such as murder or ****, but as for you? You've practiced an art only witches and hermits dare teach, and you do know what the punishment for witchcraft is?"

"Burning." Gareth spat the word out like a curse.

"Burning." The man nodded. "On the morrow, we will cleanse your soul with burning steel, best be praying to whatever gods you hold, you'll need them."

"I don't hold any gods." Gareth heard himself say hesitantly.

"A godless he-witch? Ha!" The man laughed. "Best be praying to Ignis for his fires to cleanse you thoroughly in that case." The man said while taking his leave.

And just like that, Gareth was alone in the dark dank cell, condemned to die on the morrow, he'd had trouble sleeping that night, as any man condemned to death would. What's to stop them from opening my throat while I sleep? He thought to himself angrily. Gareth knew that the North was brutal and unyielding, but he'd not beg. I won't give them the satisfaction.

Within the cell, Gareth lost all sense of time, he could only guess at it, although, judging by the meal he was given the next day, he'd guessed it was the morrow that he'd dreaded so deeply. The Snakish Man was the one to deliver the meal, at first Gareth was unsure of whether it was poisoned or not, however he came to the conclusion that the North was sadistic. They'd want him to suffer before the end, a result no poison would bring.

"Here's your last meal, worm." He said, while sliding it under the cell door, but not before spitting into it.

"Might I ask your name?" Gareth asked, ignoring that slight.

"What's it matter? Arbitrary tiles matter little when death is just around the corner."

"I'm asking out of courtesy, is a man not entitled to a last wish before he dies?" Gareth said with a slight grin while taking a bite out of a biscuit.

"Damn you, he-witch,fine. My name is Aldryn." The man said contemptuously.

"Aldryn, nice to meet you."

"Don't assume that we're friends, I offered my name out of duty, not out of love." The man said angrily.

"Very well." Gareth said while eating his final meal in silence.

Despite being offered to a prisoner of the worst offence, the meal was rather luxurious. Biscuits with a side of a few apples and to wash it down, some wine. Although, not enough to dull the pain it would seem.

"Finished your meal, he-witch?"

"My name is Gareth." He said defiantly.

"You practiced magic?"

Gareth nodded.

"Then your name is he-witch," Aldryn said sourly. "Stand up and face the wall."

Gareth did just that, and with that, they marched outside of the prison, the light itself was blinding to his vision that had grown accustomed to the darkness of the cell. As he looked around, he saw many sights, he saw the dirty streets that he paraded through like an animal, and the crowds that lined the streets. Some stood in silence, others threw oranges and apples at him, others simply spat on him. They all despised him, and he knew it. They fear me, he thought with a grin. Whenever he moved too slow for Aldryn's liking, he shoved him with force. "No tricks, witch," he had said to him. Although, Gareth wasn't entirely sure he could, he felt drained, weak and tired, and just wanted it to all end in glorious darkness. His only hope was that they'd give him a quick death.

A thought of folly, a nice one to think, but folly nonetheless.

As they finally approached the executions grounds, he saw the place where his life would end, against a wooden stake in the middle of a grimy, dirty courtyard, filled with peasants who would derive great pleasure from his, assumedly, painful death. I won't give them the show that they all so deeply desire. He thought bitterly.

As he was tied to the stake, he saw the archers, one of which was Aldryn, take arrows from their quivers, and igniting them with a torch.

As he stood there tied to the stake, he tried to think of any last words for them that would be granted him, would he publically curse the Northerners for all the years of torment that they caused him, and thank him for ending it finally? Or would he stand silent and proud as he burst into flames in a grand spectacle of death and blackened skin? He did not know, what he did know, however, is that he would not scream, he'd bite his tongue off if he must, but he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of knowing he died in misery and suffering.

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"Do you have any last words, he-witch?" Aldyn asked contemptuously.

"Go to High Hell, Northerner, I'll be sure to meet you there."

"Here I thought you held no gods."

"No, but it's common sense that's where all demons and other such demonic machinations go after death, as I said. See you there." He said with a grin.

He heard the snakish man screaming instructions to the archers, and he felt the burning steel arrow pierce his throat, and he knew that the snake did have a poisonous bite to it after all.

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