by Peadar Ó Guilín
“No one asks for death.” This was the proud boast of the city of Kalegwyn. “No one ever asks for it.” Until Malern did. A bad move for her, as it turned out. She awoke on Castellan Garvinger’s operating table with his favourite surgeon elbow-deep in her chest.
“This is going to hurt,” said Garvinger from somewhere in the background. “Scream all you want.”
And she did. She couldn’t help herself, although she knew her cries were being conveyed magically to the people in the plaza beyond.
She screamed until something seemed to snap in her throat, and after that the best she could manage was a wheezing, bubbling sound that carried no hint of her former insolence.
The surgeon kept working, ripping and tearing. He made sure she could see everything. They had pointed a mirror at her chest and had pinned her eyes open.
Swinging from the roof hung a cage with Garvinger’s window witch inside. The creature babbled spells to keep Malern alive and conscious throughout the whole operation. Malern could not see its mad, warty little face, but now and again, cool drops of its sweat fell onto her fevered skin.
“Remember,” Garvinger told her, “you don’t have to die. You can be a witch instead.”