Hope

Trigger warnings: Violence against women, mentions of rape.

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"Why?" Hope screamed, struggling as the men of the settlement tied her to the wooden stake set in the town square, piled high with logs and kindling.  "He raped me! Why are you doing this?"  She sobbed, fighting harder than they thought she'd be able, after the days of beatings and torture.

"Recant your lies, wicked girl!" One of the older women in the town marched up to the edge of the wood pile.  "The reverend is a good, godly man!" She held in her upraised hand, a pitch covered torch, flickering in the wind.

"He raped me! God as my witness!"  The ropes tight, the men backed away, and the old woman lowered the torch.

Hope slumped, letting the ropes take her weight, sobbing brokenly.

As the old woman touched her torch to the wood, a shape stepped out of the wood, tall, horned with branching antlers, flanked by women dressed in buckskins and high, soft boots holding bows and axes. The old woman lunged forward, and one of the girls had shot her in the shoulder with the arrow before anyone had registered that she'd raised it.

"Cut her down."  The figure's voice was deep, resonant, soothing.  Two of the younger woman scrambled up to cut the ropes and help Hope down off the pyre.

"Will you come with me, or will you burn?" The figure crouched to speak to Hope.

Hope looked around at the faces of the women with him, young and hopeful, and old and weathered, but all with pride of self evident in the arch of a brow, or the lift of a chin.

Then she looked at the women of the settlement, the ones who had told her the reverend had also taken liberties with them, but who kept silent as the men of the settlement tried to torture her accusations into falsehood.  Eyes downcast, not one had met her gaze or given comfort since her ordeal had started.

"I will come with you."  Hope glanced behind her, at the old woman with the torch and the arrow in her shoulder sitting sprawled on the ground.  Who in spite of her wound looked triumphant at the revelation they had nearly burned a witch after all.

"Forget them. Leave them to their hate."  One of the women with the horned god, older, her tightly curled dark hair frosted  with silver, and dark brown skin lined with wrinkles, offered an arm for Hope to support herself.  "We take care of our own. Unlike some."

The horned god turned to walk back into the woods, and the women followed, melting into the shadows of the trees until only Hope, the woman supporting her and two women with bows remained.  Hope cast one more look over the settlement she had called home for her entire life.  "May he do to all of you what he did to me."

With those words, she let the woman helping her walk, support her into the treeline, and the two bow-women followed behind, silent.

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