“These are them,” the page said, saluting as he presented the men to Nasuada.
The young, dark-skinned queen of the rebellion had been seething at her desk, boots kicked upon it before having been interrupted by the page. She removed her feet from the desk and stood up, increasing her admittedly short stature so she may gain a better look at them.
These were all her men. Well, four men and a woman. Battered and broken. All of them she recognized as having been a part of her personal guard at some point within the last month. These were the traitors? The people she had to depend on. King Galbatorix’s spies were everywhere, and if she could not trust the people who would present her with her daily bread…
Nasuada’s eyes narrowed as she gazed at the page. Then at the group, bound and prevented from speaking due to rags in their mouths. The Varden was running low on supplies, leather, rags, twine, all sorts of things that might go into creating supplies for the war effort. Even the simple rags wasted on such filth was enough to make Nasuada cringe.
“Ungag them,” Nasuada commanded.
The page stared at her confused, but knew better than to disobey a direct order from his queen. He went to each of the five spies, and removed the gags from their mouths one by one.
“I just want to know one thing,” Nasuada asked, walking from behind her chair and stepping before the group, hands behind her back, her beautiful, yet simple and refined clothing flowing on her body.
There was a mixture of abject fear, resolute stoicness, and anger that flashed amongst the members of the group. After a moment, one of the captured men sighed, and let out, “Galbatorix’s men... promised us a bounty. Promised us amnesty. We know this war is hopeless. We know--”
That man received a swift and violent kick to the temple from the young queen.
“Galbatorix is a liar and a snake. The Varden is the last bastion of hope for this continent. It is the army that my father, my friends, our friends died for! And you would betray them… betray me… for amnesty?!”
Unprompted, Nasuada delivered another kick to that soldier’s head, prompting the rest of the group to shift away, now wary of the fact that she may give any one of them the same fate for no apparent reason.
Nasuada sighed. “Traitors truly are the lowest of the low… execution isn’t enough. It needs to be a total annihilation.” Nasuada sauntered back to her desk. “A destruction so complete, everyone in the Varden will know exactly what happens in this army to those who would betray her.”
Nasuada sat herself in her seat, and began to draft something.
“Put them in holding for now,” she commanded the page, who nodded.
“And have those rags washed.”
The entirety of the Varden was present. Standing upon the wide scaffold, Saphira on the ground next to him (making them roughly at equal eye level) Eragon’s eyes fell upon the massive crowd, even more numerous than those who had been present at the public whipping of his brother for insubordination. There had to be a minimum of 7,000 people gathered. This must’ve been important.
Eragon had, admittedly, been a bit confused by Nasuada’s request of him. Or, more accurately, his dragon, Saphira. Like most dragons, Saphira was as smart as any human or elf, and capable of reading and understanding language as well as communicating telepathically. She knew immediately what Nasuada wanted of her when she read the queen’s missive, and immediately agreed without hesitation. Saphira certainly enjoyed any opportunity to showcase her dominance over the humanoid races of Alagaesia, so this was quite a dream for her. As well, Nasuada was granting Saphira an opportunity to indulge in a habit Eragon had frustratingly been trying to wean her off of.
Then, a hush fell upon the crowd. Nasuada had arrived, trailing the group of five that had been sentenced. Looking down at the ground, Eragon noticed the arrival of the men, being ferried in chains one after another, naked except for their undergarments, climbing to the platform and aligning themselves in a row before the crowd, now being subject to thousands and thousands of “BOO!!” and all manner of ridicule. They were followed by Nasuada, who stepped elegantly to the staircase leading to the platform of the gallows.
With a single look out at the crowd, they ceased their jeering. Eragon watched in awe at the brilliant way she commanded them. He felt a sense of pride knowing he was not merely looking at the queen of the Varden, and hopefully the future queen of Alagaesia, but also his only human friend.
Nasuada spoke, and Eragon amplified her voice through magic.
“Greetings, men and women of the Varden. I have brought before you these five men and women so I may make a statement.
“These people are traitors.”
There was a general gasp and Eragon tensed. He knew the truth beforehand, but the general anxiety that now fell upon the Varden was palpable.
“They have admitted to conspiring an assassination attempt on my very life, in an effort to rid the Varden of its leadership. But I come to you today, my brothers and sisters, to give them, and Galbatorix a message:
“You have failed.”
The crowd now cheered, pumping fists and whistling at the display of strength and courage that now emanate from Nasuada. The captured spies were noticeably shaking, and Eragon turned to see Saphira peering at one of them, licking her lips. Eragon cocked a tentative half smile, before turning to Nasuada. Nasuada had turned to him, and she nodded. It was time.
Are you ready? Eragon asked his dragon.
Do you need to ask, little one?
“Some of you may be wondering,” Nasuada continued, “How do you intend to punish such a lot? Through hanging? Beheading? Torture or whipping? These are all fates more than appropriate enough for the caliber of a traitor, but I have in my mind, a better idea.”
Nasuada began to pace across the scaffolding, her boots audibly clacking on the wood, though they were mostly obscured by her ankle-length dress. She circled the group, like a bird circling its prey.
“My father, the leader of the Varden before me, once told me that to determine the worth of a traitor, one only need to look at the dirt beneath one’s shoe. Well today… I intend to honor his memory and those words.”
Saphira closed her eyes, and the mark upon Eragon’s hand symbolizing the magical connection between human and dragon glowed. Suddenly, a light coalesced about one of the prisoners, the leftmost one, who's eyes jerked up as he realized what was happening to him. He squirmed against his bonds, trying to break free, but the light soon engulfed him until…
Eragon was astounded. The magic of dragons tended to be a fickle thing at best, yet Saphira had managed to use her arcane powers for… well…
“Do not be alarmed, for he has yet to meet his fate!” Nasuada said, smiling as she reached down and picked something up in her hand. Eragon’s hawk-like vision as a dragon rider allowed him to easily discern that the object now in her hand was none other than the first traitor, now free of his oversized bonds, but completely naked and trying to run around in Nasuada’s hand.
“I assure you, what you see is no mere illusion. For I hold in my hand now, the first of the men who chose to turn his blade against me.”
Nasuada crouched, revealing her hand to the first several rows of men, a group of a hundred or so people, who could more or less see that the man had been reduced to naught but an inch in size.
“I will waste no more time elaborating upon the fate of this man. He deserves not even that little.” Nasuada dropped the man before her boot, and he stood up, hoping to run away, or possibly even slip through one of the divots between the wood and hide.
It would not work.
Nasuada hiked up her dress and visibly raised her foot high into the air, balancing perfectly as she pinpointed her mark, until…
It descended with more fury and force than a descending dragon, and thanks to Eragon’s amplification spell it truly did reverberate throughout the entire Varden camp. Not just the impact, but even the vivid squelch of flesh and bone. It was a sound many of these men were tangentially familiar with, but never in such a visceral way.
Nasuada ground her foot into the wood, the scraping sound of leather on oak creating a pleasing sound to listen to, particularly when lubricated with the blood from the body. She then turned to the next men in line, who were staring, horrified faces and wide eyes, at Nasuada.
“Y-y-you yo-you… you m-m-monster!” said the next one as he now struggled against his binds with even more force. “Y-y-y-you can’t do this to us. You c-c-can’t do this to me! W-w-we’re hu--”
In an interesting twist, Saphira channeled her magic as the man was speaking, and in a flash, he was reduced to only a few centimeters.
Nasuada smiled as she stepped to the next victim, who had tripped in the shrinking process and was now trying his best to crawl away at a speed of less than a meter per minute. Rotating her body slightly, Nasuada thought it fit to wet her other boot this time. Raising it up and casting the man in complete shadow, prompting him to try to crawl away even faster, she smirked and said to him sultrily, “The moment you thought to betray me, your humanity was forfeit.”
And like an unforgiving guillotine, her foot descended.
This time was punctuated by the ferocious cheers of her men and women, excited to see the bloodshed after weeks of not much action on the way to the capital.
That very reaction was what made the remaining prisoners realize the reality of their fate. They looked to and from one another, then to Nasuada, Eragon, even Saphira, but they got indifference at best. At worst, outright glee at their impending fates.
Then, Nasuada did something unexpected. She turned to Saphira, nodding at her to shrink the next one, then crouched down and began to unlatch her right boot. Eragon was a bit puzzled by this, before he realized what she intended to do. It was a simple thing to crush something under one’s boot. But crushing it under one’s bare foot was nothing short of an absolute display of the dominance one had over such an entity. How utterly untroubled one was by the existence of another.
Nasuada was just finishing taking off her second boot, tossing both to the side before she once again stood to height. She placed her hands on her hips and flexed her toes, cracking them on the hard wood before she laid eyes on the third victim.
“Hello. Do you have anything you would like to say? Any last words, regrets, anything you wish to take back?”
The voice was absolutely miniscule; only Eragon and presumably other elves in the audience could hear it, even barely. “I’m s-”
An advantage of going barefoot that Arya could attest to was that it increased the dexterity of one’s lower extremities by tenfold. Whereas previously the buildup towards ultimately crushing the prisoners was in part because she wanted to keep it dramatic while making preparation to crush the shrunken men, now she was able to do so without any preamble, in merely moments reducing the once proud turncoat into nothing but a coin-sized mound of meat, bones now powdery grains. Nasuada was in a slight danger of slipping from the blood, but held her balance.
The crowd truly went wild. They cheered at the power Nasuada held at her feet harder than they ever had previously, and she was relishing it. The hot beating sun was beginning to take its toll on Nasuada, still dressed in her royal regalia, but now she didn’t care. Panting, she turned her attention to the fourth victim. The fifth one had apparently fainted, and the fourth was crying and pleading for his mother. Then his father. Then for any number of the dwarven gods to hear his prayer. But, after the light enveloped him, Nasuada had no choice but to say, “Tsk, tsk, tsk. No god will hear you at that size.”
Then, with masterful footwork, Nasuada plucked him up between her big and second toes, now balancing on one foot as she held the other in the air, slightly arched.
“Varden, look upon this man. I want you to know that if any of you have seditious thoughts, then your fate will be the same as his.”
Then, with noticeable effort, Nasuada began to flex her toes, squeezing as hard as she could. The man between them stopped struggling almost immediately, a combination of cutting off his airflow as well as a sound Eragon could’ve sworn was his back breaking. It didn’t matter. After several more seconds of squeezing, Nasuada accomplished her goal.
In a moment, the man splattered, coating Nasuada’s toes in the blood of the traitor, and her face lit up in a smile.
The crowd once again cheered, unbelievably inspired by Nasuada’s display of dominance.
“Ahhh…” Nasuada said, now clearly playing up to the crowd. For a moment, Eragon was very glad that the leader of the Varden was a young, attractive, and capable woman like herself. Had it been a man like Orrin, or Ajihad, or -- gods forbid -- Eragon himself, he doubted that they would’ve received half the support that Nasuada had received as a result of this display. Men and women, elves, dwarves, Urgals and even werecats alike were united as they never had been.
Nasuada leisurely placed her boots back on without taking any time to wipe the viscera off the soles of her feet, or her toes. Now her boots, on some level, had the flesh of tiny men coating them, whether inside or out.
Now all the crowd’s ire was directed toward one person. The final spy. The woman.
Truth be told, Eragon was a bit disheartened at the idea of killing a woman, traitorhood be damned. He knew however that Nasuada, pragmatic she was, had no such qualms. She approached the final lady, having been revived from her panic-induced slumber by the thunderous cheers of the crowd. Tears were streaming down her face as all she could do was whimper and shake her head, mouthing and squeaking, “No, no, no, no, no!”
“Worry not. I will not crush you.”
Then Nasuada left. She began to descend down the platform.
Somehow, as she sat there on the wooden platform, bound, alone except for Eragon 20 feet away from her, and… a 50 foot dragon glaring at her, this only made her more nervous.
Saphira’s long-ish neck snaked to the bound woman, who now audibly screamed as the terrifying scaled beast licked its lips once again.
It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten a human.
To most average people, dragons were not more than smarter-than-average creatures that some very special people could ride. The realization then that this dragon had the power to invade this woman’s mind was enough to break her. More than she already was, at least.
The woman’s tears stopped, and her crying briefly reduced to nothing more than a croaking sound before her head and upper body were engulfed by Saphira’s maw. She raised her head up, making it easy for the comparatively bite-sized prisoner to slither down the fire-breathing lizard’s throat.
Nasuada, voice still amplified from Eragon’s spell, called out to the Varden once more:
“Let this be a lesson. To any and everybody amongst you. If you continue to fight by my side, I swear to you, we will retake Uru’baen, and we will retake Alagaesia!”
The punctuation of those phrases was enough to drive a meteoric cheer from the crowd’s throats.
“But, to anyone that harbors traitorous thoughts, seditious feelings, or the faintest hint of treachery… not even the magics of Galbatorix himself can save you.
“And to you, Galbatorix,” Nasuada screamed, knowing that with any amount of spies hiding in the crowd there was no way he wouldn’t get this message. “The day is coming when your kingdom, your rule, and everything you have in this world will be naught but dust beneath my feet. And that is a promise.”
And then Nasuada, satisfied with her speech, departed back to her quarters, the crowd going absolutely ballistic.
Eragon managed to catch up with her before she disappeared amongst the jovial and dispersing crowd.
“That was a fantastic speech!” he said, bowing lightly as he spoke.
“Thank you,” Nasuada said, eyes filled with manic determination. “And I meant every syllable of it.”
Eragon nodded. He watched as Nasuada departed before saying to Saphira, You know, for a human who can’t use magic… Nasuada can be quite scary when she wants to be.
Saphira responded, Let us be lucky she’s on our side.