As a Bird
The girl was dragged before the Jurist dishevelled and barely able to walk. The audience that had gathered- so much larger than for ordinary trials- backed away, whispering nervously to one another, sharing the half-heard bits of information that they had about her.
It shouldn’t have come to this, the Jurist thought. It didn’t merit a trial, she had broken no laws, but it seemed that nobody knew what to do with her, or about her. People were afraid; he could tell from the way that the audience, even now, were drawing back towards the walls or door. The guards who marched her in, too fast for her stumbling legs, were wearing full leathers, though the heat was sweltering. None of them wanted to touch her.
The guards slapped and prodded the girl awake and made her stand up to face the Jurist. They told her to pull down her shirt, and when she took too long did it for her, a swift, violent motion that made the crowd gasp. One of the guards took her roughly by the shoulders and turned her round, so the Jurist could see what all the fuss was about.
As he saw the girl’s back, the Jurist leaned forward in his chair, making no effort to hide his surprise.
It was not the fact of the image covering her back- every person in the room had one. The tip of a sword was visible on the neck of both guards, and the Jurist knew that if he looked at the audience, he would see coins, fish, ears of wheat, scrolls, quills- a myriad of different sigils. The Mark began to show through when one reached adolescence, deepening over time to black. This one was still translucent, but its significance was lost on nobody there. Your Mark told you and everyone else who and what you were- part lineage, part vocation. It was not something anyone could fight. The Jurist himself remembered rushing to the mirror as a boy, home from school and told by his playmates that his Mark was coming in. He could still feel, thinking back, the excitement of what showed before him in the mirror. It had been only a shadow, that day, but a shape he could easily make out- the set of scales he had always hoped he would see. The Mark ensured contentment- you did what you were meant to do, something that was truly inside you.
He understood now why she had been brought to him, why they were so afraid. A Crowned Eagle- it wasn’t a Mark he had ever seen. It meant she was something new. It meant she was free.