The Cruel Duchess

Oh! She was very cruel, the Duchess, a great waster of men and women, a destroyer of homes. There was no malice in her, or so those people who survived claimed, and shook scarred and piebald heads in confusion. Their fingers trembled. No, no malice, for all her unbearable cruelty. It did not make her easier to live with. There was a breathtaking altruism that bordered on the Satanic in the tortures and torments she devised and had carried out.

It was seldom that the Duchess took any active part in her cruelties. They defined her in the minds of the people, but whether or not she spent any time thinking on them of a night they couldn’t say. Certainly she was always present, howsoever briefly, at each exsanguination, at every flaying or auto-de-fe or burning, cool eyes watching and evaluating. There was no passion in her face at these times, only a patient and disinterested curiosity.

How many died with those unmoved, inquisitive eyes watching them? How many were pulled from their warm beds and uneasy dreams to stand shivering in the cold as their homes were destroyed, sanctified, the ground sown with black salt, with the Duchess in her high fur hat standing just behind them?

Oh, she was very cruel indeed, was the fine Duchess.