“Harlon Perrilt, you are hereby found guilty of the following crimes: that of desertion during time of war; that of breaking and entering into the house of one Simon Steadwick; and that of the murder of Grace Steadwick, daughter of the above, upon your discovery.”
The judge’s voice rumbled like the crack of doom, and murmurs from the audience members arose all around the courtroom. I wanted to hide my face in shame. It was true. However much I wished it to be not so, it was true. I was a coward, who deserted my regiment when they most needed help, and panicked so badly that I was able to kill an innocent farmgirl, who had done nothing but call out where I was hiding.
“You are hereby condemned to be hanged by the neck until death, at noon tomorrow.”
Again, the crowd voiced its satisfaction. In my heart, I agreed with them. I didn’t deserve to live. Even now, as I looked down at my hands, I could see it again… these horrible hands of mine encircling that white neck, grasping and choking and strangling…
I shuddered. Her face would always be before me now – that pale, simple face, slowly growing mottled red, and then blue…
No! No more! I couldn’t take it anymore. I bit my lips, trying to hold in the screams of horror and loathing and self-disgust. I writhed in agony until one of the guards took pity on me and knocked me unconscious.
Darkness was bliss.
When I woke up again, I was back in my holding cell, and dawn was breaking. As usual, the guard outside was patrolling the corridor. I lay on the ground, trying not to think. Today was the day of my execution. The last few days had been horrible, but now that the trial was over, I almost felt relieved. After today, it would all disappear.
Heavy footsteps clanked down the corridor. A guard opened my cell door.
“Perrilt!” he called out roughly, making way for a servant to carry a tray of food in. “Eat up. This is your last meal, so thank the Gods that a coward like you is able to die on a full stomach.” His voice twisted with scorn, even as he mouthed the words. No man bearing arms liked a coward – much less a deserter. A knife twisted in my heart, but I kept silent. Only for a little while longer. Only until noon. Then I would be able to forget my shame and pass away into blissful death.
Time flew by quickly, as I concentrated on finishing the meal and not thinking about anything. All too soon, the sun was at the apex of the sky. It was time. They marched me out in front of the hissing crowd towards the gallows. Bits of rotten fruit and old garbage pelted me as I stumbled down the makeshift alleyway. A blueberry hit my right eyebrow, and the juice started to dribble into my eye. It coloured everything blue – just like that girl’s face. That face would probably be the last thing that I see on this world.
I hoped that the hanging wouldn’t take long. I heard that you could either break your neck when the rope jerked, or slowly strangle to death. I hoped it would be the former for me. I couldn’t stand a long and painful death. Especially not by strangulation. That would be… just like her…
The sound of drumbeats shook me away from those thoughts. The crowd, frightened, began to quiet down.
“Silence,” ordered the judge. The noise stopped. “Now, we are gathered here today to witness the hanging of one Harlon Perrilt, guilty of desertion in the face of the enemy, breaking and entering private property, and the murder of Grace Steadwick. Let all those present stand watch as due sentence and punishment is carried out upon the criminal.”
A muffled cheer could be heard from somewhere in the midst of the crowd. The hangman looped the noose over my neck. My hands and feet were bound by ropes. My knees were shaking. The whole reality of the situation was starting to hit me. I don’t want to die! Not like this! My bowels loosened, and I couldn’t control my bladder. What a disgraceful way to end my life – soaked in my own urine and fecal matter.
I looked desperately for a way out – any way out. Inside, there was a part of me that despised myself for being a coward all the way to the end, but my panicked fear drowned it out.
“Please…” I begged. “Please… anything…”
The judge looked at me coldly, with pitiless eyes.
“Hang the sod.”
I was falling… falling… and a great big jolt to my neck stopped me. It hurt like all the fiery blazes of the Underworld. But I was still conscious. So my neck hadn’t broken after all. Already, I could feel the blood starting to congeal in my head. My heart sounded like a pounding hammer.
My tongue thickened. I couldn’t speak anymore.
My wits were starting to fade…
…close my eyes…
… “Why doesn’t… die?”…
When I came to, I was gasping for breath. The rope marks around my neck were harness straps of fire, bridling me like one of the horses of the underworld. I lay collapsed on the ground, heaving. The reek of urine flooded my nose, but I was too weak to do anything about it. I had only one goal in life: breathe.
Slowly, as I came to, I heard a voice addressing me.
“…looks like you are cursed with the gods’ own luck, Perrilt,” the judge was saying. “While we were busy hanging a deserter like you, the war was fought and won by the troops you deserted. Now, Aluwen has placed a spell of immortality upon us all. Do you understand what that means, Perrilt?”
I lay still, gasping, trying to sort out my incoherent thoughts. The guard grabbed me and roughly dragged me up, bringing his face close to mine.
“Do you, you louse?!” he scowled at me. “That means we can’t ever punish one of you cowards the way you deserve. You’re like bloody cockroaches – you’ll never die any more. Only Aluwen knows why scum like you deserve to live.”
I was being shaken so hard by the guard that my wits were becoming even more addled.
“Put him down, Holbert,” the judge said. Abruptly, the guard released me, and I sank to the ground again. The judge walked over to me and stared down.
“Don’t think that this absolves you of your crime, Perrilt,” he said coldly. “You are still guilty and stand condemned. This new spell just means that we’ll need to find another way to punish you.” He thought briefly for a while, then seemed to come to a decision.
“Holbert, take him and put him into the public stocks. We’ll let him be an example to all the populace. It’s not necessary to feed him, just let him lie there. He’s already a dead man, anyway. When this spell of the Goddess ceases to be, he can expire along with it.”
The horrors of the past were starting to reappear before me again. I could remember the sensation of choking to death very clearly now. It was a terrible experience. Was this how it had felt for that girl? Was I the one to do such cruelty to her? How could I?
As the guard dragged me unceremoniously to my feet again, the judge looked at me. “I would advise you to use this time to dwell on your past mistakes,” he said soberly. “And don’t worry… you’ll have all of eternity to do it in.”
This time, I couldn’t hold back my screams.
Edited by Shouja, 30 November 2005 - 10:30 AM.