“Because of your acts of treason & assassination of the King, we, the Court, hereby sentence you to death by hanging. You will remain in Cornwell Prison until your execution date.”
The words take forever to seep in—all of your thought is trained on how you ended up in this mess…how you were found guilty although thoroughly innocent. The smallest part of your mind calculates the weight of the chains binding your wrists, yet the floor seems so far away. Around you, the council begins to take their leave while sporadically casting disgusted glares at you. Their roaring voices echo in your mind still. The pain is still there, too.
“Wait…you’re going to kill me…?” you ask slowly. You look up to the head of the council, praying he’s just pulling your leg, because he’s your friend, he’s always been there, so this all has to be a joke…
Allistor looks down at you with his familiar emerald eyes; from this distance, you can see the woe behind them. No one else would be able to mask their emotions so well after sending a childhood friend to death, not even he. “You should’ve thought about the outcome before you turned against our Kingdom. I have no sympathy for you, [Name]. I pray God will have mercy on your wretched soul.”
You watch in disbelief as he turns away, his royal blue coat fluttering on the wind filtering through the open windows. It is as if you’ve just morphed into a pile of gelation as you fall onto your knees, hands trembling under the weight of Death.
How could this happen? Never for once in your life have you thought about betraying the Kingdom—especially not during this tolling battle against France. How often has the opportunity been dangled in front of your eyes and you pushed it away? Yes, you had the perfect ability to spy for France, your position was perfect. Yet you never have…you never would have even considered it. To murder the King: Preposterous! He was the saviour of the people! He guided the country through the darkness to relish in the light once more! He led the Kingdom to victory, even after the people had given up. He destroyed an entire opposing country with only a simple battle command…
A gentle hand presses down on your shoulder: the smell of honeysuckle creeps into your mind. Turing your head, the last person you want to see crouches behind you; Arthur Kirkland.
You feel as if your heart is trying to rip itself from your chest and flop down onto the floor. It isn’t because he’s always had this effect on you, but it is because you know what he has to do…He is an executioner, in the end.
“Stand,” he attempts a firm tone, but it simply cracks. You force your body to obey your mind and stand; once on your feet again, you stare down at the marble floor. Even as you refuse to look at the bringer of your death, he stares at you for a moment more.
What is going through his mind, you wonder.
In silence, he takes up the heavy chains like a leash as he observes the crowd. At the moment, no one casts another regard your way; you don’t care. For all you’re worth, you dread having to face the public: to be labelled a traitor, to be hated…to be feared…
Your feet walk on their own as Arthur follows the party of men from the room. You don’t notice the two knights who file into place from behind. Staring at the back of Arthur’s head makes tears bubble and swell in your eyes. A heavy lump forms in your throat, despite your attempts to smite such. The doors leading outside approach closer with each step: light shines through it—the voices of a roaring mass of people catch in your ears and echo—like the voices of the council. It is now that your heart thuds once before falling to the bottom of your stomach. In an attempt to relieve yourself of this pain, you try to steady your breathing.
There is no sensation like walking out of that building, led on a chain leash by the person whom you care for the most in front of a screaming, savage wave of human beings. Blood practically leaks from between their teeth; it seems they have already received news of your hearing. It seems they have already labelled you the murderer.
“Die, horrid demon!” “Rot in hell!” “Have a slow and painful death!” “How could you?!”
The voices merge together until it is a dominating call of Death—your call of Death. You look out at the crowd briefly, just in time to see a rock soaring towards your person. You duck & it hits the dirt with a thump. Arthur walks faster, clearly sensing the danger surrounding.
More rocks begin to fly in your direction; unable to dodge every single one of the barrage, you are cut and bruised in various places, but you manage to protect your head. Without care of the cuts & bruises, you desperately want to avoid collision with the only thing you have felt in this world: your mind.
Arthur ducks from a stray and turns to the crowd. “Stop that! Anyone who throws anything else will be killed, just like her!” Immediately, the shouts and raining stones cease. You feel tears slip down your face as Arthur continues on, striding through the bright day to the prison. As the crowd falls behind, you dig your heels into the ground, bringing Arthur to an abrupt stop.
“What in God’s name are you doing?” he rounds on you, glaring viciously.
“I don’t want to go there…It wasn’t me…” the words slide out, even though you know how childish it sounds.
He scowls deeply, looking quite bothered. “It doesn’t matter what you want, [Name]. You killed the King, and I’m surprised the mob actually settled.”
“I don’t want to die…It wasn’t me…” You yank your hands in hopes of making the chain slip through his fingers—it doesn’t. To the opposite, his gaze softens—almost pityingly—until he turns away from you again once more. After a moment, you follow without resistance.
Maybe death won’t be so bad…Maybe it will just be quick & painless…
You sit in the darkest shadows of your confinement, listening to the sounds of footsteps belonging to the guards. It is easy for you to count how many guards there are, and the number of steps they take in total, but after an hour of doing so, your mind demanded you relived the entire day. As you slouch in a huddled bundle you see the look of Arthur’s eyes—they were so forlorn…
Was he sorry for you? Or maybe it was just pity.
Still, you refuse to believe any of this: surely, everyone will realize the misunderstanding by the morning, and your name will be cleared…you’ll be free again…and the person who blamed you will be sentenced to death, not you.
You release a long exhale. “How do I get out of this one?” you ask the empty & dank air.
“Talking to yourself already, love?”
You jump a mile high at the sound of the voice, but you become slightly at ease upon realizing it was simply Arthur. The blond gentleman stands on the outside of your cell, holding the bars loosely with his soft, clean hands. Verily, he looks misplaced in such a dark & gloomy prison, where Death hangs so heavily it is near tangible. Still, he has had the most experience with Death out of anyone you know…He is an executioner, in the end.
He smiles sweetly at you, a polar opposite of this afternoon. Seeing this, you draw yourself as tightly as possible while continuing to stare at the darkness. It would be utterly foolish of him to think you’d speak to the man who holds your life between his fingers, especially since he holds your heart as well.
“Are you ignoring me?” he questions barely above a whisper. He does not wait for your reply. “I don’t understand, [Name]…How—why—what made you kill the King…?”
Your bottom lip quivers dangerously: sharp pains stab behind your eyes. “I didn’t kill him.”
“I didn’t kill him!” you shout. “He was a father to me! I loved him…” your voice breaks off, but you don’t try to push any other words out: surely Allistor has sent him to investigate, and Allistor will use every single word to assure your death is just. But it won’t be, because you didn’t kill the King.
Arthur sighs and rests his forehead on the icy, metal bars. Silence passes by for a moment before he pulls away. “I don’t believe you killed him…You couldn’t kill the King…not if you were with me the night of his murder.”
Cautiously, you look at Arthur; his eyes are trained on you intensely. “I’ve tried to tell them that! It was the night we went to the ball! Maybe…maybe the amount of time I left to aid the orphans made people suspicious…But that’s all I did…”
“They need someone to blame, of course. My word is as good as yours in situations like this, noble-born or not. Allistor is blood thirsty…and so is the person whom framed you.” His words make you come to a stand. For the strangest reason, you clamp your hands down over your heart. It hurts.
“I am going to try talking some sense into Allistor. If he knows you as well as I do, then he’ll realize he’s just not thinking straight.” He looks as if he is going to say farewells for the time being…
“No, wait!” you cry, rushing to him on the other side of the cell. You hold onto his hands through the bars: he stiffens. “I don’t want to be alone here…”
“I can’t help you with that yet…I’m sorry.” He averts his gaze hastily. “As of now, your execution is to be tomorrow afternoon, in the town square.” As if releasing a hot potato, you pull away from Arthur and the steel bars. Your mind begins to flip around inside your head, and without being aware, you break out into a hysterical laughter.
Arthur frowns worriedly. “Wh—what’s so funny about that?”
You continue to laugh and tears suddenly decide to stream down your face; you don’t bother to wipe them away, they roll too quickly to be caught. The matter certainly is nothing to laugh about, but you are. You’re afraid, so afraid you can’t even control your own emotions anymore. Dumbly, you stumble into a wall and brace yourself, laughing at the ground. Gradually, your knees buckle and you slide down the wall—sobbing—until your body rests on the floor and you giggle, “I’m going to die”.
Arthur watches your misery until you curl up into a ball with your back to him. It is now that he runs his hands over his face with a great inhale & exhaling.
“What’s going on here?” A guard approaches Arthur with a smothering sense of swagger. The guard practically sizes up to Arthur, puffing out his chest and pulling up his breeches higher than necessary.
“Nothing…I was just about to leave…” Arthur glances at you again, more painfully than ever before. “Goodnight, love.” He takes his leave, saying not another word…He is an executioner, in the end.
You jump up at the sound of rattling metal; wiping the sleep away from your eyes, you watch the guard from last night rattle the hilt of his sword against your cell bars. “Good to see you’re awake, darling,” he sneers. You look away from him, disgusted at his mocking appearance.
“Today’s your big day!” he continues, apparently only wanting to antagonize you because there’s nothing better to do. “Say…did you really kill the Big Man?”
Stretching your arms, you turn away from him & rub the small of your back. Subsequently, you hold your head; a dull pain pulses deep within your skull.
“I don’t really care if ya did, I just wanna know, that’s all,” he is grinning like an idiot. “Personally—” his voice becomes a whisper “I could care less if he croaked. I don’t think this Kingdom’s all high and holy, if ye ask me. The Royal Family is as twisted as my small toe! We’d be better off without that haggard.”
“Do you have any food for me? I’d like to have a last meal, if you don’t mind.” You turn to him, glaring. The grin slowly falls off his face and onto the floor.
“Yeah, that Kirkland kid brought you breakfast, even though you’re a murderer. I bet he poisoned it so he wouldn’t have to kill ye this afternoon.”
“I’d rather be hanged than smell you from this distance.” You motion to the large distance between you two. The guard rolls his eyes and sashays away, leaving you with a bitter feeling in your mouth.
He’ll be probably go out for a pint after you’re dead, just like the rest of the Kingdom…and the assassin.
Looking around the empty and lonesome cell, you pace to the tiny hole in the wall that serves as a make-shift window; from here, you can see the outside world. It certainly is much busier than normal, but everything else seems ordinary…except for the large wooden posts used for hanging in the distance. You never noticed how boldly they stand out against the deep blue sky until now.
You shudder for your blood has begun to run cold; surely the assassin will be found. Surely Allistor and the Council will revoke the punishment. You know desperation is swelling inside your heart, but what can you do to stop it?
As you heave a heavy sigh and fiddle with your bare toes, the sound of hurried footsteps reaches your ears, making you look in the direction: they stop in front of your cell, and there, leaning against the bars, is a panting Arthur. He ignores greetings as he opens his mouth to hurry his words. “Allistor wants to speak with you. He’ll be here shorty. Listen, no matter what, do not say a word to him! Allistor is furious with the death of the King, and more than anything, he’s bloodthirsty. I asked His Holiness if he would talk sense to Allistor, perhaps he may end up meeting us here, but he said to hold your tongue. Promise me you won’t say a word…?”
You stare at Arthur for a moment, waiting for him to break out in a high and pompous laughter: but he doesn’t, he just keeps his deep green eyes trained on you. Five seconds of this passes before nodding your head and mumble, “Thank you…”
Just as he opens his mouth to say something more, a great ruckus comes from down the hall & out of your vision. Arthur turns in its direction and stands tall. “Morning, Allistor.”
“Morning, Arthur. I love how you beat me here. What happened to practicing your knots?” Allistor’s voice is matched with his body once he stops in front of your cell. Today, he wears a cloak of black, surely prepared for your hanging, for black is the colour of Death. Even children know this.
“As it goes, I actually tied three perfect knots straight in a row and realized I still have it in me to deal a clean death.”
Maybe Allistor doesn’t notice Arthur’s quick and pleading glance in your direction, but you do. It makes you nearly want to vomit with the show he has to put on, speaking of your death as if you die every other day.
“So what brings you here?” Allistor returns, still not looking at you. “Came to coax?”
Arthur lets out an irritable puff and turns away on his heels, arms folded across his chest. “And what brings you here? Came to frighten the poor girl out of her wits? It’s surprising she’s able to function on the level she is.”
Allistor scowls at his brother and finally looks at you; an expression of displeasure crawls across his features. A sweet smile slowly plasters itself on your face.
He notices this and scowls even deeper. “What are you smiling about? Aren’t afraid of death, are you?”
You feel the corners of your mouth twitch, as if you’ve got a secret you’re dying to tell.
“You’re the murderer of the King, you also committed four acts of treason against our mighty Kingdom. I think death is suitable. But…”
Arthur spins back to his brother now, a worried look on his face. “What do you mean ‘but’?!”
“But…I’m getting the feeling you didn’t do it, [Name], and you know who did. So why don’t you tell me? Who actually killed the King? Who are you taking the blame for?” Allistor inquires followed by a shrug of the shoulders. “I suppose some oaths aren’t meant to be broken, which is why you’re taking the blame for the real assassin. But I promise no blame will come to you.”
Your smile is rubbed clean of your face: he’s giving you the chance to name a person, and they will be killed instead of you. Why, he even assumes you know who did it. You can easily blame some peasant, or even the butcher who’s always trying to lure you into his bed. You could blame it on some random French man…
Who does he take you for?
You scoff and flop down into the bundle of hay in the furthest corner from the cell doors. Allistor watches your movements closely before speaking again. “You’re not going to tell? You’d rather die for the person? So then it’s someone close to you…” He furrows his eyebrows, scowl slowly disappearing, and rubs his chin.
“What conclusions are you getting at, Allistor?” Arthur growls. “You can’t just take her silence for a reasonable answer.”
“No, but I can take her silence as an alibi. Was it Lady Amelia?” he waits for your answer quietly. He receives no such answer from your body language and continues on. “Duke Smith? Or maybe his wife?”
Still no answer.
“Lady Rose? Was it that butcher? No…never you mind, he’s an idiot…Wait….” Realization dawns upon Allistor’s face. His expression makes you slightly worried at the conclusion he’s come up with.
He wants to make you talk for whatever reason…
“Was it Arthur?” he asks quietly.
Arthur stares at him for a moment before turning a bright red. “What are you saying, Allistor?! You know full well I could never—”
“So you’ll let [Name] die for you, eh? It makes sense. Besides me, there’s only you and Peter left that she probably actually cares about enough to die for. We know Peter’s too young to even get his hands on a sword. I know that I had no intention of murdering anyone but the French, so who’s left? Just you, brother.”
“Mad enough to figure out sick schemes…” Allistor turns to his brother now. “It does make sense, doesn’t it?”
“No, it doesn’t.” You crawl out from the hay, wishing to strangle Allistor for even considering Arthur. “I’m not holding my tongue for anyone.” Arthur shakes his head quickly but says nothing. He glares at you, demanding your silence immediately.
“Ah, so you can speak? Well tell me who you’re taking the blame for.”
“No one. I don’t know who killed the King, but it was not me.”
“You do know who killed him. Don’t lie to me.”
“I do not.”
“So, even though all evidence points directly to you murdering the King, there is still someone you’re covering for. Honestly, are they worth dying for?”
“You’re not worth dying for, Allistor. Just go away! I’ll take my death and that will be the end of it!”
“The end indeed. It’s a shame, [Name], things don’t make much sense, but if you’re telling me you’re willing to die, who am I to get in the way of that?”
“Now, wait just a minute, Allistor!” Arthur interjects. “Why kill her now while you’re saying things don’t add up?! We should wait until things do make sense, and execute the assassin then!”
“Yes, but she’s covering for someone. If we kill her, it’ll be intimidating.”
“That’s how you plan on running things?! You plan to kill just for fear?! That is exactly how the world ended up in pieces in the first place!”
“Humans then were foolish.”
“And we still are!” you shout. “The world was blown to pieces by nuclear war, and do you think your acts are any better than the acts of those before us?”
Allistor grins. “This is only the hanging of one girl we’re talking about.”
“Yes, but surely there will be a revolt against the next king if things continue this way!” Arthur grips his brother’s shoulders.
“Kings do not die every day. Unhand me.”
Arthur glares at his brother for a moment more before roughly releasing him. You turn your back to the both of them, attempting to control the anger boiling in your heart.
“The execution takes place at noon. Do not be late, Arthur.” Allistor walks away, his heavy footsteps fading with every stride, leaving you with Arthur.
“That boy has his head on his arse,” he spits. “He doesn’t know how the world works at all! He’s a blithering fool.”
“I’m sorry Arthur,” you sigh. “I just couldn’t let him accuse you wrongly…”
“I wish you would’ve let him be. He only wanted for you to speak…But what’s done is done, I suppose…”
You look down at your feet; your mind runs laps as Arthur leans against the steel bars. For a moment, you almost thought you wouldn’t have to die…yet he is an executioner, in the end.
“So much for the priest, eh?” you scoff and lean against the cold, barren wall.
You squint as the sun’s bright rays beam down harshly. Once again lead by chains, a muscular man drags you to the town square, where nearly all wait. The wooden structure for hanging looms hauntingly; you can see Arthur pulling a man across the wooden platform. The horde jeers at the man, not noticing as you are being drug up.
Here a priest stands, Father Luminary, as he blesses the man near Death; you wonder if he was the priest that was supposed to speak sense into Allistor. But there are many of clergy, so it could’ve been any one of them. The man leading guides you up the wooden platform to stand at the edge of the stage. The audience continues to sing, whether at you or the man, you are unaware. The curtains are drawn back as wide as possible as the harsh hand of judgement slips around the man’s neck. The star of the show draws back his foot and kicks away the firm foundation underneath the man’s feet…The curtain falls.
Tears prickle behind your eyes as the man kicks and fidgets while dangling in the air, held up by a rope—a noose. He gives his performance, trying to outshine the star, but the crowd does not like his act and simply cheer on his end. The man gives up and goes limp, bowing to the crowd in apology. Arthur nods to a masked man upon the stage and they examine the failure. He does not move, and neither do you.
After a moment, the crowd gradually begins to hush, and the dead man is dragged of the stage & thrown into the back of a wagon. No one sheds a tear over his death, no one at all. It is now that your body remembers how to function, and its response is to fight back against the man dragging you nearer to Death.
“Stoppit!” he hisses and clenches your chain. He yanks firmly, making you stumble forward. The mob regains volume, demanding the next act to be better—more fulfilling than the last. Father Luminary shows signs of worry behind his aged and wrinkled face. Arthur approaches you, motioning the other man to leave, he does so.
“I believe Allistor still plans to go through with this decision?” Father Luminary’s voice rings sense back to your numb brain. “Where is the lad? Mayhaps we can persuade him otherwise.”
“I am not sure…Are you saying we should wait for his arrival?” Arthur turns to the Father quickly. “That is quite unorthodox…”
“I am aware, but wouldn’t you rather wait than make haste and end this poor girl’s life when she could very well be innocent?”
“I am not rushing anything,” Arthur lowers his voice and his gaze. He pulls his black hood from over his head so that his golden hair catches the gentle breeze. Father Luminary addresses the crowd for the delay, and subtly hints that there shall be no protesting otherwise.
The moments granted space you from beckoning Death; you clear your throat, gently pulling on the chains for Arthur’s attention; he looks at you with a raised eyebrow. “Thank you.”
Your words seem to catch him by surprise, but only briefly, for he smiles thinly and shakes his head. “Thank Father Luminary.”
“Allistor was last seen around his quarters, yes? Please find him and bring him here,” Father Luminary says to the men to the side lines. They bow deeply & take their leave. The Father gives a small smile to the crowd, a settling smile. Afterwards, he approaches you. “[Name], can you please tell me exactly where you were the night of the King’s murder?”
You look at him uncertainly, wondering if he’d actually believe you—of course, he probably has assumed you do not have the heart to lie to him, a holy man. “I was at the Queen’s ball with Arthur. A few moments before the 11th hour, I received news from the orphanage that Elliot had gone missing.”
“Have you seen the poor child since then?”
“No, I have not, your Holiness.” You keep your gaze level with his, showing that there is nothing binding you to lie. He’s giving you a chance at life, and you are not going to be wrongly fed to Death.
“I see,” Luminary taps his chin, holding a leather-bound Holy Bible in his right hand.
He holds it out to you, clearly wanting you to swear on it; Arthur and the crowd now watch you closely, waiting for any sign of weakness now that He has been involved. You place your right hand on the bible gently, and close your eyes. “I swear to His holy name that I am innocent in all accusations…”
Father Luminary gives you a solemn smile. “A child of God, you are. Of course you did not commit such monstrosities.”
“No, she didn’t, but she knows who did!!” shouts a man in the crowd. “I bet she’s covering for someone!”
“I have nothing to do with the assassination of the King!” you round on the man viciously.
Arthur grips your hand tightly, taking you by surprise. His emerald eyes stare at the people before looking into your own. He opens his mouth to speak, but his words will never be heard by anyone.
A sudden sharp & burning feeling enters your body, pain resonating like waves through your person; in horror, you look down at yourself to see the end of a fine blade, silvery in the shining sunlight. You stand for a moment, looking down at the blood running over the blade, before it is roughly pulled away…taking your breath with it. You collapse onto your knees, releasing Arthur’s hand and holding the gaping hole in your torso.
A cold & clammy feeling over takes your heart; you can smell Death lingering in the air. The voices of shock & horror become fleeting like the amount of light your eyes receive until the world begins to blur. Arthur lets out a terrified gasp as he catches your body as it tries to lay rest on the wooden platform. Clutching you tightly, he moves you hand to glance at your horrible and ugly wound; he looks up to see Allistor wielding the bloody weapon.
“She killed the King, and you were going to set her free.” He spits and sheathes his sword.
“She was innocent!” Arthur returns in a roar of anger, his body trembling as he clasps you. “She had nothing to do with it—” Allistor walks towards Father Luminary now, leaving Arthur with your half-dead body.
Arthur presses his hand firmly on the wound; he gives desperate looks in all directions but can find no one to aid in this endeavour. “Please don’t leave me, [Name]. Stay with me.” His words are dry & broken. From the deepest depths of madness—where pain has no meaning—you open your eyes again to look up at Arthur, and pull your lips into a smile.
Who would’ve thought you’d die, not by hanging, but by Allistor’s sword? It is almost so outrageous it is comical: you pull your lips back into a smile, still gazing up at him. “Arthur, it’s no use. Just leave me be.”
“No…No, you’ll be healed up, your wound will be dressed, and you will be free again.”
“Arthur, please,” you sigh and flash a bright smile.
“Everything will be fine,” you assure him gently after a cough.
“No it won’t, don’t lie to me!” Arthur yells, tears rolling down his face. “I love you too much to let you die like this!”
Perhaps if the world wasn’t slipping away, you would’ve been able to kiss him at that moment: to know that he cares for you is all you really had binding you to this world. To leave him would be a pity, but he can’t comprehend the might of the poisoned blade, as you feel it.
Slowly, your eyes settle upon Allistor’s figure: he sheathes his blade while angrily conversing with Father Luminary. It isn’t until you feel a warm drop on your face like rain that you look to Arthur, only to see his sobbing face. A sense stronger than woe radiates from the poor young man as he weeps over you.
“Stop it,” you command him softly while reaching up to wipe away his rolling tears. The touch of his warm skin contrasts with your body growing colder by the moment.
Arthur presses your hand against his face, sniffling like an abandoned puppy. “I’m so sorry…”
“I love you too.” You plaster another smile on your face, attempting to shadow the pain of Allistor’s betrayal.
With a deep exhale, you close your eyes and drift away. Memories of the times you shared with the brothers whiten into an incomprehensible mess of remembrances: and the smell of honeysuckle seeps into your dying thoughts. It is a pleasant scent Arthur always seems to carry, for one reason or the next. Perhaps this is inevitable? We’ll never know; and if we know nothing else, it is only this: He is an executioner in the end.