Onlookers

Salvation: Chapter Ten [Final]

The constable came to take Gadreel away before the day’s work was directed to start. The others looked on as the men stood outside of the worker’s dwellings, peering in the doorway. Gadreel had already risen, sitting on the edge of the cot awaiting them. A few stepped out and watched him trek across the yard with the captors.

“You get the day to rest,” the silver-toothed man offered them before departing the yard. “But be sure to listen for the sound of the blade slicing and the people cheering. You’ll face the same if you try anything funny, y’all know.”

Most of the prisoners barely nodded, with no other thought than the breakfast they would be getting that morning. A few gathered by the barrier to watch the departure. They found him again, walking past the fence on the street outside. Gadreel caught sight of Piers and Arthur, watching silently through the gaps of the tall stakes, arms crossed with uncertain faces allowing him to leave.

Gadreel’s shoes were worn through from the various treks. They were never fine to begin with. The clothes upon his back were none too different, ones given to him by the prisoners to replace the ones ripped from his back after his capture. The cold air dragged past him as he walked among the constable to the destination further in the city.

The castle was in sight of the city center. On any normal day, the city folk would be there in masses, chatting, shopping, filling pails of water in the center fountain, or simply crossing through on their way from place to place. The few who had already shown up there on that cold morning were there to stay and watch.

The tool planned and set up on a tall wooden platform for Gadreel’s dispassionate demise was a guillotine, made up of a wide plank for his body to lay and tense and wait for the blade, the blade itself shining in the early morning light, strung up and waiting patiently for it to be released to gravity.

The man waiting to do the solemn job stood at the top of the wooden stairs next to the tool. His face and hair betrayed many years of life and of carrying out many punishments. The constable delivered Gadreel to him, who looked the prisoner in the eye with hardly a spare blink.

“Lay down. But don’ hold yer breath, the blade won’t drop until his highness is here to witness.”

Gadreel nodded and placed himself front-forward on the platform, his hands grasping at the sides to position himself where it was desired. The executioner placed the wooden stock down around his neck, holding him in place, before grasping at his hair. “Bright locks,” he mumbled to himself, yanking the strands between his knuckles tightly. “Your head will be a nice one to display, maybe even for a few days more than usual.”

Gadreel stared at the ground several meters below, the cobbles appearing as the very same stones he had hammered away at in the yard with the prisoners. The townsfolk still assembling for the spectacle passed by him, hissing teasing words, huffing and spitting at the ground in his direction. The spectacle’s guards offered just enough effort to allow Gadreel from being attacked directly.

In some time, the hum of the crowd simultaneously rose and silenced itself. The sole remaining clamor came from the direction of the castle’s entrance. Gadreel was able to tilt his head up just enough to see the tight formation of the castle guard approaching on foot, making way among the commoners to approach the plaza. The guardsmen spread out and allowed the King to step forward, as fresh and befitting as any other day. He blinked at Gadreel before mumbling to the side as his companions.

The King spoke in a low tone to his orator, who delivered the words exactly to the crowd in a sensational voice. “My subjects, you have gathered to look up the execution of a dangerous, disdainful individual. He, a stranger to this land, a disfigured monstrosity, has decided to spread his words of treason, of uncertainty, and plague. A plague of the mind, for which he is surely affected. Such acts will not stand, no longer be able to spread worry among those who hear them. Today, he will lose his head. Alas, he may deliver us his last words, perhaps those of remorse. Prisoner?”

Gadreel swallowed hard, his neck pressed against the unforgiving wood of the stock. “Good King, I accept this punishment. I am but a messenger. The task I was ordained to undertake has been completed, even if just to a small measure. In that sense, I do feel remorse. I know, I feel that my message of salvation has not reached you, your people… not even those among your land’s prisoners who have little to nothing else. I do not understand why. But know that those who have heard, but have not been allowed to take those words within themselves… they have been pushed away from salvation. That is your doing, something I am powerless to change, even if circumstances were not the same as they are. To you, this action is a punishment, for you fear death and the end that it means to you. To me, it is simply a transition, one that I am not afraid to meet. What lies there at the end of your life… the lives of all people who my message has crossed… it is then, and only then, you will know what salvation, or the lack thereof, truly means. But for many that chance will be forgone, forgotten. It is not part of my duty to say so, but for these reasons, I pity you. There are more of my kind out there. If, in the future, they or those who had heard their word comes across this place, I can only hope that things will be different. At this moment, do as you will.”

The executioner’s hand was already readied and firm on the rope holding the blade of the guillotine millimeter from its descent. The King sucked in a low breath, broke eye contact with Gadreel, and nodded at the man with the grim duty. And so did the blade drop, and roll did Gadreel’s head.

[End]

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