I will never arrive on time. I’ve been here, in Calais, for four days already and there is no sign the weather would get any better soon enough. I do not like to wait. No one would find pleasure in solitary contemplation when ahead of you lays an execution. Not even if you are the one who would not die.
No one speaks to me. They know who I am. They know I am the best executioner there is. They know me, even if I wear a hood to hide myself while performing my duty. The few brave ones who approach me ask me if I care about divine forgiveness at all or if I got used to it now.
I am the hand, just the hand. That is my reply. I do not ask nor decide anyone’s death. I am not worse than any mercenary soldier, killing for a cause they do not believe in, for the sake of profit only.
I have always been content enough to leave great ideals and pious beliefs to scholars and priests. I would not say I chose this life but I am a swordsman. I would still be killing, had I chosen to fight in an army. It all comes down to whether one prefers a quick honourable death to a long life in the shadow.
And, I execute committed criminals only: someone more powerful and important than me decides the fate of such felonies.
This urgent summon from the King of England, though, has shown me I do not have real answers to those questions.
I observe religious rites. I do so for appearances’ sake but I never think what will be of me when I’ll exhale my last breath.
And, no. I did not get used to it. In this moment more than ever, I fervently wish I did. Five winters have passed since my first execution, yet I am not prepared for this task.
The King Henry of England, once known as the ‘fidei defensor’, the handsomest prince in all of Christendom, shattered his country into pieces for this woman, this commoner, Anne Boleyn. He established a new order, faced rebellions and an excommunication. He made her his Queen. Now I am summoned to the Tower of London because the King has decided she will be no more.
Witchcraft and adultery, the accusations. Incestuous adultery too, if I understood correctly.
Many whisper that it all makes sense now. The King has been under a spell all along. A spell from the ‘goggle-eyed whore’, as she is called: after all, she was never a beauty, nor was she young when she caught the King’s attentions.
Well, I believe no spell was cast on this English King. I will never say as much out loud, of course, but that’s what I believe.
I am the best executioner and I will dutifully carry out my task but, upon my soul, something more evil than a supposed witch is at work on that forsaken island.
The sun is setting down and the storm still rages outside. I am staying in the cheapest tavern near Calais’ harbour, even if I can afford better. I am almost certain they would not accept me anyway in one of those fancy places. I suppose I will never know.
I don’t dislike it here. I mind my own business but I can always hear the sailors commenting about what they managed to eavesdrop from their masters’ talks. Some say that Henry already has a new favourite, that he will marry her as soon as he got rid of the other one. A Jane Seymour, it seems.
I would laugh if I could. No, that Boleyn woman is no witch. He is punishing her. He is punishing her with public accusations and a private execution. May God help her.
I am the best executioner and I will dutifully carry out my task. I keep repeating these words in my head, a silent prayer to myself. After all, I know God would not know me even if I care to address him.
I will execute the ‘no-more’ Queen of England, the ‘adulterous witch’, Anne Boleyn.
I must retire to my room. I would not hear another word. I already know too much.
I have executed women before but never a Queen. Although, it seems she is not even that anymore.
And, of course, she personally requested me, her last plea to her former husband: a quick death from the hands of the best French executioner. In her lifetime, she has always got whatever was the best and French. It makes sense she would ask for that in death too.
She is leaving a child behind, on this earth. Elizabeth, they say she is called. She was a little princess just yesterday and nothing more than a bastard today. I wonder what she will be tomorrow.
In this moment, while the rain stops pouring and darkness surrounds my shabby room, I am certain I am not prepared for this. But my hands are not mine to command.
I am the best executioner and I will dutifully carry out my task.