The birds are chirping!
It is spring!
The sun getting stronger every day and even now is shining down and warming my old bones. I travel
far these days, but only in my mind. My old legs won’t carry me, but from my bed to the table and
maybe out to sit in front of my cottage for a while.
I remember back to when I was a young man. Strong. Not bad looking either. But yet, an outcast. Not
really one of the community. Where I went, death followed. I brought him with my sword! Fast and
nearly silent. One swish and it was over. It was a skill for me. Something to put food on the table. I
remember it, like it was yesterday! Who was I to judge the reasons why someone got executed? I got
paid! Is that not enough? I took so many lives. All these executions over all these years. They all seem
to run together like the blood on the scaffold. It was red every time, no way of telling apart from whom
it came! Except this one. It rises up in my memory every so often. Like a silver bubble from the murky
depths of a pond, to burst open again in front of me, as if it only happened yesterday.
I was hired, because I was the best. No reason to be humble about it. I did my job. Fast, clean and with
discretion. That is the reason you don’t know me by name. I will not tell you either. My name is
inconsequential for my work. Call me executioner, call me death.
I am not to judge the reasons, the condemned were there. I am not to judge them, or the people that got
them onto the scaffold. The last few minutes in a life. You can tell a lot by the way a person dies, if you
are trained to see.
I was on my way to England, for this execution, from France. It was a person in high standing to
warrant them to hire me and pay my price and for the journey.
It was still just another job for me. A good payday. A very good payday! Twenty-three pounds is not a
little sum and it was paid without haggling, or complaints.
I heard a lot of gossip on the road. I heard them talk about the condemned, I heard them talk about the
person that did the condemning. Depending on what side the speaker was on, you got to hear a wide
range starting with deception, witchcraft and poison, to old men and their habits for young girls.
I just listened.
I never joined in.
I am not paid to have an opinion.
I am paid to end them.
The journey was a good one until I got to England! Nasty weather inhibited fast travel. Then my horse
started to have trouble. It delayed me by a full day! I never thought of it before, but what must have
done this delay to the people waiting for me? Were they happy with one more day of life? Where they
dismayed that they had one more day of dreading death ahead of them? Did they even know I was
I got there eventually. Late that night. The deed was to be done in the morning. The rain had stopped
that night. The sky cleared and I saw the stars above.
The next morning I got up and got ready for work. The sun was shining. It was a beautiful spring day. I
said my prayers, I cleaned myself and my sword one more time. It was my ritual. Settled myself,
steadied myself, concentrated.
The time drew near. I went to the scaffold. It was made brand new. The straw smelled sweet under my
boots. The crowd gathered. There were always crowds. People needed to see someone worse off then
themselves. Others were there, because they needed to see that the person really got what they thought
was deserved. To make sure by this death, they themselves would be safe. I saw them all. The beggars,
the lords. Some were sad. Some couldn’t wait. This execution drew a larger crowd then normal. It was
not a normal execution. I was to behead a Queen! Nobody had ever heard of such a thing happening
before. People still thought her husband, the king of England, great King Hal, would pull back and let
her live out her life in a nunnery. But word wasn’t coming. No stay of execution, no pardon.
The crowd settled in.
We all were ready and waiting.
Then the door opened and there was the person I would soon help cross over the threshold of death.
The sight knocked the breath from my lungs. What a beautiful woman! She had delicate features and
the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. She had a serene smile on her face. She strode up to me, like
she was a woman on a mission, not a woman about to die.
This woman had nerve! She was strong, bold and brave!
Usually I saw people dissolved in tears, sniffling and graveling. Begging for their wretched lives. Not
this woman! She was every inch a Queen, never mind that people said she was nothing more then a
common whore and a witch. Not this woman!
She stood, proud and straight. Gave her speech with a clear voice. Did not whine, or condemn, or
blame anyone. She was prepared to die. She had a reason to do so. I knew, with her death, she tried to
protect someone else.
After her speech, she stepped over to me, to give me the token and to forgive me for what I was about
to do. Never before did I need that forgiveness more then that day!
I saw in her eyes, she was innocent of all those horrid things laid to her charge! I have seen people at
the end. When there was no reason to hide behind their masks any more. When at last they think they
might as well try the truth for a change. I have seen the lies slip off their faces, like scales off a fish
when you clean them. Before me, most people return to the person their mothers had raised. Never
mind how high they climbed in life.
This woman had nothing to hide! She was proud, she was maybe even a bit arrogant, but she was not a
whore, she was not a witch. She knew she got raised high by her own wits and got taken down by the
greed and envy of others and maybe… maybe a bit by her own naiveté. She trusted the wrong people in
a time where trust was something a person in her position could not afford.
I could see in her soul, through those dark, liquid eyes. She knew I would carry her innocence in my
heart. She was past being judged. She was ready to step before God. His judgment was the only one she
cared for now.
She turned from me and knelt on the straw. The simple, graceful movement squeezing my heart. Time
slowed down to a crawl now. It always did. The last few seconds before I take a life crawl like a snail.
She bowed her head in prayer. When she lifted it again, I steeled myself. I saw her mouth moving still
in prayer. I saw her eyes surveying the clear blue sky. She glanced back at me, when she heard me
move. I thought of smiling at her, trying to be reassuring, but I remembered at once: she had no way of
seeing my face under my black hood. So I just gave a nod. She turned back to face the crowd and
picked up her whispered prayers again: “O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”
I watched her intently. It felt like minutes, but really it was just a few seconds that I allowed her to go
on. She was distracted by something to the left of her field of vision. I am not sure what it was. The
time was right. The blood rushing in my ears, drowning out the noise of life around us. It was just her
and me in this most intimate moment. I swung my sword.