Chapter XIX: The Gallows

“They’re making bets on you,” Lufti told Henry at one point through the bars as he leaned against them and ate a biscuit that he tore lethargically and chewed even slower. He looked at Henry who pretended like he didn’t care that Lufti was telling him that he was the newest gambling addiction for the bored and wealthy of Trennon. “People are trying their hardest to buy you. There’s a bodyguard looking to take you under his wing, the Purple Rose Madame is trying to buy you as a novelty for her collection, and there was one merchant in the Minter’s Guild looking to hire you on as a caravan guard. Lots of people looking to make you a feather in their caps. Lot of interested offers. Pity you’ll never see a penny.”

This was Henry’s entire life was being dictated by a man who didn’t care for him, didn’t even care about Trennon, and didn’t even want to be in this city. Henry didn’t know anything  about the Magistrate, but he knew that there was nothing decent about what was being done. When he closed his eyes, he saw the men and women that had been hanged at the gallows for simply being poor or unwanted. He thought about the way Toiltown, the Penny Market, and the Ironworks were completely overrun by criminals. He didn’t care that Henry had killed a notorious criminal and his lackeys. He didn’t care that another cutthroat had been removed from a city drowning in violence and blood. He cared about keeping people happy.

“Faolan’s got the most money though,” Lufti told him. It was a cold and vicious thing to say and Henry understood what he was saying. “He’s also got the most clout. You’re going to hang this morning. They’re going to watch you dangle and the crows are going to pick you clean.”

Henry turned and looked at Lufti, staring at the guard who had done little more than pester and haunt Henry the entire time he was in this lonely cell. Lufti chuckled and laughed as Henry glared at him, letting him know just how little he was intimidated by Henry. He wasn’t surprised, Lufti was a man for Faolan or at least he answered to someone who was more than willing to accept a bribe from Faolan.

When Lufti finally left, Henry was left alone to think about Padraig and how he was still alive. Henry had seen how filthy he was, how pale his skin was, and how horrible that stitch job was on his neck. Henry had seen stitching that bad done by blind saddlers, but that was about it. Whoever had stitched Padraig’s neck had no right to ever hold a needle and sinew ever again. They should be ashamed of it in the most deplorable way possible. But, Padraig was alive and he had been standing there on the other side of the bars, staring at Henry, mocking him when he should have been feeding the worms.

How was that possible?

Henry was going to die on the gallows and he was going to never know or understand how Padraig had been there. He was never going to understand how a man could rise from the dead and stand there across from him. Of course, Henry could didn’t have the guarantee, even if he did survive, that he would ever truly understand what was happening to Padraig and what he was doing. If it was magic, Henry didn’t want anything to do with it. He didn’t understand how magic worked or how anything like that worked.

One Rising Day, a Magician had come to Umberlyn when Henry was just a child. The man had come and he had brought with him a wagon full of goods and mysteries that Henry had never seen before. The man had come and he had healed people who could not be saved by the physickers or the apothecaries. Even the priests who used their strange potions and powers to try and save them had declared many of these people as doomed souls. But, the Magician, he was a man who could heal them, all for a pretty coin. Henry did not understand how that had worked, how the Magicians worked, or how magic even existed. But, he had known people who were next to death get up and back to work within days.

Did Faolon know a Magician? Was there even a Magician in Trennon? They weren’t like to stick around cities where their services weren’t in high demand and profitable. Magicians were always subject to court appointments or in fancy cities. They didn’t hang out in communes unless they had made someone very angry in the past. Maybe Faolan know just such a man and that was how Padraig was alive.

But even then, Henry had never heard of the dead coming back to life outside of stories and legends. He knew a lot of people in Umberlyn would have paid a lot of money for children who had drowned, lovers who had fallen ill, and parents who had reached the end of their time to all come back for just a few more years. Of course, there were wealthy people who would have been more than willing to pay the money. Yet, Henry never saw one of them bring a corpse into a town meeting or a Chapel. He’d never seen the dead walk into his mother’s shop or visit the workshop.

Maybe Padraig was a ghost. Timo, the spinster’s son, had claimed he’d seen a ghost once upon a time. Henry didn’t put much weight in ghosts, but at least he knew someone who had also seen a ghost. Maybe that meant Padraig was just a specter and that Henry was being haunted by him. If that were the case, then Henry could see the grave at the end of the gallows without being too worried. He’d be a ghost himself soon.

But what haunted Henry worse than Padraig was that he had been a witness to Glenda’s work and he knew that people could survive horrendous odds and make a miraculous recovery. Maybe Henry hadn’t killed him properly. Maybe he had survived just long enough for someone to stitch together his throat and drag him to safety where they paid a physicker to pronounce him dead for the court. They had nursed him back to health the weeks Henry had been lurking down in the heart of Bedrock, waiting for them to hang him and now that the trial was over, Padraig had just enough life to come down and poke fun at him one last time before watching Henry die. He lost a ton of blood, would have been living on broth, and would look like a corpse, haggard and struggling just to survive.

That was what Henry feared the most and what he knew was true.

He thought that he had dug his knife deep, ripping through the meat and sinew of Padraig’s neck, feeling the bloody droplets pelting his already bloody hands and face. He had felt the blade of the dagger scrape the bone of Padraig’s throat and he knew that he had killed him. His rage and his hatred had fueled him as he sawed through the bastard’s neck. He felt the sting of the pelt on his eyebrow, the pain of the kicks, and the taste of bile in his mouth. His vision have turned as fiery red as the pits of hell when he killed Padraig and the one thing that he hated most was being deprived of watching Padraig die.  He had been robbed of that. He had been robbed of his revenge and that was what haunted him before he climbed to the gallows.

The hours slowly left him, going away as it tore at his sanity, taunting him as he tried his hardest to find something interesting to take his mind off of what was coming. When he leaned his head back against the cold stone of the wall, he saw the faces of his dead family, lingering in the darkness. He would join them soon and that was the only relief that he would ever have.

The door to the cell block opened and Henry turned to see the face of a man he only knew recently by recognition. Watch Commander Gerwen entered the room with a pair of Watchmen who looked positively put out to even be at Bedrock. Henry could understand why. The worst people were thrown into Bedrock and left to languish and wait for the Magistrate to sentence them. These sentences ended the least of the offenders and threw the worst back out into the streets for the Watch to gather up and send back like a dog that liked to wander.

“Get up,” Gerwen said in a voice that left nothing to be discussed. Henry rose and held out his hands for them to see that he hadn’t smuggled in a piece of iron or sharpened wood or bone from one of the other prisoners. Gerwen looked at Lufti who was looking paler than usual, probably out of fear for being around the Watch Commander. “Open the door.”

Lufti opened the gate for Gerwen’s men who entered to deal with Henry. Henry took a deep breath and felt them pull the rancid smelling hood over his face. His nostrils filled with the smell of old spit, sour sweat, and blood. The other guard bound Henry’s hands together and when he was done, he gave them a yank so Henry knew that there was no escaping. It wasn’t like he was going anywhere.

He thought about telling Gerwen what he’d seen, about Padraig Brogan being alive and still in the city. He thought about it for a burning second, but it faded quickly, evaporating before he could ever let the words hit his lips. No one would have believed him or listened to him. They would have thrown him to the gallows, laughing as they went.

He didn’t like the idea of dying like a fool.

“Any last words before being transferred out of Bedrock?” Gerwen asked.

“Nothing,” Henry said.

“Very well,” Gerwen said. “Escort him ahead of me. If he tries to run, cut him down.”

“Yes, Commander,” the man to Henry’s left boomed.

The walk was easier than Henry would have expected. He had anticipated it being hard, each step heavy and weighted. But it was easier than he had thought it would have been to approach his own demise. Life had been grand once, but this wasn’t what he wanted. He didn’t like the man that he was forced to become. He didn’t like living in a Chapel, he didn’t like serving an order that didn’t care about him or the poor and desperate souls in the city. He didn’t like feeling so helpless when trying to get revenge for the people and creatures that killed his family. He didn’t like how slow his justice was. His death seemed like a sweet release for what had become a miserable life.

When they walked over a threshold, the cold morning air hit Henry. It wasn’t as hard as he thought it might have been for the Watchmen who were walking him outside. Bedrock had been freezing and Henry was used to shivering against the stone. Winter was just over the horizon and the frost was slithering across the world. The winters in Umberlyn was full of snow and flurries that would casually drift through the skies. But in Trennon was full of frost and wind, cutting and biting. They called it the wolf wind, howling and tearing as it rolled across the steppes. Soon, they would be coated in ice and people would be bundled up, trying their hardest to hide from the wolf.

His bare feet scraped across the frigid cobbles. He couldn’t hear the crowd that had inevitably gathered. People were always eager and ready to watch a man drop and dance. He was disgusted by the thought of people getting their weekly entertainment off of his corpse. He supposed that didn’t matter and the thought quickly evaporated from his mind. When you’re dead, it’s not like you care about things like dignity. Dignity was only valuable if you care.

The Watchmen gave him a heavy shove and he walked up the wooden steps of the gallows. His toes rubbed the splinters and rough planks as he told himself to breathe. He told himself to keep calm and to stop shaking, to stop being so terrified. He wanted to go to his grave without any fear. He didn’t want to die like a coward. He had seen people on the gallows, shivering out of fear and terror of going to the grave.

From the left, Henry could smell the stench of alcohol, rancid and stale permeating the black hood that he was wearing. No doubt, this was the executioner that was going to put the rope around his neck.

“This is him?” A man asked, right from where Henry thought the drunkard was standing. He was going to be killed by a man who was going to spend his pay for taking Henry’s life on the next round. “If I pull off this hood and I see Pierre the Pedophile or Dyle the Diddler, I’m going to be very pissed.”

“Don’t insult me,” Gerwen’s voice came from behind Henry.

“A deal well struck, Commander,” the drunkard said. “Let me know if there’s anything I can ever do to be of assistance.”

“Stay out of my hair,” Gerwen said. “Come on.”

Henry didn’t know what was happening. He waited for the weight of the noose around his shoulders. He took a deep breath and waited. They weren’t going to hang him with the hood on surely. They were going to rip off the hood and the light of dawn would come piercing through his eyes and they would hang him in front of the masses.

He felt fingers tearing at the hood and it clawed over his face and through the tangle of hair he had grown over the past year. Squinting his eyes in preparation for the blinding light, but there was nothing. He stared out at the darkness of a sleeping Trennon, completely forgotten of him. He stared and didn’t understand where he was. He wasn’t on the gallows but rather a loading dock for supplies. In front of him, a cart sat with a single, brown horse that craned its neck to see Henry before swishing its tail.

“What’s happening?” Henry asked through dry lips and a raspy throat.

“What’s happening,” the drunk said from behind Henry. “Is you are exchanging one sentence for another. Welcome to the employment of Illustrious Bahadir alu Farhan.”

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