The sun beats down on the village square and the crowd of people gathered there. I glance up to gauge the time and my stomach clenches. Nearly noon.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Out of sight, a drum begins to pound, and my heart jumps to match the beating rhythm. Hooded and cloaked, I watch from the edges of the crowd as two guards lead the prisoner onto the raised platform. Strips of a shirt cling to his thin frame, showing sallow bruised skin and open lashes. I wince at the sight of them.
A black bag covers his head, but his steps are sure. Confident, even now.
Elbows shove against me as the mass of people begin to scream and shake their fists. I pull my hood down and shrink back from the riled up crowd. He wouldn’t thank me for getting caught after what he’d done to save me. But, I couldn’t stay away, couldn’t leave him to face this alone.
The cries only grow louder as the bag is pulled off with a jerk. The man blinks in the sun, strings of hair over his face, and scans the square. Our eyes meet and his lips curl into a sad smile.
I smile back with tears in my eyes.
Two guards force him to his knees before a block of wood. The charges are read to the waiting crowd. Theft. Bribery. Impersonation. Treason. And the sentence. Precious moments fly by.
The executioner marches to the front of the stage with steps, heavy as steel, to the beat of the drum.
My mind whirls, searching for a way to stop it. To fix this. To save him. It was me! I want to scream - it was my fault! Not him! I want to fight, to rush up to the stage and break the chains and claim a sword and stand with him at my back as we fight off an army of soldiers. Beneath my cloak I grip the handle of my knife and know I will do none of that. I will watch. I will live.
The drum stops. Noon. His eyes find me and there’s that smile again.
He lowers his head to the block. A hush falls over the crowd. The axe raises.
I clench my hands, nails digging into the skin of my palms, and though I ache to turn away, I hold his gaze.
The axe falls.