Tales of the Hill Country. No; 1
The Hangman’s tale.
In the cold hill country where the snow lays spear deep for nine months of the year, and relationships grow as tangled and thorny as brambles, there lived a hangman. He lived in a neat little cottage, with geraniums in the window boxes, next to the gibbet. He was a lonely man, for few sort his company from choice. He had but one joy in life, his little son. He was mother and father to the boy, as his wife had died birthing the child. Absalom was all he had of her, his last link to light and love. This child was as merry and talkative as his father was saturnine and taciturn. Little Absalom was the iron that struck little sparks of kindness from the flinty heart of the hangman, the sun beam that melted the ice of his eyes, and split the granite of his countenance into a smile. In Absalom he saw the joyful countenance of his one beloved again. In him was all the good the world had left.
The child was truly beautiful, with sparkling blue eyes and golden hair; as talkative as his father was silent. He won the hearts of all who saw him. The child grew into a hansom, merry, good natured young man. He was as popular as his father was shunned. If he had a fault, it was that he was too aware of his own charms, and considered himself fit for a lord’s daughter.
When the time came for him to be apprenticed to a trade he had no taste for his father’s grim calling. It was decided to apprentice him to a gold smith in the City of Beautiful Bridges. So, on a day he set off for the city in the best clothes his father’s wardrobe could provide. Hangmen have no lack of fine clothes and boots. He was to spend seven years learning his master’s trade, living in his master’s house, and serving his master’s noble patrons.
The hangman had been alone for two years, but not a day went by that he did not miss his child. In his loneliness he became even more grim and brooding. The only light in his life was gone. The villagers avoided even the touch of his shadow for fear that it would bring ill fortune.
One moonless night the hangman was stretching rope in his shed beneath the gallows, when he heard the sound of horses hooves and the jingle of harness. There was a loud hammering on the shed door.
“Open up hangman, we have business for thine hands. Open up and be quick. We are on the Duke’s errand, and it brooks no delay.”
He opened the door to see five horsemen, three dismounted holding torches that flared and spluttered in the chill wind.
One of the mounted men urged his horse forward into the pool of bloody light shed by the torches. He dragged behind him a hooded and bound figure, that stumbled and dropped to his knees in the snow.
“The Duke wishes him dispatched before sunrise. He cast his at a lady far beyond his station.”
The hangman shrugged, “Their crimes do not interest me. Show me the warrant.”
The hooded figure struggled in his bonds and made inarticulate cries. A grin split the bearded face of the horseman.
“Your lack of curiosity is admirable, and you will receive a suitable reward for your discretion.’
“Should I send for priest to hear his confession?” Asked the hangman.
“Let the priest sleep. This one has no tongue to confess. The Duke had it ripped out, and fed to his hounds. Be quick, and do your duty.”
The hangman was to working in the dark and by touch alone. This was not the first commission of this sort he’d had. He ignored the muffled cries of the hooded man as he dragged him up the ladder, and slipped the noose around his neck. It was the work of a moment to twist him off the ladder. A darker patch of night silhouetted against a starry sky writhed twisted for a few moments and hung still.
The horse men leapt back into their saddles laughing, and flung a leather bag that jiggled at the hangman’s feet.
Their leader called out, “You have done a better nights work hangman that you yet know, and spurred away into the night laughing.
The next morning a body hung black against the raising sun. The flocking crows had already torn away the hood to get to the eyes. The hangman recognised the bloody pain distorted features of his own son.
That evening two bodies hung black against the setting sun.