The Hangman's Apprentice
"Accused Rebecca Healy; you have been found guilty of the crime of theft of property over the value of 15 shillings. The sentence of this court is that you shall be returned to the place whence you came, and at noon of the following day, to be led barefoot to the customary place of execution and there you shall be hanged by the neck until your body be dead. Rebecca Healy; may the Lord have mercy on your immortal soul."
The twenty year old woman stared at the judge in shock, her blue eyes became as wide as could be expected to after hearing such a dreadful sentence. Then it hit her. The daughter of one of the more prominent merchants in the town realized that there would be no mercy for her and any hope of her family being forced to pay a fine or even being transported to one of the colonies to start a new life had just been extinguished. Upon realizing that this was indeed the last day for her to be alive for its entirety the girl let out a loud ear-piercing scream which quickly transitioned into a long wail. Two bailiffs, wanting to spare the sizable crowd which had assembled itself in the courtroom to hear the fate of arguably one the most beautiful daughters of the town, more of this heart-rending spectacle, grabbed the terrified girl, who was now on her knees sobbing piteously, begging the judge to reconsider the horrible sentence, by her shackled arms.
As the bailiffs were dragging the sobbing and begging Rebecca out of the courtroom back to the gaol to live out the rest of her short life. Elric, the apprentice of the local hangman too was worrying about his future. His master had left the town a week ago to look after his mother who had fallen ill. Although he had often assisted his employer with the executions, helping him to pull the condemned up by their necks, putting their bodies into coffins and selling their clothes (since the hangman was an honest man he always received a small commission), he was never at the center of the spectacle. As such small mistakes he made did little to influence the town’s opinion on his proficiency as a hangman and as such, the likeliness of him becoming the new town hangman when his employer would become too old for the job. When Elric heard the death sentence being passed upon the girl he knew that this time it would be his task to perform the execution in its entirety.
Since the execution was set for the next day, he had little time to make all the nescessary arrangements. He collected the money from the judge and went to the local ropemaker to buy both the rope that would bind Rebecca’s slender wrists as well as the rope the girl would be suspended by until she was no more. The ropemaker always had a couple of feet of hemp rope that had been stretched and cooked in order to make it as inflexible as possible. After that was taken care of he paid the local tailor a visit and collected the calf-lenght cheap white shift it was customary for female condemned to die and be buried in. As the young hangman looked at the faded dress he realised the rarity of the event he was soon to become a vital part in. As the town kept growing, more and more wares came in and as such the number of thefts kept growing and with that the number of condemned thieves. There was hardly a month without some condemned wretch mounting the scaffold to perform their „dance“ in front of the gawking multitude. Most condemned whom he helped deliver to the hereafter were male, most of the time homeless vagabonds who were drawn to the town for its newly acquired wealth. Of course it was sometimes the case for an old gypsy hag, a whore who had fallen on bad times or a female vagabond to be dragged in front of the local magistrate in rags to be sentenced to death. Those women couldn’t however compare to the young woman whose sentencing he witnessed earlier today. Rebecca Healy was admired by many for her luxiourious ginger hair, her piercing blue eyes as well as her slender but well-formed figure. Her father had plans to send her away to the capital to marry the son of a bigger merchant family in order to expand their activities. All those plans had been destroyed however by the atrocious sentence. Elric himself had himself taken a liking to the young redhead, only from a far of course as he himself with his ghoulish profession and modest income would hardly be considered a good match by her family. He was sure that the young woman did not even know his name. Sadly it was now upon him to put a noose around her neck and hoist her up to strangle to death in the air. It was the harsh reality of his trade, but one he had long since come to terms with. The hangman's apprentice had never imagined himself execution such an important person and wondered how it had happened that Rebecca Healy had been convicted in the first place. From what he had heard through gossip, the young woman had, in a sudden rush of immaturity, stolen one of the local tailors‘ dresses. Although the craftswoman herself had forgiven the foolish girl and asked the judge for leniency, he had remained unmoved. Elric speculated that one of the other merchants in the town had „greased the hand of justice“ in order to remove a dangerous rival.
In order for the young hangman to complete the preparation for tommorows execution there was one more thing he had to do.so he made his way to the local coffinmaker and in order to make the nescessary arrangements. As Elric did not know Rebecca’s exact measurements he had to speculate as the coffin should be big enough to fit the young thief’s body inside it, but not too big so it would not cost the town too much. Executions were solely a matter of the court in this town and the bodies of executed criminals became the property of the court and as such the families of the condemned could not make any arrangements as to the clothes their relatives would die in nor the details of their burial. Elric handed the payment to the coffinmaker and upon receiving the assurance that the Rebecca's plain pine coffin would be completed on this very day and delivered to the scaffold at dawn. Content with Today's preparation, the hangman's apprentice headed back home. After a day's work he would usually have a cup of wine at the local inn but before he could fill his belly and listen to the stories told by traveling merchants there was one last preparation he needed to make.
He entered the empty house of his employer, sat down on a stool near the window (the setting sun still provided enough light and he did not want to waste any lamp-oil. He took the thicker rope out of his sack and proceeded to tie a hangman’s noose. It was a motion he had done many times before and so the process itself only took a few moments. Elric looked at the noose he had fashioned and wondered how much money he would be able to make from selling it piece by piece to people who hoped it's supposed magic powers would protect them from evil. Since it would be used to end the life of one of the town's most beautiful young women Elric was sure that he would have enough willing customers this time around. The hangman's apprentice rose to his feet and made his way to the desk across the room to a desk situated on the other side of the room upon which lay a clay jar full of grease which was used to make the noose tighten easier and thus close the airway of the condemned faster making for a shorter „dance“ and quicker death.
Just as Elric started to coat the rope with the grease he heard a knock on the door. Quietly cursing the late visitor he walked to the door and opened it to see a hooded figure.
"May I come in?"
Elric immediately recognized the voice of the Judge who had sentenced the young woman he was preparing to hang.
"Of course your honor, I shall light some lamps at once."
"There is no need. I will only stay for a short while. I came to talk to you about tommorow's execution, the Healy girl. I was wondering if you could do the court a small favor and prove yourself as its loyal servant."
"Certainly your honor, I serve at your pleasure."
"Good lad. I want you to substitute the rope you bought today with this one."
The judge produced a piece of rope already tied into a noose. It was darker and thicker than the one Elric bought and he could see, without touching it that it would tighten a lot slower than his.
"Very well your honor, I shall see to it"
He took the rope from the judge and wanted to grease it. When the Judge saw his intentions he interrupted him immediately.
"There is no need for that, I don’t want you to waste it on the neck of a thief. This pig fat would be put to better use on a piece of bread."
Elric gave the judge a bewildered look.
"But your honor, it is customary that…"
"Enough. You either serve the court or you do not. If you ever doubt your allegiance I want you to remember that there are plenty of young fools out there who would do much more for easy bread."
The judge gave the apprentice a threatening look. Elric understood. He took the judge‘s rope and put it in the sack with the other utensils he would need tomorrow. His visitor turned around and walked towards the door but turned around on the threshold threw a pouch containing some coins on the bed. And said:
"I think it would be best if our little meeting remained a private affair. Remember, I take good care of my friends. But if you ever betray my trust I want you to remember that justice often is a double edged sword."
The judge walked out leaving Elric with a bewildered look on his face. The apprentice quickly left the house as well and heading out to the inn where he had two cups of wine instead of the usual one. There was also a purely practical reason for his visit as he used some of the court's remaining money to hire a local day laborer to assist him in lifting the condemned thief off the scaffold by her neck. Upon making his arrangements he walked back to his home and was overtaken by nervous sleep after much tossing and turning.
The apprentice awoke the following day at dawn , washed the sleep from his face and ate a modest breakfast consisting of two slices of bread and some cheese. He then took the sack with all of the needed items and made his way about half a mile to the gallows when he arrived at the scaffold there was already a small crowd waiting for the spectacle to commence. They cheered for him as he walked up the platform and took the rope and threw it over the beam and tied the other end off with a knot that was easy to untie. The day worker he had hired was already waiting beneath the scaffold for his deployment. Elric had already explained to him that all he needed to do was provide the nescessary muscle strength to get Rebecca Healy off the ground quickly. After ensuring that all was properly prepared he walked to the gaol along with the remaining items: the binding rope and the white death-shift.
Upon entering the stone building of the gaol he spotted a visibly distraught man leaving the building whom he recognized as the father of the condemned. He had heard the previous night that the unhappy man had sold all his assets and chartered a boat that would bring him to the colonies so he would not have to witnessed his only child being executed in such a brutal way. Elric went through the heavy gate of the gaol and stated his business to the jailer who promptly led him to the steel door of the girl's cell. The gaol at that time was empty and so him and the jailer could hear the condemned woman praying loudly, with her voice frequently breaking into sobs.
"Dear God, you have sent your only begotten son to die on the cross for the sins of man. You who have even forgiven the repentant criminal on the cross. I beg you….please….forgive me for I believe wholeheartedly in your divinity….please….I….I dont want to die like this!"
The young woman's prayer broke off into sobs again. Elric couldn’t handle it anymore and the jailer opened the cell door for him. He saw her kneeling on the floor, her head in her hands, sobbing spasmodically. When she heard the heavy door open, she jumped to her feet and looked at the two men with her blue eyes reddened from all the crying opened wide in terror. She reminded Elric o fan animal caught in a trap that sees the hunter coming towards it with a knife. Elric spoke to the terrified young woman,
"Miss Haley. A priest will be here shortly to take your last confession but before he arrives I am going to need you to follow me, don’t make this harder on yourself please."
The fear-stricken woman slowly staggered out of her cell, Elric grabbed her by the shoulder and lead the condemned young woman to another room in the gaol wherein was situated a tub filled with warm water and an empty chest. The jailer told Rebecca to take off all of her clothes, wash her body thoroughly, deposit all of her clothes in the chest then to put on the white calf-lenght shift brought by Elric. Both of the men then left the room, the jailer however on whom the beauty of the young condemned were not lost lead Elric into yet another room, this one however had a small barely noticeable hole in the wall through which the room with the tub and the chest could be observed in its entirety. And so both men watched as the young woman one of them was tasked with killing slowly took off her leather shoes with shaking hands then slowly and quite clumsily unbuttoned her shirt which by now was badly stained by her tears. Under her shirt the young redhead was wore a tight fitting tunic which she took off as well. Her bare breasts were now visible to both men, they were not particularly large but what they may have lacked in size they last up for with their form, there was not even a hint of sagging, her prominent nipples provided good contrast to the rest of her body which was, in keeping with her hair colour and her pampered life before she traded it in for a dark prison cell and a rough hempen rope to end her young life, quite pale and free of blemishes safe for the freckles on her face. Rebecca proceeded to take off her last bastion of modesty, her blue ankle-lenght skirt. She wore naught under it and soon Elric and the jailer were able to see the naked body of the condemned in its entirety. Her legs were quite long, her slender mid-section almost did not any trace of fat on it, her arms and hands were quite small and feminine. There was a small thatch of ginger pubic hair between her legs and her well shaped round white buttocks were peppered with freckles. As the unhappy woman cleansed herself in the tub, Elric could not avert his eyes from her feminine form. As Rebecca finished washing herself and started to dry her skin with a piece of cloth which lay on top of the chest the jailer grabbed Elric by his shoulder, indicating that it was time to go. The two men sat down on a bench opposite of the room where Rebecca Healy’s last bath had now come to an end. Before long the priest arrived and dispassionately asked them whether the condemned was in the room. When he received an affirmative answer he entered the room and closed the door behind him. As the priest administered the last rites to the condemned her hangman and the jailer struck up a conversation.
"She sure is a good looking lass. Shame it has to end this way for her but then again, I am pretty sure that when the people in the crowd see her kicking the air, they will think twice about breaking the law."
"I just hope she will be able make the walk to the gallows. It would be a shame if she would have to be dragged and carried to the scaffold. Tell me, did she get any sleep tonight and was she fed properly?"
"Well, she spent most of the night crying and sobbing, as most future gallows birds tend to do but I gave her a cup of wine and I guess that helped. I think she slept about four hours If I recall correctly. Now when it comes to food and drink, we fed her more than enough and we sure gave her more than enough water I am usually not one to waste resources but then again court orders are court orders"
With each word Elric understood more and more. He did not have the time however to contemplate the conspiracy that he had become a part of as the door to the room opened and the priest walked out without saying a word leaving the steel door open. The two men entered the room and saw the young woman sitting on the chest clad in the white execution garment. The priest's visit seemed to have calmed the condemned somehow as she no longer shivered and blankly stared at the wall. Elric broke the silence
"Miss Haley, it is time."
Rebecca slowly rose to her feet . Her hangman could see that the young woman shivered and was trying to avoid another breakdown as best as she could. In spite of the horrible injustice she was being subjected to the desire not to dishonor her family. She had begged her father not to witness her final moments, so he could remember her as his loving daughter, not a hanged thief. She was determined to go to her fate with dignity, perhaps her family would one day return to the town and it would be better for her to be remembered as a brave girl who accepted her fate bravely. The young woman also noticed that her bladder had filled up from all the water the jailer had given her to her on the previous evening she was too overwhelmed by her imminent death by strangulation to ask to use the privy. When the girl stood up Elric saw that she was still wearing her leather shoes and so he said to the condemned:
"Miss, the court has sentenced you to walk barefoot to the gallows so you are going to need to remove those or we shall do it for you"
The young condemned bent down and gingerly removed her footwear and stood, now barefoot before the two men, one of them was tasked with putting a rope around her neck which would be used to pull her up by her slender neck and hang her until she was no more. She was then told to put her arms behind her back. While the hangman bound her slender wrists, the jailer held her by the shoulders straying her. As the arms of the young woman were firmly tethered at the wrists she began crying again. He then grabbed the shivering condemned by the shoulder and motioned the barefoot young woman out of the room. When Elric exited the gaol There were already 4 soldiers waiting outside to escort Rebecca to the scaffold along with two bailiffs and the priest who had administered Rebecca her last rites earlier. Elric led the condemned to the center of this grim procession so she was standing in the middle of the four soldiers and was flanked by two bailiffs. Her hangman then positioned himself behind them.
As the grim procession set itself in motion Rebecca saw small groups of people lining the road none of them threw things at her, none of them insulted her, all off them had either sympathetic, sad or curious looks on their faces. As the condemned walked further on the dusty road towards her doom, her bladder was demanding her attention more and more but it was manageable and it mattered little to her whether she would die with an empty or full bladder. She was lost in her thoughts of never seeing a sunrise in early summer again and the fact that she would never talk to her family or friends again. Those thoughts wrapped themselves around her and caused her to start breathing extremely quickly. As they turned the corner and the scaffold came into view the young condemned couldn‘t control her fear anymore and began to sob and hyperventilate. The young woman then gave a high pitched scream, fell to her knees, vomited and fainted with terror. Immediately she was pulled up by the bailiffs back to her knees and given a few minutes to compose herself as she sobbed and stained her only piece of clothing with her tears as she was unable to wipe them away with her bound hands. The bailiffs then lifted her back to stand on her, now dusty, bare feet and the grimm procession continued to make it’s way to the scaffold. When they arrived under the gallows the two bailiffs grabbed the crying, barefoot girl by her bound arms again and led her up the stairs. Up on the scaffold Elric’s assistant and an army drummer were already standing beneath the gallows. The two court officers deposited the bound girl in front of the noose that would, in a matter of moments choke the life out of her. She was doing her best to control herself as she saw all of these people who would witness her death and so she clenched her teeth and only shivered in fear.
It was now time for Elric to do his job so he approached the scared girl and put the rope around her slender neck, he then grabbed most of her long ginger hair and proceeded to carefully pull it outside of the noose so it would not interfere with the young redhead’s strangulation. He then walked back, motioned his assistant to follow him, grabbed the other end of the rope and pulled the condemned up slowly until she had to lift herself on her bare feet and stretch her slender neck to be able to breathe normally. From behind Elric could now see tears dripping onto and staining the wooden floor of the scaffold in front of the young woman’s overstretched, white, dusty soles. The sentence was then read out slowly by one of the bailiffs which caused the condemned thief to start sobbing again. All resolutions of dying in dignity forgotten, Rebecca began to beg for her life offering terms of redemption and promises of never coming in conflict with the law again. It was all for nothing as the army drummer began his drum roll. Everybody knew that when it ceases the condemned would be lifted into the air to perform her last „dance“. Without hope for the mercy of man, the crying redhead now addressed God, begging him to spare her this terrible death. It was all for naught. The drummer abruptly stopped his roll and three seconds later Elric and his assistant gave the rope a strong tug and fully lifted Rebecca Healey off the floor.
The girl gave an audible gasp as the rope tightened around her slender neck and immediately started trying to get her soles back on the floor of the scaffold. Audible gurgling was coming from her opened mouth. At first Rebecca tried to stretch herself downward as far as possible hoping to reach the ground. She did this for about 15 seconds, her pretty face slowly turning from very pale to a light shade of red. As the young thief couldn’t get any her bare feet on the ground and her lungs began to burn and she could only get a very small amount of oxygen inside them with each gurgling gasp, she began to kick her legs. Normally with an oiled rope the gurgling and gasping would subside after 20 seconds or so as the noose would simply become too tight to allow for that, this time however the desperate sounds just kept coming from the young woman's opened mouth for what seemed like an eternity. As the sounds coming from the strangling girl became less the frequency of her kicking only increased. Then it happened, the panic-stricken thief tried to get her bound hands in front to pull the strangling rope from her throat but instead grabbed her gown and pulled it back in her terror. The seams on her cheap dress were hardly of the best quality and the seam on the back broke and so the front of the death-shift fell down, no longer covering the sufferer’s, now sweat-covered torso. The crowd gasped as they saw the horrible immodesty the young woman was subjected to and gasped at the unseemly spectacle. Everyone now saw her heaving pale breasts as her legs continued to dance frantically kicking the remnants of her white, faded shift far and wide for everyon to see.
After 15 horrible minutes the bare-breasted woman's movements became weaker and weaker. Elric sighed with relief as this horrible spectacle was slowly coming to an end. Although small strangled whimpers still emerged from her drooling mouth but there was no doubt her life was slowly slipping away. The legs of the condemned woman still moved but in a thoughtless disorganized manner. Rebecca's suffering and dishonor were not over however as almost everyone could hear a hissing coming from between the girl's kicking legs. Everyone could now see the yellow stream of liquid coming from beneath the ripped gown of the suffering, now utterly dishonored young woman. It was quite a frequent occurrence for hanged criminals to lose control of their bladders but as they were usually only given a few sips of water, not many people noticed their release. In this case, however, the shameful urination went on for many seconds and at the end of it, a large puddle had formed beneath the dangling sufferer. The kicking grew more and more listless after the young woman had fully, involuntary, relieved herself. All movements gradually stopped soon after.
Five minutes after the hanged woman stopped moving Elric went on with his task of removing the body of the condemned from the gallows but first however, he cleaned up the mess Rebecca's execution had caused. He then untied the rope and slowly lowered the young woman's body to the floor of the scaffold. He then walked back to his victim and took off the rope from the girl's neck (It had left an impressive red welt in her white flesh) and put it back into his sack. He wanted to ask his assistant to help him move the coffin up to the scaffold but he was already gone off to get paid, no doubt. Elric sighed and went down the stairs he had made his way up. Most of the crowd had already gone on their way, clearly distraught by the horrid and indecent spectacle. Elric grabbed the pine coffin and carried it up the stairs. When he arrives at the top, he heard it. Strangled sounds, then hoarse screaming. With disbelief he saw Rebecca Healy’s body moving spasmodically, as much as her bindings allowed her…
The year was 2072. Many things changed since the great collapse half a century ago, food, water and warmth became more prized while human life became considerably cheaper. To the first generation born after the end of civilization concepts such as the Internet or smart-phones were just tales told to them by their parents who had lived in a world where doing to bed with a grumbling, empty stomach was considered an unusual occurrence reserved only for the poorest. As time went on and memory of the old order began to fade these old tales were replaced by new and more relevant ones of nature and its horrors. As centralized governments slowly crumbled away, local communities became powerful once more, providing the unfortunate souls born into this world with a modicum of security and stability. Another concept which enjoyed a significant renaissance was that of religion and not the “forgive thine enemies” and “turn the other cheeks” type of quasi-benign belief systems which dominated the old world. The world had changed, so did it’s gods. The new deities, while retaining their old names demanded vastly different expressions of devotion from their followers; take the story of Abraham and Isaac as an example, in the old days it was a mostly harmless tale often told to children to teach them that, while we may not understand how, God will always lead us on the right path. The moral of this very same tale today has become quite different. In a world where the last contraceptive had been manufactured roughly fifty years ago, the circumstance of having to choose between the life of a child and the starvation of one’s entire family was not an alien concept to most people.
Yara was awoken by the cold. This was far from an unusual occurrence during this time of the year, no one could afford to have a fire burning during the night. Apart from the cold winds and a near constant runny nose there were some benefits to this time of the year; snow had not yet fallen and the supplies Yara's father and her had gathered were satisfactory and they were certain they would have no problem surviving the winter on what they had and should their situation get dire, the option of hunting, while risky and uncertain, was preferable to starving.
Yara and her father were forced to settle on the outskirts of this small community five years ago after Yara’s mother and younger brother had both succumbed to dysentery. After the then seventeen year old girl and her father had to watch them suffer and slowly die in their own watery excrement it became clear that they would no longer be able to to survive on their own. And so they hurried their dead, loaded as much as they could carry into a large hand-drawn cart and, with the help of an old, pre-collapse map, went out into the hostile world to find someone who would let them live amongst them. The .22 LR pistol that had once been used by Yara's great-grandmother in shooting competitions, had proven to be a remarkable deterrent against anyone considering taking what was theirs and Yara's father made sure to always carry it visibly. And so they were finally allowed to settle on the outskirts of a small small town which for many years had been governed by a local church.
The concept of separating the church and the state was one of the many concepts laid to rest after the collapse. In the community Yara was a member of after her brother's and mother’s tragic deaths the church fulfilled much more than the role of providing spiritual support to the faithful in times of need, the duties of all three branches of government were directly controlled by the church. The duties of those living under such a government were, surprisingly, quite few; each member of the community, young or old, male or female was expected to participate in church services at least three times per week (The service on Sunday was mandatory for everyone and neglecting it carried heavy sanctions), paying a small tithe as well was working one day per week for the church. Of course there were laws to regulate life in the town, but no sin was as severe as blasphemy for it was considered to be a direct attack on the church, and as such, on God and the community. A poor wretch found guilty of this grave offense was usually offered a chance to repent before being publicly hanged on a tree outside of town. An interesting peculiarity of this small town was the fact that other crimes while being punished severely did not carry the death penalty; in the eyes of the church elders sins such as theft adultery or murder were forgivable and could be forgiven by the community, blasphemy however was another matter entirely, it is a sin against God himself and as such only God may forgive it. The church could not allow itself to keep sinners of this sort in their midst. An attack on the church was, after all an attack on the whole community and without the community there could be no survival.
Yara looked around the hut that had now been her home for five years. It was a miserable hovel but she and her father had done the best to make it somewhat livable. A fireplace had been constructed as well as a decent workbench; furthermore, the few items in possession of their family since before the collapse of civilization apart from the pistol that had been brought here were now prominently displayed. There was for instance an old analogue clock, a painting of her great grandmother she had commissioned while studying in what was then known as Italy. It showed her great grandmother standing in front of the Cathedral in Siena; just like her great granddaughter she was of medium height had pale skin, dark brown shoulder length hair and eyes of the same colour.
Yara yawned, rubbed her eyes and counted thirty more seconds to enjoy the last opportunity to feel the warmth of the two heavy blankets. With a sigh she lifted herself from the creaking mattress, quickly put on the old pants that were once used for skiing and snowboarding but would now provide her with enough warmth to survive another early winter day as well as a pair of old trail boots. Water from the kettle placed on the, now burned out stove, helped quench Yara's thirst and water from a bowl next to it helped to wash the sleep from her eyes. Her father, awoken by the commotion greeted his daughter and slowly made his way out of bed as well. The day’s work was already cut out for both of them so without much resembling a conversation Yara put on her jacket and made her way to the door in order to collect firewood.
Before Yara could take hold of the doorknob The same door was kicked open, hitting her in the face and sending her flying backwards against her father. Four constables, assault rifles at the ready rush in and aim them at the pair, after a brief pause the highest rank amongst them started speaking: “Te are here to execute two arrest warrants on behalf of the holy Church on suspicion of blasphemy…” Before he could finish, Yara s father, to whom it now became apparent that this was a matter of life and death for him and his daughter rushed towards the pistol that had saved both of their lives before and was hidden for all these years under his mattress. This time however luck was not on his side; before he managed to aim the small calibre pistol, a bullet of a much higher calibre fired from the FAL of one of the constables, a man in his early twenties. The projectile turned his face into a bloody crater as it entered his head and took a significant portion of his brain with it as it exited. A splash of blood stained the facade of the Duomo di Siena and a small chunk of gray matter now lay at the feet of the smiling young student. Shaken from the loud noise Yara, still held her bloody nose and looked at her father who was now producing a few short gurgles, blood running out of his mouth and ears before laying still. The dutiful constables had no problems with tying Yara's hands behind her back and escorting her to the town hall (which these days also served as a court house) . While her clothes protected her from the cold, nothing could protect her from the stares and whispers of her neighbours but having just witnessed the death of her last relative Yara paid little attention to them.
The trial, if one could even call it that lasted for little over half an hour; after all, all of the evidence needed was already before the court. A young lad had broken into Yara’s home and had stolen 2 loafs of bread and a cup of flour unfortunately for the teary-eyed girl awaiting her fate before the bench, he also managed to take a particular book. 50 Years after the collapse books were mostly gone from this world either burned as a source of warmth of to eradicate the ideas which they carried. Writing and reading were still, however, skills routinely taught to children, if for not much more than to understand religious texts and laws. Unfortunately for Yara the book which the young thief reported to the authorities (he got 30 strokes of the cane for the crime of stealing) not only contained blasphemous ideas but denied the existence of a God completely. This could by no means be tolerated and so the presiding judge spoke to the terrified young woman before him, her nose had stopped bleeding at this point but the man before her was obviously a greater cause for concern: “The evidence in your case is truly overwhelming and so the law of the church dictates that you shall pay for your terrible sin with your life and the judgment of your tainted soul be left to the almighty. I am, however also bound by law to offer you an opportunity to save yourself from the fires of hell by publicly confessing your sin, honestly praying for forgiveness and dying as a Christian."
With nothing left to do, Yara accepted the Judge's offer. She turned around and addressed the masses that had piled into the court to see the church's justice. With a tear filled voice the girl confessed to possessing blasphemous writings and expressed remorse for her grave sin before the assembly. She then publicly signed a document transferring what little her family had to the church. As it was customary, the repentant condemned was then lead to the Church opposite of the town hall. Before Yara was locked inside for a day and a night to pray for God's forgiveness her hands were untied and she was given her last meal, a Large bowl of hot lentil stew, two pieces of brown bread and a cup of cold water. Although the young woman was devastated after the events of the morning hunger took over and she eventually ate and drank all that had been given to her. After her last meal the condemned was lead outside to the steps of the church where the bailiffs handed her a black, ankle-length penitent’s shift Yara would wear during her punishment. To demonstrate the will to fully a tune for her sin Yara was told to fully undress in front of the faithful and accept the black shift she would pray, suffer and die in. When it was time to remove her underwear the young woman hesitated, no stranger had ever seen her this way and she felt shame raise up within her causing her to blush despite the cold temperature of the early winter day shush was to be the last one she would fully live through. Her hesitation was quickly broken by the stern words of the priest invoking the horrors of hell that awaited those who did not fully repent, as well as the stern looks by the bailiffs. Her honour and modesty forsaken, Yara now stood fully exposed before the crowd, she quickly put on her death-shift and was escorted into the church where she would have one day and one night to pray for forgiveness and think about the noose that would all too soon choke the life out of her.
The reason why hanging became the only manner of execution by the church was twofold; the materials needed to perform such a grim task; Two lengths of rope, one for the tying of the hands and another to bear the weight of the condemned by his or her neck, a strong branch to do the same. A stool or bucket, the church had however recently decided to use a horse-drawn cart which was moved away from under the unfortunate sufferer when all of the pre-execution formalities were carried out and it was time for the prisoner to dance his or her last.
The other reason for which hanging was adopted as a method of dispatching blasphemers was the fact that not many things illustrated the sufferings of hell more accurately than the grotesque movements performed by the hanged as they slowly strangled, their airways closed by the hempen rope. The pathetic gurgles resembled the awful screams of demons and the frequent occurrence of men developing a final erection was seen as a disturbing parody of the deadly sin of lust. Furthermore the pathetic struggles, gasps and gurgles of the condemned as well as the frequent loss of control over bladder and bowels served as an excellent deterrent for those considering going against the teachings of the church.
In her 22 years on this earth Yara had witnessed more than her share of death and misery and thus had become quite desensitized, even the gory death of her father was to her just another event in her soon-to-be-over life. People dying of strangulation were a different story however, she witnessed her first hanging two years after moving to the town. A young man had been convicted of blasphemy after some of his writings were discovered in which he questioned the authority of the church to speak on behalf of the almighty. The authorities could not tolerate such a thing and so the poor lad found himself standing on a stool, hands bound behind his back with a rope around his neck. Yara watched as his face rapidly became red, then slowly turning purple as the rest of his body furiously fought to free itself from the noose which gradually choked the life out of him, forcing his tongue upward and partially out of his mouth. What disturbed Yara the most however were his eyes; desperately fixated on the crowd. The cruel rope had deprived him of the ability to speak or scream and the only thing emerging from his pinched throat was the occasional desperate vocal attempt at forcing air into his lungs. He wordlessly begged for someone in the crowd to cut him down or just grant him a swift death until his consciousness mercifully slipped away. Three minutes later the sharp smell of excrement heralded to the assembled crowd that his soul was now in the hands of God. The image of his face, slowly turning blue, his eyes desperately begging for mercy became a common feature in Yara's nightmares for many nights afterwards.
The young woman was left shivering from cold and fear in the middle of the medium-sized church. It was the only place in town where the lighting still worked and the bailiffs had been merciful and left the generator running throughout the night. Usually when she attended this place it was packed with both the faithful and those who pretended they were in order to further live a mostly secure life under the church's watchful eyes, now there was a deadly silence in the old building. This was it, the last full day Yara would live through was coming to an end and it had finally hit her. She stood in front of the altar where the bailiffs had deposited her, her wrists hurt and bore pale, red marks from the rope that had bound them, her slender naked feet were cold from the gray marble floor she was standing on. Her breath became quicker and she became light-headed. The edges of Yara's field of darkened so she stumbled to the first row of benches where she placed her brown-haired head into her palms and collapsed into a fit of spasmodic sobbing. Her nervous system overloaded with pain, fear and grief of the day and it took several hours full of cries, unintelligible screams of rage teeth-gritting, curses and sobbing for Yara to finally be able to regain some semblance of control over her feelings. The night had already advanced greatly when she had somewhat calmed down, her mind empty, staring at her bare, cold feet. The girl lifted her head and laid eyes on the altar She was never a true believer and the world around her did not make it easy, she had seen every flavour of misery in her short life and had experienced her fair share as well so the idea that an omnipotent all-knowing being was out there and loved her seemed almost ridiculous but also comforting especially when she was younger. Now her agnosticism had vanished, she had only known her father as an exceptionally kind (as much as it was possible in such a world) and intelligent man who would sacrifice everything for the life and happiness of his only remaining daughter, ensuring she was well-fed and clothed even if it meant for him to go barefoot and hungry. The idea that he had been killed by followers of the only true God in accordance with his laws was inconceivable; as he had not confessed and repented, his body would in all likelihood be burned with the town's refuse. Yara had heard the rumours of what happened to blasphemers who would not confess and while she truly dreaded and feared being suspended by her neck from a tree, kicking, gurgling, gasping, her face turning blue from lack of oxygen and slobbering all over herself while those in the front of the assembled crowd were able to catch a glimpse underneath her sparse clothing , it was safe to say that what she would have gone through had she not confessed would have been considerably more painful.
In the corner of her vision she then saw it. Something that she never noticed all of the previous times she had been in this place. Above the entrance of the church, there was a small circular window, just big enough for Yara's body to squeeze through. Hope came into her heart once again, not just hope, raw enthusiasm. Maybe this was not her end, maybe she would be spared from providing disgusting entertainment to her former neighbours, perhaps she could escape her prison, run back to her former home and -provided it was not well guarded or had already been looted- collect some clothes and other items and take her chances surviving in the wild. Granted it was highly improbable for loners to survive on their own in the winter but at least her life would be in her hands again and should she die, she would die in dignity, head turned towards the skies and her last breath be full of cold fresh air and not a tiny last gurgle, signaling to those who came to watch her suffer that the rope had done it's work and no further noises would come out of her mouth and she would soon loose control of her bodily functions. Yara nervously paced up and down up and down the church, her eyes darting around for something that would enable her to climb up to the window which was situated 3.5 meters above the ground. All of the benches as well as the altar and the pulpit were firmly affixed to the ground but before the young woman would have lost all hope again, she noticed through a doorway besides the altar that the sacristy was furnished with a cupboard. Overcome with joy and relief, Yara ran towards it as fast as her bare, cold feet would carry her. She opened it and found several boards inside, packed with richly decorated ceremonial cloaks the church's elders wore on high holidays. Without the tiniest bit of regard for the holy fabric the condemned blasphemer was wearing naught else than her ankle-length penitent's shift, threw the cloaks on the ground and proceeded to push the cupboard under the window as quickly and silently as she could. It was heavy but Yara was far from a stranger to physical labour and so the cupboard, now empty of its Hallowed content eventually found itself against the middle one of the three doors serving as the church's only entrance and exit. The young condemned opened the two doors of the cupboard itself and stood back. "This could actually work", she thought to herself, all Yara would need now was something to break the glass as her unusual exit possessed no handle and was just a circular glass pane in the wall. She did not need to look far as on the top of the cupboard there was an old metal sprinkler which had been used for holy water before the collapse, it would make for a fine hammer. She raised herself up to her slender toes, grabbed the instrument from it's longtime resting place and put it on top of the cupboard. Now it was time for the truly difficult part; with her hands Yara grasped the highest board while she used the lower ones as rungs on a ladder everything went as the young woman intended until she reached the top of the cupboard. A short time after she placed the soles of both of her slender feet on it and the material, weakened by time finally bore the girl's full weight, there was a loud crack and the top collapsed sending the unfortunate young woman falling down, breaking four more boards on her way down. Yara landed on the cold and hard ground and tumbled away from the cupboard. She was stunned and her whole body hurt, when she finally came to her senses she saw the broken cupboard and the, now unreachable window. The poor woman let out a long deafening scream of frustration, fear and sadness as her last bit of hope she clung on to was now lost. Trembling and hyperventilating again, she once more looked at the window and the black sky beyond and fainted with terror. When the unfortunate condemned awoke she saw that the sky beyond had turned from black to blue. Yara rose to her knees and, unable to raise herself to her feet, crawled into a corner and while clutching her knees, her slender toes curled, continued to look up at the window, tears streaming down her cheeks onto the marble floor, eyes expressionless and empty of all fighting spirit.
Dawn broke over the town and three bailiffs unlocked the doors of the church and found the condemned was covering in the far left corner of the church and was shivering both from the cold her shift could not stave off, as well as from the fear of the fact that she would soon dance her last while suspended from a tree with the majority of the townspeople bearing witness to her pathetic struggles. The destruction of church property was noted but no further action was taken. Without ceremony the scared Girl was grabbed by her arms and lifted to stand on her bare feet, the third bailiff then tied her well developed from a whole life of labour arms behind her at the wrists, the thought that she would never see her hands again went as quickly as it came. Yara was then half marched, half dragged towards the plain horse-drawn cart waiting in front of the church. The girl had to be helped on the cart by the bailiffs as she could not mount it on her own with her bound hands. Everything had already been said and done yesterday and all that was left to do is put a rope around Yara's neck, drive the cart away and leave her to perform her last “dance"- as was the euphemism for the desperate kicking which, as the strangulation process went on was gradually replaced by twitching and spasms of a dying organism.
As the cart on which the young woman stood made its way towards the customary hanging tree the prisoner started to panic the realization that in a few moments her worst nightmare would become reality suddenly overwhelmed her body and mind with a high-pitched scream she collapsed on the floor of the cart sobbing spasmodically with fear and regret. The cart was stopped for just long enough for a priest to jump on board and, with the help of a bailiff, helped the sobbing Yara back on her bare and cold feet. It took some words of consolation but she eventually regained the strength to stand on her own but as the leafless tree came with the noose that would in a matter of minutes close her throat forever, the young woman once more lost her composure and leaned over the side railing of the cart (there was no railing on the back for obvious reasons) vomiting the remains last meal onto the frosted grass below. Unfazed by this humiliating spectacle the cart drove under the thick branch and came to a halt when the simple slipknot made from a thick hempen rope was only centimeters away from the face of the condemned who by now had again somewhat regained her composure in the face of death, only wanting her ordeal to end. The town's appointed executioner now jumped on the cart and without much ceremony put the noose around the prisoner's neck with the knot placed behind it. The executioner, the priest and the bailiffs now jumped down from the cart and while the intoned one last prayer for Yara's soul, the executioner took the reins again and waited for the end of the prayer to move the cart away from under the her.
Yara stood there alone, the executioner had moved her brown, shoulder-length hair out of the way when he noosed her. She could feel every little fibre of the thick hempen rope scratching her soft throat, in a matter of moments it would become as unforgiving as iron. Tears ran from her brown eyes making their way to her cheeks and then down to her throat where they were stopped my the rope from staining her black penitent’s gown. Her jaw trembled with both fear and cold but she did her best to keep it under control. There was still some dried blood around her nose from her close encounter with The door. Her whole body was covered in goose bumps and her long naked toes seemed to want to burrow themselves into the floor of the cart to keep it from moving.
“Amen". The hangman shook the reins an Yara's hanging began. The girl made sounds of terror as she struggled to keep herself in the cart but eventually she lost her fight and with a final high-pitched scream she fell into nothingness. There was a gasp and then gurgles wheezing when half a second later the noose took all of her weight. Her hands were curled up into fists trying to overcome the rope that bound them to remove the thing around her neck that was killing her. Yara's neck appeared to be stretch under her weight and her chest rapidly heaved with the inhuman effort to get air into her burning lungs.
At first the Yara just hung there, her legs stretched as far as she could stretch them, her bare feet pointing straight down In a vain effort to find footing and relieve the horrible pressure around her neck. This lasted for about 20 seconds. Panic set in as the hunger for another breath rose and the condemned blasphemer started to violently kick and thrash causing her to begin to swing on her rope. Once in a while a tortured breath made its way through her constricted throat but as the noose tightened these instances became less and less frequent. After 7 minutes it was clear that oxygen starvation had taken its toll and the young woman's fingers and toes began to twitch, the twitching spread to the rest of her body and at its peak caused as much movement of the dying girl as the beginning of her hanging. After two more minutes all movement started gradually to fade, except for her left foot which somehow refused to follow the rest of Yara's body into eternal sleep. Then it happened Yara's bladder relaxed and its contents flowed down in a continuous stream forming a steaming puddle under the dying woman which was quickly absorbed by the frozen dirt. All movement stopped soon after.
As the law required Yara’s body remained suspended for three hours after she stopped moving. Two bailiffs then took her body down from the tree, undressed it (The penitent’s gown would of course be reused). Her naked corpse was then laid on the cart with which she came here and driven to the town’s cemetery. As promised by the judge Yara received a Christian funeral and was buried with both of her hands clutching a crucifix in a shallow grave. Life went on.