They stood beneath the gallows, hidden from the sun by wooden planking and a post that cast long shadows across the ground. The sound of people echoed around them, around her, around him. They milled and beat their feet on the ground, whispering question and wonderments. But Ellie and Trkasu remained still beside the steps.
He stood tall and stiff, hands tied behind his back by her request. Even without the crisscrossed rough cloth he could barely move. His foot had been dragged and scraped and bled across the floor, leaving a growing stain beneath the gallows. His brace had been broken before his eyes, drawing prickles of tears from the stoic man. His cane lay smashed in the corner of his cell, stained with his blood. There was nothing to hold him up but willpower and a splintery block of wood he was afraid to lean against. Echoing murmurs and whispers came, sounding beneath the wood and holding him hostage within his own fear. Ellie was whispering and he couldn’t hear a word.
“You’re going to die. And you’ll never hurt anyone ever again. Not me, not another girl, no one else. They’re going to kill you. You’re going to hang and go away forever.” Her hands were trembling, the words half-hissed. The people gathering would not hear her, would only see her. And what they saw was a tiny girl staring up at a larger man, a tiny child that seemed scared and sad as she watched him watch nothing at all. “And everyone is going to see.” Before he could speak, though he made no move to, she had turned away. She let the tears flow then, shuffling towards the waiting guards. They smiled gently at her tiny figure. Thick hands touched her shoulders, strong arms so gentle on her hair. Their pity was evident as one ushered her away. Sweet smiles faded to angry eyes as they turned back to the cripple awaiting them, his eyes turned into space.
There was no silence after Ellie left, no masking the people who whispered, murmured, chatted so casually of what would be his death. Death had never bothered Trkasu, not since he had been young and more afraid of life than what came after. His brothers could not hurt him wherever he was going, no one could control him. And there would be no uncomfortable stares, no moments of such confusion he wanted to lay down and cry. People wouldn’t sigh at him or ask of him what he could not do.
The hands of the guards on his shoulders pulled him out of his self-created silence. That was no gentle touch, no softening of the rough hands. A push and a shove sent him up towards the stairs, sent him reeling. His knees hit the wooden steps, bumping and stumbling and almost falling. They sneered at his weakness and turned their noses up at the blood on his hands. Cold hands dragged him to his feet, pulled on his arms until he was standing again. His feet on solid ground, he did not allow himself another stumble. The stairs dragged on his feet, pulled his skin until it tore. Blood dripped from each splinter but he did not wince.
Standing atop the wooden planks he saw the crowd of people. Rows and rows of people there, watching him stand atop the creaking beams. Behind him rose the gallows, shadows cast even farther behind it all. And there stood Ellie, a guards hand upon her head and the shadow of the gallows overshadowing the tears. Her weeping remained silent in that moment. No one heard her cries as they prepared to watch Trkasu hang. Cheers sounded when the executioner lifted his head, showing emotionless eyes to the crowd.
The rope around his neck was rough. Cold metal brushed just beneath his hair, sending a shiver along his spine. There were no tears for him, no fears as he waited. He turned his eyes back to the ground, waiting to see the cobbled street. But instead he saw the red sleeve, the ripped shirt he still wore. The dragon had been ruined by her nails and her anger, ruined by his silent compliance. It was all that remained then, all he had to watch as the people spoke. He had no memories but that one worth remembering. The mall had been so frightening then, overwhelming and confusing. Yet before him stood a crowd to rival that, suddenly more frightening for the memory it brought. There were shouts, his name, his crimes he couldn’t remember committing. Rough hands pushed him, shoved him and angry voices shouted insults into his ears.
Nothing changed him though, changed the quiet calmness of his eyes or the silence he kept so diligently. The abuse flowed and slowed as he stared into the sky, watching birds that spoke tomes to his deaf ears. Begging songs and titters gave him no reason to live, their wings carrying them away on currents that rose higher than the clouds. Trkasu’s attention was dragged back to the silence of the moment by a tightening rope around his neck, rough fibers drawing blood.
He made no noise, closing his eyes and waiting. Hushed silence fell, crashing onto the square without a sound. His hands were shaking behind his back. Another jerk on the rope and his head bent upwards, neck craning with the force. There was no one recognizable to watch, not even the one who stood behind him and wept for her own pain that didn’t end. Behind closed eyes he saw a painted wall and the paintbrushes knocked onto the ground. He’d stained the wood a brilliant red with his blood, left something indelible on the world. And until the planks were torn down, a new gallows rising in their place, he would never be forgotten by the creatures who slunk to sniff old meat beneath the wood.
“Any last words?” The guards angry voice pulled him from the brink, dragged Trkasu’s mind back into himself. A sharp slap to the side of his head drew blood and words that bled from his mouth. They didn’t mean anything at first, hisses and clicks and little chirps so quiet even the sparrows didn’t hear. Apologies for things he’d never done and for what he had wrapped into incoherence he couldn’t control. But another slap and the flow trickled down to nothing, tiny blabbing murmurs under his breath until he looked back up.
“I do not know what I did. But I am sorry.” He almost smiled, almost laughed at the absurdity of it all. The boy who wanted to die and been prevented given no choice when he would have lived. But the didn’t smile, couldn’t laugh, couldn’t even see the crowd for the rope pulling his face the sky. “For whatever it was, I am sorry. For all I did and did not do, I am sorry.”
A moment of silence that lasted too long, the crowd’s hush unbroken by the end of his voice. The executioner snorted loudly in the background. There were clicks, the guards stepping back. A final sounds that echoed and the floor fell away from beneath him. There was barely enough weight to pull him down. He closed his eyes against his struggle for breath, the flap of his shirt against his skin. There he saw them all, holding out hands and waiting for him to chose. But there was no choice for him, his eyes held shut by nothing more than fear.
In that silence of strangled breath and trembling limbs he refused to kick, he let himself go. The birds above his head called out, the animals that heard wondering for a moment what had gone wrong. A single wolf howled to the sky on the farm of a royal family. And other animals called to the sky when they remembered him in passing, soft voice whispering to them in their own words.