It seemed cruel to Symon that he’d have to witness such horrific faces just mere moments before his death.
The ghastly faces of his executioners dangled inches away from him. The torches and lamps they gripped cast shadows across their faces, accentuating their scowls, illuminating the bloodlust deep-set in their gazes. The group surrounded him in an eclipse. The only opening was in front of him, just big enough to spy a broad trunk of an oak tree with arms that pierced the night sky. A thick rope hung from one of these branches; it swayed slightly with every gust of frigid air. It looked almost playful, giddy with the knowledge that it was about to claim Symon’s life.
Their pilgrimage out of the city and into this land of knee-deep grass and sprawling hills had taken nearly thirty minutes. Symon had made sure to contend for his life, and he did so with every smack and punch that he could muster. The group had to pause for each of these brawls, making the journey longer. This had seemed to only aggravate the men more; Symon could read this well through the intensity of their attacks. Every struggle had left him with bruises. Now that they were outside of town, past all gates and barriers, he was covered in them. Cuts ran down his jaw from when his face had connected with the cobbles. His lips were split, and his throat was rough with the dirt he had inhaled when he was pushed to the ground--he had forgotten how many times, exactly. There was a ringing in his ears that hadn’t stopped for the whole journey. Yet, somehow, his vision was still intact.
The men had chosen their spot well; it was far enough away from the houses that the townspeople wouldn’t be able to hear his cries of help. Yet it was near enough that, come morning, they’d bear witness to his corpse from their windows. He’d serve as a grim warning to all that passed into town. A warning to not attempt to kill one of their own.
The voice came from behind him. It was faceless voice, one that resided in the shadows.
Symon didn’t move. Dread kept his limbs locked. Panic kept his mind sharp. It was a grotesque tug of war that only warned him of what was to come mere moments from now; a battle between dying and living.
“I said get up.”
The kick that meant to spur him to his feet only toppled him to the dirt. He lay there until unknown hands picked him up from the earth and directed him forward. He said nothing, as there was nothing to say. He did nothing, as there was nothing to do. His actions were measured by the men around him. His words were silenced whenever he spoke. He was more like a corpse with every passing second.
He was pushed forward.
“Step there.” A hand appeared from his left and pointed to a rickety stool just a foot or so in front of him. It looked flimsy, like a simple kick from one of the men would topple it within seconds.
His legs felt weak, like they weren’t his own. His lips trembled with every intake of air. He was partly convinced that he was dead already. His flesh was cold. The men around him were certainly the devil’s company. All they needed were horns to protrude from their skeletal heads. He was their pawn, forced to give a final bow before vanishing into the afterlife.
His legs buckled. Shame washed over him. He had never been a man that feared easily. That all had changed within weeks. Before he could slam onto the ground he was directed onto the stool. He wanted to bolt, burst free from the group, vanish into the ink of night. But he knew his legs wouldn’t carry him far. Even if he managed to flee, his captors would hunt him down no matter where he sought refuge. There was no escaping death tonight.
He averted his gaze from the noose, but it was harder to ignore once it was placed around his neck. It rubbed against him, tickling and irritating his flesh as it settled around his collarbones. He was distantly aware of someone tightening the knot above his head. He looked to the men about him. He couldn’t stand their thirsty stares, so he sent his gaze up, toward the heavens. He knew he wasn’t welcome there. But still, a part of him hoped...
A snap from above. He felt himself plummeting. Fear enveloped him, cold and vivid, only to be overtaken by pain. Sharp. Prodding. Slow, at first, then building. Growing. Intensifying. Lungs raw. Then a short breath. Then gagging.