The Execution

Bishop Valery was in his house eating stroganoff when he heard the hoofbeats approaching. He sighed. They always came when he was eating. And he always had to make them wait until he was finished.

It was Sergeant Perez this time. He was used to this by now, and stood by silently as the Bishop shoveled food into his mouth. Finally, when the plate was clean, he cleared his throat and said, "Your Holiness, I am instructed to bring you to witness an execution." He said it as if it wasn't part of a routine they went through at least once a week.

Bishop Valery stood up from the table. "Well, let's get going then. The public will be eager for their spectacle."

They did not talk as they went outside. The Bishop's groom had already brought out his horse for him. He mounted and followed the sergeant to the town.

The bishop was the first to break the silence on the ride. "Who is it this time?" he asked.

"An outlander, by the name of Plummer," the sergeant replied.

The bishop clucked his tongue. You'd think the outlanders would get the hint by now. They formed by far the largest fraction of those executed, and yet they still kept coming in, bringing their heresies. It was a shame, really.

The pair were silent until they reached the city gates. The guards waved them through, and the bishop began to hear the expectant murmur of the citizens. As they neared the central square, the noise increased, as lookouts spotted the approaching pair that were all that was needed for the execution to commence.

It was a gallows, this time. The whims of the Colonel were not to be questioned, but Bishop Valery wished that he could make up his mind from one execution to the next. Half a dozen men were kept busy changing the device in the center of the square.

The noise was deafening, now, as the bishop came into full view. He waved indiscriminately to the crowd, as he rode up to the gallows. The prisoner was there already, noose around his neck and hooded hangman standing to the side. He was blindfolded, but he must have concluded from the noise that his life would not last much longer. The bishop mounted the stairs and stood on the other side of the prisoner. He made a benediction, which the prisoner could not see and nobody could hear for the din. Then he placed his hand on the prisoner's shoulder. The man--Plummer, was it?--jerked violently. "Would you like to confess?" the bishop said in his ear, almost shouting to overcome the noise of the crowd.

But that noise was already starting to die down, in expectation of the prisoner's words. The confession, or lack of one, was always the best part.

Plummer apparently decided to disappoint the crowd, for he merely shook his head and refused to speak. The bishop shrugged, made another benediction, and walked down the gallows.

The crowd was angry, now, at this prisoner who disdained even to confess his sins. Of course, if he had confessed them, they would have been just as angry. Perhaps this way served his purpose better, since perhaps the death of an unconfessed man would fill a few of them with guilt. But the bishop didn't care one way or the other.

The bishop remounted his horse and rode out of the square, with a feeling of vague melancholia at the darkest part of his holy office. He barely heard the crack of Plummer's neck breaking from the noose, before the crowd noise once again became deafening.

Back to the Four-Word Stories Page...

The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey /