Just the only short story I felt was worthwhile out of all of my attempts in my creative writing classes. Haven’t look at it forever.
I once had glory. Enough, in fact, that I could use the spare to wipe my nose. My name echoed about the land with each brush of my hand, each whiff of my whim. Not even the king held such prestige. The fools of this world fear me, but reverence, admiration, love, even hate are really all the same; just attention. When one gives you their attention, they open a door to manipulation, to persuasion, to control. With attention, more power is given, and I had been given far more than my fair share.
Perhaps that is why chains encompass me now, biting into my flesh with their cuffed jaws.
Yes. That was it. The power had made the poor idiots nervous, and people hated to be intimidated. Shaking their pride was the real crime I committed. Death happens every day, so what crime is murder? We all die. Life is so short; me ending it a few days early would not have hurt anything. Stealing was the same–a rock is a rock. You wouldn’t have it forever, but as a momentary pleasure, like life itself. If anything, I would say I helped them crash back to the reality of how worthless their junk really is. They live in a lie. Then they turned on me for telling one rather than living one. How silly.
Disgrace upon the crown is the closest I ever got to a real crime, if there be such a thing. Pride. I hurt that oh-so-noble king’s pride. Oh the horror! That I, infamous Allegro, villain, criminal, a ‘bad person’, dirtied the poor king’s pretty white face.
They’re all delusional. Every last one of them. Enchanted into some stupid sense that somehow there is such a thing as a good action and naughty action when really there is but those who act, and those who are acted upon. Mankind is no greater than animals, besides the fact that we are more fit for survival. And the king–oh great noble king, live long in your sweet pretend life–is the great holder of the dream of justice. He is simply another dream of power: of being given the right to act rather than act upon by being ‘good’, and I have such power without doing ‘good’. Thus a crime of, perhaps, waking them up from the fantasy of justice. No one rewards me. No one gives me the right. I deserve no such freedom for being ‘bad’. I just act.
I relish in it.
Oh, if they only knew the fun I had while I was out there, they’d want to kill me even more. They’d wither in jealousy. They’d loath me. They’d want to tear me to bits for having such fun while they confined themselves to rules and locked up pleasures. They’d want to throw me out into the sea after tearing me from limb to limb with their teeth like the animals they all really were. I wouldn’t be left here hanging from a wall and dressed in rags, filthy and smelly from not knowing bathwater for months, or kept on bread and water. I wouldn’t just be included in their stupid game of justice to feel guilty for being ‘naughty’. The thought brings a chuckle to my throat. Such silly, delusional children playing make believe.
In the end, my real glory is not in their attention from their daydreams, but rather the fact of my triumph over such nonsense. My glory is my liberty.
Then why does the sight of the man from the royal court fill me with such dread?
“Allegro,” he snaps a leather whip in his hand as though to test its strength, “time to find out what we’re going to do with you.”
I mean to smirk, but sneer instead. I know not what to say to the unfamiliar passions welling up inside me. He comes forward with two others behind him, dressed in the blood red of the kingdom. Armor glints between the cloth, and their boots tap like water drops into my cell. His eyes are shadows within his helmet. The cuffs give one last snatch for my sore wrists before falling away onto the mossy floor I had called my bed for the last six weeks. I did not welcome his rough hands as they drag me to my feet. How dare he touch me at all! I, who was once untouchable, uncatchable.
“Hold him still.” he tells the others. The leather was soft, yet somehow harsher upon the raw flesh of my hands. I refuse to show pain. I would give no satisfaction for their little game. Once tied they escort me out into the hall.
The farther we get from the dank dark of the dungeons the lighter and warmer it becomes. Stone eventually smoothes into wood and plastered walls. I feel out of place amongst all the shine, clean, and pretty smells of wood polish and lavender. I didn’t need to know what I smelt like to feel sorry for the palace guards beside me. Pity if I am to go to the courtroom now.
“Am I to be tried this very day?” I ask. My voice is gravel against my throat.
I find it strange they allow me to talk so freely. I have been beaten for speaking out of turn before, though it is my right nature to not pay heed to their wishes. No one can change my free will. Didn’t they see it was pointless to try to discipline me? The thought brings a delicious smugness.
“Haven’t I already been proven guilty?”
Neither expressionless face deigned to answer.
“I must say,” I continue, pushing my luck, “your court system is rather peculiar. Have to plan a plethora of meetings made of dozens of men just to decide what you’re going to do with one.” My chuckle comes out dry and raspy.
I might have well spoken to mechanical statues. One guard coughs quietly.
“Well, whatever this great meeting is for, I hope there’s ale. I don’t care if you end up hanging me by my toenails as long as I can get a cool pint.”
I look down at my bare feet and wiggle my toes, each armed with a gruesomely unkempt toenail. Each is more like growths of fungus.
“Though I don’t think anyone could keep their lunch down to do that–”
Oooo, a response. I perk. These men are quick to the punch. I muse at how far I could go today.
“What do you say, dear sir? Would you like to play with these little beauties?” I gesture my chin to my feet.
“I said be quiet.”
I could just hear what the buffoons were thinking as their teeth grated in annoyance: this guy is practically on death row and he’s gloating about his toenails? It is all incredibly amusing. People can get so serious in their little false lives.
“But it could be a once in a life time chance. You don’t see nails like these every day.”
“No, I don’t wa—halt your tongue, fool.”
“Oh, oh, I heard that! A protest I hear! Come, you know you want to.”
“No one wants to touch your god accursed toes.”
“Well, if they’re personally cursed by a god, who wouldn’t want to touch them? They’d be touching divinity!” I eye him, wishing I could finger the grizzly, thin beard on my jaw line in mock contemplation. The guard I had chosen to gives my look to is broad and hairy, his face forever molded into an ugly grimace of contempt. Even without the expression, his face is far from handsome. “You need more divinity in your life, good sir. By the looks of it, you mustn’t do well with the women–wanna touch’em?”
I didn’t even have time to blink before a hard fist made contact with my head. Stars blink in and out of my vision. The guards behind me trample on my heels as my legs stall and go lax. An elbow in the back and I was stumbling forward with their arms half dragging me. Though my eyes water from pain, I can’t help but wheeze with laughter. Some folk are so fun to tease.
Wood turns to rugs and we come to familiar double doors. Oil paintings of the king hang on every wall, each powdery white face with their own gruesome expression. One with him scowling is my particular favorite. I thought he looked constipated rather than intimidating. By the time I had finished chortling to myself over that, all the dread I had felt before is shooed away.
The courtroom expands tall and magnificent before us as we enter. Brightly lit, warm, and nearly impossibly clean, I must appear to be a sooty smudge within it rather than a man. Rows of benches line the isle that leads up to the podium where their sits a plump man in black robes wearing a white dusted wig. The jury sits to the side of the room, their chairs elevated in representation of their power and privilege to condemn or save any man put into their hands. Above me is the balcony that runs the complete circumference of the room made of the same dark wood as the judge’s throne. Here sits row upon row of spectators of all ages and forms. From the distance I spot a small boy’s mouth wide in awe. What could be his mother taps his jaw shut. The small action softens my heart, and my pretenses fall. It reminds me of my own youth. My apprehension returns.
The guards hold me in place as the doors click shut behind us, unnaturally quiet. They wait till the judge nods his pudgy head to walk me forward. Dirty footprints follow me upon the bright red carpet. The judge’s tall podium grows taller and taller till I stand at its feet, small and almost nonexistent. Piggy eyes squint down at me. The guards releas me. I can feel the burn of the thousand eyes pressing upon me. My nose itches.
The judge shifts in his seat. Licking his lips, he lets his gaze leave me to read a small pile of papers. For the next 15 minutes he reads off dates, names of witnesses, times of court, and finally the verdict of being found guilty. The audience shuffles in discomfort from the stupor the judge’s voice brings and threatens to overcome them. I just about laugh, but for the first time in my life, my laugh dies before it even reaches my throat. At the sound of him clearing his throat, they straighten.
“Allegro InDei,” the scratch of pencils rasp out into the quiet from the scribes, “charged of first degree murder, 2nd degree murder, theft, rape, dishonor to the crown, slander against an officer of the crown, contempt of court, betrayal of the crown, and,” he sniffed, “harassment of all forms. You are brought before this court today to receive your sentence upon the manner of your charges. At this time, if there are any words you wish to speak concerning the charges, you are free to do so.”
This takes me off guard. I am supposed to say something? No no, Allegro, you could say something. If only I could laugh, bring back reality. Out of the blue I could hear my heart’s thumping in my ears in a steady, fast beat. My hands begun to sweat upon one another, yet I can’t quite grasp in my mind why.
Looking up, I search the eyes of the crowd, content to not meet any, yet somehow hungry to do so. Their gazes are flickering. The moment I catch one they flutter away to look elsewhere, from my shoulder to a corner of the room. Upon meeting the little boy who had gaped at me, though, he stares straight back, firm, awed, and curious. A chain reaction starts within me from his wide, blue eyes. They are so intrigued, so innocent. He stood above me now as I wait below dirty, smelly, hungry, and sick. Instead of being flanked by armed guards, a mother stood beside him, dressed in soft, warm skirts for him to hide his face in. His circumstances left him here as a spectator, and his world free from any of the discomforts I had. He didn’t have to worry about fake justice hanging over his head.
Is this where my freedom had led me? The boy contrasts against me most of all, bringing out how I really was against such a small thing as morality. I had no glory now. I wasn’t free, like him. I wasn’t free at all. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t choose life; I couldn’t even go where I wanted to go without being stopped. I couldn’t even choose to bathe myself, or what to eat, or where to sleep. All along I had been lauding over my actions and the awesome liberty they gave me; how I had the knowledge and power to do as I like, be as I like, live as I like, while those around me are trapped by the oppression of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. But here I was at the results of my actions. Whether bad or good existed, this was my consequence, which was viciously real. This was where I, in my freedom, had taken myself. But…no, they took my freedom. They’re stupid pretend ‘justice’ took it. Yet, was not my freedom suppose to be untouchable?
“–to death.” the judge was saying. His voice seemed to come from a distance as he named the date and time of the execution. I had not said anything at the chance, locked in eye contact, and now had even lost my freedom to be heard. I glanced down at him, stunned, speechless, horrified.
Death. That wasn’t life. Life was freedom. Living was joy, not living was…nothing. Could this be just a silly play of their game of justice? Or…
My thoughts ceased to work as hands grabbed me roughly. A deafening silence rang and screamed an unwavering note. All was frozen. Time seemed to disappear as my heels scrapped along that carpet, so much like blood. The last string of my awareness was on that steady blue gaze that met mine, so young, with so much more life left ahead of him. In life he was a rich man looking down at me, the beggar, where once before I had been rich. What happened?
This time, the doors clicking shut became a bang.
Walls, wood, stone, windows–all swerved like shadows. My limbs grew numb. The sting of the rawness of my wrists and the many sores on my body no longer made sense. I had liberty, which was supposed to be my glory. I wasn’t suppressed by delusions. It was I who acted. I, who had the power. This was but an unlikely turn of events…a mishap, a failure to be the one who survived.
I didn’t register when they replaced the leather straps with my old cuffs.
“He’s lost it.”
“Yah. What a change. From toenails to death.”
“Feel sorry for him?”
There was a pause. I blinked. The action reached to me through a wide, spanless oblivion of my consciousness.
“Nah. He’s getting what he deserves. You heard what he did.”
Another door closed with a bang that plunged me once more into darkness. They hadn’t even bothered to leave the torch outside my door lit.
What I deserved? And what was this, pity? No such thing as pity for I. What had I said before? That I had hurt their pride? I deserved death because I hurt their pride? No! All I deserved was freedom. All men deserved freedom, to be loose from fantasy, to know truth, to live life to its fullest. Isn’t that what I had done? Besides, they were but the mere commonwealth of delusion.
Yet…deserved? Who was it that decided who deserved what? What unspoken law even finalized this…deserving? Was it I to decide what deserved what? I had no liberty, no glory, no power now. In a way, their ‘justice’ decided who deserved what. Good deserved good, bad deserved bad, yet…
The rest of the night passed by me in a confused haze. I no longer understood. I had seen death many times before and had even handled it in my hands, yet it never seemed more unreal to me than it did now. Sleep fled, leaving me behind in my last hour with it to this faceless unknown.
All too soon, the door opened again to let in the guards. Their forms made a jagged image behind the stringy curtain of my once blond hair, now nearly black. The thuds of their boots traveled through the floor to me, making my bones shivered. Yet now, at the warning, I had nowhere to run.
Automatically, I looked up. I clung to the sound of my name. It was my name. My name that had thread me to so much freedom before, been there all the time, and the only thing left that made sense in this hour. The burly man’s face was hidden in shadow. Without a word, others filed in to once more bound me with the cruel leather bands. In the back of my mind I wondered why leather couldn’t be soft.
For the last time, I walked out the hall of the jail. I had killed so many, now it was my turn to die. Was that what justice was? Taking turns? Being fair? Could it be it was only fair that I be punished and disciplined for doing that which was considered bad? No, no…there was no such thing as bad. There was no such thing as good. Righteous. Wicked. Nonexistent, they had to be. But now what was fair? Was justice their idea of fair?
Hours went by in minutes, and that was the cruelest thing of all. My life slipped away faster the harder I tried to hold to it. This wasn’t fair–what was fair? But it wasn’t fair that I had to be punished for their scandalous religions and beliefs of good and bad. Not right. But…what was fair? What was justice?
The smell of open air astounded me. Wind stole my breath away and warmed my chilled skin, carrying with it that open scent of pine and dirt and that exhilarating taste of earth.. It was dry and harsh from the summer sun, which sat round and red in the distance, lounging on a bed of mountains. Vibrant hues of scarlet, orange, yellow, and purples spread across the sky in a brilliant plane, where violet clouds grazed on golden bellies. Pain suffocated me at the beautiful sight. This would be the last time I saw such a site, and the realization of that was more than I could bear. My knees buckled and I crumpled to the hot, dusty ground.
“Get up.” growled a man.
He yanked me back to my feet and thrust me onward. At the end of the path stood a dark stained block, flanked by a hooded figure in black. In his hands gleamed a heavy ax. I stumbled again, and they thrust me on. Stone walls surrounded the area, and to the far right rose a tall turret of the castle. No audience to witness me this time. To them, I had died the very moment my crucifixion was announced. To that boy’s blue eyes, I was already dead.
The sun stared back at me. I sought it out, reached for it, sucked it in starvation. The hues of the sky never could’ve been so pure before. Those faraway mountains never looked so inviting. Had I even been over them? Did I even know what was beyond them?
My world went black. Their fingers tugged roughly at my neck as they secured the reeking burlap sack. I didn’t wish to recognize the scent.
Like a deer to the slaughter, they bowed me down. Their strength overcame me before I had the chance to wonder if I should fight back. Fight just for the sake of dying with the liberty I once had before, or to flee to those mountains.
Why couldn’t I just die with the sun in my eyes? Why did they have to take away the last comfort I had? It wasn’t fair. But…what was fair? What was justice?
Hard stone caught my head. I laid slumped over it, my arms twisted painfully behind my back by my bonds. I could feel the dust slipping past my toes and through to my threadbare leggings. How could it be fair to take away a life? But…this thought didn’t make sense to me. Hadn’t I taken away that beautiful sunset from someone else? Hadn’t I dimmed its beauty in their view? It was but survival of the fittest. We were but more than animals. Then…what could this spectacular desire to live and enjoy such beauty be? Could it really be those of a beastly gaze?
The blue eyes of the youth passed my mind.
He survived. He still lived. Was it he who was greater than I? He who had liberty?
“Tie him to the stone.”
I hardly felt the rope, yet longed to know it. These were to be the last things that I would feel. What would that young boy feel when he died? Dirt and ropes and the ability to live on, yet no freedom to do so? Or perhaps…a bed. Soft sheets, and the peace that he had lived as much as he could?
A man grunted besides me and the harsh hands left. I knelt immobile, waiting for death. Fear clutched my throat tightly. I couldn’t breathe. Would it hurt?
In an instant, all those faces, owned by such foolish minds flashed through my head. I had tried to explain there was no such thing as good or bad. There was no such thing as justice. We were but survivors. Life was just life. Live it for all it was worth. Everyone died. But somehow…I was one among few. I had always took that as proof that I spoke true, that I had broken free and found true freedom. Yet, looking back, all my life I had confined myself to running, to a constant game of hide and go seek. Was it I who was stuck in a game of pretend? Was it I who was oblivious to a fact obvious to all but me? Could it be that there was such a thing as–
The ax whistles.