A Hanging

Piracy is a hazardous profession. So is privateering, but having a sense of responsibility and integrity are sometimes worse. ‘Than has reason to know and regret all three.

This is not her first or last hanging.

“So this is how Clearwater hangs a pirate,” I said to myself as the crowd closed in around me.

An ogre turned his warty face toward me with a questioning grunt.

It was the biggest outdoor entertainment event I’d seen since the open air concerts at the band shell on summer nights. An ordinary person wouldn’t have stood a chance in the press, but I was used to dealing with Black Friday shopping.

If an outside observer tried to predict my path through the crowd, he would have needed some really good non-linear equations and some advanced application of chaos theory, but it wasn’t long before I found myself at the foot of the gallows. I would never have seen her with anything less than a front row seat.

It wasn’t the best first impression I’d ever had of anyone, but I’ll give her this; she was stoically silent. She wore black, from waistcoat to boots. Her hair was long, loose, and dark like expensive chocolate, but she had a dusty, frayed at the edges look, almost as if she had spent the last few weeks in a dirty dungeon. It was understandable. That’s exactly where she had spent the last few weeks.

I picked up one of the handbills that lay scattered around the cobbles. It had a poorly done wood cut that over emphasized her almond shaped eyes and the sharp, slightly lupine look of her features. “The Baroness, also known as Death, Captain of the Amantia del Mar, to be hanged this day at the stroke of noon for piracy and high treason,” I read, then looked up at her. “Baroness of what?”

If I’d been any further away, she would never have heard me. She looked down. A slight smile softened her face for a moment.

“Baroness Anathandra Rashideh Varischkovna von Lesenvlk,” she replied quietly. “Across the Green Sea from here and deep inland. High in the mountains where the wolves live.”

In that moment, I thought I saw a flicker in her silver eyes, like the shadow of dark forests passing briefly before it was gone. They say eyes are the last thing you notice about a person, but hers were so pale they seemed to glow like blue lasers.

Her gaze wandered from me to the guards and then the approaching executioner. I could almost see her thoughts as she stood there. If impending death focuses one’s mind, hers could probably have been used to cut sheets of steel. I wondered how the black robed man didn’t fall over from the force of it. Instead he adjusted the rope around her neck, while muttering something about her hair being in the way.

“Any last words?”

Her voice was so flat and cold, they could have held competitive figure skating on it. “Roll the dice.”

I slipped out of the press and made my way toward a fire escape off to the side, above the square. I was just in time for that millisecond that stretched into infinity while the die still hung in the air and the rope was just beginning to snap taut. My hands and voice shaped the fireball and let it loose.

The next trick was not being there. Since I couldn’t just vanish, I didn’t even pause to watch her fall through the trap door. The spell was so flashy that it would only take a moment for every eye in the square to turn toward the old book shop.

I’d never been so glad of my tree climbing skills. I would have loved to burn the shop as a distraction,but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that to books. Instead, I grabbed onto the gutter and was running and sliding across the slate roof tops. I didn’t have to go far in any case. One alley over, the storm drains were as wide as some doorways.

Duck, run, and hide were as instinctive to me now as they were to some swamp rats. I headed back under the streets toward the square.

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