Mags was heading back through the streets, thinking about the new job offer, thinking about her father when she suddenly realized the tide of people had changed. Everyone was eagerly going in the same direction and she found herself being carried along. People were talking in twos and threes, their voices low to avoid being overheard. But their faces were grim, almost sullen. She wondered what had everyone so worked up.
The answer came as they turned into the plaza that divided what was generally considered the poorer part of Tamaris from the wealthier area. She saw the toll booth, a group of city guard clustered around it. Then she saw the gallows that dominated the square and the hooded man that waited there. The murmuring around her increased.
A man came out of the toll booth building. He was tall and thin, with a beak of a nose and a shaved skull that somehow put her in mind of the picture of a bird she’d once seen. Some kind of carrion eater but she couldn’t remember the name. Although his clothes suggested wealth, he seemed to have a degree of disdain for them, as if his trapping were of no interest to him. He stood before the toll booth, flanked by the guardsmen and waited.
Eventually, the crowd began to settle, the talk slowly dying down. He continued to wait, letting the silence stretch and Mags began to fidget uncomfortably. She was on the verge of pushing her way back through the crowd when he finally spoke.
“His honor, Grebinous Balthan, Chief Magistrate of Tamaris and her surrounding district, has today order the execution, of those responsible for the murders of the merchant Finnard Konin, the rape and murders of his wife, Loelia, and their daughter, Liselle, and the ransacking of their property.”
There was a roar of indignation from the crowd, the angry rumble of a wounded beast. The murders had been the talk of the city for days now. Even in a hardened place like The Hangman’s Drop, many people had been appalled by the viciousness of the attack. There were also rumors that it had been even worse that was commonly known. That wasn’t too surprising. Gossip, even the ghoulish kind, had a habit of growing and becoming more and more outlandish with each re-telling. And yet, she’d heard some disquieting things from too many, from people who usually had good sources of information, to dismiss it entirely.
“Let it be known,” The man continued, once the crowd had quieted again. “That the criminals; Garrad Creese, Lemuel Darris and Bastaen Darris, have all confessed to their part in these terrible crimes. Due to the nature of the crimes in question, the Chief Magistrate has declared that all will face final justice.”
That brought a growl of approval the crowd.
“Let them be brought out.” The man declared.
One of the guardsmen opened the door to the toll booth and, one by one, three figures were pushed out into the square. The first two, each with their hands bound behind them, were men. Each staggered and looked like it was only the guardsmen escorting them who were keeping them upright. They both looked battered and bruised, drawing mutters of savage approval. Those same murmurs turned to shock as the third emerged, blinking even in the weak sunlight.
It was a boy, less than ten years old; if Mags was any judge. He cowered, refusing to move until a guardsman bodily picked him up by the scruff of his neck and moved him forward. He looked like he was sobbing uncontrollably, his small body jerking and twisting in the guardsman’s grip. He’d also been beaten but as the procession moved past her, Mags could see that a good deal of the bruising was several days older than the marks on the men.
He’d been the one to let them into the house, she knew. He was small enough, slight enough that he’d be able to climb and crawl through areas that would defeat someone adult-sized. She remembered doing the same herself, back when her father was still teaching her the trade. But he’d been patient, praising, while it looked like the only encouragement the boy had been given had been another punch.
The mood of the crowd was turning. The initial hostility towards the men was still there but it was shifting focus, aiming itself against the guards and the magistrate’s representative. No-one seeing the boy wanted him at the end of a rope and as he was hauled up the gallows steps, there were scattered cries of protest.
The magistrate’s man was the last to climb the steps. He waited until both men and the boy had been positioned on their stools, the nooses draped about their necks and the slack drawn from the ropes. He stood before the crowd, ignoring the angry looks being thrown at him and the constant sobbing of the boy behind him.
“Garrad Creese, you have been found guilty.” He said, nodding to the executioner. “Let the sentence be carried out.”
The hangman stood behind the first man and, with a sudden thrust of his leg, kicked the stool out from under him. He barely dropped, the rope drawing tight his neck, leaving him dangling. His feet kicked as he struggled, the rope sinking into the flesh of his neck, face purpling as he fought to draw in breath.
“Lemuel Darris, you have been found guilty.” The magistrate’s man called. “Let the sentence be carried out.”
The second stool was kicked away. Darris made a strangled cry, dwindling to a gurgle, as the rope pulled tight. The boy wailed even louder.
“Bastaen Darris, you have been found guilty.” The man announced, his voice rising to be heard over the renewed cries of ‘shame’ and ‘mercy’. “Let the sentence be carried out.”
It seemed like even the hangman hesitated but as the magistrate’s man rounded on him angrily, he kicked the final stool aside.
The crowd groaned as the rope snapped taut.
The boy’s legs flailed, fighting the air. His cries had turned to a kind of wheezing rasp and his face was terrified. The crotch of his trousers began to darken as he pissed himself.
There were more and more shouts of protest as the boy struggled. Someone threw something, Mags saw it fly past the magistrate’s head. Within seconds, there were a dozen different missiles flying. Two of the guardsmen stepped forward, putting themselves between the magistrate and the crowd. They tried to get him away before the crowd grew more accurate,
With most focused on the magistrate, not many saw what the hangman did. But Mags saw. He moved up behind the boy once more, putting both hands on his shoulders. With all the noise surrounding her, it was impossible to hear the boy’s neck break as the hangman jerked him down sharply. But she saw the boy’s body stiffen, then go limp. She turned and pushed her way back through the crowd.