5 ~ The Executing
Derek kept his eyes open.
He was no coward.
If this was the end, he would face death squarely in the eyes without fear or flinching.
“We are here to bring to completion the penalty of death on this man, on charge of grand theft from the royal palace…”
Derek listened to the charges read out by the chief executioner, his heart thumping with resignation. If this was how unjust the world had become, so be it. The bitter cold wind blew up and over the coastal cliffs, flattening the wild grass that covered the rolling bluffs. Ominous clouds greyed the usually blue sky, reflecting the sordid minds of the group gathered at the Judgment Rocks – a few of the king’s knights, the state executioner and his jittery apprentice, some spectators eager to witness this grisly event, and of course the accused, Derek Chaseton.
“…assault and bodily harm, the murder of a high-ranking palace official, and defilement of her royal highness, Princess Clarissa.”
It was amazing these people actually believed he was guilty of all these crimes. Everyone knew the princess was as dishonourable as the pirates that marauded the coastal villages every year on the spring tides. How many men would yet be punished for her lies and promiscuity?
The sharp knife pressed closer against his throat, and Derek resisted the impulse to swallow hard. Already a warm trickle of blood tracked down his neck. The end drew nearer. He felt the cold gloved hands grip his head tighter. Through the heavy chain mail, the executioner wouldn’t even feel Derek’s pulse as it slowed down, fade, and stop as his life drained away, he thought wryly. His only regret was—
The feminine voice caused his heart to skip a beat. He’d told her not to come! This place was in no way appropriate for a woman – for the love of his heart.
“Orella,” he murmured.
She came riding up the hill on his black stallion, her long chestnut hair rippling in the breeze. The brave determination on her beautiful face reminded him of a Viking queen, storming the shores of an island to conquer the barbarians. The barbarians that still held a sharp blade to his throat.
“He does not deserve to die!” she skidded to a stop and dismounted with graceful speed, shouting to everyone gathered. Her green eyes flashed with anger, and the men behind him just laughed.
“Pray tell, milady,” they jeered, passing a heavy wineskin between them and slurping loudly on the red liquid. Killings were a nasty business, and the young ones especially needed the numbing drug to handle the sights and sensations. “Why not?”
“Because I’m responsible for the chancellor’s death,” she walked towards them, confidently striding over the uneven stony ground, her flowing forest-green dress whipping around her slender figure.
Orella, no! he screamed in his mind.
“This man ’as already admitted to the chargesss,” the executioner slurred and nudged Derek with his knee, who remained kneeling on the broad flat stone that was stained dark with the spilled sins of countless years past.
“Then let me take his place,” Orella’s voice seemed to demand, and her words drew a gasp from the crowd.
His already knotted heart twisted further. What was she thinking?
“Milady, I am certain ye have done nothin’ to warrant death,” the high knight’s gravelly voice churned Derek’s stomach as the man stared at Orella with contempt and something lewd in his beady eyes.
“Then I will prove I am worthy to die in his place.” Orella flipped the edgy braids that framed her face over her shoulder and began untying the cape that hung about her neck and shoulders.
No…she couldn’t be! Derek’s throat went dry as his heart accelerated. Why was she doing this? The brown cape slipped off and pooled around her feet, the halter straps of her dress revealing her back and arms. The men around them reacted just as Derek always knew they would. A ray of sunlight seemed to push through the clouds and landed delicately on Orella, illuminating the swirls and patterns etched on her honey-colored skin, causing them to shimmer and glow.
“A witch! She is cursed! Purge her at once!” the spectators shrieked. She may as well have sprouted faery wings and waved a wand of sorcery—the consequences would have been the same.
Why, oh why, Orella? After so many years of hiding…
Her eyes met his then, the light of emotion in them displacing all other thoughts of the frenzied scene surrounding them. The others may hate her, but not Derek. She was just as beautiful as the day he met her….