The hanging takes place on a crisp March day. The breeze is stiff and slices cleanly through the mass of people shuffling together for warmth and shoving forwards for a good view. The sky is coated with clouds; they are thin and wispy, layered over one another to such a degree that the cold sun is barely able to push its rays through to light the city, and the spread of clouds is so even that the sky is lent an odd, flat appearance. Steam creeps through the streets and slithers down from industrial chimneys, coating the city like a damp blanket.
The crowd is dressed in rags, in pitiful pieces of material masquerading as clothes. The only sound from the soon-to-be spectators is a dull murmur; even the children amongst adult's legs do not laugh or speak louder than a whisper. It's a stark contrast to the usual sounds of the market. No pigs squealing or cows lowing; no geese honking or chickens clucking; no butcher's knife chop-chop-chopping; no vendors hawking their wares, each trying to outdo the other. Even the smell isn't too bad, only the slightly ripe smell of a lot of people gathered together who do not wash regularly; and that of the sewers, an ever present odour.
Stood above the crowd on a balcony of a building opposite the gallows is a man, dressed elegantly in black. Not an inch of his clothing has been surrendered to another colour. He stands rigidly, his gaze seemingly omnipresent as he observes his surroundings. Even so, his eyes always return to the gallows and the noose swaying in the breeze.
The sudden, steady beat of the executioner's drum pulses through the air, halting the mutters of the crowd immediately. Two bulky guards stomp up the steps, clad in black, but not the pristine, carefully pressed black of the man on the balcony; the faded, worn black of those whose pay only extends to a new outfit once the old one is more holes than fabric. In between the guards, caught so closely it's surprising she can breathe, is a young woman.
She is dressed only in her undergarments, an almost transparent white blouse with a white corset strapped over, a white underskirt and a pair of cheap slippers. The pale clothes appear to accentuate the dark tone of her skin. It is not, as everyone gathered for the hanging knows, commoners and nobles alike, the way she would normally dress. But her rich, expensive clothes are gone, probably to be sold later by the guards.
The two guards step away to each edge of the gallows, though they are not the only ones; their comrades are carefully placed around the market, she will not escape this time. She is left standing in front of the noose to make her final speech, as is one of the few rights she has remaining.
A priest hurries up the steps, here to bestow the final blessing onto her.
Before he can begin, she interrupts. "Do not worry yourself over such things, Father." Her voice is educated, precise. "You and I both know I have been barred from your God's Heaven."
Those at the very front of the crowd catch a glint in her eyes. It's always the eyes people talk about. One look and they know you, they've caught you. Seen your most joyous memories, your darkest secrets, the things even you didn't know. They pity you and rejoice with you. They read you like a book and you hate that. But you want more. You want someone to understand you like again. But they've already moved on, on to their next target. The storm-swept gaze glances once over the crowd, notes the man styled in black, then returns to the priest.
"I am barred from Heaven," she repeats, and the eyes are shining now, everyone can see. "From this world I am cast out, Purgatory will never fix me. That only leaves Hell," she glances at the priest, fumbling nervously with his Bible. "I think all of you in this crowd agree, there is a special place there for me. It is called the throne."
The crowd is silent, then it erupts. Half cheering, cheering the heroine of the common people. The alleged heroine. The other half screaming with rage, "PIRATE! DEVIL! THIEF! MURDERER!"
The hangman moves quickly, loops the noose around her neck and the lever is pulled. She drops. There is no tell-tale snap of the neck. It will take time for her choke.
Minutes later, the body removers arrive with the plain coffin. It's cheap work, relatively quick. They carefully place the corpse in the coffin; with more care than most believe she deserves. A police officer in burgundy escorts them out of the market and to the crossroads.
The man in black tracked the progress of the body removers with steady indigo eyes. He span on his heel and walked smartly from the balcony and into the room behind. Decorated in burgundy and black, weapons lined the walls; deadly in their beauty.
"It is done?" A man sitting at a long, ebony table; the centrepiece of the otherwise plain room, asked.
The man in black nodded in confirmation, he was young, mid twenties at the very latest. He had a handsome face, if delicate-looking, the face of a carefully bred noble. It was shaped like a diamond, chiselled to perfection. His skin was flawless, unmarked, with the colouring of a perfect Albion Rose (1). He meticulously folded his lean body into one of the high-backed chairs.
The older man leant forwards in his seat, a hint of something predatory in the hardness around his eyes, eyes he shared with the younger man. "You are certain this time? The Queen will not be pleased if she has outmanoeuvred us again."
The younger man removed his top hat, revealing perfectly groomed black hair. It matched his clothes. "Doubtless," he confirmed. "One of my men is following the body removers. To appease your suspicious mind."
The older man nodded, the wrinkles etched into his face easing slightly. "Now all that is left is to hunt down her crew and destroy her ship." He said, quill flicking across an official document.
The other arched a dark eyebrow, "is that really necessary?" He questioned. "Without her they are useless. A group of pickpockets and throat-slitters."
"Do not underestimate them, boy." The older man warned, a teacher correcting a student. "And do not underestimate her. She will have left instructions, another will take her place.
"Just remember," he said, jabbing a bony finger at a small badge on the younger man's suit. "That badge is a promise, a promise to do all you can to rid the world of pirates. And that means-"
"Never leaving a job unfinished," the younger man finished, a hint of a fond smile flickering across his face. "I know, father."
When the body removers reach the crossroads, they do not stop. In fact, they do not stop until they have reached the docks of Londinium (2). The policeman stays with them for the entire journey, oddly merry orange eyes scanning every person to pass them until they reach a cramped alley. There the body removers easily tear the lid from the coffin and all, including the policeman, lean over it. To an outsider it makes an odd scene, but nobody would think of interfering, not with four bulky men and a policeman standing there.
Silently, the young woman sits up in her coffin. And the eyes open.
1. The Albion Rose is, of course, the light pink rose that is a symbol by which Albion is known. Albion itself is the country in the south of Britannia now known as England.
2. Londinium is the capital city of Albion, now known as London.
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