End of the road.
I did not notice her following me, equally naked, intent on not letting me out of her sight.
I should have known that she’d not been asleep, but my senses had been too dulled, and I had too much on my mind.
She’d been awake the entire time I’d spoken to her, and as I’d touched her.
What I did notice, was that the sun was just above the horizon behind me, casting my partial shadow against the upper part of the door ahead of me.
Soon the others would awake.
I should not delay.
I walked down those stairs, feeling as any man would feel, walking up the stairs to the gallows where he is about to end his life.
Still, that mischievous voice came back at me.
Samuel Johnson had said something about this...
‘Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’
I did not have a fortnight, but only seconds, and believe me, my mind was concentrated. I knew what awaited me.
Before I even touched that door ahead of me at the bottom of the stairs, it swung open onto a scene I well-remembered. It was as though I had walked away from it just ten minutes earlier.
There were oily flambeaux, smoky, burning on the walls, lighting up the interior.
There was that ruddy brazier of burning charcoal; the irons heating in it, the instruments of torture arranged along one wall, and crippled, bloody bodies lined up along the other.
They were certainly dead, their chests opened, empty of their hearts, but there was still that about them that reached out to me, pulling me into that fetid and over warm interior.
I remembered that smell... of burning flesh... the smell of sweat, and of abject terror.
Not even my shadow wanted to enter there.
I heard a plaintive cry behind me.
I knew then, for the first time, that I was not alone. She had followed me.
She should not be here; should not see this. She must not stop me. This place was not for her.
I stepped through that door into that cloying warmth, being greeted by other screams of jubilation that, after all of this time leaving them in everlasting torment, I had at last returned to put it right.
She, my Rossignol flew down those stairs behind me with a plaintive cry, reaching out to stop the door closing upon that dreadful scene that she had glimpsed.
I closed the door decisively behind me with a loud ‘click’, and turned to meet my fate, hearing her fists hammering upon that door, but it would not open. Not for her, or for anyone else now.