Hanged, Drawn and Quartered
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A man is sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
Tarakhan, 1829, in the beginning of the Age of Treasures, when the continent of Dalastra enjoyed their fruitful aftermath of defeating the corsairs of the South. Men, as well as women, were tried and found guilty of piracy in the kingdom of Telendras, one of the most dedicated adversaries to put out the flames of dread in the Westwind Sea. As a result of common hatred and contempt against these freebooters in the fair cities and villages, King Urgan Heiros had the Town Council of Tarakhan to pass a law that brought a new method of execution available for the authorities only a few years earlier. This law was directed specifically against the captured corsairs, but it was later used widely for high treason as well. Also known as the Heiros' Play, this particular type of death sentence gained great popularity among the common people. It was also greatly favored by the nobility, as it served as a great example and a warning for whatever reason necessary.
It was simply called as being hanged, drawn and quartered. This extremely visual and utterly painful method was feeding the imagination of everyone attending these executions. The tripartite process saved no one from the ugly and disgusting truth of every sentence carried out. Whether it was fulfilling its objective as a drastic example or not is something that is still very unclear, but for entertainment purposes this new practice was a true blessing.
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The prisoner watched outside the narrow window, blocked by thick iron bars. He was a Nomad from the southern continent of Solastra, sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, based on the recent law for piracy in the waters of Westwind Sea.
Never fully aware of what he was being drawn into when the captain had approached him at Waylon, which was the only large center of trade in the lands of Ashaba. He was promised easy gold and glory for defeating the vile Northlanders, and as a father of four starving children and a husband of a woman who had not smiled at him for the last three years, he had accepted the offer, hoping to gain a chance to make everything better. The fool's hope that he could return as a wealthy man and provide everything his wife and children needed had tricked him to something that was about to cost him his life. He never saw riches or glory as the enemy sank their ship during the first battle they fought in Deepwater Strait against the royal war frigates of Telendras.
He was not the only one. Many men were recruited in the same way, offering promises that had no credibility. Words costed nothing, and the lies allured countless poor farmers to join the pirates in their quest to plunder the rich ports of the North. They were never revealed the brutal truth that Dalastra had improved their defenses significantly during the last twenty years or so, and that these voyages were merely nothing more than last mad attempts to raid even the smallest port to gain some coin. They were never told about the massive war fleet that sailed the waters of Westwind Sea, specifically destined for hunting down pirate ships.
This prisoner, like many other captives, would face death sentence without an opportunity for second hearing. The judge had not bothered to lend his ear for the pleas of a Nomad, for they all deserved to die as far as he was concerned. The king paid him for efficiency, not for listening to the lies of filthy criminals.
The prison, a large keep made of sturdy sandstone, was built near the harbor. It was a new structure, built during the peak years of the corsair threat, easily holding a hundred men in its tiny, cramped cells.
The prisoner could not see the sun rising from the east, but he saw the water beginning to flicker in golden red as the first rays of light reached the harbor. After being locked away for five days since the false mockery of a trial had taken place, the days of the prisoner were coming to an end. He did not know what exactly was waiting for him in a matter of hours other than death; he did not understand the full meaning of the sentence that was imposed upon him. Such terms were never used in his homeland, on the shores of Bay of Nimdu. But it did not matter to him. He would pay the highest price for his foolish mistake, without hope or mercy, without anyone caring enough to learn the truth of his story.
Shrugging hopelessly, he sighed deeply and watched as the golden red of the waves slowly turned brighter as the morning hours passed in front of his eyes. Not sure how this could make living any worse for his family, but he did feel sorry for his children. He remembered the days when he had just married and their firstborn had seen the light of day. Those had been happy times, so very different than what came later. The years of poverty and hunger, times when the Immortals took the rain away, leaving the lands barren and dry. Those had been times when his fresh wife had still loved him, but that, alongside with everything else, changed over the following years, as if every choice he ever made turned his life a little bit worse until there was nothing left. The last desperate attempt to correct and repair everything had brought him here, to a strange land far from home. A place where he would die - alone and forgotten.
The distant jingle of a key ring informed him that it was time. Like every morning before, the guards came at the first light of dawn and took a couple of men away. He knew that this time they came for him. A priest had visited him a day before, like he had visited all the other prisoners before him, offering a chance to confess his sins in front of the Holy Father.
He had refused. They prayed the same spirits, but the prisoner did not recognize this church as his own. Glaring at him contemptuously, the priest had left him without speaking any further.
Feeling his pulse strengthening, pounding in the back of his head as cold sweat coated his neck and forehead. The fear was crawling into his heart, slithering like an injured worm. This was the moment he had avoided thinking through the entire time he had spent in this cold, dark and humid cage of stone and iron. The impossibly insane hope for someone to come and end this madness, or the last, barely visible string of comfort that they had forgotten him were both shattered with the cruel and unavoidable sound of key entering the heavy iron lock. The restlessness and nervousness he had felt throughout the morning were quickly turning into raging horror.
The prisoner tried to stay brave, forcing himself to breathe slowly and as calmly as possible, but the piercing creak of the door pushed him off regardless of his efforts. His heart was racing, pumping blood and adrenaline through his body like that of a cornered animal. At the same time panic and the suffocating, overwhelming fear turned him into a shivering and whimpering wreck, perfectly unable to function on his own.
”Stand up, it's time to go,” one of the guards ordered as they entered the cell, but the prisoner could not follow the order. His knees felt wobbly and weak as he attempted to stand. Crawling on the floor among the filthy straws, squealing like an exhausted pig, the prisoner beheld the guards with a desperate gleam in his watery eyes.
”I have never done anything wrong. Please, spare me—” He panted, voice vibrating rapidly, clinging onto the nonexistent hope that maybe this was the one time among hundreds, if not thousands of others, when the guards would actually listen and act upon these pleas they had heard countless of times before.
The guards glanced at each other and sighed, then they approached the prisoner and dragged him out by his arms. The third guard, who seemed to be higher in rank, followed and closed the door behind them. The moaning prisoner continued to pray for mercy as he was pulled through the stairways and halls, but the guards ignored his befuddled words and continued as if the prisoner was nothing but a noisy, writhing animal escorted to the slaughterhouse.
In front of the main door they had two horses waiting with wooden sleds that were nothing more than bare boards lying on the ground behind them. The boards were tied to the saddles, and on top end of each board was an iron ring attached to the wood. The prisoner was joined by a second group escorting another convict to the small square opening in front of the prison. It was the captain of the ship that had recruited him in Waylon, but it seemed as if he failed to recognize the former member of his crew as he passed, one of many who had been tricked to take the leap of faith and fall.
The tall sandstone walls and buildings kept the sun out of sight, the streets in this part of the city were still empty and silent, but the guards knew that the market square would be packed. The saturday morning executions were popular entertainment for peasants and merchants. The gallow, that had been extended lately to hold tools for the other parts of the execution, would be the subject of all attention that morning, for saturdays were often reserved for refreshments in these years of wealth and wellness.
The prisoners were tied to the boards and taken through the narrow streets. The horses barely noticed the weight these malnourished Nomads added, but after a short while both men began to feel every rock and crack of the street in their bones, mildly painful, but gradually increasing in magnitude as the journey progressed. The prisoner was partially glad for the ride, for he was not sure if his feet would have worked well enough to carry him. He was panting in his immense fear and panic, bringing him close to hyperventilation. The guard slapped him from time to time, recognizing the symptoms and knowing well what could result from it. This was not the proper time for comfortable blackouts, the people were waiting at the market square, hungry for their share of brutal atrocities.
As they approached their goal, more and more people began to appear by the streets to watch as the convoy passed. They threw rotten fruit, vegetables and plain dirt at the convicts, some spat at them, and some kicked the helpless men, causing massive bruises and bleeding wounds. The prisoner stared at the sky, following the wisps of clouds wandering in the mild wind. Seeds of a rotten tomato dripped from his face and pieces of tainted cabbage got stuck in his hair as he tried to do his best to ignore the excited townsfolk, laughing and yelling insults to him. The entire picture of what was about to happen was becoming clear to him. This was not a clean and honorable execution but an utter humiliation and disgrace of dignity. He had heard stories about executions in the savannas of Parisol, where a man is tied to four horses, each limb to their own. Then the horses were prodded with a leather whip simultaneously to trot in separate ways, tearing the man's body apart. While it sounded awfully painful and cruel, the end came fast and the sentenced kept the remnants of his honor, but this was pure mockery - a ridiculous and contemned show to entertain peasants.
The market square was full by the time they arrived. The prisoner received more rotten waste and degrading insults as he was dragged through the crowd toward the gallow.
”Death to the pirates!” The crowd chanted.
”Make sure they'll suffer long!” A wish was introduced to a man who stood by the gallow, dressed all in black. His facial expression was cold, ignorant, perhaps even slightly bored. He was a man who repeated this same ritual almost every day, and even though he was not the only one hired by the city of Tarakhan, he was a fully employed executioner without too many days off.
The children were playing around their parents, waiting impatiently for the event to begin. They had seen similar shows so many times before that it was slowly getting to where the good food and sweets offered by the merchants in the square became more important and interesting than the actual event.
These instances were meant for the entire family. The parents had a chance to enjoy a moment off work, while the children learned important lessons about justice - or at least that had been the initial thought. Beer was flowing in great quantities, roasted pork and fried potatos were sold faster than chefs were able to make them. It was a celebration for the entire city, a sign of victory and retribution at the same time.
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