THE HEADSMAN’S RIGHT
“Rise, Justicer of the Wolfmark!” said Otho, smiling mockingly upon me like a fiend.
I started up and gazed about bewildered as the coming terrors of the morning broke upon me.
“’Tis scarcely an hour to sunrise,” he continued, “and I warrant the noble Red Axe will desire to feel the edge of his tool and see that his assistants are in their places.”
The Duke paused as he went out of the door, and looked at me.
“I can promise you a distinguished company at the first public performance of your honorable office,” he said, with a polite gesture.
So soon as he was gone I rose to my feet. Across the broad, black oaken stool, whereon from boyhood it had been my habit to place my clothes neatly folded up, I found a suit of new red cloth, plain and rich, with an inscription upon a strip of vellum laid across the breast, bearing that these were a gift from the most Illustrious Duke Otho of the Wolfmark.
Since, after all, my fate was my fate, there was little use in straining at the gnat. So I set to and did upon me the garmentry of shame. They were made after the fashion of my father’s, cap and hosen and shoon all of red, with a cloak of red to cover all.
Then I went to the Playmate’s room, and before the niche where her little Prie-Dieu had stood, I kneeled me down and said such a prayer as at the moment I could compass. But little was needed. For I think God in heaven Himself was praying for us both that day.
When I went forth into the square, few there were who knew or remembered me, but all knew my attire. Then indeed it did my heart good to hear the great unanimous roar of execration which went up from the multitude as I came out. The soldiers had their work cut out to push a way for me to the scaffold.
“Butcher him—tear him to pieces—wolf’s cub that he is—he that was her foster-brother to slay our Saint Helena!”
It made me proud to hear them. And as they rushed furiously against the escort, intent to kill me, we swayed from side to side.
“Down with the Red Axe!” they shouted. “Down with the bloody house of Gottfried and all that belong to it!”
And I felt inclined to cry “Amen!”
Then, when I had mounted the few steps which led to the platform on which stood the black headsman’s block, I gazed about me in wonder, holding the Red Axe in my hand. And to my disordered vision I saw the crowd swell and whirl about me on earth and in the air, bubbling and tossing like a pot boiling furiously. Then I bethought me of the work I had to do, and prayed that I might be given strength to do it swiftly and featly, that the suffering of my love might not be long. Also I thought of the lecherous evil demons of the Black Riders, and thereat was somewhat comforted. At the worst I could give my love a better end than that.