A different kind of friendship...
Sunlight streamed through the opening in the stone frame that served as a window. Mort’s elbow missed the wall by a hair as he rose from the hay-stuffed mattress and his eyes focused on the bits of dust that played in the rays of light. Soon his face dripped with the cool water from his basin.
With effortless movement his hand reached out and grabbed the pole that stood just a bit taller than he.
“Good morning my friend.” Mort ran his hand on the worn pole and then leaned it on the windowsill. As he removed the leather sheath from the blade he squinted in the light. “Ah,” he cooed, “you still gleam for me, but today is special and I will be sure you are at your best.”
It was a short walk to the bench. He never noticed the roughness of its stones but always took pleasure in its strength; for to hold a man his size was no easy task. Gently he lay the pole across his lap and then caressed the wood with an oil dipped cloth. “There, that is better, don’t you think.” He stood it up to be sure the sun smiled at it. Then the blade finely curved and polished rested in his palms. “Now, it is your turn.” As Mort’s foot methodically pressed the pedal the twin stones of the sharpener whirred around bringing the blade to a shiny hair splitting edge.
A broad grin spread across Mort’s face. “You are a fine looking tool.” He lay his friend down on the bed and took a thick long sleeved shirt hanging from a shard wedged in the stone wall. Its sleeves billowed in and out as he slipped it over his head while black pants clung to his massive thighs.
“We are almost ready.” Mort looked down at the axe as he spoke.
On the wall hung a mask, its black leather worn around the cheeks but all in all it was as sturdy as the stone on which it rested. Mort looked at it and then carefully placed it on the bed. “You must remain here today, it is a special request.” So the mask lay silently at the head of the bed.
The stairwell wound down like a curl from a duchess’ wig offering just enough room for his shoulders not to scrape the walls.
“My friend, today is special, we have a new queen.” The blade simply gleamed back at him its only voice the shearing of flesh as the stones soaked in Mort’s mellow tones.
As Mort walked he noticed the crowd. It was a bit different, not so many tattered shirts and bootless feet as usual.
A small child watched him and hid behind his mother’s wide velvet skirt peeking out when he thought it to be safe. Young girls who yearned for breasts to fill their bodices gawked and tittered when he passed.
Mort paid no attention. He had become accustomed to the stares long ago. He did notice the sun bearing down on his hairless head, now that was something worthy of thought. He spoke to no one and nodded only to the guards that kept the peasants and gentry in line.
The whir of voices increased as he reached his destination and the heavy scent of perfume pervaded the air, yes the finer folk had the best views, he thought.
The scaffold stairs creaked beneath his feet as he took his place above the crowd.
Mort squinted his eyes as shiny trumpets were raised and long solid sounds hushed the voices.
All turned to watch the elegant woman, gray hair wrapped neatly around head and topped with a brilliant gold crown that seemed the perfect companion for her brocade gown. She marched solemnly down the gravelly path with trim guards in gold and blue swords sheathed at their waists.
Behind her a young woman with coal black eyes and hair to match strode confidently, wearing a gown as red as any blood that been spilled. Her guardians studied the faces, hands resting on the hilts of their swords.
Both women walked to the stage and faced the audience that stirred with whispers and necks that stretched so that eyes could see.
An old man wrapped in folds of blue robes came behind and rang out the expected words. But when the crown was placed atop the shimmering black hair silence took hold but no one knew why.
Mort stood at attention supporting his friend in strong fingers.
Then it began, the crowd’s whispers grew and Mort’s eyes grew wide as his queen stood by his side, the gray hair crowning her lined face.
Mort’s skin revealed his chill as her fingers caressed his cheek with a tenderness he’d never known.
“Be quick my friend,” she whispered.
Only those within arm’s reach of the black-eyed queen could see her chest rise in concern.
But Mort’s hesitation did not last as long as it took for the breath to leave her lungs.
He obeyed his queen. As her head lay on the block his finger tested the blade once more, leaving the tiniest stream of blood on his finger.
The axe fell swiftly. When it stood traces of blood clung to its edge while most made a river in the crevices of the block. Mort smiled, he and his friend had done well, It had been quick, no lingering moans from a job half done.
Once the remains were taken Mort moved to leave the scaffold but was faced with a young man full of muscles and anonymity in his black leather mask.
Mort said nothing. But he reached out and took the long handled blade from the man’s hands and gave to him his friend.
The young man stared and nodded.
Mort offered no argument, he had learned long ago of its futility. The comfortable familiar scent of blood reached Mort’s nose before his head lay on the block. He watched as the young man’s fingers grasped just the right spot. Mort barely felt the sharp blade as it sliced through his neck.
A caravan of white clouds moved across the sky later that day like a team of horses pulling the chariot of the setting sun.
Under the final rays of light men whose fingernails were permanently stained by mud tried desperately to pull thick fingers away from a worn wooden pole that someone had placed in Mort’s hand. But it was useless so the muddy hole received the bulky form, head, and friend.
As dirt fell from shovels into the grave men shivered and their heads shook at the lifeless face with the contented smile. None could imagine the pleasure of spending one’s last moment with one’s best friend and somehow know they would share eternity.
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|Reviewed by Rick Lodewell
|Touching and sweet!|
|Reviewed by Frederick Barnes III
|Very well written; I like your style of writing. I don't really have suggestions and if I did they would be bad because I am only 12. I liked it though -- very much.
|Reviewed by Edgar Blythe
|Extremely well done. Thank you very much, Andrea.|
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|good story, andrea; very well done! :)|