The story of a man who, through the dealings of fate, becomes an executioner. In spite of his circumstances he remains a decent person and finds happiness.
This historical novel is based on actual events. The story takes the reader to Prague when the city was one of the foremost European capitals. Europe was about break into the Thirty Years' War, a conflict between Catholics and Protestants that devastated the continent perhaps more than any other war.
By the nature of his profession, Master Jan Mydlář finds himself in the center of historical events. He shares his experience from behind the scenes, of court intrigues, and manipulation of justice.
While Master Jan's memoirs offer an intriguing account of medieval law enforcement and manners and values of medieval society, his observations of human nature are timeless.
For the first time ever, The Executioner of Prague is available in English.
“This is the Bailiff’s Gate—the only gate we can use to enter the city. If we enter the city elsewhere, a hard punishment will fall upon us. Such are the orders of the town councilmen. It’s also an old custom. So do mind it. I’d hate to be the one to have to bloody your back with a whip.”
“What a barbaric way,” I gulped.
“It sure is,” the executioner said. “Worse than barbaric, but what can we do?” he just shrugged his shoulders. “It’s been like this since the reign of Wenceslaus I. Three hundred years ago, the whole Old Town was fortified by this wall. In those times a special gate had been built for the use of the executioner and his staff only. An unrelenting human society has insisted on this ever since.”
“There is one good thing about it,” I suggested. “Perhaps this way we get enough privacy and don’t have to deal with people more than we need to.”
“True,” he agreed. “Anyone who despises people as much as I do likes it this way. Maybe in time you, too, will be glad to avoid their company.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. I didn’t despise people as a whole. Still, I was very glad to deal with them as little as possible. I was afraid some of my former Prague buddies might recognize me.
Master Jaroš went to the gate and kicked the door open.
“How come it’s not locked?” I asked.
“What for?” he laughed. “Nobody would dare use it. I witnessed fleeing criminals who chose to be caught by the guards rather than to enter this gate. Such is the fear of this place among the common folk.” He was shaking his head.
The idea of murderers and robbers keeping their “honor” by avoiding us and our place wasn’t too comforting. Soon I perished the thought; why worry about something that’s done; why not make the best of it?
We found ourselves in yet another lane. This time it led straight to a small square surrounded by low houses. A tall building stood out on the right side of the square. By its windows and spire I could tell this was a church. On both sides of the church was a low cemetery wall, behind which a few crosses and sinking tombstones could be seen.
“This is St. Valentine’s Church, son,” the executioner spoke suddenly. “The only sacred place you can pray to Our Lord when you turn to Him in your troubles. The rest of Prague’s churches are off limits to us. If you ever entered one of those churches, the foolish people would consider that a desecration.”
I shook to the core of my soul. So not even before God were we equal with other people.
“I remember from my old days,” I said, “that some people called this church the Knacker Church?’’
“Oh, yes,” he answered. “That’s what the Prague riffraff have always called it. This church is visited by riffraff mostly. But not even they will share their prayer with us.”
“You mean there are differences made even in this church?” I asked.
“That’s right,” he said bitterly. “We have to enter the church through a special door. We have to keep our presence under a special corner under a choir-loft during Mass. We have to do this even in the Knacker Church.”
“Not even the Pagan nations treated their folk in such a way,” I uttered.
My boss only shrugged his shoulders again.
“What if I wish to approach the altar to receive Eucharist?”
“Then you will wait patiently until everyone else leaves,” was his answer. “And only then will you approach the altar. Although the church doesn’t make a difference between us and them, it still respects human prejudices.”
“Thank God that at least on Judgment Day no such differences will be made,” I remarked.
“That’s a consolation for people of our status,” he was also touched, “that we will be equal with others in the other world, since they don’t let our dead rest with theirs.”
“What? Our deceased may not even be buried by the Knacker Church?” I asked in disbelief.
“Not in Prague,” he said. “In the country an executioner can at least be buried in a hidden cemetery corner. Here we have to bury our dead near the execution ground outside of the city limits. After we’re gone, our remains, too, will be dumped in an unconsecrated ground there,” he regretted.
I was incensed, “Then I don’t blame you for despising people. They have no right to put us on the same level with the vilest criminals. If they’re treating us like that just because we do what the law tells us to do, then let them be cursed.”
Master Jaroš put his hand on my shoulder, “I’m there with you, son. We are powerless against society, though. We just have to live with this burden and control our anger. And believe me—thousands of people still envy us when they see us on the execution scaffold clad in fancy clothes and wearing all that gold that only the rich can afford. I’m sure that even some of the well-to-do people would be jealous if they saw our life style. When I stand on the scaffold, I feel a satisfaction looking down at the blood-hungry bastards in their filthy rags. Let’s hope that our successors will see more just times.”
I felt respect for the man and his words. I nodded and shook his hand. The executioner answered with a silent firm handshake. We kept walking through Kaprova Street. There we passed my College of Medicine where I’d spent four years of my life. This time I didn’t as much as look at the gray building.