Welcome to the June 2020 edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.
So far, most of the free stories I’ve posted on this blog have been science fiction, fantasy or crime fiction, since those are my main genres. However, I also write historical fiction and historical romance on occasion and today, I will share one of those stories.
Trigger warning: There are some scenes of physical and sexual violence in this story, not overly graphic.
The Kiss of the Executioner’s Blade takes us back to France in the year of the Lord 1516, where the disgraced nobleman turned travelling executioner Geoffrey de Bressac finds himself faced with a dilemma. For the traitor and assassin he is supposed to behead turns out to be a young woman. Worse, she insists she is innocent.
So witness as Angeline de Golon faces…
The Kiss of the Executioner’s Blade
The key turned in the lock and the iron gate opened with a pitiful moan. A red-faced guardsman squinted at the black-clad figure towering in the doorway. “Are you the headsman?”
Geoffrey du Bressac nodded, even though the guardsman’s words had stirred an old wound. It was not right that he, whose forebearers had been knights of the realm, should now be reduced to the ignoble profession of executioner, forced to hide his face behind a mask. But even though none knew his face, Geoffrey was renown as the most skilled headsman in all of France. And on this day in the year of the Lord 1516 he had come to the town of Charentes to see that a most despicable traitor received his just punishment.
The dungeon of the Chateau de Charentes was a place of darkness, misery and despair. The men and women interred here knew that they would never again see the light of day. And even if they should be blessed to set their eyes on the sun once more, they knew it would be the last thing they would see in their lives.
The moans and the cries of the damned could be heard everywhere, as the guardsman led Geoffrey though the gloomy corridors. Upon seeing the shadow of the executioner, many prisoners scurried away in horror, tearing at the chains that held them. All feared that he was coming for them. Yet Geoffrey had not a glance, neither of condemnation nor of pity, for the doomed. He just stared straight ahead into the darkness.
They left the common gaol and its squalor and dirt behind and entered the part of the dungeon that was reserved for ‘special’ prisoners. It was even darker here than before and more quiet, too. The silence served its purpose, for here the prisoners were held whose incarceration should remain a secret until the day of their execution. To Geoffrey, the sudden absence of the usual mixture of screaming, crying, whimpering and mumbled prayers came almost as a shock. It was as if the shadows themselves had swallowed up all sound.
He followed the guard along the silent corridor, his heart beating in perfect tune with the echo of their booted feet on the bare stone floor. Finally, the man stopped in front of one of the heavy oakwood doors. “Here we are.”
A grated window was set into the door. It was covered with a piece of black cloth to indicate that the prisoner therein was condemned to die. Geoffrey swept the cloth aside and pressed his face to the peephole. The cell beyond was lit by a single tallow candle. Two figures could be seen in the dim light. One was clad in the black robe of a priest, come to give the condemned the last rites no doubt. The second figure, kneeling before the priest, her hands clasped in prayer, was a young woman, scarcely more than a girl. She was clad in a dress of crimson silk, now dirty and torn. Her long dark hair was falling loose over her bared shoulders. Suddenly, her head shifted and for the merest of instants, her large pleading eyes seemed to look straight at Geoffrey.
He turned to the guard. “I was not told the condemned was female.”
The guard shrugged. “Traitor is traitor.”
This story was available for free on this blog for two months only (because I forgot July), but you can still read it in The Kiss of the Executioner’s Blade. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.