Her hand was bound.

Where it had been sliced open by the crude chains upon her arrest it had been carefully wrapped. He found that this made her death all the more tragic. She walked slowly and regally, just as a queen should. Her blue eyes were directed forward, facing her fate with all the courage in the world, courage that should have fled at the sight of the gallows but instead had inexplicably multiplied, layering over her delicate body to protect her from harm. Four large men in the King s uniform flanked her, a sight comic to those who knew her not but very appropriate to those who did. She was a cannon, ready to fire at any moment. He hoped she would, that her gunpowder would finally be alighted with the flame of desperation, but he saw no sign of her legendary temper in her eyes. She seemed not to know she walked to her death. A part of him would not, could not believe that she would die today, that her life would end at this moment. She had cheated Death so often. She was a light. And now darkness would swallow her up. Was it fair? Certainly her death was justified, at least to followers of the King. She was the biggest threat ever to surface, ever to oppose him (while quite possibly the smallest in stature). She represented all that was wrong with his rule. But her death would never put down the rebellion. The rebellion would never be put down, until it had success. He thought back to her last words to him. She had ordered him to not save her. Not under any circumstance was he to put together a band of her followers to save their leader. How selfish of her. She had come to the point where it was her responsibility to live. She did not live for herself, she lived for her people and her dying would cause a very big setback. A very big setback. He wiped a tear from his eye. Why didn t she want to be saved, to live? So selfish. He stared at her bandage. Why heal the doomed? He watched the hanging from a distance. The most powerful man in the world.The King s right-hand man. He had countless soldiers at his disposal. He could destroy a small nation in a day. He had whatever he wanted, and if he should want for something that he did not yet have, he simply gave the order and it would be at his doorstep. He had the best horses, the best dogs, the best of everything. And yet, he did not have her. Her, the queen, the Queen, he believed, though it was treasonous to do so. He knew that his father, the King, was not only not suited for his role but had obtained it through deceit and bribery and violence, and that this girl, this Queen, truly was the ruler. And yet, she would, today, die. A ripple went through the crowd and he could just see a group of four large Palace guards. She would be among them then. Usually the crowd jeers and boos the criminal at a hanging. This crowd was silent. He wondered if they knew what he knew. She should be the Queen. And yet, he, the Prince, the son of the King, had ordered her death. He was the reason her revered, tiny body would swing from the gallows today. He had brought her into the jail. He had called for immediate death. She had jumped the line, so to speak. He was sure she was very grateful to him. She would have her revenge, though. Because he would live the rest of his life in shame. A life he would not have if she had not given it to him, with the same willingness with which he took hers now. He thought back to the day when he had first seen her. His father had ordered him and fifty other elite soldiers to find her and kill her. Then, all they knew was that the rebel cause was

being headed by a woman, a girl, really, of only seventeen or eighteen years. She was said to be invisible. Rumor had it she was the one doing the bulk of the fighting for the rebellion. So, like an obedient son, he ventured out into the wilderness. But the King had forgotten the other creatures that lived in the forest, creatures who fought for neither the rebels nor the King. These were unearthly beings, cruel, savage. They nearly killed his entire company. He and two others were taken captive and led, blind and starving, through the woods. All he could remember was whispers, when she came. The creatures seemed to know her, or know of her, for they were terrified. He remembered being held up. There was shouting, and then the sharp, pungent smell of blood. And the rebel Queen lifted his blindfold and smiled at him. She was further now. He pushed through the crowd, wanting to spit out the words that sat shedding in his mouth. He wanted to call after her. But he could only respect her wishes and he did not. She walked idly to the first step of the gallows, where she was to die and stopped. The guards tried to prod her on but she silenced them with a look, as if they were the ones under her command. The crowd stood, silent. Everyone was watching her. Suddenly a bird landed on the wooden beam, directly above the noose. Another came, and then another. These were magnificent birds; unlike any other he had ever seen. They were huge and white and beautiful. They came until the whole gallows was covered. And then they left, drifting into the sky without a sound. Watching from the hill, he could see some commotion, birds or some such thing. He was too focused on remembering, anyhow; like remembering would stop the death. She had cleaned them up and fed them and they slept on a bed of moss and were happy. She did not seem to know that they were from the Palace. They, of course, knew exactly who she was. But she captivated them. She was beautiful; her long golden hair shone and her blue eyes sparkled and her fingers fluttered like butterflies. She spoke quickly and softly, and her voice always trickled into your ears as if you were a dear friend and she was telling you a secret only you could know. Her gracefulness almost transcended the fear he had of her, until he saw her violently dark side, the side she hid, yet kept sharp as a blade. She was a blur with knives and could hit a target a thousand steps away with a bow. When she was outmatched physically she would bite and scratch and snarl like an animal until he half-expected her to become one. But she always returned to him. Always she returned to him. He was right behind the gallows now. She knew he was there; he knew she did. His heart was bubbling out of his throat he knew she had a plan. She always had a plan. Of course the Queen would not die. She didn t die. He wasn t sure if she even could die. Those birds were some sort of signal, some sort of sign to her rescuers. She obviously had already set up a mission to save her, which is why she didn t want him trying anything. She had to time her execution just right she walked slowly, disguising it as pride. She stopped before finally stepping up the steps. She had that last moment; then the timing was perfect. The cause was not lost. She would come back stronger than before. The little Queen was most certainly lost now. She had mounted the gallows and the guards were filing to their corners to observe the crowd. No one dared believe the rebels would let

their leader go without a fight, but he happened to know a thing or two about his Queen and she would go. She would die today because that was who she was. She had been ready to die for him. And now she would. They were traveling. She had begun to teach him and what was left of his men some of her talents. No one was making very much progress. Personally, he believed the men just liked to watch her. She was a sight. She moved like the wind blew her where it wanted her to go. She floated more than walked, but when she stood still she rested in the ground as if she would never move. She didn t know very much of his situation. She knew he had been captured, but the creatures were hostile to everyone. She could very well have believed they were simple villagers out for a stroll. But then they saw a group of Palace soldiers. And they made it very clear that they did not wish to be discovered by the Palace. He shuddered to think of what his father would say if he knew that his son had countless chances to kill the Queen and had not. He just needed time, he told himself. He would take her. He just needed time. So he hid from his own soldiers. And sometimes he wondered if his hiding caused this day, this hanging, this death of hers. And then he realized that yes, it had. When the soldiers headed towards them he couldn t help it. He ran; or at least tried to. She was at his side in an instant and pulled him down with shocking strength. They were hidden by a not insignificant amount of bushes, but after a careful look up, she saw that the soldiers had indeed heard. He could see her eyes now, as he watched her graceful form drift toward the noose. Blue and intense. They asked him a question. They demanded whether he was sure. Only that. Not if he wanted to change his mind, because once a decision was made it was made and you could never go back. She asked for him, if he was sure he could live with it, with what she was about to do. And then she ran. She bolted from the brush like a rabbit with the scent of a dog in his quivering nose. The soldiers saw her at once and had no difficulty overtaking her. She had no weapons. But she didn t give up. He thought a part of her would resist until her death, though today was proving him wrong. But that day, she had fought like the animal she was. There were a dozen soldiers and she bloodied every last one of them. He had tried to forget what happened next because it was not how he wanted to remember that day. He very much wished that she for some strange reason wanted to be taken. But she wanted only to save him, not knowing that he was the son of her worst enemy, the son of the man who had taken her everything. She looked back at him, with a look of true desperation wrestling with her features, swallowing her beauty, leaving the look of a caged animal, an animal holding on to life before the huntsman finishes it off and the dogs are set upon it. She pleaded with him in that one moment, that flash of life. No one knew. And they grabbed her and she screamed, and her little arm slid out of his grip and he caught her hand. And she was still watching him, waiting for his help. And he watched her but never did he help. And he heard a crack as she broke her wrist and the rest of her arm slid out of his grip and she ran and an arrow grew from her shoulder and she was down. The man was reading a list of her crimes and he was desperately trying to catch her eye. She was staring straight ahead, her line of vision squeezing through the noose and watching the castle, and beyond it, the wall. The Queen would never allow such oppressing structures to be her last view on this Earth. He had total confidence in her. She would

escape the gallows today. His hands almost tingled in anticipation of the tricks she would pull on the guards. He imagined their faces as they were again fooled by this little girl. But she did nothing. The hangman approached her and placed her face gently through the noose. She caught his eye finally. He leaned forward with anticipation. He had forgotten about her, about her love and her life and the fact that she was the Queen and her eyes. Until she was brought to him in chains. And he found that her presence was too shameful for him. He couldn t bear that she knew he was a fraud and a horrible person unfit to live. So he gave the order that she should be hanged. Hanged by the neck until dead. And immediately. She said goodbye. That was what she said to him. And then she stepped forward into the noose and the hangman let the trapdoor down. From the hill he could see her step into the noose. And there was a crack and she was gone. And now the wind really did move her.

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