There are scars, he thought, that might never heal; scars deep down inside a man where no rational thought might follow. Healing, he knew, was all a matter of decision. He’d seen men heal from wounds so horrific even the best Doctors had given them up for dead. And he’d seem men, barely wounded, who succumb to the call of darkness.
He was neither. Just a man like any other, neither hero or coward, brave enough to continue on when a fainter heart might flounder. None of this helped his present situation.
The sounds of hammers on nails, the rasping of a saw, rose from outside, accompanied by the bubbling excitement of the crowd. There would be a crowd, as if most folk had nothing better to do than see a man reduced to his basest points.
He’d promised himself he would not falter, would not fall, would not beg. It seemed to him the measure of a man was how he faced those moments of no escape. When he faced his own death.
He felt no urgent desire for death. On the contrary, there were too many things in this life he had missed, little things which gave man the true measure of his worth more than swords or battles. More than number of slaves owned or the value of a wife’s dowry.
A wife he loved, a home, children to carry on his name and of whom he might feel pride. A small plot of land where honest work echoed, as it were, the singing of angels.
This, of course, was a bunch of bull-crap. More farmers starved these days than survived. Men beat their wife, cheated on them, treated them as chattel. Children were, too often, slaves to their parent’s needs, raised to ensure care in their waning years.
He might be a total fool. Probably was. Not that it mattered. In a matter of hours, he would be dead, swinging from the beam of the gallows as had many before him. And many would follow after.
A shuffle announced Brock at the bars of his cell.
“Sorry, Dugger. Worlds going to hell. Bits and dregs. Bits and dregs.”
He rose, chains allowing him just enough freedom to reach the bars. The two men clasped hands, the fallen man, soon to be the hanged man, and the careful man, the man who had never seized the chance to be more.
“You’re a good man, Brock,” he said simple. Favors done needed no mention or thanks.
“You’re no more highwayman than I.”
“Some see it different,” he replied, withdrawing his hand, needing both to support himself on the bars. “See my things get to Mags will you?”
Brock turned away. As he did, something clanked to the ground outside the bars.
His heart began to pound, distant drums calling men to battle. Course, the true measure of a man might also come in the wisdom to run like hell when facing the gallows. He fell to his knees, reaching beyond the bars for the keys and freedom.