A scene cut from the alternative Chapter 1: which hardly matters, because that chapter wasn’t used anyway.
The men shuffled to a halt and the cart drew up alongside them. Daniel had forgotten for a moment that he was in the heart of the enemy. He was a Royalist but he was a boy first and foremost, and he looked around with wide, fascinated eyes. Immediately his gaze was caught by two men.
They stood side by side and sullen, backs to the castle, and a row of soldiers stood facing them with the butts of their muskets resting on the ground. Their hands were not tied, their feet were not bound; there was nowhere for them to run. Around them the business of the camp continued as normal on a warm, lazy spring afternoon. It was almost as if someone had thought up an execution as a half-hearted gesture to keep the men occupied.
The prisoners stood with their backs to the enemy. Behind them the fortifications were lined with the castle’s defenders, there to watch the entertainment. They jeered and catcalled, but none of them seemed to think it a bad thing that the army besieging them was about to lose two of its men. As the men presumably belonged to Parliament, Daniel didn’t think it that bad a thing either.
He was surprised to find that he did feel sorry, however.
The squad raised their muskets to their shoulders. One of the prisoners deliberately stood straight, braced, returning the hostile stare of the muzzles. The other sobbed quietly with his face in his hands. The braver man nudged him, said something curtly. The sobbing man slowly took away his hands and let his arms hang limply by his sides, but he looked fixedly at the ground and his shoulders still trembled.
A simultaneous crack of ten muskets, and the prisoners fell as if their strings had been cut. A corpse simply drops; it makes no attempt to break its fall. One body collided with the other and they lay entwined on the grass, together in death as they had been in the act of drunkenness, or petty pilfering, or desertion, or whatever it was that had led to this fate. Daniel looked morosely at the bodies. Whoever they were, whatever they had done, could they have known this was how it would end?
“Deserters,” someone muttered.
The jeers from the defenders grew louder as the corpse bearers ran forward to check the bodies. A couple whose spirits had been raised by the execution of their enemies let off their muskets, and were reprimanded with stern shouts by their commanders. The defenders in the castle were in no position to be wasting ammunition. The bearers picked up the bodies under the arms and dragged them away, their feet carving faint marks in the grass. And the siege returned to its accustomed state of listlessness.
Copyright © Ben Jeapes 2004. Not to be reproduced without permission.