Short story by Brian Moyo
The condemned Ruler emerged from a court building with his ankles and wrists shackled in chains. As he shuffled slowly between two prison guards leading him at a gentle pace, the clink of his leg irons resounded eerily in the warm afternoon air. But in the condemned Ruler’s ears, that sound was nowhere near as loud as the echo of words uttered by the judge who had sentenced him to death.
“You have been found guilty of gross corruption and human rights violations, bribery and extortion while you were Ruler of this country. I therefor sentence you to death by execution,” the judge had proclaimed in a calm, measured and authoritative voice inside the packed courtroom. “Your head will be severed by the executioner’s axe. May the Lord have mercy on your soul!”
As the judge’s words echoed in the condemned Ruler’s head, he kept gazing up the sky as if hoping for divine intervention.
A passing flock of white birds flying eastwards in an arrow-head formation caught his eye and he found himself listening attentively to their screeching as they traversed the blue horizon.
A small crowd standing by the cobbled pathway started a chorus; baying for the condemned Ruler’s blood. “Killer! Murderer!” they shouted. “You will rot in hell!”
They condemned Ruler glanced briefly at the protesters. He had no doubt that they had been paid by his enemies to put on a show of rabid hatred towards him.
When they reached the gallows’s building, one of the guards rapped on the door five times in quick succession. The door was promptly opened from inside.
A hand prodded the condemned Ruler gently in the small of his back. He shuffled obediently into the dark interior of the gallows and was instantly nauseated by a formidable orchestra of odious odours.
“He is all yours now,” one of the guards said speaking to two masked men standing just inside the doorway like shadows of death. At the same time the guard who had spoken passed a long metal key to one of the masked men. “That is for the leg irons,” he whispered, as if he was sharing a darkly kept secret. “But I doubt that this man will attempt to escape even if you unshackle him. He has been a model prisoner since he came to us.”
The condemned Ruler ignored the remark and squinted hard to get a better view of the two masked men.
He thought it might be a trick of light that the masked men appeared to be unusually tall and broad. But slowly, by degrees, the condemned Ruler’s eyes adjusted to the darkness and he was astounded to see that the masked men were indeed colossal giants!
They were easily the most enormous men he had ever seen. The one who had been handed the key, was particularly monstrous. A freak of nature, he stood at well over seven feet and was almost as broad as he was tall. His companion was only marginally smaller, but a giant in his own right. His monstrously huge arms and biceps appeared as if they would burst out any moment.
Glancing upwards, the condemned Ruler noticed a ridiculously small skylight at the apex of the roof. A modicum of light penetrated the gallows through that opening, as if the roof had, after a lot of persuasion; grudgingly granted sunlight that privilege.
Presently, the guards bade the masked men farewell. And much to the condemned Ruler’s surprise, they also promised to pray for his soul so that it would depart safely to the other world and not join the entourage of the ghosts who mourned nightly in the courtyard between the court and the gallows.
The bigger executioner now produced a flint, struck it and lit a kerosene lamp hanging over an iron stand next to the wall, while his companion locked the door. The lamp flickered, brightened up bravely and cast a bit more light into the unsettling darkness.
As the condemned Ruler was being led towards a simple wooden frame containing the execution block, his eyes fell on a menacingly huge axe hanging on a wooden rack on the wall. Next to the gigantic axe was a smaller one, almost a toy by comparison.
The condemned Ruler didn’t flinch at the sight of the huge axe even though he knew it would be used to chop his head off. He regarded it with the same indifference he paid to the wooden chopping block where his head would be placed and the concrete slab where he presumed his lifeless body would be laid before burial.
The condemned Ruler had expected to be led straight to the execution block, but instead, the two executioners now laid him on the slab. One held him down, while his companion tied his hands and feet onto the slab using leather straps build around it. Throughout the task of securing their prisoner onto the slab, the masked executioners didn’t exchange a single word.
For his part, the condemned Ruler neither struggled nor cried out for mercy.
No sooner had the condemned condemned Ruler been tied up than the two executioners walked away. The condemned Ruler followed their movements by listening to their footsteps. The sound of a key clanking inside the keyhole told him that the gallows door was being unlocked; then briefly there was silence.
A few moments later, the condemned Ruler heard what could only have been the sound of a pair of horses galloping away from the back of the gallows.
He listened until the noise faded off completely.
Why hadn’t the executors chopped his head off straight away? That was what he had expected. Indeed, one of the laws the condemned Ruler had gazetted while he was in power, was that condemned people should be executed immediately after sentence was passed.
Lying still on the cold slab, the condemned Ruler wondered where the executioners had gone and when they would be back. Gradually, he became aware of a series of rustling noises around the gallows.
It sounded like dozens of mice scurrying around the wooden floor strewn with dry straw. Turning his gaze back to the huge axe, the condemned Ruler was surprised to see a faint glow emanating from it. He thought it strange that the face of the axe should glow like that when there was no source of light directed against it.
“There, you wait quietly to chop off the neck of a man who served his country with complete dedication for many decades,” the condemned Ruler exclaimed. “But you are just an axe. No one should blame you for chopping off the head of a distinguished leader of this country. Do you know that I am innocent of all the charges laid against me? Do you know that you dumb axe?”
“As a matter of fact, I am not dumb at all,” a voice answered. “And if as you say, you are totally innocent, it is a great misfortune that you have been condemned to death.”
The condemned Ruler jerked his head up and looked around the gallows wildly. Sweat broke out around his forehead and for the first time since he had stepped into the gallows, he felt overcome by a suffocating fear.
CondemnedRULER: Who said that?
AXE: It’s me, the big axe that will chop off your head. Ha! Ha! Ha!
CondemnedRULER: Please don’t mock me. Who are you? Where are you?
AXE: I am the executioner’s axe. I think the executioners have decided to delay your execution. This must be your lucky day!
condemnedRULER: I would prefer it if you could just carry out my execution without further delay instead of pretending that your voice comes from that axe. That is a nasty trick!
AXE: I can’t blame you for disbelieving me. After all, who ever heard of a talking axe?
condemnedRULER: Please don’t torture me like that. Isn’t it enough that I have been framed for crimes I didn’t commit?
AXE: Framed, huh? Why is it that every condemned person brought into these gallows claims to have been unfairly charged with a crime?
condemnedRULER: For God’s sake! I didn’t commit any crime. In all the years I ruled this country I served my people well. But that wasn’t enough for my enemies. Now I have to suffer the ignominy of being executed like a mad dog.
AXE: Why would your own people and law courts condemn you to death if you were so good to them?
condemnedRULER: Didn’t you hear what I just said? I was not condemned by my people. My government was sabotaged and brought down by my power hungry enemies. Shame on them! Shame! Shame! Shame!
AXE: Don’t you find it strange that the people whom you claim to have served so well haven’t mobilised to set you free? Why are they silent about your arrest and incarceration?
condemnedRULER: You say that because you don’t know anything about the political shenanigans in this country. But that doesn’t surprise me because you are just an executioner who is paid to chop peoples’ heads off.
AXE: Can you please get it out of your mind that you are talking to one of the executioners. Didn’t you hear them leave the gallows and lock the door? Surely you must also have heard their horses galloping away. Didn’t you?
condemnedRULER: If you aren’t one of the executioners, who are you? I didn’t see anyone else when I was brought in here.
AXE: As I said before, I am the big axe you are staring at.
condemnedRULER: Stop this childish game and reveal yourself, whoever you are. I can’t see much around me because that lamp isn’t casting enough light around.
AXE: You are right. It is rather dim in here. There used to be ten lamps in these gallows, you know. But they were removed one by one and sold off in the local tavern by Ironsi and Kempe.
condemnedRULER: Are Ironsi and Kempe the two executioners who tied me down?
AXE: Yes. The one who looks like a grotesque Goliath is Ironsi. Those two are badly paid so they take every opportunity they can to make a bit of money on the side. Lately I have heard them debating about whether the gallows needs any light at all, since the people brought in here for execution are going to a place of darkness, anyway. Personally I am against the idea of removing the last lamp. I know it doesn’t give much light, but it at least allows the condemned people a little visibility around the gallows before the execution. I imagine that total darkness would make the gallows very spooky indeed.
There was a pause.
CondemnedRULER: Please grant me my one last wish.
AXE: What can I do for you?
CondemnedRULER: Please show yourself and tell me who you are! I can’t stand this mystery any longer.
AXE: You are one hell of a doubting Thomas aren’t you?
AXE: Stop being pathetic and start appreciating that you are having a conversation with the axe that will chop your head off.
CondemnedRULER: Please stop mocking me! God knows I don’t deserve this kind of torture!
AXE: This is not torture. You should feel privileged to have a conversation with me. As a matter of fact I don’t talk to every Jack and Jill.
CondemnedRULER: Can you tell me why Ironsi and Kempe left me tied up on this slab instead of executing me straight away as they are supposed to?
AXE: I guess they were rushing off to have their lunch. As a rule Ironsi and Kempe are supposed to carry out the execution as soon as a condemned person is brought in from the courthouse. But now and again they delay the execution and rush off to have lunch. When that happens, it is impossible to know when they will be back. Those two don’t stop eating and drinking ale until their stomachs are totally bloated.
CondemnedRULER: Is there no on in charge of supervising Ironsi and Kempe to ensure that they carry out their duties on time?
AXE: You sound as though you are eager to die.
CondemnedRULER: Nothing could be further from the truth. But I’m just shocked that those two buffons are free to do as they please in the gallows
AXE: You wouldn’t be saying that if you half appreciated the fact that your government laid the foundation for all forms of corruption in this country.
CondemnedRULER: Oh! I see! So I am now responsible for the incompetence of those two evil looking executioners?
AXE: (laughter) You shouldn’t be too quick to judge people. I have known Ironsi and Kempe for a very long time. They are both humble and kind hearted people, really.
CondemnedRULER: Kind hearted? Those cold hearted executioners?
AXE: Yes. They may be executioners but that doesn’t mean they are evil or that they enjoy killing, for that matter. It’s just a job they have to do. If they didn’t do it, other men would. But tell me, if you had a choice, whom would you prefer to be your executioner? Ironsi or Kempe?
CondemnedRULER: It’s irrelevant to me who wields the axe. Either way, there is only one outcome.
AXE: You are being stoical. But if you ask me, I’d say Kempe is a much more accomplished executioner.
AXE: Well, I have noticed subtle differences in the way the two executioners hold and swing the axe. Ironsi is direct and brutal. His swing starts from above his head. Then he hits the target with all his power.
CondemnedRULER: And Kempe? How does he swing the axe?
AXE: Kempe is a bit more artistic. His swing starts from knee level. He plants his feet wide apart, arches his upper body backwards and swings the axe in a wide arc. Now, if you were to observe that move in slow motion, you might think that there was no way Kempe would hit the target.
CondemnedRULER: By target, you mean the back of the neck?
AXE: Precisely. But Kempe’s aim never fails. In the blink of an eye, the axe, that’s me by the way, suddenly changes direction in mid air, hones in on the condemned person’s neck and makes a clean cut. Ghaaa! The head rolls off! And you wont see a single tendon left loosely connected between the head and the neck when Kempe does the job.
CondemnedRULER: Well, I don’t know what to say about that.
AXE: I do. I sometimes think that the air between the axe and the condemned person’s neck is terribly petrified by the lightning speed at which I descend on the neck. I am sure that if one listened carefully, one would hear the swishing sound as I axe cut through the air – I call that sound the weeping air. Who knows if the air does actually suffer some pain as I cut through it?
CondemnedRULER: You really have some weird ideas whoever you are.
AXE: Maybe. But I will tell you something else. While Kempe’s aim is more efficient, I prefer Ironsi to do the job because he doesn’t clean me up immediately after the execution. He leaves me lying on the execution block while he goes outside to smoke his tobacco or drink water.
CondemnedRULER: Why is it such a bad idea for Kempe to clean up the axe soon after the execution?
AXE: I don’t know if I should tell you that. It may shock and possibly appal you.
CondemnedRULER: Could there be anything more appalling than a man who hides inside the gallows and tortures a condemned man by pretending to be a talking axe?
AXE: For the last time, I am not a man! I am the executioner’s axe. Got that?
condemnedRULER: (Mockingly) Yes I got that Mr Axe! And I dare say Ironsi and Kempe must be delighted to work with an axe they can talk to.
AXE: Talk to Ironsi and Kempe? What a silly idea! Of course those two have no idea that I have a voice and eyes. I only speak to condemned men when Ironsi and Kempe are not in the gallows.
condemnedRULER: That’s a shame. Why don’t you speak to them as well?
AXE: Those two are simpletons. They would shriek with fright, run away and never return to the gallows if I so much as uttered a single word. Big as they are, they tremble at the thought of being haunted by the ghosts of men they execute. They think that if a condemned man gets to know their names, he will haunt them from beyond the grave and call their names every night.
condemnedRULER: I see. How many condemned men have you spoken to?
AXE: Scores I guess. But I have never really counted.
condemnedRULER: And how do you feel about chopping peoples’ heads off, Mr Axe?
AXE: To be honest, the chopping part is not at all exciting. It is all too brief as you can imagine.
condemnedRULER: Oh! What a shame! Which part is exciting?
AXE: Absorbing the thoughts and the memories of people whose heads I chop off is infinitely more exciting.
condemnedRULER: What? You absorb the thoughts and memories of people you execute?
AXE: Yes. That’s why it is important for me to be left with blood soaking on my blade. That way, I can absorb everything about a condemned man’s memories, his everyday thoughts, everything. That is why I prefer Ironsi to carry out the execution. He simply dumps me on the chopping wood for a while. Kempe on the other hand will have a bucket of water waiting to clean me up straight after the execution. It makes me angry because I don’t get the full benefit of absorbing the thoughts of the deceased.
condemnedRULER: Surely that is not possible!
AXE: Everything seems impossible to you. When I started talking to you, you said it was impossible for an axe to speak. But now you are talking to me as though it is the most natural thing in the world.
condemnedRULER: I didn’t say I believed you. But you intrigue me, whoever you are. Let’s just suppose that an axe could speak and see and also have an incredible ability to absorb the thoughts of people it executes, where would such powers come from?
AXE: Well, I have never taken the trouble to find out how I attained that power as you call it. But I do wish that Ironsi and Kempe would hurry up! All this talking is making me thirsty!
condemnedRULER: There is another surprise! So you thirst for water too, just like human beings, Mr Axe?
AXE: Water? Oh, no! The only drink that quenches my thirst is human blood.
condemnedRULER: I guess you are now thirsting for my blood, then?
AXE:I do hope you are not taking this personally. Perhaps I owe you an apology for making it sound as though I can’t wait to chop your head off. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the same time I can’t deny that it will only be after I quench my thirst with your blood that I will feel lively and invigorated again. Anyone who has experienced the pain of a severely parched throat will tell you that it concentrates the mind more than most things.
condemnedRULER: The more I listen to you, the more I am convinced that you are either a mad man or an agent sent by my enemies to torture me. Which of the two are you?
AXE: Neither. And talking about torture, do you think there is a greater form of torture for any country than to be ruled by a dictator who tramples on people’s rights?
condemnedRULER: Who said I was a dictator?
AXE: Ironsi and Kempe have been talking about nothing else this whole week while your trial was in progress. They may be simple peasants but they know right from wrong. The other day they were talking about how you and your supporters ruined the country over the years while masses went hungry
condemnedRULER: I didn’t do anything of that sort while I ruled this country! It is all lies.
AXE: Yeah, yeah, yeah! Anyway even if you are totally innocent of all the charges made against you, your execution will still be lawful.
condemnedRULER: That is outrageous! How can it be lawful if I didn’t commit any crime?
AXE: One of the things I learnt from a judge I executed a few years back was that when the law gives an incorrect judgement on a particular case, it is still right because it follows due process in coming to a wrong conclusion.
condemnedRULER: You executed a judge?
AXE: Yes. You should know that. You signed his death warrant when you were ruling this country.
condemnedRULER: Would that be Justice Forombo?
AXE: That’s the one. Yours truly here chopped the learned judge Forombo’s head off.
condemnedRULER: And I suppose you absorbed Justice Forombo’s memories too after his execution?
AXE: Precisely. I discovered that he was falsely accused of espionage. But as you know, the real reason for his execution was that he was your wife’s secret lover. And when you found out about their affair you invented a treason charge as a reason for judge’s Forombo’s fall from grace.
The condemnedRULER shifted his eyes from the axe to the skylight. From the little that he could see of the sky, the sun was setting and the clouds were becoming denser and darker.
AXE: Why are you staring at the skylight so intensely?
condemnedRULER: Mind your own business!
AXE: Are you looking out for the vultures?
condemnedRULER: What are you talking about now?
AXE: I am talking about the vultures that perch around the skylight to watch the executions.
condemnedRULER: Are there vultures which watch the executions?
AXE: Yes, but I exaggerate a little. It is only one vulture in fact which turns up to watch every execution. It really is uncanny how a bird can know so precisely when an execution will take place. You will see for yourself when Ironsi and Kempe get back. The vulture will appear at the skylight the moment Ironsi or Kempe picks me up. By the way, those two believe that the vulture is an angel of death waiting to escort condemned people to hell.
condemnedRULER: Superstition is the first rule of small minds
AXE: You don’t know how right you are. Ironsi and Kempe are prisoners of superstition. They never call each other by name in the presence of condemned people nor do they take off their masks whilst inside the gallows.
condemnedRULER: What do they fear?
AXE: They believe that if a condemned person sees their faces he will come back to haunt them. They also think that if he merely gets to know their names, his ghost will be calling their names all hours of the night. Nothing frightens them more than being haunted by a ghost!
condemnedRULER: That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.
AXE: You have to understand that Ironsi and Kempe are simple minded people – peasants really. But tell me – what are you thinking about right now?
condemnedRULER: I don’t think you need to know that.
AXE: Come on now! Humour me!
condemnedRULER: Okay! I am thinking that you should just shut up and leave me alone!
AXE: That saddens me.
AXE: I can understand your irritation because if there is one thing I have learnt well in this business, it is that the mind of a condemned person is at its most confused as the hour of his execution approaches.
condemnedRULER: An axe with a philosophical mind, huh?
AXE: I wouldn’t claim credit for that because as I explained before, all the knowledge I posses comes from the life experiences of the people whose heads I have chopped off.
condemnedRULER: Why don’t you just shut up?
AXE: You are letting your temper get the better of you. Which really surprises me because when Ironsi and Kempe were tying you on the slab, you were very calm. That made me think that you are not the type of man to lose your temper easily.
condemnedRULER: An Angel would lose his temper if he found himself talking to a hidden man claiming that he is the executioner’s axe! Who sent you to torment me like this? Hmm? How much did they pay you, you rascal?
AXE: Aaah! I see! So you still don’t believe that you are really talking to an axe?
condemnedRULER: I would have to be the biggest fool in the world to believe such a thing.
AXE: What can I do to make you believe?
condemnedRULER: I don’t know. It is really up to you.
AXE: Perhaps if I tell you details about my life you might see that I am telling the truth?
condemnedRULER: Let’s try that.
AXE: Well, I will start by telling you a little about my background. I am the product of a famous Italian axe manufacturer known as Capello. He is an expert in forging all types of weapons including swords and battle axes. But he is more renowned for his execution axes. There is so much demand for Capello’s execution axes that he works virtually around the clock to keep up with orders from around the world.
condemnedRULER: How fortunate for this Mr Capello. He must be very rich then.
AXE: Oh, yes. He is a very rich man indeed. What I remember most about Capello’s workshop is the constant sound of hammering, the noise from his grinder and the overpowering smell of oil.
condemnedRULER: Well, that sounds like a very busy workshop.
AXE: I also remember the leather aprons worn by Capello and his two assistants. They were always greasy even though Capello’s wife washed them every week. That was my home!
condemnedRULER: And the smaller axe next to you – was he also produced by Capello?
AXE: (Angrily) That is an insult to Capello! How could you even think that? Can’t you see that the workmanship which produced me is light years ahead of that which produced the pathetic axe hanging next to me?
condemnedRULER: Well, I am not an expert on axes.
AXE: You certainly aren’t. But even so, you should be able see that I come from a noble family of axes. My handle is made of the toughest wood. My head is not only specially curved to follow the shape of the back of a neck, small or large, it is also made of the highest quality of steel!
condemnedRULER: I am sorry if I hurt your pride. I was under the impression that any axe can chop off a head.
AXE: Of course any sharp axe can severe a neck, especially if it is wielded by Ironsi or Kempe. But I can tell you that it was only after Ironsi and Kempe had complained to the authorities about the quality of the axe next to me that a court official was dispatched to Italy to buy me from Capello’s workshop.
condemnedRULER: I am impressed.
AXE: So you should. And you really ought to consider yourself lucky that your execution will be conducted through me, rather than by the small axe!
condemnedRULER: It really makes no difference to me if Ironsi or Kempe chop my head off using the big axe or the smaller axe.
AXE: (Spitefully) I thought you were a proud man. But I can see now that I erred in that assumption.
condemnedRULER: Who is sounding hot under the collar now?
AXE: I have a right to feel insulted when I am compared to a blunt old axe!
THE SOUND OF GALLOPING HORSES INTERRUPTS THE CONVERSATION: IT GETS LOUDER AND LOUDER AS THE RIDERS GET CLOSER TO THE GALLOWS
AXE: Can you hear the sound of galloping horses?
AXE: That must be Ironsi and Kempe coming back.
condemnedRULER: Yes. Does that mean you can now come out of your hiding place?
AXE: Damn you! Why do you still doubt me?
THE GALLOPING SOUND PASSES: GETTING FAINTER AND FAINTER UNTIL NOTHING CAN BE HEARD.
AXE: I am disappointed that wasn’t Ironsi and Kempe.
AXE: Because I am now looking forward to chopping your head off!
condemnedRULER: Well, I don’t fear death. Everyone will die someday.
AXE: Well, that is true enough. But we both know that every living person wants to squeeze the last ounce of life out of their lives before that day arrives.
condemnedRULER: And what is precious to you? Is there anything you love at all?
AXE: Remember, I am only an axe. But I do long for fresh air and sunshine as much as any human.
condemnedRULER: Fresh air and sunshine, huh? I don’t imagine you get much of that in the gallows.
AXE: You are right. But Ironsi once took me to his home to show me off to his wife and children and it was during that journey that I experienced the pleasure of being out in the countryside. I quiet enjoyed the feel of air wafting through the sack in which Ironsi carried me. God knows I was also enchanted by the beauty of birds singing and the sound of rustling tree leaves and grass.
condemnedRULER: Amazing. Ironsi actually took you home to show you off to his family?
AXE: Yes, you should have seen how their eyes lit up when Ironsi pulled me out of the sack and placed me on the table. His wife was particularly enchanted. She shrieked in delight and swore that I was the most magnificent axe she had laid eyes on. Unfortunately, through her eagerness to feel my sharp blade, she cut her thumb a little. Of course I regretted hurting her even though the tiny drop of her blood turned out to be the sweetest I have ever tasted.
condemnedRULER: What a shameful thing to say! A lady cuts her thumb accidentally on your blade and you gulp up the blood hungrily?
AXE: That is something you will never understand. But do you know what pleased me most about that visit to Ironsi’s house?
AXE: It was hearing Ironsi’s son declare his intention to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an executioner. The boy is a big strapping lad. When Ironsi permitted him to pick me up, I felt instantly that he and I could form a formidable partnership. So I think I will carry on being of service to these gallows long after Ironsi and Kempe have retired.
condemnedRULER: You do sound as if you really enjoy chopping heads off!
AXE: I know nothing else. Besides I think any self-respecting axe should prefer to be employed in chopping off the heads of evil miscreants, rather than cutting down innocent trees in the forest.
condemnedRULER: Is there anything else you desire besides fresh air and sunshine?
AXE: Oh yes, there is. My greatest wish is to be reunited with the five axes that were made at the same time as I. I am curious to know if they too have the ability to talk and to see.
condemnedRULER: What a splendid experience it would be if it turned out that your fellow axes can speak too. Do you know that millions of people would pay good money for an evening in the theatre listening to six execution axes talking about their experiences?
AXE: You really think so?
condemnedRULER: I know that for certain! Talking axes would be the biggest thing ever in theatre all over the world. Perhaps I could help you achieve that dream.
AXE: That is a nice thought. But since I could never walk out of here, it will remain just that – a nice thought.
condemnedRULER: Supposing Ironsi and Kempe recommend that you should be taken back to Capello’s workshop for professional sharpening of your blade?
AXE: Hmm. That is a very interesting idea. However, there is no point in discussing it because those two dumb heads would never contemplate making such a request. They have their own grinding stone behind the gallows. I must admit that the few times they have sharpened my blade on that stone, I have found the experience not only nauseating and sickening but embarrassing too. I couldn’t even begin to describe the difference between being sharpened by Ironsi and Kempe and being sharpened by Capello. There is no art or finesse in Ironsi and Kempe’s workmanship. They simply press my blade against the spinning grinder and look away to avoid flying sparks hitting their eyes. Capello on the other hand wears special glasses when he is grinding. And he whispers seductively to the grinder and the axe, as if encouraging shy lovers to consummate their relationship.
condemnedRULER: Well, then! Being reunited with your old master, Capello would be good, wouldn’t it?
AXE: I could not wish for anything more than that!
condemnedRULER: I have a legion of friends who could help you fulfil that ambition once we get out of this place.
AXE: What exactly are you suggesting?
condemnedRULER: I am suggesting that we scare Ironsi and Kempe by having a conversation when they get back? I will then explain to them that I am a sorcerer who has charmed and given you the ability to talk.
AXE: And how would that get me to my master, Capello?
condemnedRULER: Isn’t it obvious? Ironsi and Kempe would be so scared they will free me and allow me escape. I will take you along of course and escape to Italy with the help of my friends. Once we get there, I will hand you over to Capello
AXE: Well, well, well! What a dreamer you are! Are you forgetting that I am a state asset obliged by law to fulfil my duties as an executioner’s weapon?
condemnedRULER: I know that. But surely running away from all this and being with Capello matters more to you than being used as a weapon of execution
AXE: There are two things wrong with your theory. You presume that I am prepared to desert my post and duties. And you also presume that Capello would receive me warmly if I showed up at his workshop. Well, you are wrong in both cases. Firstly, I like it here and I love my job. Secondly, Capello is not the kind of man to associate himself with any scandal.
condemnedRULER: What scandal are you talking about?
AXE: In Capello’s eyes, it would be scandalous for you to take me back to his workshop, when the only way that could be done without the permission of the authorities that own me, is if I was stolen. And I am certainly not prepared to desert my post unlawfully.
condemnedRULER: I don’t see why gaining your freedom is tantamount to being unlawful?
AXE: A freedom without obligations is like an empty dream. It is mere fallacy. You might as well say that a passing cloud drifting like a puff of smoke in the air is free, when in fact it is a thing of no consequence. I simply couldn’t live with myself if I were reduced to that level of freedom. Within these gallows I serve a useful purpose. I am the instrument of justice. What purpose would I serve outside these gallows? Perhaps you imagine me as a woodman’s chopper hacking down innocent trees in the forests?
condemnedRULER: But what about you dream to be reunited with Capello and your fellow axes?
AXE: I told you I wish for that more than for anything else in the world. But I’m realistic enough to know that I will never be reunited with Capello and my fellow axes.
condemnedRULER: For God sake! Why are you taking a moral high ground on this? It is not as if anyone would even think of blaming you if you went missing from the gallows. You are just an Axe!
AXE: Aghhh! So you have finally convinced yourself that an axe can talk?
condemnedRULER: Well, you convinced me.
AXE: Did I really? Perhaps you should give that credit to your own fear of death. Do you remember what I said about the workings of a condemned Ruler’s mind when death beckons?
condemnedRULER: You are a nasty piece of work whoever you are!
AXE: Feeling sorry for oneself is the biggest form of surrender.
condemnedRULER: Just leave me alone!
AXE: You are alone; very alone if you ask me. For all you know this conversation between you and I is only taking place in your head.
condemnedRULER: No! Don’t say that. I am not crazy!
AXE: Please yourself.
THE SOUND OF GALLOPING HORSES
AXE: Well, farewell then my friend. Ironsi and Kempe are back. I enjoyed our talk. But now I have to prepare to do my duty! END