The next morning at dawn, a crowd has gathered in the square outside City Hall. Peasants crowding and jostling at the front, and further back some wooden benches have been erected for the nobility, who if anything are watching more eagerly than the workers. A guard opens the door of his cell. He's lying on his face on the cold floor, stripped to the waist.
'It's time. Get up.'
The guard hauls him to his feet. He doesn't protest. To come all this way and then be tricked by the oldest con in the book, a two-faced woman. He's been here before, but now he's truly run out of aces. Another guard walks behind him. His hands are bound behind his back and they lead him out. Out into the weak pale sunlight of his last morning. Crowds bay for his blood behind the fence. The man in the black hood stands by the gallows, holding the noose. He could lose his head, he could scream and curse and weep, but he's not going to. He hasn't wept since he was five years old. Memories flit randomly through his head and he pushes them away. There's nothing left. He had a good run, but this is the end. His luck had to run out somewhere.
The rope goes around his neck, resting on his buckled collar-bones. He refuses the bag over his head. He might be a criminal, but he's no coward. His feet are numb and the bare skin on his arms and chest is freezing, apart from the torture wounds which are on fire. The interminable reading of the charges and confession and all the rest of it drags on and on. Then the executioner steps forward. This is it, this is the moment of his death. He always wondered how it would be, in the end. Any last words? Well, I'm going to die, what do you expect me to say?
The executioner pushes him forward and pulls the knot tight around his neck. The crowd count down. Three. He looks at the sky, noticing for the first time how truly beautiful a sunny winter morning is. Two. He looks at the crowd, the sea of faces. I was one of you once. I don't blame you. One. Dead silence. He is rock-still, his heartbeat slow and steady. His hands do not shake. The trapdoor drops out and the rope jerks around his neck. He draws a last breath, the taste of the smoky city air suddenly the sweetest thing on earth. Then a shredding sound and he's falling, crumpling to the floor with the trailing end of the rope around his neck. There's no time to be surprised. Taking advantage of his dislocated shoulders, he forces his arms backwards over his head until they're in front of him, then runs, diving through the crowd. People scream, guards roar, his battered body feels like it's about to splinter apart, but he keeps going until his footsteps merge with hers.
All the shocked crowd sees is something fly through the air like a bullet, then the rope snaps. The rest is a blur. But out from the mêlée of confused guards, howling civilians and enraged Hammerites slip two running figures, one jerky and stumbling, its hands tied, the other slim and lithe, dressed in black with long dark hair streaming in the wind.