Lute Part. Twenty Two

"Hang him."

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"Hang him."

"No!" Bell shouted at Truth and the soldiers that came towards her and Harp. "You can't do this! You can't-"

"Drag his wasted corpse out on to the deck and wrap the rigging around his throat. I have no patience left, and no interest in seeing his blood seep out anymore!"

"Please. Please!" she begged of the guards, but she was swept aside by a forceful strike across her face. There was enough force behind it to force her downwards, face first, into the wooden floor.

Harp put up no struggle, and could manage no effort to fight back. He had been coughing brutally, and his throat had been torn because of it, so that he could barely talk. No energy left due to his injuries, the only reaction that Harp could make as they came to drag him to his death was to display fear in his eyes.

As they pulled one of her closest friends past her by the legs, all the while with Harp's body wracked with coughing fits, Bell scrambled to her feet as quickly as she could. She grasped hold of the coat of the nearest soldier, but he threw her off both carelessly and effortlessly. Before there was any hope of stopping this, the door has been pushed open and the three of them had moved out. The soldiers were laughing as they moved, eager to complete the task ahead of them.

Before Truth had managed to slip out of the door himself, Bell had dropped to her knees in front of him, clutching at the hem of his shirt desperately. "Please don't do this," she pleaded. "He hasn't done anything wrong. He doesn't deserve to go through this when he doesn't even look like he's got long left. Call the surgeon back and you can help him. Please. We're a set; we'll sell if you get us all safe and sound. You don't-"

Bell was silenced by Truth's laughter. It was one of the most chilling sounds that she had ever heard. He was truly relishing every moment. "I despise repeating lessons, but it seems as though I must. All of you, yourself and your friends included, belong to me," he told her, leaning in so close that he was practically spitting in her face. "I can do what I want with you, including a rash and untimely demise." Next, she yelped in pain when his hand came swiftly around behind her to grip her by the hair. "And you're going to be my witness," he snarled at her. "You're going to watch, and then I'm going to decide whether these musical talents of yours are even worth bothering with. It might be better just to hang you next to him."

"I'll do it. I'll do anything, just let him go."

"Enough!" shouted Truth, silencing her when fear made Bell entirely still. This didn't last. He pulled her upwards and propelled her out of the door after her friend's broken body.

Bell had been in Truth's cabin so long that the deck outside had changed dramatically. Only a small count of crew members were at work, the rest had fallen victim to the blades of Truth's personal guard. Nobody had replaced them, and everything from their course to their speed was beginning to suffer. Those that had dared to fight still littered the ground. It was a poor ending for them, but those few that worked now worked diligently enough because of it. Truth pushed her forwards again, forcing her to step over some poor unfortunate soul that had given his life at the doorway to Truth's chambers.

Harp, limp and battered, had been taken beneath the level on which Truth and Sincerity's rooms were, and down to the point where the mast met the ship. He had been dumped at the apex of the two while his executioners set to work preparing the ropes and the strings.

"Heed those words that come next!" Truth shouted above the sounds of the water, the ship and the movements of the people. "My voice will not carry everywhere. As such, I advise that all carry this message to multiple sources. In a moment, the musician, Harp, will no longer be my property. Instead, his soul will belong to whatever Gods are willing to take such a vile and treacherous creation. He will be granted no reprieve. Moments afterwards, one of his two partners, the musician, Bell, will accompany him to the grave. You might consider this romantic. Sadly, it is merely evidence that she will also pay for the crimes of her friends. No pity shall be offered, and no remorse given. Let this message carry to my sister and her concubine: once this task is completed, I shall retreat to my own vessel, and this one shall be burnt to cinders."

The final word carried quite a weight behind it. The crew members stopped working, some muttering and others shouting violently. The guard withdrew into a formal line between Truth himself and the mast where Harp and the two soldiers were. It was very obviously planned, and very obviously defensive.

Bell, confused by only a certain few of Truth's words, had straight away started looking for another ship in order to either confirm or deny that Truth was being honest, but he had never lied before and he was not now. In the distance, on her right side, the ship on which Truth had arrived was sailing alongside them. All that he had to do was get into the ship's boat after getting the fire started and there would be no chance for anybody left behind. It was likely the only positive note that Bell would not have to burn to death. She would be hanged long beforehand.

They were nearly ready now, down by the mast. A piece of rope had been pulled free to be made into a makeshift noose, then hooked over one of the higher pieces so that the soldiers could easily pull on one end and lift Harp into the air by the throat. It was not going to be pretty.

"Please," Bell said quickly, hoping, one last time, to beg for the life of her friend. "If you just let him go and fetch the surgeon, we could sell for you. I'll go down and fetch Lute myself. I'll do anything. When Harp's better, he'll do anything too. It doesn't have to end like-"

His back-handed strike caught her off guard, knocking her down for the first time in less than five minutes. He hadn't even been looking at her when he did it. The reason became clear moments afterwards, when he put a finger to his lips to maintain her silence. Somewhere, past the mast, somebody was shouting to him.

"Stop!" the voice was shouting. "I'll come quietly! Please, just stop!"

Truth began to laugh to himself again. Bell could recognise the voice, and though she had trouble believing it, her eyes confirmed her belief quickly when Lute came out of the hatch that laid just beyond Harp's fallen form. He had his hands in the air, and he was alone and looking terrified. He took three steps forwards, stopping when he was level with Harp and looking over his friend. Shortly afterwards, Sincerity herself emerged, looking furious, but submissive.

Smiling, Truth leant down over the barrier that protected him from falling from his level and spoke directly to the nearest soldier. "Secure the prisoners," he whispered, though his voice carried as far as Bell. "I want them all on my ship before there is any chance of mistakes being made, and withdraw my generals. After that, I will be watching from a safe distance. I want the smell of fire on the air and the taste of death on my tongue."

That was the moment when it all went wrong for Truth.

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