Used by permission, Angus McDiarmid
She took some small comfort in the irony that the infidels who occupied her land trumped her own law. Capital punishment for moral infractions? Hardly, when Emperors had represented the epitome of moral infraction themselves. Tacit cultural approval through complicity would do fine under the immediate circumstances. If the government did it, it must be okay.
Though she could be ashamed for what she was about to do, she knew there would otherwise be little consequence. So she accepted instantaneous pleasures in exchange for turpitude.
But her infraction was discovered, and she found herself shocked by the unanimity of the townsmen, a monolithic hatred and unrestrained assignment of blame, including from the one she had given herself to. She was branded a whore, a harlot, a subversive of ill-repute, a seductress. Her category of evil was deemed too dangerous for the community. It was decided in seconds that she would be eradicated quickly, before the Imperial authorities would even notice.
Save for the wails of terror, she was silent as she was led to her execution. Anything she could say in her defense would require her to simultaneously admit to her involvement, would force her to publicly admit her flaw, expose her shame, forever brand her an outcast, not that "forever" would last more than a few more minutes. She prayed not for a painless death--she knew it would be painful--but for a swift one. She did not want pain.
She was paraded before the community, forced to feel the burning gaze of those who were about to silence her permanently. She stared back in arrogance, not averting her gaze in shame, but enraged by the community's hypocrisy. For each one whose visage filled with violence and excitement that they finally had someone to make an example of, she peered back into the soul of one whom she knew--by rumor or reputation--had committed the same infraction she had, gloating at the only difference, that they got away with it.
Except one. One unfamiliar man. The blood drained from her face when she locked eyes with him. Who was he? Why was he here? She read in his glance not one looking at her, but one looking in her. Like all the others, he knew what she had done, and yet she saw in his staid expression that he knew who she was, had known her whole life who she was, why she had done it, how ashamed and guilty and spirited and proud and responsible and terrified she was. Mostly, she was less afraid to die than she was to keep looking into his eyes. If he wanted her, it was with a passion she had never experienced before, and it was far more dangerous than any terror she could face from the rocks that would be projected at her in a moment.
It was then that she realized the difference between him and the others. He was holding no rock. His eyes bored through her soul deeper than any rock could ever cut anyway; what did he need a rock for?
And then she saw something even more horrifying than any of the horrifying moral leaps she had taken to get herself into this situation to start with. The gaze of the people was no longer on her. It was on the man. In a flash, she realized this wasn't even about her. It was about him. She was being used. She was going to die and she didn't even really have anything to do with it. It wasn't about her guilt. It was about their pride. She was a convenient pawn.
They turned to him as if to a leader they wanted to get rid of. And why not, with that gaze, that boring, piercing glance that penetrated their motivations? They told the man the accusation against her (as if he hadn't read it in her already). They reminded him of their law (as if he hadn't written it). They knew what they should do, but they asked him anyway. If he spoke mercy, he would be rejected as an enemy of the culture, an approver of licentiousness, a deviant. If he spoke wrath, he would be condemned by the occupiers for inciting an act of murder, and they would be rid of him.
He began to write. Something. Some near him could see it. Most could not. Some strained to see what it was. He knew them. He knew what they needed to see.
And knowing the Law, he invited them to carry out their capital act of silencing the sinner. To her horror, he actually invited them. Sort of. He said that whoever was not guilty of the same behavior was qualified to begin her execution.
And he kept writing. He knew them. Each one. He looked into their souls with the same look he had given her. One at a time, they dropped their rocks and walked away, until only two remained.
He could have asked her what she had done. She knew she would have told him. Every detail. Every thought that had gone through her head. Every touch and every feeling and every fear of what consequence would come upon her. Or upon her lover. Or upon his family, or hers. She would have told him everything. But he didn't ask.
She shuddered when he finally finished writing and looked up at her, then around at the empty square, then back at her.
"Where did they all go? No one faults you?"
He wasn't asking for his own edification. She was mysteriously aware that he knew everything, had already anticipated everything before it began transpiring. She knew he was asking if she understood why the square had been vacated.
"They...left." They didn't have the stomach for it. He had saved her with cleverness, with their own trick, but at what cost? At the cost of everyone knowing both accusation and mercy, exposure and forgiveness, completely. Totally. Overwhelmingly. Consumingly.
That look again. Love and wrath together. His disappointment in her behavior was palpable. So was his love for the person she was when she was not sinning. She wanted him, and hated him, and loved him, and loved him for not letting her want him or hate him for too long. That love. It was deeper than anything she had ever seen. It was not the look of a man who loved. It was Love. Love was standing before her.
Love spoke to her. "I don't condemn you either."
But she knew that he knew she was guilty. There must be more? How could such purity allow such impurity? She felt she would be annihilated any second anyway, automatically ceasing to exist, in the presence of such perfection. He still had that look. Serious, penetrating, knowing who she was and what heinousness she was capable of, and what great acts of tenderness and compassion, too. What a confused mess of impulses she was, but in a word, she knew he could sort them out.
And then Love spoke to her once more. This time with a command. She knew a command was coming. If Love had told her to fly, she would have. "Don't do this again."
And she obeyed.