It was a shallow evening. One of those lifeless times when the sun is setting and the memories of the day’s failures are rising from their graves. It is an apathetic time when the air all around is heavy on the shoulders. It is that time when all conscious and unconscious thought is strained through a veil caked with red mud.
The cantankerous clanking of irons along a rugged stone floor was stifled out before it reached the ears of the poor soul bound to drag them. He clutched those irons in his hands as he trudged about his duties. It was at the end of the hall. It lurked there, an ever present reality and duty. The object of the action he despised sat like a miserable heap of rags in the middle of the cell.
The biting noise hurt his ears as he turned the key in the corroding lock. The heap of rags looked up at him. Two eyes looked out from the shadows, reflecting the smoky firelight. A cough ground out through the heavy air and the heap convulsed. It drew in a breath, raspy and sore. “It is not time, Maxwell.”
“I fear it is.”
“So be it.” The prisoner stood. His muscular frame flexed underneath the rags he wore. He put forth his arms. The veins about his wrists were large as Maxwell clamped the shackles about them. Sweat beaded on the prisoner’s forehead. He resisted his natural inclinations to escape.
Maxwell finished the first part of his dark, dreadful deed. He looked up into the eyes of his prisoner. His voice cracked. He tried several times to speak, but the air crushed him down. That and the weight of the deed he was doomed to do by the binding of duty. “I am sorry, brother.”
“I trust you tried your hardest.”
“I did.” Maxwell choked on his own words. He tugged on the chain and muttered, “Come on.”
“There is still time, little brother.” The prisoner said as he straightened his shoulders. The clack of teeth sounded through the muffling air as he set his jaw in place.
The duo made their way up numerous shadowy stair cases. They struggled across the red carpet in the hallways. Then, finally, they limped up the last staircase. Maxwell was a visitor to this section of the castle. This was his first duty of this kind and he would make sure it was his last.
Eternity stretched before them. Life lay behind them. Maxwell wrapped his pale fingers around the rope nearby. The wind cut across his knuckles. The prisoner stood out on the ledge, resolutely resigned to his fate. And that fate would soon be served to him by his own brother. He felt the rope about his neck. “You still have a choice. Don’t let them control you.”
“I cannot defy my duty.” Maxwell let a single tear drop down toward the rocky ground below. He nodded and his brother stepped forward. He placed his pale hands on that muscled back. He remembered the times that strong back carried him around, serving as his horse when he imagined himself a general. His brother had always been a wild stallion and he had always been a proper general in his habits and beliefs.
He gave a push and his brother followed Maxwell’s single tear toward the ground. His descent was stopped by the rope about his neck. Maxwell watched his brother die. He knew the chains only added to the pain, but he had not the courage to remove them before the deed. But now it was done. He had passed the ultimate test. He had fulfilled his duty.
Regret bit at him. It was sharper than the wind against his checks. He pursed his red lips. He grabbed an axe from inside the tower. It was black with caked blood. He raised it over his head and brought it down, severing the rope that held up his brother’s corpse. It fell into the fog obscured rocks below. The tendrils of the fog reached up toward Maxwell, beckoning him to join his brother. The shadows of the dying sun blackened the fog.
“My brother, I have betrayed you! What good is duty when it does not live? Where is it to comfort me now? My brother, I come to join you.” And with those words Maxwell flung himself down towards the rocky ground and the black fog embraced him.
A short story by Joshua A. Spotts