The day of the execution soon arrived, when a crowd of thousands of people of all ages and social conditions assembled to witness Chago's last few minutes on this earth. It was the first execution of this kind to take place in Kanesville in the latest ten years or so. The judge had wanted an example out of him, discouraging such deeds in his precious town.
Chago had time to get resigned to his fate. He was still wondering, though, who was the Judas among the Steamhawke crew who had planted the false evidence in his luggage, but he understood he would never find out.
Somewhere a dim glimmer of hope was that Azzo and Ivan might have done something for him and they would show up in the last minute but what if they couldnt? At least, he would not give his enemies who had testified in false against him, some of them former friends, the satisfaction of seeing him in despair. If the crowd wanted to see the show of El Morenos execution, he was ready to provide it and to die with dignity.
Though emaciated with confinement and the pain of torture, Chago was clean and properly dressed with his best clothes. The dark blue costume he was using mainly for blending in at upper class events, if he was after a high mark, was now to be the last attire he was wearing. The elegant white shirt with frills and the cravat were hiding fresh wounds and older scars underneath, giving him a presentable look.
As the cart went slowly along through the midst of the gazing crowd, Chago was praying, poured forth his soul in front of the only Supreme Judge he knew and accepted.
As if knowledgeable about the event, a flock of vultures or other similar birds of prey was flowing above the crowd, as if they knew what was bound to happen, then landing on the ramparts around the place of execution and crying loudly, in anticipation of their bloody feast. Chago looked at them helpless and cursed loudly in his mother tongue, a contrast to the prayer he had barely finished. Such bad omen mourners made him shiver and realize better what kind of death awaited him. He was human and he was scared. Only that he didnt let it show.
In order to take his mind off these birds, he invoked the help of his patron saint, with the same prayer he had said during the pilgrimage and during any difficult times: Glorious Apostle Santiago, whose very name is a symbol of warfare and victory, please obtain for us strength and consolation in the unending warfare of this life, that we may be victors in the strife and deserve to receive the victor's crown in heaven.
It was obvious in the crowd that most people believed he was guilty and rejoiced for the cruel show of the execution. He couldnt look at the people nearest to him, who threw thunders from their eyes at the alleged cold blood murderer of innocent women and men.
There were, though, people who didnt and not only among Steamhawke crew. There were also people who thought this useless display of violence wouldnt change anything, wouldnt deter the potential criminals going ahead with their plots. There were rebels already sick of the military dictatorship and how things were going in Kanesville in general, and there were young women who were impressed by the dignified appearance of the condemned.
One of these young women stepped forward with a guirland of flowers the local ones specific for the season, rather small and in various colours and threw it upon him. It hit him exactly when he finished mentioning the victors crown in heaven. Oblivious to the tradition which compelled that girl to do it, he put it round his neck, as it was large enough, and he looked around who might have offered it to him.
He couldnt know who exactly had done it the girl had stepped back, being engulfed by the crowd. His eyes fell on a thin girls silhouette farther away. Her hair was the same colour like Myiras, let free on her shoulders, and she had flowers of the same type pinned in her hair. He couldnt see her face, as she was turned to somebody else, talking with that person. So, Chago was convinced that Myira was that one, and that she had thrown the guirland to him, as a good bye gift.
A wooden stage had been erected, upon which stood the big cannon, so that everybody could see how the despicable mass murderer was punished. The executioners artillery soldiers in shiny parade uniforms loaded the cannon according to what they knew from so many drills.
Given that an execution of this kind hadnt happened for many years, though, the soldiers loaded the gun, by reflex, exactly how they did at the field exercises, without thinking what it was going to be used for this time. Some grapeshot found its way among the blank cartridges, and nobody noticed, preoccupied by the advancing cart with the condemned and by the disturbing birds of prey hovering around.
Finally, the cart arrived to the right place. Chago stepped down from the cart, refusing any help, even if he was rather weak and he would have needed it. The prosecutor was waiting for the condemned, surrounded by the artillery soldiers and their sergeant. A buzz of excitement ran through the crowd as the minute of the execution neared.
Do you have anything to say? the prosecutor asked Chago.
I am dying innocent of all murders I was accused of, he answered simply and proudly, scanning the crowd.
He hoped to see Myira once again, and it seemed to him that she was somewhere, farther away. He seemed to recognize her elegant dress, the one she had been wearing when they exchanged confessions and promises, and her long hair was flowing free in the wind. The sight emboldened him. If he was to die, at least she should remember him as a hero.
But as I am going to die, I kindly ask the permission not to be bound on the cannon and to order fire myself when ready.
The officials blinked in surprise. It had been heard that something like this had happened once long time ago. Was the prisoner so tough?
Permission granted. Sergeant, keep your eyes on him. And you, the prosecutor turned to the condemned, I hope you wont try anything funny with all these armed soldiers around you.
Somewhere in the first row, the journalists were noting down everything for the breaking news edition of their newspapers.
The crowd, ready to lynch him if not under sentence already, changed suddenly their opinion upon witnessing this attitude. A respectful silence fell upon the place while the officials retired and Chago stepped forward to meet death with his body weakened by tortures, but with unbroken spirit.
For one moment, his thoughts flew to the pacifying mission he had to enforce as a young officer, then to the many such bloody missions his maternal ancestors had been subject to, remembering the way the legends said some of the chieftains died. He wouldnt be any less.
With his head up and with a proud poise Chago walked steadily towards the loaded cannon. Once arrived to the muzzle, he took another glance at the crowd, and his eyes fell on the known bounty hunters Wild Bill, Ray and Copperhead who were, to his surprise, surrounded by soldiers in a doubtless way: they were just taken prisoners. A smile crossed his lips. There was still a bit of true justice in the world and it was Gods justice more than the humans.
Chago had joked with death and teased his friends as long as he lived. Now he bowed to the crowd, without a blush or a shadow on the expression of his eyes, as if politely taking good bye from them.
Not a quiver of his lips and not a frown were visible when he leaned on the muzzle.He made a wide sign of the cross, putting himself under the divine protection, then, pining the officials with a glare full of reproach, Chago ordered Fire! with a steady voice to the soldiers surrounding the cannon.
In this moment, he was not afraid anymore. He saw the match put to the touch-hole, and the next moment, in the shouts of the crowd, the priming was fired.
With a sudden flash, the explosion covered the place in a thick cloud of smoke.
The vultures flew high into the sky, taking their bits of prey with a scary precision from wherever the explosion had thrown them. Unlike at other executions of this kind, not a vestige remained afterwards from the man once known as El Moreno.
The people in the first rows were splashed by a shower of blood, including the reporters. As for the soldiers in their shiny parade uniforms, the sponger and the loadmen, they got not only covered in blood, as they were the closest. Grapeshot knocked them down, killing and injuring some.
But it was not the only effect of the grapeshot load. It got scattered among the crowd too, with distressing results. Several men and women got hit, some deadly, some seriously wounded, and the mass of people gathered around panicked, trampling the others around in the attempt either to run away, or to get to their loved ones who had been among the victims. Angry shouts were heard from here and there, becoming louder:
That man was not guilty, who knows how the Militia had condemned him to hide their own crimes!
He must have been one of the rebels who raised his voice, look how he died in dignity!
There might be our turn next if we dont stand up to these uniformed criminals, look what they are doing! The execution is just a pretext; they wanted us crowded here to be able to kill more of us, look!
A volley of stones, bricks and bottles was launched at the law enforcement troops. The soldiers stormed around to confront the assembly but their hits with weapons and canes were not enough, as the crowd became angrier and angrier, hitting back and disarming the soldiers. The rioting crowd was more numerous than the soldiers. As the mob dispersed they began to break into stores on the nearby streets, and their anger was increasing.
Those who had peaceful thoughts decided suddenly to return home if they could before being dragged into the uprising by one or the other side. No wonder if the newspapers tomorrow would forget about the alleged murderers execution to write about riots, arson, murders and massive robberies instead.