Saturday, July 12, 2008

1.6.07


"Because I will not do it!"

Macko became pale with anger.

"I wish you had never been born!"

"You told the castellan," said Zbyszko, "that you would give your head in exchange for mine."

"How do you know that?"

"The Lord of Taczew told me."

"So, what of it?"

"What of it? The castellan told you that disgrace would fall on me and on all my family. Would it not be a still greater disgrace, if I escaped from here, and left you to the vengeance of the law?"

"What vengeance? What can the law do to me, when I must die just the same? Have common sense, for God's sake!"

"May God punish me if I abandon you now when you are old and sick. What a shame!"

There was silence; one could only hear the heavy, hoarse breathing of Macko, and the archers' calls.

"Listen," Macko said, finally, in broken tones, "it was not shameful for Duke Witold to escape from Krewo; it would not be for you, either."

"Right!"' said Zbyszko, with sadness. "You know! Duke Witold is a great man; he received a crown from the king's hand, also riches and dominion; but I, a poor nobleman, have only my honor."

After a while Zbyszko exclaimed in a sudden burst:

"Then do you understand that I love you, and that I will not give your head instead of mine?"

At this, Macko stood on his trembling feet, stretched out his hands, and although he was a hard man, as if forged of iron, be cried suddenly in a heartbroken voice:

"Zbyszko!"





The next day, the court servants began to make preparations in the market square to build the scaffold, which was to be erected opposite the principal gate of the city hall.

The duchess, however, was still consulting with learned canons, who were familiar with the written laws and also with the laws sanctioned by custom.

She was encouraged in these efforts by the castellan's words, when he said, that if they showed him "law or pretext," he would free Zbyszko. Therefore they consulted earnestly, to ascertain if there were any law or custom that would do. Although father Stanislaw had prepared Zbyszko for death and administered the last sacraments, he went directly from the prison to the consultation, which lasted almost till daybreak.

The day of execution arrived. From early morning, crowds of people had begun to gather on the market square, because the decapitation of a nobleman excited more curiosity than that of a common criminal. The weather was beautiful. News of the youth and handsomeness of the sentenced man, spread among the women. Therefore the whole road leading to the castle, was filled with crowds of townswomen, dressed in their best; in the windows on the market square, and on the balconies, could be seen velvet bonnets, or the fair heads of young girls, ornamented only with wreaths of lilies and roses. The city councilors, although the affair did not belong in their jurisdiction, all appeared, in order to show their importance and placed themselves near the scaffold. The knights, wishing to show their sympathy for the young man, gathered in great numbers around the elevation. Behind them swarmed the gaily dressed crowd, composed of small merchants and artisans dressed in their guild costumes. Over this compact mass of human heads, one could see the scaffold which was covered with new broadcloth. On the elevation stood the executioner with broad shoulders, dressed in a red coat and on his head a cowl of the same color. He carried a heavy two-edged sword, with him were two of his assistants with naked arms and ropes at their girdles. There were also a block and a coffin covered with broadcloth. In Virgin Mary's tower, the bells were ringing, filling the town with metallic sounds and scaring the flocks of doves and jackdaws.

The people looked at the scaffold, and at the executioner's sword shining in the sun. They also looked at the knights, on whom the burghers always gazed with respect. This time it was worthwhile to look at them. The most famous knights were surrounding the scaffold. They admired the broad shoulders and long black hair of Zawisza Czarny; they admired the short square figure of Zyndram of Maszkow as well as the gigantic stature of Paszko of Biskupice; the threatening face of Wojciech of Wodzinek and the handsomeness of Dobko of Olesnica, who at the tournament in Torun had defeated twelve German knights; they looked admiringly at Zygmunt of Bobowa, who became equally famous in Koszyce in a fight with the Hungarian knights, and at Staszko of Charbimowice who was able to catch a running horse.

The pale face of Macko of Bogdanice who was supported by Floryan of Korytnica and Marcin of Wrocimowice also attracted general attention. It was generally thought that he was the sentenced man's father.

But the greatest curiosity was aroused by Powala of Taczew who, standing in front, was holding Danusia, dressed in white, with a wreath of green rue resting on her fair hair. The people did not understand what it meant, or why this young girl was present to look at the execution. Some of them thought she was a sister; others, that she was the knight's lady; but none were able to explain the meaning of her dress or of her presence at the scaffold. The sight of her fair face covered with tears, aroused sympathy and emotion. The people began to criticize the castellan's stubbornness, and the severity of the laws. Those critical voices gradually become louder and louder. Finally, here and there, some voices were heard to say, that if the scaffold were destroyed, then the execution would be postponed.

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