The Only Beauty Left by Helen Ren

He stood upon the town platform, not that he had much of a choice.
His arms were pinned down, spread straight across the wooden stake. Cuffed, and bolted.
There were shackles around his ankles. Iron.
Heavy iron. Rusted iron.
And right at his feet was a woodpile, damped and rotting.

I looked on, but I was only one of the many who had come to witness.

They called him a thief – scum of our streets!
A danger, a threat.
A criminal.
Dirty, and sinful.

But he was rather quite angelic.
Certainly not from around this area of
His dark hair looked wind-blown, not unkempt. It was not the shaggy mess I would expect on a criminal, it barely made it to his shoulders. Scum
He had a cape-like robe on, of a majestic purple, much unlike the modest brown robes I exhibited.
An intricate golden chain fastened his robes, dangling delicately upon his collarbone.
His breathing was shallow, his head hung to his chest, and his eyes closed.
I was so close to him, I could see the sweat form on his brow from the harsh heat of the day, the sun was almost directly overhead.

By now, the crowd had grown so large, it seemed the whole village and come.
Come to murmur among themselves about this man.

His head finally gave a nod or two before straightening out, and by the flash of agony across his face, it must have hurt him to do so.
His eyes opened slowly, and cautiously,
and I stared in awe.

Never have I been so mesmerized.
Such a rare sight to see, his eyes. Electrifying blue, cool and calm; flecks of royal purple, deep and rich, identical to his robe. And they did not flinch, for he never panicked as he faced his sea of spectators.

I felt like a horrible person for being part of this, for being a part of his nightmare.

We watched him clench his fists, and the crowd turned savage, viciously accusing him of trying to flee.
But I knew better.
I could see the muscles in his jaw clench, and his smooth, angular face contort in pain; he was only trying to regain feeling. It must have been hours since they first imprisoned him. His body was tense, his muscles rebelling, flexing and relaxing beneath his black bodysuit.

I found myself wanting to free him.
Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. 

His head swivelled slightly, following the hollow clunking.
There stood a man, masked to protect his identity. He wore armour, as if he prepared for war. He had a metal plate. He had chains, and guards.
He also had a torch.

The crowd all around me applauded.
He sneered at the poor prisoner.
‘You. You are the thief. You will be punished.’
‘No, sir, I have not taken anything.’
His voice was barely a whisper, calm, and musical, neither joyful nor sad.
Not desperate, or pleading, like most in his position would be doing.
It was a noble voice, a voice of courage.
‘You are a liar as well.’
‘I am neither, sir.’

But the torch was thrown anyways.
The fire erupted on contact with the wood at his feet; the flames evolved into a demon, growing larger by the second, swallowing him in its inescapable jaws.

I was the only one to scream in horror at what I was seeing.
Everyone around me cheered in delight, as if this were victory.
I was surrounded by scum, as I watched the only beauty left burn to ashes.

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