Not really a living

Not really a living

Some people will drift into the family business and have no aptitude for it. This can lead to the saddening sight of a person drifting through their existence, living a life that isn’t really their own. On the other hand some can be perfectly suited to the trade they have inherited but still cannot make a living.

Sallia Halfstep was one such. Her father was an executioner. Indeed he was not a mere hangman, and not for him the task of chaining the victim to the drowning posts. Executioner Halfstep was a prince amongst executioners. He used the sword. None of that nonsense about axes and blocks, when he operated, his victim knelt erect and Halfstep stood behind him, swung the sword and took off the head at the neck with one blow.

You read of those whose enemies have paid to have the victim slain with a score of strokes with a blunt blade, but nobody ever even hinted that you could bribe Halfstep. In his hands you left this life so swiftly that you had no time for sightseeing on the journey.

To be honest I cannot say now whether he put parental pressure on his daughter to follow in his bloody footsteps or whether she reached for the blade of her own volition. Certainly she was perfectly competent, and living proof that it isn’t the weight and power (although they shouldn’t be entirely discounted) that matter, skill, speed and dexterity count as well.

I had the privilege of seeing her at work. She stood barefoot on the scaffold, naked to the waist, wearing only the leather trousers of her trade. The one consolation to her gender was that she kept her hair tucked back with a headscarf. She appeared to lean casually on her sword. The condemned woman was led to the place of execution, knelt on the spot marked, and was blindfolded. The priestess of Aea said a few words and then stepped back. Even as the victim was thanking her for the consoling homily, Sallia struck. There was one swift fluid movement, the sword was a blur of steel, and the head tumbled to the floor.

The problem is that whilst her role was well remunerated on every occasion she performed it, she was not called upon to perform her chosen task all that often. Lesser professionals made a living with hangings, drownings, and extra-curricular beatings. An entire year could pass before Sallia was called upon to do her duty.

She did try to cast her net wider. For a while she would hire out to Partannese nobles who were entitled to wield high, low, and middle justice. After a few months she abandoned this trade. Some of her employers were not above convicting an innocent traveller purely because they wanted the kudos of employing the best. (Some also seemed to gain an unhealthy pleasure from the fountains of blood and were it not for the sword she carried, Sallia might have had trouble from those who found blood-slick flesh erotic. One such situation led to a second, impromptu execution, for which Sallia received no payment, given that it was the paymaster she had executed.)

She also touted for work in other cities with respectable law-enforcement. Both Avitas and Prae Ducis were happy to employ her, but neither was willing to pay out of pocket expenses, so she had to let them batch up their capital cases until there were enough to be worth her while travelling. This led to some ghastly spectacles, as when she was called upon to execute six on the same afternoon. Even with an assistant spreading sand across the scaffold to ensure she didn’t lose her footing, she felt that she was not giving of her best.

But what else could she do? She was a water-colourist of considerable ability and her paintings were collectable. Many a host has pointed to the delightful and tranquil scene hanging in his hallway and has commented, “Yes, this is the work of Sallia the Executioner.

Thus and so, she managed to get by. Every morning she would rise and go out into the back yard of her family home. Here she would practice for an hour with the sword, running through various dances in arms. Then after a light breakfast she would give an hour to accuracy work, honing her skills so that she could cut a gentleman’s tie without touching his neck. Then in the afternoon she would take up her paints and would work on her current painting.

Eventually she married, and it has to be admitted that her profession was such that except when she was expecting, she could still perform the role she trained for so assiduously. Whilst her husband was a perfectly respectable clerk who was paid a reasonable honorarium, they both agreed that the extra money, from executions and water colours, allowed them to enjoy those little luxuries that might otherwise be out of their reach.

This is not to say that her role was not without controversy. Quite a number complained about being executed by a ‘mere slip of a girl.’ To be fair as she grew older, others felt that acting as their executioner was no role for ‘a respectable married lady.’ It must be admitted, almost by definition, those who complained about Sallia as a ‘slip of a girl’ were not those who moaned about a ‘respectable married woman’ coming to execute them. The authorities did consider the complaints, they were taken all the way to the Council of Sinecurists. There it was pointed out that many people have an irrational dislike of their executioner and it was probably unwise to take too much notice of the complaints. It was agreed that they would investigate the complaints in more detail if they were made by the contemned individual after the execution was supposed to have happened.

Strangely enough if was her children who inadvertently brought the family real prosperity. Whilst the wealthy can sent a maid or a nanny to collect the children from school, Sallia always did it herself. It was there that she made friends with many ladies much of her own age and social condition. One, somewhat enviously, asked Sallia how many children she had. Sallia gestured to the child running out of the classroom towards her. “That’s my fourth.”
“Four children, and you have kept you figure!”

“Well I do have to practice.”

Various other ladies who had overheard the conversation drew closer as Sallia explained her daily exercise regime. As the children arrived and the group of mothers broke up, one or two sidled across to Sallia and asked if it would be possible for them to train with her. Two years later she was having to hire a hall every evening so that her pupils could train inside.

Thus and so, Port Naain must now have any number of ladies who could step in to take on the role of executioner. Not that any have, Port Naain calls upon Sallia no more frequently that it did in the past.


We’re on tour again. If you want to read on click on the link below and be whisked about to exotic parts.

Blog Tour: Jim Webster

8 thoughts on “Not really a living

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s