Hangman’s Wages

Hangman's Wages by Cora BuhlertGermany in the Middles Ages: Ulrich, executioner to Count Dietmar of Finsterwalde, finds his workload unexpectedly doubled, when Count Dietmar orders him to hang Anna, a young thief caught picking pockets during the public execution of a notorious bandit.

Ulrich feels sorry for Anna, but orders are orders. And so he leads the terrified Anna to the hanging tree, determined to make sure that she suffers as little as possible. But as he places the noose around Anna’s neck, Ulrich finds that she touches his heart like no one before her.

But how can he save Anna, when the merciless Count Dietmar has already ordained her death?

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More information:

  • Hangman’s Wages is a short story of 3300 words. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • This story was written as part of the July short story challenge. The idea was to write a short story per day in July 2015.
  • Unlike most of the other stories I wrote for the July challenge, there was no clearly definable inspiration for Hangman’s Wages. I do have a thing for stories about executioners falling in love with their victims, though.
  • The characters are all fictional, as is the Grafschaft (i.e. county) of Finsterwalde and the town of Goldenburg. Finsterwalde means “dark forest”, by the way.
  • That said, theft, even petty theft, was a capital crime throughout the Middle Ages and well into modern times. And ironically, pickpockets often did ply their trade at public executions – where the person to be executed might well be a fellow thief – because of the crowds they tended to draw.
  • Breaking on the wheel (or rather breaking by wheel, which is what happens to the bandit Black Berthold) was a common sentence for serious crimes in many German states well into the eighteenth century.
  • The practice of executioners being allowed to pardon a female condemned by offering to marry her has some basis in fact, though it was rarely invoked, mostly because the women refused, preferring death to marrying a social outcast like an executioner.
  • The prices for the various tasks connected to the execution of Black Berthold are based on an actual sixteenth century price list for executioners. There were a lot more tasks with specified prices. Like modern budget airlines, medieval and early modern executioners charged for every little extra.
  • The cover is a stock photo by Piotr Marcinski inserted into a regular “old paper” background.
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