A crowd had gathered around the crossroads outside of town to watch Johnny the Fiddler be hanged.
John O’Halloran had been declared a traitor to the crown and ordered to be hanged on sight. Strangely, it was only the King’s Guards Who’d seen John O’Halloran when the rest of the crowd had been seeing Johnny the Fiddler.
There was some confusion about why Johnny was a traitor but he admitted who he was cheerfully and barely fought as he was arrested. He dropped his fiddle as he was captured and someone in the audience grabbed it before it could be trampled. The gallows wasn’t prepared but the Guards had come with a rope and there was a likely looking tree not too far out of town that they had decided could be used for the purpose.
In addition to binding his hands, the Guards had also covered his mouth. When they’d been sent to arrest John O’Halloran, they’d been warned that he was not to be allowed to speak. A twinkle appeared in his eye as they told him he was to be hanged without trial and without a last speech, as his kind were want to give.
The crowd followed the Guards to see Johnny hanged. If they weren’t going to see a fiddler play, it would be just as entertaining to see a traitor hanged. As the Guards prepared the rope, someone in the crowd got the idea that it would be a fine thing to see both.
“Let’s have a last song,” someone shouted from the crowd. “If you’re going to kill our fiddler, let him fiddle to the end.”
“He’s to be hanged without delay and without any kind of speech giving,” the officer in charge of the Guards answered. “He dropped his fiddle anyway. Seems if he was any kind of musician, he’d have more care for his instruments.”
“A song’s not a speech,” another voice said.
“I’ve got his fiddle here,” said another and the fiddle was passed forward through the crowd to be handed to the Guard.
“One last song isn’t so bad, while we’re tying the rope,” one of the younger Guards said.
The officer took the fiddle from the crowd and walked it over to Johnny. He drew his sword before he ordered the prisoners hands released. “Play,” the officer said, holding his sword on Johnny. “And make it good.”
Johnny took the fiddle and played a few notes then turned it over and looked at the back. His face fell slightly and he loosened the gag to address the crowd. “Ah, she’s cracked, she has, and my music has cracked with her. I don’t think she’ll play a jolly tune but maybe I can coax her into a lament for a lad who loved his country and his queen too well.”
He put the bow to the strings and began to play. The crowd watched as Johnny the Fiddler played his last and more than one eye shed a tear. The Guards slowed their work with the rope as they listened to a lament without words.
There’s long been the belief that music held a power that was almost like magic, and the people watching Johnny play felt it that day. The music of the lament shimmered in the air and time seemed to stop, as though the universe itself was paying homage to the fiddler who was dying through his music. Johnny could feel it, could feel as the world was slowly coming to a stop, and played his heart out through his music. Tears streamed down every face in the crowd, including the Guards who had stopped to listen.
As he came to the end, he could feel the moment that everything stopped. He smashed his fiddle to the ground and ran. When the people watching him realized he was gone, he was far down the road, and on his way to safety.
Officially, John O’Halloran was hanged at the crossroads, his body burned and his ashes scattered to the winds. Unofficially, Johnny O’Halloran was spirited away by the elves, drawn to the crossroads by his beautiful music.
The only person who remembers the song Johnny played is the court musician, who was taken on after a private audience with the queen, and is known as The Rabbit.
I hope everybody enjoyed today’s story and I apologize for how long it took me to get up. This time last week I was volunteering at the Colorado Irish Festival, which is great fun and has a lot of great music. Of course, it inspired a lot of stories, too, which I hope to get up over the next several weeks. If you enjoyed today’s story, please feel free to drop a tip in the tip jar or pick up a copy of Flash of Fire.