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The Hanging Tree
I met with him today. While out riding, with my long auburn hair flowing behind me and my dress caught around my ankles, I saw him. I tried to look as elegant as possible, but it was hard. It was hard having this different personality around him. I couldn’t be my sophisticated and poised self. I had to become a reckless lady. But it felt nice. Around him, I didn’t have to stay the same. I didn’t have to be poised, like I did around Henry. He said my name dignified like. But, when this man, Victor, talked to me, he treated me like a normal person. He called to me with ease. “Beatrice”, he’d say, and I would come to him.
I was supposed to meet him tonight. He told me to meet him at the Hanging Tree.
There had been stories of murders and hangings there, but I’d never been there myself. They’d said that’s where they strung up the murders for all to see.
I never believed these legends, of course. They were simply made up to enjoy the little ones. My parents took care of the murderers and crazies here.
So, I waited for the rest of the day in my room. I set out the perfect dress, one of my newer ones. I would ride there, as to not dirty the lovely silk dress. I sat at the vanity, brushing out my hair till it felt like silk running through your fingers. I had to look perfect, just for Victor. I could care less about the poor old soul Henry I was betrothed to. But Victor, he was perfect. So he deserved a perfect lady to run off with.
We were meeting at this Hanging Tree to run off and get married and run away together. It was unheard of in our small town, but we had to break tradition so our love would last on. That’s what he said at least. I trusted Victor with all my heart. He knew me better than I knew myself.
“Beatrice. You’re wanted downstairs,” my maid, Maegan, called from outside my door.
“Tell them I’ll be downstairs shortly,” I sighed. I laid down my brush and got up. I brushed off my skirt and straightened myself out. I rolled my hair into a hidden knot at the top of my neck. I snuck a glance into the mirror and walked back outside into the cold corridors. I walked down to the parlor, where my parents were.
“You have riding lessons tonight, I’ve been told. You should be ready and outside waiting for the carriage by 7 o’clock. They’ll be there to pick you up and bring you to the stables.” mother said primly.
“Yes mother.” I replied automatically. I turned and walked, with poise, back to my room and continued my prep.
Yes, the stables were right near the Tree. It would be perfect to meet him there. I smiled at myself in the mirror and returned to brushing my hair.
As I sat there, an old lullaby crept into my thoughts. It was about the legendary Hanging Tree where I was meeting Victor tonight. It stated, “Where they strung up a man, they say murdered three.”. That was the song my father always sang to me before bed when I was younger. i always thought it was silly back then. Now, I understood it’s grimness. I understood the meaning of what happened. But it was all legends, of course. None of this would actually happen in such a small town. Nothing ever happened here. The only bad things that did were the poor street beggars. They sang old songs, old folk tales of the lives before us. They stole often from the richer so they could thrive themselves. But, they were caught and told off for it.
Tonight, I would no longer be alone. I would no longer be proper. Tonight at the Hanging Tree, I would become me.
At seven o’clock, I had on my nicest dress and had my hair done up. I walked out on the pavement that led to the cobblestone road. There was a carriage waiting for me, just as mother had said. Maegan had made sure that I looked perfect for this night. I bid her farewell, and left the household.
The carriage driver jumped down from his seat in front and helped me up into the enclosed area I’d be riding in. I sat up on the cushioned seats and crossed my legs and looked like a lady. Though I’d never have to do it again, it was hard to break the habit. Especially with mother watching me from the front window.
As the carriage rolled on, I felt my heart beat faster and faster. I was growing more and more anxious to meet Victor tonight.
Suddenly, the carriage jolted to a stop and the driver opened the door and let me out. I curtseyed gratefully and walked to the stable to get my horse. I found him already saddled from this afternoon. I climbed up and rode him out into the field. I saw the Tree silhouetted against the sunset sky. I made my horse go faster and faster so I could get there.
I saw him, and I stopped my horse and jumped off, not caring if my shoes got dirty. I ran to him. He was on the opposite side of the tree. So, I looked around and saw 3 men strung up with rough rope. I gasped, covering my mouth.
Someone grabbed me from behind around the waist and pulled me tight. I screamed, but he stroked my hair then covered my mouth.
“Shhh baby. Hush hush..” Victor said seductively. When I heard his voice, I melted into him and turned around, pressing my lips to his. He pushed me up against the tree and we stood in this close embrace for several minutes until I remembered what was on the other side of the tree. I put my arms in between us and looked him in the eyes.
“Why are there three men dead hanging on this tree?” I asked sternly, returning all poise to my body.
“Why, because I killed them. One’s your betrothed. Wouldn’t want him getting in the way of us, now would we darling?” he said cunningly. If I didn’t already know him well enough, I would’ve been fooled by his innocent voice. “The others, well, let’s just say I needed the money. And, a couple hits took care of that.” he said, a smirk playing on his lips.
“Victor! I screeched. I gasped and took a quick sidestep. I put a good distance between us.
“Darling, don’t tell me you’re afraid of me! I’d never hurt you, love.” he said, coming closer to me. I backed away still. Closer and closer to the tree. I backed into a body, and turned around to see that it was Henry. I screamed, but Victor grabbed me from behind and covered my mouth again.
“And if word gets out that this happened, you’ll be up there with them lovely,” Victor whispered in my ear. His warm breath went inside and I twitched away from it. The words played in my head, strangled my brain. “Is that understood?” he threatened.
“Yes,” I mumbled, breaking away. I looked up at his eyes. They were shining down at me menacingly.
“Why do you do this?” I whispered, my voice shaking.
“Sweetie, this town isn’t as pure as you would like to believe. There are others like me, who kill for money, to keep people out of their way. We string them up out here, so no one discovers them. That’s why it’s called the Hanging Tree, sweetheart,”
All I did was stand there, staring at him with terror. Then, I screamed, hoping someone would hear me. That’s all I did was stand. And all he did was stand and smile. He took a hand out from behind him and revealed a silver dagger, polished and ready to kill. I cut off my voice instantly, worried what he would do. I saw what had happened to those poor men. And poor old Henry.
“Honey, what did I say? Not to make a sound.” Victor inched closer and closer with every word he spoke. “Well, what did you do? You screamed.” Five more steps. “You know what I have to do now, my love.” He whipped out the dagger, pressing it to my chest, directly above my heart. He pressed slowly, drawing blood.
“No.” was all I said. My breathing was fast, my eyes terrified. He pressed in and finally reached my heart. I sucked in my last final breath, calming my expression.
And I died. Died at the Hanging Tree.
-Inspiration came from The Hanging Tree lullaby in Suzanne Collin’s book, Mockingjay-