There were three of them that led me to where I was meant to be executed. My arms were painfully outstretched as we walked. The dull, aching pain in my fingers was all that kept me sluggishly awake. I couldn’t move my upper body and didn’t even try. Two guards stayed by my side as we marched, both their hands on each of my limp wrists with an iron grip. The man who led us to the flood-zone walked with a purpose, each step calculated and true, determined to see me pay for my awful crimes. After all, it was his father that was our late elder. It was his father who methodically taught us how to live and survive in these hidden mountains, he who taught us his beliefs on how to live and work together as a family, as a thriving community. And again, it was his father whose blood flowed from his neck-wound into the earth, my jagged blade the culprit.
The elder was loved by all, but I knew the truth; the only true crime committed in my village was letting the old fool live for as long as he did. The people of the village should be praising me for ridding them of his awfulness; his foolish ideas of how a community should prosper were holding us all back, weakening us and threatening our future. I could hear the clouds above us starting to rumble, as the wind began to howl. I looked skyward and felt drops of rain collecting on my face. The rainy season was here, and at this, the son of the elder hastened us to my final destination.
I could feel the rope around my neck tighten as he marched faster. He personally tied the noose and, as he walked, gripped the rope’s leash-end like a farmer herding an animal to slaughter. I closed my eyes tight through hot tears, ruminating on the birthright that was promised to me: I was meant to be the new elder once the great elder’s life ended. It was me who was meant to be great, me that was chosen! Now just a chastised dog, I was being led through the vast jungle, feet stumbling over small rocks and catching on shrubs like a foolish, drunk beggar. The men stayed silent as I vomited on myself, spewing bile over my torso and thighs. The one on my left looked away in disgust as I ambled on, gasping for breath while they pulled me tighter.
I was completely exhausted now; it had been four days since I had rest or food, and the water given to me was contaminated with urine. The rain started to increase in tempo; the leaves of the trees danced and swayed under the downpour, while the earth thirstily sponged up the droplets; the whole jungle trembled under the greatness of the heavy rain. The hair on my skin started to rise from the water's coolness in the deafening heat, rinsing the vomit from my skin, as mud started to collect in between the webbing of my toes. We marched on.
The river, Montashek, was ahead of us now. During the rainy season, Montashek was known to take the lives of many naïve travelers consumed by its hidden currents. Its waters were home to many aquatic beasts and venomous insects as it meandered through our ancient jungle. Now, with the season of rainfall just beginning, the water’s depth would only be waist-high from the summer’s heat burning it low, making it safe to cross with no bridge before the tidal floods arrived. Dropping the leash from my neck, the one who led us reached its banks first, trudging with no hesitation to the center of the river with his long walking stick. Using the stick, he tested the depth of the water directly in front of him, taking slow steps to the other riverside, carefully guiding himself. I wanted the bastard to die. I wanted him to lose his footing, our loyal river swallowing him whole, stick and all. Then I could finally take my place as the village elder and seek revenge on all the fools who held me captive.
I looked up, and to my morosity, the one who led us reached the other side of the river unharmed. He triumphantly turned back to face us, carefully lifted his walking stick into the air, beckoning us forward. The two guards pulled me into the river, dragging me as I dug my heals into the soft earth of the riverbank, resisting their efforts. I was overpowered by their combined strength though and was now in the river’s salty depths. The water came up to my chin and, when I tried to quickly drown myself, my two captors kept my head above the water’s deadly surge, sealing my fate entirely. A prolonged and ceremonious death now awaited me.
Out of the river and well on our way to the execution grounds, the four of us walked in silence. I espied the trees and mountains and reminisced over the memories engraved into the walls of my mind. It was many years ago, in this very jungle, when I killed my first deer; I had used my grandfather’s bow and arrow, gifted to me from my father the day I became a man, proudly putting the animal to rest. The roots and berries that my mother showed me were edible called this jungle home. Even at this very moment I could hear her soothing voice and the way she'd sing to me when I was a scared child needing comfort, the berries she plucked sweetening my mouth as I wept in her arms. And it too was this jungle that took her from me; a flying insect gave her a sickness she could not overcome after it was nourished from her blood. She painfully suffered and was gone in less than a year, and now I was missing her more than anything else in my poor, wretched life.
I could see the flood-zone now: a massive pit below water level with a large wooden stake dug deep into the earth equally centered by the pit’s edges. As we approached, the water in the pit was well above our knees from the heavy rainfall. The one who led us wasted no time as we followed him to the middle of the pit where the lone stake stood erect. My captors placed my neck against the stake, as my hands were securely tied behind my back. The water was rising faster now as the rain became torrential.
The one who led us stood in front of me now, staring into my eyes as I avoided his gaze. The water was well above our waists, and I watched closely as my two captors fled the pit for the safety of the shore. Breathing heavily, the one who led us cleared his throat, readying himself to speak. Through a heavy sadness, and a hoarseness that was unfamiliar to me, he carefully spoke:
“I am truly saddened today. Your greed, my brother, is why you are here waiting for the rains to give you death. You killed our father for your own selfish reasons; you killed him for power over our village, to control our people who we were tasked to protect with our very lives. Your emotions controlled you, convinced you, manipulated you into believing that hurting our family was just. What would our late mother say of your actions, of your murder? If the sickness did not take her, would she be proud of the man you’ve become? Not only did I lose my father that day to your greed, but I also lost you, my brother. You were my very best friend in this life.”
He placed his hand on my shoulder, as tears began to stream down his face. The water’s depth almost cleared my chin as he wept for me. I slowly looked up at my twin brother, levelling with his gaze now; I could see my mother’s concern in his eyes, and I could see my father’s features on his grave face. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes as he swam away from me, the last vestige of family that I'll ever see again.
With my soul purified from the rains the ceremony was over, and it was time now to rejoin my father and mother in peaceful death.