Warwickshire, England, 1103
Kathy was frozen to the spot. She stared at the proffered hand, trying to hold back the impulse to run. A clump of mud fell off the monstrous, ugly thing he was holding out to her. The hangman shook it slightly, in what was presumably a threatening gesture of intimidation.
What was it, some kind of… some kind of death token?
Did this mean he was after her now?
Oh god, he was going to hang her and she’d never see her parents again and this was terrible, everything was the worst; how had she made such an unbelievable misjudgement in setting up her stores so close to the gallows?
She’d thought no one would come near here- everyone stayed away from Gallow’s Way, avoided the lingering reek of death. She hadn’t even thought about the hangman.
He cleared his throat, and she flinched, expecting him to shout angry demands for her arrest or accuse her of witchcraft.
“It’s garlic,” he said, a little sheepishly. “I heard it was good for wounds.”
“Witch! Kill her!” The villagers screeched wild, terrified wails of anger as they hoisted Kathy onto the gallows. A tomato hit her shoulder, breaking into her hair with an ugly squelch.
Matthew pulled the noose over her head, and she stared at his bowed head, disbelieving. He couldn’t be doing this, not after everything he’d said, not after he’d given her the wooden token she could feel pressing against her thigh, engraved with their initials, entwined together. He’d given her garlic, and now he was going to . .
He was going to kill her.
He leant in to adjust the knot. She could feel his breath against her neck, a warmth of heat against the abrasive roughness of the rope. She closed her eyes, trying to hold back the rush of tears pressing at her eyelids.
“I’ve got you,” he said, low and quiet into the dip of her jaw. He turned his head nearer, where the villagers couldn’t see, and pressed a kiss to her earlobe. “Trust me."
She opened her eyes, stared wide at him, and he nodded once, almost imperceptibly.
She didn’t take her eyes off him as the noose tightened and she fell down, the air full of victorious cheers, the world going black. She met his unwavering gaze until the very last moment, and trusted him completely.
When she woke up her throat was on fire so she couldn’t breathe, her neck and spine a tight swell of pain, but Matthew was there, pressing kisses against her cheek, holding her close.
"I’ve got you,” he said, quiet. “I’ve got you.”