They had trouble choosing a song to execute Malakine.
The executioner and his chosen chorus had walked up to the bench where the judge, jury, and the headman of Immer village sat. They looked at each other for some time before the judge asked, “Well? Get on with it. Execute him!”
“With what song?” the executioner and his chosen chorus had asked.
Surely, someone had thought of a song to kill Malakine. But no one had. The judge, jury, the headman, and the people gathered in the execution arena all looked at each other.
There were no songs to kill a man.
“What about the one we use on pigs?” asked a member of the jury.
The executioner thought about it. He only had experience slaughtering animals, and he wasn’t sure any of those songs would work on Malakine. “I don’t know … that song is about fattening up the pig. It involves a lot of food. Are we sure we want to waste that much food on him?”
“How about tigers? We have had nuisance because of them. We hate them. We kill them. Surely, the same can be used on Malakine.”
“Perhaps,” the executioner said. “But the tiger song is more of a painful haiku. Also, Malakine doesn’t have the claws or teeth to maul himself to death.”
The village doctor eagerly chimed in now with his two cents. “To be fair, Malakine could maul himself, but it will be long and messy. It would take days before we could sing the tiger haiku powerfully enough to cause him irreparable damage.”
Malakine’s mother stood to a side, watching the proceedings with utter indifference. She looked at no one else but him. The scourge of Immer. Her son. She wondered what had possessed him to commit crimes unheard of.
A Horse Whisperer with songs that make your beast fly like the wind. That was Malakine. That was his reputation. People from villages as far north as the Grimallion forests would bring their horses to Malakine so he could talk to them. Horses touched by Malakine lived long. They ran the fastest. They ran the farthest.
It was a crime to kill a horse touched by Malakine. Punishable by a huge fine. Or a horse of equivalent value.
Malakine’s fame was evident from the crowds that had arrived in the arena to witness the execution. The curious nature of Malakine’s crime, and the unheard-of nature of his punishment, was enough to entice large swarms of villagers. The guests were kept well-fed and happy in Immer with the headman playing a wilful host.
Everyone was curious. After all, how could a horse whisperer suddenly change his tune? How could a horse whisperer change the nature of his song?
How did he use a song to take a life?
Not just any life. Not an animal’s life. Nor an object. A person’s life. A fellow man.
Some said it was an offense given to the Horse Whisperer. But witnesses claimed that the cause was a life taken; that of Malakine’s prized possession—his horse.
A black steed with a white neck. It was unstoppable by any hand except Malakine’s. It served at his pleasure. So, when the son of a Gentleman Farmer asked for the horse, Malakine refused. But you don’t say no to Gentlemen Farmers, or their sons. The son sang a deep and soft song threaded to the lines of a sonnet that killed horses. And Malakine’s horse jumped into a river and drowned.
What happened next proved to be beyond anyone’s comprehension. Malakine, stark raving and mad, dragged the Gentleman Farmer’s son out of his house and into the street, where he began chanting a harsh, croaking song reminiscent of a dirge but mixed with the complexity of a retching rondeau.
One moment, the farmer’s son lay on the ground, screaming without tone: a hollow, dour squeal with no melody or rhyme.
The next moment, he was dead.
Malakine did not resist when they came to arrest him. He willingly stood trial, willingly accepted his fate. But when they began deliberating on the song that should be used to kill him, he laughed. A silent, cold, pitiful laugh, devoid of life or hope.
Malakine’s mother understood him better than anyone. She understood that someone who tended to wild, unruly horses with sympathetic songs could easily tend to people with unsympathetic tunes. Someone from a neighbouring village suggested a song for locusts that his people had sung during a dreadful harvest season. They had to eat the locusts themselves due to lack of proper crop and had discovered they liked fried locusts.
“So much protein. In every crunchy bite,” he added. They had later adopted the locust-killing song as a locust-hunting song which provided a lot of food.
But locusts were little and had small minds. Their song wouldn’t work on Malakine. So, the idea was dropped.
Someone from the village of Bentria offered, “Perhaps we use the one we used on that gorilla who wandered in … umm … ”
“The Thrum of Apricots and Bananas by Torvinkus?” his neighbour prompted.
“Yes … that’s it. From few years ago.”
But they all agreed it wouldn’t work. That was an impromptu song. And as their headman himself pointed out, “We didn’t kill it directly though, did we? Torvinkus just made the coconuts drop on the gorilla. Repeatedly.”
Torvinkus, hurt that this conversation was going on as if he didn’t exist, finally chimed in. “My song’s gotten a lot more potent you know. Now, the gorilla beats itself to death with coconuts.”
Everyone ignored Torvinkus. No one wanted to drop coconuts on Malakine. Or get him to beat himself with coconuts. Everyone agreed. It was not musical. The idea was dropped.
After all, music meant everything. It was important in life and death. There was a song that kept you alive and a song that sang for you as you passed into the great beyond. It was sacred. Music shaped rocks, grew trees, helped the wind, thrashed the waves, pushed the sun, darkened the moon, sparkled the stars. It was there when the world began, a great big thrum that made galaxies and stars and planets. And it would end the universe too. On a silent note.
Because every death was silent. Silent but for the music in the heart of things.
There were songs to bring about the death of pigs, goats, cows, even wasps and honeybees. They all went to their deaths with a song in their heart. That was the way of the world.
Sure, there were methods to kill people too, as in the old days, before music came down to the people. There are still stories about people hurting people with “instruments that made sounds other than music.” In battles, the stories say, both sides had instruments of their own, and the victor was the side with the most number of people still standing, untouched by these instruments.
When the song came, hurt disappeared from the body and came to the mind. Now, songs cut deep, deeper than any instrument remembered in the stories.
But they still wouldn’t kill.
Songs were written for various occasions. For making a tree flower, then bear fruit; it became a profession for owners of orchards. Families of farmers improved their songs over the course of generations, competing against each other for the sale of a bumper crop that tasted superior to that of others. Songs to change the weather, move earth to build houses, move rivers to prevent floods, to stop a wound from festering, to break a marriage, to cause somebody’s downfall, to birth a child, foal, calf, and even to kill a tiger that strayed in your path.
But no song was ever written to kill a man, no matter how much it was deemed necessary.
They learnt their lessons from those instruments of old. Death of another by one’s own hands was not musical.
Because of the sudden influx of villagers showing up to watch the execution, Immer’s council had decided to bring the timeline of the execution ahead and execute Malakine on the 3rd day after the New Moon and not the 8th day as was usual in all matters of arbitration.
There was also the matter of justice. And truly, no one deserved justice more than Malakine for what he did, not just to the village, but for what his actions meant for the people in general.
“Kill him with kindness.”
Everyone stopped to wonder who had said it. Until she repeated herself.
“Kill him. Kill my son. With kindness,” said Malakine’s mother.
The others would have laughed at the suggestion, except that at his mother’s words, Malakine had gasped. There was anger on his face as he looked at his mother. But the deed was done.
The judge gave the order. The executioner and his chorus knew what to do.
Kindness. The kindness sung at funerals over lost friends and lovers. In the shape of a running rondo and a mournful keening chased by lament.
The executioner and his chorus took their places in front of Malakine, who had fallen to his knees, shaken, gripped by fear.
The silence that preceded the killing of Malakine was rushing, calm, soothing, and deadly.
Then the chorus began. It was a soft, lowly thrum that grew louder. The executioner began intoning within the circles of the song, slipping in and out of the hums with ease.
Malakine looked up, unaffected, and began to laugh again.
The judge heard his laughter and stood, rankled. Closing his eyes, he joined his tone with the song. Then the jury. Then the village. Then all of them. Except for Malakine’s mother.
But he still laughed.
Until the executioner added hate.
It was a shock for the executioner. He had never hated his task before. He had only killed animals to provide for everyone in Immer. No human had to be his task, ever. But he knew, the kindness that killed animals could never kill Malakine. That’s why he needed to add hate. Because a hatred of his task could allow their rampant kindness to turn into something else entirely—Mercy.
It was a blow to the kneeling Malakine. It shook him out of his mirth. He bent double screaming in pain as the song reached its crescendo.
The crowd gathered around Malakine leaned closer to see the blood weeping from his suffering, but Malakine wasn’t bleeding. He was crying. Malakine’s chest heaved, shuddering shoulders framed his terrified form as his eyes bulged in terror. The heard-unheard song raged across his soul and burned him up with something he failed to recognize.
The people were shocked too. Watching Malakine crying, they searched his face in fear, trying to understand what he felt. They knew this changed things. This was a new song. A song that killed. It killed people. It was going to change the balance of the world. They desperately needed Malakine to explain it to them. To tell them what he felt. But they would not ask. Too proud to beg a fallen man and too afraid to know the truth he might offer.
Malakine’s mother never looked away from her son’s face. He was now flat on his face, moaning, blustering something formless, his arms extended towards his mother as if reaching out for support. To everybody’s surprise, she smiled, tears finally falling down her face as she nodded her head, satisfied, understanding the emotion in her son’s face: remorse.
There was stunned silence in the arena when Malakine died. The silence hung around for quite a while. Nobody moved. Everyone waited for something to happen.
Perhaps Malakine would rise up again. Perhaps the song was flawed. But it wasn’t. And he didn’t.
The first to leave were the most terrified ones. They talked in hushed tones about what they had just witnessed. The death of a fellow man with song was unheard of. Songs were not for killing. And yet, Malakine had died. Before their very eyes.
Songs could kill. This opened up many possibilities. Songs that controlled crops made farmers king. Songs that controlled fishes made folk rich and prosperous. But imagine songs that controlled life, murmured the neighbouring villagers as they left, one by one. It wouldn’t be long before word spread to the distant parts of the land.
Going to death with a song in their heart, they knew. But being sent to death because of a song was terrifying. It was power. Power that could be manipulated and used against others.
Power that now lay in the hands of the people of Immer.
No one spared Malakine’s mother a second glance. But she listened in bewilderment as those around her talked of Malakine’s song and the power it held. She now understood why Malakine had laughed at their attempts to uncover his song. It was not because he thought them incapable; no, it was because he knew they were.
She cursed him loud enough to shock the others around her in the arena where he lay.
However, on the inside, she wept. Not for her son, but for the innocence he took from their world.
Editor: Aigner Loren Wilson
First Reader: Paula Keane
Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department
Accessibility: Accessibility Editors