Life doesn’t flash before your eyes, when you are about to die.  It trods slowly, with heavy, dragging footsteps through your mind.  The man in the tattered green and khaki uniform made this silent observation as he stood ramrod straight at the foot of the gallows steps.

    “Never has there been a more wretched example of treason then Syfer Locke, and today we make sure he will never betray our kingdom again!”  The Chancellor was still droning out the list and description of Syfer’s crimes, and the condemned man let it recede behind the reverie of his thoughts.

A summer afternoon on the West Portico of the palace.  A chessboard on the table between him and his ward, the young crown prince.  A loaded six shooter beside a small stack of white game pieces.

“I’ve taken both your bishops, your knights, half of your pawns, your queen, and one of your rooks, Syfer.”  the young prince said, beaming.

“The game is not won until you take the king, your Highness.  Remember that,” Syfer replied quietly. “Do you want to concede the game now, or after the two moves when there is no escaping checkmate?”

“Surely, I can find my way out of a trap so sparingly defended, Syfer!  I believe I may win a game against you.”

Syfer raised an eyebrow, then moved a pawn one space forward.  “You may.  You have learned a great deal, and I expect one day you will win.  But, not this game.  Check.”

The prince moved his king from check to the only available square on the board.  With a maddeningly calm expression, Syfer moved his last rook forward.  “Checkmate.”

“How did you do that?” the prince asked, crossly.

“I keep my eyes open, your Highness.”

    An old memory, ten years gone, since that afternoon, and the assignment as the bodyguard to the heir apparent.  He still had both eyes, back then, instead of the mass of scar tissue under the eye patch over the left side of his face.  And still the memories rolled on, playing out in his mind.  And over and over the bloody last fight interjected, scoring fresh wounds.  His beautiful ship, the corvette Banish Misfortune, going down in flames, a mutinous crew still aboard as Syfer barely escaped after scuttling the airship himself.

A rough hand on his arm interrupted his thoughts.  It was time.  Syfer ascended the short stair to the gallows deck to the rhythm of a slow measured drum beat, his head held high.  The first rotten tomato hit him in the face as the noose was drawn snug around his neck.  The hangman fidgeted a moment as he fussed with Syfer’s position over the trapdoor.  Satisified, the hooded executioner stepped aside to the lever that operated the gallows on the edge of the platform.  The rotted vegetables began to fly in earnest as the roll of the snaredrums increased in tempo.  They were denying him the customary opportunity to speak his last words or a hood over his own head.  Syfer took a deep breath and locked his eyes with the Chancellor, then gave him a slow wink.  The Chancellor visibly flinched, and broke eye contact, looked to the hangman and nodded his signal.