Then the Plague struck. The city gates were barred, the houses shuttered, and the marketplace abandoned except for wheezing orphans and one-eyed mongrels. Silence and reek ruled the day as gangrenous mists drifted down the empty, eerie avenues. Thus, at first, when the Executioner's crimson-bordered, gold inked invitations went unreceived, the highest circles considered it only proper. As the weeks passed, however, and the salon's guest list wasn't announced, rumors abounded but none had the courage to venture into the carnage of the pestilential streets. Finally, a sprightly young Lady of the Court and a thrice widowed Contessa-in-exile were unable to staunch their curiosity, and they sallied forth to see if the Hangman was still about his business.
Donning fluted bird masks filled with rosehips, lemon peels, and slips of Holy Scripture, the two women walked through the charnel stench to the dais of the gallows. Where once gauzy frocks, philosophical witticisms and punning laughter had reigned, now only the Hangman's black mask remained, hung limply from a blunt halberd, eyeholes downcast and empty as a phantom's. Beside that read a small sign, "Help Wanted." Taken by the Plague, his fate was obvious.
The women left and walked along the quays, past the bloated, entangled corpses clotting the sluggish river. At the sight, the young Lady began to whimper. Unable to stifle her tears, she wailed, "These are such terrible times!"
At this, the Contessa, who had survived tragedies both similar and different, tore the mask from her own face and flung it to the river, having known all the while its futility. Staring straight ahead, the Contessa responded fervently, "We shall be lucky if we live to see worse."
The women continued slowly, not seeing as the lemon peels, rosehips and scriptures eddied in the current, clutching for a moment at the anonymous visage of their beloved Executioner, relieved finally of his disguise.
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