Chapter no 6 – The Martyr

Red Rising

For Eo, I do not react. I am anger. I am hatred. Everything. But I hold her gaze even as they take her away and fit the noose around her neck. I look up at Bridge and he quietly takes the gag from my mouth. My teeth will never be the same. Tears build in the Tinpot’s eyes. I leave him and stumble numbly to the bottom of the scaffold so Eo can see me as she dies. This is her choice. I will be with her to the end. My hands shake. Sobs come from the crowd behind me.

“The last words, to whom will you speak them before justice is done?” Podginus asks her. He drips sympathy for the camera.

I ready for her to say my name, but she does not. Her eyes never leave mine, but she calls her sister out. “Dio.” The word trembles in the air. She is frightened now. I do not react as Dio climbs the scaffold stairs; I do not understand, but I will not be jealous. This is not about me. I love her. And her choice is made. I do not understand, but I will not let her die knowing anything but my love.

Ugly Dan has to help Dio climb the gallows; she’s stumbling and senseless as she leans close to her sister. Whatever is said, I do not hear; but Dio lets loose a moan that will haunt me forever. She looks at me as she weeps. What did my wife tell her? Women are crying. Men wipe their eyes. They have to stun Dio to pull her away, but she clings to Eo’s feet, weeping. There is a nod from the ArchGovernor, though he doesn’t even care enough to watch as, like my father, Eo is hanged.

“Live for more,” she mouths to me. She reaches into her pocket and

pulls out the haemanthus I gave her. It is smashed and flat. Then loudly she screams to all those gathered, “Break the chains!”

The trapdoor beneath her feet opens. She falls, and for one moment, her hair hangs suspended about her head, a flourish of red. Then her feet scramble at air and she falls. Her slim throat gags. Eyes open so wide. If only I could save her from this. If only I could protect her; but the world is cold and hard to me. It does not bend as I wish it to bend. I am weak. I watch my wife die and my haemanthus fall from her hand. The camera records it all. I rush forward to kiss her ankle. I cradle her legs. I will not let her suffer.

On Mars there is not much gravity, so you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.

Soon, there is no sound, not even the creaking of the rope. My wife is too light.

She was only just a girl.

Then the thumping of the Fading Dirge begins. Fists on chests. Thousands. Fast, like a racing heartbeat. Slower. A beat a second. A beat every five. Every ten. Then never again, and the mournful mass fades away like dust held in the palm as the old tunnels wail with deep winds.

And the Golds, they fly away.

Eo’s father, Loran, and Kieran sit by my door through the night. They say they are there to keep me company. But they are there to guard me, to ensure I do not die. I want to die. Mother dresses my wound with silk my sister, Leanna, stole from the Webbery.

“Keep the nervenucleic dry, or you will scar.”

What are scars? How little they matter. Eo will not see them, so why should I care? She will not run her hand along my back. She will never kiss my wounds.

She is gone.

I lie in our bed on my back so I can feel the pain and forget my wife. But I cannot forget. She hangs even now. In the morning, I will pass her on the way to the mines. Soon she will stink and soon she will rot. My beautiful wife shone too bright to live long. I still feel her neck cracking against my hands; they tremble now in the night.

There is a hidden tunnel I carved in my bedroom long ago in the rock

so I could sneak out as a child. I use it now. I leave out the secret path, climbing stealthily down from my home, so my kin never see me slip away in the low light.

It is quiet in the township. Quiet except for the HC, which makes my wife die to a soundtrack. They intended to show the futility of disobedience. And they succeed in that, but there is something else in the video. They show my flogging, and Eo’s, and they play her song throughout. And as she dies, they play it again, which seems to give the video the wrong effect. Even if she were not my wife, I see a martyr, a young girl’s pretty song silenced by the rope of cruel men.

Then the HC flashes black for several moments. It has never gone to black before. And Octavia au Lune comes back on with the same old message. It almost seems as though someone has hacked into the broadcast, because my wife flickers onto the giant screen again.

“Break the chains!” she cries. Then she’s gone and the screen is black. It crackles. The image comes back. She cries it again. Black once more. Standard programming goes up, then it cuts to her screaming one last time and then there’s me pulling her legs. Then static.

The streets are quiet as I make my way to the Common. The nightshift will be returning soon. Then I hear a noise and a man steps into the street in front of me. My uncle’s face leers at me from the shadows. A single bulb hangs over his head, illuminating the flask in his hand and his tattered red shirt.

“You are your father’s son, little bastard. Stupid and vain.” My hands clench. “Come to stop me, Uncle?”

He grunts. “Couldn’t stop your father from killing his bloody self. And he was a better bloodyman than you. More restraint in him.”

I step forward. “I don’t need your permission.”

“Nay, you little squabber, you don’t.” He runs a hand through his hair. “Don’t do what you’re gonna do, though. It’ll break your mother; you might think she didn’t know you’d slip out. She did. Told me so. Said you were gonna go die like my brother, like your girl.”

“If Mother knew, she would have stopped me.”

“Nah. She lets us men make our own mistakes. But this ain’t what your girl would’ve wanted.”

I point a finger at my uncle. “You don’t know a thing. Not a thing about what she wanted.” Eo said I wouldn’t understand being a martyr. I

will show her I do.

“Righto,” he says with a shrug. “I’ll walk with you, then, since your head is full of rocks.” He chuckles. “We Lambdas do love the noose.”

He tosses me his flask and I fall into tentative step beside him.

“I tried to talk your father out of his little protest, you know. Told him words and dance mean as much as dust. Tried squaring up with him. I squabbed that one up. He laid me down cold.” He throws a slow right. “Comes a time in life when you know a man has his mind set and it’s an insult to gainsay.”

I drink from his flask and hand it back. The swill tastes strange and thicker than usual. Strange. He makes me finish the flask.

“Your’s set?” he asks, tapping his head. “Course it is. I forget, I taught you how to dance.”

“Stubborn as a pitviper, wasn’t that how you put it?” I say quietly, allowing a little smile.

I walk in silence for a moment with my uncle. He puts a hand on my shoulder. A sob wants to come out of my chest. I swallow it.

“She left me,” I whisper. “Just left me.”

“Musta had a reason. Not a dumb girl, that one.”

The tears come as I enter the Common. My uncle takes me in a one-armed hug and kisses the crown of my head. It’s all he can offer. He’s not a man made for affection. His face is pale and ghostly. Thirty-five and so old, so tired. A scar twists his upper lip. Gray streaks his thick hair.

“Tell them hello for me in the vale,” he says into my ear, his beard coarse against my neck. “Give my brothers a toast and my wife a kiss, specially Dancer.”


“You’ll know him. And if you see your gramp and gran, tell them we still dance for them. They won’t be long alone.” He walks away, then pauses and without turning says, “Break the chains. Hear?”


He leaves me there in the Common with my swaying wife. I know the cameras watch me from the can as I walk up the gallows. It is metal, so the stairs don’t creak. She hangs like a doll. Her face is pale as chalk and her hair shifts slightly as the ventilators rasp above.

When the rope has been cut with the slingBlade I stole from the mines,

I grab its frayed end and lower her down gently. I take my wife in my arms and together wend our way from the square to the Webbery. A nightshift is working their final hours. The women watch in silence as I carry Eo to the ventilation duct. There I see Leanna, my sister. Tall and quiet like my mother, she watches me with hard eyes, but she does nothing. None of the women do. They will not gossip about where my wife is buried. They will not speak, not even for the chocolate given to spies. Only five souls have been buried in three generations—someone always hangs for it.

This is the ultimate act of love. Eo’s silent requiem.

Women begin to cry, and as I pass they reach to touch Eo’s face, to touch mine and help me open the ventilation duct. I drag my wife through the tight metal space, taking her to where we made love beneath the stars, where she told me her plans and I did not listen. I hold her lifeless body and hope her soul sees me in a place where we were happy.

I dig a hole near the base of a tree. My hands, covered with the dirt of our land, are red like her hair as I take her hand and kiss her wedding band. I place the outer bulb of the haemanthus atop her heart and take the inner and put it near my own. Then I kiss her lips and bury her. But I sob before I can finish. I uncover her face and kiss her again and hold my body to hers till I see a red sun rising through the artificial bubbleroof. The colors of the place scald my eyes and I cannot stop my tears. When I pull away, I see my headband poking from her pocket. She made it for me to take my sweat. I give it my tears now and take it with me.

Kieran strikes me in the face when he sees me back in the township. Loran cannot speak, while Eo’s father slumps against a wall. They think they failed me. I hear Eo’s mother’s cries. My mother says nothing as she makes me a meal. I don’t feel well. It’s hard to breathe. Leanna comes in late and helps her, kissing me on the head as I eat, lingering long enough to smell my hair. I must use one hand as I move the food from plate to mouth. My mother holds my other hand between her callused palms. She watches it instead of me, as though remembering when it was small and soft and wondering how it became so hard.

I finish the meal just as Ugly Dan comes. My mother does not leave the table as I’m pulled away. Her eyes stay fixed on where my hand lay. I think she believes if she does not look up, this will not happen. Even she can only bear so much.

They will hang me before a full assembly at nine in the morning. I’m dizzy for some reason. My heart feels funny, slow. I hear the ArchGovernor’s words to my wife echo.

“Is that all your strength?”

My people sing, we dance, we love. That is our strength. But we also dig. And then we die. Seldom do we get to choose why. That choice is power. That choice has been our only weapon. But it is not enough.

They give me my last words. I call Dio up. Her eyes are bloodshot and swollen. She’s a fragile thing, so unlike her sister.

“What were Eo’s last words?” I ask her, though my mouth moves slowly, oddly.

She glances back to Mother, who finally followed but now shakes her head. There is something they are not telling me. Something they don’t want me to know. A secret held back even though I am about to die.

“She said she loved you.”

I don’t believe her, but I smile and kiss her forehead. She can’t handle more questions. And I’m dizzy. Hard to speak.

“I’ll tell her you say hello.”

I do not sing. I am made for other things. My death is senseless. It is love.

But Eo was right, I don’t understand this. This is not my victory. This is selfish. She told me to live for more. She wanted me to fight. But here I am, dying despite what she wanted. Giving up because of the pain.

I panic as suicides do when they realize their folly. Too late.

I feel the door beneath me open. My body falls. Rope flays my neck. My spine creaks. Needles lance my lumbar. Kieran stumbles forward. Uncle Narol shoves him away. With a wink, he touches my feet and pulls.

I hope they do not bury me.

You'll Also Like