"It can't be cut; A woman's neck; Hard by resentment made; It only breaks one's blade"
No further sound is heard but that of the spinning stone. The light of the lantern, dancing in the wind, flickers over the sharpener's right cheek. It's color is soot and cinnabar. "Who's on for tomorrow?" the bearded one asks after a bit. "Tomorrow's the old woman," the other replies without concern.
"A cheating heart; Hair turns gray; Slice the bone; Blood dyes it away"
He sings on in high spirits. The stone rings out as it spins, and sparks fly. "There now. That oughta do it." He holds up the axe and views it in the flickering light. "Just the old woman? No one else?" the bearded one asks again. "Then there's that other one, too." "That's unfortunate. It's time, is it? Such a pity." "A pity, yes, but what can you do?" He replies with eyes on the blackened ceiling.
In an instant, the cellar and the executioners and the lantern are gone, and I'm standing, lost, in the middle of Beauchamp Tower. As I come to myself, there's a boy beside me, the one who had asked to give bread to the ravens. As before, the curious woman is with him. "There's a picture of dogs," the boy exclaims in surprise while looking at the wall. "Those aren't dogs. On the left is a bear, on the right a lion. That's the crest of the House of Dudley." The woman replies, as before, in a voice so sure that it seems a witness of times long past. Truth be told, I too had taken the creatures for dogs or boars, so I was duly intrigued by the woman's words. It occurred to me, too, that there was a certain force in the way she said "Dudley," as though the name she voiced was her own. I observed the two with bated breath. The woman expounded further. "This crest was carved by John Dudley." From the tone of her voice, this John might have been her brother. "John had four brothers, and those brothers have been carved into the flowers and leaves that surround the bear and the lion." I looked and saw that there were, indeed, four kinds of flowers and leaves, in a frame like that of an oil painting, surrounding the bear and the lion. "These are acorns, for Ambrose. This rose represents Robert. Below is honeysuckle, which corresponds to Henry. In the lower left is a clump of geraniums. This is for G..." She didn't finish. Her coral lips were seized in a quiver, as though they'd been shocked with a bolt of current. Her tongue was like a pit viper's facing down a mouse. After a while she read out, with a clear voice, the epigraph that was carved under the crest.