STORYHansaneega@Lee Jongbeom
The HeadswomanThe sad executioner.The sinner who takes the heads of others who have sinned. She prolongs her life by taking it from others. Having to take lives, she carries great pain which she drowns in alcohol. “Criminal, raise your head.”   The seonbi did not move an inch even at the presiding executioner’s order. Instead, he bowed his head stubbornly. It wasn’t because he was ashamed to look at the sky. He indeed had a clear conscience.   “What impertinence! The criminal will follow orders and lift his head!”   The presiding executioner had to know that, and he even begged for the king’s dignity, but the classical scholar was unresponsive. Then, the executioner next to him, So Hyang, murmured to the criminal,   “This will only bring you more pain.”   So Hyang felt bad for the seonbi because she knew about the man’s life. If he had done anything wrong, perhaps it was that he defied the changes of the times. The king and the world were corrupted, and it had been a long time since the noblemen and classical scholars were made to be unappealing. But he was calling himself a classical scholar, so how could he escape their anger?   “Executioner, make the criminal lift his head!”   She heard the presiding executioner’s order while she thought about this. What kind of safety was there if she disobeyed? So Hyang knew she would be kneeling there herself, as early as tomorrow, if she hesitated even a moment. The cursed job she had to do right now hadn’t come by coincidence in the first place.   ‘If you wish to live, there is an option. You can prolong your life by that much if you kill other criminals.’   It was a truly disgraceful offer, but So Hyang had no choice but to accept. She had to live in this pathetic world because of her parents’ last words.   “Lift your head!”   So Hyang yanked the seonbi’s hair, forcing him to look up. The man had an elegant, handsomely bearded face. Even the bystanders who’d simply come to watch were dumbstruck. It was because he had the ideal face of a seonbi that the whole of Joseon had once dreamt of.   “You’ve confessed to your crime?”   The presiding executioner must not have been impressed because he spat out what he’d wanted to say. So Hyang hoped the seonbi would yield in his obstinance and hurry up in confessing his crime. She just wanted all this to be over. But the seonbi shook his head, and he didn’t stop there. He lifted his chin up and said,   “I’ve only helped the people get out of their misery.”   Of course, the presiding executioner’s face flushed with anger. Was it because he felt a pang in his reignited conscience? He let out his pent-up emotions unnecessarily.   “You crazy man! You must not want to die in peace!”   Damn it. So Hyang let a curse slip out without even knowing. She always felt dirty after killing a criminal who deserved to die, but how much pain would she have to feel if she killed this kind of person?   “Listen, executioner.” “Yes, Sir.”   But she couldn’t disobey an order. So Hyang bowed her head.   “You’ll have to cut at least ten times. That’ll be a fair punishment for a criminal who dares to act irreverently before a sacred commandment!” “Yes, Sir.”   And she started to dance with her broadsword in her hands. She danced the dance of death, spinning around the criminal. She danced to the music played by the musicians behind her. The melody and rhythm were lilting, and So Hyang, as the executioner, danced like a clown on Jeojageori. Only her face was miserable.   “Ugh!”   So Hyang swung her sword. She could cut his throat in one strike, but she just nicked his neck. The unwavering seonbi crumpled in pain.   “Yes, that’s it!”   the presiding executioner exclaimed, slapping his knee in what must have been contentment.   “Yes, you’re absolutely right, Sir.”   Several bootlickers fawned over him.   “Haa!”   So Hyang paused in her dance and drew down her sword. Every time she did, the seonbi’s face crumpled. Blood spattered everywhere, and So Hyang’s clothes had turned red. It was only natural because it was the ninth time she’d brought down her sword. And still, the seonbi was alive.   I’m sorry, I’m sorry.   So Hyang cried as she brought down her sword for the tenth time. This was going to be the last. The seonbi could die now, after bearing the pain of nine whole strikes to his neck. And so, he was gone. But So Hyang was left in the world of the living, reflecting on the pain.   “How can you be drinking?”   It was too much to handle clear-headed. So when she ordered a drink, the owner gave her a disapproving look. It seemed the owner didn’t like the idea of her getting drunk when she was the one with blood on her hands. So Hyang didn’t bother to respond. She knew that even though that’s what they thought, they’d still serve her the drink she ordered.   What a shitty life.   No, her life was worse than shit. Hers was a life that fed on other people’s lives.   Father…   When the king dies, when the world is turned upside down, and when the real king returns, charges of treachery would be lifted. At least, that’s what she had hoped for, and she still did. But it was becoming faint. Moreover, she was now too tired. What did that charge of treachery even mean now, when she had basically killed so many men already?   -Ring   She drank recklessly and was about to fall into the depths when a sound rang in her ear. And leaving behind her drunkenness, she was brought to some space.   “Hello.”   It was a space where she couldn’t see anything. It really was empty if she didn’t count the being standing in front of her.   “This is a platform.”   It didn’t seem important where it was. What kind of executioner did their job depending on where they were located? It didn’t matter who it was either. She couldn’t afford to consider all those things before she swung her sword.   “You’re free in this place. However, whatever choice you make, you will be responsible for it, so just remember that.”   She stood there, trying to remember the drunkenness that had already disappeared. She was deep in her thought when she heard the shocking news.   “I’m free?” “Yes.”   She couldn’t even remember how long she had lived as an executioner. The countless deaths just grew with the countless orders. She’d even forgotten those deaths with alcohol and consoled herself by saying she wasn’t the one who did it.   “But I have to kill people to live…” “Then, kill.” “Kill whom?” “You have the freedom to choose.” “No… Wait. Don’t go!”   So, I have to kill? So Hyang looked down at the broadsword she’d been holding the entire time. She was confident she could swing this sword better than anyone in the world. But she didn’t have the confidence to swing it on her own account. She could swing it if she was given an order to. No, what she needed was an excuse. Or at least a drink.