The prince had never seen a room as large as the Great Hall of Executions. As he entered the vast double door at the back of the Hall, he stopped and stared in amazement. The Great Hall was large enough to comfortably seat five thousand excited fans. This evening, however, almost twice that many were jammed into the room. The sound of cheers, whistles, and catcalls was so great that it felt like a physical force pressing against him.

The attorney prodded Oafer from behind, and he walked further into the Hall. As he entered, the sound doubled and redoubled as the crowd registered his presence. From every direction people shouted his name (although most of them got it wrong). Flowers were thrown at his feet, and then popcorn, and finally, entire mugs of ale. The prince tried to grab some of the popcorn, but the attorney only prodded him harder.
"Hurry up," Irwin griped. "You’re already thirty minutes late."
The prince continued down the aisle toward the great stage, upon which stood the bailiff, waiting for him. At one point, he managed to locate the princess as she took her customary place in the box seat section. Oafer blinked at that–he’d never seen royalty sitting on cardboard before. He waved at her, but she must not have seen him, as she didn’t wave back.
The prince reached the end of the long aisle, marched up the steps to the stage, and turned to face the enormous crowd. The bailiff removed the chains from his hands and feet, and tossed them to the side of the stage. Prince Oafer stood there, rubbing his wrists.
"Prince Heifer," intoned the house voice, amplified by the Hall’s twenty-thousand-watt sound system. The crowd became suddenly quiet.
"Oafer," responded the prince. His voice sounded small and completely lacking in intonation. Several titters were heard throughout the crowd.
"You stand charged with the high crime of reminding the Princess of her previous name. Your plea has been heard and summarily ignored. Do you have any last words?"
"Yes–" the prince began, intending to ask for a quick sandwich."
Too bad," interrupted the voice. "Let the execution begin."
At that, the bailiff left the stage, and the crowd began pounding their feet. The lights dimmed, and a spotlight picked out Oafer at center stage. Another spotlight illuminated the executioner, as he entered from stage right. He carried with him the Ax of Doom, covered in its black shroud.
The crowd began their cheer. "Doom doom chop! Doom doom chop!"
The executioner let the shroud fall away, and the spotlight glittered on the sharp blade. The Ax had been well broken in over the years, and had won its way into the hearts of execution fans throughout the land. It had certainly sliced its way into the hearts of enough executees.
"Doom Doom CHOP! Doom Doom CHOP!" chanted the crowd.
Not quite understanding what was going on, the Prince merely looked on in amazement. The executioner slowly walked toward him, and began to playfully swing the ax. The crowd began pounding their feet as hard as they could. The sound rumbled across the room like thunder.
"DOOM DOOM CHOP! DOOM DOOM CHOP!" they yelled, and as the executioner reached the prince and stood before him, the Royal Thespian Chorus began their theme–"We Will, We Will CHOP YOU!"
Unnerved, the prince looked at the crowd, then at the executioner. The executioner swung the ax a few more times, then leaned toward the prince.
"S’okay, kid," he said. "I’m a professional. Just relax, and it won’t hurt a bit."
"What?" said Oafer. He was pretty sure he had heard the man incorrectly. Unless he was mistaken, the whole purpose of the ax was to hurt, and to hurt terminally. He had no time for clarification, however. As the audience began their final countdown chant, the executioner raised the ax high into the air.
"Hey, batter-batter-batter-batter," yelled the crowd.
The princess caught her breath. "Oh, I hope he doesn’t get hurt," she thought to herself. "He is kind of cute."
"Um, wait…" said Oafer, entirely unprepared for the sudden acceleration of events.
"Swinnnngggggg" yelled the crowd, as the blade sliced through the air. It arced down and whooshed through more air. Normally, at this point, the ax should have been crunching through the executee. This time, it was simply whooshing through more air.
The explanation was that the prince had suddenly spotted a bit of popcorn on the stage, and had bent down to grab it just as the ax fell. The executioner, startled by this development, had some quick twisting to do in order to prevent the blade from swinging through his own toe. It landed with a healthy chunk in the stage floor.
The crowd had never seen anything like this before. All the other executees had just stood there and taken their punishment.
Complete silence filled the room, until one bright soul yelled, "Steeeee-rike." Suddenly, they had a game.
Delirious with delight, the crowd leapt to their feet and began yelling and cheering louder than they ever had before. "DOOM DOOM CHOP," they yelled. But some of the more obnoxious crowd members began shouting, "Rover, Rover."
"OAFER!" yelled the prince at the amused crowd.
The attorney had run up to the stage, followed by the bailiff. "You can’t do that," whined the attorney, with visions of his own execution dancing in his head. "Can he do that?" he asked the bailiff.
"I dunno," the bailiff replied. In the entire history of Gnigst, no one had ever had the temerity to dodge the executioner’s blade. Several people had cringed, and one unfortunate soul passed out from fright, but no one had actually ducked. In point of fact, no one had ever thought to duck.
Neither, of course, had Prince Oafer. However, the prince’s tendency to distraction had filled in for his lack of imagination, and he suddenly had a plan. He swallowed his popcorn and faced the executioner, knees bent, ready to duck again.
The unfortunate executioner was having a bad time of it. He was accustomed to the cheers of the crowd, and did not appreciate the occasional "Oafer, Oafer." He scowled at the prince, growled ferociously, and lifted the ax once again. "DOOM DOOM CHOP!" commented the crowd.
Aiming carefully this time, the executioner began his second swing. The princess squealed and said, "Oh, do be careful." She wasn’t sure if she was talking to the executioner, or to the maddeningly handsome prince.
"Hey, batter-batter-batter-batter," chanted the crowd, encouragingly. With a yell, the executioner swung the ax again, harder this time.
"Swinnngggggg," called the crowd, as the ax sliced through the air where the prince was again no longer standing. The ax went THUNK into the stage floor. Thrown off balance, the executioner tripped over the ax handle, flipped over the blade, and landed on his back. The crowd began howling at the enormously funny spectacle.
"Steee-rike TWO," called the crowd.
"Stop that!" demanded the attorney, from the edge of the stage.
"STOP THAT," rumbled the voice from the sound system. The crowd quieted down to hear what the voice might have to say to the prince.
"Now, it’s just going to go worse for you if you keep moving around like that," the voice continued.
"What, worse than getting my head carved off?" replied the prince.
"Listen, Prince Poufer,"
"OAFER," yelled the Prince, assisted by several of the more vociferous audience members, and perhaps, by the princess herself.
"Whatever. You’re on kingdom-wide live television. We’ve pre-empted all the major network shows for this. We’ve hired the best troubadours to watch your execution, so that they may compose suitably moving songs of your demise. The Great Hall is full of execution fans, all of whom have paid good money to be here. There’s no going past it. There’s going to be an execution. Your execution. Now quit being a baby about it, stand still, and be executed."
"Look," argued the prince. "Why don’t you come down here and be executed instead?"
"Union rules," the voice replied, signing off with an annoyed electronic click. And that was that.
The anxious crowd once again began pounding their feet. The executioner rose, yanked his ax out of the floor, and began advancing upon the prince one final time. The crowd had, by now, sorted itself out. One side of the Great Hall resounded to "DOOM DOOM CHOP" while the other side was filled with shouts of "OAFER, OAFER."
The executioner kept walking toward the prince, who edged backwards, step by step. The crowd yelled and cheered and pounded their feet. The executioner kept advancing, and the prince kept retreating. The concession stands shut down, and even the popcorn vendors and ice cold drink sellers paused to watch the conclusion of the spectacle.
The prince retreated until his back was against the wall, and there was no more room for retreating. There was also no room for ducking, and no room for breathing. The executioner walked right up to the prince until his nose was a scarce inch away from the prince’s nose.
"You’re all mine," he breathed, with onion and garlic breath, which simply reminded the prince once again how hungry he was. With that, the executioner took one step back, and hefted the ax for the final time.
"Hey, batter-batter-batter-batter," called the crowd.
"Oh," worried the princess. She was not at all certain, now, that she wanted the prince executed after all.
The executioner began a windmill windup. "Whoosh!" went the ax as the executioner swung it around his head.
"Hey, batter-batter-batter-batter," encouraged the crowd. The prince looked into the executioner’s deep black eyes, and knew there was no escape.
"Whoosh!" went the ax again, as the executioner let it swing in another windmill circle.
"Swing," yelled the attorney, who had jumped up onto the stage behind the executioner.
"SWING!" yelled the crowd.
"WHOOSH!" went the ax, in its final wind-up.
Perhaps there was a flaw in the manufacture of the ax. It had carried a lifetime warranty, but the certificate neglected to mention whose lifetime that concerned. Certainly, the ax had seen the end of plenty of lifetimes. Maybe it was the fact that it had been unceremoniously slammed into the floor twice in a row, loosening the blade. It could also be that the handle had just finally worn out.
At any rate, just as the executioner brought the ax up in preparation for the final, terrible last swing, just as Oafer finally accepted that he had eaten his last bit of popcorn, and just as the entire assembly of onlookers yelled "SWING," the ponderous blade let go of its handle and began an entirely unplanned and uncontrolled flight through the air over the heads of everyone on the stage.
The prince watched as the executioner brought the ax handle down in front of him, with the full force of his weight, and jammed it into the stage floor. He watched as the crowd caught their breath, turning as one body, to follow the flight of the blade. He watched as the blade soared up through the air, reached its apogee, and began its descent. He watched as the blade whooshed through the air, down, down, down toward the ground. He watched as the blade sliced the attorney neatly in two, thunking one last time into the floor.
"Ugh," said the entire assemblage of persons, before they could stop themselves.
In her box seat, the princess jammed both fists into her mouth. The bailiff jammed both fists into his mouth. So did the entire audience. The executioner tried to jam both fists into his mouth, forgetting that one of them still held a six-inch thick ax handle, and knocked himself right out. All eyes rested on the princess, except for the attorney’s, which rested on the stage floor, at somewhat disparate locations.
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