The three men approached the gnarled tree hesitantly, wary of the body that hung from its twisted limbs like a bloated, rotten peach. The dead man’s eyes bulged in their sockets, his tongue protruding from blackened, swollen lips that were frozen in a final snarl of pain.
One of the three stepped forward reluctantly and quickly rummaged through the dead man’s clothing, which was sodden from the foul juices of decay. Finding nothing, he retreated, gagging and retching despite the perfumed cloth he held pressed against his nose.
They stared for several long minutes, their faces revealing a mix of sorrow and anger, then turned and began the long trek to the city below.
Concealed atop his horse in a thick grove of trees, a hooded man watched the three men turn from the swaying corpse. He hefted the bulging purse in his hand, chuckling softly as he admired the brilliance of his plan. He was now a dead man, and therefore free. History would record his betrayal and his remorseful end, oblivious to the truth.