When the hangman's noose slipped over the old woman's head, she stood steady and proud. It settled on her neck, and when the moment came, she felt the floor leave, but there was no tug around her throat. In the black of the hanging box, someone caught her, and held her gently, and waited with her until darkness fell. They sneaked through a tunnel and out into the night, and there the old woman laughed, one short sharp laugh, then turned on her savoir.
'And what have you to be doing with saving the likes of me, eh?' she said.
'Old mother, we need you,' came the voice. It echoed. But not as much as it should.
'Who else is there?' she asked.
'The lot of us,' came another voice. And the sound of scuffing and coughing and sniffing let her know how many that was.
A lantern lighted up the night.
And there they were. The women. Young and old and in between.
That morning she had been firm, steady, determined. But bitter.
And now she was no longer bitter.
They took her away then, back across the closeness of dark forest and over cold moving waters. Around and through and up and forward they went. When they arrived at the home nestled in the woods, she saw that the lot had been more than those who came to take her away. She saw the oldest women, like herself, with smiles on their faces and life in their hands.
They had been doing what she was about to do. Teaching. They would all die soon, of cold or ailment or exhaustion or simply from falling asleep. But it was a far better way to die, found and in company, not because it wasn't from a hangman's noose, but because it wasn't based on a lie.