The stranger swore his innocence to the end but the hanging commenced without mercy on the Village Green. It took a long time, and many turned their backs to the gallows, uncomfortable.
"Cursed be Ye'," he rasped, his face mottled with hopeless fury. A final shudder, and he was dead. Those who saw his bulging eyes gape open one last time wished they hadn't.
Clive, the town's blacksmith and gravedigger, cut down the body, gave it a kick, to check, and hefted it to the waiting cart. The crowd dispersed as the oxen carried the stranger's remains away.
Impatient to get back to the tavern and partake in the merrymaking of the spontaneous event, Clive passed the church graveyard with a grimace. He resented the extra distance to the unmarked hole at the edge of town but there was naught for it. The stranger would not be buried in the churchyard. Only townspeople and members of the congregation were buried in the Church's shadow and afforded the protection of the iron fence surrounding the small graveyard. Criminals and paupers went to the swamp.
Clive cursed the slow oxen and slapped their haunches all the way to the intended plot. He backed the cart as close as he could to the shallow grave and shoved the body to the ground.
A stupid and greedy man, he checked the pockets of the stranger first. He found a coin and pocketed it, but was disappointed until he pried open the stranger's mouth. Three gold teeth glinted. He yanked them out quickly with the forceps he wore on his belt.
He rolled the body into the grave, spat, and hastily refilled the hole. Soon he was on his way.
Feeling rich with his scavenged gains he spent much coin that night, filling his tankard again and again with bitter autumn ale. By all witness accounts, he left the tavern in a boisterous, jovial mood.
* * *
The next morning the townsfolk found Clive by the Churchyard on the frost-covered ground, his iron forceps beside him, rusty with dried blood and bits of tissue. Every tooth in his head gone, his jaw gaped empty but for the bloody pits.
Had Clive understood the protective properties of iron better he might have survived that fateful fall night. The iron fence around the graveyard doesn't keep evil out - it keeps it in.