“Ten Ailill soldiers dead, thirty horses lost, and you damaged the Duke’s statue!”
Niro was kneeling in a most awkward posture. His shins were crossed, his thighs bent just enough to have his leather clad behind hover above the heels of his soft, black leather boots, his arms hung down easily. Tension sang through the muscles of his legs, screaming with pain the unnatural position put onto them. He could have simply sat down onto his heels, but it would only have increased the punishment he was already getting. Kneeling like that wasn’t meant to be comfortable, it was meant to hurt, and it worked.
The guards had taken his rapier, the daggers from his thigh sheaths, the throwing knifes from his back holster, and they had even found the garrote he wore like a pendant around his own neck. His ‘master’, or rather the man who thought himself to be in that position, had meant to humiliate Niro by taking away the tools of his trade, but it had only put oil into the fire of his hate for the man.
It was a hate groomed and fed by years of captivity, ruthless training and cruel schooling, and it had brewed down to one big problem for the Earl Firon Wilmoor of Nancarrow; what to do with an assassin he couldn’t trust or control? The answer was simple: Nothing. Thousands of shillings would be lost, if he got rid of his human servant, but at least he wouldn’t have to chafe at that little shit’s behavior anymore. And he wouldn’t have to be afraid to fall asleep anymore, which was increasingly hard to manage each time he looked into that human’s eyes. He saw his death there, and they both knew it.
Still the Earl held on to the idea that he had some kind of power over the kneeling man.
“This time you went too far. This time, there won’t be any lenience for you, you hear me?” he sneered, slamming his fist down onto the armrest of his throne in what he hoped looked appropriately angry. “I will let the soldiers whip you to the bone if I have to, but you will obey me!”
It was like it had always been; as soon as the Earl demanded obedience, it seemed to trigger some innate reflex to disobey anything and everything he had asked in the same sentence.
The sneer on the young, kneeling man’s face rivaled that of the Earl himself. “Never,” he hissed, pushing himself to his feet through the pain of his abused leg muscles, screaming with rage and frustration when the guards standing next to him beat him back to the ground. They looked bored and tense, but the strikes with which they kept the human ball of rage in check were methodical and proficient. It was a dance they all had been dancing for years, too well known to give any of them a trickle of excitement.
Three times more Niro tried to stand up through the rain of bludgeon hits, and three times the stronger, bigger Fae guards brought him back down, finally resorting to twisting his arms into unhealthy angles behind his back to stop this farce. The victory wasn’t a victory, and the dull pain of the many new bruises and cuts tasted ashen on his tongue; but still the captive man stared up through his unruly mop of bronze brown hair to defy the Earl.
What he saw, though, was a new nuance on the all too well known face: indifference. The Earl looked tired and disinterested, all but anxious for the moment he’d be done with the troublesome pet and able to attend other matters.
For the length of three heartbeats, Niro forgot to breathe under the sudden rush of adrenaline and fear. Was this going to be the day he’d finally be killed, put down like the inbred mongrel they saw in him? The thought alone brought a rush of ferocious triumph to his heart. It would be his last, most glorious victory, a last parade of his ability to withstand anything, everything, the Ailill might throw at him.
It was the Earl’s apathetic voice that tugged him out of his euphoric thoughts.
“I see joy on your face, my dog, and I am left perplexed,” he said, and for a moment, Niro could see the eons pass over the Fae’s face. He looked old and ageless at the same time, and beautiful in his coldness. He had never been beautiful before, and for just a moment Niro’s soul wept over the cruelty of a fate that condemned him to only see beauty in his tormentor when he was finally doomed to die. “You rejoice for your path to death, and yet you are proficient in the art of survival, even one of those scholars that are praised for their unshakable will to live above all else. Does it delight you this much to have the last word? If so, you can have it. There was always so much potential in your lithe little body, such capability for greatness, and you wasted it on the one talent I never had any need for: absolute, all-encompassing obstinacy. You are an insurgent, a seditionist, a rabble-rouser, and I have grown tired of servicing your martyrdom.”
The Earl raised one hand to one of the side alcoves, and instantly two extra guards carrying sets of manacles and chains stepped into the reception room. With a start, Niro realized that this moment had been planned. The chains had been laying in wait, ready for the day the Earl finally would have enough.
This time he didn’t struggle when they put him in chains. It was a means to an end he had waited for a long time, so what was the use of prolonging the foreplay?
The Earl of Tetharion seemed to share his opinion on this. “Take him to the main court, chain him to the poles and whip him until he experiences mortality. Give each soldier who asks a chance to revenge their comrades,” he ordered, and his voice was as cold and uncaring as his eyes as he turned away from the kneeling, chained man.
Niro closed his eyes and let himself be dragged away willingly for the first time. Finally, the end was near.