Everyone was waiting for the main attraction of the evening; the fatal punishment of a house guard of House Nancarrow, rulers of the city of Tetharion. Niro’s face was not unknown to the people of Tetharion, after all he had been the last human to stay in the city, and the only one present for the whole change of government. The voices in his favor were still few, though. Stories of his mercurial temper, his disregard for anyone’s safety, his violent outbursts and his defiance against those who had saved him and kept him alive were known to everyone. He was a mascot to the city, but one everyone wanted to watch falling, hurting, writhing, just as much as they had enjoyed watching him grow up and play tricks to his masters. To the humans he was a traitor, to the Fae he was an unruly pet, and the few Panders Niro could see standing to one side probably just thought about how his dead flesh would taste, once he was no more.
The guards opened the metal barred doors without wasting any time. One of them had a swollen, bloodied nose from a moment of negligence, and the pain and lameness the captive had acquired by hanging from chains throughout the night was already fading. Who knew what last grand gestures the crazed human beast would try to make if they gave him the chance.
Niro stumbled forward and out into the fading light of day, accompanied by the harsh sound of his chains. As soon as the onlookers saw him, they started to yell, to whistle and to call out obscenities to him, stepping closer and tightening the ring of living flesh around him and his guards. It was a strange kind of aggression, a distant, impersonal one, that could easily fade, and just as easily turn into a frenzy with the right trigger. Luckily for him, he wasn’t one of the religious pariahs who sometimes ended up at the gallows. It wasn’t uncommon for those people to get ripped into shreds by the common folk before the deathsman even had the chance to swing his axe.
He probably looked strangely unblemished to the watching eye, although the guard he had bloodied with his forehead had his revenge already. A reddish bruise was building on the center of his rump where a fist had bent him in half with the force of the blow, but nothing more had been done to him. The guards knew how useless it was to hit him, how it only riled him up, and they took comfort in the knowledge he’d be maimed soon enough anyway.
The young human male was a sight to behold as the guards dragged him onto the gallows, and chained his arms to two posts. He wasn’t as tall as the Ailill guards, some six feet to their almost seven feet of height, but what they had in height he matched with contoured, rippling muscles. Not the muscles the strongmen at the fair displayed, since they were obscenely built and endowed with mountains of fat and thick thews, but the kind of brawn that gave away his finesse at fighting and the arts of coursing.
The scars on his body sent another wave of excitement through the waiting throngs, showcasing how many times the fair and good Earl had already tried to correct the behavior of his slave by the means of corporal punishment. There were whispers all around the gallows, chatter of the many things the human might have done to enrage his master like this, but in the end none of it mattered.
At the left side of the gallows, a group of Ailill soldiers were insulating a man and a woman from the mob. Niro usually knew all the important people in the city by sight, since his position as a house guard at the Earl’s estate required him to know how to act in front of them, but those two he had never seen before. It was the man who caught his attention more than the woman, because he stood out like a sore thumb. He had the palest skin Niro had ever seen on a Fae— and that was definitely what he was—, and it had a gray tint to it, almost like a bloodless corpse. Only the pointed tips of his ears held a faint blue hue, making them look more white than gray, like jewelry in his raven-black hair. Something about the way that nobleman stood there commanded attention, and something in the way he stared at Niro made his insides flutter with anxiety.
The next moment, the guards were tightening the chains holding his arms until he had to balance on the balls of his feet, and he took a deep, calming breath through the renewed pain of being stretched to his limit. It took away his concentration from the new faces, and he told himself that it didn’t matter who they were anyway. He’d be dead soon.
The deathsman stepped forward, rounding the rim of the gallows again and again as he spoke with a booming voice.
“For his impertinence, his disobedience and the reckless endangerment of fifty Ailill souls, the manslaughter of ten soldiers of the noble House Errea, the willful wasting of thirty purebred horses and the damaging of the statue of the noble Duke Galdril of Yahir, ancestor of House Malach and great-grandfather of the Duchess Ilydra Gladfall of Yahir, the here presented human slave Niro, part of the estate of the noble Earl Firun Wilmoor of Tetharion, will be whipped to death by the hands of those who he robbed of their comrades!”
With a flourish, the hooded deathsman produced a bull-whip and swung it once, cracking it into the air over the heads of the onlookers. The sound made most of the people flinch, and a thick silence settled over the main square.
“May his punishment be a lesson for all those who oppose our generous leaders!” the deathsman thundered, and turned around.
For a short moment, everyone seemed to be frozen to the spot, shaken by the promise of pain that one crack of the whip had given. Then one of the guards who had escorted Niro out stepped forward, raising his hand to grab the whip. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the one Niro had head-butted earlier, but his colleague.
He stepped in front of the shackled man, staring into Niro’s eyes just long enough to let him see the pent-up disdain for his existence, then the guard turned around and raised both hands to the cheer of the masses. “I will be the first, but others will follow!” he yelled, smiling to the frenzy of the onlookers. Then he turned and rounded the poles, letting the long, thick whip trail behind him like the tail of a snake.
Niro closed his eyes, trying to calm the frantic beating of his heart, the fluttering feeling of panic bubbling up through his guts. It made his manhood throb and thicken in misguided excitement, but this was a feeling easily ignored. His body always did this in the beginning, reveling in the first few lashes like other men reveled in the feel of a woman’s flesh in their hands, but it would go down soon enough. It was calming to know he wouldn’t die with a bulging hard-on in his pants. His tormentors hadn’t earned this chance to degrade him further.
The whistle of leather through the air was the only warning Niro got. The bite of the whip came soon after, leaving a trail of surprising, burning pain across his back, making him buck and hiss and strain against the chains keeping him where he was. He didn’t cry out, of course, but he would at some point. Niro didn’t give himself over to illusions anymore. Sooner or later he would scream and cry, and then he would fall silent and limp, dying whilst hanging there like a piece of discarded, ripped cloth. And all through that the Fae would keep beating him relentlessly, like they had always done, with no way to stop them, no way to earn their forgiveness, and therefor no need to try.
The pause after the first whiplash wasn’t repeated. As soon as the second blow came, the wielding guard fell into an unsteady rythm, slower than Niro’s heart beat and therefor impossible to predict or ride. It felt like a torment inside the punishment itself, to keep him from falling into a trance, to keep him from floating outside of his body and die in peace.
It didn’t take long to turn his whole back into a throbbing, burning mass, but the guard didn’t use enough force to break his skin, and after twenty lashes he gave the whip away. Another guard stepped forward to take over, putting a little more force into his lashes, but still containing himself. They were very proficient in the art of wielding a whip, never before having to kill someone with it, and they seemed unwilling to use their full strength and actually bleed him. Did they harbor soft feelings for him? Were they trying to soothe the rage in the soldiers dotting the crowd by lengthening his punishment, so those brutes wouldn’t want his death after all?
The thought alone made Niro laugh. They had to know that there was no way he’d leave this place alive!
At that one sound, everyone seemed to freeze, gaping at the audacity of it. The whip fell silent, followed by a frustrated hiss from the guard holding it. “You stupid little cunt, I was trying to help you,” he hissed, and only turned away when the dull sounds of heavy steps at the back of the gallows made the presence of the next interested party known. The guard and the newcomer started a low but heated discussion, but Niro didn’t try to understand what they were arguing about.
Instead, he let his gaze wander back to that ashen-pale Fae.
Their eyes met for the briefest of moments, and the noble smirked at him, visibly looking down at Niro’s crotch, then back up at his face. That indication alone made Niro’s face run hot with shame and turn away his own gaze, something he had never done before. On the other hand, nobody had ever acknowledged any of his reactions to a punishment. Interest in the way he fared with pain was new and confusing, something he definitely couldn’t accept in his dying moments.
The newcomer behind him seemed to have won the argument with the guard, and suddenly the whip whistled through the air again. The hiss alone was enough of a warning that this blow wouldn’t be like the ones before, but the force with which it hit Niro’s back surprised even him enough to make him yell out. There was a definitive difference to the blows before, because it didn’t sting as much, but left the area numb for a few heartbeats. Niro felt a rush of liquid start to drip down his back just as the whip hissed again, and he knew that his skin had been broken.