Feudal England, Exact Date Unknown
Tortured screams echoed off the cold stone walls of the monastery and danced into the satin black of the night. Here and there from the confines of the bordering woods, wolves howled a lonely reply to the bloodcurdling cry that was carried on the cooling breeze, whispering a spell into the tops of the trees. In scant moments the screams were heard again, upsetting birds in their nests that sang an irritated song and were quiet again. Only one wolf answered this time, her response trailing off as if she were unsure from whence the call came, her ears flattening to the sides of her head in mild alarm. Her sensitive nose twitched delicately as she tried to identify the source of the malodor carried on the wind.
In the clearing where the great, imposing structure stood was also a village. No lights shone in the darkness from the direction of the cottages. The silvery light from the full moon that spilled in through crudely cut windows nevertheless revealed some of the villagers quickly crossing themselves before they hurried back to their beds to await the coming dawn.
From inside the hulking stone monastery came another agonized bellow and the flames on the torches in the wall sconces mounted at regular intervals flickered and bowed forlornly in deference to the wind that wafted unchecked through the halls.
In a small, windowless room situated off the library and secured by a massive oaken door, that was in turn hidden behind a rather large and ornate hanging tapestry, gathered a circle of perhaps twenty friars repeating a low and nearly indistinguishable prayer in perfect unison that had taken on the quality of a hypnotic chant. Their foreheads were furrowed with the concentration required to continue voicing their supplication in harmony and sweat beaded their brows as one friar drew back his arm to reveal a vicious looking whip. He brought it down again with a resounding crack on the back of the child, bound and quaking in their midst, who wailed in response. Malicious glee and a thirst for blood colored his countenance in sickly opposition to the piety of the chant that reverberated all around him.
“Bless the child…save the child…”
The chant was repeated as a litany and in tandem with the fall of the whip so that each time it was repeated, the crack of the lash sounded again and the child shrieked once more, his back marked by previous beatings too numerous to count.
Again the whip fell and the child, with a guttural groan of purest agony, collapsed at their feet and lapsed into unconsciousness.
One among the friars was charged with the keeping of a chalice of holy water, which he held aloft for a moment before pouring it onto the face of the child to rouse him.
The child coughed and sputtered, and then levered himself into a kneeling position and, with every muscle in his body straining, he struggled to stand. Holding himself upright by nothing more than sheer will, he faced the circle of friars with all the proud defiance he could muster.
The hate burning in the eyes of the friars which he faced gained intensity and he steeled himself for the blow he already knew was coming.
He didn’t have long to wait. He saw the shadow that fell on the wall as the friar standing behind him raised his arm. The friar brought it down and the boy shouted again as fire touched his back. He felt keenly the sticky warmth of the blood that began to drip down his back as this time, the lash laid it open. At least the gash didn’t hurt as badly as the burning welts, the boy reflected dimly as the lash fell once again and his hoarse keen of pain was all but drowned out by the exultant roar of the one who wielded the whip.
Trembling and nauseous, the child fought the urge to faint away as colors floated malevolently in front of his eyes. To faint again would bring only greater punishment at a later time, he knew, so he fought with every fiber of his being the black void that crept into the periphery of his vision. He was rewarded for his steadfast effort as the urge to vomit got stronger and the excruciating, razor edged agony that pulsed in the flesh of his back grew and throbbed increasingly with each beat of his heart, but he did not pass out.
Rage welled from deep within the core of his very being and the boy nursed it tenderly and solicitously. He had begun to understand long before that the fury kept him alive. He worked desperately and with a singular focus to force the pain into a dark corner of his mind, to lock it away so that he would feel the searing hurt though he would no longer acknowledge it.
The chant rose to a crescendo in his ears and the lash fell once more. Gritting his teeth and battling the need to cry out, the boy bore his whipping stoically. By his count, that was thirteen lashes, two more to go. The pious friars, he reflected with a poignant bitterness, never forced a whipping on him that exceeded fifteen lashes, though they also lashed him no less than every other night so that the welts would have just begun to heal when they beat him again and the cuts would be laid open once more to add to the multitude of scars that now crisscrossed his back.
The whip sounded and fire touched his back once again. Tears that he couldn’t control and yet fought to contain welled in his eyes and he bit his lip until he tasted his own blood. The tears would make the brothers happy he knew. He also knew that they would in turn feed the self-righteous bloodlust that seethed just beneath the surface of each of their carefully cultivated faithful mannerisms, and the very thought of satisfying or feeding the twisted need for pain and power that all the friars studiously disguised sickened him. Lifting his eyes to the ceiling, he refused to blink because he knew from experience that if he did not blink, the tears would not fall.
“Bless the child…save the child…”
The litany sounded again and the boy braced himself. Taking in the brothers that stood before him in a single swift glance, he saw that they had noticed the tears that he tried not to shed. Victory burned fiercely in their eyes and one gave the barest nod to the friar behind him, who brought the whip down on his back with a reverberant crack. Unable to help it any longer, the boy crumpled amid the circle of friars with a pathetic whimper of unendurable hurt.
Trembling with fury and sweating from exertion, the friar cast the whip aside and signaled that the child be taken away. His hands and feet still bound and his head hanging, shudders racking his body, the boy was grasped cruelly by the arms and hauled upright with no regard for the bruises, welts, gaping wounds, and brutally reopened scars that bled freely and glistened wetly in the firelight.
They dragged the beaten boy down a series of halls and passageways to his room, where they untied the leather straps and crudely laid him on his pallet on the floor. They draped a single wool blanket over him and watched with no small degree of triumph as he winced and murmured a soft plea for relief. Blood had already seeped through the wool of the blanket when one of the friars knelt beside the child and, in a last bid to indulge his sadism rubbed the boy’s back. The friar smiled with hateful glee when the boy gasped and tensed, whispering in the child’s ear, “Peace be with you and may God Almighty keep you, my child.” And then he left, his footsteps falling with nary a sound on the stone floor.
Dizzy with the stinging discomfort that pulsed in his back, the child levered himself upright far enough to move about six inches to his left. Into the bowl placed next to his pallet that served as a chamber pot, he threw up as quietly as he could manage. He collapsed back onto his bedding and passed out, oblivion caressing him gently and offering him an escape from the agony that he had neither the strength nor the will to refuse.
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