—Waelyngar Penitentiary, beneath the City of Waelyngar—
Seoc MacInnes scarcely felt the sting of the whip across his naked back. He heard it though, the sound cutting through the feverish fog that had descended behind his eyes to bring him back from the edge of unconsciousness.
He gasped once, briefly, and vomited.
Jeering. Laughter. The real world flooded back to him, a chaotic mess of sensory input. The manacles cutting his wrists. His meager supper, running down his chin, burning on his chapped, split lips. The cage. The stage. The audience.
It was a full house tonight, mostly young men, mostly drunk, by the sound of it. Wealthy bachelors, out for a bit of late-night entertainment at the penitentiary sideshow. Ten knamick a person—a fair bargain, if you thought about it. Half the cost of a good prostitute, and much more socially acceptable as a form of diversion amongst the upper classes. Just head on down the hill for a good old midnight fairy-flogging, pay at the door, and go on in for a chance to fulfill your moral duty to shout insults and obscenities at the scum and watch him suffer. Maybe they’ll lash him till he pukes. Maybe till he faints. Maybe till he’s dead.
Seoc wanted to die.
He squeezed his eyes shut, suddenly aware of the tears streaming down his grimy cheeks, running as fast as the blood was running down his back.
This time he felt it, like a white-hot knife across his shoulder blades. He cried out pitifully, wordlessly, and his whimper was greeted with hisses and catcalls.
Oh, please, oh, please, oh, please. Be over. Let it be over.
He grasped the bars above where his chains attached, his breath ragged in his throat, his teeth bared and forced together with such pressure that he felt they might shatter. He was sobbing openly now, audibly, nearly screaming in agony.
And they were laughing at him.
Laughing at him as if he were a dancing bear in a circus. With a muzzle over his nose and a skirt around his waist.
As if he weren’t human.
Seoc MacInnes couldn’t take that.
“How d' you think it feels, eh?!” he shouted. “How would you lot like ta be up here in my place?”
This one struck with such force that he jerked forward and slammed his head into the metal bars. The metallic taste of pain leaked into his mouth, mingling with the putrid, acidic taste of vomit. He slumped, powerless, against the cold steel of the cage, hanging by his manacled wrists.
“You heartless bastards,” he moaned weakly through the bars. “Curse you. Curse you all.”
A guard propped him up again, and then, unexpectedly, released him from the shackles.
“No!” protested the audience. “Beat him! Flog him dead!”
The guard ignored them. He picked Seoc up like a bundle of laundry and deposited him unceremoniously on the cart to be wheeled back to his cell. Seoc knew better than to be grateful. He knew the only reason they kept him alive was to flog him another night, for another audience of rich, drunken young men.
Seoc MacInnes wanted to die.