TITLE: NOTHING MORE, NOTHING LESS
CHAPTER 1: ADVENTUS
I went meekly to my death.
In my ears, mother's calm words, stark yet comforting: "Death before dishonour."
In my mouth, the taste of nightshade and laudanum, of which only the dregs were left by the time the vessel reached my lips, the last of the seven gathered in an obedient circle around mother's iron will.
In my nose and throat, the acrid reek of smoke mixed with burning hair and singeing flesh.
And over it all the incandescence of the consuming flames, brilliant enough to stab even through my closed eyelids.
The rays of the sun stabbed no less cruelly through his eyelids, no matter how tightly he tried to hold them down over his bloodshot eyes. This same sun likewise showed no mercy to the men—soldiers, out of uniform, but unmistakably martial in their appearance and mannerisms—drilling with grim concentration in the open space bordered by four blocks of barracks. The smell of iron permeated the air. The iron of sweat drying on bare skin and the iron of weapons that clashed and clanged and drew the occasional spark; the iron of the chains tethering him to a training post in one corner of the square as if he were a wayward horse or hound. Impartial as the sun's tyranny was, the men had at least the concession of regular breaks. They made good use of the rest to empty dippers of water into their mouths and over their bodies. He had no such respite.
the conquered have no rights
He made himself look away from the wide-mouthed earthenware jugs filled with cool soothing liquid, and attempted to find his escape in memory, such of it as his not-quite-eighteen years of life could supply. He willed his mind to fill itself with soothing scenes of the cool pale stone of his home and the greens and blues of its surrounding gardens, tried to place himself in his favourite spot by the little pool that teemed with colourful little fish moving as one. But after seven hours—or perhaps it was eight, or nine, or ten–even his memories were flagging. The fish were sluggish, the air stale and heavy, the plants bowed and wilted.
He had stopped trying to keep time. The sun had gotten too high in the sky for him to look at it for longer than a few eye-watering heartbeats. He wished he could place his hands over his eyes. But his arms were not his to use; they were extended to meet over his head simply by hanging his wrist shackles onto a hook near the top of the post. Ankle shackles likewise held his feet earth-bound, preventing him from raising himself up on toe tips to unhook himself. He was strung out on the wood like a bow string – or a gutted fish drying in the sun. It was not a position he would have subjected anyone else to, even someone he disliked. But he was not the one with the options.
the conquered have no choices
The men continued their formations and manouvres. He continued his impotent dreaming. The hot dry air continued to strip the last drops of moisture from his skin. The brightness continued to assault his sight. It felt like there were disks of fire being slowly tattooed into his eyes. But worse, incomparably worse, was the thirst. He licked his cracked lips, but it made little difference; his tongue was almost as dry. Every swallow sent a stream of tiny hard-edged nails into his throat to scrape it raw. The position of his arms made it hard to breathe, and in any case, every exhalation robbed him of a little more of the precious moisture that his body craved.
The thin tunic he wore may just as well not be there for all the protection it gave him against the sun's abuse. The Sunlord walked his fiery fingers under the flimsy cloth and sucked hungrily at his skin, raising a fiery blush everywhere it touched. He pictured himself turning into dust, like the vast arid emptiness of the deserts that his tutor had told him about. He could almost hear the old man's raspy voice telling him to pay attention, to use that brain that he undoubtedly had but wasted on devising ingenuous toys and models, to remember that he was learning all those things for a purpose he had been born to fulfill. None of those things mattered now; the amount of knowledge in one's head made no difference to how fast or how easily one died. Or even how unnoticed one's death was. There would be no wailing to lament his passing, not even his own.
the conquered have no voice
It was a poor trade I made: this drawn-out torment of a whimpering end in place of a relatively swift and painless death by poison and fire.
"Don't you die on me, you troublesome pup!"
He was half-passed out and the guttural words sounded to him like choking and gagging, but he understood the sentence well enough.
Pup. It was by far the kindest of the names he had been called since he lost his freedom. He wanted to set him right, he was no mindless beast but a man with a face and an identity. Yet the rope of sand that was his tongue remained mute. Even his words had been taken from him.
the conquered have no names
Fingers pinched his cheeks, pried his jaws apart, forced something between his teeth. Water coursed down his gullet and up his windpipe and gushed out again through his nostrils. He coughed and sputtered his way into full consciousness, continued gulping the water down until his stomach rebelled and heaved its sour contents out his mouth.
A bout of hearty cursing joined his clumsy retching. Someone grabbed a handful of his hair, jerking his head back. A livid face thrust itself into his vision. He caught a glimpse of light-coloured eyes and a thicket of dark facial hair; his streaming eyes allowed nothing more thorough. It was a hard face that he saw, with hard eyes that had seen hard things and a hard mouth that had spoken hard words. A conqueror's face. They called him the Hawk, but he knew he would not never be allowed to address him as anything else but Malik.
no rights, no choices, no voice, no name
the conquered have only masters
He was choking on the thick phlegm that was trying to make its way out of his windpipe along with the acid and bile of his stomach. More swearing. The clink of shackles and chains. All of a sudden, he was being lifted and then flipped horizontal so that he could expel what remained inside him. An ungentle whack between his shoulder blades helped that along with brutal efficiency. A moment later, he was lifted by his shackles and swung upright again. Weakened, disoriented by being spun around, he couldn't keep his balance. He pitched forward, bringing the startled face of his master hurtling towards him.
The Hawk dodged, giving him a brief glance of his face; in that brief moment the youth saw how, under the belligerent ire, he looked embarrassed and flustered, like a man whose newly-bought boots had just parted company with their soles in the middle of the town's meeting square. And then the man dropped him, and all he saw was the dust of the ground, peppered with drops and globs of sweat and vomit and vileness.
Fighting the lethargy in his limbs, he struggled to get into the position befitting his status: on his hands and knees, forehead in the dust. He wasn't able to complete the change – the blood rushing into his limbs simultaneously filled them with ant-bites of resumed circulation and drained them of strength.
He waited for the blows and kicks to follow this blatantly insubordinate behaviour. Instead, he was scooped up in hard-muscled arms and cradled like a child. The swaying motion of a brisk walk told him he was being brought somewhere– where, he did not know. He kept his eyes closed and made himself as inconspicuous as he could, though he couldn't stop his head from flopping and as a result rubbing his cheek against the man's chest as if he were a babe trying to nuzzle at a breast.
The swaying stopped. He braced himself. Surely the pain would start now. Not only had he disrespected his master, he now presumed to claim kindness from him. But all that the man did was to move his head so that it lay supported by his own chest. He was startled by the gentleness of the act, but he chose not to delude himself. He would assume nothing from this act. The man whose arms supported him was probably new to this role of master and was thus unseasoned as yet in how masters ought to behave.
The night I was pulled from the flames and dragged back to life, I stopped being a person and became a possession. His possession. It's only a matter of time before he realises that.
This is what I sound like when I'm sober. Constructive comments are welcome!