Natsu shut the door behind him as he left the tower prison room to make his way back down the tower stairwell. He only managed to go down a couple of steps before he heard the clamor of footsteps ascending the stairs. Before he had time to react he saw Arcadios standing there right in front of him followed by several other prison guards. The knight glared at him with an expression of both surprise and anger.
"What are you doing up here, Natsu?" Arcadios growled, scolding the teenage slave.
"I got lost," Natsu lied, though he knew that there was nothing he could say that would convince the knight of anything other than what was true.
"Guards," Arcadios bellow, "escort the salve back to down to the dungeons. Clearly he doesn't understand what his duties as a slave really are."
Natsu sighed as he saw a couple of guards break away from the rest of the group and grab his arms. As they proceeded to pull him down the stairway Natsu could see Arcadios mouth the words, 'I'm sorry,' as the boy passed him. Natsu said nothing, it wasn't like Arcadios had a choice. He was angry though, but more at himself for forgetting to be careful. Now he was going to be sent down to the dungeon again, but at least he would get the chance to talk to Gajeel about their plans.
Acradios watched them take Natsu away just until they disappeared from view. It suddenly struck him that Natsu would have just been in that room and he briskly turned around to enter the tower room. He threw open the door half expecting the two Dracnoan teens to have been released from their bonds, but to his utter shock, they were still tied up. He blinked seeing the two of them glare at him with fierce eyes, yet their chains had not been touched.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Arcadios approached them making sure to keep his hand on the blade and keep his distance
"What did Natsu want with you two?" he demanded.
"Who?" Sting chuckled with a sly grin.
"Don't play stupid with me," Arcadios hissed. "What did Natsu, the boy that was just in here want with the two of you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about?" Sting said shrugging it off. "We've been alone up here all day. You're the first person we've seen since you decided to lock us up here against our will."
"I know you're lying, and if you won't tell me what the boy was doing up here I'll find out myself," Arcadios growled.
"By all means," Sting snickered.
"Bring the two of them down to the dinning hall," Arcadios ordered the other guards. "Lord Jean-Luc wants to show the two of you off to King Duke and his finance," Aracdios said leering back at them. "You will be on your best behavior if you ever hope to get out of this tower again."
"Oh, come now my Lord," we're always on our best behavior," Sting continued to pester the knight. "Why? Don't you trust us?"
"Know this boy," Acradios sneered, "if you do anything that would cause harm to anyone, I will have you hung by your entrails and left out in the sun to be fed to the buzzards."
"Oh, how scary," Rogue snickered as he rolled his eyes.
The other guards entered, but were weary of the two teens. They made sure to stay out of the boy's frontal in case they breathed fire at them. They unlocked their chains from the wall and brought them down the stairwell. Arcadios stayed behind peering around the room checking every crack and crevice. He wanted to make sure that Natsu hadn't left anything behind just in case. From what he could see there really wasn't anything.
"Maybe the boy didn't enter the room after all," Arcadios said out loud to himself.
Arcadios didn't believe what he was saying. He decided that he would visit the dungeons himself to interrogate Natsu himself. If the boy was inside the tower room Arcadios would find out. Though the king expected him to attend the dinning hall ceremony for the night, but for now he needed to make sure that the boys weren't scheming anything.
Natsu found himself thrown in the same cell he was in only a few hours ago. He collided on the cold hard stone floor, sliding across the slime on the ground. He picked himself off trying to dust off what ever filth was covering him, but it was so sticky that it just stuck to his hands. He sighed as he proceeded to wipe it on his pants only to make his pants sticky as well without relieving any of it from his palms.
"So, what'd you do this time?" Gajeel chuckled.
Natsu turned to see the long black haired teen sitting against the wall of his cell. He rested his chin on his hand as he gazed over at his counterpart.
"I found two other Draconans like us locked up in the castle's prison tower," Natsu told him.
"What?" Gajeel said excitedly as he leapt up to his feet. "When did this happen? When did they get here? What are they doing locked up there and not down here with us?"
"They're supposedly wedding gifts to King Duke and Lucy, brought in the other day by a man named Jean-Luc," Natsu informed him. "They told me they were from the south, originally sold to be gladiators."
"When did you meet them?" Gajeel demanded as he walked over to the bars.
"Just now," Natsu said. "They caught me upstairs after I had just spoken to them. Why do you think I'm back down here?"
"So, what else did you guys talk about?" Gajeel demanded. Natsu glared at him, a little annoyed that the other boy was being so pesky.
"About our plan," Natsu informed him. "They're in, but I have to talk to Bob first."
"Okay, good," Gajeel said as he rubbed his chin. "Who the hell is Bob?"
"A blacksmith, and a friend," Natsu told him. "Someone who would be willing to help us when the time comes."
"Natsu!" they heard the young teen's name called out as they saw Arcadios walk down the corridor to their cells. "You are gong to tell me what were you doing in that room."
Natsu crossed his arms over his chest as he walked towards the front of his cell. He eyed Arcadios carefully as he bit his tongue. Arcadios leered at him with heavy eyes. Natsu knew that Arcadios was one of the few people that he could probably trust. The tension was palpable; Arcadios could fee the glare of the other teenaged Draconan from the other cell. His gaze moved up to him, but Gajeel did not flinch as he leaned against the bars.
"I heard rumors of there being two other Dracnonans like Gajeel and myself upstairs," Natsu said casually, finally breaking the tension, "I just wanted to see whether they were true or not."
"Anything else?" Arcadios demanded stepping closer to the bars. Natsu didn't flinch as the knight came within only a few centimeters from his face. The boy just gave him a coy smile.
"No," Natsu said before walking towards the back of his cell where Gajeel was standing.
"Natsu this is serious," Arcadios sneered. "If we find out that you were up to something that could be detrimental. I can't protect you if you are planning anything."
"Who says I need protection from anyone?" Natsu asked sternly. "Last I remember, it was I who saved you from Gajeel and the group of bandits out in the woods. And that it was me who whipped out most of them when they attacked. That it was me that saved Lucy's life as well. Gildarts trained me to be a weapon of the king, so trust me when I say, I don't need your protection."
Arcadios was perplexed by the boy's words. Natsu glared at him with a fierce scowl, a look he had never seen the boy give him before. He looked livid, as though ready to attack the knight, but he made no movement towards him. He could see that Gajeel was also glaring at him, yet he didn't make a single movement either. There was something wrong. The boy just wasn't himself; usually he was far friendlier to the knight, but today he his eyes looked at him as though Arcadios was his enemy.
"Very well," Arcadios sighed. "But you will remain here for the time being. I will tell the king of what you have done and see what he deems fit as punishment for your misbehavior."
"What's he going to do?" Natsu asked skeptically raising an eyebrow. "Throw me in the dungeon?"
Arcadios took a deep breath before ultimately giving up. He turned around and left the dungeon, peering back over to see Natsu talking with Gajeel again. He didn't show it to Natsu, but deep down the knight felt a little sting of pain in his heart. He wondered what had driven the boy to have such a hatred for him all of a sudden.
Arcadios returned to the dinning hall where he found the king and his company sitting at a table as the other two Draconan slaves were brought forward and pushed to their knees. Everyone else in the chamber formed a semi-circle around the, both thrilled and terrified all at once. Lucy gazed at them with curious eyes, but also with a sense of remorse. She knew that these men were like Natsu in some way, and for that she had sympathy, but she also understood how dangerous the two of them must be.
"Acradios," the king called out to him as he saw the knight approach the table and take his place by the king's side. "Where is our own slave boy Natsu? I wish for you to fetch him immediately so we can show our guests just how well we have tamed the savage beast."
"My Lord," Arcadios interjected, bowing his head properly before he carried one, "the slave boy Natsu has been thrown back into his prison cell you confined him too the other night."
"Oh, really?" King Jude said with a deep breath of annoyance. "What did the boy do this time?"
Lucy could overhear the two of them talking as she felt her heart beat a little faster as she heard the current predicament Natsu was in. Hearing about his release earlier in the morning made her feel a little comfort, but now that he was back in lock up it made her worry even more. She hadn't seen him in days, at least not on a personal level. She held her necklace seeking some comfort in it.
"He disobeyed one of my orders my Lord," Arcadios answered. "Worry not, the boy will be dealt with for his brash behavior."
"And how do you plan on doing that?" King Duke interjected as he took a sip of wine from his goblet. "What is to be the punishment for a slave that flouts the orders of one of his superiors?"
All eyes; noble, commoner and even the servants who were busy cleaning up the table, had now turned to the young king as Duke leered at Arcadios with a serious stare. The knight could tell that the king was not joking around when he insisted on hearing about the punishment. The knight knew not what to say, but he would speak the truth of what Natsu's punishment would be and hope that it would be enough to satisfy the young king.
"He will be locked away in the dungeons for his insolence, until I see fit to release him," Arcadios answered.
"Is that it?" King Duck said nonchalantly as he twirled the wine in his cup. Lucy eyed him carefully as did her father and Arcadios. "King Jude, with all due respect, but is this really how you control your slaves? I mean, if a night in the dungeon is enough to suffice for the crimes of ignoring the orders of one's superiors, than how can you be expected to keep the other Draconan beasts at your whim?"
"What would you suggest?" King Jude asked, interested in hearing what suggestions the young king would propose.
"Twenty lashing should suffice for the crime," King Duke answered with a joyful, yet serious smirk.
"My Lord," Arcadios exclaimed, "the boy did not do anything severe, just a minor offense."
"King Duke is the future ruler of this kingdom, Arcadios," King Jude said shaking the knight off. "You will listen, and do as he says. The man makes a good point. We cannot expect ourselves to control our servants if we are not willing to do what is necessary to keep them in line. Bring Natsu before us so that he can receive punishment."
"No, my Lord," King Duke interrupted, "take him outside to the public square where everyone can bear witness to his punishment. He must be made an example of, and the people need to understand how stern we are with our rule and that we will not tolerate misbehavior. The message must be sent before this behavior spreads like a virus."
"You are very wise for your age young lord King Duke. Very well," King Jude agreed, nodding his head. "Arcadios, send several of your guards downstairs to fetch Natsu, and have the others set up the stake outside."
Neither Lucy, nor Arcadios, could believe what they were hearing. Arcadios hesitated at first, but reluctantly he complied. Lucy gasped in horror, as both her father's and King Duke's eyes fell upon her. They weren't the only ones; Levy also stared at the young princess with quizzical eyes. She could see that the young princess had a glimmer of freight and concern in her eyes, as they went wide. She too was worried as King Duke appeared to be completely unfazed by his orders, in fact he continued discussing politics with King Jude.
While the banquet commenced in the castle, Jellal and Erza found themselves seeking entertainment elsewhere: in one of the local taverns in the heart of the town. The two of them had been wondering around looking for a good place to grab a pint of ale, and this one didn't appear to be all that bad. The men looked like they were low wage peasants that were finishing up a hard day's work with a cold beer and some food before returning home.
It wasn't too crowded there in the dinning room apart from the few occupied tables. Jellal and Erza were the only two sitting at the bar, giving them some isolated peace from the rest of it all. The bartender was busy filling more wooden mugs with ale, when he slapped two of them in front of the young noble and knight. He said nothing, and despite them not ordering the drinks they picked up each of their mugs and clanged them together before taking their fist sip.
The place was dark for the most part, apart from the pale flicker of flame that emanated from the fire pit on the far side behind them. Jellal peered around the rickety old place trying to get a good feel of it. The bartender was a rotund man with a thick, burly beard and a serious grimace about him, but he seemed alright. Though there was something about this place that Jellal couldn't shake as he noticed that in the back with two other men sat a man cloaked all in black. The hood of his cloak draped over his head making it difficult to see his face, but Jellal could have sworn he was staring at them.
Jellal tried to ignore it, but he couldn't shake the eerie vibe that he was getting from this man. The other two people he was sitting with didn't make it anymore easier. One man was pale with a large top hat. His skin pale, almost a bluish color that was inhuman and a nose longer than any the young noble had ever seen. Sitting on the other side was another man, short and stout. He had long, white hair and a chin that was twice as big as his head.
The three of them sat secluded in their own corner, Jellal making sure to keep an eye on them. Erza on the other hand sat there in silence as she sipped on her ale. She was still a little unhappy about having to wear the peasant dress, and she had hoped that maybe, while they were out of the castle, she could have changed into more suitable clothing.
The two of them finished their first beers as the bartender came and replaced their mugs with fresh ones. As he did Jellal could sense the hooded figure moving towards the two of them. Jellal said nothing, hoping that maybe he was being a bit paranoid, but he found his hand reaching for his sword nonetheless. Erza could see that the young man was disturbed as she turned around to see what it was that was troubling him.
Once she too saw the hooded figure she reached for her own sword that she had hidden under her blouse. Just as the hooded man was within feet of them, the doors to the tavern burst open as a man yelled, "They're going to punish the Draconan beast out in the town square!" Before he continued to run down the road followed by an uproar from outside.
Jellal and Erza exchanged a gaze of glances as the tavern emptied out and everyone inside bolted towards the door and out of the tavern. That was all, except for the hooded man. Jellal glared at him as he smirked, and casually backed up before he too vanished outside the tavern door with the crowd. Jellal began to feel a sense of relief once the man had gone, his grip on his sword's hilt loosed and he drained the last of his beer.
"What's going on?" Erza asked the bartender.
"Sounds to me like the king's dog is going to get a public punishment," the bartender said in a gruff voice. "That's odd since the king normally let's the slave run loose around here. It's about time someone put that boy in his place if you ask me. Always running around like he's some kind of free man, doing nothing all day while the rest of us bust our asses."
"What did the slave do?" Jellal asked. He had heard of this Draconan before. It was said that the boy had be been brought up as a military weapon, trained specifically for combat, but he didn't know if those were just rumors passed around amongst soldiers.
"Beats me," the bartender said shrugging. "But it must be something serious if the king is going to make it a public display."
Erza nudged Jellal as she gestured for the two of them to leave. He nodded in agreement as the two of them stood up and made their way outside. When they had exited the tavern they saw a large crowd form around the center near the marketplace in front of a large wooden stage where a young, pink haired teen had his arms tied outstretched upwards to a large wooden pole in the center. The two of them weaved through the crowd, the town's men and woman jeering loudly. Slaves watched from afar either from windows or the base of their shops pretending to go about their chores knowing that they were forbidden to participate in the public shunning.
As Jellal and Erza drew closer they could see the pink haired teen tied up with chains, with King Jude standing over him as well as the young king Duke and his knight Arcadios. Lucy on the other hand watched from behind the stage with the other nobles. She had a look of worry in her eyes as she did her best to maintain her composure, but the sight of Natsu standing there, half naked in front of everyone was almost too much for the young girl to bear.
Iwan stood next to her, placing a hand on her shoulder to comfort her through it. Her soft, chocolate colored eyes peered up at him as he offered her a friendly smile. She could see that he was trying his best to calm her. She cringed as she could hear the muffle laughter and harsh words that were spoken amongst the group of nobles around her. Some of whom couldn't wait until the public punishment began. She fought back tears as best she could, feeling Iwan pulling her in close to shield her from the world.
Jellal found himself curious as King Duke motioned for the cries of the crowd to die down. He stepped towards everyone near the front of the stage, and sure enough the cluster went silent. He had a whip in his hand, a long piece of leather with steel points attached to it. The young noble's eyes went wide as he saw that this was the instrument in which King Duke was going to punish Natsu.
Natsu was not the only Draconan on the stage. Sting and Rogue were chained off to the side, King Duke eyeing them viciously as he held the whip up to them. Natsu turned to them and smirked. He nodded his head at the two of them as they in turn nodded back before Natsu turned back towards the crowd ready for his punishment.
"Citizens of Konvern," King Duke called out to them. "I am King Duke Sawarr of Junelle, the future lord of your kingdom by grace of King Jude." The crowd listened to him as he grew more serious, pacing along the front of the stage. "Take heed my people, as your future king I demand respect and discipline from my people. To disobey my command, or any command of your superiors will be met with severe punishment. But fear not, for I am a kind and ultimately merciful. However, let this Draconan serve as a reminder of what happens to those that cross me or violate mine, or any law of the land."
After his speech King Duke walked over to Arcadios. He lifted up the whip and handed it to the knight.
"Excuse me sire, but what are you doing?" Arcadios asked, staring down at the whip in disbelief.
"You're the one the slave disobeyed," King Duke answered, "so you'll be the one to administer the punishment."
"B-b-but my Lord," Arcadios stuttered.
"Arcadios!" King Jude bellowed. "You will do as your lord commands you. Now take the whip and administer the punishment."
"Y-yes sire," Arcadios sighed as he took the whip in hand. He peered down at it as the long sliver of metal and leather unraveled to the wooden floor.
Arcadios felt his heart race s it began to grow heavy in his chest. He took his position behind the young teen as Natsu stared out front into the crowd. Arcadios gripped the handle of the whip firmly in his hand struggling to lift it up. He took a couple of deep breaths, the world slowing down all around him as he felt a single tear fall down his cheek before releasing the first lash.
Natsu let out a wail of pain as he felt the skin on his back break under the sound of cracking whip. His chains rattled above him Lucy gasped in horror, tears streamed down from her eyes. She wanted to run away, unable to bear witness to the beating that was being bestowed upon Natsu.
"No, my Lady," Iwan said as he pulled her into his chest and wrapping his arms around her. "You must stay here or else you too may be punished."
"Please let me go Lord Iwan," Lucy sobbed into his robes. "I can't do it. I can't stand here and watch this."
Another cracked echoed through the town square followed by another cry of pain from Natsu. The sounds were nauseating to her, as she could barely keep her feet under the weight of her aching heart. She tried to break away from the old noble, but he continued to pull her back in, keeping her there, stroking her hair as a way of comfort. Anything he could do to soothe her, but it just didn't seem like enough.
"But you must my lady," Iwan told her. "For your sake you must. I will be here for you, so please try and endure it."
The loud cracking of the whip echoed once more followed by a cry of pain. At this point Natsu fell to his knees, panting heavily. His body grew heavy under the weight of the pain. But he refused to let that deter him, as he glared over at King Duke, pushing to pull himself backup to his feet as he faced the crowd with a serious demeanor. He refused to let himself be beaten down and submitted, not now, not in front of the other two Draconan boys.
Arcadios kept the lashings up, fighting to hold back the tears that swelled in his eyes. When finally the last blow came before King Duke shouted for him to stop. The knight was surprised to hear that the young king was calling off the beatings, as was everyone else in the crowd. Natsu collapsed to his knees, unable to stand up anymore. He panted heavily, unable to completely fall to the ground as his chains kept him upright. His back radiated in pain, the deep gashes oozed blood, as streams of the crimson liquid soaked the wooden stage.
"By my count that is an even fifteen," King Duke said as he held up a hand to stop Arcadios from swinging the whip forth. "I can see that you have a strong spirit Draconan, and perhaps if you beg me I will call off the whipping and bring an end to your torment. Just admit that you, and your people are sworn subjects to the king, and that you will never try to disobey mine, or any of my knight's commands. All you have to do is submit."
"Fuck you," Natsu growled spitting at the feet of King Duke, before standing to his feet. "I may have sworn to protect the house of Heartfilia, but you'll have to do a lot more to break the spirit of a Draconan! You've enslaved us and beaten us, taken us away from our homes and destroyed our land. Now you want us to submit to you like dogs? I refuse."
"You are either very brave, or very foolish," King Duke laughed in a mocking tone. "Arcadios, add another twenty lashings to his punishment. We'll see just how long this Draconan spirit keeps up."
Arcadios hesitated, but again he raised the whip and struck the boy once more as he let out a cry of pain. In the distance the other slaves watched on, finding themselves becoming infuriated. They had never much cared for the boy, his name and presence was taboo even to them. But there was something about his words, and seeing him there on the platform stirred a different sense of emotions in them. They had resented the boy for many years, but seeing one of their own publically humiliated and ashamed while he stood up to the king was starting to ignite a spark in them.
They watched as his lashings continued, blood squirting forth with each and every blow. Yet the boy persisted. They began to exchange glances with one another each one thinking the same thing; that there was a deep respect beginning to form for Natsu.
At last the final blow came before Arcadios picked up the whip. Natsu seethed, his body feeling half dead. King Jude motioned for a few of his guards to move over and unhinge the boy's change from the post. They complied, causing the pink haired teen to collapse to his stomach with a loud thump, blood pouring from his gaping wounds as a puddle of blood formed around him.
Sting and Rogue looked on approvingly before they too were taken away, back to the tower, by a few prison guards as well. Natsu lay there on the wooden platform motionless, the majority of the crowd began to wonder if he were dead or not. Jellal felt Erza's grip tighten in his hand, as he could see the red head glaring angrily at the spectacle. They watched as King Duke took a couple of steps closer to Natsu, but made sure that he wasn't close enough to let his boots get wet from the blood.
"So, how about that Draconan spirit, eh?" he teased stepping on the back of Natsu's head, grinding his face into the stage. "You and your people are pathetic, don't you forget that."
With that he stepped away walking back towards King Jude. The older king peered at him with admiration as he wrapped an arm around the young king's shoulders as he and his company made their way back inside.
Iwan sustained his hold on Lucy tightening his grip around her delicate frame, preventing the girl from escaping but he allowed her to continue crying in his chest. Levy was the only one of the king's company that had not gone into the castle as she could see how devastated the young princes was. She bit her lip placing a hand on her mistress's shoulder not knowing what to say. She and Iwan just watched as the guards grabbed Natsu and proceeded to drag him off to the dungeons.
"It's over my dear," Iwan said stroking her hair, "it's over. How about you return to your room for the evening. I'll tell your father of your absence. Levy, how about you escort the young princess back to her quarters?"
"Yes, my Lord," Levy said with a nod as she took the princess in her arms. She could feel the weight of the blonde falling against her as the two of them made their way back towards the castle gates.
Iwan on the other hand stayed where he was as walked up the wooden steps on top of the platform. He could see that most of the towns people had gone, but he could see that many of the slaves still kept their eyes on the pink haired teen as he was carted away. The noble smiled to himself before turning back towards the castle.
As Iwan made his way back he bypassed a cloaked man, sitting on a barrel near the gate. "Well that was interesting," the cloaked man hissed, but kept his head down to appear inconspicuous.
"Yes, yes it was," Iwan answered with a sly smirk. "Things are going far better than I could have ever hoped. "