“No!” Beth screamed, but there was nothing she could do as we were dragged towards the mast. The captain simply watched, but I couldn’t let out a single sound while my hands were tied to the mast. Beth was shrieking, flailing violently, but Fig didn’t let her go. He firmly tied her hands down. Now, all she could do was yell.
Words that had never left Beth’s mouth before exploded out. Harsh expletives burst out, awkwardly tumbling out of her lips, and the words were like sharp shards against my ears. She cursed the captain, the crew, and Fig. She couldn’t see the strained expression on his face as he unbuttoned her dress from behind her. Captain had instructed for our backs to be bared.
I was shivering. It was cold. Fig’s fingers were uncomfortably warm, and I almost smiled as he murmured his apologies. He was both red in embarrassment and pale in discomfort. He didn’t want to do this either, yet here he was. Captain had instructed specifically Fig to do this. It was his punishment too, for letting Beth free like this, and he was hurting.
I kept my head back in shame, humiliated by the men who could see me. No man had seen my bare back, and I wanted nothing more than to cry. Fig was apologetic as he gently pushed me to my knees, but his gentleness also hurt. I felt so far away, but his quiet warmth kept trying to bring me back in. I wanted to be further away. It was so cold.
Beth’s words jolted me out of my thoughts. “Please!” Even the captain froze at that. “Please. Please. Please stop. I’m begging you. I’ll never try anything like this again, I swear on my name, but please!”
She was sobbing. I hadn’t noticed her tears until now, but her cheeks were evidently wet.
There was a silence on the deck as all eyes turned to Captain. She had thrown down her pride, which she held higher than anything, yet he was silent. They knew that she had caved, just as the captain had wanted, but what would his next move be? Would it even matter to him?
It was so cold. The sea breeze was painful on my bare back, and I fought a violent shiver that ran down my back.
“Ten flogs for each of you. Fig will do it.” A sound escaped Beth. It was a long, guttural sound that knocked my breath right out of me. Her fists were clenched at the mast, and her knuckles were pure white. The sound got louder and ended with a shriek. It was fury. Pure fury that burned like the fire in her eyes.
“You will pay.” The pride was back, a pride wrought up through pure anger, while she trembled in anger. “You will be hunted down to the ends of the earth for this. This is my death sentence. No lady’s skin can be marred like this and expect to stay a lady. You will lose your precious hostage once I kill myself. I will have nothing, and neither will you.”
There was absolute silence. Only the wind of the sea could be heard, but nobody made a noise. Beth had that effect on them, where they felt like they couldn’t breathe. I would know. I felt that was too. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Beth was right about a lady’s skin being marred. Nobody wanted a woman with scars on her physical appearance, regardless of whether it was visible to the public or not. She would be damaged goods, and no high ranking man would pay a dowry for a ruined woman.
“Very well.” Relief coursed through Beth as she sagged on the spot. I could hear her sobs as her body heaved violently. “Grace will take all twenty flogs.” I froze.
Nothing Beth did mattered. She screamed, cried, begged, but the captain listened to nothing as he had Fig drag Beth away. Then, he told the rest of the crew to go back under deck, reminding them that this punishment was for everyone to listen too. Fig had to hold Beth there, to make her watch.
The captain himself took the whip, and he stood behind me as I kneeled in front of the mast. My wrists were burning, an uncomfortable heat compared to the coldness on my back. My head was ducked down. I couldn’t look up. I couldn’t look up at him.
If I looked at him, I would shatter. I hated this side of him. Captain Alexander Caine, a pirate willing to destroy everything for anything. I couldn’t put this side of him with the side that teased me as he held me tightly. That side of him was so far away. I wanted him back.
I couldn’t hear Beth anymore, yet I was aware that she was screaming. It was so cold. I didn’t want to look at him. Perhaps there were be even more coldness in his eyes, or perhaps there would be warmth. I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to. I kept my head down.
“Grace, you will be taking twenty flogs, punishment for your Lady Elizabeth Taylor.” His voice was so quiet compared to the loud screams, but it echoed in my head. “Do you have anything to say?” This felt like a death sentence. Perhaps I wasn’t to survive this. It didn’t matter. I was but a maid.
Perhaps he wanted me to beg too, just as Beth had. Perhaps he wanted me to cry and scream. I couldn’t find the energy to. Everything felt so distant, but the numbing coldness wouldn’t stop spreading.
I wanted to be warm. I wanted to be sitting at our clifftop house, basking in the sun as Beth taught me how to read, and I wanted to be able to sing and dance wildly in the day and laugh and talk in the night. Never again.
I didn’t expect the sharp pain. I was splitting apart.
One. I wasn’t strong enough not to scream. My screams mingled with Beth’s.
Two. Words couldn’t describe the rain of fire that split my skin open.
Three. It was pure agony, and I was screaming incoherent sounds while my throat turned burned. Still, there was so much pain left over.
Four. I felt every individual strike like a hot brand against my skin.
Five. The sound was quick, but the burn spread red hot across my back. A sharp crack, and my mind barely had the time to register the sound before the pain hit me.
Six. Even the blood that dribbled down my back felt cold compared to the raw heat from my ripped back. Why was I still so cold?
Seven. I couldn’t stop the hot tears that streamed down my face. Sobs racked my body, but each movement triggered the sharp reminder that the pain wasn’t over.
Eight. Why wasn’t I passing out? Surely this was the moment I deserved to lose consciousness.
Nine. It was branded into me. The sharp, lasting pain was etched into my body.
Ten. Every movement - breathing, coughing, gasping, screaming - hurt.
Eleven. I was breathing in fire.
Twelve. Was I even screaming anymore?
Thirteen. My wrists burned.
Fourteen. I was dying.
Twenty. Kill me.
When my hands were loosened from the mast, they slithered down, and I held myself desperately, craving some kind of an end. Would the pain never end? It seemed like a lie, those tales that one would become numb to the pain. Instead, it was never ending. Even my tears hurt, and sound coming from my lips caused me pain.
He took my hands, gently peeling them from my arms. Too carefully, he placed his arms beneath my torso, prompting me up. I assumed he was attempting to carry me away, but even the slightest movement was enough to start a burn across my back. He leaned down, and he began to pull me up.
“Kill me.” He froze. “Please, just kill me.” Never had I wanted so much to die. This pain wasn’t worth living with. He had done this to me. Surely, he could take me out of my misery. I clutched the arm that held me up, gasping through the shriek of pain that was building in the smallest of movements. “Please.”
“I can’t do that.” His voice was low as he whispered into my ear. I involuntarily shivered. “I need my Grace.” He pulled me in one swift movement, and I cried out with what was left of my voice. So cold and so hot, my entire body shuddered at the ripple of heat across my wet back. I could feel a pain reaching all the way to the tips of my fingers and toes from a single movement, yet I could do nothing but cry out as I was carried away.
Waves of dizziness hit me repeatedly. I could barely breathe, but now, I welcomed the wash of darkness with open arms. Anything to keep from the pain.