My back was numb, and with each strike, the only thing I could feel was the blood trickling down to the small of my back. I welded my teeth together and looked at the boy from under my dark lashes.
He grinned, flashing a perfect set of teeth. I knew what he was looking for. He wanted to see me break.
But I refused. I wouldn’t let him see it. The vulnerability he likes to break out of people. Watch them as their resolve crumbles. Yeah, I was in pain, but I couldn’t let him have the satisfaction of winning. And he was fine with that. If he wasn’t able to get his way now, he sure as well would get it later.
Five more lashings.
Four. He tapped his foot impatiently.
Three. He raised his brows and smirked.
Two. I ground my teeth and looked away.
One. He sighed and walked out of the room, but put on a triumphant smile as he slammed the door.
The whip dropped to the ground at my side and a rough voice commanded, “Up.” I stood and looked at the speaker.
Mr. Ritter was a tall, burly man with a coarse voice and an unshaven, scraggly beard. His nose, at a crooked angle being broken one too many times, was raised in the air in his easy, natural confidence. His hair was turning white at the ends in stripes from his already gray mop.
As I stood for a minute, awaiting my command, Ritter’s gray eyes searched mine. “You know,” he said sighing, “He’ll never stop. I can do nothing about this. It’s better if you just leave, pride be damned.” Ritter broke his facade of lawful and stoic when his eyes narrowed and the muscle in his jaw jumped, trying to convince me to do the sensible thing.
The thing was, he right. It would be much easier to just leave. But she was counting on me. Besides that reason for staying, I can’t find anything else that would make me stay.
Much as he had the appearance of a heartless man who knew nothing but king and country, Mr. Ritter was actually quite the opposite. Even being in high command, he would often leave the King’s side to personally inspect any and all inconveniences elsewhere.
I had first met Mr. Ritter when I was young. Without him, I often wonder where I would be.
“I understand, sir,” I responded, ignoring his suggestion. “However it’s not simply a matter of pride.”
Leaving the answer vague, I pursed my lips and looked at his eyes. Pistachio green. Dark and full of memories better left buried.
He gave me a sad, tight-lipped smile and nodded towards the door. “Go on. Leave.”
“Yes, sir.” I nodded, pulling my shirt on as I walked out the door and wincing when the fabric grazed over my fresh wounds.
Almost everybody in the court had a higher standing than I did. My social status was nothing of importance. However, it did come with a certain immunity—no one wants to be involved with a whipping boy.
My job was to show up wherever the prince attended and was there to be punished in his place. Because punishing the prince himself? Simply not permitted.
But it’s the job I have, and it’s the job I’m willing to do. Plus, I get paid. And that’s enough.
After leaving the small study, I slowly and painfully made my way down to the courtyard.
The courtyard was surrounded by a wrought iron fence and stretched twenty acres around the back of the palace. It was considered one of the smallest but most beautiful places on the castle grounds. A large area with beautiful arrays of exotic flowers, elaborate marble fountains with crystal clear water, and trees—willows, sycamores, birch, and oak—surrounding the fence and making the garden illuded from onlookers. The grass was shortly trimmed, highlighting the spotless stone pathways.
Roy, the oldest and longest employed garden worker, stood up from tending a flower bed and nodded at my passing with shears in his hands. I acknowledged him by returning the gesture and continued walking towards the infirmary.
I gave the setting sun one last glance—admiring the pinks, oranges, and blues—before willingly walking towards my own inevitable demise.
Ms. Steele, the nurse, bandaged and cleaned my wounds in silence. This is our routine and she knows what comes next.
A knock sounds on the door, which already stood swung open. I didn’t have to look to know who it was.
Prince Connor stood, shoulder leaning against the door frame—a crown on his head, not as grand as one a king would wear but gold-plated and bejeweled nonetheless. I could feel his gaze on me but I kept my eyes forward, feeling completely exposed; shirtless and sitting on a cushioned chair like a spectacle.
Ms. Steele stood, curtsied, and reached for more ointment and rolls of white gauze. The prince stood and observed as my torso was wrapped, wiped, and prodded at.
I stayed silent and still, tension hanging in the air and trying not to breathe too loudly.
Hitting a particularly soar spot, I winced and clenched my teeth. Hearing a murmured apology, I took a deep breath and shook my head.
The Prince had crossed the room and was now staring down at the scenery below the windowsill, a wistful look about him.
The sun shone on his golden hair and outlined his pale face. His eyes sparkled in the light, turning them a light shade of brown with enchanting hazel accents.
When she was finished, Ms. Steele stood, bowed to the prince, and moved to leave, reluctant. At the door, her worried gaze landed on me once more and I shook my head. She left and closed the door behind her.
The prince stood, walked over to the door, and locked it.
Thank you for reading!
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