Chapter 3: A Step in Some Direction
I arrived back at the prison exhausted from yet another long day of work. My stomach growled loudly reminding me that food came before sleep. I followed the rest of my group to the table where a hunched over woman with lines creasing her face served soup and slices of stale old bread.
“Thank you,” I whispered as I took the offered food. She nodded acceptance.
I sat on the ground near the other members of my group, slurping down the contents as quickly as I could.
“Get up!” Scar-Face yelled at us. We quickly set our soup bowls down and stood up. A gloating Jordan was standing next to him.
He pointed a meaty finger at one of the women who worked in the Konjack’s yard. “She’s the one I noticed with contraband.”
Scar-Face stalked forward and grabbed the woman. He yanked off her belt, and flat round loaves of servant’s bread fell to the ground.
His face turned dark red, “You risked your life for this! For a little extra bread? You know the penalty for stealing from your master don’t you?”
She nodded, her face the color of ash.
“So woman, what is your choice? Make it quick, I don’t have all day.” He was breathing quick, the scar across his face a white line against the red.
“I… please it’s for my child. He’s sickly and he isn’t getting enough food here.” She fell to her knees, her hands clasped in front of her.
“Exile or execution? Rules are rules and there is no room for leniency in our system.”
Harsh sobs tore through her body. Her lips moved, forming a word. I watched, as if I was removed from the scene, as he pulled his pistol out of its holster, aimed it at her head, and fired.
The world stood still around us as her body crumpled to the ground.
“You!” Scar-Face barked at man near me. “Take her body to the trash.”
The man leaped forward and snatched up her body.
“The rest of you will report to the punishment post, two lashes each for not reporting her.” Scar-Face strode off, as if this whole scene meant nothing to him.
We approached as a cluster, not really wanting to go to the punishment post, but knowing better than two evade it. The last person who didn’t report to the post when told to, was executed at the post the next day.
A tall older man rubbed his shiny scalp, and then stumbled toward the post.
I closed my eyes. Maybe I was weak, but I hated this part, watching others being struck by the lash and unable to do anything to help them.
Reese went up, and she screamed as the first lash struck her unblemished skin. I shuttered as she screamed again. If only I could run up there, take the lash away, pull Reese away from that evil post, and lead the people of this prison in a revolt. But I was a fungus, unable to do anything useful.
I shuffled forward and held my arms out to the guard. Only extreme punishments were tied up. Most of us were just held.
The man pulled off my belt and lifted my sack. He took a little too long lifting it, touching me as his hand went up my body. He lifted my arms up with my sack. I clenched my teeth and felt every muscle in my body tighten in anticipation. Then the pain hit across my back and my body jerked. A single tear streaked down my cheek. A second slash of pain sliced across my back. The guard released me and handed me my belt.
I stumbled back to the main area of the yard where I found Reese quietly weeping. I wished I could comfort her, but this was too harsh a world for comfort. I turned away from her, and waited for our order to return to our cell block.
“Get to your cells you ungrateful rats!” My back hurt so much that my vision was blurry and my steps were faltering, but I made it to my family’s cell. My eyes took a second to adjust to the dim lighting, but in the corner I could just make out the shadow of my mother, alone in the cell.
“Did you get whipped again today?” My mother rarely spoke to me, and her voice was a rough whisper.
“Yes.” I didn’t look at her. I didn’t want her to see that I had cried.
“Your sack is bloody. Your father won’t be happy,” she stated monotonously.
“He’s not my father! That man you live with has no claim to me, and he is an evil, Dishonored, slime ball!”
“Liv, not in front of the children. He is a good man, and we are all Dishonored. One day you will need a Dishonored man to protect you and raise a family with you. You will have to give up your delusions of grandeur.”
I couldn’t understand how she so easily accepted being Dishonored. Her marriage to my real father was arranged according to Casia, so maybe she only saw marriage as a tool. In this place it was a means of protection, before it was a ladder to a more honorable position, but I gave it higher meaning than that. I wanted to find someone who was my equal.
It was considered a good thing to be a family unit. Those that didn’t have a family lived together crowded into common cells. It would be the type of place Reese was living. They were packed into those cells the way chickens were packed into the stacks.
I lay down on my stomach as my back was too painful to lie on. I could hear other people entering the cell as well as the heavy foot falls of Jordan, the tattling bastard. I heard the voices of my siblings who were born into Dishonor, but I didn’t hear my sister’s voice.
“Where’s Casia?” My voice quavered slightly. I didn’t really want to know, but I was afraid she might have died or something.
“She’s better off than you are,” said Jordan. “She’s sleeping with the guards again. You women are lucky to be so valuable to the guards.”
I hated him. He would turn any of us in to the guards if he caught us doing something wrong. All he cared about was his own status. My mom should have protected herself instead of marrying him. He didn’t care about her. She shouldn’t have brought children into the world Dishonored. This is no life style for a child. Of course, her man thought it was a fine life. It was the life he had grown up knowing. He was born in the caste Dishonor, just like my half siblings.
“I would debate how well off she is. She was born Most Honorable, that of the noble caste, and now she must live as a Dishonored. You wouldn’t know any different though, would you?”
“No, Delia, the girl can sulk if she wants. She must come to accept her Dishonored status at some point.”
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here!” I shout at him, unable to contain my own anger.
“But you don’t listen when I talk to you,” he replied calmly. “How many times have I told you that being a good Dishonored in this life will bring you honor in the next? Yet you continue to act like a brat.”
I bite my lip and cross my arms. I want to argue, but it’s pointless. No one ever takes my side.
The door to the cell banged open. A muscular young guard I didn’t know well with short, brown hair strode in; his eyes took one look around the room and then latched onto me. The guard grabbed my face in his hands, forcing me to look into his brown eyes. He leaned toward me, and suddenly his lips were on mine.
I didn’t know how to respond. I kept my lips shut against him and held still, scared to move. He pulled away finally looking thoughtfully at me. “You have a pretty enough face. It has the architecture of one of those noble lady’s faces. How old are you girl?”
“Seventeen,” I lied. Guards didn’t take any of us to bed before we were eighteen, and the lie gave me some extra time.
“Hmmm, I need a replacement for your sister. You know, you’re not eighteen yet, but I could still give you a softer bed and teach you some things.”
My heart pounded in my chest. I was afraid to accept, and afraid to decline. But that’s not what scared me the most. “What happened to my sister?”
At first he frowned, which worried me even more. Then he shrugged. “She’s popular around here.”
Jordan glared at me from behind the guard. He nodded, urging me to accept, placing his arm around my mother as if this somehow had to do with her safety.
“I will do whatever the good sir commands me.” The humble acceptance was one of the first things we learned as Dishonored, and this was the perfect opportunity to use it.
“Good. I will collect you at the door to this cell tomorrow night. He grabbed my wrist and held me for a second, as if he wanted to say more. “Good girl.” He dropped my wrist and walked out of the room.
Why wasn’t he dragging me off to his room tonight? It wasn’t my place to question a guard.
I curled up on the floor, placing my hands over my ears. I didn’t want to hear whatever it was that Jordan was saying.
The next morning, I scurried out of the room to join the mass of people heading to their job groups. I couldn’t help but remembering last night, and the guard. I couldn’t think about that right now. I was still underage in his eyes, and I was safe for now. No guard would risk Dishonor to sleep with an underage girl. I was going to see Kevin, and everything would be fine.
I found my own group but there were only nine of us. Then I remembered the girl that was shot yesterday. Would there be a new person joining us today?
Sure enough the guards led someone over: the brute my mother called a husband. His oily smile was slick on his face as he walked up to me.
I couldn’t let him ruin everything. He would find out! He would watch me all the time. I rubbed my hands on my sack. We needed to move the plans up. I would tell Kevin today that we could bring Reese in and trust her, and tomorrow we would bring her in. Everything was spiraling out of my control. Why now? Why was Jordan joining our group now? I wanted to get out of this place. I wanted to be with Kevin, not some guard. I wanted him to wrap his arms around me, and promise me that everything would be all right.
“Workers to your stations!” A guard called out the order to move out of the prison. The walking made the scabs stretch and pull across my back and made my back feel like it was on fire. All that kept me going through the city was the knowledge of how furious Kevin was going to be when he saw that we had been whipped.
We marched into Kevin’s yard. Kevin was waiting, and today he wore a fancy court jacket, but it wasn’t buttoned yet. A couple stray hairs curled forward over his forehead. God, he was so cute.
“Who is this dishonored?” Kevin pointed to Jordan.
“One of the girls just up and died yesterday. He’s a good worker and will make a fine replacement.”
Kevin frowned but nodded. “Go ahead and separate them out. They have a busy schedule today.”
We wouldn’t have such a busy schedule once Kevin saw our backs.
Once I reached the back entrance near the well where our dresses were waiting, I pulled my sack up and tried to peel it off my back, but it was stuck. I shuddered at the thought. I had to pull off a scab on my back.
“Umm, Reese,” I said to her. “Could you, umm, help me?”
She had already taken her sack off without problems, but she looked over at mine and sucked in her breath. “Yeah, I’ll help.”
“What’s wrong?” Kevin asked as he approached.
“Good sir, we failed to report one of our own,” I responded knowing he would know exactly what that meant.
He grabbed Reese who was only wearing her underclothing, and spun her around to look at her back, and then he started swearing up a storm.
“All three of you?”
“Yes, good sir,” I said.
“Good sir, you should see Liv’s back. Her blood has dried into the sack!” Reese said eagerly.
He took a deep breath and turned to Rachel. “Your required house work will be half of what is on the list today, though I expect you to keep working if you get that done. The outside workers will get the same deal once you ladies are finished here. I want you to clean each other’s backs today. We all know what happens to dishonored who get infections.”
“Of course, good sir,” Rachel said. She was always the perfect house worker.
Kevin nodded and walked into his house.
“Hold steady,” Reese said as she grabbed the hem of my sack. She yanked it upward ripping away the two scabs on my back. Fire shot across my back. I arched away from the pain and released a short scream. I caught my breath and wiped away my tears.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
“No problem. If you clean my back I can get Rachel’s back. That work for you Rachel?”
Rachel nodded just as Mistress Lianne walked out of the house. “The good master Konjack told me to bring you a bottle of alcohol to clean your wounds with.” She left the bottle and went back into the house.
“Thank you Mistress Lianne,” Rachel voice soft voice and downcast eyes
I grabbed the bottle and began working on cleaning Reese’s back. I could see Reese shudder and hold in her own screams a couple times, but it was best to keep the wounds clean and to pull off any sections of scab that might look infected.
“You’re clean,” I said as I finished.
“I’ll get Liv’s back,” Rachel said. Annie had always cleaned my back in the past, but I knew Rachel also had a gentle hand. “Go ahead and start working, Reese. We will be with you as soon as I finish with Liv’s back.
Gently, Rachel poured alcohol over my bleeding wound. Every nerve in my back screamed in agony.
“I don’t trust Reese,” Rachel whispered. “I wouldn’t bring her into your plans. You already know I don’t want to know the extent of your plans either. Just, I don’t trust that girl. She seems shifty.”
“I have to. We need her and I have to get out of here. I’m afraid I’ll end up like Annie if I stay here.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, then.” She said as she set the bottle down.
“I won’t, and thank you.”
“Master Konjack has gone off to yell at our dear guard and give our friends the outside workers a break, so we might as well relax. Let me do your hair. I never got to clean my own children’s hair since they were all born dishonored.”
I knelt down and let Rachel wash my short hair. She had become like a second mother in this place, and she had helped both Annie and I adjust to it.
When she finished my hair I turned to her. “Now let me do your hair; it’s not often we have time to do hair.” She knelt down as well and I scrubbed her short, gray and black hair. We would probably all be getting our head’s shaved again soon. I felt glad we were making the most of it.
I finished just as Kevin came back. “Are you two ladies finished?”
“Yes, good sir.” Rachel was calm and quiet as always. I wondered how long she had served Kevin’s family, but I had never asked.
“Well, let’s get going then. There are still chores to do, but anything you don’t do today can be done tomorrow.”
I slipped on the maid outfit. I was glad my back had stopped bleeding before I put this tight dress on.