It took ninety-seven lashes to force the first cry of pain from Draven Cameron. The thin, leather strip ripped through his back like a razor, all the way down to his bones. He bit down hard on his lip, drawing blood so warm, it was a welcomed relief to his near-frozen body. Clothed only in rivulets of blood, he shook from both the frigid cold and the ceaseless agony. If the lashings failed to kill him, he would surely die from exposure.
Lash number ninety-eight shot over his shoulder and bit him in the chin. Tears of pain filled his eyes. Bile burned his throat and nose. His knees buckled. Draven could take no more. He longed to cry out, to beg Harold to stop, but couldn’t. Even if his tongue had chosen to work with his mouth, he would not ask for leniency he didn’t deserve.
All they accused him of was true. He was guilty. He deserved to die.
“Stand him up!” Harold yelled from behind Draven. “He’s owed at least two more afore we light the kindling on which we’ll burn his devil self.”
Burned at the stake. A fate he would share with his mother. Draven all but welcomed the warmth of the threatened fire and the possible reunion that might follow.
Anything would be better than the feel of his skin splitting open again and again, each lash revealing his bone and sinew to the bitter cold.
“Beat the evil out of him!”
The crowd’s taunts knotted in his belly. Aye, beat the evil out of me.
Harold leaned in close to Draven, his ale-rotted breath hot against Draven’s cheek. “Changed your mind yet, lad? Willing to share your magic with me in the name of war?”
Draven glared at him but said nothing.
Unseen hands forced him to stand on legs lacking the strength to keep him upright. He swayed against the ropes that bound his hands to the flogging pole. He could escape if he wanted. He could break free of his binds and prove to them that all their accusations were true.
But he was ready to die. He wanted to die.
Lash number ninety-nine caught him around the throat, strangling him. His eyes bulged. He couldn’t breathe. He gasped for air and sank down until his bare knees brushed the snow and his arms suffered enough to break in two
Thanks be to God, the world went black before his father could deliver lash number one hundred.