Thursday, December 20, 2012

Test of Freedom - Episode 18

Episode 18 - "Punishment"
by Camille LaGuire

As Rocken expected, Clement had no plans to go easy on Denning for being careless with tools, even if he didn't know the tool in question was a bush knife.  He had them line all the men up, and he went out himself to address the issue.

Rocken stood behind Clement, arms crossed, a thin whip in his hand.  It was a good punishment whip, since it could cut or welt as he chose, but was too light to cut deep and make a man useless for work.  Unless, of course, Rocken chose to make the effort with it.

He watched the faces of the gathered prisoners.  They kept their feelings masked, but Rocken could read them anyway, through their whole attitude.  He had them at a balance, he thought.  Under control.  He could see the usual mix of numbness, resentment and fear.

Denning was at the whipping post, stretched high to put him up on his toes a little.  He was frightened and clearly didn't know how to hold himself, as he struggled to keep his weight on his feet and not on the bindings at his wrists.  Clement was drawing it out, as usual.  Lecturing the men about the price of carelessness.  And adding the usual things about the need for them to pay for their crimes.  Rocken thought that went against good sense, since it implied that punishment was inevitable and they couldn't escape it by behaving themselves.

When the lecture was over, Rocken readied the whip, but Clement turned and took it from him.

Rocken paused before following him.  So he was going to play that game, then.  Rocken sighed and readied his cane, as Clement stepped toward the assembled men, in search of another victim.

It was common practice to demonstrate to the men the nature of their situation by forcing them to beat one another.  It was a pathetic and humilitating spectacle, and Rocken did not believe it was as successful in dividing the men as Clement believed.

It did, however, make for a drawn out and memorable punishment that no one wanted to repeat.  As often as not, the prisoners would take up the whip with the mistaken impression that they could save their fellow prisoner some pain.  Then they'd be punished for laying off, and forced to do it again, leaving their fellow twice punished.  And they'd hit too hard the next time, because they were afraid and didn't know what they were doing.  No, the poor fools were better off with Rocken, because he knew exactly what he was doing with a whip.

All it meant to Rocken himself was more work, and a vague feeling that it was unnecessary.  He came forward, ready to step behind the man to whom Clement gave the whip, and he hoped Clement chose someone practical.  Then Clement's eyes locked on Jack, and Rocken felt a small tremor of unease.  Jack was still too direct with his eyes, and that was certainly why Clement chose him.  And why he probably shouldn't have.

Clement gestured for Jack to come forward, and the man did, looking cautious himself.  Rocken stepped over to stand behind him to one side, just out of his sight.  He fingered his cane.  If there was trouble, he was going to put a stop to it.  Clement looked mild and held up the whip.

"Twenty lashes," he said.  "And mind, don't think you can take it easy."

Jack blinked at him, and then looked down at the whip.  Then he looked back up and direct at him, and he said the very thing that Rocken most feared he would say:

"No," said Jack.

Rocken hit him hard and fast, harder than usual, harder even than he judged was necessary.  To be honest, a bit harder than he expected to.  Jack staggered and seemed out of focus for a moment in shock, but the only sound he'd made was a gasp.

Clement waited for the man to gather himself again, then raised his eyebrows and smiled.  He held the whip out.

"Twenty lashes," he said, again.

Jack looked straight at him with a touch of surprise, as if the man hadn't heard him right the first time.

"No," he said, again.

And Rocken hit him, again, just as hard.

It went on like that, and the man kept saying "no."  It was clearly getting harder for him to look back up again at Clement after each blow.  He'd be on his knees with the next one.

"Do you want another blow?" asked Clement in frustration.

"No," said Jack.  He wasn't looking at him now.

"Then take the whip."


"Dammit, do you know how to speak any other word?"

Jack glanced up.

"Yes," he said, as if he were a little frightened to admit it.

Clement looked at Rocken for guidance.  Rocken shook his head and then nodded toward the whipping post.  A murmer went through the prisoners behind him at this pause.  It was quiet, but Clement heard it.

"Half-rations for all of you!" he said.

They put Jack up on the other side of the post, and Rocken gave them both twenty licks.  He didn't let Clement realize it, but he went easy on both of them.  Denning was terrified, and for Jack, the whip was superfluous.  If Rocken hadn't already known how hard he had hit, the swollen white marks with livid red and cyan spreading around it was enough to remind him.

When it was done, he had them release Denning, but he left Jack up a bit longer.  Rocken stood and considered for a long time.  The man had him worried.  He went up close to the post and waited for Jack to look up.  Jack noticed he had not been released, and braced himself over what might happen next, but that wasn't Rocken's intention.  He just wanted to know.  And intimidation was fine for finding out.

"So next time, you'll do it, won't you?" said Rocken quietly.

Jack paused and braced himself again.

"No," he said.  There was a note of fear in his voice, but it was a positive as ever.

"You know it'll only get worse, don't you?"

"Yes," said Jack, he looked up, and managed to look him in the eye.  "But it's wrong.  It's wrong to turn us against one another.  About as wrong as you can get."

Rocken let out a sigh of exasperation.

"You're not prisoners of war, you damn fool.  You're not comrades.  You're all criminals, each and seperate.  That's all.  Denning is a thief."

Rocken's argumentative tone almost seemed to revive the man.  He pulled his feet back under himself, and leaned toward Rocken.

"It doesn't matter what he's done.  The chains gather us together, and even if they didn't, I won't let them take my soul away.  It's all I've got."

"You can't afford a soul, Jack.  It'll kill you."

"I'm already a ghost," said Jack.

The Test of Freedom ebook available at major retailers in December 2012. It will be slightly rewritten from the version you see here.

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

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