The first day, while all the habitable portions of this ruin were made as whole as could be, and both spies were sent out to neighbouring villages, I was allowed out of the armour for one day. Joras and Matthas had been sent out to purchase new supplies and set up their bona-fides as itinerant hunter and worker. They were also instructed to pass on a creepy tale of this place, and solicit stories of why it was considered cursed.
I was not allowed to do the rites for Iena and her baby. 2nd Amitzas deemed it was not proper for me to do so, because I was so young, even if I would one day be Head of the Temple and liaison between Gods and men.
I sat in the garden/ruin, on a dry patch of ground and tilted my head up to catch the sunlight. Gannara lay on a patch of beaten-down dry grass next to me, arms flung comfortably over his head. Ailadas sat nearby on an old stone bench, re-reading one of his texts. He would be happy when Joras returned because one of his missions was to go far enough -- to a village or town where he could find book sellers or an itinerant book cart and purchase new texts for me.
It was amazing to just sit. Even if it was because the Mahid were doing their funeral rites off somewhere in the heavy shadows behind the stable. A holiday for me. I felt badly to feel so good, since it was two deaths that gave it to me. But the sun was warm on my face. I got up and wandered over to look into the reflecting pool and found that there was clear water in it.
The debris had settled to the bottom making it look dark. I was looking for a stick to poke around in it when I caught sight of the motion at the surface and ended up looking at... Is that me? Is that me? The boy in the reflection was thin, with a kind of wild desperation, or sadness, in his eyes. I wasn’t sure what name to apply to that look. I touched my cheek and he mirrored the motion back to me. I... had muscles.
Thin, long muscles but muscles. I was never going to be bulky. I was more like the gracile Mahid form, whipcord lean. The monstrous and the saintly Aan were evenly split across the robust and the gracile. One could not say that those showing patrician bulk were either devils or celestial messengers, or vice versa. It just happened that fa... the fat guy who destroyed the Empire was robust.
I pulled my hair forward, watching the image do the same and realized it was stronger than it had ever been. It wasn’t brittle any longer but was somewhat shorter and a bit more ragged edged from where it had broken. I touched my cheek on one side, wonderingly. I had high cheekbones. I had never seen them so sharp before.
The image in the pool looked wild and fey as a crazed ghost and for a moment I thought I saw reflected behind me a ten of Aitzas faces. I blinked and they were gone. I was seeing things. I knelt down to look closer, pulling my hair back so it not disturb the water, my mirror.
This was me? This... not rangy precisely... but getting there... young man? In the sunlight I thought I could see faint, thin shining hairs growing longer just at the corners of my lips, faint and downy as a young chick. A baby moustache. I pulled the skin tight. No. I was imagining it. It would be years before I needed to shave. I ran a finger over my lip, one side, then the other, and couldn’t even feel the tiny hairs.
“What are you looking at?” Gannara tossed a pebble from where he now sat up, to rap against the edge of the pool, grinning at me. I picked it up and tossed it into the water, plink.
“Nothing at all, really.” And the surface of the pool broke the image of my unfamiliar face into rippled pieces.
“The basic principles are here.” 2nd Amitzas said with relish.
“You have a room that is relatively sound-proof and mostly empty. Your reluctant prisoner. A length of rope in addition to his bonds. A short wooden stake. A knife.” He sat down on the chair that had been brought in for him in the old cellar.
“Though it has a dirt floor that would soak up blood nicely until it must be shovelled away, you are not allowed to use the knife directly on the prisoner. The object is not to kill him. It is to make him want to die.”
I looked at the poor wretch, sitting on the floor bound hand and foot and gagged, his eyes full of silent pleas for mercy, for relief, white all around. He was trembling and the drops of sweat stood out like livid beads on his forehead in terror, anticipating what 2nd Amitzas would have me do to him.
This cellar was badly lit with smoky candles, instead of brilliant, morbid light from multiple lamps as in the White Corridor. They turned the stone room into a place filled with moving shadows. “While you are thinking, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Note the darkness in the room, the dim corners and beams. Anything could be hidden in those shadows. Instruments I may have brought in my personal things. Cages of vermin. Dogs. Or nothing at all. But your victim does not know which.”
“Yes, my teacher.” I wanted him to be the one tied up, listening to a lesson on how to break him. This bandit may have tried to steal from us, may have tried to kill us, but he didn’t deserve this. “Is this not in excess of punishment called for in Muunas’s Book Chapter Thirteen? ‘Let the punishment always fit the crime. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. A life for a life, but no more. The work of the Great Darkness, the Void and the Vacuum is to go beyond this point, to torment. Be not the Void.’?” I quoted at him.
“The verse goes on to say, ‘Hurt not the person who has transgressed.’ This is no longer a person and we are not punishing, here, but instructing the Spark of the Divine Light. A worthy way for this criminal to expiate its sins. It might escape Hayel this way.” The 1st 2nd leaned forward and addressed the man directly. “That slave doesn’t want to go to Hayel, does it? Having raised a hand against other Arkans and against the Divine Sun?” The man shook his head frantically, no. “Good. To escape Hayel, the abject worm needs to do it's best to hang onto life, that the Spark learn from it. Do that and I am certain the High God will take that into account when I finally let the Summoner take it away from its suffering.”
His head moved up and down and back and forth, as he tried to agree wholeheartedly with 2nd Amitzas. His eyes didn’t dart around the room as they had at first but were fixated on 2nd Amitzas like a hart transfixed by the stare of a lion. All part of getting the victim to become part of his own torment. Getting him to make himself culpable. I swallowed and swallowed again, grateful I had a lot of practice keeping my gorge down.
There wasn’t enough air in the room for me. I tried not to pant. 2nd Amitzas turned to me to see if I had an answer for him. I shook my head ‘no’, trying to look ashamed that I could not think of much. “It could be repeatedly garrotted, my teacher, or smothered. With its mouth full of gag it would just take a pinch of the nostrils to do so.”
2nd Amitzas actually laughed. Because it’s part of what he loves to do best. It also adds to the person’s fear. All planned, all contrived to cause suffering. “Good start. But a trifle inelegant and a way to overdo too easily. One never knows if your partner in torment has a weak heart. Let me show you.”
He stripped off his gloves formally and set them carefully on his chair. He then stripped the man’s boot-liners off, leaving his feet naked. The knife he took up to sharpen the stake, shortening it more, making the man writhe on the floor thinking he was about to be impaled. The groans through the gag were almost enough to make me sick. “Oh, nothing like what it's thinking, slime,” 2nd Amitzas said. “Nothing so crude.”
He dug a quick divot in the floor and set the stake in it so only the point projected. Then he said to me, “Open his left hand, Spark, to give me access to the thumb.” Then to the man staring at us from the floor, “It isn’t going to jeopardize its hope of Selestialis by fighting, is it?” There was no response from the man but his trembling.
2nd Amitzas slipped the loop of rope around the thumb as I held the still bound hand and jerked it tight. The man’s whole body twitched and he made a sound in his throat like a whining dog. I tried not to feel, tried not to look, tried not to understand what 2nd Amitzas was teaching me. He tossed the other length of rope over the beam above us and as he pulled on it, the man struggled to get to his feet so it would not pull on the hands tied behind his back, or on the one thumb.
“Tie his other hand to his belt, Spark.” Then he jerked loose the bonds tying the two hands together, pulling steadily on his rope so the man stood on the tips of his toes, all but unbalanced already unable to spread his feet to keep his balance, his one hand held up over his head by the thumb, the other fixed to his belt.
“At this point we could stop and secure this rope and go away for a time. But it is slower than I intend.” He had steady pressure on that thumb. “Put his large toe upon the point of the stake.” I felt the grit on the bare skin of his soles, tried not to feel his warmth, his quivering, and set his toe upon the stake, 2nd Amitzas pulled on his rope to encourage the man to put his weight upon it, to save his hand. The stake was high enough he could not put his heel down without putting his full weight on his one thumb.
At that point I gritted my teeth together to keep my face impassive. “So he must use the point to ease the strain on his thumb.”
“Precisely.” 2nd Amitzas pulled a bit more of the man’s weight up till he was suspended between the two agonies, and then tied the rope off to the hook in the wall. “This is called ‘the Picket’. A person can be suspended so, for days, until either the thumb mortifies or the toe. Then the thumb just becomes disjointed or is ripped off and one is forced to switch to the other hand.”
I nodded, thinking resolutely of 2nd Amitzas suspended like that, so I could hold onto my gorge. “And now we have time for a thorough reading of the chapter you quoted, as to the proper punishment of men.” The man tried hard not to sob through the gag, a thin stream of blood already running down the stake from his toe. In my mind, I made him a statue, a painted cardboard cutout of a painting, ‘The suffering man’, as a backdrop to my reading of scripture. May his heart or his brain give out quickly.