The summons echoes in his ears like the lash of the whip he has been condemned to, but even now he is more ashamed than afraid, disgusted at his own mistake. It does not matter that the reason he did not appear at the East Gate as scheduled was not his own sloth or carelessness but another cadet’s misdirected idea of a prank: telling him, still fuzzy-headed with poor sleep, that his shift had been changed to North Gate at noon, so that when a profoundly displeased Captain Orthema came searching in the cadet barracks - something far, far below him, and that hurt as much as the rest of it, that he had put his superiors to so much trouble - he had found Beshelar asleep in bed and utterly unprepared for the duty he had been given.
That does not matter. What matters is that he did not ask and confirm it, that he missed his shift and forced another to serve unwillingly in his place. And now he is to be punished for it, at the second bell of the afternoon in the barracks courtyard. He will not be dragged there; if he does not report as asked, he will be expelled untouched, never to be considered for service again. Certainly there are cowards who would find such preferable, but for Beshelar it would be worse than death itself, worse than any amount of pain inflicted by his honored, trusted Captain.
The hours before the second bell pass in a daze; he feels he should be doing something, anything, to make himself useful, to help his fellows rather than remain a troublesome burden on their shoulders. But he has no assigned tasks at the moment, and as is always with the Guard, there is nothing left unattended. He would not be surprised if Orthema had arranged it that way to ensure his discomfort in the time leading up to his punishment.
At the noon meal he eats little, convinced the others are staring but unable to duck away, and drinks much, to counter his dry mouth and the heat of the summer sun on the stone streets.
Well before the second bell - for to be late to this would be a deeper humiliation than he can bear - Beshelar arrives in the courtyard, and stands beside the frame erected there for the purpose of disciplining erring cadets. Several minutes later, Captain Orthema enters, coiled lash in hand, gracing him with a stern but approving nod.
Perhaps he is not beyond salvaging. Yet the approval is but a weak balm to the tension in every muscle. Beshelar waits, and the discomfort grows, coming from more than one place. He wishes he had thought to relieve himself before this, but he cannot beg for that now.
By the time the bell sounds overhead the courtyard is lined with those cadets that wish to watch and those who have been ordered to watch to dissuade them from any future troublemaking.
He strips off his shirt, folds it and sets it by the foot of the frame. Then sets his feet in the grooves in the stone under the frame, and reaches his arms above his head, and Orthema with his own hands lashes his wrists to the wood.
Higher ranks would be allowed to stand without the ropes; Beshelar soon learns it is a mercy, for he need not fear that his grip will falter and reveal he is inept even at something so simple as this.
The Captain announces his crime, and oh, it sounds so bitter from his mouth. Beshelar abandoned his comrades, forced them to work without him, no matter that it was never his intent, for the result was the same as if it had been intentional.
Orthema raises the whip.
The first lash falls before Beshelar can think; he feels nothing for a long moment and then heat spreads across his back as if he’s been burned. The second falls before he can properly register the first, and they blaze in twin stripes across his skin. He expected the burning ache, but he did not expect the force of the lash, the way each stroke reverberates through him to his core. Nor did he expect the other feelings the pain sparks in him.
To be here, bound and exposed and under his Captain’s hand, it is… exhilarating. To be utterly under the control of one he trusts to absolve him, to hurt him without ruining him or leaving him needing.
He hurts, he hurts so much, but still he wants more, for it will cleanse him of his mistake and free him of the shame of having failed. A third stroke, and he ceases thinking about the pain; only feeling it. His awareness of the crowd fades away until all that exists is himself and the lash and the hand that wields it.
Another stroke, harder this time; he shakes under it and grunts as the burning erupts across the prior marks. And another - this one he bears silently but for a gasp.
And then Orthema pauses for several heartbeats, and rather than a reprieve it is a torment.
Beshelar is all at once aware of the rest of his body, all the pains that until now had been masked by the white-hot lashes across his back: the ache of his knuckles where he grips the frame, the chafing of the rope on his wrists, the tension in his shoulders, in his throat. The fact that his bladder is urgently, painfully full. And the fact that his cock is straining-hard and already damp.
When the strokes resume, Beshelar is grateful beyond words. He loses himself again to that purity of feeling, to the pain that erases all else. And loses count of the lashes as they fall and shake him and burn him.
And then it is over. He hangs against the frame for an unknowable time, only breathing, only feeling; when he at last forces his eyes open, the crowd is dispersing. Soon only Orthema remains beside him.
Orthema says nothing, only reaches up with surprisingly gentle hands to untie Beshelar’s wrists from the frame, supporting his arm a moment so that he does not stumble when released.
And then: “That was well done, Cadet.”
The praise hits Beshelar brighter and deeper than the lash, lifts his heart in some inexplicable way. He has done well. He has not failed in this. He stands and watches this glorious man regard him, waiting for orders.
A heartbeat, two, three. The moment passes, and now he is trembling, not just with the pain of the lashes but with heat, with the desire to feel that touch again - whether harsh or gentle it does not matter - and perhaps worst of all, with the overwhelming, desperate need to piss. Gods, if he wets himself here, in front of the Captain… And he will, if this lasts much longer. Surely Orthema can already see it, the tension in his thighs and the obvious protrusion of his cock in his trousers...
But by some divine mercy, Beshelar is dismissed before the aching pressure of either sort overcomes him; he hurries, breathing hard, to the latrines and takes hold of his cock at last. He comes within a few strokes and pisses not long after; on both counts the relief is enough to cloud his vision and weaken his knees.
He cleans himself off and returns to his duties, the burning of his back reminding him at every moment of his mistake, and his redemption, and of the comforting knowledge that justice will ever persist in his world.
Later that evening, he is summoned yet again before the Captain, this time in his private office. He goes obediently, though he has not the first idea of what the Captain could want of him.
“We have heard the story of this morning from another cadet,” Orthema tells him once he enters and the door is closed behind him. “That you were intentionally misinformed. Why did you not say? You have full reason to trust your fellows.”
What is the Captain asking of him? Is he calling Beshelar dishonest? But no, there is no accusation in his tone.
“The fault was our own, sir. We ought to have made certain of it.”
Orthema nods once, but there is a thoughtful look in those strange orange eyes, as if he disagrees but will not argue. It is not, can never be, an apology, for the Captain does not err. But perhaps it is a suggestion for Beshelar to learn to better speak in his own defense. Beshelar hopes he never needs to do so.
There is one last question he must ask. “Sir?”
Orthema looks up.
“Why… why you? We are a mere cadet, and you have far more important concerns.”
“To ensure it was done properly. Properly, and not viciously or by half-measures.” Captain Orthema studies him, and he cannot move from that gaze. “We have high hopes for you, and will not allow them to be dashed by ill-treatment.”
The Captain has hopes for him. Thinks he is worthy. Beshelar prays he can live up to the least of that.
Orthema dismisses him. He returns to the cadet barracks, triple-checks his post for the next day, and sleeps, grateful beyond measure that his Captain is merciful.