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Nobler Ever than Revenge

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Celia watches the even rise and fall of her husband’s narrow frame from the doorway. Moving slowly, as not to wake him, she tiptoes into the room and makes to draw the curtains and let some moonlight in. Oliver shifts a little, a small mewl of sorts escaping as he rolls onto his other side. Soft milky beams spill across the bed, hiding behind creases in the blankets. Celia turns to join her husband but jumps when another noise tumbles from her husband’s troubled mouth. It is then she sees the marks through the thin shrift of his nightshirt.

How had she not noticed?

***

Somewhere there is a rusty pipe, corroding from the pulse of dirty water that pulses out in murky droplets. Frederick can’t pinpoint the sound exactly to stop it so he drowns it out instead. With a swift horizontal slash through the dank air with his gilded cane of a baton he conducts his own private orchestra. His instrument answers; the guard raises a whip and another scream crescendos to kill the insistent dripping. And another. Another.

It has been nearly forty-eight hours now and Frederick is becoming impatient. The eldest DeBois reveals nothing. At first it was just subtle warnings. A letter here, a repossession there. But Oliver yielded nothing of use and so it had come to this. Overnight the DeBois’ house was emptied and its sole heir (that isn’t infuriatingly MIA) brought to Frederick’s dungeon of sorts. “Dungeon” is much more majestic than “empty wine cellar”, muses the Duke.

***

She stares, dumbstruck until with a garbled gasp her husband jerks awake. He pants, still clearing whatever lives beneath his eyelids from his sight. When he finally notices Celia, her tear-streaked cheeks as pale as the moonlight that graces them, all she can do is point. They study each other with confusion until she musters her voice.
“Your back” she says.
Pain floods his puzzled expression, morphing it into understanding and regret.
Slowly, he removes his shirt.

 

***

Oliver hurts.

His stomach doesn’t have the strength to growl

Sweat mingles with the blood on his back, barely drying before another red line is seared into his skin by the guard’s whip.

***

So many.

How had she not noticed?

***

A dim and dusty cavern out of earshot from the rest of the castle. An ancient lightbulb only illuminates the hopelessness of rescue. “Visitors” (so much more tasteful than “victims”) are strung up naked, like pieces of curing meat. So Oliver is now. It is threats, and confusion, the whir of a tape recorder, the drip from a leaky ceiling and questions he cannot answer.

He does not know where his brother is.

So the pain began.

Brutal lashes for the first round.

***

Faintly discoloured spots, shadows of long gashes…

***

Pliers in the second.

***

Indiscernible shapes, angry pen strokes of a merciless author…

***

He does not know where his brother is.

***

Pink, purple, blue, green, red, black skin. A rainbow of agony.

***

The third a matter of re-opening. And digging. He could swear a metal tool scraped his spine.

***

How had she not noticed?

***

He does not know where his brother is.

***

How had she not noticed?

***

He does not know where his brother is.

***

For a long time she does nothing but stare, memorizing the morbid constellation.

***

Bruises bubble under rising welts. He can feel his blood trickle down his legs and linger on the end of his big toe where his nail used to be before finally falling into a cloudy red pool on the floor.

Round 4: Repeat

***

She studies the handiwork of her father and weeps.

***

Frederick taps his cane on the floor. The screams are nothing new – this is not his first visitor after all – but every wail swims around in his ears, tickling the canals. Maybe motes of grime are nestled in his ears from all the time he’s spent down here. Maybe it’s just the fucking dripping. The guard’s meaty arm is raised again, but with another motion Frederick halts him. No scream. No water. No grit to whisper in his ears.

A moment of blissful emptiness…

And then Oliver lets out a pathetic whimper and the drips start up again and Frederick is a man possessed. Plunging his hand into his pocket he removes a lighter and flicks it frantically; stifling a growl when nothing initially lights. Then the tool obeys, and holding his cane by it’s neck, brings its metal head next to the open flame. Frederick grinds his teeth as the head slowly begins to glow red. The guard says nothing.

***

As if afraid her hand may re-open the wound she reaches out and lightly traces the line of a particularly lengthy cut. His eyes darken and his breath catches. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s painful.

He allows her in.

***

Frederick’s slick palm meets the crown of Oliver’s head, grabbing a thick handful of limp hair. This forces another involuntary warble from the prisoner who is yanked mere centimetres away from the make-shift poker. He can feel the metal’s blush on the side of his face and desperately tries to twist away but Frederick’s sinewy grip is unyielding. Once more he asks his question, glittering green eyes set feverishly aglow. Oliver can say nothing but:

He does not know where his brother is

***

How had she not known?

***

Spittle gathers at the corners of the Duke’s mouth and he moves the cane ever closer to his visitor’s right eye.

“Not since him since? Sir, sir that cannot be” He is hissing but his voice soon grows to a cracking screech. Oliver smells an eyelash burn – a mock Icarus falling from his face.

“O that your highness knew my heart in this,
I never loved my brother in my life!”

The last of Oliver’s strength has left him and his head drops to occupy the space where the cane was a moment before. It clatters to the floor as Frederick wheels away, he cannot look at this visitor, not touch him, not hear him, anything but this boy’s voice, even the dripping, he would take the dripping and be grateful, dear Christ even his breathing is like spiders under his skin.

“More villain thou. Well, push him out of doors;
And let my officers of such a nature
Make an extent upon his house and lands:
Do this expediently and turn him going.”

The Duke rushes from the dungeon, his breathing erratic – flecks of saliva propelled outward on his wild breath. He runs, tripping on nothing but not falling until he reaches a bathroom and collapses against the toilet, vomiting only stomach acid. His left knee shivers violently in it’s socket but he wills it to steady, he’s just cold, it’s damp down there, the dust was coating his throat he’s out, it’s fine, the boy is gone, he’s fine, he’s fine, he’s fine.

***

She continues running her fingers across the marred plane of his back, trying soothe the sting of unimaginable memories with a comforting touch.

***

Blood rushes painfully into Oliver’s arms as he’s cut down and carried like a useless scarecrow in the arms of the guard up from the cellar and into a courtyard. A few of his tentative scabs break as he’s deposited onto the grass. There he lies, staring up at the sky, the only protection coming from the shade of an apple tree. If his muscles weren’t atrophied, he would jump and grab for one of the fruits hanging tantalizingly low. But he has eaten and drunk nothing in two days and his limbs are lead-lined and hollow.

Vaguely he registers the sound of a door being shut behind him. He rests in a sort of delirium until he focuses on moving his arm and finds an apple lying blessedly within reach.

Eventually he stands.

It is time to leave.

***

Finally, they begin to heal.