“As laborers you must always listen to Sults,” Derek said behind him. “We are your overseers. Without us you would be lost. There would be no one to police you or guide you in your work. Stability and peace would be lost. We live in a delicate balance; Fare here tried to destroy that balance a week ago when he prevented punishment from being doled out as I saw fit. In thwarting my efforts, he not only betrayed me and the Sult class; he betrayed all of you. I cannot in good conscience stand for that kind of behavior. These lashes are for you.”
A silence fell over the group.
“Is that how you thank your protector? With ungrateful silence?” Derek asked.
“Thank you, Sult,” the group murmured. Fare watched Clementine. She remained silent but for the prayers she continued to mouth.
“Good. Now let’s begin.”
Fare braced himself. It had been ten years since he received the three lashings for trying to protect his aunt, but he could still remember the pain. Each lashing had felt like a burning rod pressed against his back, searing his skin. He winced at the memory.
Fare heard the whip before he felt it. It whizzed through the air, and then a second later pain exploded on his back. The strike was followed by two more in quick succession. Fare gritted his teeth so as to keep from crying out.
“Look how he bears it so nobly!” Derek yelled mockingly. “Do you think you are a king, Fare? Let this be a lesson for all who wish to rise above their station.”
Two more lashes followed. Fare felt like his back was on fire, and red blots appeared in his periphery. He waited for Derek to strike again; the anticipation was almost worse than the physical pain. It didn’t come. He heard Derek walking around him slowly, and felt his eyes bearing into him as he went.
“You’re tough; I’ll give you that, Fare.” Derek stopped a few feet in front of him. “Surprising, knowing your family’s history,” he added with a smile. Fare felt his anger returning. He clenched every muscle in his body, and his fingers twitched in anticipation. Breathe, he told himself. Keep breathing. Derek laughed, and glanced over at Era.
“I’ll be excited to see how your lovely sister handles her punishment. Judging by her pained expression right now I can’t imagine that she’ll fare well.”
Energy pulsed through Fare with renewed force. He struggled to remain still.
“You look surprised, Fare. You didn’t think I’d let her off, did you? Everyone must contribute to the community; that is our most basic law, and your sister violated it. At her tender age I doubt they’ll sentence her to death, but she will not escape a few lashings. By me in fact! As I was the one who caught her in the heinous act, it will be my honor to punish her.”
Fare stifled a shout and ground his teeth. His vision began to flicker; he was losing control. Breath. He’s trying to provoke you. The words sounded foreign and feint like they were coming from someone else far away. Reason was swept to the side of his consciousness as he was enveloped by rage in a way that he had never been before. Burning energy burst through him, bringing with it words that echoed in his head.
The words came from somewhere deep within. Somewhere he didn’t know existed until that moment. Breathe, he wanted to scream. But the command fell on deaf ears.
“If only she had had better guidance,” Derek continued. “Maybe then she wouldn’t be in this mess. This next one is for her. As it strikes really revel in the pain, Fare, and know that soon thanks to you your sister will be experiencing it too.”
Derek brought the whip high over his head. It formed a perfect arch, and then cut through the air as it was propelled towards Fare. Fare felt like his body was taken over by someone else. He grabbed the whip from its flight and pulled it from Derek’s hand with one quick motion. Blood trickled from his grip.
Derek stood dazed for a moment, and stared at him with wide, baffled eyes. Then his whole body tensed, and he lunged at Fare. His stance had betrayed his intentions, however, and Fare rolled to the side and onto his feet, avoiding him easily. Derek regained his footing before Fare could take advantage of his vulnerability after the failed attack, and the two began circling each other.
Fare studied Derek, the energy that had enveloped him still driving him and heightening his senses. Both were similar in age, but Derek was far larger. With each heavy step Derek’s bulk shook. His arms were flexed and his stance was wide like that of a practiced fighter. There was a slowness to his movements, however, a slowness that was made more acute by Fare’s obvious agility. Yet Fare knew not to underestimate him. Derek like all Sults had been trained in combat since he was a young boy; Fare would have to keep his distance and strike with the whip he still held in his hand. As that thought occurred to him, Derek produced a small blade from the sleeve of his robe. Before Fare had the chance to respond Derek sprang from his low stance.
He wrapped his arms around Fare’s waist and the two went tumbling down to the ground. Fare tried to roll out from underneath him, but Derek easily held him in place. With the dagger in his right hand, Derek punched Fare hard in the face and chest with his left. Fare gasped and blood ran from his nose and mouth. Derek held the dagger right above Fare’s right eye, smiling once again.
Seeing his mocking smile strengthened the fiery energy that coursed through Fare, and with each burst memories of Derek’s atrocities hit him. Fare saw the face of the little girl that Derek had tried to throw a stone at. He felt the sweat of the old man he had protected from Derek’s blows, and saw the same sneer Derek wore now as he beat Fare with his club. He saw Era’s scared expression as Derek threatened her right in front of him.
Fare stared at the knife, rage welling up inside of him. He tried to push Derek off of him again, but he wouldn’t budge. Fare knew he was about to die, but he felt no fear. Only fury that he would not be able to kill this atrocity. This murderer.
Derek lowered the knife until it was only centimeters away from his eye.
“So this is how you die,” Derek whispered. “Before a crowd where none are willing to save you. Believe me, they will not mourn you either. For you are a traitor to society and your people. You let your sister down, you let your family down. Just like your father before you.”
And then Derek went silent. His eyes glazed over, and his sneer tensed into a scowl. Taking advantage of the unexpected opportunity, Fare swiped the dagger away from him and punched Derek in the ear. Derek went limp and collapsed on top of him. Fare pushed him off, watching him all the while. Derek’s chest rose and fell; he was alive. So what happened to him? Fare glanced around, and his eyes fell on yet another green stone.
Just like the one he found earlier the stone was perfectly smooth and rounded. Where did it come from? The whip still in his hand, Fare rolled over to face The Wandering Forest. Memory of his dream pulled at his thoughts. It calmed his still racing heart, and cooled the heat that had taken over his body. His mind began to clear like a fog had been lifted, and he regained control of himself. Still, he could feel the power that had hijacked him lurking, ready to encase his mind again at a moment’s notice. What is happening to me? He gripped his hands together and felt his pulse beginning to speed up again. Relax, he told himself. Just breathe. Fare continued to stare at the forest and let the calm he felt facing it flow through him.
The sound of gasps made Fare roll back over. He saw the other laborers surrounding him. When had they approached? Their mouths were gaping and they were all staring in the same direction. Fare followed their stare, and there was Era with wide eyes and a knife pressed against her throat. Derek stood behind her, blood rushing from the ear Fare had hit. Derek glanced towards the workers.
“Try and save her and I’ll slit her throat,” he shouted. “Now move back!”
He turned towards Fare, a manic gleam in his eyes. His face was colored red by anger.
“You attacked a Sult,” he said through gritted teeth. “You will be sentenced to death. If that wasn’t certain before it is now.” Derek laughed and a line of blood appeared where he held his blade to Era’s neck. “As I already mentioned, however, this one will in all likelihood merely be whipped. I don’t think that’s enough.”
Not knowing what other action to take, Fare dropped to his knees and let the whip fall from his hand. “Please,” he pleaded. “Please don’t. I was the one that attacked you. Don’t punish her for my mistake.”
“Oh I’m not punishing her, not really. I’m punishing you. You deserve to suffer for all you’ve done. You humiliated me, you attacked me, and so now you’ll watch your sister die.”
In a moment the anger overcame him again with such force he could not resist it, nor did he want to. He leaned into the power and let it take over his body. He reached down and grabbed the whip from the ground, crying out as he flung it through the air. His arm pulsed with energy, and he put all of his force into one blow. The whip crashed down on Derek’s arm, and from it sprouted an unnaturally red flame. Derek screamed and dropped the dagger he held to Era’s throat. He tried pat the flame down, but it continued to spread. Soon much of his robe was ablaze. He dropped to the floor and rolled. The dry field beneath him lit up instantly, consumed by the red flame.
The workers cried out. Several of them ran towards the fire and doused it with what water they carried. When it still spread they ran for the town, carrying and pulling those who struggled to keep up. Fare ignored them as they stumbled about. All he could see was Era.
While all the workers had abandoned their task, Era had remained sprinkling water down on Derek. Fare ran up to her and pulled her into his arms. She cried out, but Fare ignored her protest. Though she struggled against him as he ran, Fare easily kept his grip. He sprinted towards Derek’s horse, which had trotted away to escape the flames. He grabbed its reins, pulled himself and Era up on the saddle, and forced the horse forward.
Catie Carberry is an English major at the University of Pennsylvania. She was first drawn to literature by action-packed books complete with magic and adventure. Now that she has begun writing her own stories for children she tries to capture that same energy that made her fall in love with reading in the first place. When Catie is not writing or reading she enjoys running, skiing and staying active, which is probably yet another reason why her characters are always in motion.