“Put him on the whipping post,” the headmaster commanded. “It shall start as soon as the offended parties arrive.”
The pair of guards nodded and stepped forth to take hold of Jon.
Bella and Deon blocked their way. “He can go on his own,” the foreign nobleman said.
Unsure, the two guards looked back to the headmaster, but it was Lanard who spoke first. “As long as he gets in position, then I don’t see what difference does it make.”
Jon first thanked his roommates. He then bowed in respect to Lanard, and only to him. He walked over to the platform, jumped on top of it, and came to a stop in front of the post. He raised both arms above his head, taking the cold manacles in his hands. He locked the first one around his wrist and then did the same for the other one.
Locked in place, he had to turn his head to see anything other than the craggy stone post in front of him. The headmaster remained in place, seemingly ready to watch the proceedings and derive as much pleasure from it as possible. His roommates didn’t leave either, and Jon guessed it was so that the actual punishment wouldn’t exceed the sentence. As for Lanard, he probably would be looking after Jon’s interests, but only to a certain extent.
The waiting eroded Jon’s nerves like water wearing through stone. It could destroy it entirely given enough time. He could attest to that fact after spending a week in complete isolation. Fortunately, he didn’t have to do it on an empty stomach this time, courtesy of Nevil who brought him a platter full of food the day before. And neither did he need to wait for too long.
As minutes passed, other students began trickling towards the platform in a growing stream. One, five, forty. Jon stopped counting after a hundred, and it was only the beginning. Eventually, a sea of people had formed around him, all here to watch the spectacle about to unfold. Given the deafening cacophony, he wouldn’t be surprised if practically everyone in the academy had shown up.
Never show weakness in a fight, he recalled something his mother told him so many years ago. The weaker you appear to be, the more motivated your enemy will become, giving them even more strength. It’s a vicious cycle that can’t be stopped once it starts. So you must never allow it to start in the first place.
The memory gave him strength.
When Garrel and Ireyne finally arrived, they made a show of circling around the platform. Attached to a thick handle held by the nobleman were a dozen rawhide thongs interwoven with metal wires meant to bite into the skin and cause as much pain as possible.
Jon spared the knout only the slightest glance before focusing his gaze on the stone in front of him. They appeared twice more at the edge of his vision, trying in vain to break his will.
Suddenly, the onlookers’ voices died down. From behind him, Jon heard the headmaster speak. “For centuries now, our academy has prided itself on providing a safe environment for people to study and cultivate. Unfortunately, that promise of safety has been violated, the academy’s reputation tarnished by the halfbreed who stands here today.
“Last week, lord Garrel Vypren and lady Ireyne Krey were the victims of a cowardly attack. Such an aberrant and abhorrent case of misconduct merits an especially harsh punishment followed by death. But His Grace, as merciful as he is wise, has decided that the halfbreed deserves a chance to atone for his crimes. So instead of death, the halfbreed shall be subjected to a flogging delivered by those who he has injured.”
The headmaster paused, and Jon wondered if he had anything more to say. Instead, a pair of hands grabbed his tunic from behind and ripped it open, fully exposing his back to the cold morning air.
There was a moment of silence that didn’t seem to end. Jon kept his gaze forward. He knew Garrel and Ireyne were ready. The moment he turned to look would be the moment they would strike.
The knout stroke without any warning, and Jon felt like a dozen red-hot pokers had been laid against his back. He bit on the strip on leather to stop his back from arching forward. The cracks of the multiple thongs arrived only after.
“That’s one,” Garrel’s voice sounded out, mirth clear in it.
The second strike arrived a beat later. Jon felt his skin tear open and blood oozed from his wounds. He remained standing upright.
“Two,” Garrel sounded less pleased this time. At the third strike, he sounded angry. Then came a pause.
Unmoving, Jon waited for the next strike while blood trickled down his back and his heart drummed in his ears. One heartbeat. Two—
Jon felt a sharp pain on the back of his head and right arm. The impact pushed his face against the craggy stone, one of its rough ends almost stabbing his eye.
Lanard’s voice boomed out immediately after. “My sentence was clear, lord Vypren. Aim only for his back. If you can’t do it, then I’ll have someone else deliver the punishment.”
Mirth returned to Garrel’s voice. “My apologies, lord Olsandre. I swear it will not happen again.”
Inbred son of a bitch. From the corner of his vision, Jon saw some of the students laugh. Fuckers, all of them. He bit harder on the leather strip, determined to remain standing even if it killed him. They would not see him break. He refused to give them the satisfaction.