The smell of sweat and the metallic tang of iron dwelt unmistakably in the dim atmosphere. A low light bulb, yellowed and faded hung over the centre of the room, casting little light on the faces of those imprisoned there. The scarred soldier was delirious with thirst; he had been here for three, maybe four days and not had a drink in that time. His neighbour groaned and thrashed against his chains; the frustration and futility clear on his face. Both of his neighbour’s feet were oozing blood, smashed bone at the ankle and bent to impossible angles. The soldier looked into his face and saw a young boy looking back, eyes frantic and rolling in their sockets. The sheen of fever on his brow and lips stretched back thinly in a grimace of agony.

Unaware of his environment, he did not notice the big one, the one they called Brutus approaching him from behind. A sharp blow to the soldier’s head sent spit flying and his head rolled back, striking the wall behind with a dull thud. “No talkin’.” He willed his dazed head to nod and lower his eyes, but with his head resting against the wall the scarred soldier’s eyes came to fix on Brutus’. He was a large, cleanly shaven man without a hair on his pate. Supposed to be a favourite of Pero’s from the militia; he was chief of the Shed and nobody dared catch his attention and attendant wrath. Lazily he looked at the torturer, blood on his lips. “What you lookin’ at pretty boy?”

The scarred soldier spat and was saved from making a huge mistake, when fortunately a message arrived at the door and Brutus was called over. The big man grunted as he read the missive before pushing the note back on the delivery boy. The guards were called over and they huddled together for at least five minutes discussing between themselves.

“‘TENSHUN.” The men sprang into line and stood rigidly forming a wall in front of the prisoners.

“Stand down men. Stand down. So, how is this fine evening finding these delinquents and degenerates?” The GAP stepped into the Shed rubbing his gloved hands together. The scarred soldier’s neighbour whimpered. Turning to him, “Shush.” he said through pursed lips, daring him to continue with his eyes. The child quietened but Pero, had noticed the disturbance. Stopping briefly in front of the scarred soldier, he walked on and crouched before the boy. He had close cropped black hair, unevenly hacked away and the fear was writ large in his eyes.

“Do we have a problem here boy?”

The boy held his breath, air slipping out between his lips. Pero moved his face closer in, the boy tried to recoil back dragging his broken feet with him; a trail of blood left in the wake. Pero looked at the boy with undisguised disgust.

“He is no man. Brutus.”

Brutus ambled forward, brandishing a pistol in his hand. Holding it our steadily, he took at the boy’s head. Turning to the other guards he laughed, his arm quaking with deep chuckles. Turning back, he took aim and shot. The boy slumped to the floor. Pero turned once more to the scarred soldier; after looking him up and down he sneered.

“This one will do, we need every available hand for the assault. Well not every hand. What is your name soldier?”

With parched tongue and fever ravaging his body, he rasped out his name. “Joh.”

“Joh. Well Joh today is your lucky day. Your commander is going to show you mercy and in return you’re going to give him glory. Aren’t you Joh?”

Pero nodded vigorously, smiling and encouraging Joh to follow. The scarred soldier tried to nod but could only slump forwards, chin to chest.

“Joh? Don’t give up on me now. My name is Antonio, Antonio Felipe III Pero. You see me Joh? Because I see you. If you ever rebel, I will kill you. And your family, Joh. And your family. Family is important is it not? I have a great father; a very astute and handsome man. He gave me a chance with the blessing of life and now I give it to you. We are family Joh, you, me, your wife and children. The army. This great country. We are all one Joh, you would do best to remember that.”

He gestured at Brutus with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Brutus, remind this man of his commitment to his family.” Pero twirled on his instep and bowed graciously to his sidekick. “Et tu Brutus, if you wouldn’t mind. Et tu.” With that he stood back, arms folded while Brutus approached the scarred man. Taking a hunting knife out from a slip in his boot, he grabbed Joh’s left hand, opening the palm out flat. Bringing the knife point to the centre, spinning the blade, the point digging into his palm; sweat glistened on the surface like diamonds. Brutus raised his arm and thrust the knife down, through Joh’s palm. He felt nothing; then froth on his lips and a scream as the knife was retracted.

Never forget your family, my man. We all love you dearly. Right, clean him up lads; dispose of the rest.”

To Chapter Sixty-Four – The Harlot

 

Picture: The Assassination of Julius Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini
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