Lash after cruel lash flayed the flesh from her back. Each one like a burning blade cutting in and tearing. The trickle of blood down her back filled her nostrils with the hot, metallic stench. Ezra shut her eyes tight hoping to block out the stares. But the cheering and jeering rang in her ears filling her head. Only one thought circulated her mind over and over, "I'm innocent, I've done nothing wrong."
Cleeves looked on watching, doing nothing. For the first time in her life she hated him. Pure, black, burning hatred. He knew she was not a thief, he had seen now scared he was. But he didn't seem bothered that she was suffering. She screamed as another lash came down. Gritting her teeth she tried to breathe through the pain. The crowd wanted to see her suffer. She wasn't about to pleasure them.
Opening her eyes slightly she saw Cleeves staring at her. There was something about those grey eyes. The coldness, like two shards of ice instead of eyes. He was ice and she was fire. Could never be in harmony. She had always submitted to him because he extinguished her fire. Her spirit was broken because of him. She shut her eyes again so she wouldn't have to look. She wanted to break free and claw out those eyes, but she couldn't.
Suddenly the lashes stopped, but why? She could hear the crowd gasp. Opening her eyes and craning her neck she saw the guard no longer had the whip. Cleeves looked furious as he scanned the crowd.
"Who stole it!" he bellowed in fury.
It struck Ezra that the thief had been quick. No one had seen them steal it. The crowd was silent. No one moved. Then a voice rang out.
"I did. Because she is innocent."
Cleeves scanned the crowd angrily, searching for the person who had dared to defy him. The young man Ezra had collided with before stepped forward holding the coiled whip in his hand. Even Ezra gasped.
"Personally, I don't believe injustice." he confidently walked up onto the platform glaring defiantly at Cleeves, "I thought you didn't either."
Everyone stood motionless as the man and Cleeves glared at each other.
"I am merely carrying out the punishment required. As the laws state." his voice was low and too calm.
The man chuckled shocking the crowd, "Funny, how you think it's fitting to force torture on a young woman just because she's different. You claim to reach out to those in need yet you neglect those under your nose."
Cleeves did not respond, too furious to form words. The young man knelt beside Ezra who looked away, her hair hanging over her eyes. She felt his hand touch her between her shoulders. The crowd gasped again as they saw her wound immediately heal. Then, drawing a dagger, he cut the ropes that held her down. Picking up her T-shirt that had been lying nearby, he handed it back to her.
"Thank you." she said quietly.
"You're welcome, Ariel." he winked.
Ezra instantly felt a pang of guilt for giving him a false name. He gently took her arm and helped her to her feet.
"Defiance and practising magic." Cleeves thin mouth seemed to smile, "You will regret this, boy."
"Not as much as you...tyrant."
The crowd cheered, they were liking this rebel. The guards lunged for him but he vanished in a puff of blue smoke. Cleeves stared at Ezra, black fury written all over his face.
"Cut her hair then send her back to the belltower." he ordered.
Ezra bowed her head as she was led away, "I'm sorry, master. I will never disobey you again."
She looked back for a moment expecting to see Cleeves furious. But he wasn't. He was smiling. But what scared her most was his eyes. There was something in them. Something she hadn't seen before. It wasn't anger. Quite the opposite. Whatever it was, it sent a piercing chill down her spine.