A Drifting Soul

The story of Daithi, a young shaman of the Nioneska prior to the events of A House Of Photographs.

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4. A Slave

The sting of the whip against Daithi's back made him want to scream. He ignored the metallic tang of blood on his tongue from biting back curses and tears. He could tell by the tingling on his back that he was bleeding. He knew that his tormentor enjoyed watching the agony from his office window overlooking the yard. Knew that he was showing his visitor, some relative or another, how to properly deal with unruly servants.

The last crack of the whip on skin was the last straw for Daithi. His legs gave out from beneath himself and he dangled by the ropes that bound his wrists over his head. The ropes chaffed and scratched and made the skin on his wrists raw. The skin on his back was ablaze with pain. Daithi's hair fell over his shoulder and hid his face from view. From there, he could see how the blood and stained the tips a dark red. His temper flared and he felt numb in all of his limbs. Stars specked his vision and his jaw ached from grinding his teeth. But his eyes were listless; the pair of green jewels that spoke for him when his words failed were nothing more than mirrors that only reflected what they saw without a light of their own.

His punisher, he who held the tools of torture with a happiness that couldn't be described, began to untie him from the post. Daithi didn't move. He sank into the mud and dung, waiting for his anger to numb the pains that slashed through his back and clawed through the rest of his body. Before he knew it, Daithi was grabbed by the arm with a thick, meaty hand that dug into his flesh, and was dragged to his feet. He stumbled forward when he was shoved, and he shambled back to what he called home. He was marched through the yard to the cellar, paraded as a warning to any of the other servants. The only difference between Daithi and them was that he wasn't paid, he couldn't leave, and he could be treated like a dog with only three paws and one eye and no one would bat an eye.

Any time he was slower than desired he was shoved. He barely caught himself with his hands, still bound together. He didn't look to the cooks and bakers for help like he did the first times he was marched through. They just went about their cooking and talking as if he didn't exist. Daithi was marched down the stairs into the dark and dank hallway with rooms upon rooms of vegetables and fruits and drink. What Daithi was forced to call home was a cell at the very end of the hallway. It was the only thing to prove this was originally a jail of a kind before the master, Edmund Roberts, had taken over the place and had it repurposed. He hadn't gotten to the cell before Daithi came along.

The door opened with a sickening screech of rusty hinges and closed shut behind him with a clang. And Daithi went on with the routine; he held his hands up to the barred window and he was untied, then his shirt was thrown at him through the food slot. Daithi put it on and resisted the urge to scratch at his itching scabs and blood clots. Then he staggered to his window roughly six inches tall and a foot long with bars on the window. The light poured in from there and lit up a sliver of the place. The stone walls seemed the only comfort Daithi could find. He groped around in the darkness to find an herb that grew in the corner, one that he'd forgotten the name of but remembered it helped keep away infection. He chewed it and chewed it and chewed it until it was a paste that he could apply to the new lashings, the old ones, and the scars that crisscrossed and zigzagged on his back. 

The herb took away the pain and allowed his mind to go blank. He let out a moan. Not for the aching in his skin and his bones. It was for home. He always thought of home. He thought of his brothers and sisters, his parents, his aunts and uncles. He thought of them all and felt his stomach flip and the burning anger and hatred boil over into a flat out rage. An untamable fury. Daithi shook trying to contain it, curled up into a ball and dug his nails into his own skin to snap out of it. But a rumble erupted from his throat. He roared, he howled and slammed his fists against the door.

"HOW LONG?! HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN YOUR SLAVE?!" Daithi demanded.

"Twelve years," replied a voice so smooth and buttery it had to be Roberts. "You know, you've surprised me over the years. Just when I think I've broken you and can take you out of this ghastly cell, you do something like this and make me not want to trust you."

Daithi's eyes narrowed and he glared through the window in the door. "You have no right."

"I HAVE EVERY RIGHT!" Roberts eyes lit up with the fire that consumed Daithi. "And until you realize that, you're stuck here." Roberts turned and left, his steps clacking against the stone and echoing off the walls.

Daithi leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. He took the moment of calm to comb out his hair with his fingers, picking out clumps of mud and blood and braiding it so it was out of his face. It was longer. Almost to his waist. He looked at his hands and saw how bony and calloused they'd become. Felt the hair on his face and realized how much he was aging.

A bird landed by his window and cast its shadow on the floor by his feet, reminding him of his broken plans of escape. When he'd first come here, he couldn't change into a bird or a wolf and escape because of the gunshot wound. Stretching and shrinking put too much strain. And Daithi didn't dare use magic when he saw a young woman, barely old enough to live alone, get hung for being accused of witchcraft. Otherwise Daithi would have cast and manipulated his captors and called on the spirits for help.

Then he brought his hollow gaze back to the door. He'd nearly memorized every crevice and line in the wood of it, as if some answer could be found there. "Twelve years...? How can he be so cruel?" He wondered allowed in the mother tongue. He never dared speak it in front of Roberts or his servants. He was punished for 'speaking in tongues' and it took relentless and desperate begging to attain forgiveness.

After a time, Daithi found himself in a state of mental shutdown. Somehow he managed to find a peace of mind and pass the hours, even the days without moving a muscle. The only way he could tell the time was by the telltale side of his food through the slot in the door. He was even able to pass days that way, only moving to eat and use the bathroom in the corner and cover it with hay. He somehow managed to keep it up, not a single thought going through his head, for a few days shy of two weeks. But when the door was thrown open and he was forced out of his dark and dank cell he was awoken from his half sleep.

Not a word was spoken. No sounds bounced off the walls except for their footsteps. Daithi assumed he was going to be taken out for a hunt and forced to carry the kill himself or clean it for Roberts or replace the stable boy without the proper tools. But instead, he came face to face with a young man with a basket and a clever twinkle in his eye. He was clean and well polished, so he couldn't possibly be poor.

"So he's the one you found after the battle?" He asked curiously.

Daithi eyed him suspiciously and gritted his teeth. He hated being sized up like that. He preferred to make his own impressions.

The jailor nodded slowly.

"Good. I'll take him with me then. Uncle assured me that this wildling had to know something of herbs. Come along then," he said haughtily. The strange young fellow turned on his heels and led the way out of the kitchens. Daithi gave a look of puzzlement to the jailor who only grunted and nodded for Daithi to get moving.  

The boy strutted along, not minding the mud and grime that splattered onto his socks or stuck to his shoes. Eventually they meandered to a wooded area surrounding a pond, calm and clear and familiar to Daithi. It was where they forced him to bathe maybe once every month. The boy stood with his arms folded as if expecting something then realized he didn't tell anyone his plans. "I want to learn a bit about herbology and the cooks needs some for the dinner tonight," he held up a book. "so you're gong to help me find some." The boy set to work, getting on his knees and inspecting everything that was green and grew out of the ground.
 Daithi, wanting to avoid the whip at all costs, got down with him and washed his face with the pond water. For a split second he thought he saw Laurel's reflection in the water staring back at him. Then he saw his own face, depressed, pale, and gaunt and a scratchy beard beginning to grow.

As the sun rose and drifted across the sky, Daithi helped the young man identify different plants from the book that grew there, flowers and fungi and moss, and even some the book didn't mention.

"My name is Edmund...after my uncle.." Edmund looked away and sighed, as if steeling his nerve to slay a monstrous beast. "...he treats you poorly," the boy finally whispered, quiet enough that the jailor wouldn't hear.

Daithi couldn't believe anyone had said that. He felt as if punishment would come down on him just for hearing it. But hearing that, he couldn't help but wonder how this nephew of Roberts differed from him. True, they had the same shaped face and hair, but this Edmund didn't put on airs.

"I've seen you here since I was a little boy....and he still treats you that badly....why haven't you left?"

Daithi couldn't find the words to speak. After all those years without a single kind word and here he'd found someone who held genuine sympathy. And the soothing aura that radiated off Edmund was unimaginable. Daithi felt truly at peace and felt free to speak for the first time in a decade. "I-I can't...I'm a slave taken away after the Jacobite Uprising. M-my brother barely escaped being a slave with me."

The look on Edmund's face was of shock, then of serious and critical thinking. Then he flipped through his little book. Daithi noticed how old and worn it really was with nearly destroyed bindings and a beat up cover. Edmund stopped suddenly and thought for a moment, furrowing his brows and chewing the inside of his cheek nervously. Then he peeked over his shoulder at the jailor who had fallen asleep, or at least appeared to. Then he said in a frantic whisper "Uncle is having a party tonight with his friends from the Uprising. Perhaps while that's going on you could escape."

Daithi shook his head quickly. "I sleep in a cell underneath the cellar and only come out when I'm needed."

Edmund thought again, his face puckering up like he was eating something sour. The jailor stirred and opened his eyes slowly.

Edmund's eyes became fixed on  particular plant just before Roberts and company appeared. Daithi looked to where Edmund was focused and saw a cluster of flowers. But Daithi caught sight of something else. Nightshade. He picked the cluster and put it in the basket before Roberts forced Edmund to his feet and marched him back home. Daithi felt a growl in his throat. This man didn't treat anyone with respect. But Daithi felt a shred of hope. As they went back he kept his eyes on the basket. Took to memory where it was placed back in the kitchen above the cellar. He was thrown back in his cell as soon as possible. So he sat in the corner and thought of a plan. The dull ache in his back was enough incentive to put all of his willpower into a plan to set him free.

 

The sun had gone down and there were stars in the sky, the only light in Daithi's cell. The flap in the door flew up and a bowl of cold soup was shoved under, spilling on the floor. Daithi pursed his lips and grimaced. He thought back with shame at all the meals he'd received this way, all the times he desperately leapt on it as if it were a gift from the divine.

He crawled to the flap and caught sight of the keys. He muttered under his breath to make sure his spells worked. Wispy tendrils of smoke appeared out of thin air and took the keys. Slowly, they came back to him. He held his breath the entire time, fearing even the slightest sound would alert the jailor. Sweat ran down his back, the salt making the lashes sting and reminding him what he risked. When he felt the cold metal grace his fingertips he sighed with relief.

Heart pounding, he reassured himself all would go well. It had to. Roberts always had the servants clean up and they always shared the leftovers, meaning if the nightshade worked, no one would be able to stop Daithi's escape. And the  cooks weren't very bright. He knew from watching them cook in passing. The oldest was too old to remember much and the youngest had always been fed and never learned what's safe to eat and what isn't. They had to have minced up the nightshade and sprinkled it like a garnish on the food. Daithi felt a pang of guilt for a second. He didn't want to kill innocent people. He gritted his teeth and reminded himself that if done right, nightshade could be used as a sedative. His grandpa used it a few times and was fine. Then he remembered how stupid the cooks were and panicked.

Daithi reached through his food slot after the jailor was gone and fumbled with the lock. His cheek was pressed into the wood of the door and his shoulder felt like it would snap, but Daithi kept going until he was able to turn the key and feel the lock give away.

He took deep breathes. He prayed this wasn't a dream. Then he tiptoed down the hall, realizing just how cold stone was on bare feet. Daithi peeked over the top step to see if anyone was around. But there were only two cooks laying on the floor and snoring. There was a plate of half eaten scraps on the counter and Daithi knew his plan ad worked well enough so far. His adrenaline kicked in and he rushed for the door. It swung open willingly and he breathed in a lungful of the night air. He could almost taste freedom again. But a gruff voice made him tense and hid blood ran cold. The Jailor and the whip.

Daithi smiled menacingly. No one would know, and no one could stop him. Nothing stopped him from weaving his magic around like he did during the Uprising. The Jailor prepared to crack the whip on Daithi, raising it high above his head. But smoky claws wrapped around his arms and legs and cemented him in place. He was as still as a statue. The furious satisfaction in Daithi drenched his soul. All Daithi could think was revenge. His vision blotted out and he couldn't tell which stars were real and which were in his head. He lost feeling in his fingers and he felt light headed. But hearing the man moan with pain was enough to egg him on.

"Have you learned your lesson yet?" Daithi hissed through his teeth.

Then something in Daithi's mind went off...he remembered who he was before. He was still practically a child...and he was no better if he tortured this man. Daithi's arms dropped to his sides and his grin disappeared and was replaced with a muted scream of horror. He didn't even wait for the jailor to get to his feet. Daithi ran like the wind, one hand always on his medallion. It ran again over and over in his head. He saw himself standing their, tormenting that man. He knew he was even messing with the man's mind.

Daithi ran through the night, away from the candlelight and the estate. Away from Roberts and the whip. His feet stung from how far he ran, and his lungs protested every breath he took. But he refused to stop for anything. The shame of his attack made him sick, but he refused to be recaptured and forced to pay for it. All Daithi wanted was to be away from that place. As far as he could. So he kept running and running until dawn. When the sun crested over the kills, Daithi looked back the way he'd come and felt sick. He was ashamed of all that had been done to him and what he'd just done. Home wasn't an option anymore. He couldn't face anyone this way. So he kept walking. He ignored the ache and set his sights for south, the exact opposite direction of his prison. He went south for days until he reached the coast. Every night he dreamt he was back in his cell, waiting to be called his work until his hands ached and refused to open anymore or be whipped until there wasn't an unscarred inch on his back. Then, standing at the waters edge, he stared into the murky water and transformed himself into a seal. His medallion stretched and his rags his called clothes tore away and stayed on the beach. He swam as fast as he could just to feel security. Not once did he think of turning around. He ignored his hunger, an easy thing with how many times he'd gone hungry as punishment for rebellion.

When he reached the far shore he heard a pair of fishermen speak a familiar language. It was like the echo of a memory to hear them speak. They spoke French. Daithi had made it to France and, there on the beach, turned into a man and laid there, exhausted and unable to move an inch.

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