Concealed by shadows in the corner of a spacious room, Magda clutches her robe to her breast. Silence weighs upon her and the rest of the room’s occupants like a heavy blanket, even though more than a dozen robed people have gathered in front of a small dais. Upon it, two men with their heads close together converse in mouthed words and hand gestures. They’re deliberating the fate of a third man, who kneels, head bowed, at the foot of the few short steps leading onto the dais.
Though she knows what the judgement will be, Magda cannot stop her heart from aching. She cannot bring her breathing – or her shivering – under control. Being a part of this preordained event and yet separate from it until her part comes proves to be impossible. She cannot drag her eyes away, does not want to. Every blink is resented for even a heartbeat of not being able to see his profile through the gaps in the curtain of his hair is agony to her.
Magda’s attention is pulled to the men on the dais as one of them clears his throat. Pons steps forward, hands outstretched to the gathering, eyes on the man at the foot of the steps. He speaks in a passionless voice, monotone but loud, and Magda blanches with each word he intones.
So it is to be a scourging, then.
A tall man lurches forward from the shadows not far from where Magda stands. Knowing he was there didn’t protect her from fright, her heart thunders as he strides towards the gathering, threads between them, and comes to stand behind the Accused. She gasps when he leans forward, shudders as the sound of tearing fabric rips through the room, feels a fierce sense of pride when it dawns on her that the Accused didn’t even flinch.
Will that courage see him to the end of his punishment? She hopes so.
Hand at her mouth now, Magda glares at the Punisher through a film of tears, imagining that she can feel tapping on her thigh as he tests his leather scourge against his leg. Moments pass and she wonders if the Accused is perspiring as much as she is, if he feels as much fear for himself as she feels for him. Anticipation builds and builds until she worries it might explode out of her in a scream of defiance, but an almost imperceptible nod from the Punisher steals the breath from her lungs. It is begun.
Parting his feet to steady himself, the Punisher sweeps his arm out to the side and swiftly back in again. The leather falls of the scourge billow out, follow as though an extension of his arm. They lash across the Accused’s bare back with a thudding slap, and Magda jumps while he remains passive.
Another lash follows, then another. Magda imagines red stripes appearing on his smooth, tanned skin, she has visions of raised welts, cleaved flesh, splashing blood. A rational part of her tries to remind her that… but it can’t. She can’t let it, she’s too embroiled in this to be rational.
Blow follows blow, the Punisher switches hands, the gathered moan. Magda weeps, but the Accused does nothing. His head remains bowed, the backs of his hands rested on his thighs. Absorbing the blows as though they’re nothing more than strokes of affection.
Magda waits for it. For the cries of dissatisfaction to bleed down from the dais. This would not be enough for Pons. He wished to see the Accused writing in pain, he wished to hear him plead, apologise, renounce. But he was not getting and would not get what he wanted, so the punishment was no longer sufficient.
Holding up one hand, Pons brings the silence back to the room. In the hush, the Punisher slips away. He comes to stand close to Magda in the shadows and she smells exertion on him. She can smell his sweat and… something else. Something musky and potent. She identifies it instantly but does not acknowledge it in her mind. It isn’t his scent that interests her.
On the dais, Pons is speaking again. When Magda gives him her attention she hears but the end of whatever diatribe he has unleashed on the Accused. All she hears is the death of a sentence and then a name.
Pons gestures to the back the room, which until now had been shrouded in darkness. As Magda watches, flames flicker to life, lighting dozens of candles which illuminate the room. Another half-dozen men are waiting there, and between them, tall and proud stands a wooden cross.
The man called Roman steps forward and the others step aside. Slowly, the Accused gets to his feet, turns away from the dais and walks towards the cross. Magda covers her mouth with her hand to stifle her cry. All of his back is crisscrossed with a rash of red marks.
There is no stiffness to his gait. No outward display of discomfort. When he reaches the cross he reaches out, muscles in his back shifting and flexing, and starts to drag it to the middle of the room. Making him bare his own cross! How wicked, how cruel!
Back in the centre of the room, the Accused stands tall while Roman strips his tattered robes from his body. As he is rendered naked the gathered dozen slip silently into the shadows, and Magda detects the first sense of unease in his now furrowed brow. Between Roman and his five men, the Accused is lifted onto the cross, bound there by his wrists, forearms, and ankles.
Pons and his companion walk down the dais’ steps. His superior smirk brings bile to Magda’s throat, but she must not speak. She just screams inside as Pons places a crown of thorns upon the Accused’s brow and walks away. Roman follows, as do his men. Lights blink out around the room until the Accused is the only one bathed in any kind of glow.
Magda counts her heartbeats. Ten…fifty…one hundred… It must be soon, she is waiting for it…
A small sob breaks free before Magda can stop it. Lifting the hem of her robe, she rustles across the floor, snatching up a goblet from a small table concealed by the shadow of the dais. When she reaches the Accused, she lifts it to his mouth. The wine within stains his lips blood red and it’s almost a horror when he smiles.
Magda reaches for the bonds at his ankles but a sharp, group stomp sounds as a warning. She flings herself at the Accused, his soft stomach is cool against the side of her face. There are no platitudes whispered, no false promises. She just holds him, knowing that he is smiling down upon her.
Magda feels something moving against her chest. Pulling out to the side, stroking her breast, hardening, rising until it points up towards her neck. She doesn’t dare look at the Accused. Keeping her head down, she tilts her face, feeling a sudden damp streak cooling on her chin. Smoothness against her lip, passing between her teeth, pressing against her tongue.
Over her head, the Accused sighs. Magda moves slowly, tracing veins with her tongue, taking him deeper, inhaling deeply of the scent she so longed to smell. His scent. Masculine, clean, and so, so familiar. She had been drenched in sweat tinged with this scent before. She had tasted it, fallen asleep in it, avoided bathing just so she could hold onto it.
Now it was all around her, comforting her, intensifying as she brought her lips to his skin, trying to ignore the feel of him deep in her throat. She felt his hips buck against her and she pulled back, finally looking up to find his face, finally meeting his warm, tortured gaze.
Hand slowly stroking his cock, she listens to the Accused speak. “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” With those words, he found release. It poured from the tip of him, over Magda’s lips, her chin, it dripped down and splashed the Accused’s feet.
Now that he had died his little death he would be freed from his cross. And then he would rise again and, true to his word, he would take Magda to Paradise.