Disclaimer: You know it. Not mine, enter legal gibberish here, blah blah.
The boy could not have been over the tender age of sixteen years, yet the signs of abuse were obvious on his wasted, pale body. Clear on his wrists were the red weals from where manacles had cruelly cut into the skin, and his eyes were slightly deader than those of any normal Mintakan, alert, wary, yet somehow subdued.
The amount of control Fadroh and Skeed had over him was incredible. All either one of them had to do was threaten to tell the world about his faults, his weaknesses, and he was an instant submissive slave in their hands, for them to manipulate and play with as they pleased. Well-trained, nary a single whimper escaping his lips as he was raped again, again and again.
He didn't speak much any more. His voice, recently broken, had been the subject of too many taunts from his lover and his brother, so he had hidden it away where it could do no more damage.
The torture was unbearable. He loved Fadroh with all his heart, mind, body and soul, and though Fadroh had frequent sex with him, the older man – at least six years his senior, to be sure – was always rough and never seemed to care about Lyude. Never once had Fadroh said he loved Lyude in return, and had even snapped at the timid redhead for using the phrase 'too often'. Claimed it was weak, not worthy for one of his playmates.
White scars littered his inner thighs, from where Fadroh had been too rough and had cut the sensitive skin there, or from when Skeed had gloatingly opened the wounds deeper, later on when it was his turn, and bruises were dotted around his entire body, some here, some there, some purple and black, some fading into green-brown.
The only source of comfort for him was Almarde, his nurse, who would soothe him and heal him, tuck him in to bed and stay to fend away his restless, haunted dreams. He could tell it pained her that he bore such rough and heartless treatment silently, that he seemed to put up with it and even go back for more, but she accepted that he was in love with Fadroh, who was an officer quickly gaining status in the army, and that Skeed was hard to avoid.
It was a strange thing to say, but Lyude didn't consider himself abused. He had always thought of himself as quite a happy child; after all, did he not have everything he wanted? He had older siblings to look up to and idolise, he had a wonderful nursemaid in the place of his deceased parents, who taught him and played with him, he had a lover to call his own.
…he had all he could ever want except happiness.
Lyude's mother had not been the mother of Skeed and Vallye, she had instead been a prostitute picked up by their shared father from Azha. She was the daughter of a stonecutter's widow, and a very sickly, frail girl. After bearing Lyude, she passed away on his father's doorstep, begging him to take the newborn baby in.
He had done so, but his reputation had been soiled as the news of his affair with an Azhani escaped. His own wife – Skeed and Vallye's mother – eloped soon afterwards with another Mintakan and they were both eventually killed in the armed forces. Lyude's father had ignored his illegitimate son, instead hiring Almarde to look after him, while concentrating his wrath on Skeed, the firstborn and heir to the estate.
It seemed as though he had hoped to regain his honour by driving Skeed onwards to be the best he could, and it was all too often that Skeed had too much work to sleep, could be found in tears in his bedroom, even being beaten by the father, who had taken to alcohol, for not working properly.
Then, on Skeed's tenth birthday, the official letter confirming their father's death had arrived and the estate passed into his heir's ownership.
Skeed and Vallye had never been particularly nice to Lyude, as he was half-Azhani and one of the reasons other Mintakans sneered at them in the street and passed snide remarks about their late father.
It broke Almarde's heart. She remembered Lyude as a very young child, hiding from his hateful brother. In fairness, Skeed had been under so much pressure, but that had been no reason to take out his frustration on his younger brother. Still, though, even through all that, Lyude had still been smiling, happy, polite and well-behaved, intelligent and eager to learn. Curious, naïve, content, those were what he had been, yet his gentle soul and compassionate nature had been pounced upon and ripped apart by the jaded elder men.
In no time, he had deteriorated to the forlorn, hopeless creature she now knew as Lyude. He who had endured taunt after taunt after taunt, about his wings – small, greyed, broken – and about his nature, his shyness, his squeamishness and his naïveté. Almarde knew also that he purposefully hurt himself, bringing out his wings and ripping clumps of feathers out until he bled, even once snapping the frail bone to leave the limb trailing painfully on the floor.
Lyude had joined the army to impress Skeed. Oh, Skeed had been impressed. Impressed enough to present Lyude to his commanding officer, Fadroh, and for them to agree to share the boy.
Reflecting on things past would do no good for him, Almarde believed, her darling boy whom she would gladly give her life to protect. She had called him to see her, an evening when Skeed and Fadroh were either out training or out drinking. It didn't matter to her, it was the same either way; they would return inebriated and annoyed, ready to take it out on Lyude's fragile body.
"My dear boy," She spoke soft, deeply upset about what she felt she should reveal to him, if only to heal his fracture, disillusioned spirit. "You know what will happen tonight. I can hear it, dear boy, every night. Why do you let them do this?"
"The stars are going to be bright tonight…" Lyude's voice was faint through ill use. "He – Fadroh – he promised me that he might come stargazing with me tonight…"
A sigh from the nurse followed the almost childish assumption. "Has he made this promises before, dear one?"
"Yes – yes…"
"Has he ever kept them?"
"No – he's been busy – he's being promoted soon – his work takes priority, it's always been that way…"
The nursemaid truly hated herself for what she said next:
"Lyude, he's lying."
The young teen froze, blood-red eyes widened and disbelieving as he stared as his mentor incredulously.
"You're – no, you're wrong, Almarde, he loves me too – he just – I –!"
"He's never said he loves you, my boy… he uses you. He doesn't love you. You're just a toy to him. I – I know you might hate me for saying this, Lyude, but you're letting yourself become his slave even though it's tearing you apart… Has he ever said he likes anything about you? Your voice? Your wings?"
"I – I – no…" A great revelation washed over Lyude and his hands fisted tightly in the hem of his tunic. "He… told me he hates them. He thinks my voice is girly and my wings are ugly and I'm weak… Almarde, I – I love him!"
"Shh… sh-sh-shh… I know you do…" She took her boy into her arms and comforted him. "You mustn't let him walk all over him, dear Lyude, it's killing you… you don't even eat anymore, and soon you won't have the strength to carry on. You're stronger than this, my boy."
"You are. You're stronger than you think. You've endured so much, Lyude, most men would have died by now but you're still here, you're still sane. You're still my darling boy."
"Almarde – "
"Hush, don't speak. Would you like to come stargazing with me?"
And, for the first time in what seemed like aeons, Lyude smiled once again, his eyes seeming to light up at the prospect.
"I… I would like that very much…"
It took perhaps only four or five weeks for Lyude to be able to act as though nothing had happened. After finding the courage within himself to refuse them, Fadroh and Skeed had more or less left him alone, apart from the occasional backhand across the cheek if he offended them in any way.
Quite suddenly, however, his fortune had again changed for the worse. He had been promoted to colonel unexpectedly, and then ordered to take a commanding role in Operation Sweep, just below those officers who would lead the mission.
He was fine with that until, in an audience with the Emperor, he received his briefing for the mission.
Kill the Azhanis. Kill his people.
Who but the most heartless could expect him to do that? Though it seemed that the Mintakans were the most heartless, for when he had complained to the Emperor, he had been shot down in the most humiliating of ways.
Then, when he had complained again, and even tried to prevent it, the worst had come to the worst.
Branded traitor, he lay rotting, chained in solitary confinement in the Imperial Fortress, waiting for his day of release. The normal practise for disposing of traitors was execution – he had supposed that was what awaited him, to be shot dead in front of the public body of Mintaka. But, no, because of his family name – which would gain far too much in the way of disrepute was that to happen – he had been granted a less serious punishment. Exile. Excommunication.
The light of his cell flickered on and off in the most annoying of ways. Almarde wandered through his mind. Since the day she had spoken to him and taken him out to watch the stars, he had felt his confidence slowly return, he had been getting stronger and stronger, finally healing after months of ill-treatment.
He would, however, still bring out his wings and rip the broken grey feathers out, hurling them away from him as though the sight of them burned his eyes. Self-scorn, self-hatred, disgust at his own cowardice and his previous consent to being used, those were what had spawned such activities.
Cold, cold and damp. That was what the prison cell was, cold and damp. He could occasionally hear the rats nibbling at his boots; that 'scritch scritch scritch' noise was going to drive him slowly insane. Was it night? Was it day? The only light came from the sporadic electric lamp above his head, which short-circuited itself so frequently it could hardly be called a lamp.
Every now and again, a bowl of thin soup would be slid on a tray though the hatch in the door, along with another smaller bowl which contained putrid, stagnant water. Lyude could feel his waistline receding as his body complained of the repetitive prison diet.
Skeed and Vallye loathed him now more than he had ever though was humanely possible. It was as though he was suddenly some sort of monster; Skeed had been apoplectic, almost trembling with rage, and Vallye had distanced herself in the highest degree, coldly ignoring Lyude just as their father had done so many years and tears ago.