The Brig

"You will be flogged, and when we pull into Cuba to re-supply, God willing, you will be flogged some more, and then enslaved on the sugar plantations for the rest of your miserable lives.... To the brig!" The booming commands and mercilessly cruel tone of Cortez's voice shook even his most hardened sailors, and made Tulio and Miguel tremble so hard, their restraints and chains rattled like damned souls in purgatory. "Alright, Cuba!" Miguel tried to hide his terror with a facade of vacant optimism. Tulio remained silent as they were dragged away. Already, he was planning their escape, but wasn't having much luck. He was too distracted by the reality that they were being dragged away to an excruciating punishment. One of the sailors had fetched a long, menacing whip of thickly braided leather, scrap metal pieces interwoven to add an extra sting and tear open flesh, and now was eyeing the two prisoners with a smile across his dirty face that made Miguel's heart leap into his throat and his stomach sink to his knees. "Do the fair one first! He'll be easy to break!" The shipmates and sailors all called out, gathering around the tall mast for the show. Tulio was held in the iron grip of Zaragoza, the man who he had swindled with his loaded dice only a few hours before, and another, equally huge and repulsive man, and was going to be forced to watch Miguel be whipped. The sea began to pick up, and the ship rolled over the waves like a leaf, smooth up and down motions that made Miguel feel sick, or maybe it was fear as they removed the wooden stocks encasing his hands, pulled his shirt from his body and lashed his hands above his head to a crossbeam on the mast. His pants were violently pulled down to his ankles, the crude laughter and vulgar comments barely registering in his mind. The flogger took his position and swung the whip through the air, bringing it down upon Miguel's lower back. It whistled in the air and cracked loudly against his flesh, leaving a vicious red welt that curled around his side to his groin. For a brief flash of time, almost immeasurable, Miguel's entire body went numb, then the sting settled in and he nearly foamed at the mouth in his agony. Before he even had time to cry out, the second strike was upon him, higher up on his back. Going limp against the restraints, hanging like a side of beef in a butcher shop from the mast, Miguel resigned himself to the punishment. His mouth hung open and saliva spattered out with every labored breath, falling to the deck to mingle with the sweat and blood that trickled down his back as the whipping continued. Death was closer than it had ever been to Miguel before, but he wasn't afraid of it. Let the reaper come, he thought, I tried my best to live, adventure just wasn't meant for me in this life. Oh, but Tulio...his darling Tulio. He is the only thing Miguel could imagine regretting leaving behind. Leaving behind golden sunsets and starry nights, the steamy cobblestone streets of Seville after a summer rainstorm, the thrills of running from the king's guards and angry shop owners and gamblers, these were all minor losses, trivial at best. Tulio gave purpose to his every breath, gave him a reason to say, "I am alive." He couldn't even turn his head to look at him now. When the twentieth lash came down upon him, he hazily heard a sailor call out, "That's enough! We don't want to kill him. He'll fetch a good price in Cuba with one of the more effeminate plantation owners. They pay big for a night of sin!" Miguel could barely move by himself, and when they cut him loose, he nearly collapsed to the deck. Rough male hands grabbed him and righted him just long enough to shove him down the entrance to the brig below deck. He landed hard on the dirty floor, his clothes drifting down behind him. An overwhelming emptiness filled him, the pain was so great, and it coated his entire existence, blocking any other sensory experience. He was an urn of pain; richly decorated by bloody welts and operatically singing red stripes, but he contained nothing, not even hope of escape. And Tulio still had his audience with the whip ahead. "Tulio.." he managed to mumble softly. He wished he could be up there, even if he couldn't save his friend. If only he could make eye contact with him, comfort him. The voices and noises above began to register in Miguel's ears, and one voice came into focus, emerged from the watery blockage surrounding his consciousness. "Don't rip the shirt, you barrel-bellied savage!" Tulio's indignant voice rang out. Miguel actually managed to smile at that. What else could he do? Laying perfectly still, face down on the filthy floor of the brig, his clothes still heaped on top of him and soaking up the remaining blood on his back, he listened to the sounds above. The sailors' swearing, the laughter, the unbuckling of Tulio's britches and the raucous that ensued when they all caught sight of Tulio's member drifted down below deck and rang through his ears. The full impact of the threat to Tulio's life hit Miguel full force, and bile rose up in his throat from fear. There was nothing he could do, he could barely move, and besides, he was locked down in the brig. "Bloody heretic! You dare even consider stowing away on a ship full of conquistadors! Filthy Jew!" One sailor snarled. Miguel could only picture the look of horror on Tulio's face. He raked his nails across the floor in frustration, tears welling in his eyes. He had to do something; they would kill him, his poor Tulio. this couldn't happen! "He's a converso! His entire family converted years ago! You have to believe me! He's not a heretic!" Miguel didn't know how his voice managed to get past the lump in his throat, the dry hoarseness acting as a further gauntlet, but it came out ringing strong and clear. A few sailors, including the one holding the whip, heard him and leaned over the iron- grated entrance to the brig. The metal studs on the whip scraped over the deck as it dangled from his hand. "He had better be able to prove it!" One man yelled back. Heavy footsteps on the deck above, heading back to where they must have had Tulio tied up. "Miguel, stay out of this!" Tulio called down to him. Somehow, it was comforting to hear his voice. He was still alive. The sailor grabbed Tulio by his long hair and yanked his head back, breathing his hot, foul breath into his face as he snarled at the naked man. "Recite the twenty-third Psalm, you worthless whelp of a whore, and you'll live to be sold into slavery!" Miguel sighed with relief. His impromptu plan had worked. He had taught Tulio the twenty-third psalm, and many other biblical passages, as they were growing up together. It offered some protection to know them. Tulio's entire family had been executed during an auto de Fe when he was very young. That was how he had ended up on the streets with Miguel, also an orphan, but his family was lost in the plague. They had always looked out for each other, worked together to survive and even enjoy, and as long as Miguel was alive, he would continue to protect his dearest friend, his lover. But it was a bittersweet victory. Tulio was still resigned to his wretched punishment. "The Lord is my Shep-AARRGGH!" As Tulio began to recite the psalm, the first crack of the whip fell over his back. Miguel could hear every word from below, and his tears fell harder and faster with every passing second. "No one said to stop! Continue, filthy rat!" The sailors would certainly not make this easy. A converso wasn't as bad as a Jew, but they were still rather detestable to any good, devout follower of the church, as these fine men obviously were. Their repulsive, putrid bodies and black hearts and blatant greed concealed souls washed clean by sterile confession, blind, man-made ritual. "I shall not want!" CRACK! The whip came down again. Tulio's voice was cracking. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures..." CRACK! It continued like this for what felt near an eternity. Miguel still lay below decks, listening to every word, and every agonizing sound. The obscene agony in his own body was beginning to melt away into an incessant aching over every inch of him, and he managed to lift himself up to his knees and pull his shirt on, groaning as the fabric draped over him, running over the welts. He no longer had any control over his thoughts, and his mind's eye began to see snippets of memory, languid nights spent in Tulio's arms, the wild abandon of their lovemaking. Tulio's long, pulsating manhood, the root of their mutual terror only moments ago, was still an idol to Miguel. The long shaft of corded power, the intricate veins and salty come, the memories made him crack a weak smile. In the darkness and dank of the brig, he could only wonder if they would ever have moments like that again. They kept Tulio tied to the mast for three hours, the night wind blowing over the cold ocean waters and chilling his naked body to the bone. It took almost all that time for Miguel to finish dressing again, and when he finally did, he collapsed to the floor again, slipping into a tortured sleep. The endorphins rushing through his body had exhausted him. He awoke again when Tulio was shoved down into the brig beside him. Miguel lifted his head and strained to see him through the dark. Tulio didn't move, and for a moment, he feared his lover was dead, but then he heard signs of life. Miguel's heart clenched when he realized that Tulio was giggling softly. Could this have driven him mad? "Hehehe, can you imagine, Miguel? Can you imagine what they would have done if they knew we are lovers? We would be shark food!" "Are you sure that's such a bad thing?" Miguel whispered hoarsely. They couldn't be seen in the dark, but Tulio's eyes had grown wide and wild. He was indeed half mad now, his quicksilver mind now darting between plans of escape and acknowledgement of the blinding pain in his body. "No, that's why it's so funny!" "I still have the map you know," Miguel responded. "It's tucked away in that secret pocket I stitched inside my shirt. If I had lost it through any of this." It was the reason this whole mess started to begin with. Ever hopeful, Miguel knew as long as he had that map, he could still cling to some sense of order and reality. The kind of torment and torture they went through today could never be rationalized. Were they such horrible burdens on society, such insults to human decency, that they deserved this? Miguel couldn't believe that. The map was the answer. This is a hero's trial; there will be a reward at the end. The phoenix must burn first to make the ashes. Tulio saw things a little differently. He was almost completely incoherent now, but they had plenty of time to recover. It was a long journey to Cuba, and Tulio would not let them be sold into slavery. He always had the plans; he always had the wits. He and Miguel were still alive, and that was reason enough to keep persevering. As the night went on, Miguel inched closer and closer to Tulio, finally reaching out to him, his trembling hand coming to rest on his lover's naked chest, the thump of his heartbeat under the warm flesh like a metronome hypnotizing him back to sleep. They were dirty, and the tears and welts on their flesh raw and bleeding, but God, they were alive!