Chapter 19

Nov. 9th, 2009 12:23 pm
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Loukas was startled awake by the sound of his own name. He'd fallen asleep leaning against the wall and his neck and shoulders ached, his feet probably would have too, but he could no longer feel them. He blinked, blinded by the sudden torchlight.

“Loukas?” Cyrian's confusion quickly turned to anger as he took in Loukas's state and the otherwise empty cell. “Where is Procopia?”

Loukas didn't move other than to shrug. “Gone.”

Cyrian gestured to the guards, who seized Loukas and hauled him up, pulling his arms together to bind his wrists. Loukas didn't resist, though he had to lean against them to stay on his numbed feet.

Grabbing a fistful of Loukas's hair, Cyrian pulled him in until they were eye to eye. “One chance to save your sorry life. Where is she?”

Loukas tried to shrink back, but Cyrian's grip was merciless. “I don't know.” Cyrian shook him sharply, and Loukas grunted as pain shot through his scalp. “I don't know! She has people waiting but I don't know who or where, believe me.”

Cyrian must have, because he released Loukas, who would have fallen if it weren't for the guards. “What have you done?” Cyrian shouted and whirling, but there was no where to go in the tiny cell. “Why, Loukas?”

“I won't let you destroy House Iereus.”

“I swore that I wouldn't.”

“I didn't believe you,” Loukas said, testing his bonds, but they held fast. “You don't believe in mercy.”

Cyrian regarded Loukas and then laughed. “There will certainly be none for you.”

He ordered one of the guards to inform Alexia and Tzykalas of Procopia's escape. “Give them my leave to do whatever is necessary to find her.” The other guard he bid bring Loukas along, and Loukas's stomach dropped as he was hustled along.

He expected wicked-looking machines, knives and skewers laid out and waiting, red-hot pokers in the fire, but the room he was taken to was nearly empty. It had flag-stone floor, and the walls so freshly whitewashed the torches had yet to blacken them with soot. A large trunk was pushed up against one wall, and an elegant chair with silk cushion were the room's only furniture.

“Arist Kommenon Iereus.” Cyrian sighed sadly as though Loukas's married name pained him. “Loukas. You've made a mistake, but it's not too late ... if you tell where Procopia's hiding.” Loukas's let his head hang, squeezing his eyes closed. “Help me, Loukas, so I can help you.” Cyrian's voice was soft, cajoling. “You know that, don't you? I'm the only one who can help you. Do you believe me now?”

“Yes,” Loukas whispered.

“Good.” Cyrian smiled and patted Loukas's cheek. “Good boy. How did you get Procopia out of the palace?”

“Told the guards you'd sent me, then smuggled her out wrapped in my veil.”

“Do you have any idea where she might have run to after she left?”

Loukas hesitated and considered feeding Cyrian a random location. It might buy him time, but not much else. “No.”

Cyrian's shouldered dropped in defeat and he shook his head. “I wanted to be your friend, Loukas. Why are you making me do this?” He beckoned to the guard with two fingers. The guard went to the chest and produced a three-legged stool. He gestured for Loukas to sit with an ironic wave. Loukas sank down onto it.

The guard then selected a long length of fine silk cord from the chest. The black cording seemed innocuous and Loukas was confused, uncertain of Cyrian's purpose. The guard loosened Loukas's bonds.

“Put your hands together like this.” He demonstrated, placing his flat palms together, each finger aligned with its counterpart.

Loukas obeyed, though his fingers trembled. Leaving a bit of slack, the guard wound the cord around Loukas's fingers, weaving it around each finger. He wrapped up and down each hand and then bound one hand to the other. It looked as though Loukas wore thick black rings on each finger as he finished. For a moment Loukas thought he only meant to bind him, but then he tied the two loose ends of the cord to a wooden handle. With a few twists the slack had been wound up. The guard looked to Cyrian, who nodded once.

The first twist tightened the cord, but Loukas flinched more in anticipation than in pain. The fifth turn brought real discomfort; the skin around the cord bleached to white, while his finger tips were red and throbbing. Loukas closed his eyes as the cord was wound still tighter, a whimper caught at the back of his throat.

“Where is she?” Cyrian's voice broke through the haze.

“I don't know.” The cord tightened further. His knuckles popped, one by one. The skin had broke; blood trickled down the backs of his hands.

“This can stop, Loukas,” Cyrian said soothingly. “Just tell me.”

“I don't know, I don't,” Loukas panted, his face wet with sweat and tears. He wondered if they meant to sever his fingers. “Please, please, please. I would tell you, Mother help me.”

Cyrian took Loukas's chin in his hand, forcing Loukas's face up. With great care, he took a soft cloth and dabbed the sweat from Loukas's brow. “Poor boy. Did Iereus tell you to do this?”

Loukas shook his head. “No.”

Cyrian stepped back. “Untie him.”

The guard loosened the cord, but the returning blood brought further agony rather than relief. Loukas fell from the stool and lay, cradling his injured hands to his chest. Cyrian stood over him, arms crossed. “Take him to his cell.”


---


They returned for him an uncertain span of time later. It could have been the next day; Loukas had lost track and the faint light in his cell could have been dawn or dusk. The guard got him to his feet and brought him out. Loukas's hands were untied, but only so he could be strung up, arms outstretched. In this, at least, Loukas knew what to expect; he'd seen enough whippings.

Loukas drew a deep breath as Cyrian gave the lash a few practice cracks. Loukas pushed the thought of bloodied criminals at the post in Lycus Square, but it was the first blow that robbed him of thought. The sensation of pressure lingered and then blossomed into pain. Loukas didn't have time to recover before the next blow came, and the one after.

Cyrian found a rhythm, occasionally pausing just long enough for Loukas to think he was going to stop, only to have the next lash come down. The force of the beating knocked Loukas from his feet; the ropes held him up, and his shoulders quickly screamed at the pressure on the joints. Loukas tried to regain his feet but his feet slipped in his own blood.

Eventually he lost consciousness, but woke quickly, face dripping from the water used to revive him. Through the haze of pain, Loukas wondered why Cyrian had stopped asking questions.

Cyrian didn't want information anymore, Loukas realized with a jolt. This wasn't an interrogation any longer; this was revenge. Loukas was no longer useful, and Cyrian would kill him as soon as he tired of punishment.


---


Loukas tensed as the lock on his cell was turned and the door pushed open, shuddering helplessly as he waited to be dragged back out. Someone entered and the door shut again.

“Loukas?” It was Alexia, her voice tremulous.

He rolled onto his side, trying not to jar anything, but the fire in his back woke anew and he grunted.

“Why did you do that?” She was crying now, brushing away tears with her wrist.

He collapsed back down, pressing his cheek to the cool stone. “Does Cyrian know you're here? That cousin of yours is touchy.”

“He doesn't care if I'm here as long as I don't kill you -- he wants that pleasure himself.” The lamp she'd brought with here was bright enough to make Loukas's eyes water after horai of darkness. “You've ruined everything.”

Despite her angry words, she reached out and pushed his hair off his forehead, her fingers cool against his brow.

“He hasn't captured her?” Loukas brought his hand up to take Alexia's hand in his own.

“No.” Alexia's breath caught. “She's not worth it. Quiet,” she said before he could answer. “I don't want to hear whatever miserable answers you've got to justify yourself. Here, drink this.”

She helped him roll over, cradling his head and neck as she put a flask to his lips. It was water, but it had a strong astringent aftertaste that burned his tongue. His thirst was quickly sated but she made him drink it all. Whatever was in the water made his lips go numb, and the pain receded.

“Thanks,” he managed, his tongue not quite wanting to cooperate.

“I've got to go now, Loukas.” She hesitated. “I don't know if I'll be able to see you again.”

“S'all right.” He was definitely slurring now, though he found he didn't much care.

“Loukas.” She fumbled in the front of her tunic and pulled out a small vial. “I'm leaving this hidden here?” She fumbled in the straw. “It works quickly. And it's,” her voice caught again, “it's painless.”

“Alexia.” Tears dripped off the tip of her nose. His fingers were stiff and scabbed with dried blood, but he brushed the back of his hand against her damp cheek. “Thank you.”

“Goodbye, Loukas.”

She kissed him once and he heard the door shut behind her as she left. Then unconsciousness overtook him.


---


He woke with a sticky tongue, and the pain returned. He sat and dug through the straw, finding the vial Alexia had left. It was cold in the palm of his hand, glazed pottery rough where the potter's thumbs, a small stopper in its neck. It couldn't have held more than a swallow, but with the more expensive poisons that was all it took. He hid it back in the straw.

The next time he was returned to cell after a brutal session, Cyrian paused at the door and said, “If you're tiring of this, I have some good news for you. There won't be much more of it -- you're to be executed this evening.

Loukas cradled his head in the crook of his arms and felt nothing. He counted the horai, first to give himself the longest most about of time until evening and then revising his estimate to give himself the shortest.

The vial was waiting for him, still safe in its next. His fingers were too useless to do much besides hold it, the glaze warming quickly against his skin. With his swollen fingers, he worked the cork out a hair's breath at a time until it popped and rolled across the stone. Loukas brought the vial to his nose, the bitter scent reminding him of almonds. He touched the vial to his lips, but didn't tip it. For several long breaths he just held it, willing himself to drink. Finally, though, he stoppered it again. It would work quickly, he could wait a little bit longer.


---


Loukas waited. Sometime he took out the poison again, but never even got it to his lips, but he found it comforting still. He sat measuring the time with breaths. He didn't sleep, exactly, but lost awareness of himself, so that when he heard booted feet in the corridor, he did not immediately recognize the sound.

Bracing a hand against the wall, he managed to get to his feet, though his knees wobbled. He was standing, his chin raised, proud even if he couldn't force his aching shoulders back when the door swung open. Cyrian had him by the elbow and Loukas realized he was alone -- this was to be a murder rather than an execution. At least he wouldn't have his last moments be entertainment for the plebs.

“Come on,” Cyrian ordered, that and the knife he pressed to Loukas's ribs got Loukas moving. Loukas was in no condition to keep up, but Cyrian hustled him along, dragging him when he stumbled and casting glanced over his shoulder. But the corridor and stairs were empty. Completely, strangely empty, and Cyrian's expression was dark and desperate.

“What's happening?” Loukas asked, falling into Cyrian so that they both nearly fell.

Cyrian cursed sharply and yanked them upright, the point of his dagger biting into the skin of Loukas's hip. “Shut up.”

They'd arrived on the ground floor, and Loukas could heard people moving about and shouting. Cyrian's brow furrowed, and he changed directions, taking them down a side hall. They burst outside, the stars bright overhead. Loukas nearly fell again on the stairs down into the courtyard, but Cyrian checked him. Beyond the courtyard, the walls of the palace rose, gate standing open.

A shout rang out across the stone, spear points flashed as Civic Guards ran across the open space. Instead of heading for the, Cyrian stopped, his arm still around Loukas.

“Hold, Princeps!”

Cyrian broke into a flat-out run, but Loukas dragged his feet, forcing Cyrian to carry as much of his weight as he could.

“Run, or I'll kill you here,” Cyrian spat and Loukas forced his legs into an uneven lope. The Guards were closer to the gates and cut them off, their spears hefted and ready.

“Hold, Princeps Cyrian,” the nearest shouted. “You are under arrest by the orders of the empress.”

Cyrian pulled Loukas around, the knife to his throat. “Make way or I kill him.”

The guards exchanged a look, unsure who Loukas was or why they should care if Cyrian opened his throat.

Cyrian realized this. “Oh, for the Mother's sake. This is Loukas Kommenon Iereus and his husband will be most displeased if he finds you've let his wife die.”

Loukas wasn't entirely sure this was true, but he didn't volunteer his reservations. At the name Iereus, the guards exchanged another look, this one more concerned.

“We cannot let you pass,” said one, but he sounded nervous.

“He's my wife, deal with me.” Loukas recognized Iereus's voice before he saw him, and his heart thudded in his chest. Cyrian turned, dragging Loukas around with him. Iereus crossed the courtyard with sure, even steps. He held a knife before him, the familiar red sheath at his hip.

“Archon Iereus.” Cyrian spat the name. “If you don't call of the guard, your foolish wife dies.” He adjusted the angle of his knife high under Loukas's jaw.

“You've seriously miscalculated,” Iereus replied calmly. “You involve my wife in treason of the highest order and seduce him into betraying his own House -- and now you think that I'll want him back again?”

There was a pause in which Loukas forgot to breathe, the blood pounding in his ears nearly drowning out Cyrian's next words.

“Well, then. I suppose I'm doing you a favor when I slit his throat.”

The pressure of the blade on his throat increased a fraction, but it wasn't until he felt the blood trickling down his neck that he knew he'd been cut.

Iereus started toward them and Cyrian laughed. “I almost believed you, Falkon.”

Loukas reached up and seized Cyrian's wrist, startling him. Cyrian had released Loukas to hold out a warning hand to ward off Iereus, and Loukas took advantage, tearing away. Cyrian jerked the knife towards Loukas's throat, but it nicked him on the chin instead. Cyrian made a grab for Loukas, catching the sleeve of his tunic, but Loukas ripped it from his grasp. The momentum sent him stumbling forward, and he landed on his knees, the stone sending a new jolt of pain through his exhausted body. He expected to feel Cyrian's knife in his back, but at the cries behind him, he turned to see the guards wrestling with Cyrian, who screamed in outrage.

Loukas stayed down, sinking until his forehead met the ground, unsure that he could get up even if he wanted to. Someone was kneeling beside him, rolling him over, putting fingers to the cut on his throat.

“It's not bad,” Iereus said, relief evident in his voice. “A scratch.” Still, he pressed the hem of his cloak to Loukas's face.

“I'm sorry,” Loukas said, or tried to say -- the cloak muffled them, but Iereus seemed to understand.

“Hush now,” he said and then to the guards, “Bring help. Lock the princeps up for now. Loukas, do you think you can walk?”

Iereus eased Loukas's arm around hi neck and eased them both up. Loukas got his feet under him, but had to lean heavily on Iereus. The stone beneath his feet seemed to buck and swell like a wave, and Loukas nearly blacked out. He put a hand to Iereus's chest, clutching his tunic.

“Wait a moment,” he managed, gasping. Even as careful as Iereus was, each step jarred Loukas's back or hands and it was all he could do to keep from crying out.

“Loukas, by all the gods,” Iereus swore. “What has he done to you?”

Once inside, they were met with more of the Civics. “Keep up the search for the rest,” Iereus ordered. “All the conspirators must be found. Cyrian and Halkias are caught, but Damatrys and Tzykalas are still free.”

Someone took Loukas's other arm, bolstering him up.

“Easy, Master,” Poppy said, “If you fall we'll both go down with you. One foot in front of the other.”

“I thought I told you to stay behind, eunuch,” Iereus said.

“Did you now, Archon? My hearing must be going in my old age,” Poppy said, without turning his attention from Loukas.

“How...?” Loukas tried as they got him back up the steps and into the palace.

“With Procopia free, the Council refused to give Cyrian access to the treasury and without pay the Kleistans got back on their ships and left. Most of the Civic Guard was always loyal to Procopia.”

They carried him back to a suite -- the same one he'd been a guest in so recently -- and a physician was called. Iereus sat by, expression veiled as Loukas's wounds were tended.

He'd only just closed his eyes when the physician arrived, her assistant carrying her heavy pack. She swore violently as Iereus held a lamp over Loukas, illuminating his injuries.

“Great Mother, I've seen cuts of meat in better shape than you,” she said, already rolling out her implements. The treatment was almost as bad as the torture itself, and she was just as merciless. As Iereus had said, the cut on his throat wasn't bad; the one on his chin was much worse, stitches were needed to hold it closed.

He flinched as the needle pulled the waxed thread through, and Poppy stood by to steady him or pin him if he struggled. His fingers were bandaged, but his back was the worst.

Blood and dirt had crusted over the wounds and had to be flushed out. As gentle as she tried to be, tears leaked from his eyes as she finished and when she poured alcohol on them, he really did scream.

“I'm sorry,” Loukas said later, his voice hoarse. The doctor had backed her things and departed.

Iereus gazed out the window, but he turned at Loukas's voice. “About what?”

Loukas heard the real question behind his words: sorry about which betrayal? “All of it.”

“I'm sorry, too.” Iereus looked back outside. He was still there when Loukas drifted off to sleep.


---


Poppy was there when he woke. He urged Loukas to drink water, holding the cup to Loukas's lips since Loukas couldn't manage it with his bandaged hands.

“We're down to one good hand between the two of us,” Loukas observed.

Poppy smiled and snorted softly. “You're very competitive; I lose one hand, you lose two.” He took a small silver bottle of poppy juice and added it to Loukas's water. “But your wounds will heal.”

Loukas let his eyes drifted closed again. “If they don't become putrid.”

Poppy hushed him and, as the opium began to take effect, Loukas lapsed again into sleep, but the drug made his dreams fitful. When he woke and found himself in darkness, he panicked, before realizing that he was in the cell beneath the palace no longer.

“Easy,” came Iereus's voice in the dark. “Hush now.”

“Shouldn't you return -- Metrodora will be worried....” Loukas squeezed his eyes shut, his back felt hot and his fingers ached fiercely.

“I've sent word, she will manage well enough without me. Indeed, perhaps better,” Iereus said calmly. He poured a glass of water, the moonlight making the silver pitcher glow.

“What news?” Loukas said, waving away the cup Iereus tried to hand him. “Alexia?”

“She's been caught, they all have save Halkias -- she sailed out of the city, but the navy should catch her soon enough.”

“And Procopia?”

“Once again empress, the Council has already overturned its previous ruling on the grounds of coercion.”

“Convenient, that,” Loukas said.


---


They moved him to House Iereus, though he was heavily dosed with opium, the bouncing cart still proved painful and Loukas was white-faced and exhausted when they arrived.

“We were so worried about you -- even Nika!” Myrrine said as she helped him up the stairs, Poppy carefully overseeing. “Weren't you, Nika?”

Loukas focused on coordinating his feet, which felt heavier than usual.

“Of course. Who knows what trouble he'd bring down on our heads? Watch your step.” Nika took his arm to steady him.

His eyes stung as he settled back into his room. Iereus came to see him later, knocking softly on the door. Poppy let him in and retreated at a nod from Loukas.

“How are you feeling?”

“Much better, thank you.” Loukas made to rise, but Iereus gestured for him to stay seated. “Though this is the first time I've been clear-headed in a season. Poppy has kept me well and truly dulled with drugs.”

“His name is appropriate then.” Iereus took a seat at the foot of Loukas's bed. He drew a deep breath and released it slowly. “I'm afraid that I must ask you something.”

“I know. You want to know what happened.” Loukas studied his hands; his fingers were still swollen, but not as badly.

Iereus cleared his throat roughly. “I would not ask, but Cyrian will soon come to trial.”

Loukas shrugged as much as he could with his stiff shoulders allowed. “It's all right. I don't mind.”

“Procopia already explained how you helped her escape but not why.”

Loukas picked at the edge of a fraying bandage. “He was going to try you for treason. Have you executed.”

“Yes.” Iereus was unsurprised.

“I made him promise to show mercy to the rest of the House.” Loukas paused, but Iereus didn't press him, waiting patiently for Loukas to continue. “The riot at the dock -- that wasn't my fault!” Loukas said instead.

“What?” Iereus tilted his head, confused by the non sequitur.

“He'd hired gangs to start it; I saw the gang leader from the docks talking with Cyrian.” Loukas shook his head. “Cyrian sought to undermine Procopia in any manner possible, even if dozens had to die for it.”

“And that surprised you?”

“I know you think me naïve, but that was when I realized that he would not stop with your execution, that he wouldn't be satisfied until the entire House was destroyed. I'd sworn I wouldn't let that happen.” Loukas bit his lip. “That was when I decided to rescue Procopia. I knew I couldn't get a message to you--”

“It wouldn't have mattered,” Iereus interrupted. “Cyrian had the entire House under guard; we couldn't have gotten out even with warning.”

“Oh.” Loukas felt stupid that he had ever believed Cyrian was anything but a monster. “I hoped Procopia's friends would be able to help you. It was the only hope I saw.”

“You might have struck on a plan that did not leave you helpless in the hands of the man you'd just betrayed,” Iereus said, the muscle in his jaw twitching as he clenched his teeth.

“I didn't have a chance to plan, but if you have suggestions as to how I might have done better, please offer them up.”

“Perhaps in the future it would be better to avoid such situations altogether.” Iereus closed his eyes before he said, “Continue.”

“That is all that is important.”

“Let me decide that.”

Loukas let his head loll back against the headboard, keeping his gaze on the ceiling. “He ... tortured me, but I didn't know anything. I didn't even know if she'd made it out of the palace until he wanted to know where she was. He didn't believe I knew nothing, that I worked alone.”

“Couldn't believe a boy could take his prize out from under his very nose.” Iereus turned one of the hoops in his ears.

“If I had known, I would have told him.” He'd wished that he had known something, just to win himself some respite. “I would have told him anything.”

“Anyone would have,” Iereus said firmly. “The palace interrogators are very skilled. You could have been permanently crippled in their care.” He sighed. “You should get some rest.”

“When will the trial be?” Loukas asked.

“The conspirators will be tried tomorrow.”

“Alexia Damatrys, too?”

Iereus hesitated at the door and nodded.


On to chapter 20. 
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Date: 2009-11-13 12:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] venilia.livejournal.com
Really loving this series! Loukas is an interesting character.

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