Branding an animal was fairly simple. Unsuspecting livestock may be led to a forge and made to stand while a hot iron consumed all the flesh it touched. Though the animal might show temporary pain, once the wound healed and the scar was formed, it would soon forget the blemish and likely never comprehend its’ full meaning.
Man was different. Given the chance, he would fight every step of the way. He knew that agony would accompany the unforgiving process. He understood the implications of ownership and the worthlessness the brand implied. It would forever signify a captive and pitiful life- one that could be overlooked, one that was dispensable, one that held no value.
It was incalculably crueler understanding this. That’s why Korda was so pleased with himself for coming up with the idea. His Hedilian captive would suffer with the concept a brand insinuated until he died. Khaldūn may leave these dungeons, but he would never escape the mark this place had left on him. It was an almost perfect torture.
Yes. Korda was smug. It would be wonderful.
The branding iron was hot. Glowing with intensity it shone red. Khaldūn could see its’ light, smell it burning in the forge.
He knew it was for him. A table had been cleared to bend him over while the smith guided the metal to embrace his skin. It was terrifying.
The prisoner struggled, though escape wasn’t an option. At least he would not go willingly. Or should he? This was clearly Korda’s idea of pleasure, watching him fight for freedom to inadvertently fail in every attempt. Perhaps calmly accepting his fate would grant him more dignity. At least it would show his tormenter he was not afraid of anything that may befall him. He was straightening to display this new found courage when a jerk on his eve brought him yielding, staggering towards the table.
He reached out to seize the chain connected to the terrible device, to eliminate the possibility of a forceful pull that would compel him to follow its’ convincing command. If only he could rid himself of it, he could fight; really give Korda something to watch. But another jerk nearly brought him to his knees. Korda’s men fell upon him, pushing him to the floor. They showered him with heavy blows, forcing Khaldūn to forget the leash and defend himself from their attack. Again, he felt a powerful tug that sent him scrambling to alleviate the tension on the line and submit to its’ bidding.
Korda watched all the while, taking in the scene. The smirk that rested on his features grew into an expression of uncontained gratification. This was better than he had imagined it. The guards pulled Khaldūn to his feet, and shoved him to the table. Their rough hands grabbed his shoulders making ready to force him over the broad wood surface. He found himself at a pivotal cross roads. He could give Korda what he wanted, continue to fight, or quietly defy him by allowing himself to be prostrated before his captor without further resistance. Go willingly to his agony. Yes. That would be his revenge. Even small as it was it granted him some semblance of triumph. A smile played on his features. Let it begin.
He went to the floor unprompted, leaned deliberately across the table and waited, trembling. Some guards slammed him down, though he offered no resistance. They grabbed his wrists and extended his arms while another ripped the ragged cloth from his back that was the remains of his shirt. Khaldūn dared a glance at Korda and knew from that icy glare he had at least partially ruined the man’s perfectly envisioned entertainment. He had gained a small victory. It was enough. He smiled.
The sharp pain of his right arm twisting backwards drew his attention back to the business at hand. He mustn’t react if he wanted to keep his hold on the situation. He turned from Korda and laid his cheek on the wooden boards, his jaw set. A guard thrust his free arm across the table and bent it into position. Khaldūn lay perfectly still, though his heart pounded in his ears and his breath felt shallow. He felt the grip on his arms tighten. It must be coming. He closed his eyes took a deep breath.
At first he felt nothing except the strike of the iron driving him into the table and the intense heat it radiated over his exposed skin. Then the terrible fire caught in his flesh, and it was all he could do to keep from screaming. His fists clenched and he braced his jaw so hard his teeth ached. He could hear the skin sizzling as it burned away. The smoke and smell were choking. His entire shoulder blade was ignited. This was the worst pain he had ever felt in his life, yet he was determined not to let it show.
There was shouting and the sound of a commotion behind him, and glancing over his shoulder he could see the smith arguing with the king, taking the brand from him. He barely understood what they were saying; just that Korda was livid. The brand. The brand. It was gone but its’ embrace lingered. The pain subsided gradually, oh so gradually, but it was a huge relief. He had survived.
The guards released their firm grip on him and pulled him to his feet. He stood shakily, his legs threatening to collapse at any moment. Korda shouted something, and the guards led him towards the door. Then Korda ripped the lid off of a nearby barrel and snatched a handful of a blue pebbles. It looked like coarse colored sand. And before anyone could stop him, he thrust the entire handful into Khaldūn’s wound; rubbing it in to each branch the brand had left. It was glass; sharp shards of jagged glass.
This was worse than the branding had been because of the freshness of the wound and because it was an unexpected attack. He had had no time to prepare. A terrible sound of anguish escaped Khaldūn. He crumpled to the ground. It was overwhelming. Even just moving his arm caused new fire to erupt. It dominated everything. Nothing else in the world mattered except that excruciating pain how he could make it stop.
Korda towered over him. He grabbed Khaldūn’s hair and pulled his head back to see the suffering etched in the prisoner’s features. Then he leaned in closer.
“No one gets the best of me,” he whispered quietly in the prisoner’s ear. His smirk was back, because after everything he had won. He would always win. Then he turned on his heel and strode away, his escorts following quickly after him.