When he came to, he was laid out on the highly polished oak floor that told him, in no uncertain terms, that it was the room of somebody important. This realisation came later though. From the moment that he opened his eyes, his body was consumed by pain. His back felt as though it was on fire, burning away his skin, his flesh and his life in mere moments. Unfortunately, he was not dying. He merely wished it.
It started with a groan, but quickly became an outcry of pain when the sensations hit his consciousness. Sleep had been a gift. It kept him from feeling the agony that the Lady's lashings had inflicted upon his body. He was face down, and he tried to move himself away from the wooden floor, but it did little for him. The attempt to move at all awakened all of the imprints that had been left behind on his body. It was likely that these marks would never quite fade, and it had all been under the instruction of the Lady Sincerity. That was likely the most vicious wound that she could have inflicted upon him. His Lady, and his Owner, had told her private maid to have him flogged. Fifteen strikes of the whip had quite literally torn chunks of his flesh away from his body. Lute could still feel the slow trickle of wet blood fighting through the mass of dried blood.
He knew, almost instinctively, that he was in Sincerity's cabin. At the Manor, she had a huge collection of rooms, filled with the most ornate furniture, plush rugs, cushions and features. Here, the varnished wood, the bear fur rugs and the red silk on her chairs and her bed spoke of the same luxury. He could see the material, far too great an amount to be restricted to one bed, pooling on the floor. It was as high as he could see for now. He was trying to move, while memories swam before his mental eye, reminding him of the anguish he had been put through before he had surrendered to blissful unconsciousness.
Wriggling on his belly, like a worm, did little more than shift his attention slightly sideways. It brought him to a pain of boots, leather, but the hides treated white for the sake of vanity. Vanity led Lute right back to Lady Sincerity. Without it doubt, it was her sitting on the edge of the bed, kicking her heels and, if his ears did not betray him, whistling happily to herself.
Another yelp of pain escaped his attempt for movement. This one turned into a cough a moment later and his body was wracked with dry heaves and spluttering. His stomach felt as though it was trying to rip itself out of his belly. The tattered remains of his shirt were an inch at first, but when he moved they pulled against his injuries, stuck down by his own dried blood.
"You understand why I had to do that, don't you?" asked Sincerity from her perch. There was still some small euphoria in her voice. It hurt. "You've been becoming quite a nuisance to my staff and me. This idea you have in your head about being untouchable has to vanish, and you need to stop spending so much time fawning at my every movement. A little more attention to propriety would be worthwhile."
"Since-" began Lute, but in that instant his body outright refused to do any more. His coughing overtook him, throwing his body back and forth and causing no end of extra pain. He tried to fight through it, but no more words escaped him.
"You can rest up here for a bit," she told him. "Everybody thinks we broke you, so you might as well just fake sleep until I can get somebody to drag you back to your cabin. In future, have a little decorum and you might be able to keep hold of your dignity. You're a servant, and you really have to keep this in mind. The last servant to think that they were that close to me was hanged by my Father. I know it's been a couple of years, but he'll still do the same to you."
"I don't want to-" was as far as Lute reached before another wave of pain tore through him.
"What you want isn't important," announced Sincerity, laughing happily away to herself. "You have such a misguided notion of your self-importance. There are some things that you really shouldn't say, do, or even think about when it regards to me. You really need to pay more attention when it comes to paying less attention."
Lute heard a knock on the door somewhere behind him. Sincerity slipped off of the bed, and the hem of her gown slipped downwards to cover her boots. By the look of it, she was in her nightclothes.
"Enter," she called across Lute's prone body. He tried to turn his attention towards the new entrant, but when he heard the sound of the door opening he couldn't see who was there.
"Forgive me Mistress," came the upset voice of Bell, "but Dress told us to come and collect Lute."
"We'll jus' pick 'im up and take 'im back to the cabin," added Harp. This option sounded like far more pain that it was worth, but it was going to be the only option, whether Lute liked it or not. He didn't. It was more than likely that the rest of the trip would be an exercise in pain management, since the sheer amount of it was already trying to drag him back into unconsciousness.
"That's not something that I've approved, servants," Sincerity almost shouted over to them. She did not seem happy with them at all. "You need to tell Dress that intrusions into my cabin are never welcome. By nature, the word intrusion means something that is getting into the way of things, and both of you are certainly getting in my way right now. Vacate."
"But Lady Sincerity, I-"
"Out," Sincerity commanded, with every drip of icy venom seeping from her lips. Bell said no more. When the door closed, Lute heard it and it almost took him to tears.
"You know, Lute, you might think that I'm being cruel here, but we both know that I'm looking after our shared interests," pointed out Sincerity. "People have stopped whispering now, and Truth will hear about this when he meets us soon. You will earn a lot of leigh way again instead of having your every thought and move monitored. You're going to be much safer from here on it, thanks to me. You should say thank you, but I don't think your body is quite up to it. Rest, and make sure your little group know better than to interrupt me."
She marched smoothly towards him, then right over him and to the door. Sincerity pushed it open and called out from it. "Guards! Get yourselves in here. He's ready to be taken back to his cabin."
"I don't want to-" Lute tried, and again failed.
In the next moment, Sincerity had knelt down in front of her, and her stunningly beautiful face hovered before his. "You'll be a good boy, I know you will," she stated. "You just keep doing as you told, or else I'll be seeing you over the side. That would be a shame; I have uses for you yet. Get him out of my sight."
Calling the last words over him, he felt his arms grasped by the calloused hands of the guards. He let the pain out through his lips, but still ended up nearly succumbing to it again.
Harp had returned to the side rail in order to be sick again, but Bell was as restless as restless could possibly be. There was no room to pace in their cabin, but Bell had found the room for three steps in any direction. She had watched the spectacle, but only through shielded eyes and the relatively safety of Harp's arms. It has been heinous, torturous and obscene.
Lute's return was heralded by the call of Harp. The door burst open, and Lute was dragged through the doorway. His neck wasn't supporting his head, and he was not on his feet. His legs were dragging behind him. She pulled his bed away from the wall, but they ignored this and just dumped him on the floor before departing.
She knelt down to look him directly in the eye, but his eyes were closed.