He pulled Christophe into the camper, then pushed him to the bed. Christophe made a small whimpering sound as Lykos fixed the chains, leaving Christophe spread face down on the mattress. Then he covered Christophe with a blanket. Christophe went still at the gesture, and he noted a small trace of surprise on the young man’s face. Lykos stared down at him for a moment, then laughed. “You worried I would bed you.”
Christophe flinched. “No.”
“Lie.” Lykos shook his head. “I punish you in morning for that. You will not lie to you master.” He petted Christophe’s hair. “Are pretty man, but weak. Soft. Not worthy.” He stood. “Get sleep.” He patted Christophe’s shoulder, then left the camper.
Outside, he crouched down and put his hand flat against the earth. It hummed at his touch. He’d searched before, last time he was this far west. They were in the mountains now, the ones called the Rockies. Slowly, then with growing intensity, he hunted among the vibrations of the ground. There was no answering echo. None of his kind had walked within a hundred miles of this location in the past decade. The earth would have recalled their passage. Lykos exhaled.
It had been that absence that had eventually driven him out of his caves. The silence had grown deafening in his slumber, enough that he had sought out his cousins. That had brought him in contact with humans. At first the things they had made from metal had fascinated him. They mixed and molded it with abandon, shaping it to their will. There had been a few moments of hope that perhaps they had learned, after all.
From time to time he could smell dragons in their movements. Governors remained, but no shepherds for a flock grown far too large. None of the other elemental spirits had left marks of their passage above ground. If any remained, they were hidden. Hope had been dashed quickly. There were far too many humans, and too many knew nothing. He couldn’t share the truth even with those with whom he’d become friendly. The first… Lykos glanced back at the cabin. The first he’d spoken to of his true nature had been his prisoner. Christophe was young. Perhaps when Lykos had avenged the wrong done, he would take Christophe back with him below. A pet, at least, would be company of sorts. The alternative was to seek out a dragon.
Lykos snorted. Better to tie steel to his ankles and drop in on the merfolk than seek out a dragon.
Despite everything, he managed to sleep. Christophe woke to a rattling sound, and looked up to see Lykos unfastening the chains. The length was put back between his ankles, and the leash reattached to his collar. His wrists were left alone. “Not far to travel today.” Lykos petted his hair, running fingers through it. Christophe tried not to flinch at the gesture. “Want to call your father?” Lykos tilted his head. “Mother perhaps?”
That did make him flinch. “Leave my mother out of this.”
Lykos caught his chin, forcing him to look up and meet the man’s eyes. “Don’t want to…” Lykos frowned. “Your father. He will not yet have told her you are missing.”
“He’ll rescue me before it’s necessary.” Christophe said the words, but he heard the slight waver, and knew Lykos had as well. “Or I’ll escape.” Somehow.
“Owe you punishment this morning. For lie.” Lykos ran a thumb over Christophe’s mouth. “Choose.”
Christophe blinked. “Choose?”
“Choose how I punish you.”
“Make me write ‘lying is bad’ twenty times on a sheet of paper.” Christophe shrugged.
“Funny.” Lykos smiled. “Is good make jokes when scared. Can make you feel stronger, braver. Could also backfire. Make your assailant angry. Make him cruel. Or perhaps distract him, enrage him to make mistake. Is that your goal?”
“I…” Christophe exhaled. “Was just going for the braver, and maybe a tiny hope that you’d think it was funny and agree.”
“Ah. See?” Lykos patted his cheek. “Honest.” He shrugged. “But no paper.”
He grunted as Lykos hauled him out of the camper. The man dragged him to where there was dirt, then offered him a stick. Christophe took it, then frowned. “What is this for?”
His captor pointed at the ground, then patted his cheek again. “Write lines. Twenty.” Lykos caught the chain leash, and secured it around a tree branch. Then he patted Christophe’s shoulder and headed into the woods.
With a sigh, he looked down at the stick, then in the direction Lykos had gone. He gave a small shake of his head, then started to write. He’d gotten halfway through the first word when the stick broke. “Shit.” He took a deep breath, then looked up when something splattered onto his shoulder. “Shit.” He just shook his head as it started raining, then took a deep breath and yelled. “SHIT.”
Lykos hadn’t gotten far from their small camp when it started raining. He heard a shouted curse from the camp, and rolled his eyes before continuing on his way. By the time he returned, carrying a line of fat fish, Christophe was huddled beneath a tree, naked, wet, and clearly miserable. Lykos looked at the ground near where the young man sat. “Where are lines?”
“The rain keeps…” Christophe tossed the remains of the stick down. “I wrote them. Twice. The rain washed them away.”
He looked again at the ground. The rain was making little rivulets in the churned-up soil, and he could make out a few of the letters. He could even see footprints where Christophe had tried to make a small dam of mud to protect his work. That had saved four lines. The rest of the dirt area was now a puddle of mud. “I see four.”
“I’ll clean the fish.” Christophe stood, holding out his hand.
“Yes.” Lykos nodded. “But I was going to make you do that anyway.”
“Come on.” Christophe shook his head, his face showing a bit of desperation. “It’s pouring rain.”
“I show mercy. Ask for twenty lines only. I see four.” Lykos handed Christophe the fish. “Clean. And choose new punishment.”
“You knew it was going to rain.” Christophe shook his head. “You’re just messing with me.” He swallowed. “It’s not fair.”
“If you did not already know that…” Lykos shrugged. “Then your father truly did fail you.” He walked back over to the camper, and extended the awning to give himself shelter from the rain.
Christophe’s leash didn’t extend that far. He gave Lykos a frustrated look, then went to the cutting board and started cleaning the fish.
His teeth were chattering by the time he finished the task. Lykos had rigged up a sheltered fire. The rain didn’t seem to bother the man any. The fish were simply skewered, sprinkled with a bit of pepper, and stuck over the fire. Christophe swallowed when Lykos raised an eyebrow at him, and realized the man was waiting to learn what ‘punishment’ Christophe had decided on. So far, the worst had been the beating he’d taken while tied to the oak tree. The scratches had been as bad as the blows. The easiest to endure had been… “You could spank me again.”
“I could.” Lykos nodded.
Christophe shifted his weight from foot to foot when Lykos just kept staring at him. “I, uh…” He exhaled. “What do you want?” When Lykos just kept staring, Christophe shook his head. “I don’t know what you want.”
“Spoiled. Not disciplined as child.” Lykos rolled his eyes. “Shameful. Why are you being punished?”
“I…” Christophe closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I lied to you. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
“And I should be spanked as punishment.” When Lykos gave him a pointed look, Christophe winced. “Master.”
“Spanked. Like small child.” Lykos’s voice was mocking. “Lines and spanking. Should be ashamed. You are not child.”
“Where you expecting me to ask for more?” Christophe shook his head. “You act like I should want you to hurt me. I’m your prisoner. Of course I’m going to lie to you and try to escape. Next time you turn your back on me, I should put the knife in it.” He heard the words, but couldn’t stop them. “You kidnapped me so you could kill my father, and you expect me to cooperate? Fuck you, you fucking piece of primitive Neanderthal shit or whatever the hell you are. A fucking fairy. A dwarf. Like goddamn Dopey.”
Lykos laughed, and Christophe stared at him in surprise. That hadn’t quite been the reaction he’d expected. “Is good. Like jokes, anger can make stronger. And make warm. You are not shivering now.”
He’d just started to relax a little when Lykos moved. Christophe grunted as the man caught him by the throat and slammed his back against the tree. “I —”
“But that is not…” Lykos’s eyes gleamed, the catlike pupils faintly glowing. “How you talk to your master.”
He secured the last chain. Christophe was chained to the log, his arms spread as he knelt. The chains were wrapped around his arms and body, holding him tightly in place. His back, however, was clear of impediment. The rain had soaked his hair, leaving it plastered against his head. A wooden bit had been shoved between his teeth and strapped behind his head, rendering his pleas unintelligible.
Lykos walked back to the camper, leaving Christophe in the rain. He shook the water out of his own hair, then picked up one of the skewered fish and bit into it. When he was finished, he settled back, put his feet up, and closed his eyes. He heard the slight rattle of Christophe struggling against the chains, and smiled.
The man was taking a damn nap. Christophe couldn’t make himself stop yanking at the chains, even though there was no give to them at all. He knew he was going to be beaten, but why couldn’t the fucker just get it over with? Christophe exhaled. Because making him kneel here waiting for it, anticipating it, was part of the damn punishment. He should have just kept his mouth shut.
Lykos wasn’t human. Expecting him to respond like a human might be a mistake. Or perhaps the man just liked fucking with him. Both might be true. He yanked at the chains again. The movement at least served to keep him a little warm.
As the rain stopped, Lykos got up. Christophe started yanking at the chains again as the man walked over to him. Lykos put a hand on his shoulder. “Calm. Take punishment like man.”
He closed his eyes, struggling to keep himself from whimpering. The first lash was like a fire across his back. He gritted his teeth, biting down on the bit. It helped. He’d just gotten his breath back when the second blow came. He managed to keep from crying out until the seventh.
Thankfully, Lykos stopped at ten. He came back to face Christophe, then gently removed the bit. “Better.” He patted Christophe’s cheek. “You should feel proud.”
Christophe was a little surprised to realize that he did. “May I have dinner now?” He kept the shaking from his voice.
“Ah. Dinner.” Lykos nodded, then begin unfastening the chains.
When Christophe started to stand, Lykos grabbed his arm. He sighed as his hands were secured behind his back. Then Lykos took the end of the leash and tugged him toward the camper. He was shoved to his knees, and a bowl of food put on the ground in front of him. “You want me to eat like an animal.”
“Until you learn to be man…” Lykos nodded. “Is no need to treat you like man.”
The rain started again as he chained Christophe to the bed. Lykos shrugged, covered Christophe with the blanket, then lay down next to him. The young man was secured tightly enough he couldn’t move more than a couple inches. Lykos patted him, then rolled over to face him. “What is your mother’s name?”
“I am not…” Christophe swallowed. “Going to give you any information on my mother. Whatever grudge you have against my father, she’s not part of it.”
“Your father…” Lykos shrugged. “Pissed in my food.”
Christophe shook his head. “My father wouldn’t do something like that.”
“Your father tried to vivisect me alive. You saw bandages.”
“I…” Christophe tried to shake his head again. “You’re lying.”
“I will not lie to you, Christophe. And you will not lie to me.” Lykos narrowed his eyes. “Your father did these things. He killed my friends. He caged me like beast. He tortured me.” He took a deep breath. “You will not lie to me, Christophe. And you will not lie to you. You saw the cage.”
“And out of the cage…” Christophe glared. “You killed people. You tortured me.”
“I not torture you. I punish you, when you don’t do as told. I not let you go hungry. I tend your wounds.” Lykos brushed his fingers through Christophe’s hair. “You think punish is torture? Spoken like boy who has never learned pain.”
“You took me as bait to trap my father. To kill him.”
“Yes.” Lykos smirked. “Your father has army. Do you fear for his life?”
“I…” Christophe blinked. He met Lykos’s eyes, then nodded. “Yes.”
Lykos smiled. “Is good compliment.” He patted Christophe’s shoulder. “Get sleep.” He rolled back over and closed his own eyes.