Chapter 3: Less Than Human
All the house servants from the butler down to the maid who cleaned the piss pots were lined up in Lady Helena’s indoor garden where Lord Josiah kept his whipping post among the roses and thorns.
Carina pushed her way past the servants as the whip cracked, and Ivy whimpered out in pain. The maid knelt at the foot of the post, her skirt twisted around her ankles, her usually tidy hair now wilted around her pale neck above the bloody and torn back of her dress.
“Stop!” Carina shouted as she sprinted forward.
“Not a chance,” Lincoln replied with a snigger as he rolled his shoulder back and unfurled the hungry whip towards its prey.
Carina pivoted sharply and charged, not towards Ivy, but at Lincoln. She tackled him, her weight shifting the balance of his feet as the whip swung overhead, and they both fell backward into a bed of marigold flowers.
“Bloody Hell!” Lincoln shoved Carina off his legs and kicked her aside before he jumped to his feet. “How dare you attack me like some wild animal!”
“The only animal I see here is you! How dare you whip my maid!” Carina shot back as she hurriedly moved to Ivy’s side.
“When Father is away, I am the Master of this house,” Lincoln snapped as he picked up the whip.
Carina ignored him as she fumbled with the ropes that bound Ivy’s pale wrists to the iron ring nailed to the wooden post.
“And as Master, I can punish any slave I wish!”
The whip cracked a few feet to Carina’s left, kicking up dried grass and earth. The rope finally loosened under her persistent urging, and Ivy crumpled to the ground.
“M-mistress-s,” Ivy murmured, her voice quivering.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Carina whispered as she gently touched Ivy’s back.
“Move brat, or I’ll whip you both!” Lincoln threatened.
Carina’s trembling hands curled into fists as she rose and turned to face her tyrannical half-brother.
“You have no right to whip my slave whatsoever. I could drag you to court for this and have you fined!” Carina informed him coldly.
“Drag me to court?” Lincoln’s brows arched as his lips curled with smug confidence. “Are you mad? Who would listen to an ugly half-blood like you?”
“Lady Constance would listen,” Carina replied firmly. “I imagine she might even know a few judges who would be sympathetic to my story.”
“Ha!” Lincoln pulled the whip back but made no move to attack. She could see his forest green eyes, so similar to his father’s, narrowing as he considered the validity of her claims. “Even if she belongs to you, as your older brother, I am within my rights to punish her for failing to fulfill her responsibilities.”
“Why keeping tabs of her mistress, obviously,” Lincoln replied, his previous confidence returning. “Where were you anyway?”
“I went for a walk.”
“A walk—Without your maid?”
“Ivy had another task I needed her to attend too.”
“What task was that?”
“I don’t believe that to be any of your business.”
Lincoln’s gaze hardened. His nostrils flared as he closed his eyes and rolled his head downward. His fiery red hair spilled forward to shadow his contorted grimace as his temper flared just below the surface.
Carina tensed in response. She had seen this expression one too many times before and braced for the storm that would follow. But Lincoln merely raised his head and offered her a cold smile.
“Forget it, since you’re still of some use to this family, I’d better not injure that repulsive face of yours.”
Carina ignored his less than subtle jab as she watched her half-brother turn towards the servants, casually rolling the whip up in his hand.
Ivy whimpered as she struggled to rise, and Carina quickly moved to assist her.
“Wait a moment,” Carina murmured as she wiped the damp locks of Ivy’s light blonde hair from her pale face. “Let me help—”
The blow struck Carina across her back and knocked her forward against Ivy. She hissed, not from pain, but surprise at the utter cowardliness of his attack.
“That’s for talking back to me, filthy half-blood,” Lincoln taunted.
“Miss—” Ivy reached towards her, but Carina had already risen. In her numb hand was a clump of garden compost. Before her eyes, the faint white mist of cold air fluttered through her quivering lips as the dirt in her hand hardened under a sheet of ice. As the magic prickled against her fingertips, Carina pulled her arm back and aimed the now ice-hard projectile of soil at Lincoln’s face.
Her attack caught him off guard and landed beneath his right eye. Lincoln yelped with surprise as he staggered back, tripped on the whip, and crashed into one of Lady Helena’s prized rose bushes. The thorny one, Carina noticed with a smirk of satisfaction.
Carina ignored his screams as she strode forward, yanked the whip free from his grasp, and flicked it back to unleash her fury.
“Maura!” The sharp woman’s voice froze Carina’s attack mid-swing.
Carina bit her lip as she lowered her arm and turned to face Lady Helena, Maura’s mother.
“What were you—” Helena’s brown hazel eyes moved swiftly from Ivy, who lay on her side by the whipping post with her wounds exposed, to Carina, now standing over her eldest born son with a whip. “Put. That. Down!”
Carina stifled a snicker as she flung the whip out into the garden.
Lady Helena rushed past her. The servants hastily moved to assist their Mistress as Lincoln was hauled, under painful protest, from the smothered rose bush.
“You bitch!” Lincoln snarled, knocking servants aside as he rushed towards her.
“That’s enough!” Lady Helena snapped. “What are you doing home, Lincoln? You’re supposed to be at school.”
Lincoln stumbled to a halt and glared at Carina as he answered, “I came home to congratulate my sweet sister Sophya on her engagement.”
“You should have asked permission from your father before doing so,” Helena reproached as she pulled her son closer. “You cut your cheek, let me see.”
“That bitch threw a rock at me!” Lincoln fumed as Helena gently pressed her handkerchief to his cheek.
“What rock?” Helena frowned. “There shouldn’t be any rocks in my garden. And look at what you’ve done to my bush?”
“Mother, she attacked me—”
“Enough, Lincoln. Servants, clean up this mess. The Master will be home soon, and I will not have his mood spoiled by unnecessary drama,” Helena instructed with a sharp look at the butler.
“Yes, Mistress,” the butler murmured and signaled the servants into action.
Two menservants guided the still fuming Lincoln inside as Helena turned towards Carina.
“How dare you inflict such an injury upon my son!”
Carina’s lips twitched in response. “Do you still remember that I am your daughter as well?” She spun around to expose the damage the whip had done to her dress and back.
Although the injury was nothing compared to what Ivy had suffered, Carina could still feel the dampness of blood against her skin. Maura’s half-brother had not held back, not that he ever did.
“If you had not riled him up, he wouldn’t have struck you,” Helena replied with indifference as she turned to leave.
“And what of my maid?” Carina demanded.
“What of her?”
“He whipped her without cause and without my permission!”
Helena turned around with an impatient sigh. “Maura, she’s a servant. If you’re upset because she’s damaged, just sell her and get a new one. Don’t bother me with such minor details.”
“Moth—” Carina bit her tongue and turned away. The disinterest in Helena’s cold gaze an irrefutable reminder that she could not be bothered to worry about Maura’s feelings, physical or otherwise, let alone the injuries of her maid.
Carina glared at the beautiful garden as Helena’s footsteps retreated behind her. She laughed bitterly and took in a deep breath to settle the anger prickling within her chest. The scent of blood, earth, and roses mixed unpleasantly in the air. Carina felt nauseous as the faint ripples of a forgotten memory stirred—the taste of copper filled her mouth, the muffled echo of a roaring crowd hissed against her ears, and the garden faded black.
“Miss, your back—” Ivy whimpered as she rose shakily to her feet.
The memory’s grip snapped, and the stench of death faded as Carina blinked, exhaled sharply, and turned towards Ivy.
“My back?” Carina shook her head and rushed to support Ivy when the maid’s footing stumbled. “Foolish Ivy, why would you worry about me when you know I cannot feel pain?”