Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B
As the sun started to go down, I retrieved my flogger and asked Amanda to assemble everyone who wasn't on watch in front of the stable. Matt was still there with Heather when I went in to get her.
I didn't speak to either of them as I led the trembling girl outside by a hand on her bicep.
"Earlier today," I told the assembled group, "I caught Ms. Billingsley, who was already being punished for being derelict in her duty, again shirking that duty. At that time, I gave her a choice: Banishment or public flogging. Have you made a decision, Ms. Billingsley?"
She nodded without speaking. Head hanging.
"And what have you decided?"
Her eyes sought Matt's and he nodded encouragement.
"I - I want to stay," she said, "even if it means being f-flogged."
"Think carefully about your decision, Ms. Billingsley," I told her, as I showed her the flogger I had made earlier. "If flogging is your choice, I will give you twenty lashes with this, on your bare back. It will probably be more painful than anything you have ever experienced."
"I-I know," she whimpered, "b-but I would never survive on my own."
"All right," I answered, "but just to be clear, Ms. Billingsley, if there is another infraction on your part in the near future, you will not be given a choice. You will be banished. Do you understand?"
She nodded tearfully.
There was a rope and pulley system used to lift hay bales into the loft, and I had Amanda lower the hook to just above head height.
"Please turn and face the stable, Ms. Billingsley." I had promised her a flogging on bare skin, but I wasn't going to give the others a strip show to go with it if I could help it. "Now remove your shirt and bra."
Slowly, fearfully, she did as I instructed, her eyes never leaving Matt's.
I bound her trembling wrists together with a short length of rope, wrapping it several times around each wrist so that it wouldn't cut into the flesh too badly. I then hooked her bound wrists to the pulley and had Amanda raise it until the girl's arms were extended above her head.
"Here," I told her gently, looping a length of string over her head and placing the attached folded piece of leather in her mouth. "Bite on this. It might help."
She gave me a tearful nod as she clamped down on the leather.
Now that the time had come, I wasn't sure I could carry out her punishment. For a moment, I considered turning it over to Gunny, but it wouldn't be right. If this was going to be done, then I needed to bear the burden on my own conscience. I couldn't delegate this one.
Steeling myself, I drew the flogger back and slashed it across the young woman's back. Heather screamed and the leather pad dropped to the end of its string.
I put the pad back in her mouth and said, so only she could hear, "Bite down, Heather. You can do this."
She nodded, sobbing.
On the second stroke, her scream was muffled by the leather as she clamped it tightly between her teeth. After the fourth stroke, Heather collapsed limply on the hook.
I had prepared Cora for this, and at my nod, she stepped forward, breaking an ampoule of ammonia under the girl's nose.
Heather jerked awake, sobbing, but opened her mouth to accept the leather pad when I offered it.
"Get ready, Heather," I whispered in her ear, "You're going to make it okay."
Her eyes rolled gratefully in my direction and she got her feet under her again, then nodded.
Her back was bloody by the tenth stroke, and she passed out again at twelve, but again accepted my whispered encouragement.
By fifteen, there were murmurs among the onlookers, but I continued on, and to her credit, Heather never asked me to stop. When the twentieth lash fell, I was almost as glad it was over as she was.
"That's it, Heather," I whispered in her ear. "You were very courageous. It's over now."
"Cora," I said, as I untied Heather's wrists, "let's take her up to the house and take care of her back. She can sleep in the house tonight, but tomorrow she needs to go back to the stable."
Corazon gave me a disapproving glare, but said nothing. Matt helped her support Heather as they practically dragged her to the house.
I headed for the waterfall, hoping to find some solace in the sound of the falling water. Soon, Amanda fell in beside me.
"I was watching you while you were whipping that girl," she said softly, hooking her arm through mine. "You weren't enjoying that at all."
"I hope I never have to do that again," I told her honestly. "I still believe it was the right thing to do, but I didn't realize how much it would cost me."
"Well, it's gained you one thing," she said, looking up at me. "My respect. I was afraid you would turn out to be one of those that got off on that sort of thing."
"Not in this lifetime," I snorted.
"Not even in the bedroom?" She asked.
I stopped and gave her a sharp look, but she just gave me a half smile and continued walking.
I didn't find the peace I sought in the waterfall, but after a few minutes I realized that it was Amanda's question that occupied my thoughts rather than my concern over Heather's flogging. Was that intentional? There might be more to my partner than meets the eye.
I wasn't on the watch schedule for the evening, so I let Amanda give me my nightly beating, then turned the tables on her and gave her a riding lesson.
Humphrey and a few mares were in the pasture behind the stable, and I took a handful of feed with which to entice the gelding to stand while I placed the bit in his mouth and strapped the bridle on him. I talked Amanda through doing the same with one of the mares. For a city girl, she did reasonably well in warming up to the animals, despite their size. I quickly went through the basics of being around horses: no sudden movements, watch their teeth, keep a hand on their hindquarters as you walk behind them, so they know not to kick, the basics of grooming, etc. I also went over the 'horse comes first' rule, meaning the horse gets fed, watered and groomed before the rider takes care of himself. This would become more and more important as we grew to depend on the horses, and I wanted it drilled into everyone early.
I showed her how to place the blanket behind the withers and make sure it was smooth so that it protected the animal from the saddle. Then I showed her, on Humphrey, how the saddle was placed and cinched. I watched as she copied my actions in placing the saddle on the mare and cinching it up tightly. I grinned, and decided not to say anything when I saw the mare expand her chest as Amanda tightened the cinch.
With Humphrey standing beside the mare, nose to tail, about ten feet apart, I showed Amanda how I placed my left foot in the stirrup and swung my right leg over to mount while holding the reins and the saddle horn with my left hand, and using my right hand on the cantle to give myself a boost. Humphrey gave his usual show of rebellion, but with the saddle and a proper bridle I had no trouble bringing him under control. I then turned back to watch Amanda mount.
"That's right, left foot in the stirrup ... Good, now jump with your right leg and pull up with your hands ... Whoops! Looks like you didn't get that cinch tight enough!"
I laughed as the saddle slid around to the mare's side and dumped Amanda on the ground.
The young Asian gave me a dirty look as she dusted off the seat of her fatigues.
"Okay, you'll have to take the saddle off and check the blanket. Good, good. Now this time, watch her as you start to tighten the cinch. See how she expands her chest? Give her a good punch in the ribs," I remembered how hard Amanda could punch and hastily added, "not too hard! You don't want to break her ribs, just let her know you're not going to put up with that nonsense. Okay, now! While she's exhaling, pull the cinch tight. Okay, loop it around, then back through the cinch ring and down through the loop. Okay, drop the stirrup down and mount up."
This time she got astride the horse, but by the time she was centered, her feet dangled loosely a few inches above the stirrups. I slid off of Humphrey and adjusted the stirrup straps until, with her feet firmly planted in the stirrups, her knees were slightly bent.
I showed her the basic controls of a cow horse - touching the side of the neck with the reins to turn, shifting her weight forward and nudging with her heels to get the horse moving or to go faster, and pulling back on the reins to stop. We practiced at a walk until she got the hang of it, then I showed her the basic gaits of a western saddle horse: walk, trot, lope, and gallop.
Humphrey rolled his eyes and glared at me in reproach when I reined him in to stay abreast of the mare as we galloped across the pasture.
"That's okay, boy. Let's get her trained before we kick dust in her face," I told him soothingly, as I leaned forward to pat him on the neck.
The mare was going all out and Amanda looked more alive than I had seen her since we met, as the wind whipped the bun from her long black hair and sent it flying behind her. Humphrey was barely huffing in rhythm with his hooves on the ground, and I knew that if I let him have his head, he'd leave the mare in the dust in a second.
"Having fun?!" I asked Amanda, over the sound of the wind and the horses' hooves.
"This is wonderful!" She shouted back. "I never dreamed it could be so much fun to ride a horse!"
"Let me show you something! Make sure your feet are firmly in the stirrups. Now, lean back and pull on the reins!"
Despite my cautionary instructions, Amanda almost pitched headfirst over the saddle horn when the mare planted all four feet, sat on her haunches, and slid to a stop in the grass of the pasture. Humphrey did the same at my urging, but I was expecting it a bit more than Amanda.
"Holy... !" The young Asian exploded as the mare regained her feet and stood, recovering her wind.