The princess Diara of Chadean was stripped violently before the small crowd, two large, masked men tearing and cutting her dress away from her. They were neither gentle nor cruel, but she felt panic welling up inside her anyway. She was too tightly bound to offer resistance, and another man held her fast. She bit her gag, driving her teeth deep into the cloth. It would get worse, she knew.
Around them twenty imperial mages chanted softly, forming a circle to suppress her magic. Twenty was excessive, but they did not understand her power, and were being careful. She could hardly control her magic anyway. It came up unbidden, wrecking its terrible vengeance on the world. But cut off from it she felt terribly alone. The dark, sharp comfort she had carried all her life was rent from her. She was naked inside as well as out.
The masked men heaved her roughly to the center of the room, binding her wrists to a ring high on the whipping post, her feet to shackles at it’s base. They pulled the rope tight above her head, so she was stretched full length.
Only a dozen men besides the lictors and the mages saw her. Her father the king would be there. The king had to be there. So too the imperial envoy. The other men she did not know. All of them were imperial. Her father had saved her life, but that was as far as his power went.
A man with a deep, booming voice began speaking. Diara could not see him.
“In the execution of imperial justice, for the crime of murder, the princess Chaldean is to suffer two hundred lashes upon her naked body.”
The room was silent. She could not see her father, but she knew he must be looking away.
“And for the crime of practicing the most vile and dangerous of magics, she is to be branded with the mark of the apostate, and driven from the land of the Empire, to which she may never return, on pain of death.”
Diarra felt a strange indifference to the exile. What did she care where she was? She had been raised by tutors and nurses, and hardly knew her father and had never cared for the cloistered life of a princess. Waiting in her cell she had not cared about the whipping either, but now that she was here panic rushed through her, staying down only through her will.
She had not meant to kill the man. It had happened. Her power had welled up inside her unbidden. It was always unbidden. It was some dark cancer that consumed her, that reached out of her to wreck the world in vengance. It was absent now. She hung alone and naked, waiting. Wished perhaps that she might die before the whip could fall. She pulled her wrists uselessly against the rope that held them.
The imperial lictor appeared before her, his mask distorting him into some inhuman beast. He took his whip and disappeared behind her.
The man did not spare her, and struck hard. The pain was terrible to her. She had never known much pain. She writhed and cursed, screamed at the silent room. With each strike a fresh wash of red came over her. Later, it was all one memory, a terrible and abstract horror that would come to her in dreams and half realized thoughts.
She could feel the black thing inside her, whatever terrible thing she carried in herself that had murdered that man, writhing as it tried to reach up to her, to break the mage’s block and hold her through the pain, lash out against the men who caused it. It could not, and she suffered.
It went on a long time. She knew her father was there, but he did nothing, said nothing. When they were done they released her wrists and ankles. She could not stand, and two of the lictors held her. Bloody and broken, she wept and hung helplessly from their arms. Her back, legs and buttocks were a bloody mash of crisscrossed welts and bloody tears. The branding was last, a hot, terrible pain on her temple. She convulsed and screamed, but they held her.
When they were done they dropped her, and she lay as she fell, whimpering and hardly conscious. Last the mages surrounded her, and their leader fastened about her neck a collar. It would cut from her the terrible power she carried inside herself, keep her neutered and helpless.