A whip crack breaks the silence of the still air. The courtyard that was so silent a few moments ago is filled with the cries of Ol’ Johnson Thatcher. Birds content to sit idly on rooftops take flight and scream along with Thatcher as the whip falls again and again on his exposed back. The courtyard is surrounded by the other slaves, mostly political prisoners from the failed Monmouth rebellion against King James and assorted other convicts. They stand out in the noon day sun watching this beating while A few foremen stand on the walkway along the palisade with muskets and the other walking bosses roam through the crowds with clubs at the ready. Bernard Hughs, the head overseer, looks down upon the poor wretch as he lets the whip fly without any kind of emotion…certainly not pity.
Bernard stops, dropping the whip down to his side, and then turns to the voice while coiling the whip in his hands. Sir Jonathon Randolph Whitby is not a large man but he has a certain commanding presence. His frock coat cut in the latest fashion seems out of place in the dense humid air of this wild place and His face carries a sternness that makes believable the myth that he carved out the land for his plantation and the nearby Town of Whitby with naught but his acid tongue and a glare. He walks towards the poor prisoner in the center of the courtyard.
“Look well you mangy curs. Many of you forget that it is only through the boundless generosity of my good friend King James who, in his mercy, commuted many of your sentences of death.”
He motions to Thatcher, lashed to a beam serving as a makeshift pillory, the many lashes on his back pouring blood.
“This craven dog attempted to escape last night. He spat upon our good King’s charity and as such spat on all that is well and good in this god forsaken land. Bernard.”
Bernard attaches the whip to a loop on his belt and heads to a fire pit with a handle sticking out. He pulls it out to reveal a brand glowing white hot.
“T. This stands for treason. Any man marked as such will be known as a fugitive traitor…Burn this into your memories lads, lest it be burned in your hide as well! Bernard.”
Bernard takes the brand and places the glowing letter against Thatcher’s cheek. His pitiful wail does not completely drown out the sound of sizzling flesh.
“Here endeth the lesson. Bernard, let them ruminate on this new found knowledge without distraction. Half rations today I think. Feed them and water them half rations. Perhaps next time they will think twice before one of their compatriots tries something like this.”
Bernard places the brand back into fire and motions to his walking bosses who start moving the other slaves along to get their ration of gruel
“…and him?” Bernard nods towards Thatcher.
“Leave him up for awhile and then summon that doctor. Bind his wounds. I expect him ready to work before the sun comes up. Hell isn’t ready for him yet. Wolverston has just sailed into port and we need to have our goods transported to the dock and loaded out before the dockmaster awakens…My agents will have his head swimming in rum tonight, making tomorrow’s inspection much easier. I swear, deliver me from honest dock masters…bribery may be more expensive but it isn’t nearly as much work…”
Whitby and Hughs walk out of the courtyard and on towards the big house making plans for tonight’s illicit operation while slaves receive their meager gruel in a silence only broken by Thatchers moans or a foreman’s curse.