The Second Day
The Roman guards didn't much care what went on inside the holding pen as long as no one escaped and no one died before they could be executed. One of the younger field slaves did attempt to escape during the night by breaking through the floor and tunneling his way out, using a broken board to scoop the dirt. His hopes ended when two grinning guards grabbed him as he emerged from the tunnel, crushed his feet between two millstones and threw him back into the pen
To make sure the slaves would be well nourished for their ordeal (and last longer) provisions were taken from the slave pantry and thrown into the pen at dawn, including a few dozen loaves of stale bread, a bucket of overripe fruit and a few buckets of leftover swill from the now deserted kitchen. A barrel of water was pushed in, as well.
The Roman soldiers knew from experience that as soon as the execution process began the slaves would start finding ways to kill themselves — strangling each other, hanging themselves from the rafters, opening veins with splinters or their own fingernails. Accordingly, after the famished slaves had devoured the bread, fruit and swill, they were brought out of the pen in twos and threes and moved to the great barn, a building meant for the storage of hay, wheat and straw, but nearly empty now because the harvest had not yet begun.
Annia, the last slave to be tossed into the pen after the guards were finished with their amusements, was among the first to be taken out. Her wrists were bound tightly together with rough hemp rope and two grizzled soldiers, one on each arm, half led and half dragged her toward the great barn.
At first they seemed indifferent to her limping and whimpering, but when they were nearly to the barn the guard on her left growled, "What's the matter, Goldenhair? Your little mousie sore after all the fun and frolic last night?"
The other guard giggled at the drollery and added, "You should look happier. You're gonna look back and realize this little stroll was the best part of your day."
When Annia made no reaction to their taunts, the first guard grabbed at her crotch through her thin robe. "Maybe her little mousie is hungry and wants to be fed again." He squeezed painfully. "How about a nice fat Roman sausage?"
She still remained silent, so they gave it up and quickened the pace to make her stumble more and stub her bare toes on the rocky ground.
As they dragged her into the great barn, she saw that long horizontal rails had been attached to the vertical posts along both long walls. The slaves ahead of her were backed up to the rail on her left by their two escort guards and a third soldier lashed their wrists to the rail. Soon they were doing the same to her. The lashing was painfully tight, so tight she could not slide her wrists along the rail nor find any knots with her fingers. As if it mattered. There was no way she could escape.
Fear, lingering pain and lack of sleep muddled her thoughts for a while, but as the rail on the opposite side of the barn began to fill, Annia noticed that the females were being mixed in among the males more or less evenly. Her mind was not so addled that she couldn't figure out why. It was for the benefit of the soldiers. For them, crucifying men and boys was mere routine, but crucifying women and girls was a sexual rush. By distributing the females evenly, they spread the joy around for the troops, not to mention those who would be coming to view this mass display of public disgrace and punishment.
Annia's hands were going numb. Her legs had begun to tremble from exhaustion. She needed to sit down but could not without wrenching her shoulders out of joint. The best she could do was kneel for short intervals until the pain in her shoulders forced her to stand up again.
In addition to her other troubles, Annia had a bad taste in her mouth. Hunger from nearly two days without food made her lunge into a loaf of bread too ardently. She had wolfed down nearly a third of it before she realized it had begun to molder. She had managed not to throw it up, but the taste of mold still permeated her mouth. Even the many handfuls of water she had scooped out of the barrel had failed to flush it out.
As the last of the slaves were brought in and tied up, the soldiers threw ropes over two of the horizontal beams that crossed from one side of the barn to the other at the roof line. Annia had a pretty good idea of what they'd be used for and to take her mind of it she began counting the slaves lining both walls. She only knew the numbers one through ten, but she counted up to ten five times, plus four more. Tertia, her former supervisor, was on Annia's rail near the door, the second slave to be brought in. Directly across from Annia was Laila, one of her Master's concubines.
She wondered if Claudia hated the two concubines as much her. He often slept with one or the other instead of his wife. Sometimes both at once. Come to think of it, why was Fortunatus not satisfied with those three women? Why had he added her, one of his wife's chamber slaves, to his roster of sex partners? She craned her neck to find Rufa, the other concubine, who was somewhere further down the wall on her side. The two young concubines were exact opposites. Where Laila was from exotic stock, someplace called Judea, and had smooth, olive toned skin, dark intense eyes and lustrous black hair, Rufa was from one of the Germanic tribes to the north. Her skin was as fair as Annia's and her eyes the same brilliant blue, but her hair, as her name implied, was a resplendent red hue that Annia had always envied. Actually, Annia had always been convinced that Fortunatus loved her and the two concubines equally. Was it mere irony that all three would now join him in death, or had Claudia conspired with some sympathetic god to exact a ghastly punishment on her husband and his sexual playmates?
Annia didn't recognize the men on either side of her. One of them was a boy, not more than a year or two beyond ten. They were probably field slaves who were never allowed in the house. Their body odor was very strong, but then, so was hers at this point. Neither one attempted to talk to her, and for some reason she didn't say anything to them. How could it be that those who are about to die cannot speak to each other?
The soldiers had finished their preparations and went to the head of the line on her wall for their first victims. The first was a young man, tanned and muscular from working in the fields. The other was poor old Tertia, pale and trembling. They were untied and forcibly escorted to where the ropes dangled from the two beams. The two prisoners were stripped and the ropes swiftly tied to their wrists. Their arms were hauled up by the ropes until their feet left the floor. Other ropes were tied to their ankles and run through bolts on the floor. These ropes, too, were pulled taut so that their legs were spread wide. It grieved Annia to see the abject embarrassment on her former supervisor's face at being strung up naked in front of the entire assembly.
The Captain who had ravished Annia the evening before, stepped into the center of the Great Barn between the two hanging slaves and read aloud the warrants for their execution.
"These slaves," he named them, "being the legal property of the deceased citizen, Marcus Tullius Fortunatus, who was brutally murdered by his own slave, known as Tullipor, have been found by the Prosecutor General of Rome to fall under the provision of law, as set forth by the Roman Senate, which requires that the murderer and all other slaves belonging to the victim be put to death by crucifixion. This is done that they may serve as an example to all slaves in the Republic that should a citizen be slain by any one of his slaves, all his slaves must share in the guilt and be put to death. Therefore, by authority of the Regional Court, I order that these slaves be scourged, and then taken out and crucified."
The Captain stepped aside and two pair of soldiers took up positions beside the two condemned prisoners. Each was holding a short whip with several leather thongs extending from the handle, knotted at the ends. At a signal from the Captain they began systematically whipping both sides of their prisoners whose groans grew to cries and then screams as the whips raised angry welts on their bodies, buttocks and thighs, both front and back. As the flogging went on and on, the knots tore bloody stripes through the tenderized skin. Annia found herself weeping for them by the time the scourging ended and they were dragged out of the barn for the next stage of their execution. Or perhaps she was weeping for herself, because she would be strung up there all too soon.
Three more pairs of prisoners, all male, were subjected to the same ritual: a reading of their death warrants followed by a brutal scourging, with a fresh pair of soldiers wielding the whips. As, the soldiers worked their way up her rail, getting closer and closer, Annia thought her heart would pound its way out of her body. She was soaked with perspiration, both from the rising heat in the barn as the late summer sun rose higher, and the fear churning in her belly. The only one still tied to the rail on her right was the boy. Their turn was next.
She closed her eyes and immersed herself in a numbing sea of anger and hate! She hated these pitiless brutes and the Republic that fed their blood lust with horrendous laws, that treated cattle better than slaves and slaughtered either when it suited their purposes. Her anger boiled at the cruelty in the hearts of men who saw no point in distinguishing between the guilty and the innocent, but simply condemned them all to the same gruesome death — men, women and children — in the interest of protecting a privileged life for the well-born.
Suddenly the young boy next to her was sobbing. The guards were untying their hands. Now they were being forced to their scourging stations in the painful grip of the guards.
They were stripping her. She could not numb herself to the disgrace of it. Stark naked in front of the entire assemblage of gawking slaves and hooting soldiers. She could not ignore the bite of the hemp into her wrists as her arms were jerked over her head and hauled up until her feet left the floor. She gasped, tightening the muscles in her arms to keep them from being pulled from their sockets. When her ankles were suddenly yanked wide apart and pain blazed through her hips, she broke down and wept.
It felt like her body was being torn apart as she hung helplessly while the Captain rattled off her death warrant.
"These slaves, Quintupor and Annia, being the legal property of the deceased citizen, Marcus Tullius Fortunatus . . . "
She tried not to hear it. Moaning to block it out.
". . . be put to death. Therefore . . . ."
But that was nothing compared to what came next. Eight slaves had already gone through it while she languished at the wall. But watching it and hearing their screams had not prepared her for the reality of being savagely flogged by two strong soldiers using the most vicious whip ever invented. The pain was incredible, literally taking away her breath between her screams. She lost consciousness at one point and had to be revived with salts, but not a stroke was deducted from the full complement required by the government. When it ended and eternity later, she was choking and sobbing, her head drooping with exhaustion, saliva dripping from her mouth. When she looked down at herself, she seemed to be bathed in blood. It seeped from innumerable welts and slashes, dripping off her feet to the floor beneath her, spreading over the darker blood of her predecessors.
She was so lost in residual pain that she hardly noticed when the ropes on her ankles went slack and she was lowered to the floor. An unseen guard behind her held her upright by her arms so she wouldn't collapse as the ropes were untied. The hands released her without warning and she swayed precariously, but two soldiers grabbed her arms and half carried her out the door behind the young boy. His body, too, was a latticework of bloody stripes and he staggered as he walked.
Outside they put a cup to her lips and let her drink. She sucked greedily at the cool water, surprised at the severity of her thirst.
As she drank, another soldier approached with a heavy wooden beam almost as long as Annia was tall. He laid it across two wooden blocks to keep it about a hand's width off the ground. One end of a rough hewn wooden plank was placed in the middle of the beam, the other end resting on the grass. The soldiers waited until she had drained the cup, then grabbed her arms and ankles, toppled her backwards on to the plank, stretched out her arms along the beam and immediately began to lash them in place with narrow leather straps at the hands, wrists, forearms, upper arms and shoulders. She cried and whimpered as splinters from the plank stabbed into her bruised and lacerated back. They paid no heed.
Another soldier arrived with a wooden sign. He showed it to her. There were letters painted crudely on the board and two holes on the upper side where a thong could be threaded to hang it.
"Can you read this?" the soldier asked, sneering.
"No, Sir." Slave girls were not taught reading and writing.
"It says, ‘Fuck me, please! I ain't got much time left. And if your cock ain't stiff enough, a sharp stick will do.'"
The other soldiers laughed as they cinched the straps tight. Annia doubted the sign said any such thing. The soldier hadn't even looked at it. He probably couldn't read either.
"Now the way we usually do it," he went on, "we'd hang this thing around your neck. But that would hide them beautiful tits, so I got a better idea."
He opened up his right hand and produced a thick needle strung with a heavy string, the kind that was used for fishing. He threw a leg over her body as though mounting a horse and sat heavily on her mid-section, making her cry from the pain of her injured back grating hard against the plank. Like a lover, he milked her left nipple gently a number of times, making it stiffen, then, pinching hard, pulled the nipple up taut and slowly drove the point of the needle through its tenderest part. Annia screamed, but with her arms pinned and the heavy soldier sitting on her belly she was helpless. He drew the thread through the hole he'd created and repeated the same painful procedure on the right nipple. With the cord drawn through both nipples, he finished the job by threading the ends through the holes in the sign and tying it off.
"She's ready now, boys!" he said jauntily, and dismounted, making sure to push down on her as he did so to give her one last painful grind against the plank.
Annia could hear the first whacks of the whips and the screams of their targets coming from the barn behind her as the soldiers lifted up the beam and her along with it. It was nearly as heavy as she and she staggered under its weight when they let it go. At the same moment the sign swung away from her belly and pain stabbed her nipples from the pull of the cord. Except for that and where the beam ground into the wounds on her upper back, the level of pain had become manageable. But she knew it would soon get much worse.
One of the soldiers looped a chain around her neck. As he was bolting it in place, a group of horses trotted into view trailed by a roiling dust cloud. They passed by on the way to the Great Barn and Annia could see they were dragging three bodies behind the horses. Although naked and covered with blood, with much of their skin torn away, they could still be recognized. And they were still alive. Tullipor and the two runaways. With a shock she realized that none of them had feet. Just singed stumps.
The sight inspired one of her guards to sudden loquaciousness. "You see that? That's what happens with murdering slaves and runaways. The boys are gonna have some fun with them today." He leaned closer to her face, his breath foul with the stench of rotting teeth. "Course, not as much fun as we're gonna have with you ."
Annia trudged on, picking her way around the sharpest rocks in the road, straining under the burden of the heavy beam and her churning emotions. They had burned off his feet! She hated him for what he had done to her! To the entire household! But the bastards had burned off his feet and dragged him who knows how far, skinning him alive in the process! Did he deserve that? Did she deserve this?
Her thoughts were cut off by a sudden jerking of the chain around her neck. "Come on, bitch!" The voice churlish now. "You don't want to keep your audience waiting. They're looking forward to a good show."
She stumbled forward, her knees trembling under the weight of the beam. As they reached the road her heart sank. It was lined with spectators ogling her naked body, pointing, laughing, making loud obscene remarks. She had never imagined such humiliation, such a feeling of shame. Whatever was written on her sign they seemed to find especially funny.
Then they came to the first cross erected beside the road. She nearly fainted at the sight. It was the first time she'd seen an actual crucifixion. The first slave to be strung up for scourging back in the barn now hung from nails driven through his wrists, the blood dribbling down his arms. His legs were tucked up under him as though he were crouching, his knees pointing to his left. A single large spike had been driven through his heels. His head lolled and his mouth hung open. He seemed to be struggling for breath. The crack of a bull whip was followed by a searing pain across her back.
"Get moving you stupid cow! This piece of dung has his own problems. He don't feel inclined to chat right now."
Her legs trembling, Annia forced herself to keep walking, too weak now to avoid the rocks bloodying her feet.
They came to the second cross. The sight of Tertia, her naked form a mass of welts and blood, her wrists nailed into the beam, was bad enough. But they had managed to degrade her even further. They had nailed her heels together so that her knees were pointing in opposite directions, spreading her sex wide open for all to see. Annia wept for the woman who had held her and comforted her in the little storage room, who had been her kindly supervisor and her last friend.
But she couldn't stop. The man with the bull whip was right behind her, warning her to keep walking with painful flicks of the whip.
The death march went on and on, past cross after cross, past terrible suffering, past excited crowds, until they finally reached a place where there was only an empty hole and a long, roughly hewn tree trunk lying beside it. The effort to hack the bark off the tree had been half-hearted at best, so the surface was rough and splintery. A notch had been cut into it near one end. Annia knew what would be going into that notch.
The cord holding her wooden sign was cut so that it dropped edgewise on her feet. Just another small contribution to her misery. A soldier ripped the cord through her nipples, pleased with the scream it produced. Another soldier picked up the sign and nailed it to the top of the tree trunk above the notch.
The leather straps holding her arms to the beam were removed and the beam was lifted away from her. The relief was immense and she even had a few moments to kneed her sore shoulders as they nailed the beam into the notch.
When they were satisfied it was secure, they grabbed her by the arms and removed the neck chain. Gripping her firmly, they forced her to straddle the tree and quickly laid her down on its crude surface where the many splinters and patches of bark dug into the wounds on her back. She cried from the pain as they stretched out her arms on the beam once more and held them down.
A third soldier appeared with nails and a hammer. She closed her eyes and clenched her teeth, trying to steel herself to what was coming. She felt the point of the nail in her right wrist, then the terrible pain as it was hammered through the wrist and into the beam. After bending the nail over to make sure she could not pull her self off it, the soldier moved to her left wrist and did the same.
The two soldiers who had held down her arms now grabbed her legs, spread them apart and pulled her body down the splintery pole as far as her nailed hands would allow. The man with the hammer laid a spike against the slit of her sex and tapped it with the hammer to anchor it in the wood. The other two pushed her body back up the tree trunk a little. The spike was then moved up the tree by the width of three fingers and driven into the tree at a slight upward angle. It would become a kind of saddle digging into her most tender flesh and giving her partial support.
The soldiers holding her legs then placed the right heel over the left heel about three handbreadths below the nail so that her legs were bent and the knees spread wide apart. The point of another long nail was then driven through both heels into the post and bent over. The pain was excruciating, but nothing compared to what came next as they raised the cross to vertical and dropped it into the hole, packing dirt in around it to firm it up.
A cheer went up from the crowd at the sight. With her knees splayed wide, her sex was on grotesque display and pain she had never believed physically possible blazed through her body. She was not hanging entirely from the nails in her wrists as she had expected; some of her weight was pressed into the end of the spike they had placed beneath her crotch. The pain from her wrists was extreme, but the crotch nail soon began to compete. Very soon she found it was hard to exhale because of the way her body pulled on her arms. She seemed to be suffocating. For few moments she thought that would be a good way to end all this: just let herself suffocate. But her body would not allow it, any more than it will allow us to strangle ourselves with our hands. Involuntarily, her body reacted to immanent smothering by pulling on her wrists and pushing on her ankles. The agony produced by that maneuver was beyond belief, but she couldn't help it. As soon as she was able to breathe again she let herself down on to the crotch nail. And the cycle of smothering and torture began again. The crowd loved it as she alternated between the two agonies, groaning and crying. Going up, going down. She prayed desperately that she would die quickly, appealing to every god she knew about.
The Romans, in their hellish cleverness, had developed the crucifixion process to maximize pain and prolong agony. They had learned how to minimize blood loss, avert shock and stretch out the length of time each crucified wretch could survive in the extremity of torment. They had practiced the art on hundreds of thousands of men, women and children all over their realm for three hundred years. Annia was only the latest wretch to suffer the most cruel death ever invented. And this was only the beginning.
As the hours dragged by and her fellow slaves plodded past bearing the cross beams for the trees awaiting them, her agony increased to the point where she cared nothing for their suffering, only hers. Yet, curiously, the incredible pain sharpened her mind. She looked down at her body, past the stripes of the whip to the swollen pink lips puffing out through the gold fleece. She tried to push away the present torment with recollections of past pleasures, of the sweet sensations from that obscenely exposed hole that once thrilled her, made her body convulse with the raptures of lovemaking. But sweet thoughts were burned away by the unceasing cycles of pain. Up, then down.
The morning wore on, the sun rising higher and hotter, burning her. The crowds grew larger. Where were they all coming from? Invariably she drew the largest groupings. Men and boys leering. Pointing. Making lewd jokes. Then moving on to the next display.
The pairs of doomed slaves slogged by under their cross beams at predictably even intervals. It took a certain length of time for the reading of the death warrant and the scourging. Eight crosses away on her left, the crowd would cheer the arrival of each new pair of slaves, bleeding, carrying their cross beam. The cheer was noisier still when one was a female, her sign hanging from her nipples.
Annia had never seen the majority of slaves owned by her Master, only the household staff, the concubines and the stable boys. Most were field hands: young, well muscled, their skin darkened from hours under the blazing sun, except for that part which until now had been hidden beneath a loincloth. Now the contrast of skin tone called attention to their genitals as they paraded past the jeering crowd. Annia was amazed to see that even under these circumstances some were actually aroused at the sight of her. The illogic of it made her keep looking down to examine her ruined body, it's swollen welts encrusted with smeared blood. But it wasn't her defiled body that aroused them; it was that part of the female anatomy that most slaves rarely get to see, much less lewdly displayed like this.
The march to death went on as the sun arced past noon. Unlike the strong young men who bore their beams stoically, the women, children and older men had to be whipped frequently to keep them on their feet and moving. One little girl provided Annia with a particularly heartbreaking example of just how hatefully mean these Roman soldiers could be. Her name was Flavia. Like Annia, she had been born in captivity and knew nothing of life but hard work; in her case, the kitchens and laundry. Yet she was a pretty thing, small and elegantly formed, with light brown hair, gray-green eyes and a sweet, slightly upturned nose. It was obvious to everyone that if she lived to puberty unblemished, she would be a stunning young woman and a valuable piece of merchandise for Master Fortunatus. He and Claudia had been already making plans to offer her as a concubine or courtesan, and arguing about which market and which auction house would fetch the best price. Now, as she limped along behind one of the stable boys, her once beautiful hair was matted with sweat and grime, her face was ravaged with pain and her body a mass of bloody welts. Her knees had been skinned to the bone from falling and they shook as she staggered along leaving bloody imprints on the rocks and dirt. Her back and bottom had been whipped raw by the soldier behind her. She fell again in front of Annia's cross, was hauled to her feet by the hair and given three more lashes to get her walking again. Annia could not bear to watch, could not bear the sound of her sobbing, could not bear to think about what they would do to her when she reached her destination.
But there was no way for Annia to avoid thinking about her own agony. It enveloped her. Swallowed her up. She didn't scream any more as she had during the flogging, yet how mild that torture had been compared to this! Screaming had become mostly impossible. To scream you need to be able to exhale. To be able to exhale she had to clench her teeth and push-pull herself up, moaning and crying with the molten pain. When she could no longer stand the pain, she would settle back down on the spike and begin to strangle. Up and down. Up and down. The hours of torment dragging by.
Why was she still alive?
A loud cheer to her left signaled the arrival of another condemned female. Annia looked over to see who it was. The sight Laila, the younger of Master's two concubines, deepened her sadness. Even now she was still achingly beautiful despite the appalling damage from last night's unrelenting rapes and today's scourging. She was only a little older than Annia herself, maybe ten years plus seven or eight, but more voluptuous. Even with her black hair stringy and dulled with filth, even with her almond eyes swollen and bruised and her thighs encrusted with blood from the amorous savagery of the soldiers, even with her skin ripped and bloodied by the scourging, she was still breathtaking. As with all the female slaves, the sign destined for the top of her cross had been hung from her breasts. In this case they had pushed a fish hook or bent nail through each nipple from which to suspend it. Rivulets of blood had dripped off her breasts and traced twin trails down her belly and into the thick fur of her triangle. Tears had carved paths through the dirt on her face. But she kept her head erect as she struggled to carry the heavy cross beam and shut out the salacious taunts of the crowd.
A few hours later the other concubine, Rufa, was met with an equally lusty cheer when she emerged on the road to begin her final walk. She had not held up as well as Laila from the rapes and the scourging and seemed on the verge of collapse. Probably would have, if not for the encouragement of the bull whip. Apparently she had managed to provoke one or more of the soldiers because a heavy iron object had been tied into her bright red hair, pulling her head back, which, in turn, forced her mouth open. A rope had been wound through her mouth and tied cruelly tight to keep it that way. She panted and drooled as she wobbled along the road, unable to keep in a straight line, her hands opening and closing compulsively where they were strapped to the ends of her cross beam. Her gait was erratic and she left bloody footprints with every step. Annia could see points of metal jutting up through the tops of her feet where someone had pushed small nails through from the bottom. A single slim wooden stick had been driven horizontally through her breasts at the base of the nipples, and her sign hung from it. Suspended from the sign was an urn filled with sand. Rufa's life as a slave had been relatively pleasant. Someone was making sure that her death would be particularly unpleasant.
For Annia, the greatest humiliation of this horrendous day came late afternoon, just before the last of the slaves had been crucified. Much of the water she had drunk this morning in the holding pen and after her scourging had been sweated out in her endless ordeal, but the rest of it had built up in her bladder to the point where she could no longer contain it. The natural discomfort of a distended bladder was so far below the level of her other torments that she had simply ignored it. Now the muscles that normally held back the pressure failed her. Within full view of a large crowd of onlookers a fountain of urine gushed out from between the pink lips of her sex and arced noisily to the ground. Crude shouts went up from the men and boys! This was a spectacle none of them had ever witnessed. A woman pissing! One of the older boys suddenly ran forward, caught some pee in his hand and threw it back at her, causing riotous jocularity among his friends who rushed in and did the same until her flow tapered to a trickle and stopped. Annia, who had thought no greater degradation was possible than to be naked and spread open obscenely to every passerby, felt she would go insane from the shame of this new debasement. Eventually the boys became caught up in the passage of another condemned female, a pretty young scullery maid, and left to enjoy the dance of the sign hanging from her tits and watch her be nailed up with her knees spread.
Annia wept. The pain, already unbearable, was getting steadily more intense. But at least, she thought, she had now endured the worst degradation possible for a human being.
She was wrong.