i have a thing for when non-human characters are treated like trash, like dumb beasts, and just restrained and tortured and laughed at and humiliated without a care in the world because “they’re not people”.
He wakes, slowly and in stages, sometime after they pass though the village but before the hunters stop for the night. They haven’t bothered to remove the tackle and supplies piled atop him, and the hard edges of pots and pans and traps dig into his hip and his ribs is the first sensation he becomes aware of. For a brief, blessed moment, he is confused, but then he feels the muzzle cutting into his face and the black iron hoops in his wings and he remembers. He bites back against the sob that threatens to burst forth – it’s hard enough to breathe, he can’t afford the congestion that would come if he lets his grief and fear overtake him. Besides, the humans will probably punish him if he makes too much noise, and he’s in enough pain as it is.
Iesin flinches at that last thought – where did that come from? Fearing humans, modifying his behavior for them – he is FAE, he is a starchild, he is brighter and better and more than any mortal could hope to comprehend!
The wood of the cart should sing to him, slow and sonorous, each plank a note in the chord of a tree in the symphony of its home forest. The wool of the blankets stifling him should mumble and mutter of grass and herds and the sheep from which it came. Beyond his immediate surroundings, he should be attuned to the very ground, the sky, the sea, but he’s not. The black iron shackles have cut him off from the land, blinded him to the stars, and deafened his grasp on the mysteries. The quiet, niggling thought grows with every rattle of the cart; without all that makes him fae, what is he?
The cart slows and comes to a creaking halt, interrupting his maudlin reverie. He hears the hunter’s boots clomping across the boards, then jumping down to the earth below, and then the pile of tackle atop him begins to shift as they unload it. Eventually, he is uncovered, and a pair of them seize his arms and drag him out of the cart and across the camp they’ve set up. Their tents are pitched in a small circle around a hastily dug fire pit, over which a pot already simmers. Near the slightly larger tent of the head hunter, set far enough back that there is room for the men to sit round the fire, a stake has been pounded into the ground. The humans drag him towards it; he realizes what they are planning, and throws his weight back, digging his heels into the ground and thrashing against the grips on his arms. He will not be restrained, leashed to a stake like some beast!
They laugh at him and tighten their grips, digging meaty hands into his arms and dragging him forward against his useless scrabbles across the unlistening ground. The stake approaches, he won’t, he won’t! His writhing, thrashing fight gives them enough trouble that the leader looks up, annoyed by the noise.
“Get it secured! What’s the holdup?” he demands.
“It’s being a pain in the ass,” one grunts, wheezing suddenly when Iesin manages to throw an elbow into his stomach.
The leader stands, wiping his fingers on his jerkin and stamping across the campsite. He towers over Iesin, a thickset tree of a man with wild dark hair tangled by wind and time.
“You may have fingers and toes like a human, and you may have arms and legs and pretty eyes like a human, but you’re not,” he growls. “You’re a commodity, one that’s going to make me a rich man, but don’t in any way assume that makes me care a whit about your well-being. I’ll get top coin no matter what condition you’re in on the auction block, so you’d best learn how to behave right quick, or I’ll make up my mind to sell you for parts instead of whole.”
Iesin glares up at him, pitting his ire against the human’s impatient contempt. The men move to drag Iesin closer, and he digs his heels in, bucking against their hold.
The leader growls and seizes Iesin’s hair, dragging his head back till his skull nearly knocks against his spine. He shakes Iesin fiercely, till his vision spins and darkens and his limbs lose their will. The other two drop him at a nod from the leader, and Iesin crumples to the ground, unable to break his fall with his hands shackled behind his back. The leader kicks his unprotected midriff, knocking him back against the post and jarring the wind from his lungs. He curls in on himself, but it’s not enough to stave off another kick. He feels a rib shift and creak, flaring heat across his bones. Iesin gasps uselessly behind the muzzle, floundering for air. Dimly, he hears the leader’s voice.
“Secure it for the night. Don’t take any chances with it.”
Through spinning vision he catches a glimpse of the two hunters closing in over him, and feel his uncooperative body hoisted in their grips. They set his back against the stake, crushing feathers carelessly between his back and the rough wood. Something clinks, and clinks again, and when they step away he’s held upright despite the weakness that would have sent him listing to one side or the other if he was free. He is bound to the stake by the shackles on his wrists and his ankles, forcing him into an awkward kneeling position that he can tell will quickly become cramped and unpleasant, if not unbearable, if he is left that way for long.
He tips his head back against the stake, glaring at the humans with all his thwarted rage and pain. The men snort and leave him, turning back to their fire and their food, and Iesin is left tied to the stake, black iron leeching at his body while his soul withers without the connection to the world he never thought he’d be without. He is bereft of the mysteries, and this time when the creeping thoughts invade, slipping through the chinks in his sense of self caused by his ever more uncomfortable position and widened by every time the hunters casually cuff him as they move about the camp or call him an it – this time, when the thoughts come of how much less he is, how little he is actually worth without his ties to the land, this time, he cannot find the strength to fight them back.