“Over there and secure his foot to the floor.” Nichols gestured to the wall.
Ephraim studied the marked wall. He could make out burn marks, bullet holes and dried blood. It was Nichols favorite spot after all. He leaned back against the wall, waiting for Nichols' brilliant plan.
A footman handed him something. He was too surprised by the action to make a grab for the footman. In his hand he held a long ago forgotten item, one that he dreamed of for years.
He looked up at Nichols, confused.
“Let’s get this over with. We can’t very well allow His Grace to see you like this.” Three footmen carrying buckets stepped forward and threw water on him from a safe distance.
It was cold, but that didn’t bother him. He was always cold in this damp dungeon. The water felt strange on his body. It slowly penetrated the layers of dried grime, making his skin itch. He slowly began to wash. He didn’t wait for Nichols to ask him. He wanted this. It had been so long since he saw his own skin. He had to scrub hard, as hard as his shaking hands allowed him to. He was so weak he could barely move the soap against the resistance the grim presented.
“Get more water. It seems it’s going to take a lake to clean him,” Nichols ordered. Men scurried out of the room quickly. They always did. No one liked being in the room with the “devil.”
“You said my father’s coming here?” Ephraim did his best to sound casual. He learned long ago not to show any emotion to Nichols. He used his fears and his hopes against him. The man was a master to his art.
“No, I said His Grace. Perhaps this is the time to tell you that Edmund Duke of Havenville passed away in his sleep yesterday. The new Duke, your brother by your mother, has requested to see you today.”
Nicholls flipped his hand in an annoyed manner. “Oh dear, I forgot to tell you Henry died twelve years ago. Jealous husband. You get the picture I’m sure.”
Ephraim slowly allowed the information to settle in. If he was upset he didn’t show it. He knew better. This could very well be some new sick torture. He continued to clean as the footmen continued to throw water on him. Slowly, so slowly he saw pale skin peek through the grime. The sight disgusted him. His skin wrapped tightly around bone. He looked like a living skeleton. If he had anything in his stomach he would have lost it right then, but he forced himself to continue. That was after all one of Nichols’ favorite tortures to starve him to death. He’d been doing it for twenty years.
He wanted to ask who else had passed, but he didn’t dare. There was no one he really cared for, not anymore. Any affection he held died years ago. All those he loved had turned their backs on him. They knew what Nichols was capable of and did nothing. They allowed it.
Shouts erupted in the dark tunnels. Nichols turned quickly. “Go see what that is.” He gestured to four footmen. They took off running with their weapons drawn.
Shouts and the sound of a gunshot carried to the large torture chamber. Ephraim continued to wash. No one and nothing was going to stop him from cleaning. If he only had this one chance to feel and smell clean he was going to take it greedily. It was a sense of freedom. It was the only thing that could make him feel free in this dreadful place.
“Get in there!” a man shouted. Nichols' footmen stumbled into the room followed by a dozen armed men.
“Line up against the wall, the lot of ya!" the large man said. He pointed to Nichols. “You stay where ya are. His Grace would like to have a word with ya!”
“His Grace?” Nichols asked confused.
“Uh oh, Nichols, sounds like you’re in trouble,” Ephraim said tauntingly.
He began scrubbing his face. The soap made the itch worse for a minute then slowly subsided. The grime on his skin turned to a paste, but rinsed off easily. “If someone wouldn’t mind pushing a bucket this way I would truly appreciate it,” he spoke as if there wasn’t an armed siege occurring. He didn’t care. It didn’t mean anything for him. He knew his brother, the new Duke, was coming here to finish the job. He couldn’t have Ephraim alive and threatening his position. Little did he know that the job was impossible.
He heard a bucket scrape on the floor in front of him. The soap stung his eyes. Nichols should have done this years ago, because it stung like a bitch. “Thank you,” he muttered as his hands shot out and found the bucket. That was one thing he never lost, his humanity. He hung onto it like a dying man. He refused to allow Nichols to steal it from him. He was no longer the boy he once was, but he refused to turn into the monster that Nichols demanded.
Strong thin hands ran a damp cloth across his face. Ephraim jumped at the touch. No one had touched him in too many years to count unless it was to hurt him. He opened his eyes to see a man who looked very much like his father, except for the black hair, kneeling in front of him. The man looked sad and confused. Finally he looked down on Ephraim with pity.
Ephraim cowered back. This was worse than torture. “Go away,” he mumbled.
Marc sighed and dipped the cloth into the bucket again. He looked relaxed in front of Ephraim. He wasn’t cowering away or keeping his eyes on Ephraim, afraid of an attack. He took one of Ephraim’s hands into his and began scrubbing it, unconcerned for his expensive wardrobe.
The new Duke’s men kept the footmen and Nichols at bay while he cleaned his brother. “I used to do this for you every night until you were twelve. Do you remember, Ephraim?”
“Yes,” he answered automatically.
Marc chuckled. “Then there were the times when I had to clean you up in the kitchens after you snuck off and got dirty. Father refused to have a speck of dirt in the house. Do you remember?”
Marc stopped cleaning his hands and looked into Ephraim’s eyes for a long moment. He looked like he had something to say, but didn’t. He looked over his shoulder. “I need some shears, a razor and towels in here and for Christ sake’s someone get me some hot water!” One of his footmen nodded and ran out.
Minutes later the man returned with the items. Ephraim sat back and watched as his brother washed him, unafraid. The hot water made a difference. The grime washed off quicker. His skin turned pink before turning back to a sickly pale color.
“Are you hungry?” Marc asked.
Ephraim didn’t answer. Marc eyed his brother’s body. He tried to hide his reaction, but there was little he could do. Ephraim’s body was repulsive. “When’s the last time you were fed?”