“What is your name?”
He felt the skin of his back split as the oak-wood cane came across it. It stung, biting into his flesh before radiating out heat from the place of impact. No gasps came from him, though; he pain was something he had known for a while and no longer reacted to. It was the question that left him silent, not an answer on his tongue.
“I asked, what is your name?”
Silence. What was his name?
Again, and again, he was asked, and again and again the cane rained down upon his back. The other students watched, as he hunched over the desk at the front of the class. Their russet faces stared back him, dark eyes wide – though they were silent, too, in their horror. Did they know his name? Could they remember it? Could they speak it?
What was his name… What was his name?
In the back of his mind, it tugged. He recalled it in the same way he remembered all the treasures of his youth they had forbade him to keep – fleeting, at the edges of his mind where they’d dance, just outside his grasp. His name… His name…
That wasn’t his name. His name, he’d forgotten. He couldn’t remember the way it sang against his ear, nor how it tasted on his tongue. Eric… that was what they called him now, he remembered. They called him one of their names. Something other and foreign and far too grating and sharp. It didn’t sound nearly as beautiful, and didn’t taste nearly as sweet, but what did he know? He had lost the other one; he didn’t know his name.
The cane stopped at the utterance of that name. He thought perhaps he should feel something, anything – anger, fear, pain. All he felt though, was the numbness of nothing. He was nothing. Nothing at all. That’s what Mr. Dawson told them, anyway. Nothing but savages until they stripped that all away.
“…forget it next time. You’ll be left for worse. Get out of my class, and clean yourself up.”
He barely registered what Mr. Dawson said to him, and was lucky that he caught up with the last half. He nodded, not having realized he’d shut his eyes, and turned his gaze to his tormentor. A slight man, pale, with corn silk hair – they called that blonde. Mr. Dawson always carried a wicked look in the frost-blue eyes behind the rounded glasses that adorned his face, and those eyes had never turned kind glances to him, nor any other student.
Eric nodded again, pushing himself up. He barely registered the pain of beatings anymore, but he was weak; his body trembled. His pace earned him a smack to the calf from the cane, and he was too weary to hide the intake of breath at the sting again his flesh.
“Get out,” he was ordered. “And don’t come back until tomorrow.”
On another day, he’d perhaps welcome the dismissal, but his absence for the duration of the lesson would be punished the next day – it didn’t matter that it was at the order of his instructor, nor because he’d been beaten. There were no excuses.
You’ve brought this on yourself.
As he exited the classroom, he couldn’t even remember what he had said to set Mr. Dawson off. It had been a slip of his tongue – something in that language they weren’t allowed to speak anymore – and though it had rolled out of his mouth like water from a pitcher, smooth as could be, he had no idea what exactly he had said. And then, Mr. Dawson, flared up and angry from his mistake, had demanded to know the meaning, asked Eric to tell him what he had dared to say.
Who is Eric? he had asked Mr. Dawson in response, confused. Who is he, who is he?
Perhaps in the moment he had had a flare of rebelliousness; it wasn’t uncommon. To not claim the identity they had given him when they’d taken him from his mother’s arms, cut short his raven hair, removed his furs and his leathers and put him in the clothes he wore then… Well. He’d received his punishment, hadn’t he? And for what?
A word he no longer understood.
This is a section of writing that’s been sitting on my computer for… a while now. It’s a bit of practice writing in a new character’s point of view, for a story that I’ll be revisiting this year.