Matheus tugged on the chain. He braced his foot against the thick post and gripped the links with both hands, yanking until flames raged through his muscles. He let the chain drop into the fresh snow. Rolling his shoulders, he winced as the tendons twanged. The links clanged together as he moved. A steel manacle circled one of his ankles, the metal digging into his skin. Matheus balanced on one foot, then the other, the snow burning cold on his bare soles.
He’d woken up a few minutes earlier, chained and sporting a new collection of bruises. Although, as he hopped up and down, trying to warm up, he didn’t find any major damage. He did wonder what happened to his shoes. Taking them seemed overkill, what with the chain-and-manacle set-up. Matheus walked in a circle, stretching the length of the chain. He had a six-foot radius, not much shorter than the clearing itself.
Pine trees surrounded him, tall and ramrod straight, darkness between their trunks. Matheus glanced up at the clear night sky. He frowned. An even circle of deep blue hung overhead, far too precise to be natural. Pale circles in the bark showed where branches had been chopped away. Some of the cuts looked worn smooth, other more fresh. Matheus perched on the post, pulling his feet out of the snow. So the little clearing had had other visitors before him. He teetered, trying to maintain his balance. The stake had gouged a hole through the cashmere sweater. Through his chest as well, but his flesh healed. Matheus plucked at the stray threads with a sigh. He hadn’t even paid for the sweater yet.