Beauty's Punishment

Page 10


What would happen, she wondered, if the soldiers adored her, paid plenty for her, fed her little sex to overflowing so to speak, and then Beauty were disobedient? Could Mistress Lockley afford to hang her outside?
"I'm turning into such a bad little girl!" she thought.
But the strange part of it was that her heart beat fast at the thought of Mistress Lockley. She liked her coldness and her sharpness in a way she had never liked her fawning Mistress of the castle, Lady Juliana. And she couldn't help but wonder, was there just a smidgen of pleasure in it for
Mistress Lockley, all that paddling? After all, Mistress Lockley did it so well.
She was scrubbing away as she thought, trying to make the brown tiles of the floor as shiny and clean as she could, when she suddenly realized that a shadow had fallen over her from the open door. And she heard Mistress Lockley's voice say softly,
"Ah, Captain."
Beauty raised her eyes cautiously but boldly nevertheless, fully aware it might be impudence to do. And she saw a blond-haired man standing above her. His leather boots went up well over his knees, and a jeweled dagger was buckled to his thick leather belt as well as broadsword and a long leather paddle. He seemed bigger to her all over than the men she had known in this Kingdom, yet he was slender of build except for his massive shoulders. His yellow hair hung luxuriously long down his neck, curling thickly at the ends, and his brilliant green eyes were crinkled with laugh lines as he looked down at her.
She felt a stab of dismay, though she didn't know why, a sudden melting of the coldness and toughness that affected her. And with calculated indifference she went back to her scrubbing.
But the man came round in front of her.
"I didn't expect you so soon," Mistress Lockley said. "Tonight I thought surely you'd bring the whole garrison."
"Most definitely, Mistress," he said. His voice was almost lustrous. Beauty felt a peculiar tightness in her throat and scrubbed on, trying to ignore the softly wrinkled calfskin boots in front of her.
"I saw this little partridge auctioned off," said the Captain. And Beauty flushed as the man made an obvious circle around her. "Quite the little rebel," he said. "I was surprised you paid so much for her."
"I have a way with rebels, Captain," said Mistress Lockley in her iron-cold voice without either
pride or
humor. "And she's an exceptionally succulent little partridge. I thought you might enjoy her
"Scrub her and send her up to my room now," said the Captain. "I don't think I want to wait until this evening."
Beauty turned her head, deliberately shooting a harsh glance at the Captain. Brazenly handsome he seemed, with a blond stubble of beard on his chin as if his face had been brushed with gold dust. And the sun had left its mark on him, deeply tanning his skin so that his golden eyebrows and his white teeth seemed all the brighter. He had his gloved hand on his hip, and as Mistress Lockley told her frostily to drop her eyes, he only smiled at Beauty's insolence.
Beauty was lifted to her feet roughly by Mistress Lockley, who, twisting Beauty's wrists behind her back, forced her out the back door into a large grassy yard of heavy-limbed fruit trees.
In an open shed on smooth wooden shelves half a dozen naked slaves slept as deeply and easily, it seemed, as they had in the more sumptuous Slaves' Hall in the castle. But a crude woman with her sleeves rolled up had another slave standing in a hogshead of soapy water, the slave's hands tethered to an overhanging tree branch. The slave was being scrubbed by the woman as coarsely as if he were salted meat for supper.
Almost before she knew what was happening, Beauty had been forced to stand in such a tub, the soapy water swirling about her knees, and as her hands were tied to the branch of the fig tree above, she heard Mistress Lock-ley call for Prince Roger.
At once the Prince appeared, upright this time, with the scrubbing brush in his hand, and he went to work on Beauty immediately, covering her with the warm water and scrubbing at her elbows and her knees, and then at her head, as he turned her this way and that very rapidly.
It was all necessity here, and there was no luxury to it. Beauty winced as the brush scrubbed between her legs, and she moaned when the harsh bristles ground at her welts and bruises.
Mistress Lockley was gone. The heavy woman had spanked the poor whimpering scrubbed slave back to bed and disappeared herself into the Inn. And the yard, save for the sleeping ones, was empty.
"Will you answer me if I speak?" Beauty whispered. The Prince's dark skin was waxy smooth against her own as he tilted her head back and poured the pitcher of warm water over her hair. He had cheerful eyes now that they were alone.
"Yes, but be very careful! We'll be sent off for Public Punishment if we're caught. And I loathe amusing the common louts of the town at the Public Turntable."
"But why are you here?" Beauty said. "I thought I came with the first slaves to be sent down from the castle."
"I've been in the village for years," he said. "I scarcely remember the castle. I was sentenced for sneaking off with a Princess. We hid for two full days before they found us!" he smiled. "But I'll never be summoned back."
Beauty was shocked. She remembered her stolen night near the Queen's very bedchamber with Prince Alexi.
"And what happened to her?" Beauty asked.
"O, she was in the village for a while and then she went back to the castle. She became a great favorite of the Queen. And when it was time for her to be sent home, she remained to live here as a Lady."
"You can't be speaking the truth!" Beauty said in amazement.
"O, yes. She became one of the Court. She even rode down to see me in her new finery and asked if I should like to come back and be her slave. The Queen would allow it, she said, because she promised to punish me quite hard and drive me relentlessly. She'd be the wickedest Mistress a slave ever had, she said. I was quite stunned, as you can well imagine. Last time I'd seen her, she was naked, turned over her Master's knee. And now she rode a white horse and wore a gorgeous gown of black velvet trimmed in gold and her hair was braided with gold, and she was ready to have me packed naked over her saddle. I broke and ran away from her, and she had the Captain of the Guard bring me back and she paddled me over her horse right out in the square before a crowd of the villagers. She enjoyed herself immensely."
"How could she do such a thing?" Beauty was outraged. "Did you say she wore her hair in braids?"