Beauty's Release (Page 37)

Beauty’s Release (Sleeping Beauty #3)(37)
Author: Anne Rice

Inanna’s face was full of misery. She seemed suddenly frantic, no doubt blaming herself for what might now happen to Beauty. But Beauty smiled again to reassure her and motioned for her to stay where she was. Then she opened the door and slipped into the corridor.

Inanna, her eyes swimming with tears again, crept out after her and pointed to a far door, in the opposite direction from that through which they’d come earlier.

As she removed the bolt, Beauty glanced back one more time, and her heart went out to Inanna. She thought of all the things that had befallen her since her passions had been awakened, and this last night seemed unlike any other. She wished she could tell Inanna that it would not be their last, that somehow they would manage to be together again. And it seemed Inanna did understand. She could see the determination in Inanna’s eyes. There would be nights ahead to rival this one, no matter what the danger. And the thought that this inviting body with its luscious endowments belonged to Beauty as it did to no one else absolutely inflamed Beauty. She had many more things to teach Inanna….

Inanna touched her hand to her lips and sent an urgent kiss to Beauty and, as Beauty nodded, Inanna nodded.

Then Beauty opened the door and ran fast and silently through the small empty passageway, rounding corner after corner, until she saw the massive double doors that most certainly would admit her again to the main corridors of the palace.

She paused for a moment to catch her breath. She did not know where to go, how to give herself up to those who must certainly be already searching for her. But it was a comfort to her that they could not question her. Only Lexius could do that. And if she did not lie to him at once, say some brute of a Lord had stolen her from the niche, how Lexius might punish her.

The thought chilled her, and yet it aroused tier. She did not know whether she could lie. But she did know she would never betray Inanna. And she had never really been punished for serious wickedness, never been mercilessly questioned about any important or secret disobedience.

Now she was in possession of this wondrous intrigue, and she would know undreamed-of tortures when she heard Lexius’s angry voice, when he became maddened by her silence.

Yet silence it must be. Disgrace and punishment it must be. And surely he would never dare to assume….

But no matter. Beauty was ready. And her task now was to get through those doors and as far away from them as quickly as she could, so that no one could guess where she had been during her long absence.

Trembling, she stepped out into the wide marble hall with its all too familiar torchlight and silent, bound slaves in their niches. Without even glancing to the right or the left, she ran to the very end of the hall and turned into another empty corridor.

On and on she ran, knowing that surely the slaves saw her. But who would question them as to what they had seen? She must get as far as she could from Inanna’s quarters. And the silence and emptiness of the early-morning palace were her allies.

Her terror mounting, she turned another corner, and now she slowed her pace, her heart pounding, her nakedness all the more humiliating as she glimpsed for the first time the eyes of those on either side of her.

She bowed her head. If only she knew where to go. She would throw herself on the mercy of the grooms immediately. And surely they would understand she had not freed herself from her bonds. Someone had done it to her. And why wouldn’t they assume the obvious: that it had been some masculine brute who had carried her off? Who would ever even suspect Inanna?

O, if only she would come upon the grooms, and then it would be over. She dreaded the sight of anger in their young faces, but let it come to pass if it must. Whatever Lexius did, she would remain silent.

All these thoughts were revolving in her head, her body constantly reminding her of Inanna’s warmth, embraces, when suddenly she saw several Lords appear at the end of the corridor ahead of her.

This was her worst fear come true: that she would be discovered by others before the grooms found her. And when she saw the men pause for a moment and then advance towards her with great and deliberate speed, she panicked. She turned and ran as fast as she could, dreading a humiliating encounter, hoping against hope the grooms would appear to restore order.

And to her horror, the men came thudding after her.

"But why?" she thought desperately. "Why do they not merely send for the grooms? Why do they themselves chase me?"

And she almost screamed as she felt herself being picked up, the robes of the men suddenly closing her in, a heavy cloth being thrown around her. She was wound in the cloth as if it were a shroud and to her terror, she was lifted and thrown over a strong shoulder.

"But what is happening!" she screamed, only to have the sound muffled by the tight cloth. Surely this was not the way runaway slaves were apprehended. Something was wrong, very wrong.

And when the men continued to run, her body bouncing helplessly against her captor, she knew real fear as she had the night the Sultan’s soldiers had raided the village to bring her here. They were stealing her, as she’d been stolen then. And she kicked and struggled and shrieked, only to have the tight wrapping hold her helpless.

Within moments, they were out of the palace. She heard the crunch of feet on sand, then on stones, echoing as if in a street. And then the unmistakable noises of the city surrounded her. Even the old smells reached her. They were actually moving through the marketplace!

And again, she shrieked and struggled, only to hear her own muffled cries closed inside the tight wrapping with her. Why, probably nobody even noticed these robed men moving through the crowd with a bolt of goods thrown over a shoulder. And, even if they did know there was a helpless being inside, what did they care? Mightn’t it be a slave being taken to market? She was weeping unstintingly when she heard their feet hit hollow wood, when she smelled the salt sea. They were taking her aboard a ship! Her thoughts raced desperately from Inanna to Tristan and Laurent, and Elena, and even the poor, forgotten Dmitri and Rosalynd. They would never even know what had happened to her!

"O, please, help me, help me!" she wailed. But the steps went on. She was being carried down a ladder, yes, she was sure of it. And into the hold of the ship. And the ship was alive with shouts and running feet. It was moving out of the harbor!

Chapter 17

LAURENT: DECISION FOR LEXIUS

But what do you mean, you are rescuing us!" Tristan cried out. "I won’t go, I tell you! I don’t want to be rescued!" The man’s face went white with rage. He had thrown down two carpets on the floor of the corridor. He had ordered us to lie down on these carpets so that we might be rolled up in them and carried out of the palace.