"How dare you!" He spit his words at Tristan now, while Lexius was held helpless by the others, a hand clamped over his mouth so that he couldn’t sound an alarm for those unsuspecting servants who moved beyond in the garden.
I did not move to obey or to rebel. In an instant, I had realized it all. The tallest of the Lords was our own Captain of the Guard from the Queen’s village. And the man who glared in fury at Tristan now was his former Master in the village, Nicolas, the Queen’s Chronicler. They had come to take us home to our sovereign.
Instantly, Nicolas threw a rope around Tristan’s arms, binding them tight to his chest, and then he looped the end around Tristan’s wrists, forcing him down on his knees near the border of the carpet.
"I tell you I don’t want to go!" Tristan said. "You have no right to steal us back. I beg you, beg you, to leave us here!" "You’re a slave, and you will do as I say!" Nicolas hissed in anger. "Lie down at once and be quiet, lest we’re all discovered!" And he flung Tristan forward on his face and quickly rolled him over and over in the carpet, until no one could have told a man was hidden there.
"And you, Prince, must I bind you!" he demanded of me, pointing to the other carpet. The Captain of the Guard, who held Lexius in his firm grip, glared at me.
"Get down on that carpet and lie quiet, Laurent!" the Captain said. "We’re in danger, all of us!"
"Are we?" I asked. "What will happen if your little plan is discovered?" I stared at Lexius. He was frantic. And he had never looked so charming and beautiful as he did now, with the Captain’s hand over his mouth, his black hair tumbled into his enormous eyes, his slender body straining under its sleek robe. So I was never to see him again, and I wondered if he would be blamed for this! Who knew what would happen to him if he was blamed?
"Do as I say at once, Prince!" the Captain said, his face now twisted with the same desperate anger that disfigured Nicolas. Nicolas had the rope ready for me, and the two other men waited to assist him. But they could never have taken me against my will. And I was not as easily overwhelmed as Tristan.
"Hmmm…. Leave this place," I said slowly, looking Lexius up and down, "and go back to the punishment of the village…." I puzzled over it as if I had all the time in the world, seeing them become more anxious, more fearful of discovery by the second.
Behind them the garden lay quiet. Behind me was the corridor where anyone might approach at any moment.
"Very well," I said, "I’ll come, but only if this one comes with me!" And I reached out and tore open Lexius’s robe, revealing his naked chest down to the waist. I yanked him out of the Captain’s grasp and shucked the robe off him completely. He stood trembling, but he did not raise a finger to help himself.
"What are you doing?" the Captain demanded.
"We’re taking him with us," I said. "Or I don’t go."
I threw Lexius forward onto the carpet. He gasped and lay still, his hair covering his face, his hands pressed against the rug as if he might suddenly rise and run. But he did not. And the welts and marks gleamed on his quivering backside.
I waited one second more, and then I lay down alongside him and placed my arm over his shoulder, bracing myself for the hot, stuffy wool to enclose me.
"Very well, then! Come on!" I heard Nicolas say desperately. "Hurry." He dropped down on his knees and reached for the edges of the rug.
But the Captain of the Guard stepped up and put his foot squarely on my back.
"Get up," he said to Lexius. "Or we’ll take you, I swear it."
And I laughed softly as I saw Lexius lie motionless and silent, unable to save himself.
In an instant, they had us both wrapped in the rug, bound tightly together, and they were running with their heavy bundles. I had my arm around Lexius’s neck, and he cried softly against my shoulder.
"How could you do this to me!" he pleaded, but it had a low dignified sound to it that I liked.
"Don’t play games with me," I said in his ear. "You came of your own free will, my melancholy Lord."
"Laurent, I’m frightened," he whispered.
"Don’t be," I said, softening, just a little regretful of my ominous tone. "You were born to be a slave, Lexius. And you know it. But you can forget what you know of Sultans and gilded manacles and jeweled leather and grand palaces."
BEAUTY: REVELATIONS AT SEA
BEAUTY SAT sobbing in the middle of the open carpet. The hold of the ship was very small and the lantern creeked on its hook, the ship traveling fast over the open sea, the windows pounded with spray, the whole craft listing slightly.
Now and then, she looked up at the baffled Captain of the Guard and at the angry Nicolas, who stared back at her.
Tristan sat in the corner with his knees drawn up and his head resting on his knees. And Laurent lay, smiling, on the bunk, watching everything as though it were very amusing.
And Lexius, poor beautiful Lexius, lay against the far wall, his face buried in the crook of his arm, his naked body seeming infinitely more vulnerable than her own. She could not understand why he had been recently whipped, why he had been brought with them.
"You can’t mean, Princess, that you actually wished to remain in this strange land," Nicolas pleaded with her.
"But my Lord, it was such an elegant place, and so full of new delights and new intrigues. Why did you have to come? Why didn’t you rescue Dmitri or Rosalynd or Elena?"
"Because we were not sent to rescue Rosalynd, or Dmitri or Elena," Nicolas replied angrily. "By all reports they are content in the Sultan’s land and we were told to leave them there."
"And so was I content in the Sultan’s land!" Beauty raged. "Why did you do this to me!"
"I too was content," said Laurent quietly. "Why didn’t you leave us with the others?"
"Must I remind you that you are the Queen’s slaves?" Nicolas stormed, glaring at Laurent and then at the silent Tristan. "It is Her Majesty who decides where and how her slaves will serve her. Your insolence is intolerable!" Beauty could only break into helpless sobs again.
"Come," said the Captain of the Guard finally. "We have a long time to spend at sea. And you must not spend it weeping."
He helped Beauty to her feet.
And unable to resist the urge to lean upon him, she pressed her face against his leather jerkin.
"There, there, my sweet," he said. "You haven’t forgotten your Master, have you?" He led her out of the room and into a small adjacent cabin. The low wooden roof sloped down over the shelf bed. A bit of sun shone bright through the wet little porthole.