Beauty's Release (Page 43)

Beauty’s Release (Sleeping Beauty #3)(43)
Author: Anne Rice

In silence, we were set down on the stone floor at her feet, the poles withdrawn, the soldiers receding, until we were alone there–three bound slaves, resting on our chests, our heads raised, waiting for judgment.

"I see you’ve done well. You’ve accomplished the mission," said the Queen, obviously addressing the Captain of the Guard.

I didn’t dare to look at her. But I couldn’t keep myself from glancing to the left and the right, and with a sudden shock I saw Lady Elvera, standing near the throne, staring at me. As it always did, her beauty frightened me. It seemed part and parcel of her coldness. And, as I stared at her composed figure in its tight-fitting gown of apricot velvet, a sense of her luxurious and undisturbed life came over me–a life from which I had been cast out. I felt my heart beating in my throat. I moaned, though I hadn’t meant to. I felt the stone pressing on my belly and my cock, and the old shame quickened in me, quickened as it had after I’d run away. I was not fit to kiss My Lady’s slippers anymore or be her garden plaything.

"Yes, Your Majesty," the Captain of the Guard was saying, "and Princess Beauty has been sent home to her Kingdom

with the proper rewards, as you decreed. Her party has probably already crossed the border."

"Good," said the Queen.

I knew secretly that her tone was probably amusing many in the Hall. The Queen had always been jealous of the Crown Prince’s love for Princess Beauty. Princess Beauty…. Ah, so much confusion. Was she really sorry not to be bound here with us, not to be naked and helpless before the scornful Court of men and women who would someday be our equals? But the Captain was continuing. And slowly, I picked up the thread:

"… all showed the most ferocious ingratitude, begging to remain in the Sultan’s Land, furious that they had been rescued." "This is absolute impertinence!" the Queen said. She rose from the chair. "For this they will pay dearly. But this one, this dark-haired one who cries so piteously–who is he?"

"Lexius, the chief of all the grooms for the Sultan," the Captain said. "It was Laurent who stripped him naked and forced him to come with us. But the man could have saved himself. He chose to come and be thrown upon Her Majesty’s mercy."

"That’s very interesting, Captain," said the Queen. I saw her take several steps down from the dais. In the corner of my eye, her figure moved towards the bound figure of Lexius that rested to the right of me. I saw her bend to touch his hair. How did it all seem to him? This clumsy stone edifice, its gaping, unadorned hall, this powerful woman, so different from the shuddering darlings of the Sultan’s harem. I could hear Lexius moaning, see the motion of his struggling. Was he pleading for release or to serve?

"Unbind him," the Queen said. "And we will see what he is made of."

The leather bonds were quickly cut. Lexius gathered his knees under him and pressed his forehead to the floor. I had told him on shipboard the various ways he could show his respect here, very much the same as we had shown it in his Land. And a dark pride rose in me as I saw him crawl forward and press his lips to the Queen’s slipper.

"Very nice manners, Captain," the Queen observed. "Lift your head, Lexius." He obeyed. "And now, tell me that you wish to serve me."

"Yes, Your Majesty," came his soft, resonant voice. "I beg to serve you."

"I choose my slaves, Lexius," she said. "They do not choose to come to me. But I shall see if you can be effectively used. The first thing we will do is strip away the vanity and softness and dignity bred into you in your native Land."

"Yes, Your Majesty," he answered anxiously.

"Take him down to the kitchen. He will serve there as punished slaves do, the plaything of the servants, scouring pots and pans on his knees, bearing their needs when they see fit. And, after a good two weeks of that, have him thoroughly bathed and oiled and brought to my chamber."

I gasped behind the gag. This would be so difficult for him. The kitchen slaves laughing and prodding him with their wooden spoons, paddling him for nothing, oiling him with the cooking grease before they whipped him back and forth across the floor for nothing more than an afternoon’s diversion. But it would do just what the Queen wanted it to do. It would make a gorgeous slave out of him. After all, everyone knew she had trained her own Prince Alexi this way, and he was incomparable.

Lexius was taken away. We did not even look at each other to say farewell. But I had more important things to think of. "And now for these two, these ungrateful rebels," the Queen said, turning her attention to Tristan and me. "When will I not hear discouraging reports of Tristan and Laurent?" Her voice showed genuine irritation. "Bad slaves, disobedient slaves, and ungrateful when freed from the Sultan’s bondage!"

The blood pounded in my face. I could feel the eyes of the Court on me, the eyes of chose I knew, had spoken with, had served in the past. How much safer the Sultan’s garden seemed, with its preordained roles, than this deliberately temporary servitude. Yet there was no escape from this! It was as absolute as the garden had been.

The Queen drew near, and I saw her skirts before my eyes. I couldn’t move to kiss her slipper or I would have done it. "Tristan is a young slave," she said, "but you, Laurent, you served Lady Elvera for a year. You are well trained and yet you disobey, you rebel!" Her voice was caustic. "You even bring back the Sultan’s servant on a whim. You are determined to distinguish yourself."

I heard myself whimpering in response, my tongue touching the leather belt over my mouth, my cheeks burning against it. She moved closer. The velvet of her skirt touched my face, and I felt her slipper against my nipple. I began to weep. I couldn’t contain it. All my ideas about the things that had happened to me left me. The fierce Master who had trained Lexius on the ship was vanquished again, wouldn’t come to my aid. I felt only the tension of the Queen’s disapproval, and my own unworthiness. And yet I knew I would rebel again, given half the chance! I was truly incorrigible. Nothing but punishment was right for me.

"There is but one place for you both," she said. "The place that will strengthen Tristan’s uncertain soul and quell your strong spirit thoroughly. You will be sent back to the village, but you will not be sold from the auction block. You will be delivered over to the Public Pony Stables."

My crying increased. I couldn’t stop it. It seemed the leather belt did little to muffle the sound of it.

"And there you will serve night and day all year," she continued. "And strictly as ponies–to be rented out for the pulling of carriages and carts and other draught work. You will spend your waking hours harnessed and bitted with the proper horsetail phalluses fitted into place, and you will know no reprieve from this to enjoy the attention or affection of any Master or Mistress."