"Harder, my Prince, harder, or I promise you I will whip every inch of you with the strap!" she whispered, biting his ear, his hair covering her face. Then she came in a white explosion of mindless ecstasy, barely conscious of his juices flooding her.
Only a few moments of slumber. She pulled the candle out of his body and kissed his cheek. Had she done that long ago with Tristan? What did it matter?
She rose and put on her gown again, snapping the hooks impatiently. He too struggled to his feet.
"Get dressed," she said, "and go, Prince. Leave the Kingdom. I won’t marry you."
"But Princess," he cried. He was on his knees still, and he flung himself at her, catching her skirt.
"No, Prince. I told you. I refuse your suit. Leave me."
"But Princess, I’ll be your slave, your secret slave!" he implored her. "In the privacy of our chambers–"
"I know, my dear. And you are a good slave, without question," she answered. "But you see, I don’t really want a slave. I want to be one."
For a long moment, he stared at her. She knew the torture he was enduring. But it didn’t matter, really, what he thought. He could never master her. She knew it, and whether or not he knew it wasn’t important.
"Get dressed!" she said again.
And this time he obeyed. But his face stayed red. He was still trembling even when he was fully garbed again, with his cloak over his shoulders.
For a long moment she studied him. Then she began to speak in a low, rapid voice.
"If you want to be a pleasure slave," she said, "go directly east of here to the Land of Queen Eleanor. Cross the border. And as soon as you are within sight of a village, take off your clothes and put them in your leather traveling bag and bury them. Bury them deep so that no one can find them. Then approach the village, and, when the villagers see you, run from them. They’ll think you’re a fugitive slave, and they’ll catch you quick enough and take you to the Captain of the Guard for punishment. Then tell him the truth, that you beg to serve Queen Eleanor. Now, go, my love, and take my word for it. It’s worth it."
He stared at her, more amazed by her words perhaps than by anything else.
"I’d go with you, if I could, but they’d only send me back," she said. "It’s no use. Now go. You can reach the border before dark."
He didn’t answer. He made some small adjustment to his sword, his belt. Then he came nearer to her and looked down at her.
She let herself be kissed, and then she clasped his hand tight for a moment.
"Will you go?" she whispered. But she didn’t wait for an answer. "If you do, and you see the slave Prince Laurent, tell him that I remember him and I love him. Tell Tristan too…."
Futile message, futile link with all that had been taken from her.
But he appeared to weigh her words carefully. And then he was gone, out of the room and down the stairs. And in the soft afternoon sunlight, she was alone again.
"What am I to do?" she cried softly to herself. "What am I to do?" And she wept bitterly. She thought of Laurent, how easily he had risen from slave to Master. She could not do it. She was too jealous of the suffering she inflicted, too eager for the subjugation. She couldn’t follow in Laurent’s footsteps. She couldn’t imitate the example of the fierce Lady Juliana, who had gone from naked slave to Mistress, apparently without batting an eye. Maybe she lacked some dimension of spirit that Laurent and Juliana possessed.
But had Laurent been able to pass back again into the slave ranks as simply? Surely he and Tristan had met with dire punishment. How had Laurent fared? If only she knew. If only she knew a particle of the discipline he suffered now.
As late afternoon came on, she went out of the castle. As her courtiers and ladies-in-waiting trailed behind her, she walked through the village streets. People paused to bow from the waist to her. The wives came to the doors of their cottages to pay their silent respect.
She looked at the faces of those she passed. She looked at the stolid farmers and the milkmaids and the rich burghers, wondering what went on in the depths of their souls. Did none of them dream of sensual realms where passions were flamed to white-hot heat, of exotic and demanding rituals that laid bare the very mystery of erotic love? Did none of these simple people long for Masters or slaves in their secret hearts?
Normal life, ordinary life. She wondered if there were not lies worked into the fabric, lies she could discover if only she took the risk. But, when she studied the serving girl at the door of the Inn or the soldier who dismounted to bow to her, she saw only masks of common attitude and disposition, as she saw them on the faces of her courtiers, her maids. All were bound to show respect for the Princess as she, by custom and law, was bound to her proper and lofty place.
And, suffering silently, she made her way back to her lonely chambers.
And she sat by the window, resting her head on her folded arms on the stone sill, dreaming of Laurent and all those she had left behind, of a rich and priceless education of body and soul interrupted and forever lost.
"Dear young Prince," she sighed, remembering her rejected suitor, "I hope you have made it into the Queen’s country. I did not even think to ask you your name."
LAURENT: LIFE AMONG THE PONIES
THAT FIRST day among the ponies had had its significant revelations, but the true lessons of the new life came with time, with the constant day-to-day discipline of the stable and the numerous small aspects of my prolonged and rigid servitude.
I had known many an ordeal before, but no special test had been sustained as this existence was. And it took a while for me to grasp what it meant that Tristan and I had been condemned for twelve months, that we were not to be spirited out of the stables for the Public Turntable, or a night with the soldiers at the Inn, or any other diversion.
We slumbered, worked, ate, drank, dreamed, and made love as ponies. And, as Gareth had said, ponies are proud beasts, and we soon admitted this pride, and a profound addiction to the long gallops in the fresh air, to the firm feel of our harnesses and bits, and to the quick struggle with our fellow steeds in the recreation yard.
But never did the routine make things easy. Never did the discipline soften. Each day was an adventure of accomplishments and failures, of shocks and humiliations, of rewards or severe punishments.
We slept, as I have described, in our stalls, bent over at the waist, our heads resting on pillows. And this position, though quite comfortable, did as much as anything else to strengthen the sense that we had left the world of men behind. At dawn we were hastily fed and oiled, and taken out in the yard for hiring to the waiting populace. And it was no uncommon thing for the villagers to feel our muscles before they chose us or even to test us with a few wallops of the strap to see whether or not we responded with quickness and good form.