I was rather amazed still that all these cumbersome, heavy garments went everywhere that I did–it was annoying not to be naked–but I had to be on my way, and I did not even glance at the village as I rode by.
Of course, a thousand Princes had undergone this sudden reprieve, this shock of clothing and ceremony, but few had had to take the reins of the Kingdoms to which they returned. There was no time for lamentation, no time to linger at a country Inn on the way and drink myself into a stupor as I tried to get used to the real world.
I reached my castle by the second night of hard riding and, within the three days that followed, put everything right. My father had already been buried; my mother was long dead. And what was needed was a powerful hand at the helm of government and I soon made clear to everyone that that hand was mine.
I flogged the soldiers who had abused the village girls in the few days of anarchy. I lectured my brothers and directed them to their duties with ominous threats. I had the army assembled for inspection and gave generous rewards to all those who had loved my father and who now came to me with the same love.
None of this was difficult, really, yet I knew that many a European Kingdom fell because a new monarch could not do it.
And I saw the look of relief on the faces of my subjects when they realized that their young King exercised authority easily and naturally, that he directed all matters of government, both large and small, with great personal attention and force. The Lord High Treasurer was grateful to have someone to assist him, and the Captain of the Army went at his command with renewed strength with me at his back.
But when the first frantic weeks were over, when things quieted down in the castle, when I could sleep the night through without interruptions from servants and family, I began to think about all that had occurred. I had no more marks on my body. I was tormented by endless desire. And, when I realized I would never be a naked slave again, I could scarcely stand it. I didn’t want to look at the trinkets the Queen had given me, see the leather toys that were of no significance to me now.
But I was ashamed afterwards.
It was not my destiny, as Lexius would have said, to be any longer a slave. I had now to be a good and powerful ruler, and the truth was I loved being King.
Being a Prince was just dreadful.
But being King was quite fine.
When my advisers came to me and told me I must take a wife and father a child to insure the succession, I nodded in agreement at once. Courtly life was going to devour me, and I should give it all that I had. My old existence was as insubstantial as a dream.
"And who are the likely Princesses?" I said to my advisers. I was signing some important laws as they stood about my writing table. "Well?" I looked up at them. "Speak!"
But even before any of the men said anything, one name suddenly came full force into my mind.
"Princess Beauty!" I whispered. Could it be that she had not been married! I dared not ask.
"O, yes, Your Majesty," said my Lord High Chancellor. "She would be the wisest choice without question, but she refuses all suitors. Her father is in despair."
"Does she now?" I said. I tried to conceal my excitement. "I wonder why she refuses them," I said innocently. "Go saddle my horse at once."
"But we should send an official letter to her father–"
"No. Saddle my horse," I said, rising from the table. I went to the royal bedchamber to dress myself in my finest clothes and to get a few other little things as well.
I was just about to rush out when I stopped. I felt a sudden invisible blow to my chest. And just as if the wind had really been knocked out of me, I sank down in the chair at my desk.
Beauty, my darling Beauty. I saw her in the cabin of the ship with her arms out, beseeching me. And I felt a surge of longing that left me naked as I had never been. Other mad thoughts came back to me, of mastering Lexius alone in his chamber in the Sultan’s palace, of having Jerard in my full possession, of the tenderness that came out of me in those precious moments when I looked at the reddened flesh beneath my open hand, the dangerous awakening of love for the ones I punished mercilessly, for those who were mine.
It took a surprising amount of courage to rise from the chair. And yet I was so eager! I patted my pocket where I had put the trinkets I was taking to her. And then I caught a glimpse of myself in the distant mirror–His Majesty in purple velvet and black boots, his ermine-trimmed cloak flaring behind him–and I winked at my reflection.
"Laurent, you devil," I said with wicked smile.
We reached the castle unannounced, just as I had hoped, and Beauty’s father was jubilant as he brought us into the Great Hall. There had not been many suitors of late. And he was eager for an alliance with our Kingdom.
"But, Your Majesty, I must warn you," he said politely. "My daughter is proud and moody and will receive no one. She sits at her windows and dreams the whole day long."
"Your Majesty, humor me if you will," I answered. "You know my intentions are honorable. Merely point me to the door of her parlor and leave the rest to me."
She was sitting at the window with her back to the room, and she was singing softly to herself, and her hair, gathering the sunlight to it, looked like spun gold.
My sweet darling. The dress she wore was rose-colored velvet trimmed in carefully embroidered leaves of silver. And how finely it fitted her magnificent little shoulders and arms. Arms as juicy as the rest of her, I thought. So sweet to squeeze, those little arms. And let me see the br**sts please, immediately … and those eyes, that spirit.
Again, the invisible and completely imaginary blow to my chest.
I crept up behind her and, just as she gave a start, I clamped my gloved hands over her eyes.
"Who dares to do this!" she whispered. It had a frightened, imploring sound.
"Quiet, Princess," I said. "Your Lord and Master is here, the suitor you will not dare to refuse!" "Laurent!" she gasped. I let her go, and she rose and turned and threw herself into my arms. I kissed her a thousand times, all but bruising her lips. She was as gorgeous and pliant as she had been in the hold of the ship, as succulent and feverish and wild.
"Laurent, you haven’t really come with an offer of marriage, have you?"
"Offer, Princess, offer?" I said. "I come with a command." I forced her lips wide with my tongue, my hands squeezing her br**sts hard through the velvet. "You will marry me, Princess. You will be my Queen and my slave."
"O, Laurent, I never dared dream of this moment!" she said. Her face was beautifully flushed, her eyes gleaming. I could feel her heat through the skirts against my leg. And the surge of love came again, overwhelming and mingled with a maddening sense of possession and power. It made me hold her very tight.