Slaves of Love Ch. 02byAlexandraBourne©
Author's Note: This is a love story with BDSM and some reluctance/non-consent elements that takes place in an imaginary world. Please enjoy!
Time had lost its meaning and so had the cold biting into the tender skin of her bound wrists. The fear that made her shudder soon faded into most welcome warmth that seemed to cloud her senses with a dreamy haze. The idea of having been kidnapped and thrown nonchalantly over the back of a horse like a sack of dirty potatoes dwindled to a ridiculous notion of fantasy as Selia slowly allowed her body to relax into the warmth underneath her. It didn't take long until her mind finally followed along; the potion and the gentle rocking that surrounded her body guiding the princess into the peaceful land of dreams.
Halem noticed the herbs finally fulfilling their duty as the young woman's body visibly relaxed against the back of the midnight stallion riding in front of his horse. They had been on the hunt for most of the afternoon. No wonder the moistened rag she was gagged with had already lost most of its effect! Despite common sense and caution his brother had insisted on trying their luck around the royal palace. Halem considered it unnecessary risk born of foolish pride but knew better than to argue with an experienced warrior.
If only he hadn't stared! Reviewing the moment in his mind again and again as they rode along the northern trail in the peaceful darkness he still couldn't find an explanation. The dark hood of the cloak had hidden her face, even her petite form was completely covered by the well-worn garment. She was only a mere shadow that seemed to draw his gaze. It was but a moment, a mindless moment, however it didn't escape the well-trained eyes of the hunter standing beside him.
Halem didn't like the predatory gleam flashing in the twilight nor the sly smile tugging at the scarred corner of his brother's mouth. Although he understood then and there that the girl's fate had been decided and every objection or hesitation was in vain, he couldn't help the guilt that slowly started to creep into his heart. She was just a young woman who happened to walk on her own, unaware of the hunt, unaware of their cause, an innocent prey. Compassion was anything but an alien feeling to him, one his brother would hardly be able to understand. The difference between the pain of a wound cut by the blade and those inflicted by the whip was unknown to any unbroken men. Gorren's scars marked him for the world to see, telling unspoken stories of glorious deeds, courage and a warrior's skill. But the memories of pain and scares men wore on the inside made only vulnerable and weak. Weak enough to pity a woman who would probably gladly swing the whip to hurt him if given the chance.
The young woman finally started to stir, the fine line of her carefully sculpted brows furrowing in obvious discontentment as more and more unwelcome noise penetrated her peaceful sleep. Halem watched her lashes flutter for a moment before she groaned, the glimpse of amber disappearing instantly behind her tightly shut eyes. Her pretty face rubbed persistently against his shoulder putting any kitten to shame. He couldn't help but smile, her reluctance to wake up enchanted him. Forgetting for a moment about everything around them he pinched the pert little nose scattered with strawberry freckles, delighting in the way she frowned and rubbed the tip of it against the arm of his shirt.
Selia yawned, anything but ready to wake up yet. Someone ought to tell her maid that.
"Cold hearted bitch!" The words thundered from close by, tearing her from the cozy dreamy haze.
"We'll show the haughty wench where she belongs!"
She blinked around with confusion written all over her face, the bright glaring light of hundreds of torches hurting her sleepy eyes enough to make her squint. Her attempt at orientation seemed to fail miserably. The crowed of men around her, cheering and cursing fiercely, all manners and respect forgotten, seemed as surreal as the dripstone statues echoing their voices. Selia shook her head violently to clear the nightmare of a cave full of furious, untamed beasts from her memory. Her breath caught in her throat when she opened her eyes again, her gaze wondering to a wooden stage located at the far end of the assembly hall craved into the mountain.
A strong hand clamped down over her mouth as her lips parted for the inevitable scream when she spotted the naked young woman tied to a wooden pole.
"So eager to take the wench's place already," a cruel flash of amusement flickered over the piercing blue eyes that seemed to penetrate her very core. The scarred man's laughter echoed again turning Selia's momentary shock and horror over the young woman's situation into instant fear for her own safety.
The man leaned close, the scarred edge of his lips almost brushing against her right ear, his menacing voice whispering words that Halem couldn't make out despite standing right next to them. He watched the young woman's amber eyes go wide, her air of disbelief replaced by an ashen shade that made him wonder for a moment if she would get sick any instant. However, by the time his brother had finally pulled away with a satisfied grin the girl seemed to have composed herself somewhat, her expression hardening into a determined glare.
"The lady will be quiet from now on." The scarred man stated matter of factly to his companion. "She may watch for a while if it pleases her, but then take her home. She will need all the rest she can get for tomorrow." Gorren winked at her before adding in a more serious tone. "I don't mind her skin getting broken should she cause any trouble."
Halem nodded in mute understanding, even though the words surprised him somewhat. Gorren was well known for his harsh methods and strict hand, but never considered an unfair or exceptionally cruel mentor.
After her captor had disappeared into the crowed, Selia turned her attention to his companion with an expressionless face. The empty depth of amber eyes looked into a pair of pale blue ones that bore an eerie resemblance to those of the scarred man, as did most of the younger man's face. She noticed the same tightly set, angular jaw and high cheek bones; however, the sight didn't make her shudder this time. There was something much softer, perhaps even gentler about the man's features, a tiny hint of kindness in his eyes that allowed her to breathe. Had he not resembled her captor so much, she might have considered the face framed by light brown, shoulder length hair even handsome.
Her attention was drawn again to the far end of the enormous cave as the cheering around them erupted with new frenzy again.
A man dressed in dark clothing entered the stage, his broad shoulders hiding the young woman secured to the pole from the audience's eyes for a moment as he stood facing her, his back turned to the cheering that slowly subsided. Selia felt her heartbeat quicken with anticipation as silence fell over the crowd and the tension stretched for long moments in the air.
The man on the stage finally turned to his audience, scar lined blue eyes bearing into hers again from across the hall of stone.
"Welcome Brethren! You, who have traveled from the far ends of the land for the gathering, you, who have harked to the call of freedom! Take our word with you when you leave in the morning. Take and spread it across the land until it reaches every tavern, every market and even the last mountain hut, spread the good news of redemption knocking at the door! For the day is drawing ever closer when we will rise from the yoke and claim our rights, returning our people to the ways of old!"
The cheering that followed, the thundering cries, the fists hitting the air made Selia swallow hard. Taking another look around she soon noticed that none of the men seemed to be in the company of their Mistresses and even more so, none of them had been wearing a collar. Her observation along with the words of Scar Face added up to a suspicion that made her brows furrow in worry as much as annoyance. How dare that man, an uncollared man even, say such foolish things?
The ways of old were but a legend, a faded memory at best of days long gone. A handful of tales of the failed ways of mankind that wide eyed children listened to in awe. Since the Age of Frost the order of the world was clear and simple. Survival and prosperity were the greatest values of all. Continuity of linage became an essential source of power, prosperous seed a rare treasure to possess. And possess they did, the mighty matrons of the past, some of them even dozens of men, to filter out the few of them who had the essence of life in their loins and not just the useless seed that could at best water plants.
Centuries had passed and the population grew, a new order of power was established over the land that mankind again claimed as its own. Mighty houses had risen above the less prosperous ones, the hardships and deprivation of the Age of Frost fading from the chronicles' pages and also from the memory of the new generations. Tradition turned into the new source of power, as daily survival's needs were easily met by the stock and plants that flourished under the warm rays of the sun in plentitude. The matrons of the new age had succeeded at pulling back mankind from the brink of extinction where the way of old had driven it.
As time passed the once rough leather collars marked by the symbols of their owners, a mean of restraint as much as sign of ownership, were replaced by the symbols of the mighty houses on finely crafted leather shining with jewels or silken and velvety ribbons decorated with the embroidered symbols of each household, even among the common folk. Collars around the neck of men that had been introduced by the ruling House of Astor many generations ago for practical reasons had grown into symbols of status. Mothers became eager to bind their sons with even more powerful families, to honor tradition as much as secure their own social status.
With the comfort that the richness of the lands provided it took but a few generations for a fertile era to dawn. The seed of mankind found its strength again and while the social order that had proven effective over the centuries of hardship remained respected, bonding of women became less and less frequent as the population grew, finally reducing the ownership of multiple men to the privilege of the mighty and powerful members of the leading houses of the country.
The average man fell in battles, sweat in the bright sun working the cornfields, refined his craftsmanship or art in order to provide for his Mistress' needs, pleasing her at night as much as during his days of hard work. In higher social classes the roles were the same, though the responsibilities changed somewhat. Women who could afford to have a number of men servicing their needs of course didn't let their favorite pleasure pets sweat in the hot sun or soil their hands. Their only priority became their Mistresses' satisfaction and pleasure, fine garments and a comfortable life were their reward.
They were the type of men Selia despised and avoided like the blood-sucking plague they were, an idea carefully planted into her head by a father who could never accept being referred to as the late Empress' toy or pet.
Selia's mind raced as she watched the young woman tremble under the lascivious eyes of the men around her. Her garments long torn, the obvious shame and humiliation had touched her cheeks with a vivid shade of red. The tears streaking down her face had dried long ago, only to be replaced by the reflexion of a dull mindset, an acceptance of her fate that made the princess' heart reach out for her even more.
It had been years, she had barely come of age according to the law, when the Regent made her witness her first public punishment. The law was strict and practically unforgiving when it came to disobedience. Reluctance, denial, a sharp tongue or lacking enthusiasm were all considered minor crimes any Mistress was free to deal with according to her own judgment. However, when it came to men attacking a woman, threatening her life or the rare occasion of actual violence, punishments were always public and merciless, performed by the insulted Mistress or her heiress. The few transgressors who survived were driven out of the land into the wilderness, branded with the sign of the dishonored for all to see, to become despised and cursed outcasts until the day of their death.
Despite the years that had passed, Selia remembered the punishment clearly. It was not performed at the court but in the country estate of the insulted Lady Marat, head matron of the House of Vessalia, a longtime ally to the royal family.
Watching Scar Face on the stage stroke the frightened girls face tenderly while the familiar sound of a dear whip caught through the air in her memories was enough to make her tremble. The brightly lit cave reminded her at the heat of the sun at noon that had roasted the pale skin of the naked man tied spread eagled to the poles in the burning sand. A light breeze covered his bleeding wounds and aged scars with grains of sand, sticking to the tiny droplets of sweat that ran down his neck and dribbled along the line of his collarbone where the tight hood was secured to blind him and take away most of his breath.
She remembered his chest rising at falling rapidly at the sound of Lady Marat's boots circling him like a vulture her prey, the leather of the bull whip she had chosen caressing is burning skin like a serpent ready to attack. His cries for mercy were mostly muffled by the hood, the pain on his face equally hidden; the thrashing limited strongly by his bonds, yet neither could prevent the nauseous feeling that rose deep inside the princess. She remembered asking her aunt about the man's crime.
"Severe disobedience" that was the Regent's only reply.
Arianna's expression was unreadable, fining an ignorant air she sat there with her head held high, a distinct contrast to Lady Marat who shouted out with every blow, her eyes blazing with danger and fury that matched the gleam of her fiery red hair in the sun.
The transgressor had fainted twice during his punishment, each time to be brought back to only more pain by the icy water splashed into his face that proved a soothing balm for a moment before the reality of the next biting blow hit him hard. Once his cries of protest had subsided, his body finally stopped to jerk, refusing to react anymore to the inflicted pain, the insulted lady finally seemed satisfied in her quest for justice, and completed the punishment by pressing the glowing iron cross onto the side of the man's neck, one of the few places where the skin was not broken yet.
The memory of the punishment came back to Selia in a moment's time. Her body starting to shake as it had done sitting on the left of her aunt so many years ago. When the girl on the pole cried out she averted her eyes, refusing to witness the cruelty the scarred man had promised her in his icy whisper.
She felt an arm sneak around her shoulder but didn't care anymore when she heard the crowd cheer as one man. Desperately trying to block out the memories as much as the present she got so caught up in her fierce panic that tears started to spill. Heavy sobs erupted and Halem lost it right there.
His arms went around her in an instant, lifting up the confused young woman as if she weighed nothing, the man's strength certainly belying his lean stature.
As the encouraging shouts and cheers of the crowd grew more and more distant and gradually became replaced by a soft humming that soothed her fears, Selia summoned her courage, stealing a glimpse of her surroundings again. The smile on the man's face was almost gentle, nothing like the cruel, superiorly smug grin of his friend.
The young woman's vulnerability became his undoing. The horror reflected in her watery eyes, the burning pain of guilt he tried to sooth as desperately as he tried to calm her with the ancient tune.
Their eyes met for a moment, the horror now fading Selia sensed sadness and pain on the man's face despite his smile.
"He said ... he told me I .... I would be standing in her place next time."
Where the words had come from she didn't know, neither where the trust she felt budding in her heart. Her wrists were still secured tightly, this man had assisted in kidnapping her, even promised to break her skin to his companion should she not behave and yet here she was, uttering her innermost fear, wanting to share it, hoping desperately that he would deny it, hoping for someone to make that paralyzing fear go away.
The man's smile faded slowly, a thoughtful expression taking its place as he carried her down a few stone steps in the dark corridor, only illuminated by the torch around the corner they had already left. When his face became overshadowed by darkness the princess panicked.
"I ... I cannot. You must understand I can't! Please let me go. I won't tell anyone, I promise. Just please ... please let me go!"
She pleaded like an infant, desperate and frightened, birthright and title long forgotten in the shadow of fear.
"You ... you are not like him! I know it, I have seen ..."
Her pleading was cut short as he placed her on a pallet with outmost care. Dropping to his knees beside her he produced a slip of rag that he put around each ankle before securing the heavy iron cuffs around them. They would allow for little movement since the chain that tied them to the stone wall was but a few feet long. He pushed a little pot located at the far end of the cell near the foot of the pallet and filled the jug at the head of it with water from his gourd, all the time ignoring her desperate pleas.
The night would be chilly deep in the heart of the mountain with nothing to protect her from the cold, thus he decided against disrobing her just yet. She would have a hard enough time coming her way in the morning; let her rest in peace at least for one more night.
After checking the ankle cuffs one more time he released her aching wrists from their binds. The gentle fingers kneading her palm caught her quite by surprise, drawing an involuntary sigh of pleasure from her when she finally felt proper circulation returning to her numb fingertips. Halem's fingers lingered for a while, luxuriating in the silky feel of the skin of his captive. Those hands had never carried heavy buckets nor had they ever worked the fields. The smooth and soft touch felt like an irresistible contrast to his callused palm.
"What is your name?" His voice matched the gentleness of his touch. Selia had trouble to focus for a moment before blurting out a single word:
"Lia." The man repeated in a whisper, as if tasting her name.
His captive. His woman. His Lia. His and no one else's! The words had started to form as a mere longing in his mind yet soon triggered a much more possessive feeling he had not experienced in a long time. He wanted her. The realization shook him to his very core causing him to draw back his fingers as if her hand was made of glowing iron.
As he looked back through the iron bars of the cell at the form of the young woman curled into a ball and weeping softly, he had to realize that it was already too late. The desire to hold her, to tell her that everything would be alright seemed overwhelming, his breath shaking with the memories of the past. What a fool would trust feelings that had already led him astray? What fool could forget even for a moment the dear price he and his family had paid?
No more of that foolish notion that is called love, he decided, angered by the vulnerability the rush of emotions made him experience. Perhaps Gorren was right, perhaps vengeance was the only way to get rid of the pain.