Warning: Contains explicit violence
Hopefully, you find this story as disturbing to read as it was to write.
Her legs were tingling, begging to flee but her guts were in a knot. Why was her village doing this to her? She wondered if she had done anything wrong and searched her memory to find her guilt.
She had only seen him briefly through the years but he always frightened her. Those raven-black eyes of his piercing into her where she couldn't even bear to look. There was something evil about His Lordship, so evil that no one dared to speak. Her youthful inquiries about the recluse in the castle were always met by silence. For years, he was the source of her fear and her fascination. He haunted her thoughts during the day and her dreams at night. Recently, her dreams had changed. She would see those hypnotizing eyes close above her and felt his hands clutching her breasts and thighs. When she woke, trembling in fear, she found the hands had been her own and she was damp in sweat, but not just sweat.
He was a handsome enough man, despite his features. His nose was large and sharp, like the beak of an eagle and his chin and cheekbones were just a bit too jutting as though his skin were too tight. There was something about him, something dark and mysterious that made him so attractive. Behind those intense eyes he was sullen and sad. She saw it in him last time, there was something lost and never forgiven. It was strange of her to look at him so directly but he turned so quickly and caught her by surprise. She was more afraid to look away and returned his gaze, transfixed. She just stood and watched as this black cloaked man and his black horse rode into the fog.
It was unusual for him to be seen at all. Occasionally, strangers would come through the village on the way to the castle. They were dressed as nobility but looked bizarre. Her father mentioned that there was too much Hapsburg in their blue blood and not enough of anything else. He warned her to avoid them. Mostly, all that came out of that castle on the top of the cliff were his women servants. They were just as strange and just drifted into the seaside fishing village to gather food and wares. All three of them dressed only in black, as though in mourning but they had no husbands to mourn. They never talked, just pointed, and they never had to pay. That was the price for His Lordship's protection. Not just the food but the servants, too. She always wondered what he protected them from and how that lone man could be depended upon.
Two of the women, she knew from before. She couldn't remember their names but she played with one when she was a child. That one was six years older than herself and joined His Lordship's service many years ago when she became a woman. The other had been her neighbour when she was very young and her parents still were, but she never returned to visit. It was odd that, just as they were old enough to marry, they would volunteer to live in that dreary castle. It was even odder that the men of the village would not talk to them or even look upon them as they were the fairest women of the village.
"All the more for me to choose among," she thought, as she was 18 and coming of age as well.
And she truly had her choice of suitors. She was a fair haired beauty of gentle character and pleasing proportions. The boys had always favoured her but her first kiss was to be her husband and that would not be a boy. The men looked at her wantonly but they had to wait and act appropriately. It was a small village with only one church and they had to be respectful. Still, it didn't keep the men from flirting and it, certainly, did not stop her. She smiled and gazed overtly at all the men, eligible or otherwise, just to see them squirm. It was her power, to make men drool, and she flaunted it at every opportunity. She was so secure that she could not tempt them beyond their tolerance because that had never happened, not to anyone. Not ever, not here.
The Sabbath had always been her favourite day. After church, she would run home and change into her best dress. She had a lacy white skirt that scandalously exposed her ankles and a bliaut that was barely more than a corset. It was not the fancy silk and brocades of the nobility but she was the height of fashion for the village. Everyone, except for His Lordship, would be gathered and grateful for their blessings. Children would be playing while their parents would talk and eat and drink. Eventually, even they would be playing but they preferred to call it, 'sports'. The revelries continued until dark and longer for those without children. This was her day to shine
"Good day gentlemen. Would you care to taste my wares," she would lead as she carried a platter of pickled eggs above her waist.
"I would love to nibble on those juicy tomatoes."
"But sir, I have no tomatoes... Oh my, such a scoundrel. Besides, they're not quite ripe enough for a toothless old man like yourself ," she said with a coy smile and walked away to a chorus of laughter from his friends.
Recently, things had changed. Some of the older men had no patience for her antics and became sombre just being in her presence. Women, too, always seemed on the verge of tears. Somehow, she felt responsible. They all went silent when she entered a room and looked at her forlornly. Sadness followed her like a shadow. She asked her mother about the villager's ominous behaviour and was assured her that it was just the times and that she was being vain. Her mother's eyes seemed to be telling a different story but, perhaps, that was just her own vanity, as well. There was plenty to be sad about lately.
She blamed it on the weather. The skies had been grey for weeks but the rain never fell. Lightning burnt land, a boat and even a farmhouse and thunder shook them from their beds. The house was rebuilt within days and with the help of the entire village but they couldn't fix everything. At dusk, the fog rolled in from the cliffs as if emanating from the castle and covered the village in stillness. The air grew stagnant and smelled of rot. The crops were only producing half as much in the gloomy weather and a plague of insects were taking more than their share. If that wasn't bad enough, fishermen were returning with empty boats. All this had happened before in her memory but that was several years ago. Eventually it cleared, back then, and the village went back to being such a happy place.
Even at church, this morning, the pastor gave an unusual sermon. She remembered it vividly.
"It is in these times of strife we must forgive. Take pity on those in league with the Devil for they corrupt only themselves. Only fortune differs us from them and in our sympathy for them, we bless ourselves. In sacrifice, we find salvation and absolve ourselves of our flirt with evil. May God forgive us."
"Such strange words," she thought to herself and struggled to find their meaning.
Was he talking about the mysterious Lordship, who never came to church? What about that "flirt with evil"? Was he talking about her? Do they blame her for what's happening? She decided to change her ways. She would avert her eyes from men and show restraint. She swore never to use her smile as a weapon or a tool. It was too late.
After church that day, there was no celebration, no playing. Everyone returned to their homes in quiet contemplation. That evening, dinner was all her favourite foods, as if it was prepared just for her. She could not enjoy it amidst the grave expressions of her parents that spread like a sickness to her younger sister and brother. A knock came on the door and her parents seemed to nearly faint. Her father visibly exhaled like he had been hit in the gut and her mother covered her face in her hands. Nobody moved to answer the door, not even the children, who felt, but could not know, that it was bad.
Another knock and her father rallied his strength and instead of letting the visitor in, stepped outside and closed the door behind him. She heard talking outside but could not make out the words. The tone was of pleading. Minutes later, the door creaked open and her father led the pastor inside. Her mother led her siblings to their beds and came back, wiping the tears from her eyes.
The pastor started in a soft but commanding voice, "Dear girl, you have been chosen to serve His Lordship. You will be escorted to his castle shortly. No need to gather your belongings. Everything will be provided. Please accompany me to the church."
At first, she was relieved but it slowly began to dawn on her. Outside the door were a dozen of the elder villagers with torches that led the way. She clung onto her father, who supported her as she walked, but it soon became apparent that it was her mother that needed help.
As she walked alone, she begged, "I'm sorry. I promise not to tease the men. I'll be good."
"Oh, sweet girl," the pastor's voice trembled, "You were chosen for your innocence, not your guilt. His Lordship selected you."
Three women in black awaited outside the church. They had stern expressions and walked up to her and took her hand, leading her away without a word.
She turned around to see her mother crying in her father's arms, "Don't worry, I'll be seeing you soon."
Her mother knew better or knew worse, to be accurate.
Perhaps 'castle' is an inaccurate term, it was more of a chateau within a fort. The outer walls were twice as tall as her and had a wooden gate that she had never seen open before. The building inside was two stories tall with a high pitched roof. In the middle was a tower with battlements above and a large arched gateway that led through to the stables and courtyard. Between the gates and the castle was a long neglected garden that was wild with vines and thorns. The castle, itself, was intact but corroded. The dark grey of the stones from which it was built was all too familiar but, somehow, imposing.
Inside, the walls closed in around her in dark corridors, lit only by sparse candles. There was an odour of soot and mould. Closed doors hid the contents of the rooms behind and a stairway led to the upper floor. She was led into the left wing of the castle and into a dreary room with bars in the window and only a straw mattress on the floor.
The two younger women stood back while the one she didn't know asked, "What is your name?"
"Elizabeth," she answered, surprised because she assumed that they taken a vow of silence.
The woman slapped her across the face, "Your name is Number Four! ......What is your name?"
The slap had stung but only enough to make her defiant. She noticed that the youngest of the women, the one whose name she couldn't remember, had a sympathetically pained expression.
"My name ... is Elizabeth!"
The next slap sent her to the floor. By the time she could focus again, she saw that she was alone. She tried the door but it was locked. Her mind was racing with the thoughts of what she had gotten into and she didn't think she would ever sleep but she was exhausted, more emotionally than physically, and fell asleep while staring at the iron rings on the ceiling.
She was startled awake by the sound of the latch and all three women entered the room. The light through the window meant that it was morning. She stood up as they walked up to her slowly.
"My name is Number One. This is Number Two and Number Three. What is your name?"
"Num... Num ...Number Four," she stuttered.
Number Two threw a black walking dress on to the bed and ordered, "Put that on."
She could tell that they weren't going anywhere until she did and felt uncomfortable getting undressed in front of them. She stripped to her underclothes and reached for the black garment on the bed.
"No, all of it." Number One ordered with a sinister grin.
She tried to cover herself as best she could but she only had two hands. Number One and Number Two leered at her, like the way she liked men to do, but this made her scared. She put on the dress but still felt exposed without a petticoat and pantaloons.
"Number Four has taken her first step," Number One stated sarcastically, "The next steps will be much more difficult."
The first day, she was assigned to scrubbing floors. All day and deep into the night. The other three took turns watching over her. She never saw His Lordship and she never was offered food. She wanted to ask for food but she didn't. She didn't talk at all and they didn't talk to her. She did what she was told to the best of her ability and continued from one room to the next, only getting off her knees to refill the wooden bucket with water and lye. Finally, Number Two told her that it was time for sleep. She collapsed onto the mattress, aching, exhausted and hungry. She looked at her hands that were white and wrinkled. The lye burned her skin but it stopped the bleeding. She didn't have the energy to look at her sore knees. All she knew was that she could barely walk.
She was woken in the morning again but only by Number One and Number Two.
"You did a very good job yesterday and we have a reward for you," Number Two told her and handed her fresh clothes.
"That isn't it. We have breakfast waiting for you."
Every joint in her body ached, including some that she didn't know she had, and she felt like she had been run over by a horse. She had trouble getting her dress over her head.
"Let us help you with that."
She was too sore for humility and it seemed as if they weren't so bad. They certainly helped her remove her dress but their hands continued on her body. She felt her breasts being squeezed and a hand slid down between her legs.
"Stop!" she yelled and fell to the floor.
She huddled in the corner and whimpered, "Please stop."
"Get dressed and come down to the kitchen."
They left her alone with the door unlocked and she knew it was a chance to escape but she was too weak. She went to the kitchen and cowered in front of them. She could not even look at them.
"Sit down," Number Three offered, "I'll get your breakfast".
She gobbled down her breakfast and spent the rest of the day with Number Three. They cleaned the stables fed the livestock and other duties. They talked a little bit between long silences.
"It's really not so bad here but you must never refuse them, especially His Lordship. They will only be harder on you."
"You're not like them. Have you ever tried to escape?"
"No, and you won't either. Give it some time. You can't go back home."
"I remember you but I can't remember your real name?"
"Number Three. That's my only name. You don't know me." she yelled but then paused and continued softly, "Do yourself a favour and forget everything and everybody you ever knew before. Memories will only hurt. Your life started yesterday. Trust me, I'm just trying to help."
It only made her more scared. What could be so horrible that she had to forget her family? They betrayed her and sold her into slavery and terror but there had to be a reason. She began to wonder about His Lordship and being "in league with the Devil". There truly was evil here. She felt it. She smelled and tasted it. The air was thick with it and everything she touched was dirty with it but she didn't know what it truly was. She was only beginning to learn.
All four of them had dinner together and she was told that there were special plans for later. She was led to a room that she had never seen before. In the room were chains and unusual furnishings....
"Oh God! Save me Lord."
"Your God can't help you here and neither will your begging."
"So, sweet cheeks doesn't like to be touched," Number Two said threateningly.
"Shut up and strip her," Number One ordered.
"My pleasure," Number Two whispered as she leaned in and started to unbutton the blouse.
Soon, she stood naked and resigned to take her punishment and have it over with. She continued to mouth the words of a prayer under her breath. She shivered when Number Two fondled her breast but fought the urge to pull away.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
"See, this doesn't hurt so bad, does it? How about this?"
She pinched a nipple between her thumb and finger and twisted. Number Four screamed but regained her composure quickly. She couldn't look her assailant in the eye.
"Stop playing!" Number One barked.
With that, her limp body was led to chains hanging from the ceiling and she was shackled by her wrists.
Number One walked in front of her holding a handful of canes about three feet long and warned, "This is the price of refusal. Try to relax. You might even learn to enjoy it."
"Not the ass," Number Two suggested, "I want a piece of that, myself."
The first lash was the worst. She knew it would hurt, but not that much. Through the next seventeen, she summoned all her strength to keep from crying and screaming. She wouldn't give them the satisfaction of knowing they hurt her. The whipping had stopped but they weren't through quite yet. Number Two came up behind her, grabbed her ass with both hands and stuck her tongue in the newcomer's ear.
"I'll see you later, sweet cheeks"
"Clean her up but let her hang there for the night," ordered Number One.
A few minutes later, Number Three returned with a bowl and a wet cloth and gently sponged the blood of her back. She couldn't hold it in anymore. She started to cry uncontrollably and not just tears, her body shook as if she couldn't stop coughing and her legs could no longer support her weight. The shackles dug into her wrists.
"Shh. It'll be alright. Please stand up. C'mon stand up. You'll hurt yourself."
Number Three tried to support her but she wouldn't stop crying. Eventually, she unlocked the shackles and Number Four collapsed to the floor in a naked heap. Number Three held her as she continued to cry. The tears stopped but only because her eyes had run dry.
"Why?...sniff...Why me?...Why do the want to hurt me?"
"Because you are here. We have to."
"But you wouldn't hurt me ... sniff. "
Number Three stayed awake all night with the new girl's sleeping head in the her lap. Before dawn, Number Three woke the newcomer and put her back in the shackles before returning to her room. About an hour later, all three returned and released her. After a silent breakfast, she was locked back down in the same room, with a bucket. She inspected the tools of torture as she cleaned them and was horrified by their cruelty. There were racks for stretching and other's that could only maim or kill. She prayed never to see this room again but considered it unlikely. She was beginning to understand.
She was so pleased to go to her room that night with no further punishment. It was short-lived. She was awoken again but it was still dark outside. Since there were no sheets on the bed, she slept in her clothes but that wasn't the only reason. Number Two scared her.
"Come with us," Number One insisted with Number Two standing beside her.
She followed them down the hall and feared what they had in mind for tonight but resigned herself to the inevitable. They stopped at Number Three's bedroom door and gestured for the newcomer to enter. Number Three was shackled with chains hanging naked from the iron rings in the ceiling just as she, herself had been last night.
"Did you really think we wouldn't know?"
"Please don't hurt her. It was my fault. Punish me instead."
"We have a better idea. You are going to punish her."
"No, I can't...."
Number Three interrupted, "Do it. Do it or they'll double it for both of us."
Number Two handed over the canes. They were wrapped together neatly at the base by leather strapping a foot long. Number Four took the implement of torture and considered her options. There was only one. She looked at the back of Number Three and noticed the scars. She was covered in them. One scar led to another and they wrapped around her sides and down her ass and legs as if they searched for more flesh to disfigure. She saw her future.