When it was over, it was all I could do to walk out of the amphitheater like a rational being. The foreigners who had come with me had the same mien. The nobles, however, looked used to it. No doubt the performance had stimulated them to enact some rituals of their own, for they walked up and down the halls examining the chained slaves as if shopping.
I was filled with disgust that they could so quickly turn on one of their station and then forget about it. J'Wabra felt obliged to give an explanation. "They are all Shezrine's prisoners," he said. "They must be heartless in order to survive the rigors of courtlife. Marnessa is not the first noble who has met that fate. The White Queen does it regularly to those who cross her, and they are all very careful to stay in her favor."
"Like baby crocodiles who devour their nestmates," I said sarcastically. "They will eat even a cherished sibling to gain an advantage of size and weight, no matter how slight."
"It is self-defense, nothing more." He led me away from the amphitheater, back to the entrance hall of the palace. "We are lucky Shezrine did not suspect us. You said you had a message from Shadow, is that right?"
"Yes," I said, my mind turning back to the reason I had come here. "He said that the Queen's forces are stretched thin, and that his--"
J'Wabra stopped me with a gesture."You must tell us tomorrow when we are all together. There are quite a few of us working within the palace, and we all have contacts outside. I suggest you leave General Dragoncord's interview earlier than planned. I will fetch you and we will meet in secret then."
It seemed a logical course of action, as to talk out here in the halls would only arouse suspicion. I assured him I would, and left the palace.
It was nearly midnight, the moons striping the grounds through the tall poles and their prisoners. Now I caught the whiff of decomposing flesh from them. How ironic that a place of sensual pleasure existed within a ring of death. The guards let me through the wall of thorns without incident and I quickly returned to the inn, anxious to leave Syonhoddaz and its obscene rituals behind me.
I undressed and climbed into bed, but could not compose myself for sleep. Raucous laughter came from the concupisceriums that lined the streets. From time to time I heard pleas of mercy, snaps of whips. It was only now that I understood what they were...houses of pleasure where any might indulge, for a fee, in the erotic games of the Queen and her court. I groaned, pulling the blanket over my head. I finally fingered myself a bit, but the shallow orgasm did not satisfy. Moonlight poured across my bed: gibbous Wolfmoon, crescent Poritrin. Skusje, the smallest moon, was a white moth against the stars, moving so quickly I could track her progress with my eyes. I wondered how Shadow was faring. Was he even less human now than when I had surprised him in the hills?
I finally managed to fall asleep, but a series of erotic dreams kept me tossing and turning all night. Again I stood in the royal courtyard, not as a visitor but as a slave, a steel collar weighing on my neck as I stood amidst dozens of others, all of us displayed as potential purchases to the Queen. I waited fearfully in my fetters, not sure if I looked forward to being chosen, or dreaded it. Row by row she walked, gradually coming closer, until she stopped in front of me. I kept my eyes down in submission, noting the lushness of my own body, my full breasts with their hard brown nipples. She lifted my chin in her fingers, and gazed into my eyes...
...and I was pleasuring her of my own will, on a canopied bed hung with silver-brocaded drapes, the two of us sealed face to crotch, her white thighs wrapped around my neck as I hungrily devoured her dripping sex...
...and Shadow crouched in front of me, a thick coat of fur covering his taut chest and powerful, athletic thighs. His face was his own, but a wolf's ears pointed from the top of his head. He knelt with an animal grace, drawing my hand towards him so that I might feel his pelt. "I look like an animal, but I have the needs of a man," he growled. I felt his nipples through the thick fur, and as he said there were more than one pair of them, and all of them were hard. His claws scraped against my skin as he drew me closer...
...and then I was awake, squinting at the bright sunlight that gilded my window. I groaned, feeling like I had hardly any sleep at all. I had a bath, then dressed in more modest attire for my return trip to the palace.
I had no intention of joining the army, of course. But even so I had to make a show of enthusiasm as General Dragoncord showed me his forces. It was only slightly forced, for they were impressive: one of the best fighting legions I had seen, and their weapons and armor were superb also. I privately noted the locations of the arsenals, barracks, and stables. The information would later prove invaluable to the rebels.
As J'Wabra suggested, I left early and made my way back into the palace. Sure enough, he was waiting. "You had your talk with the general?"
"I did, and begged my leave without giving my decision. I said I would inform him later."
He quickly covered me with a hooded cloak. "My people are waiting in the concupiscerium. Keep your head down, my lady, so no one should recognize you."
"I know," I grumbled. "I am well aware of how recognizable I am in this land."
He chose to ignore that remark and quickly led me through the main halls of the palace. Then, through a series of secret passages only trusted palace servants knew, we entered Shezrine's concupiscerium. My head was down so I could not see, but I received the impression of dozens, hundreds of naked slaves, some displayed in pillars or cages, some kneeling on velvet cushions. The smell was indescribable: costly perfume, flowers, incense, human musk. It was warm to the point of discomfort. We seemed to pass through a huge room, then a garden where cool fountains played, then a shadowed hall where muted moans came from either side. I began to grow severely disoriented. "J'Wabra, where are your friends?"
"In here," he whispered, and opened a door. I blinked, pushing the hood away from my face. We were in a small, undecorated room with nine others. They were a mixture of nobles, palace servants, even a few slaves. They jumped as if surprised. As rebel sympathizer in the heart of Shezrine's palace, they were understandably cautious. J'Wabra quickly introduced me. "This is Lady Tanimury, an amazon from Pharazion. She is one of our sympathizers, and carries a message from Shadow and the King."
There were no introductions, as time was of the essence; we might not have this room for long. I cleared my throat and told them the news...how Bontatris had fallen, and how the rebels intended to take advantage of that to oust Shezrine for good. I told them when they could expect it to happen, and how they might abet it.
"I must repeat this message to two other sources," I said. "The high priestess of the Temple of Tontaxir, and Duke Ushroez, a noble who is the ringleader of the other dissatisfied nobles of the city. For when the city falls, it must fall from the inside as well as out."
"I do not know about the temple," J'Wabra said. "They are very circumspect these days, not wanting to challange the Queen's authority with their own. The high priestess is rarely seen and not even her name is known. I'm afraid no one knows how to contact her. But the Duke, ah, that is more troubling, for he has been under arrest for the last twenty days. He and all his kin are confined to their estate by the Queen's guards, and no one is permitted to enter or leave."
Our plan had hit a snag. "What?" I said. "How can she do that? Does she know he is a rebel?"
"It had nothing to do with that," one of the other nobles volunteered. "The Queen wanted his borzium mines for herself, offering him several lucrative fiefs outside the city in return, but he chose not to acquiesce. He is too powerful for Shezrine to kill or enslave, for the other nobles would be up in arms against her. But she can force his decision by keeping him confined. "
"I will sneak past her guards," I decided.
"Not a good idea," J'Wabra said. "It's too risky. For if you are captured or wounded, how would the other rebels hear your advice?"
He had a point. "But he must hear me out! He is the linchpin. If he does not hear and cannot act, we are all doomed!"
"There is a way around that." With surprise I saw it was the red-haired pleasure slave who had abetted Shezrine the night before. "Shezrine knows how idle he is. I heard she is sending him a gift of slaves from her concupiscerium to try to force his hand. They are to leave from the west gate later this afternoon. I could be secreted among them and give them your message."
"I don't think so," I said coldly.
She stared back at me coolly, her sweet sensual face composed. "I am a rebel, the same as you," she said. "What you saw of me last night was merely my duty. I could not help but obey, for when you are a slave disobedience is death, or something worse. I did not like doing that to poor Marnessa, but thankfully she did not know me as a rebel. She knew very few of us, actually. Shezrine was right in her suspicions, but had overestimated the value of her catch."
"And where is poor Marnessa now?" I asked acidly. I couldn't help feeling the slave was partly to blame, even if she did have to unwillingly carry out her role.
"We have no time to argue," J'Wabra insisted. "We must find a way to contact the Duke. If the slave is unsuitable, I suggest that Lady Tanimury herself go."
I did not like the plan at all. I, an amazon and mercenary, sent to the House of Ushroez as a common pleasure-slave? But it was the only way I could get inside without incident and speak with him, as the message from the rebels must be delivered promptly.
"I will prepare her," the red-haired slave said. "Come with me. It will not take long."
"See that it doesn't," J'Wabra said nervously. "We have more to discuss when you are done."
The slave led me into a small, private chamber that opened off the main room. I followed her with trepidation. I couldn't help feeling I had become a pawn. The slave began to rummage through chests of baubles, pulling out jeweled collars, ankle bracelets, and pots of glitter. "You will have to strip, you know. Slaves travel naked."
"I know," I said, my heart thumping fast. She was nude too, of course, a state unremarked on by the other rebels. "I have no objections to being naked. The people of my homeland have gone that way for centuries. "
"You will have to perform, also."
I laughed. "I realize what I am doing and for what cause. I am no blushing virgin, slave. "
"My name is Aradra," she said with annoyance. She slipped a gold chain around my waist, noting its size.
Her businesslike manner impressed me against my will. "How is it that you are not like the other slaves here? They cringe and cower, yet you posess a mind of your own."
"Who says they do not?" she said. "If we act as we do, it is to avoid worse punishments."
"But the Queen's brand..."
"...is magic, and very powerful. But sometimes she is tired or distracted when she sets the spell, and the magic runs out before its time. That is what happened to me. Her spell wore off years ago. I am still a slave with no means of escape. But I am also in an excellent position to know everything that goes on in the palace. Do you know that the Queen is not the dominatrix she proclaims herself to be? She is not only a monster, but a liar as well."
"What do you mean?"
"I will tell you," Aradra said, composing herself for a story. "Last night, after the show, the Queen called me to her chambers to attend her. She already had a man with her, a young prince from a neighboring city-state her beauty had ensnared. He was besotted with her. Eyes shining, he did whatever she said. And she did not even have to use her magic! My job was to aid them in their lovemaking, not necessarily to participate, but to handle and clean the instruments of their passion, dress and undress them, and fetch wine or other things to drink for them. She thought no more of me being there than she would of an animal. That's how she sees her slaves. You heard it last night.
"The prince was very young, no more than eighteen I think. The Queen toyed with him the same she would with a slave, and he gasped and cried like a slave. They did things his young mind had never even dreamed about. I brought them chilled wine and trays of exotic foodstuffs when their passion had cooled. They ate and rested, waiting til the hunger grew strong again, talking of inconsequential things.
" 'Massage me,' Shezrine purred. That was the signal for me to open the hamper and present the prince with a selection of oils and ungeants to excite and enhance lovemaking. I kept my head down, my knees on the floor, my posture abject. I was still garnished with my bands and chains, but the prince did not notice me, as Shezrine outshone me like a great blaze outshines the flicker of a candle.
"He massaged her. The Queen rolled over on her breasts and belly, presenting her backside. 'What is this?' he said in alarm. He was staring at her basilisk brand.
"What an innocent he was. Pale, dewy skin, strong shoulders, yet a delicate, vulnerable face under his golden prince's beard. The Queen made an amused noise. 'A slave's brand, same as with all the other slaves of Obn Dhregni, the City of Carnality. For I, too, am a slave--a slave to my state, a slave to the throne and the ultimate power it represents. For how can I enslave others if I know nothing of slavery and the price it exacts?' "
The young prince was fascinated. He stroked her strong, lean buttock. Her skin shone like silk under the oil he rubbed there. It smelled of spice and rain. The Queen half-closed her eyes like a contented cat. She liked him doing that to her. She enjoyed his wonder, the faint undertone of revulsion, and the fact he would not dare mention either to her.
"She gave forth a dusky laugh. 'Slaves are the lucky ones, not I,' she said.
"The prince was alarmed. 'Why is that?' he said. He of course had already spent some time in the palace and city, seen the way they were treated.
" 'Because their lives are so simple. They wish only to please the one in command of them. That is all. Look at this one.' She pulled me closer. 'See how she diligently attends us. That is all she thinks of. No thoughts of tomorrow, or of the day before. It is a beautiful thing.' She gently pinched my cheek. 'What is your name, little pet?' "
" 'I have none, my Queen,' I said. It was the conditioned response we are all taught to make. 'I do not not need one to serve you.'
"Shezrine laughed. 'You see? No thoughts even of herself.'
"Now I will tell you we do have names among ourselves to which our keepers refer, otherwise they could not keep track of us, but to the Queen we are all interchangeable. I wonder if she knew how much I hated her that night, how wrong she was about us. I would like to rip the flesh from her face, the witch!
"But I had to keep up my act of abjectness, and only bowed my head meekly. And as she always does, she must stroke me then, bringing to flower the passions that brew in us always to prove her mastery over our flesh. My nipple chains fairly danced with it, and of course I was aroused. But I felt no devotion or desire to serve her, make sure of that!
"I was sent then to a corner of the room where I would wait as they conversed. Shezrine was in a talkative mood. She was not half so talkative with the other bed partners I had seen her have. The wine had loosened her. And too, I suppose she wanted to shock and scandalize and titillate this young princeling. 'Every so often,' she said, 'three or four times a year, I disguise my appearance and have my courtiers bind me as a common slave, and they take me down to Ajaskafari Market and sell me on the auction block. No one knows who I am; they see but an anonymous piece of flesh. For the next few days, I am then subject to the same cruelties, humiliations, and debasements that the common slaves are. From this, I learn how things fare in my city. I learn, too, of plots that are being hatched against me, for who would stay their tongue in the precense of a slave? I have picked dates in the hills north of the city; been whipped for insolence in a tavern south of the palace mount; moaned under the weight of a common trash-hauler in a public concupiscerium. Naked, hairless, and gleaming with oil, I marched with hundreds of others, all property of the Merchant House of Zantongo, to an unknown fate far in the west. On a small farm in Chuven I was shackled to a turn-wheel to churn my own breast milk into butter. Gilded with gold paint, hung with jewels, I took my place as a slave statue, amidst hundreds of other slave statues, to ornament the halls of my own palace. There are many paths for a slave, love, some of them quite delicious in their subjugation, their utter loss of selfhood. I find it a refreshing change from the throne.'
"I was shocked at her escapades and by the fact she actually found pleasure in them. But I was a slave, and who cared what I thought? 'But what if there is a mistake?' the young prince said. 'Suppose no one believes you are the Witch-Queen of Obn Dhregni, and you stay a slave forever?'
"Don't be foolish, when I wish to return to the throne I simply throw off my shackles and disappear. Who can hold the Witch-Queen against her will? And as for remaining a slave forever--is that so bad?' A deceptively innocent smile, full of feral knowledge, appeared on Shezrine's face. 'And how would you like being a slave, my young prince?'
"The prince looked at once insulted and very confused. I could clearly see her confession had aroused him again. He did not keep slaves in his city. He didn't understand. 'I would rather remain free, your majesty,' he said carefully.
"The Queen roared with laughter, throwing back her head. 'I could make you give a different answer. But I will not.' "
He kissed her passionately, crushing her pendulous breasts against his strong, well-muscled chest. He already was her slave, in a way. With his other hand he spread her legs, stroking the silky hair between them.
" 'No,' the Queen said urgently. 'This time we shall do things differently.'
"He looked puzzled, but she had already given me orders to open the casket that lay at the foot of the bed and bring her what was in there. I did. A wooden pole about three feet long, a whip, a long length of rope, a leather case which I knew held a selection of phalluses. I immediately thought I was to be the victim of the tools, but the Queen had other ideas. In a low, coaxing voice she told the prince of her plans. His confusion returned. She continued, tempting him, turning round his mind. She lulled him with her voice alone. She did not need her witch's magic to do this. It was her native power, her long years of experience.
"If I was not to be the victim, neither was the prince. The Queen lay face down on the bed as the prince bound her as she had instructed him to. Needless to say I was very surprised. I had never heard of Shezrine behaving so. She had always taken pain to act the opposite. Now her pose was revealed as a lie. Bondage and abuse were what she really hungered for. Hungered for so badly she did not dare enact it with a citizen of her own city but with a foreigner.
"Shezrine looked like a fowl fit for roasting when he had done. Her legs had been stretched wide apart and her ankles bound tightly to the ends of the pole, which was then brought up over her back. Then her wrists were tied behind her and secured to the middle of the pole. I could not imagine a more helpless position. Her sex couldn't have been any more exposed. It looked like a pink silk purse stretched wide, its edges trimmed with mink. I saw the lips of it move. 'Look at it, prince,' the Queen said, already becoming very aroused in this ignomious position. I could tell from the strain in her voice. And he hadn't even done anything to her yet! 'This wet and hungry mouth, see how it is starving. Don't you want it? Wouldn't you like to take it, possess it?'
"Of course he did, he was so erect it must have been painful, the cock colored almost magenta. But the Queen's knees and the wooden pole were in the way. The Queen squirmed on her belly, making the satin bedcover bunch up around her. She raised her head as much as she could and looked behind her. 'Don't you want to take it? You can do it, with your mouth.' Her words were a lewd hiss. 'You can pleasure yourself with your hands as you do so.'
"And the prince did, quite vigorously, moaning as he did so. And the Queen moaned too, pressing her face against the satin, making sounds that sounded like she was suffering the worst of tortures.
" 'Enough,' she hissed. 'Leave off! Enough!' The prince withdrew, obeying the tone in her voice, even though he had not come to orgasm, was as unsatisfied as he had been in the beginning. 'You see that leather case? Open it.'
"With eager, trembling hands he did so, and stared in apprehension at the phalluses. The Queen hurriedly gave him instructions in their use.
" 'Oh, I cannot,' the prince begged. 'Your majesty, wouldn't you rather--'
" 'I know the magnitude of what I want,' Shezrine said in that urgent, pained voice. If she had the organ of a man concealed deep within her body, which sometimes I believe she does, it would now be colored so red as to be almost black! 'Take them, put them in. Do it now, love.'
"The prince flushed scarlet, but he took the largest of the phalluses and pushed it deep into her minj. One phallus was not enough for her. Another was chosen and inserted, with lubrication, into her anus. Both were fixed to her with leather straps. The Queen panted at the prince's touch, mouthing the bedcovers, her contortions wilder than any slaves' I had ever seen. It was obvious she was highly excited.
" 'The whip,' she panted.
"'The prince commenced to lash her. Her eyes shut and she gasped at each stroke. The whip was not a large instrument; it was short and of the type that has many tails that covered a large area of flesh in one stroke. I knew it stung, having been hit with it myself, but no mark appeared on her skin. A magical safeguard, no doubt. The prince was reluctant with it at first, but eventually even he became excited. His strokes grew harder, more powerful. With his other hand he pleasured himself. He had adapted swiftly to this game. The Queen moaned, sweat breaking out on her silky, muscular body. She flexed her back up and down.
" 'The gag, the gag,' she moaned.
"The prince did not know what this was so I had to dig it out for him and show him how it was used. He shoved the leather in the Queen's mouth and she bit down on it lovingly, her expression one of ecstasy as he buckled it behind her head. Now that she was gagged she became freer with her cries. Her body writhed and bounced, marvelously elastic. Her cries became hoarser, at once triumphant and abandoned. The long soles of her feet drew up as the prince swung his arm, then curled as the blow hit. Her sex was red and shining. The phalluses and the straps that held them looked marvelously degrading, black plugs that protruded from the creamy mounds of her buttocks. I would have been happy she was so tortured, but she got so much pleasure from it! And it was clear to me that even in this she was in command, as she forced the young prince to be the instrument of this forbidden passion.
"Again and again the blows hit. She ground her face in the covers, moaning. Her buttocks tightened, loosened, then tightened again around the rim of the phallus she was helpless to expel. Her body quivered under the whip. It even licked her sex and the inner skin of her thighs, and this brought louder cries from her.
"Finally her passion reached its climax. Babbling incoherently behind her gag, her flesh convulsed. Her back arched, her head lifted. Her whole body went rigid as if she had been turned to stone. I have no doubts that she would have liked to preserve herself at the pinnacle of this debilitating, deliciously shameful orgasm and take her place, petrified, on a marble pedestal for all to see.
"But she sank down again, damp, satiated. She flicked her hair away from her face. She breathed deeply.
"The prince took off her gag. 'Well done, prince,' she said gently. She kissed him on the mouth. He had reached orgasm too and from his limp pliability I knew it had been just as powerful and draining for him. 'A lesson well learned, I think, and one that will give you much pleasure in your native city. Now, take the rest of the rope, and secure me to that hook on the ceiling above the bed. From there I would watch you take your pleasure with the slave. Replace my gag, and secure it to the pole so my head is raised.'
"It was just as shocking an order as the one to first bind her had been, but he obeyed her without question. I helped him hoist her up. The white bitch! She had done that to us so many times, teased us to pleasure, then bound us and set us to watch as she took another. I never dreamed she was envious of the torment she inflicted.
"So the prince had me in the most conventional of ways as the bound Queen swung above us on the hook, her wide eyes staring down on us, her hair a pale scarf that moved gently with her movements. And we slept that way, with the hook creaking above us with its burden.
"In the morning I was quickly whisked back to the slave halls. The Queen, of course, had freed herself during the night and was now in her audience chamber with her ministers. There was never any doubt she could not have freed herself, given her powers. None at all."
I folded my clothes in silence. Aradra's story explained a lot about Shezrine's behavior. Perhaps there was some way the rebels could use it against her.
Aradra looked me up and down as I stood before naked before her. "You are very beautiful in a savage, foreign way, but you do not have the cow-tits and moon-buttocks we have here in the palace. Still, we can pass you off as an exotic." She told me the the slaves had grooms who kept them beautified, but naturally the slaves had picked up the basics of preening themselves, and the grooms permitted this, as it saved them time. So she quickly bathed me in a small tub of lukewarm water, then rubbed me with gold-tinted oil. "It will help hide the color of your skin," she said. I jumped as she combed it into my pubic hair but she told me to be still. All slaves had to put up with that kind of grooming.
She then applied cosmetics to my face, gilding my eyelids with silver and painting my lips crimson. Then the ornaments came, silver cuffs for my wrists and ankles, snake bracelets for my upper arms, and a chain for my waist that dangled heavy glass teardrops of many different colors. It drooped over my hips, the cold weights resting heavily against my pubis. Then she told me to bend over and painted a facsimile of the basilisk brand on my buttock. It was indelible in water but would come off with an application of alcohol.
A stone for my navel, and the project was done.
"Lovely," she said as I stood naked before her. "You are easily one of us." Then her eyes became more critical. "Now listen closely. As a pleasure slave, you are never to look up or raise your eyes unless commanded. You speak only when spoken to. You keep your replies restrained and precise. You say as little as possible. You do not show will or initiative or anything but the simplest comprehension of things. You give your entire attention to whoever claims you, and respond with the greatest enthusiasm even if you feel otherwise.
"Can you remember that?"
I nodded with my eyes lowered submissively, preparing myself for the ordeal ahead. What had I gotten myself into?
On to Chapter 9
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