Afterwards the Queen called in some of her slaves who took charge of me, leading me away to a washroom where I was bathed again, then oiled and chained to a cot so I could sleep. Though I was deeply tired by then, I dozed only fitfully, for in only a few hours my transformation would begin. The Queen would carry out her final campaign against the rebels, and there was nothing at all I could do about it. My friends were a trio of statues. All of this, because I had failed.
The light from the windows slanted, faded, died. A cool evening breeze ruffled the curtain and played across my torso, teasing my nipples into peaks. The Queen came for me at dusk. She wore the full splendor of a witch-queen for this night, the better to display her body--which was part and parcel of her power--to her court. A web of tiny fresh-water pearls traced her flesh, a parody of the harness she inflicted on her slaves; her breasts were nestled in half-cups of abalone, the pink cones of her nipples projecting over the rims. The silver rings that pierced them trailed yet more pearls that alternated with strands of opalescent beads, so that she was encased in silvery rainbows as she walked.
Above, her milk-white hair had been twisted into an elaborate sculpture, crowned by a diadem of diamonds and pearls. Below, the snow-white leather of her thigh-high boots creased sensuously over her knees and ankles. The boots had high heels of pure gold that were as sharp and narrow as daggers. Absurdly, I wondered how she could walk in them.
Then I remembered myself and cast my eyes down.
The Queen laughed softly. "You may look upon me. You may never see me in such raiment again." She knelt beside my cot, freeing me from the chains. At the moment I could have snapped her pearl-collared neck; constrained as she was by her heels and costume, she could hardly have stopped me. But I did not. I merely stood meekly as she fastened my wrist cuffs together behind me, then clipped a golden lead to my collar.
"Come," she said with a slight tug. "The ceremony is about to about to begin. It would not be seemly if you were late." Her light, silvery laughter mocked me as she led me to the garden...the ice-pale Queen cloaked in costly gems, her dark-skinned slave nude and hairless.
We emerged onto the terrace. The scent of night-blooming flowers filled the air. Torches burned, enticing moths to cremate themselves, and glints of light shot off the gemmed wrists and gold armbands of the gathered nobles. Slaves unrolled a carpet before us so the the Queen would not sully her golden heels on the grass. I kept my head bowed, my posture abject, but even so I noted how the members of the court looked at me. Never before had I felt so naked, so helpless. They were the elite of her kingdom and they could do anything they wanted to me, because I was now nothing. It was in their eyes as I passed, and I saw speculations forming...a narrowing of the eyelids, a quick, secret smile, a whispered comment to a comrade. Without a doubt they all knew who I was, how I had crossed the Witch-Queen of Obn Dhregni, and what she was going to do to me for it.
We came to a roofless pavilion that had been built especially for this night. My heart skipped a beat. For there, as she had said, was the branding frame, the brazier and the irons. All of this, overlaid with night breezes and jasmine and the sheltering branches of spicy citrus trees.
The music stopped. The Queen stood and faced her court, and as if on signal they bowed. "Hail to Queen Shezrine."
The Queen bid them to rise. "I have here a slave," she announced. "A fresh slave, one made only today. In her former life she was known as Lady Jozhande Tanimury, a warrioress of note. Perhaps you know of her. She came to my court as a spy, for the benefit of the rebels who are hiding in the hills. For that, I could have killed her. But I have decided to spare her. She will be my Rurani Eschai, the living complement to my power, and you in my court will witness the ceremony tonight."
She turned towards two heavily muscled guards who flanked the branding frame. "Fasten her," she ordered.
They gagged me, then took charge of me with brute efficiency. The frame was shaped like steepled hands, designed to bend the victim over, legs spead, with his or her rump in the air. First they clipped my ankle cuffs to eyelets in the wood so my feet were flat on the floor, then the blood rushed to my head as they bent me over double and secured my neck cuff to an eyelet on the other side. Thick leather straps at my knees and upper thighs secured my legs and another strap at my waist bound my arms and back against the frame. As a final touch they snapped two clamps onto my nipples and locked them, with chains, to my ankles. It was a simple yet effective safeguard against my escape, though I could hardly move at this point except clench my buttocks a little.
The Queen had a way to rectify even that. Attached to the wood against my crotch was another strap which the guards ran through the crack of my buttocks, cleaving them into two rounded globes. This they buckled tightly to the strap at the small of my back. It was most uncomfortable. I could only imagine how my rear looked...a pair of glossy melons mercilessly exposed to the nobles' scrutiny. How perfect a canvas they were, should any wish to adorn them, mark them as theirs.
The thought sent new moisture seeping from my insides, dampening my clit where it pressed against the warm, rough wood. Oh, why had I done this, why!
But I knew, that had I refused or fought this fate, that the Queen might have killed me or transmuted me into furniture. As long as I remained alive, there was hope. Shadow or the other rebels might rescue me. I might rescue myself once the spells wore off. Shezrine might grow careless. There was always hope.
That was what I told myself.
Legs spread, buttocks high, I waited for the inevitable. My sable skin gleamed with oil. Sweat rolled down my belly, over my breasts, and continued down my neck and scalp.
The music began again, a complicated rhythm of drums and bells. Though my collar held me firmly I was able to turn my neck a little. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Queen gesture over the brazier, muttering words in an arcane tongue. She threw in a pinch of dust that made a scarf of red smoke shoot up, with a spicy scent; then she tossed in a handful of dried leaves which made a white smoke; then a vial of black tarry substance which made no smoke at all, though it smelled awful.
Raising her arms to the sky, she tossed her head back, crooning the rest of the spell. Her voice rose, becoming a scream. She threw in a final object, what it was I do not know. It exploded in the flames in a violet-white flash. I shut my eyes, and the nobles gasped.
When I opened them again she was snaking on a long glove of gold leather, to protect her hand from the heat of the iron.
Merciful gods, not this! I bucked against the heavy frame, pulling against the straps that bit into my flesh. Fresh sweat broke out over my body. I felt it drip drown my breasts, falling in my face. It slicked my back. I felt it bead along my buttocks, sliding down into my crack. But for all my efforts, I made not the slightest difference in my bondage.
My heart hammered as the Queen chose the largest of the irons, raising it so her audience could see. At its tip swam the white-hot curve of the Caramaithzes basilisk, plumes of pale smoke rising from its contours. I estimated the design was the width of my hand. She moved out of my sight, and though I couldn't follow her progress I knew, without a doubt, she was walking to the frame.
No, I couldn't be branded on the rump like an animal! I tried to cry out, but the gag bade me silent. I could only make a gargling noise in my throat, which was lost in the drumbeats.
She stopped. She was standing very near me; I felt the warmth of her body, though I could not see her. The drumming ceased. No sound came then but the snaps of the torches, the calls of night insects. Blood thundered in my ears.
"My loyal subjects," she announced, "This slave is the Chosen of Tontaxir, the vessel for divine fulfillment. Let us glory in her journey."
A pause as she raised her arm. Her hand took centuries to maneuver the hot brand around, to press it, squarely, lovingly, into the flesh that awaited her.
I felt the warmth of it as it approached, then an intense localized heat; then the white-metal bit me deep. I screamed behind my gag. The pain was bad, very bad, and it went on for eons. I smelled my own flesh burning, the stink of hot metal. To my humiliation I lost control of my bladder, letting loose a stream of urine that splashed thickly against the frame. There could be no worse mortification than this, for a warrior to soil herself in this ignominious position, yet if any laughed and commented on it, I could not hear it.
The pain drove me beyond madness, beyond selfhood or reason, a sensation so total and debilitating I suppose it was truer to orgasm, and I had no recourse but to surrender to it. It rendered me and remade me. It was not only my skin that was burned. My soul was melted down as well, and poured into a new mold.
I was no longer myself.
I was her slave.
Memories of my village, my mercenary career, Shadow and the rebels...they all receded, becoming formless and dim, like dark humps on the horizen that may be trees or hills or maybe clouds. I knew my former life was being obliterated, but that life, and the loss of that life, did not interest me much. Such things were not important anymore. What was important now was pleasing the Queen and being the best slave I could...more important than family, friends, loyalties, the concept of goodness itself.
When that realization was complete, the brand slowly lifted.
The pain quickly faded as magic healed the wound. "The seal has taken," the Queen announced. She unstrapped me from the frame and turned me round to face the court. Their faces glittered like mica through my tears, their mouths opened in jeers, as their fists shook, fingers pointed: "There is the traitor, the warrior! How do you think she likes being a slave?"
A warm wave of emotion washed over me. I *wanted* their contempt, their scorn for the lowly being I was. As long as they pointed and laughed I was happy to be an object of derision; it was my new role in life, and I would demonstrate to them, over and over, how correct they were in granting me abuse. I would be the best slave as I had once been the best warrior, though I no longer properly remembered my former career.
Of my own accord, I dropped before the Queen's ankles and kissed her boots, weeping with gratitude. I was hers, and hers completely. No longer did I find such surrender loathesome. No self-doubt lurked in my mind, no anger or confusion ate at my soul. The White Queen smiled down on me, a goddess, and raised my head in her hands. I kissed her fingers, cupping them in my own, bringing my lips close.
"Show them, slave," she said. "Show my court your new brand, which shows you are mine."
Eagerly, yet without making a show of eagerness, I stood with my back to the audience and spread my legs wide, spine straight. I raised my arms and linked my hands behind my neck.
"Show them more," Shezrine said.
I bent at the waist so my buttocks were the highest part of me. I reached behind me and parted them to show the crowd my sex and anus.
A roar of laughter followed.
Shezrine suddenly struck my unbranded buttock sharply with a leather strap. "Make your new brand dance, slave."
I wagged my buttocks in a circle, back and forth, up and down. Every noble in the garden saw my new brand now, no mistaking it, and no mistaking the pleasure they took in it, either. Jeers and catcalls followed. My eyes closed, my lips parted, as the Queen whispered, "That's it, slave. Faster! Faster!"
Up and down, back and forth. As my flesh bobbled I felt the Queen's finger, still in its leather glove, slowly extend up my vagina, the slick walls giving her little resistance. Impaled, I churned harder, the Queen's arm moving with the motions to keep her finger tightly inside me.
Pandemonium erupted from the crowd.
As I continued my exercise I felt the Queen's finger withdraw and enter my anus. I gasped, slackening my pace. "Keep it in you, slave. I command it!" the Queen hissed, with a smack of her paddle.
I had no choice but to continue. Another finger entered me, then one more. My rectum clenched tightly around the gold leather as I felt the Queen's fingers move inside me. My breath became shorter. I was going to come in front of this jeering crowd, and not a thing could I do to prevent it.
But the gold-clad fingers withdrew. "See that?" the Queen announced with a final smack on my rump. "Loyal as a prize bitch, and not ten minutes fresh from the brand!"
I fell to the floor to kiss her boots again, to the excruciating laughter of the crowd. Again and again I kissed the soft leather.
"Rise," she commanded. "Hold out your breasts to me."
Trembling with devotion, I did so, cupping them in my hands. The magic from the brand had made them firmer, larger, the nipples lengthened by a good inch. They sat in my hands like two heavy fruits and I wouldn't have been surprised if sweet juice had even seeped out of them. The Queen took out her piercing tools. The needles were finely made, plated with bright gold, and looked very sharp. I inhaled sharply as she pierced me once, twice; the pain faded quickly.
When I looked down, two gold rings dangled enchantingly from the dark thumbs of my nipples. Each was the diameter of a calroon, the highest coin of the realm; and though they were thick as whores' earrings, my nipples were wider and thicker yet. Each was seamless; unless removed by a goldsmith or such, they would dangle there forever.
"Lay on your back," the Queen said, indicating a table placed there by the guards...for she meant to pierce my sex, a shame so severe even experienced libertines spoke of it in whispers.
Still trembling, I climbed on the table. I spread my thighs wide, holding my ankles apart with my hands as the Queen bent over my sex. I could not see what she did, but I felt it...a short, sharp pain from my clit, then my inner and outer labia. Now I was beringed in my sex as well. Each addition served to carve away another piece of my personality, sensitizing me to nerve endings I never before knew existed.
"Stand," the Queen said. "Show my court what you are now."
I stood, feeling the heavy gold rings tug against me. As a full slave I faced the jeering nobles: branded and pierced, cuffed and collared, oiled, naked, hairless...never in my wildest fantasies had I thought this would happen to me, that I could be rendered so lowly, so anonymous, so submissive. A new, drunken helplessness, as pleasurable as it was mortifying, washed over me, as the crowd responded with a roar of delight.
She leashed me then and led me back to the palace. "Come," she whispered. "This is your first night as Rurani Eschai, and we will spend it together, to celebrate your inception."
Such a strange walk it was: the palace halls dark and silent, our only light that from the human chandeliers hanging high above us, their splayed limbs casting eerie shadows on the floor as they twisted. The slave statues observed us too from their lonely niches; only their eyes moved, as their heads were rendered immobile by the high neck braces that kept them upright. But like the Queen, I gave the captives no more than a momentary glance.
She paused by a bas relief sculpture on the wall, the most realistic metalwork I had seen so far in the palace--the full frontal figure of a naked girl, her upper arms and thighs held at right angles to her body. Her forearms pointed up, palms facing us, while her lower legs and feet pointed down, spreading her sex. Her eyes were wide, her lips parted as she looked at us in glazed horror. Although only a sculpture I noted the vividness of the expression.
The Queen produced a key--I do not know from where, as her costume was quite scanty--and thrust it into the dark slot between the sculpture's legs, where its vagina might have been. To my horror, the sculpture moved, moaning and twisting as the secret door opened inward.
"They were sisters, once," the Queen said casually, and showed me the key: a wafer-flat, stylized profile of a female figure. "They were two of my earliest Rurani Eschai slaves, the daughters of the king of Lansong. What games they would play with one another for me! I grew tired of them eventually, but preserved them in these forms. It pleases me to have them serve me still."
We padded through the secret passage until we came to her inner sanctum, her bedchamber. Her bed was immense and carved from pale chilly marble; four posts carved in the form of human females stood with their arms raised, each holding a corner of the draperies. I have no doubt now they were transformed slaves. Bronzed male figures stood at attention throughout the room, their arms extended--and their cocks--to catch discarded clothes, and more males, now maple and mahogany, crouched on the floors to serve as footstools. And the lustrous marble of the floor held yet more imbedded victims in contrasting colors, subtle enough that they might be taken for designs in the stone, yet very obvious once you saw them. What magic had flattened and compressed them there I dared not think.
There were no other slaves save myself in the bedchamber. Living ones, anyway.
The Queen pointed to a spot on the foot of the bed and tied my leash to a ring there, as if I was a hound tethered while its master went shopping. "You will kneel here until I call for you," she said.
The satin covers crinkled sensuously beneath my knees. I kept my head down, obedient, but my heart was racing again, a mixture of abnegation and passion, at the thought I would serve her personally, here in her most private of chambers. When at last she called me to the bed I went eagerly, with a supple, sensual grace that was new to me. She lay sprawled across the covers, nude but for belt of crystals, and smiled at me lazily. "Lay with me; I would sample what I have created."
I stretched out full length beside her, breast to breast, hip to hip. Never before had our bodies touched so fully. Even now she dazzled me. She kept her artificial girlishness well groomed, with flesh that was firm and toned without being overly muscled. The lines of her body were hard and perfect...her shoulders, the curves of her waist, the firm little mound of her belly...all pale as the marble of the bed, and a wicked contrast against the roses and pinks and plums of the covers, which had been dyed to mimic the colors of genital skin.
"Touch me," she whispered. "Touch me as you wish to worship me."
Vile as it is to me now, I did want to worship her. I did not love her, understand; I did not want respect or friendship. I did not want to know her mind. I simply wanted to please her, to belong to her, as all life on earth belongs to the sun, and that was all I was really thinking.
I touched her skin, noting its softness and smoothness. I caressed her arms down to her fingers with their silvery nails. How slim they were, how tapering and elegant. It was hard to believe how crudely they had stretched my anus. I submissively kissed the warmth of her pale pink palm, asking merely for acknowledgement of my submissiveness, as all slaves do.
She stroked my bare scalp, a delicious sensation, and drew me close. I kissed her lips. A meaningless kiss, because I did not love her, yet she opened her mouth to me and let me explore.
I cupped her head in my hands, luxuriating in the white silk of her hair. She sighed and touched me in turn, playing with my nipple rings. She slipped them on her middle fingers as if they were jewelry, then pulled, kneading my breasts with her open palms. It was a most exquisite sensation that sent shivers of passion through my flesh.
"My Black Pearl," she whispered. "My beautiful Black Pearl..."
So the Witch-Queen of Obn Dhregni named me, and our mouths fastened again, drawing the sighs out of my throat; and for the second time I was lost.
On to Chapter 23
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