❥ Warning -themes of sadosexual violence & incestuous thoughts.
No lover, if he be of good faith, and sincere, will deny he would prefer to see his mistress dead than unfaithful.
One could not say that Alys was one to engage in futility, yet the tensions of spending day in and day out lying to people that she cared about was driving her quite mad. To make it worse, the longer that she waited for word – even knowing it had not been that long at all – the harder it was to believe that Ellen’s mad ideas could be trusted. She had been going through the motions… subtly packing away all but a small purse of coin, all but the barest few jewels that she would need to wear, the majority of her wardrobe. Emily had dutifully traveling to Crystalpine on one made up errand or another to deliver Alys’ bundles along with one of her precious horses to the stable there. Of her own stables, she’d declared that she intended on breeding many of her mares this spring to a new stallion that she was looking to acquire, thus her existing stock would have to be evaluated and culled. It was not only plausible, but something she had done numerous times before. Yet it was all artifice and deception, two things Alys detested.
When she could stand it no longer, she begged leave to visit her father, giving no explanation as to the purpose of the visit. By now, the engagement was known at Court – and blessing had been granted by the regents… a fact that felt like betrayal to Alys, though she realized that unfair as she had said not one word of appeal on her own behalf. What could she say? I can not marry this man Your Majesties… as my heart lies with a disgraced traitor who serves as Knight and companion to a Prince of Newon. No. Nor would arguments based on the man’s nature mean a thing… such matches were made all the time. It was a woman’s place to sooth her husband’s savage nature – or at least suffer it without complaint. There was only one person to whom she could appeal for peaceful resolution… Baldwin Monteacute was a reasonable man, and had denied his daughter little – even though she had often denied him his desire to see her properly wed. While he had approved the match… she knew he did not approve of it. That was the hope in her heart as she rode Circe towards Chamberlayne and home.
Riding into the hunt gate and directly into the marshalea of Curlisbrooke Castle, Alys dismounted and handed Circe off to Marshal Jules. Many of the horses were out of their stalls and this was not the time of year for pasturing. With a pause, she listened to the bark from the kennels…
“Is father on the hunt?” she asked with the familiarity of one who had grown up with the trusted servant – and been paddled by him more than once for her misbehavior.
“Aye m’Lady. He’s off ahunting the winter hart with guests…” the sentence was delivered with offhanded deference as he’d already begun to untack the tired mare.
Alys had to suppress a sigh. Company boded ill and she was in no mood to wait on her father’s return. Besides, this was a fool time to be hunting… yes, they’d likely be hunkered to protect from the chill, but what was the sport in that? It did not matter, she had not come this distance to turn around and make the journey back to the capitol. With a firm nod, she lifted her skirts to keep the rushes from sticking to the velvet and swept into the house, hoping to go up the side stair and to her rooms without encumbrance. Sadly, boots are not so quiet as slippers and her dearest Lady mother poked her head out of the conservatory.
“Alys… you did not warn of your coming…” So far as Lady Clarice was concerned, that was the height of ill manners – be it Alys’ home or not. It took but a moment to write a note and send it off to be delivered. Still, it was fortuitous that Alys had chosen now to return home.
“I did not,” Alys agreed with a pleasant smile. She wished no conflict. She would not bring her suit before her mother… she knew it would be without point. In fact, she wished to speak to her father alone, as hard as that could be at times.
“It is of no consequence. Come, join me… I believe your last attempt at embroidery is still in its hoop. I had thought to try to improve upon it but…” The gesture she made implied that such a thing was beyond possible and turned, leading the way into a room brightly lit by windows.
With heavy sigh, Alys did as she was bid. She had no taste for embroidery. It was dreadfully boring and how her mother could sit in one place for half the day working a needle in and out to form some bit of uselessness was something Alys had always failed to understand. Still, she dutifully went to the hoop that did indeed hold her last attempt at a thistle bloom… at least Alys thought that was the original intent. The needle and thread stuck delicately into the fabric got a look of loathing before Alys picked it up and considered where to begin on the blasted thing. She would far rather be in her chambers, changing and freshening from her ride to await her father that she might get a word in his ear. A moment alone and she was sure she could convince…
“It is good you have come…” Clarice had been smart enough to let her daughter sit in silence for a time. It was always best to lull Alys. It took all of her will not to scold her for the unattractive way that she scrunched her features when looking down at her work. Clarice herself wore a beatific smile, as if this were the most peaceful occupation in the world. Her words were light, as if they were idle conversation. She had no wish to face one of her daughter’s abominable tempers.
“In light of your recent engagement, we are entertaining. His Lordship, the Earl of Southwind has come with the Lady Margot as well as the Lady Celine and, of course of most interest to you, the young Viscount himself.” Clarice was not foolish enough to believe her daughter would actually be pleased by the news, but it was high time that she settled herself to the matter and this private moment for mother to make plain that no nonsense would be suffered was a boon.
“Lord Piers is out hunting with your father and some other friends… I dare say that Lady Margot and Lady Celine will be joining us fairly soon. Lawrence and Lord Quentin went into town for a bit, but they’ve promised to be back well in time for table.”
Her mother could not have done more damage to her had she actually physically hit her. In fact, Alys – too absorbed in her mother’s words – stabbed her thumb with the needle and drew a bright bead of blood that she had to quickly blot against her skirt lest it stain the snowy linen and bring more reproof from her mother. Though she knew that some response was required, she could honestly think of no acceptable thing to say. Everything in her was telling her to simply stand and leave, even if it required taking another horse and arriving in Winterbridge late at night. That was the instinct of panic though, and Alys once again plied needle to linen as she considered her situation in silence. This was her father’s home. No harm would befall her here. On the other hand, leaving would end any chance at peaceful resolution with her father, as his guests would surely see it as the insult it was. Her head was starting to ache and she gave her mother a resentful look under her lashes.
“It is quite a full house it would seem.” There. That should be safe and non-committal. It would seem not.
Clarice carefully put down her needle lest she make a mistake in the elaborate cluster of cherry blossoms she was working. She gave her daughter a long level look. She had tried to be pleasant about this, but as usual, Alys simply would not allow for it.
“Let me make something perfectly clear. I am quite glad that you are here… you will show our guests every courtesy. You seem to have no trouble turning on charm for common soldiers and married men… I expect to see every bit of that sparkling charm on full display. Do not think me ignorant, you willful child. This brand you carry is to be quenched. This match will not be undone through your own devices as previous ones have. For one, I simply will not have it. For another, I do believe that you will find the Viscount far more willing to put up with the more unpleasant aspects of your personality than others have been in the past. That matters not… as he will not see those aspects until after you are wed. From that point, be shrew, be harridan, be whatever you like…” While her daughter’s mouth opened for speech many times, Clarice had simply kept going. She had fought the girl’s original betrothal to Merys, but acceded simply because it would grant them the adjoining land and port. Well the man’s traitorous nature gave them those things without the cost of her daughter, so Clarice had set her sights on seeing Alys wed to a Prince. Then she had simply despaired of her being wed at all. This match might have a slightly distasteful beginning, but Clarice cared not. It would be seen through and she would hear no word against it.
It was more than Alys could take. She attempted to interrupt her mother several times, but Clarice had simply spoken over her. The fact that her mother was partially right in that she was willful and unwilling to wed did not help her temper. To be told that she charmed soldiers and married men… that alone had been enough to inflame her. But if her mother thought that she was going to court this disastrous match… sparkle and flirt and charm the snake… Alys finally jumped up from her seat, knocking over the embroidery stand carelessly.
“You will not have it? You will have me as I am and he will not have me at all. If you think that I am going to bat my lashes and give coy smiles over table and make courtly speech to this monster than you are ignorant – there is no need for me to think it!” She was set to storm from the room without bothering with the fallen hoop stand, and her mother already had that pained pinched look that implied that she was going to take to her chambers rather than suffer to hear her daughter’s truths. It was a standoff rudely interrupted.
The women that walked into the room did so on nearly silent feet. The Lady Margot was attractive but had a drawn expression and seemed to move with a certain timidity. She might have been a beauty in her youth, but it was hard to tell. It seemed that she was loath to interrupt what was clearly a voluble dispute between the two women. On her heels was The Lady Celine, on the other hand, was absolutely beautiful. The girl was only fifteen and had not yet come graced the court… but her appearance almost startled Alys out of her temper. She had the thick dark curls of her mother but with the most unusual violet eyes that were clear and innocent. Her expression was pleasant, but she too was silent.
Shamed by her daughters inexcusable outburst, Clarice found herself suddenly unable to leave the room. With a deep breath, she found her smile once more and turned to her guests.
“Do please make yourselves welcome… Lady Margot, Lady Celine… allow me to introduce my daughter, the Lady Alys… darling you seem to have knocked your hoop over… do pick it up that you might resume your work.” She would not suffer a scene in front of these women and Clarice could only pray that her daughter would be shamed into some semblance of grace as well.
Never one to enjoy being backed into a corner, Alys dropped an adequate curtsy to their guests.
“Welcome…” then she retrieved her hoop and sat behind it, though she did not bother with the pretense of picking up her needle but rather slid it into a fold of linen.
“Bonjour… nous sommes heureux de vous rencontrer ou vous ne parlez pas français? Pardon …” Lady Margot said in a voice that was melodious but so low that it was nearly hard to hear.
“Pas de pardon est nécessaire, mon français est adéquate,” Alys interrupted, surprised that the woman spoke in native tongue after living so long in Belwall. Of course, her French was only adequate, but conversational at least.
“Mamman…” the Lady Celine’s voice was a soft as her mother’s though a different tone. It was dark and husky. There was a slight scold to it though that made Alys smile a bit. The woman nodded at her daughter and nearly whispered,
“Oui. Bon. It is a pleasure to be here, Quentin has… much spoken your beauty. Good it is to be meeting you.”
It was hard not to flinch at the compliment. The reason for the woman’s original greeting in native tongue made sense, and she was far clumsier in English. Alys was feeling hemmed in. There was nothing offensive about these women… but she wondered if they had heard her call their kin monster. As it was, her mother kept giving her pointed looks as if she should already be using charms to win over this family that her brother had sold her into. She was overtaken by sadness and dropped her eyes to her embroidery hoop and took up needle to pick out stitches. She found it unlikely that either woman were to blame for the situation and Alys thought she might even like the Lady Celine… yet she could not bring herself to grant any favor in her heart to any involved in this. While usually quite adept at social niceties, her silence drew longer as she picked stitches and listened to her mother try to gossip with two women who obviously knew nothing of what was afoot at Court. It made Alys wonder at their presence here, because for all they lived in a bustling port town, the two women seemed to be of few words and even less news. It would seem that they lived a rather isolated existence… yet another fate she could not suffer. From beneath her lashes she watched the Lady Margot and wondered what she had been like in youth. All she knew of her was that, like her own mother, the Lady Margot had come from France – though she seemed to remember hearing that she had come from Versailles rather than her mother’s origins in the Luberon valley. While this was naught but fear and supposition, Alys did not think the woman had always been as she was now… and the thought of turning into some silent timid creature was terrifying. The room became too hot, there were no more stitches to pluck out. The conversation around her was doing nothing to ease her mind. If her mother glared at her one more time, Alys thought she might snap.
“If I might beg excuse, I did not properly freshen from my ride here…” Alys said in the mildest voice she could manage. She knew it would displease her mother, but she also knew it was a request that could hardly be denied in front of company. Shameless, but not so shameless as what she might do if she stayed. With a deeper curtsy and a sincerely kind smile to their company, Alys took her leave to the sound of resumed conversation of a stilted nature behind her. She had no intention of staying around to listen… the danger of listening to other people’s conversations is that you might not like what you hear. Instead, she retired to her chambers and paced the floor while a servant brushed the creases out of one of the gowns left in the wardrobe since her last visit home. Clearly the girl had been given instructions… the gown was far too low cut and far too formal for a quiet evening at home. Moreover, as she sat to have some repair done to her hair, the woman braided and wrapped the front into submission while containing the thick mass of length into a jeweled net. The only advantage Alys saw to any of it was that she’d entirely forgotten about the jewel casket she had here… it contained several lovely pieces, including the sapphires that adorned ears and neck and hair. It would be returning to Winterbridge with her, that it might be spirited away to Crystalpine with the rest. No. Do not think that way, she reminded herself. Father will see this right. Yet the current company was worrying indeed.
When dressed, it was not yet time to sup, nor had her father returned from his hunt. Alys knew she should likely return to the conservatory… but the idea was loathsome to her. Instead, she headed for the library. While she would prefer to be hunting or doing anything but being idle, the only chance of finding any peace of mind was to occupy her mind with a challenging bit of reading. Thankfully her father was fond of books, and it looked as if he’d picked up some new ones at the Tournament. She ran a finger over the illuminated scripts before finding one she’d been looking to get her hands on. La Divina Commedia written by Dante Alighieri, a somewhat controversial figure. Between the subject matter itself and a language that Alys was rusty with, it was the challenge needed, and she soon found herself immersed, mind on nothing but Alighieri’s brilliance and the levels of meaning within his poetry. Alys knew that it had been some time, as the light had faded from the windows and a servant had come in to light the tapers that she might not strain her eyes… yet bell had not been rung to table nor had she heard the baying of returning hounds or the boom of returning voices to signal her father’s arrival home.
It was an entirely different sound that broke her from her reverential meditations on the nature of the soul. The braying laughter of her brother Lawrence in response to a quip made in a voice she knew all too well. Both entered the room in a fine humor. It was clear from their mien that they had been drinking and Alys did not at all like the way that Quentin Quatramaine leveled his gaze on her as if she were already his possession. To her mind, the man had neither the beauty of mother nor the certain attractive nature of father. All she could see was a lean hard cruelty. He took steps towards her as if Lawrence were not even there, and he might as well not have been – as he simply grabbed a decanter off the sideboard and flopped down in a chair, one leg akimbo over the arm. Quentin plucked her reading from her hands and examined it for a moment… he was truly in his cups, as his eyes nearly crossed simply in the reading of the cover.
“This my precious, is no occupation for a Lady’s delicate mind,” he informed her, turning to place it back on the shelf with over-careful steps. There was not much to recommend Chamberlayne in comparison with the port of Southwind, but Lawrence had known of a convent in which the lady abbess would let you do pretty much anything to her nuns you wished for a bit of extra coin. Not only that, but Viscount of Frostwine had personally stocked the cellars for his visits. They’d overindulged in more ways than one and it left Quentin in a rather queer frame of mind.
Bristling with anger, Alys felt for the poniard she always kept on her and realized it remained in her soiled gown. Her gaze lingered on Quentin’s back as he walked away before she turned and leveled a hateful stare at Lawrence. He looked truly dreadful. The one thing she could give Quentin – begrudgingly at that – was that he wore his excess well. Seven and twenty years were not many to carry, but Lawrence’s libertinous lifestyle showed its marks in lank hair and pocked skin. Still, he was a handsome man… if only he had a soul. Quentin poured himself goblet from the bottle Lawrence was freely drinking from and took a chair opposite. With some disquiet, Alys realized she would have to walk the gauntlet between them in order to leave the room. So be it… she would remain. Again, she reminded herself that no harm would befall her in her father’s house.
“I am neither your precious anything nor delicate and I will choose my own occupations,” she told Quentin with a sharp tone, leaning back in her chair and crossing her ankles defensively under her skirts. She knew it unwise to bait him, just as it was unwise to expect any protection from her brother who merely laughed as if she’d made great jape. As happened too often though, her temper ruled her tongue and she’d not have terms dictated by this bastard… no, that was to do unfair disservice to his mother.
“…” Quentin narrowed his expression and leaned forward in his seat. He smiled as if greatly pleased by Alys’ words. In truth, he was. It would be inaccurate to say he admired her spirit, but breaking her would be far more pleasurable for it. Still, he would have to tread with care. He wanted that spirit fully intact upon their wedding night. Come to that, he was rather glad he’d not taken her that day… as now he’d get her virtue as well as the joy of breaking her. Due to the nature of their engagement, both families intended on acting quickly lest something interrupting the arrangement. It was the main reason for his father’s visit here now… as they had just gotten proper approval from the regents. If he worked this right… he should be able to manage setting her into a fine mettle by the time they propped her up in front of the Bishop.
“Oh, but you are mine everything and your beauty as delicate as a winter rose… as your occupation shall soon be as my wife, who but I should say what be fit?” he proposed with courtly good manners and a hard glint to the eye that dared her to challenge the assertion.
Enraged, Alys put her hands into her lap that she might grip the rich blue brocade of her skirts with white knuckles. She was absolutely shaking with fury. The man dared to presume… he who knew well how she felt on him. It could not be born.
“I am naught but the ill gained spoils of wager foolishly made by my scapegrace of a brother…”
“HIE!” Lawrence interjected, realizing that his own honor was being impugned.
“’twas naught foolish about it. Father wanted ye well wed, Quentin just wanted ye, so while I would not have minded the coin should Wylde have won the Joust…” Lawrence gave a shrug that said all was well and that she should be content as well. He never did understand why his sister felt the need to be so contrary.
“Besides… ‘s not as if the good Ser ye were a courting need be brought to light…” he added with a threatening gleam. She’d keep a civil tongue in her mouth when speaking to him by Lord, or he’d slap it out of her face… the drink always did put him in violent frame of mind and though he knew his father would not thank him for treating his sister so in company or otherwise for that matter, he was little disposed to care what the old man thought.
“Oh yes dear brother, we will pretend you blameless in the matter. As I was saying… I am naught but the ill gained spoils of a wise wager made by my kind and loving brother. I will never be your dear anything, my beauty is of no concern to you – though since you choose to compare me to a rose you might wish to mind my thorns – and I will never suffer the occupation of your attentions as wife or otherwise.” It was almost sad to Alys that her brother was easily mollified by her change in words, ignoring completely the context and tone with which she spoke them. Sometimes she wondered if he were quite right in the head… as he seemed to have no mind for wit save the crudest jests. It mattered not, as all of her attention was focused on Quentin. She trusted not the look of pleasant patience he was giving her.
“Spoils are spoils my dear, and thorns make the rose that much more the remarkable beauty for the care one must take in striping them off. One. By. One. I assure you, whether you choose the occupation or not, you will occupy my full attention… as I intend on being a very attentive husband.” Any implication that the marriage would not occur were ignored as what they were… the futile thrashing of insect against glass. That she thought she had any say in the matter almost had him laughing aloud. Of course, the best way to stop an insect from thrashing against a window was to pluck it up and pull of its wings… then again, there was something to be said for simply letting it thrash until it lay exhausted and dying on the sill.
“…” God’s truth, the man frightened her. The way he spoke of stripping thorns, savoring every word – and then after… there was something in his eyes as if he were picturing some delight. It made him look slightly crazed and Alys wanted no part in it. Yes, she could continue to exchange what was supposed to pass for witty repartee, but was in actuality simply a duel of words, but she did not overly care for being toyed with. No matter how vile she was to him, Quentin seemed determined to toss it back with backhanded compliment laced with a reminder of his ownership. At least over table there would be his mother, sister, father, her own father, mother, brother… While she knew that her mother would put them in proximity, she had some hope of being close to the Lady Celine as well – that she might converse and ignore the monster. At worst, he would have to temper his behavior somewhat – or so she assumed. Rather than continue this banter, Alys rose and smoothed her skirts where her grip had wrinkled them.
“If you will excuse… gentlemen… The atmosphere in here is not conducive to reading and I would save what little wit allowed to my delicate mind for the table…” she told them with a stiff curtsy. Lawrence simply waved his wrist as if he could care less, while Quentin made neither move nor pardon. Deciding that his neutrality was a safe dismissal, she strode towards the door in measured steps. Alys would be damned if he saw her scurry from the room like some game bird flushed from thicket. Even with his chair, she even dared relax her expression slightly, certain she was free of the room.
The motion Quentin made was both abrupt and adept. In no more than a heartbeat Alys went from walking on solid flags to sitting in Quentin’s lap. Her legs were hooked over the leg of the chair and her skirts had flown up to bare her from nearly knee down. With an involuntary squeak of indignation, she tried to struggle – both trying to get up and trying to straighten her skirts at the same time, making both goals futile. Worse, the more she struggled, the better grip Quentin seemed to get on her, shifting his own position so that their bodies met in a quiet… compromising… position.
“Let me up this once!” she hissed, slapping at his hands and trying to lift her hips up off his lap. The position allowed for no purchase or leverage though.
Thinking this all quite a lark, Lawrence did not even move from his chair as he kicked the door shut. Serve the wench right for showing him the sharp side of her tongue. Let there be some sport made of her temper for a change.
“I do not think I do excuse… you do not seem to suffer for lack of wit. I am sure you will find something to say come table. Or remain silent, ye’ll be just as much fun mine pet,” he informed her, gripping her firmly around the waist with one strong arm and pressing her down into his lap. The other hand reached up to hook into the back of her gown, pulling her backwards a bit to better afford him a view of the wide expanse of décolletage revealed by her gown. He did sincerely hope she kept up her struggles, as her hips were doing wonderful things to arouse.
Tipped back, Alys found herself with even less leverage to fight Quentin off. Not only was Lawrence of no help, but he simply sat back with a lecherous stare as if she were some strumpet in a bawdy house rather than his own sister. She was not at all sure he was not looking up her skirts and Quentin’s arm was trapping her own arms so that she could not even push them down to decently cover herself. She was without her weapon, and likely could not have gotten at it even if it was on her person. Really, the only option left to Alys was endurance or to scream as loud as she could. The latter would cause no end of fuss… and would it serve any end save her release? She had little doubt Quentin would release her… but little hope that Lawrence would back her up if she claimed her affianced had been manhandling her. For that matter, so long as her father was not yet in the house, she was not sure there were any who would care. It would only displease her mother and distress the Lady Margot and the Lady Celine. Again, she comforted herself with the idea that no harm could come to her in her father’s home. Surely he would tire of toying with her… and if not, well she’d scream and bring the whole house a rushing and damn the consequences.
Quentin watched her weigh her options with some amusement. Her silence was not as entertaining as that saucy tongue, but it would not last long. Of that he was sure. For one, he did not think the wench capable of silence for long. That was a lesson she’d have to be taught. For another, he intended pressing her into more verbal abuse. Reaching over her shoulder with the arm that held her back, he traced a gentle finger along her collar bone.
“Yes… a white winter rose. Your skin is as soft as a petal… you can even see the fine veins beneath. It was my father that taught me the true value of the rose though…” Quentin told her idly, bending to trail tender kisses up her neck even as she fought to shy away from him.
“The true value of the rose is in rose madder. It is no easy thing to get though… you must thoroughly bruise the delicate petals until they release all they have to give… Worry not though my pet, one does not do such a thing until the rose is fully bloomed and blown, the petals loose and falling from their stem… speaking of stems, yours are quite lovely, but I see no evidence of these thorns you warned of.” He asked, trying to bring out those thorns.
His touch was repugnant, but the more she squirmed, the more his desire became clear. Still, it was involuntary. As he stroked her flesh, as his lips traveled down her neck, Alys was not capable of not trying to shift and struggle against him. There was only one man allowed such liberties with her flesh, no matter how her manner might suggest otherwise. The fact that Lawrence was actually leaning forward in his chair sickened her. He wanted thorns… if she had a blade she’d stick a thorn in his side, but as she did not, she bit her tongue until it bled in order to remain silent.
Defiant wench. He’d train her like a bitch to heel before he was done with her. He used his teeth to yank her gown over her shoulder, baring more creamy white skin. Quentin had her neatly pinned, and the more she struggled, the more he simply lifted his hips to grind against her in a display of pleasure. The barest trace of his tongue ran the line from behind her ear, down her neck, along her collar bone and to the curve of that lovely shoulder. His eyes flicked to Lawrence and he smiled before lifting his hand to cup it over Alys’ mouth before sinking his teeth deep into the flesh there. It was a deep bite, and he worried the flesh until the copper tang of blood washed his pallet.
“MMMMMMMPPPPPHHHHHH” Her attempt at a scream was muffled into Quentin’s palm and Alys was left frustrated in pain and rage. The pain in her shoulder and in her pride was sincere. She tried to bite at his palm, but he had her as one would feed a horse and all she could do was gnash her teeth against flat flesh, gaining no purchase. Worse, her scream itself seemed to increase the desire plain even through the bulk of her skirts. If she had no measure of the man, she’d need none now!
“Definitely the sweetest part of the rose…” Quentin told her, lifting his head enough to give her a slow smile, licking her own life’s blood from his lips before bending to nurse the wound further. There was truly no wine as sweet. Not quite done with his games, he did not yet give her the freedom of her mouth. While he would not mind the flaying of her tongue, he’d not have her bring the whole house down upon them until he was properly done with her. Deciding the wound was not enough, he tore a bit at the edges of the flesh, muffling further sounds of outrage with a grip on her mouth that would surely leave marks if he were not careful. No. That would not do. Quentin would give her no excuse. It would be far more entertaining to watch her have to sit across the table from him making polite conversation for the sake of their respective families. He started to work his hips in a firm rhythmic motion against her struggles. To think, he’d thought him spent on the lovely child he’d kindly broken in at the nunnery earlier… but now he found his desire once more pent up and had no intention of allowing the dear Lady Monteacute off his lap until that desire was released.
Horror filled Alys’ mind when she realized what it was Quentin truly did. It was a horror that surpassed the pain he caused and even ceased the futility of her screams behind the hand clamped over her mouth. Even knowing that it was no true violation, Alys could not even find the words to describe the humiliation she felt. To have this man taking his pleasure from her – so clearly against her will – was nothing short of violation of the soul. Her struggles had not only served to inflame him, but they had also disserved her by bunching her skirts up all the way to the thigh. In a mode of sheer panic, her eyes sought Lawrence over the hand that nearly suffocated her. Surely even he could not allow this base abuse. Gorge rose and Alys felt herself choking on her own bile as she saw her own brother watching with avarice, his own hand stroking through the slit in his coathardie. Now she was gagging and coughing against the pressure at her mouth… the feeling of panic increased as Alys started to feel as if she were going to drown, bile burning her throat and the back of her nose.
Laughing, Quentin continued the steady writhe against his affianced. Deciding it rather unlikely that she could scream and choke at the same time, he moved his hand, and wrapped it around her throat as warning… at this point he seriously doubted that she would realize that it was an empty threat. The terror in her eyes was intoxicating and he nearly wished his father were here to witness it. While Quentin and his father differed in certain respects, they shared much where these things were concerned. Idly, Quentin wondered if his father would cease to approve of his carnal inclinations once he was married. He knew his father believed heavily in the sanctity of that union… personally, Quentin could not imagine limiting himself thus.
Taking it as her only opportunity, Alys took a big gulp of air. Her throat was raw and burning and she tried desperately to bite at his hand before it closed around her throat. Again there was that feeling of not being able to breath and all she could feel was panic… no, panic, humiliation, and shame at the fact that she was as frozen as a vole in the shadow of one of her precious hawks.
“You will pay for that…” The playful tone lingered on Quentin’s tongue as his little she-devil attempted to fight back. The arm wrapped around her waist dropped, hand burrowing up under her skirts.
“By God my precious petal, scream and I’ll have your virtue in this very chair before the first soul has time to make it to the door.” That was coming dangerously close to being a sincere threat. Quentin would not suffer the humiliation that would come from her bringing the house down upon him at his sport… and while he’d rather she come to the wedding bed chaste and terrified… one did not always get everything they wanted. This would be diverting in an entirely different way. Maybe he could take her here and then get the marriage annulled – citing his bride’s impurity at the occasion of the marriage bed. Yes, life was conquest, conquest was strategy, and strategy was the ability to constantly modify one’s plans in the face of the enemy. Hand a mere inches from the heat of her sex, Quentin delivered a vicious pinch – twisting a healthy measure of creamy skin betwixt thumb and forefinger… half hoping she would, in fact, scream.
The man had very nearly taken her virtue in the castle gardens by broad daylight. Alys took the threat at face value. She knew the door to be heavy, her brother to have betrayed her on levels she still could not wrap her head around, and a hand around her throat enough to strangle whatever volume she managed to produce. Worse, the way he easily manhandled her petite frame, she had little doubt that he could do just as he claimed – it took little to imagine it and the visual that came unbidden made her shudder in revulsion. As his hand violated territory that not even Alain had been granted, she again bit her tongue to keep from screaming. The taste of blood did nothing to ease the ill digestion that her brother’s acts had brought up… but naught but the barest sound escaped from lips clamped shut in firm determination. She turned her head away, refusing to see either man. Closing her eyes brought images she could not handle, so instead, Alys gazed into the fire. She tried to ignore the pain between her thighs as Quentin twisted. She tried to ignore the pain as he resumed his attack on her shoulder. She tried to ignore the grind of his hips – reciting poetry in her mind did little to drown out the subterranean groans resonating from his chest and against her bodice. She realized that too had become askew during her struggles, baring her to his gaze. Of all the indignities, it seemed such a minor thing that she was nearly wont to laugh if not for the tears silently falling.
Satisfied that his shrew was subdued enough for the moment, Quentin finally gave into his own pleasures. He attacked shoulder and thigh with increasing intensity, nearly groaning aloud as she fought to keep in her distress. The fact she believed he would do exactly as he said was clear in eyes glazed in abject terror. Silent tears fell beautifully – rain against his rose. The motion in his hips started to get more frantic as he came closer to realizing satisfaction. Unable to resist, the hand at her thigh released its grip only to slide upward. She was in no position to clamp her thighs shut, though Lord knows the dear thing tried. He cupped her, forcing a rough two fingers inside of her quim… she was dry and tight, fighting to pull away from the violation even though that meant pushing into his other attentions. It was too sweet. With a sigh of satisfaction, he loosed into his own breeches – the scent of it sharp in the air between them.
Surely it could get no worse. That was the thought that kept running through Alys’ head. No longer was she able to fool herself into thinking no harm could come to her in her father’s home… distant thought seemed to recall the baying of the hounds that signaled their return but no rescue had been forthcoming. Let him be done… was all that she could think. There was even the slightest feeling of relief when he released the bruising grip he had on the flesh of her thigh – that is until she realized that his hand was sliding up and not down. Still, her mind denied his intent. When he cupped her, she nearly thought that she was going to lose her battle not to scream. Then he actually breached her body and Alys very nearly bit the tip of her tongue off before shock shut down all ability to process. It seemed like she removed to a great distance as she felt him sigh against her hair, felt the final push of his body against hers, caught the sharp scent that surely meant his release. So far was her remove that she had not even noticed that he’d removed his grip of her.
Quite sated, Quentin let go of Alys and just allowed himself to enjoy the trauma that had managed to remove her so far from the situation that she just sat in his lap like a broken doll. With a bit of a laugh, he stood, scooping her up with him and dropping him in the chair he’d just been sitting in. He was even kind enough to draw the shoulder of her gown up over the bleeding gash his teeth had left there and adjust her bodice so that her décolletage was tastefully displayed. In courtly manner, he lifted her hand and held it to his lips.
“If you will excuse, my precious rose petal… I must make myself presentable for table. I do so look forward to your company.”
Alys stared after him. She had not quite found her tongue any more than she’d found the ability to stop the tears from spilling. It felt like someone else that watched as Quentin made a leg before leaving the room. Lawrence remained… staring at her with an avarice she did not care for one bit. Swallowing, she finally found her tongue.
“So help me God Lawrence… if you make good on what you are thinking right now, I swear to you on all that is Holy and right – not that you know aught of either – that you will draw last breath at my hand.” There must have been something convincing in her tone, for as he stood, he did not approach her.
“Make yourself presentable dearest sister. Father and Lord Quatramaine have returned. I am sure we shall be called to table soon… our parents have no idea what a dishonorable trollop you are, and I am sure that you would like to keep it that way. You always were keen on being favored in their eyes…” Lawrence’s words were bitter. He did not like being denied what he’d decided he desired and Alys was no longer in a position to make threats.
“… swear on whatever you like. I hold nothing holy so I will not bother with the hypocrisy. Make one move to displease this night and I will lay all to bare before all… Earl and Countess of Southwind, your betrothed, his delicious sister, our own sweet parents. I will tell them of your treason playing the harlot to Merys all these many years, and I will swear on father’s bible that I came in and saw you paste the point of virtue with Quentin in this very room and on this very day. You will be disgraced here. You will be disgraced at court. You might as well join a convent… and I speak of St. Magdalene’s in the city rather than taking any Holy Orders. I’m quite sure the lady abbess would have you – quite the novelty.” With that, Lawrence made his own leg and left the room. He too had some… adjustments to make before he was presentable at table.
Blessedly alone at last, Alys put her head in her hands and let her sobs come freely. Thank God – did such a being even exist – Lawrence had closed the door behind him. It hid her from prying eyes and gave her much needed moments to think. Anger overcoming misery, she swept at her cheeks to dry them and then stood. Alys straightened her skirts, smoothing them carefully, feeling behind her for any despicable taint – grateful when she found none. There was no looking glass in the room, but at night, the light bounced off the glazed windows enough that she could make rough stock of her appearance. A careful adjustment to her bodice, fixing her necklace, tucking her hair back into place… Alys pinched her cheeks a few times to put color in a face blanched white and wiped any trace of tear away with the tips of her fingers. It was almost offensive how easy it was to look as if naught had just happened.
Refusing to return to either chair the men had occupied, Alys poured herself a glass of her mother’s Spanish sherry to calm her nerves and returned to the chair she had originally occupied. After taking a sip, she stared at the glass by the light of the fire. It was a thing of beauty… glass blown in Venice filled with a milky beige fluid. Alys drained it as if it contained poison that could end her suffering – alas it did not. It only left a slight warming in her belly and a soothing in her throat. Better able to see the delicate swirls of color blown into the glass, Alys became affronted that something so beautiful and delicate should exist. It hit the back of the hearth in a shatter of fine glass. Eyes closing, she only saw her brother’s leer and had to open them once more. Leave. That had been what Lady Lightfoot had said to do if she felt herself in danger. Was she though? Where did the greater danger lie? She knew Lawrence was as good as his word… so seldom was that the case, but in this it could be counted upon. Should she leave tonight, it would be in disgrace and scandal. Two different countries they might be, but the island was not large and word of her infamy would spread. All eyes that looked upon her would hold the question. While she had managed to stow some things away in Crystalpine, it was precious little to bring to a marriage and she had her pride. To come to Alain with the taint of suspicion, scandal attached to her name, and barely a thing to her name… While she hated to admit it, she even wondered if he would even question her… not her chastity, as that would be easy enough proven. Yet she bore the marks of another man. At the base of her fears was a simple humiliation. She felt filthy. The urge to check the back of her skirts was nearly a compulsion even though she knew them free of Quentin’s taint. She felt tainted by the man though. In the most intimate way, she had been violated. While her virtue might be intact, he had breached her body and worse her mind. If Alain did believe…? Alys did not think that there was a force on earth that would keep him from Chamberlayne – to challenge Quentin, to challenge Lawrence… to do so would be sentence of death, if not at Quentin’s hand then at magistrate’s. With a horror she imagined Sir Wylde being called upon to met out the King’s justice… friend though he was, she knew he would.
The door opened and Alys jumped, but it was only her father and His Lordship. Sir Baldwin was a kind man and Alys had always been fond of him. He greeted her with a warm smile, and a hug as she stood to greet him. His Lordship, however, had a light to his eyes that reminded Alys far too much of his son… or perhaps it was simply the impression she’d taken from Lady Margot. While it was a bit rude, Alys saw her father’s arrival as precipitous and the only way free of a quandary.
“Father! I am so glad you have returned. I hope the hunt was fruitful…” she could observe niceties after all, especially when she was about to be unspeakably rude in light of company.
“Swell. A fine doe fell to my arrow but Piers here…” Sir Baldwin clapped the man companionably on the back.
“…His Lordship felled a young bear early out of its den. Took half his quiver, but he promises the pelt as bride gift!” Sir Baldwin told his daughter in good cheer. It had been a braw day of hunting, the bear had been quite unexpected, as they were nearly always a den this time of year. There had been a false thaw though, so the fool creature must have thought spring come soon. Besides, Alys was finally to be wed, and that was a day he’d nearly thought to perish before he’d see. He had no like of the way the match had been made. Sir Baldwin did not approve of wagering whatsoever and detested his son’s habit. But in this case, that was exactly the point. The man was not fool enough not to realize how much coin funneled through Alys to Lawrence. He did not blame the lass, she had a delicate heart and a fondness for her brother. But the idea of leaving his estates to Lawrence was enough to make a man’s wame curdle. Unease over Quentin had been easily overcome by the whole family being in attendance. Clarice did not have an unkind word to say about the Ladies Margot and Celine, Piers was a companionable sort, and Quentin seemed willing to usher Lawrence around without suffering from his son’s dissipation. While Lawrence would not be pleased, upon the wedding it would be announced that Lawrence could retain stewardship of Frostwine without right of succession and Quentin and Alys would succeed Sir Baldwin in inheriting the duchy as a whole.
“Splendid…” Alys did not entirely have to feign interest, as sport was a topic she was quite interested in, however it was something to save for table as much as that would displease her mother.
“Father, I was not aware upon my coming that you were entertaining. Might I ask a boon and speak with you alone for a moment on a bit of a pressing matter?” In truth she hated to ask it of him. While she loathed Quentin and had no taste for his father, she honored hospitality and had no wish to dishonor her parents. Lawrence had drawn her clearly there. While it was not so much that she enjoyed being favorite, she did wish to honor thy mother and father… even if getting along with the first was quite a trial. She did much to please them, even if it went against her own accord. Those things that she did against them was done with a large dose of guilt. Still, this could not be avoided, and it even looked as though His Lordship were going to leave them in privacy.
With a hearty laugh, Sir Baldwin put his hand on Piers Quatramaine’s arm, stopping the man from giving him the audience his daughter had requested. He then reached out and grasped both of his daughter’s hands in his and kissed them.
“No need my love. I have just had words with Quentin and your brother. I cannot tell you how it pleases me that you are so excited about this match. I know that the circumstances were unconventional, but to hear that you wish to stand your vows before the Bishop as soon as may be arranged is balm to your father’s old heart…”
Preempted. Alys could not allow her father to see the disappointment on her face any more than she could now contradict what he had been told. An attempt to smile was likely tremulous at best, and Alys hoped that he took it to be high emotion overcoming her delicate sensibilities or some rot like that. She was still trying to form words when another joined their merry little party.
Once more, the Lady Margot moved on silent feet. Alys watched, noticing that she did not meet her husband’s eye or come too close. Rather, she hovered in the doorway. It seemed that she tried to catch Alys’ eye, but Alys looked elsewhere, unable to allow this woman to see her pain.
“Salle à manger est à la table, mon seigneur.” Lady Margot announced in her quiet voice only to be rebuffed at once.
“En anglais, sale pute.” His Lordship Piers Quatramaine hissed over his shoulder.
Was the man fool enough to think that neither Sir Baldwin nor his daughter were educated… her own mother was French. She’d spoken it as soon as she’d spoken English. Alys was embarrassed for the woman who flushed and swallowed, eyes inspecting the pattern on the tapestry that covered the floor.
“Dinner is to table m’Lords, m’Lady.” She muttered downward.
Unable to tolerate a moment more of this, Alys gave the Lady Margot a bright smile and swept past her father and his Lordship, taking her hand and heading for the dining room. “Si je suis heureux d’être votre fille, s’il vous plaît appelez-moi Alys.” She told the woman with warmth. Once more, it seemed she was mired in deception, but at least she could offer comfort with her lies. Her mother had arranged them much as she had suspected that she would. Her father sat at the head of the table with his Lordship to his right and Lawrence to his left. Clarice sat at the other end of the table with Lady Margot to her right and while ordinarily Alys would be accorded the spot to her right, Lady Celine was seated there. That left Alys and Quentin to face each other across the middle. If she was between Lady Margot and Lawrence, Alys could at least take comfort that Lady Celine was at safe distance from her brother… whom had just called her delicious while eyeing his own sister with lustful gaze. The arrangement might even be bearable… only the two men determined to make it otherwise. Quentin made point of pulling out her chair. As she sat, unable for form’s sake to shrink away let alone to unleash the force of her wrath on him, he wrapped his hand around her injured shoulder and gave it a tight squeeze while bending to give her a familiar kiss on the cheek.
“My rose petal,” he said lightly before taking his own seat. The retort was nearly out of her mouth before she bit it back, just like she bit back the yelp as his hand reminded her afresh of what her dress covered. Conversation began as servants walked around the table to fill trenchers with the delicacies of their kitchen. Looking down, Alys pondered that she finally had a weapon to hand when she dare not use it. Trying hard, she spoke with her father and his Lordship about the hunt… but it seemed that Quentin and her brother both made constant veiled comments behind hers until she thought she might be going mad. Where they making jest or was she just so strung with nerve that all words from their mouths seemed polluted. Alys tried to chatter in French with Margot and Celine… but while Celine was able and witty, Margot’s conversation often stalled at answers that did not invite continuance. It did not seem to please Lawrence to have her so diverted from their sport though, for as she spoke about some of the new bloodstock coming in from France to the port at Southwind – a topic the girl was surprisingly knowledgeable about – Lawrence, brushed obtrusively at her injured shoulder.
“How have you managed to soil your gown dear sister… I would think our company would warrant more care,” he said in teasing tones as he brushed roughly at the spot of dark where she was bleeding through the heavy blue satin of her sleeves.
“…” As a means of escaping his touch, Alys twisted her body as if to look. There was, in fact, a stain nearly the size of a winter apple on the point of shoulder. It was dark and the fabric was sticking uncomfortably when she tried to shift her shoulder. Clearly the injury done was bleeding through, and as it was not yet dried, it was likely bleeding still. Humiliated and angered at being baited, Alys nearly took up the small knife meant for eating against her brother. He had accomplished his aim though – all eyes were on her in expectation of an explanation. She searched for one and found inspiration in her goblet of wine. With a laugh, she shook her head and even managed to look abashed under her mother’s harsh scrutiny.
“You know how I am… After you two left the library I was putting Daddy’s copy of Dante up and knocked over the wine goblet I’d left on the shelf. ‘Tis miracle more of a mess did not come of me,” she admitted with a darting glance at Quentin who was shaking his head and making tsking noises.
“Careless rose petal. From stories I have of your hunting and riding and such carelessness, it will be a wonder if I can keep you in garments at all… not that such would be tragedy,” he added sotto voice to the men at the table who had hearty laugh at Alys’ expense. Even Sir Baldwin, taking it for good natured jest between the young dancing the courtier’s dance had a good laugh at the jape.
Not laughing, Alys noted, were the women at the table. Her mother was continuing to give her the disapproving stare that had become so familiar as to lose its ability to shame her. The Lady Celine simply looked confused until she got the nature of the ribald joke and then she blushed furiously and began to examine her food. An innocent lamb then… among wolves it would seem. The Lady Margot was silent, but it was a knowing silence. As if caught, the woman stirred and forced a smile.
“We are having so many new fashions come to port. It is always being an excitement to go see what is coming off the ships,” she promised, and conversation normalized. Still, the meal seemed an eternity. At the end of it, Sir Baldwin and Piers declared that they were headed into his study in order to finalize the contracts that Alys could have her wish of a quick marriage. Lawrence declared that there were cock fights taking place in Frostwine and the two proposed to go. Alys could tell that her mother wanted to withdraw into the sanctity of her bedchamber, but hospitality came first, so she, Lady Margot and Lady Celine were going to return to the conservatory where Clarice promised to play at the harp to the accompaniment of the Lady Celine’s singing. Alys was begged to attend as well, but she had excellent excuse of a tiring journey and a day full of excitement. Even her mother took it with decent grace when she excused herself to her chambers.
Once there, Alys allowed the laid fire and the tapers to be lit before shooing the maid out. The dress had to be removed carefully. The sleeve stuck painfully before she pulled it loose, letting forth fresh blood. Alys set the ewer of water near the hearth to warm and then went to the looking glass. Even in her pain, she’d had no real idea of the actual damage he was doing. Her inner thigh was already an angry purple bruise larger than her fist and her shoulder… it was hard to tell until she could tear a piece of fabric from a gown she knew she would burn again to dip into the warmed water so that she might carefully cleanse it. The whole round of her shoulder was bruised. In all truth, she did not even know how he’d managed such a thing. The bite itself was more like three bites – jagged tears of skin. Though she tried, the edges did not quite come together right as if there were pieces missing. Alys knew that the surgeons would use needle and thread to stitch up the men… and she could take a good deal of pain… perhaps she could handle it were someone else plying the needle, but Alys did not believe herself capable of actually plying a needle through her own abused flesh. Instead, she cleaned as best she could, smoothed the pieces together as if it were torn parchment, and the moistened a piece of square linen torn from her underskirt with the honey and beeswax mixture she used to soften lips while adding a slight sheen. With a wince of pain, she stuck the linen over the torn flesh and smoothed out any wrinkles. It was in such a place that made actual bandage virtually impossible, so instead she chose a chemise with sleeves that laced tight, that her make-shift bandage might stay in place.
Her father had interrupted before aught had been decided, and with his arrival he had dashed any hope she had of appealing to him for salvation. Only one course was left, but all the objections that had come to mind in the library were just as true now. Her head was fit to explode and Alys sorely wished she still had La Divina Commedia. Not only was she in desperate need of mental diversion, she could also use any inspiration on the soul’s journey towards God. Instead, she went to the writing desk for parchment. The ink pot had a tight fitting lid, so it was mercifully fresh. The sharpening of a fresh quill with her penknife was soothing and allowed her to compose words before she put quill to ink. She wrote a careful letter to Countess of Highgarden, Thunder Bay & Westanchor. That sealed and delivered into trusted hands, Alys slid into her bed without the illusion that sleep would come. Yet the exhaustion of the day proved too much. It started with more tears, and when she’d cried herself dry Alys slept fitfully, dreaming of terrors too horrible to contemplate while awake. If there was any God at all, He would at least grant her the mercy to forget such night terrors.
❥ fin ❥