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The broad, leather-clad man, whose strength was garnered from years of toil and sweat, stood in all quiet confidence before the refined, expensive desk of Malik Blackwood. His weight was shifted to his right leg, and his hands hung relaxed upon the top edges of his doublet. He looked the stone man in the eyes, never wavering in his cool demeanor. For some moments, his words hung tentatively in the air, waiting to be received by the master.

However, Blackwood only sat back in his chair, fixing his cold eyes on the man he still was contemplating dismissing for his continued interference with Brynna and his general lack of submission. Very few men in the world met Blackwood gaze for gaze, and it did nothing to appease him that one of them was in his employ.

Eventually, he leaned forward to pull a ledger from a drawer in his fine desk and opened it to write figures and sums in one of its columns. Wordlessly, he turned to another drawer and pulled out a box. Upon opening it, he looked up at Brom with a displeased expression, before reaching in and pulling out a little leather satchel. He strewed the contents out to clink loudly, but dully on his desk top.

Malik quickly counted out the coins to the amount Brom had requested from his wages. He had such an infrequent requirement to draw upon his wage that Blackwood held a considerable amount of what was due him. Knowing there would be items to purchase once he reached the village, Brom decided it was time he drew upon his saved income.

Malik handed him the amount, which Brom took and placed in his own coin purse, before tying it off on his belt. For a moment, the men’s business was finished, but neither made move to detach themselves. Rather, there were words still waiting to be spoken, contentions to be named and answered for. But neither opened his mouth to speak and so Brom gave a quick, servile nod before turning and striding out the door.

Malik, however did not so quickly disengage his mind from their interactions, even more, from their relationship and his satisfaction, or lack thereof, with it. In time, however, he slowly became more mollified in the knowledge that Brynna was his, she chose him, to stay and belong to him, and he felt little need to be threatened by Brom’s attentions and aid to her.

He turned back to his ledgers, planning for the year to come. It was quite an unsatisfying task as he looked over his many numbers, his numerous holdings, his large yields, and, for a moment, Malik was befuddled and directionless in what to conquer next.

As was a constant pattern of his mind, he blinked away the weariness, and in the dark of his closed eyes he thought of her. This time he thought back to that morning when he had removed the covers from their bodies, kicking them down past his feet to reveal his beautiful creature. She was still asleep on her stomach, her face turned toward where his body had lay. Her thick hair was swept to the far side, though several strands covered portions of her relaxed face. Her arms were tucked into her sides, her fists nestled under her chin.

Malik got out of bed to put more wood on the fire, stoking the embers back to flame. Returning, he closed the bed curtains back, trapping in their collective heat. Slowly, though the sun still had yet to breach the morning sky, the room began to glow in the growing light of the fire.

Her smooth, pale skin began to warm and became a longing in him he quickly acted to fill. He reached out a loving, yearning hand to stroke across the naked flesh of the backs of her legs and thighs. Her skin was more gloriously rich and smooth than even his finest silks. It would be a punishment to dress her in anything, and so he smirked at the idea of commanding she wear nothing.

He traced curve after heavenly line from the bones of her ankles up and up. In an out he made love to her curves until he reached the swell of her bottom. At first, his fingers grazed lightly, just skating, but eventually his ache grew deeper and his touch became bolder. His fingers began to dig ever so into the firm globes, imprinting her body with his. The fullness of her ass in his hand made his mouth water as he suddenly had the urge to bite it and lick and suck the succulent flesh. But he was not quite ready to devour her.

His hand, though somewhat reluctant, moved at last from the fullness of her bottom up and around her narrow waist, dipping down in the lines of her strong, yet feminine back. When his hand at last reached the warmth of her hair, his fingers ducked under the blanket her brown tresses created. His fingers slowly wound through the silk, up around her shoulder blades, her neck, bent as it was, and at last her scalp. He massaged there until at last she began to stir. As his hand slowly and methodically wound its way back down her trunk, Brynna began to move into his touch.

When he knew she was awake, he leaned down on one elbow to smile at her face, while keeping his exploratory hand moving. She returned a peaceful smile of her own, her eyes heavy-lidded from a brain still awaking and a body falling under the spell of his caressing hands.

Malik lay farther down on the bed so his head lay on his arm. His body was angled towards hers, the heat of her flesh mingling with the heat of his. Holding her deep brown eyes, his wandering hand crept lower and lower still. He watched for the hitching arousal as it sparked slowly to life in those brown eyes.

The fingers of his right hand found the flesh of her bottom once more and began to circle in concentric circles, growing smaller and smaller at each pass. Brynna did not flinch from his gaze or his touch, but bit her bottom lip as she no doubt attempted to stifle her moans and whimpers. As his fingers passed over her crack, her eyes fluttered nervously at being touched there.

But Malik was not ready to push for such a frightening pleasure at the moment. Instead, he gripped one cheek in his hand, the side of it pushing into the long separation of her right and left. His fingers, entrenched as they were, could feel the incredible heat her aroused body produced, as well as its welcoming slickness.

As if knowing that holding her gaze increased the flutter and desperation of her body more than his touch alone, Malik continued to stare into her pleading eyes as his finger slowly penetrated her outer lips and then the eager channel inside. He could not muster a cocky grin when he heard her whimper then, but he closed his eyes as her tight sheath squeezed his one finger.

Brynna clutched at the sheets of the bed in her hands that were still fisted near her face. Reflexively, her fingers opened and contracted with the slow rhythm his own finger established.

He worked it in and out slowly, feeling every ridge swollen with her desire. Her walls longingly clutched his loving digit, eager to dance and unite. Eventually, he added a second, eliciting another whimper as she curved her bottom out so he had even easier access to her cunt. He smiled at her openness, her unabashed desire for him, her complete surrender to his mastery of her.

In the fullness of his time, after patience and careful stroking, he felt her tight walls begin to quiver and then spasm around his fingers. Her body jerked and she no longer thrust her bottom out but pulled her pelvis in as her stomach quaked and shuddered. Brynna turned her face into the bed and screamed her release as Malik continued to work her orgasm through her deliriously stressed body. Though his job was done, he was reluctant to pull his fingers from the center of her femininity, unhappy to lose that level of intimacy.

Sitting at his desk, Malik drew in an unsteady breath as he recalled the sweeping desire to be buried home in her, to find his release. He had, instead, pulled her into his side, kissing the damp wisps of hair along the edge of her face, holding her until she fell asleep once more.

Malik sighed as he looked down at the papers across his desk. Nothing inspired him, nothing drew his interest or his desire. For the time, he was content to do nothing with his life but hold a beautiful woman, and find his whole purpose in being her master and lover.

He placed the heels of his palms over his eyes and rubbed as he yawned. He had little sleep through the night as he had kept Brynna awake with their amorous activities and had risen early when he was asked to speak with Brom.

He turned to look out his window, down to the wall of his keep, out across the bailey to the large stables. In many, unstated ways, he liked Brom. The man was obviously strong, both of body and mind, and was unaffected by Malik’s power, which was a rare feat for a nobleman, let alone a marshal and huntsman. He had an easy grace that caused most, if not all, to like him genuinely. And he was talented in what he put his hand to.

But Malik could not erase the discomfort of having a servant lack fear to cower, to obey without question. At one point, he was all but determined to dismiss him when Brynna was found and returned. But, somewhere along the journey back home, his anger at Brom’s words dissipated. Somewhere between finding her alive, and arriving at the conclusion that he himself had acted unforgivably towards her, Malik lost the determinedness to cut down a man that had been her worthy and loyal friend.

Malik was slightly puzzled at Brom’s request to take a week’s absence and to withdraw several crowns of his saved income. The man had only asked for it once, and that was to buy his horse. Beyond his food and horse, the man seemed self-sufficient with procuring and making anything he required. He even crafted his own clothing, which to Malik’s mind was always an admirable skill as he skinned and treated the leather and then crafted clever uses for it.

Though Brom remained a mystery in many ways to Malik, he was certain of his goodness and his willingness to serve him in what he required. Pulling his mind from his servant, Malik decided it was time to ensure Brynna was awake and ready for the first meal of the day. He greeted Stilwell on the way up to his chambers and offered a chance for hunting, to which the man eagerly accepted. Malik knew he was an active sort of fellow and most likely dulled with little to do. He decided to attempt to find more engaging activities for the two of them while the Goodchimes remained his guests.

His thoughts quickly turned to Brynna as he pushed the door to his rooms open. His smile faded a little when he saw his bed was empty. Determining she was not in his bathing room, he decided she must have left to her own rooms to dress, which made perfect sense considering that was where her clothes were stored. But upon inspection of her chamber, he found it just as empty as his own.

Perhaps she is already downstairs. Hmm, I wish to know when she is up for the day. New rule: she is to find me after she dresses, then I shall always know where she is and what she plans to do.

He smiled at his gracious plan. He would not tell her what to do, but give her the option, in which she would relay to him. He smirked and gave a slight swagger of his head as he imagined how he would command her to greet him every morning upon entering his study.

But his fantasy died a little when he reached the dining room and Brynna was the only one missing of the foursome. He rang for Eleanor and asked if she knew of her mistress’ whereabouts, to which she denied any such knowledge. She left after he told her to find her and come to breakfast as they were all of them waiting on her.

Malik relayed to Stilwell Brom’s unexpected leave-of-absence and the resulting need for them to secure game for their coming meals. They discussed the various types of game most frequently seen in his local woods and Stilwell’s preferences in bows. Eleanor returned, and Malik immediately narrowed his eyes. The two needed no words to exchange their thoughts.

“Excuse me,” Malik said to the Goodchimes as he stood and left the room. Eleanor turned to follow. “Speak,” he said in a voice growing in anger.

“I cannot find her, master. She is not in the castle. No one has seen her this morning.”

“This is unacceptable! She was! She was here just this morning. Where could she have gone?”

“Outside, my lord?” Eleanor offered.

Malik sighed. He had sent Eleanor to find her, at which point his temper was contained, though perhaps slightly annoyed that she was not where she was supposed to be. But now, her seeming disappearance required his personal attention, for when she was found…

“Very well, see the Goodchimes are served. Give them a reasonable explanation as to our whereabouts. I will find her,” he said in a terse voice. He stormed off to don his cloak before heading out. Though it was unlikely she would have left the castle, he was beginning to become anxious as to where exactly she could have been.

He searched his mind for any clues, but nothing that morning had been out of the ordinary, except, of course, Brom asking for money-Malik stopped midstride as his scowl darkened while his mind began piecing together bits of information he turned into possibility.

Though he held faith that she cared for him, to which her words and actions attested, Malik could not outright put the fearful speculation out of his mind that she had escaped once more. He knew the fear for her safety and a life filled with pain. He had faced them before. And having once been prepared to make a journey to hell and back to retrieve her, he was unwilling to lose her again.

His pace sped as he marched to the stables in search of the woman. He quickly stormed in the shelter of the warm building and stopped to scan quickly about. He immediately noted Brom’s horse was missing, as it should have been. But then he saw the stall door of the mare he had given to Brynna stood open, the pen empty. He found her riding tack gone as well. His heart thundered in denial as he quickly scanned the stable for any proof his fears were not true.

Malik’s hand clutched the thick support beam in the middle of the giant room as he gasped for breath. His stomach felt sickly and his head was light and dizzy. She had left him again!

How could she? Why would she? I’ve given her everything she asked. I would have-.

But his mind suddenly shut off the rampant panic leaving him calm and cold. He stood up, his face set hard, and he strode unwaveringly to Aeris’ pen. He quickly saddled his horse and flew from the keep. He would charge them and overtake them. Though he knew not what he would do with her, he would begin by running Brom through.

Though he seethed inside, his eyes were on the pair of tracks laid heavy in the mud of the road. He did not travel far, however, before he saw the smaller of the tracks turn off the road alone and head in a different direction. Though he was not as skilled a tracker as Brom, he knew the smaller tracks belonged to her horse. For a moment, he cared not about heaping retribution upon Brom, and cut off the road as well, following the trail she left behind.

Despite his anger, he quickly realized the path she took headed in the same direction as the ride he had led her on to the steep canyon where the frozen lake lay hidden in the winter months. His temper began to ease as he admitted to himself he truly did not know what she was doing. As he hoped, when he crested the top of the mild cliff, he saw her horse. Guiding Aeris to descend into the little valley, he scanned until he saw her sitting on a large rock on the shore. It leaned out over the water, providing an unobscured, picturesque view of the little valley and lake.

She must have been weighed by her thoughts for she did not seem to acknowledge his approach. For a moment, the effects of the rushing relief were the same as those caused by the initial fear. He felt light headed and his heart thundered largely. He had the intense need to bury his face in her hair, to kiss her and hold her tightly, assuring his body, as well as his mind that she was still there and had not left.

But with all things, Malik Blackwood quickly recovered from his vulnerable need and distilled his emotions into those he was more comfortable dealing with. He cleared his throat, which effectively gained her attention.

She turned to him, and despite the beauty and charm of her smile, he allowed no happy emotion to shine back at her. Her face softened and she tilted her head in a quizzical manner, curious as to his dark mood.

“My lord?” she asked out of habit.

Quickly, he devised a plan to not only teach her a lesson, but to assuage his desperate, lustful need. “Tell me, Brynna, who gave you permission to leave the keep, alone and unattended?”

She frowned at that. “No one,” she answered, nonetheless.

“What protection did you bring? I see no bow, no quiver. Do you conceal knives, and have you such an excellent aim that you can fell several predators to escape harm?”

“Predators?” she asked confused. She stood up to climb down from the large rock.

“Yes, predators. These woods are filled with wolves, even bears are found here. Too many a person has walked into the black of the forest, only to never return. And who did you tell you were leaving?”

“Well, no one,” she said, her face frowning, though not quite from anger.

“No one? So you left the castle, unattended, without permission, without protection, and without informing anyone of your whereabouts,” he said as he counted on his fingers the charges against her.

“Please, Malik,” she said, a little amused at his dramatic retelling of a simple morning’s ride. “You speak as though-”

“You could have been killed? Injured? Lost? Runaway?” he had slid from his horse to corner her against the large boulder.

She looked up into his face and blinked as his voice lowered with the last possibility. And there, behind the hardness of his eyes she saw the more lamentable emotion, fear.

He was afraid that she had left him.

But his intensity was not to be denied, not even when she knew its source. She felt that familiar stirring, as though he were her fearful predator. “M-Malik?” she questioned, uncertain about his exact mood.

“What happened to ‘my lord?’” he asked in a low, dangerous voice.

Brynna was unable to quickly decide if his voice held mockery or ire and so she immediately changed her address. “My lord.” For a moment it felt as though Malik would kiss her, lean down and take her lips with his and crush her to him, but he blinked and stood straight. The moment and the feeling passed and Brynna was left with a continued feeling of confusion.

Malik took a step back, his scowl in place. “Now, I will not punish you. You have made the argument before that you find it unfair that I do so when I did not give a rule explicitly. Therefore, I will be gracious and allow you mercy.”

Brynna frowned slightly at his near patronizing tone, but bit her tongue, not wishing for an argument that morning. After all, he said he would not punish her, so it would seem she were only petulantly quibbling. She, therefore, managed to smile as though thankful and returned, “Thank you, my lord.”

Malik’s eyes narrowed. “But that does not mean you do not have to learn from your mistake.”

“Learn? Is not alerting me to the fact that you would prefer I not leave the keep unattended, or at the very least tell you where I am going enough? Do you truly think I need to suffer a lesson to learn?” Her hands were on her hips again as she fought the injury due from his implied statement. Had he not said she was intelligent?

“The issue is not solely that you left without protection and without telling others where you were going. It is your continual presumptuous manner that leads you to act without permission.”

Brynna felt her indignation rise at how domineering he was acting. Had he learned nothing?

“If you will stop your huffing, you will see that I am correct. You acted dangerously. If you but discuss the things you wish to do with me, I would be able to give advice, to open your eyes to the follies involved. I did not say I wished to disallow you your interests, only safeguard you where I may.”

She fumbled his words over in her head. She was not so unreasonable as to be blind to his argument and accepted the wisdom there was in them. The woods were dangerous and her riding skills were that of a novice. Losing control of her horse, becoming lost, or being fallen upon by wolves was not so unlikely and she fought a shiver at what might have been.

Truly repentant for her brash actions, she looked up penitent eyes. “I am sorry, my lord, for any distress I may have caused. I acted without thought.”

Malik, seemingly somewhat mollified by her sincere apology, gave a nod of acceptance. He half turned to his horse and held out his hand. “Come,” he said simply.

“Am I not to ride on my own horse?”

“No. That privilege is revoked for now. Not until I feel as though I can trust that you have truly learned this lesson.”

Her pride hurt, Brynna hung her head as she scowled at the ground before walking to his side. He lifted her onto Aeris’ back, and she waited with a churning stomach as he gathered the lead of her horse and secured it to his saddle. Once he was settled comfortably behind her, he nudged his horse forward at a leisurely pace. Hearing her angry breathing, Malik was quiet for some minutes, allowing Brynna to think upon her behavior.

Brynna was attempting to dampen the flame of embarrassment at his treatment of her. She was being treated like a child, and not the lover she had hoped to be. Once he had his authority back, he used it to revoke privileges? Would she always be so subordinate to him? He had been correct. She had dangerously failed to consider the dangers of riding alone and without relaying her actions to others. And she had seen the fear he was desperate to hide from her; he had been afraid for her life and that she had run from him. But did he have to treat her as though she were a child?

Eventually, her embarrassment had faded and the rhythm of the horse lulled her to relax against his body. When Malik felt her temper ease, he decided it was time to proceed with his quickly devised scheme. He leaned forward so his mouth was brushing against the cool shell of her ear.

“Put your hands behind my head.”

Startled by the command, Brynna turned her head so she could see his face. “My lord?”

“Your hands, put them behind my head.”

“Is that a command, my lord?”she asked, slightly aroused by the order.

“It is,” he returned.

Slowly, Brynna drew her hands from her lap, up her body, and around the strong pillar of his body until her fingers rested on the back of his neck. Malik’s own right hand had begun to slide down her thigh until it came to the end of his reach.

His fingers began grasping fistfuls of her skirt, dragging the material up her body. When her knee was exposed, his hand touched the skin there and began making slow circles with the pads of his deft fingers. “Brynna, regardless of what has transpired and changed between us, one thing does remain and will ever remain constant. I am your master, your lord, and you must submit to me in all things. Having you with me, I am happy to allow you anything you wish, but I must know and grant my consent. Do you understand? You must ask.

Brynna focused on his words, but that was made difficult by his searching, caressing fingers that had traveled up her thigh, under her skirt. Though she had felt his touch throughout the night, and even that morning, her cravings for it had not been erased, merely momentarily satisfied. Posed as she was, with her arms high and behind his head, her legs open around the saddle, and her head back against his shoulder, Brynna felt wantonly open. The leg openings of her riding short pants were too tight for his hand to fit into and so his fingers glided over her thin riding short pants.

Malik heard her sharp intake of breath as his hand finally settled over the juncture of her thighs. She arched further back into him, nestling her head more firmly into the crook of his neck. “Now, when you were my mistress, I recall you were quite fond of teaching me my little lessons. I recall how you taught me those lessons,” he whispered darkly. “Therefore, I can only conclude you would enjoy the same in return.” He had begun to move the pads of his tightly joined fingers and his palm against her mound. The deep massage against her bald cunt covered by her linen pants quickly caused it to swell with need.

Malik did not wait long to feel the material under his fingers dampen and then soak. When he heard her whimpers begin, he moved his fingers up the waist of the pants and dipped under. But he took his time in returning to her hot need. His fingers trailed back and forth along the smooth skin of her lower abdomen.

Brynna was growing restless with his teasing touch. He had brought her to such a wet and needy state, and now he seemed content to leave her miserable. She groaned against the torturous thought and arched back into him once more, adjusting her pelvis as in temptation for his fingers.

Almost cruelly, Malik chuckled before running his lips across the skin of her forehead. “What is it you need, my pet?”

Brynna harrumphed mildly as she readjusted her position once more. She growled as she spoke. “You know what I need.”

“Hmm, do I? Perhaps you should tell me.”

“Touch me. Finish what you started,” she said before turning her head even more to lay her lips over his jaw.

“And what should I touch you for?”

“Must I say it?”

Again he nuzzled her temple. “Yes, I think I need to hear the words.”

“Then do it. Touch me. Make me cum, please.”

“You ask so beautifully, my pet,” he said, and his fingers slid over her smooth mound. As his fingers found her slick heat, he captured an earlobe in his mouth. His thick, strong fingers dipping past her swollen lips to brush against the sensitive nubbin and his hot breath in her ear were overwhelming sensations that made her shudder.

But her body adjusted itself to the forceful pleasure, and she exposed more of her neck as she simultaneously opened her thighs wider and tilted her pelvis so his hands could find the deepness of her body.

As she heard morning birds chirping, Brynna’s eyes fluttered open to take in the slowly passing scenes of their makeshift love chamber. She took in the dark, tangled limbs of the ceiling above them. Green puffs were dotted along the branches, and vines hung like old, tattered curtains. The soft carpet of last fall’s leaves muffled the slop of the horses’ hooves in the mud created in the wake of the melted snow. The scents of freshness and budding green coupled with sweaty horse and the undeniable flavor that was Malik assaulted her, filling her lungs, imbuing her with their essence.

His fingers were gently, but firmly pinching her terse flesh, sending ropes of pleasure through her pelvis. And then they would move to spread out and rub the inside of her aching lips before returning to dip into her hole. His finger would frequently hit the rough spot of her hidden nerve center, tapping it, rubbing it, building a heat not just in that spot, but throughout her whole body. But he would leave it before her flames grew too large and return to the excitable nub that felt turgid and needy.

Brynna’s body began to move in a slowly, undulating rhythm with his hand. She sank back further into his chest. Her hands, still dutifully behind his neck, hungry for sensation of their own, wound through his hair to knot and tangle and pull the thick, silky locks.

Though he only touched her, Brynna knew Malik was affected to nearly the same painful point as she. His hot breath poured down her when his mouth was not on her face. She could also feel his thick and now hard manhood against her bottom. He had joined her subtle rhythmic movements, pressing himself into her.

When Brynna felt the culmination of his ministrations upon her, Malik’s harsh voice cut in through her haze. “Now, for your lesson, Brynna. You are no longer allowed to cum freely.”

She frowned, despite the intense pleasure building up in her. “H-How do you mean?” she managed to rasp out.

“You must ask permission. If you don’t, you will be severely punished. Am I understood?”

“Y-you want m-me to ask?” she shuddered as she felt her body begin to tighten. “Please, I don’t think that I can-” She gasped as he abruptly pulled his hand from her body.

“Can you not?” he asked hoarsely.

She whimpered at the thought of having to restrain herself when the moment of climax came. Would it be painful? Could she withstand the driving pleasure? “Please, don’t make me,” she begged helplessly.

His mouth was at her temple again, kissing her reassuringly. “Trust me, love, do this for me. Obey me, give this to me.”

The need she heard in him, the need to control even this naturally personal event caused a warmth to flood through her that had nothing to do with the swollen slickness he had created in her core. He wanted her to give him control, he wasn’t just taking it. A gift.

Malik felt her gently nod before her face leaned up towards his. Her lips were at his chin, sliding up his jaw as she whispered, “Yes, my lord. I will.”

His hand quickly returned to her slit and now worked effectively to bring her back to that glorious precipice. Her moans and whimpers gained in force and he could feel her fast unraveling body. He waited anxiously to hear her words, and just as he was about to pull away from her, she spoke broken. “P-Please,” the word long and exaggerated from overpowering contractions in her body, “Please, let me cum, my lord.”

His cock jerked now painfully in his breeches at the sexual torment in her voice that he had caused. But he wanted her to learn and to never forget so his answer was like a crushing weight to Brynna. “No,” he growled.

Her whimper was almost like a cry, pained and distraught. “Wh-what? But I-I asked,” she quaked, holding off the consuming pleasure.

“And I said no,” he said in return.

“Th-then s-stop, s-stop tou-ouching me,” she begged. Holding back the crashing tide was turning painful as his hands continued to stroke her to glory. Her fingers gripped his hair painfully, not in warning, but in effort to control the rest of her body.

“For a time,” he husked in her ear. “And do not forget who you are speaking to,” he reminded in low warning. His fingers let off their driven attack, and instead gave gentle strokes along the plump and aching lips.

Malik loved the feeling of her smooth flesh of her sex, especially as it was coated in her slick, sweet juices. He listened for her moans to lessen and her breathing ease to a more normal pattern before he began focusing on bringing her to climax once more.

Before long, her fingers were massaging through his hair erotically, and her body undulated sensually against him. Her bottom lip was in her mouth as she moaned, and then she felt the shattering rush upon her. Quickly she called out, “Please, please may I cum, my lord. P-please,” she quivered.

“No, not just yet.”

She cried out again, her body distressed beyond control. “Please,” she begged.

“No, I need to know you can obey my decision no matter your desire to do otherwise.” This time, he did not relent his ministrations, but was quite pleased to hear her heavy breath, forceful and determined. He felt her stiffen against him in attempt to push away the building sensation he was forcing in her. After only a minute, knowing she could hold no longer, he gruffed in her ear, “Now, ask me now.”

She whimpered as she mustered the control to speak. “Now? May I cum, please?”

“Yes, cum for me, squeeze my fingers inside you. Show me how your body wants me. Show me that I am your master.”

The last image, her darkly clad master touching her and watching her cum made her explode in his hand. Her nails scored the back of his neck as her body closed in on itself, tearing a loud cry from her mouth. She was oblivious to his other hand holding her tightly against him, or the sound of the forest, or the feeling of his rasping breath against her neck. She only knew the blinding pleasure those fingers in her cunt conjured, strumming her deep and mashing her nub.

When Brynna was once again oriented to her surroundings, she found her position, straddled over the saddle, to no longer be comfortable. She wanted to be held and picked up her left leg and flung it over so she faced to the side. Malik removed his hand from under her skirt. His fingers were coated, nearly wrinkled, with her moisture. He brought them to his lips to lick them clean.

Brynna, though just satisfied, was keenly aroused by the sight. Before, when Malik had made love to her with his mouth, he had kissed her afterward, sharing her arousing flavor with her. Now, watching him suck his fingers clean, she felt a hunger once more. She reached up and took his hand. Their eyes connected, she slowly put one of his not-yet-cleaned digits in her mouth and slowly explored, not only the taste of her femininity, but the contours of his finger.

When she released his finger, Malik swept down hungrily, claiming her mouth for his kiss. When they at last pulled away, heaving, Malik’s face turned dark. He looked up towards their path and urged his horse to gallop forward. Brynna clung to him tightly, feeling less secure as she was more precariously perched.

They arrived at the keep a short time later, and Malik quickly slid from the horse and reached for her, pulling her down into him. His mouth was on hers immediately, devouring her in great fervor. Attacking her as he was, he pushed her back against a stall, smashing his body into her.

Malik pressed the bulge of his strained manhood into her abdomen, gently thrusting in time with the rhythm of their kiss as evidence of his need. “Feel this, feel what you do to me? How you make me need you? Now that I have given you what you wanted, tell me, will you do the same for me?” he whispered gruffly against her mouth.

Despite the dizzying pleasure his kisses caused, Brynna shivered in anticipation of the images his request evoked. She understood he had not received his equal share in the pleasure, and she was overcome with the desire to see him released and pleased. She was equally excited by her preferred method.

And she knew just what to say. “Please, my lord, may I pleasure you with my mouth?” She felt as well as heard his shaky intake of breath in answer to her provocative request.

“Yes,” he managed to husk and maneuvered them so his back was against the stall, leaning on it for strength.

As she leaned into him, her hands trailed down his body to the laces tied at his waist. She would have preferred him naked so that her mouth might be allowed to explore all of him.

Malik, though eager to experience what Brynna would do, had to restrain himself from guiding her where he wanted and commanding what she give. When she pulled her mouth away to look him in the eyes and began to lower her body to her knees, he felt his cock jerk forward in anticipation.

Once settled, kneeling before him, she slowly lowered his pants. His stiff member stood out boldly, pointing to the rafters, tall and proud. He seemed larger than she remembered, and she marveled that that part of him ever fit inside her.

Wanting to illicit as much pleasure in him as he did in her, she drew her hands up in tender, teasing fashion along his legs. The coarse hair rubbed her fingertips, tickling them. Brynna leaned forward, allowing the palms of her hands to slide to his inner thighs. She drew in close enough so that her breath touched him. She smiled when it jerked from his body in response to her teasing.

Malik’s arousal was so great he felt actual pain, and wanted nothing more than the hot, wet sheath of her mouth to suck him whole. But again he bridled his demanding urges to allow her a pace she was comfortable with.

So powerful, and yet, he’s a slave to his desire for me. Brynna began to see Malik’s attraction to her. If he found her strong and brave, by conquering her, he gained that. Now, as she held this powerful man at her mercy, she felt as though she were the one with the power. It was an intoxicating allure.

With one hand, she caressed her way up over his hip, feeling her fingers dip in the lines his muscles formed, until it wound round the base of his jutted pride. She could feel him quivering under her hand. She slowly grasped the base so it angled toward her. Though it stood of its own accord, she could feel the weight of it, and by the weight she knew it. It wasn’t just the stretch that her body felt, but the added weight of his body whenever he invaded her. This weight, this heaviness.

Gently, she allowed her hand to glide the length of his shaft. She felt the weight. She felt the silk that contradicted the hardness. She felt the ridges of the engorged vessels, and the line at the head of his cock. She felt the wetness that leaked from the tip. All of him was magnificent. All of him was gorgeous.

“You truly are amazing, my lord,” she murmured in approval. When she pulled her eyes from the erotic sight to look at him, she felt heated by his gaze. Powerful and consuming, but needful and begging, too. “Very beautiful,” she said quietly, before turning back to the shaft in her hand.

She began to explore his texture and taste with her mouth, first placing worshipful kisses from the head, down the shaft, and then opening her mouth to gently lick and kiss more fervently. She coated him in her saliva, and though she was convinced it looked sloppy, she couldn’t deny how easy it made running her closed hand up and down it.

Returning to the head, she noted the hole his ejaculate oozed from. Intent on lapping up his flavor, she ran the sharpened, stiff blade of her tongue over it. She was taken aback only for a moment when Malik hissed at the sensation. Realizing he liked it, Brynna did it again while reveling in his heady taste.

She then sucked all of his purple knob into her mouth. She felt Malik shift as he leaned back against the stall. She knew the pleasure must be intense if it drew such an open response from him. With the fat tip of his cock still in her mouth, Brynna looked up him, catching the incredible heat of his eyes. Slowly, she worked her tongue around the smooth surface, eventually tracing the ridge where it met his shaft.

When he drew in his breath and bit his bottom lip, Brynna knew she found a sensitive area. Her tongue flicked the underside edge of the head again, and again his stomach tightened and his eyes grew more intense.

Her hands continued to gingerly stroke the insides and tops of his thighs, circling around, teasing the sensitivity there. Though she found the feel of him enjoyable and the flavor semi intoxicating, she wanted him to cum in her mouth. She began to work towards the goal with more determination. She suckled on the tip before taking him as far into her mouth as she could.

Malik, controlled by the passions she was pulling from him, could not regulate his fast and shallow breathing. He wanted to plunge himself down her throat, and he felt sweat form on his brow as he restrained the impulse to thrust his hips into her. Reaching down, he threaded his fingers into her hair, grasping tightly, but not pulling. Brynna looked up, and though she did not smile, her face was undoubtedly filled with pleasure.

At some point, her hands that were swirling on his thighs brushed along the heavy sac at the base. Again, she noted his increased reaction to the stimulation and began to caress him there as well. She weighed and manipulated the soft flesh as she continued to suck and kiss his thick member. When she turned her attention to the tip, and sucked with fervor while flicking her tongue on the hole in the middle, she felt his body draw up, the energy condense tightly.

His breath pounded the air, his rib cage expanding as though he had run up a short hill. “Brynna,” he gasped at last, “I’m about to…you’re making me-” he could not finish, for when she gave a simple nod, he felt all control of his body dissolve and the resulting releasing spasms.

Brynna was quite shocked to see his cock vault from his body, twitch and contract as clumps of hot liquid hit the back of her throat, two then three. Five in all before he crumpled over, his hand on her shoulder, his cock springing from her mouth. She barely had time to swallow before his mouth was upon her in a shaky, delirious kiss.

When he at last stood and raised his pants, he pulled her to him. He intertwined his arms about her, still shaky and breathing with an unsteady rhythm. He kissed her again, before trailing off to her cheek and temple. “Amazing,” he repeated in a whisper. “You,” he said, pulling her away with his hands on either side of her face, “are amazing.” He kissed her once more before righting his clothing.

Directing them to business he began questioning her. “You saddled the horse, can you unsaddle her?”

“Not I, my lord. Brom. He saddled her for me before he left.”

“Ah, I see,” he said as he took Aeris by the reins. “And he told you to where he was going?” he asked casually.

“He said he was off to a village on personal business.” Brynna began stripping her mare of the leather fetters as she thought. “He seemed, I do not know, giddy perhaps? As though he were on happy business. Malik, I cannot lift this thing,” she said after she had attempted to lift the saddle twice. Though she was able to ride confidently, she still had unappeasable fear that she would do something to the flighty creature and be trampled under hoof, and was therefore not willing to yank on the animal more than a little.

Once their horses were groomed and put away in their stalls, Malik and Brynna marched back to the castle to eat a quick breakfast and join their long-forgotten guests. During the course of their meal, Malik asked her why she had left.

“To think, my lord,” she replied vaguely.

“And what held your thoughts so captive that you needed to leave the keep, and without warning?”

Brynna was able to keep her reaction in check, and did not roll her eyes loftward or reply tartly. “I wanted to stretch my legs, as it were. I haven’t ridden for some time and wished to see the melting of the lake. I simply needed to get out in the morning sun. I am sorry I lost track of the time and did not return for breakfast,” she added lastly, an attempt to make her disappearance as benign as possible.

Malik only reiterated that she must always ask permission to leave, and she was never allowed to do so on her own. “After all, you are still my…mine to care for, and I must know and approve of your whereabouts. I am responsible for your safety, and I cannot perform the function of my position if you deny me the opportunity. Is that understood?”

She nodded her head, content that his control over her wasn’t more severe.

The day proceeded as many of the ones before it. At dinner, Brynna was quite delighted to see that Bea had made a dessert from her favorite gooseberry bush. Malik ate only a few bites, but she smiled thankfully at him, nonetheless, knowing he was responsible for the treat.

That evening, Malik surprised and delighted her by asking her to bathe him, and then pulled her into the deep, wide tub to settle about his legs, and slide down his length. Brynna was intrigued by the unusual position as she leaned her back against his chest, his hands winding leisurely about her body, tweaking her nipples or dipping to the top of her sex to stimulate her there. And she could not refrain from giggling as their amorous movements eventually sloshed the water out of the tub and sent it slapping to the stone floor.

In the morning, Malik chose her dress and instructed her how he desired her hair to be worn. Despite other feelings of rebellion, she felt warmed that he thought her beautiful and desired to see her styled a certain way. As she finished placing the last of the pins in her hair, Malik called her over to him where he stood before the dying morning fire.

“My lord?” she asked, little thought to his bid for attention.

Malik reached out one hand, a finger pointed. The lightest touch to the tip of her nose, and then up to the line of her brow. The caress was so delicate that it was startling. Brynna felt her nipples harden immediately as the lone finger traced its way past the canal of her ear and then below her jaw, gliding down the column of her neck to come front and center of her chest, dipping down between her breasts. It stilled there, lingering as he spoke.

“I am in need of your mouth this morning. On your knees,” he said firmly with a voice coated in liquid fire. Brynna felt her own body respond to his demand, a dampness and ache begin. As she moved to bend her knees, his finger caught under her chin, holding her there, forcing her to look up.

“And what do you say?”

For a moment she was baffled, but then ventured, “Yes, my lord?” She knew those were the words for he grazed his thumb across her lips, his eyes on fire. His finger moved from her chin and she continued to lower herself to the floor.

With shaky, needy hands, she quickly unfastened the laces and freed his semi-hard staff. She held it and caressed it as it slowly firmed under her gaze. She did not wait until it was completely rigid before sucking the head in her mouth. She made fast work of him, drawing on him with intense suction. She felt the taste of his precum flood her mouth before running her tongue over the sensitive slit. She suckled and then took him deeper. His hand was fisted in her freshly pinned hair, but she didn’t care as he slowly moved her on his shaft, forcing her to take him deeper. Brynna had to concentrate to keep from gagging, but developed a rhythm for breathing in between his slow deep thrusts.

“Harder,” he growled, demanded she suck the life from him. Brynna quickly obliged, pulling out to his tip and sucking him until she felt the first quiver of his body, the slight bulging of the base of his cock, and then the triumphant spilling of his seed into her mouth. She swallowed furiously, but some escaped, dribbling down her chin.

Malik sat upon the chaise there, his eyes closed, his chest rising and falling quickly as he panted for air. Brynna wiped her mouth and turned her body so she sat kneeling at his feet, waiting for his next command. Eventually, Malik recovered and opened his eyes. He adjusted himself and slowly did up his laces as he began to speak.

“Stand. Now, lift up your skirts, and spread your legs.”

Brynna felt her face flush at the shame associated with such a vulnerable, lascivious position and wanted to refuse. But something in the tone of his voice, the harshness or the undeniable power of it, kept her in check. She slowly lifted her skirt and felt the tantalizing glide of the fabric up her legs, like a lover’s caress.

“Higher,” he said when the fabric stopped at her knees. “Higher,” he said in a sing-song, menacing voice when again the skirts rested at her thighs. She gave a shaky exhalation and felt the fabric rise above the mound of her sex.

“Now, your legs, spread them.” She swallowed as she stepped them apart. She could feel the moisture brimming between her plumping lips, feel the deep need to be touched and pressed and rubbed. She bit her bottom lip as she waited for his touch. One beat. Then two. Eventually she opened her eyes and looked down at him, and felt a tremor quake through her at the sight.

Malik sat forward, his hot gaze intent upon her desperate sex. “You are wet,” he said in a deep, gruff voice. “I can see you leaking without even touching you.”

She whimpered at his voice. “Ah,” he said deceptively intrigued, “you want me to touch, do you not my brave little pet?”

Again she whimpered and could feel her pelvis move forward in anticipation. “Yes,” she breathed out.

“Hmm, would you like me to touch you all day?”

Not quite understanding his question, but desperate for any caress, she answered in the affirmative.

“Well, I can’t. I have other things to attend to beside your needy body. But I am not unkind. To prove it, I will give you what I can…with this,” he said as he pulled a blue ribbon from behind him. Brynna knew the ribbon was from the same bolt as the ribbon that paired with her former uniform.

Malik reached out and spread her labia apart. She was able to control the forward rolling of her hips when he did so, but not the jerk when he touch that sharp, pleasurable spot just hidden on the inside of her folds. He pressed against it and then rubbed it around. Brynna felt her inner muscles draw in tightly, desperately hungry to be filled.

But he did nothing to alleviate the delicious pain. Instead, he took the ribbon and laced it between her thighs, drawing it over her hip before returning it to thread over her sex and up over the other hip. He pulled lightly so the material was snug against her swollen sex, and then he tied off the ends around the tops of her thighs, the ends left long enough to dangle down the increasingly sensitive skin.

“Now, you will wear this today, and every time you feel it caress your thigh, or dig into your cunt, I want you to think of me, your master. Understood?”

She whimpered at the thought of the excruciating pain lasting without hope of relief. “Please, do not leave me this way,” she begged. The pitifulness of her plea assaulted her own ears. It blended with the shame of being treated thus and sparked fury in her heart. “This is not fair. After I…for you, you do this to me? This is cruel.”

Malik was standing instantly, his hard face staring down at her. Her breast plummeted momentarily until she reminded herself she was not afraid of him. Her chin lifted higher. “This is silly,” she claimed.

“No,” he said firmly, little emotion playing in his voice, “this is what I choose. As master, there are no judgments as to the value or nature of the command. It is neither good nor bad, simply what is. And as it is what I decide, you will obey…and happily.”

Her face drew into a scowl as her heretical heart thumped volumes of refusal through her body. Watching the bracing up of her denial to conform, Malik stepped into her, one hand clasping firmly, but tenderly around her neck and the other alighting upon the sensitive flesh of her inner thigh where her skirt was still caught up. She was pressed against the wall, his hard body pressing submission upon her.

“You will not refuse me,” he ground lowly. “Tell me you accept my order, that you give me your will and obey me.”

His words flickered understanding in her mind. Again, obey him as a gift of her strength and will. It was slightly cruel, the predicament he was asking her to endure. But it was also intimate, not only the intrinsic nature of wearing his bindings about her secretive flesh, but the release of her will into his purview. She nibbled her lip as her eyes dipped to his mouth.

Malik’s eyes followed suit and he watched intently her tongue and teeth graze her lip as she studied him. “Do you agree? To abide by my command?” his head narrowing the distance between them.

“Mmm,” she said in acquiescence, reaching for him with her mouth. She felt his lips graze hers, her lips parted willingly, her mouth awaited and then-

Malik pulled back from his conquest, astounded how quickly she heated his blood, provoked his loins into reaction. Had he not just cum in her mouth? And already, so quickly, he felt the first tingling of an erection. He sighed harshly as he quickly ended their tormented play. “You are not to touch yourself to relieve the discomfort. And as you did not willingly, immediately obey, I think I must lengthen the stay of your punishment.”

Brynna breathed in raggedly, frowning in dismay. She quickly closed her eyes in effort to restrain the returning feelings of rebellion. But she opened them in dark, shining dare, challenging him that she could withstand anything he could give.

Malik thrilled at the confidence he saw radiating from her. Knowing the distress he had placed upon her, he was hungry by her continued display of strength. “Shall we?” he asked, holding out his arm for her to take. Together, each bristling with unmet desire, they left to attend their guests at breakfast.

The women parted the men so Brynna could tend the plants. Brynna found conversation an enjoyable distraction, even if it was not entirely successful. She found sitting almost unbearable as it caused the ribbon to pull almost painfully tight against the continually swollen lips. As the time ticked by, the moisture of her sex only increased, and with the aid of the pressure from the ribbon, it soon trickled past the boundaries of her cunt to rub erotically against the tops of thighs.

It caused her body to open and slide with each step, a pleasurable sensation that became the background fabric of her mind. She carried a blush with her and was mortified when Josephine asked, not once, but twice, if she felt ill for she was flushed.

She met him once in passing in the morning, but Malik made no mention of the affliction he bound to her body. At lunch, conversation carried on as though the world were as it should be, despite the glorious alteration under her skirts. When Stilwell took Josephine outside for a walk about the property, Eleanor found Brynna repotting a sprout for the third time. She was reluctant to sit and was only able to stand and keep her hands busy by potting, and repotting the same seedling over and over.

“You are to dress for your afternoon ride, my lady,” Eleanor informed her.

“I did not know we were riding. Thank you,” she said. As she stepped towards the door she paused. Ride with this ribbon strapped around my legs! She almost groaned at the shudder-inducing thought.

She retreated to her own chambers and quickly washed her hands cleaned. As she came out of her bathing chamber, she stopped short, for Malik had entered her room quietly and unannounced. Before she questioned his presence, she knew his purpose. She stood, waiting in knotting silence for the command, any command that would move them along, move her along towards the relief she now ached to find.

“The bed, lie upon it,” he said.

Dizzy warmth diffused through her chest as she walked stiffly to the bed. She crawled upon her high mattress with some amount of discomfort, the bends of her body pulling the tethers tight. Once on her back, he spoke again. “Now, lift your skirts.”

Her heart was beating hard, and the constant ache that had been established and maintained with the uncomfortable binding became more acute. She lifted the hem of her dress with more confidence than of that morning, eager to be free of the pain.

Malik stood at the end of the bed, looking down upon her, heating her with his eyes only. Brynna looked to him, inviting and waiting to be absolved of the torturous discipline. But he made no move to join her on the bed, but only continued to stare.

Holding her gaze captive, his calm face giving no hint of emotion, he asked her. “How did you find my bindings? Did you think of me today?”

She nodded, her lip held fast between her teeth.

“While you were talking with others, did you feel my touch on you?”

She breathed deeply, arching her back slightly as she imagined the feel of his hands. Again she nodded.

“While you were clipping your plants? While you ate your meal?”

She nodded.

“Did you feel my hands on you as you walked?”

When she again nodded, he asked, “Where?” but she only looked confused, and then shy. “Show me, show me with your hands what you felt me do.” He watched her body tighten up, almost as if recoiling from the humiliating and intimate gesture he asked her to perform. Her brow furrowed in pained resistance, but he saw her hands loosen from the skirts she held before sliding down to skim across the silk wound over her hips.

Malik could see the jumping of flesh as she tickled herself, fingering along the top parts of the ribbon. But she seemed hesitant to go farther, and so he asked, “Is that it? Is that all I did to you?”

She shook her head in denial. He could see the equivocating movement of her fingers as they moved quickly back and forth at the prominent bone of her hip. “Show me,” he whispered deeply.

Brynna could feel herself tremble, but not with the typical eroticism she normally felt. Now, she felt scared and nauseas. The loss of control, releasing herself into his command and making herself vulnerable, was frightening, and Brynna could not discern if she liked it or not.

But his eyes found hers, and he held her with them, securing her to her own courage, allowing her to be strong in her weakness to him. Her fingers glanced off the protruding lips that were squeezed into puckering by the ribbon. Though the feeling wasn’t entirely sexual in nature, it was extremely more sensitive, even through the thick coating of her juices.

There was a fine layer of soft stubble as it had been several days since he had used the razor upon her, and in the distress of the activity, her mind fleetingly thought she needed to ask him to do it again. But those thoughts abandoned her when a finger dipped down into the slit between the lips.

The fear-laced embarrassment was causing her to squirm, and she bent her legs up before spreading them wider. Malik swallowed hard as he reeled in his desire to join her. His gaze dropped from her eyes to the succulent flesh she began stroking tentatively.

But her ministrations were still gentle, still innocent, and not the carnal, orgasm-inducing strokes he wanted to see. “Show me,” he said again, “show me what you wanted me to do to you this morning.”

But Brynna balked, suddenly too embarrassed to continue. She withdrew her fingers and fisted her hands over her mound, as she closed her legs. “Ah, now, my little brave one, this squeamish attitude is not befitting you,” he chided playfully. “Show me,” he commanded again, but in a tone the seemed to quell her shaken spirit and empower her to be free in his gaze.

She nibbled her lip only a moment before her hands opened slowly, two fingers spreading her labia, opening herself to him. His eyes dropped again to her sex, and she felt emboldened by how possessed with her he appeared.

Brynna began working her fingers over her curves and lines, closing her eyes and imagining his fingers on her. She began caressing her nub as he had, rolling it between her fingers, tugging at it, squeezing it.

“Is that all you want me to do?” his husky voice cut into her short moment of safety.

Her eyes flew open to see him staring intently at her. She had no voice and so only shook her head.

“Come on, then, show me,” coaxing a moan from her.

What she wanted, what she needed could she show him, share with him how she felt? She vacillated between intense, comfortable desire and mortification.

But he does this to me. Why is it so strange for him to simply watch me now?

She laid still a moment and then felt the pulse of desire.

He does do this to me. This is him doing it to me now, but using my fingers.

And then her fingers dipped deeper, coursing along the path his body had before, his fingers, his manhood, his tongue. She was slick and hot, and she felt the convoluted walls, deeply wrinkled but smooth. She felt the firm pull of her pubic bone, an immovable point of departure into her deep.

As she explored farther, she felt her two finger tips run over a roughed button and knew it was the secret spot Malik so often stroked to build that deep, aching fire in her. She went back to it, again and again, discovering different sensations different touches, whether direct pushing, tapping, strumming, circular rubbing.

Though innocent and exploratory, her fingers were slowly drawing her to the edge. She opened her eyes again to find him staring hotly at her. She did not close her eyes, or move away, but held his stare, his being, as her most intimate flesh was stroked and manipulated.

Her legs were moving more restlessly, her body longing for the feel of his weight crushing down upon her. Her breath was coming in shorter, quicker gasps, and she felt little whimpers bubble out of her throat and cross her lips, straining in need.

“Will you ask me?”

Her breath hitched, and if possible, she became even wetter. “Please,” she breathed, “may I make myself cum?”

“Yes, but do not close your eyes. Look at me,” he commanded in a voice strained and hungry.

Brynna cried out as she felt her tight cavern squeeze her fingers, an erratic fluttering, pulsation. She did as he had demanded, keeping her eyes locked on his. Never had she felt so naked, so vulnerable. But she also felt safe, even though he did not touch her. She felt his acceptance and desire for what she was and what she did.

Her legs clamped together as the pleasure began to turn to pain. She curled, holding her fingers still, unable to move them more. She watched as Malik walked to the side of the bed and sat upon it. He graced his fingertips over the skin of her thighs. So lightly, and yet the sensation was so large and inescapable.

His fingers eventually ran up to the ends of the blue ribbon still wrapped around her. Slipping the knots free, he tugged and pulled the silky cloth from her body. Brynna moved tentatively in the new sensation the bindings left behind. Though absent, it left an indelible sensation deep in her skin. She did not think it would ever leave her.

Malik’s hands smoothed at the redness the ribbon had caused where it bit into her soft flesh. He then took it and wrapped it around her right thigh twice, before tying it off in a bow.

“I want you to wear this,” he began in a soft voice, “and remember me, that you are tied to me, bound to me.” He bent forward and kissed the bone of her hip before lowering her skirts and leaning forward to kiss her mouth. It was soft, and its intimacy was not of sexuality, but of true, unabashed emotion. Eventually, he pulled her off the bed and the two departed without another word.

Throughout the day, Brynna could feel the light whispers of touch the ends of the ribbon gave, exciting the flesh of her thigh to remember their shared afternoon’s bliss. Though she enjoyed conversations with Josephine, she was eager to be rid of her guests and spend as long a time allowable in the presence of her master, alone and uninterrupted.

During their evening games the couples were paired together, and Malik was quite proud of Brynna’s obvious talented play. In the end, though Stilwell and Josephine were an excellent match, Malik and Brynna were able to catch enough tricks to win the game.

The evening was still young and Malik suggested they continue on with their little rounds of singing and storytelling. Josephine was delighted, though Stilwell admitted to not knowing another poem to recite. Josephine said in a most eager, yet charming voice, “Oh, that is well enough, dear husband, for I shall participate in your stead, therefore, we’ve a greater chance at winning.” She smiled warmly, and Stilwell could only chuckle at her honest conceit.

At Brynna’s turn, she stood before the fire and thought only a moment before she began her little tale.

“Once an old miser, who had gained so much wealth from all his neighbors, became increasingly worried that someone would forcibly take all the gold he had labored so long to amass. He decided then to take all his money, put it in a lambskin sack and take it into his orchard where he dug a hole. He buried the gold and covered it up. But so obsessed with his money was he, that a day did not pass in which he would go out to his orchard, dig up his gold and stare it for several minutes before burying it again.

“Now, it came about that this odd ritual drew the attention of one of the day workers on his estate. The man followed the old miser and, from afar, saw all the gold he had buried. That night, when all was dark, the worker crept secretly out into the orchard, dug up the gold and ran away with it. The next day, as was his habit, the miser went into the trees to stare at his wealth, but instead of his treasures, he found an empty hole.

“Weeping miserably at his great loss, a neighbor happened upon him. When the miser relayed all that had happened, the neighbor said it was an easy thing to fix his problem. With a wet face and eyes filled with hope, the miser begged how the wrong could be made right. ‘An easy enough thing,’ replied the neighbor. ‘Simply bury a stone in the empty hole and think of it as though it were your gold still lying there. It will be as valuable to you as your gold ever was. For when the gold was there, you spent it not, nor made the slightest use of it.’

“And so was the old miser who learnt too late that value of money is not in the possession, but in the use of it.” Brynna smiled simply at her story, her rueful eyes tearing from Malik when Josephine began clapping.

“Oh, very well told,” Josephine praised. “And so true it is, too, do you not thinks so, husband?”

“Yes, a good tale,” he agreed. “A very good moral, as well.” Stilwell inclined his head in a conceding nod. Brynna accepted the praise as she sat.

Her eyes again slid to Malik, and he lifted his eyebrows in a knowing expression. She smiled back at him, daring him to speak on the subject. He cleared his throat before doing so, readjusting himself in his seat. “Quite a little moral, you tell. I wonder that it was ever wise to teach you to read,” he said with an ill-humored smile on his face.

“Oh, on the contrary,” she replied brightly, “I am quite thankful for my education. It has allowed me to discover the words of others, to learn from them, and to know that I am not alone in the world in my opinions. And perhaps together, these other words and I, we can persuade those of differing inclinations to act with more thought for his fellow human.”

“As we all should, absolutely,” Josephine added with charming conviction, encouraging her friend.

“An education is quite a worthwhile undertaking, and unlike the Miser, you make use of what you have gained. However, like the Miser, it does one little good if it is not applied squarely.”

“Do you imply that I misuse my education?”

“Only that you have gained an argument and apply it where it does not belong.”

“Do you disagree that a benefit not used is no benefit at all? That to hold onto one’s wealth and not use it is no different than not having any at all?”

“I do not disagree with the tenet the parable speaks to, but if I am not very much mistaken, our point of disagreement had been on whether or not it was wise or necessary to put money into investments in which no return would be expected. Is that not so?”

“Is it not the same argument?”

“No, for your story merely speaks to the use or non use of the money, not to the specific use. After all, your story might have been greatly changed if the man used his money to buy numerous jewels for himself or commission great statues in his honor instead of simply burying it. But your argument is to how the money should have been used. Therefore, your story is not applicable.”

She gave him a playful smirk, conceding his point for the time. Stilwell, enjoying the quick exchange, interjected his own view. “Well, applicable or not, your story was very charming and cleverly told.”

“Thank you,” she said softly.

“And though your song was pretty, my wife, I have a feeling her story, its application notwithstanding, will win the evening’s honor of best performance. That is, unless you have something that gives you the advantage, Blackwood. What say you, can you top that?”

“I do have something to share with our group, but you shall be the judge of its worth for our entertainment. However it is a riddle, prophetic of sorts for the occupation of our remaining time together, and I put forth that whoever is able to unravel its meaning, shall win the honor for tonight.”

“Oh, I do so love riddles,” Josephine replied excitedly.

“And I hope all shall be happy with mine.” His voice spilled richly into the little circle of friends, filling the room with as much warmth as that of the fire.

“Its form of water, and of earth’s dry mud,

In one, breath alters and one it becomes.

“Or tree of fire with limbs four about

And trunk to ne’er tire until flames fade out.

“The preening flower of the morning fields,

In evening hours gives the golden yield.

“Upon velvet bliss lie pearls of rich dew

Where the dawn’s wet kiss seals its claim anew.

“And now the reason for such veiling art,

A secret pleasing that will unite both parts.

“The dance in which the cloth is spun

The weave complete melds and makes them One

Bodies wrapped in the warm delight

And between the hearts now tethered tight

Heaven’s decree and gold will bind

To make the cord eternal intertwine.”

Silence greeted the closing of his poem. Throughout, his eyes had scanned the captive faces of the audience, but eventually his eyes turned upon her, holding her gaze until Brynna felt his complete possession. She found difficulty in remaining under his scrutiny, but she also found strength in the bond that passed between them.

“My,” Josephine whispered, “Very pretty poem. Does anyone know of its meaning? I for one am inclined to think it is about love,” she replied confidently.

“And why, my wife, would you think that?”

“I know it may sound silly to you, but…I just feel the love in it, do you not?” she asked, directing her question to Brynna.

Brynna left the depth of his blue eyes to join in the conversation. She nodded before speaking. “Yes, it does seem that those are the underlying sentiments of the words, however, and perhaps I am ignorant of such tellings, but I am not certain the entire riddle speaks of one thing.”

“I believe you are correct,” Stilwell answered. “I do think there are three parts, which, unless I am mistaken, we are to interpret each and then find the whole meaning by their relationship. That is usually the way of these things.” He chuckled when he looked up at Malik who was attempting to not stare at Brynna. “Truthfully, Blackwood, I am quite surprised by your employment of poetry. I would not have thought it in you.”

Malik replied with little humor that was befitting his personality. “Yes, many often underestimate my capabilities. I find it is usually the cause of their downfall.”

Stilwell’s demeanor sobered slightly, as he was quickly reminded of who it was speaking with. However, the past days had done much in the way of altering the man’s opinion of the other, and he found him less odious or frightful.

“Then shall we?” Josephine asked. “The first part, that I found most strange. What is of water and mud?”

“It was earth’s dry mud, was it not? That would be dirt.”

“Yes, I believe you are correct,” Stilwell confirmed. “And the second line spoke that one changes breath and one the speaker becomes.”

“Are we to assume that the ‘ones’ are the water and dirt?” Brynna asked.

“I think that would be a correct understanding of it, yes.”

“So does water create breath?” Josephine asked.

“And what has breath but becomes dirt?” Brynna chimed in.

“A few things come to one’s mind,” Stilwell answered. “Perhaps we should think on the next words and see if they eliminate or narrow down the possibilities.”

“I believe it was something along the like of “a tree with limbs and a trunk…oh, what were those silly words?” Josephine muttered.

“I think it was “a tree of fire with four limbs about and a trunk to never tire until flames fade out. Is that correct?” She asked Malik, looking up at him for the first time.

He only gave a confirming nod, a small smile of pride playing across his lips.

“Very well, then,” Josephine said, thinking on the words, “A tree, though I suppose we are to take it to be something else.”

“More than likely,” Stilwell encouraged.

“Then it has to do with something that has limbs?”

“And is of fire. Oh, and a trunk.”

“And perhaps that is the important measure,” Stilwell said thoughtfully.

“How so?”

“If we take the idea that the trunk will never tire, or perhaps lives so long as there is flame, and I think we can say that the fire must reside in the trunk, as it speaks that the trunk will not dies so long as it has the flame, then I think we can safely assume we know the first part.”

“And what is that?” Josephine asked in almost exasperation, for she heard nothing luminary in what her husband said.

“Well, what has a trunk with four limbs, and the life force resides in the trunk? A person, of course,” Brynna said happily, thankful for Stilwell’s helpful analysis.

“Very good. Yes, I believe so, and when coupled with the first stanza, I am quite certain.”

“Oh,” Josephine said softly, thinking back on the other words. “Of course. A man is born of water, and when he dies returns to dust. I see it makes perfect sense now,” she said, torn between dejection at not having seen the simple answer immediately, and joy that it was at last solved. “But what of the other?”

“Brynna, do you recall the words?”

“Let’s see. Something about a flower in the field, no, it went ‘a preening flower in the morning field, in the evening brings a golden yield.’ That was the first stanza, at any rate. Is that enough, do you think?”

“We shall work with it and see. Now, this is perhaps both simple and easy.”

“Wheat,” Josephine chimed in quickly and confidently.

“Wheat?” Brynna asked bemused.

“Yes, when wheat is ripe it is golden,” she said smiling.

“Ah, yes, but see this is the tricky part. For I do not think golden speaks to the color, but more to the perfection of the state,” Stilwell clarified.

“Oh,” Brynna added intrigued. “This truly is quite fascinating,” she said with a smile, her mind reeling happily at the many facets of deciphering the poetic riddle.

“Yes, it can be,” Stilwell answered with his own smile looking up at Malik who was quite happy to stand and observe the many contributions each person paid to the solving of his enigma. “However, I do not think that ‘flower’ is such a hard part. Especially when combined with the term ‘morning field.’”

“Do you not? Tell us what you think, husband.”

“Well, the idea of morning generally means new or even youthful. So what youthful thing is often referred to as a flower?”

“Oh, a girl, perhaps,” she answered.

“Just so. So the idea is about a girl who is perfected, or becomes a woman.”

“And the second stanza?” Brynna asked. “Upon velvet bliss lie pearls of dew, with dawn’s wet kiss, it lays its claim anew?”

Josephine gave a small, delicate gasp. “See, I told you it was about love.”

“Here I think you may be correct, wife. The sensual image alone would support your theory, as well does the descriptive word ‘claim.’ If we are still talking of the flower, or the woman as it were, we can simply ask ourselves what claims women, and we are given the answer ‘men.’ I think that is the best understanding of the relationship between these four stanzas. Are we not correct, Blackwood?”

“You do very well, Goodchime. I am very much impressed.”

“So, man and woman are the answers we have. But you said a third part should reveal the meanings of these answers.”

“Yes, exactly. Can you recall them?”

“Uh,” Brynna thought a moment, closing her eyes and seeking out the sound of Malik’s voice. “The reason for such veiling arts…something pleasing…a secret pleasing that…unites both parts,” she said as her voice sped and slowed as she recalled the prettily strung words.

“Very good,” Stilwell chuckled, quite impressed with her ability to recall the words. “I believe that stanza to be fairly straightforward. The speaker is about to introduce the way in which the two parts are to be interpreted. So then for the last stanza.”

“I believe we need it once more, my lord, for I cannot recall all those words,” Brynna admitted with a reluctant chuckle.

“By all means.

“The dance in which the cloth is spun

The weave complete melds and makes them One

Bodies wrapped in the warm delight

And between the hearts now tethered tight

Heaven’s decree and gold will bind

To make the cord eternal intertwine.”

“My dear wife, you are excellent at understanding the hidden tone. What do you think of the poem without interpreting it,” Stilwell invited.

“I think it sounds like a union, does it not? It’s in the idea of the thread coming together to make the fabric and then the fabric binding the two together.”

“Very true. It needs no elucidation that man and woman can come together in many ways, so I believe the key line that clarifies which idea we seek is-”

“Heaven’s decree and gold will bind…” Brynna interjected.

“Yes, exactly so.”

“A wedding!” Josephine cooed. “A very good riddle indeed!” she said smiling, clasping her hands together once, holding them at her heart. “And yet, who is to win?”

“How do you mean?” Stilwell asked perplexed.

“Lord Blackwood said that whoever solved the riddle should win for the evening. And yet, it took all of us, did it not, to solve it?”

“Quite so. Then perhaps we should bestow the honor upon Blackwood as it was his riddle that took three minds to unravel,” he suggested.

“But you said…” Brynna murmured softly in thought. All the eyes turned upon her, but his burned the most intensely. Brynna, catching herself, cleared her throat before she ventured further in more confidence. “You indicated the riddle was to serve to inform us how we were to spend the remainder of our time together,” she said, her voice falling in softness at the spinning away of her mind. She felt a trembling, a sickening quivering inside at her rising fear and gently whispering hope.

“That is true. Does that mean there is to be a wedding?” Josephine asked before thought was given. The largeness of the implication a wedding brought rose between the small group, holding enormous weight above all their heads. The three sat in iced tension as they waited for Malik’s response to crack their frozen shells.

“Goodchime, if you and your wife would be at my disposal a fortnight more, then it is my intention that Brynna and I shall wed,” he told the man before turning to his would-be-bride. He felt so clever, so assured and proud in that moment as he stood before his guests and smiled down on her lovely face. It would end it, solidify her bond to him. She would be his wife and bear his children. She would belong to him forever.

So lost in his uncharacteristic of happy reverie that he failed to note Josephine’s stunned expression or Stilwell’s intrigued one. He only saw her wide brown eyes. He was unaware of the stunned silence until Josephine’s feminine voice turned shrill in shock.

“You mean to take her as a wife?” The sound seemed to bring Stilwell out of his own momentary shock and readjusted his seat and cleared his throat, unsure of what, if anything, to say.

“I have every intention of making it so,” Malik replied in serious tone, brooking no argument.

“I’m sure I do not know what to say,” Josephine murmured as she looked to Brynna’s still dazed face. She passed her a silent question, but Brynna could only manage to blink and give an almost imperceptible shake of her head, indicating she was as lost as the rest.

September 2018
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