I spent the rest of the day in the Marquise’s company reading a history of Queen Vindrel, the Hawk Queen. It was a sensationalist narrative written in a simple vernacular that even my limited knowledge of writing was able to comprehend without more than an occasional bit of assistance from the Marquise or her two attendants. If even half the things in that book were true, Queen Vindrel had indeed been an extraordinary woman.
However, the more I read, the more convinced I was that the color of our hair and our love of horses were the only two traits we shared in common. She was a compassionate warrior who faced her enemies both on the battle field and in her council chambers with equal daring. She was decisive, cunning, intelligent, and resourceful — in short, the exact opposite of myself.
Upon my return to Lord Ruvano’s Chamber late that evening, he was there awaiting news of my first espionage mission. Though me and the Marquise had spoken at length about all manner of topics, nothing that would be of any particular interest to the spymaster’s games had ever come up. Fortunately, he did not seem overly concerned with my lackluster performance as a spy. His games ran the long course so there would always be tomorrow.
In the morning I was wide awake the moment my eyes opened. The Marquise had requested that I come see her again right after breakfast. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ever begun the day looking forward to anything at all. Still wearing my silken night clothes, I was hurriedly eating my morning meal as fast as I could when Lord Ruvano entered the chambers.
Seeing him swagger up to the table, my appetite faltered and I felt the unconscious need to pull my robe closed across my protruding chest.
“You’re looking chipper this morning,” Lord Ruvano said. “Remember that when you go to the king later.”
“The king?” Any lingering hunger I might have had disappeared in an instant. I knew this would eventually come, but I had been hoping it wouldn’t be so soon — or ever.
“He’s requested another ‘audience’ with you.” Lord Ruvano dropped a package onto the table before me and poured himself a glass of wine. “That was delivered for you earlier.”
The brown paper wrapping had already been torn open. Inside was a garment of dark blue. I seemed to have hazy recollections of choosing a dress in that shade when I’d visited the Seamstress’s shop. The style wasn’t quite as I remembered from the drawings she’d shown me, but then I’d only been half paying attention to what exactly I had ordered.
The stitching and craftsmanship, however, were impeccable. As I ran my hands over the dress, they stopped abruptly at the one of the folds. To anyone else, it would look like nothing more than another pleat, but a furtive inspection reveled it was, in fact, a hidden pocket, just big enough to hold a blood dagger.
No wonder Nikelle wanted me to commission my wardrobe at that shop. Even when she was away, she was still finding ways to interfere in my life.
“It’s very nice,” Lord Ruvano said offhandedly. “You should wear it when you go to the king. The queen will be attending to some business elsewhere so you should have a hour or so alone with her husband.”
I clenched the dress in my hands and suppressed a scowl. Why did he have to say it like that? He made it sound like I was purposely trying to ruin their marriage.
“You’re to meet him at the gate between the palace gardens and his own private garden. No one will be able to see a thing there.”
I wanted to throw up. Lord Ruvano was little more than a pimp and I his whore.
As the servants helped me dress, I came to realize that I knew none of these women. I felt foolish asking if they were the personal servants Lord Ruvano had promised me for fear I might be wrong, and so I let them go about their duties without uttering a word. Part of me wished Greta was still among them. Part of me would have liked to apologize for the way I’d spoken to her yesterday. The greater portion, however, was grateful I could let the matter rest without having to deal with it for the time being.
That new dress fit better than anything I’d ever worn before. It complimented my body perfectly and nowhere was it either too snug or too loose. That seamstress certainly knew what she was doing. I’d have to remember to congratulate her on a job well done — and maybe order some more things as well. It was only Lord Ruvano’s money after all and I wasn’t sure I would ever want to wear this particular dress again after doing what was expected of me.
The Spymaster was gone by the time I was ready. With a time and a place known, it was apparently up to me to ensure I didn’t ruin any of his plans. I sent a note of apology to the Marquise, informing her that I would not be able to see her that morning after all. I could only hope that she would not be upset with me for canceling our engagement. If I had a choice in the matter I much rather would have spent the morning with her instead of the king. Unfortunately, I had no choice in the matter at all.
I made my way through the corridors of the palace toward the palace gardens, steeling myself with each step for what was to come.
Maybe the king really did only wish to converse with me as he’d said when we’d last spoken.
Maybe that first time he’d merely been overcome with lust.
And maybe I was a two-headed albirnois.
I descended the stairs into the palace gardens and navigated through the maze of plantings until I arrived at the gate where I was to wait for the king. It was indeed a secluded spot. Even someone watching with a spyglass from one of the towers would not have a clear view of what transpired there. As I paced back and forth across the grass, that knowledge did not comfort me in the least.
It was with something of a start that I turned toward the gate.
“Stephanie,” I heard the king’s voice coming from the wall which separated the two gardens. Through a tiny crack in the gate, I could see his eye, alight with laughter. “I’m so glad you came!”
As if I had any other choice. I was sure the smile I forced into place as I approached the gate could not have looked any less convincing. Smiling like a schoolboy as he threw open the gate, however, the king didn’t seem to care. He grabbed me in his huge arms and held me close, planting a wet kiss on my lips even as he enveloped both of my ass cheeks with his hands.
“Oh, you’re even more beautiful than I remember!” he said holding me at arms length as he looked me over. My back stiff, he ran his hands down my arms and took one of my breasts in each hand, squeezing them as if that were his way of greeting. I hoped the lopsided grin on my face was enough to hide my desire that this meeting wouldn’t last any longer than it had to.
“Come with me!” he laughed, taking me by the hand and practically dragging me through the garden. If I hadn’t been so quick to follow, he might have dislocated my shoulder. We rushed back to the palace, returning to the same small throne room where he’d made me a baroness only a few short days ago. This time it was empty except for a single servant woman down on her knees scrubbing the floor.
“Out!” the king cried. “I thought I told you to be finished by now!”
At the fierceness of his words, even I was tempted to vacate the room.
The woman glanced up as she gathered her things and it was only then that I recognized her as Natalie. The moment she laid eyes on me, her expression turned to one of contempt. Fortunately for her, the king had already forgotten about her or he might not have taken kindly to that clear show of disrespect. Unfortunately for ME, the reason he hadn’t noticed was because he was already embracing me in his massive arms, attempting to plant rough kisses on my cheeks.
I was no longer sure I could do this again. As the door closed behind Natalie, I twirled out of the king’s embrace, pretending as if had merely been taken in by the display at the far end of the chamber. When last I’d been there, it had still been sealed away in crates. Now it unpacked and on view for all to see.
A rusted iron hoop hung from the wall which had several spiked clamps that secured to it a pair of giant bird wings and two crossed spears of primitive manufacture. Their heads were made of knapped obsidian and bushy tassels of bright red and yellow hung from the shafts. The feathers of the wings appeared to have been white at one time but had since become stained a dingy shade of brown. Sitting prominently on the floor before them was that block of granite. Utterly black against the white room, it stood apart with a brooding primeval malevolence.
“That’s…an interesting display,” I said, suppressing a shudder.
“Oh that?” the king said offhandedly. He strode across the room toward it and I felt inclined to follow, even though my feet didn’t want to carry me any closer than I already was. “It’s one of the old traditions of my grandmother.”
“Oh?” I said, but found even that difficult with my mouth as dry as it was. That altar was nothing more than a harmless block of stone but something about it made me want to flee the room.
“Yes,” the king said. He stepped up to the stone and placed both his hands on top, palms down. Closing his eyes he took a deep breath.
Hesitantly, I ran my hand across the top as well. It was perfectly flat, but rather than the slick polish of the sides, it felt rough and porous. Upon closer inspection, the otherwise black finish was discolored where irregular blotches of dark brown and red had soaked into the pores. It was also cold to the touch, far colder than it should have been sitting as close to the sun as it was.
“My grandfather met his future wife while on campaign in the far south,” the king said. “She was something of a witchdoctor in one of those barbaric little desert tribes.”
My blood suddenly ran cold. “The Mordengern?” I muttered before I even knew what I was saying. At the utterance of that one word, the coldness of the stone seemed to surge up, as if it were ice water in a trough that had suddenly been sloshed in my direction. It sent a shiver racing through my fingers and up my arm. I jerked my hand away as if slapped.
“Morderngern?” the king said, opening his eyes and turning casually away from the altar. “Oh yes, I think that might have been it. Though she eventually became a fine Vitrelayan woman, my grandmother never quite gave up her old ways. Before she died, she taught me all about them. This…” he ran his fingertips across the altar like one might caress a lover, “is her Dark God.”
As he approached me, I backed away, stumbling around the corner of the altar.
“Unlike those deities of Vitrelay who dwell in some celestial land watching down on us mortals like we were nothing more than ants, my god lives within this stone. In return for blood, he grants me power and ensures that no blade raised against me with the intent to harm will ever finds its mark. I personally slew twenty-two men in the taking of the palace and not one scratch befell me.”
My mind was reeling. There was no conspiracy or secret alliance with the Mordengern — King Rosenthall was one of them by blood as well as by practice. By failing to kill Sir Ruvano, I had indeed delivered the kingdom into their demented hands.
“So what do you think?” he said, backing me into the bloodstained altar. Even through the fabric of my dress, I could feel the coldness of the stone against my buttocks and thighs.
“Isn’t it though.” As he stared deeply into my eyes with that impish and slightly sinister smile of his, he ran his massive hands up my arms and across my shoulders. I inched away but his hands clasped around my neck, his fingers meeting in back and his thumbs in front.
“I hope you’re not planning to…sacrifice me…” I tried to make it sound like a joke but my voice was quivering far too badly for it to ever be interpreted as such.
“Oh no,” he said, squeezing my throat tightly enough that I found it hard to gulp down my fear. “My god is indeed a hungry god, but he feasts only on virgins.”
That was certainly one advantage to being a whore I hadn’t yet considered.
Suddenly, he released me. Spinning me around, he slammed my face down against the stone altar. I could smell dried blood and sulfur. With my legs still dangling over the side, he roughly lifted my shirts over my ass. Was he actually going to do it here? Now?
“My wife doesn’t care much for all this but she respects its power.”
While keeping my face pressed down against the cold stone with one hand, the king ripped my panties away and pulled out his cock with the other. Frantically, I planted my palms against the top of the altar and tired to push myself away, but I might as well have been trying to move an entire mountain.
“She’s also become accustomed to the wealth it brings us. I’ve always wanted to take her on this very alter but she says it puts her out of the mood. She won’t come anywhere near it.”
I knew exactly how she felt. As the king drew the head of his cock across my pussy, it seemed as if the stone itself were reaching out for me, wanting to pull me into its chilly embrace.
I whined as I pushed even harder against the stone, but the king’s grip on the back of my neck kept me pinned in place like a butterfly in a case.
The king laughed. “Oh Stephanie, not very wet today are you? Has Lord Ruvano been wearing you out?”
I heard him spit and felt a warm drop of saliva running down between my ass cheeks.
I pushed even harder still, straining for all I was worth, but still in vain.
“Oh yes, make it nice and tight for me!” he said as he raked his grotesquely huge cock head back and forth over my asshole.
With my face mashed down against the stone, my cry was muffled as he forced himself into me.
Gods, it hurt! It felt as if he were going to tear my ass apart. Could I bleed out from something like that? Would a doctor even be willing to see me?
I gritted my teeth as he spat again and pushed his invading cock past my outer ring. I had no choice but to relax and let him have his way with me. If I didn’t, it would only make things worse. However, that was a hard thing to do, especially with the sudden feeling that the altar itself was writhing about under me.
With a single powerful jab, the king buried his cock all the way into me. I let out a shrill cry. Somehow my ass stretched to accommodate him but it still felt as if he was going to rip me in twain.
As he began pumping in and out, the burning warmth of my pain gave way to a freezing wave of cold in the depths of my ass. What the hell was he doing to me? Whimpering, I pawed feebly at the altar, trying in vain once again to pull myself away.
But I was trapped, unable to escape. The only movement I felt was as my body rocked forward across the altar top with each forward thrust and pulled back with each withdrawal, squashing my breasts under me. I closed my eyes, squeezing out tears. I tried to make it all go away, but it only made things worse.
I could sense that Dark God of his in the stone, thrashing about and clawing at the inside of the altar, driven into wild ecstasy by the scene above it. In my mind’s eye, I could see it as a spindly creature with hooked talons and black skin, jeering and panting and hungry to taste my flesh, separated from me by only a thin membrane which seemed to sink under my weight, dropping me into that hideous thing’s embrace.
My hands flailed about wildly to arrest my fall but found no purchase, the stone seemingly rising up around me like a viscous liquid of the blackest pitch. It filled my nose and mouth, cutting off my cries.
In some far off distant place, the king continued pumping into my ass, laughing as his speed increased in time with the Dark God’s own laughter. I could feel its bony hands driving the king’s thrusts, its icy prick in my ass as if the king and it were one and the same, impaling me, chilling my insides.
I wanted it to end, the back of my mind begging for mercy, but it just kept going, unrelenting. On and on, I was driven by his rampant jabs into that enveloping cold. I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move.
Finally, the Dark God in the stone let out a shriek of unrepressed rapture, like the cry of a horse breaking its leg. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The king grunted at the same instant and his seed exploded into me, hot and cold at the same time.
The moment his hand left my neck, I scrambled off of the altar, falling with a sickly flop onto the floor. It was with some surprise that I saw the stone was just as solid as ever. It must have been my imagination alone that had filled my thoughts with those frightening images.
However, anyone who had just witnessed what I had would not have been able to dismiss then so easily. On hands and knees, my eyes wide as saucers, I scuttled to the far side of the room, stopping only when my back came up against the unyielding wall. I wanted to go farther — the inner door, the garden — but I didn’t know where to flee. I couldn’t focus. I didn’t even know if I could walk. I felt as if I’d been thrown naked into a snow drift in the dead of winter. My limbs were numb, my blood like ice.
Standing beside that cursed altar, the king looked down at me and laughed. “I suppose the first time is always the best,” he said, his cock bobbling between his legs in time with his throaty laughter as the last few drops of cum dripped from the end.
Somehow, I found my feet at last and shot for the door. I no longer cared if I displeased Lord Ruvano. Death would be preferable to having to endure that again. I fumbled with the latch and cast a glance back toward the king. He had not moved, his laughter only growing louder as he watched me. Was I locked in with him?
No, in my panic I wasn’t turning the handle the right way. Finally throwing open the door, I dashed through and raced across the antechamber. In the hallway beyond, I ran headfirst into someone, but I pushed past them without stopping to offer apology. The woman I’d struck, however, grabbed me by the arm and pushed me back against the wall.
“What’s all this then!” the woman said, her eyes ablaze. Even in my addled state I somehow recognized the hollow-cheeked visage of the queen.
Blubbering incomprehensibly, I tried to wrench myself free of her grip, but she was much stronger than she looked.
“I knew you were trouble!” she said. “I’m sent away on ‘pressing business’ that could be handled by anyone in my staff and I’m not gone more than an hour when I here you’re with my husband? That’s too much of a coincidence, far too much of a coincidence indeed.”
“I — I — ” I needed to get out of there. The hallway was clear. If I could just get out of her grasp I would be free.
“Don’t think that this is the first time some big-breasted little hussy has tried to catch his eye!” She took hold of my jaw and forced me to meet her gaze. “If I catch you sniffing around here again, I’ll gut you like a fish! Do you understand me! Like a fish!”
Her boney fingers digging into my cheeks, I nodded vehemently. Anything so she’d let me go. “Yes, your majesty!”
I don’t know if she released me then or if my spasming was finally enough for me to break free, but I twisted out of her hand and went stumbling down the corridor, falling to my knees once, but picking myself up again without losing any speed.
To hell with Lord Ruvano! I was leaving that very day! I didn’t need the bloody wand, I didn’t need anything. I would get a horse and ride it to death. I was not going to stay here any longer. I couldn’t! I tasted blood in my mouth. I must have bitten my cheek when the queen grabbed me. Where was I even headed? The stables were in the other direction. I needed to calm down for a moment.