|A submissives journey|
THE SCARLET SHACKLE
by Diane Lau writing as Diana Laurence
As Julia ascended the steps to the platform, she couldn’t believe her life had come to this. A daughter of the third house of the Trethapians, captured into slavery by her people’s worst enemy, tied round the neck with the scarlet ribbon, about to be sold to a stranger to serve as—
—Truly, the thought of it was more than she could bear. Her train of thought turned instead to praying to the gods for some kind of mercy.
The Auctioneer raised his voice over the murmur of the crowd and recited: “Julia, age twenty-eight, not a virgin but childless, born under the sign of the rose. And clearly a beauty! See these fine raven tresses...” And with this he lifted a handful of Julia’s long hair and let the strands drop a little at a time to her shoulder. She shuddered. Merciful angels, have pity... “Bidding begins at one hundred fifty!” squawked the Auctioneer.
The announcement of this number drove home to Julia the reality of this surreal moment. Some man was going to take her home. Wherever he took her, there she would possibly remain until the day she died, and that day could come quite soon if such were his wish. And she would be in every aspect his property. In every imaginable aspect. For she wore not the orange ribbon of a kitchen slave, or the green ribbon of a field slave, or the black ribbon of a hard labor slave—these by law were given certain privacies. It was not so with the scarlet ribbon of a pleasure slave.
Suddenly Julia recalled a conversation she had had with her childhood friend, Zoe. They had been barely nubile at the time, no more than thirteen, and with childish incomprehension had listened to the grown-ups discuss the horror of a neighbor’s niece being captured for the red ribbon.
“Just imagine,” Zoe said, nibbling on a bit of sugar candy, “being on the auction platform, with horrible strange men calling out to buy you!”
Julia, always a creative child, could clearly picture it. Bound, standing perhaps on a stool, with a horrible auctioneer all in black turning you this way and that so everyone could stare. “I would most certainly weep,” said Julia with real horror.
“But would you try to look your best, or your worst?” asked Zoe.
The question perplexed Julia. “Perhaps if you looked your worst, no one would want you and you might be sent home.”
“But silly, no one chosen for the scarlet ribbon could look so bad if she tried.”
“You’re right. Then perhaps you would look your best, and pray to the gods that you would catch the eye of a man of quality.”
“What man of quality would buy a girl to be his slave?” asked Zoe with disgust.
“In Nestodore it isn’t seen that way,” replied Julia. “In the upper class it’s done by everyone, good and bad the same.”
“But are there any good men among our enemies?” Zoe asked, somewhat rhetorically.
This question echoed now in the mind of Julia, finding herself in the very nightmare scenario that had terrified her so long ago. Could there be any man in this crowd that she would wish to belong to? It seemed impossible. But at that moment it was her only hope.
“One hundred fifty!” cried a voice to her far right.
There was a pause, then another voice far in front yelled, “One seventy-five!”
Julia tried to find faces to match the voices but there were too many people and it was happening too quickly. A third and a fourth voice called out bids, then the first again, and then she lost track of who was speaking. So it continued for a minute or so, and then she heard, from far to her left, a new voice:
“Three hundred,” it said.
This voice was strong but strangely soft. There was a reedy quality to it; it was not low and yet somehow very commanding. The timbre was quite beautiful; Julia could tell at once that in song the voice would be lovely.
The first bidder called out, “Three fifty!” Julia was still trying to locate the face of this newest bidder, but the Auctioneer grabbed her chin and forced her to face forward. “Stop gawking at the bidders,” he hissed to her.
The bidding continued, and every few shouts she would again hear that singular voice off to the left. The insane conviction came to her, If I must be someone’s property, at least let his commands be made to me in such a voice. A little comfort, a little comfort, Holy Ones!
After a brief while the bidding came down to these two, raising each other by twenty-fives. Julia came to hate the first bidder, who would by his stubbornness deny her the only wish she had in this awful circumstance. It seemed to go on and on and she feared there would be no end to it, she would be forced to stand there on the platform in suspense and terror till the sun had set and forever.
“Six seventy-five!” cried the first bidder, with frustration and bitter determination in his voice. By the tone Julia could tell that the contest had become personal, motivated no longer by the desire for property but the competitive ferocity that only males possessed. He would never surrender.
There was a pause. Then, with a tone not to be contradicted, the voice said, “One thousand.”
The crowd emitted a universal chuckle at this. Julia held her breath, every muscle in her body tense.
“We hear no answer?” asked the Auctioneer, his joy at this rich bid shining plainly on his face. “No answer...no answer...She is yours, One Thousand.”
She is yours, One Thousand.
The crowd applauded enthusiastically. It was a very expensive purchase and executed with some drama.
But one thought screamed in Julia’s head: I am whose? She felt a bizarre sense of gratitude to her faceless new master, and this gratitude made her feel shame. Why should she be thankful to a man who had done nothing but overspent to buy himself a pleasure slave? And yet she couldn’t deny it, and her eyes darted over the crowd trying to locate him.
“Go with him,” the Auctioneer was saying, pushing her roughly towards an assistant, who took hold of the rope that bound her around the waist. He led her back down the stairs behind the platform, and in turn passed her to a custodian in the holding area, and there she waited. No doubt the gold was changing hands; who knew how long the record keeping might take?
But only a few minutes had passed when she heard a voice say, “Take off the rope, she will wear my harness.”
It was the voice.
She turned to it. He was not an old man, far from it; indeed he could not even be forty. He was ably built, moderate height but strong looking. Was he handsome? Not like the statues in the temples, but his face was striking. He had a large nose with nostrils that were interestingly curved, not a handsome nose but strangely beautiful to her nonetheless. He had golden brown hair that was tied back neatly in a black ribbon. His eyes were dark, and his brows likewise, and he looked stern. Just then he turned his eyes to her and in them she sought some sign of feeling, whether warm or cold.
He was inscrutable.
“Come Julia,” he commanded, in that voice that was so sweet, in a tone that was firm and utterly without emotion. She found herself stepping forward. The custodian was pulling off the rope and her new master quickly replaced it with a broad leather belt. His arms came around her as he wrapped the strap at her waist, and she could smell his scent. He smelled clean, and of some soothing spices. She stood dumbfounded as he fastened the buckle with a key, and then with the same key did the clamp that held a chain to the buckle. Then he turned to the custodian and gave him a silent nod. When the man had moved on to a new task, her master turned again to her.
“Stay by my side and I shan’t have to pull this,” he said, indicating the chain. “It’s not far to my home.”
Being addressed for the first time as a slave, Julia felt strange, perplexed and sad. “What...what should I call you?” she asked fearfully.
He looked back at her, his liquid brown eyes still void of emotion. “You shall call me ‘My Lord,’ but my name is Marcus. And you shall not speak unless bidden to, Julia.”
Had he not ended the command by calling her by name, it would have been far more cruel. But that small personal gesture granted her a little dignity. She felt the firm tug of the chain upon her waist. Marcus held her with his eyes, then raised one brow as if a question had been posed. But Julia dared not speak. She lowered her eyes and her chin, and at that she heard him say, “Good.” This brought much relief and she raised her eyes again. “Come,” her master said, and they began walking.
* * *
For three days she saw little of him. It was hardly what she had expected.
The house of Marcus was large but not ostentatious, comfortable but not over-furnished. He kept only a small group of house slaves and quartered them all in two large rooms at the top of the house. Thus Julia shared her room with the other two female slaves. For the first night they did not speak to her. She was certain she would be called from her bed at any hour and meet her fate with the Master, but this did not occur. Instead she was left alone with her thoughts, a sorry mix of sorrow and fear.
Julia’s father had died three years ago in the war, and her mother fell ill soon after and passed away as well. Her two sisters had married and moved to the country, further from the fighting. Julia remained to keep the family home and manage their remaining businesses. Her days had not been cheerful since her childhood, but she was content to stay in the place where those days had been spent.
So her capture had not torn her away from loved ones, and she was not so much lonely for people as for the place she had known all her life. To be in Nestodore, locked away in a strange house with strangers, was disorienting and uncomfortable to the point of pain. She might hope to make friends with the other slaves, but when she watched them and listened to them talk, she feared they would find little in common. They all seemed to have been raised as slaves and to know no other life, and when they did address her it was briefly and uncomfortably, as if they too sensed the gulf between them.
Oddly, Julia felt more kinship with her new master. Apparently he too was a man of business, and from the look of his library loved books and culture as well. But she told herself it was foolishness to regard him that way, for he would have no use for her as a conversationalist or companion. In fact, he would have no regard for her at all except as a plaything.
Why then did he not send for her?
By the third evening Julia’s fear of being summoned was replaced by a fear that she would not. She was bored to distraction and lonely from long days in her room while the house slaves were out doing their business. So when finally she was called to go to the Master’s sitting room, her heart leapt not with dread but with eager curiosity.
She was directed to the room and entered quietly. Night had fallen and the chamber was lit only by a lamp and a small fire in the hearth. Marcus sat in a softly upholstered chaise, his hair unbound and his eyes closed. Julia’s eyes cast about the room, saw bookshelves, a desk covered with papers, and on the table next to the chaise, a flask and a cup of wine.
She knew better than to speak, but wasn’t sure if he had heard her enter. So she stood flustered, until he opened his eyes and looked at her. “Do you read?” he asked.
Julia nodded, “Yes, my lord.”
He closed his eyes again. “Choose something from that green book on the desk. Something cheerful.”
Julia hastened to take up the book and opened it. It was a book of fables, short tales about heroes and gods. She feared to take too long making her choice, but as if he had read her mind, Marcus said, “Choose well, I am content to wait. Then sit at my feet.”
How curious this was, thought Julia as she perused the book. Was this how most pleasure slaves were used? She had not been taught so. But perhaps this was this man’s way of leading into his passion. Her heart was pounding with apprehension and suspense, and her knees felt weak. At last she chose a story and sat on the large, flat, embroidered cushion that Marcus had placed before the chaise.
Looking down at the book she could see nothing of him but one of his feet, which dangled at her elbow. He wore brown velvet slippers lined with fur. His foot was a bit small, his ankle well turned and sprinkled with a few golden hairs. Julia took a deep breath and began to read. Her mother had always read to her in her youth, and she did her best to emulate the slow, clear pronunciation, the amusing characterization of the voices. The story was very drole and entertaining. Indeed, this was the most pleasant activity she had performed in recent memory.
When she was done Julia wanted to turn to her master to see if he were pleased. But she checked herself, realizing this was not the demeanor of a slave. Instead she lowered her head and waited silently.
“Look at me,” said Marcus.
Julia turned and raised her face to him. She found a curious expression upon it; he seemed to be trying to stifle his mirth. His mouth was almost too stern, while his eyes laughed. “You read well.”
She wanted to thank him but held her tongue.
“You may speak freely, Julia,” he said, reading her mind again.
“Thank you, my Lord, I’m glad the story pleased you.”
Marcus leaned his head back and regarded her with one dark brow raised. “Is there so little rebellion in you?”
It did not seem rhetorical, so she formulated a reply. “I would not rebel against a task that is a pleasure, my Lord.”
He smiled ruefully, but said nothing. His face was unreadable. Unreadable, but undeniably pleasant to look at: the lamplight brought out the gold in his hair, which tumbled in soft waves to curl slightly at his shoulders. His eyes were so deep, so black, so alluring with the lids half closed. Abruptly he said, “Why do you stare, Julia? Do you fear me?”
Until that moment she had not, but at his words she trembled. “Yes, my Lord.”
She expected any reaction but the one she received. “You may go now. Put the book back on that shelf above the bust.” And he shut his eyes.
To her amazement, Julia’s heart sank. She did not wish to go. She stood a moment, frozen with dismay. Her master opened his eyes again and looked at her. “Do you rebel against a task that is not your pleasure, Julia?” he asked, his eyes sparking.
She did not know how to answer this and stared back in silence.
Marcus sat up a little. “Shall I punish you for this hesitation?”
Julia half believed he was making a joke, but thought it just as likely that he would strap her. Yet she sensed it was crucial to make some reply. She was just opening her mouth when he waved his hand at her, a gesture of dismissal. “Go now,” he said.
For the first time, Julia felt anger. But to show it would only give him satisfaction, so she bowed and left the room silently, closing the door carefully behind her.
By the time she reached the slaves’ hall, she was furious. The fact that she must come at his bidding was not half so humiliating as the fact that she could be so perfunctorily dismissed. Why had Marcus bought her, anyway? Did he wish to use her only as a joke, someone to humiliate?
But of course this line of thinking was folly. He had the right by his country’s law to do anything he wished to her, even put her to death. In three days he had caused no harm to any part of Julia but her pride.
The other slaves came to bed, and seemed perplexed to find her there. The young kitchen slave, Lynda, unabashedly voiced her surprise with a smirk: “Say, Julia, why do you make your bed with us again tonight?”
Her older workmate, Penelope, chided her, “Hush, child, the pleasure slave is the Master’s business.”
Julia, still in the throes of her temper, shot back, “Does he treat me so differently from his last pleasure slave?”
Penelope replied, “You are his first, so we wouldn’t know.”
Julia sat down on her bed in surprise. “His first?”
“I’ve been here since the Mistress passed, ten years and more.”
“I thought in this country all wealthy men, at least the unmarried, had them, and usually more than one.”
Penelope moved closer, and spoke in a low voice. “If you ask me, that’s why he got one at last. Too many people wondering why not.”
“He’ll make use of her, I’ll wager,” piped up Lynda. “She’s too pretty for a man to put off forever.”
The tone made this not a compliment, so Julia ignored it. But her head spun with more questions than ever.
* * *
The next day, on her way to the kitchen for the noon meal, Julia passed her Master in the hall. She bowed but did not meet his eyes.
“Stop,” he said, and she halted her steps. “Look at me.”
Julia raised her eyes to his. Again his face captivated her. His nose was strange but exotically beautiful, his mouth looked soft. The pain of her banishment the night before swelled up in her again; she felt shame that she longed so for his company.
“So, is my pleasure slave still angry with her master today?” he asked, mirthlessly. “Answer, Julia.”
She struggled to choose words, ruing that he chose the worst times to make her speak. “You may punish me for my emotions if you so choose, my Lord.”
He took a step closer and cocked his head, looking less stern. “You tell me what I know, when I wish to find out what I do not know.”
There was nothing for it. “Yes, I am angry, my Lord.” She lowered her eyes to the floor.
“You shall not be punished for your honesty,” he said in his warm, resonant voice. “But you know this lack of love for your master is intolerable. Come with me.”
He led her to the back entrance, opened it with a key, and then took her by the elbow as they walked to the stable. Julia was in a frenzy of terror, but at the same time oddly grateful for this attention, whatever it might come to. They entered the stable through its broad heavy door and crossed the dusty floor, strewn with bits of straw. Marcus took a short riding lash from a hook on a post. He braced it under his arm, then used both hands to stand Julia facing against the wall, and pulled the tie on the back of her dress. He lifted the fabric from her shoulders and pulled it down, not roughly, until her back was bare and she had nearly fallen out of the front of the gown.
“Place your hands on the wall,” he instructed.
The plain fact that he was about to beat her appalled Julia, even though it had been inevitable. I must be brave, she thought. I must not give him satisfaction. She leaned, placing her palms against the rough wood of the stable wall, and waited.
She heard the lash cut the air a half a moment before it struck her. She could tell he had not put much force into the blow, but it stung sharply anyway. The second lash was worse for it struck the wound from the first, and this she learned was the problem: each blow intensified in pain. He gave her ten lashes and by the last she was unable not to twist away from the leather weapon, nor to stifle her grunts of pain. Tears welled in her eyes, and with a blink ran down her hot cheeks.
She felt Marcus pulling up her dress again. He did it carefully and with no indication of anger whatsoever. Julia did not wish to turn her face to him but when he was done fastening the tie, he took her shoulders and pulled her to face him.
For the first time she saw clear emotion on his face. It was tenderness. His fingers brushed the tears from her cheeks. He looked deep in her eyes and said softly, “You must learn to love your master.” Then he lowered his chin a little and leaned to her and kissed her forehead. His soothing, spicy scent rose all around her, his lips were gentle on her skin, gentle and warm. He withdrew and said, “Go now, and take your meal.”
Julia was dizzy with emotion and stood paralyzed for a moment staring at him. Then he spoke again, “I punish you because of your anger, Julia. Nevertheless I was pleased by the cause of it. Now go.”
She turned and hurried from the stable, with Marcus close behind, and when they were back in the house she heard him lock the door. When she arrived in the kitchen the other slaves looked up at her but only for a moment; they were quick to resume eating and talking.
It was only then that Julia realized how tightly her master had bound her dress in back; tight enough so there was no gap to show the welts. The others couldn’t tell she had been beaten. Had he truly meant this as a kindness?
She could form no coherent thoughts at all during the meal, but afterwards, retired to the sleeping quarters, she had settled enough to make sense of her feelings.
To her dismay, she realized Marcus had made her love the beating.
Not the pain, nor even the twisted logic behind the punishment. But she had loved the feeling of him pulling off her clothes, touching her face, kissing her. She had loved that her anguish made him feel compassion; in fact, it was worth the pain. The welts on her back felt hot and tender but the fact that he had placed them there was somehow thrilling. What she loved most of all was the knowledge that she had pleased him by wishing for his company.
Is this how they make a slave? Julia asked herself, horrified.
But she prayed to the gods that he might call for her that night.
* * *
Marcus did not call for her, nor the next day, but late the following afternoon a package was brought to her in her room by a very surly Lynda. “Tomorrow is Market Day and our Master commands you wear this and look your best,” said Lynda perfunctorily, then turned on her heel and left.
Julia undid the wrapping to reveal a soft, beautifully designed day dress in a deep blue the color of the sea. It was finer than anything she had ever worn, and there were also matching slippers, soft but with sturdy leather soles for walking. She lifted the dress and admired it, the perfect pleats, the silver beads cunningly sewn at the bodice. It was designed to reveal enough to be alluring, without sacrificing elegance and good taste.
She tried it on. It fit perfectly, and even without a looking glass she could tell it would set off her hair and bring out the dark blue of her eyes.
That night, once again Julia was left alone. A hard rain passed through before midnight, and Julia lay in her bed listening to the comforting hiss on the roof. She closed her eyes and imagined herself back at home, the city celebrating a feast as it had done when she was young. She wore the blue dress and all the young men watched her dance.
Then a strange image came to her, of Marcus arriving at the feast. He was magnificent in his dress clothes, quietly elegant and completely entrancing. They stood at opposite sides of the torch lit room. His eyes met hers, he lowered his chin and looked long and hard at her. Then she read his lips as he told her, “Come to me.”
She crossed the room, her eyes never leaving his. As she approached him he reached for her, taking her by the waist and drawing her near. Her head tipped back and his face was over hers, so close. She put her hands on his broad shoulders. The room began to spin around them and Julia felt weak and intoxicated.
“So quickly you’ve enslaved yourself to me,” said Marcus. His eyes burned darkly.
“I’m completely free,” she protested. “No man owns me.”
“I bid you come and you came.”
“I wished to come.”
“If I wanted to take the lash to you again, would you not submit?”
At the thought of it she felt her loins kindle. She bit her lip. The spinning room grew warmer. She felt Marcus’s hands tighten at her waist.
“The truth, Julia,” he said.
“I would submit,” she answered, lowering her eyes.
He smiled and pulled her closer, until her breasts were pressed to his chest. He was so warm, and his strength so potent she only wanted to feel more of it. The heat in her loins shimmered and grew moist. He leaned so his cheek touched her temple, and she felt sweet coarse stubble against her skin. He spoke softly into her ear: “You would submit, and if I called you to my bed and said, ‘disrobe, Julia,’ you would be glad of my command. And if I lay you beneath me and pierced you and said, ‘please me, Julia,’ you would rejoice. But if I leave you cold and alone in your bed, you weep with longing for me and ache for me to command you, even to punish you.”
He drew back his head and looked down at her, his brows stern, his lovely nostrils flaring. Julia was seized with a fit of trembling, and whether from fear or lust she hardly knew.
“The truth, Julia,” he said again, a velvet whisper.
“Yes, my Lord,” she replied.
“So, should the master do the bidding of the slave?” he asked, suddenly releasing her. The withdrawal of his body was a shock.
“My Lord?” she asked, her throat tightening.
“You are completely free,” said Marcus with an ironic smile. Then he bowed, and departed swiftly into the dancing throng.
Julia was weeping, even though this was her own fantasy. Her grief and longing shocked her, made no sense to her, nothing did. But it was real and she ached with it. She rose quietly from the bed, careful not to awaken the others. She crept to the wardrobe, opened the door, and reached in to feel the fabric of the blue dress.
It was a gift from her master. She knew he had bought it that he might show off his new treasure in the marketplace, but all the same, somehow she believed he had hoped it would please her....
* * *
She had been instructed to rise early, bathe and dress, and meet Lord Marcus in the dining room for breakfast. Apparently it was unheard of in the household for a slave to take a meal with the Master, and Julia hardly knew what to make of it. When she entered the room her heart was pounding hard and her hands were cold with nervousness.
Marcus looked up from his meal, and upon seeing her, rose to his feet. It was not lost on Julia that this was an instinctive act and not appropriate for the circumstance. “Come, sit,” said Marcus, indicating the seat across from him and reseating himself quickly. Julia did as she was told. There was a place set for her, and the table was loaded with plates of food: cheeses, prettily cut fruit, honey cakes and tea. She hadn’t seen such food in weeks. Marcus spoke again, “Eat your fill, Julia, the morning will be long.”
Good manners made her wish she could say thank you. It was difficult to feel like a slave in these circumstances. As she helped herself to a cake, her master’s eye was upon her. Finally he said, “The dress suits you. And please, speak as you wish.”
She raised her eyes to him. “Thank you, my Lord. And if I may, thank you for the gown, it’s lovely.”
“It isn’t appropriate that you speak of it so, as a gift. You must be dressed, that is all.”
She lowered her eyes again. “Yes, my Lord.”
He poured himself more tea, and filled her cup as well. “I have called you here to teach you the customs you will need to know for the day ahead. Your behavior today is very important to me, so listen well.”
Julia ate a morsel of cake and looked him steadily in the eye, nodding.
“Today you may speak to me freely, but humbly. You may look upon my face as you choose. But your eyes are not to meet those of any other, no storekeeper or stranger, not even those with whom I speak. Nor are you to talk to them. If I am with a friend, and such person addresses you, look first to me for permission to reply. Then answer, but with your eyes lowered. Is this clear?”
“Yes, my Lord,” said Julia.
“These customs are based upon clear principles. As my pleasure slave you are my companion but also my sole property. Carry yourself with elegance but do not show pride. Remember who you are at all times. No doubt you will receive compliments but understand these are directed actually to me.” The Master’s tone was firm, but he seemed slightly uncomfortable conveying these instructions. “Take some fruit,” he urged her then. “These berries are in the prime season.”
“Thank you, my Lord,” said Julia, and spooned some onto her plate. It was then that she noticed a small wooden box with brass hinges, placed near Marcus’s cup.
He went on, “We will take our noon meal alone, but chances are good we will be invited later to drink with some associate of mine or another. If I wish you to take wine, I will pour it for you. Sit like a lady, but again, leave your eyes downcast except when you choose to regard your master.”
Julia swallowed a bite of berries, nodding again.
“Lastly,” said Marcus, with a tone of great seriousness. “Only well-trained slaves go unharnessed in the marketplace. You are, I realize, too freshly bought to be trusted not to attempt escape. However, I have no taste for harnessing you.” He took up the box and opened the lid. “You will see the wisdom in staying by my side. Extend your hand to me.”
Dumbfounded, Julia held out her hand. From the box, her master drew a slender silver wrist cuff, completely studded in garnets. The gems were blood red in color and so dark they barely sparkled. Marcus opened the hinge and placed her wrist within the bracelet, snapping it shut carefully. It fit very close to the skin. Then from the box he drew a key on a silver chain, and with this he locked the bracelet. Ducking his head into the loop of chain, he spoke. “The law in my country is clear. There is a penalty of death for any who removes a scarlet cuff from a slave, and a rich reward for any who returns her to her master. If you run from me, you will not get far. Do you understand?”
Julia stared at the bracelet, which in any other circumstance would be considered a fabulous gift. “I will not leave you, my Lord,” she said.
“I wear the key and will not remove it,” he said, slipping the chain under his shirt. “That shackle is small and pretty, but be assured its power is even stronger than the harness.”
The sun had risen over the rooftops of the town, and they set off on foot down the lane towards the heart of the shopping district. But Julia soon learned her master came not to shop or even much consider the wares on display, but rather to speak with his many business associates. He made inquiries about trades, gave reminders to those who owed him debts, sounded out the latest news in commerce. Julia watched mostly in silence, content to observe how Marcus comported himself. He could be stern, but likewise cheerful and amusing. He seemed well liked and extremely well respected.
And everywhere they went, Marcus was praised for his “scarlet,” sometimes with an open compliment, sometimes just an appreciative grunt. Julia’s emotions were completely torn by this. She bristled to be treated as mere chattel, an attitude which made Marcus seem amazingly respectful by contrast. But at the same time, she truly drew pleasure from the sense that she earned approval for her master.
Regardless of this ambiguity, Julia enjoyed herself. Of course it was good to be out and about, feeling the air and sunlight, exploring the sights, sounds and smells of the town. But even better was the privilege of watching her master freely. She found she loved watching his face as he spoke to others, seeing how his mouth formed the words that he pronounced so delightfully, watching his brows change from emotion to emotion, observing the little gestures he made habitually. He was intelligent and witty, and had he not been, it still would have been a pleasure listening to his voice, redolent as it was with warm tone, like music to the ear.
They stopped for a meal at noon at a quiet inn set back a few streets from the main square. After a period of silence, Marcus spoke up. “You are too quiet, Julia. Surely the morning’s activities have given you much to contemplate. Share your thoughts with me.”
Without doubt her mind was awhirl with thoughts, so she swallowed her bite of food and chose one. “That man who sells fabric, do you think he means to cheat you, my Lord?”
Marcus’s arm froze mid-reach, and he gave her a bemused look. “Do you think Lord Flavius means to cheat me?”
“I heard what he sells his broadcloth for, there were some speaking of it at the tailor’s.”
At this her master looked down in his lap, unable to stifle a chuckle. When he again lifted his eyes to Julia the mirth was still plain on his face. “Yes, as did I. And Lord Flavius will not know why I’ve called off our transaction, only that I have.”
“That sounds most wise to me, my Lord,” said Julia, immediately sorry for the words. She quickly added in an apologetic tone, “I was a businesswoman, quite actively so, in my town.”
Marcus watched her with a smile. He seemed to be considering carefully what response to make. Finally he said, “The slate of your mind is engraved with much valuable knowledge, and could I erase it even if I wished to? A slave’s will must be bent, but the rest—” He drifted off, then went back to picking up the chunk of bread he had been reaching for.
The course of the day was slightly altered by this exchange, and Julia spoke more freely the rest of the afternoon, even asking questions about the activities around them. It became more and more difficult to think of herself as Marcus’s property rather than his peer. She tried to clear her head by considering the silver and garnet shackle at her wrist, and the key on its chain that hung upon her master’s chest, but in her confusion these props only seemed to symbolize the growing bond she felt with him.
I am in for a rude awakening soon, she thought.
As Marcus had predicted, they were invited to take wine in the late afternoon with one of his associates, a moneylender named Lord Nestor. Julia was careful to do as instructed, and it wasn’t easy, for Nestor was a bold character.
“She’s a flower, my dear Marcus,” he said, taking Julia’s chin in his hand and admiring her. It was so difficult to keep her eyes lowered.
“Thank you,” Marcus replied.
“And how long ago was it you spoke before the Council against the practice?” teased Nestor. “I thought I’d never see the day you owned a scarlet.”
“It was quite long ago,” said Marcus noncommittally, taking a sip of wine.
“I imagine, Julia, that your master is very gentle, is he not?”
Julia turned her eyes to Marcus, who gave her a small nod. She lowered her gaze and said, “He is fair, and firm, Lord Nestor.”
“And you, not a week with him, and unharnessed. Have you proven yourself so faithful?”
Again Marcus nodded, and Julia answered, “I fear his displeasure greatly, and that is my harness.” It was not a lie.
Nestor laughed. “Oh, she is a wonder! I dare say her heart will take awhile to catch up to her tongue, but the words are pretty nonetheless.”
Julia looked to her master but his face was unreadable. After a pause he changed the subject to commerce, and there it stayed until the wine was all consumed. The two businessmen bid each other well, and Marcus and Julia set off for home.
They had gone but a street or two when a great commotion approached from the east. Everything happened very quickly. The crowds around them began running in every direction, and then from down the street there came a team of runaway horses pulling a large cart of wooden crates.
Unfortunately, the cart was just beginning to tip as it approached them. Marcus ducked one way and Julia the other, the latter darting into a side road just at the accident transpired. Horses and people alike screamed, crates tumbled and burst in the street, and the side road was immediately blocked by debris and panicking people. Julia was forced by the press further down the side road, and utterly lost track of her master.
Her first emotion was the customary dismay at being separated from a companion and protector. She struggled in vain against the crowd, trying desperately to spot Marcus. Then all at once she realized the dire nature of her circumstance:
She was an unattended slave.
The urgency of finding Marcus doubled. In her panic, Julia decided to run away from the main street in the hopes of finding another way back to it. She turned the first corner, which was a mostly deserted alleyway. Deserted except for an old woman who caught her by the wrist as she passed.
“What’s happened?” the crone asked, agitated.
“An accident, runaway horses...please, I’m in a hurry!”
But the old woman’s grip was in a most unfortunate place: the garnet-studded cuff. She saw it and her eyes lit up. “Runaway horses...and you, a runaway scarlet!”
“Please, I’m trying to find my master!” cried Julia, fighting back hysterical tears.
The woman was old, but she was much larger than Julia and had a grip of iron. “And he might be fool enough to believe that, coming from such a pretty face. Not so much if he waits and searches a bit...”
To Julia’s horror, the woman dragged her inside her house. Her husband was inside and was quickly recruited to the scheme, and so Julia was locked in an inner room, to pace and weep for what seemed like hours.
Long after nightfall the couple unlocked the door, harnessed her and told her to lead them to the house of her master. She was delivered to the house steward, who fetched the Master at once.
Marcus burst into the hall, and she could see he kept his composure only by great effort. His shirt was open as if he had dressed quickly, his hair was loose and disheveled. For all her fear, her heart leapt at the sight of him. He turned to the steward and said in a steady, tight voice, “Take her to the stable and lock her in. Leave her there for me.”
The steward dragged her roughly outside, across the lawn to the stable. He said nothing, just left her standing inside the door, and locked the great iron bolt.
Some moonlight coming in the skylight illuminated the place dimly. Julia heard the horses shifting in their stalls, their quiet snorts. She saw the whip on its hook. She contemplated what was about to happen and her greatest horror was that she would never be able to dissuade Marcus from believing she had run away.
Tears streaming down her hot cheeks, she took off the blue dress. She took off her slippers and even her underclothing, till she was utterly naked. Then she went to face the wall where her master had whipped her, and leaned against it, her palms pressed to the splintery wood, and waited.
There was noise at the bolt and lantern light poured into the stable. She did not turn to look at him, but listened to his approaching footsteps. Before she could take a breath he had come to her side and seized her face roughly in both hands.
“Do you mock me?” he cried.
“My Lord—” she began, but was cut off by his hand slapping her face.
“Do you mock me with your supplication?” he shouted, his voice nearly breaking with rage.
“No, no my Lord!” Her cheek was flaming from the blow and her tears flowed anew.
Marcus’s eyes burned, searching hers. She wanted to drop to her knees but was afraid to move. Then he cried, “Back against the wall!”
She resumed her position and waited for the whip to strike. To her surprise the blow fell not on her back but her buttocks, and it was so hard that the very first stripe made her flinch violently. But she bit her lip and tried to be silent, far preferring the pain to the look of betrayal on her master’s face.
Three more blows came, and then his voice, tight with anguish, “So quickly, so quickly you forgot you are a slave. Deceiver!” The next blow was vicious, and Julia cried out in spite of her best efforts.
Then Marcus grabbed her and pulled her away from the wall, turning her in his hands to face him. It was surreal to her, standing there naked in his grip, her buttocks throbbing. She dropped her gaze to the floor in shame. Marcus let out an incoherent grunt, then dragged her across the straw-strewn floor. To her disbelief, he sat down on the stableboy’s bench and threw her, face down, over his lap.
It was the closest she had ever been to him, lying naked over his thighs, and she longed to wrap her arms around his calves and kiss them and beg for mercy. But she knew she didn’t dare speak. And in the next moment she felt his bare hand slap the welted skin of her left buttock. The fact that it was his hand and not a weapon moved her strangely in spite of the pain. He spanked her again, harder so she would flinch, and then a third time with all his might so that she cried out. Then he did likewise on the right buttock, till the pain shot down her thighs white hot. She began to sob, overwhelmed by pain and despair.
But what Marcus did next was the strangest of all.
Julia braced for the next blow but it did not come. Instead she felt his hot hand smooth lightly over her buttock, as if he caressed the welts. It stung, but his hand was smooth.
She felt her womb dissolve. Soft heat blossomed inside her. Her master’s hand smoothed across and over to the other cheek, stroking it gently. Julia’s sobs fell silent. Her inner walls burned for him. She felt she was losing her mind.
Then Marcus struck her again, not so hard this time, and Julia couldn’t tell if it was pain or pleasure she felt. He followed the blow immediately with another feather-light caress, and she moaned, arching her back. Marcus struck again, then stroked her. She watched her arms wrap around his calves and felt her hips thrust. She had lost all self-control.
Then she felt his fingers slide between her legs, and she knew he found her swollen and wet. The single stroke of his finger over her clitoris made her whimper.
“So,” he said, in a dark, cold, beautiful voice, “you claim to desire me.”
“My Lord—” she began, but he cut her off with a hard slap that made her welts cry out. She fell into inarticulate sobbing.
Then his hand slid down her bare back, and the feel of it on relatively uninjured flesh was like pure heaven. He stroked her with his palm, then with the tips of his fingers alongside her spine. Arousal filled her womb in a wet flood, her sobs became gasps of pleasure. He struck her hard against across the buttock, but before she could take a breath, his fingers dipped between her legs again. And this time they remained.
Julia let out a long, almost inhuman moan. The lasciviousness in the sound amazed her. Then Marcus seized hold of her hair and with his other hand lifted her up. He worked her body around so she sat on his lap, her back against his chest.
He put one hand over her mouth. “Speak not to me,” he said in her ear. Then his other arm crossed down over her breasts and his fingers probed again between her legs.
It was ecstasy. Julia was so aroused in heart and body that his caress was already nearly more than she could bear. The bruised flesh of her bottom ached against her master’s breeches but even that felt delicious. She spread her thighs to give his fingers free access to her dripping folds, her hips thrusted forward then dropped, thrusted and dropped, and as the sweetness mounted she tipped her head back against his shoulder.
Then all at once he stopped. She turned her eyes to him, feeling the blessed tension in her body dissolving away horribly, leaving a yearning ache behind.
The black eyes stared back at her. “I should leave you in this agony of dissatisfaction, should I not?” he said, with a haughty lift of one eyebrow. His hand rested still over the swollen mound of her sex, and she felt her blood pound under it. Marcus lifted his other hand from her mouth and said, “Plead to me.”
She was glad to cry out to him, “Master, my beloved Lord, please touch me again, please, I can’t bear it!”
“Shall I caress you?”
“Shall I beat you?”
“Yes, yes...just your touch, as you will, my Lord, just your hand upon me...”
She saw his eyes soften, then seem to harden again by sheer force of will. He spoke again, his voice cold. “Say you love me.”
She felt she was pouring out her soul to him. “I love you, I love you, my Lord Marcus.”
His fingers stirred. The arousal rushed back through her like a potent drug. He stroked her until her thighs began to shudder and a flush came over all her skin. “Do you love me, slave?” Marcus murmured in her ear, his voice sweet and liquid like honey.
The orgasm seized her as she said the words, over and over, “I love you, oh I love you, oh my Lord, I love you I love you...” And Julia dissolved in sobs of sorrow and bliss.
When she had recovered herself enough to control her limbs, she tried to turn and take him in her arms. But at once he rose to his feet, pulling him with her. He held her shaking body by the shoulders and looked down into her face. His aspect was utterly cold. He released her.
“Hold out your hand,” he instructed, meanwhile reaching under his shirt for the chain.
Julia obeyed, extending the arm that bore the garnet cuff.
Marcus fumbled roughly as he unlocked it, then tore it off. He snapped the bracelet shut in his hand and stuffed it into a pocket.
Julia could only assume the worst possibly meaning for this gesture. Then her master spoke again: “I’m going. Get dressed now, I will send the steward for you in five minutes. Not another word.”
He spun on his heel and went to the door, swiftly unbolting it and locking it behind him. Julia stood alone, her body humming with the aftermath of his blows and caresses, new tears welling in her eyes.
Later Julia would decide she had truly lost her mind. The first few minutes after the encounter were a blur: she had scrambled, sobbing, into her clothes...the steward had come for her...she had run up the stairs to the slaves’ quarters, barely able to see through the blur of her tears. The room was empty save for Penelope, who looked up at her with shock and maternal concern. Julia could do nothing but fall on her bed and weep into the pillow.
She felt Penelope’s hand on her back. “Child, what’s happened? Did the Master beat you so hard?”
Julia shook her head and was unable to reply. She felt the bed shift as the older woman’s weight settled on the edge of it. Her shame made her want to be alone, but her confusion was worse. In a moment of madness she rolled onto her back and wailed, “I’m in love with the Master, Penelope!”
The kitchen slave put her hand to her mouth. She stared down at Julia a moment or too, then seemed to compose herself. “So it seems to you,” she said. “He is a kind and handsome man. And he has not used his position to take advantage of you, which comes as no surprise to me.”
“What do you mean?” asked Julia, lifting a corner of the blanket to wipe her nose.
“He has always been a man of great principles. I never seen him strike a slave in anger, nor been unfair. I never thought he’d take a scarlet, either. But if he did, to my mind it would be for the company, not so much the rest.”
Julia sniffled. “He hates me. He thinks I ran away, but honestly, Penelope, I would never—”
“But I don’t suppose he gave you a chance to say so. The man has his pride.”
“I don’t even understand why I wouldn’t run away. I must be in love with him.”
Penelope put a hand on Julia’s arm. “It must be confusing, being the property of a man in such a way, especially if you find him good-looking, and kind.”
“Is he kind? I think rather than he is horribly cruel.” Julia forced herself to sit up.
“What did he do that was so cruel?”
Julia found she could not answer this. She remembered the feel of his gentle touch on her abused buttocks, and she shuddered. Why did he try to confuse her so? Did he know there was no way he might have been crueler? His fingertips stroking her...
“I think he hates me,” she said again.
“If he hated you, why would he be in such a rage at losing you?” asked Penelope. “Perhaps the man is just as confused as you. Ask me, I think it should drive a man mad to own another human. It goes against nature. Perhaps that’s why this war goes on and on, the buying and selling of folk has made them all mad.”
Surely it’s driven me mad, thought Julia. She shook her head. “I love him,” she said again. “May the gods save me.”
* * *
She rose the next day to learn that the Master had left on business, and was to be gone at least three days. The news was an agony to her. She went to the steward in terrible agitation and asked if she were to be sold. He told her Lord Marcus had made no mention of her in his instructions for the house.
Penelope bent the rules and allowed her to help a bit in the kitchen. The older woman couldn’t bear to leave Julia to hours of boredom and nothing but her tortured thoughts. Even so, she had far too much time on her hands to think, and her emotions ran the gamut from dawn till dusk.
Sometimes she loathed him for having used some strange technique to seduce her will and make her desire him. Sometimes she felt he was lonely and she had failed him terribly, perhaps even broken his heart. Then she would laugh at herself for thinking he cared that much when she had no reason for it. Then she would cry because he didn’t love her, and her heart was utterly in chains to him, and she didn’t even know why.
The third night, very late, Julia was unable to sleep. She rose from the bed and crept quietly to the door, opening and shutting it with great care. Once in the hall she felt a giddy freedom. All the household was sound asleep.
She found herself making her way to the Master’s private chamber, that room she had once thought would be her frequent dwelling, which in fact she had never seen. She tried the door and to her astonishment, it was unlocked. The chambermaid’s oversight, surely. Julia slipped in quickly and closed the door behind her.
The room was smaller than she expected, with dark, soft carpet and a large moonlit window overlooking the street. She turned slowly around, looking at the shadowy furnishings. The bed was large and covered with a velvet counterpane of some dark color, and many pillows. She put her hand on one corner...then she saw the chifferobe. She moved stealthily, opened the door with great care and was relieved that the hinges were silent.
Inside hung the Master’s clothes, his breeches and jackets and his soft shirts. A wafting breath of his scent came to Julia’s nose, and she trembled. She buried her hands between two shirts, and then leaned her face into the fabric and inhaled. She took an armful of shirts and pressed her breasts into them.
Why must I love him, why must I burn for him so? she wailed inwardly. Indeed, the yearning was driving her mad, and coming here had been an awful mistake. These reminders of him only made the longing worse.
Like a woman possessed, Julia pulled her sleeping shift off over her head. Naked, she drew a handful of shirt sleeves up against her skin, sliding the cloth over her breasts and throat and cheeks. Then she pulled one shirt, a full, soft white one, out of the chifferobe. She slipped it over her head, inhaling deeply of the scent as the cloth tumbled over her. She wrapped her arms around herself and whispered, “My Lord Marcus...my Lord Marcus...”
It was like a dream. She walked slowly to the bed and pulled back the bedclothes. His body had lain here, perhaps his sweat was still here, in the sheets, and these pillows had been brushed by the sweet breath from his lips. Julia slipped under the covers and wriggled deep down into the soft mattress. Marcus’s scent was everywhere. As her body warmed the bed she pretended it was his warmth. She pulled one of the pillows on top of her, imagined it was his weight...
Only his weight would be so much heavier. His body, so strong and lean, his shoulders so broad, all of him so large she felt she might be dropped inside him and never found again. She lifted her hips against the pillow. If only he would take her, as he should, as was his right...if only he would pierce her, fill her with that mysterious hard organ she had never seen.
Julia rolled onto her side then, and put her hand on her own buttock, where she could still feel the welts from her beating. She stroked herself, thinking of his hand so large, so hot, so smooth. She thought of his fingers, of his dark eyes, of his lips whispering soft words in her ear. Be my slave, Julia...give me what is mine, Julia...I love you, Julia...
There was a sudden, distant stirring of noise that Julia could not place. She sat up, terrified. A couple of small thuds. Then steps on the stairs. She should try to hide, but there was nowhere to go and no time...perhaps the noise would pass by. But in a moment the door of the room opened with a quiet click, and candlelight flooded in.
He spotted her at once. Julia gasped, clutching the blanket to her chest. Marcus set down his satchel and closed the door behind him.
“This is well,” he said in an ambiguous tone, “I see my pleasure slave has warmed the bed for me.”
“My Lord!” cried Julia, and could find no other word.
He approached the bed and stood over her, making her feel small. “Why do you wear my shirt?”
His voice was so sweet to her ear, his presence so wonderful, she couldn’t bear to face his anger again. No reply seemed helpful, so she sat dumbfounded.
“Speak,” he said, and Julia thought there was some small suggestion of compassion in his tone.
“I could not bear being apart from you,” she replied breathlessly.
Marcus studied her face, the flame of the candle reflected in his black eyes. “You didn’t run from me, did you, Julia?”
She shook her head.
Marcus set down the candle on the bed table. Then he sat down on the bed next to her, facing outward towards the wall. He simply sat for a moment, then bent down to pull off his left boot. As he did so, he said, “I can think of no earthly reason why you should love me, yet some sense tells me you do.”
He cast her a glance. She nodded, silently. He returned to removing his other boot. “I laid you naked across my lap and beat you with my bare hand, and this made your loins weep with love for me? Why do you not hate me?” He dropped the boot and faced her. “Speak.”
“My Lord, you thought I ran away from you, and you pulled me into your lap and pleasured me. Why do you not hate me?”
At this, much to her disbelief, her master smiled. “Shall I reply honestly? Because you are intelligent and lovely and inquisitive, and you wept at my displeasure, and I saw your buttocks blush red from the blows I gave them, and I loved them. I saw you writhe under the pain of my lash, and I wished to see you do the same from the sweetness of my fingers. Whether you had meant to abandon me or not, I wanted to please you, I wanted you to burn for me in an agony of yearning.” He paused, sighed, lowered his chin and then raised it again. “Now answer your master’s question, Julia.”
“I do not hate you because...because I adore you.”
Marcus rose from the bed, pulling off his jacket, folding it, laying it across a side chair. “And why do you adore me?”
She watched him untie his shirt and pull it over his head, revealing a muscular chest and a tracing of soft hair that broadened at his navel. “Shall I reply honestly?” echoed Julia. “Because you are strong and passionate and exquisitely beautiful, and you hurt me and then kissed my forehead. You are all I admire in a man and you paid a great deal in gold so that you might place your harness around my waist. I know you hate what you must do to enslave me, yet you do it nevertheless. And when you caress the welts you have made in my flesh, I burn with all my being to have you pierce me.”
Marcus turned to face her, wearing nothing but his tight breeches. Even in the half light she could see his organ straining at the cloth. He stared at her a long moment, then said, “Return my shirt to me.”
Julia pulled the shirt off and handed it to him, letting the candlelight bathe over her breasts. Then she leaned over and pulled at his breeches, pulled down until his penis was free. At the sight of it, so large and hard, so obviously yearning to conquer, she felt her loins clench, then relax again in a soft spasm of pleasure.
Finally naked, Marcus lifted the edge of the counterpane. Julia felt his warmth even before his flesh touched her. Then he was next to her, leaning over her, and his lovely voice said, “I give you what you want, my slave, but only because I wish it. Were you to struggle against me, you would receive it just the same.”
“I want it because you wish it, my Lord,” said Julia, and her body was seized with a fit of trembling. She was in his bed, she was in his arms, and then his full weight covered her.
“I know you are in a fever,” he breathed in her ear. “I feel it.” His penis pushed between her legs, its satiny tip stroking the slippery folds. Julia opened to him, her thighs parting wide; she wished she could split her whole body, her whole being, that he might enter and fill her.
“I pray your mercy, my Lord, quench me...quench me...”
He silenced her plea with a hard, hot kiss. His mouth was so full and sweet, his chin so rough. His hair tumbled forward and fell on her cheeks, and when the kiss broke she dove into the soft waves, letting them caress her nose and lips. All the while her hips undulated beneath him, so that his penis would stroke her. The opening hungered to receive him, but she denied it to prolong the pleasure of the organ’s silky caresses.
Suddenly it withdrew, for Marcus was slipping down her body, his whiskers chafing deliciously as he kissed her throat and breast. Then Julia felt his mouth take her right nipple, the tip of his tongue teasing her in a flutter that made her moan. Her legs wrapped around his thighs, her hands clenched over his tight, sleek buttocks. His hand covered her other nipple, he pinched it between his fingers, all the while continuing to suckle. Two vibrations surged through her, seeming to collide with each other, double back, and intensify. Delicious madness seized her brain, she writhed under him fitfully.
He raised his head to look at her; their eyes met. A wicked smile was on Marcus’s face. “I think my slave enjoys a certain sort of torture,” he said, his voice thick with arousal.
The words thrilled her to the core. She stared back silently. Marcus shifted his body until his penis touched her genitals again. He took it in his hand and moved the tip slowly in a circle over her, then brushed it over the opening lightly. Julia moaned and lifted her hips pleadingly. Marcus spoke: “Put your hand on it.”
Julia reached down, her fingers finding pure perfect softness laid over stone. She pulled it toward the opening, straining.
“Not yet...” said her master. “But feel it. So hard. So large that it will fill you, and rend you like a sword.” He put his hand over hers, rubbing the tip of his penis over her again, barely pushing at the opening.
“Mercy my Lord...” sighed Julia, her voice nearly failing.
“You know I will be merciful, but first you must have the torture you wish for so, my slave, my Julia...” He bent to kiss her, all the while teasing her with the soft tip of his penis, making her fairly buck with lust.
Julia had never known herself to be such a creature, so hungry to be weak, so desperate to be helpless. But it was such sweet abandonment, such blissful surrender. Had she not been her master’s property, would this pleasure be so rich? Would he behave thus, so commanding, so irresistible in his power?
So merciless...for he teased her till she wept and beseeched him insanely, and then and only then did he bring her peace. Marcus took hold of her thighs, which were already open to him as fully as Julia could manage, and pressed them still wider. The tip of his penis was at the opening, and with sudden lunge he pierced her to the hilt. Julia’s moans turned to giddy, half-hysterical laughter at this, the relief was so extreme. Then just as quickly the laughter melted into whimpers of ecstasy. He filled her to bursting, each thrust seemed to threaten to split her wide open. His strength was terrifying and he gave no thought to being careful or tender, but took his pleasure recklessly, wildly.
Julia climaxed quickly, a flash of fire beneath his thrusting pelvis, and the languor that followed left her nothing but a puddle of soft bliss. To be in such a state as he had his way was like a dream, an altered state of consciousness. She lost herself utterly and became his movements, his heat, his strength. When at last he convulsed with his orgasm, she felt herself to be the pulsating muscles and throbbing nerves within him.
And then her master collapsed upon her, utterly spent, hot and damp with sweat and stupendously heavy. Julia lay still, barely able to breathe and not caring, all her being centered upon the instrument within her that still pulsed erratically, softly.
After a minute Marcus shifted some of his weight off her, and his penis slipped from her. He rested his head on the pillow next to hers, and looked at her from beneath half-lowered lids and a veil of his disheveled hair. His hand came up to cup her face.
“Tell me, Julia,” he said languidly, his voice lovelier than ever before, “is there any part of you that is not utterly mine?”
“Nothing of me remains unconquered by you, my Lord,” she replied weakly.
His fingers stroked her cheek. “And was it my gold that purchased you, body and soul, my beloved slave?”
She let herself sink into his dark eyes. “Your body conquered my body, and your soul my soul, my beloved master.”
“Then stay with me,” Marcus said in a whisper.
Julia closed her eyes, and soon was lost in sleep.
* * *
When she awoke in the morning, she was alone in the Master’s great bed. She drowsed a few minutes until there was a soft knock at the door.
It opened to reveal Penelope, who carried a washbasin, and one of Julia’s dresses over her arm. “Our master bids you wash and dress, and come take breakfast with him,” said the older woman, her eyes twinkling.
Julia sat up. “Thank you, Penelope.”
“I trust all’s well.”
“All is very well.”
Penelope took a step closer to Julia and leaned over conspiratorially. “That would seem to be the Master’s opinion as well.” The two exchanged smiles.
When Julia entered the dining room, Marcus once again rose to his feet. On a sudden whim, Julia rounded the table and dropped to one knee at his side. She took his hand in hers and kissed it. There she remained, her head bowed.
“Rise, my Julia,” said her master.
She did, and gave him a smile.
When both were seated and had filled their plates, Marcus spoke. “I wish you to speak freely over your meal, Julia. I would like to pick your brain on the matter of Lord Flavius. I am considering the prudence of speaking to the Weavers Guild...”
And so it was a businesslike meal, which in fact brought Julia much pleasure. When they had finished all but the last of the tea, Marcus put his hand on the object that had held Julia’s attention ever since she took her seat: the small wooden box with the brass hinges, which again stood at the side of his plate. So he meant to return the bracelet; this thought warmed her heart and made the time pass even more sweetly.
Now her master opened the box, reached in, and drew out the contents. “Give me your hand,” he ordered, in that firm voice she loved so well.
Then upon her wrist he fastened a bracelet of shimmering blue opals.
“My Lord—?” said Julia, taken aback.
“It was my wife’s favorite piece,” said Marcus, “I thought it would suit you well.”
Julia stared at the gems, and breathed a quiet “Thank you.”
“Do not think of it as a gift...you must be adorned, that is all.”
She looked up to meet his eyes and he was smiling.
“But a bracelet that has no lock, my Lord?”
Marcus reached inside his shirt and drew out the chain with its key. He looked at it, raising one eyebrow, then lifted a stern gaze to Julia. He tucked the chain back inside his shirt, then leaned back in relaxation into his chair.
“I believe, Julia, the lock is elsewhere. And quite secure.”
She lowered her eyes to her plate, but she was smiling. “Yes, my Lord, quite secure.”
Reproduced with permission of Living Beyond Reality Press and Diana Laurence. Diana writes "erotica with soul" and is the author of the Soulful Sex books. She offers several of her titles free to readers via the LBR Press READ FREE Project
( www.livingbeyondreality.com/readfree.html). You can visit Diana's website at www.dianalaurence.com and her blog "Erotica with Soul" at www.eroticawithsoul.blogspot.com.
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