He vomited again, and started to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand. Someone offered him a towel. He took it, then blinked when he saw the satyr. His fists clenched. “What do you want?”
“If you loved her…” The satyr frowned. “Why not tell her? Have her go to her father and convince him?”
Thomas wiped his face. “I suggested that to my father. He…” Thomas sat, leaning his back against the smooth stone column. “I don’t know. He was so convincing then, but…” He looked up at the satyr. “Why do you care?”
“I could say that the stupidity of humans never ceases to amaze me…” The satyr shook its head. “But this is one of those fascinating occasions where nobility and stupidity are all but indistinguishable from each other. As much as I mock the latter, I do have considerable respect for the former.” It tilted its head. “You did something stupid, because your father told you to do it and you were taught all your life that he must be obeyed. And now you are here, because you are willing to sacrifice yourself to save your family.”
“You’re mocking me.” He glared.
“If I was mocking you, I would be bringing up just how terrible you are at sucking cock.” The satyr rolled its eyes. “If I had known interceding would make her that mad at me I’d have let her strangle you.”
His eyes widened as he stared up at the satyr. And then, to his own surprise, he started to laugh. “I hate you.”
“Pity.” The satyr shrugged. “I think I rather like you.” It offered Thomas a hand, and Thomas let it pull him back to his feet. “I would not protect you from her, even if I could.” It met Thomas’s eyes. “But I will ensure she keeps her word.”
Ileana took the wine goblet from Thomas, then gave him an appraising look. Keffer had been correct. Permitting him to wear a loin cloth was somehow more tantalizing than leaving him nude had been. And it provided the additional entertainment of watching him try to avoid her various friends tugging the thing loose. She watched an uncertain expression come to his face when she did not dismiss him. The wine was excellent. “Do you know what day it is, Thomas?”
“I do not, mistress.” His voice was meek when he responded, but the emotion failed to reach his eyes. If she removed the collar from him, he would undoubtedly try to kill her.
Yet for now, he was keeping his word. She had a perverse desire to test it. “It is the anniversary of our engagement.” She smiled, showing teeth.
He went still. She saw him frown slightly, and she realized she’d just told him how long he’d been her prisoner. Part of her wondered if that had been a mistake. “Yes, mistress.”
“I am going to celebrate the event.” She rose, and caught his chin. “You are not going to enjoy it. Follow me.” She turned, and walked toward her bed chamber. He followed. His eyes widened when she picked up a riding crop. She smiled again, then pointed. “There are loops on the bed posts. Put your wrists through them.” He obeyed, and she moved in to tighten the restraints just enough to ensure he wouldn’t slip out by accident. His eyes were closed. She caught his hair and yanked his head back. “Open your eyes.” When he obeyed, she used the crop to point to the mirror on the other side of the bed. “I want you to watch this.”
“Will hurting me please you, mistress?” His voice was quiet.
She chuckled. “Let’s find out.” She brought the crop down across his shoulders. It made a satisfying sound when it struck flesh, leaving a red welt behind. He bit back the cry of pain. She took a deep breath, and smiled. “Yes, Thomas. It seems it does.” She tousled his hair. “How many times should I whip you?”
“Would any answer I give matter, mistress?” Thomas took a deep breath.
“I suppose not. How many blows would it take before you begged for mercy?” She brought the crop across him again, aiming a bit lower that time. This time he was unsuccessful in biting back the cry of pain.
“If you wish me to beg, mistress, simply give the order.” He stared defiantly at her reflection.
A small laugh escaped her. “The stakes are simple, Thomas…” She trailed a finger over the first welt, and felt him tense. “If you can take fifty lashes without begging me to stop or passing out, then tomorrow I will leave you be. If you cannot, tomorrow I will have Keffer make you dance for me again.” She saw his fists clench. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, mistress.” He swallowed.
“Count them for me.” She brought the crop across him again.
“Forty-three.” He staggered under the next blow. If his wrists were not secured, he would have fallen. His back felt like fire from his neck to his knees. Ileana was putting strength behind the blows, and he could feel a blood trickling down his back. In the mirror, he saw her draw the crop back again. Agony traced across his back when it landed. He cried out in pain, then took a deep breath. “Forty-four.” Assuming she kept her word, it was almost over.
The next blow was across his buttocks. His legs nearly went out from under him. “Forty…” He gasped for breath. “Forty-five.”
She drew the crop back, and made a frustrated sound as she brought it down again. Her face was furious. He couldn’t help but feel a small measure of satisfaction through the pain. “Forty-six.” He cried out again as the next blow landed. “Forty-seven.”
Three more. He met her eyes after she delivered the last one. Despite himself, he smiled. “Fifty.” She flung the crop away as she stormed out of the room. He hung his head, and laughed.
A moment later, he heard a second voice also laughing. “Our Ileana is quite vexed with you. She had quite the entertainment planned.” Keffer shrugged. It offered Thomas water, which he accepted. The cool liquid felt good on his sore throat.
“You are welcome.” Keffer nodded. “Unfortunately, she doesn’t want you taken down from there quite yet.” Keffer paused, then shook its head. “Interesting. You could have had a far more enjoyable evening than this. I would have been far more gentle with you.”
“Please don’t be offended…” Thomas raised his head to look at the satyr. “You’re not my type.” Thomas flinched when Keffer touched one of the welts, but instead of pain, it felt… He shivered. “What did you do?”
“The ability to transform pain into pleasure is one of my many talents.” Keffer chuckled. “I am, after all, a satyr. There is a reason few are able to resist our wiles.” It laughed softly. “Indeed, when offered the opportunity to spend an evening in my bed most would leap at the chance rather than take a beating to avoid such a thing.” Then it frowned. “Would you like me to stop touching you, Thomas?”
“I…” Thomas took a deep breath. “Don’t know.”
Pain returned when Keffer removed its hand again. “She will let you be tomorrow. As will I. The day after, however…” Keffer shrugged, and sat down on the side of the bed. “She will break you, eventually. Mind and body can only take so much before they crack, and you do not even possess the luxury of hope to see you through this. Or worse, she will grow bored, and simply give you over to some of the less pleasant locals. I know the stories mortals tell of us, of our wrath and our vengeance. Tales to frighten each other, and yet even those do not come near the terrifying truth.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Thomas looked up at him.
“Have you ever walked the hills after a storm, Thomas?” Keffer raised an eyebrow. “The oak is strong, a thing of might and a symbol of courage. When the wind comes, it stands defiant. And so, after the storm, it lies upon the ground, cracked and broken or simply torn up by the roots and cast aside.” It met Thomas’s eyes. “While all around it the reeds still reach of the sky, having surrendered to the storm.” The creature smiled. “Rest, Thomas. You have a day to decide.” It rose, and walked from the room.
Ileana arched her back as she lay beneath Keffer’s clever hands. The satyr nuzzled her neck, and she let out a small moan. When they finally lay back, panting, her eyes went to the man still secured to the foot of the bed. Thomas was glaring at her. She merely smiled.
The strange feline creature crawled into his lap and loudly demanded to be petted. Thomas shrugged and obliged, and the creature commenced purring. Ileana had kept her word. He’d been left alone for the day. A month he’d been her prisoner. If they were going to find him, they would have already done so. They must believe him dead. Thomas sighed. And he still had no idea where he actually was. If the stories were right, it was possible he wasn’t even in the real world anymore. That would explain the oddities of his surroundings.
The thought was terrifying. His hand went again to the collar around his throat, and he sighed. At least Ileana had finally permitted him some modesty. She’d healed him before finally releasing him from the bonds. Watching her with the satyr had… He looked down at the feline. “I am a damn fool, aren’t I?” It meowed back at him. He scratched its chin. “Glad we agree on that point, at least.”