She hadn’t been lying. Having them removed was indeed more painful than having them placed. Ruarc bit back the cry of pain every time, and did not indulge in any groaning. The look of disappointment on her face almost make the suffering worthwhile. She must have caught a glimpse of that in his face, because she knew exactly how to retaliate.
“Making me into your whore isn’t enough for you?” He fought to keep his hands from clinching into fists.
“Are you denying having second thoughts about our arrangement?” She arched an eyebrow as a smug expression danced on her lips.
“Durante holds my brother’s marker.”
“And you cannot call in markers on your lands to pay it off. You owe more than the lands are worth, and those markers will belong to me.” She sat languidly in her chair, as though it was a throne. It might well have been.
“Do as you demand and my family does well. Walk away and…” He swallowed. “My brother dies in debtor’s prison.”
“Let’s be fair, my darling. I’ll also see to your personal destruction. You can be a whore or an outlaw. One of the two will see your family secure.” She stretched her leg out onto the footstool. “Kneel.”
Ruarc bowed his head before dropping to his knees. A small, bitter laugh escaped him. “How may I serve, mistress?”
Vitalia lounged in the bath, stretched out in the warm water. She’d added just a bit of scent, and the steam that rose was lightly fragrant. A small smile came to her face as she glanced over at her husband. He wasn’t enjoying the bath quite as much as she was. Still, the fact that he wasn’t glaring was a good sign that he’d begun to understand the lesson this was intended to impart. He belonged to her now.
Ruarc’s hands were bound tightly behind his back, and he was kneeling on the tub floor. The anchor his hands were fastened to kept his nose and mouth a couple inches below the water’s surface. He was breathing through a tube she’d provided him. Helpless and at her mercy. She smiled, then reached up to put her thumb over the end of the tube. She counted to thirty before he began shaking his head. She gave the count another fifteen before letting him breath again.
A sound brought her attention away from her plaything. She looked up to see Durante entering the bath chamber. “He doesn’t look happy.”
“I know.” She smiled, then gestured for Durante to join her in the tub.
He hung up his robe before sliding into the water and relaxing back against the seat. Durante smirked a little, then moved his foot forward to tease Ruarc’s cock. Ruarc tried to shift away, and Vitalia put her thumb over the air tube again. Her new husband learned quickly. He went still and submitted to Durante’s touch. She took her thumb off the tube, and sat back again. “You’re taming him quite nicely.”
“I expected a messenger by now.” She raised an eyebrow.
“One came.” Durante hesitated. “The lands were sold six months ago.”
She blinked. “What do you mean the lands were sold? He was seeking patronage to try to pay the debt off.”
“The debt is paid, my lady. The deed has been transferred.”
“Why is the family unaware of this?” She shook her head.
“I think a misunderstanding may have occurred. According to the agent your agent spoke with, the new owner received the payment Ruarc made on the debt after getting out of the army, and took it to be rent.”
Laughter escaped her. “Then by all means, let us continue paying their ‘rent’.” She sipped from her wine. “The look on his face should he decided to get stupid should be very amusing.” She set the wine back down, then put her thumb over the air tube again. “Who owns the land now?”
“A Solsthriem lordling. Liam of Böhm.” Durante smirked as Ruarc started shaking his head beneath the water again.
Her thumb was removed from the tube. “Have my agent keep an eye. We’ll buy it if it comes for sail, otherwise it is not our problem.”
“What’s wrong?” Ruarc raised an eyebrow.
“Hmmm?” Gian gave Ruarc a startled look, then shifted his weight self-consciously. After a moment’s hesitation, he held out his hand. “I touched the side of the kettle when making tea.”
Ruarc frowned at the blisters on Gian’s thumb. “You should get some ointment, or perhaps a healing potion.”
“The mistress would be angry at me for being clumsy, my lord. It is not…” Gian winced a little as he picked the hairbrush back up.
Gently, Ruarc took it from him, then gestured for Gian to sit. He started running the brush through Gian’s long hair. “Do you at least have ice?”
“Yes, my lord.” Gian’s eyes met his in the mirror’s reflection. “Thank you.”
“It’s uh…” Ruarc exhaled. “I have little sisters. I used to…” He laughed a little. “I can braid it, if you’d like?”
“Oh, would you?” Gian smiled brightly, and his voice sounded relieved.
“Consider it payback for the taffy.” Ruarc began twining the strands, then tied Gian’s hair off with a ribbon. Then he swallowed. Gian had been here far longer than he had. “She’ll be back soon. Any, uh…” He exhaled. “Any idea what she intends?”
“She…” Gian nodded. “She will probably take you to her dungeon, my lord. She calls it her play room. She…” He gave Ruarc a sympathetic look. “She will want to hurt you, my lord.”
“The latter part I already figured out.” He rubbed his arm, then frowned. “Does she hurt you?”
“Only to punish, my lord, or when Durante wants to play. She is far kinder than my last master.”
“The duchess…” Ruarc stared at Gian. “Is kinder than your last master?”
“She will not hurt you badly, my lord. Just enough to enhance the pleasure of the act. And she only punishes when punishing is needed. She will not take her moods out on you, my lord. You need not fear her if you do as she wishes.”
“I suppose that…” Ruarc let out a small, bitter chuckle. “Is better than some alternatives.”
“My lord…” Gian started to reach out to put a hand on Ruarc’s arm, then hesitated.
“Durante will want to play.” Gian looked up at him.
“I…” Ruarc took a deep breath, then nodded.
“Would you like me to prepare you?”
“Like…” Ruarc exhaled. “Is a strong word.” He closed his eyes for a few moments, then opened them again. “After you’re done can we both pretend nothing happened and we’ve just been sitting here talking about hunting or something?”
“Yes, my lord.” Gian nodded, then frowned. “Though I have never been hunting. You should probably tell me something about it.”
“Right.” Ruarc moved toward the bench Gian indicated. “These woods would be a good spot to hunt deer. You’ll want to look for a water source…”
Durante smiled at the look on the knight’s face. His smile only widened as the knight obeyed Duchess Vitalia’s order, and got down on his hands and knees. He couldn’t help but be just a little nervous about approaching. The knight was somewhat larger than he was, and considerably stronger. Not to mention the knight had recently proved himself one of the finest warriors in all of Thatela.
All of which was going to serve to make fucking him even more enjoyable. Durante put a little oil on his fingers, then reached up and grabbed Ruarc’s hair with his other hand before jamming his fingers inside. Ruarc barely grunted in response. Durante frowned just a little when he didn’t get the resistance he’d anticipated, but shrugged. He withdrew his hand, then used his grip on Ruarc’s hair as leverage to drive himself inside the other man.
He could see furious tension in Ruarc’s back as the man forced himself to remain in position while Durante fucked him. Durante looked up to see both Madzia and Duchess Vitalia smiling as they watched. Gian sat at the feet of the duchess, and the little freak’s face was unreadable.
His seed spilled deep inside the knight, and he saw the man’s fists were clenched. Durante withdrew and stood patiently while Gian wiped him clean. The slave then went to clean Ruarc. Durante frowned. That made Ruarc flinch, despite the fact Durante himself hadn’t.
“You ride well, Durante.” Vitalia smiled warmly.
“He’s a bit tamer than the last time I rode him.” Durante flicked Ruarc’s hair.
“He is learning who his mistress is. Is that not right, my darling?” The duchess stretched languidly. “Crawl to your mistress.”
Another smirk came to Durante’s face as he watched the knight obey.
A small smile came to her face as she watched Ruarc pet the nose of his horse. He’d been good the last couple days, so she’d decided to offer him a small reward. The horse butted up against Ruarc affectionately, making him laugh. “That’s a good girl.” Ruarc gave her some carrots, which the mare took neatly from his hand. Ruarc hesitated a moment before turning toward her. “May I go for a ride?”
“Not today. Perhaps in a few days we can ride together. I will show you the boundaries.” She waved a hand, then picked up a riding crop.
Ruarc glanced at it, then frowned. “You won’t need that, my lady. Unless she’s on a battlefield, Sita is as gentle as a lamb.” He smiled at the horse, caressing her neck. The horse nickered in response.
“Darling boy.” She looked him over with a smile on her face. “It’s not for the horse.”
He froze for a moment, then nodded. His voice was quiet when he spoke. “I would like to know what I have done to displease you.”
“Nothing, my dear, which is why I’ve allowed you this time.” She shrugged. “Which is drawing to a close.” She watched as he gave the mare a small sugar block, then gestured for him to follow her. He did so without argument. Only a glance back at the stall gave hint of his reluctance. “Pain provides balance to pleasure, and used properly, can enhance it. The game tonight isn’t to punish you, darling. It is to learn your limits.”
“You think I fear pain?” He shook his head.
“Darling boy, right now you don’t know your limits any more than I do. Tonight will be an interesting experience for us both.”
“Interesting.” He laughed softly. “That’s your term for torturing me?”
“Oh, Ruarc.” She smiled, then turned and ran her hand down his cheek and throat, stopping at his chest. His muscles were hard beneath her fingers. “I want to see how strong you are.” She batted her eyes at him. “Can you truly blame me for that?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “Yes, I can.”
Vitalia laughed, then used a finger under his chin to guide him into a kiss. “Tamed…” She pulled back from the kiss. “But not domesticated. I think I like that.”
He grunted as the lash hit him across the back of the thighs. His wrists had been secured behind his back, and the restraints had been secured to a chain that dangled from the ceiling. A collar around his neck had been fastened to a chain secured to the floor, and his ankles had been shackled and secured to chains as well. Then the chains had been drawn taunt, spreading and stretching his body while bending him over. The position was obscene, painful, and vulnerable.
Ruarc bit back a cry as the lash struck him again. The duchess was making little attempt to avoid more vulnerable parts of his anatomy. Twice now, the tip of the lash had caught him across the back of his dangling testicles. That had made him scream. He was convinced the second time had been deliberate.
The duchess had given him two options. Take fifty lashes with the crop, or, at the point he could take no more, ask if he could use his mouth to pleasure Durante. As much as he was certain he’d be ordered to do that eventually, he’d be damned if he was going to ask for it. The lash came down across his ass that time. “Thirty-two.” He stared down at the stone floor. Eighteen lashes to go. He couldn’t tell if any of the welts were bleeding.
“I can count, my darling.” The duchess’s voice sounded amused.
A deep breath, then another. He let his mind drift above the pain, concentrating on the many ways he could kill Durante. It would be a difficult choice. Another lash. “Thirty-three.” Granted, some of it would depend on how the opportunity presented itself. “Thirty-four.” He was rooting for the option of tying the man’s ankles to the back of a horse and dragging him across the badlands, where the sun heated the obsidian shards hot enough to cook upon. “Thirty-five.” Though that would be hard on the horse. “Thirty-six.” He’d read somewhere that in Petobae, the punishment for rape was to be put into a large iron cage which was then heated underneath. “Thirty-seven.” Oil was poured into the cage bottom a half inch deep. “Thirty-eight.” When the victim could no longer dance upon the remains of their feet, they fell to be fried alive. “Thirty-nine.” That would work. “Forty.” And the duchess could be the second course.