Footfalls sounded on the stone steps, and a knock at the door turned him around. “Come,” he said in a deep, commanding voice.
The soldier opened the iron bound wooden door and stepped inside. He braced to attention and clapped his fist over his chest in salute. “Forgive the intrusion, Sire, but we have brought the prisoner per your orders.”
“Thank you, Sergeant. Bring her in.”
The sergeant nodded and turned toward the door. “Bring her.”
“Take your damned hands off me!” A pair of burly guards stepped through the doorway, flanking a young woman. She was clad only in a shredded loincloth, sandals, and hood placed over her head, covering her eyes. Iron manacles bound her wrists and ankles, and the chains rattled as she fought her captors.
“Enough!” her host barked, and she fell silent. “Bring her here before me.”
The pair of soldiers marched her to the man, and stood there with her.
“Has she been harmed?”
“No, Sire,” the sergeant answered. “She refused fresh clothing, and we bound her when she fought us. But, no one has touched her, as you had commanded.”
The man nodded. “That will be all. Sergeant, have one of your men stand by outside the door with her key.”
“As you command, Sire.” The three soldiers filed out through the door and pulled it shut behind her.
The man returned his attention to the woman. Standing straight, he could just see over her head. Her dusky skin lay over a well-toned and muscular frame, and was streaked with dirt and grime from her ordeal. The shredded loincloth did little to hide the tuft of dark hair on her pubis, and it matched the wisps of hair that had escaped from under her hood. Her breasts stood proudly on her chest, capped with large, dark nipples.
“I am glad to see that you were not harmed.” He lifted his eyes from her chest to focus on her mouth, since it was the only part of her face not covered by the hood. Her lips were dark and full, and her white teeth gleamed behind them.
Now, those lips twisted into a snarl. “Why would you care, son of a murderer!”
The man sighed and nodded. “Yes, that is true about my father. He was a murderer, and a tyrant. Before you say it, my mother was his equal, if not worse. I care, because I have no wish to subject my people to more of the same.”
“Then why are your butchering dogs still in the field against my people?”
“May I remind you, that you and everyone else in this kingdom are my people,” he said mildly. “As for my soldiers, I believe more of them have been put to death for crimes against my decrees than your band had managed to slay in the past turning.”
“So you had some of them killed. I am glad to hear that, but it changes nothing.”
“Were you abused when my men captured you?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“What do you think would have happened to you if my father were still alive?”
“The same thing that happened to my sister and mother,” she snapped. Her voice rose. “They were sold as whores. I was told they were killed when they became sick!”
“They were, I am sorry to say. That was when you began raiding our outposts, and sparked the rebellion.”
“I am proud of what I did.” She inhaled sharply. “I only wish that I could have found the warrior’s death I desire.”
“I didn’t bring you here to kill you. I brought you here to help me bring peace to the kingdom.”
“You drag me here in chains, blindfold me, and then ask me to talk with you about peace?”
“That is your own doing; you refused to give your parole. My men were under strict instructions to not harm you, and this was their only means of ensuring that.”
She stood silently for a moment. “How do I know I can trust you?”
He shrugged. “I cannot offer you anything beyond my word.”
“We all have seen what that is worth,” she growled.
“Have we, now?” He leaned down closer to her. “Pray tell, where has my word failed in the moons since my father left the throne to me?”
Her head jerked up as she felt him close to her, although she did not step back. She clamped her lips together.
He straightened with a sigh. “You have nothing to say, because you know that I have ruled honorably and justly. My men fought yours, and mine won.”
“My people want their freedom.”
“They are my people, and they are better off under my protection. On their own, they have little chance against our neighbors. We also have need of their skills and their timber.”
“This is about money, then?”
“Yes, but that isn’t truly important. They are a part of my kingdom, which brings us back to you. I want you to help me gain their trust.”
He took a breath. “I want you to be my consort.”
“What!?” She sputtered in outrage. “Are you mad?”
He smiled. “Probably. I can offer that I have never lain with a woman, if that matters. I have no interest in having slaves or concubines, and lying with a lady implies promises I did not wish to make.”
“How noble of you,” she snapped. “I don’t understand why you ask. You could just have me dragged to your bed.”
“To win their hearts, I must first win yours.”
She tugged at her bonds. “Do all of the men in your kingdom have their prospective brides brought to them in chains?”
“No, but my having done so may start a new tradition,” he said lightly.
She snorted in derision, but the corners of her mouth curled upward.
He gazed at her for a moment. “Will you give me your parole?”
She nodded and spoke quietly. “Yes.”
“Guard, attend me,” he called toward the door.
The man opened the door and braced to attention. “Yes, Sire?”
“Remove her bindings.”
The guard knelt to remove her ankle chains, and then he stood to remove the chains at her wrists. Finally, he unlaced the hood at the back and lifted it off her head. Her dark hair flowed down to her shoulders, and she gazed up at her captor with eyes the color of the midday sky.
“Leave us, and return to your sergeant.” He turned his attention back to her as the guard closed the door behind him.
She brought her arms around in front of her and began to massage her wrists, while she looked up at him, and her mouth opened slightly as she really looked upon him for the first time. “You’re... taller... than I expected.”
He smiled. “The reports of your beauty were badly understated.”
Her lips quirked in a smile, and she dropped her hands to her side. “That is a poor attempt at seduction.”
He chuckled and turned toward the stone bench beside them. “Come, sit and talk with me.” He stepped over to the bench and sat down.
She did his bidding and sat beside him, not bothering to cover herself against his gaze. “Do you bathe here?”
“Yes.” He looked out over the pool. “This garden and pool was built during my grandmother’s reign. You are in her former house.”
“Not to be forward, but I have not washed in days.”
“Please,” he waved his hand. “I will sit here while you bathe.” He reached out to a stone shelf and gathered soap and a washing sponge. “Take these.”
She rose and stripped off the remains of her loincloth, and untied her sandals. She made her way down the stone steps into the pool, and began to wash herself. “It feels strange to do this in front of a man.”
“You have nothing to fear from me,” he said. “I confess that I cannot help but to look at you, though.”
“As your consort, what would be my duties?” She ran the sponge across her belly, sighing in pleasure as the grime was washed away.
“You would be expected to stand by my side whenever I appear to my subjects. You would be expected to host other rulers’ consorts during their official visits. You would also oversee my house servants.”
“Would I also be expected to provide you with an heir?”
He shook his head. “Whether you warm my bed or not is your choice, and your womb is your own.”
She nodded, glanced up at him, and then half turned as she reached down to clean her groin. “And what of the men who fought with me, and those in the rebellion?”
“I hope to talk with them, with you by my side. I wish to simply have them go back to their homes, there to resume their normal lives. I will need to establish a garrison along the frontier, but that will be to protect them from invaders and brigands.”
She waded over to the steps, and lifted one leg to wash it. Leaning forward, she ran the soap and sponge over her thigh and down her shin. “How can I refuse you?”
He shrugged. “Just say no. I will have to confine you until the rebellion is put down, of course.”
“What will happen to my... the people?”
“Some of them will die. Their harvests have been poor this growing season, and the snows will bring hard times upon them. We have tried to offer them food, but their leaders have refused safe passage for my wagons.”
She stopped washing and stood up straight to study him more closely. “Do you listen more to your head, or to your heart?”
He considered her question. “An equal measure of both, I think.”
“And when you are angry?”
“Now, emotions, they can be trouble. Those who rule from rage or fear soon enslave their people.” He leaned forward to brace his elbows on his knees. “I have learned to conceal my emotions, since they can provoke others to reach the wrong conclusions.”
.... There is more of this story ...