As she slumped back against the cold stone of the dungeon wall, Conyn suppressed a groan. For all the battles she'd fought, she had never in her life been so weary in mind and body, and the weight of the chains at her wrists and ankles wasn't helping.
The journey had been bad enough, fastened across the horse's back, her head aching from the rush of blood, limbs cramped and chafed by the bonds, her mouth foul with the taste of the gag. And while her captors were clearly unwilling to risk Charys' displeasure by interfering with her prize, their conversation turned often to lewd discussions of just what they would do with her, given the opportunity; if anything, the female officer seemed to have the most disgusting imagination along those lines.
There had been some small respite when they reached what had been Imelda's palace in happier days, though that came only after Conyn's captors had cut the ropes binding her to the horse and dumped her to the ground like unwanted baggage, the pain racking those parts of her body not yet numb from abuse.
Unbound, and under heavy guard, she had been dragged through the courtyard, behind the stables, and down to the dank cell, her limbs still buzzing and limp from their bondage. Once she was cuffed and chained, the gag had been removed, and food and water provided, also under the watchful eye of armed guards.
That interlude of decency had been short, though, and she had endured a sneering kick or two before the guards slammed the massive cell door behind them.
Now, left alone, Conyn endured the throbbing pains all through her body, trying to mentally prepare herself for the challenge yet to come; and even the ache that the chains brought to every movement was mild discomfort compared to the effort required to remain focused on her objective.
Dammit, I'm a soldier, not an intriguer! This triple deception was threatening to become too much: she had had to pretend to fight at her best, but then pretend to be so careless as to allow herself to be defeated and captured, and now she must act like a captive resentful of her imprisonment, all the while knowing that this imprisonment was the very heart of the mad plan she was to carry out. She closed her eyes. You can let them see your anger, she decided. They'll expect that. But you must let them think you're too weak, too beaten, to act upon it. And on that slim resolve, she fell into exhausted sleep.
There was a creaking sound, dim light no longer flickered across her eyelids, and she opened her eyes to see a shadow fill the door to the cell, a shadow that preceded a tall, slender man with curling dark-copper hair, a thin mustache, and bleary green eyes red-rimmed with debauchery.
"The great Conyn," General Hynde sneered. "Imelda's little pet terrier. You'll trouble my sister's troops no longer, pretty bitch."
"Face me with a sword," Conyn snapped, "and you'll learn what trouble is." Damn! Stop it! You can't risk him taking you up on it.
"Hah!" he barked amusement. "Why on earth would I do that? You're chattel: the spoils of war. If I take a horse from an enemy, I don't dare it to beat me in a footrace: I bridle it, muzzle it, and break it. And you can expect much the same treatment."
"Doubtless you're planning to be the one doing the 'breaking;" Conyn fought down revulsion at the thought of being used by this scoundrel.
"You flatter yourself, wench. I have my eyes set on a more 'royal' coupling."
Conyn's face blazed fury: somehow the picture of this wastrel violating Imelda was even more revolting than the prospect that he might plan to rape her here and now.
"Nonetheless," he went on, "I don't doubt that Charys will find more than a few of her troops willing to provide you the appropriate attentions, once she's repaid you personally. For now, though--" he clapped his hands, and four figures entered the cell: two male guards armed with blade and crossbow, and two females in servant's livery.
"Need to make you presentable for Charys' guests," Hynde grinned. "Some of them have very delicate sensibilities."
He handed a key to one of the women who set about undoing Conyn's fetters. She lurched uneasily to her feet; despite her evident weakness, the guards kept well back out of her reach; even if she'd wanted to chuck the plan and make an escape, they could have a knife or arrow in her long before she reached them.
"Strip her," Hynde instructed the women. Conyn reddened: obviously they were going to take her to some other part of the palace to be cleaned up, and removing her clothes could certainly have waited until they got there; this served no purpose than her further humiliation.
With no option, she growled that she could manage her own clothing, but found that not to be the case: her aching arms could barely lift to reach the buttons of her tunic, and fingers too long deprived of circulation were still clumsy and feeble. In the end, she had no choice but to allow the two women to disrobe her as Hynde and his soldiers grinned hugely at the display.
Once the weary soldier stood naked before Hynde and his men, the general threw out a few more casual insinuations and insults, then jerked his head to indicate that the guards were to accompany the two servants and their captive
The procession to the bathing salon was grimly quiet, Conyn padding along the stone corridors in her bare feet, only the occasional catcall from a random soldier or servant breaking the silence. She didn't bother trying to cover herself with her hands: she'd show them that the peering eyes of rabble like themselves was as nothing to a warrior. Her soldier's instinct reflexively considered whether the sight of her bare buttocks might be distracting the two guards sufficiently for her to make a break for it. Of course, that was out of the question, but now she couldn't stop picturing them ogling her ass. This just gets better and better!
When they arrived at the salon, with its colored floor tiles, bejeweled wall decorations, and sumptuous baths, the guards reluctantly took up positions outside the door, doubtless wishing they could have stayed to watch, and hoping the captive would attempt to make a break and come charging, wet and naked, through the door into their grubby waiting hands. Conyn preceded the two servants inside, and they pulled the brass-plated door closed behind them. Again, the soldier's practiced eye scanned the room for escape routes, even though she knew it was pointless.
At a nod from the taller of the two women, Conyn stepped into the already-heated bath, and for the first time in days, she experienced a moment of actual pleasure as she sank into the warmth.
The women were silent, and worked with a cold efficiency, bathing and shampooing their charge. A soldier learns to grab fleeting moments of respite even in the direst circumstances, so Conyn allowed herself to relax and enjoy the sensations that accompanied the ablutions.
She was less certain about the ointments and toiletries that the women applied. She had entered her captivity prepared to endure the hardships and torment that a soldier might expect when fallen into enemy hands. But Hynde was a crafty bastard: he was having these sluts transform her from powerful soldier to vulnerable woman and she had little doubt that "well-used concubine" would be on the list somewhere, too, before they'd finished with her, unless this damn plan worked. In the meantime, she gritted her teeth, furious at having to allow her body to be oiled and scented, her hair combed out and perfumed; she felt for all the world like some ridiculous courtesan. And not by accident. Hynde doubtless feels more able to control a whore than a warrior.
Still, there was no alternative but allow the attentions to go on, and Conyn did nothing to rush the process: let them take their time drying her body and brushing out her hair, and put off as long as possible the moment when she would be presented to Hynde as a perfumed tart.
Eventually, though, she was escorted back out into the stone corridor, where Hynde and more of his bullyboys waited. Even though she had just faced down the bastards naked an hour before, she felt a new kind of vulnerability: this must be what it's like for most women to come under the gaze of a group of horny soldiers.
Conyn saw that her leather breastplate and beloved Igraine were in a pile near the doorway, ready to be given to Charys as part of the spoils; her tunic and other clothing were nowhere to be seen, nor were any replacement garments in evidence. So she was not even to be allowed to clothe herself before being delivered to the Usurper's pleasure.
"Now that's more like it!" Hynde fingered a long lock of her yellow hair. "Charys' guests don't want to see some grimy soldier on display they like a bit of softness something they can really take hold of."
"If any of them so much as lays a finger on me " Conyn began to growl, but stopped as her head was rocked sideways by a backhanded slap from Hynde; his ironic geniality giving way to a sneering cruelty.
"You'll take whatever Charys or her guests decide to do with you or to you." His red-rimmed eyes were piggy and mean. "You're Charys' property now, and have no more to say in your future than does her dressing table. Turn around and put your hands behind your back."
"What for? To bind me? Where do you imagine I could run?"
Hynde earned himself another promise of slow death at Conyn's hands as he once more slapped her across the face.
"Learn your place, slut. You will appear before your gracious monarch in bondage, as you deserve. And unless you'd care to have a hangman's noose as part of the ensemble, I'd suggest you obey me with dispatch!"
Conyn's eyes narrowed at the word "noose": the idiot was showing her an empty hand. Charys would never let him, or anyone, kill her until she had exacted her vengeance; his threats melted away to nothing. She had to suppress the feeling of power that sent flowing through her limbs: even unarmed and naked, she could break the buffoon in two and possibly cut her way free, secure in the knowledge that he dared not harm her. If only
They have to think you're beaten. Remember that.
It took a supreme act of will to submit to the leering bastard, but she took some satisfaction in having exposed his weakness: he was given to boastful threats that he knew he dared not carry out; that might prove useful in future. She placed her hands behind her back, wrists crossed. The passage of a few hours had done little to heal the rawness at her wrists, and she felt harsh, thin cord bit into them like a knife. Hynde wrapped the rope around her crossed wrists a few times, then stepped closer, reaching around from behind her to encircle her waist with the long end of the cord; despite his professed lack of interest in raping Conyn, he was clearly more than happy to nuzzle her neck as he reached around her, and to press his groin against her buttocks as he cinched the knot firmly at the back of her waist, trapping her hands in place there.
Conyn shuddered revulsion as his fingers played with her hair and caressed the nape of her neck, then moved spider-like down her shoulders and arms. He fastened a loop of the cord on her left arm just above the elbow, then wrapped it about her right arm, pulling hard on the free end of the cord, yanking her arms painfully together, her elbows nearly touching. He gave an extra tug, clearly for the purpose of eliciting a squeal of pain from his captive, but the proud warrior would give him no such satisfaction. She made a few reflexive tugs at the bonds, but Hynde had done his work so effectively that he didn't even bother admonishing her: they both knew that she was well and truly helpless.
With the last tug and twist of the cord, Conyn assumed that Hynde was finished, bar a bit more groping, but to her surprise, his hand reached around once more from behind her, this time holding a large pad made of dark, worn leather. The buckle at its back was lightly tarnished, but what caught her eye was the thick wedge of leather that was affixed to the center of the pad, formed into a particularly disgusting shape.
Conyn decided she'd already received enough slaps to carry off her pose of defiance, and didn't care to risk another, but this was the one thing she'd feared most: being deprived of the ability to use her voice to release the power of the White Phoenix.
"Please," she forced herself to remain calm and sound docile. "Surely there is no need for that. To whom would I call for help?"
For answer, she felt Hynde twist fingers in her hair and yank her head back; as she gasped in pain, he murmured in her ear.
"You will wear the gag for no other reason than that it pleases me to gag you. A gag does more than silence a woman: it reminds her that she no longer in control of any part of her person. Besides," she heard the savage grin in his voice, "I told you that you were going to be muzzled. And it will do you good to get used to having your mouth filled at a man's pleasure."
With a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, Conyn opened her mouth widely enough to admit the horrible leather plug. Hynde forced it between her teeth, and she found that it was thick enough to force her jaws even further apart, causing them to begin to ache already; the only chance for relief was to bite down on the leather. It pressed down on her tongue as she did so, filling her mouth with a taste that, whether it was her imagination or not, seemed evocative of a horse stable.
From behind, Hynde pulled back on the gag straps, and the leather pad pressed into Conyn's cheeks, crushed her lips against her teeth, and drove the plug nearly to the back of her throat. He tugged forcefully upward on the straps, and she had no choice but to bend her head as he swept her hair aside and buckled the gag at the nape of her neck.
He turned her around to face him, drinking in the hatred in her blue eyes like sweet wine. His eyes roamed over her naked form, the swell of her perfect breasts enhanced by the stringency with which her arms were fastened behind her back. Without a further word, he reached into a pocket of his coat and withdrew a thin ring of gold; a brilliant chain of the same metal dangled from it.
"Now, wench, know that Conyn of Synderia is no more. From this moment, you are but a nameless slave in the ownership of the Princess Charys." He opened the golden ring, and placed it about Conyn's throat, reaching to the back to close it with a sharp metallic sound; the gold chain dangled down between Conyn's breasts.
For a moment, there was no sound in the room, and Hynde savored this final moment of triumph over his enemy. With a movement that was almost gentle, he reached to arrange her long silky tresses around the leather pad covering the lower part of her face; they fell down past her shoulders, a gleaming gold to match the slave collar.
If Conyn had entertained any thought that the bastard might have been softened by the revelation of her beauty, he quickly dispelled it.
"By the gods, won't you tempt that crowd in the throne room. I'm hoping Charys lets a few of them loose on you tonight; that would be some entertaining sport:"
There it was. She would be paraded before Charys' debauched court: naked, bound, gagged, collared, and leashed. They would doubtless rejoice at seeing their enemy thus reduced, and would assume it was but the precursor to Imelda's defeat. And unless Conyn could somehow get this damned gag from her mouth pretty quickly, it seemed likely that being used as a sexual playtoy would be the least of her worries.
The procession this time was not dissimilar to her march to the baths, except that one of the female servants walked in front, holding her chain like a horse's lead. The armed guards were behind her and out of her sight, along with Hynde, who from behind her kept up a commentary on the sight of her naked, bound body, and the uses to which it might be put.
Even though the ballroom was warmed by the roaring fire, and the presence of dozens of Charys' guests, Conyn's bare soles felt colder than ever on the stone floor. Hynde had not been wrong when he predicted the reaction her presence would bring: the rabble that passed for nobility in Charys' corrupt version of Synderia were a sleazy lot, and completely unabashed about staring at the trussed and gagged female slave led naked through them. And while she was in no hurry to meet Charys' wrath, she couldn't get through this crowd fast enough: the leering, hungry eyes, the hands that insolently stroked and fondled as she passed, with the women no better than the men.
At the far end of the hall, in front of a heavy set of drapes, was a long dais, where Charys' most favored guests were seated; Conyn realized that the dark-haired woman in the flowing skirts must be Daunta, Caressa's evil counterpart in the Virgin Sisterhood: she was even paler than Caressa, her face thinner, bonier, and decidedly sinister...
The Usurper herself, however, was standing in front of the table, at the top of the small stairs that led up to the platform, as though overcome by eagerness to get her hands on Conyn. The red-haired villainess was holding herself in, though, savoring every humiliating step of Conyn's procession towards her. Finally, the slave tender led her up the steps, and for a moment, the green eyes of the Usurper met Conyn's at a level, hatred flaming. The captive warrior did her best to meet that gaze over her gag, but it was getting harder by the moment to maintain her courage: there would be but one chance to effect Caressa's plan, and so long as she remained gagged, that chance wouldn't come. And what would happen then didn't bear thinking about
"The mighty Conyn," laughed Charys, and Conyn had the annoyed thought that someone in this misbegotten land needed to find some more original way to gloat over her.
Unlike her brother, though, the usurping bitch was less taken by the carnal possibilities inherent in Conyn's nakedness, and more interested in just how vulnerable her old enemy now was to physical abuse, using the long fingernails of her right hand to dig agonizingly into the bound captive's nipples as she hissed her hatred. She twisted a fistful of Conyn's hair around the fingers of her free hand, dragging the prisoner's face close to her own, with the livid red scar still decorating her cheek.
"Does this hurt, you slut?" She pinched the nipple harder, and yanked on the handful of hair. "It doesn't begin to compare with what you did to me." She shook her captive like a mad dog. "Does it?" she shrieked, spittle landing on Conyn's gag. Still holding the helpless warrior by the hair, her other hand plunged to her prisoner's loin, and she gouged fiercely with her talons.
For her part, Conyn tried to suppress grunts of pain and tears of rage, desperately trying to calculate what reaction, if any, might lead to the damned gag being removed.
Suddenly, Charys gave an exhalation of breath, and thrust Conyn from her, the bound soldier doing her best not to go tumbling headlong off the dais. For a moment, the two women stood once more locked in a gaze of mutual hatred; then Charys seemed to compose herself, and snapped to the slave attendant:
"Get that gag off her. I would hear her cries of pain, followed by her pleas for her life."
And now, Conyn wanted to let the tears flow, but tears of relief. She inclined her head so that the attendant could reach through the mass of her long hair and undo the buckle holding the gag in place. As the plug came out of her mouth, and the pad was removed from her face, Conyn took one long, deep breath, looked Charys in the eye, and raised her voice in song.
The mystic melody, filled with phrases of power so ancient that none save members of the Sisterhood could comprehend them, suddenly seemed to fill the hall, and to Conyn's ears, there was silence save for her casting her musical spell. As she reached its end, she was surprised at how little effect it had on her: somehow, she'd been expecting the power of the White Phoenix to manifest itself within her in some way that she would recognize. Well, the details were best left to Caressa, who was no doubt receiving the puissant song across the miles, making ready to do whatever the hell it was she was going to do to counteract the effects of the Black Phoenix.
Now finished, Conyn did her best to keep the triumph out of her eyes as she waited for the White Phoenix to release Daunta's hold on Syrenia; she was already savoring the looks of horror on the faces of her captors as their unlawful rebellion finally crashed down around them.
But after a moment, smiles of triumph started to grow wider but not on Conyn's face. Instead, the soldiers and courtiers on the dais were grinning, none more widely than Charys herself: the conniving redhead had by now composed herself, her flush of rage softening, and she suddenly burst out with incongruous laughter.
"You were right, Daunta. Letting her go through with it was priceless. Gods, look at her face now. She still doesn't understand what's happened!" The black-haired witch nodded back, and leered at the befuddled Conyn.
"What's happened is that your time of misrule is at an end, Charys!" Conyn issued her challenge and began to get an uneasy feeling when no one responded. She could feel her face contorting to a look of foolish incomprehension as she glanced from face to face on the dais.
"Poor little slave slut," Charys cooed. "So confused. Let me see if I can find someone to explain it to you."
As Conyn stared, the drapes behind Charys parted, and out stepped a figure that was at once familiar and impossible.
"Well, this is a change. Last time I saw you, I'm sure you had clothes on." Under a thatch of iron-grey hair, Captain Tarn was grinning hugely at Conyn. "But seeing as you're wearing slave restraints these days, perhaps I can provide you with some company."
She barked a command, and the drapes parted once more, and two soldiers stepped forth, bearing a darkly-wrapped bundle; black silk shimmered in the light of the wall sconces, silk imprinted with an ominous-looking pattern. One of the soldiers reached to the top of the bundle, and pulled away a fold of the silk
And Conyn was staring into the dark, tear-stained eyes of Caressa.
"What ?" Conyn's voice was feeble. The witch stared back, hopelessly. There was little of her face to be seen below her eyes, as the black silk was wrapped sinuously around it; a closer look betrayed the fact that the mouth beneath it must be thickly packed with more of the silk, or something similar. And now Conyn could see that the drape of the silk followed the curves of the witch's torso, and that beneath it, her arms and legs must be tightly bound as well.
Conyn goggled at the sight. For a moment, she couldn't make sense of it; but no, it wasn't sense that lacked, but belief: it was simply impossible to believe what she was seeing: Caressa a helpless captive, the trusted Tarn a turncoat, and the entire White Phoenix scheme come to naught.
"That's right," crowed Charys. "Thanks to the good Captain Tarn knowing upon which side her bread is best buttered, I now have the pretty little witch in my power, as well as the slut who damaged my face."
She stepped closer to Conyn, who noticed that the guards were on higher alert now that the ruse was exposed, preventing any possible escape attempt.
"And soon, " Charys smirked, "your precious Imelda will kneel, naked and bound, at my feet."
And for all her incredulity, danger, fear, and pain, all Conyn could think was: I told them this was a damned bad idea!
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