Caressa stared wide-eyed in horror at the sight of Conyn, standing bound, gagged, and helpless in the power of their enemies; for her part, the proud blond warrior stared back with eyes full of incomprehension, rage… and a hint of fear?
And if there were fear in those blue eyes, thought Caressa, it was only sensible: through base treachery their plans had gone hopelessly awry. Since being made captive herself, the sorceress had offered to her gods prayers that Conyn might somehow best Charys and her minions by dint of sword or strength, only to see those prayers go unanswered… it was clear now that the scheme involving the White Phoenix was hopelessly dashed.
And she remembered…
Imelda's private suites had been a buzz of hushed activity. The Princess and her closest confidants were anxiously awaiting word of Conyn's penetration of Charys' camp, and the progress of the scheme. The princess alternately bit at a thumbnail and ran nervous fingers through her long blond tresses, holding her breath at the entrance of one of her soldiers, who nodded deferentially, and brought news.
"Our scouts have returned: Charys' forces have taken Conyn prisoner, and she should be in place shortly."
Imelda's face lit with relief, while Captain Tarn kept her face noncommittal.
"Good," Imelda's blue eyes gleamed, her face alive with anticipation. She turned to Caressa. "Is it time for you to work your magic, to deliver my realm back to me, and to deliver that bitch and her scum into my hands for punishment?'
The dark-haired sorceress smiled indulgently at Imelda's naked eagerness.
"Yes," she assured her, "I will now retire to my chamber, and… prepare myself to receive the White Phoenix. Once I am in a receptive state, my senses will detect Conyn's song, even across the miles. My voice will join with hers, and together we will release the power of the White Phoenix, forever banishing the Black Phoenix."
"And those under its spell will recover?"
"Almost?" Bronwyn's forehead furrowed. "Phoenix or no Phoenix, won't that leave Conyn still a captive of Charys and her minions?"
Caressa laughed softly. "Once the members of the court and the army who are under the thrall of the Black Phoenix awaken, and realize they were being controlled against their will, Charys and her minions will be too busy fleeing for their lives to present any danger to Conyn. And once that spell has been lifted, she can surely handle herself."
Bronwyn wasn't especially reassured: for all that the power of the Black Phoenix had given Charys control over much of the population of Synderia, she still had supporters of her own, who had joined out of greed, and the promise of debauchery that Charys offered. Dispelling the Black Phoenix wasn't going to change that. Still, the Princess was clearly set upon this course, which meant that they all were.
"Excellent." Imelda's eyes narrowed, her mouth twisting into a cold smile. "By this time tomorrow, my usurping cousin will be kneeling, chained helpless at my feet."
"Majesty," Bronwyn offered what she knew was probably a futile demurrer, "Won't such action only divide the country again, instead of uniting it? Would it not be better to show mercy?"
"Mercy?" Imelda delivered a most unladylike snort. "I will show her mercy by not having her head cut off on the spot. But she will be paraded, bound, gagged, and naked, through the streets, with the masses invited to jeer her every step of the way."
Bronwyn stifled a retort; what was the point? If the insane plan worked at all, that would be the time to worry about how her mistress comported herself with her conquered foe.
"All right," Imelda snapped after Caressa had left. "I'm off to bed. I wish to be well rested for my day of triumph." And with a swirl of silken skirt and silken tresses, she was gone.
As the others left, Bronwyn was brought up short by a hand on her arm.
"She'll learn one day. She's still young and headstrong." Captain Tarn smiled.
"I… I hope so," Bronwyn shook her head. "But I fear…"
"I am confident that our young princess will soon learn humility." Captain Tarn cursed herself for almost betraying her gleeful anticipation of her coming betrayal, but Bronwyn was too caught up in her own worries to even notice.
"She has not the advantage of our years of experience," Bronwyn sighed, and Captain Tarn took notice of the swell of firm breasts as the counselor let out her breath.
"Yes." Tarn stepped closer, and Bronwyn felt a twinge of discomfort at a proximity that once more bordered on unwanted familiarity. "We have much in common, you and I." She ran a hand through her short grey hair, and glanced at the dark tresses piled high on Bronwyn's head. "Unlike me, there's no hint of frost in your locks yet, but for that all that I have a few summers' seniority on you yet, you and I are much alike. And I have much to offer."
"Offer? What are you saying?" Bronwyn's manner was suddenly guarded.
"I just think that service to a less-than-grateful monarch does no favors for either of us. There might be other… rewards… that you might receive." She placed a hand on Bronwyn's's arm, searching the younger woman's face for reaction, but was disappointed to see the fine features cloud darkly.
Bronwyn straightened herself, the gaze in her soft brown eyes hardening. "We have had this conversation before," she spoke coldly. "I have told you that I have no interest in such… arrangements with you. I will thank you not to speak of it again."
She turned on her heel and left Tarn watching her retreating figure intently.
You're right. We won't be speaking of this again. The time for words is past: my actions will soon speak of my intentions toward you very clearly.
In the candlelit dimness of her sleeping chamber, Caressa shed the last of her garments: for such activity as tonight demanded, the purity of naked skin was essential.
Essential… and exquisite, she reflected, as she reclined on the luxurious black sheets of her bed. She spread arms and legs wide, letting the caress of the silk awaken every nerve in her skin, blood pounding in her head and loins. Her cascade of dark hair swirled across the sheets, adding another layer of silky texture, as she inhaled the scent of the candles, and closed her eyes, to prepare herself to receive the White Phoenix.
It was the great gift of the Virgin Sisterhood, to experience the sensual in ways unknown to ordinary women, or men, and Caressa could feel the power building inside her as her naked flesh slid across the black silk. The aroma of the candles began to mix with the perfume of her hair and the pungent whiff of the beginnings of her arousal. It was almost impossible to keep from touching herself, but a trained sorceress understands the importance of restraint, of allowing the intoxicating power to build up inside her. Instead, she slid her arms across the sheets, letting her fingers glide into the mass of silken tresses spread profusely around her head, willing her senses to complete surrender to the power of the White Phoenix, moaning now as the fires inside her began to blaze, her mind now drifting off into a fevered dream-state…
"Huggggkkkkk!" Caressa came violently awake, choking on something. Her eyes flew open, to see a scruffily-clad young woman leaning over her, one hand thrusting a thick bolt of black silk into her mouth!
Instinctively, Caressa struck out at her, but compared to her softly pampered flesh, the arm holding her down might as well have been an iron bar for all the effect she had.
Her vision started to swim, and as she tried to come fully to her senses, she realized that the cloth in her mouth was pungent, reeking and tasting of some exotic potion, the fragrance filling her head. She blinked her eyes, but could barely focus them. Indeed, she could barely even focus her thoughts: it was as though the odor on the cloth were somehow leeching away her thoughts, her very will.
"That's right… breathe it deeply."
Now Caressa was sure she must have gone mad, as the voice, and the grinning face from which it issued, belonged to Captain Tarn!
The woman stuffing the cloth in her mouth was joined now by a darkly ugly man; they were both in the mufti of harmless peasants, but also clearly possessed of the strength and bearing of soldiers: Charys' soldiers-here in the palace? Caressa flailed her arms, but powerful hands seized her feebly-thrashing limbs, pinioning her down to the mattress.
"What now?" Grunted the man. "I hate these witches with their damned spells."
"Daunta's spell got us in here, didn't it?" the female solder challenged him, holding up a large black iron key that glowed with eerie iridescence. "Just like she told us-the charm on this key not only opens any door, but does it in perfect silence: this stupid bitch never heard a thing."
"Still…" the man grunted, "she's dangerous."
"Don't worry," Tarn smiled coldly, looking down into Caressa's beautiful, incomprehending face. "Keep her mouth gagged, and she can utter no words of power. Keep her head filled with that drug, and she can't even conjure a spell."
And that was true enough: whatever concoction was on that cloth had left Caressa's mind a complete fog; she could feel and react to her present situation, but all the power she might have summoned from the Virgin Sisterhood was as beyond her grasp as if she'd locked it away in a trunk.
"Still, why not just kill her?" The man didn't seem particularly reassured.
Tarn shrugged. "I would. But Daunta needs her alive for some kind of ritual. Once that's done, we can dispose of her."
The younger woman tracked a fingernail along the swell of Caressa's exposed breasts; sweat was beading the pale skin as she struggled uselessly. "I can think of a few things we could do with her first."
"Never mind that now," Tarn chuckled at the terror filling Caressa's eyes. "Get her properly bound up, make sure that gag is very secure, and let's load her up."
The man hesitated, as though fearing to touch the sorceress; Tarn gave a derisive snort at his timidity and grasped Caressa's shoulders and rolled the naked witch over onto her belly, her overheated skin making almost obscenely sensual friction against the smooth sheets. The younger woman used a palm to maintain pressure across Caressa's mouth, holding the cloth in place; she twisted fingers tightly in the witch's long, silky black hair to keep her head still.
"Tie her hands," Tarn snapped at the man, and Caressa was shocked by a sensation completely new to her: Tarn's rough treatment of her was insulting enough, but this-- a man's hands on her person! No member of the Sisterhood was to so much as shake hands with such a beast, and yet here was this one, making free with her person, and doubtless savoring the soft, satiny flesh in his grasp; such thoughts sent a terrifying foreboding through the helpless sorceress, as if she could already feel the man committing the intimate violation that all men seek of a woman in their power, a violation that would strip her of every bit of her power should it be consummated. That terror redoubled her efforts to resist, but while her assailant was no remarkable physical specimen, he had no trouble gathering Caressa's weakly flailing arms and forcing them up behind her back. She grunted and whimpered into the mouthful of drug-sodden cloth as pain raced down her arms and shoulders.
The man was pressing down on both her arms with one of his huge palms; the other hand produced a length of coarse rope, already prepared with a loop that he used to ensnare the sorceress' wrists. The cord bit into them like some vermin as he yanked on the free end, then wound more cord around them twice more before cinching off a knot, allowing Caressa's bound wrists to lie against her back, just above the tempting curve of her buttocks.
The pain and humiliation of having her wrists bound with stout rope was compounded as the man pulled another length of the scratchy hemp roughly up under her naked breasts, making angry red furrows in the soft skin, and wrapped the rope around her torso, pinning her arms to her sides. The action lifted her up off the bed, the young female soldier still keeping one hand firm over her mouth, the other tight in her hair.
Her gorge rose as the man's rough hands made lascivious play with her naked legs, taking casual ease as he used more of the cord to secure her thighs together, and let his fingers stroke her naked insteps and soles as he tightened bonds around her ankles, as well.
"Secure her gag." The note of gloating triumph in Tarn's voice sank Caressa's spirits even further.
A strip of the black silk was torn from the bedclothing and jammed between Caressa's teeth, forcing the drugged cloth back nearly to her throat. She could practically sense the glee with which the young woman soldier yanked the cloth tight about her head, knotted it at the base of her skull, and wrapped, tied, and knotted it again; even through the haze of the drug, the pain was agonizing.
"I think I'd better check her bonds," the man grunted, and once more his rough hands were roaming over the bound woman, Caressa's dazed and helpless attempts to avoid his touch completely useless.
"Enough!" snapped Tarn. "We don't have time for that." She smirked. "Though it's possible that she'd prefer it to what Daunta has planned for her."
Caressa's head spun again as she was once more thrown to her belly on the bed, and her captors rolled her over and over, cocooning her body up in more of the black silk bedclothes, her long black hair wrapping around her head, nearly blinding her. Such dim light as shone through the tresses across her face was blotted out entirely as the black sheet was pulled up over her head and tied in place. Through the thickness of her silken cocoon, Caressa could feel more rope being bound around her, reducing the once-powerful sorceress to an easily-transportable bundle.
And now, the combination of the drug and the darkness numbed what remained of Caressa's senses. In a vague sort of way, she was aware of herself being carried across the room, thrown like a sack of laundry over a hard, bony shoulder that she assumed belonged to her male abductor. Vaguely, she wondered what would happen if anyone accosted them… and then recalled that it was deepest night, and that she had dismissed most of the staff, to be alone with her spells. The only ones likely to be awake were troops that would doubtless let the traitorous Tarn pass without challenge.
She heard a door open, and she was carried out into what she assumed would be cool nighttime air-far pleasanter than the suffocating blackness that was her current prison, if only she could feel it. Instead, she was roughly thrown into the bottom of a cart, and felt herself covered over with what might be blankets, or animal pelts: something heavy and stifling and sufficient to hide the transportation of a bound and gagged woman. The soldiers clambered up into the wagon, and she felt the man rest his heavy boots on the helpless parcel at his feet. There was some conversation, too low for her to make out the words, but the tone was clear: Tarn and her conspirators congratulating each other on the successful kidnapping of the beautiful witch, with the occasional lewd remark about liberties that might be taken with her person, that humiliated the captive sorceress even further.
Even in her full senses, Caressa would have had little sense of the journey's duration, bound and enveloped in black silk as she was; indeed, the drug's dulling effects were probably saving her from the aches and pains that her confinement would otherwise have brought as the wagon bounced across the desert. She managed to fall asleep at last, being awakened as she was hauled up and over the man's shoulder again. Sleep was no palliative, though: the drugged cloth tied in her mouth continued to suppress both her speech and her mental abilities, leaving her just as helpless as she had been in the first moment that the raiders laid their hands upon her person.
And almost before she knew it, she found herself propelled from behind the curtain on Charys' dais out into the light, where the black silk was pulled from her face to allow her heart to break at the sight of Conyn's naked, bound helplessness; at the knowledge that all their plans had come to naught… and the chilling realization that the worst was to come! She barely registered Charys' gloating words, so lost was she in the frustration and fear that her dark eyes were sharing with Conyn's angry bright blue ones.
"Come, sister." Caressa felt a small, pale hand smooth her disheveled hair; Daunta's voice was throaty with anticipation: she was already hot with arousal as she pictured herself performing her obscene ritual on Caressa's naked form, and by doing so, absorbing all of the captive sorceress' power. She leaned over and planted a mocking kiss on Caressa's cheek, before nodding to the male abductor to bring her prize along as she retired. Once more the captive sorceress was borne over the man's shoulder as he followed Daunta to deliver Caressa to her fate.
"Well, I'd best be going," Tarn said brightly. "Must be back at Imelda's by daybreak to lead the troops," she paused, and smiled into Conyn's face. "To lead them to what they assume will be Imelda's triumphant return into her old capital city, but which will become, for her, for all of them, the harshest of prisons."
Conyn didn't waste words; she simply spat full into the traitor's face. Tiny satisfaction it may have been, but it was almost worth the subsequent rain of blows she received from the guards, sending her staggering to her knees in front of Tarn, who pulled her head up by the hair and returned the favor; with her hands still bound behind her, Conyn could do nothing but endure the shame and humiliation, her cheek wet with the betrayer's spittle. Two of the female soldiers wrestled the gag back into her mouth, all of Conyn's resistance as futile as a child's might have been as the leather plug once more worked itself deep into her mouth, the straps once again digging into her skin.
Tarn hooked a finger into one of the gag straps and yanked Conyn's head painfully back.
"I don't settle for tit for tat, you stupid bitch," she snarled. "A little spit is just a taste of what I'm going to do to you once Charys' plan is complete." She leaned closer. "And you may rest assured that your friend Bronwyn is finally going to give me what I've been hungering for… and I'm going to make sure that you're there to watch." Conyn raged impotently in her bonds, hating to give Tarn the satisfaction, but unable to help herself.
"Time to give this one to the guards," Hynde's voice came from behind her. "I'm sure they'd love the entertainment."
"Not just yet," Charys purred. She reached down and pulled the captive warrior to her feet by the leash. The redheaded usurper brought their faces to within inches of each other. "No," she went on, "Conyn is to have a night of uninterrupted solitude, so that she can more completely imagine tomorrow… tomorrow, the day that she will kneel at my feet and watch helplessly as her precious Imelda falls into my power."
To the resumed jeers of the crowd, Conyn was paraded back towards the cells, enduring once again not just the catcalls, but the obscene fondling and groping as she passed. At Hynde's order, Conyn was thrown back into her cell, still naked and gagged, her hands still fastened tightly behind her.
She groaned into her gag as her hip struck the unforgiving stone floor, and she lay supine as the cell door was slammed loudly closed. Hynde threw some parting witticism at her, but Conyn didn't hear. Her thoughts were too consumed: with despair, with rage, with failure.
Caressa's vaunted plan had failed. And the traitorous Tarn was going to lead Imelda and what remained of her court, and her loyal troops, into a trap. Conyn glanced around the dark, looming walls of her prison with the grim realization that she wouldn't be alone here much longer.Next
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