Conyn hadn’t imagined that being tossed back into her filthy cell might come as a relief, but after what she’d been through, being left alone, even with thoughts of grim foreboding, was preferable to any more time spent among the lewd taunting and fondling she had received at the hands of the members of Charys’ court. Not that she expected the respite to be long, as Imelda and her troops were scheduled to walk into the trap sprung by Tarn’s betrayal in the morning. She considered trying to work herself free of her bonds, but decided it would be a waste of energy, and of time that might be better spent trying to sleep; she settled for scraping her face painfully against the stone floor sufficiently to loosen the gag to ease her breathing, then settled back into an exhausted sleep.
She was awakened at some point in the still-dark morning hours by the grudging delivery of food and drink to her cell. Two of the guards entered the cell, which was locked behind them by another wary pair. The guards dragged Conyn to her weary feet, and cut the ropes that held her numb, near-dead arms. Conyn’s arms were allowed to hang limply before her, her wrists were manacled together and fastened in front of her to a chain that encircled her waist and trailed down to where cuffs of rusted iron chafed her ankles. Her meager breakfast was left behind as the guards exited the cell, and she did her best to eat with hands still fumbling and clumsy from lack of circulation.
The first hint of daylight arrived in due course, bringing with it another gloating visit from General Hynde, careful, as always, to ensure that his prisoner had not the slightest leeway for any possible escape. The same two guards entered Conyn’s cell again, while Hynde remained outside with a clutch of his troops. Prodded forward, Conyn stumbled heavily out of the cell, weighed down painfully by the fetters. She fantasized what the ponderous links would do to Hynde’s skull if she swung them at him, but they were so heavy that, in her reduced condition, she could barely lift them, and would never take him by surprise. Instead, she simply glared at her swinishly gloating captor.
“Pity about your spell not working,” Hynde chuckled. “You’d probably have had half the population and three-quarters of the army awakened from their hypnotic spell and at your side… IF it had worked, that is,” he continued dryly. “Personally, I think my sister is making a mistake by not leaving you to rot in this cell,” he observed, “or having you raped to death by my troops, but she will have her fun. So, these good officers will prepare to take you to the viewing of today’s little farce.”
At a signal from the general, the long-haired female captain who had effected Conyn’s original capture, and her soldiers, approached the chained warrior, who was doing her weary best to summon glares of defiance from her wounded, despairing spirit. Even were she not chained, there were always enough guards inside and outside the room to make any dash for freedom nothing more than an invitation for a sword or spear in the belly—-or in the back, more likely, she mused; best to keep up the pretence of defeat… all the time wondering how much longer it would even be a pretence.
The officers began by getting keys from the guards, and removing Conyn’s chains, lest their rattle and clink give the game away before Charys’ trap could be sprung on Imelda. Her wrists were then bound behind her back with stout rope. The female captain stood a few paces away, flanked by two more armed guards, as the shorter-haired woman and the brutal man once more bound their prisoner. They wound more rope around Conyn’s upper arms, twisting and slicing into her flesh, immobilizing her arms like a single useless limb. Twisting cord about her waist, they then cinched her bound arms snugly against her torso, her pinioned wrists tucked into the small of her back. Testing the bonds was no more than reflex: Conyn strained aching muscles, reaffirming that these swine knew their business: she was as helplessly trussed as a fowl for the roaster.
“Excellent work, captain,” Hynde gloated. “I do believe I saw our captive flinch once or twice.” He gave a bark of a laugh at the rage that flushed Conyn’s face, then turned to leave… doubtless to get a front-row seat of Imelda’s capture, Conyn thought glumly.
The long-haired captain seemed to puff her chest out just a bit more at the praise from Hynde, and at being handed the responsibility of dealing with her illustrious prisoner. She smirked at the other soldiers, and the guards.
“I have no doubt that our brave warrior would risk death to warn that useless tramp that she serves of any danger. Wouldn’t you, Conyn?”
Figuring that she had little to lose at this point, and deciding that what was good enough for Tarn was good enough for this spiteful she-devil, Conyn allowed herself the satisfaction of spitting into the captain’s face, and was rewarded with the instant dissolution of the woman’s smug superiority… followed, of course, by retribution: open-handed slaps to her unprotected face, strong fingers digging into her shoulders, others twisting painfully into her hair to force her head still and jaws wide, her mouth invaded by a thick, pungent plug of dark leather, worked back against her teeth until it could fit no more deeply; it was all Conyn could do to choke down the gag reflex, but she had forced the woman to drop her veneer of easy superiority, and a warrior takes little victories where she can find them. It’s not as though they weren’t going to gag me, anyway.
From there, the bound and muzzled prisoner was marched out of the palace. Dawn had just started to warm the sky, and the streets were quiet as death: those of Synderia’s citizens whose allegiance lay with Charys had, no doubt, been instructed to remain quiet until the trap was sprung; while those under the spell of the Black Phoenix had no choice in the matter. One last turn through a dark alleyway, and Conyn and her captors emerged into a large areaway that opened upon the ceremonial city plaza.
As best she was able, Conyn surveyed the usurper’s preparations, which had doubtless been in place hours before dawn broke: the central square of the walled city had been cleared, to make room for what Imelda would believe was going to be her triumphant procession; to the sides stood a crowd that seemed to be made up equally of Charys’ original supporters, and those who might have been loyal to Imelda, were it not for that damned Black Phoenix spell. Ensorcelled or not, though, Conyn realized that they were wholly in Charys’ thrall, and when the moment came, they would have no choice—-indeed, no other thought—-than to turn on their former Princess.
The dais upon which Conyn had been humiliated the previous evening had been transferred to the head of the square, festooned with Imelda’s colors, as though in preparation for her throne being returned to her. Charys, Hynde, and a few unarmed retainers sat on a rough wooden bench, and Conyn seethed with rage at their pretense of humility and submission. Dammit, couldn’t they simply face Imelda in combat, and decide this with honor? But no, it had to be deceit and treachery all the way.
Heavy curtains covered the area behind the dais, and Conyn was forced through the opening, and marched up the back stairs. The folds of colorful silk banners that draped the platform concealed a screened area where the blond warrior would be held; through a film of muslin, she would be invisible to anyone looking to the dais, but would have a perfect view of the ambush.
The female captain and her team had been assigned the task of keeping Conyn still and quiet, while ensuring that she missed not a minute of her Princess’ downfall. Once the bound and gagged warrior had been pushed down to her knees, the captain wrapped her hand around and around with Conyn’s long golden hair, keeping her captive’s head immobile, while simultaneously resting a razor-sharp blade against her throat. From the corner of her eye Conyn saw that both of the other soldiers had spears lowered, their points ready to skewer her at a moment’s notice; she grunted into her gag as the woman’s hand clenched in her hair, but made no attempt at any other resistance. She was willing to die in her monarch’s service, if that was what it took to achieve victory, but she could see no such prospect here: Charys, Hynde and Daunta had crafted their plans carefully, and the force they would shortly bring to bear on Imelda and her small remaining band of troops would be irresistible. Risking death with no hope of victory was pointless; she would have to simply bide her time, and trust in her belief that, at some point, the perfidy and cowardice of her foes would prove no match for the courage of a true warrior.
“I’d be just as happy to kill you as anything else,” came the female captain’s smug voice from behind her. “Remember that.” Her grip blessedly loosened in Conyn’s hair, and the knife slid away, but Conyn knew that would change when the Princess had been sighted. At least, for now, she had some ability to move her head.
Looking up, Conyn could see the battlements that capped the parapets and ran along the tops of the city walls; from below, it was impossible to tell what lay behind them, but Conyn knew that there were likely dozens—many dozens—of Charys’ troops concealed there, ready to show themselves once Imelda and her loyalists had been led into the trap. And these would be the hardened veterans, eager to win Charys’ favor, not those controlled or paralyzed by magic: Imelda’s weary forces, taken in ambush, would be no match for them.
Scant minutes had passed before Conyn heard voices, and footsteps. The curtain of her prison was pulled aside, and Charys stood over her, her face wreathed in delight as she once more gloated over her captive. Reflexively, Conyn lurched forward, straining uselessly at her bonds, provoking humiliating laughter from her captors as their prisoner glared impotently up at them over her gag. The usurper used an elegant fingernail to trace a light furrow across Conyn’s face; a furrow that mimicked the size and shape, if not the depth, of the scar that Conyn had given her.
“Enjoy your final moments of beauty,” Charys snarled. “Once I have visited sufficient humiliation on your precious Imelda, I will renew her despair by allowing her to watch as I pay you back for this!” She fingered the scar on her own face, then nodded to the female captain.
“Keep her quiet back there, but make sure she watches. If she closes her eyes, slice off her eyelids.” And with that choice bit of cruelty, the usurper departed in a swirl of the silken curtains; as the light whisper of their movement subsided, the pit of Conyn’s stomach turned cold as another sound could now be heard: the faint thrum of approaching horses.
Beneath the thin tunic and shawl that fell across the swell of her breasts, Bronwyn shivered as she watched Imelda and her retinue passing under the massive stone archway that led into the heart of the city that had once been the princess’ own, and was now cold and forbidding. Riding just slightly behind the princess, the breeze stirring a few tendrils of dark hair escaping her bun, the counselor had to turn her head in order to glance back at the exhausted remnants of Imelda’s troops beginning to enter the city, and she felt her body sag in the saddle. Relief that this madness would finally end? Perhaps. Or was it, instead, a sense that their enterprise was already doomed?
Certainly, Imelda showed no such doubt: she rode at the head of the small band, a retainer to each side of her. She was garbed in light ceremonial battle armor—more a badge of authority than actual fighting dress—and her pale blond hair was piled regally atop her head; a head that she held high—so high, Bronwyn couldn’t help noting, that it would be all too easy to look down her nose, which was seeming to Bronwyn to be less and less of a good idea. To either side of her rode the pick of her officer corps: a tall, olive-skinned woman with sleek black hair that hung to her waist like a cape, and a burly, bearded bald man; like Imelda, both wore only the lightest of ceremonial armor, as no one had entered the city with the expectation of battle.
Bronwyn was made no easier by her sense that the populace that surrounded them had none of the celebratory joy that was supposed to have accompanied the lifting of the Black Phoenix spell. Instead, the men and women who formed a ring about the perimeter of the city plaza stared with a sullen blankness. She also noted that, as the raised dais at the far end of the plaza came into view, there was no such blankness to be seen on the faces there: if anything, Charys, Hynde, Daunta and the soldiers standing with them, seemed eager in their anticipation of Imelda’s return.
As they drew closer, Bronwyn also noticed a pair of significant absences: Where were Caressa and Conyn? If they had successfully executed the lifting of the Black Phoenix spell, why were they not here to greet Imelda and her party?
“Something’s wrong.” Bronwyn glanced around, but the weary troops gave no sign that they had sensed trouble of any sort; mostly, they just looked relieved to be at the end of what had appeared to be a long and hopeless campaign, with victory snatched at the last moment from the jaws of defeat.
She turned to look for Tarn, and when their eyes met, there was an odd flicker in the grey-haired captain’s eyes that momentarily unnerved Bronwyn. As Tarn rode closer, as if to have Bronwyn repeat her concerns, her hand flicked out, and Bronwyn thought she saw a flash of steel; in the next moment, she felt her horse stumble beneath her.
“Ah, your poor beast is hurt,” Tarn murmured. She nodded to a lieutenant to take the animal’s reins. “Come,” she smiled at Bronwyn. “Ride with me.” Before Brownyn could decline, or react, the two horses were side by side, and Tarn had leaned over to slip a powerful arm about Bronwyn’s waist, lifting the counselor from the saddle of her lamed beast, and sliding her neatly in place in the front of Tarn’s saddle. From behind, Bronwyn felt Tarn’s arm tighten around her waist, pressing her back against the captain’s hardened body, and she was on the verge of shouting a demand to cease when she felt the hand at her waist slip a cold, thin, blade of steel through her tunic and press it into her belly.
“I told you,” Tarn murmured into her ear. “You had your chance to do this the easy way. But what you would not freely give, I shall take.” Bronwyn gasped, as much from the frightening audacity of the woman’s lewd threat as from the pressure of the blade. “But first,” Tarn went on, her voice too low to be heard by anyone else over the sounds of the marching troops and horses, “there is a little game to be played out.”
Bronwyn’s stomach went cold: she now knew just how dismally correct she had been in realizing that something was wrong… and how did I fail to see that Tarn was not to be trusted? she cursed herself.
“And as much as it pains me to say it,” Tarn continued, “Charys says that if anything goes wrong, you’re all expendable but the Princess. So you make one sound, one false gesture, and your compatriots will be corpses instead of captives. Now,” her voice businesslike, “grasp the pommel in both hands.”
Nearly paralyzed by both threats and steel, Bronwyn numbly obeyed. Tarn controlled the horse’s progress with her legs; while her left hand kept the dagger poised against Bronwyn’s skin, her right deftly pulled a loop of hemp rope from her saddle, and slipped it about her captive’s wrists, cinching them tightly to the pommel. After binding Bronwyn thus, Tarn slid forward again, pressing herself up against her prisoner; Bronwyn felt warm breath tickle across the hairs at the nape of her neck.
“I must say,” Tarn whispered into her ear, “fear seems to have added a bit of extra spice to your delicious scent.” Bronwyn’s gorge rose at the woman’s obscene nuzzling, and at the terrifying scene starting to play out at the front of the procession.
Up ahead, Imelda had stopped, looking down from her horse at Charys’ small party on the dais, and if any of them were feeling even the slightest fear or resentment at Imelda’s return, they were hiding it well.
In the temporary silence, from her prison at the rear of the dais, Conyn peered bleakly through the filmy muslin at the sight of Imelda’s proud carriage and haughty gaze as she took in the scene of what she still believed to be her moment of triumph. In the next instant, she once more felt the fist in twist her hair, even more forcefully this time, the knife nicking the skin of her throat, as her captor recognized that, if Conyn were to attempt to give a warning, this would be the moment.
“Not a sound, slut.” The captain leaned her face down beside Conyn’s, her breath hissing against the captive’s ear, her grip tight in Conyn’s blond tresses. “Let’s just enjoy the fun.” With that, Conyn and her captor watched as the princess raised her head, and spoke.
“People of Synderia,” she began. “You may rejoice that your rightful ruler has returned!” She paused, as though waiting for cheers, applause… any sort of reaction, really. Looking slightly puzzled, she continued. “And as the true monarch of Synderia, I proclaim these usurpers”—--she gestured to the evidently nonplussed Charys and her followers—--“to be enemies of the state, and demand their immediate surrender to my benevolent and righteous authority!”
Imelda’s proclamation hung in the air for a moment… a silence that was broken by the sound of Charys breaking into a fit of giggles.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped. “It’s just too delicious.” She glanced upward at the parapets that topped the massive walls enclosing the plaza, and shouted “Now!”
Conyn knew it was coming, and the helpless Bronwyn sensed it, but the sound was still a shock, as with a rustle of cloth, a clatter of boots, and a clank of weaponry, the parapets came alive with row after row of Hynde’s troops; dozens of enormous longbows were poised now, in a position to rain missiles of death upon Imelda’s forces below.
The irony was not lost upon Conyn that the one person, save herself, that might have had the ability to somehow get Imelda’s forces to fight their way out of the trap was the traitor Tarn, who she could see now was digging the point of a knife into Bronwyn’s side, paralyzing the counselor; looking closer, she could see the woman’s bound hands, and assumed that Bronwyn had twigged to the deception and had to be neutralized.
For her part, Imelda sat astride her horse, mouth gaping in astonishment at the way her moment of triumph had been turned on its head. At a glance, she took in the hopelessness of their position: outnumbered, and with their enemy completely in control of the heights above ; in the next moment, she summoned the strength to compose herself. Still sitting tall in the saddle, she looked down at Charys, her lovely face wreathed in contempt.
“Very well. You have us at the disadvantage today.” Imelda’s steady voice betrayed no hint of fear, and Conyn wondered if that was an act, or if Imelda was simply too self-absorbed to see just how perilous her situation was, as the princess continued. “We have—--I have—--no choice but to surrender to you. My troops will give their parole.” She nodded to the two officers at her side, who gave the order for weapons to be surrendered. Clearly having anticipated this, the usurper already had a small contingent of slaves prepared with sacks and a small cart; they scurried in between the horses, gathering up the surrendered weapons.
Bronwyn looked on, and through her fear and anger, found herself tearing up with pride at the sight of Imelda: for once, it appeared that the spoiled brat would comport herself as a leader, as a woman, sitting erect in the saddle.
“Your surrender to Her Highness is accepted,” Hynde sneered. “Your surrender to me will come later.”
Imelda eyed him coldly, and Conyn felt her muscles twitch with rage at the sight of Imelda placing herself into the hands of the man who was already planning her rape, but she could do nothing as Imelda ignored the leering general and addressed herself once more to Charys.
“Naturally,” she said, “I will expect all honors of war to be observed. My troops have given their parole.”
“Naturally,” Charys broke into another fit of giggles, then her face hardened. “Take them.”
As one, the crowd that ringed the plaza surged forward, and Conyn could now see that most of them had been concealing restraints under their garb: lengths of rope, straps of leather, even long silk scarves. In the melee, it was impossible to tell which of them were Charys’ own minions, and which were ordinary citizens under the spell of the Black Phoenix—--not that it made any difference, as dozens of them reached up to seize Imelda’s disarmed troops and drag them from their horses. A few of the loyal riders tried to spur their horses to escape, but in the confined area there was nowhere to go, the point reinforced when two of the bolting horses went down, pierced by arrows, their riders falling helplessly into their enemies’ hands. With the archers standing ready to cut down any further escape attempt, Imelda and her party were doomed.
Conyn growled into her gag, heedless of the amusement that provided her captors, as women and men she had led into battle, who had stood faithfully by Imelda, were wrestled to the ground, bound with cord and leather, made helpless prisoners. She watched impotently as the retainers who had advanced in the fore with Imelda, the black-haired woman and the hulking bald man, were seized by a clutch of a half-dozen of the onlookers. The officers, like Imelda, had seen their prospects change abruptly from triumph to surrender, but this was clearly something much worse: rather than being afforded the respectful treatment that one might expect as an enemy officer, the mob stripped them of their uniforms, twisted their arms behind them, and bound their wrists with stout cord. The man was then prodded forward at sword point, while the woman was dragged by her long hair to a small lean-to, under which stood a hard-faced group of men. On a table before them were piled metal collars: softly shining gold ones, heavy black iron ones. Beside the table, coals glowed red in a brazier into which a pair of evil-looking black branding irons were inserted.
Standing by the table, consulting a ledger of some sort, one of Hynde’s cronies stood, blandly contemplating the captives before him.
“One at a time,” the man intoned, in the voice of one who had manhandled so many slaves in his life that they were but bookkeeping items to him. The now-naked female officer was thrust forward, still trying to wrench at her bonds, until two women from the crowd seized her again by the hair to keep her still as the slaver examined her. He probed her body, committing the most intimate of violations with casual disdain. Evidently satisfied, he nodded to the women holding her, and the officer was slammed forward onto the table, her streaming hair held out of the way while one of the thin golden collars was fitted about her neck and hot-riveted into place. One of the leather pad gags was thrust into her mouth and strapped around her head and hair, a length of chain clipped to the link dangling from the collar, and she was dragged away. Conyn wondered if she realized that her beauty had saved her from being branded so as not to mar her flesh, but had also condemned her to being offered as a concubine at the next auction. The male officer who was dragged to the table next wasn’t so lucky, and Conyn’s nose was soon filled with the stench of his burning flesh: branded, he’d likely find himself a field hand or quarry laborer. He, too, was gagged and led away to the slave pens.
In a distressingly short period of time, Charys and Hynde’s troops had rounded up Imelda’s last loyalists, and locked them in a coffle to be prepared for either collar or branding. Most would get the iron collar, and accompanying brand, that would mark them as “working” slaves; the more comely of the female soldiers, and some of the males, would be collared in gold, their fate to be servitude of a more vile and humiliating nature.
As the scene in the square descended into chaos, Bronwyn had glanced around, in desperate hope that some of the troops might win free, only to be brought up short by Tarn’s blade digging into her skin, and the traitor’s predatory grin.
“I told you that my patience was not unending. You might have given yourself to me… might have been comfortable, and safe from molestation. Well, from now on, you’ll be safe, all right … safe from anyone’s touch but mine. And you’ll share the comforts of my bed, even if I have to tie you to it to have my way.”
“You unspeakable bitch,” Bronwyn growled.
Tarn barked a short laugh. “Unspeakable? Suits me.”
The left hand that had been about Bronwyn’s waist now reached up and clamped iron fingers to her jaw, forcing her mouth open. With her right hand, Tarn tucked the blade into her belt—--the game was up now anyway—--and plucked a leather riding glove from the saddle, reaching around and stuffing it into Bronwyn’s mouth. The imprisoned counselor made retching sounds as the dust-and-sweat-stained leather invaded her mouth; a similarly pungent strap was wound around her head and yanked tight, forcing the glove so deep that Bronwyn scarce dared to breathe for fear of choking. Still tied by her wrists to the saddle, she had little opportunity to resist as Tarn’s cold fingers began a preliminary exploration of the shapely charms beneath her captive’s garments. After a few moments of these vulgar attentions, she withdrew her hand, leaving Bronwyn shaken and shuddering.
“Plenty of time for that later, eh?” Tarn planted a rough kiss on the back of Bronwyn’s neck. “For now, let’s just see what’s in store for your friends.”
Following the surrender, the dismounted Imelda had remained under guard, but so far unmolested. A pair of soldiers had prodded her up onto the dais, where she stood apprehensively before her cousin and the leering Hynde, and where she was forced her to watch the capture and enslavement of her followers.
All eyes now turned to the dais as Charys gloated her triumph over her cousin.
“Darling Imelda,” she purred. “I address you with familiarity because, of course, you are no longer a ‘princess’… you’re not even a citizen of Synderia. By conquest, you are a piece of property… property that, generous monarch that I am, I intend to share with my dear brother.”
Imelda tried not to react, but couldn’t help herself: she found herself looking directly into the eyes of the loathsome General Hynde, and his depraved intentions were as easy to read as a map.
“Oh, and we mustn’t stand in the way of a reunion of comrades in arms,” Charys giggled, and Imelda goggled in horror as the curtains behind Charys parted, and the bound and gagged Conyn was thrust forward, stumbling before being caught up painfully short by the smirking captain’s grip in her hair again.
“Uggghh!” Conyn snarled into her gag. By the gods, I’ll pull every hair out of this one’s head before I cut it off! Conyn cursed to herself. The grip was released just long enough for her to receive a kick to the back of her legs, and she staggered to her knees in front of the appalled Imelda.
“I fear that your witch friend is unable to join us,” Charys taunted, with an amused glance at Daunta. “She is being prepared for a sort of ‘transfer of power’ that Daunta assures me will leave your precious Caressa little more than a pretty vegetable.”
In the next moment, Imelda’s heart sank further yet as Tarn rode up, the bound and gagged Bronwyn secured before her in the saddle.
“All together now,” the traitor crowed.
After all that Bronwyn had endured, it was the sight of Imelda—--taken in mere moments from proud leader to helpless, confused prisoner—--that finally brought a tear to the counselor’s brown eyes. She bit down hard on the foul leather glove bound in her mouth—--Stop it! she cursed to herself. Tears will bring nothing but joy to our enemies.
Charys had smiled encouragement at Tarn, and offered thanks for her help in betraying Imelda’s cause. She then turned to address Imelda once more. Her eyes narrowed, and a hint of cold anger lowered her voice.
“I seem to recall,” she began ominously, “hearing something about someone being paraded through the streets, naked, bound, and gagged, for the amusement of the crowd?” She leered inquisitively at Imelda. The princess stared stonily back. “Well, we wouldn’t want to deprive them of their fun, now would we?”
“NO!!!” Conyn raged into her gag, and tried to stagger to her feet; in her trussed condition, it took but the barest push from two of the guards to force her back to her knees, where she watched in helpless fury as Hynde directed two of his men to strip the captive princess.
With the glee of a common soldier given leave to ransack royalty, they ripped her light armor from her, each man calculating the value of the exquisitely worked pieces. From there, they made short work of her undergarments, and in a moment, Princess Imelda stood naked before her captors. As the crowd hooted and cheered, she reached up and, with all the dignity she could muster, released the long white-blond tresses of her hair, smoothing them to cover her bosom; but Hynde yanked on the silky locks, letting them fall down her back, exposing her full, firm breasts.
Though nude, Imelda had drawn herself up to her full height: not tall, but with a bearing that might have befitted a titan. She faced Charys with the bravest face she could manage.
“Oh, we are proud, aren’t we, missy?” Charys sneered. “I think that my dear brother will break that pretty arrogance before he’s through with you.”
“You may bet upon that,” Hynde assented as he signaled for the slave-keeper to bring forward a shining set of chains and cuffs: not gold-plated, these were fully composed of the gleaming metal.
Give me an hour and I’d have those damned things off and wrapped around Hynde’s neck, Conyn thought. But the smaller, slighter Imelda would be just as helpless in them as if they’d been cast in steel.
The guards were near trembling with a combination of giddiness and lust as they applied the golden cuffs to the wrists of their former regent, dragging her arms behind her back and fastening them to a length of the chain wound about her waist, thrusting naked breasts forward as if displaying them for the soldiers’ attention; Conyn idly wondered if this pair were under the spell of the Black Phoenix, or if they were truly enjoying the opportunity to offer this grotesque insult to the helpless princess. Either way, while taking the occasional opportunity to stroke Imelda’s naked flesh or toy with her silken tresses, they managed to focus on the job at hand enough to also encircle Imelda’s ankles in the fetters, tightening the chain so that there was only enough play to allow their captive a mincing shuffle.
Though the girl had to be quaking with fear and humiliation, chained and helpless, Conyn continued to admire the proud lift of her head, the way she squared her shoulders to face her tormentors. She wasn’t the only one to notice.
“Still putting on airs, I’d say,” Tarn snickered from horseback.
“Yes, well,” Charys drawled, “I think we can deal with that.” She was holding what appeared to be a jumble of leather straps and rings of metal; as she lifted it, Conyn could see that it was some kind of a bridle that had evidently been repurposed to the size of a human mouth; a dowel of wood, wrapped in leather, was at its center.
“Open up, slut,” Charys ordered, and the thick leather bit was jammed savagely between Imelda’s teeth. The brown leather of the straps was drawn over and around her head, pressing furrows into her blond tresses and creasing her pale cheeks as the bridle was fastened into place.
Imelda bit down reflexively on the leather bit, but was unable to close her mouth around the intrusion. As her captors watched gleefully, the princess found herself beginning to drool around the foul gag. With what must have been superhuman effort, she fought back tears, but her veneer of calm defiance began to crack, and she dropped her eyes, no longer able to meet the gaze of the evil woman who had conquered her. Charys seized her chin, long fingernails digging into the soft flesh, yanking her face up to drink in the captive beauty’s surrender.
“Good idea, you little bitch,” Charys laughed. “Get used to not looking your betters in the eye—-a slave girl isn’t permitted such liberties.” And with that cheerful reminder of the new situation in life facing the princess and her allies, Charys nodded to Hynde to begin assembling a procession back to the palace.
The coffle of Imelda’s former supporters, now slaves, made up the bulk of the assembly, struggling in their bonds, with mounted and foot soldiers to either side, keeping them in line, marching them towards the palace where they would soon be auctioned; more of Charys’ victorious troops brought up the rear, but at the head of the procession was an elegant cart drawn by six more slaves, upon which Charys and Hynde reclined. Forced along directly ahead of them was the fettered and stifled Imelda, her naked, bound beauty on display to the hooting crowd.
As the procession had been assembling, Tarn had ridden to the head of the line, and formed a length of rope into a lasso, which she tossed to land about Conyn’s neck; as she drew the noose tightly, the bound and gagged warrior now had no choice but to stumble along in the wake of the horse bearing the grey-haired captain and the captive Bronwyn. She had to keep her eyes on the ground to keep from falling, which was just as well: anytime she could spare a glance to look up, it was to see Tarn going about her casual molestation of the helpless Bronwyn… while to look forward was to see the sickening sight of the chained and gagged Imelda trudging along in increasingly hopeless despair.
This cannot go on. It will not go on. Conyn swore herself an oath that she would restore Imelda and punish her persecutors, or die in the attempt. Now all she had to do was work out just how to accomplish the former while avoiding the latter.
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