Seated on her own palfrey, bound with her own clothing, and the dire straits of her real kidnapping hidden beneath her veil and cloak, Lady Mara was fast losing any hope. She felt a thorn digging into her back up where she could not reach it. It must have gotten worked into her clothing during the earlier struggles with the brigands. She twisted her body under the clock trying to ease the small torment. All she succeeded in doing was drawing Sir Thomas' attention to her.
He looked over at her with his eyebrows raised. "A problem, mi'lady? Never fear we'll make camp soon and you can stretch your legs. Under heavy guard, of course."
She pulled back from the hand he stretched out to her and mmmmphhhhed her displeasure with him. He only laughed at her gently, knowing full well what she must be trying to say. He imagined his name was being taken in some highly original curses under that gag. Just as well she was gagged or he would be tempted to drag her back into the bushes and smother her cries for help another way.
Clenching and unclenching her fists secured behind her back, Mara shook with the urge to scream and beat at her captor. How dare he manhandle her so!
Her heart still beat with remembered fear as she relived the whole scene in her mind's eye again. Her Captain and his guard dead or dying all around her, trying to protect her. So many good lives lost. The fiend in black armor had much to answer for she decided. The assault by the bandits had been terrifying.
If only she had been able to make a few more feet, she would have been free! Tears of fright formed in her eyes and streamed slowly down to her gag, soaking it. Busily she chewed on the gag, trying to move it or loosen it somehow. She moved her knees under the skirts and then felt the dagger strapped to one thigh.
How could she have forgotten? But how to reach it with her hands tied to her waist? Maybe she could ease the leather bindings a bit. After all the consideration of her "host" might possibly be used against him.
Oh, how she had been so glad to see Sir Thomas De Maldon of Whitstable at first. Then, the light had dawned. The fiend had engineered her abduction. His kiss on her forehead still burned. The thorn dug into her clothing and itched a bit more. She reached to scratch it and found the leather around her waist slipping just a bit more. Encouraged she breathed deeply and then released; it seemed to help. She wriggled her wrists some more. Trying to focus on the road ahead she tried to sit quietly and not draw Sir Thomas' attention.
They approached a town and Sir Thomas rode closer, his men more alert. A band of royal soldiers were easily tricked by her smooth tongued captor. She watched in horror as her best chance of rescue disappeared behind them.
Thomas reached under the veil and turned her to face him. "NO trying to reach them my dear lady. If you succeed, I would have to kill more men. Do you want that on your soul?"
Lady Mara shook her head from side to side and a soft mmmmffff reached Sir Thomas' ears. His hand gripping her chin felt a tear slide over a finger as she sobbed again deeply. He pulled back as if burned.
They cleared the town and were about a mile outside of it when the gait of her palfrey changed markedly. She had continued to struggle with her bindings and now only her upper arms were held in place. Her wrists still tied with the leather of her belt, but the belt no longer wrapped snuggly around her waist. The palfrey started to limp badly, enough so that Sir Thomas called a halt.
One of the armsmen looked up from the animal's hooves. "Stone bruise, my lord. We'll ruin the mount if we continue to burden it."
Sir Thomas nodded and directed the group to pull off the main road to a sheltered spot where they could unteather Mara from the beast. He would carry her, and the palfrey could be led back by one of the guardsmen at a slower pace.
One set of guardsmen unwrapped her from the horse and another helped her down and stood her to the side as they stripped the rest of the ropes from the gelding. She stood quietly as they worked, under the cover of the cloak she worked her voluminous skirts up and groped under her chemise for the dagger strapped to the inside of her right thigh.
Success! With quick small motions, she sawed the leather free from wrists and arms. She stood a little less tall so that the cloak would cover the area on the ground where the leather fell. Sir Thomas called to one of the guards to bring her forward so she might be seated in front of him on his stallion.
Twisting in whirl of cloak and veil, she grabbed her full skirts high above her knees and turned to run. The knife still clutched carefully in her right hand, she buried it in the fold of her dress in case she tripped. Her legs flashing under the cloak, she ran back towards the road and the town. Her breath came in long hard pulls behind the gag that she dared not stop and remove. She made little woofing sounds of effort behind it as she started to run out of air. Her nostrils flared trying to bring in the needed oxygen.
One guard reached for her. She slashed out with the knife, and he backed away with a streaming wound on one hand. Sir Thomas by now had seen his prize running as fast as she could toward safety. She was, however, greatly hampered by her clothing, cloak, and the gag. If she made it to the road and anyone was there, she might yet make good her escape.
Thomas turned his huge horse on its haunches and leapt after her. The great beast covered the ground effortlessly. The men at arms moved to support their master and gathered round. Mara heard the drumming of heavy hooves behind her and strained to reach the road. A dark shadow fell across her path and........
Sir Thomas of Whitstable snatched her up from the ground, twisting her wrist painfully so that the dagger fell to the ground. She threw herself at him and he toppled from his horse with a clang. His visor came open and she slapped his face hard, broke loose, tore off the gag and spat out the hateful cloth in her mouth, and then began to run. But a burly man-at-arms managed to catch up with her and grabbed her, holding her for a few seconds until his friends managed to join in.
Sir Thomas was helped to his feet by his soldiers and clanked over to her, red-faced with fury. He raised a mailed fist to slap her, and then stopped halfway.
"Gag her again. And bring me the straight-jacket that I brought from the East.. Bend her over my knee."
Once more the hateful wad of cloth was jammed into Lady Mara's mouth, shutting off a stream of curses from it.
It took two men at arms to hold the struggling Lady over Sir Thomas's knee. He raised her green silken skirt and her black undertunic and to the Lady's immense relief removed the chainmail glove from his left hand. Then he delivered seven stinging slaps to her bottom, which was only covered by her white chemise.
Hot tears of pain and rage trickled down the Lady's cheeks and she seethed with anger at the outrage, made worse by the fact that in terms of class and status, she was the higher one. She vowed revenge within her head. Somehow she would escape and tell her father of this foul treatment, and then Sir Thomas would find his men and himself outlawed and his castle under siege.
She was yanked up to face Sir Thomas, and had she not been gagged she would have spat in his face. A man-at-arms held each of her arms and pinned them to her side. He smiled, put out his tongue and licked her salty tears from her eyes and cheeks.Then he planted a long warm kiss upon her forehead for several seconds and carefully replaced her veil over the gag in her mouth, hiding it completely.
A soldier came forth with a brown leather straightjacket and her arms were forced into the sleeves which were then tied together behind her back and pulled so tightly that she found it hard to breath. Her cloak was used to hide the fact she was bound and they put her back onto her palfry, having removed the stone from it's hoof. She winced at the pain from her bottom, and she could feel the hated kisses of Sir Thomas on her eyes and cheeks and forehead but at least the thorn had come free in the scuffle and she no longer itched.
"We will stay the night in an inn, and tomorrow we will reach my castle, Whitstable Castle, a castle that you will never leave unless it is as my wife." Sir Thomas turned to his soldiers. "I want three of you to keep a close watch on Lady Mara to make sure she cannot escape. She is a Lady and my wife-to-be, so no groping her or kissing her, only I can do that. We should be able to reach the inn by sunset."
They carried on in silence, with the men-at-arms staring at the Lady and undressing her with their eyes. But nobody groped or kissed or manhandled her.
To Be Continued...
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