His vision returned after some blinking, helped by the filtered nature of the light from the big stained glass panels along the hall. There was thick carpets and heavy bunches of flowers in blue vases, a citrus heavy scent saturating the air, another fancy home with a wife taking care of the decoration, though not as quietly opulant as the Harrington country house.
The trip had been an hour by car, with the hood on, sitting on the floor of the car with Anette’s hand on the top of his head. She’d had him dressed in new clothes, fashionable but a bit more foppish than he’d have personally chosen, and locked the hood in place, pulling tight straps on the back of his head so it pressed against his face and made it hard to move his eyes of blink.
Now they’d arrived in a new location and he’d stumbled in on her arm, relying entirely on her patience to lead him up steps and inside a building. By his estimation they’d already followed a servant through the foyer and into the house properly before Annette make him kneel so she could remove the hood.
“Adam, make sure to behave in front of Mrs. Decovics ,” Annette had taken his head with both hands and had stooped to make sure her face was level with his.
“I would hate for all the talking I’ve done to sound like a lie. I know you have the skills, so use them.”
“Yes, my lady.” Phillip waited until she extended her arm, before he got to his feet to stand beside Annette. There was still one of her every present guards in the background, though no orange picana anywhere in sight, just her miniscule purse in a red velvet that matched the flowers on her long dress.
“Darling!” A high pitched woman’s voice called from beyond on open door before the speaker emerged, arms outspread.
“Agatha!” Annette’s hug was loaded with genuine warmth.
Mrs. Decovics was about five years younger than Annette, old enough to be married, but just barely, but her wardrobe was matronly and her black hair elaborately worked into freestanding loops.
“Peter’s decided to take another month away, but he told me to buy whatever I thought Maria’s wedding needed. Oh… Is that Adam?”
Annette nodded, smiling and Phillip stepped forward to take Mrs. Decovics’s hand.
“I’m honoured to make your acquaintance,” Phillip’s said each word with as much measured control as he could muster. “It is a pleasure to be in your home.”
“Isn’t he charming?” Mrs. Decovics gave him a light bat with her fingertips that triggered a barely stifled flinch. “Oooh, jumpy! Come on! I had the tea brought up when your car pulled in.”
Entering the cheerful, over decorated parlour, Phillip began to relax until he saw another young woman, this one dressed to suit her young age and holding a picana across her lap. “Lady Harrington!”
“No, don’t get up,” Annette was saying. “I heard about your sprain.”
There was a near naked man kneeling by an overstuffed green velvet armchair, made more obscene than mere nudity by a pair of lace panties and a layer of thick makeup on his face, applied unflatteringly in reds and pinks so he looked florid and stupid. He was a bit younger than Phillip, with dirty blond hair in bad need of a trim and even more slender than Phillip’s reduced diet had left him. The man was alternating between keeping his head down and looking around nervously, a posture far too familiar to Philip.
As soon as the man saw them enter, he crawled forward and put his forehead on the ground, about an inch from the rounded toes of Annette’s red and black boots.
“Please, Mistress, welcome back. Will your companion enjoy the slut?” The man whined, “As a slut I’d love to satisfy him.”
“I imagine it is to his personal discretion, Vitaly,” Annette said patting Phillip’s arm. “In my understanding my companion has no interest in the male gender.”
“Adam, this is Vitaly, Miss Mary Decovics fiance. I brought you here in part as a good influence, since he seems to have some lingering adjustment details.”
The girl with the picana nodded, her looks and poise a dainty product of the best schools for girls. “My mother has been seeing to the particulars of this, but he is being trained to attend me. Eventually we hope he will develop enough reliability to be treated as a gentleman.”
“Agatha, is Patricia here?”
“She’s running a bit late. Probably won’t make it here until dinner time,” Mrs. Decovics was pouring out delicately wrought china cups of tea, milk first from a creamer in the shape of a cow and then the hot liquid on top. “Will your Adam have some?”
“In a saucer.”
Phillip was careful not to spill any tea on the thick sapphire blue and emerald green carpet, remembering the days of training where a few drops of stray food was enough to have Annette take his bowl away from him. Everyone was watching, even Vitaly, as Phillip rested his weight on his hands and knees, using his chin to lightly tilt the saucer towards himself so he could drink.
Maria tittered, putting one hand over her mouth. “Lady Harrington, does he do any other tricks?”
Patricia turned out to be a much older widow, accompanied by two men, both deferential and matched in clothing but not age. Both shared are shaved pate, but one, the favourite, had well defined crow’s feet and and the other looked like he’d barely made it to his twenties.
He had dinner at the table, sandwiched between two women, his Annette and an overly giggly Maria. The younger of Patricia’s companions spent the meal on the floor at her feet, his mouth open for scraps, while Maria and Mrs. Decovics’s prisoner stood just out of reach of the table, lean hunger keeping him fidgeting. Vitaly watched every bite of food they ate and chewed his lip, smearing his almost clownlike makeup.
Phillip had begun to work out the relationships. Patricia was the sister in law of Mrs. Decovics, her older companion a long term lover and the man under the table a recent acquisition. That was Pitor and Puppy, respectively.
Noticing the attention Phillip was paying, Mrs. Decovics broke off her conversation and dabbed her lips with a napkin. A snap of her fingers brought Vitaly to attention.
“You, my soon to be son in law, you want to tell Adam why you’re an idiot?”
“Yes ma’am…” Vitaly agreed cautiously.
“Make it succinct, everyone else has heard it, but it would be wrong to leave Lady Harrington’s pet in the dark,” Maria said. “Plus your mistake bears explaination to re enforce your postion.”
“I’m a horrible slut. I wanted to seduce Miss Decovics.” Vitally closed his eyes. “I told her we couldn’t marry because my family wasn’t good enough for her father, but we should give ourselves to each other, so that her first time would be with someone she loved.”
Maria briefly looked at her plate, poking the buttered French beans with the tines of her fork. “But…”
“Miss Decovics didn’t know I had a history of this sort of thing. I’d fall in love… I’d think I’d fall in love, I mean, with a girl and talk her into it. And I was never careful or responsible. Not every girl would simply get her family to pay for the surgery and lie to her husband.”
“When I found out, it was my first impulse to have him taken care of.” Mrs. Decovics scowled, “you can only imagine how awkward that was, as a new wife and your step-daughter has found herself in trouble you should have watched for, not a year after your marriage.”
“But Vitya wouldn’t stop saying that he really loved me. Didn’t you, darling? Keep talking, you need to explain why you deserve this.”
Phillip listened as Vitaly groveled his way through an explanation of the past six months: the capture, with the help of Annette’s appropriation of her husband’s private militia to make a trumped up arrest; the escape attempt when he was offered an equitable deal from a love struck Maria, and now his months as a general piece of entertainment for all comers, serving out a sentence of humiliation and pain until they could be sure he would be a good husband on pain of death if he faltered.
Dinner was followed by dessert loaded with cream and caramel, and then the party moved back to the parlour to enjoy tiny cups of sherry in small etched glasses, distastefully rooted upon taloned feet. The same theme was repeated everywhere else in the house, too much green velvet, too many small bright oil paintings of non-descript birds on top of gilded wallpaper and a large silver branch with three stuffed and dyed birds of paradise over the fireplace. It was fresh new terrain, but he felt a strange wish to be away from the place and back within the confines of the Harrington estate.
Sherry half drunk and conversation pleasant, it could be a small gathering anywhere, were it not for Puppy and Vitaly on their knees. Philip noticed he was tired, as if the simple evening had gone on for hours, but he kept just focused enough in the conversation to put in occasional replies when someone spoke. He an Annette shared the couch and he could feel the intimacy of her leg touching his.
He was just stifiling a yawn when Agatha turned the conversation towards the men in the room, and their reason for being there. At that cue, Maria decided to demonstrate some cruelty of her own.
Limping where ever she walked, she stood up lopsided with her weight on her right leg. “Vitya, bring me the bowl, I want to show Lady Harrington something!”
A small green and orange bowl was brought, filled with small silver objects that sparkled. Only when Maria had her fiancé kneel did Phillip identify them as spring loaded clips.
Maria took big pinches of Vitaly’s skin on his torso, from collarbone to crotch. Alligator teeth bit into the temporary folds of skin, holding them out in little ripples. There was a bit of blood where the metal serrations of the clamps were biting, but the man held still.
Ribbons taken from the same bowl looped neatly though the metal clips and then Maria was winding the cords around her fingers, twisting them so the clips started to pull at Vitaly’s skin and nipples. The man was gripping his ankles, giving deep moans from the chest that came out as whines like a dog in trouble.
Phillip saw Annette was reaching into the bowl and taking a handful of the clamps as well. “Take off your shirt.”