There was an all over body limpness and a curious sort of drifting euphoria that came from the prolonged exposure to pain. It was a cold winter afternoon, the windows sealed tight with the frost high up on the glass and himself feeling the hard edge of a wooden trunk under him pressing into his skin while waiting for the next strike. He couldn’t see her, belly down and with his shirt hiked and the waist of his pants at calf level, but she wasn’t making an effort to hide the timing of the cane, so he had ample warning before the impacts.
From time to time she’d cease the flagellation for a minute or two and just gently brush where the flexible rod had left ruler straight stripes, better distributed on one side than the other thanks to Annette’s handedness. She was doing a comparison, a length of rubber wrapped cable, the cane and the scrape of her nails raked across the welting and broken skin. There was nothing holding him in place, and from time to time it would get so bad that he’d move entirely off the trunk, and the hated picana would make an appearance, and he’d whimperingly get back into position without her needing to say a word.
His hands, unoccupied, would trace runnels into the carpet with his fingers or grip the solid wood edges of the bottom of the trunk, scrabbling and clenching his fists until the colour shifted, chewing his lip and making little snuffles and small cries of protest. The abuse of his thighs and buttocks pulled up enough tears into his eyes that they spilled over onto his face, but he didn’t cry properly. He’d never had the release mechanism that way, not since he was a child, and so all he had was pleading and ragged yelps.
Annette had another obligation the previous evening, as she’d warned, but not one with a sweet ending. Again, Phillip had another night to himself and the books he borrowed. There was no distracting program for him to eavesdrop on tonight and Annette felt no need to discuss politics, but even in his insulated world he got the sense that there was some sort of great discussion of legal importance attached to all the parties, more than the usual social excitement.
Two years ago, Phillip would have avidly followed the Council gossip from one of the quasi-legal cafes, now it was more like the bitter winter weather, happening around him and to him, without the old illusion that his opinion meant something. He imagined that the state of mind was much like being a woman; as an adjunct to Annette’s life, her world had completely engulfed him, smothering firebrand opinions by insulating him from the things he’d held them over, and he existed only in the sense that females did, an accessory to someone’s whims.
An enormous painting by the very artist he had derided was now dominating the grand parlour’s largest expanse of wall, two children and a swing, excessive falling white apple blossoms and pink aliceflowers, brats bearing ribbon rosettes and stand up collars, faces carefully repainted to a close approximation of the two Harrington children by the original artist, slavishly grateful for the patronage. It was so saccharine being next to it made his teeth hurt, and there was a very different sort of amused sadism in Annette the first time he saw it. Shortly after its installation she’d summoned him to her room an pointed to the trunk.
“That naughty man, Mikhail, has lied,” Annette had shrugged. “He is not here just for a wedding, and as this conference seems to be extending for our little constitutional crisis, he added an extra week to his visit. But just before he leaves I will indulge him once more, and I’m bringing you.
She switched back to the cable now, and he twisted his head to beg, “Please, my Lady, I don’t think I can anymore. Please, I need…”
Nothing deterred Annette when she wore the blinkers of sadism, though she seemed happy to hear him ask, her response in a gentle tone. “I’ll stop when I’m satisfied, Adam. You know that.”
He put his hand into his mouth and bit down, but her palm on his raised shoulder told him she didn’t want the resulting change in posture. He imagined that, as the cable went over a crop line, the flesh was being slit and parted. She seemed to be trying to cover every sliver of undamaged skin, so there would be no paler valleys around the raised welts.
Six, than three times more, and with nothing to telegraph her change of mood, she decided he’d had enough and ordered him off the trunk. He put his body into a curl, knees brought to his chest, not bothering to fix his clothing. Shakes and sweat had followed since the midpoint of his beating, despite the relative chill in the house, and she stooped gracefully, the wide blue hem of her ankle length skirt belling our around her bent legs as she petted the marks she’d made and then affectionately ran her open hand from the carnage to the tightness of his jaw, soothing until he relaxed.
“Hm?” She raised his face, supporting him not uncomfortably so she could look into his eyes. She took in everything, the semi sleepiness of his eyes, the slight cringe when she blinked, and the way he let his chin rest in her hand when she tilted his face up and ran her thumb over his lip, “After all that, still no scars, anywhere.”
When she pulled back again, he read the expression of her face and nudged forward for a kiss. He was always too gun shy to make more than a tentative advance, the lightest of forays with his tongue, tasting tea and the well blotted remains of her lipstick, bitter and sweet.
“I don’t think you’ll be up to any sort of lovemaking,” Annette broke the kiss before he did, but not without leisurely fondling his groin. “But the effort is appreciated.”
“Yes, my Lady. Do you…”
The servant intruded politely, “Lady Astleby calling, madam.”
“Lalia? I’ll take the call.”
Phillip heard nothing of the conversation that followed, and stayed put on the floor until Annette got back.
“There’s a situation in Novalada,” Annette said, with a peculiar expression. “I guess that will settle things for everyone. I suppose my husband will call later to tell me.”
“I’m sorry, my Lady?” Novalada, most southern city. Before school holidays had stopped happening his family had taken him for the beaches there.
“Lalia Astleby, she was in my year at school. She was just calling to let me know she was alright. Novalada is near abouts where her husband’s estate is located and she’s breeding again.”
“How come you only had two children, my Lady?” For some reason he couldn’t quite figure out, he didn’t want to know what was going on, and the topic change came without thinking.
“Breeding does not agree with me… or my husband. We thought maybe another boy, for the military, but John will follow his father and Honouria is marrying back towards external service, assuming of course her fiancé is up to the match,” Her children was one subject she did not speak on at length with him, and in the entire tenure of his captivity he was always kept far away when she made her daily call. But something told him that politics were even more off limits than family. Perhaps that was his motive.
“Anyway, darling, you’re going to see a familiar face shortly. Mrs. Dekovics and the new Mrs. Yardley is in town and they’re coming for tea. Now I will want you to be ready to be what you were trained to be. It pleases me to think about you feeling the tenderness I’ve left you with, all while not letting it show a bit.” Annette’s smile was fully showing. “And tomorrow, well, more guests and then I intend to indulge my Mikhail with an audience.”
Shortly after she shooed him off to dress for guests, with instructions to join her in the ground floor parlour. Even before this bizarre captivity, he’d gone to his fair share of his aunt’s teas, and knew enough to bring the book he was reading. Unhappily for him, Annette had encouraged him to sit next to her, on his freshly mauled flesh.
The two expected guest arrived on time, reddened from the cold and wearing quickly purchased city fashions under their fur coats. On her marriage, Maria had changed over to matrons deeper colours and bolder hairstyles.
Despite a first impulse to try to put as much distance between himself and the young woman, he greeted both visitors with polite warmth, and the sort of complimentary hyperbole ladies seemed most inclined to. At the suggestion that her married state suffused her with a particular radiance, Maria blushed.
“My father is taking Vitaly for a tour of the Landfall museum,” Maria explained. “It is nice to see the city again. Papa is looking to buy us a house, though for now it suits all of us to visit with family.”
“So, Chloe is still going through with the auction?” Mrs Dekovics looked more than a little intimidated in Annette’s tasteful townhouse parlour, a blot of plum haired forest green velvet, perched on the edge of a well constructed chair. On the ash rose upholstery, she had a strong resemblance to a potted tropical violet holding a teacup.
“Of course she is, she didn’t cancel the regular service sale, did she?”
Agatha licked her lips. “You will help me choose, won’t you?”
“Choice in a man is a very specific thing,” Annette brushed the back of her hand against Phillip’s elbow. “My Adam suits me, but might not suit you.”
“I am making my Vitaly choose the father of his children.” Maria’s eyebrows were raised conspiratorially. “That’s the cost if he is to have any less… violent contact with gentlemen.”
“The Yardleys are quite happy I sorted out their son’s legal troubles, so you’ll have no problems from that quarter, but don’t tempt fate and pick someone who doesn’t look like they could be family,” Annette said, “That is playing with fire and we are not bullet proof.”
“I have warned Maria of such. Definitely not a teacher,” Mrs. Dekovics settled herself a little more in her chair. “You know, I can only hope my purchase is half as doting as your Adam. Look how he watches you with those eyes; one would swear you were the only star in the sky.”
“Ah, Chloe’s boys all come as ready as you could want. Adam should fear I might trade him in for one. Every skill you could want in a man, you just decide what suits.”
Phillip blinked, again unsure why the mere idea of Annette’s words disturbed him. He kept his mouth closed, but both guests tittered.
“Oh no, my silly gentleman, I intend to keep you,” Annette shook her head, batting his shoulder lightly. “So gun shy.”
“Thank you, my Lady.”
“So, next week, we have a lovely time to look forward to. And tomorrow Patricia arrives!”
“She’s only bringing Pitor, isn’t she?” Maria was eyeing him a bit more than Phillip liked. His only defence was to pay better attention to Annette.
“Yes, Puppy will be there for the auction, though, Chloe has finally been able to confirm his devotion.”
“Patricia wasn’t pushing it. But you know you could probably trot half the council in on leads, if you wanted,” Mrs. Dekovics said, and then looked embarrassed. “That came out wrong.”
“No offence taken. I’m aware that my husband casts his ray of legitimacy on anything I am attached to, though Lord Harrington himself trusts me, so I consider myself the most privileged women in the realm.”
Laughter banished the rest of the awkwardness, and presently, in the spirit of his stay at the Dekovics household, Phillip found himself on all fours with a saucer. The fact that this relieved pressure on his hind quarters was at this point, over ruling the humiliation on its own, until Maria’s looks moved Annette to pity.
“Oh alright, but be gentle. I have other plans for my Adam this week and he’s carrying a little bit of damage already.”
“Maybe I’ll just use the picana,” Maria said, cheerfully. “I remember he doesn’t like it at all.”
Phillip shivered. The young woman’s ugly sneer had come out, as at her guidance, he kissed the toe of her boot. Lady Harrington would watch him with Maria, he reminded himself. It would be okay if Lady Harrington didn’t mind.
“I don’t know where she gets that energy,” Mrs. Dekovics said. “Or for that matter how she hasn’t killed her husband yet. He’s tenacious, I’ll give him that. She really likes putting that energy to work on the footmen, such that we may need to hire new staff if Mr. Yardley maintains his current respectability. They’re all too used to making carnal use of his body.”
“When they have something to live for, men, well they can last through a lot. It is why they are soldiers, no?” Annette smiled. “But consider Chloe’s regular offers for staffing your home. My husband prefers nothing less.”
Maria had picked up the saucer and spat into it, leaving a swirl of viscous, bubbled saliva marring the surface of the milky tea, “Lap it up.”