An anthology of short stories by Robin Roberts
Her name is Jalena, and she was destined to be Queen. History had preordained that fact: her father was a King, as was her grandfather, her great-grandfather, and many, many generations before that. Today, she was sitting upon the throne of the Kingdom. Perhaps, sitting was the wrong word. She had been installed upon the throne, but not as she thought it would happen. She was wearing a floor length, sea-foam green gown. Her long black hair had been brushed and piled upon her head, held in place by many ribbons, pins, a blindfold and a gag. Her wrists were securely attached to the throne by chains.
True, the chains were gold and jewel encrusted, but they were, nonetheless, chains. She had been sitting on the throne for many hours, waiting for him, for Aldwyn. She dreaded this moment, because she knew what the outcome would be. Her father had been at war with Aldwyn and his Kingdom for the past two years. Jalena now sat and waited for Aldwyn, for she was "the spoil of war." Aldwyn had sent his messenger with a letter describing in exact detail how she was to be "installed" upon her throne; what she was to wear, and how she was to be prepared. Her family now stood in a single line to the right of the door, each wearing chains about their wrists. Her servants had tried diligently to make her wait as comfortable as possible. It was not her physical comfort, but her mental anguish, that had defeated her.
The moment she truly dreaded would be when he entered the throne room, and that moment had arrived. A great silence fell as he entered the room. The air was electric as if the building had been struck by lightning. As he walked toward the throne, he took his time. He studied tapestries and pictures upon the walls. As the passed in front of his guards, he took the time to adjust a warrior's tunic. To the right of the throne, the small dinner table had been set, and he took his time to inspect a goblet. He wanted to savor this moment, for it was the culmination, the end point, the meaning of the last two years of war. It had cost lives, land and fortunes. This moment was his. Aldwyn would dictate, not negotiate, the rules of surrender and impose his canons, his law.
Two years ago, he had sent a letter to Jalena's father suggesting that their Kingdom's be united with a royal wedding to culminate the treaty. Her father knew that the marriage would be a good one but he had balked at the idea of uniting the two Kingdoms. Jalena's father did not respond to Aldwyn's letter, Jalena did that herself. Jalena had decided that she would be Queen upon the throne of her Kingdom. She would decide who would be her consort, not her king but her consort. Had she written a polite "thanks but no thanks" letter, history might have been different. It probably was not the letter, but the way it had been delivered, that had caused this war: there was no reason the messenger should have been treated in such a manner.
Aldwyn now approached the throne, and stood before Jalena. He brushed her right cheek with the back of his hand. He slowly removed the blindfold before he stepped back and moved to her left. To those assembled, he said, "You see before you Jalena, your fallen Queen. She has elected to meet me in this manner to avoid further conflict within your country."
He moved in front of her and announced the terms of surrender. The original offer of uniting the two Kingdoms, with Aldwyn and Jalena as King and Queen, was forfeit. The two Kingdoms would be united, but with Aldwyn as King and Jalena as his slave. She would spend her time in a collar and in chains.
Her father, mother, siblings, and every member of the castle's entourage would be held hostage to guarantee Jalena's obedience. Aldwyn approached Jalena. He stood before her and removed the gag from between her lips. "Do you, Jalena, understand your position in my Kingdom? You, like everything in this Kingdom, belong to me. Your family will be moved into the buildings nearest the castle. Their fortunes, good or bad, will be determined by your actions. You will not receive punishments for your mistakes, they will be given to those you love. Do you, Jalena, understand?"
It suddenly dawned on Jalena the importance of her future actions and decisions. She gathered her strength and asked, "Do you promise not to harm my family if I give everything to you?"
He laughed a hearty laugh and said, "Apparently you do not understand. You wear my chains and my collar. You have no bargaining here. I am your King and Master, and you have no rights, privileges, or any say in the matter. I will make all decisions concerning the fate you, your family, and what used to be your Kingdom."
He stepped away from the throne, his back to Jalena and addressed everyone in the room. "So that there is no mistake, I will say this. We will meet again in this hall one year from today. If Jalena serves me well for the next year, and I mean, serves me well, I will be open to an amnesty for her family. She will be given a set of choices which will be discussed at that time."
He returned to the throne and stood before Jalena. "Do you understand that you belong to me, to do with as I so desire? Do you understand the consequences of your actions and decisions?" She lowered her eyes and shook her head in the affirmative. He turned his back, and facing the room, repeated the question. She answered softly, "Yes." He walked the middle of the room, and raised his voice and asked the question for third time, telling her to speak loud enough so that all present might hear voice. She yelled the word this time. He faced her and reminded her that arrogance or bad manners would bring punishment to her or her family. Her voice faltered as she said yes. He did not move from his position: he stood there looking at her. After what seemed to be an eternity, she looked at him and said, "Yes, Sire."
Aldwyn returned to the throne and, using his blade, cut the clothing from her body. In that very moment, she realized what her future would be. When her father lunged forward to protect his daughter, a guard stepped up behind him and placed a knife to his throat. Jalena, to protect her fathers life, yelled, "Father, NO! Stand fast! I must accept my fate to protect the Kingdom but you must not forfeit your life." He turned and took solace in the arms of his wife. Jalena looked at Aldwyn and said, "I will be your slave. Please spare my family."
Aldwyn summoned Jalena to the throne room. For the past three months since her captivity, she had heard the rumors of discontent in the streets of the Kingdom. She was wearing what most people would consider to be lingerie instead of street clothes. It showed nothing, yet hid nothing at the same time. Her very high heels made a melodious clicking sound on the stone floor, announcing her presence. She approached the throne and knelt as he had been taught. It had been a very hard-learned lesson. The first time she was summoned to the throne room, she had stood until Aldwyn ordered her to kneel. She had not moved fast enough to suit Aldwyn and she was forced to watch one of her handmaids being whipped for her transgression. Jalena had decided, then and there, that she would try to obey every command to the best of her ability.
Aldwyn commanded that a chair be brought forward and placed at the foot of the throne, and Jalena was ordered to sit upon it." Jalena, the people in this kingdom have found following the orders of my commanders not to their liking. There is near rebellion in some of the outposts. I would really prefer not to lay waste to this entire land and kill every person living in the kingdom. Worse, I would not like to see harm come to you, your parents, or your family."
Jalena looked up from her lap and into his eyes. "What can I do?" she pleaded.
"Your people will listen to you. If they see that you are still alive and well, and hear that you want them to follow the commands of my soldiers, they will listen."
"I can ask them, but I am not sure they will listen," she said.
"True, but the people in this land love and adore you. They will do anything to help you avoid pain and torture." The look on her face was one of terror. His words struck her like a knife as she said, "But, Sire, you promised . . . "
"I will announce that tomorrow afternoon, you will appear on the balcony outside your quarters and present yourself to your people. You will tell them they must follow all orders given to them, and that they will cease all forms of rebellion. You will then, to set a perfect example of obedience and subservience, remove all your clothes, blindfold yourself, and beg that you be publicly whipped so that your people will not receive further punishment. You will tell your people that this is the price that you must pay for their rebelliousness, and plead with them that they immediately stop their rebellion so that you might be spared any further punishment on their behalf." Through her tears, she pleaded with Aldwyn, "Sire, I could not. I am their Queen!"
The volume of his voice went up, "You are NOT their Queen. you BELONG to me!"
Shortly after the sun was at its zenith, she walked out onto the balcony, arm in arm with Aldwyn. Surely he will not force me to go through with this madness. Her heart sank as she looked to the right and saw a wooden timber object in the shape of a cross. Her voice faltered. He held up his hand to the crowd, signifying that they should be silent. He stood behind her, coaxing each word and sentence from her. She begged the people. She pleaded with them. When she ran out of words, she turned toward him, praying that he would proceed with her whipping and get it over with. He took her by the wrist and turned her back toward the crowd. She stood absolutely still, fearing to breathe. "Tell them that you hereby submit to the whip in their stead." Her mouth moved, but no words came out. "Do you want to submit to the whip as their Queen, or as a common slave?" She took a deep breath, and standing as tall as she could, faced the crowd. "I will now submit to Aldwyn's whip. I am doing this so that you will not be punished for your rebellious behavior." Her hands trembled as she unbuttoned her blouse and took it off. The crowd went dead silent. She removed her skirt. The crowd muttered, angry at the man who had usurped the throne of "their Queen." Jalena raised her hand toward the crowd, and it again went silent. This was, to say the least, a spectacle of huge proportion. The silent crowd was very still, collectively holding its breath, watching their beloved Jalena, their Queen, standing nude before them. She slowly turned and walked to the cross, raising her hands to grasp the straps at its top.
Looking over her shoulder at Aldwyn, she said, "I am ready, but please, may I be gagged so I may not cry out."
He replied, "You will submit to the whip without a gag." Jalena takes eight of the ten blows of the whip before the blackness of unconsciousness takes her into that place where she feels nothing. After the last two cuts, she is taken from the cross and placed on a litter. A rag soaked in salt water is placed on her back, and she is carried to her bed, all without returning to consciousness. The court physician removes the cloth from her back and very carefully rubs a salve into her wounds.
She awakens while the physician tends to her. She asks if she is badly scarred, if she still has flesh on her back. The physician announces that her back will heal without scars within a few days. She cries out, turns on her side, and prays for the respite of sleep to take the pain from her mind.
Jalena has been summoned to the throne. She feels great trepidation, for it seems as though each time she is summoned, terrible things happen to her. Today is no different. Aldwyn announces that Kings, Queens and other royalty from several nearby kingdoms will be arriving in about one cycle of the moon. Jalena is told that there will be a festival during their visit, and that during that time, Jalena will be on display as a slave, his slave. Aldwyn tells her, "I have been in communication with the Prince of Derbon, and he has challenged me to field a pair of pony girls to run a race against two from his stable. I have decided to accept that challenge, and you will be one of the two pony girls to be fielded." There is that feeling, Jalena thinks, that terrible, terrible feeling. Every time Aldwyn makes this kind of announcement, Jalena knows that somehow she will be put to another very severe task. "But, Sire, I have no training as a pony girl. I have never seen a pony girl on the field." Oh, by the gods, she thought. Why hadn't she kept quiet? She had, without intention, said "Sire, I have no idea what a pony girl does. What is expected of me?"
Aldwyn rings a bell on the sideboard. Two men dressed in the dark clothing of leather tradesmen enter the room carrying a large chest between them. They place the chest on the floor and stand at attention. As Aldwyn approaches the chest, he announces he and Jalena should be alone. Within seconds, the room empties, but a few of the royal guards remain. Aldwyn angrily orders them to leave. He approaches the kneeling Jalena, and taking her hand, guides her to a standing position. She remains silent and still as he loosens the ribbon around her waist and removes the slave cloth she is wearing. He reaches into the chest and removes a leather harness with inlaid silver ornaments and jewels. He places it over her head, the straps resting on her shoulders, and tightens each individual leather strap. She was beginning to think "this isn't so bad" when he begins to readjust each strap, tightening them to the point where she begins to wonder if she will be able to breathe. He places a head harness over her head and inserts a bit between her parted lips. She tentatively explores the leather with her tongue, standing very still. He attaches running reins to the rings on the ends of the bit in her mouth, and allows the reins to fall to the floor. He walks around her several times, looking at each and every part of her, the head harness, the bit, the body harness, the whole image. He touches her. He pulls this strap a little tighter, straightens a rein, and makes small sounds indicating his approval. She remains standing perfectly still, not sure what to do. Aldwyn attaches a plume to the top of her head harness. He retrieves the reins, and with a gentle pull indicates that she should walk forward. She is guided to stand before a mirror. Looking at the reflected image, she is not sure what to say, think or do. Using the reins, he guides her into a small turn away from the mirror. Her thoughts are a confusing bundle of feelings, questions and insecurity. "Very well," she thinks, "if I am to be a pony girl, I will be the best!!!"
Thinking back to a pony in the royal stable that she had ridden as a child, she starts lifting her knees waist high, emulating the movements of a spirited pony. Sensing the change in her demeanor, Aldwyn guides her to a stop, and again using the reins, guides her backwards so that she is standing with her back against a column. Now she is in a real quandary. What is he thinking? What should I do? Fearing his possible anger, she goes into "statue mode". She stands perfectly still, trying not to breathe. He steps in front of her, and taking the reins, he lifts her head to face him and he kisses her on the lips. She feels total panic. In all this time as his slave, he has never shown anything except disdain, and now he was kissing her! "Yes," she thinks, "if I am to be his slave, I will be the best!!!
"By the Gods, this past year of slavery has gone quickly," she thought. She was again standing in the Great Hall, her parents and family standing behind her.
Aldwyn walks into the room and walks to, and sits upon, the throne She kneels as she has been trained. As he has done every month since he became King, he asks if anyone in the hall has business before the court. Should she say something? Should some member of her family bring up the past year of her being enslaved, of her loved ones being hostages? How does she bring up the subject of freedom for her family?
Aldwyn is busy adjudicating quarrels between farmers, reassigning tax burdens, all those things that burden royalty. Her thoughts drift back over the past year. The ultra-tight bondage; the whipping; the pony girl contest.
Ah, yes, the pony girl contest... She had been teamed with a tall and beautiful girl named Florren, and Jalena had problems keeping up with her and matching her stride. One of the two girls on the opposing team took a bad fall, nearly breaking her leg, and was disqualified. Jalena nearly jumped for joy. She had thought her team had won because the other team was unable to go on, and had forfeited the event. Reality struck home when it was announced that since the opposing team had only one member, the contest would continue as a one-on-one competition. She nearly had a breakdown when it was announced that Jalena, and not Florren, would finish the gymkhana event alone. Her fear was evident as Aldwyn approached her and said, "You may think me cruel for having you finish the race alone, but trust me." A few moments later, she understood. She watched as Florren was roped to one of the two pylons marking the track. Florren's hands were tied around the pylon, above and behind her head. Her feet were pulled behind the pylon and bound with rope. The only thing preventing Florren from falling to the ground were the ropes around her body. The tightness and placement of those very thin ropes made Jalena glad she was not attached to that pylon, in a position that could only be called pure torture.
The announcer stood before the crowd and announced that the winning team, if they desired, could take possession of Florren after the race, but not before the losing team was allowed to deliver as many blows of the whip as they wished. Jalena was now in total shock. Had Aldwyn protected her from the whip? Or was he trying to keep her ownership from passing into the hands of another person? Whatever the reason, she would try her best to win the contest. Was she trying to protect Florren or to please Aldwyn? Was it her self-pride or love? It didn't matter. She would do everything to win the race.
She was still in that "dreamy state" when she heard Aldwyn's voice again. She opened her eyes to find that he had left the throne and was now standing in front of her. He called her name again.
Oh, he IS talking to me . . . How long have I been daydreaming? She looks around the room and then she looks at him. A tentative and stuttering, "Yes, Sire?" passes her lips.
"I asked if anyone else had business before the court today."
Now what does she do? How does she bring up the topic of her slavery or of her family's position as hostage? She does not want to anger Aldwyn; she knows the consequences. She takes a very deep breath and says, "I have no business before the court, Sire, but if it would please you, Sire, I would like to ask a question."
He stands silently for the time of only five breaths but it seems to exceed the length of five of her lifetimes. He takes her by the hand, guides her to the throne, and places her in a kneeling position on the dais in front of the throne, facing everyone assembled. "Yes, Jalena, what is your question? Speak loudly so that everyone may hear your question?"
Now she had done it! She had placed her future and the future of everyone present at risk by opening her mouth! "Nothing, Sire. I have no questions. I am but a slave, and I have no right to ask questions, I have no rights at all." A collective sigh of relief and despair wafted through those in the room. "I don't believe I heard you," he says. "I apologize, Sire, I forgot my place as your chattel."
"Very well, but I have one last matter of business," he says. He crosses the room and removes Jalena from the dais. He places her in a kneeling position in front of her parents. He returns and sits upon the throne, and taking what seems, to Jalena, to be forever, he adjusts his clothing, robes and hair. He looks around the room. Everyone is holding their breath in anticipation. He stands again and orders two of his guards forward to take Jalena to a nearby column. Each guard grasps an arm in a viselike grip: she is afraid that all circulation of blood below their grasp will be permanently halted. Aldwyn orders that her arms circle the column and that her wrists be bound with rope. Once done, he orders a guard to bring a gag and a blindfold and put them on her.
Aldwyn crosses the room again, and stands behind her. He touches her shoulder with his bare hand and then rubs her cheek with the back of his hand. He orders that everyone in the room stand and face away from where he and Jalena are "doing their dance."
Why doesn't he say some thing? Am I to be whipped? What . . . ????
He gently removes her gag, and orders her to speak only in a very quiet voice: a whisper. She nods more than speaks her acquiescence. "I am going to give you three choices," he says. "You, and only you, can make this choice. There is no one that may help you with the decision. Do you understand?" Again she offers a whispered affirmation and a nod. He asks, "Do you know that you have belonged to me for a year?" bringing another nearly silent confirmation. "Jalena, I love you. I have always loved you. In this moment, I now offer you three choices:
You may choose to be set free. If you do, you may leave this castle. You may walk the streets of the Kingdom as a free woman, but never again as royalty.
"Or you may choose to become a slave/queen. This will mean that you will be treated as a Queen by day but your nights will be spent as my slave. Your slavery will be complete. You and I have never been involved sexually. I have wanted to postpone it until you and I were married. I think today is the correct time to advance this idea...
"Or lastly, you may choose to be set free to ascend the throne as Queen; to follow in your family's ways and traditions. If this is your choice, your lands and fortunes will be returned to your family, but you will be Queen. Your father's days as King have come to an end.
"Regardless of your decision, your family will be set free from their captivity, to live the rest of their days in comfort."
"Sire, I have but one question," floated from her lips.
"If I am to marry you and be your slave/Queen, can we consummate our wedding tonight, and not wait until the formal coronation?"
Aldwyn turned away from Jalena and announced her decision to the crowd. Well, he announced most of her decision. (After all, he was still royalty and a gentleman.) He would have to make many arrangements tomorrow, or maybe the next day. He passed a few quick orders to his guards and ordered everyone from the room. After all, it isn't every day that a King marries a slave. He had a lot of things on his mind as he untied her hands.
Jalena unties the ribbon holding her tunic closed and pulls it over her head. She kneels, searching the floor around her. She picks up the blindfold and places it over eyes and stretches her hands out, searching for him. He steps forward so that her hands can find him, so she can touch his body. Reaching down, he guides her to a standing position. She wraps her arms around his neck and they kiss. After a few moments, she very quietly says, "Thank you, my King, my love and my Master."
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