Chains of Want
Today is different.
It was four months since the soldiers had marched into Ivy's shop. She had been my friend since childhood, and I often spent my mornings sitting with her. We'd talk about life, friendship, men... and the rebellion. Two years ago the sorcerer Varius had stormed into the council chambers and, through magic and force of arms, had taken control of the city, and since then, there had been revolution roiling under the surface of polite society. None of us could be open about it—the early purges had made that clear—but still our cell would meet every other week, challenge Varius' illegitimate authority in little ways where we could, and support our communities however we might.
Until the day the soldiers had come to the cobbler's store and placed the owner and her best friend under arrest.
The rebellion continues without us, of course. There will always be a rebellion. And while Ivy and I hold the names of our compatriots close, as we had for the last four months, the rebels that we know, at least, are safe.
But today is different.
That day, four months ago, we'd been dragged, bound and blindfolded, into the palace, stripped of our belongings, given rough work clothing to wear, and given a servant's quarters with a lock on the door. Before Varius, the palace had no prison, and it seemed he had not seen fit to build one. His magics are influential, corrupting; they warp the mind, turn foes into allies, make friends of enemies, and with that cruelty available to him, why would he need a prison? So we were kept in a servant's quarters, with a small bed between us to share, a wicker chair (where I usually slept anyway) and a small, empty, chest of drawers. Once a day, in the evening, the door would unlock and two armed guards would give us a meal, quite a good one, in fact; in that, at least, we were well-treated. And in the morning...
The mornings were when we had our audience with Varius.
It always started the same way. A knock on the door, almost polite. Three guards, for the two of us. We would go peacefully—we had discussed escape attempts more than once, but we could see no point; even if we could slip away from our guards, they were hardly the only ones in the palace complex, and neither of us knew the grounds well enough to escape.
We had refused, once, to go, mostly to see what might happen, and the guards had been insistent, but not forceful; after a few minutes, they departed. We were not given the breakfast that usually followed the audience that day, nor supper that evening. The message was clear, even if it wasn't spoken.
Besides which, it's not like either of us were near to breaking. Not in four months of audiences. Not a single name of a free rebel had crossed our lips, and the habit of maintaining silence made us stronger. Having nothing else to do but talk to one another let us grow in our resolve. At the very least, we could resist by taking up Varius' time and resources.
The audiences themselves, though... Ivy considers them a small price to pay, so she says, but I am not so sure. The guards escort us down the same corridors, from the servants' rooms through narrow, winding paths, to a side entrance to the council chamber. There, we are presented before Varius' court, whoever happens to be in attendence that day; he's never alone, and he's never waiting for us. We stand there with our armed escort as he finishes whatever business there is for the moment, sometimes only a minute, sometimes ten or fifteen. Once it may have been as long as an hour, as he worked out the fine details of a trade agreement.
And then, it would begin.
A guard puts a hand on my shoulder, not a tight grip, just a reminder. I'm to stay put, stay silent. Another shoves Ivy forward. Varius sits on a raised dais, a step above and a few feet removed from the table where whoever else is in attendance watches.
Ivy stands defiant before him. He says, he always says: "One name. One name and this can all end."
Ivy's reply changes from time to time. Occasionally she's silent, standing tall and proud and looking him straight in the eye. That was how she responded the first day.
That was the only time the guard hit her, on the first day. Struck her in the back of the knees, so she buckled and fell forward on all fours. He seemed about to attack a second time when Varius raised his hand.
"No," he'd said with a smile. "Not this one. She will die before pain will break her."
Ivy had looked up then and snarled, cat-like. "Without question."
He seemed amused. With two fingers, he motioned her to rise. The back of my neck tingled. Magic. A sorcerer. A corrupter. Was he about to just make her talk?
Ivy stood, looking a little dazed.
"One name," he repeated.
"Never," she whispered, loud enough for me to hear the roughness in her voice, the strength.
I doubted that I would have that strength, when my turn came.
His smile never faltered. He made a small turning motion with his hand, and Ivy spun on her heel to face the seven or eight people in attendance. I looked at them, minor officials, people responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the city.
He snapped his fingers then. Her hands gripped the hem of her shirt. Her expression was one of surprise.
She hesitated. "Khaleera Amarel," she spat. My name. I was standing right there, already captive.
He chuckled. An upward motion of his hand. In one smooth motion, Ivy slipped her shirt over her head and revealed her bare, pale torso and small, pert breasts to the assembled crowd.
Ivy said nothing, set her face, dropped her hands to her side. Embarrassment reddened her cheeks, but she would not cover herself in shame or fear.
I doubted that I would have the strength, again. I crossed my arms instinctively over my chest in sympathy, shivered in fear, and looked at Ivy's defiant expression in admiration.
He snapped his fingers again, and Ivy's hands went to the edges of her rough-spun skirt.
She didn't wait for him to finish. Of her own accord, seemingly, she pushed the skirt to the ground and stood there, naked.
In my twenty-two years, I didn't think I'd seen anything so beautiful as that act of resistance. Without a word, she had clearly said that she would not be broken.
He chuckled. Stood up. Took three careful, slow steps. Placed his fingers gently on her bottom.
She didn't react, as though she had been expecting that.
"Do you see?" he said to the guard. "She is not so easy to break."
He squeezed, then; I heard her small gasp of pain. "One name," he said, leaning close to her.
She shook, but said nothing.
Varius chuckled again. "Take them back to their room. Give this one her clothes back when they're safely inside."
And that was that. They took us back to our room, me in my clothes, Ivy nude. They returned in five minutes, after she was dressed, with a plate of fresh fruit and well-cooked crepes and bacon. We hesitated at first, but agreed that food would help us keep our strength, which would help us keep up the fight.
That was our first day of captivity. Our first audience. The others, though, more than a hundred, were very much the same. The faces at the table changed, and the torment to which he subjected Ivy was different depending apparently on nothing more than his whims, but otherwise it was routine. Always she was stripped down by his magic. Some days he didn't touch her at all. Some days, a gentle caress of her ass or her face or her breasts, often but not always followed by a rougher grasp. Some days, very few, he would unlace his trousers and she would put her hand on him, kneeling beside his seat as she stroked his cock. On four occasions only, she knelt before him and took him in her mouth. At no point did he climax from her ministrations, a fact which she took great satisfaction in when we were back in our room, the thought that the perverse magician would be alone, rubbing himself and imagining what she might be able to do to him if only she were willing.
And still that request, made time and again. One name. Once he had joked that she would not be able to respond with her mouth full. She had replied that she could hardly make a proper meal of him. But that had not upset, not angered him in the least. He merely seemed amused as he gestured and her mouth fell on him.
My admiration of her defiance grew and grew, itself stronger with every passing day. And every day, we walked back, she naked, me clothed, past guards and servants, through winding narrow passageways, and she held her head high, whether his hands had been on her, or hers on him, whether the audience room had been crowded or nearly empty, no matter the situation or circumstance, she was proud. I tried to emulate her, tried to be strong, but through the whole walk back, through every walk back, I was glad in my heart that he hadn't asked me, hadn't put me through that torment. It never occurred to me to ask why he hadn't, and Ivy never put the question to me, either. This was just her lot, to be strong, to be defiant, to deny him everything. To protect everyone we knew.
To protect everyone she knew. Including me.
She never even gave my name again, not after that first day.
And some of her strength became mine, which I was able to give her when we were alone. I would help her dress, I would tell stories of resistance activity that hadn't involved her (carefully omitting important details in case we were being listened to), or I would share jokes, or we would laugh about something she'd said or done that day in the audience room. She protected me and our allies, and I took care of her.
I like to think that my care is one of the reasons that she's said nothing in four months.
But today... today is different. Instead of dinner, we're met in the evening by three guards, not two. We're told that we're to have another audience.
She slips her hand in mine, squeezes lightly. "Let's go, Khaleera," she says.
I nod. "Same as every day," I say, my tone light. We'd just been having a conversation about the men we'd known, and how many of them were better-endowed than a certain sorcerer of our intimate acquaintance. We're both buoyed, in high spirits, practically skipping down the hall. The change in routine can only mean one thing—a change in attitude from our captor.
The guards direct us on a different path this time, a way we don't know. We emerge into the late summer evening sun, the first time either of us have been out-of-doors in four months. Then they leave us there, in a garden, warm and inviting if small. Tall trees provide sparse shade, flowers of all imaginable colours bloom and blossom, filling the air with a lovely fragrance. My stomach growls looking at some of the berry bushes and fruit trees, remembering that we haven't had our dinner yet.
Varius is there. Watching us. He's sitting on a bench, relaxed, contemplative.
He says two words. "One name."
Ivy's eyes snap to him. "Eat sh—"
His hand rises, and her curse is cut off. "Not from you," he says.
My heart quails. My blood runs cold. For the first time, for the first time ever, his eyes meet mine. The hairs rise on the back of my neck. Magic.
"Look at me," he says, unnecessarily. I'm already looking at him. "Do you know what I can do to people?"
I cannot speak. It's not his magic. It's my own fear. Ivy seems frozen beside me, and I don't know if she's afraid or enchanted, and it hardly matters.
"Do you know how," he continues, "I reach into hearts and minds and twist them to my will?"
"N-no," I stammer. I'm shaking.
He rises, then, and my eyes follow his. "It is not so hard a thing," he says, walking closer. "I give people what they want, and they give me what I want. With her," he gestures to Ivy, but I cannot follow his hand's motion, "it has been easy. She wants only one thing." He's before me now, but he's not looking at me. His hand lifts Ivy's chin, and finally I can turn. "What do you want, Ivy Cobbler?"
She weaves on her feet. "I..." her voice is slow, distant, like she's talking while asleep. "... want to... fight..."
He nods. "You want to push back against me. To rebel. You want to defy me. To defy a powerful man. To deny him, to deny me what I want."
"Yes..." The final sibilant slides into something of a hiss, but her expression is blank, vacant.
"And every day I give you that opportunity."
There is a moment of silence between us, before I muster the courage to ask, "How does that help you? She's... she's never given you a name."
He turns back to me, letting Ivy go. She stands beside me, still unsteady on her feet as if drunk. "That's not true, is it, Khaleera Amarel?"
I step back from the weight of my name on his lips. "I..."
"I only ever asked for one name," he says, stepping closer. "And she's only ever given me one."
"But you are already captive. And that's what she thought, too. But it was illustrative, that yours was the first name she knew." He smiles, kindly. "And by that, I knew where I would need to get my information."
I swallow. Hard. I want to retreat further, but I draw on some of what Ivy's shown me these last months. "You'll get nothing from me," I say, but my tone isn't nearly as strong as hers, isn't nearly as defiant.
He shakes his head, a little sadly. "That is where you're wrong," he replies. He doesn't touch me, but he makes a slow movement with his hand. My head turns involuntarily to look at Ivy.
I watch, I have to watch, as she slowly, sensuously, removes her shirt, as I'd seen her do a hundred times and more already, and yet not. Here she's completely under the wizard's magic. There's no defiance, no anger, just softness.
"You..." I start, more than a little mesmerized by the display.
"Yes, any time I wished, I could have had her. But that is not what I wanted."
"And it's not what you want, is it, Khaleera?"
"No," I admit, my hands and arms and knees shaking.
He snaps his fingers and the fire returns to her eyes. She snarls at him, but says nothing.
My heart flutters to see my friend back.
"This is what you want," he says. "The anger. The defiance." He snaps his fingers and Ivy drops her skirt with a growl. "And you will have it."
His words are like a physical blow to my stomach. I stare at my friend, her beautiful naked body that I'd seen so many times since our captivity, her strong stance, her fists clenched in anger.
I don't say it, but we all know.
"I will never touch her again," he says.
"Because she's mine," I reply.
"What?" Ivy snaps. "Khaleera, what do you—"
"Quiet," I say. My word is soft, but it cuts through her speech like an axe. She's silent, and she's glaring, shaking with rage.
"For months," the sorcerer interjects, "you've been watching her stand up to me, defy me, even as I wrapped her in enchantment, even as I violated her will and her body. And you, dear Khaleera..." He trails off, smiling at me.
"I fell in love," I admit, to myself as much as to anyone.
Ivy's shock and realization cause the fire in her eyes to die. She collapses a bit, just a little.
"I get what I want," Varius says, "by giving people what they want."
"One name," I say to Ivy.
She shakes her head. She plants her feet.
I step closer. "One name, love. One name is all it takes."
She meets my eyes. Behind the rekindled fire, there's pleading.
"One name." I smile, reach up, stroke her cheek. "Then we can be together."
"Turic Garnetstone," she says, and swallows hard. The jeweller in High Street, our chief financier.
I kiss her, then, something I'd never admitted to myself that I'd wanted to do. Deep and passionate. She returns the gesture with intense energy.
"And from you?" he asks as we separate.
As if in a dream, I reply, "Fionnan Lemorach." A guardsman, a valuable insider who knows the city watch's movements.
I turn as he nods and gestures about with his hand. "This garden," he says, "isn't it beautiful?"
I look back to Ivy, meeting her eyes. We smile together.
"I will have your room outfitted with a more suitable bed for the two of you," he continues. "You will have better accommodations, and of course you'll be provided proper clothing."
"Of course," Ivy and I say together, and laugh.
"This garden is yours," he says, and touches my head lightly. I feel tingles in my spine. I see him do the same to Ivy, running his fingers kindly through her hair. "I expect it to be well maintained."
My fellow gardener and I nod.
"It will be as you say," I reply.
"Good," he says. turning and walking away. "Ivy, before you go back inside, see that you're properly dressed."
We both look down at her nakedness and laugh. She reaches for her shirt.
"Stop," I say.
Her body locks in place, half-bent, arm outstretch.
The hair stands on the back of my neck.
"You will remove my clothes."
Stiffly, she stands up, her hands reaching for my shirt. "Khaleera, what—"
"Quiet," I say again. "Fight all you like, Ivy..."
She pulls my shirt over my head, her pale hands on my dark skin. Her eyes burn as they stare into mine.
The flames look familiar, somehow, but I don't recognize them. "My skirt, too."
She moves slowly, as if fighting her own body, but she slides my skirt down my legs, and I'm as naked as she is. She's on her knees, but still stiffy upright, looking up at me with that defiant look I adore so much.
I run my hands through her thin light-brown hair. "I love you, Ivy."
She nods, and for a moment only, the fire is gone. Unable to speak by my earlier command, she simply mouths the words back to me. Then she grabs my backside with a ferocious mock-anger that nearly knocks me to the ground.
I grab her hair, pulling her head up so she again has to look me in the eye. "Try to resist me. Try to fight back. Try..." I grin down at her. "Just try not to make love to me."
I can feel her resisting, pulling away, before she does knock me to the soft earth and press her lips to mine, kissing her way down to my breasts. Briefly, as she's licking my nipple, I think of all that resilient fury, that resistent defiance, redirected towards me instead of...
There's... something... we used to...
We used to fight together, I think, as her tongue draws itself along my lower lips for the first time. We used to strive for something.
But as she fucks me with her mouth, I can't even begin to think about that.
And after I come, loud enough that no doubt half the palace heard me howling, there is only the beautiful woman lying with me, and the garden we tend together.
She kisses me, long and slow and deep, then rises to her knees and offers me a hand.
"No," I say, smiling at her. "Lie next to me, for a moment, on the earth... and then let me do the same for you."
For a brief instant, the spark of resistance comes to her. The hairs rise on the back of my neck.
Then she obeys.