I kneel down on the plush indigo cushion set out for me in the corner of the parlor. The position soothes my rattled nerves somewhat—at least here I know who’s looking at me.
Helena leans down to peck me on the forehead, Her lips leaving behind slight tingling and a cascading wave of calm. More foul sorcery, no doubt.
“You can stay right there, sweetness. Curl up and take a nap if you need it; I know you’ve had a long day.” My Queen walks off, joining the nearest throng of suck-ups chatting and sipping champagne.
Thrilled by my newfound compliance, Helena immediately got me ready for Her evening event after I returned from Melia Manor. It’s a dull soiree, one of many required by the crown; a few hours of moderately important people asking Her Majesty for favors and getting drunk. ‘Pablum,’ Father always said of such events, ‘essential yet insufferable pablum.’ Tonight’s insufferable pablum is in the east parlor of the royal palace, a relatively tame space compared to the ballroom or grand hall. The room resembles a study, with dark wooden walls and furniture distributed between a large stone fireplace and tall windows overlooking the royal gardens. Books are stacked everywhere on shelves and desks alike and give the room an earthy aroma of old paper. Helena was kind enough to place me near the fireplace, and the parlor’s formal atmosphere blends with the crackling warmth and light to create a peaceful, almost meditative effect. There are certainly worse places to be left in the corner and ignored, and I went into the evening feeling relatively neutral about my attendance.
And then I was given my attire. On the Queen’s orders, Her ladies-in-waiting replaced my blue gown with what can best be described as a pale pink leotard made during a fabric shortage. The garment rides up my derriere, barely covers my sex, and has gaps to show off my cleavage and midriff. From the moment I saw the wretched clothing, I knew it was a test—Helena demonstrating Her power by continuing to push my limits. She may as well have written ‘I know you won’t act out tonight’ along the collar in bright and bold lettering. Unfortunately, She was absolutely right; I meekly donned the outfit without uttering a word of complaint. My shoulders, feet, and spirit were all still sore from Francine’s roughness, and I was in no mood to face punishment again. It makes me feel small. I am small, obviously, but there’s a unique sense of insignificance one experiences from wearing a silly costume and sitting in the corner while everyone else talks and drinks. I’m reminded of my childhood when my parents hosted lavish parties and made me stay upstairs in my room. I’d sit and bed and pout, listening to the murmuring voices below and bristling with jealousy.
The layers of cynicism I’ve built up since then have cheapened the spectacle of such events, and I find little to be jealous of now: Tonight’s party is full of rigid couples who refuse to touch one another, sloppy nouveau riche groping high-end escorts, bottom-feeders spreading their name around like a plague…all people who don’t want to be here but want to get something by coming. At least I recognize most of them—proves I’ve been paying enough attention to court goings-on. From time to time they recognize me as well, ogling or gaping at Her Royal Highness’s trophy piece until it stares back and makes them uneasy. Thus the night goes on, and I’m about to take Helena’s advice to doze when I hear a familiar voice.
“Good evening, pe fira. Might I be permitted to speak with you?” Viscount Paolo of House Liotenz steps out from the crowd to stand beside my cushion.
I manage a weak smirk. “I’ll still charge you for a full hour.”
“It is within my budget.” He matches my smile.
“Then once again, I am your pe fira.” That was always his nickname for me—it means ‘little flame’ in one of the languages of western Arlunn where he grew up. Years ago, Paolo and I were…close. Back then I was young and naive, thinking the pursuit of power was compatible with love, and what began as a summer fling stretched out into three years of genuine romance. I still have many fond memories of the nights we spent kissing softly under the stars and murmuring sweet poetry to one another. But after Mother died, I became more concerned with my legacy and realized such worldly pleasures would only hold me back. I left him soon after. It was one of the most painful decisions I’ve ever made and drove me to build my empire. Thank the gods we were no longer together when my conspiracy fell apart; otherwise, Helena would have condemned him to a horrid fate.
“She allows you to speak openly, eh?” Paolo pulls up a chair, either not noticing or not caring about the curious looks he garners.
I shrug. “She has not forbidden it. Besides, few want to talk.”
“Then I am glad to be one of the few. It warms my heart to see you, Veronica. Outside of the court, I mean.” I picture him watching me pleasure the Queen and blush a bright scarlet.
The blush spreads to my core as I realize just how much of me is on display for my ex-lover. “I’m happy to see you as well. Outside of court.”
Paolo holds out a hand, then quirks an eyebrow as if in question. I nod, and he reaches further to cup my cheek. “She has changed you so much…I mean, I knew, everyone did, but…” his voice trails off as he continues to stare in fascination. I squirm from the attention. “…the scar on your hip, is it still there?”
“Look for yourself.” My fingers tap the bare and now-smooth skin of my left hip. “Good as new.”
Now it’s Paolo’s turn to look embarrassed. “Ah. I see. Eh, Veronica, I’m afraid your bold fashion choice tonight may not catch on. Especially not in winter.”
I actually giggle at that. I hadn’t even realized I was still capable of giggling. “Give it time, Paolo. Soon enough, they’ll all be wearing Sex Slave Chic.” The joke comes out more bitter than I intended.
Paolo’s expression darkens. He’s barely aged a day since I last saw him—same twinkling brown eyes, same short mop of curly dark hair, same demeanor toeing the line between ‘rowdy playboy’ and ‘benevolent statesman.’ Tonight he wears a long crimson robe cinched at the waist with a silver-plated belt. For someone whose official job description is ‘stand around and look pretty until you get your inheritance,’ Paolo absolutely excels. He glances around the room, then leans in to speak in hushed tones. “Does She…She is not too harsh, I hope?”
I open my mouth to reassure him, then pause as I realize I have no clue what to say. How could I convey the unfamiliar eroticism of my new form? How does one define harshness when the line between pain and pleasure is so murky? When a distant part of me revels in all of it? We sit quietly for a moment, the viscount watching me with concern and tucking strands of hair behind my ears until I finally answer in a hoarse whisper. “I’m made of stern stuff, Paolo.”
“That you are.”
A sob begins to grasp its way up my throat, and I pour everything I have into holding it down.
Paolo frowns, lost in thought until he speaks again with the measured tempo of a discrete man. “You know, Veronica, many are horrified at your fate. In private, they condemn the disbanding of House Tiern and view you as a martyr.”
I scoff and wave my arm at him dismissively. “No, they don’t. House Tiern is a convenient rallying cry for what they already want. More power to the aristocracy, and more limits on the crown. The same old game with new players.” A thought strikes me. “Anyone I should know of in particular?”
Paolo again nervously checks for any eavesdroppers. “No, no. Just the usual old guard. My uncle, Berinni, Kutje, you know. They love to complain, it doesn’t mean anything.” That old dog Berinni certainly seems to be making waves. His lack of fondness for the crown isn’t news to me, but hearing Paolo mention him specifically does confirm my theory—this afternoon I essentially told Francine to investigate a barrel of pitch with a lit match. “But please, enough of this.”
“Of course. Pardon my manners. What of you, Paolo? You are well?”
Paolo visibly relaxes at the change of subject, drawing his hand away from me to gesticulate in excitement. I immediately miss his warmth. “Well enough! Not too many wild late nights anymore, I’m afraid. Mostly I’ve been looking after my father, taking on more responsibilities as he ages. Oh,” he glances at the floor bashfully and hunches his shoulders, “and I am married now, of course. I’m not sure where Abigail is now…”
“Congratulations.” He and Lady Abigail of House Lannith became engaged a few months before my trial; the night I heard the news I went through two bottles of wine alone in my chambers.
“Thank you. She is with child as well, as of several weeks ago. There’s a great deal of excitement around the house.”
The sob is back and more insistent than ever in its attempts to escape. “I—wow! Th…that’s great, Paolo. Truly. You’ll make a wonderful father.”
“You are too kind.” The viscount leans back in his chair, and I try to compose myself as we both take a moment to watch the party in awkward silence. Butlers swoop by regularly, refreshing the champagne flutes of increasingly boisterous guests and giving the scene a sense of dizzying fluidity. Far across the room, I notice Helena watching me intently out of the corner of Her eye. “Time is wont to pass us by, eh Veronica?”
I sigh and shift to sit more comfortably, taking great care not to flash my ex-lover. “Indeed. Seems only days ago we were sharing dirty jokes in the attic of your manor and sipping that awful apple brandy you loved so much.”
“And look at us now! I have a family and responsibilities, and you—” Paolo freezes as he realizes his mistake, the dreamy nostalgia on his face transforming into horror. He doesn’t need to finish his sentence; ‘look at us now’ speaks more volumes than his words ever could. One glance clearly shows which of us is allowed to make choices about the future and which is not. Fuck, one glance shows which of us even has a future and which does not. Even after months of getting used to the idea, the direct comparison is still heart-wrenching. “I am so sorry, Veronica. I did not mean to—”
“It’s o-okay.” The sob finally escapes in spite of my best efforts, and more of its ilk soon follow suit. Tears start streaming down my face, and Paolo guiltily looks down at the floor and fidgets with the sleeves of his robe.
“Perhaps I should go. Maybe…maybe I caused more harm than good.” Fierce hiccups prevent me from disagreeing, from asking him to stay longer and comfort me.
Before I can, a very confused Lady Abigail steps forward from the crowd, having spotted her husband chatting with a crying girl in a skimpy pink teddy. Paolo jumps up to address her. “Abigail! I was looking for you!” He fakes a jovial tone and gestures to me. “You remember Veronica?”
What a sight I must be, displaying my body openly and bawling my eyes out. Lady Abigail regards me coolly. “I don’t care if she’s some perverse sex toy now, you still are not allowed to fuck her.” I flinch at her harsh words.
“Ah, you misunderstand, mai floro! I wanted nothing of the sort!” That hurts too, stupidly enough.
The noblewoman crosses her arms, then turns away from me. “Of course you didn’t. Leave your dolly behind; there’s someone you need to meet.” Paolo smiles at me apologetically, then begins to follow his wife away from me and back out of my life.
I call out to him just before he reaches the crowd. “Paolo?”
“Hm?” He looks back at me, and we briefly lock eyes. Between us passes thousands of words that we both know will go unsaid: What-ifs and regrets in search of non-existent closure; declarations and admissions that would change nothing if spoken. Recognition that we began on separate paths long ago, and that the best we can hope for now are shared memories of what was and never will be again. Blinking away the tears, I offer one such remembrance.
“Adocco. Until we meet once more,” I echo the parting words I used last time we spoke.
“Adocco, pe fira,” he recites his response from that evening so long ago, then disappears.
I curl up on my cushion once he leaves my sight, tucking my knees to my chest and letting the sobs run their course. Bit by bit the sharp stabs of sorrow and grief ease away, leaving only a sense of emptiness in their wake. I feel as if more and more pieces of me are chipping away, my purpose and will proving hollow and rotten. What kind of life is this? Lying around and occasionally getting fucked with nothing to strive for? I am a wretch. My erotic body is a magically misshapen mask stretched over a miserable and foul bitch, one who has traded self-control and willpower for perverse pleasures. As for my legacy? I have lost so utterly that my name will forever be synonymous with defeat, a smutty footnote in the annals of history. Any way you put it, I am and always will be a pathetic, worthless wretch. Were Helena any less cruel She would have simply had my head, and the world would’ve been better off for it.
I open my eyes once more and frantically search for a way to ground myself, a way to halt the avalanche of self-hatred. Focus on power, Veronica. Analytical thought will help you force the pain back down, just like always. Remember what Mother said: Act if you can, bide your time if you must, but never stop scheming for more. With Mother’s mantra as my compass, I guide myself back to the reality of the moment. The party is winding down by the time I regain my senses, with only the most desperate and insistent guests still around. Kara O’Lien, the head of a caravan company, skulks in the opposite corner over an empty glass and complains to her companions about delays. Most of her lines are east-west, but trouble down south could still cause issues; Berinni’s duchy is large enough that he could make trouble for all kinds of travelers if he saw fit. Two leaders of the mason’s guild sway drunkenly in front of the fire and toast to their continued success. Not likely. They’ve finished the last of their old contracts, and slowdowns in local development will mean less work coming in. Meanwhile, Doctor Hammond and her wife sit on a loveseat and chat merrily with Helena about advances in childhood medicine. Her Majesty has them thoroughly charmed. Gods, She’s personable when She wants to be—such precise control over eye contact, the angle of Her chin, the timing of Her gestures…Her Royal Highness’s masterful etiquette draws me in, and before long I only have eyes for Her and Her alone. She performs a graceful social dance, spinning from guest to guest and indulging their quirks and anecdotes. None of the guests feel unseen or unheard by the time She’s done, and Helena waits until every last guest has departed before finally relaxing.
I start, then look up at Helena in surprise. Somehow, time slipped away from me—my intense focus on the guests likely made me vulnerable to Her allure. Her supernatural allure, I mean.
“Quite the night, hmm? Let’s get you to bed. Up!” She offers Her hand, and I grab it and rise to my feet. We walk out of the parlor together, holding hands and strolling side by side. Servants scurry around behind us—come morning, there’ll be no evidence that a party ever occurred.
Stray beams of moonlight spill into the palace corridors, blending with the warmer tones of lanterns and torches to light the way. I cling to my Queen’s side the entire way back to Her chambers, anxiously running my fingers over the lacy patterns of Her deep green evening gown. As much as I want to hate Her company, She’s the only balm I have for loneliness, soothing the pain of speaking with Paolo. I foolishly glance up at Her regularly just to make sure She’s still there. She still manages to astonish me with Her beauty, especially this close, where even an errant glance will leave me speechless over the smallest of details. Her scent—lilac and cherry blossom—is burned into my memory, and the soft outlines of Her curves invade my dreams frequently.
The closer we get to the royal chambers, the more Helena notices my affectionate looks. Her demeanor changes, dropping the rigid formality She maintains during the day and becoming far more dangerous, far more predatory. Tension lurks in her muscles like a coiled spring, and Her grip on my hand grows tight. And once we pass the threshold of Her bedroom, She finally pounces.
“It’s about time I partook in my beautiful little morsel, hm?” She pushes me up against the door, then tears my flimsy clothing away with one sharp tug. “Three days I’ve held back. Do you know how hard that was? How tempted I was to rush in here and ravage you?”
I freeze in shock, unsure of what to say—this is the most aggressive I’ve ever seen Her. Helena leans down until Her face is level with my own, and I can see Her pupils have dilated into endless black pools filled with hunger. “But no. You disobeyed, and punishment had to come first. Apologize for making me wait.”
“I’m sorry!” I’m naked and trembling and trapped by Her, and it’s driving me absolutely wild; arousal already coats my inner thighs, and I tremble with anticipation.
“And now you’ve been teasing me all day.” She grabs both of my arms, pinning them above my head at the wrists with one hand. “Crawling for me on command. Gazing up at me with those big eyes. Stealing glances my way while you talk to your boyfriend.” I’m about to argue he’s not my boyfriend, but Her Majesty interrupts by forcing my mouth open with Her tongue. I can barely keep up with the ferocity of Her kiss, as She presses Her lips hard against mine and tangles my little tongue up in Her own. And any time I try to slow down the tempo, She growls at me and bites my lower lip until I give in, moaning into Her mouth and grinding my hips on nothing. Eventually, our rhythms sync and I go along with Her battering give and take—She’s proven Her dominance, and I am now Her prize to claim.
When She pulls away to nibble and suck on my earlobe, I pant out a retort. “H-he is n-not my boyfriend!”
Helena bites my neck hard. I scream in pain and pleasure, twisting against Her grip until Her jaw finally releases. “No, he’s not your boyfriend, is he?” A manic grin spreads across Her face as She admires the bite mark. “Because you broke his heart.”
“Wha…?” I blink a few times, trying to understand Her words through the thick cloud of arousal gripping my mind. “That’s…I don’t…why—“
Helena bores of my stammering and shifts Her focus lower, using Her free hand to gently knead one of my petite breasts. “Rather a pattern with you, isn’t it?” I sigh deeply and sink down lower. The touch is sublime, sending a warm buzz across my body. Each caress seems effortless like my body is a puzzle She solved long ago. It’s an expertise none of my lovers have ever held before, and it wrenches my focus away from Majesty’s cruel words. I can’t think. I don’t want to. Not while She can make me sing from a mere flick of Her pinky finger across my hard nipple; not so long as She can squeeze my breast from base to tip and unleash a shudder throughout my entire body.
“That’s why you’re my special girl, Veronica.” Helena sweeps me off my feet into a bridal carry and throws me on the bed, where I roll over onto my back and scoot away from Her until I hit the headboard. “That’s why you’re not just another automata.” Each of Her hands grabs one of my ankles, and She yanks my legs toward Her and pushes them apart.
“W-wh-what a-are you t-talking about?” My voice is timid, and my occasional trembles have turned into full-blown quivering. I can’t tell terror from arousal; the two feed into each other, and both feed into my fascination for the beautiful monster before me.
She places one hand on my stomach, and the other just to the side of my dripping cunt. Our eyes meet. Hers are as calm and vicious as ever. “You burned all bridges long before your little coup. No friends, no close acquaintances. Nothing but a sister who hates you and an ex-lover whose world you shattered.” One of Her hands cups my sex, and I’m not sure if it’s the sensation or Her words that make me gasp. “And without your power? All you have is me.”
She pushes two fingers inside of me, my soaking wet cunt sucking them in with no resistance. “There we are. Such an eager girl, aren’t we?” She curls Her fingers upwards, then pistons Her hand in and out of me.
“AaAAAh!” With each rough thrust, Her fingertips tap against my special spot, the one that draws out shameless moans and makes me feel absolutely full. For the second time in one week, I thrash about in the arms of my Queen; only now, it’s inspired not by rage but by ecstasy, by pure white-hot electric pleasure as She drapes Herself upon me and hisses in my ear.
“That is why you are completely and totally mine, Veronica. Not because of any spell, contract, or chains, but because you need me.” My hands claw into Her back, clutching onto Her dress for dear life. “Nobody loves you except for me, and nobody else ever will.”
Her other hand finds my clit and starts vigorously rubbing, and I shriek in joy as my rational thoughts all melt away before the overwhelming stimulation. Helena is granting me pleasure and affection! She approves of me! She said she loves me! My back arches and my hips thrust forward into Her touch, both moving entirely on instinct. With how long I’ve been teased and denied over the last several months, my orgasm approaches within a minute of Helena first entering me. Pleasure tightens around my core, and I hold my breath in anticipation of Her Majesty’s most important judgment call:
“You may come, sweetness.”
I howl and throw back my head as my muscles clench and spasm, liquid involuntarily spraying out of my pussy to soak Her Majesty’s arm and soft sheets. In this body, climax is as much a tremendous relief as it is a tremendous pleasure; it is weeks of pressure releasing in one triumphant moment, a symphony of oversensitive nerves crying out in rapture. Helena hugs me close throughout, keeping one hand over my clenching sex to bring me back down, and I babble my cathartic gratitude.
“Oh Helena! Thankyouthankyouthankyou, I’ll be so good I promise, just please don’t ever leave me, don’t ever stop holding me tight. I love you, Helena! I love you so much!”
“Inn ren Sol mentieren, inn ren dus. As the Sun rises, so do I.”
Ser Eshe of the Order of Sol Gloria watches the dawn’s first rays travel across the amber foothills to meet their makeshift camp, illuminating naught but a simple bedroll and a few smoldering embers. They’d had no choice but to travel light—it was a prerequisite for slipping past the soldiers in the south.
“Vai du insenne b’rou mich saghia. May I follow Its path with wisdom,” Eshe murmurs, rising to their feet as they finish up their morning prayer. They look out at the path ahead with weary eyes, dreading the start of yet another long day of travel. The last three had been miserable treks, full of muddy fields, mosquitos, and skipped meals. But at least the end was close; all Eshe had to do was follow the Niol river and they’d arrive at the capitol within a day. That’s what the peasants two villages back had told them, at least. Eshe lets out a quiet groan and pinches the bridge of their nose. Please let this be the last day.
They began to pack up their meager belongings, motivated by duty to push on. For as the First Executor spoke, ‘One Must Answer The Order’s Call.’ The rest of their legion was surrounded by soldiers near the southern border and had reached a stalemate in negotiations. Knight-Captain Laviny had sent Eshe on ahead to plead their case to the Queen, in the hopes that She would resolve the issue peacefully. The Order could easily break out of the containment—they’re a legion of fully-trained sun-knights facing off against conscripted peasants—but such an outcome would be bloody, and a less-than-favorable first impression with the kingdom.
And so Eshe has to make good time. They shove the bedroll into their saddlebags, then pause for a moment to stretch their back and shoulders. “Ready, Gruch?” The warhorse ignores them. Gruch has also not been pleased with their traveling schedule. “Come on. Let’s see what wonders Niol has to offer.”