1. In Which Miria Has Her Measure Taken
On the day Miria was to be sized for a new chastity cage, she was woken shortly after dawn by the politely incessant hands of house-servants. The dull gray visible through a slit between the window curtains, forecasting yet another cold and damp spring day, hardly encouraged her to leave the heavy duvet's warmth – but the stern-faced Hofmeisterin would have none of that.
"Young lady," she demanded, staring half-awake Miria down, "time is of the essence."
That was not wrong. The new cage was Lady Governor's personal order, and so she was almost certainly going to make an appearance at the taking of measures, which in turn meant that Miria would have to be made as presentable as her body would allow. Still, she was not supposed to begrudge the old servant for the fact she did not even wait for Miria's permission to start pulling down the covers and forcing her out of the bed, even if it was doubtful that the other Lady Governor's wives would receive the same treatment.
But she was not the other ones; she was the sixth one. She suppressed a sigh she knew the Hofmeisterin would find unseemly and slid out of her bed, feet finding the warm slippers already waiting on the floor. Her hand moved to wipe the last of sleep away from her eyes, only to receive a stiff slap from the old servant. Instead, she bit down on a bitter must you, and blinked a few times.
Aside from the looming black tower that was the Hofmeisterin—who had a name once, Miria was certain, and would never allow anyone but the Lady Governor herself to use it—a pair of other servants flocked into the bed-chamber. One was a familiar sight: the stocky and perpetually smiling Agnes-the-house-beautician; the other, some yellow-haired maid with a child's face and a nervous glint in her eyes, Miria could not recognize. She had to be new.
"Mariś," the Hofmeisterin ordered, "robe for the young lady."
The girl rushed forward, almost tripping on the hem of her dress; moments later, Miria found herself enveloped in a thick and wonderfully warm fabric, almost soft enough to draw her back to sleep. But, alas, other matters were more pressing.
"The bath should be ready," she continued, her eyes still primed on the Lady Governor's sixth wife. "Take it from here, Agnes. But be prompt. We are expecting Master Glażek before noon."
Though it had been a number of months now—Miria entered the household in the closing days of autumn—she still had to resist the urge to protest being passed from hand to hand like that. Could she not take care of herself? She frowned, reminding herself that no, she could not. That was a part of the point.
That point was that now, she had a bathroom adjoining her bedchambers, tiled with real marbles, and lit by smokeless hellfire lamps, their bright light scintillating in the wall-length mirror opposite of the steaming bath. That point was that there was yet another maid, that slightly hunched one that everyone called Kaś, waiting by the tub, scrubs in hand and a shaving kit at the ready. That point was that once she pulled down her night-gown (which was as much as she was allowed to do on her own), she could spot the awkward, pyramid-shaped breasts slowly budding on the sides of her broad, revoltingly masculine chest.
In spite of her better instincts, she could not help herself, and looked up from that sorry display to where the wide shoulders converged towards a thick neck, where knotted cartilage shifted up and down the thin skin with every breath taken, and then higher still, to the dirty-black plain of young beard-shadow staining her jaw, and the uneven, retreating lines of hair whose length barely concealed that-
"Please cover it," she asked quietly, stepping into the warm bath, and the Kaś' steady hands.
Agnes pulled a curtain down, black cloth veiling the mirror, so that the image would slowly fade from Miria's eyes, or at least try to. She mouthed a quiet thank you to the beautician, as the maid slowly and carefully scrubbed her body pink. Reluctantly, but inevitably, she relaxed.
"So no breakfast for me, hm?" she asked in Agnes' direction, moving her chin up to give Kaś access to her neck.
"I'm sorry young lady," the beautician's voice reached her, warm and apologetic. "But you will have to be epilated and douched and so…"
She did not finish, leaving the implication unstated. It was the one thing Miria could never really get about this house, and the veil of modesty it tried to wrap around her position in it: that of the boy-toy wife. The role assigned to her was to be seen and played with, and nothing else. So why hang the voice, why leave unstated what was to follow the douching, which was also the reason that Miria was not going to see food today until way into the afternoon? Was Agnes trying to protect her from the reality she would have to live through anyway? The reality that Miria offered herself unto willingly?
Again, she had to stop herself from sighing, though this time it was on the account of the straight razor scraping against the skin of her cheeks. It had to be the weather, she conceded, the late March dreariness, that kept clouding her thoughts and drawing them to these kinds of useless wonderings. Had she not been excited for today just last night? Excited enough to steal a moment of privacy for herself and try to masturbate, a furtive pleasure only minimally disturbed by the unfortunate side-effects of the wife-medicine? Even now, she could feel something stir in her groin at the thought of what today was going to entail. And yet…
Fortunately for her melancholy, Kaś' was done with her work soon enough, and instead of languidly lounging in a warm bath, Miria ended up on a nearby gurney, yelping in quick succession as Agnes surely and steadily removed any trace of hair from her lower body.
"You were very brave today," the beautician offered—as she always did.
Miria tried to smile, and then managed to, her consciousness momentarily fading into the cooling, fragrant sensation of experienced hands rubbing expensive balms into her now-smooth skin. They smelled of infernal herbs that she could not name, nor even imagine, and which her father would likely compare to the odour of sin, or at least barbarous spices.
"Now, young lady, please…" an awkward hitch in Agnes' voice informed Miria what she was supposed to do next.
Biting her lip, and feeling that stir of shame and desire one more time, she pulled herself up and to the side slightly, offering Agnes' hands an easy access to her back. The cool probing of a metal nozzle followed seconds later, in a procedure that Miria still could not find routine. Nor, unfortunately, entirely unpleasant—especially with what was to immediately follow it.
"So," the beautician asked, once Miria was thoroughly cleaned down there, "which size were you wearing the last time?"
There was a sound of a wooden box opening somewhere behind Miria, and she could easily imagine both the container itself—ornamented with beautifully carved scenes of demonic hunts in an era long gone—and its contents, arranged from the smallest to the biggest.
"And how was it?"
Once, when her life as a boy-toy wife still felt more like a fantasy, or a dream about to be interrupted, than a concrete reality, she answered that question with a lie; it ended up far less pleasant and far more painful than she had anticipated. She had learned since.
"A bit too large."
"Hm," Agnes nodded. "Lady Governor's tastes in this regard are known, but you will have to wear it for most of today, I worry. Will a three slip?"
"It shouldn't?" Miria replied with a hint of uncertainty.
"Very well, then," the words just carried the smile gracing the beautician's face as she picked the ornament from the box. "Please try to relax."
Cool, viscous liquid dripped between Miria's buttocks, shortly ahead those old experienced fingers prying her slightly open to make way for the metal bulb slipping inside. Lady Governor's boy-toy wife made a small gasp, but it hurt less than usual, and the sensation of a foreign body filling her up never failed to deliver on its illicit pleasures. She exhaled, letting Agnes test if the plug sat securely; when the beautician was satisfied, she let Miria back on her feet.
The Hofmeisterin took over from there. To Miria's slight surprise, the uniform prepared for her for the day was mostly an embodiment of modesty. Plain stockings, lacquered black shoes, a simple black dress reaching from the collar-bone past ankles, a wig coiffed into a conservative bun. If there was anything prepared for her that stood out from this common drabness, it was offered as a matter of necessity: a velvet choker topped with a lace rose, to hide the unseemly curvature of Miria's neck, the absence of an undergarment to facilitate easier access for master Glażek, and, obviously, the corset.
"That's better," the Hofmeisterin decided as Mariś finished lacing Miria's waist in a less revolting shape. "Agnes, make her up. But no eccentricity. Make sure it passes muster, no more."
The plug dug uncomfortably, lovingly into Miria's insides as the beautician sat her down before the dresser. She tried not to look at her face, however better it looked now that the toilettes were almost done; instead she returned, once again, to that nagging question of when was she going to be allowed to learn to work with poudres and rouges herself, instead of being a doll under someone else's brush. Perhaps never; the Hofmeisterin had scoffed when Miria last asked this question.
"All done," Agnes reported, offering Miria's face for inspection.
The make-up covered and highlighted enough that Miria could look at herself without wincing, and still left enough exposed that she could not forget what lay beneath. This satisfied the Hofmeisterin, mostly, which left just one more thing for this morning routine.
"Now, young lady," she commanded, her tone whip-sharp. "Your medicine."
The procedure was no different from any other day. The old servant produced a pair of pastilles, one dull green, the other bright red, and had Miria chew on each other thoroughly, watching her for any sign of trickery throughout. When she was satisfied there was no way for the sixth wife to avoid having ingested each pill, she marked it in a special journal. Not long after Miria was married to the Lady Governor, she pleaded with the Hofmeisterin that there was no need for such scrutiny, that she was more than willing to take her wife-medicine, and would not even consider trying to spit it out or otherwise avoid its influence. The old servant saw it as an obvious lie and example of lowlanders' famed duplicity; after all, it was well-known what their opinion of boy-wives and wife-medicine otherwise was.
At long last, it was time to move to see the craftsman, arrived all the way from Tall Pyres in the south to service the Lady Governor's latest wife. All the way to the study, the Hofmeisterin kept reminding Miria of what it took to be a lady. The refrain was familiar. Smaller steps, was one of her demands, or she would notice something wrong about Miria's hands and demand she work better to not draw attention to them and their shape. Some of those words slid right off the sixth wife. Others found purchase.
"And remember, eyes down, and hide your lust!" the old servant whispered, pushing open the oaken door into the sun-filled study.
Asha, by the grace of Her Infernal Majesty appointed the Lady Governor of the Lowland Province, formerly known as the kingdom of Leshia, was the first thing to grab Miria's attention. How could she not? Even seated behind her chestnut deck, even slightly hunched under the weight of her work, she still towered above her wife, and the entire world. Her blood was of pure demonic extraction, belonging to a line of infernal sovereigns that extended unbroken from the time of Azya the Dire Hand, and it showed: in the brick-red of her skin, in the gentle but precise curvature of her horns, in the way her nails tapered to jet-black claws, in the deep glow at the bottom of her dark eyes. When Miria first saw this woman stand a head and a half above her, she was stunned out of speech; when she first felt her heavy hand rest on her shoulder, she could only mewl incoherently; when she first tasted her kiss on the night they were married, she could not let it out of her thoughts for weeks on end.
"Lady wife," she whispered, keeping her voice low, so that its timbre would not betray its truth.
"Miria," the Lady Governor acknowledged her, briefly looking up from the piles of papers littering the desk. "Good."
As always, she sounded tired, her husky voice struggling to reach above a disinterested whisper. But Miria would not be brought before her if the Lady Governor did not want to see her, or at least that's what the sixth wife kept telling herself, trying to push back the rising tide of want and longing threatening to burst from her. A few steady breaths, first, then, look away, across the portraits of the Lady Governor's predecessors, then the bust of Her Infernal Majesty above the desks, along with an ornamental cavalry saber granted for merit in battle and politics, then all the shelves heavy under the weight of ancient books of demonic lore, and… that wiry, balding man in a slightly tattered frock-coat standing next to Miria's wife's desk.
"Do your work, Master Glażek," the Lady Governor commanded, returning to her papers.
The man swallowed nervously, then pointed Miria to a prepared stool, with cut-out left in it for easier access. Against the power of the wife-medicine, she felt herself stiffen, in more sense than one. She exhaled, then lowered herself as commanded, precisely aware of the way each movement of her hips shifted the plug inside her slightly, and how the shape of her arousal was starting to be seen through the fabric of her dress.
"Young lady," the artisan muttered, his stilted voice thick with the half-infernal accent of Tall Pyres workmen, "can I ask you please to pull your skirt up?"
Guided by sharp hope, Miria looked up towards the Lady Governor, scanning the demonic woman for any signs of interest in what was happening in front of her desk; but the papers drew her wife more than her member. The poudres on her cheeks could not hide the scarlet blush of shame that followed, especially not as she exposed the reality of her arousal to Master Glażek.
"Please, hold it up," he muttered again, reaching for the measuring tape. "Can I touch her?"
The question was not directed at Miria, which was yet another stab of frustrated pleasure. She hid her face behind the fold of a pulled-up skirt, doing her level best to keep her breath measured.
"Hm?" the Lady Governor flipped through a letter.
"I apologize," the artisan repeated, "but I asked if I am allowed to touch your wife?"
"Oh," the demonic woman chuckled briefly. "Obviously. Is it not your job?"
Master Glażek's hands skittered between Miria's legs, each scraping of the tape yet another reminder of what was happening to her, of what was being done to her. She struggled with her breath; her heart battered like a drum. Yet, for all that, the touch itself did nothing. The old man's hands were dry and devoid of desire, professionally taking the measurements of her length and width wherever that was needed. A pencil scratched against paper, and a record was being created.
"I have all at full flag," he announced after a moment. "But I need the rest now. And the young lady is very excited."
To his credit, he did not so much as cough out a chuckle, the words falling out of his mouth perfectly calm and professional. It was harder for Miria; she choked on some half-formed plea that ought better to not be voiced. The Lady Governor put the letter she was reading back on the pile, and finally looked again; for a split-second, Miria noticed the deep shadows under her wife's eyes; then, she looked politely away. This did not let her escape the next command, the one she was quietly dreaming of the entire time.
"Miria," the Lady Governor said, voice neutral and ostensibly disinterested. "Help master Glażek, and put yourself at rest."
This time, she could not help herself but to gasp.
"Here?" she asked, hoping to sound more shy than excited.
"If you can do it in your bedroom," the demonic woman picked up a handkerchief from a drawer, and passed it to her wife, "you can do it here, where at least I get to watch."
Of course someone saw her; of course she did not hide her small attempts at pleasure well enough. But if this was the reward, all the better. Half-excited, half-terrified, she reached underneath her hiked-up skirt, hand closing around her dick. Master Glażek shrugged, turning his attention away, to the contents of the shelves.
Each movement she made—up and down—was a burning sting of shame. Her breath caught; her muscles seized up. She went slow because she was commanded to, and because she wanted this to never end, she wanted to stay in this mire of humiliation forever.
"Stop looking away," the Lady Governor's voice slapped her across her face. "Look at me."
Lifting her eyes up felt impossible, until she finally did and let the hunger hiding at the bottom of her wife's gaze pinion her in place. For a moment, she paused working herself, too terrified, or perhaps too excited.
"I want to be the only thing you can think of when you please yourself, or anyone," the Lady Governor's voice dropped to a predatory whisper, each word a barb meant to pierce through skin and reel the body and the want in. "Now fast-"
The door to the study banged open like a pistol-shot. In an instant, Miria startled, hand almost slipping free from her member; against the grain of her desire, she looked away from her wife’s face, only to see Visza, the second wife, barge in with fury on her face.
"Asha!" she burst, eyes primed on the Lady Governor, arms thrown wide apart. "I am done wa-"
The second wife's eyes followed the Lady Governor's own gaze, from the desk to Miria, and then to Miria's hand, and what it was wound around. Mid-word, the shout withered on her lips. A brief, unfortunate silence took over the study, interrupted only by Master Glażek's dry cough; the sixth wife could not figure out where to put her hands, or her eyes, and so remained frozen in place, the weight of Visza's stare resting heavily on her. The air refused to flow into a corset-cinched chest; the crest of pleasure, seemingly so close mere moments ago curdled instantly.
"You are interrupting," the Lady Governor exhaled, putting her hands on the desk, and pulling herself up to her whole height, the tips of her horns close to scratching the blackened wood beams of the ceiling above.
Fear was only a natural response; Miria had received sufficient warning as to what lurked behind the Lady Governor's calm, and what should never be provoked. For a split second, she imagined fury, she imagined harm, she imagined Visza hurt. No such thing came to pass. Transfixed, Miria watched her wife expand, filling the room with her presence, with the smell of smoke and resin which followed whenever the great demonic heart stirred. And yet, the cloven feet did not smash against the floor; the claws did not swipe through the air to mark cheeks red and blood. In two steps, the Lady Governor moved before her second wife, grabbing her hands into her own and lifting the smaller woman slightly off the floor.
"I'm sorry," Visza whispered as the two met in a warm embrace.
"Don't be," the Lady Governor whispered back, resting her again securely down. "You're upset."
Whatever worry remained in Miria dissipated, replaced by an altogether more familiar, though no less unpleasant feeling. When Visza spoke, her voice was like her body: perfectly shaped and trained, no longer bearing any tells that could betray the truth and origin. Maybe, if Miria was to stress all of her senses, she could still pick some details here and there: those outside knuckles, for example, though still positively dainty when interwoven with the Lady Governor's great claws. Or the way her jawline curved, so perfect it had to be sculpted by hand, for nature alone would never produce a beauty so precise. Jealousy, so small and so ugly, speared Miria across the heart as she watched the Lady Governor give an adoring kiss to an unruly wife, a wife in the proper sense of the word, and not some boy-toy to be played with like a cheap doll.
The Lady Governor's attention now fully away from her, Miria let her skirt fall back in place, and wiped her hand in the handkerchief, some bizarre and useless part of her suddenly wishing to sniff that piece of cloth, as if that could serve as an ersatz of the closeness and intimacy now playing out in front of her.
"Of course I am upset," Visza muttered nuzzling the Lady Governor's shoulder, before slipping away from her, only to be pulled back into yet another embrace. "I want to talk."
Something difficult flashed through the Lady Governor's face; she threw an aside-glance towards Miria, in a sense almost apologetic. She let Visza go, her lips pulling into a taut, troubled line.
"Can it wait? I am almost done here, and we can…"
"The service is in an hour," Visza cut in. "I need to be in the temple by then."
That alone would be enough to make Miria wince, let alone the mention of the temple. That the Lady Governor's second wife refused to give up the lowlander religion, in spite of its well-known hostility to the crown of Her Imperial Majesty, and more specifically to customs and traditions so close to the Lady Governor's own heart, was often gossiped about in the house, and well-known outside of it. Long before her marriage, Miria would hear it discussed at her family's table, Visza's insistence on showing up to pray to the Holy, while sitting among women no less, brought up as a sign of either depravity, or defiance. She had always imagined it, therefore, as something shameful, like her occasional visit's to her family's home: that is something frowned upon, and never mentioned openly before the Lady Governor herself. Yet again, it seemed that the rules she was to live by were not the ones that bound Visza. Yet again, jealousy made her stomach twist.
"Afterwards, then," the Lady Governor sighed, tone so clearly suffused with apology that Miria could scarcely believe it came out of her wife's mouth. "Please."
The second wife threw a stray lock of her golden hair away, let the perfect red of her lips’ paint render her pout vivid and proud. She stood her ground.
"Do you not think she," a single claw indicated Miria, the single she spoken emptily and without heat, "deserves some attention too?"
Visza threw another glance in Miria's direction, and the sixth wife did not have to strain herself to imagine what she was seeing—the same thing that Miria saw in the mirror, back in the bathroom.
"A dinner for us two only," the Lady Governor whispered, the first time her sixth wife has ever heard her plead. "And you can stay for the night."
Only once had Miria been given the privilege of sharing a meal in private with her lady wife: on the night of their marriage. Only once had she been allowed to stay for the night in her wife's bed and embrace. And here, this gift, this dream, was being bartered and scoffed at by a woman so perfectly beautiful that even looking at her was a blow to the stomach, that sharp reminder of everything Miria was not, and was never going to become. In that moment she decided, unprompted, but also without doubt, that she really did hate Visza.
"Fine," the second wife shrugged. "But get yourself properly prepared this time."
The Lady Governor did not respond, merely glanced aside, a strange shade of purple briefly painting her cheeks. When she straightened moments later, Visza was gone, the clicking of her heels fading into the distance of the corridor outside. Another stretch of unfortunate silence opened, Miria passing time squishing the handkerchief between her fingers.
"Ahem," Master Glażek coughed again, finally finishing his investigation of the Lady Governor's bookshelf.
The demonic woman muttered an ugly word under her breath, collapsing into her chair once more.
"My apologies," she said, swiping a pile of papers aside. "To the both of you. Visza can be difficult, sometimes. Difficult to placate."
Neither Miria, nor the artisan, said anything.
"Do you have everything, Master Glażak?" the next question rang out into the awkward silence.
"I," the man tapped his foot a few times, lingering on the word, "I still need her measurements when soft."
"Right," the Lady Governor waved her hand, as if to capture some straight thought. "Miria?"
"This will not be a problem, lady wife," she replied, and that was no lie.
Whatever arousal was there before, whatever lust or desire, had all vanished. She held her skirt up for Master Glaźak's professional measurement, the procedure as banal and uninteresting as being inspected by the Hofmeisterin for signs of self-harm. At least it went quickly, marked by the final scratching of the pencil.
"All done," the man announced, hiding the notebook in his bag. "Now I will just have to ask what sort of a cage are we looking for here? Permanent, semi-permanent? Play? Punishment?"
The Lady Governor rubbed her temples, claws brushing between the clumped, spike-like hair. Nothing on her face seemed inviting, or happy.
"I will write you a letter with the specification later," she declared, dismissing the matter. "You can go."
Some unpleasant part of Miria realized that there would be no new chastity cage for her; that Visza spoiled that fancy, too. She deflated, as much as the corset would allow her. The artisan left, shutting the door tight behind himself, and leaving her alone with her wife. In some ways, it was everything that Miria had wanted out of today, or almost everything. In most others, it felt merely wretched. She avoided the Lady Governor's eyes, staring into the thick rug carpeting the floor and thinking of nothing but returning to her quarters, being rid of the plug, maybe allowed to eat finally, and-
"I'm sorry," the Lady Governor muttered, heavy and sad. "I had plans for us. But Vi-," she stuttered on the name, and left it out. "But now I only have a headache."
The words were nothing more but further confirmation of what Miria had already known.
"Of course, lady wife," she responded automatically.
Papers rustled as the demonic woman rearranged them around the desk into new, equally unruly piles. There was personal correspondence among them, and morning papers, and official records: a sea of ink and paper enough to drown anyone. It was no small task, governing a province. Especially one as resistant as the Lowlands.
"I promise," the Lady Governor evened out a block of papers, her hand pressing them tightly together, "I promise I will make it up to you, some time soon."
One more noxious pause followed, filled with questioning glances, and the mounting sense of waste. Miria skipped from one leg to another, though it was one of those habits the Hofmeisterin would have slapped out of her as inappropriate. If the Lady Governor noticed, she did not let it be known. In any case something else was taking her attention.
"You are jealous?" she asked in a way that was more of a statement of a fact.
"Of course not, lady wife," Miria lied.
It was not a very good lie, and some deeply frustrated side of her would love nothing more but to be called out on it, perhaps brought to heel for such misbehaviour, or at least acknowledged in some more solid, substantial way. The word for this desire was petulance, and as always, it did not go rewarded.
"That is good," the Lady Governor exhaled, far too exhausted—by things boy-toys like Miria were not privy to know—to be able to care for petty, empty lies. "Keep it up. You can go."
1. In Which Miria Has Her Measure Taken