The problem, thought Lady Alice Lourcy, daughter of the earl of Mercester, betrothed to wed the lord of Lormoran, is not that Lord Roderick is a loathsome man.
Roderick Sperry, lord of Lormoran, certainly was a loathsome man. Alice had begun to understand, however, that his lordship’s loathsomeness did not in fact represent the most important impediment to her happiness.
The problem, she thought, is that he conceals it so adeptly.
Slightly stunned by the realization, Alice spurred her bay mare forward a bit, just to see if perhaps the endless flat fields of the lowlands would end soon. She cantered past the soldiers in front of her and saw on the afternoon horizon a smudge that might be the beginning of the highlands—or might not.
“My lady,” came the voice of the captain of her escort reproachfully from behind her, “pray do not make it more difficult for your guard to keep you safe.”
“I am sorry, sir,” Alice said as sweetly as she could, and let her horse fall into a slow walk. As the captain, sent by Alice’s future husband to collect her in the South, passed her, he gave her a smile that she knew he meant to seem reassuring. She thought he seemed an upright fellow, but to have him pretend to comfort her when he, like all of them, must surely suspect just how bad a man they brought Alice to marry, made her want to scream.
None of the stories Alice had heard concerning Lord Roderick—of seduction and even rape, of murder, of pillage on a grand scale—came with the slightest proof. Indeed, Alice herself might not have credited them had she not seen the charming, handsome lord at his exercise late one night in the park of her father’s castle at Mowton, Alice’s childhood home.
Now, as she rode North to the Scottish borderlands, to be wed to him despite the pleas and protestations she had made much too late, she shuddered as she remembered the sight of him crouched over Joan, the eighteen-year-old scullery maid, whom he had bent across a marble bench almost concealed in the darkness. Alice could only make out indistinctly what he did to the young girl, but it seemed so violent, with his hips pounding into the maid’s little bottom, that Alice had almost screamed bloody murder.
Something about the way the maid cried out, however, as if her seducer’s motions were not entirely unwelcome, made Alice hold her tongue and creep closer, for she heard her betrothed murmuring something, and she wanted to know what it was.
“There you are, Joan. There you are,” he was saying. “How does that pretty cunt feel now?”
Alice’s face went hot, and then cold.
“You did not tell me true,” said Lord Roderick, his breathing now a little labored, “did you? You are no virgin after all, my girl! Don’t fret, for I did not believe you.”
Joan sobbed under him, “Please, my lord. Please… be gentle.” Again, though, Alice could tell that whatever Lord Roderick was doing to her, as his white backside moved rhythmically back and forth, just visible in the light from the windows of the castle’s great hall, had perhaps not come about by the application of force, but rather through Lord Roderick’s dark good looks and his sparkling eyes, and his way of teasing a girl until she thought she might well do anything he asked.
Yes, the lord of Lormoran had charmed Alice herself, at first, just as he had charmed her parents so thoroughly. She had only herself to blame, she supposed, in the end. She had preened herself upon his attentions, and when he had talked of the possibility that she might be lady of Lormoran, Alice had blushed in a way she knew would make him renew such courtly talk at the next opportunity.
Now she had stolen out of the castle, having seen him departing and having thought that, like the intellectual man Alice had grown much too sure Lord Roderick must be, he went now to commune with his thoughts in the solitude of the park. Instead, she found him engaged in this strange act with a scullery maid; an act of which Alice had never dreamt, but which she knew somehow did not comport with her idea of Lord Roderick as an honest, upright nobleman.
“Hush, girl,” he said. “In a few moments I shall put my prick up your bottom. I hope I shall not have to whip you in order to make you lie still for it.”
“Oh, my lord,” Joan said, “please, no.”
“Indeed, yes, you little slut,” Lord Roderick said coldly, not ceasing to move against her backside with a steady rhythm. “Must I gag you, so that you do not cry out? I would not want my bride to hear you scream and betray the fate that awaits her bottom also.”
Alice could not suppress a little gasp, where she stood in the shadows with her back to the marble balustrade, only ten feet away. Thankfully for her, Joan gave a loud cry at the same moment. “No, please… please, my lord, I shall… I shall be silent.”
“Oh, you shan’t be silent,” said Lord Roderick. “I like to make a girl feel it. But you shall not scream, or I shall certainly gag you.”
He seemed to move back a little, and she heard the sound of him… spitting? Then he changed his stance, and he seemed to be holding something in his hand, in front of him, at the level of his waist or a little below.
Alice thought she had never felt so queer in her entire life. Prick. Was that the word he had said? Up her bottom.
Then Joan gave a little wail, and Lord Roderick said, “Hush, you little hussy, and take it. Open, I say, or I shall whip this fat bottom until you do open it… there… there we are.” The nobleman’s last words had an air of satisfaction that told Alice that he must have achieved something very pleasurable. “I knew you could do it, my girl. Now hold this arse still while I fuck it.”
And that was how Alice had learned the word: the most terrible word of all. These new words, whose meaning her mind grasped desperately at with shadowy suspicions that seemed to make them all the more frightening, made her feel that she might faint just at their harsh sound: cunt, prick, fuck. Her mind whirled, and she seemed to know and not to know what it was she witnessed.
Joan gave little whimpers, which she clearly tried to restrain in her desire not to be gagged in addition to all the other indignities visited upon her by Lord Roderick. Lord Roderick, whose rhythmic motions had quieted when he first put his prick—whatever that meant—inside the scullery maid’s plump rear end, now began to move again, and Joan to cry out a little louder.
Alice could tell that some sort of crisis came near, some resolution of this strange encounter, and then suddenly the nobleman’s frame seemed to go rigid as Joan gave a sob of submission under him. Lord Roderick grunted, “There you go, girl,” again, and his hips gave a final little jerk and then went still.
He breathed heavily for a moment, and then he got up and, looking down at Joan who lay still over the bench, began to fumble with the front of his breeches. Suddenly Alice was possessed with a yearning that he would turn about so that she could see what it was he had there, his prick, that he had used upon Joan’s cunt—now, with a little thought, Alice blushed as she realized what a girl’s cunt must be: the private part that had no other name, as far as Alice’s governess was concerned. Upon her cunt, and then… up her bottom; the very thought of having something there—something put there by a man, a husband, made her breath come quickly.
But as he turned away without a word to Joan, and Alice pressed herself back into the shadows in fright and ignorant horror, her future husband looked just as he had when he had slipped out of the great hall: composed, handsome, and intellectual.
Remembering it made Alice feel sick to her stomach. She had not fully understood then, or, as she resolutely gathered what little information it was possible for a girl to gather about a man like Lord Roderick, had she seen her terrible difficulty clearly. Now, though, as she rode North to meet him because she knew she must for the good of her family, and because she had not the slightest idea what she could do to escape her fate, since she herself had encouraged, and then accepted, his proposal, she saw that the true difficulty lay in his unshakable pretense of virtue, along with the unwillingness of anyone, including her noble parents, to contemplate the enormity of the lord of Lormoran’s vileness.
When Alice had, on feet that felt like they belonged to a statue, come out of concealment and walked to Joan the scullery maid to try to determine if she was injured, the girl had cried out at Alice’s touch. Alice had helped her lower her shift to cover the places where Lord Roderick had taken his strange pleasure and which Alice, to her trembling fright, had seen bore signs of what the prick had done to Joan: her slit seemed much wider open than Alice’s own, and a strange little stream of a white liquid seeped from her bottom-hole.
Joan looked at her almost coldly, through red-rimmed eyes, although Alice only wished to help. As she laced her bodice, she said, “I am sorry, my lady. He… It happens, my lady. Cook told me that it sometimes happens, when… when it happened to another girl, last year. And I don’t think it means…”
“But…” Alice had said. “But what was it? What did his lordship… do to you?”
“I cannot tell you that, my lady,” said the plump little maid, with a hint of anger at Alice’s making such a request of her. “But…” She seemed to search for something to say that would apologize, but not too strenuously, for Alice could tell that Joan did not think herself truly at fault. Finally, she said, “Cook says noblemen have their ways.” Then, with a cold curtsey, and without meeting Alice’s searching eyes again, Joan turned and walked away toward the kitchen.
Alice sat there on the bench and wept, though she did not truly know for what. She supposed a few of the tears lay to the account of the fallen idol of the man who had seemed so charming, and had proposed so very gracefully, in the knot garden of this very park, not a hundred yards away from where he had… fucked Joan over the bench upon which Alice now sat. But most of the tears rose in anger at her own ignorance, and her powerlessness in a society where she more and more began to suspect her mind would be wasted. Even were Alice to find a way out of this marriage—and at that moment, on the bench, she did not yet even have the suspicions she now had as to how very bad a man Lord Roderick was, and could only place him in the generally bad category of seducer—she would only have to marry someone else, and sacrifice her passion to transform the world according to the new ideals of men like Swift upon the altar of motherhood.
She rode sedately now, with the captain and another soldier in front, and two soldiers behind as proof against the enmity of the highland clans for Lord Roderick, and the Scottish maid he had sent riding just behind her. The slow pace of the dreadful procession northward seemed to chime perfectly with the slow, dreadful life that would begin when she reached Lormoran.
At least it seemed the ground was rising a bit. The party now rode into a little vale, with hills at either side. Down from the crest of the hill at Alice’s left hand, too bubbled a little stream that would, it appeared, cross the road ahead, heading eastward to the river Sir Frederick had called the Blane Water.
Suddenly a strange cry came from the right, and Alice turned to see a man who could only be a highlander standing on the crest of the hill. Another cry from the left, and Alice’s heart stopped for a moment, as the ambush became clear: ten highlanders, their claymores in their hands, began to descend the hills at either side.
The captain said, “My lady, do not fear. They must only seek ransom. We cannot fight them, so we will have to go with them to their village and await his lordship’s steward with the ransom money.”
Then he called out to the man who seemed to be in front of the men coming down the hill upon the right side, “We surrender. We will go with you and await ransom.”
“I am sorry, then, to tell you,” said the highlander, an imposing, dark-haired figure in a dirty shirt and over it the strange folded and belted garment that Alice had only ever seen in pictures and seemed unable in her terror to remember the name of, “that you will not be ransomed.”
Alice looked at the captain, whose face had gone white. “What is this?” the officer asked.
He received no answer. Instead, the highlanders rushed toward them with their enormous swords upraised. Alice’s mare reared, she fell from its back, and knew no more.