“Madeline!” A busty lady-in-waiting called the princess’ name in harried tones as she rushed through ornate chambers, her wide and worthy face screwed up with menial concern as she passed peerless and priceless objects collected from across the world. Hailing from the kingdom of Axum to the coast of Malabar, treasures were on display throughout Griffon Hold. Several particularly prized pieces adorned Princess Madeline’s chamber, chosen personally with light-fingered care from the royal vaults.
“Madeline, where are you, Madeline? There you are, Madeline!”
Dark-haired, elegant, and likewise blithely ignoring the wealth of nations, Princess Madeline sat perched in the window of her bedchamber, one long leg cast over the sill as she gazed down at the knights training below. They were all fine strapping men of a kind she found most enchanting to watch, especially when they fought without shirts, their brawny bodies clashing and grinding in the heat of simulated battle. She scorned Madame Chauncey, more interested in the way Sir Arthur’s shoulders and arms rippled as he brought his sword crashing down against Sir Robert’s shield. Though no two of the dozen or so men were made quite the same way, each of them had a brutish animal power that could not be denied. They were nobles by nature, gentlemen of a sort, but once they took their weapons in their hands they became as ferocious as any wild beast. Tempered by battle, eager to best one another, their blades flashed in time with the skillful maneuvering of their bodies. Large hands wrapped about long hilts, the thick flesh of their shoulders and arms moving with precision as they worked their blades through the air, forearms straining under the task. Their backs were works of wonder, broad at the shoulders and narrowing to slim but powerful waists. And then there were the hips, taut and strong, and their buttocks, tight rounds that moved with more grace than anyone might attribute to men who were commonly covered in pounds of steel.
The sight made tremors race through Madeline’s nether regions, exciting parts of her body as yet untouched by man. She admired the knights’ strength and wished that she might be allowed down into the paved yard to walk among them and see their sweat-shined musculature up close. One corner of Madeline’s chamber housed an almost life-sized sculpture of a naked man fastidiously carved by a famous Greek, but it was nothing compared to the display of live flesh she was party to most days.
Of course, princesses were not allowed to fraternize with knights. Madeline was not allowed in the company of any man, save the suitors expressly permitted by her father. But that did not stop her imagination from running away with her at frequent intervals. To have the great powerful hands of a gallant knight upon her was her dearest, most scandalous wish, a fantasy that followed her each night into the great four-posted bed shrouded by silk.
It was not to be, of course, for she would only marry someone worthy of her station. Nothing less than a king would do for Madeline de Griffon, for above all things, Madeline was a princess with ambition. At that moment however, her most pressing ambition was to run her tongue over Sir Atronus’ midsection where the ridges of his abdominal plane created a maze of delights. She could almost taste the salt on her tongue as she imagined what must be below the thick barrier of his leather belt.
Unable to get the princess’ attention, Madame Chauncey put her head out the window next to Madeline’s and called across open air. “Madeline! It is time for your fitting!”
Biting her lower lip, Madeline hid a smile as the knights looked up at her, their attention diverted by Madame Chauncey’s shrill tones. She lifted her fingers in a little wave, earning bows in response.
“Madeline, I must insist!”
Madame Chauncey was old enough and sufficiently senior in the household that she had no qualms about chiding a princess. She had been chiding princesses since before Madeline was born, and now that Madeline was approaching twenty years of age, the woman still bustled about like a mother hen.
Unable to ignore her any longer, Madeline reluctantly turned her attention to Madame Chauncey, seeing that the good lady had in her hands voluminous fabric in the vague outline of a dress.
“The seamstresses are running short on time to make your dress,” Madame Chauncey complained. “You have been more evasive than usual.”
Madeline huffed. “It’s not my wedding,” she said, throwing her leg down to the floor. “What do I care?”
Madame Chauncey let out a little squeal of indignation. “What did you do to your dress?”
“I don’t know,” Madeline shrugged, ignoring the ripped satin hem. It had taken three nuns three months to create the dress she was wearing, and all of three hours for Madeline to destroy it. She was not concerned by that fact in the slightest.
“For shame!” The lady-in-waiting flapped her hands in horror.
“Ugh.” Madeline tugged at the bodice. “Take it and wear it yourself if you like it so much.”
“You know you are not allowed to give your dresses to the servants anymore,” Madame Chauncey said. “The chambermaid was whipped when she was caught in your summer gown. You really must take more care, princess, you know…”
Madame Chauncey’s lecturing tones faded into the background as Madeline allowed herself to be led to her sister Elizabeth’s chambers, which were filled with maids and seamstresses and ladies-in-waiting. Though the rooms were large, there was barely room to move amidst all the cooing and the clamor. Elizabeth was in the center of it all, her slim figure draped in white silk to the excitement of all concerned.
“Like a lily in the dawn!”
Madeline rolled her eyes and leaned against the wall. The view from Elizabeth’s window was not as nice as the view from her own. Instead of a courtyard full of brawny men making rough with one another, there was a peaceful garden full of roses and a pond well stocked with fish. It was as peaceful as it was tedious.
Elizabeth was the beautiful one, always had been with her clear pale skin and silvery blond hair. Madeline had taken more after her father, inherited his darker coloring and ruddy cheeks. Elizabeth was set to marry a prince of Navarre, to live in luxury and comfort all her days. Madeline envied Elizabeth many things, but her husband-to-be was not one of them. She was marrying the fifth prince in the royal line, a man of elegance and means, but so far removed from the throne he would be lucky to look upon it, let alone take it.
Madeline had more ambition than her sister. There was little use being a princess if one remained one all one’s life. Being a princess was an excellent starting point, but Madeline did not intend to rest on her laurels.
“Has Madeline arrived as yet?” The queen raised her voice above the fawning and the cooing.
“I am here, mother,” Madeline said, putting on the expression of a dutiful daughter. The queen looked like an older version of Elizabeth, graceful and beautiful and charming. She had never directly told Madeline that she was less proud of her, but it was quite obvious in the way she behaved. Elizabeth and the queen were quite inseparable in their daily activities, whereas Madeline was often left to her own devices. She greatly preferred her own devices, so the arrangement worked out well for all concerned.
“Madeline, you will be wearing sky blue.” The queen paused, as if waiting for some reaction. Several ladies-in-waiting clasped their hands together in excitement. Madeline copied their gestures and added a broad, fake smile that seemed to please her mother well enough.
“It will bring out your eyes.”
“My eyes are brown, mother.”
“Oh, are they? So they are.” The queen turned her attention back to Elizabeth, who was fretting over a bow that, according to her, was slightly misaligned.
A seamstress eventually bustled over to Madeline and began draping fabric over her as if she were a bit of furniture. All manner of silk and satin was piled and wrapped and pinned and tugged and pinched and moved about into unnatural positions she would never have assumed of her own accord.
“Stand straight! Shoulders back! Bottom out! Bust out!”
The orders didn’t begin to make sense, but Madeline tried to comply with them as best as possible. Where Elizabeth looked graceful in her dress, a floating nymph in a sea of satin, Madeline’s gown seemed somehow frumpy thanks to her broader shoulders, smaller bust, and taller stature. She was quite beautiful in her own way, but her way was not the queen’s way and so there was much tutting and cinching as the seamstresses worked to make her look more princess-like.
“No heels for Madeline,” the queen said. “Slippers for her.”
“Better still, why don’t I walk on my knees?”
“We could make the train a little longer to hide her lower legs,” the seamstress said, taking the idea seriously.
“Ridiculous, Madeline,” the queen scoffed. “You will walk on your feet the same as everyone else.”
“Yes, mother,” Madeline agreed.
“Your height cannot be helped,” the queen sighed. “It’s your father’s fault, of course.”
Madeline was not quite as tall as her father, but she was certainly tall enough to look distinctly different from her mother and sister. She did share their features, a neat nose and broad lips set in a heart-shaped face, but that was not enough to earn their approval.
“She is not as tall as a man,” Elizabeth said critically. “Too tall for a woman, perhaps, but not as tall as a man.”
“Taller than a short man,” Madeline replied. “Even you are taller than a short man.”
“Madeline!” the queen exclaimed. “What a thing to say.”
Madeline thought it a perfectly innocuous thing to say, but one never knew what the queen would take offense to. “Are we to pretend that we are shorter than all men who ever lived?”
“Madeline, please! You are so uncouth at times. You must embrace your daintiness.”
“I may as well embrace my wings and my horns as well.”
Every woman in the room was looking at Madeline with an expression of horror. Some were not entirely sure that she was speaking in jest. They likely thought that her hair hid buds of some devilish origin.
“Pray for me, ladies,” Madeline smirked, rather enjoying their horror.
“I pray for you each and every day,” the queen moaned. “I pray that you will find a suitable suitor. This wedding will be an excellent occasion for you to meet likely men.”
“I have no interest in any man besides a king, you know that.”
“Such airs you give yourself, Madeline,” the queen scoffed. “One does not simply marry a king. One marries a prince and one hopes.”
“Ah yes, the power of hopes and prayers and butterflies and bunny noses,” Madeline replied, further scandalizing the seamstresses and ladies-in-waiting.
“The wedding will be an excellent occasion for you to meet suitors,” her mother said. “If you can hold your tongue long enough not to terrify them.”
“Put her in a scold’s cap,” Elizabeth laughed, “she’ll soon learn not to talk nonsense.”
“Put her in a chastity belt,” Madeline said, pointing at Elizabeth. “Oh, never mind, it is far too late for such a measure,” she rejoined.
An audible gasp went up around the room. One lady came over faint and had to be fanned by the others. Elizabeth’s stare was vicious, as well it might be. Madeline knew all too well of her indiscretions, which were as passionate as they were numerous. There was not a lord in the castle who had not at some time lain with Elizabeth. Her thighs were known for their softness, shapeliness, and the fact that they were frequently spread. Some unkind souls said that the reason she was marrying the prince of Navarre was because her reputation had not yet penetrated his lands. They said it in secret of course, lest their words lead to the loss of their head. Only Madeline could speak with relative impunity, but there were limits to what even she could say.
“Madeline, take yourself to your chambers at once,” the queen ordered. “I will hear no more from you.”
Grateful to be turned loose, Madeline wasted no time in leaving Elizabeth’s chambers. She had her own affairs to tend to; ones that did not involve pretty dresses or ladies-in-waiting, but that did involve a change of clothing.
Madeline’s wardrobe was extensive, but her favorite gowns were not the pretty ones hung in great numbers, but the ones wrapped in linen at the bottom of a drawer. It was from this place that she drew out a plain cloth dress with a leather bodice and matching hood and donned it. When the hood was drawn over her head, she looked like any other maid in the castle.
So disguised, Madeline slipped through the halls and into the gardens. They were sprawling and meticulously maintained, but not used as often as one might have imagined they would be. One could experience great solitude and peace in the gardens—or use them for a secret assignation.
“Edward?” Madeline hissed the name as she approached a hedge of bright blue flowers. “Edward, are you here?”
There was a rustling and a squire appeared out of the bushes. “Princess Madeline,” he bowed, a cheeky grin on his handsome young face.
“Do you have it?”
“I do,” he said. “Fresh from the far isles, a blend unlike any other. It’s spiced…”
“I don’t care if it was dragged through dung.” Madeline sighed with relief. “Pack me a pipe, would you?”
She handed her favorite pipe to the squire, who wasted no time in packing the bowl with green leaves marked with bright orange streaks and little white crystals that reminded Madeline of the tale of manna from heavens.
“Princess,” Edward said, handing it back. “I will strike a light for you.” He took out an iron and flint and began striking it into a little bowl full of straw brought for the purpose. For long minutes, he worked the sparks. Finally one caught light and the straw began to burn. Madeline’s pipe was lit and she drew a deep smoke-filled breath into her lungs.
Coughing ensued, but along with it came a deep sense of well-being. The cares of the day slipped away ever so slightly. Madeline glanced upon the bowl and saw that there was much more yet to smoke. By the time she was done she would almost certainly be entirely free of concerns. With the squire by her side, the green grass beneath her feet and the sky hanging benignly above their heads, Madeline began to relax to the sweet song of sparrows flitting about the bushes.
All was well, until a deep male voice intruded upon the chirping of the birds. Someone had come upon them, someone as irritated as he was large. Madeline experienced him first as a large shadow falling over her shoulders from behind, then as an annoyed growl.
“I have told you before not to carouse with the maids!”
Edward was propelled away by a hard cuff to the back of his head, dealt by a giant of a man. Madeline turned with pipe still clenched between her teeth, the bowl supported by her pale, elegant hand. She may have been dressed in the clothing of a commoner, but she carried herself with undeniably royal comportment.
The man, who was evidently a knight, was far more angry with his squire than with her. Indeed, he had not properly noticed her as yet, he was too busy being towering and imposing.
“Sir Gregory, you do not understand…” Edward stammered as he tried to explain.
“I understand perfectly well, lad,” Sir Gregory replied. “You’ve always had a taste for loose women.”
“Loose?” Madeline was quite scandalized by the description, but amused too if the truth were known. She had been called many things, but loose was not one of them. Elizabeth’s alleged promiscuity was quite foreign to Madeline, who had never allowed herself to be seduced by anyone.
It was good to know that her disguise, though simple, was amply effective, for it had fooled the knight without question. Madeline bit the stem of the pipe and looked upon Sir Gregory with no small measure of enjoyment. He was a wickedly attractive man with long dark hair framing a wolfish face, all hard lines and strength. His nose was straight with a low profile, his lips well formed with attractive sensitivity. It was his size that she found most exciting; he practically dwarfed Madeline and for once, she felt quite dainty.
“Hush, girl,” Sir Gregory growled, still without looking at her.
“Sir Gregory,” Edward said, making another attempt to explain. “This is no loose woman. This is Princess Madeline.”
“Princess?” Sir Gregory turned and looked at her properly for the first time. A little smirk played over Madeline’s lips as the handsome man’s pale blue eyes narrowed, then widened in surprise. “Princess Madeline!”
“The very same,” Madeline said, gesturing grandly with the pipe.
The knight snatched it from her hand and emptied it onto the grass, stamping the smoldering embers beneath his oversized boot. “Surely you must know this dulls the mind and diseases the lungs.”
“I know that it is not the place of a knight to take anything from a princess,” Madeline said haughtily, holding out her hand. “Pack it anew and strike a fresh light if you please. Your infernal interference has put a damper on my afternoon.”
Sir Gregory shook his head curtly and held her pipe aloft. “I rather think I should take this to your father and let him see what amusements you find left to your own devices. Where are your chaperones? Where are your ladies-in-waiting?”
“I do not need to be followed about wherever I go,” Madeline said. “Besides, my father would not believe you.” A most smug smile spread over Madeline’s pretty lips. “He does not believe the reports of the ladies-in-waiting, why would he believe you?”
“Because I am not a chivvying lady, but a knight of his realm.”
“And I am his daughter,” Madeline replied.
“His insolent, misbehaved daughter,” Sir Gregory amended. “Who fraternizes with squires and shirks the duties of her station.”
His tone was scathing in the extreme, which Madeline did not take to in the slightest. Princesses were rarely chastised, and certainly never lectured by knights. Though she did not have his height or his stature, she matched his scorn in her expression and posture.
“Who are you to speak to me in such a fashion? I think it is you who has forgotten his place and duties,” she replied. “Now give me my pipe.”
“I will not,” he said. “And I suggest you moderate your tone.”
Speaking of tones, there was some threat implied in his, but Madeline did not care for that. He could glower and growl all he liked; she was a princess and he was merely a knight.
“I order you to give it back to me this instant!” She became more strident in her demand. Surely he would give in if she ordered him with sufficient authority.
“Princess, I would not give this back to you if the king commanded me himself,” Sir Gregory replied. “Rewarding your shrill and shrewish temper would be doing you the ultimate disservice. Take yourself back to your chambers, and do not let me find you consorting with squires again.”
Edward the squire had taken the opportunity to slip away during their argument, leaving Madeline to face the knight’s wrath alone. That did not concern her in the slightest. He might be a man of war, but her tongue could be as dangerous as any sword.
“Rather a squire than a puffed-up buffoon!”
Sir Gregory’s expression drew grim. “Princess, you are dangerously close to being thrashed.”
“Bwahahahaha!” Madeline laughed at him, clutching at her side, so great was her mirth. The very idea was completely out of the realm of possibility. The worst punishment Madeline had ever endured was being forbidden from the stables after being caught on the back of Lord Crawley’s stallion. She had long since found a way around that particular restriction thanks to the willingness of servants to lie in return for royal favors. “Give me what is mine,” she insisted, holding her hand up under his nose.
Instead of restoring her pipe to her, Sir Gregory took her hand and turned her about. She quickly regretted the ditching of her petticoats, for the relatively thin fabric of the servant’s dress offered hardly any protection at all against his palm, which landed across her buttocks with a hard slap, shocking and paining her in equal measure.
Madeline had never experienced physical chastisement before. She found it most unpleasant. Not only was it uncomfortable, but it was very embarrassing to be struck upon her hindquarters like some commoner. Shame flushed her cheeks as heat suffused her buttocks.
“Stop! In the name of the king, stop!”
Her cries were more plaintive than regal as she twisted in Gregory’s grasp, her slipper-clad feet dancing back and forth beneath the beating of his palm, which was now coming in steady unavoidable strokes.
“I will stop when you apologize for behaving in a manner unbecoming a princess,” Sir Gregory informed her.
“Apologize! For being treated brutally? Never!” Madeline squirmed around to face him. “You will pay for this with your neck!”
Gregory tugged her back around and slapped her bottom yet again, his strong hand sweeping back and forth through the air, landing over and over against her tender rump. He was thrashing her as if she were no more than some peasant scamp, showing little regard for the illustriousness of her person.
“Make your apologies, princess, or it will be the worse for you.”
Worse? She couldn’t imagine anything worse than what was already happening. “It will be worse for you if you don’t unhand me!” Madeline shouted the threat. “The headsman will be too good for you, I will have you chained to four horses and… aoowww!”
Her screech came not from pain but shock as the knight summarily lifted her dress and slapped under it, searing her bare cheeks with the hot kiss of his palm. She cursed and spat, fighting her tormentor with every muscle in her body.
Sir Gregory responded by not only slapping her harder, but by picking her up with one arm wrapped about her slender waist and carrying her to the marble bench given by Lord and Lady Salisbury on their last visit. Their taste in marble furniture ran to the solid, so it unfortunately held their combined weight with ease. Gregory tugged her over his strong thigh and continued slapping her bare buttocks, now displayed in all their maidenly glory.
Her modesty was compromised, her flesh aflame, her mind in chaos. As a chaste woman, Madeline had never felt the touch of a man other than the kiss of lips on the back of her lily white palm. There were many rules she broke, but the edict of chastity was not one of them. Lecherous lords abounded in the court, but they held no allure for Madeline. She had always preferred the knights, but they usually maintained their distance. This was her closest private encounter with one, and it was proving incredibly unpleasant.
“Will you apologize, princess?”
“I will not apologize, but I will laugh when they take you to the dungeon!”
Madeline might have been experiencing the first spanking of her existence, but she was not inclined to give in to Sir Gregory’s demands just because he was striking her. One could not allow oneself to be coerced by force, lest one be forever vulnerable to such methods.
Sir Gregory stilled his hand. “Your buttocks are the color of a rose,” he said. “And your trembling tones tell me that you are feeling the effects, so why do you not see the error of your ways?”
“The blood of kings runs in my veins,” Madeline hissed. “Do you think you can tap me with your effeminate hands and force me to submit? Fool!”
The eloquence with which she spoke surprised her as much as it seemed to surprise him. His hand hovered above her bottom, frozen in time.
“I would say the fool is the woman who taunts the man thrashing her hide.”
“You would no doubt say a great many things,” Madeline replied. “Now unhand me and give me my pipe.”
“You are not in a position to make demands, princess. Surely you would prefer your freedom to your pipe?”
“I want your head!” Madeline kicked out in an attempt to escape Sir Gregory’s grasp, but he tightened his arms and held her firmly in place. “You know my father will have your gizzards strung along the castle walls for this,” she threatened. “You have compromised my modesty, disturbed my maidenhead!”
“Rest assured, your maidenhead remains intact,” Gregory replied, his tone dour but with a hint of amusement. “As for your modesty, you did not seem to be much concerned with that when you were cursing like a peasant and consorting with a squire.”
“I was not consorting with anyone. Return my clothing to its proper place and let me go this instant before I have you thrown to the lions.”
“There are no lions here, princess.”
“I will have some brought in just to eat you!”
“Oh,” Sir Gregory chuckled darkly. “Whichever prince marries you best have his hand well callused before he does.” With that, he began to thrash her once more, his hard palm beating a tattoo against her blushing cheeks as she squealed and wailed and called his parentage into question most vociferously. It went on for what seemed like an interminably long time, until her bottom was so hot and sore she could no longer stand it.
“Stop!” She beat her fists against his leg. “Stop!”
“It stops when you apologize,” he reminded her.
“I wouldn’t say sorry if it were the only word I knew,” Madeline insisted.
“Then you will be very sore come the end of this.”
What saved Madeline from an endless punishment was the appearance of two ladies-in-waiting who announced their coming presence with tinkling laughter. Sir Gregory might not have feared Madeline’s threats, but he clearly was concerned by the prospect of being discovered in a compromising position. He righted Madeline and pushed her skirts down, returning her to modesty in less time than it took a grain of sand to fall through an hourglass.
The ladies-in-waiting came about the corner, curtsied upon seeing Madeline and carried themselves off to another part of the castle. Madeline took the opportunity to remove herself from Sir Gregory’s reach and rub her bottom through her skirts to soothe some of the ache away. She glared at him, her eyes narrowed at his rakish face. He was so very handsome, his beard well-trimmed, his shoulder-length hair shining like a raven’s wing. For the first time, she noticed the light scar running over the bridge of his nose. There was another on his lower lip, evidence that he knew what it was to endure pain.
He looked at her with a steady gaze, his blue eyes locked on her with an expression that was hard to read. “You were lucky this time, princess,” he drawled. “Take care that I do not catch you again.”
“If I were you, I’d take care not to show my face in the castle again, lest I tell my father what indignities you subjected me to.”
Sir Gregory rose to his feet. Concerned that he might take hold of her once more, Madeline lifted her skirts and made a quick escape.