Sir Guy de Freche, soon to be earl of Mercester, smiled broadly at Lord Aimar de Haulac, the king’s justiciar. “I knew we could come to an arrangement,” he said.
Lord Aimar’s face did not show anything like the joy Sir Guy knew must be radiant in his own. “War costs silver,” the justiciar said, simply and angrily.
“And gold,” agreed Sir Guy amicably. “And, apparently, lovely young women who stand in the king’s gift.”
Lord Aimar stared at him coldly.
“Oh, come now,” Sir Guy continued. “I am sure that Anne has caught your fancy, too.”
Now Lord Aimar’s ire exploded. “The terrible truth of the king’s need for silver won’t stop my tongue, Sir Guy. I’ve known well of your ways with young women unfortunate enough to come into your power since the days we fostered together in Le Mans. I believe it a dishonor to the Angevin name forever that the king took your gold and will deliver Anne of Mowton into your hands.”
“Oh, Aimar,” Sir Guy said, not losing a shred of composure at the outburst but rather gaining in confidence, and in enjoyment of the quarrel. “Are you thinking of poor little Marguerite?” Guy had the pleasure of watching Aimar’s face grow white. Aimar had been in love with Marguerite, one of Lady Rebecca du Maine’s ladies-in-waiting. That love indeed had served as reason enough for Guy to seduce her, and then betray her so that he could watch her flogged by Lord Geoffrey du Maine in the castle courtyard.
“You son of the devil,” Aimar said through clenched teeth. “If you have anything of the like planned for this poor defenseless girl, who has lost her father and brother at your hands…”
“Come now, are you accusing me of their deaths? If I’m not mistaken, their murderers were brought to justice swiftly—by me, if I recall correctly.”
“Yes, brought to justice by you. According to the account you gave.”
“Who else could give an account, seeing that all the Mowton retainers died with their lord? If I hadn’t arrived with my own retinue and put those blackguards to the sword, the murder would certainly have gone unpunished. And now I have the joy to make the selfless gesture of marrying Anne.”
“To gain the earldom, and the victory over the house of Lourcy, that your family of blackguards has sought for five generations. I have half a mind to tell the king that I must resign this dreadful commission.”
“Please, Aimar. You can’t really have loved Marguerite so very much, can you? Are you saying that you will forego the purse there?” Guy pointed with his chin to the large sack that sat on the table between them, where they sat in Lord Aimar’s solar. That purse went to Lord Aimar, and Lord Aimar alone, as a conveyance fee. “You cannot tell me that you were not hard as rock, watching Lord Geoffrey birch her bare bottom so very thoroughly, for being found to have lain with a man?”
“Son of the devil!” Lord Aimar said. “No, why should I deny it?”
“And do you not grow hard, thinking of what I will do to poor young Anne, just eighteen and ready for hard riding? Ready, too, to suffer for the crimes of her family against mine?”
“Curse you,” Lord Aimar said with quiet fury. “Get out of my sight.”
“Oh, very well,” said Guy. “Whom will you appoint to bring her from the convent back to Mowton to be married?”
“Sir Nele de Chail.”
“Oh, young Nele. I was at Taillebourg with him. Spends a lot of time looking glum, as I recall.”
“He’s a fosterling of mine—I’ll probably make him a sheriff when he returns.”
“Promising lad, then?” Guy couldn’t help teasing. “I may need him for a steward.”
Aimar growled, “You may be sure I will warn him against you, devil’s son. No good man needs you barking at his heels, looking to pull him down.”
“Oh, I doubt he needs warning. I think I recall that he observed my sport with a certain girl after Taillebourg rather enviously, for all his scowls.”
Guy laughed and stood up from the table, looking without regret at the bags of coin he had just given over as the price of Anne of Mowton’s maidenhead, and the earldom she brought with her. Really, though the earldom was a pretty thing, the thought of a coronet to set upon his brow didn’t soften the blow of having to part with so much wealth.
No, it was the cock-stiffening visions of what he would do to beautiful Anne of the fair hair and blue eyes that made that wealth seem of so little consequence. To subdue her under him, with birch and cock—to let her take no rest all night as she cried out in pain and in shameful pleasure—that lovely picture made the gold he had spent seem like so much dust he might trample in the road. Her family’s fault, for bearing such a lovely girl, just as the house of Lourcy, sprung from Normandy but gifted by William the Conqueror with the earldom of Mercester and the castle of Mowton, bore the blame for so much else.
What sweeter victory could there be than to get a Freche heir on the Lourcy girl, great-great-granddaughter of Robert de Lourcy who had stolen the Freche lands? She was called Anne of Mowton for her birthplace, of course, but she was a Lourcy through and through.
Guy de Freche considered, as he rode back to Mowton Castle in the company of Lord Aimar’s men who would convey it into his provisional possession—provisional only until Anne could be brought from the convent and wedded to him, at which point he would become earl of Mercester and lord of Mowton castle at the same moment he ripped through Anne’s maidenhead—that he probably was the son of the devil, as Lord Aimar had called him. Certainly he couldn’t imagine any other reason why he would enjoy triumphing over women’s modesty so very thoroughly.
All men, Guy believed, loved to deflower pretty girls. So much dominance seemed to him to run through the whole family of mankind.
Guy had learned, though, that he and his fellow children of the devil who loved to see those pretty girls flogged and beaten, who loved to inflict the chastisement themselves, were of a much smaller number. He often suspected that the number was not quite as small as he had been led to believe when he was first discovered spanking the bare bottom a serving maid named Jeanne, in his chamber in the castle of Le Mans.
Then, Guy had believed that Lord Geoffrey spoke the truth when he said that Guy was an unnatural monster for what he had done, when Jeanne’s only offense had been to accept Guy’s invitation to come join him in his chamber.
“Lie with her if you like, lad,” Lord Geoffrey had said. “But thrashing is for discipline, and we must not confuse them.”
At the time, he had not had the wit he would soon develop, to argue back that as far as Guy could tell, Lord Geoffrey himself, and certain priests, and some of the artisans of Le Mans, seemed more than willing to find reasons for that sort of discipline more frequently than they might, and that when they administered it they seemed often to breathe rather harder than the exertion itself would warrant. And that Guy strongly suspected that a minute examination of the front of their tunics would reveal that the pleasures of the bedchamber did not truly stand for them any farther from those of the lash than they did for Guy.
Perhaps it was only that Guy and his fellow sons of the devil took less trouble to conceal their delight in punishing girls. Now, twenty years later, Guy took no such trouble at all. Everyone knew that Guy de Freche birched his girls before he fucked them.
Did Anne know that? Guy wondered idly. He smiled. He hoped she did, or at least that someone would tell her. He relished the thought that he might see in her eyes, when they were married at the church door in Mowton, the terrible knowledge of what she would soon undergo.
As they neared Mercester, Guy’s mind turned to Marguerite d’Elbe, the girl Lord Aimar had loved in Le Mans. He grew hard, as he always did when he turned over his past conquests in his mind, thinking of the way he had seduced her, of the things he had made her beg for, that long month in Le Mans before he had paid the serving wench to bring a rumor to Lord Geoffrey’s ears. The wench proved more than willing to say that Marguerite’s maidenhead, which Lord Geoffrey had just announced to his brother nobles was ready for plucking for the right price in political influence, had been stolen.
“I am yours,” Marguerite had breathed into Guy’s mouth, and he had replied, “Show me. Get on your hands and knees for me, with your bottom nice and high.”
And he had whipped her with his sword-belt, and had fucked her in the bottom, with her delicious tightness nearly driving him mad with pleasure as he rode her there without compunction, while she screamed out her submission to his cock, to his lordliness—though Guy had then no prospects beyond the little castle of Freche where he was born.
And that had all changed, but much too late for Guy ever to have been a bidder for the maidenhead he had stolen. Ten years had passed since Marguerite had gone over the punishment block with her skirts raised so that Lord Geoffrey could lay into her with the birch so hard that, her lady’s maid said with a giggle, Marguerite had needed to stay two days in bed on her belly, with her shift up and her poor punished bottom bare. The thought had seemed to excite the maid’s desires, as well as Guy’s own: she had told him while she rode his cock in the stables, Guy’s back against the wall and her plump servile bottom in his hands, bouncing her delightfully upon his hardness as he questioned her closely about the circumstances of Marguerite’s recovery from the whipping Guy had visited upon her.
Even if Anne of Mowton’s family, the house of Lourcy, had not been the bitterest enemies of the house of Freche for a hundred years, Anne’s frail beauty, glimpsed once when he had escorted another young baroness home from a convent the previous year, would undoubtedly have excited Guy’s lust enough to make him find a way to have her, as he’d had so many young noblewomen. Reckless valor and handsome dark eyes would have assured him of many conquests by themselves, but ever since his days in Maine, when he had nothing but those things, he had added to them a skill at evoking in women a craving to submit to him, and to let him have his way with them, as lewd and shameful as that way always turned out to be. Guy felt sure that Anne would not be an exception: he could have been in the position of young Sir Nele de Chail, escorting Anne, and she would have ended up under him, gasping out her helpless submission as he taught her the way of a man such as Guy with a girl who had come into his power.
But now, as the reward of all his dark deeds in the service of his family’s honor—the dishonorable slaughter and before that the even more dishonorable accumulation of wealth through trade in Italy—Anne of Mowton came to him completely under his power without the slightest exercise of his skill in the seducer’s art. The bishop would accompany her to the bridal chamber and bless the bed; they would then leave little Anne with Guy, and he would do exactly as he liked. The screams that came from the matrimonial chamber would be heard, and all would know that Guy de Freche, earl of Mercester in right of his wife, was getting an heir upon his eighteen-year-old bride, pumping her full of the seed of the noble house of Freche, which her great-great-great-grandfather Robert de Lourcy had cast down so wickedly from its rightful place.
Within sight of the walls of Castle Mowton, Guy began to wonder how he should fuck Anne the first time. Dog-fashion certainly had its charms: more often than not Guy chose to make women have it that way, when he did his fucking. But would he not rather force Anne to keep her eyes open as he fucked her in matrimonial style, so that he could see the shame on her face as she understood what her lord husband did to her?
These girls from the convents had such a charming hold over Guy, he had to admit. He never seemed to have quite as much fun with the serving wenches and the willing wives as he did when he uncovered himself before an eighteen-year-old convent girl, and told her to take him in her mouth. Their blushes, and then their timid acquiescence, had a charm beyond anything else Guy had experienced in the courts of that amorous boy Cupid. Guy had long since decided that he stood under the protection of that lewd pagan god, to have the luck he’d had in obtaining the favors of so many fresh-faced young ladies.
The sheriff of Mercester, standing in the courtyard, declared Guy the acting lord of Mowton, and announced the coming marriage that would make him lord and earl in fact. The bishop undertook to read the banns the next day at Mass.
Guy himself, using his most lordly tone, in imitation of the many times he had heard unctuous Geoffrey du Maine or proud Aimar de Haulac make such pronouncements, said to the knights and peasants assembled there, “I am glad to be your lord, and I know you will be glad of it, too, when you have proved me out, and found me a fair, and even a kindly, man.”
Inwardly, he thought with grim, ironic satisfaction of the way he had been fair, in the great hall just yards away, when he and his knights had cut down Richard of Mowton, his son Robert, five of their knights, and countless servants, six months before. Foolish Richard, thinking his guards so honest they could not be bought. Foolish guards, thinking Guy would not slaughter them too.
The only blot on the occasion had been the meekness with which Richard and Robert had submitted.
“I shall not give you the satisfaction of fighting you, Guy de Freche,” Richard had said. “You must cut me down, and feel how my soul, and my son’s, will hound you to the ends of the earth and the last trumpet of judgment, should God allow us that privilege.”
“Do I not deserve to be fought, after you had my brother murdered?”
“For the last time, you devil, that was not our deed!”
“Or my grandfather poisoned when he claimed the castle of Mont-Lore?”
Richard had sighed and looked at Robert, as they faced Guy. There were only five knights there at dinner with them, and none of them was armed. The plan had worked to perfection: the guards were dead, and all the people in the hall would join them in whatever afterlife awaited them in a few moments. Guy had even planned so perfectly that no serving wench would have to die: all the women and children in the castle were already abed, while Richard and Robert and their most trusted vassals sat drinking and planning the next day’s hunt.
“God knows that was not our deed either, Guy de Freche. Your great-great-great-grandfather lost his lands because he rebelled against the duke of Normandy, and my great-great-grandfather got those lands. Your family has sought satisfaction from William and from Henry, and they have not been able to satisfy you, so your ancestors, and now you, have attacked us again and again. And I am sorry for the death of your brother. But I will not fight you.”
Disgusted, Guy turned to Christophe de Beauvin, his most trusted henchman, who would now be steward of Mowton, and said, “Tell the men to kill them.”