Alyna glared at him, but could make no answer to this accusation. She had been set much harder tasks when she had trained as a soldier, and when she had let her temper get the better of her, had endured punishments even more distasteful. Staying in a kitchen? Why had she disobeyed? “I am sorry for that. I should have stayed where I was assigned.”
“And for that, you will be punished. Remove your clothes and stand over by the bed.”
“My lord?” She was so surprised by the demand that for a moment her mind could not understand the simple words. It was so foreign to anything she had ever had to do before that she simply froze.
“It is almost time to change for supper. Until we have to dress, you will practice enduring something embarrassing and difficult. It’s efficient and good exercise. It is my hope that as you stand there at my command, you will realize that what I asked of you first was not nearly so hard as what I am asking of you now.”
And he was right. Every minute she had to stand there, completely exposed while he was dressed, with the sun still high in the sky bringing out every private detail of her form, she wished she had stayed in that kitchen. How she longed to go back in time and endure Rosina’s taunts, made bitter mostly because they came from a woman Alyna wanted as a friend. But they were much easier to dismiss than Jurian’s stare. He didn’t mock or taunt her. His gaze was, if anything, admiring. Hadn’t she enjoyed his adoring glances a hundred times in the past few days? But this was completely different and she hated it. Perhaps knowing what was to come made the waiting that much harder.
Finally, as the sun was casting long shadows through the high window, Jurian stood up from the chair he had settled himself in and went over to his trunk. Opening it, he withdrew a strip of leather, not quite as long as his arm. It was thicker than a normal belt, it’s light brown color nicked and scratched. She recognized it at once. It was a strap used to sharpen razors.
“Oh, please no. Not that.”
“No, not yet. Lean over the bed.”
“You’ll just use your hand?”
“For the first part. Until you’re ready.”
With a grimace and a groan, she bent over the bed. “I’m not ready for any of this. Jurian, please.”
“You’ll mind me next time, little one. It’s time you learned that this new life will be different from your old one.” With that, he brought his hand down on her backside with a loud crack.
She screeched and jerked, surprised by the sting and pain. Perhaps he had been holding back when he spanked her in the study those few days ago. Had it only been a few days? It felt like months. So much had happened.
She could tell he hadn’t meant to use so much force. The next few swats were not as hard. She thought for a moment that he might be nearly done when he gave her another really hard spank.
That was the pattern for the next few minutes. He would scold her while giving her light swats, then pause and apply a harder one. “You are so precious to me! I never hoped to find as beautiful and spirited a wife as you when I first came here. How could you behave so badly when all I want to do is love you?” he asked her before giving her a really hard swat.
Then came several lighter spanks while she answered. “I’m sorry. I was sorely provoked. I never felt wanted by the staff. They always ignored me and even when they had to deal with me, they didn’t like it. I could tell. It made me cross.” She had to sniff back tears.
“But our mission is important. You should put up with a little inconvenience from people who should have your pity. You are leaving this place for a much better life. In order to make that a success, I did ask you to spend a few hard days, but they have paid off. Next time, stay the course.” Another hard swat followed that speech.
“I will. I realize I sh-should have v-viewed it as a mission. I am a good soldier.” She was crying now, feeling the full irony of her statement.
He helped her up and took her in his arms. “Now do you see how absurd it’s all been? Trying to live your life alone, between the worlds, belonging to none? Noble or servant, man or woman, child or adult? Time to settle on one.” He stroked her back, weaving his fingers into her hair and holding her close.
“It’s so hard. Help me?”
She assumed he had forgotten about the strap, but no such luck.
“Bend over the bed now. Just five more. I want you to feel the strap so next time you’re tempted to disobey, you’ll remember what’s in store.”
She took a deep breath and bent over, her hands rubbing her backside awkwardly until he placed them down at her sides and took over the job himself. He rubbed the strap on her steaming rump for several moments. She knew her respite was over when he lifted the strap. Her heart beat faster as she waited, wondering what would happen. Then she heard the crack of the leather on her flesh and gave a loud yelp as the pain exploded on her skin. Her only thought was of escape, both its desirability and its inadvisability. With each stroke, her body longed to roll away from the source of her misery, but her mind cringed even more from the thought of what Jurian would do if she tried. She knew he was only doing what he felt was best for her, so if she attempted to thwart him, his reaction would be severe. Thus motivated by her desire to show him she could stay the course and her fear of his disapproval, she endured the last four strokes of the strap.
“There. That’s it. I promise you I won’t do that unless I feel I have no choice, but I will do it every time you disobey me. We are about to go out into a world wider and more dangerous than you can imagine. I’m not talking about physical dangers. Attacks and banditry will seem tame compared to the machinations and treacheries of a life at court. You will have to mind me if we are to make it through this.” He leaned on the bed and rubbed her bottom, giving a feeling of sincerity and intimacy to his words that made her feel somehow closer to him.
As her panting slowed and her heart beat normally again in her chest, she straightened up. He stood back for a moment but embraced her willingly when she leaned toward him. “I will obey you, my lord. I will do Sir Walter proud.”
“I know you will. He’s already proud of you and so am I. Even in this short time, I have come to love you. We will endure this trip to Chalestrap and we will rescue my father. Then I will take you on a wonderful journey to your new home. It’s a beautiful place. I know you’ll grow to love it as much as I do. But for now, we must rest. We’ve a long day’s ride tomorrow.”
Rosina hated to arrive at their little cottage. She had always loved it, situated as it was so close to the barracks that Rab could sneak away from his duties there most nights and visit her. He always made the effort when he could, he was that considerate and kind. He knew she got lonely with most of the other servants being so much older than she.
“I’m sorry, Rab,” she said for the thousandth time as they entered the cottage. “I know I shouldn’t have lost my temper.”
“Of course you shouldn’t have. What I want to know is why you did. Do you realize how dangerous it was? She could have had you flogged for calling her a ninny!”
“She would never do such a thing. Sir Walter would never allow it.”
“Perhaps not, but it would have been well within her rights. And how well do we really know this Sir Jurian? Sir Walter seems to respect him and he’s proved himself to be quite competent in a crisis, but what if he had turned out to be the type to mete out punishment like some other aristocrats I know? We cannot take our situation for granted. There are plans afoot, my love. Things are about to change and for the better, I hope, but you will have to learn to conduct yourself more along the lines expected of you.”
“I know I will, and it’s only right. I bear no grudge against her. She is taking her rightful place in the world and I must resume mine. But you must admit, it is hard.”
“And if this were the first time we had spoken of it, I wouldn’t be so cross. But is it the first time?”
Rosina looked around the room then down at the stone floor. The afternoon sun highlighted the colors in the new blanket Rab had bought her with the extra bit of coin Sir Walter had given him after his rescue. It lay on the bed in the corner, as far away from their small brazier as she could manage. She didn’t want the smoke to dull the bright reds and greens. It reminded her again of how lucky she was to live in such a nice home all her own rather than sleeping with the rest of the women servants in the kitchen or pantry as they did in some castles. “No, sir, it is not. You warned me when Alyna married that I would have to change my attitude toward her. And I tried.”
“Well, you will soon see you must try harder.” So saying, he pulled her over to the bed and sat down. “You know what to do.”
“Do you want me to do it?”
She most certainly did not. If she removed her own dress, he would only use his hand to punish her. If she remained stubborn or fought him, he would use a small bread board they kept hanging handily on the wall. With only the one room to live in, it took him no time at all to reach for that board, so she had learned to do as she was told. She removed her dress slowly, unlacing the front closure of the bodice, hoping it might distract him. Her bosom was one of her best features, but he had never let it keep him from his duty before and he didn’t now.
When he patted his lap, she finished removing her clothes and hung them on a peg before getting herself into the position she knew he wanted her in. She had been here often enough, especially when they were first married. For the last several months, she hadn’t done anything really bad so she knew from experience that the spanking he gave her now would hurt worse simply because it had been so long since she had been punished.
Almost as if he could tell what she was thinking, he started slowly, giving her five or six slaps on one spot on her bottom before moving over slightly and spanking another spot. It took a while for him to cover every inch of her skin but when he finally finished that phase she relaxed. She knew better than to hope he was done, nor was she wrong. He shifted her forward and got a tighter grip on her waist. She clenched her hands on the new blanket, holding her breath in dread. When she could hold it no longer, she let it hiss out between her teeth slowly, every moment expecting him to begin again. It was not until she gasped air in again that he began his onslaught. It was horrible, the way he varied his pace and strength, never setting up any kind of pattern. She could not anticipate, could not brace herself for the burn and sting his palm produced all over her bottom and upper thighs.
No matter how she twisted or squirmed, he held her fast, shifting her this way and that to reach every conceivable spot on her rump until she knew she had to be bright red. Her heart pounding in her throat, she soon exhausted herself and her struggles became more and more feeble as her tears started to seep out between her tightly closed eyes. He loosened his hold but never changed his unpredictability. All she could do was lie there and listen to his words punctuated by the crack of his hand on her bare flesh.
“You will obey me. You are a lovely, wonderful woman and I will not have anyone thinking otherwise. You can behave better than that! I expect better than the unreasonableness and disrespect I have been seeing in you lately.” With these and other words, he scolded her, complimenting her even as he reprimanded her.
At last, he slowed his pace and she began to realize that he might be finishing up. It all depended on what she did now. If she could prove to him that she was contrite, he would let that be an end to it. Hoping for that result, she waited until he told her she could get up before she even attempted to rise.
He helped her stand and took her in his arms to comfort her. She dried her tears on his shirt until she could finally say, “I will do better. And once she’s gone, it will be easier.” Suddenly, her tears started afresh.
“I knew it,” he sighed. “You’re going to miss her. Isn’t it only natural? Wasn’t she your best friend, even if in these past few years she hasn’t known it?”
“I kept waiting and hoping for her to come to her senses. And I still saw her every day, even if only for a short time or from a distance. And I had you, so it hurt less than it might have, but I still always cherished that little spark of hope that she might settle down some day. And now she has, but I won’t be allowed to enjoy it. Oh, Rab.” She really did cry then, in earnest.
He held her while she cried, but when she realized how long they had been there, she knew she had to let him return to his duties. He would be missed if he were gone too long especially on a night before a long journey. “Go on with you, now. I’ll be all right directly.”
“Yes, you will, and in more ways than you know. You’ll have a few hard days ahead, but then you’ll see. Sir Jurian has told me some of his plans. You keep your chin up. I’ll be home before you know it and then… that’s all I can say at present, but you mark my words.” He gave her one of his rare smiles. To the rest of the world, he might present a hard face, just right for a captain to make his master proud, but to her, he showed his softer side, even when he punished her. He gave her backside another long gentle caress and then was gone.
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