They reached the road leading northeast, their original destination. Robbie led the way, followed by the cart and Lady Falconer on her dainty palfrey. The rest of the men brought up the rear. Their progress was slower than it had been on the journey to Stratford because they had to travel at the pace of the cart, and the horses were doubly burdened.
Jane had no idea how far it was to Shrewsbury. Up to meeting these Scotsmen she had never ventured further than Dorchester and her knowledge of English geography was somewhat limited, let alone that of Scotland. Not only was she embarking on a journey that she was beginning to realise would be beset with peril, and to a destination quite unknown to her, but she was now doing so with no clothes to call her own. Her only dress and shift had been abandoned in the dust of Stratford-upon-Avon.
She had begged to be permitted to accompany Cecily to Scotland, another occasion on which her heart had ruled her head. And as if that was not foolhardy enough, she had been so concerned to do anything in her power to assist in rescuing their captured comrades that she had…
Sweet Mary, what was I thinking?
She had actually danced naked before dozens of lusty males with not so much as a thought for how she might extricate herself from the situation once the emergency was past. Had it not been for Robbie, she would even now be languishing in that garrison herself. A prisoner accused of aiding the escape of the captive Scots. A traitor. Or worse…
What must they think of her, these newfound friends? Her employer? Robbie himself? She had made such a fuss about not wishing to undress in order to take a bath or allow her clothes to be washed, yet she had shed every stitch out in the street, with barely a second thought.
Harlot, Robbie had called her. And the soldiers from the garrison, the men who had gathered to watch her? They had called her much worse.
Strumpet. Whore. Slut.
Mistress Bartle truly would be mortified if she could see her daughter now.
“There is a farmstead up ahead. It looks tae be abandoned.” Robbie interrupted her musing by bringing the stallion to a halt. Those were the first words he had spoken in over two hours. He waited for the rest to catch up with them, then twisted around in the saddle. “Fergus, Alec, ride over there an’ check. If the place is truly deserted ‘twould make a good place tae rest for the night.”
The rest of the group waited in silence while Fergus and Alec, sharing a horse, cantered across the meadow and slowly circled the huddle of low stone buildings. Fergus dismounted and approached on foot to enter the squat little cottage. He emerged a moment later and waved both arms above his head.
“This is where we shall make camp, then.” Robbie dug in his heels to send the stallion forward. The rest fell in behind him.
Jane did not think the farm had been occupied for some time. It looked as though the low barn had been on fire at some stage, and part of the cottage roof was gone. Other outbuildings that might once have housed pigs, or poultry, were in various stages of ruin.
“Put the horses and the cart in the barn. ‘Twill hide them from anyone passing on the road.” Robbie dismounted and stretched, then held up his hands to assist Jane. “Fergus, are any of the buildings watertight?”
“The old stable looks tae be intact,” the man replied. “We could bed down in there this night.”
Robbie nodded. “Make sure the injured are comfortable, and tended tae. The bairn too. We can risk a small fire, an’ at least we have ample by way of provisions.”
At their mistress’s nod, Peggy and the cart driver set to helping the Scots to convey the wounded men into the relative safety and comfort of the stable. The cart was wheeled into the barn, the horses too. It fell to Wee Richard to see to the welfare of their mounts while the rest made themselves busy establishing their sleeping arrangements.
“I shall go and help Lady Falconer with Cecily,” Jane began.
“Not yet,” came the answering growl. “You and I have some matters needin’ our attention first, lass.”
“Matters?” Jane tilted her chin. “What matters might those be?”
He narrowed his eyes. “I barely ken where tae start.” He held up his left hand, fingers outstretched. “First, ye blatantly disobey me…” He tapped the end of his index finger. “Then, second, ye follow me despite knowing the dangers involved. Ye deliberately put yourself in harm’s way, did ye no’?”
“Well, yes, but—”
He continued as though she had not spoken. “Three, ye take it upon yourself tae strip stark naked an’ cavort for a crowd o’ lustful, lecherous soldiers who probably havenae seen a woman’s tits for months.” He shook his head. “Of all the wanton, brainless things ye could ha’ done… Have ye even the first idea what might have happened? What would have happened if even one o’ them had managed tae grab ye?”
“But, they did not. And you helped me to get away.”
“Aye, by puttin’ my own life in danger. What if they hadnae been fooled by this bloody cloak an’ a fancy English accent?”
“Oh.” She chewed on her lip. Jane had not considered the risk Robbie had taken in coming back for her.
“I could have just followed the rest through the back window and been clean away,” he went on, “but no, I had tae come out the front way an’ collect ye.”
“I… I am sorry. I never thought…”
“I ken that. Ye never do. Ye swore tae me that ye would obey me an’ Archie. We wouldnae have let ye come with us otherwise. Tell me, Jane, did ye at any stage intend tae keep your word?”
“Yes! Yes, of course I did. I am no liar.”
“Then, what am I tae think? Ye cannae obey a simple instruction. Whatever I tell ye tae do, if ye think ye have a better idea, ye just do as ye will.”
“I am sorry. I only… I wanted to help. And I did help. It worked… the dancing and… and…”
“The stripping?” he offered helpfully.
“Yes,” Jane muttered. “That.”
“It did work, true enough,” he admitted, though his agreement seemed decidedly grudging to Jane. “But that isnae the point.”
“But, surely it is,” she protested. “You needed my help.”
“I needed your obedience, Jane. That is what I asked of ye, an’ ye promised it.”
“I am sorry,” she repeated. “Truly I am. I will never—”
“I do believe that ye regret the danger ye caused me. I can see that much in your eyes. But as for the rest…”
“Please, give me another chance. I will prove to you that I can obey. And, you need me…”
“Do I? Can Lady Falconer no’ care for the bairn? As I recall, that was why we decided tae bring ye with us.”
“You cannot send me away. Please, I beg of you. Do not leave me behind…”
“There are consequences for our actions, Janie. Always. Ye must ken that.”
“I do. I know, but—”
“I spanked ye once before, for disobeyin’ me. That didnae do the trick, so I must find some other way of makin’ a suitable impression on ye.” He glanced about him. “Come.”
“Wh-where are we going?”
“The barn,” he replied, already striding in that direction. “Do not make me have tae come back an’ get ye, Jane.”
She gathered the cloak about her and hurried after him. “Why are we going to the barn? There are only the horses in there, and the cart.”
He offered no more by way of explanation so Jane could do no other than trot along in his wake.
Most of the barn roof was gone, so there was still some light despite the gathering gloom of early evening. Jane hugged the cloak to her and peered warily into the darker corners of the ruined building.
“Are there rats in here?” she wondered.
“Aye, I daresay. Come over here, by the cart.” Robbie stood, arms folded, his expression stern.
Jane approached. The men had unloaded some of the goods but most of their provisions remained on the small wagon, along with Lady Falconer’s travelling chest. She watched in puzzlement as Robbie shoved a sack of turnips further onto the cart to leave a space at the rear. He turned to regard her.
“Last time I spanked ye I allowed ye tae keep your skirts down. Such considerations are irrelevant now, considerin’ your little display earlier, an’ ye appear tae have mislaid your clothing in any case. Give me the cloak, if ye please.” He extended his hand, waiting.
“But… no. I… I…”
“I ken full well that ye’re naked beneath. That is quite all right. Very suitable for our purpose here.”
“What is our purpose?” It was an inane question, Jane knew that. It was perfectly obvious what he meant to do.
Robbie’s response was simply to lift one eyebrow. “The cloak. Now. Then, ye may lean on the back of the cart, here an’ present that pretty bottom for me.”
She gaped at him but could find no words of protest. None that would make any difference, anyway. Her eyes widened yet further when he started to remove his belt.
“You… you mean to take your belt to me?”
“Aye, since a hand spanking has failed tae impress ye overmuch.”
“Please, do not do that.” No one had ever beaten her like this, even as a child. Her mother was a strict woman, but her brood were usually quelled by her raised voice and Mistress Bartle had no need to resort to such methods.
“Do not make this any worse, Jane. Do as I say, and do it now, else the twenty strokes I have in mind will be doubled.”
Twenty strokes? Dear sweet Lord…
“Jane.” His tone hardened.
Jane raised her gaze to meet his, and knew she had no choice.
She untied the straps of the cloak and slipped it from her body, then handed it to him. The cool evening air caused her to shiver. Her nipples swelled and pebbled. She stood, motionless, not quite able to bring herself to walk up to the cart.
“Please, do not hurt me…” Jane’s voice was small, barely audible. She had always prided herself on fearing no one, but her courage, if that was what it was, deserted her now. He looked so… huge. And so formidable. And so very, very frightening.
“Twenty strokes of a belt on your bare arse is intended tae hurt, lass.” He gestured to her to get in position. “But ye need have nae fear of injury. Ye will walk away from here in one piece.”
“What if I cannot stand it?”
“Ye can, an’ ye will.” She fancied his voice gentled, just a little, even if his expression did not.
His belt was now in his hand, the sword removed and set down on the ground. He doubled the length of leather, the buckle clasped within his fist.
Jane swallowed hard. This was happening, whether she liked it or not. And she did not. She did not like it one bit.
“I shall never forgive you for this,” she muttered, at last moving toward the wagon.
“I do not seek forgiveness. Just obedience. And I shall have it, one way or another.” He paused while she leaned forward to rest her palms on the bare wooden boards. “Wait.” He folded the cloak she had taken off and set it down on the wagon. “Ye may rest your body on that. ‘Twill avoid splinters an’ such like.”
“Your consideration quite overwhelms me, Scot.”
“And your sharp tongue does no’ go unnoticed either, wench. I would suggest ye do not provoke me further this evening.” He removed the cloak he was wearing, the one he had taken from the dead English officer, and he draped that over the side of the cart. “Now, lean over, rest your face an’ your chest on the cloak, and lift your bottom up high.”
“Will this do?” She assumed what she thought might be the approximate position.
“No, ye’re still too low. Wait there…”
He took hold of the sack of turnips that he had moved earlier and dragged it right off the cart. Jane watched as he set it on the ground. “Stand on that,” he instructed.
She did so and found that now when she bent forward she had to lower her upper body considerably more in order to rest upon the cloak. Her bottom was held aloft, in perfect readiness for the Scot’s heavy belt.
“Feet further apart,” he advised. “For balance.”
She shuffled her feet, still wearing her boots, to the outer edges of the sack.
“Excellent,” he concurred. “Ye can make as much din as ye feel tae be needful, but ye will no’ move until I tell ye that we are done. Is that clear, Jane?”
She managed a nod, not daring to trust her voice.
“I should also point out, just in case ye may ha’ been wonderin’, that is a very pretty wee cunny ye have there, Janie.”
“Y-you should not be looking at me,” she squeaked.
He chuckled, already swinging his belt to test the weight. “No, I expect ye’re right. But I shall do so anyway. Are ye ready, Jane?”
“Yes. Just… get on with it.”
In the next instant, the terrifying swish of flying leather split the air, a moment before pain exploded across her buttocks.
Jane let out a scream and started to straighten up.
“Do not move,” he commanded in a tone to brook no argument. “Unless ye want me tae start over.”
Jane gulped in deep lungfuls of air and fought to absorb the agony. She danced from one foot to the other, and after a few seconds the fire did indeed cool somewhat.
The belt swung again, and fresh tendrils of flame wrapped themselves around her upturned, unprotected bottom.
She screamed again, could not help it, but this time she managed to keep still. Panting, she curled her fists around the folds of the cloak and clung on.
He delivered another stroke, and another. Each one unleashed fresh rivulets of fiery torment across her blazing skin, but the shock was less somehow. Maybe she was becoming accustomed to it…?
The Scot adjusted his stance and swung again. Now he concentrated on striking first one buttock, then the other. Jane tried to count the strokes but soon abandoned that effort. It was all she could do to breathe through this. She was gasping and sobbing into the thick fabric of the cloak when he halted.
“That was the tenth stroke. Halfway,” he informed her.
Only half? Dear Lord…
“Are you all right, Janie? If ye need me tae stop for a short while, I will.”
Even as she considered the blessed prospect of a break in these proceedings, Jane knew that would not do. She needed this to be over.
“I… I am fine,” she managed to whimper.
“You wish tae continue?”
“Jane?” He laid his palm on her smarting buttock. She let out a sharp shriek, but he ignored her. He squeezed her throbbing globe as though he could press the pain more thoroughly into her flesh. “Ye’re takin’ your punishment well, girl. Your bottom is glowing quite beautifully…” He caressed the other cheek by way of demonstrating. “This hurts ye, does it no’?”
“Yes,” she ground out.
“Good. I want ye tae remember this moment, the way this feels, the next time ye’re tempted tae go your own way rather than do as I tell ye. Will ye remember, d’ye think?”
She would. Jane entertained not the slightest shred of doubt. “Yes. I shall not forget.”
He appeared to be considering. At last, he answered, “Hmm, I think ye might not at that. Still, best tae make sure, eh? So now, after each stroke, ye will thank me and ask for the next, by way of assisting you in committing this entire experience tae memory.”
“You expect me to thank you, for beating me?” Was the man quite deranged?
“For teaching ye tae obey, Jane. I think you will agree, ‘tis an important lesson.”
“I hate you…”
“Aye, ye may think so, right at this moment.” He patted her throbbing bottom. “But can ye learn tae obey me? That is the thing here. Will twenty strokes be enough tae achieve that, d’ye think, or will it require even more?”
“Twenty will be enough,” she blurted, desperate to avoid attracting yet more of his harsh discipline.
“I am relieved that ye think so. Now, after each of the remaining ten strokes, ye will thank me for my trouble in teaching you and ask me for the next. Right, Janie?”
“Yes,” she hissed. “I shall thank you.”
He delivered another gentle pat to her buttock, then resumed his stance ready for the next stroke. Jane barely had a moment to brace herself before it fell.
Again, she screamed. Was he laying his belt on even harder now? She danced about on the sack until the agony subsided, then held her breath as she waited for the next.
“I cannae hear ye, Jane.”
Bloody insufferable man!
“Thank you for teaching me the lesson I need to learn. Please, would you let me have the next one.” If her tone was infused with a venomous sweetness, surely she could not be blamed for that?
“Ye’re most welcome, pet.” He swung again, this time sending shards of pain across the backs of both her thighs.
The shock took her breath away. It was several seconds before she managed to utter the words he needed to hear.
“Thank you. The… the next one, please.”
He obliged her, alternating between striking her bottom and her thighs, and with each stroke her belligerence grew more and more muted. This domineering Scot required contrition. He required to be convinced that she had learned her lesson. Jane had no intention of disappointing him and drawing down more of this fury.
“I am sorry, sir. I truly am. Thank you for teaching me… Please, another…”
Whoosh! Another explosion of liquid agony. “Thank you, again, please.”
And so it went on. Eventually, she barely heard the words she uttered, needed only to reach the end of her ordeal. Even so, Jane was surprised when he dropped the belt on the ground and reached for his cloak. He draped that about her and pulled her upright.
“That was the last one. We are done.”
Done? Finished? Jane blinked, tried to make sense of his words. Without warning, her knees gave way and she started to crumple.
Robbie caught her easily and swung her into his arms. He turned to sit on the back of the cart and held her against his chest.
“Let me go,” she muttered.
“I will, lass. Soon enough. Just, take a moment…”
“I do not need—”
“Shush.” He kissed her hair and used his fingers to sweep the tangles away from her face. “Twenty strokes is a lot for a wee thing like yourself. If ye feel like havin’ a good cry, I shall not mind.”
“I am not crying,” she sniffed.
“I see.” He wrapped his arms more tightly about her. “We shall just have a quiet moment here, then.”
She tried. Jane tried most valiantly not to give in to the tears that threatened. She had been sobbing and weeping throughout her thrashing, but that had been different, a response to the pain. Just a way of coping. This was… something else. She needed to… to… stop fighting. She was seized with an overwhelming need to simply submit.
The first sob escaped her. Then the next. In moments, she was curled up in the Scot’s arms, wailing like a baby. She grasped the front of his tunic and hung on. It was as though he was the only solid presence in a turbulent sea, and she might drown if she released her grip, simply sink without trace.
Robbie made soft, soothing sounds, whispered words she barely heard and in a language Jane did not comprehend. But, he was there, and that was enough.
She could not have said how long she huddled in his lap, weeping, but by the time she managed to stop sobbing and raise her gaze to meet his, it was fully dark.
“I am keeping you from your supper,” she murmured.
He grinned. “Is that your way o’ sayin’ that ye’re hungry, lass?”
Her stomach gave an answering growl.
“Are ye ready tae go an’ join the rest? I expect there will be some food left.”
She nodded and he helped her down from the cart. Her legs were still a little unsteady, but they did at least hold her weight now. She gathered the English cloak about her. “I have no clothes.”
“I know that, lass. Next time ye decide tae dance naked, ye will take care tae place your clothes where ye can find them after, I hope.”
She managed a rueful smile. “I shall remember to do that. And perhaps I shall not be obliged to leave in quite such a hurry.”
His grin widened. “I do most sincerely hope I am there tae witness it. Settin’ tae one side the obvious problems, it was indeed a fine sight.” He offered her his hand. “Come, I am sure we can find ye somethin’ tae wear.”
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