Three days later, Madeline put her plan into action. She had let the matter rest long enough for Sir Gregory to grow complacent. He might have suspected some kind of retribution in the hours following her thrashing, but days later he probably would have forgotten ever laying a hand on her.
Madeline had not forgotten however; she had not forgotten how it felt to have a strong man lay his hands on her and impose his will. Whenever she thought of the shameful event, she flushed from top to toe and felt a strange excitement that settled in her lower belly and compelled her fingers to stroke between her thighs.
In the privacy of her bedchamber, Madeline closed her eyes, let her hand drift to her mound, and remembered the tall knight with the flashing eyes and the hard hand. If he were capable of baring a princess for naught but a rude word, what might he do when he discovered the loss of his sword? What liberties might he take once he realized who had taken his prized possession? The memory of being over his hard thighs, her own legs bared, her bottom uncovered, her mound and lips exposed to his wrath was enough to make juices seep from the petals of her quim.
She rubbed the tingling bud at the top of her lips until she felt release, but it was not enough. Self-pleasure seemed hollow compared to the stimulation she now knew was possible at the hands of a man. He had not touched her between her thighs, but his hand had landed near enough and jolted her into a world of new sensation that had quite ruined her for herself.
Madeline slept little the night before she put her plan into action. She touched herself over and over, finding little trembling climaxes that ultimately failed to satisfy. She would not be satisfied until she had her vengeance, that much was certain. When the first rays of sunshine began warming the sky, Madeline rose from her bed and donned simple servant’s clothing.
Dressed like a lowly maid, she slipped through the castle unnoticed. She had pushed her hair into her face so nobody would see her and as she was but a maid, nobody much looked anyway. The servants had a freedom that they could not truly appreciate for not knowing what it was for one’s every movement to be observed.
Bundling linens in front of her, Madeline made her way into the tower where the knights were quartered. Her father had called his men to him, leaving the tower largely empty aside from a few straggling, napping squires. She passed by them with the linens held high. No nobles looked upon servants, but squires often looked upon maids so she took care to hide her face as she ascended the great curling stairs.
Sir Gregory’s room was at the top of the tower. Unlike lower ranked knights who battled their way from commoner to king’s favorite, Sir Gregory was evidently high born. It was obvious in the quality of his possessions. His chamber was almost as finely furnished as any in the castle proper. There was a finely carved table gleaming in the shaft of sunlight falling through the narrow aperture that served as a window. Atop it was a parchment and a knife, also made with the highest craftsmanship. He had few possessions, but each of them was carefully cared for. The room itself smelled of a masculine spiced scent, a smell that took her right back to that shameful moment in the garden when he had pulled her close and taken her in hand.
His longsword was laid carefully across the foot of the bed. The blade was covered by a leather scabbard, marked with words of prayer. The hilt was most impressive, thick and broad, wrapped in dark leather. The pommel was formed with the head of a lion, its jaws parted in a fearsome snarl. Madeline let her fingers drift over its mane, quite impressed by the weapon. It was almost as tall as she was, but when she let her hands wrap around the leather grip and pick it up, she was surprised that it was not as heavy as she had imagined it would be.
Madeline had never held a sword before. Such things were not for princesses to handle. She drew the sword off the bed and held it out in front of her. In spite of the fact that it was not heavy, it was still quite difficult to hold due to the length. Smiling to herself, Madeline let the scabbard-covered blade swing through the air.
“Oh, you will miss this, Sir Gregory,” she murmured to herself. “This is a beauty.”
Having had the foresight to bring linens, she wasted no time hiding the sword in their folds. It was difficult to not make the bundle look vaguely sword-shaped, but she hoped nobody would notice that.
“What are you doing, girl?”
Madeline dropped her head and glanced up under her lashes at the imposing figure of Sir Gregory. She was shocked that she had not heard him coming. In spite of his size, he had moved as silently as a ghost up the stone stairs.
He was glowering at her, though apparently he had not recognized her. The guise of a servant was powerful against those of high birth who, like crows, only seemed to know things when they sparkled just the right way.
“Changin’ linens, sir,” she said in a disguised rough peasant voice whilst bobbing into a curtsey. The motion made the bottom of the scabbard-clad sword bounce against the floor with a dull sound that rather gave the game away.
“Changing linens, or stealing swords?”
“Swords, sir? I have no use for swords.”
“But you have taken mine. Put it back.”
She had expected him to be more angry, but no anger showed in his expression or tone. He stood blocking the doorway, his burly arms crossed over his chest simply waiting for her to return his weapon.
“I know who is behind this,” Sir Gregory said grimly. “Your mistress sent you no doubt.”
It was with a strained glee that Madeline realized he truly had not recognized her. The unshapely dress she wore and the tangled mop of hair covering her face had successfully obscured her identity.
“Put the sword back,” he insisted firmly. “And go and tell your mistress I will see her behind the chapel this evening for her reckoning.”
“I will, sir,” Madeline said, abruptly discarding the linen-covered sword on the bed with shaking hands. It seemed as though she was going to escape from under his nose without so much as a hair on her head feeling his displeasure. She did not have to pretend to be trembling; her excitement was making her voice and body undergo a flushing nervous change. “I will tell her just as you say.”
“Look at me.”
Madeline froze. She was so close to getting away with everything, but those three little words had all but dashed her hopes. Raising her head a fraction, she glanced up through her hair for a little moment and glanced back down at the floor. With any luck, he would mistake her reluctance to look at him as the modesty of a servant who knew her place.
“I said look at me. I want to see your face.”
“You don’t want to see my face, good sir,” she said in that rough peasant voice, “the plague has pocked me.”
“I have seen worse,” he said, his tone softening. “Look at me, so I may know who you are.”
It was a strange moment to discover that Sir Gregory was capable of being a very nice person, when she was on the cusp of no doubt finding herself in more trouble than ever.
“Disobedience is more shameful than any plague scars,” he added.
“Very well!” Madeline stood taller, threw back her hood and hair, and stared Sir Gregory dead in the face. “You have discovered me, sir!”
A slow smirk passed over his lips, and his head began to shake back and forth. “Princess,” he said. “You are more trouble than a barbarian horde. I will give you some praise for not sending some poor servant to do your deeds.”
He stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. Madeline’s heart began to race as she realized she was trapped, and this time there was no way anyone would come upon them by chance. A stone-walled room at the top of a tall tower made for an excellent cell.
“What are you doing?” She gasped the question as he took a step toward her.
“You must know your hide will pay for this, princess.”
Madeline had no intention of sustaining another thrashing. She leaped atop the bed, took the sword in her hands, pushed the scabbard off, and pointed the long sharp blade at him. He stopped and scowled at her.
“Put that down. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“It’s not complicated,” Madeline replied. “The sharp part sinks into the flesh of the man who wants to lay hands on me.”
Slowly, she began to circle around, keeping the length of the sword between them as she stepped off the far side of the bed and sidled around toward the door. Sir Gregory made no move aside from watching her with a very dour look.
“What is your plan, princess? Will you steal my sword?”
Madeline reached for the door handle and pulled it open. “Don’t follow me,” she said, “or I will throw your sword into the forge.”
Sir Gregory’s expression grew darker still. “Your mouth is more trouble than the rest of you,” he growled. “Take some care to consider the consequences of your rash words.”
Backing out the door, Madeline dropped the sword and fled. Behind her, Sir Gregory let out a brief curse. She heard his footsteps beginning to follow and sped her own. It was a foolish thing to do, for her skirts were long and her senses were confused by an abundance of excitement. The stairs of the tower were not entirely even by design. They were made so that attackers coming in the dark would have a hard time of it and they caused Madeline trouble too. She missed one step, tripped on her dress, and felt herself begin to fall. Her shriek of panic did little to save her, but the strong hand on the back of her dress did.
“Foolish little witch,” Sir Gregory growled, hauling her back into his arms. “You could have broken your neck running about in those long skirts.”
“I will not,” he said grimly. He had her in his arms and was not about to let go as he carried her back up the stairs to his chamber.
“Sir Gregory! You blasted knave!”
“Fine words for a thief,” he said, bolting the door behind them. “And one who disrespected my sword.”
“What use does a sword have for respect?”
“You could have dented the blade,” he said, tossing her face down on his bed. Madeline tried to scramble away, but he caught her by the ankle, threw her skirts up over her head, and slapped her bare bottom hard enough to make her shriek. “You could have cut your toes off dropping it like that.” His hand came down in another resounding slap that made her legs thrash about in response.
“I will not,” he said, slapping her cheeks once more. “You came to be thrashed, I think. There can be no other reason for you to have come here to take my sword other than to provoke me. Are you satisfied with the fruits of your labors, princess?”
His question was so punctuated with slaps to her poor bottom that she could barely make out his words. For the second time, her flesh was aflame, punished by a knight who was sworn to protect her family. Her pain and her outrage combined in a cursing squeal. On the next slap, she kicked back at him, catching his leg. She may as well have kicked the stone wall for all the good it did. Sir Gregory simply sat down on the bed, hauled her over his lap, and pinned her thighs between his so she couldn’t kick him again. Caught over his hard leg, her bare bottom slapped over and over until the heat and sting were almost intolerable, Madeline was in a world of misery.
The tears came suddenly, rushing down her face in a torrent of frustration. Sir Gregory’s will was more powerful than her own, and his body was more powerful than hers. She had gambled on revenge and lost. Failure was an unpleasant sting in the tail; the shame of being so neatly caught was painful as well.
Sir Gregory did not cease his efforts due to her tears; his palm continued to whip down against her bottom for what seemed like an endless age. Madeline was sobbing quite openly when he finally laid his hand against her cheeks for the last time and held it there, pressing the heat into her bottom.
“Never touch a knight’s weapon,” he growled down at her tearful, red-bottomed frame. “And never put yourself in a situation where you might be mistaken for a commoner and treated accordingly. Do you understand me, princess?”
Sniffing tearfully, Madeline made a noise that could have been agreement or not. She was not inclined to give him the satisfaction of having bested her, though she knew she had been bested and most thoroughly at that.
“I did not hear you,” Sir Gregory said, slapping her bottom to prompt a more audible response.
“Cur!” Madeline cursed him.
“Princess, do you need to have a rod taken to your hide?”
“You would not dare!”
She was proved immediately wrong when Sir Gregory stood up, crossed the room, and picked up a sturdy slim rod. It was about three feet long and when he swished it through the air, it bent slightly with the pressure. Scrambling back on the bed, Madeline hurriedly pushed her skirts down. It hurt to sit on her bottom, but she preferred to take the pain of pressure on her hot cheeks over whatever hellfire the rod in Sir Gregory’s hand would impart.
“I hate you!” She yelled the words at him. “I will have your head for this!”
“Your opinion does not concern me,” he replied in those frustratingly calm and elegant tones. “Your behavior does. If someone had taken the trouble to ply a rod across your cheeks before, I would not have to do it now. You are most spoiled, even when one considers the fact that you are a princess. Now turn over and take your punishment.”
“I will not! If you strike me with that rod, I will scream until the entire castle is raised.”
“Make what noise you like,” he said implacably, advancing upon her with the rod clenched in his hand.
“No!” She pressed herself back against the wall. “I am sorry! I apologize!”
“Oh, do you?” He paused, rod in hand. “What has made you so sorry, princess?”
“I am sorry I came to your chambers to take your sword,” she babbled. “I’m sorry I cursed at you and behaved in a manner unbecoming a princess. I’m sorry.”
“If you are truly sorry, you will turn yourself over and take this rod as you deserve.”
“You are not sorry, you are simply trying to evade punishment. First you tried threats, now you are trying to placate me with meaningless words. I doubt you know what it means to feel true contrition.” His blue eyes seared into her very heart, making it beat double time. He was a very handsome man, and her body was responding to him despite the pain in her bottom and her concern that further discomfort might soon be inflicted upon her tender flesh.
They stared at one another, his shoulders square and broad, his frame imposingly tall as he loomed over his bed, which was no longer neatly made. The linens and coverlets were tossed hither and thither, disturbed by her struggles. Madeline’s hair had come loose, falling over her shoulders and neck, and the bodice of her dress had begun to come apart, revealing the cleavage of her bosom. Sir Gregory’s eyes dipped from hers to her wantonly displayed body and when Madeline looked down, she saw that not only was the space between her breasts exposed, but some of the bare flesh of her torso as well. She was nearing a sinful state of undress.
“Right your clothing,” he said, his voice suddenly hoarse.
Madeline saw an opportunity. Her femininity was keeping him at bay, though he might not have any qualms about thrashing her bottom, the mood in the chamber had changed. There was a charge in the air that had nothing to do with discipline and everything to do with the essential nature of man and woman.
“Are you afraid of the form of a woman?” She let a slight mocking tone creep into her voice. “Or is it just that you have remembered the penalty for defiling a princess?”
“I have not defiled you,” he replied. “You are an impetuous scamp, and you have not been thrashed nearly enough.”
“Then you will not object if I slide this dress from my shoulder,” she said, lifting her hand to the top of her dress in threat.
“Princess,” Sir Gregory growled. “You do not know what tempest you are stirring.”