A warm touch. A soft kiss. The embrace was thirst-quenching for my soul. It ended with the soft pat pat of coins landing on my bed, and his quiet footsteps leaving the room. I opened my eyes, hopeful my ears lied. They told me true. He was gone. As I closed my eyes and laid my head back down, I felt warm wetness on my lashes. Sleep quickly found me again.
Crack! The whip snapped against my flesh and I howled with an open throat. My voice echoed back at me from the paneled walls. I had no time to prepare as it struck me again, across the buttox. A scream tore from me, and he allowed me to rest while he left, supposedly to get a drink. Time passed slowly as I waited without a word. The ache of my legs held apart and my hands tied above my head began to grow from dull to a fire across my shoulders and calves. I called his name as I spotted the light of morning through the tiny window, but he did not come.
As morning bloomed, a sweet-smelling breeze, laden with the scent of flowers, slowly woke me. The sun on my bare back reminded me of blueberries, and I was content to enjoy it until I opened my eyes. My heart sank as I beheld the bed I no longer shared, but reclined alone upon. I rose and began my morning ritual. I bathed in hot water, then soaked in cool until I began to doze. I styled my hair and dressed carefully in my finest casual clothing. Today, I had no work, and I intended to enjoy myself.
I felt so beautiful– a rare thing, in my profession– and as I looked in the mirror, I saw little of what I normally declared wrong with my appearance. Despite the previous night, I decided that I would have a nice day, and stepped from my room. My purse on the dresser almost leapt into my hands, and I fastened the long string over my shoulder as a sling.
As morning became noon, the pain became unbearable, and I became angry. My servant girls had to come free me from my silken bonds. I ordered each in turn to silence, lest they lose their hands, and washed up quickly after I returned to my bedroom. I wore only my most severe clothing, to send a clear message– I was not to be trifled with.
My carriage arrived, and I paid a peasant to find where my disappeared lover went, and he returned with news of a common whore who caught his eye before he traveled north. His drinking friends insisted he went to New Aukle in search of wealth. I sent a hitman to kill the whore and set my driver to the northern road.
My feet moved against my will to the edge of town, and I did not look back as they carried me farther, like an errant leaf on the wind. As I passed the gate, I glanced upward at the grand wooden structure, all of two men tall. For a moment as I stepped through, my belly flipped about, as though bees and butterflies competed within.
The uncertainty passed as I finally stopped and looked back, and without knowing why, I dashed away. I barely heard the guards as they exclaimed in surprise, and I was startled to look back and find not a soul gave chase. From there, I moved at a more leasurely pace, to save my shoes and my legs.
Leaving town was unusual. A girl far in front held everyone up with her gawking, and it took half of an hour to get past her. She toddled along as he rolled past her at a steady clip. From my carriage, she looked like a filthy farmer girl who wore the fashion of five years ago in a color that was all wrong for her complexion. My black dress, by comparison, was so much more flattering.
Proud of myself, I ordered my driver to continue onward quickly, and I smiled as I watched mud dirty her shoes and stain her dress. To my displeasure, she lacked the decency to cry.
The rest of the summer and the fall found me well, and my coin and skill ensured I was not without meals, even as my belly grew round with a tiny miracle. Despite my pregnancy, I was unable to stop in my travels, and my swollen feet quickly banished my shoes in favor of new foot wear that was more suited to travel.
As I ventured farther and farther from home, I heard more stories of the man who left me. His name was often whispered with fear by men, and admiration by women.
When the first snow fell around me, mention of him ceased suddenly, and I took refuge at an inn. I felt foolish, for I realized I had ventured out only for a chance to meet him again, and I decided I would return home when the weather allowed me to buy passage in a carriage. My unborn child deserved no more of this rough and uncertain life. A life raised by a whore in a city would be far more safe.
I arrived at New Aukle in a week, and bribed many people for information. Not a single person recalled seeing him, so I assumed he was simply late. Without any difficulty, I rented a room at an inn and waited for word that he arrived. A month passed, then two. Before I knew it, it was fall. Even walking here did not take this long, and so I began my journey home.
Along the way, the axle of my carriage broke, and because my servants neglected to pack a spare, I was left to wait in my broken transport with only a handful of guards about me. The servants who left to buy a new axle estimated they would be gone a week, and I was generous enough to give them two before I ordered one of my guards to the road to ask for aid.
The weather was growing chill, and even as the first snow fell, I knew something was very wrong. None of my sent servants returned. The guards who remained with me were uneasy and began to fear the dark.
As the darkest part of winter came, I began to feel the chill even when I sat by the stove in my carriage. My guards grew more and more lethargic. Finally, I invited them in. It would do no good for them to die.
Just as I decided to return home, I overheard my name in conversation.
“I could never hurt Lily like that. She’s far too sweet, with her soft hair and deep eyes. She’s ill-suited for it.”
The voice was heartbreakingly familiar, and my throat closed as I continued to listen.
A drunk-sounding man laughed. “If you’re so fond of her, why not go back?”
“I will, but first-” He cut off mid word, and I felt eyes bore into me. “Lily?” I heard him rise and slowly turned to face him. “It is you.” His voice was awed, and his expression was open with shock that turned into pleasure. “Why are you so far from home?”
Something within me snapped, and I began to cry and laugh all at once. My eyes felt like a babbling stream as I tried to speak, but failed. Instead, I took his hand and placed it on my belly. He understood, and he wrapped his strong, gentle arms about me. “I found you,” I choked out. “I found you, Chris.”
My legs kicked as I struggled I was held aloft by a wire about my neck; my guards turned against me. Their words cut my heart. Had I not been kind to them? I took each in off the streets and gave him food and shelter. The one that held the garrotte was a boy I raised from a youth!
“Fucking whore. She’s killing us like this– in this cold.” He spoke as if I was not present and choking on the cutting wire.
I choked as I begged them to stop, but they ignore me until my body became leaden. Only then did I feel the ground meet my face.
I woke in the snow, alone. My carriage was gone, as were my horses. My wrists were bound, and I could barely breathe. The cold air sliced at my throat, and my chest burned. There was not enough air! My breaths were pitiful, but each took great energy.
After many tries and failures, I finally succeeded at using my voice, although it was muffled. A weak cry of “help” was all that escaped my lips before I was left to mouth my thoughts.
Damn that man. He was the cause. How I ever loved him was beyond me, and I swore, if I survived, he would meet Rose’s thorns.
I hated Chris.