Druid's Tale

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Chapter Thirteen. A Pressing Engagement?

Horren lent against Serin as Tesler assessed their wounds grateful for her lovers gentle support though in truth she knew Serin’s need was greater than her own.

The change to her spirit form was too uncontrolled and chaotic resulting in total exhaustion when she returned to her own form, it was the reason she passed out.

“There child, just rest for awhile to give the balm time to take effect.” Tesler smiled warmly at her. “You did very well Horren.”

As she got up and prepared to cross over to administer to Lorren who was covered in small cuts she paused and asked gently.

“How did you know Darius was a duplicate my dear? I couldn’t tell.”

“Yes I’d like to know that too?” Darius said as she recovered her broken bow.

“You can’t run anymore Darius at least not as lithely as it did so it couldn’t have been you. Simple really.” Horren eased herself of the floor feeling the balm closing up her cuts and revitalising her body.

“I don’t call that simple darling I call that amazing.” Serin stood up and stretched herself to the sky. “What happened to you and Lorren by the way Darius?”

The archer grimaced.

“We found the group of Raska, except they weren’t Raska then, huddled in their camp. They were obviously seriously affected by something but we didn’t know what.” Darius coughed in embarrassment before continuing. “We let down our guard.”

“You mean you did!!” Lorren said through gritted teeth as Tesler applied a stinging balm to a deep cut on her cheek.

“Yes alright, I did but the result was still the same we both were drugged and knocked out. I didn’t know anything till I came too during the fight.”

“Though it pains me to admit it Darius’s statement is true. We took the drinks so to appear less threatening to them.” Lorren added.

“They took your forms to use against us if we beat the mind flayer thing. If we didn’t they would offer you two in preference to one of their number.” Serin’s sharp mind was working at full speed. “Poor things.”

“Poor things?! May I remind you that they were trying to kill us all?” Lorren said shocked at Serin’s concern and pity for their enemy.

“They didn’t have a choice Lorren they were just trying to survive down here.” Serin noticed that Berisford was studying the set of doors intently. “I wouldn’t touch them gentle knight until we have ascertained their purpose.”

“Surely that is obvious my dear.” He pointed at the arrows on each door. “This arrow points up so I’d imagine it’s a staircase going upward whereas this one points left so a corridor of some sort going left. It is not that difficult my dear, now we want to go downward to meet the perpetrator of this maze so it’s this one.”

“No!!” Serin screamed but it was to late the man had touched the handle.

The floor vanished beneath his feet dropping him into a shaft.

Horren and Serin scrambled across in time to see him being fed screaming, slowly, through a mincing machine.

Horren turned away with horror and was held tightly against Serin’s breast as great sobs wracked her body.

“No one touches anything without proper investigation do I make myself clear!!” Serin yelled seemingly fascinated by the scene in the pit. “It’s alright darling he’s gone now, nothing can hurt him now.”

Shakily Horren dried her eyes and regained her feet catching sight of Serin sad look at Lancelot.

“We will mourn for Berisford later but for now we must move on. Any ideas on how we should precede Serin dear.” Tesler’s voice was cold as if all emotion had been drained out of her.

Serin looked at the remaining doors for awhile before answering.

“We need a rope or something like that to attach to one of the doors handles so when we pull it open we are as far away as possible. That way if it is trapped it will miss us.”

“I agree.” Hanna said padding softly over to the left arrowed door. “Sister Tesler please may I have your rope belt. No don’t bring it to me just throw it. I’m light but your weight might set off something nasty.”

Hanna carefully wound the rope, which Sister Tesler used as a belt around her nuns robe, through the handle. She slowly and light footedly drew back playing the rope loosely behind her.

“It’s your idea Serin so you should have the pleasure.” She placed the end of the rope delicately into Serin’s hand.

Serin carefully took up the slack and then jerked downward to open the door.

For a split second nothing happened then from the roof swung five poles on which incredibly sharp curved blades were fixed. They hit the rope and cut through it like hot knives through butter.

“If we had been standing at the door we would not have had a chance.” Said a shocked Darius.

“May I have your bow string please Darius after all it’s no use to you now your bows broken?” Hanna said with a grin.

Hanna repeated the act but this time on the door marked with an upward pointing arrow.

When Serin pulled the cord the door split down the middle pivoted and slammed together trapping it firmly within its grasp. If anyone was standing at that door they would have been crushed by its action.

The door pivoted back into place freeing the cord.

“In theory the final door should be safe but I think we will use the cord again just to be sure.” Serin suggested with a sigh. “I am getting mighty bored with these silly games.”

“They are hardly silly considering their murderous intent but I understand what you mean.” Tesler replied.

The last door swung open safely to reveal a stairway leading up into a hallway.

Gingerly they mountain the stairs and entered the dark passageway as they did the door slammed shut behind them plunging them into darkness.

Once more Tesler made her staffs tip glow throwing a blue light in a circle around them.

There were five doorways confronting them, two on either side of them and one at the far end. The walls were covered in colourful drapes and paintings while small tables with knickknacks and odd pieces of art were placed against the walls.

“Do you think that these are trapped as well?” Tesler tried peering at them through slitted eyes as if that would somehow make any incongruity stand out.

“No I don’t think so Sister but we will go carefully just the same.” Serin replied taking Horren’s hand in her own.

The first door on the right opened easily to reveal a study filled with solid oak book shelves stacked with books and rolls of parchment on all manner of subjects.

The first door on the left was a grand bedroom with a four poster bed and several couches as well as a dressing table covered with scent bottles of all shapes and sizes. Like the study there was an undisturbed layer of dust everywhere.

“It doesn’t look like this area has been used for a long time.” Hanna said before sneezing loudly. “All this dust isn’t good for chest you know.”

“Oh you poor thing.” Horren quipped.

The next room on the right was more to Hanna’s taste with bottles of potions, unction’s and phials of powder neatly labelled and stored.

“Nux Vomita, Sulphur paste, aqua regis, aqua fortis, this is some form of infirmary don’t you agree Sister?” Hanna asked as she read the many labels.

“Yes I think you’re right my child look here there are even tools for setting bones and listening to the heart.” Tesler looked around with admiration. “They are very advanced and finely crafted.”

The next room on the left was very sparsely furnished with some sort of brazier in the centre. The walls glowed with a sickly green light.

“A wizard’s work shop.” Hanna said with a strange lilt to her voice that was as close as she was going to show of how impressed she was. “This whole area was obviously once where someone lived and studied.”

“But not now which makes me wonder if this is all working on some automatic function.” Serin replied.

“I hope not I’d hate to find no one at the bottom of this to punish for making us suffer.” Lorren said fiercely moving forward toward the final door.

The final room was odd when compared to the others.

It was totally empty. There was not a stick of furniture or piece of fabric anywhere.

“I wonder what this place was used for?” Muttered Hanna as she examined the nearest wall looking for clues. “A store room perhaps?”

The room was not large at about twelve foot square with a faint oily smell about it.

“Possible but the floor doesn’t show any signs of scratches or discolouration that you’d expect to see if furniture had been in here. Mind you with all this dust its hard to tell.” Serin wiped her hand down an already dirty dress. “When I get out of here I’m going to have a long hot bath.”

“Not if I get there first.” Chuckled Hanna before sneezing loudly in a dramatic way.

Horren only barely heard this interplay watching with great concern Serin gently touching Lancelot’s neck and giving him a lingering kiss. All that she had feared was playing out in front of her eyes. She was loosing Serin, and it hurt, it hurt so much that she was having a hard time stifling her tears. She turned away and hit the wall with her balled fist making an echoing hollow sound.

Serin broke of her embrace and walked to the wall opposite and struck it with her balled fist, it too gave a hollow sound.

Lorren and Darius followed suit on the other two walls with the same effect.

“The walls are hollow now why should that be?” Serin said looking across at Horren sadly.

Horren stamped her foot hard with disgust at what she took to be her lover’s look of pity. The room resonated with the hollow sound.

“Why a hollow floor I wonder?” Serin had dropped to her knees and was rapping the floor with her knuckles.

“That’s all very well my dear but it doesn’t get us any further and I mean that literally. We seemed to have reached a dead end with no way of progressing forward, up or down.” Said Tesler holding a handkerchief to her nose in an attempt to filter out the dust Serin was kicking up. “I suggest we investigate the other rooms for any other exits clandestine or otherwise.”

Serin grunted in reply.

Tesler sighed in exasperation.

“Lorren and Hanna will you investigate the bedroom, I’ll take the infirmary with Lancelot while Horren you and Darius can investigate the wizards laboratory. Let’s leave Serin to her dust bathing shall we. Feel free to join us my dear after you have had your play.” Tesler added a little sarcastically before leading them out.

Horren crossed to where Serin was staring at the ceiling.

“Hollow walls, hollow floor.” Serin muttered. “What about the ceiling I wonder.”

With a graceful leap and twist she catapulted herself upward and struck the ceiling with the hilt of her sword. It too rang out hollowly as she landed lightly with barely a whisper of sound.

There was a loud grinding clunk as teeth on old gears meshed together making the room shake.

“Get out, get out!!” Tesler screamed from the door but it was to late as the room dropped sickeningly into what the girls did not know.

Suddenly it ground to a halt.

“It’s a device for travelling between floors how amazing!” Serin said.

Horren felt far from amazed in fact she felt positively sick from the rapidity of the decent.

“See if there is a doorway out my love?” Serin began groping around in the dim light for an exit.

There was an ominous twang of strained cables and creaking popping of walls.

“No nothing.” Serin called. “We must be stuck between floors. Not a pleasant thought that.”

Suddenly the lift began a crawling ascent with much complaining and moaning.

Serin calmly sat down and beckoned Horren over to join her.

“There’s nothing we can do but wait until we reach a doorway so we might as well rest.”

Horren could not see how she could be so calm considering the straining noises all around them.

She sat down and let Serin put a comforting arm around her shoulder.

Serin tilted her head back and looked at the ceiling a moment before with a frown asked.

“What was the problem with Lorren? You seemed so intent on finding out what she saw at the wall back in the tavern?” She asked idly.

Horren took a deep breath and snuggled deeper into her lovers embrace.

“I think I know what she saw; I think she saw her sons.” She eventually replied.

“Sorry?” Horren actually felt Serin start. “What sons I didn’t think either of you had children.”

“You and I both know them after all we did give them extra work to do over the holidays.” Horren said sadly.

“Ivor and Ivan?” Serin asked incredulously.

“Yes but she doesn’t know they are her children. You know that the great council commanded all women of child bearing age to have children to replace those souls we lost in the great plague well that included us even though we were over in the Neder Conglomerate with our Ambassador.” Horren was finding it hard to explain.

“I know that that is why I have been seducing Lancelot. If I could I intended him to impregnate both of us but I’m not sure he can now.” Serin explained with a kiss.

“I know I’m losing you to him. I know I have nothing to offer you but it hurts like hell so there is no need for you to rub salt into the wound.” Horren was angry, angry with Serin for being so blatant about her love for Lancelot and angry with herself for caring when she always knew that Serin would move on.

“You’re not listening my love. I wanted him to father children on both of us.” Serin paused to let the coin drop into Horren’s very deep well. “We are both coming to the curse and if he was to place his seed in us we can make sure we become with child. We would then help him find his Gwenavier or what ever her name is and then go home with him none the wiser. Back at the school we bring up the children as our own together. Don’t you think I love you?”

“How can I, you never show love to me first, I am always the one who takes the lead.” Horren said tearfully all the fears she had held in check bursting forth. “I know I can’t hold you, you’re beautiful a perfect match for anyone.”

“I don’t take the lead because I thought you liked it that way, and as for being beautiful so are you. I love you with all my heart so you’re stuck with me I’m afraid. Why else would I plan to get us both pregnant? It is so we can be a proper family together, so we can both share the joy.”

Horren nodded before adding painfully.

“It is something I can never share with you my love for I am barren. I can not carry a child with you.”

“Then I will carry twins one for each of us to have.” Serin said as if it was as easy as snapping her fingers. “How did you find out? Was it something to do with your husband? You never speak of him other than he was fat, old, ugly and died swiftly after you were wed that is. Those facts you never stop talking about.”

“Because it is a lie that Lorren and I both share, he lived much longer than a few weeks and it was due to him that we are what we are now.” Horren shuddered. “You know we were with the Ambassador on the main land well he was under instructions to find us some politically useful husbands.”

Serin nodded.

“I was there to care for the Ambassadors animals and he lent me, so to speak to the military to care for their horses. Lorren was supposed to help me but she was more interested in the military becoming a fine swords woman.

I wasn’t fourteen when we got married Lorren was, I was sixteen.” She sighed. “That early spring morning was so beautiful. Birds were singing and bees were darting to and fro around the early flowers. The warm sun was streaming through the bedroom window and the curtains moved gently in a slight breeze. Oh yes I remember it well.”

“Horren will you help me with my hair?” Lorren’s long jet black hair shone in the sunlight a testament to her dedicated brushing. Her clear skin was tanned and radiant with a youthful ruddy blush to her cheeks.

“Of course Lorren.” Horren crossed over and picked up her brush the light sparkling of its mother of pearl back.

Horren knew that her sister’s hair didn’t need brushing but did it anyway to calm her younger sisters nerves.

There was a discreet knock on the bedroom door that made both girls jump.

“Girls may I enter?” An elderly woman’s voice called out.

“Please come in Madam Lesson.” Horren called nervously.

The door opened and a fussy sweet natured little woman entered her hair peaking out untidily from under her white bonnet.

“Come on girls let us get you ready we don’t want your husband’s waiting to long at the alter, now do we.” She said in one wheezing rush.

She was soon fussing around them making sure there nipples and privates were rouged and their make up and scent’s applied before dressing them in their wedding finery.

At last she was done and could stand back to examine her handiwork.

“You are beautiful girls you will take your husbands breath away.” She said, a solitary tear rolling down her lined cheeks.

Horren looked at her younger sister and felt a momentary pang of envy as a lump came to her throat.

Lorren was stunning as if an angel had come to earth.

The white long dress had a stiff breast board that pushed up her milky breasts up to form a deep valley between them. The board itself was covered in white lace and gold cords threaded with pearls to form a lattice work. The waist was drawn in tight and the hips accentuated as it cascaded to the floor.

Her hair was captured in a pearl studded mesh that hung down from her conical headdress. Hanging from the front was a short fine veil.

Horren felt positively frumpy beside her.

She turned and looked at herself in the mirror.

Her pale green dress clung tightly to her Junoesque figure emphasising every curve. The high collar lifted her head up making her look quite regal as well as correcting the slouch caused by her heavy breasts. Her hair, being shorter that Lorren’s, was piled up in a classic style and laced with small gem stones. The silver diadem with a single ruby had a lace veil hanging over her face; its leaf pattern reflected the motifs picked out with golden cords on the dress.

“Come along my dears your futures await.” The old woman said opening the door and leading them out on to the balcony that hung over the main hall. As she led them down the curved stairs the small crowed below fell silent.

To the girls embarrassment all the women curtsied and the men bowed even the Ambassador and his wife followed suit.

“Mother you have surpassed yourself; you and your ladies have turned these beautiful young women into visions from heaven.” The Ambassador smiled warmly. “Girls my wife and I are proud to give you away.”

He turned slightly and called over his shoulder.

“Are the carriages ready my dear?”

“Yes my husband.” The Ambassadors wife, Ceres, called as she straightened her traditional Dyffid costume of blue and white silks.

The Ambassador himself looked like a Peacock beside her in his oranges and reds.

As tradition in these parts demanded the brides rode in there open carriages around the garrison town for all to see. Children ran beside them waving and calling whilst the men stopped their work took of their caps and bowed, the women threw flowers in front of the carriages and curtsied.

Horren felt her heart beginning to race and was about to take Lorren’s hand for comfort only to find Lorren had beaten her to it. She squeezed gently Lorren’s hand and got thankfully as squeeze back in return.

As they took the final curve they could see the temple looming up before them like some sort of ancient beast.

The troopers and officers of Lorren’s future husbands corps could be seen as they lined up each side of the doorway, drew their swords and placed them on their shoulders ready for the salute.

The coach drew to a halt in front of the temple and two grooms dashed across to place a pair of steps by the door.

The Ambassador alighted first turned and helped Lorren down, Ceres followed and repeated the gesture for Horren before fussing round the two girls tweaking here and titivating there until she was satisfied. Behind them the other dignitaries from the embassy rapidly dismounted from there carriages and bustled into the temple.

A dignified Sergeant of the Guard came forward with a nervous ensign carrying two cloth covered objects over his arms.

“My Lady Lorren, my Lady Horren, my Captain asks if you will accept these gifts as symbols of his love,” He bowed to Lorren, “and his great affection,” He bowed to Horren.

“Brave Sergeant Lobatin I would be proud to accept my future husbands gifts from you hands, you who protect him so diligently from harm. I accept these gifts on behalf of myself and my sister who is so dear to me.” Lorren’s voice reflected her nerves.

The Sergeant saluted and turned to the young man beside him who was staring open mouthed at the women.

“Pay attention my son, do not shame me.” He whispered.

The boy visibly gulped and lifted the covered objects for his father.

The Sergeant lifted the cloth to reveal two beautifully crafted weapons by there scabbards.

He careful buckled a swords scabbard around Lorren’s waist before with a great show of respect he showed her the long sword before slipping it into its sheath.

Lorren’s hand rested naturally on to its pommel.

Lobatin then lifted a short sheath covered with woodland scenes and buckled it around her waist. The long knife as displayed before being slipped into place.

The sergeant and the boy stood back saluted with closed fists slammed onto their chests and then they turned and returned to the honour guard.

“Ladies if you are ready?” The Ambassador said gently.

They nodded nervously.

“Shall we?” The Ambassador took Lorren’s arm as his wife took Horren’s and led them toward the great doorway into the temple.

“Honour Guard prepare to salute!” The sergeant bellowed. “Salute!”

As one they lifted their swords off their shoulders and brought them round to the salute.

At the two parallel lines of troopers they stopped a moment as the guards turned to face the doors.

“Honour Guard ready my Ladies.” The Sergeant told them.

“Proceed!” The Ambassador said with a proud smile.

The inside of the temple was bedecked with flower garlands and shrubs creating a woodland glade effect that was like a fantasy.

The guards walked beside them their swords no longer at the salute but at the ready, sharp and deadly. A warning to all those that would threaten them harm.

Standing at the altar were their husbands to be side by side.

Alexandrich was a young captain of the guard and at twenty one with a small farm he was considered quite a catch standing there in his shinning dress armour.

Fredorich on the other hand was a dour fifty three year old wealthy merchant who had already outlived two wives. He was rumoured to have amassed his vast fortune by somewhat dubious trade agreements and even more dubious influence in diplomatic services. He was considered another good catch but many felt sorrow for his new bride.

This was only the third time she had met him and both previous time she had been chaperoned by the Ambassador and his wife.

Whilst Alexandrich was a dashing and hansom young man with an easy smile Fedorich was heavy and grey with cold eyes under heavy low brows like a wolf sizing up its prey.

The Priestess stepped forward as the girls reached the altar.

“Who gives these young women in marriage?” She called clearly.

“I, the Ambassador of Dyffid, Morgan Glenrose Holiness.”

“Who can attest to the purity and virginity of the brides?”

“I can Holiness. I, Cerys Glenrose of Dyffid. I attest the brides to be chaste and clean.” Cerys spoke with gentle pride.

“Gentlemen take your brides right hands in your right hands and repeat after me.” The Priestess commanded.

The litany had begun.

To Horren and Lorren it was a moment of total magic as plain song was sung by the choir as flower petal drifted down on to them.

Their veils were lifted and their new husbands kissed them as required by tradition to a massive roar of approval from the military, and then it was over.

The two marriage parties made their way slowly back toward the massive entrance doors, passing smiling dignitaries and the families of the troopers.

It saddened Horren a little that their own families and friends were not here to witness this and to share the joy but strangely she felt more sorrow for Lorren’s young husband who had no family at all. The Captain had been orphaned when he was just fourteen and since then the military had become his only family but he seemed happy enough. Unlike her own marriage Lorren’s was a love match having fallen in love with each other as soon as their eyes had met. The Ambassador was happy for the marriage to go ahead as it strengthened the political bond with the country and at the same time strengthened the Dyffid blood line.

Outside two carriages waited to take them to their separate nuptial receptions, the magnificent white horses tossing the red plumes on there heads in their desire to be off.

It was then that the enormity of what had occurred struck the two sisters. The sudden knowledge that the life they had shared for so long had ended brought tears to their eyes and made them hug each other and kiss as if was to be the last time.

“My good Captain,” Horren said shakily, “you had better take great care of my little sister or you will have me to answer too.”

“Have no fear for I love her more than life itself.” His smile was radiant and all encompassing. “And know this too my new sister under God that you will always be welcome in my, no our house.”

“Thank you Captain.” She kissed his cheek which made him blush.

“You would tell her that my husband, now we will never be rid of her.” Lorren said in jest before kissing his other cheek.

Horren watched as he gallantly opened the carriage door and helped her in.

With a final salute to the military he followed her in and the carriage pulle3d away out into the cheering crowds.

“If you are ready wife.” Fedorich grunted.

Horren took a deep breath and replied in the affirmative.

She crossed to the coach as it was brought forward but much to her surprise she wasn’t the first to enter, Fedorich’s sour faced mother was.

Though a little irritated by this she tried to give due deference to her age but when her husband followed she started to have the first rumbles of disquiet in her stomach.

She entered with out any assistance to be followed by her two new step daughters who the sat opposite her with faces totally devoid of feeling.

Horren, since the girls were close to own age, hoped they would become her friends but somehow she doubted it.

These were her new family and they frightened her.

Lorren’s coach pulled up outside the inn where the reception was being held to be met by a cheery chubby woman, Mrs Dunmore the inn keeper.

“Hello my lovelies, beautiful you look too.” Her smile lit up her florid face. “The main room has been decorated as per your instructions and I have managed to get what you requested sir along with the other thing.” She wobbled over to the carriage door. “Dafid, the steps boy.”

“Are you from Dyffid Mrs Dunmore?” Lorren asked politely as she was helped down.

“Oh yes my lovely. I hail from Clanfair originally but I have been here many years now bless you.” She titivated the dress. “My husband bought the tavern many years back but he’s gone now of course. The good Captain sought me out purposely like to make you feel at home. Now come on through both of you.”

Alexei took her arm and slowly led her into the grand hall. As they entered all the guest silently stood up to be joined by those that had attended the wedding.

There was something vaguely threatening about this silent crowd that made Loren’s stomach turn over.

Alexei led her behind the main table and turned to face the crowd.

“My friends may I present my wife, the woman who stole my heart.” He lifted her hand and kissed it tenderly. “My Lorren, my warrior bride.”

The room erupted into a roar of cheering making tears come to her eyes.

The rest of the daylight hours were a whirlwind of introductions and the receiving of gifts and of course eating, drinking and dancing.

The true joy on their faces lifted her spirits and likewise her youthful pleasure lifted theirs.

As the afternoon became evening Alexei came to her and whispered softly.

“It is time for us to retire to our rooms my darling.” He kissed her getting catcalls and whistles for his efforts.

“Yes of course my husband. If you’ll excuse me I go up and prepare.” She told him nervously.

“Fine, fine.” He said absentmindedly. “I will join you shortly as I’ve something to collect first.” He led over to the Innkeeper. “Mrs Dunmore will you take my wife to the rooms prepared for us.”

The little woman led her up the narrow stairs helping Lorren with her dress to a well appointed pair of rooms.

“There you are my lovely now is there anything I can do for you? Can I help you out of that dress?”

“No I think I can manage thank you. Thank you for everything Mrs Dunmore.”

Lorren’s mouth was dry.

“My pleasure my lovely.” They kissed and the old woman left.

The room had a fine carved laundry press and a small four poster bed by the window that looked out over the fields.

Carefully she removed the dress before reversing it and laying it on the bed. She soon was naked and after checking that the rouge on her privates and nipples were not smudged she lay down upon her dress with legs akimbo. Several times she repositioned the dress and her body to look more alluring and desirable, though in truth she was quite scared.

It was in this state that Alexei found her as he entered the room with the Innkeeper. Lorren wondered for a moment if the woman was to instruct them since there was no Maid of Honour or mother to do that role.

“What are you doing darling?” He asked obviously baffled by what she was doing.

“I am ready for you to consummate our marriage my husband.” She replied with a frown. “It is so you can show my virgins blood on my dress for all those below to see.”

“Oh darling, I would not put you through that.” He sat beside her and took her hand. “We will consummate our marriage when we are both ready not for the guests below.”

“But my Lord it is traditional and you did request I come up to our rooms.” She didn’t know whether to be relieved or angry.

“Bless you girl it wasn’t for that but to give you this gift.” The innkeeper was totally unfazed by what she saw and simply laid the box beside her naked body. Inside was a beautiful sky blue dress with a fine floral motif. “Come on my lady let me help you dress whilst your husband changes.”

Her dress fitted perfectly and was set off by her now free black hair cascading down her back. Alexei had changed out of his wedding armour into soft leathers.

“Let us join our guests my beautiful wife.” He held out his arm and led her away.

Horren’s coach turned away from the crowds as it drove into the merchants quarter and through the heavy stone walls of her husbands manor.

“Is our reception to be held at your, I mean our, home husband?” She asked tentatively.

“Where else!!” Was his grunted reply.

The mansion was an impressive edifice of brick, wood and marble with large windows and Peacocks strutting noisily around the grounds.

It wasn’t her husband that helped her out of the couch when they arrived at the door but her two new daughters.

“You look lovely today Mother.” The eldest said nervously.

“The service was beautiful.” Said the other as she bit her lip and licked her dry lips.

Both seemed ill at ease which Horren put down to them not being sure of this new woman in their father’s life, at first but she was soon to revise her opinion.

“I am not your mother girls but I hope I can be your friend.” She gave them a winning smile. “Call me Horren it will make you feel easier.”

“Father wouldn’t like that mother.” the eldest replied try hard not to catch her eye.

“We’ll see about that later.” Horren was more than a little disturbed by the girl’s reactions. Be shy yes, even a little nervous, but whatever must have occurred to make them so frightened of her.

“Come along girls what did I say about talking.” The old woman’s voice was as thin and reedy as her frame. “Hurry along Daughter-in-Law your husbands waiting.”

“Tell him I am coming Mother.” She really didn’t like the woman and was already planning, now she was head of the household, on how to sideline her or even have her removed. “Girl’s escort me in if you please.”

The girl’s looked at her with wide-eyed horror before meekly taking her train and following her into the grand hall.

It was obvious that the reception had been going on for quite awhile by the state of some of the inebriated guests. Ladies of doubtful virtue were doing the rounds of laps in various stages of undress. They cheered and made ribald remarks as they passed by while some of the down trodden staff applauded.

Though uncomfortable she returned their stares with a bright smile and a wave.

“Ah at last you see fit to join us wife.” He scowled.

“Yes my Lord.” She replied cheerfully lifting her arms to show off her gown. “Our daughters helped me to arrange my attire so I wouldn’t disappoint you. Do you approve.”

She could feel the girl’s cringing.

“Get out of my sight you useless pieces of offal!” He yelled at the girl’s making them scuttle away straight in to their grandmother.

“I should have had you strangled at birth the pair of you.” She spat. “I only let you live to work in the house so do not forget it.”

The eldest opened her mouth to speak.

“You dare to speak to me!!” She slapped the girls face so hard it split her lip and drove her to the floor.

“Stop that my Lady those girl’s are under my protection. Am I not the head of the household under my husband Madam?!” Horren said with icy fury.

“Yes but.”

“There are no buts madam. The girl’s are to be my personal companions, my Ladies-in- Waiting. See that it is done!” Horren for all her youth dominated the room, she felt totally in control of the situation but how wrong she was.

“The table is ready my son, let us deal with your new bride!” The old woman curling her lip in disgust turned to the girls. “You two undress your ‘Mother’.”

“Why madam?” Horren asked more than a little fearful.

“Why?!! Why to consummate your marriage before these good witnesses.” She turned back to the girls. “Get on with it.”

The girls came forward and with tears streaking their faces began to undress her.

“Sorry mother.” The youngest wept as the last piece of clothes fluttered to the floor.

Horren swallowed hard, so this was how it was, how you lose your most precious gift, your virginity, in a room full of drunken people.

Horren, unlike Lorren, had preferred the soft bodies of the girls and their butterfly kisses to the fumbling of the boys.

The table she was led to was far from the place where you broke your nightly fast. It was lower for a start and had four straps riveted to it surface at one end in a strange pattern. Horren was soon to find out why.

The table struck her back coldly as she was forced to lay back on its scared surface.

“Clamp her in place!” The old woman snapped.

Fedorich signalled to his daughters to use two of the straps to fix Horren’s arms above her head. Even though they were being as gentle and caring as they could be the straps cut deep into her soft flesh. But the indignity was not over as each leg was lifted and strapped at the knee near her head to open out the flower of her Ladies Garden.

The old woman’s face loomed upside down over hers looking for all the world like the witch of fairytale.

“Get on with it Fedorich take this little whore.” She said with spite. “You will become pregnant my Lady, I will have my Grandson and heir.”

Horren saw her husband’s naked form and blanched at the sight of his filthy scabbed member.

There was no gentleness, no subtleties, he rammed into her as if she was just a piece of meat for his sole pleasure. Her maidenhood was torn asunder and splattered the table and floor to the cheers of the drunken crowd.

The pain was excruciating but she vowed not to show it on her face.

At last it was over and he climbed off her. Perhaps this was how it was meant to be the first time she told herself, perhaps it would be more gentle and loving next time.

“Gregor, Ivan take her!” The old witch screamed.

“Mother no!” Fedorich yelled.

“Shut up you weak fool!” She yelled back as Horren screamed. “If you cannot father a son then your brothers will!”

With feral grins they raped her, again and again with her husband for an hour till her body was raw. But she did not cry out or weep even though she was battered and bruised with shooting pains of cramp ravaging her body, she wouldn’t give the old woman that pleasure.

Eventually it was over and the girls unclamped her and redressed her rubbing her limbs as they went to relieve the pains. They helped her to a chair.

“Fedorich my husband attend me if you please!” Her voice was steady and her tone brooked no disobedience.

“Madam?”

“Will you be so good as to get me some wine sir? I am somewhat dry.” Her genitals throbbed with pain.

She stayed for awhile watching the drunken debauchery with the girls pointing out who was who among the revellers. It appeared that every corrupt official and traders of dubious repute was present along with a large contingent of ‘Ladies of Horizontal Pleasure’ as the youngest put it.

Soon she had had enough and made her excuses and retired to her bed chamber with the girls in tow. They helped her bathe and salved as best they could her hurts before laying out her night robe on the well upholstered thankfully single bed.

A little later the girls found her sitting naked cross-legged on the floor of the small solarium that was attached to the bedroom, her skin rosy pink from the rays of the rising sun.

They watched as a squirrel crept in hold a nut tight to his body. It scampered across to Horren and delicately climbed on to her lap. With its red fur shimmering in the morning light it broke open the nut’s hard case before proffering the sweet seed within in its delicate paws.

“Thank you little one. At least one loves me here; at least I will have you as my friend.” She gently stroked its fur as she savoured the kernel of the gift.

The little creature pushed its hard little head into her palm and chattered gently.

The girls watched with tears in their eyes.

“Mother may we come in?” The youngest called.

Horren did not turn round or take her eyes from the little creature that was sitting on her outstretched hand.

“Come in my daughters and sit with me. Let us watch the glory of the sunrise together.” She smiled down at the squirrel and spoke gently. “Thank you for your present and your friendship little one I cherish them both but it is time for you to go now. Tell the others I will see them soon.”

It jumped down, bowed and scampered away to the open window where it paused and looked back at her with sadness.

“I will be fine my friend now to you family, go now.” She smiled warmly ignoring the pain from her bruised arms and legs, and the burning flame of her labia.

The girls sat beside her.

“Do you know I don’t even know my new daughters names?”

“I am Meredith mother.” The youngest said.

“I am Catherine mother.” Said the other before adding in a tearful voice. “We’re sorry that they did…”

They both broke down into wracking sobs.

“Shh darlings Mother will look after you.” She drew them to her breasts and kissed their foreheads. So that was how it was that a sixteen year old came to be consoling a fifteen year old and a thirteen year old who called her mother.

For Lorren, so close and yet so far away, her consummation came three days later as she and her husband chased each other through the fields near their farmhouse home. It was gentle and loving when the moment came with both squealing like children.

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