The expected pain never came due to the blessed presence of the woman who had dared to interrupt us. Even though relief shuddered through my whole being at the thought of being spared, I was afraid for the woman who addressed Lord Bancroft. He was going to punish her; perhaps take his fury out on her.
“What is it?” Lord Bancroft demanded, causing me to freeze on the spot. His tone of voice hinted at his barely restrained ire.
“Forgive the intrusion, my Lord, but Lady Sabina wished to see you; so I brought her here,” the woman answered. I glanced at the woman from the corner of my eyes to see her standing in front of a woman who looked as if she was the very Queen of this Kingdom.
“Very well. You may leave us, Edith. I will call for you once we are finished talking,” King Bancroft stated. I barely suppressed a gasp at Lord Bancroft’s response. He was willing to push aside my punishment for another person? Lady Sabina must be someone of importance, that was the only reason why he would do something like this.
“Yes, my Lord.” I glanced at Edith to see her bow deeply before walking out of the harem. In that moment, I envied Lady Sabina and the power she held over this cruel King. I desired to be someone who could interrupt a King without it being a crime.
“Yes Sabina, you wished to speak to me.” The voice which felt like whips lacerating my back had now taken on a softer tone, making me wonder who this woman really was and why Lord Bancroft was speaking to her so kindly.
“Uh…Y—Yes. Wh—What is this place?” Lady Sabina’s voice had fresh tears filling my eyes. Her voice was like tinkling bells. How could a woman with such a delicate voice be so powerful?
“This is Aboloft’s harem,” King Bancroft answered her. Would he still punish me after Lady Sabina left? I didn’t wish for her to leave me with a monster. I wished she could stay and protect every single woman in this harem.
“No I mean…I…” What relationship did Lady Sabina have with Lord Bancroft? Was she here to form an alliance with this Kingdom? But I’d never known of a woman to represent a Kingdom and be present in order to form alliances, so who was this woman?
“Relax Sabina. Aboloft has this harem for his friends; for the Kings and other important people who come to visit him. He hardly visits this place,” King Bancroft responded. My knees were starting to protest from kneeling for so long, I really needed to stand up.
“Don’t lie to me. I know Aboloft in—indulged in these women.” This woman’s audacity astounded me beyond comprehension. She dared to call Lord Bancroft a liar in front of all these women. Lord Bancroft was bound to punish her. But she was wrong, Lord Aboloft never visited the harem.
“No Sabina. He does not even know how many women he has in his harem. The men who come here do know, though.” My surprise mounted when Lord Bancroft chose to reply instead of punishing Lady Sabina for calling him a liar. I was sure if it were any other woman, especially a common whore like myself, Lord Bancroft would’ve whipped me bloody.
“Eight years. Aboloft had to have been with these women because eight years is a long time. He is a man; he has needs…” Lady Sabina argued. Which Kingdom did she belong to? I wished to go there and see just how much power women were given. A King like Bancroft was respecting her instead of putting her in her place. Lord Bancroft cared enough to answer her question, unlike me who he’d apparently forgotten about.
“Alright. I will admit that there were times when Aboloft…indulged. But he only did that because I forced him to.” I was surprised to hear his admission. Lord Aboloft visited the harem? When? I didn’t remember. “And before you ask me why I did that, it’s because he is a King. He had a whole Kingdom to run. And Aboloft could not do that if he was thinking about you.
“You do not know how difficult it was for Aboloft to rule without you by his side. So I had to make him see other women. But even though he was with other women, he never forgot you. He couldn’t. And then after a while he told me he could no longer indulge in women when all he could think about was you.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Lady Sabina was destined to rule beside Lord Aboloft? How could this be possible? This magnificent Lady was our Queen? But Quopia didn’t have a Queen. Could it be that she would now become one?
Lord Aboloft’s feelings for this woman told me that he had every intention of making her his Queen, but could it be possible? If she became Queen, mayhap she could be the reason for my freedom. Perhaps I could beg her to help me.
“Forgive me.” I jolted at hearing her voice after a few moments of silence in which I contemplated just how I could ask Lady Sabina for help.
“It’s alright, Sabina. Would you like to know about Aboloft, what happened to him after you left him?” King Bancroft asked and I hoped to the higher power above that he wouldn’t punish me.
“Yes, I will like it. I want to know about Aboloft; that is why I came to you,” Lady Sabina said. Mayhap she really was a Queen because she dared to address the King of Quopia by his name.
“Come. Let’s sit down somewhere private and talk.” My heart stopped beating when King Bancroft shot me a cryptic look before he walked away with Lady Sabina following after him, leaving me wondering if he would come and finish what he intended to do.
Silence descended thick and heavy upon the harem as King Bancroft and Lady Sabina walked away. Would they return? Would Lord Bancroft punish me? Should I dare to get up from my position? Would someone go and inform Lord Bancroft if I did that? My legs were screaming at me to change positions but I had orders from the King.
“Hildred?” I turned my head to look at Ethel standing, her eyes shining with concern.
“Yes?” I asked, ignoring the pain in my legs. How could the whores be so quiet? Did they not wonder about Lady Sabina? Were they just going to stand there and wait for Lord Bancroft to return and punish me?
“You should stand up. I do not believe Lord Bancroft is going to punish you. Lady Sabina came as a blessing to us all, otherwise God knows what he would’ve done to you,” she said, helping me stand up by holding my arm.
“No! You cannot stand up when Lord Bancroft did not give you permission. If he finds you gone then all of us will be punished!” Gillie, one of the whores who never liked me for reasons only known to her, said.
“Oh for heaven sake’s, Gillie! Lord Bancroft will not punish us for Hildred’s deeds. So please mind your own business,” Ethel snapped.
“Hush, Ethel. Don’t say such things,” I admonished my friend.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Ethel took a deep breath. “Come, you need to sit down; you must be in a lot of agony,” Ethel responded before pulling me away.
“Gillie is right. What if Lord Bancroft punishes the others because of me?” I said as I sat down on my bed. Relief had me sighing audibly, causing heat to burn my cheeks. God help me if Lord Bancroft chose to return only to find me gone.
“He will do no such thing. Lady Sabina is here now, she will not let him hurt you,” Ethel tried to assure me.
“Do you know who she is? And why would she help us? We are nothing but common whores, we do not exist for anyone or anything except when the men wish for pleasure. That is all we are, Ethel: objects to extract pleasure from.” I told her, trying to fight off the fear which was threatening to drown me in its inky depths.
“Have hope, Hildred. Don’t you see, I had hope about Lord Bancroft not harming you and look, God came through for us. Lord Bancroft did not punish you,” Ethel responded, brushing her fingers over my knees causing me to wince.
“Ouch! Don’t touch my knees, they are tender.” I pulled away from her.
“Oh, pray, forgive me. I will prepare medicine for you which will eliminate the agony you are currently in.” She stood up, no doubt going to do what she just promised, but I stopped her.
“No, Ethel, no need for any medicine. I will like to lay down for a few minutes. I am sure I will feel better after that,” I said.
“Are you absolutely sure?” Ethel questioned. I knew she didn’t believe me and wanted to help me but she had helped me enough. I was indebted to my friend in ways I never thought possible.
“Yes. I am certain,” I answered, laying down on my bed and closing my eyes to the horrors of this world that would no doubt return shortly.
“Alright, if you say so. But I will get you something to eat; you look awfully pale.” I no longer had the will or the strength to reply to her. I just closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
I woke up to soft fingers caressing my face. But when I saw Lord Bancroft lying beside me, it took everything in me not to jump and run far away from him. However, I frowned when I saw him smiling at me, his green eyes soft.
“You look absolutely breathtaking when you are asleep. A strange kind of peace settles upon my soul every time I watch you sleep,” he said.
I forced myself to remain calm as I sat up on my bed. “My Lord…” Would he punish me now? Was it the reason why he was here?
“Do not be afraid, my sweet nymph, for I do not intend to harm you,” he replied, his voice blissfully soft.
Did I hear him correctly? Did he say he had no intention of hurting me? Was this the same King who was about to make an example out of me an hour ago? What had changed? And if he had no intention of hurting me then why was he here?
“Whatever do you mean, my Lord?” I swallowed hard after the question left my lips, too afraid to know the answer. Would he strike me for asking such a question? I did not want to be afraid of Lord Bancroft but I couldn’t help it, he had successfully sown the seeds of terror in my heart and mind and they have sprouted into the most dangerously beautiful flowers.
“I am saying calm your precious heart and mind and go to sleep,” he clarified.
“But…but…you were punish—“ I couldn’t make myself finish the sentence for the fear of Lord Bancroft carrying out his earlier behavior.
He blessed me with a serene smile, one I’d never had the privilege to see on his face. “I’ve changed my mind.” He stroked the side of my face with his face. “I have decided not to punish you.”
“Why?” No, no, he was surely bluffing. He couldn’t just change his mind. No, there must be some ulterior motive present.
King Bancroft sighed before pushing me down until I was lying flat on my back. “I took some time to think after talking to Lady Sabina and I came to the decision that what I am doing to you is not how I wish to take you to Sodora.”
“Your words puzzle me, my Lord,” I confessed.
“Tell me something, my little nymph; would you have dared to escape had I not scared you into doing so?” He asked, his eyes roaming over my face, no doubt searching for the truth.
I bit my lip, wondering how to answer. Should I tell him the truth which he was demanding from me or should I save myself and lie?
In the end I decided to give him the truth which he desired from me and shook my head. “No, my Lord. I wouldn’t have.”
“That is exactly what I was thinking.” He took another deep breath before leaning down and kissing my lips. “Had I not tormented you so much, you wouldn’t have had any reason to try and escape from me.”
I was truly at a loss for words. I never knew a King could feel or express remorse, especially a King as cold and cruel as Lord Bancroft. What changed? What spell had Lady Sabina cast on him to have him questioning his judgement?
“I can see you are still afraid, and you have every reason to be. I do not expect to see any other emotion except fear in those gray eyes,” he stated. Did that mean that he still expected me to be afraid of him?
“My Lord, forgive me but I fail to understand…” I trailed off.
“Calm yourself, for I do not expect you to understand my judgements. All I need you to do is to remain calm and try and get some sleep. Your body needs to heal from all that it has endured these past few days. I will have the maids send some food and drinks for you.” He ran his gaze over the length of my body. “You have gotten considerably weaker. I thought your vulnerability would be of great benefit to me, but alas, that is not what I desire.”
“Then what is it that you desire, my Lord?” I enquired.
“What I desire is right here, my fierce nymph.” The intensity in those green eyes had my heart drumming against my chest. Why was he looking at me like that?
“My Lord—“ he cut me off.
“Close your eyes.” The command was so sudden I didn’t understand it.
“Pardon me, my Lord,” I muttered.
“I said go to sleep, my little nymph. You must rest, your body needs it. Close your eyes,” he ordered.
What I really wanted to do was to demand answers from him but I knew the command wasn’t one to be disobeyed, so I did what he said and gave into my body’s needs. Closing my eyes, I allowed sleep to take over me…
With a King’s arms around me.