Because I'm such a perfectionist, I've written this entire story already. My plan is to post a chapter each week. If you guys like it, I can post more frequently, but I promise at least one a week. Enjoy!

The Heart Knows.

Chapter 1

The bucket of cold water was dumped unceremoniously over my head. It wasn't a cold night, but I shivered as my naked, and now wet, skin pimpled against the cool air. The sounds of hushed tears and barked commands filled my ears. The sounds of suppressed crying weren't coming from me, and I bit my lip hard to ensure it stayed that way. Those who were showing weakness were not being treated kindly.

I looked around the room at the other women being manhandled along with me. There were about twenty of us, all stripped of our various forms of dress and in the process of being cleaned. There were as many varieties of skin tone and hair color as there were women. Like the other girls there, I tried to maintain as much modesty as I could, using my arms to cover my nakedness. It wasn't much use as I was manhandled through the process of being stripped, rinsed and scrubbed. My skin was rubbed nearly raw and my hair roughly washed and combed out. No one offered any kindness or sympathy. We were no longer individuals, we were a commodity.

Though we were being washed by women, male guards were scattered throughout the room and in front of the doors. Unlike the soldiers that had brought us here, they didn't seem very interested in the naked women filling up the room. I learned later that they were eunuchs and would be a constant background fixture of my new life. A few stepped in when directed to subdue an unruly girl. The others kept their impassive watch from a distance. The women working directly with us were much more involved. As I watched another girl slapped for the insolence of crying, I resolved not to underestimate these female captors' ability to cause harm.

My flesh was red and stinging from the forceful scrub as I was shuffled into a line leading into the next room. We were lined up like animals ready for the auction. Nearly all the women were trying to secure a sense of false modesty by covering themselves as best they could with their hands and arms.

A woman entered through the far door flanked by two assistants. She commanded the attention of the room immediately and was clearly used to being in charge. Her clothes were immaculate and she entered the room with an air of importance. Her face was smooth and angelic, but she walked with a slight limp. All eyes in the room went to her. She waited as the room quieted.

"My name is Mistress Janelle. You will comply with the rules or you will be disciplined. If you don't know what the rules are, you will learn them quickly." The two women at her side punctuated her point by fiddling not so subtly with their short leather riding crops. They clearly meant business with their discipline.

Mistress Janelle walked down the line of naked girls examining each one closely. The women flanking her were using their whips to slap away hands intent on modesty and to direct movement. Each girl was exposed to the Mistress' judgment without impunity. Like the animals sold at auction, each girl was examined for good health. Her assistants directed each girl to show her teeth, to turn and to walk in a line. Mistress Janelle ran a cold and critical eye over every inch of each girl in front of her. Within thirty seconds she decided their fate. With a flick of her hand or the nod of her head the girls were being sorted into two groups. As she worked her way down the line, she would occasionally question one of the girls in low tones I couldn't hear or motion for them to turn in a circle. All of her requests were enforced with a flick of the crop from an assistant if the girl didn't move fast enough.

She stopped for longer than normal in front of one girl. I had noticed this girl earlier as one of the few who remained standing straight and proud throughout this whole ordeal. She was probably my age, maybe a year or two younger. She did not try to hide her nakedness as the rest of us had. She had tanned skin over her entire body. Her hair was darker than mine, almost the color of ink. It was hard to tell the exact shade as it was currently twisted into long dreadlocks that ended half way down her back. From the length of them, they must have been growing her entire life. I had never seen anything so strange. But anyone could see she was proud and fierce.

The Mistress was close enough for me to overhear her speak. "What is your name?"

"Alice." Her voice held a slight accent that confirmed my suspicions that she was far from home. It shed some light on her odd appearance.

The woman considered her for a short moment and I was again reminded of the times I had seen men appraising a horse before deciding on a purchase. She whispered something to her assistant. Alice must have overheard because she immediately tried to break away. One of the guards from the room stepped up and held her while the assistant produced a large pair of scissors. I watched, horribly fascinated, as the girl continued to try to struggle free. Eventually, they subdued her through brute force and the assistant proceeded to cut off all of her hair. The locks of twisted hair fell to the ground with audible thuds. When the girl was released she stood defiantly glaring at the woman who had ordered her hair cut. She now had hair no longer than a boy's, but she looked more feminine than she had with her oddly twisted hairstyle. Each strand was just long enough to stick out in short spikes all over her head. I now noticed the delicacy of her features, and the fine structure of her face. She was absolutely lovely, but still just as fierce. And, I noticed for the first time, Alice was quite short.

Mistress Janelle appraised Alice's new appearance and seemed satisfied. "Better. You will be called Allison." She paused. "What is your name?"

"Alice." The girl repeated, her gaze defiant. She was rewarded with a snap of the crop across her bare rear. She flinched and bit back a cry. The Mistress repeated the question and received the same answer. Alice received another switch.

"Stubborn. We'll see if you're worth the trouble after all. Don't make me regret this." She nodded her head and Alice was directed into one of the groups of girls on the far side of the room.

Too soon, Mistress Janelle stood in front of me with her cold stare. Her face which I had initially assessed as angelic held no compassion whatsoever. She regarded me coolly, and I had to resist the urge to cover myself against her appraising stare. I knew it would only get me a switch from one of her assistants.

"What is your name?"

"Bella."

One of her assistants reached out and grasped my hips in a movement that was so quick I didn't see it coming. I automatically pulled away from her and earned a switch on my backside from the other assistant. I gasped in pain at the sharp sensation. Tears stung in my eyes that I tried to blink away. She directed me to turn around in a circle which I did, remembering the cost of disobedience.

"Have you been with a man before?" The Mistress asked me bluntly. My cheeks flamed red at the question. Her mouth twitched at one corner, which I took to be her version of a smile. It was a cruel look.

"I will take that as a no. You will be called Isabella. What is your name?"

"Isabella," I said meekly. I would answer to her name, because I understood that disobedience wouldn't help me. But I vowed then and there I would always be Bella. I would always be myself no matter how they tried to twist me into something else. I wouldn't become just a commodity for their use. She nodded her head and I was moved to the smaller group. I was in the same group with Alice who was touching her short spiky hair and scowling.

Soon all the women were sorted and I stood in the distinctly smaller group. The girls in the other group were escorted through another door while we stood waiting for our fate to reveal itself. Mistress Janelle remained in our room as we were handed simple cotton gowns that I gratefully pulled over my head. I instantly felt more human again at having such a simple luxury.

"You have been chosen for the honor of inclusion in the Queen's House. You have been purchased for a fair price from your families and given a new name. You do not belong to them any longer. And if you think you belong to yourself you are wrong. You will do as you are directed. Disobedience will not be tolerated and will be punished." She looked pointedly at Alice who was still glaring daggers at her. "Your obedience will ensure your every need will be seen to as you a groomed for your future matches. The men you will be awarded are Princes, Lords, Soldiers and men of influence. You will learn the skills necessary to serve and please them in every capacity. Succeed here and you and your families will be cared for all of your life. Fail me and you will find yourself in less fortunate circumstances."

She turned on her heal and left the room as we were marched to our new home.