Pain Beyond Imagining
"Mistress Garen, once again you have failed in bringing me the Boxes of Orden. They couldn't have just disappeared after the Seeker was killed," Lord Rahl purred with quiet menace. Sensuously dropping his sumptuous outer robes, he circled her slowly, agiel in hand, clad only in his chestvestdress (he would do more than torture her to death if he ever found out how she and her sisters referred to his elegant attire – it was a secret held sacred among the Mord'Sith).
"I searched everywhere, my Lord, but they were not to be found. Perhaps they were destroyed with the Seeker," she answered. Kneeling before him in formal supplication, she quivered with the delicious warmth of fear and anticipation that always preceded one of Lord Rahl's exquisite punishments.
He pulled her roughly to her feet. Keeping a tight grip on her arm, he leaned into her so closely that his lips brushed against her ear in the most tantalizing fashion. He brought his agiel within a fraction of an inch of her cheek, but denied her its touch.
"I expect results, Garen, not excuses," he continued smoothly. "Since you have served me well in the past, I'm willing to give you another chance. But first, I intend to provide you with the proper incentive to succeed on your next mission; an incentive that will test you to the limits of your endurance."
That did not sound very appealing. She had been looking forward to Lord Rahl's tried and true methods of chastisement. Of course, he was an inventive man. Perhaps he had come up with something even more painfully enjoyable.
"I deserve and welcome whatever discipline you deem fit, Lord Rahl. My only desire is to please you," she whispered reverently.
"I'm sure you will," he assured her, eyes glittering dangerously. "Your ordeal will only last for a few hours, but the pain will be beyond imagining. The hours will crawl by like days."
He traced her lips gently with his thumb.
"If you do survive, you will have earned all of the pleasure and pain I can bestow on you in my bedchamber tonight."
He stepped away from her, motioning brusquely to a plainly clad woman who had appeared at the door.
"Escort Mistress Garen to the proper place and leave her there. I've told you what is necessary," he commanded sharply. Turning on his heel, he strode out of the room without a backward glance.
The dowdy woman gestured for Mistress Garen to follow her. If she hadn't been so apprehensive, she would have seethed at being forced to obey such an insignificant creature.
Expecting to be led to either the dungeon or the Mord'Sith temple, Garen was shocked to find herself standing in the middle of a cheery sunlit room cluttered with toys, stuffed animals, books and crayons. The walls were covered with colorful tapestries and pictures.
This could only be Prince Nicholas's playroom.
Garen had observed the five-year old prince a few times in official gatherings and occasionally walking in the garden with his parents, but they had never been introduced.
She was beginning to have a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Within minutes the governess brought the pint-sized prince in to meet the brunette Mord'Sith.
Glancing nervously at the red-clad warrior, the older woman spoke to her small charge. "This is Mistress Garen. I have to visit my family for a few hours today, so she will be entertaining you while I'm gone."
The boy nodded at her calmly and grinned happily at his new companion.
"His highness has already completed his lessons. He would usually spend the rest of the day outside, but since it's still pouring down rain, he has to stay indoors today. I'll return in about three hours and take over from you then."
Mistress Garen gaped at her. "What am I supposed to do with him?"
Didn't the woman know that Confessors and Mord'Sith were deadly enemies? The innocuous little creature looked harmless enough. Even so, she had no intention of getting within six feet of him.
"Just…keep him occupied. I'll be back in no time at all." With these parting words, the governess left the room with unseemly haste.
For a few seconds, the two adversaries studied each other, one with wary suspicion, the other with cheerful composure.
The boy was the first to break the ice, seemingly unaware of any tension in the room. "I'm Prince Nicholas and I live here. I don't live in this room, I only play here, when I'm not playing outside. I'd rather be outside, but it's raining so they say I can't, which is silly because playing outside is more fun even in the rain."
The verbal floodgates had been opened.
"I don't sleep in this room, I'm big now and have my own bedroom except sometimes I wake up in the night and can't go to back to sleep, then I go to my parent's room and sleep with them, but my father doesn't like that and tells me I'm too big and I have to go back to my room, and then my mother says I can stay and they argue and…..well, that doesn't happen a lot."
"Please don't tell anybody about that, all right? I mean the part about not sleeping in my own bed and my parents arguing." He looked a little worried.
Garen scowled at him. "You are too big to be sleeping with your parents. Your father is the Lord Rahl and you must listen to him."
"I know." Nicholas said brightly, "I try."
His attention shifted to his companion. "Your name is Garen and you're a Mord'Sith," he said proudly. "I know because my governess told me you'd be playing with me today."
Playing with him?
Not if she could help it.
Approaching her fearlessly, he reached curiously to touch her leather uniform. She backed away.
His eyes grew big with mischief. "You told me that I was too big to be sleeping with my parents, but you're afraid of me, aren't you?"
Suddenly Nicholas raised his hands, palms facing her, and waved them over his head, glaring fiercely at her. "OOOohhhh, OOohhhhh, watch out. I'm coming after you. I'm going to coonfeeesss yoouuu! You'd better run."
Garen stepped back further, teeth clenched in anger. "That is not funny!" she hissed.
The boy's features relaxed, one corner of his mouth quirking up into a jaunty smirk. That expression, combined with his dark hair and blue eyes, transformed him into a miniature of his father, even though he had the pale skin and freckles of his mother.
"Don't worry, I'm only pretending," he said. "I like to pretend. I won't really do anything. I haven't been to Confessor school yet. Until then I have to be very careful."
Changing tack again, he peered up at her face. "You have freckles just like I do. Mother has them, too, but she tries to cover them up with powder. But you can still see them. Father and I don't tell her that though because we don't want to hurt her feelings. Don't tell her that we really see her freckles – all right? Do you ever try to cover your freckles up with powder? I don't think you should, because father says it never works."
Garen remained stoic. She would get through this.
Nicholas just kept rattling on.
"My mother has really long hair, but yours is a lot longer than hers. Why do you braid your hair so tight? Doesn't it hurt? Your forehead looks really big with your hair pulled back like that."
"A Mord'Sith's braid reflects her honor and her status,"Garen said tautly.
"Oh, I think it's pretty," he continued, but couldn't stop there. "Do you get sweaty in those clothes? They look like they'd be really hot. My mother wears long soft dresses. Do you ever wear a dress?"
The insult was so grievous it could only be ignored. This is Lord Rahl's heir. She had to keep reminding herself of that.
"Maybe you wouldn't get sweaty in a dress, but then you couldn't fight as well, except my father's a great fighter, and he wears sort of a dress. It's called a robe. He wishes he could wear just regular pants but he has to wear the robe because he's Lord Rahl. He's always telling me he thinks it's too much like a dress and he really really hates it – a lot."
Nicholas paused for a few moments, his brow furrowed thoughtfully. "That's supposed to be a secret. Don't tell anybody– all right?"
Garen bit down hard on her lower lip to suppress a snort. If Lord Rahl only knew! "I promise," she said gruffly.
Wait until her sisters heard about this.
Having embarrassed his father enough in his absence, Nicholas moved back to the subject of Confessors.
"Mother says I have a lot to learn about being a Confessor. I'm a boy, so that's supposed to be really bad. I think I'll be a good Confessor though. My little sister will be a Confessor, too. But all she does now is cry, eat and sleep. She's not any fun. I wish I had a brother, but when I asked my father for one he told me to ask my mother, and when I asked her, she looked like she was going to scream, so I guess it's not going to happen."
Garen closed her eyes briefly. Maybe if she wished herself by the sea, the time would go by faster.
"Garen, do you ever wonder if Confessors ever get confused about who's a Confessor and confess each other by mistake? That would be pretty funny wouldn't it?"
The prince tugged at her hand. "Open your eyes and watch, Garen. I want to pretend I'm confessing myself."
Placing his palms dramatically against his temples, Nicholas intoned in a deep voice, "I'm cooonfeeessinng yoouu, Nicholas, now you have to do my bidding." He raised his pitch a few notches, "Yes, Master Nicholas. Your wish is my command."
"Mother and Father won't let me have a puppy, Nicholas. You must give me a puppy"
"Yes, Master Nicholas, I will get you a puppy."
"You will have to feed him and clean up after him. I will get to play with him."
"Yes, Master Nicholas. I'll take care of the puppy."
Garen watched stony-faced. It was difficult to find even play-confession amusing, but she supposed the boy didn't mean any harm.
He'd already moved on to something else.
"Do you ever sleep in the same bed with my father? He usually sleeps with my mother, but sometimes he lets other women sleep in the same bed with him. She acts like she doesn't care, but it makes her mad. I think if she told him it made her mad he might not do it anymore. I don't know why she cares if he lets other people sleep in the same bed since she never cares when I sleep in the same bed with her and father."
He sighed in puzzlement at the strange ways of adults. "I don't think I'm supposed to know about father letting people sleep with him in the bed, so please don't say anything to him about it - all right?"
Since Garen shared Lord Rahl's bed quite frequently, she took pleasure in knowing the queen resented it despite her show of indifference. But she solemnly promised the prince that she would keep his secret.
The subject of beds being exhausted, Nicholas broached a new topic.
"Is that an igel?" he pointed to the weapon holstered at Garen's hip.
"It's called an agiel," she huffed. "It is a weapon only wielded by Mord'Sith and it has to be earned."
"I've seen my father use one, and he's not Mord'Sith," the boy retorted.
"The Lord Rahl is the only other person who can wield the weapon," she admitted.
"What's it made out of? Can you take it apart," he asked eagerly. "What makes it work."
"It's created by magic," she replied with exasperation.
Nothing would shut the boy up.
Except perhaps holding the agiel against his chest which would certainly ruin her chance of a night of pleasure with Lord Rahl.
"Yes, I know it's magic. But who made it? Somebody must have built it. How did the magic get inside?"
Maybe the night with Lord Rahl wasn't worth this.
"I don't know who made it. The weapon is spelled with magic," she gritted her teeth.
"But who spelled it? Do they all get spelled at the same time? Do they make new ones all the time, or are all of them old?"
"Ask your father!" That was going to be her stock answer from here on.
"He tells me I ask too many questions. He says that I give him and mother headaches. Do you think questions can cause somebody to have a headache?"
"Yes! I have one right now," she shouted.
Goggle-eyed, Nicholas went silent. Glaring at her, he plopped down at his small table and began drawing on a sheet of paper, his face scrunched up in concentration.
For a few blessed minutes there was utter silence, but she should have known it was too good to last.
"I have an idea, Garen! Let's play a game." Nicholas hopped up from his chair in excitement. "Let's play Wizard and Mord'Sith. I'll be the wizard and shoot magic fire at you, and you bounce it back to me. It's just pretend because I don't know any magic stuff yet, so I'll just make noises, all right?
The prince ran out to the center of the room and directed her where to stand. "Now you start over there and I'll chase you."
She had had enough.
"I am not going to run around the room and be chased by a five-year old boy. I don't care if you are my prince," Garen snarled.
He frowned in disappointment, then regained his sunny smile. "Then just stand there and I'll run around you. All you have to do is raise your hand when I shoot pretend magic at you."
Hanging in chains for days would have been better than this.
Giving in to the inevitable, Garen agreed to participate on the boy's terms. If word of this leaked out to anyone, she would never be able to raise her head in the palace again.
"Here I go," he yelled, running frantically around the room, halting randomly to point his fingers at her while he yelled "Magic words, blah, blah, blah, magic words – Wizard's Fire." This was her signal to hold up her hands to deflect the imaginary force.
The ordeal went on forever. The only consolation was that, for some reason, Nicholas always let Garen win. Probably because it gave him repeated opportunities to clutch his chest melodramatically, crying "You killed me! I'm dead!", then throwing himself to the floor to writhe and moan some more.
Within seconds, he would be up again, ready for another round.
"This is the best game ever, isn't it, Garen?" Nicholas panted happily, racing around the room for at least the sixtieth time.
Lord Rahl had been wrong – the hours didn't crawl by like days, the minutes crawled by like days.
When, after an eternity, the playroom door finally opened and the governess appeared, it was like a miracle. If Mistress Garen hadn't been Mord'Sith, she would have hugged the woman and sobbed with joy.
As it was, she drew herself up and formally took her leave of young Master Rahl, being careful to avoid his grubby hands when he tried to grab her around the waist.
"This was so much fun, Garen. I'm going to ask father if you can watch me the next time Elise has to go away. Won't you like that?"
Pretending she hadn't heard, Mistress Garen had almost escaped before being waylaid by Nicholas one more time.
"I almost forgot, Garen. I made something for you. I drew a picture of you and my family." He shoved a smudged piece of paper at her. "It's a present. You can put it up in your room if you want."
Grabbing the sheet without looking at it, the young Mord'Sith marched down the hall.
As she contemplated the night ahead, Garen gripped the agiel at her side, its magic whining angrily in answer to her own.
Pain before pleasure.
Lord Rahl had a lot to answer for.
She would give him a night he would never forget.