The Agony of Ecstasy-31


I’ve never left the weathered docks of your loving mind, for I am in the moon, the wind and the whale’s evening song, I am the sailor of eternity whose voyage is not gone.”


Shannon L. Alder
Image Source: Pinterest

Alexandra

Scene 31

Silence, except for the morning call of birds and the moan of wind in the trees, settled on the castle grounds as Dari and her horse made their way down the hill past the honor guard of Marius’ Dacian Warriors. Rolf tagged along behind the mare in an unhurried trot as wolves are want to do when the pack travels. He kept an eye on the guards. It wouldn’t do for one of them to make an uncharacteristic move as wolves are most dangerous in their heightened protective mood. Rolf had educated several troops already for approaching Dari too fast for Rolf’s comfort.

Alexandra watched the procession with a deep admiration for the regal figure sitting proud in the saddle. The ceremonial sword of Castle Razvan angled in a outward fashion across the horse’s flank arranging the handle for easy reach. The morning sun picked up the polished silver hardware adorning the saddle throwing blue flashes of light, creating a mesmerizing show that froze Alexandra in deep thought.

As the horse and Rolf disappeared below the Hillcrest of the castle grounds, Alexandra knew that Dari’s life would change and she would no longer be the handmaiden to the Duchess Dragana. She mourned the loss so soon after she reconnected with their eternal bond. The cruelty of letting go once again overwhelmed Alexandra and a sob escaped before she could choke it down.

Cesar’s hand reached across Alexandra and folded her into his chest. Alexandra melted into the curve of his body and tried to control her emotions. She felt safe in Cesar’s arms. She had never surrendered to anyone in this life and though she had been a toy in many an evil hand, she had not submitted. She forced them to take her against her will until she found Master Cho.

Alexandra felt a calm come over her as Cesar’s arms held her and the memory of her beloved mentor flooded her broken spirit. Cho had made her strong and nearly invincible. She had abused his teachings at first when she took pleasure in the pain of her opponents in the ring. He had held her accountable and no slip from his teachings of honor was ignored. Cho had saved her and given her life and dignity back to her. I can’t dishonor Master Cho, she thought.

Alexandra turned back around to watch as the honor guard closed the procession and marched back to the Castle to resume their duties.

“I will find it hard to get through the day without my Dari by my side,” she told Cesar.

“It’s for the best, Alexandra. You are ready to resume your training and we have much work to do in building our alliances with new allies. This all hinges on your ability to demonstrate a strong and determined character. Dari will return soon and she will not ignore her Duchess.”

Alexandra trusted Cesar. He was once again at her side and destiny felt fulfilled, her life was again returning to her control. Only now, she was not alone.

“Should I come to your meeting with the Count this morning?”

“Yes. You are now the head of state. It is time to rule in our people’s favor,” Cesar replied as he stroked the teary-eyed Duchess’ hair and cheek.

The couple looked over to Marius, who remained silent during the entire ceremony to see Dari off on her sojourn to become the Wolf Master. Alexandra could see he was absorbed in his own visions, the visions of the Revenants who inhabited this insular land of history and conflict.

Marius sensed them looking at him and turned in a vain attempt to look stern and disciplined. Dari’s departure had affected him too and it panged Alexandra’s heart to see such a fierce warrior succumb to his heart’s agony to let Dari go on this dangerous journey alone. Their memories of many lives taught them all that together they fought and alone they died.

“Come, let us get ready to meet with the Count,” Cesar said and not wanting to allow their sadness to influence their thoughts another minute, the three Revenants of old Dacia departed the stone balcony and went inside the Castle to begin their bold plan to strengthen their ties to other royal houses in an effort to stop the enemies of their land and long-held traditions from gaining a foothold in the Carpathians of Romania.

✽ ✽ ✽

Dari passed by the earthen pavilion where her Duchess was gunned down like a sick animal. Anger welled in her throat replaced by a deep regret at leaving Alexandra to fend for herself. She knew Cesar could not cross the invisible boundary that separates the men from women in their intimate lives.

Dari halted her mare at the trailhead behind the pavilion. She felt an ageless fear of the dark forest. Rolf came up beside the mare, looked at Dari, and whined his own anxiety.

“We’re going to be fine Rolf,” she lied.

With her stomach tied in knots and her breakfast threatening to break the seal her clamped throat imposed on her fear, Dari urged the horse on. Rolf resumed his march behind rider and horse.

Within a few miles, the high mountains and thick forest choked out the sun except in open areas where a blue-white light illuminated their path ahead. Dari touched the handle of her sword to make sure it was ready to draw in an instant and settled into the saddle for the long trek ahead.

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The Agony of Ecstasy-30


“Hell was not a pit of fire and brimstone. Hell was waking up alone.”


Lisa Kleypas, Seduce Me at Sunrise
Art by Alyssa Monks

Dari

Scene 30

Fiery light burst up into the blue patches of sky and purple-gray clouds along the high ridges of the Carpathians setting Castle Razvan ablaze. Sunrise filtered its warmth through the windows casting a buttery glow across the bed warming Dari’s bare skin, calling her from the depths of her dreams into the present, and into the morning sounds of nature’s call to rise.

Sheets and comforter, twisted and disheveled, testified to the tameless night that left Dari bathing in a comfortable sopor as she glanced out the window to the scene of morning’s arrival. Dari loved the first moment of calm and light of each day. She scooted back to feel Marius against her back only to feel emptiness. Alarm coursed through her body and immediately Rolf bounded up on the bed looking for what caused her signaled distress.

“It’s okay Rolf, I miss Marius. Do you know where he is?”

Rolf lay his head on Marius’ pillow, rolled on his back and wagged his tail thinking this was a good time for a belly rub. “Oh, you boys are all alike. I’m feeling abandoned and you want a belly rub,” Dari said to Rolf as she scratched his belly laughing at his hind leg kicking with delight and groaning in ecstasy with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. “You and Marius have a lot in common. I suppose that is why I love you too, you big hairy werewolf,” Dari teased as she got up to get dressed.

The day of Dari’s sojourn into the dark forest was here. The ache of her mother’s memory gripped Dari. She remembered too clearly that her mother never came back from the forest and no one seemed to know her fate or would not tell her if they knew. Marius’ warning about Moira, the witch who would test her was on her mind as well. Moira and mother were bound by the ropes together. How could this practice of rope binding be so addictive to lead to madness, she wondered.

The creak of a heavy door on ancient hinges startled Dari from her thoughts. In walked Marius in his royal uniform looking every bit the commander of 2000 fierce soldiers. Behind him, kitchen workers pushed two carts laden with food and drink. They quickly set the table, placed a fresh bouquet of flowers as the centerpiece and hurried out before Marius could find fault with their effort.

“You look delicious my love,” Marius said in that way that let Dari know what was on his mind.

Rolf whined. “Not you, knucklehead, Dari. Doesn’t she look ravishing this morning?” Rolf glanced at Dari with less interest than he had in the ham and bacon on the table.

“I cannot resist you in that lovely smock and canvas riding pants. Those thigh boots though, ahh and you’ve braided your hair the way I like it. Shall we postpone breakfast?” Marius said as he took Dari into his arms. Dari looked up into her lover’s dark eyes set under his thick black eyebrows and felt the pain of her loneliness and fear of the day ahead subside enough to smile back. “Let’s eat while it’s still warm and then see what mischief you have in mind,” Dari said as her hand lightly teased her commander.

“True, I’m famished. Shall we?” Marius’ outstretched hand pointed to the table as his other hand settled on the small of Dari’s back and guided her to her seat.

Rolf pouted on the bed watching birds flit about outside the window. When Dari and Marius had finished their breakfast, Marius, took bowls of food and water and set them on the floor for Rolf. Looking quite thankful, Rolf trotted over to the bowls and began to eat. Rolf was well trained but still a wolf and so his bowl of food disappeared like magic. “Rolf, my dear son, remember to chew your food or you’ll get indigestion,” Marius chided his canine friend.

While Rolf finished up his meal and indicated he would like to be excused to go outside, Marius and Dari set about doing the last bit of packing for her trip. Later, Marius reached in his jacket and pulled out a silk map the size of a handkerchief. He spread the map out on the table to show Dari.

“This is the route you must take through the forest. It begins close to the earthen stage and continues through the forest and over this pass through the mountains. There are several branches; here, and here, but stay on the main path until you see a circle of stones with an altar in the center in this area of the forest. Marius touched the map to show Dari the points he mentioned. Follow the stone walkway through the circle. The third obelisk to the right points to the secret path to Moira’s cottage. It is just wide enough for your horse and is not marked. Use your compass if you must, but stay on the path. You will come up a long hill and nestled in the high valley just beyond the peak is Moira’s cottage. She will be expecting you.”

“What should I do when I get there?” Dari asked.

“Moira is one of our own. She will not harm you nor will her man, Ras. But you will be asked to do things that may hurt you or someone else if you chose unwisely,” Marius cautioned.

“How will I know what is right to do?” Dari asked.

“This is the test. Only a Wolf Master will understand what is asked of her. You cannot choose wisely if you are afraid or value your life above all else. You will come to know things that may upset you or may release you from many burdens, but always remember you are there to prove you are the master of the Razvan wolves and never allow yourself to be anything else. Command your future not with words, but with your deeds.”

Marius held Dari’s hands a little too tight. The shine of his eyes and strained face showed Dari a deep concern. He was worried about her. She felt it. Dari knew from his relentless gaze that he was memorizing her face in case she didn’t return. She knew then that Marius understood things he couldn’t tell her and as much as she loved him, she felt alone. She must do this test alone.

“Rolf will go with you to keep you safe. Once you are there with Moira, let Rolf stay in the forest. He will be safer in his own element.” With this last bit of advice, Marius got up from the table and Dari followed. He turned to her and with the speed of a hungry wolf, he scooped her up and walked with Dari hanging to his neck over to the bed and set her down. He unlaced her boots like unsheathing a sword and helped her out of her clothes.

The Agony of Ecstasy-29


All life is a revolt against death and eventually, all revolts are quelled.


Atticus
Image Source: Pinterest

Dari

Scene 29

Dari hurried down the hallway to her room. It was late and she still had to prepare for her departure in the morning. The keys jingled as the ancient lock clicked releasing the bolt. Clothes and handbag fell to the floor as Dari stepped out of her panties and unhooked her bra freeing her stifled breasts to the fragrant air of her room. It felt good to be free momentarily from the constraints of her duties and the chafe of heavy starched clothes. Her feet ached and she could smell the staleness of her body and hair.

The hanger protested the snatch of a loose cotton gown that did little to hid the delicious curves Marius coveted. A tiny shiver drifted down Dari’s back as she thought of Marius. Her fingers fondled the handles atop the sink as she set about washing the makeup from her face.

The face stood inspection, like lamb chops at the market for any sign of a flaw. Weariness starred back from the mirror. The full moon cast an eerie blue glow in the room and Dari saw and felt the agony of many deaths well up from the darkest regions of her heart. “Not now, she whispered. I have no time for memories unless you are here to show me how to pass this damned Wolf Master test.”

The face did not offer anything but the vision of endless cycles of service and sacrifice to the Wolf People, and their royalty she had sworn a blood oath to. “My oath binds me tighter than my mother’s ropes,” she sighed, turned, and started her bath.

The porcelain bath perched on legs of milk-white iron sent up torrents of steam in the tiled corner of the spacious bathroom under a high arched window. On the window seal that served as a shelf for Dari’s hand distilled potions, Dari rummaged through the varied shapes of Arabic glass vessels. “Ahh, here you are,” she said lifting out a sensuous feminine shaped bottle that faded from a rose red color at the top to a yellow-orange at the hip of the flask.

She read off the ingredients to make sure she had the right bath oil. “Ylang ylang, geranium, red mandarin, and frankincense. Hmm, this should arouse the feral werewolf in Marius’s blood.” Dari lifted her eyes to the moonlight and arch her back. She inhaled the scent of aromatic oils spreading along the top of the water and released a long sigh. I’m going to get manhandled tonight if he picks up this scent on my skin. She added a few more drops to make sure.

The feel of the loofah sliding over her body and the sound of the water cascading across her skin and back into the tub relaxed Dari and her mind wandered to the ritual of the Wolf Master. Why must I prove what I’ve mastered long ago? No one knows the Razvan wolves better than I; well, except Marius. So, why the test, she thought.

There came a clicking sound on the wood floor headed straight for the bathroom door. A black nose poked its way through the crack of the door and sniffed. Rolf sneezed. Geez, the Alphas are always changing their scent his frustrated whine seemed to say.

“Rolf! How did you get in here?” Dari put a wet arm around Rolf’s neck and gave him a hug. He sat next to the tub and attempted to lick Dari’s face as she ruffled his fur and scratched his back. It was a desperate act of love, but Rolf managed as best he could. “You can’t be walking into a girl’s bath just as you please, Rolf. Where are your manners?” Rolf whined for forgiveness and kept on trying to steal a kiss.

Dari looked up to find Marius watching the spectacle. “I should have known,” he said, mocking the scene.

“You wait your turn mister. Rolf was here first,” Dari scolded.

Marius disappeared into the shadows behind the open door. His voice came to Dari from the darkness. “I’ll leave you to take care of your important details and make us some tea.”

“I’ll take care of your details in just a minute. Don’t be long with the tea,” Dari teased.

Rolf, satisfied Dari hadn’t turned into a fruit salad by the scent of her, lay down on the floor, his chin on his paws and tail wagging to happy dreams.

A thought came to Dari from out of the blue as she dried off and slipped her gown over her head. Since hundreds of years before the first Roman Emperor, the Wolf People have roamed the Carpathians. We have changed with every new age and fought everyone who came to take our land and subjugate our lives. Yet, the wolves are as they were before. Their lives are with one half in nature and the other half with the people. “It was the same for us, eh Rolf.” Dari said. She saw Rolf’s vigorous yes in his eyes and swishing tail.

“We are two halves of the whole, Rolf. One foot in the past and nature and the other in the world of progress and conflict. We live our lives with uncertainty as you do my beautiful friend. Some of us return time and time again, but for what? To die a violent death holding on to our past like it was the essence of our soul. Perhaps, it is.” Dari lie next to Rolf and let her mind seep into her animal friend to calm him and feel his emotions. His eyes looked to her with wisdom far beyond his natural life. “So be it,” Dari said petting Rolf and then taking her leave to be with Marius. There were no two beasts on the earth she loved more than Marius and Rolf.

The Agony of Ecstasy_28


It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.


Marquis de Sade
Image Source: Pintrest

Moira

Scene 28

Vas led Vanya by the rope around her neck into the den of the cabin. He stoked the fireplace to chase the chill that gripped his apprentice by the well. Vas believed a good fire would awaken Vanya’s spirit in a brighter way after the cold water sent her into a meditative silence. The master left Vanya to her thoughts by the fire and returned with a cotton blouse and thin wool skirt with a wide button up waistband.

Moira watched Vanya’s reaction and posture as Vas removed the rope and slid the blouse over the girl’s head. Vas took his time helping his pupil guide her arms through the long sleeves as the open shirt fell loose on her lithe body revealing the glowing pink skin of her chest and cleavage.

The master and apprentice choreographed the same sensual moves together when Vanya undressed for her bath, only in reverse. Ras knelt down to hold the skirt as Vanya balanced herself with hands resting on his back. She seemed to vibrate, her legs struggling to hold a graceful step up and into the waist of the skirt as Vas lifted it up, pulling the fabric along her thighs, over her buttocks, and fastening the buttons of the waistband.

Strong hands and thick arms moved like a breath of wind inside the waistband tucking in the blouse, smoothing the fall of the skirt on her bottom. Finally, Ras took a towel and carefully dried Vanya’s hair. Next, a brush retrieved from the mantel stroked her hair as she stood to bask in the warmth of the fire.

“You may go and attend to your needs until dinner is ready,” Ras instructed the girl. She hesitated, her face studying her Rope Master. She dropped her head and made her way to her room.

“She’s in love with you Ras,” Moira said as Ras approached her.

“It’s best that way, Ras replied. They are easier to train and learn much more when they acknowledge their feelings for the instructor. She is by far the best student I’ve ever trained. We should try to keep her here to work with the new Wolf Master coming from Castle Razan.”

“Not a bad idea,” Moira cooed as she pulled Ras closer to her. “Why don’t you dress me like that after my bath?”

“Mmmm, I’d rather undress you and free your vixen heart from its jealousy and conniving.”

The cabin’s amber glow faded from Moira’s eyes as Ras wrapped his arms low around her waist; his large hands filled with her butt. She felt the hard squeeze. A low moan escaped her throat as her head fell back to give him her neck. The bite on her neck where it joins at the shoulder sent a small shock of pleasure through her.

A low creak, like a door shutting in secrecy, drifted across the den. A fast bubbling remained in the background followed by spurts of escaping steam.

Moira looked up into a devilish smile as a thumb slid across her lips, perhaps to wipe away the crumbs of her fading hope as Ras released her from his grip.

“Your stew is boiling over, my dear,” Ras said as he turned to the cupboard to gather bowls and mugs to set the table.

“Shit,” Moira exclaimed in exasperation. Her fantasy of getting owned across the table evaporated as she worked hard to salvage the pot of boiling stew spitting across the stove at her.

During dinner, Vanya remained quiet as Moira and Ras spoke of her progress and encouraged her to continue her training. They would always welcome her for more study at any time, they promised. The young apprentice seemed pleased by their praise, but only replied in the shortest words possible. She would not look Vas and Moira in the eye, preferring to keep her eyes averted or her head down when they spoke to her.

Moira noticed Vanya stealing short glances at Ras when he wasn’t looking. Poor girl, she thought. I’ll have to speak to her about this infatuation she has. She understood Vanya more than anyone.

As they ate their rescued stew and tore pieces of bread to soak up the juices, Moira began to see her plan to recruit the girl as her confidante begin to take shape. Tonight, I will see if she is all I think she is. With the thought of Vanya’s help keeping tabs on the elites of the dispersed clan of the wolves, Moira began to take on a cheery mood that relaxed her guest somewhat.

After the dishes were cleaned and everything put away, Ras sat before the fire reading. Moira never disturbed his reading time. It always revived him and she didn’t want to start anything she couldn’t finish. After an hour of repairing ropes and rubbing lanolin into leather straps, Moira got up and went to Vanya’s room.

Moonlight cast an eery glow on the high ridges of Vanya’s exposed skin. Moira thought she was looking at an apparition. Vanya looked away as Moira approached.

“What’s wrong dear? You barely spoke this evening,” Moira asked. She placed her hand on Vanya’s forehead. “Do you not feel well?”

Wet cheeks and hands betrayed the Rope Master’s student. “I am ashamed,” She said, her voice a whisper.

Soft hands, like a city girl, Moira thought as she urged her up from the chair. Moira lifted her apron and wiped Vanya’s tears, dried her hands, and held the girl to her while rubbing her back to soothe her. “Tell me what’s wrong, won’t you? Moira urged. “The training can do many things to a girl’s heart. It is never an easy thing to do. We give our trust and love to the wind it seems. What we receive in return is never what we expect.”

“Promise you won’t hate me or turn me away if I tell you,” Vanya said between sobs.

“I could never do that to you, my dear.” Moira held the girl to her breast and tried not to lose her composure. She felt such compassion for the broken ones. The ropes could bring madness to the unguarded heart. She saw the same look in Vanya’s face as the old witch from Castle Razvan. She loved the crazy Wolf Master even now and her memory haunted Moira.

Loneliness and the spell the ropes cast on the soul was too much to carry for anyone with a heart full of wasted love. Moira tried to spend all her free time learning everything she could from the disheveled soul and to show her real love was not the agony of passion left unfulfilled. Moira knew she already loved Vanya. She vowed to herself not to lose this one too.

“Here. Sit on the bed with me and tell me what troubles you.”

“I am in love with your man, Vanya cried. I feel selfish and dirty for my desire. I only want to be a good student and learn how to be what my master wants of me. He didn’t send me here to live a fantasy. He sent me here to learn that I might help him live his desires.”

“Does he treat you well?” Moira asked. Vanya yielded to the slightest command of Moira’s touch on her shoulder and lay her head in the older woman’s lap. Moira stroked Vanya’s hair as the girl related her story to her.

“He does not abuse me. His rules are not harsh and his punishment is rarely needed. I am good to him and he rewards me. But, I hate how he needs me only as an art piece. I entertain him and his business partners. He will never love me, and I want so much to be loved. I have never been treated the way Ras treats me. He is firm, even demanding, but he is always kind in ways that I’ve never experienced. His eyes always look into my soul never through me as if I was not there.”

“Ras is his own man. He needs a woman’s love and attention. It is his way of sustaining his life’s energy. Without our love, he would grow dark and evil,” Moira said, her eyes fixed beyond the dark room, feeling only silky hair slip through her fingers. “Give your love to him if you want. He will not mistreat your devotion. He will reward you with knowledge of your self. He’ll show you the depth of your mind and heart. But I warn you, Vanya, do not lose your soul to the ropes and the ecstasy of your bondage. It is a powerful drug you must control and use for your own good.”

“Are you sure you are not hurt by this? Vanya asked looking up into Moira’s glistening eyes.

“No, my dear. I am honored you have joined us. You are the best we have ever seen and I want you to stay with us and become a master, maybe even take Vas and my place as the Rope Master. You will no longer be the art, you will be the artist.

“But my master, he will object.”

“Don’t worry. Ras will speak with him. Besides, you can go back and practice your art and let the men come to you and confess all their secrets. What you will learn in the shadow of your demurred status, will only make you wiser, more powerful, and when you step out of your shadow their hearts will belong to you.”

“Oh by the gods below, this is too much for me to imagine,” Vanya whispered.

Moira leaned down and kissed Vanya’s forehead to seal her fate. She felt the girls fingers tighten on her back. The need for closeness was strong in Moira’s star pupil. “Welcome to the Clan Razvan, the Wolf Keepers. Another young woman arrives tomorrow from the Castle. I want you to help us train her, okay?”

“I’ll do my best, Vanya promised. Just tell me what you need me to do.”

Moira got up to leave. “Sleep well. Tomorrow will be a far better day for you.

The Agony of Ecstasy_27


Pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.


Jim Butcher
Image Source: rebel in a new dress

Moira

Scene 27

“She is beautiful, Ras. The bindings are exquisite. She seems innocent and fully compliant.”

Moira studied the girl and felt an exhilaration, a tightness in her chest as she took in their student’s subdued repose on the floor. Vanya had transformed in the last two days under Ras’ constant control. It was for him she did everything he asked, and in return, he gave her all she desired. Now she sat in a calmness that belied her flushed skin glowing through the open slits of her body harness made of braided cotton rope.

Moira could see the pulse in Vanya’s neck keeping time with her growing anticipation. Approval is a relief, a path to joy, and reward. Release, a total surrender was what Vanya most desired. Moira could see it in her sidelong glance, head down in thoughtful submission.

“Perfect. Vanya’s Master will be pleased with her discipline and new skills,” Moira said.

“I want to discuss her, um, progress with you later, Ras said. First, it is time to wash her before dinner. I’ve never seen a girl sweat like this one. She swims in a hot spring of her own making.” Ras got up from his chair. He stroked his beard, gazing at the long curve in Vanya’s back, her thin outstretched arms supporting her weight and smooth buttocks marked by the rope bindings.

“I’ll make a few adjustments to her body harness and tweak the suspension plan to emphasize her body symmetry, and then I think we’re done,” Ras informed Moira as she made her way to the open kitchen to fix their meal.

“Don’t you think she needs some skin art too?” Moira asked.

“She is a ready canvas in need of an artist,” Ras replied.

Moira saw the girl look up quickly, her eyes reflecting the dim light. They held their gaze. Moira felt a magnetic attraction to the tall beauty. Then, the girl realized her mistake and looked down again. Moira did not move, nor blink. This girl is no ordinary lost soul in search of a Master to control her errant desires, Moira thought. I wonder what Ras has seen in those eyes and felt in her chest?

Ras took Vanya by the hand and positioned her so he could remove her rope body harness without tangling the art piece into a twisted mess. He instructed her in a whisper, looking into her face. She looked back at him with flushed cheeks and apparent desire. He touched her gently as he knelt to help her step out of the harness. Vanya balanced herself, placing her hand on his back. She lifted one foot, then the other and wavered pressing herself against Vas.

Moira watched in unabashed fascination as the subtle language of desire played out like a waltz between the rough beast of a man and the ballerina-like grace of the girl. Such magic between a man and a woman was more powerful than any spell she knew. Perhaps it was the hidden strength of women that forced them to seek the control of a stronger man. But, he had to be strong of body, mind, and heart to control a woman and still have her love. Ras was such a man, and Moira wished she didn’t have to share him.

Ras fastened a short length of rope around Vanya’s neck and led her outside to the well. She stepped up from the stone path onto the raised platform that ringed the well and faced the split railing that lined the spring on three sides to keep out the livestock that roamed freely in the high pastures. The entrance was guarded with a wrought iron gate long rusted and in need of a fresh coat of paint.

Leaning forward, supporting her weight on outstretched arms gripping the top rail, Vanya waited in silence for Ras to tie the loose end of the rope to the wood rail forcing her to bend over.

Moira watched from the window; her arms wrapped tightly around herself to distract her from the ache in her stomach. I was beautiful like that once she murmured to herself. She could only see Ras’ tattooed torso under the thatched roof over the well. His muscles bulged as he turned the handle on the heavy spindle with the chain and bucket attached. The chain rattled, and the spindle creaked in a high pitch. Chills ran down Moira’s shoulders to her arms lifting the hair on her forearms like static electricity.

Water splashed from the bucket into a washtub at Vanya’s feet. Ras repeated the ritual twice more before he set the bucket on the lip of the well and walked over to Vanya. The girl watched his every move as he bent down and filled a gourd vessel with cold water. Ras poured the water over his chest, rubbed briskly and poured again. Cold spring water soaked his pants, which clung to him hinting of his masculinity.

Moira winched as Vanya squealed from the shock of cold water pouring over her body. Within moments, the girl shivered in the fresh winds of early autumn. The sun was hovering above the mountains casting sideways light beams through the forest. The light played across the animated girl’s body giving her a shimmering golden glow. Moira could see Vanya’s twitching muscles and goose flesh protesting the onslaught of water that Ras flooded across her quivering flesh.

He stopped and left her shaking and drenched to go pull up more water from the well. Ras filled the washtub again, untied the rope and held Vanya’s head to his chest like a wolf pup. He washed her body with a coarse rag like he was making love to her. She reached around his waist and steadied herself. She grew still in the warmth of his embrace.

From a distance, Moira could see Vanya’s furnace blazed with her desire, her hunger, a wanting that could not be sated until she had attached herself and given herself entirely to Ras. Moira’s breath labored. She felt unsettled. What stopped her from joining them, she wondered?

No, this would upset the bond Ras was building with Vanya. It was necessary to make Vanya want and need Ras. Her anguish when they separated and she returned to her master would set the stage for welding Vanya’s life to the ropes and set her ablaze with her need.

She would come back to them at every chance, and the urgency of her longing would allow Moira to recruit Vanya as a spy to keep tabs on the wealthy men that operated in her Master’s social circle. There is no better spy than one whose presence is routinely dismissed because of her status. Moira smiled at the thought of how they would outwit the egoists that plotted against her Viscount.

I can’t do anything to upset that delicate connection. Not now anyway, she reassured herself.