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Chapter One

 Mikalla glanced around the yard as she slid along the stone walls, still warm from the day’s sun. It was nearly dark out. She heard a soft low whistle and dashed for the bushed from whence it came. Her friend kissed her passionately on the mouth as soon as she was hidden, and Mikalla returned the kiss, dominating her lover with a hand in her curly tresses. Clutching Erin to her she stopped and they giggled breathlessly. Just then they heard the crunch of a horse’s hooves and froze, hearts hammering in terror. If they were found out…! The door just to their left opened, flooding light into the yard.

“Good evening, Steven! What brings you here?” Mikalla bit her lip nervously, nearly drawing blood as her husband greeted the Captain of the Guard.

“I’ve an evening off. Why shouldn’t I spend it with my best friend?” the Captain answered. The men laughed. “Where’s Mikalla?” he asked, dismounting and giving the reins to a stable boy who had come around the house at the sound of the horse.

“She went to bed early. Female things, you know.” The captain chuckled, a warm familiar sound between the friends who’d grown up together.

“That I do. My Amy and Sophie have them regularly.” Mikalla’s husband laughed out loud at the mild jest of Steven’s two wives, his laughter also warm and familiar. They entered the house together and Mikalla began to breathe again.

“He doesn’t suspect even now!” Erin whispered, only partly in wonderment. Mikalla allowed herself a short laugh.

“More the fool he. He’s too dense to notice anything, all wrapped up in his books and business. I needn’t have worried.” Giggling again, arm in arm, they stole off to a tiny one room cabin that had been abandoned in the forest, no further away than they could walk in an hour.

Once there, as usual, they took their clothes off and hung them up so as not to soil them, and fluffed the worn old quilts that lay over the straw bed in one corner. Satisfied, the pair was soon deeply engaged in conversation as they reclined together, their limbs seemingly entangling themselves of their own accord.

Erin was yet unmarried, which was not unusual for someone of her age – yet. In another year it would become a favorite gossip topic, but for now, she was relatively safe. Her father was old and infirm, having become crippled in a fall from a horse some 4 years earlier, and once he was laid to bed she could do as she pleased. Mikalla, though married, often complained of ‘female problems’, and snuck out of her proper home to meet her lover. They had found the little hut over a year previously, when there was a town picnic in the meadow in the woods not far from it. When the town’s young women were sent off to pick some of the early spring’s lush berries, Mikalla and Erin had easily slipped away for time to themselves. Following a bubbling little stream the two had happened upon the cabin, so old and leaf covered it looked almost as if it had grown in that very spot. It was obviously uninhabited, and had been for some time. The young women fell in love with it – it was idyllic! – and perhaps the same thought occurred to both of them; if it were far enough from town, they might have set up housekeeping together. However, it was not, so they contented themselves with making love sweetly and passionately on its dirt floor, and thereafter frequenting it for their night escapades. They had, of course, come back to the picnic late. Thanks to a good deal of playacting fright and helplessness, and stories of being lost and grateful to find the group again, aided by the dirt on their dresses, however, they were saved from any real anger. Mikalla’s husband had tenderly brushed the loose hair out of her eyes, telling her how glad he was that she was back safely and how worried he had been. She submitted to his gentle caresses and softer admonishments and pretended to be soothed while her veins thrummed with defiant dissatisfaction. A real man would not have been fooled, she thought, and though some of his friends eyed her narrowly, she ignored them. Erin in the mean time apologized prettily and contritely to her father for worrying him, and he forgave her quickly, cautioning her not to let it happen again. Ever since then, they had come back as often as the two felt it prudent, though Mikalla had been getting reckless of late.

Their conversation wound down, and they began stilling each other’s lips with their own, then kissing longer, more passionately, enjoying the warmth of each other’s bodies. The late spring air brought a light damp to their skin as they embraced, and as their fingers began well known explorations, Erin remembered how they had met.

The town they lived in was rather small, really too small to be called a town at all, but because it was less spread out than some of the other villages nearby, it became the town. Still, though the two young women had doubtless seen each other in passing, they could not remember to tell it. The day was almost three years ago, when Erin was 15 and newly a woman; still naive, but old enough for the men about the town to consider her as an addition to their households. She had gone to the well in the center of the tiny town square to draw water for the day’s baking; her mother being long since gone she had shouldered the running of a household earlier than most girls since her father’s crippling fall. Mikalla was, that morning, dressed in boys clothes she had stolen from the stable boys’ bunk, her long brown mane tucked into a cap and her face dirt streaked to hide her prettiness. She was in the pub, attempting to order a drink to fulfill a dare from one of her father’s field hands. Unfortunately for her, of the few people in the pub that early, one was the head stable man of her father’s house. He recognized her, and she was thrown, spitting and yelling, into the street. The stable man, a full six years older than her seventeen, had tried to haul her home, but she had twisted away and kicked his shins. He let her go with an oath, intending to tell his Master as soon as he got home. Mikalla fumed around the square for a while, then, spotting Erin, who had watched the proceedings dumbfounded, snatched the bucket out of her hands to wash her face with. When she was done, all Erin could do was stutter that she was beautiful. She was, in fact, the most beautiful woman the girl had ever seen, even in such ill fitting clothes. At those words, Mikalla paused to look closer at the trembling girl, her own hair wild about her face without the cap, and growled. Erin jumped, and Mikalla laughed.

“I like you, girl,” she had said, purposefully letting her eyes touch the young swells of Erin’s breasts, her tiny waist under the belt, her graceful ankles and wrists; she was not unpleased by what she saw. Erin had whimpered, quite unsure what to do under the still-new scrutiny and terrified, but drawn to the woman as a moth to flame. “Meet me tomorrow morning at this well, early. Earlier than now.” Erin had whimpered again, so fascinated she could not find her speech. Slowly, she nodded, and began to back away. She had just turned towards home when Mikalla startled her by grabbing her hair in a fist for the last few words. “Don’t be late,” she whispered, grinning evilly. As soon as she released her Erin fled, the half-full bucked sloshing.

Mikalla laughed and hurried home to change before her father saw her, only to find him standing on the step waiting, his belt doubled in his fist and the stable man smirking at her from behind him. Her eyes narrowed and she hissed, but she could not escape now, and any payback on the young man would cost her. Her father told her to shut up, and she obeyed. He grabbed her arm and tossed her over the yard’s fence bar, her hips taking her weight and her feet leaving the ground so she was doubled over the top rung. In that position, kicking and yelling, she received the worse strapping of her young life so far, which said a lot, considering Mikalla was always getting into trouble. When he was satisfied that she would not traipse about in boy’s clothes trying to get drinks for at least as long as she remembered this whipping when she sat down – which would be at least a week and he hoped more than two – he let her up and helped her into the house for a short rest before she was sent out to help in the fields.

The next day, (dressed properly, in full skirts, under dress, buttoned bodice and belt), sore and grumpy, Mikalla waited by the well until it began to rain and decided that the stupid girl of yesterday was not going to show up. She headed for the woods and suddenly Erin ran up breathless. For some reason, Mikalla brightened. Still, she grabbed the girl’s hair and growled in her ear, “You’re late!” Erin whimpered, heart pounding, and gasped out the words,

“I’m sorry,” and then was forced to follow Mikalla to a little used shed out on her father’s property. There Mikalla searched until she found her favorite knife, hidden in the dirt, and went outside, leaving Erin wet and trembling; totally fascinated but very frightened. Mikalla came back with a switch and while peeling off the bark ordered Erin to strip to her flesh. The girl stammered and hesitated until the older girl cut her a look with dark eyes. Erin obeyed, wishing heartily that she had never returned to the well. Mikalla arranged the now naked girl face down over the pile of straw with her rump raised high in the air. She eyed her soft, unblemished and still moist body, then swished the switch in the air. Erin jumped and she laughed, then something about the girl moved her to pity and a little empathy. Softened, she knelt beside the trembling girl, laid down the switch and stroked her back.

“Have you ever felt a switch?” she asked, gentler. Erin shook her head, eyes wide. Mikalla stroked her until she relaxed a little. “It’s only a little worse than a belt. Only five strokes, I promise.” Erin whimpered a little, but remained where she was. Seeing how frightened the girl was, she shocked herself by giving her a choice.

“If you want to leave you can.” Now the words were said; she could not take them back. “I promise. If you want to go home now I won’t stop you and I won’t try to get back at you and if I see you in the town I’ll be nice.” She meant them, odd as they sounded in her ears. “Here, I’ll even turn around. If you want to leave you must get dressed and go. If you are not gone when I turn back around, you have consented to stay with me as my consort. I will expect obedience. Disobey; you will taste punishment. Understand?” Erin nodded, unsure. She sensed rather than realized Mikalla’s loneliness. And when she turned her back on the prone girl Erin was at a loss. She told herself she was a fool, an idiot and more. She reasoned with herself and told herself to get up and dress and run out that door as fast as she could. But somehow she couldn’t do it. She lay quietly. She was curious – this woman had touched off something inside herself that she couldn’t put a finger on yet. And she was attracted to her. Punishment for disobedience was nothing new in this corner of the universe. Whatever the reason, Erin stayed. When Mikalla opened her eyes and turned around, she was surprised. She’d never given her women a choice before; they’d all left her as soon as they could anyway. All she knew was that this one was different – perhaps she desired her more? – and when given a choice did not abandon her. The relief was sharp, almost painful. She smiled, unable to speak, and picked up the switch. She found that she didn’t really want to whip the girl, but she couldn’t back down now. She found her voice, and it was firm.

“I expect obedience at all times. I told you early, you were late. You disobeyed me. You will receive 5 strokes.” Still, she decided to go easy on the girl this once. Raising her arm she waited until Erin could bear it no more, and as she exhaled lashed her full buttocks fiercely. The girl sucked in her breath and howled. She lashed her twice more, quickly, on the sweet spot between buttock and thigh, the weals overlapping. Erin was sobbing, trying to hold still and biting her knuckles to keep from covering herself. Mikalla was proud of her girl for being so brave, and gave her two more quick cuts, much lighter than the others, on the crest of her buttocks. Then she put down the switch and lay beside the girl on the straw, covering her with her skirts and gentling her with words and touch. Soon Erin’s tears were dry and they smiled at each other, comforted.

“I may as well know your name, little one, now that you are mine.” Erin smiled and told her, shy. Mikalla touched her cheek then and softly kissed her lips. “A beautiful name for a beautiful girl.” Erin laughed, stirred and confused by the kiss.

“But you yourself are so much more beautiful than I. How can you say…” Mikalla silenced her with a finger to her lips.

“Shhh. Don’t disparage that which is mine! I don’t appreciate someone telling me that my possessions are not good enough. I give whippings for that too, you know.” Erin’s eyes widened in fear.

“No, please!” Mikalla kissed her again softly.

“Then do not tell me you’re not beautiful. Don’t doubt my word. I will never lie to you, I promise you that. Therefore I order you never to lie to me, you understand?” Erin nodded. “I say you are beautiful, Erin. You are mine, and I like you that way. Understand?” Again, the girl nodded and Mikalla stroked her cheek, finding it soft and still damp from her tears. “Good girl.” They kissed softly, and this time Mikalla allowed herself the pleasure of sliding her tongue between Erin’s slightly parted lips. The girl responded, drawing away at first, but as Mikalla’s hand on her jaw tightened and she felt the sensations rippling though her body at this new invasion, she pressed closer, no longer minding the prickly straw and even forgetting, for a moment at least, the welts on her bottom. Clumsily she reached for Mikalla’s cheek and they kissed deeper, searching.

Mikalla broke the kiss and sat upright suddenly, listening. “Damn!” she said, and Erin was startled. Turning swiftly to her she ordered, “Get dressed now, sit in that corner there and do not move until they are gone.” As Erin hurried to comply, her fingers clumsy on the buttons in her haste, Mikalla smoothed her skirts and rehid her knife, tossed the switch into a corner like a random stick and kicked the hay to look normal. Erin was dressed and crouched in the corner indicated, her buttocks too sore to sit on yet. Mikalla pointed out a tiny peephole. “When you think they are gone, count to two hundred. Then get out and go swiftly home. I will find you when I want you again.” Near tears Erin tried to speak, to ask what was going on, who – but Mikalla stooped before her and cupped her face in her hands, kissing her forehead then her lips. “It’s the shepherd’s sons, out to make trouble. I can thwart them, but it will not be good if they see you. They have little to do today, and there are five of them. So do as I say.” Erin nodded, tearful, and Mikalla kissed her again then crawled out a small door in the back Erin hadn’t noticed before. Anxiously Erin watched through the peephole as she reappeared in front, walking slowly as if she were completing a long trek. As soon as they saw her the taunts began.

“Oh-ho! Look at the lassie now. Or was it a laddie?”

“I hear you got your rump warmed by old man Ben!” (He was her father)

“Aw, we missed the show – perhaps we should examine the evidence ourselves?”

“Both sides of the evidence, eh lads?” Their laughter was dark. Mikalla ignored them and pushed on towards her home, but they followed, and began to close in on her. Erin waited until they were out of sight to begin her count. She lost her place a few times and guessed, until finally she crawled out, prayed for herself and her lover, then ran like mad to her father’s house, never mind her still throbbing buttocks. Later, Mikalla told her what had happened: a little further on she had insulted them right back before sprinting for home, but they had colored angrily and overtaken her, throwing her to the ground and tossing her skirts up. Her father had come in from the fields at her screams and rescued her, his field hands hauling the imprudent young men off to be horsewhipped. She had whimpered into her father’s chest while he comforted her as best he could, for he really did love her. She stayed close to home for the next few weeks, until the season sent the shepherds far enough away to do no more mischief, and then she sent for Erin.

The young woman had been tending her father and their home, anxiously awaiting word, cautiously asking news from the local gossips and keeping a sharp eye for Mikalla. When she finally did see her in town, a young girl soon tugged on her sleeve with a note. So that night, after her father was abed, she had slipped out to meet her lover in the same shed as before. They shared news of their weeks apart and of their ordinary lives, then settled against each other to explore feelings so new to Erin, not so new to Mikalla but different somehow – more intense. It was nearly morning before they were home again, but they began to meet regularly, getting to know each other, falling in love with each other.

It had been three years since then. A bit less than two years after they had met Mikalla and the town’s primary merchant had conceived an infatuation for each other. Druwn thrilled at her playfulness, she admired his no nonsense manner of dealing with both his workers and customers who gave him trouble. He was strict, but understanding, and he always smiled at her teasing, admiring both the way she moved and the intelligence with which she spoke. Soon he had taken her as wife. In the beginning the women stayed up late – but only when he was away – as Mikalla told story after story of how sweet and generous he was to her, how exciting he was in the bedroom, or told Erin amusing anecdotes while she helped her bring in vegetables from her garden to the store. But he seemed bent on excessive gentleness, and soon her ardor cooled, and she began to slip out more often, complaining and poking fun at her husband. Erin chided her, insisting that she give him some respect, but she refused. Their bedroom life virtually disappeared, and she insisted on her own room to sew in, and began to sleep on the couch in there rather than in his bed. She attended to her chores, but made no pretense of happily fulfilling his needs. Through it all he was kind and gentle and loving, accepted her hollow excuses for truth and smiled softly when she whispered complaints about ‘female things’. When she left the room the disappointment and hurt would flicker in his eyes but he did not show it to her. His servants took pity on their Master and worked even harder to please him; though he never took his anger out on them he was still their Master and still firm in command of them. Only his wife seemed beyond his control.

The night the women were off in their cabin and Steven had come to spend the evening, Druwn was especially disappointed. He hadn’t made love to his wife in months, even the nights she had slept in his bed, and he had planned on gently seducing her, pleasing her and taking her to his bed. He even had a present from the goldsmith to give her – until she complained of female problems and retired early, that is. Frustrated, he told his friend the situation.

“The devil, man, that’s why you’ve not been sleeping well lately! Amy’s bad, but not that bad. And Sophie has one or two horrid days, then she’s better,” Steven had said.

“I don’t know if I should call the physician or what – she’s been so touchy lately…” a sudden thought struck him. “You don’t think she’s pregnant and doesn’t want to tell me?” Steven looked startled, his black eyebrows rising on his weather beaten face.

“Hell, I don’t know! But wait – Greta!” Mikalla’s head house woman came into the room.

“Yes, sirs, can I get you anything?”

“No, thank you dear, just answer me this. Is your Mistress pregnant?” The older woman was startled.

“No, sir, she’s not. She had her menses right regular last week.” Druwn furrowed his brow.

“Did you say she had her female things last week?” Greta nodded, glad she could help her Master get a clue as to his wife’s strange behavior.

“Yes, I did, sir.”

“So should she be having ‘female problems’ tonight?”

“Oh no, sir, she’s regular as the sun up. She should be fine right now.” A girl in the kitchen stifled her giggle as she heard the conversation.

“Ooh, Mistress is going to catch it now,” she whispered to the other maid as they washed dishes.

At the table Steven turned to Druwn.

“You have been deceived, my friend.” Druwn shook his head, still not believing it of the wife with whom he was still madly in love. “Go and ask her! Ask why she lied to you! And believe me, Druwn, any wife who lies straight out to her husband should be whipped until she can’t sit down for a month.” Still the man shook his head and Steven became slightly angry. “Look at the facts man, either she’s got a damn good reason and hasn’t told you, though it had better be a very damn good reason, or she’s straight out lying.” His voice dropped. “And if she’s lying, you may not have a wife much longer, my friend.” Druwn’s head jerked up at those words. “Remember,” Steven continued softly, “how when you took her as wife it was on the condition that you handle her well? Mistreat her and she is taken from you, back to her father’s house. Remember? But also remember, if she mistreats you, she is taken away. I don’t want to have to do that to you, my friend, but if the old men who run this town believe she is hoodwinking you and mistreating you, they will order me to take her from you and I must; it is my duty. I’m sorry, Druwn,” he said, empathizing with the pain in his friend’s eyes. “Go ask her,” he repeated. “Find out what is going on.” Finally Druwn pushed himself out of his chair, hurt and upset. He climbed the stairs to his wife’s little room and knocked, calling softly. When she did not answer he thought she must be asleep so he tried to open the door, but it was caught fast. Perplexed, he pushed harder, and then finally, frustrated, he kicked it and the chair skittered away that had been holding it – her couch was empty. His first thought was panic, the second anger. She was lying after all. Not only lying, but sneaking out and – and – he could not even begin to phrase the language he would use if she were seeing a lover.

Steven saw his friend’s distress and soon discovered the reason. Druwn was about to rouse the whole household and charge into the night after her but Steven convinced him to stay, to wait. They sat in her room and waited, playing cards to take Druwn’s mind off it. Still he could not concentrate on anything but her betrayal and didn’t even care when he lost all the games, though he was an avid card player. When he looked around he did not see the trunks with sewing or the flowers decorating it – all he saw was his beautiful minx, dancing in her wedding dress, impishly asking what was going to happen that night, offering him cake and kissing his cheek every time she sat in his lap to bother him when he was poring over the business records… Oh, how he longed for those interruptions now, when he would shoo her away with promises of dinner and lovemaking later! He wondered just how much of it was his fault. Could he have been more attentive? In the wee hours of the morning, just when he feared she wouldn’t come, they heard a rustle and low whispers. The men stepped back into the corner’s shadows quietly, and soon enough Mikalla had climbed into the room via the window and it’s nearby tree, then Erin after her as they did sometimes, though Erin always left immediately. She turned and saw the men and screamed. The captain had seen it fast enough and he covered her mouth with his hand, choking off the sound. Mikalla turned also, and in the single candle that she had left burning he could see the color drain from her cheeks. He caught her arms in his powerful grip before she could even think of escaping, and shook her.

“What do you mean, lying to me?! Where were you? Answer me! Where were you?” Not thinking, she began to babble.

“We were in the cabin, I didn’t mean any harm, darling, it was just this once…” for the life of her she didn’t know why she was scared. She wasn’t even scared of her father, anymore. He shook her again.

“Don’t you dare lie to me any more. Do you hear me? I’m going to blister your pretty buttocks good and hard. And it won’t be the last time, believe you me.” Druwn had finally had enough. He had planned on never resorting to the tried and true method of ensuring wifely obedience, but it seemed his method had failed miserably. His anger began to overtake him. Then Mikalla pressed her lips together, pouting and defiant, which was almost more than the poor man could bear. He tightly asked his friend to watch the two of them until he came back. As soon as the door was shut Mikalla sat on the couch, fuming. How dare he ruin her fun! Who was he to treat her like a child? Erin merely stood quietly, the captain’s big hand over her mouth and his other on her shoulder. She was terrified for Mikalla, less for herself. She wished her lover had listened to her warnings to respect her husband. When Steven asked her if she would behave herself, she nodded and then sat quietly in the chair beside him when he released her. He recognized her but could not make out why she was with Mikalla; he was only glad that she at least, was obedient.

Outside Druwn was taking his time cutting several thin whippy branches, smoothing them and bundling them. He needed the time to calm down, he realized. He still loved her. How absurd, he thought. And he hoped and prayed he’d only have to do this once, but to ensure that, it was going to have to hurt very much, and for a long time. So he planned her punishment, slowly, taking the time so he wouldn’t hit her in rage and hurt her more than he intended. Because he didn’t want to do her any harm, actually, just teach a very unpleasant but vital lesson: do not lie, do not run off, and do not disrespect me.

By the time Druwn returned Mikalla had begun to cool off somewhat herself, and began to be slightly fearful again. Seeing how upset he was bothered her for some reason – she couldn’t seem to shake the disquiet she felt at deceiving him. When she heard his steps on the stair she actually flinched a little. And then he was before her. He laid the thin bundle on the table, took her hairbrush and laid it beside it.

“Mikalla,” he began, “I love you.” Her head snapped up at the words, not sure how to respond. “I loved you long before I asked for your hand and I have loved you every minute that we have been married. I respect you. I have treated you well, have I not?” Lip beginning to tremble she nodded. He was rubbing it in! “I have catered to your very whim, allowed you many extravagancies and privileges that most wives wouldn’t even dream of asking their husbands for. I trusted you. Now I find you’ve been lying to me. You not only avoid me, but go out of your way to sneak out of my house. Tell me, am I that distasteful to you?” Eyes wide, she shook her head no. “When we were first married I was happier than I’ve ever been before. And I thought you were happy. Were you happy, Mikalla?” Tears began forming in the corners of her eyes and she forced them down. “Were you?” he prompted again and she nodded. “Then why, Mikalla? Why now? What happened?” The pain in his eyes was too much for her and she looked down, but his words caught her like a whip. “Look at me!” he snapped. She obeyed.

“I – I… you didn’t… you weren’t here, very much At – at first I didn’t think – didn’t think you’d notice. I – I’m sorry, Druwn.” He forced himself to stay calm and sat in the chair facing her.

“I asked for an explanation, not an apology. You will apologize plenty later.” His voice came out cold, but he didn’t care. Glancing involuntarily at the things on the table she bit her lip. “Go on, Mikalla.”

“I – I was lonely without you here. You were always so busy with the business. And you were so gentle to me – I – I couldn’t stand it. I snuck out nearly every time I slept in here. It was the only reason I wanted this room… I suppose… I got selfish.” As the realization of the extent of her treachery hit him he nearly choked.

“You’ve been going out behind my back for over a year?!” He asked, incredulous and wounded. Mikalla’s throat tightened with pain.

“Yes… yes, Sir,” she said, finally giving him that tiny vestige of respect out of empathy for his pain. It felt like a mockery of it to her husband. He couldn’t bear to ask the next question, but he had to know; her behavior was exactly that of an adulterous wife.

“Who… who is he?” the words were spoken so hoarsely she could scarce make them out, but she understood, and shook her head, feeling the incredible thickness of the tension in the air.

“Not… he, Sir. She.” Mikalla inclined her head towards Erin, closed her eyes and waited for a blow. When it didn’t come for a few long minutes she looked up cautiously to see him staring at her as comprehension took over.

“This girl?” he asked. The mood had changed somewhat – it was almost lighter, less oppressive. Erin shifted posture warily. And then he roared. “YOU ABANDONED ME NIGHT AFTER NIGHT FOR THIS GIRL??” Mikalla began to cry. And then, he began to laugh.

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