Beauty's Curse - Chapter Three
He'd angered her. Him with his talk of whores and sorceresses, his naked disdain, when he knew as well as she did he'd wanted to have her, in the end. Not gently, not as tender lovers, not as equals or as brokers of peace between their warring nations. He'd wanted her with a primitive, haunting hunger, a surging demand which started and ended at his rigid cock. He'd liked her bound and helpless. He'd liked silencing her by shoving his shaft in her mouth.
And he'd liked fucking her. In their time together she'd been no more than his toy, instrument of his indulgence. It might have destroyed another woman—a woman of his nation, maybe—but to Sadira, his naked and greedy passion led directly to hers. Why pretend it hadn't?
He stayed away for days. Sadira saw only her guards, who came in the mornings with a tray of breakfast, and at night with an evening fare. At first she paid them little mind. She retreated deeper into the inner rooms to avoid their eyes, not out of shame but of contempt. Why give them any satisfaction to look upon her or cast more ugly words at her? As soon as she heard the click of the lock, she prowled away into the darker passages, and waited for them to leave. Once they'd gone again she'd emerge to find her tray of food. She expected no better than thin gruel and gritty water, but to her surprise, the barbarians left real food: hot eggs stirred with bits of beef and bright vegetables, bread, and a glass of wine. A lady's breakfast. A queen's breakfast.
She might have eaten with joy, if that one thought hadn't occurred to her. Served as though she were a queen? Instead of pleasure, she picked at her food with sullen disinterest.
Why do they all think me Set's queen? Do I look like a queen? Do I act like one?
After the second such breakfast, anxiety set in. She'd been alone too long, and the bedchamber still rang with Set's presence. She'd managed to sleep in the bed at first, but soon it swallowed her. Opulent covers twisted and knotted around her limbs as if to strangle her, and she dreamed of Set's hands closing on her wrists, her waist, her throat. Did she smell him again? His cloying scent, following her down into sleep?
She moved to her dog pillow again, and shivered with the memory of her master looming.
On the third morning, the sensation of his nearness would not abate. She dressed, suspecting the mirrors, certain she'd see him in them. Surely she'd only dreamed of his death. Any moment Set, not Bannon, would throw open the doors of the great chambers, and she would be punished for preening, donning clothing when the rules strictly forbade it in his rooms.
As if to strike home this fear, a sudden tug on her sarong snapped the clasp of her belt clean off, and the silken material pooled at her feet. She stared at the clasp, furrowing her brows. Probably she'd only pulled at the belt too tightly, or snagged the skirt on something without noticing. Still, though...
Have I never been alone before? it occurred to her as she sought out another belt. Am I so used to being under Set's watch, I can't even dress myself without a master to instruct me?
No. She would not be so pathetic she could not make her own decisions in the absence of an authority figure. She was more than a slave, after all. A soldier could manage herself and her own needs, could survive without the supervision of a commanding officer. She wasn't an invalid.
She fell back on her physical training to ease her mind. Of course, the guards wouldn't give her any blade with which to practice, but she'd trained in unarmed combat. Chorre-macchi: the way of the snake and scorpion. Fast and complicated rhythms demanded sharp focus, and for a time, the exercise occupied her.
But I swear I can still feel him here. I can smell him, I smell him all around me.
Cinnamon and bergamot. Sickly sweet perfumes of ritual and dark, depraved magic. Sex on his pallid white skin; his sex like rancid oil clinging to her.
She still couldn't bring herself to bathe in the grand tiled sauna, the heated baths which could ease the ache of hours in demanding discipline. She knew the kitchens and therefore the ovens were at work again, which meant the water from the pipes would be steaming hot. When she imagined the pleasure of a long soak in Set's luxurious spas though, her chest grew tight. She'd be pulled under to drown. Somehow, the scalding water would boil her or she would choke on long, grasping fingers of steam. Revenge from a dead tormentor.
Once, she thought she heard his voice, the familiar hiss and murmur of empty, hypnotic witchcraft, whispering through the air around her.
Your life still belongs to me.
She wondered, with shivering discomfort... was this missing him?
The room, the baths, the bed, the food. All of them belonged to Set. Even with him gone, Sadira couldn't disobey his word. She waited for Bannon alone... but she wasn't really alone, and the anxiety drove her mad.
At last it grew too terrible. She threw her next tray of breakfast at the morning guard, and shrieked at him, driving him out. He stood at least two heads taller than she, but her violent outburst sent him scrambling back into the hall. When a second guard came into give her dinner, she sneered and threw a vase at him. It smashed on the door as he slammed it shut behind him.
After the throwing incidents, she took to tormenting the soldiers stationed outside. She brought Set's tomes down from the bookshelves and made a show of reading from the pages any time one of the foreigners entered. She murmured in gibberish tongues and whispered evil promises, staring them down, and even waggled her fingers at one when he came in looking particularly nervous. It made Sadira laugh, at least, and she made sure to let them hear her, until she imagined she caught sight of Set's cold reptilian eyes in the glass and remembered his demand for silence.
He is not here, she reminded herself, curled up by the window, trying not to see the room. He is dead, and not here.
Finally, when she stirred from her dog's bed on the fifth morning, Bannon had returned.
He sat on a low stool beside Set's vanity, and her tray of food rested at his elbow. When he saw she'd woken, he seized the tray in one hand and offered it to her.
"You," he said, tone even and clipped, "will eat."
Sadira blinked at him. The command put a swift end to her nervousness, giving her a clear and concise direction. Her shoulders eased, releasing the tension of long, unstructured hours. Without a word, she gathered her legs beneath her, placing hands on her knees, and bowed her head.
"Are you deaf?" the barbarian asked. His tone never changed, but his steady, unreadable manner drew a shiver up her spine.
"Put it on the floor," she whispered, never looking up. After a moment, she added a barely audible, "Please."
"On the—" He snorted and practically dropped the tray on the stones at his feet. "If you insist."
Sadira crept forward on hands and knees, like a feline, and crouched forward, tucking elbows beneath her. She lapped a thick porridge topped with minced dates and raisins, and nibbled at a thick slice of hearty nut bread. A mug of goat's milk proved a little more challenging, until she took the handle in her teeth and poured it into the porridge bowl.
Bannon's studious eyes searched her. She sensed them roaming over her body, her primly tucked arms, her breasts pressed together by her posture, her long legs, her rounded bottom hoisted up in the air. On impulse, she glanced up at him and caught him staring back. Something fierce smoldered in his eyes, and a heated flush rose to her skin.
Holding his gaze, Sadira very slowly ran her tongue over her lips, tasting fresh, cold goat's milk.
Did I just see your jaw tighten, my barbarian?
She lowered herself to lap from her bowl again, but snuck peeks up at him between licks. His eyes stayed locked on her and he said nothing, his expression full of stony contemplation.
After a few moments, Sadira used her nose to nudge the tray aside and, still crouched on all fours, she bent to kiss his feet. He must have bathed, because they were clean, not covered with the dirt or grit of the all-pervading desert.
"You don't have to—"
He fell silent when she tilted her face up to him, and when she resumed her kissing he didn't speak up again.
She moved her lips to his ankles, then his calves. Scooting herself closer she nuzzled the firm curve of muscle, closing her eyes to enjoy the warm scent of his skin. Finally, she leaned her head against his knee, and needed go no further. As she rested herself there, the soft touch of his fingers brushed her cheek, then combed through her hair.
When she opened her eyes again, he stroked her. His caresses came gentle and slow...but his gaze burned down on her.
"Thank you," she whispered. "Master."
"Don't call me that." he told her. He sounded tired.
Taking his hand in both of hers, she rubbed her cheek against it, opening the fingers so she could rest it in his palm. "I accept the consequences of being your prisoner, Bannon, if you decide to keep me prisoner. But I still think, given my training and my nature, you might prefer me to be your pet, instead. You have inherited me in that capacity, after all."
"My pet," he muttered. "Like a cat, to mewl at my feet and wind about my ankles?"
"To do those things," she agreed. "And more."
He grimaced, but he didn't take his hand away. His fingertips threaded through her hair again and she smiled.
"I like this." She pressed closer to him, leaning her whole body on his leg. "You have such wonderful hands, my barbarian."
"Did you tell your god-king the same?"
"Set didn't care for me to say anything, whether it came to his pleasure or mine. Even if he had, I didn't like his hands. Cold, long-fingered things. Reptilian. Yours are warm, and broad, and kind."
"Why do you behave now?" he asked. "After terrorizing my men? Do you think you'll escape punishment by playing precious and sweet?"
"I am sweet because you are here now," she replied. Taking his hand again, she kissed it: first the palm, then on each rough knuckle as she folded his fingers shut. "Your soldiers make no secret what they think of me. You have been kind, though, and offered me mercy. You may punish me now, if you like. I've acted out, and there are consequences for bad behavior. I will accept it, but at least you are here, and I am not alone."
Bannon raised his eyebrow. "You don't fear what I will do?"
"I don't. I respect it. I even crave it."
"He really has made you a deviant."
"Is it so strange for me to embrace my deviancy?" she asked.
He didn't answer for a long time, which was enough of an answer itself. Tilting his head to one side, he sighed, and traced his fingers along the curve of her ear. "What will you do if I go again?"
"I don't know. I can't stand being in these rooms by myself anymore. I feel him...I can feel him, Bannon, everywhere. If you came at night, at least—"
"And share a bed with you?" he demanded.
Something occurred to her, something she hadn't yet considered. "Do you already have a woman? Does this shame you because you are wed?"
"No." He averted his gaze, then after a beat, he added, "My wife died. Some years ago."
"I'm very sorry."
They sat in silence, she leaning her head upon his knee, he stroking her hair. Neither seemed to know what to say next, but Sadira didn't mind. Here was peace. If he punished her, she would at least find order and structure in it, rules to abide rather than boundless, indefinite hours to fill with tension. If he didn't punish her, at least he was here, and real, and she could touch him and smell him and know she was not losing her senses.
"It's the uncertainty which makes me restless, barbarian," Sadira whispered. "Please, if you don't tell me what's to become of me, I'm afraid... I don't know..."
"I can't decide." He took his hand away and nudged her aside. "Goddess Sherida, you are troublesome. I don't wish to keep you like this. I have no desire to lock you in these rooms, where one tyrant already imprisoned you."
He softened, though only a little. "There's no reason, and nothing to be gained by keeping you in fear."
Warmth bloomed in her chest. Old rules cautioned her to tame any outward display, until she remembered the rules had all changed.
"But I can't trust you, either." He cupped her chin in his palms and made her look him in the eye. "Who can say whether you played the willing consort or subjugated slave? I can't decide if you murdered his enemies along with him, or if you were only his victim."
"You do know," she replied softly. "I have told you what I am."
"I don't understand." Deep in his eyes, something dangerous smoldered. "And I don't understand why your lust for subjugation so fascinates me."
She pressed herself closer, hands on his knees, beseeching. "Will you let me show you?"
Bannon frowned. His throat worked, and his voice came out in a hoarse rasp. "What exactly would you show me?"
"How a pet serves her Master, barbarian. You may decide for yourself if it pleases you."
Bannon wet his lips. He didn't stop her when she nudged apart his knees and sidled up between his thighs.
"May I suck your cock?" she whispered.
He closed his eyes—bit his lip—and then one strong hand rested on her head, guiding her down.
She freed his cock from dark leather trews, and it sprung up from a nest of rich brown curls. How quickly he hardened. Sadira beheld it, curious, stroking tentatively. His grip tightened and he pushed her closer. Sadira obeyed the unspoken command and took him into her mouth.
The wild taste of salt and skin delighted her. She groaned and ran her tongue along his rigid length, so hot and hard, so deliciously heavy with need. She lavished him with long, adoring strokes, circling the head, inviting him deeper. He'd gone from hesitant to eager, as though all he'd wanted was her prompting, and with it he summoned up the most urgent erection. She, too, could hunger, and as it turned out, she liked the taste of barbarian. As he held her stiffly in place upon his cock, she savored him, alternating her rhythm on his delicious, defiant member.
Releasing him for a second, she looked up to meet his eyes. "I don't mind if you are harsh. You can order me to do whatever you like. I'm not too soft for sharp words. Say to me what you could never say to one of your women back home."
"Nng." He pushed her back down. "Just... just shut up and suck."
Well, there's a start.
His voice stoked an impish, wicked vibration throughout her body. A hot flutter in her chest; a warm, welcome melting in her stomach and loins. A perfect, needful readiness for iron flesh inside of her. Greedily, she devoured him, working her tongue, milking him for an unforgettable finish.
"Fuck... you little..."
He hesitated. Pausing to madden him, she rolled her tongue over his slick, smooth crown and planted a kiss upon it. Glancing up again, she found him staring back.
"Yes?" she whispered.
"You little slut," he bit out. Then he let his head fall back in a groan. "Fuck, you must love sucking cock. You're so good at it."
She recognized covetous desire, like a madness climbing higher and higher in his tone, a desperation. She understood implicitly: the same fever burned in her, a carnal demand.
"Thank you," she said between panting breaths, next time he loosened his grip. "My only desire is to please you, barbarian."
She punctuated this with a long, luscious stroke from the base of his shaft up to the tip, then ducked down to circle her tongue along the soft, hot flesh of his scrotum. She wanted more still. She trembled for him to fill her. Her needful pussy craved him.
Bannon moaned, a low, throaty sound. If the guards remained stationed outside her door, they must hear him. Sadira caressed his testicles with a genuine pleasure—she wanted his men to know what she did. If they believed her a whore, then let them think her the wildest, most talented, most tantalizing whore in the Sands.
And let them know only he is worthy of me.
His wild, hot scent intoxicated her; she savored the salt of his skin. When she couldn't put off her excitement any longer, she took him in her mouth again, ravenous. Oh, she so wanted him.
His hands dug into her hair, knotting blonde strands in his fists. He held her captive, and with soft, panting grunts he thrust deep. She received him in a rush of hot, hungry joy, and she recognized these gestures, these movements. She knew them wholly on instinct, a private, primitive knowledge shared in their hot flesh and racing heartbeats. Culmination. His balls, tightening—his cock burgeoning—eyes of Akolet, he grew even harder—
Bannon gave a snarl and held her down. His cock jerked, sending the first hot jet of semen down her throat, slick and beautifully bittersweet. She swallowed as he came, relishing each coursing, wicked throb.
He did not withdraw immediately, even when the last of his orgasm faded. He kept hold of her, breathing hard, and with delight she discovered he did not soften right away.
"Mm," she moaned around him. When he finally guided her free, his eyes followed the wet strings of saliva as her mouth came off his cock. She made a mental note of it. He likes that.
"Did you swallow?" he asked in a husky voice. She opened her mouth, sticking out her tongue to show she'd taken every sweet drop. Bannon ran his thumb and forefinger along her chin, inspecting her. Dazed wonder filled his eyes.
"Have I pleased you?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied, his tone distracted. His fingers strayed up to stroke her cheek. She leaned her head into his palm again, gazing up into his eyes.
"I enjoyed it, too," she murmured.
He gave a start at her words, as if waking up. His hands fell away and he stood, re-arranging his trews. Sadira caught what might have been a red heat of chagrin on his face. He reached out a hand. "Come on up, girl."
Sadira accepted it, and he helped her to her feet. Just as she straightened, a pang of bright, vital familiarity hit her—she gasped before she could help it.
Amid the chaos she beheld him, barbarian captain, like a king among the slaves. Their liberator. Their champion.
And he reached out for her. Offered her his hand.
Come on up, girl.
"Sadira?" Bannon's brows knit. "What is it?"
"Please don't leave me alone in these rooms," she beseeched him. "When you are gone, he is here. I know he's dead but I feel him. I smell him."
"You really want to share your bed with an enemy?" he asked.
"You are not my enemy, Bannon."
He ran a hand over the back of his neck and frowned, glancing from the door, to the curtains marking the entrance to the inner chambers, to the window casement and the courtyard outside. The one place he didn't look was her.
"I'll tell the guards you must be allowed to leave these rooms," he told her at last. Sadira nodded her thanks. Her heart, however, sank. Bannon did not fully understand the consequence of his claim. He was not of the Sands, and had only done what the culture of his allies demanded in order to win his war.
He pities me. He pities me, and he hates himself for taking me.
She had no idea what to do with a master who could not bear his pet.