Priestess – Chapter 5: The Decision
King Borlan shifted uneasily in his seat. What was taking so long? He’d accepted it when his aunt told him that Aliera must make her Offering so soon, even though he thought she was too young. But Tiarna was getting on in years, and the girl needed time to learn her duties before she could take over as First Priestess.
He stretched, yawned. The Contest had certainly had its moments, but now Tiarna was taking her time. What was all the talking about? Why did she need to talk to each of the finalists? Tiarna knew his preference. The whole family knew Aliera was in love. Lord Kevan was handsome, at ease in society, Patrician to his fingertips. And an idle, decadent, selfish, vicious wastrel. He’d be damned if his daughter went to that – that panderer, spending his time training slavegirls to suit the tastes of his perverted friends. Now Goran, there was a son-in-law to be proud of. Peasant-born, but that was a good honest background. The boy had talent, he had loyalty and pride. He didn’t hop about in fine clothes and smarm his way into a girl’s heart, but he’d stand by her for life. How long did it take a woman to make up her mind? She should have made the announcement by now.
The King was bored. Crown Prince Kendred hunched in his seat, trying to conceal his reaction to the contest, at twenty-one his dignity was precious. Nineteen-year-old Melric had no such inhibitions, he’d retired to a secluded corner of the Royal Enclosure to enjoy the moment. The boys were careful to stay quiet when Aliera was close but they made no secret of their preference – Goran had trained them both in the arts of war, taken them into their first campaigns. They were devoted to him, proud at the idea they’d have such a brother-in-law. And Aliera sat apart from the rest of the family, silent, frozen, praying with every fibre of her being to hear Kevan named as Consort.
The family waited, with varying degrees of patience. Tiarna was interviewing the finalists, it could take her some time to announce the winner. Queen Merila noted her husband’s restlessness growing, Borlan never did like to be still for too long. And it was a wife’s duty to keep her husband occupied. Merila felt a certain restlessness herself; with all the concern about Aliera lately Her Highness had begun to feel neglected. Now that they had time on their hands Merila might get some of his attention to herself at last. She started to fiddle with the silken tassels on the hangings shading their seats, pulling the threads loose. How to begin. She drummed her feet on the floor. No reaction. It wasn’t fair. She was Queen: she required respect, attention, dammit she deserved better than this! After a few minutes of fidgeting and pouting she was in the mood for confrontation. She sighed loudly. Still nothing from the insensitive lump sitting beside her. A servant offered her a tray of delicacies, she pushed it away.
Merila jumped to her feet, started to pace around the enclosure. Borlan glanced up, then returned his gaze to the nearby enclosure of the High Priestess, willing his aunt to hurry up. Merila paced, accidently kicking her husband’s shins as she flounced past. He grunted and moved his feet out of the way. She breathed hard, this would require some extreme action. She dumped herself down in her seat again, accidently shoving a hovering attendant and tipping her tray of drinks into the King’s lap. This finally got his attention, the King leapt to his feet cursing. The horrified slave fell to her knees babbling desperate apologies as other attendants rushed to help. The King waved them away from him, “The slave was not at fault. Just get the mess cleaned away, and get me a fresh tunic,” as he strode towards the private rooms at back of the enclosure. Merila sat back, really sulking now. What did it take to get his attention? How dare he ignore her this way.
The Queen became aware of someone hovering at her side, she looked up to see one of the household slaves at her elbow, “Majesty, the King would have you attend him in the inner chamber.”
Merila pouted, he ignored her for so long and then sent a slave for her? She lay back in her seat, “Tell His Majesty that I am resting.”
Soon the slave was back, “His Majesty requests your presence. Er, now my lady.”
“Maybe later. The slaves can attend to his needs.”
A few moments, then, “His Majesty commands your presence my lady. He was most definite. Er, may I assist your majesty to rise?”
Merila closed her eyes, “Tell His Majesty that Her Majesty is occupied, and will attend him later. When she is ready. Perhaps.”
She lay back in the warm sun, almost dozing, and trying to hide a satisfied smile.
Merila felt a large hand close on her arm, she looked up in surprise, “There is a matter on which I require your assistance my dear. Let me help you to rise,” Merila was lifted out of her seat, deposited on her feet. “Come my love.” His grip tightened as he urged her towards the withdrawing rooms. Several slaves scuttled out of their way. Once inside he released her and Merila stepped back rubbing her arm, “The Queen is not to be handled so roughly sire. I will leave you until you have recovered your manners.”
She turned to the door, then was spun around by a heavy hand on her shoulder, “The King is not to be disobeyed. By anyone. And I think we need to discuss your manners, my lady.”
Merila was riding the wave of adrenaline now, she managed to pull away from him, “How dare you! I will not be manhandled like some marketplace slave. First I am ignored and neglected, and now you think to snap your fingers and expect me to come running.” Borlan crossed his arms, looking grim. “Well, my lord, I am not your slave, and I will not be treated as one,” Merila backed away, his lack of response fuelling her anger, “And I will not have you send slaves to fetch me as if I am a servant or a child.” Still no reaction from the man standing silent in front of her, “And I will not come running at your bidding!” Caught up in the moment she looked around, snatched up an ornament from the nearest table and hurled it at him.
Amazingly, and unusually, she threw with deadly accuracy and hit him square in the chest. Shocked into silence, she froze as the pieces of pottery tinkled to the floor.
Borlan slowly uncrossed his arms and brushed the last pieces of the ill-fated vase away. Merila caught her breath, he looked hard as stone now. She hadn’t imagined she would hit him, she’d just wanted a reaction. Borlan looked up, “What is the penalty for striking the king?”
Merila gulped, her mouth dry.
“I didn’t mean it, I – it just – I was only – I didn’t mean to.” He seemed to have grown, looming over her in silence. “I – I’m sorry.” She rubbed her hands down the sides of her robe, they were suddenly sweaty.
Gulp of air – suddenly it seemed hard to breathe, “……Th-the penalty for freeborn is death. For a slave it is death under torture.”
“And for a queen ?”
“Sire, my lord, I – I don’t…..”
He stepped closer, “The penalty for a queen is that she will be turned over my knee and have her royal backside roasted. Think you’re neglected do you? Think I’ve been ignoring you? You’re about to get all the attention you could desire.”
The world went spinning as she was hauled through the air. In seconds Borlan was sitting on a nearby bench, Merila face down over her husband’s strong thighs. One hand rested on her back, holding her down with little effort. “I am ready to hear your apology, my lady.”
It was not a position that made it easy to collect one’s thoughts. She tried to draw a calming breath, “Sire, I am sorry for my thoughtless action. I didn’t meant to hit you.”
“And I won’t do it again.”
“And?” He was implacable.
“And – I said I’m sorry, my lord. I truly am.”
“Sorry for what?”
“Sorry I threw something at you.” This was not a position for concentration.
“And sorry for disobeying my summons? For thinking I was ignoring you? Sorry for sulking, and pouting? Sorry for throwing a tantrum?”
“Yes, yes! Sorry for all that!”
“So what are you asking me to do?”
“Asking you….? Er, please let me up?”
“In time. What do you ask me for first?”
“Please, it’s hard to think like this. I said I’m sorry.”
Through her skirts she could feel one large hand pat her raised bottom. “There is something that must be done first my lady. What do you ask me to do?”
“I ask you to – to – please my lord, please no.” Another, harder pat. Merila gulped, he really meant this, “Please punish me as I deserve my lord.”
“And exactly what shall I do?”
She wanted to scream at him, but this probably wasn’t the best time. The only thing to do was to get it over as fast as possible. She drew a deep breath. Queens must behave with dignity. Even upside-down queens. “Please punish me by spanking me.”
“Tell me EXACTLY what I should do. Now.”
This was cruel. “Please, my lord, please lift my robe and spank my bare bottom… as hard as I deserve… to remind me to behave properly.”
“I always bow to the wishes of my lady.” He reached for the hem of her skirts.
Ten minutes later Her Majesty’s bottom glowed dark pink and His Majesty’s hand still rose and fell with deadly precision. Merila was uttering very un-royal squeals as the King’s heavy hand painted her cheeks a bright red. “Please, my lord, enough, I am sorry, Borlan PLEASE! OW!”
“You think I would neglect you? You have to send rude messages by the servants and throw things at me? My lady, I will give you all the attention you desire.”
He watched her cheeks wriggle, trying to evade the sting. Twenty-five years ago he had travelled to meet his promised bride. He’d spent ten years subduing revolts and extending the borders of his kingdom, and now it was time to take a wife and continue the dynasty. Negotiations were opened with a neighbouring kingdom, treaties were made that would be sealed with a royal marriage. He was ushered into the Great Hall to meet his bride just in time to hear, “I don’t care, I won’t marry him and you can’t make me! I don’t want to marry some old man who’ll spend more time on the battlefield than with me!” Honey-blonde hair swirled as the termagant stamped her foot and clenched her fists. Suddenly there seemed to Borlan to be a huge gap between twenty and thirty; maybe he should look elsewhere for a bride. The herald chose that moment to announce him. She spun, saw a large man, skin tanned the same light brown as his hair, eyes as blue as her own. The Princess snarled at him and rushed from the room.
Silence held in the Great Hall as Borlan wondered how quickly he could escape, the queen pursued her errant daughter, the servants prudently kept out of sight and a harassed father wondered how he could save the treaty with his powerful neighbour.
“I’ll take him.”
The young Princess Merila stepped forward and surveyed him with eyes as green as new leaves. Her hair was ice-blonde, she was a head shorter than he, with firm high breasts, narrow waist and full hips. For twenty-five years he had given thanks that her older sister Serien – a shrew to the core – had chosen that day for one of her tantrums. And for twenty-five years he had enjoyed reddening his wife’s beautiful royal bottom whenever she needed it.
Merila squealed and wriggled as his hand stung her soft skin, stopping more and more frequently to caress the warm cheeks and the tender places between. The sound of squeals and a hand slapping bare skin drifted across the Royal Enclosure. The princes looked at each other, rolled their eyes and grinned. The attendants, far better trained than the royal children, affected not to notice the sounds, although one of them carefully placed an extra cushion on the Queen’s chair.
Finally the sounds of spanking stopped, but muted moans and gasps went on for quite some time. At last Merila lay in her husband’s arms, sated and spent. He smiled, “Now the next time you feel neglected you’ll know better than to throw the furnishings at me.”
“But Borlan dear, then I wouldn’t get my bottom nice and warm too. Though I must say you really did lay it on this time. It still stings!”
“So it should, you know better than to throw a tantrum like that. Just be grateful I didn’t put you over my knee out there in front of everyone.”
Merila giggled, curled up in his arms, “You did look funny when those drinks poured all over you.”
He grunted comfortably, his fingers brushing over her tingling bottom. “I think you still owe me for that. Your spanking was for your tantrum and for thinking I was neglecting you, we still have to deal with the drinks tray. Maybe I should call a slave to fetch me your hairbrush.”
Merila shuddered, a spanking with the brush was one of her less enjoyable experiences, “My lord, I have apologized, and I have atoned for my attitude. But mayhap I can atone a little more…..” Her hands wandered across his skin, then lower. The king smiled as he reached for her again.
Eventually the royal couple emerged and walked hand in hand to their seats. The Queen was seen to sit down carefully, wincing a little. Borlan looked around, “Have we missed anything?”
Prince Kendred turned, “She’s called for each one again. She should be deciding soon. They’ve been running chariot races to keep people entertained.”
Soon Borlan and his sons were wagering against each other on the chariot races while Merila shifted in her seat and watched her daughter. She hoped Aliera could have the joy Merila had found in her own marriage. She’d hinted to Tiarna that she should choose Kevan, Aliera wanted him so much, and he’d take care to show her his best side only.
Aliera sat apart from them all, strained and still.
Tiarna watched as Jek-Tar entered the chamber, the young blacksmith looking curious and wary, “Thank you for your patience. I have one more thing to ask you. You entered this contest to serve the Goddess, but there are many ways for a man to do that. If you were called to another task, would you withdraw from the Contest? I ask because the Temple here in the city needs a new Discipliner. I feel your talents would suit you for that occupation.”
Many young girls chose to serve the Goddess. The temple’s wealth came from offerings from the faithful, and from the many large estates dedicated to the Goddess. After their training some sisters chose to work on those estates. Many more were trained as healers and teachers; the servants of the Goddess ran free hospitals, schools and orphanages all over the country. Training for a girl’s chosen path took several years, during which acolytes were under strict discipline. Submission to the rules showed obedience to the Goddess, and disobedience had to be punished. By the Discipliner.
“If you accepted this task Jek-Tar, you would live in the Temple Precinct. You could carry on your work in our smithy when you aren’t required for your other duties. Any trainees who merit punishment would be sent to you, they would mainly be the girls in their teens, very occasionally an older sister but mostly the trainees. Punishment is usually the paddle, switch or strap, on bare bottoms of course. More serious infractions may require the birch. Punishment is given in a public courtyard as justice must be seen to be done. Would you consider this calling?”
The blacksmith thought for a few moments, “My lady, to be honest, having come to the city for this contest and seen the nobles here, I know I can’t fit in with them. Maybe I would be better as a Discipliner than a Consort.”
Tiarna nodded, thanked and dismissed him. The young blacksmith left quickly, walking tall and smiling in relief.
Tiarna watched him go and sent for Brenn. The miner came in quickly, eyes smiling, “This is all excitement and no mistake my lady. What do you require of me now?”
She looked levelly at him, “I require you to withdraw from the Contest.”
He met her gaze, then sighed and nodded slowly, “I knew I wasn’t right for her, I’m not Consort material. I just enjoyed almost being someone.”
“You aren’t right for her.” Tiarna watched him closely, “But you could still be a Consort. She isn’t the only High Priestess. Of course I’d have to be sure you were right for the task. If you are interested.” It had been so many long years since she felt a man’s touch. One day she knew she’d be with Tellen again, and until then – well, Tellen would smile to see she wasn’t alone in the long dark hours.
Brenn looked at the woman in front of him. His age or perhaps a few years more; as tall as he, her hair silver with age, eyes still deep blue. She carried herself well, deep-breasted and full-hipped, a woman that a man could explore and enjoy. Somehow she had the look of his late wife, something in the eyes, dignity and wisdom mixed with humour. It would be so good to lie beside a woman again, to feel he belonged somewhere. Since his woman passed he’d felt bereft, without purpose.
“I’d be honoured to be considered my lady. If I’m right for the task, as you say.”
“I would need to be satisfied that you have the qualifications. The skills.”
Brenn smiled, “You’ve seen my qualifications my lady.”
“Yes, but I’d need a more personal knowledge.”
“Well, my lady, I’d be happy to oblige.”
“Go with my attendants now. Tonight, when this is over, we will – discuss it further. Rest until then.” She felt an excitement she’d not thought to know again. But right now there was an important duty to fulfill. She forced her mind back to the task.
Next was Goran. Now things would be more difficult, she knew Aliera was desperate for it to be Kevan, and Merila agreed. But Borlan and his sons wanted her to choose Goran. She’d need all the wisdom of the Goddess to decide this one.
She watched Goran enter, stand to attention before her. “Lord Goran, you may not be chosen as Consort but there are many ways to serve the Goddess. For a man with your talents there are positions of power and influence.”
He looked hard at her, “My lady, I am Commander of the Royal forces, I lead the King’s troops in battle. Consort or not, I will continue with my duties.”
“To be Consort is a high honour. Surely you would give up your other duties for that?”
“If I am suitable, it is partly because of my occupation. What I do has made me what I am. And if I am not suitable, I don’t need some bribe to make me go away.”
She waited, but he’d said all he had to say. Tiarna thanked and dismissed him, sent for Kevan.
Lord Kevan smiled as he entered, he knew things were going his way now.
“Lord Kevan, thank you for your patience. I know you would be an excellent consort, but before I announce my decision I must consult with you. There are many other occupations which are open to a man of your talents. As you know, the King’s brother Prince Herion had been sent to take charge in our newly acquired territories. It is a huge task, especially for a man in his state of health. And there are many – special duties – to be done.”
After Goran’s successful campaigns against their enemy Herion had been sent to establish control and keep order. The large estates had been parcelled out to those the King wished to reward; many were given to the Goddess, some to Goran and others who led in battle, the rest retained for the King. Instead of enslaving the peasants they’d been sent back to work their farms. Most of the merchants and artisans were also back at their jobs, the country was running better than it ever had. The only ones who had been put in chains were the nobility. The king and his sons fell in battle, the queen took poison when that news was brought to her. Most of the upper classes fell in battle, took their own lives, or fled. But the princess and many nobles were captured. Borlan had to make a hard decision; he had to show other neighbouring states what happened to those who were his enemies. He wanted no more troubles on his borders so a heavy lesson must be given, a message sent to any who thought the risk worth taking. The males were all castrated and sold as eunuchs, ending the noble bloodlines. And the females would be sold as slaves.
Slaves need training.
Kevan’s eyes narrowed as he considered the possibilities. Consort was a high position, but second-in-command to an ailing ruler: if anything should happen to Lord Herion, Kevan would have his own kingdom. And then there were the enslaved women, he’d have to give them all his special training. A princess! Even if he was Consort to Aliera, he’d never be able to discipline her as completely as he’d like. In the new kingdom he’d have dozens, maybe hundreds of noble subjects to break in. But then as Consort he’d be closer to the centre of power. He hesitated, this was a difficult decision. “I will accept whatever the Goddess decides. I will serve her in whatever capacity she feels is best.” He’d win either way.
Tiarna paced, alone, wishing for guidance. Kevan was Aliera’s choice, and he knew how to play the game, the consummate diplomat. Goran was the King’s choice, but he was unyielding, he wasn’t prepared to bend at all. Kevan would devote himself to the role of Consort, Goran wouldn’t give up his job as Commander of the king’s elite. And all she wanted right now was to get back to her chambers in the temple and get over Brenn’s knees for a good hard bottom-warming. It had been so long since she felt the discipline of a man’s hand.
Tiarna calmed her mind and said a prayer to the Goddess. This was when she most wished that Borlan had had a sister. She felt so alone, felt the need for someone else to help make the decision. But she was alone, must decide alone. She stepped outside and watched the finish of the chariot race, then moved to the podium at the front of the enclosure. She glanced over; Aliera was watching with hungry eyes, the princes were arguing about the last race, and Borlan and Merila seemed more relaxed than they’d been in weeks. Whatever she said would disappoint someone. But she had to be true to the Goddess.
Tiarna raised her arms, the crowd fell silent.
“The decision has been made.”
WHAT!?! You’re killing me Rue!