Priestess – Chapter 8
Three days between the Trials and the Offering.
A great deal can be done in three days.
Innkeepers cleaned out every room, every cupboard, every nook and cranny, for prospective guests. Some even rented out the stables.
Aliera was groomed and prepared, she led worship in the temple and kept vigil. Her hair was washed and brushed until it fell like silk. Her skin was smoothed, oiled and scented.
Food was stocked, and cooked, by every tavern, eating-house and street seller.
Goran freed his bedslave – although the woman didn’t want to leave him – and gave her a generous payment to start her life of freedom with enough for a good dowry or to set herself up with a small business.
Livery stables prepared for the coaches, carriages, carts and horses that would be bringing the nobles of the kingdom, the foreign dignitaries, and the curious, to watch.
Forty-six former slave girls started free life with full purses and sore bottoms. And a certain cachet as members of the Contest.
Lord Kevan tried to move into the finest lodgings in the city, only to find that everything had been booked out weeks before. And no-one was too interested in throwing out a paying guest to accommodate a minor lord who had nothing to recommend him but his family name. Luckily Lord Sieldro caught the tail end of Kevan’s tantrum and invited him to stay at his family’s townhouse. Nobility counts for something, after all.
Brothels stocked up on food and whores; many customers would want to re-enact the ceremony, and they’d do a roaring trade for weeks after this.
The huge parade-ground between the temple and the castle was also usually home to market stalls, gardens, a small tent city of peddlers, and a zoo. It was all cleared out or tidied up, and a raised platform built in the centre. Bright silken pavilions for each of the noble families and the trade guilds were erected around the edges. Any window or rooftop that overlooked the parade was rented out three times over for prices that made the owners dance with delight.
And on the morning after the Contest Jek-Tar the blacksmith woke up in his new quarters, to begin his work as Temple Discipliner. As he got dressed he looked around the walls at the straps, paddles and canes hanging neatly on their hooks, gleaming with polish. It looked as if he’d be busy, and soon.
His quarters opened onto one of the large courtyards that surrounded the Temple proper. He’d seen confused glimpses of stables, courtyards, store-rooms, and huge kitchens the night before as he was shown to his new home. He was beginning to realise that the Temple complex was far larger than he’d imagined, it was a small town of its own within the capital city. Before he was fully awake a brisk knock on the door heralded the entry of a tall, no-nonsense woman wearing a plain light-blue tunic over a dark blue worsted gown that any burger’s wife would wear for her daily duties.
“I’ve come to show you the way to the foodhall, this place is such a rabbit warren we lose people and don’t find them for days.” She smiled briefly, “Come on, we’ve a busy day ahead.”
Jek-Tar hurried after her, tucking his shirt into his breeches as he scurried along. As he shot out of the door he noticed some furniture outside his door: a low seat, a bench and a padded hurdle. And off to one side a table and chair.
“Now, the stables are over there,” arm wave at a courtyard, “and the smithy is that way too. When you’re not busy with the Disciplining you may like to help out there, we always have horses that need shoeing, cobblestones play havoc – oh and the main store-room is through that archway and along the passage -” another brisk wave, “- if there’s anything you need you just ask them. Beside that is the treasury, you’ll go there once a week to collect your wages. Now the foodhall is here,” Across another courtyard, round a small pool with a fountain shaped like a huge flower, “And meal times are posted on the notice there,” …pointing… “but they’ll rustle you up something any time if you need it.”
Jek-Tar’s head was spinning, “Miss – Ma’am – ”
She turned, “Sister will do.” She saw his glance at her workaday dress, “We keep the white silk robes for temple ceremonies, they’d be useless for our daily work. I work in the housekeeping office, we keep track of everyone and everything, and make sure everyone is working properly. My husband is head groom in the stables.” She saw his surprise, and continued as she led him to a bench laden with food and thrust a plate into his hands, “Once you’re a full priestess you’re allowed to marry. The gift of celibacy isn’t given to many, and it would be a terrible thing to deny our own natures.”
She filled her own plate quickly and turned to sit at one of the long tables. Jek-Tar shovelled food onto his own plate and went to sit by her side.
“I’ll just fill you in so that you know what to expect.” She managed to stay ladylike while she ate, and talked, all at once. “Girls come here from all over the kingdom, generally at about fifteen or sixteen. There are usually several hundred trainees here at any time. They do three or four years training, get a good general education, and spend time working in the schools, hospitals and farms we run. They are the trainees, they wear grey. Many girls give a few years to the Goddess. The girls over there in brown – ” pointing to a distant table, ” – are novices. They’ve decided to stay on after they completed their general training, and will do a few more years learning the devotions and duties of a priestess, as well as further training for their chosen tasks. Anyone in blue like me is a full priestess. The belt I’m wearing – “ she waved a hand at the soft cord tied around her waist, “ – shows our ranking. The colour is for the branch of service we’re working in, red for medicine, green for farming, and so on. The pattern of knots – “ she waved the trailing tails of her belt, “ – shows our rank and status. You’ll learn it all as you go along. The men you see in the Temple precinct are married to priestesses, sometimes we set up home outside when we marry and come here every day to work, sometimes the men move in here to the married quarters. As well as the parts you’ve already seen there’s a school and major hospital within the Temple precinct, so plenty of us work and live here. You are the only single man working here, though. You’ll be an object of curiousity, for a while at least.”
Jek-Tar had already noticed the looks some of the novices were casting his way. A few of the girls didn’t look as if celibacy was one of their gifts.
“Now, the girls live by a set of rules, you don’t need to know about all that, but if they err and deserve punishment they will be sent to you. They have to report first thing in the morning, each girl will have a note telling you what she requires. It’s coded so she doesn’t know what she’s to receive.”
Jek-Tar found his voice at last, “And I deal with the trainees?”
“Trainees and novices, and full priestesses who aren’t married. Married women are disciplined by their husbands.”
“What will you do? Your assistant will decode the notes and keep the books up to date. The punishments are usually light, unless the girl is a persistent offender. Anyway, she’ll tell you what to do.”
“Yes, and here she is. Minna, he’s just about ready to begin.” Jek-Tar swallowed quickly, as his guide jumped up, “I’ll let you take over.” She nodded at Jek-Tar and hurried away.
“Serra’s always in a hurry, you have a good ten minutes yet. Eat up.” Another woman in priestess blue sat beside him. She looked to be a few years younger than Jek-Tar, with a plump figure and black curls bobbing every time she moved her head, “You’ll be extra busy for a while, they’ll all want to see you in action.” She looked at his powerful arms and muscled frame, “The old Discipliner was a lovely man, but he wasn’t very – dedicated – to it by the end. He wasn’t much of a deterrent. I think some of our young ladies are in for a surprise.”
And ten minutes later Jek-Tar stood in the courtyard outside his quarters, facing twenty-seven grinning faces, mostly grey robes with a few brown among them. He could see the suppressed giggles, hear the whispered comments. Quite a few of the temple personnel seemed to be around as well, lots of errands needed to be run in this courtyard this morning. Minna pulled her chair up to the table, took a note from the first girl, wrote briefly in a ledger, then called out in a clear voice, “Amira. Disrespect. Second offence in a month. Five with the light strap.”
Amira smirked as she strutted forward, then bent over the bench. Jek-Tar lifted the girl’s long skirts over her back, then untied the ribbons at her side and lowered her drawers to her knees. She wiggled a little, he could hear a muffled giggle. Along the line there were snickers and eager wriggles as each girl waited her turn with this handsome new resident.
Jek-Tar left the girl waiting while he went inside to get the strap. When he came back outside he looked at the grins, watched the wriggling bottom on the bench, then he slowly put the strap down beside the girl and began to unlace his jerkin.
The waiting miscreants giggled louder as Jek-Tar pulled the jerkin off, then they watched as he stripped off his shirt. And then they stopped giggling. Minna gaped at the broad chest, and the muscles bunching as his arm moved to pick up the strap again. The giggles from the line turned to gasps, and gulps of dismay.
Only Amira, face down on the bench and muffled by her skirts, didn’t know what had happened. She giggled, “I’m ready for my punishment. Please spank my naughty bottom!” And wriggled again.
Jek-Tar raised the strap, the girls held their breath. Then he brought it whistling down to strike right on the sit spot, just where thighs and cheeks meet. The slap of the leather strap resounded in the courtyard. Even those watchers who weren’t in the line winced.
Amira stiffened, drew in a breath, and couldn’t make a sound. The strap rose again, and fell full on the underside of her cheeks. Two angry red stripes glowed now. Amira made a small sound, almost a gurgle, as the strap rose and then fell on the tops of her thighs. As the strap rose again she finally found enough breath for a shriek of outrage, then another as the strap fell fair on the crown of her cheeks. Jek-Tar paused for a moment, the only sound in the courtyard now was a miserable rising wail. Then the strap rose for the last time, to fall directly across the first throbbing welt. Amira’s final shriek startled the pigeons from the roof.
It took several minutes for the sobbing girl to regain her composure, and her underwear. Twenty-six very worried pairs of eyes watched as she limped away from the bench, sniffling back the last of her tears, her hands trying to rub the fierce sting from her throbbing rear. Jek-Tar reached out and took her arm before she had taken three steps, steering her towards the wall. Without a word he stood her against the wall, then turned her to face it. He lifted her skirts and tucked them into her belt, twitched at her drawers until they fell to her ankles, and put her hands firmly on her head. Red stripes glowed on pale skin.
“Liana. Wasting time and failure to complete her work. Third offence. Ten with the medium paddle.” Minna’s voice was steady, although she was the only one in the courtyard smiling now.
Liana didn’t approach the table as gleefully as Amira had, she was whimpering before her bottom was bared. The medium paddle was as long as a man’s forearm, as wide as his hand, and as thick as his finger. With two neat rows of holes.
Jek-Tar was methodical, the first stroke fell at the crown of her cheeks, starting a wail that continued as the next four strokes moved down cheeks to the tops of her thighs. The wail rose in pitch as the next five followed the same pattern. Soon two red bottoms were on display at the wall; one striped, one dotted with small white blisters.
The next ones were minor offences, three with the strap each for tardiness or lack of attention in class. The smallest punishment possible, done as a joke or a dare to get a visit to the new Discipliner. Not so funny now. By the time nine red bottoms were on display, the courtyard was filled with whimpers and sobs from some very contrite young ladies.
“Tirina. Out after curfew, fourth offence. Theft of a piece of jewellery, first offence. Drunk, second offence. Thirty with the – oh! Thirty with the birch.” Minna sounded sympathetic this time.
Tirina gasped in shock at the sentence. She was sobbing piteously before she stepped forward. She’d borrowed another girl’s prized necklace, without asking, but she’d meant to return it. She’d crept out to meet a boy, of course. They wandered through the night markets, had a quick meal and a shared pot of ale, and the time just flew. It was all so innocent, and being caught had always meant a few smacks with the strap, just a light tingling more than any real pain. But this time her supervisor was determined to teach her a lesson before she really got herself into trouble. And this time there was a new Discipliner, one whose punishment was going to do more than tingle. Tirina sobbed, she wasn’t sure any boy was worth this.
As Jek-Tar looked around Minna pointed to a bucket near her table. Several bundles of switches were soaking in brine. He nodded, then led the sobbing girl to the padded hurdle. She didn’t resist as she was bent double over the padded rail and he fastened one wrist into the straps on the side support, then attached her other wrist to the other side.
Her skirts were lifted up over her back, and then came the horrible moment when her drawers were slipped down her legs. She’d never cared before, but now she felt so unprotected.
Jek-Tar slipped the girl’s drawers down her legs, and then took them off and dropped them to one side. Truth to tell he preferred the blacksmith work to this, but the Goddess gifts each of us with skills to use in the world, and this seemed to be one of his. He’d seen what happened to young women with no discipline or control, and if he could save even one from a life of shame and misery he would. And by the sound of it, this young lady needed a firm hand to set her on the right path.
Tirina whimpered as she felt strong hands remove her drawers, then an ankle was fastened into the straps at one side of the frame, and to her horror the other ankle was fastened to the other side. Not just unprotected, but exposed. Her skirts had fallen around her head, so she couldn’t see or hear what was happening, but she could feel. She felt the white-hot sting of the birch across her sit spot, she was wailing as it fell again, higher and then lower.
Jek-Tar wielded the birch forcefully, allowing time after each stroke for the burning to build before the next. He wanted to be sure this young lady wouldn’t be back. The birch fell on cheeks and thighs, errant strands often biting into the softer skin between her cheeks, and sometimes stinging her unprotected pussy.
At fifteen he stopped, the girl’s cheeks and thighs showed a network of fine pink welts, with many tiny red-purple marks where small knots in the birch had bitten deeply. Tirina still wailed as the burning just kept on growing. Jek-Tar moved to the girl’s other side, selected a new bundle, took up position and began to deliver the last fifteen.
As the next stroke fell she wailed once more, then sobbed bitterly as the birch fell like hot ice on her outraged skin. Jek-Tar continued at an even pace, each stroke as hard as the one before, until for Tirina the whole world had shrunk to the throbbing, searing strokes falling relentlessly. She wouldn’t sit – or walk – comfortably for some time, and she’d never break curfew again. Ever.
Number thirty seared across her sit spot, then the birch was thrown down. Jek-Tar left the girl tied over the hurdle while he gave the next three strappings, and a paddling. By then the fire had stopped building and Tirina was breathing easier. He helped her up and took her to the wall.
By the time the last strappings, paddlings, two switchings and a caning were done the sun was high in the sky. Jek-Tar looked at twenty-seven pink, red and crimson bottoms, and nodded to Minna, “They’re to stay for an hour. Then they can go. No rubbing till then, or they get the same tomorrow.” Then, after a job well done, he went to find a cool ale, and then to check out the smithy.
Minna looked at twenty-seven very sore bottoms. She doubted there’d be so many tomorrow, word would travel fast. He certainly knew how to warm a girl’s rear end. She wondered if she could ask him to go with her to view the Offering. And what he’d like to do afterwards.