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Who was the last person to see her?’ demanded Ryleigh. The Seed Bearers were gathered in the banquet hall interrogating each other as well as a handful of the Queen’s handmaidens and other servants. A few of the young women were shedding tears but not Penelope. She avoided Gavin’s gaze.
‘Why won’t you tell them?’ she murmured, approaching him.
‘Tell them what?’
‘That you were the last one to see her. You should tell them.’
‘That business is private Penelope. It is not Seed Bearer business.’
She was not placated. Round and round the room she paced, wringing her hands and occasionally tapping her slightly crooked front teeth with a finger nail.
‘This is disgraceful!’ said Jared. ‘The monarch of our country and not a soul knows where she is, or who was the last to see her.’
‘He does,’ said Pen, finally pointing an accusing finger at Gavin.
‘Be quiet woman!’ he said.
His reprimand only served to increase her boldness. She stamped her foot defiantly. ‘I will not be quiet! You spent the night with her alone and now no one has seen her since.
‘Is this true?’ Ryleigh asked.
‘It is true. And Mistress asked me to lend her my dress and I found it torn on the floor this morning,’ cried Pen. ‘Something terrible has befallen her. I can feel it in my bones. He did something! Why else would he not say about last night?’
‘Well?’ barked Ryleigh.
‘It was a private matter between the Queen and I. I don’t believe it has anything to do with her disappearance.’
Those gathered beheld him with eyes full of suspicion.
‘You’d better tell us what happened,’ Jared said.
‘I’ll do no such thing. The Queen swore me to silence on the matter. All I can say is that I left her chambers at a half past five this morning. At which time she was still sleeping and safe in her bed. Look! We are wasting time! We should be out there looking, rounding up suspects.’
Daniel moved menacingly towards him. ‘Right now, you’re the main suspect. I say we put him in a cell until he talks.’
The others agreed and Gavin was hauled away by two armed guards.
Meanwhile, just half an hour’s ride away, ropes were chafing Naphtalie’s wrists and great limestone slabs burned her knees with their icy touch.
‘I might have known you’d be in such a state,’ Father Ashley said, shaking his head sadly. He had never been with a woman sexually, but he knew the signs of ravagement and Naphtalie was displaying them all. Gavin’s finger marks were blooming a faint indigo on her naked hips, from where he had held her tight to his body during their carnal engagements. Her left breast bore suction marks from his ravenous mouth – from his torrid claiming of what was his. Worst of all, at least in Father Ashley’s eyes, he could smell the odour of male emissions and could see the sheen of it still coating her legs. It made him positively seethe.
‘You will never get away with this. You do know that, don’t you?’ she told him.
The gravity of her situation dawned on her with his reply.
‘I answer to God and no one else. God has outlined his plan for you. He has told me the Whore Queen shall not live another day. You will be made an example of.’
‘So everyone else is a wicked sinner but you are the right hand man of God; chosen to mete out justice? Please…stop and listen to yourself. Just because someone enjoys the pleasures of the flesh without choosing to limit themselves to merely one or to become shackled to a spouse in order to do so, does not make them evil. You know I am capable of good deeds. You remember the young orphan boy I pardoned from here? Peter, I think his name was. He attacked the Queen’s carriage. I entrusted his moral development to you rather than pass the ultimate sentence. I was merciful. And are the coffers of this orphanage not full of the Queen’s coin, donated and delivered by my own self and my servant Magnus only yesterday?’
‘Oh you are very good at fooling everybody; distracting them with your ‘good deeds’ but I know what a fetid bitch you really are and so you must be cleansed,’ he said, rolling up his sleeves and brandishing a metal studded flail.
Realising there was little point in saying anymore, Naphtalie bowed her head, bound and naked on the floor and resigned herself to what she knew must surely come.
Just down the hall, several rooms away, the young lad named Peter was huddled up in his bed listening to the Queen’s screams. He was not cold tonight. He had an extra blanket and a belly full of food, thanks to the Queen’s generous contributions to the orphanage. He was in pain though – the pain of empathy. He had felt that flail many times. He had the scars to prove it. He remembered the glee, with which Father Ashley wielded it. That ugly lizard tongue clamped between his teeth. Eyes shining in perverse pleasure. Oh yes, Peter remembered it well and he could not endure reliving it.
He did not have to go all the way to the Countesses castle to find help. There were men – guards and soldiers, even Seed Bearers swarming all over the city in search of her.
‘This lad ‘ere says he knows where she is,’ said Magnus, holding Peter up by the scruff. Peter recognised him as one of the Queen’s entourage who had accompanied her to deliver the monies to the orphanage.
‘Tell us what you know,’ said another man.
‘Father Ashley has her. At the orphanage.’
The men looked at each other.
‘You need to hurry. He’s cleansing her.’
They didn’t know what that meant but it didn’t sound good. Magnus let him drop to the ground with a thud and the two men mounted their horses, setting off at full speed.
Two ancient priests greeted them at the door when they arrived breathless and windswept. They shoved past with swords drawn. Howls of pain led them straight to her. Bursting in, Magnus swung his sword, removing Father Ashley’s head from his body and Ryleigh stabbed his blade thrice into the already dead man’s crotch.
‘Did he touch you?’ he demanded, rapidly untying the Queen.
She shook her head then fainted.
‘I wish I could fucking kill him again,’ said Magnus, examining the bleeding lashes scattered across the Queen’s back. Suddenly the other Seed Bearers poured into the room.
‘Fuck me! Who did this?’ Julius exclaimed, seeing blood everywhere.
‘That piece of shit,’ said Ryleigh, kicking the priest’s decapitated head across the room.
In the days that followed, the Queen made a full recovery. Gavin was freed from the moldy confines of the dungeons below the Countesses castle; fully exonerated. Father Ashley’s head was placed on a pike above the entrance to the city walls, so that all could see what would befall any who dared inflict injury or insult upon the Queen. And for his bravery and diligence to duty, Magnus was enlisted as a further Seed Bearer to service the Queen whenever it was required – day or night, for as long as she held the throne and still harbored her fabled lust for hot, handsome, horny male flesh.