About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
BEAUTY AND TRISTAN
THE AUCTION IN THE MARKETPLACE
BEAUTY ON THE BLOCK
LESSONS FROM MISTRESS LOCKLEY
PRINCE ROGER’S STRANGE LITTLE STORY
THE CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD
THE PLACE OF PUBLIC PUNISHMENT
TRISTAN IN THE HOUSE OF NICOLAS, THE QUEEN’S CHRONICLER
A SPLENDID EQUIPAGE
THE FARM AND THE STABLE
SOLDIERS’ NIGHT AT THE INN
TRISTAN’S SOUL FURTHER REVEALED
MISTRESS LOCKLEY’S DISCIPLINE
CONVERSATION WITH PRINCE RICHARD
MISTRESS LOCKLEY’S AFFECTIONS
SECRETS IN THE INNER CHAMBER
UNDER THE STARS
REVELATIONS AND MYSTERIES
TRISTAN AND BEAUTY
ANOTHER TURN OF THE WHEEL
AN EXCITING PREVIEW OF Beauty's Kingdom
THE EROTIC NOVELS OF ANNE RICE WRITING AS A. N. ROQUELAURE
The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty
Since 1983, A. N. Roquelaure has envisioned (for the uninhibited reader) a hypnotic and seductive adult fairy tale in the Sleeping Beauty novels. Now, the author of this exquisite erotic trilogy reveals her true identity—beckoning the reader into a sensuous world of forbidden dreams and dark-edged desires ... a world in which traditional ideas of submission and dominance and gender preference are thrown to the winds ... a world made irresistibly inviting by the adventurous spirit and imagination of the unrivaled Anne Rice.
erotic novel of
love and surrender,
for the enjoyment
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road,
Auckland 10, New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
Published by Plume, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.
Previously published in a Dutton edition.
First Plume Printing, November, 1990
First Plume Printing, This Edition, May, 1999
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
Roquelaure, A. N.
Sequel to: The claiming of Sleeping Beauty
Cover design: Zoe Norvell
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both
the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters; places, and incidents either are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
I’ve always loved the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, and found something erotic at its core. The Prince awakens Beauty with a kiss. And I thought, all right, what if he brought a kind of liberation, an induction into a world of bizarre yet irresistible delights? It has to be remembered that within the frame of a sadomasochistic fantasy like the Beauty trilogy, the readers are invited to identify with and enjoy the predicament of the slaves. The books aren’t about literal cruelty; they’re about surrender, the fun of imagining you have no choice but to enjoy sex. Beauty’s slavery is delicious, sensuous, abandoned, and ultimately liberating. This is all part of the framework. And it seemed to work exquisitely with the old fairy tale. And of course the fairy tale removes us from everyday life; it removes us from the intrusion of garish headlines, literal violence, and all the ugliness of crime. We go into a gilded dream here, luscious and engulfing, in which we’re free to imagine all sorts of things—a fairy-tale world indeed.
As Anne Rice, I’m known for certain kinds of novels; the Roquelaure books retain the name Roquelaure (even with my name added) to indicate that this is something “different.” If Anne Rice is one kind of savory dish, well this is another entirely. And some might find it far too spicy for their taste. I don’t like the idea of confusing or disappointing readers, so the pen name helps with that. Of course, there are many people who have read all my work, including the Roquelaure novels, and they see me as a multifaceted writer. But the Roquelaure material is erotica, without reservation, and it needs that pen name on the label, so to speak. The pen name says: Anne Rice is doing something very different here.
I felt I needed the anonymity of the pen name to write freely, to pursue an authentic erotica without being inhibited or self-conscious. And it worked wonders to imagine myself “cloaked” by the name Roquelaure, which is a kind of French cloak—named after the Frenchman who popularized it. My father was still living then and I didn’t want him to know about the books either. In fact, there were lots of friends and relatives whom I didn’t want to worry about as I developed the writing. There was quite a bit of exposure involved in writing such graphic sexual fantasies. It was frightening now and then, and it was thrilling. Eventually, I told my father about the books, asking him not to read them, and I did put my name on them. I adjusted completely to people knowing I’d written them. But only after I’d finished with the trilogy—as I recall.
A pen name enables you not only to cloak what you are doing from friends and family; it gives you a new freedom to do something you would not do as yourself. I have thought of writing some new erotica, and I must confess I imagined using a new pen name for it. I don’t know whether I’ll pursue it, but I do find the freedom of the pen name attractive.
When the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy books were first published, they were underground books. They had the backing of a major mainstream publisher, yes, but the publication, though dignified and beautiful, was relatively quiet. But different readers embraced the books almost at once. They clearly appealed to young people, and older married people, to gays and straights. And they’ve sold steadily ever since they first appeared. Women come up to me at signings with babies in strollers and giggle and laugh and say, “We love your dirty books.” People of all ages, actually, present the books to be signed.
Why do I think these particular books have been popular? Two reasons. First, I think it is because they involve no harsh, garish violence at all. They involve game playing, really. No one is burned or cut or hurt. Certainly no one is killed. Indeed the whole sadomasochistic predicament is presented as a glorified game played out in luxurious rooms and with very attractive people, and involving very attractive slaves. There are endless motifs offered for dominance and submission, for surrender and love. It’s like a theme park of dominance and submission, a place to go to enjoy the fantasy of being overpowered by a beautiful man or woman and delightfully compelled to surrender and feel keening pleasure, without the slightest serious harm. I think it’s authentic to the way many who share this kind of fantasy really feel. I think what makes it work for people is the combination of the very graphic and unsparing sexual details mixed with the elegant fairy-tale world.
Unfortunately a lot of hackwork pornography is written by those who don’t share the fantasy, and they slip into hideous violence and ugliness, thinking the market wants all that, when the market never really did. Second, this is shamelessly erotic. It pulls no punches at being what it is. It’s excessive and it is erotica. Before these books, a lot of women read what were called “women’s romances” where they had to mark the few “hot pages” in the book. I said, well, look, try this. Maybe this is what you really want, and you don’t have to mark the hot pages because every page is hot. Every page is about sexual fulfillment. Every page is meant to give you pleasure. There are no boring parts. Yet it’s very “romantic.” And well, I think this worked.
Lots of people enjoy imagining themselves passive, in the hands of a beautiful lover, male or female, who will force them to enjoy themselves. It’s a common idea, and it cuts across gender and class. Men love these sorts of fantasies as much as women. And these books offer all kinds of gender combinations; women dominating men and women; men dominating men and women. The books offer ornate and seductive variations on the themes; and all of it is interwoven in stories with real characters, and again, the emphasis is on a lush, sensuous realm in which all this happens. There are very detailed descriptions of physical interaction and response; but the fairy-tale spell is sustained.
I also went all the way with exploring the mind-set of sadomasochism as I saw it, letting the fantasy characters talk in depth about what they felt and what they enjoyed and what thrilled them as they were humiliated and overwhelmed. I suspect that for some readers, this kind of deep exploration of the mentality of the participants was entirely new.
Is this why they appealed to so many, because people want this very combination of elements? Perhaps.
I certainly never found the combination of elements I wanted in anyone else’s erotica. So I offered what I could not find; a light touch; elegance; preciseness; a dreamlike kingdom; a dream in which people explore their need to be passive and to “pretend” that someone gorgeous and irresistible is “making” them do it.
Psychiatrists have written volumes on the nature of the sadomasochistic fantasy, but when I wrote the trilogy I didn’t know of any fiction that really enabled you to slide in it and “play” the way I wanted to play. So I wrote the books I couldn’t find.
I never thought a book as eccentric as Interview with the Vampire would have mass appeal. I only knew that I wanted to “be with the vampire” in the story, tell it from his point of view. I wanted to be inside his head and heart and reveal his voice and his pain. Now as it turned out, other people were exploring this same kind of thing—the backstory of the villain, the monster, or the comic book hero and heroine who’d always been described from a distance or in brittle form. People wanted to explore all kinds of super characters and hear their intimate musings. And I began to see more and more of this—movies made in which Superman could bear his soul, and Lois Lane could really talk about what it meant to love him. The demand for such romantic fantasies grew and grew. But did I have any idea that would happen? No. I wrote what I wanted to read. Well, the same thing is true with the Beauty books.
I didn’t know whether that many other people had the fantasies. After all, we didn’t talk much about them. Only a small elite knew about the mysterious Story of O. But I knew I had these fantasies, and I wanted to share them, and I felt an overwhelming desire to do them “right.” I didn’t want to compromise, water them down, or shrink from the most humiliating detail. I wanted to really delve into intense sensuous pleasure but put a gilded frame around a safe place for the reader from which he or she could go and come with ease.
Of course these books have from time to time been banned. I never expected a library to stock the Beauty trilogy. I know that many libraries respond to community standards, and I just never thought about it much at all. I did notice and I couldn’t help notice that the books sold well and steadily, and that at every signing I gave, people brought them to be signed. Recently, I’ve signed as many copies of the Beauty books as I have of any other book I’ve written. So I don’t worry too much about being banned. I’ve always shocked people. Years ago, I published a novel about the eighteenth-century castrati opera singers, titled Cry to Heaven. Someone brought a copy back to a bookstore in Stockton, California, and demanded his money back. “This is pornography,” he said. There are always some people objecting to what I do. I’m grateful the Beauty books have been embraced and sustained over the years.
As a feminist, I’m very much supportive of equal rights for women in all walks of life. And that includes for me the right of every woman to write out her sexual fantasies and to read books filled with sexual fantasies that she enjoys. Men have always enjoyed all kinds of pornography. How can it be wrong for women to have the same right? We’re sexual beings! And fantasy is where we can do the things we can’t do in ordinary life. A woman has a right to imagine herself carried away by a handsome prince, and to choose for herself as she writes, the color of his hair and eyes, and imagine his silky voice. She has a right to make him as tall as she wants and as strong as he wants. Why not? Men have always allowed themselves such fantasies.
Famous madams have told us for decades that powerful men love to be dominated and come to them for role playing that allows the male client to be passive. In fact, some madams have said that men who enjoy playing the passive role are often men who are very powerful in real life. Well, women today are more powerful than ever. They’re Supreme Court judges, senators, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, executives, soldiers, cops. They can excel in all walks of life. And why shouldn’t they be able to go home from the courtroom, the university, or the office and kick back and “pretend” they’re being swept away to the Queen’s sadomasochistic kingdom where all the fairy-tale court will watch them being ravaged by the handsome Prince?
The literary world today is wide open for all kinds of creative endeavors. We are in a new golden age in which fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, historical drama, horror, gothic, and supernatural romance are all mainstream. Well, the same holds true now obviously for erotica. People in general are “out of the closet” as enjoyers of erotic books. The novel 50 Shades of Grey has proved this. And I am discovering that the Beauty books in spite of all their playful excess—are for the first time going mainstream.
But I wouldn’t continue Beauty’s story. I felt that ended just the way I wanted. But I might write some more. I don’t think I did all I could do in these books, within the fantasy itself, in admitting how much the slaves enjoyed it—how they loved it. I’d deepen that aspect, and still keep the tension, if I did them today.
People are much more comfortable today admitting and talking about what they enjoy in fiction and film. Much more. People are “out of the closet” about sexuality, period. The whole world knows women are sensual human beings as well as men. It’s no secret anymore that women want to read sexy fiction just as men do, and there’s a new frankness about the varieties of fantasies one might enjoy. So many clichés have been broken and abandoned. And this is a wonderful thing.
THE STORY THUS FAR
AFTER HER century-long slumber, the Sleeping Beauty opened her eyes at the kiss of the Prince, to find her garments stripped away and her heart as well as her body under the rule of her deliverer. At once, Beauty was claimed as the Prince’s naked pleasure slave to be taken to his Kingdom.
With the grateful consent of her parents, and dazed with desire for the Prince, Beauty was then brought to the Court of Queen Eleanor, the Prince’s mother, to serve as one of hundreds of naked Princes and Princesses, all playthings of the Court until such time as they should be rewarded and sent home to their Kingdoms.
Dazzled by the rigors of the Training Hall, the Hall of Punishments, the ordeal of the Bridle Path, and her own mounting passion to please, Beauty remained the undisputed favorite of the Prince and the delight of her sometime Mistress, the lovely young Lady Juliana.
Yet she could not ignore her secret and forbidden infatuation with the Queen’s exquisite slave, Prince Alexi, and finally the disobedient slave, Prince Tristan.
After glimpsing Prince Tristan among the disgraced of the castle, Beauty, in a moment of seemingly inexplicable rebellion, brings upon herself the very same punishment destined for Tristan: to be sent away from the voluptuous Court to the degradation of harsh labor in the nearby village.
As our story continues, Beauty has just been placed in the cart with Prince Tristan and the other disgraced slaves to be taken down the long road to the auction block in the village marketplace.
THE MORNING star was just fading in the violet sky as the huge wooden cart, crowded with naked slaves, moved slowly over the castle draw-bridge. The white draft horses plodded steadily towards the winding road, and the soldiers drove their mounts close to the high wooden wheels, the better to catch with their thudding straps the naked legs and buttocks of the wailing slave Princes and Princesses.
Frantically, the group huddled together on the rough boards, their hands bound to the backs of their necks, their mouths gagged and stretched by little leather bits, plump breasts and reddened buttocks shivering.
Some, in desperation, glanced back at the high towers of the darkened castle. But no one was awake, it seemed, to hear their cries. And a thousand obedient slaves slept within, on the silken beds of the Slaves’ Hall or in their Masters’ and Mistresses’ sumptuous chambers, unconcerned for those incorrigible ones who were borne away now in the wobbling, high-railed cart, towards the village auction.
The Commander of the Patrol smiled to himself as he saw Princess Beauty, the Crown Prince’s dearest slave, press towards the tall, heavily muscled figure of Prince Tristan. She had been the last to be loaded into the cart, and what a lovely slave she was, he mused, her long, straight, golden hair hanging loose down her back, her little mouth straining to kiss Tristan in spite of the leather bit that gagged her. And how could the disobedient Tristan, with his hands bound to his neck as securely as those of any other punished slave, solace her now, the Commander wondered?
He debated with himself: Should he stop this illicit intimacy? It would be simple enough to pull Beauty out of the group and spread her legs as he bent her over the railing of the cart, spanking with his belt her plump disobedient little sex for its impudence. Maybe Tristan and Beauty, both, should be set down on the road and whipped behind the cart to teach them a good lesson.
But in truth the Commander felt just a little bit sorry for the condemned slaves, spoilt as they were, even the willful Beauty and Tristan. By noon they would all have been sold from the block, and during the long summer months of village service they would learn plenty.
The Commander rode alongside the cart now, catching another succulent little Princess with his belt, punishing the rosy pubic lips that peeped through a nest of glossy black curls, and he plied the strap all the harder when a long-limbed Prince sought gallantly to shield her.
Nobility even in adversity, the Commander laughed to himself, and gave the Prince exactly what he deserved with the strap, all the more amused when he glimpsed the Prince’s hard and writhing organ.
Well-trained, the lot, he had to admit, the lovely Princesses with their nipples erect and faces flushed, the Princes trying to conceal their swelling cocks. And as sorry as the Commander felt for them, he couldn’t help but think of the glee of the villagers.
All year the villagers saved their money for this day, when only a few coins would purchase, for the whole summer long, a pampered slave who had been chosen for the Court, trained and groomed for the Court, and must now obey the lowliest kitchen maid or stable boy who bid high enough at the auction.
And what an enticing group they were this time, their rounded limbs still fragrant with costly perfume, pubic hair still combed and oiled, as if they went to be presented to the Queen herself and not a thousand leering and eager villagers. Cobblers, Innkeepers, merchants awaited them, determined to exact hard labor for their money as well as pretty looks and abject humility.
The cart jostled the crying slaves, tumbled them together. The distant castle was now no more than a great gray shadow against the lightening sky, its vast pleasure gardens concealed by the high walls that surrounded it.
And the Commander smiled as he rode nearer to the thicket of lovely shaped calves and high-arched feet in the cart, seeing a half dozen splendid unfortunates pressed to the very front rail with no hope at all of escaping the soldiers’ straps as the others crowded against them. All they could do was squirm under the playful assault, baring hips and backsides and bellies again to the sting of the belts as they bowed their tear-stained faces.
It was a luscious sight indeed, rendered all the more interesting, perhaps, by the fact that they didn’t really know what lay in store for them. No matter how much Court slaves were warned about the village, they were never really prepared for the shocks that awaited them. If they had really known, they would never, never have risked the Queen’s displeasure.
And the Commander couldn’t help but think ahead to the end of summer when, thoroughly chastened, these same wailing and struggling young men and women would be brought back with heads bowed and tongues silent in utter submission. What a privilege it would be then to whip them one by one to press their lips to the Queen’s slipper!
So let them wail now, the Commander mused. Let them twist and turn as the sun rose over the rolling green hills and the cart lumbered ever faster down the long road to the village. And let the pretty little Beauty and the majestic young Tristan cleave to each other in the very middle of the press. They would soon learn what they had brought upon themselves.
He might even stay for the auction this time, the Commander thought, or at least just long enough to see Beauty and Tristan separated and hoisted one after the other to that block as they deserved, and sold off to their new owners.
BEAUTY AND TRISTAN
BUT, BEAUTY, why did you do it?” Prince Tristan whispered. “Why did you disobey deliberately? Did you want to be sent to the village?”
All around them in the rolling cart the Princes and Princesses whimpered and bawled hopelessly.
But Tristan had worked loose the cruel little leather bit that had gagged him, and let it drop to the floor. And Beauty at once did the same, freeing herself of the mean device with the aid of her tongue and spitting it away from her with delicious defiance.
After all, they were condemned slaves, were they not, so what did it matter? They had been given by their parents as naked tributes to the Queen, told to obey during their years of service. But they had failed. They were now condemned to hard labor and cruel use by the common people.
“Why, Beauty?” Tristan pressed. But no sooner did he ask the question again than he covered Beauty’s open mouth with his own so that Beauty could only receive the kiss, standing on tiptoe, Tristan’s organ lifting her moist sex which hungered for him desperately. If only their hands were not bound, if only she could embrace him!
Suddenly Beauty’s feet no longer touched the floor of the cart, and she tumbled forward against Tristan’s chest, riding him, the throbbing inside her so violent that it obliterated the cries and loud wallops of the mounted soldiers’ leather straps, and Beauty felt her breath sucked up and out of her.
For eternity she seemed to float, unanchored to the real world of the immense creaking wooden cart with its high wheels, the taunting guards, the paling sky arching high over the soft dark hills and the dim prospect of the village lying under a blue mist far below them. There was no rising sun, no clop of the horses hooves, no soft limbs of other struggling slaves mashed against her sore buttocks. There was only this organ splitting her, lifting her, and then driving her remorselessly to a silent yet deafening explosion of pleasure. Her back arched, her legs out straight, her nipples throbbing against Tristan’s warm flesh, her mouth filled with Tristan’s tongue at the same instant.
And dimly through the ecstasy, she felt Tristan’s hips go into their final irresistible rhythm. She could not bear any more, yet the pleasure was fragmented, multiplied, washing through her over and over. In some realm beyond thought, she felt she was not human. The pleasure dissolved the humanity she had known. And she was not Princess Beauty, brought as a slave to serve in the Prince’s castle. Yet most certainly she was, because this excruciating pleasure had been learned there.
She knew only the soft wet pulse of her sex and the organ lifting her and holding her. And Tristan’s kisses growing more tender, more sweet, more lingering. A weeping slave pressed against her back, hot flesh against her own, and another warm body crushed against her right side, a great sweep of silky hair brushing her naked shoulder.
“But why, Beauty?” Tristan whispered again, his lips still touching hers. “You must have done it deliberately, run from the Crown Prince. You were too admired, too accomplished.” His deep almost-violet-blue eyes were thoughtful, meditative, reluctant to reveal him completely.
His face was a little larger than that of most men, the bones strong, perfectly symmetrical, yet the features were almost delicate, and the voice was low and more commanding than the voices of those who had been Beauty’s Masters. But there was nothing but intimacy in the voice, and that, and Tristan’s long eyelashes, gold in the light of the sun, gave him a touch of enchantment. He spoke to Beauty as though they had been slave companions forever.
“I don’t know why I did it,” Beauty whispered in answer. “I can’t explain, but yes, it must have been deliberate.” She kissed his chest, quickly finding the nipples and kissing them both and then sucking them hard one after the other so that she felt his organ thump against her again, though he begged her softly for mercy.
Of course, the punishments of the castle had been voluptuous; it had been exciting to be the playthings of a rich Court, to be the object of relentless attention. Yes, it had been infatuating and confusing, the exquisitely tooled leather paddles and straps and the welts they caused, the exacting discipline that had so often left her crying and breathless. And the warm perfumed baths afterwards, the massages with fragrant oils, the hours of half-sleep in which she dared not contemplate the tasks and trials that awaited her.
Yes, it had been heady and seductive and even terrifying.
And surely she had loved the tall, black-haired Crown Prince with his mysterious unnamed dissatisfactions, and the lovely sweet Lady Juliana with her pretty blond braids, both of whom had been such talented tormentors.
So why had Beauty thrown it all away? Why, when she had seen Tristan in the stockade with its crowd of disobedient Princes and Princesses, all condemned to be auctioned in the village, had she deliberately disobeyed in order to be sent to the village with them?
She could still remember Lady Juliana’s brief description of the fate awaiting them:
“It is wretched service. The auction itself takes place as soon as they arrive and you can well suppose that even the beggars and the common louts about town are there to witness it. Why, the whole village declares a holiday.”
And then that strange remark from Beauty’s Master, the Crown Prince, who never dreamed at that moment that Beauty would soon disgrace herself: “Ah, but for all its roughness and cruelty,” he had said, “it is sublime punishment.”
Was it those words that had undone her?
Did she long to be hurled downward, away from the high Court of ornate and clever rituals imposed upon her, into some wilderness of disregard where the humiliations and spanking blows would come just as hard and just as fast but with a greater, more savage abandon?
Of course, there would be the same limits. Not even in the village could a slave’s flesh be broken; never could a slave be burned or truly harmed. No, her punishments would all enhance. And she knew by now just how much could be accomplished with the innocent-looking black leather strap and deceptively decorated leather paddle.
But in the village she would be no Princess. Tristan would be no Prince. And the crude men and women who worked them and punished them would know that with every gratuitous blow they were doing the Queen’s bidding.
Suddenly Beauty couldn’t think. Yes, it had been deliberate, but had she made some dreadful error?
“And you, Tristan,” she said suddenly, trying to conceal the quavering of her voice. “Was it not deliberate with you, too? Didn’t you deliberately provoke your Master?”
“Yes, Beauty, but there’s a long story behind it,” Tristan said. And Beauty could see the apprehension in his eyes, the dread he couldn’t admit either. “I served Lord Stefan, as you know, but what you don’t know is that a year ago in another land, as equals, Lord Stefan and I were lovers.” The large violet-blue eyes became a little more penetrable, the lips a little warmer as they smiled almost sadly.
Beauty gasped to hear this.
The sun was fully risen now, and the cart had taken a sharp turn in the road and the descent was slower over uneven terrain, the slaves pitched more roughly than ever against one another.
“You can imagine our surprise,” Tristan said, “when we discovered ourselves Master and slave at the castle, and when the Queen, seeing the blush on Lord Stefan’s face, immediately gave me over to him with the sharp instructions that he train me himself to be perfect.”
“Unbearable,” Beauty said. “To have known him before, to have walked with him, spoken with him. How could you submit?”
All her Masters and Mistresses had been strangers to her, defined perfectly in the instant she realized her helplessness and vulnerability. She had known the color and texture of their magnificent slippers and boots, the sharp tones of their voices, before she had known their names or their faces.
But Tristan gave the same mysterious smile. “O, I think it was far worse for Stefan than for me,” he whispered in her ear. “You see, we had met before at a great tournament, struggling against each other, and in every feat I’d bested him. When we hunted together, I had been the better shot and the better horseman. He had admired me and looked up to me, and I had loved him for it because I knew the extent of his pride and the love that equaled it. When we coupled, I was the leader.
“But we had to return to our Kingdoms. We had to return to the duties that awaited us. Three stolen nights of love we had, maybe more, in which he yielded as a boy might to a man. Then letters that at last became too painful to write. Then war. Silence. Stefan’s Kingdom allied with that of the Queen. And later, her armies at our gates, and this strange meeting in the Queen’s castle: I on my knees waiting to be given to a worthy Master, and Stefan, the Queen’s young kinsman, sitting silently at her right at the banquet table.” Tristan smiled again. “No, it was worse for him. I blush with shame to admit it, but my heart leapt when I saw him. And it is I who, out of spite, have triumphed by abandoning him.”
“Yes,” Beauty understood this because she knew she had done it to the Crown Prince and Lady Juliana. “But the village, weren’t you afraid?” Again there came the quavering in her voice. How far were they from the village, even as they spoke of it? “Or was it simply the only way?” she asked softly.
“I don’t know. There must have been more to it than that,” Tristan whispered, but then he stopped as though bewildered. “But if you must know,” he confessed, “I am terrified.” Yet he said it so calmly, his voice so full of quiet assurance that Beauty couldn’t believe it.
The groaning cart had made another turn. The guards had ridden ahead to hear some orders from their Commander. The slaves whispered among themselves, all too obedient and fearful still to discard the little leather bits in their mouth, yet able to consult frantically on what lay ahead as the cart rocked on slowly.
“Beauty,” Tristan said, “we’ll be separated when we reach the village, and no one knows what may happen to us. Be good, obey; it can’t ultimately—” And again he stopped, unsure. “It can’t ultimately be worse than the castle.”
And now Beauty thought she heard the barest tinge of real trepidation in his voice, but his face was almost hard when she looked up at him, only the beautiful eyes softening it just a little. She could see the slightest golden stubble of beard on his chin, and she wanted to kiss it.
“Will you watch for me after we’re separated, try to find me, if only to say a few words to me?” Beauty said. “O, just to know you are there ... but I don’t think I will be good. I don’t see why I should be good any longer. We’re bad slaves, Tristan. Why should we obey now?”
“What do you mean?” he asked. “You make me afraid for you.”
From far away, there came the faint roar of voices, the sound of a large crowd carrying sluggishly over the low hills, the dim vibration of a village fair, of hundreds talking, shouting, milling.
Beauty pressed close to Tristan’s chest. She felt a stab of excitement between her legs, her heart knocking. Tristan’s organ was hard again, but it was not inside of her, and it was an agony again that her hands were bound so she couldn’t touch it.
Her question seemed meaningless suddenly, yet she repeated it, the distant noise growing louder. “Why must we obey if we are already punished?”
Tristan too heard the distant swelling sounds. The cart was picking up speed.
“We were told at the castle that we must obey,” Beauty said, “our parents had willed it when they sent us to the Queen and the Prince as Tributes. But now we’re bad slaves...”
“Our punishment will only be worse if we disobey,” Tristan said, but there was something strange in his eyes that betrayed his voice. He sounded false, as if repeat-something he thought he should say for her good.
“We must wait and see what happens to us,” he said. “Remember, Beauty, in the end they will win over us.”
“But how, Tristan?” she asked. “You mean you condemned yourself to this, and yet you will obey?” She felt again the thrill she’d known when she left the Prince and Lady Juliana weeping behind her at the castle. “I am such a bad girl,” she thought. Yet...
“Beauty, their wishes will prevail. Remember, a willful, disobedient slave will amuse them just as much. Why struggle?” Tristan said.
“Why struggle to obey?” Beauty said.
“Do you have the strength to be terribly bad all the time?” he asked. His voice was low, urgent, his breath warm against her neck as he kissed her again. Beauty tried to shut out the sound of the crowd; it was a horrid sound, like that of a great beast coming out of its lair; she knew she was trembling.
“Beauty, I don’t know what I’ve done,” Tristan said. Anxiously he glanced in the direction of that awesome, menacing noise: shouts, cheers, the mayhem of a fair day. “Even at the castle,” he said, the violet-blue eyes fired now with something that might have been fear in a strong Prince who could not show it. “Even at the castle, I found it was easier to run when they told us to run, to kneel when they told us to kneel, and there was a triumph of sorts in doing it perfectly.”
“Then why are we here, Tristan?” she asked, standing on tiptoe to kiss his lips. “Why are we both such bad slaves?” And though she tried to sound rebellious and brave, she pressed herself against Tristan all the more desperately.
THE AUCTION IN THE MARKETPLACE
THE CART had come to a stop, and Beauty could see through the tangle of white arms and tousled hair the walls of the village below, with the gates open and a motley crowd swelling out onto the green.
But slaves were being quickly unloaded from the cart, forced with the smack of the belt to crowd together on the grass. And Beauty was immediately separated from Tristan, who was pulled roughly away from her for no apparent reason other than the whim of a guard.
The leather bits were being pulled out of the mouths of the others. “Silence!” came the loud voice of the Commander. “There is no speech for slaves in the village! Any who speak shall be gagged again more cruelly than they have ever been before!”
He rode his horse round the little herd, driving it tightly together, and gave the order that the slaves’ hands should be unbound and woe to any slave who removed his or her hands from the back of the neck.