Salt – a bdsm fairytale.

December 18, 2016 ebooks Comments (0) 174

It’s been a long time since my last post, and I’m so happy to tell you that my new story is finally out! I worked hard and long on this book, and I’m thrilled that there soon will be a paperback edition as well. For now, you can download Salt on Amazon, Barns and Noble, Apple and Kobo. And since it’s almost Christmas, I have a gift for you as well: You can download The Hunting Game, a bonus story set in the Kinky Ever After of Salt for FREE! [Available here]& on [Amazon]

Salt a bdsm fairytale

I’ve been fascinated with fairytales since I’ve been a little girl roaming the woods around my grandmother’s house with the apt name Owl Castle. Now that I’m an adult, I love to discover the sensual potential in old tales and twist them into new, exciting stories. I’m dreaming of a series of illustrated erotic fairytales, but that’s something for the future. The first book in my series of twisted fairytales is out now: Salt, a retelling of the tale Love like Salt.

Synopsis:

Delia has lived her entire life in her father’s court until one wrong answer sees her cast out into the world with nothing more than the dress she wears and the sound of the White King’s curse echoing in her ears.

When his hunting party stumbles across a nameless girl in the forest, King Aiden does not expect his offer of help to be met with a request for a place beneath his table or an offer of servitude, but he cannot resist.

As Aiden pushes her further and further in his desire to see how far she is willing to go, Delia learns that her father’s curse might not be as terrible as she feared. As her new king and his mistress initiate her into a world of lust and abandon, she finds something no princess could ever dare dream of; love and the freedom to be entirely herself.

But is her freedom worth the price when it means to deny herself the one thing she really wants — being with Aiden for the rest of her life?

The Hunting Game

Delia and Aiden celebrate their anniversary by recreating the way they met: with a hunting game. Whoever out of a chosen group of hunters catches Delia gets to claim her. Delia has to learn a lesson and King Aiden won’t let anyone get between him and his prey. Before her lie three days in the arms of her capturer, and he’s intent on showing her the error of her ways.

There’s a lot of room to explore domination and submission in the Happy Ever After, and in this follow-up to Salt, Delia and Aiden follow their wicked desires without inhibition and restraint — but not without restraining. Hur hur hur.

Download The Hunting Game for free!

Read on for a tease of Salt!

 

Salt bdsm fairytale

Chapter 1

The day she became nothing, rain was falling as heavy as little pebbles from the sky and turning the roads into trails of mud. It was as if the world was hidden behind grey veils, and the small piece of sky Delia saw through the window of her room — more a hole in the wall than anything — offered nothing but a shapeless, colorless mass where the sky used to be.

“Lace it tighter,” she ordered, her eyes still on the rectangle of grey, and braced herself against her bed while her handmaiden obeyed. The girl pulled the laces so tight that the brocade of her bodice turned into a cage, gilded with gold thread embroidery so thick that it made the gown stiff and unyielding. It pinched Delia’s waist and restricted her breathing, yet she wished she could lace it even tighter. If only it cut deep enough into her skin and pinched her blue, and made her feel every step, maybe then she wouldn’t feel like a puppet anymore.

“If I lace this any tighter, your highness, you’re going to pass out on the stairs before you even reach the great hall.”

Delia sighed, welcoming the slight dizziness that accompanied it. “Just pinch my cheeks, and no one will notice me dying,” she murmured. She could pinch her cheeks herself, and she would later, but she liked it more when her handmaiden did it for her.

The girl pinched her hard enough that Delia could hope for a bruise, then put her braid up with a comb. Delia held still through the whole procedure, watching her little songbird hop around in its cage and pick at seeds.

“Not even you will sing on a day like this.”

The bird just kept picking while Delia lifted her skirts enough for her maid to put dainty slippers on her feet. At last, when her maid was satisfied that there was not a single thread out of place and she looked every inch the princess she was, she gathered the heavy gown and made her way down to the great hall, where her father, the White King, expected her. Every step was measured, every move carried out with precision and care, masking the nervousness gnawing away inside her. Why had she been summoned?

In the dimness of the great hall, she was a beacon of light, the glittering focus of attention. Her gown reflected the shine of the few spitting candles, turning her into a precious jewel. Maybe today was the day she would be awarded to a suitor, like a prize, or a steed made to breed more princes and princesses. She was the last one of the king’s daughters left to be wedded.

The whole court was gathered before the White King’s throne, and as Delia made her way towards it, she knew every pair of eyes fixed on her. On either side of her father’s throne, her sisters stood. They had made this way before her, earlier that day, and had already paid their respect. Delia’s heart thumped against the cage of her gown, and in the silence of the hall, the rustling of her silken skirts became as loud as the thunderous rain on the slates outside.

Delia sank into a deep curtsey before the White King. Her tight-laced bodice cut into her waist, so pitiless that every breath she drew felt precious.

“My sweet daughter,” the king greeted her. Delia rose.

“Father.”

“I called you here today, before my court, because it’s time to determine my succession.”

Delia glanced at her sisters. They looked like alabaster statues, white and beautiful and stone-still. A princess should be seen but not heard. She had to play the part and take her place like it was expected of her. Delia took a deep breath, relishing the stab of pain from the blunt boning of her bodice. Her pain was the only thing truly her own. Everything else was for the White King to decide on.

“Yes, Father.”

“First, I want you to answer me this, my child: How much do you love me?”

It was an odd question, and not at all what Delia had expected. How would the answer to a question as arbitrary as this help to determine a succession for his throne? Delia had never questioned her love for the White King. There had been a time when she was little that he had bounced her on his knees and sung songs of old to her. She still remembered digging her hands deep into the black thicket of his beard and finding gold coins there. Now she knew that he had placed them there for her to find, because he delighted in her wonder and excitement. When she grew too big for his lap, she had to learn how to be a real princess, and because she was a good daughter, she had learned it well. He was not only her father now, he was her king, and she was as much his daughter as she was a princess. Loving him was as much her obligation as marrying the suitor he chose for her when the time came, and it was a duty she accepted. Yet, in her heart, he would always be the man who hid golden coins in his beard, and she would always be the little girl finding treasures on his knees.

It wasn’t Delia’s place to doubt the way he went about things, now. She was to answer what was asked of her, and so, after pondering the question for a moment, she did.

“I love you like salt,” she said. Salt was what spiced their meals, and salt was what, rubbed into tiny scratches, made them sting sharper, and made her feel so much more alive.

Her answer was followed by a silence so total that you could have heard the creaking of leather boots or the ripping of a seam, if anyone had shuffled their feet and dared to move. As if the whole court collectively held their breath and waited for the drop of a blade.

“Like salt? Am I so ordinary to you that you love me no more than salt?” The White King straightened in his throne, and his silver beard trembled. His eyes glinted.

Delia felt herself reeling, her composure slipping from her grip like wet, wriggling fish. She sank into another curtsey, breathless from more than just the tight lacing of her gown. “I… it’s…” She should know better than to speak without knowing what to say. Her voice broke and she stuttered.

“Your sisters love me like the royal purple, like gems and jewels. And you think I’m no better than salt?”

Her sisters looked at each other, panic tinting their porcelain cheeks. The White King ignored their soft hands reaching for his shoulders. His voice rang out like thunder, driving spikes of fear between her ribs, their bite more forceful than that of the blunt bones of her bodice.

“If you love me no more than salt, ungrateful thing, then you shall no longer be my daughter!”

Delia fell to her knees, raised her hands to plead. “Please, father, you don’t mean that…”

Her father turned as cold as iron, his face as dark as the clouds swallowing the sky outside.

“You shall be banished,” he boomed, “and live a miserable life, a life as wretched as a worm’s.”

“Father…” Her voice was too thin to be heard over the White King’s roaring verdict. He was so alien, so tall as he towered over her, that Delia no longer recognized him.

“You shall crawl through dust and dirt until you fall off the earth, and till you draw your last breath you shall curse this day and the misery it brought you, and wish you had just loved me better! You shall have no thing and be no one, and be found forever wanting, just as I have found you!”

The king’s words echoed through the great hall, followed by a low rumble as the courtiers started murmuring, buzzing like wasps after their nest had been poked with a torch. The king banishes his daughter! She’s ruined! The scandal!

Delia didn’t hear their talk. She was numb to her bones, unable to grasp the meaning of any of their words. She was paralyzed in shock, unable to move even when two guardsmen stepped to her sides and took her arms. Their hands missed certainty and resoluteness, almost as if they were just as shocked and dumbfounded by the king’s outburst as she herself. They looked at him, searching for direction.

The White King looked at her, his eyes so full of scorn that it felt like a punch to her guts. “Take her away,” he said, voice cool. “My house has no place for her.”

She thought her blood must turn to ice and her heart must crack and splinter. Delia put up no resistance when the guards gripped her harder and hauled her up, dragging her like a lifeless doll between them. Her skull echoed with her father’s sentence. You shall be no one and found forever wanting. Each syllable pierced her heart like chips of flint and steel. They lugged her out, out of the hall and across the courtyard, to the gates, where they tossed her out into the dirt like the contents of a piss bucket.

She had lost one of her slippers as they dragged her across the yard, and one of the guardsmen — Karel, she knew his name — picked it up, wiping off the mud, and dropped it into her lap. She looked up at him, but her throat gave off no sound, and when she lifted her hand to reach for him, he shook his head and turned away. The veils of rain swallowed him, leaving her lost and broken and all alone.

It had to be a dream, she thought, swaying back and forth and hugging herself. A nightmare. How could one single word, one simple answer end in such a swift sentence? The rain kept hitting her without pause, and the droplets slid down her face and neck like cold tongues, following the curve of her collar bone, seeping under the edge of her dress and between her breasts. The water came down as thick as if the sky wanted to drown her, and so hard that every drop was like a cold prick, like a blow with a spiked fist. Her gown soaked up rain and dirt, and the cold seeped from the fabric into her flesh, down to her bones.

She couldn’t move herself to get up. Not until they drove the pigs out, anyway, and she had to, or risk getting trampled and eaten.

The hems of her skirts dragged through the mud and flapped about her legs, cold and wet and grinding. Delia didn’t feel it, nor did she feel the pebbles dig into the soles of her feet, nor the cold gnawing at her skin. For once, the pain in her heart was greater than the pain her body suffered. This was the day she was no one’s daughter anymore, and cold and rain wasn’t enough to permeate her grief.

Delia didn’t know where to go, and she did not care. Without aim, she wandered, following the muddy trail into the woods, while her slippers disintegrated and her gown grew heavier with every step taking her farther away from home. When the night fell as a great grayness that slowly faded into blue, she curled up beneath a tree, shivering and with chattering teeth, and waited for the morning.

The night seemed never-ending. When morning finally came, it arrived with the sound of droplets dripping and trickling, hitting leaves and moss and puddles on the ground and in the fork of branches with the sound of cymbals and tiny bells.

Her dress was still wet, still cold, so cold she sobbed. The salt of her tears tasted bitter.

Delia pulled herself up and started walking again, walked until the morning lost its grayness and turned bright and fair. It was then that Delia found a little pond, sheltered between rocks and bushes. Dipping her hand into it, she found the water icy, but it was clean, and Delia’s skin itched beneath the layers of silk and brocade and changeant embroidered so thick that it was stiff as a rod. After one quick look around, she tried to reach the lacing of her bodice in her back. A princess’s dress was not made to be taken off by herself, and Delia’s muscles were sore and aching. She’d never taken off her dress without a maid to help her, and no matter how she squirmed and stretched, she didn’t reach the laces. At last, she fell to her knees, sobbing once more. She would not live long if she couldn’t even get rid of her own dress.

But out she must.

She couldn’t be found wearing the attire of a princess. Everyone would know who she was. Or, had been, rather. She lifted her arm and dug her fingers into the gown beneath it, starting to pull at the seam. The stitches started ripping with an ugly crack. Delia held her breath and forced back the bile in her throat as she ripped her dress from beneath her arm down to her waist. The hole created more room to wriggle and at last, Delia managed to worm out of her constricting attire, leaving her in her chemise and underskirts.

The heavy dress, now a sad heap on the ground, was crusted with dirt. Delia waded into the pond and submerged her dress, rubbing at the caked mud until her hands were red and raw and the water that had been clean before turned murky. She missed the white soap her kingdom was so renowned for. No other kingdom made soap as soft and efficient as theirs. If she had some of their soap, she wouldn’t have to rub so hard at the stained fabric of her dress, so hard that her hands burnt in pain, despite the freezing cold of the water. It seemed absurd to miss something as insubstantial as soap so much, but it was this that made her feel more lost than the loss of her title. Along with scented bars of soap, she had lost her home. She couldn’t go back.

Afterwards, when she deemed everything sufficiently clean, she spread the gown as well as her soaked skirts on the branches of a bush. Dressed in nothing but her chemise, she searched the banks and the close vicinity for something to eat.

All Delia found were some blackberries. Her shift got caught in the brambles and the thorns left long, red scratches on her arms and legs, and she didn’t find enough to sate her ravenous hunger. She gathered all the berries she could reach in her shift, holding it like a pouch, and when she sat down beside her dress to eat, the berries had stained her chemise crimson on her lap.

How unprepared she was for all of this! Delia didn’t even know how to light a fire. She had no coat to warm her at night, her thin slippers had dissolved into thread and silk on the first mile she’d walked away from the castle, leaving a trail of lost pearls behind her, and the only gown she had she couldn’t wear. Not only was it impractical, it was also too precious to wander the world in it.

At least the sun came out, and by evening, her only possession was almost dry. Delia rolled it into a tight ball, wrapped it in her underskirts and tied it all into one bundle. The following night, she curled around it and covered herself with moss and leaves, but this night was even colder than the last, now that she wore nothing but a sheer chemise. She would have to find a place to stay soon, for now it was still summer, but soon the leaves would start blushing and the autumn mist would come creeping in from the sea. She wouldn’t live long then without a roof to sleep under and a fire to warm her.

***

Delia kept walking through the woods like that for several days. If she had already left behind her father’s lands, she couldn’t say, for she had never traveled them by foot. In fact, she had never gone anywhere by foot. She didn’t even know if she still was wandering the White Kingdom. She hadn’t paid attention to the direction she had taken, something she now regretted. She could very well have wandered unwittingly into the lands of the neighboring kingdom, where the Foreign King ruled, conjoined in a long and brutal feud with the White King.

The longer she wandered the lands, the more careful and nervous she became. She kept hidden whenever she heard voices or the grunting of pigs that were driven through the undergrowth to fatten them on acorns. Part of her reason told her she needed to find help, for she wouldn’t survive alone, yet a bigger part of her kept fretting, stubbornly clinging to her pride. She didn’t want to be seen in her almost naked state, helpless and lost.

She had to let go of her pride when she came upon a hunting party.

At first, she only heard the drumming of hooves, like thunder, and the rustling and cracking where the party broke through the bushes. Her heart stopped, then pounded hard in her mouth as she started running. The blood thrumming in her ears drowned out the sound of the hunters and their heavy horses, but only for a moment. Delia jumped across a narrow stream, slipping and tumbling on the other side as the soft bank crumbled under the soles of her feet. She grabbed for roots, for grass, for anything to keep her from falling, but she crashed down on her knees, and pain and panic froze her as the icy stream grabbed her legs. Left and right from her, riders on giant horses sprang across the water, gray, shadowy streaks, a flurry of movement.

Delia got hold of a slick root and pulled herself up, struggling up the riverbank on hands and knees. She started running again but was cut off right away. On a huge black horse, a rider blocked her way. Pressing the bundle with her gown to her stomach, she wanted to back away, but behind her, there was another rider. Others were circling them. The ground seemed to shake beneath Delia’s feet. The beating of hooves on the soft ground made her dizzy and breathless.

“It’s just a girl,” a hunter behind her stated. Disappointment colored his voice.

“A naked girl. What if she’s one of the Mountain King’s people?” That was another man’s voice, and Delia turned to see the speaker, but turned again when the one that cut off her way addressed her.

“Who are you, girl?” He spoke with authority, with a confidence Delia recognized. This one was the leader of their lot. He was dressed as simply and practically as the others, yet his attire was of a quality Delia instantly recognized. This was a rich man.

She wetted her lips. Squared her shoulders. He had eyes like a falcon, observing her sharply. Was there any use in keeping her true identity? Sooner or later, talk about her downfall and banishment would reach even the farthest, most remote corners of the land. “I’m no one.”

He tilted his head, narrowing his eyes. “Why did you run from us? We might have taken you for a fawn, and killed you with our arrows.”

“I was scared.”

He looked at Delia with his eyebrows drawn together. She held his gaze until she remembered with a start that she no longer was equal to a nobleman. She was no one. Quickly, she lowered her eyes, fixating them on the black hooves of his horse.

“Scared of what? Have you been attacked?”

His question came as a surprise, but when Delia looked down at herself, she realized the picture she presented: wearing nothing but a thin chemise with a suspicious stain on her lap where the juices from blackberries had faded from crimson to brown. If it weren’t so cold, she’d blush.

“No,” she murmured, and hesitated for a moment. She had not been attacked yet, but who knew how long she could keep wandering the woods without stumbling into danger? Drawing herself up, she admitted that she was lost. “I haven’t been attacked. But I need help.”

“It’s a trick, my king. Look how green her eyes are,” someone said. It was the same man that had wondered if she was one of the folk from under the mountains, and Delia wondered why the green of her eyes made her somehow more suspicious.

Then she took a closer look at the man blocking her way. If he was a king, there was a great chance he knew her. The land was littered with kings, though, and although he seemed more familiar now, she couldn’t place him with certainty. That alone was a bad sign.

“It’s curious, that’s for sure.” The king rubbed his chin. His face struck her as odd, but it took a look around at the other men to tell why that was: unlike all the other men in his hunting party, and even all the men Delia knew from her father’s court, this king was shaved bare. It made him look young, hardly older than she was. The shock of curls surrounding his face, the color of dark amber, tousled by the wind and the fast ride, only added to that impression.

Delia caught herself staring, and looked down again.

“How can I be of help to you, girl?” the king asked after another moment of silence, broken only by the horses huffing and stamping their hooves.

How could she ask for his hospitality when she no longer was someone? How could she ask for kindness when her father had cursed her to lead a miserable life? Yet, could she live any more miserable than now? Delia pressed her meager bundle harder to her stomach. What if she managed to live the humblest life, the wretched existence her father had condemned her to, and still managed to be content in it? She lifted her chin. “All I ask for is a place under your table, and I will live from what falls down from it. You won’t even notice me.”

The king raised his eyebrows. They looked like wings, darker than his hair, and sharp. “A place under my table?”

There was no room for beggars at a king’s court, Delia knew that. Everyone had a function to fill, be it ever so small. “I will repay your kindness in whichever way you want. Give me whatever humbling task you can think of, and I will do it. I will scrub the floors and sand the kettles and clean the hearths, I will herd the pigs if you order me to. I will serve you in any way you ask.”

One of the men snorted, and the king seemed to battle a smile, too. It tugged at his lips and twinkled in his eyes. “Clearly, you have no idea about the humbling tasks one could do at a king’s court.”

“Then show me.” Delia felt sick over her own daring. She didn’t want to find out how far off she was with the tasks she had named, didn’t want to know what humiliating services this king could ask of her. Yet, her heart pounded in her chest like the thrumming hooves of wild horses, and she was seized by something powerful, almost like triumph.

“Alright. Lift her up.” The king waved, and behind Delia one of his men sprang off his horse and stepped to her side, grabbing her hard around the waist. She shrieked, taken by surprise, and tried to wriggle out of his grip.

“Stop kicking,” the man huffed, lifting her up as if she weighed nothing. Delia grew slack in his grip, and her face burned when she realized that her shift had slid up and exposed her mercilessly. She could just as well be naked. The king pulled her onto his horse in front of him, sideways, and Delia tried frantically to cover herself up again while pressing her bundle with one arm to herself. While she was still plucking at the seam of her chemise, overly aware of the lingering gaze of the hunter who’d lifted her up, the king took her bundle from her and tossed it to his man.

“Let him take it, so I can hold you better,” he said. Delia grew still as he wrapped his arm around her, pressing his hand to her belly, and holding the reins with his other hand. She could feel his ribcage expand with his breathing. His horse shook its head and sprang forward, and Delia was thrown back against the king’s chest.

“So, tell me, girl, what’s your name?” The question was a low hum at her ear, and Delia shivered. Her palms were damp with sweat.

“I don’t have one.” Not one she could tell him, anyway.

“So what should I call you?”

“You can call me whatever you want.” She felt his breath brush over her temple. She’d never been so close to a man before.

“So I get to name you, huh? What if I want to call you bitch, for you want to live under my table like a dog?”

Delia had trouble breathing, and her voice shook, tasting on her tongue like blood when she answered. “You could do that.” Every bit of her body in touch with his was too much all of a sudden, and she struggled and squirmed to slide away from him. The trot of his steed threw her back against him. The king chortled, his breath warm on her shoulder.

“Ah, but you don’t like it. Neither do I.”

Relief washed through her, and she went limp in his grip once more. Although, far back in some strange corner of her mind, she was almost… disappointed.

“Let’s see…” His hand was warm against her stomach, his fingers strong. His touch planted a weird heat between her bones. “How about Fawn? Since we almost put an arrow through your heart?”

“If you want to call me that…”

“No. No, I’m going to call you my little bird. You’re trembling in my hand like a robin I once caught after it lost its way and ended up in my tower. Its little heart beat so fast I feared it would die in my palms. Just like your heart beats now.”

Delia swallowed. “As you wish.”

“Good.” He bent closer, and his voice sent another shiver through her when he growled, “and you will call me ‘my king’ like you ought to.”

“Yes, my king.” Delia managed only a whisper.

For a while, they rode in silence. Delia clawed at the horse’s mane, so she wouldn’t have to lean back against the king for support, but trying to keep her back straight was too much of a struggle, and after days without proper food, she didn’t have the strength left to fight his hold and his warmth permeating her flesh. She could feel him smile into her hair when she finally gave up resistance and sank against him. It was then that her stomach grumbled. He had to feel it, for his hand on her belly flexed, sending a jolt through her nerves that made her flinch.

“Are you hungry, little bird?”

“I am. I had nothing but blackberries for days.”

“Then you shall eat. Durwin!” The king called out, and the hunter who had lifted her up into the saddle brought his steed to trot at their side. “Bring me something to feed this little bird. Her stomach is growling so loud it makes the horses shy.”

Delia didn’t protest, although his statement tickled her in a way that made it hard to swallow her indignation. When the king pressed the reins into her hands, though, the protest broke free.

“I can’t do this! Please take them back!” She tried to give the reins back, but the king only laughed.

“Don’t worry, Aganippus is a good horse. He won’t go astray. And I need my hands for this…” The king reached into the leather pouch and produced bits of dried fruit that he brought to her lips. Delia turned her face away. She was too terrified to let go of the reins, though, so she couldn’t pluck the morsel from his hand.

“Open up, little bird. Eat.” His voice was gentle but relentless. Mortified, with burning cheeks, Delia closed her eyes as she gave in and opened her mouth, allowing him to feed her. His fingertips brushed her lips, and her breath caught.

He waited patiently till she had chewed and swallowed, then brought another bite-sized piece of fruit to her lips. Delia let him feed her this one as well, and every bit that followed, but with every new morsel, swallowing it down became harder, for her throat grew tight with the anger simmering just beneath her breastbone. “I can feed myself!” she wanted to say, but she kept it in and let it flavor every bite he gave her. He was a king, and she was no one anymore. She had no right to refuse. Or, rather, she wasn’t sure if she had any right to deny him his every whim, now that she had offered him herself, to make use of her as he pleased. Maybe it pleased him to have her pluck food from his fingertips with her lips.

He kept feeding her, whistling a merry tune while his horse followed in line after two other hunters on their steeds, without Delia having to steer it back to the path once. It was an awkward ride for her, being perched before the king and all but shackled by the reins she had to hold, and getting her mouth stuffed by the king like a featherless bird by its mother. And she couldn’t get rid of the feeling that he thoroughly enjoyed himself. At last, he even pulled a fresh pear out of the pouch, but when he produced a sharp little knife from his belt to cut it into pieces, all the protest that had been building up at the back of her throat broke out in one sharp word.

“No!”

“No?” The king hesitated, pear in one hand and the blade pressed against it, ready to execute his first cut. Delia shivered. What if the horse shied and bucked, what if he slipped and stabbed her? “No pear? Don’t you like the sweetness?”

“No! I mean, yes. I like pears. I just don’t want to get stabbed because you slip and cut a piece out of me instead of the fruit…”

She felt his chest tremble with a silent laugh, but he shrugged and put the knife away. “As you wish. I rode into battle wielding swords without cutting neither myself nor my horse, but if this little blade scares you, I’ll put it down. You’ll just have to use your teeth then to slay this pear. Unless you want me to…”

“No! I’m perfectly capable of eating on my own. I could even hold it myself…” She reached for the pear, but the king pulled it quickly away.

“Ah, but I’m having so much fun with feeding you!”

The horse shook its head and broke out into a trot, throwing Delia back against the king’s broad chest once more. He didn’t even flinch, and for a moment, she wondered if he was a centaur, for he seemed to be grown together with his steed. Aganippus slowed down again after running up to the hunter before them. Delia’s heart hammered so hard she grew dizzy.

“Fine,” she choked out, past the lump in her throat. “Feed me.”

She felt him smile against her temple when his face brushed against hers and he dipped his nose into her hair. It felt like a purr on her skin when he murmured against the shell of her ear, “Good little bird.”

The pear was turning into sweet liquid in her mouth when she first bit into it, so ripe was it, and its juice spilled over her lips and ran down her chin. Delia couldn’t even wipe it away, and with the next bite, more sticky liquid trickled down her chin, her throat, until it seeped into her chemise. One persistent drop trickled down the inside of her breast, tickling her, like a wet, sticky tongue gliding down between her breasts. It was maddening. Her mouth was flooded with the sweetness of the pear, with too much water, and every bite threatened to drown her. Yet, she took bite after bite that the king offered her until at last there was only a stump left and he tossed it away. She had even eaten the core. She’d never done that before. All the pears she’d ever eaten had come sliced and peeled and cooked to her table, in bite-sized chunks she scooped up with a dainty spoon.

Delia, however, had no time to muse about this new, primitive way to eat pears. After tossing away the stump, the king brought his fingers up to place them against her lips, glistening with the juice of the fruit. “Lick that clean,” he rasped, his breath hot against her neck. Delia swallowed. His fingertips were rough against her lips, prickling.

“What? Did you not offer me to serve me any way I want?” he asked when she still hesitated, and she sucked in a deep, shuddering breath.

It hadn’t occurred to her when she offered her deal, but it occurred to her now: she had offered herself. She’d offered far more than she’d realized. She’d offered him all of her.

But then: all of her was all she had to offer. She had nothing else left. And as she opened her mouth and flicked her tongue against his fingertips, she found herself oddly comfortable with that.

His fingers were sticky, tasting of pear and horse and leather. Sweet and tart and tangy, and stronger than Delia had expected, yet she was comfortable with this, too. She licked his fingers, the space between them, his palm, following the crease between the heel of his hand and the rest. She was keenly aware of all the other men around them and closed her eyes against their watching. Yet, feeling their eyes on her added a dark, unfamiliar spice to her new situation. If this was the life her father had cursed her to, she couldn’t find anything miserable in it.

As she kept thoroughly cleaning the king’s hand, his chest behind her grew warmer, hot even, and the saddle seemed to grow smaller, tighter, poking her in odd places. At last, the king pulled his hand away, almost brusquely, and took the reins back. The hand she’d licked, he pressed against her belly again, where it added a hot dampness that made her squirm. Her skin was too tight, and not even the soft breeze brushing over her bare limbs and face and tugging at her hair was enough to cool the fever boiling in her veins.

At least she was no longer hungry.

As they continued on their path, Delia had time to take a look at the hunting party. By now, she knew one of them by name: Durwin, who had lifted her up into the king’s saddle and was carrying her bundle, tied to the back of his saddle. He was riding in front of them, or, when the path allowed it, at their side, looking ahead with his bushy eyebrows drawn into a frown, as if he was expecting an ambush any moment. His right hand never left the hilt of his sword.

The others rode in a similar fashion. Two of them had killed venison bound across the rear of their steeds. Delia tried not to look at it, for the lolling heads and empty eyes made her stomach roil. She saw herself in those dead eyes and knew that for these men, she was game just like those animals. Prey. She shuddered, and the king’s hot breath made her queasy.

The men called him only ‘my king’. No one called him by his name, so Delia still didn’t know who her new master was.

She didn’t find out until they reached the king’s castle. It was perched above a deep ravine, making it unassailable from the back. They had to cross a bridge leading over another chasm before reaching the first gate in the castle’s thick walls, and Delia pressed her eyes shut and turned her face away from the abyss and the river rushing in the depths.

When they passed through the gates, the yard erupted in the sudden bustle of footmen and maids, men taking over horses and quarry and weapons, bringing food and drink and warm welcome. That is, a warm welcome for the king. When their eyes found her, sitting in front of him almost naked, they fell silent for a beat, before they took up their duties again as if nothing out of the ordinary happened and the king brought home naked women every day. Maybe he did.

It was Durwin who came to lift her down from the saddle again and gave her back her bundle. He clasped her arm and led her away, without another word from the king. Delia followed him in silence, overwhelmed by the activity surrounding them, by the noise that was so much after days of solitude, and by the curious looks she felt on her skin like needles piercing through her sheer chemise.

Durwin escorted her into the great hall, where he planted her on a bench and told her to wait. For what, he didn’t say, so Delia hugged her bundle, stared at her naked feet, and waited.

 

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