THE SCARLET SHACKLE
by Diana Laurence
As Julia ascended the steps to the platform, she couldn't believe her life had come to this.� A daughter of the third house of the Trethapians, captured into slavery by her people's worst enemy, tied round the neck with the scarlet ribbon, about to be sold to a stranger to serve as-
-Truly, the thought of it was more than she could bear.� Her train of thought turned instead to praying to the gods for some kind of mercy.
The Auctioneer raised his voice over the murmur of the crowd and recited:� "Julia, age twenty-eight, not a virgin but childless, born under the sign of the rose.� And clearly a beauty!� See these fine raven tresses..."� And with this he lifted a handful of Julia's long hair and let the strands drop a little at a time to her shoulder.� She shuddered.� Merciful angels, have pity...� "Bidding begins at one hundred fifty!" squawked the Auctioneer.
The announcement of this number drove home to Julia the reality of this surreal moment.� Some man was going to take her home.� Wherever he took her, there she would possibly remain until the day she died, and that day could come quite soon if such were his wish.� And she would be in every aspect his property.� In every imaginable aspect.� For she wore not the orange ribbon of a kitchen slave, or the green ribbon of a field slave, or the black ribbon of a hard labor slave-these by law were given certain privacies.� It was not so with the scarlet ribbon of a pleasure slave.
Suddenly Julia recalled a conversation she had had with her childhood friend, Zoe.� They had been barely nubile at the time, no more than thirteen, and with childish incomprehension had listened to the grown-ups discuss the horror of a neighbor's niece being captured for the red ribbon.
"Just imagine," Zoe said, nibbling on a bit of sugar candy, "being on the auction platform, with horrible strange men calling out to buy you!"
Julia, always a creative child, could clearly picture it.� Bound, standing perhaps on a stool, with a horrible auctioneer all in black turning you this way and that so everyone could stare.� "I would most certainly weep," said Julia with real horror.
"But would you try to look your best, or your worst?" asked Zoe.
The question perplexed Julia.� "Perhaps if you looked your worst, no one would want you and you might be sent home."
"But silly, no one chosen for the scarlet ribbon could look so bad if she tried."
"You're right.� Then perhaps you would look your best, and pray to the gods that you would catch the eye of a man of quality."
"What man of quality would buy a girl to be his slave?" asked Zoe with disgust.
"In Nestodore it isn't seen that way," replied Julia.� "In the upper class it's done by everyone, good and bad the same."
"But are there any good men among our enemies?" Zoe asked, somewhat rhetorically.
This question echoed now in the mind of Julia, finding herself in the very nightmare scenario that had terrified her so long ago.� Could there be any man in this crowd that she would wish to belong to?� It seemed impossible.� But at that moment it was her only hope.
"One hundred fifty!" cried a voice to her far right.
There was a pause, then another voice far in front yelled, "One seventy-five!"
Julia tried to find faces to match the voices but there were too many people and it was happening too quickly.� A third and a fourth voice called out bids, then the first again, and then she lost track of who was speaking.� So it continued for a minute or so, and then she heard, from far to her left, a new voice:
"Three hundred," it said.�
This voice was strong but strangely soft.� There was a reedy quality to it; it was not low and yet somehow very commanding.� The timbre was quite beautiful; Julia could tell at once that in song the voice would be lovely.
The first bidder called out, "Three fifty!"� Julia was still trying to locate the face of this newest bidder, but the Auctioneer grabbed her chin and forced her to face forward.� "Stop gawking at the bidders," he hissed to her.
The bidding continued, and every few shouts she would again hear that singular voice off to the left.� The insane conviction came to her, If I must be someone's property, at least let his commands be made to me in such a voice.� A little comfort, a little comfort, Holy Ones!
After a brief while the bidding came down to these two, raising each other by twenty-fives.� Julia came to hate the first bidder, who would by his stubbornness deny her the only wish she had in this awful circumstance.� It seemed to go on and on and she feared there would be no end to it, she would be forced to stand there on the platform in suspense and terror till the sun had set and forever.
"Six seventy-five!" cried the first bidder, with frustration and bitter determination in his voice.� By the tone Julia could tell that the contest had become personal, motivated no longer by the desire for property but the competitive ferocity that only males possessed.� He would never surrender.
There was a pause.� Then, with a tone not to be contradicted, the voice said, "One thousand."
The crowd emitted a universal chuckle at this.� Julia held her breath, every muscle in her body tense.
"We hear no answer?" asked the Auctioneer, his joy at this rich bid shining plainly on his face.� "No answer...no answer...She is yours, One Thousand."
She is yours, One Thousand.
The crowd applauded enthusiastically.� It was a very expensive purchase and executed with some drama.�
But one thought screamed in Julia's head:� I am whose?� She felt a bizarre sense of gratitude to her faceless new master, and this gratitude made her feel shame.� Why should she be thankful to a man who had done nothing but overspent to buy himself a pleasure slave?� And yet she couldn't deny it, and her eyes darted over the crowd trying to locate him.
"Go with him," the Auctioneer was saying, pushing her roughly towards an assistant, who took hold of the rope that bound her around the waist.� He led her back down the stairs behind the platform, and in turn passed her to a custodian in the holding area, and there she waited.� No doubt the gold was changing hands; who knew how long the record keeping might take?�
But only a few minutes had passed when she heard a voice say, "Take off the rope, she will wear my harness."
It was the voice.
She turned to it.� He was not an old man, far from it; indeed he could not even be forty.� He was ably built, moderate height but strong looking.� Was he handsome?� Not like the statues in the temples, but his face was striking.� He had a large nose with nostrils that were interestingly curved, not a handsome nose but strangely beautiful to her nonetheless.� He had golden brown hair that was tied back neatly in a black ribbon.� His eyes were dark, and his brows likewise, and he looked stern.� Just then he turned his eyes to her and in them she sought some sign of feeling, whether warm or cold.
He was inscrutable.
"Come Julia," he commanded, in that voice that was so sweet, in a tone that was firm and utterly without emotion.� She found herself stepping forward.� The custodian was pulling off the rope and her new master quickly replaced it with a broad leather belt.� His arms came around her as he wrapped the strap at her waist, and she could smell his scent.� He smelled clean, and of some soothing spices.� She stood dumbfounded as he fastened the buckle with a key, and then with the same key did the clamp that held a chain to the buckle.� Then he turned to the custodian and gave him a silent nod.� When the man had moved on to a new task, her master turned again to her.
"Stay by my side and I shan't have to pull this," he said, indicating the chain.� "It's not far to my home."
Being addressed for the first time as a slave, Julia felt strange, perplexed and sad.� "What...what should I call you?" she asked fearfully.
He looked back at her, his liquid brown eyes still void of emotion.� "You shall call me 'My Lord,' but my name is Marcus.� And you shall not speak unless bidden to, Julia."
Had he not ended the command by calling her by name, it would have been far more cruel.� But that small personal gesture granted her a little dignity.� She felt the firm tug of the chain upon her waist.� Marcus held her with his eyes, then raised one brow as if a question had been posed.� But Julia dared not speak.� She lowered her eyes and her chin, and at that she heard him say, "Good."� This brought much relief and she raised her eyes again.� "Come," her master said, and they began walking.
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For three days she saw little of him.� It was hardly what she had expected.
The house of Marcus was large but not ostentatious, comfortable but not over-furnished.� He kept only a small group of house slaves and quartered them all in two large rooms at the top of the house.� Thus Julia shared her room with the other two female slaves.� For the first night they did not speak to her.� She was certain she would be called from her bed at any hour and meet her fate with the Master, but this did not occur.� Instead she was left alone with her thoughts, a sorry mix of sorrow and fear.
Julia's father had died three years ago in the war, and her mother fell ill soon after and passed away as well.� Her two sisters had married and moved to the country, further from the fighting.� Julia remained to keep the family home and manage their remaining businesses.� Her days had not been cheerful since her childhood, but she was content to stay in the place where those days had been spent.
So her capture had not torn her away from loved ones, and she was not so much lonely for people as for the place she had known all her life.� To be in Nestodore, locked away in a strange house with strangers, was disorienting and uncomfortable to the point of pain.� She might hope to make friends with the other slaves, but when she watched them and listened to them talk, she feared they would find little in common.� They all seemed to have been raised as slaves and to know no other life, and when they did address her it was briefly and uncomfortably, as if they too sensed the gulf between them.
Oddly, Julia felt more kinship with her new master.� Apparently he too was a man of business, and from the look of his library loved books and culture as well.� But she told herself it was foolishness to regard him that way, for he would have no use for her as a conversationalist or companion.� In fact, he would have no regard for her at all except as a plaything.
Why then did he not send for her?
By the third evening Julia's fear of being summoned was replaced by a fear that she would not.� She was bored to distraction and lonely from long days in her room while the house slaves were out doing their business.� So when finally she was called to go to the Master's sitting room, her heart leapt not with dread but with eager curiosity.
She was directed to the room and entered quietly.� Night had fallen and the chamber was lit only by a lamp and a small fire in the hearth.� Marcus sat in a softly upholstered chaise, his hair unbound and his eyes closed.� Julia's eyes cast about the room, saw bookshelves, a desk covered with papers, and on the table next to the chaise, a flask and a cup of wine.
She knew better than to speak, but wasn't sure if he had heard her enter.� So she stood flustered, until he opened his eyes and looked at her.� "Do you read?" he asked.
Julia nodded, "Yes, my lord."
He closed his eyes again.� "Choose something from that green book on the desk.� Something cheerful."
Julia hastened to take up the book and opened it.� It was a book of fables, short tales about heroes and gods.� She feared to take too long making her choice, but as if he had read her mind, Marcus said, "Choose well, I am content to wait.� Then sit at my feet."
How curious this was, thought Julia as she perused the book.� Was this how most pleasure slaves were used?� She had not been taught so.� But perhaps this was this man's way of leading into his passion.� Her heart was pounding with apprehension and suspense, and her knees felt weak.� At last she chose a story and sat on the large, flat, embroidered cushion that Marcus had placed before the chaise.
Looking down at the book she could see nothing of him but one of his feet, which dangled at her elbow.� He wore brown velvet slippers lined with fur.� His foot was a bit small, his ankle well turned and sprinkled with a few golden hairs.� Julia took a deep breath and began to read.� Her mother had always read to her in her youth, and she did her best to emulate the slow, clear pronunciation, the amusing characterization of the voices.� The story was very drole and entertaining.� Indeed, this was the most pleasant activity she had performed in recent memory.
When she was done Julia wanted to turn to her master to see if he were pleased.� But she checked herself, realizing this was not the demeanor of a slave.� Instead she lowered her head and waited silently.
"Look at me," said Marcus.
Julia turned and raised her face to him.� She found a curious expression upon it; he seemed to be trying to stifle his mirth.� His mouth was almost too stern, while his eyes laughed.� "You read well."
She wanted to thank him but held her tongue.
"You may speak freely, Julia," he said, reading her mind again.
"Thank you, my Lord, I'm glad the story pleased you."
Marcus leaned his head back and regarded her with one dark brow raised.� "Is there so little rebellion in you?"
It did not seem rhetorical, so she formulated a reply.� "I would not rebel against a task that is a pleasure, my Lord."
He smiled ruefully, but said nothing.� His face was unreadable.� Unreadable, but undeniably pleasant to look at:� the lamplight brought out the gold in his hair, which tumbled in soft waves to curl slightly at his shoulders.� His eyes were so deep, so black, so alluring with the lids half closed.� Abruptly he said, "Why do you stare, Julia?� Do you fear me?"
Until that moment she had not, but at his words she trembled.� "Yes, my Lord."
She expected any reaction but the one she received.� "You may go now.� Put the book back on that shelf above the bust."� And he shut his eyes.
To her amazement, Julia's heart sank.� She did not wish to go.� She stood a moment, frozen with dismay.� Her master opened his eyes again and looked at her.� "Do you rebel against a task that is not your pleasure, Julia?" he asked, his eyes sparking.
She did not know how to answer this and stared back in silence.
Marcus sat up a little.� "Shall I punish you for this hesitation?"
Julia half believed he was making a joke, but thought it just as likely that he would strap her.� Yet she sensed it was crucial to make some reply.� She was just opening her mouth when he waved his hand at her, a gesture of dismissal.� "Go now," he said.
For the first time, Julia felt anger.� But to show it would only give him satisfaction, so she bowed and left the room silently, closing the door carefully behind her.
By the time she reached the slaves' hall, she was furious.� The fact that she must come at his bidding was not half so humiliating as the fact that she could be so perfunctorily dismissed.� Why had Marcus bought her, anyway?� Did he wish to use her only as a joke, someone to humiliate?
But of course this line of thinking was folly.� He had the right by his country's law to do anything he wished to her, even put her to death.� In three days he had caused no harm to any part of Julia but her pride.
The other slaves came to bed, and seemed perplexed to find her there.� The young kitchen slave, Lynda, unabashedly voiced her surprise with a smirk:� "Say, Julia, why do you make your bed with us again tonight?"
Her older workmate, Penelope, chided her, "Hush, child, the pleasure slave is the Master's business."
Julia, still in the throes of her temper, shot back, "Does he treat me so differently from his last pleasure slave?"
Penelope replied, "You are his first, so we wouldn't know."
Julia sat down on her bed in surprise.� "His first?"
"I've been here since the Mistress passed, ten years and more."
"I thought in this country all wealthy men, at least the unmarried, had them, and usually more than one."
Penelope moved closer, and spoke in a low voice.� "If you ask me, that's why he got one at last.� Too many people wondering why not."
"He'll make use of her, I'll wager," piped up Lynda.� "She's too pretty for a man to put off forever."
The tone made this not a compliment, so Julia ignored it.� But her head spun with more questions than ever.*��������� *��������� *
The next day, on her way to the kitchen for the noon meal, Julia passed her Master in the hall.� She bowed but did not meet his eyes.
"Stop," he said, and she halted her steps. �"Look at me."
Julia raised her eyes to his.� Again his face captivated her.� His nose was strange but exotically beautiful, his mouth looked soft.� The pain of her banishment the night before swelled up in her again; she felt shame that she longed so for his company.
"So, is my pleasure slave still angry with her master today?" he asked, mirthlessly.� "Answer, Julia."
She struggled to choose words, ruing that he chose the worst times to make her speak.� "You may punish me for my emotions if you so choose, my Lord."
He took a step closer and cocked his head, looking less stern.� "You tell me what I know, when I wish to find out what I do not know."
There was nothing for it.� "Yes, I am angry, my Lord."� She lowered her eyes to the floor.
"You shall not be punished for your honesty," he said in his warm, resonant voice.� "But you know this lack of love for your master is intolerable.� Come with me."
He led her to the back entrance, opened it with a key, and then took her by the elbow as they walked to the stable.� Julia was in a frenzy of terror, but at the same time oddly grateful for this attention, whatever it might come to.� They entered the stable through its broad heavy door and crossed the dusty floor, strewn with bits of straw.� Marcus took a short riding lash from a hook on a post. He braced it under his arm, then used both hands to stand Julia facing against the wall, and pulled the tie on the back of her dress.� He lifted the fabric from her shoulders and pulled it down, not roughly, until her back was bare and she had nearly fallen out of the front of the gown.
"Place your hands on the wall," he instructed.
The plain fact that he was about to beat her appalled Julia, even though it had been inevitable.� I must be brave, she thought.� I must not give him satisfaction.� She leaned, placing her palms against the rough wood of the stable wall, and waited.
She heard the lash cut the air a half a moment before it struck her.� She could tell he had not put much force into the blow, but it stung sharply anyway.� The second lash was worse for it struck the wound from the first, and this she learned was the problem:� each blow intensified in pain.� He gave her ten lashes and by the last she was unable not to twist away from the leather weapon, nor to stifle her grunts of pain.� Tears welled in her eyes, and with a blink ran down her hot cheeks.
She felt Marcus pulling up her dress again.� He did it carefully and with no indication of anger whatsoever.� Julia did not wish to turn her face to him but when he was done fastening the tie, he took her shoulders and pulled her to face him.�
For the first time she saw clear emotion on his face.� It was tenderness.� His fingers brushed the tears from her cheeks.� He looked deep in her eyes and said softly, "You must learn to love your master."� Then he lowered his chin a little and leaned to her and kissed her forehead.� His soothing, spicy scent rose all around her, his lips were gentle on her skin, gentle and warm.� He withdrew and said, "Go now, and take your meal."
Julia was dizzy with emotion and stood paralyzed for a moment staring at him.� Then he spoke again, "I punish you because of your anger, Julia.� Nevertheless I was pleased by the cause of it.� Now go."
She turned and hurried from the stable, with Marcus close behind, and when they were back in the house she heard him lock the door.� When she arrived in the kitchen the other slaves looked up at her but only for a moment; they were quick to resume eating and talking.
It was only then that Julia realized how tightly her master had bound her dress in back; tight enough so there was no gap to show the welts.� The others couldn't tell she had been beaten.� Had he truly meant this as a kindness?
She could form no coherent thoughts at all during the meal, but afterwards, retired to the sleeping quarters, she had settled enough to make sense of her feelings.
To her dismay, she realized Marcus had made her love the beating.
Not the pain, nor even the twisted logic behind the punishment.� But she had loved the feeling of him pulling off her clothes, touching her face, kissing her.� She had loved that her anguish made him feel compassion; in fact, it was worth the pain.� The welts on her back felt hot and tender but the fact that he had placed them there was somehow thrilling.� What she loved most of all was the knowledge that she had pleased him by wishing for his company.
Is this how they make a slave? Julia asked herself, horrified.�
But she prayed to the gods that he might call for her that night.
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