For You I Suffer
I watched the two strangers and a riderless horse approach with more curiosity than concern. Fashel had always been a fairly safe place. To be honest, the only criminal activity the local guards ever had to deal with was the occasional shoplifting by bored adolescents.
As the men rounded the pond towards Hilde and myself, I noticed almost immediately that the accoutrements decorating their mounts were emblazoned with the baron’s sigil. The same baron who I hadn’t seen in almost a year. The same baron who left such a strong impression on me that I often found myself dreaming of him, sticky sheets in the morning the inevitable result.
Reaching us, one of the riders dismounted. He reached into his saddle bag and removed a scroll. ‘A messenger then,’ I surmised. Taking brief note of Hilde’s wide, curious gaze, I waited for the man to speak.
“By order of Lord Heero Yuy, the Baron of Calderash, I am hereby authorized to grant to you, one Duo Maxwell, sole proprietor of Maxwell farm, a chance to relieve the debt with which this recent drought has surely burdened you. If you choose to discuss the terms of this offer with his lordship, you will please accompany us back to Castle Windshire, the baron’s place of residence. There he will discuss the terms of his offer with you.”
The herald lowered the parchment and looked towards me with polite expectancy.
Several thoughts flew through my mind at once. For starters, how did Heero know I was in trouble? Secondly, why did he care? Was the offer just for me or were others being given the same opportunity? And lastly, how long would it take me to pack for the trip?
The thought of refusing the summons never entered my mind until a soft sound interrupted my musings.
I looked over at Hilde absently, still mentally figuring what I needed to take with me to Castle Windshire. However, the confusion on her face eventually penetrated my consciousness.
“What is it?” I asked.
She blinked at me, seemingly in a state of extreme confusion. “Duo, are you actually considering going with these men?
I didn’t understand the logic behind her question until I remembered that she wasn’t aware of the state of my finances. I had deliberately kept the worst from her, not wanting her to worry. Now, the time for explanations had come.
I turned briefly to the waiting messengers. “Please excuse us for a moment.” Receiving a nod of acknowledgement from the herald, I place a gentle hand on her arm and led her away from the others.
“Hilde,” I began, “I should have told you this before now. I didn’t want to concern you with my problems but I realize that was wrong of me. You’re my best friend and we’ve always been there for each other.” She beamed at this but I continued, quickly addressing the issue. “The truth is, the farm has suffered terribly because of the drought. If I don’t find some way to satisfy my debtors quickly, I-I’m afraid I may lose everything.”
To her credit, Hilde didn’t fall into the histrionics that would be expected of a girlfriend in this situation. Instead, she regarded me with blue eyes tinged with sadness.
“Oh, Duo. Why didn’t you tell me all of this before now?” I looked away from her, shamefaced. She exhaled heavily, demonstrating her irritation with me. “You certainly could have asked my father for help; you know he loves you like a son. But I know how proud and stubborn you can be. Well, I don’t supposed there’s really any option then, is there? I guess I’ll help you pack for the trip.”
I loved Hilde. I really, really did. What other woman would have been so understanding and gracious when confronted with a pigheaded boyfriend concerned only with preserving his own pride. We walked back to the messengers and I indicated my willingness to accompany them.
With Hilde’s help, I was ready to travel no more than a hour later. The house was closed up as best as it could be and she promised to check up on things every few days or so. I was packed with enough clothing and food for the journey to Windshire and back again. Finally, I kissed her, pouring my years-worth of affection for her into the gesture. With a last squeeze of her delicate yet capable hands, I mounted my borrowed horse.
“So long, sweet Hilde. The gods willing, I’ll return before a fortnight has passed.”
Following the others, I rode away from the only home I’d ever known, and the only person I would ever love – or so I thought. How could I have kenned the patent falsity of that statement, or the fact that it would be over four months before I ever set eyes on Hilde again.
The journey to Castle Windshire took just under two days of steady riding. Living contentedly on my small farm, I had never realized how large the world truly was. Calderash as a whole covered an area of nearly a hundred square miles, I was to eventually learn. The land contained several towns, much larger than the humble Fashel, as well as countless villages and farms – and all of it controlled by the handsome young Baron Yuy.
My escort and I rode east, away from Fashel, for several hours when we came to Pholan. My eyes stretched and my mouth gaped in country bumpkin idiocy at the number of people thronging the streets of the fair town, causing kind but rather humiliating laughter from the messenger, Hollis, and his companion, the soldier Tane. Pholan nestled against the banks of a large river and was thus the center of foreign trade in Calderash. Boats of every size and description filled the harbor, and as we neared the waterfront, I heard languages the likes of which I never imagined existed.
The messenger informed me that Windshire lay on the other side of the River Pesh, and thus I took my very first boat ride. I had heard rumors of the agonizing malaise that could over take the unpracticed boat traveler, but I was fortunately made of sterner stuff. Or perhaps, seeing how well the horses took the trip, I was determined not to be outdone by a mere beast. The experience was truly enjoyable. The smell and sensation of the brisk wind breezing against my eager face and running gentle through my long hair was enough to make me want to stay on that ferry boat forever.
Eventually, of course, the crossing came to an end and we made our way through Pholan and back onto the open road. The villages and farms we passed that first day were more within my realm of experience and I began to feel more confident that I would be able to get through the remainder of the journey without further demonstrating my naïveté to my escorts. However, that night, we slept in a inn in the village of Blancor, the last realm of civilization before Windshire proper. The problem was that between Blancor and our destination lay a dense forest named Furuiki. (1)
Furuiki was not extraordinary as forests went. It was filled with venerable oak and mighty pines, impressive maples and magnificent willows. However, to a lad who’d grown up on sparsely treed farmland, as I had, the prospect of crossing the seemingly impenetrable thicket gave me considerable pause. My guides assured me that the forest was safe. The only true danger came from roving gangs of bandits, rather than any manner of creature, and the regular patrols of the baron’s guards kept those marauders under control.
Yet and still, in spite of their reassurance, I spent an uncomfortable night, spending more time listening to the strange calls emanating from the woodland than sleeping. In truth, if it weren’t for the memory of the baron’s exotic visage spurring me on, I may have asked to return to my modest farm. The sound of an ominous growl made me realize that humbling myself before Hilde’s father surely couldn’t be as terrible as whatever awaited me in the forest.
But morning came and daylight speckled the trees with golden innocence, making me ashamed of my nocturnal cowardice. With a renewed sense of adventure, I followed the baron’s men into Furuiki with nary a tremble. The day’s journey through the forest was peaceful and I began to think I could live happily amongst the trees and creatures if ever it came to that.
Little did I know that these silent wooden sentinels would later witness the moment of my greatest horror.
My anticipation increased steadily as the forest thinned, indicating our approach to the castle. I tried to imagine in what sort of dwelling the fascinating Lord Yuy would reside. What would be the color of the masonry, how many towers would there be? Was their a moat and a drawbridge, keeping out all dangers and foes? My idle musing was halted as the trees ended abruptly and Castle Windshire came into view.
Four tower turrets and sparkling white marble answered my previous questions. There was no moat but a formidable iron gate manned with armed soldiers guarded the entrance into the castle’s courtyard. The messenger raised a hand in greeting as we approached the portcullis.
“Ho there! It is I, the herald Hollis, returned from my mission for his lordship.”
“Greetings, Hollis,” replied the rightmost guard. “Welcome home.”
With that, the gate was raised and I passed through, taking my first breath of Windshire air. I was assailed with the scents of humanity, horses, and fresh baked bread. Altogether, a very pleasurable aroma. We rode to the main entrance of the castle where we were greeted by three young stable-hands. Following Hollis’s lead, I dismounted and turned my horse over to one of the boys. I shouldered my pack and trailed behind the messenger, Tane having abandoned us at the gate, eager to return to his regular duties.
Servants bustled to and fro, dashing amidst well-dressed men and women – members of the baron’s court, I surmised. The castle was a maze of passage ways and we walked until I was so disoriented I was certain I’d never find my way out again. However, we eventually came to a halt before a modest door, watched over by a silent guard, and Hollis turned to me with a smile.
“I leave you now, Mr. Maxwell. The baron is waiting for you inside.” He began to depart but hesitated and looked back, meeting my innocent gaze. His mouth worked for a moment as though it were experimenting with the correct words. Finally, he took a deep breath and settled on, “Good luck, sir.” With that, he abandoned me to my fate.
I watched Hollis walk away, suddenly feeling very reluctant to continue without his friendly company. But I shook my head, disgusted at my temerity. After all, what could possibly happen to me here in the baron’s castle? Pasting a confident smile on my face, I turned to the guard. The muscular soldier regarded me for a moment, looking me up and down with a measuring gaze. I was beginning to squirm under the unaccounted for attention when he finally returned his eyes to mine. He smiled and nodded, as if in approval, and opened the door.
I stepped through the doorway, glancing over my shoulder as the door shut behind me. Taking a breath for courage, I turned forward, ready to plead my case to his lordship. But all thoughts of my economic difficulties fled my mind as I found myself drowning in a deep blue sea, much as I had upon first meeting the baron a year before.
He was seated behind a massive desk, framed by a large window which gave a commanding view of the surrounding grounds and the bordering forest. Rich tapestries covered the walls, resting alongside paintings of barons past. An unusual but handsome white Labrador retriever rested beside the desk at his master’s feet and regarded me with friendly chocolate-brown eyes.
But none of that registered in my thoughts. The young baron filled my consciousness and my treacherous body began to react to the sight of the object of my many shameful dreams in the flesh. ‘Heero,’ my mind whispered, my lips twitching with the desire to say his name.
He stared at me for a long moment, the intensity of his gaze making my heart pound in my chest. For once in my life, I didn’t know what to say; but I was quite content just to return his regard. ‘Perhaps we’ll just stay like this forever,’ I mused. Looking into those incredible eyes seem at that moment a perfectly acceptable way to spend an eternity. But he suddenly looked down at the desk, breaking the spell that had held us enthralled.
When he raised his eyes once more, the emotion was replaced with a business-like hardness. I shivered, remembering that I was depending on this man for my livelihood and my future with Hilde. Yes, Hilde whom I had not thought about since riding away from Fashel.
“I’m glad you decided to come, Mr. Maxwell.”
I shivered at the imperfectly remembered depths of his voice, struggling to form words with my own tongue.
“T-thank you for seeing me, my lord. I appreciate this opportunity and am surely in your debt.” Speech making me more confident, I added, “I will do whatever you require of me.”
At that, he stared at me again, some of the delicious intensity returning for a moment. He whispered softly and I barely caught what sounded like, “Please.” I had no time to ponder the accuracy of my understanding, however, before he gestured to a chair placed in front of the desk.
“Have a seat, Mr. Maxwell.”
I obeyed the request, inwardly cursing the exquisitely carved wood that separated me from him. Then, as if hearing my ridiculous thoughts, he stood and stalked (that word again!) around the desk. He stopped before me and leaned back so that his narrow hips rested on the functional furniture, arms crossed over his strong chest. He was now well within my personal space, as it were, and I gulped in reaction. His wonderful smell wafted across my senses and I marveled anew at the impossible blue of his eyes and the golden smoothness of his skin. In an outward show of respect, I folded my hands in my lap, surreptitiously hiding the announcement pressing against my breeches.
“What do you know of my family?” he began.
I struggled to remember the many, at the time, incredibly boring history lessons pressed upon me by the under-appreciated schoolmarm who taught in Fashel. I knew the Yuy line had ruled in Calderash for many generations, but beyond that, I was ignorant.
“Not much, sir,” I admitted, embarrassed by my stupidity.
“My thrice-great grandfather, Baron Mado Yuy, came to Calderash over three hundred years ago. He was the youngest of the five sons of Kunshu Ishi Yuy, a ruler of a land far to the east. Nihon was a very prosperous land, but unable to support so many noble sons. (3) So my ancestor left home, seeking to find a place of his own. After many adventures and misadventures, he ended up here, in Calderash, naming the land after the woman he eventually married. Bijou Calder started life as a humble cook but her beauty entranced Mado and he wed her, taking on many of her people’s western customs as his own.
“However, Mado did bring one tradition from his homeland. The Kunshu Yuys had long kept a special type of servant. This servant’s sole responsibility was to obey the kunshu’s every command, whatever that might entail. The servant was called a manzoku no dorei, or ‘pleasure slave’ in our language.”
‘Pleasure slave.’ The phrase rang in my ears, filling me with an inexplicable sense of trepidation accompanied by an unrelenting anticipation. Heero’s voice registered in my ears once more and I returned my attention to him.
“All of the Baron Yuys, since Mado, have kept at least one such servant during their lifetimes. My father, in fact, kept two. The first was my mother. My father grew to love her and released her from her servitude, but she died giving me life.”
Heero paused, the shadow passing over his face hinting that the subject had been a constant barrier in the relationship between he and his father.
“The second was who I remember. She was surely the most beautiful woman who ever lived. Green eyes, midnight hair, and skin of the richest cream. I’ll admit I lusted after her as I grew older, but she belonged to my father and I’d sworn never to take anything that was his. She died last year in an unfortunate accident and I believe that my father decided to follow her into the grave.
“What I will always remember about Pennela was her grace and loveliness. At first, I thought my father was just extremely lucky in his choice of slaves, but, after doing some research on the history of the subject, I found one immutable similarity between every pleasure slave that ever belonged to my predecessors; they were always painful in their beauty.”
Heero had made much of this speech with his gaze fixed in the past, but now, he pinned me with his regard once again. I felt a watershed moment quickly approaching as he continued his expository.
“Now that I am Baron of Calderash, the time has come for me to fulfill my family’s tradition. The time has come for me to choose someone unsurpassed in fairness of feature and grace of manner. Someone who haunts me with the desire to possess, as Pennela haunted my father even unto his death.
“So, naturally, I thought of you.”
(1) Furuiki = “old tree”
(2) Kunshu = “monarch”
(3) Nihon – yeah, I know it’s lame but what the heck! ^_^
A/N: Dear reader, let me warn you now that this is the last tame chapter in this entire fic. The rest is explicit in the extreme. If that doesn’t appeal to you, *please* read no further. I won’t think you wimpy. ^_^