Aurelia’s fist collided with the stable wall. She flinched as hot tendrils of pain shot up her arm. Grimacing she began to pick splinters out of her bloodied knuckles.
“Perhaps you should visit the healer, Princess.” The tone was disinterested. Aurelia spun around her eyes falling on Cassia, who stood leaning against the door frame. She was clad in her usual attire, leather boots, leather breeches, and a cotton shirt slightly tighter than could be considered respectable. Each item of clothing was a marginally different shade of beige. Her dark hair fell over her left shoulder in an untidy braid. Grey eyes bore into Aurelia with an intensity juxtaposed to the detachment in her tone of her voice. The corner of her mouth curled up in a subtle smirk.
“Get the fuck out!” Aurelia flung a grooming brush at Cassia’s head. At least that had been her intention. The brush sailed through the air, colliding with the wall a few feet to Cassia’s right. Cassia rolled her eyes.
“My pleasure, Princess. I have no desire to endure distasteful company for longer than is strictly necessary.” Cassia spun around and stalked out of the stable.
“The entire kingdom is aware of your preferred company!” Aurelia shouted after her. She sank to her knees on the dusty floor. Tears began to fall, leaving unseemly trails down her cheeks. It was public knowledge, Cassia was having an affair with Tullius, Aurelia’s betrothed. She had been observed entering and leaving his quarters at strange hours since the first day he arrived at the palace. The combination of humiliation, rage and emptiness Aurelia felt intensified each day as her wedding drew closer.
Cassia was her father’s stablemaster. She had taken the position a year earlier when the last one retired. While the rest of her father’s subjects grovelled and pandered to her every whim, Cassia regarded her with disdain. That brought rise to a sense of longing combined with a variety of other emotions Aurelia couldn’t quite place. Aurelia had always loved spending time in the stables, being with the horses. She had ridden every single horse her father owned. Naturally, when Cassia arrived bringing a horse of her own Aurelia had wanted to ride him too. When she was met with an emphatic no she had been both taken aback and intrigued. She had wanted more. Ever since she had gone out of her way to antagonize Cassia at every opportunity. She was rude, made outrageous demands, threw tantrums. When she took a moment to reflect on her behaviour she felt a measure of guilt. She wasn’t normally that type of person. However, she thrived on Cassia’s attention. To her father and Tullius, she was useful for what she represented. To the people, her position of power was something to be feared. Cassia was emotionally invested in her on a personal level. Even if that emotion was contempt in some sense it could be said she cared more than anyone else did.
Aurelia always knew, had accepted, she could never have Cassia in the way she wanted. As a Princess, her life was not her own. She had a responsibility to her kingdom. Desire based relationships were a luxury people such as herself were rarely afforded, at least not in the long term and certainly not in the open. That was, perhaps, part of the reason she had opted to antagonize Cassia. It was the safer option. It allowed her to receive attention of a passionate nature from Cassia without the risk of ending up in a situation where she would have to choose between her relationship and her responsibilities. At least that’s what she told herself. If she was being honest she wouldn’t have known where to begin had she decided to pursue the alternative. Aurelia was not well versed in human interaction which extended beyond the superficial.
She could have kept her feelings in check if things had remained the way they were. However, at present, the man she was required to marry was engaging in illicit relations with the woman she wished she could marry and it was becoming too much for her to bear. She felt her control slowly slipping, felt like at any moment she might find herself engaging in a course of action highly unadvisable, whether that be attacking Cassia or professing her love for her she was unsure. She was furious with Tullius, furious with Cassia, but mostly she was furious with herself.
As night fell Cassia made her way through the palace corridors to Tullius’ bedchambers. She slipped through the door and closing it behind her. Tullius sat at his desk attention intently focused on a set of scrolls he was reading. Candlelight flickered illuminating the room and casting eerie shadows on the walls.
“You should stop paying me evening visits, Cass.” Tullius didn’t look up from his reading “It appears highly improper. Surely, you have heard the way people talk about us.”
“Let them talk.” Cassia shrugged. Silence stretched out for a long moment. “I don’t know how you can stand her, Tulli.” Cassia sighed.
“She may not be endowed with the qualities I find preferable in a partner but she’s a sweet girl.” Tullius glanced up at her with a frown.
“Sweet girl? She’s an insufferable spoilt child.” Cassia huffed. “Are you truly going to marry her?” Tullius eyed her a subtle smile breaking across his face.
“Actually, I believe you should marry her.” Cassia emitted a strangled noise as an incredulous expression broke across her face.
“Have you taken leave of your senses, brother?” Her expression transitioned into one of irritation.
“I know you wish to experience the world from the perspective of a common person in order to better understand the needs of our people when you finally take your rightful place as father’s heir. However, you have been gone long enough. You have lived in many kingdoms, worked in many professions. We all miss you, Cass. Father needs this alliance and you know my heart belongs to the Prince Aarian of Caerulian Isles. Besides, Aurelia is quite… fond of you.”
“Fond of me?” Cassia chuckled. “Her behaviour would indicate quite the opposite. She is ill-mannered, entitled…”
“Yet, she only behaves that way around you. Have you never asked yourself why?” Tullius questioned.
“I would presume she dislikes my propensity to refuse her demands. I’m the only person who does you know.” Cassia remained unconvinced.
“I believe you presume wrong and I’m sure if she were to become your wife you would not allow her to remain ill-mannered for long.” Cassia shook her head.
“I’m sorry Tulli but I will not marry that brat.” Cassia’s voice was firm.
“I will accept that answer for the moment.” Tullius acquiesced with a frown “At least agree to travel home with me after the wedding.
“I shall consider it.”
Aurelia’s mood had only darkened as the day drew on. It had taken all her willpower to plaster on a smile and remain civil with her father’s councillors during a dinner feast that lasted far too long. Now she was finally free for the evening, she stormed through the corridors intent on making it back to her bedchambers as quickly as her impractical footwear would allow. Under her coat, she concealed two bottles of wine, appropriated from the kitchen. Tonight she would be drinking both in their entirety. As she passed Tullius’ chambers she heard the sound of voices and paused.
“…agree to travel home with me after the wedding.” Tullius beseeched. A voice, unmistakably Cassia’s responded.
“I shall consider it.” Aurelia froze a sense of dread overcoming her. If Cassia accompanied them home this, the thing she was currently feeling, would never go away, it would become her life. She knew she should walk away but her impulses took over. She threw the doors open, trembling with rage.
“Do you think me an imbecile?” She spat, her wrathful gaze flickered back and forth between the two of them. “Do you think I can’t see what is taking place here? Every person in the Kingdom is aware. You… you philanderous swine! If you so much as speak to one and other again I shall have father throw both of you in the dungeon!” She was bluffing, she knew her father would never jeopardize the alliance by imprisoning Tullius and she had no desire to see Cassia end up in the dungeon. However, right now it hurt and if she couldn’t make the pain stop she wanted them to feel pain too. She retrieved one of the bottles from under her coat and hurled it at Cassia. Her aim was better this time. Cassia ducked out of the way just in time to avoid being hit but not in time to avoid the cascade of wine and broken glass as the bottle shattered against a bedpost. Cassia’s expression turned to one of fury as she began brushing shards of glass off her clothing. Aurelia turned abruptly and took off down the hallway at a run. Again, tears began to fall. It seemed all she did these days was cry.
“Do you plan to do something about that?” Cassia snapped. Tullius responded with a shrug and picked up his scrolls. “If you refuse to get your future wife under control you can be certain that I will!”
“You should indeed go speak to your future wife.” Tullius glanced up from his scrolls. Cassia growled and stalked out of the room.
Aurelia rushed through the hallways and out a side door. She needed to get out of the palace, clear her mind. She headed for the stables. Divesting herself of her shoes she donned a pair of, far more practical, riding boots and saddled up her favourite horse. She placed her remaining bottle of wine in her saddlebag, it would still be put to use tonight. Leaping into the saddle she gave the horse a gentle prod with her heels and rode out into the night.
She guided the horse towards the forest path and set out into the woods. Aurelia hadn’t been in the forest alone since she reached puberty but as a child she had sneaked out there often. She had found the solitary of the woods calming. She hoped they would have the same effect tonight. She rode deeper and deeper into the woods, finally settling on a small clearing. She dismounted and retrieved her wine before allowing the horse to wander over to a nearby stream. Removing the cork from the bottle she took a swig and tried to relax.
Cassia started off by checking Aurelia’s chambers. Much to her chagrin, the princess was nowhere to be found. She paused for a moment to contemplate where Aurelia might have gone. The stables, she concluded. The girl spent most of her free time with the horses. If she hadn’t retired for the evening that must be where she had gone. Cassia set off at a determined stride. She reached the stables just in time to see Aurelia riding in the direction of the woods at an alarming speed. She cursed under her breath and began to saddle up her own horse.
By the time Cassia was prepared to depart the stables Aurelia was nowhere to be seen. Cassia exhaled a dramatic sigh, this was going to be a long evening. Following the forest path, she began her search. A torch in her hand illuminated a small area around her as she slowly made her way through the trees. She hoped Aurelia had not strayed far from the main path, that would make finding her significantly more difficult.
When Cassia, at last, located Aurelia she had already polished off three-quarters of the bottle of wine. Much to her frustration, it had only served to deepen her distress rather than relieve it. She had not achieved the calm for which she had been aiming and now she was miserable and drunk. Caught up in self-pity as she was she did not, at first, notice Cassia’s presence.
Cassia dismounted, staking her torch into the ground, and approached Aurelia with a determined stride. Stopping abruptly in front of her she waited for a moment. When Aurelia’s attention did not fall upon her she cleared her throat. Aurelia’s attention fell first on Cassia’s boots. She ran her eyes up Cassia’s body at a protracted pace until she met her eyes. A mix of conflicting emotions overwhelmed her. Usually, such attention from Cassia would thrill her but right now Cassia was the last person she wished to see. She squirmed under the intensity of Cassia’s glare, cursing herself for the reaction. Under these particular circumstances, Cassia had no right to be angry and she had no reason to feel shame. Cassia should be the one feeling shame cavorting with another person’s betrothed. Aurelia stood on unsteady feet, taking a moment to adjust to the new position, before meeting Cassia’s furious gaze with a mutinous scowl. Cassia took a step in her direction. Aurelia drew a blade and waved it around in a manner lacking the sufficient coordination to convey the threat for which she had been aiming. Perhaps she should not have drunk quite so much wine. Cassia raised her eyebrows and gave Aurelia a moment to reconsider her actions before wrenching the knife from her hand.
“That display back at the palace was completely unacceptable! You showed an utter lack of decorum befitting someone of your status.” Cassia’s tone was cold.
“I suppose it’s fortunate I don’t concern myself with the opinions of whores.” Aurelia spat. Cassia’s expression darkened. Aurelia felt a twinge of fear. She had not believed Cassia could appear angrier than she had when she first noticed her in the clearing. She had been wrong.
“If you believe this marriage between yourself and my brother will still go ahead you are sorely mistaken.” Aurelia found herself more intimidated by the calm in Cassia’s voice than the fury which still burned in her eyes. “I shall be informing my father of both your attempts at assault and your vulgar language. You can be certain he will not be pleased to hear of such behaviour directed towards his heir, particularly by someone he was about to welcome into our family. Furthermore, having experienced how you treat those you view as your inferiors I am determined to prevent you from subjecting my people to such disrespect.”
“Y… your… brother…?” Aurelia stammered in confused relief.
“Yes, my brother.” Cassia snapped. “Now, given that I do not plan to remain in your father’s employ any longer, I believe it’s past time for me to demonstrate exactly what I think of the behaviour I’ve observed from you over the last year.”
Aurelia was unsure how to react so she cooperated as Cassia took hold of her wrist and sat down on a nearby tree stump hauling her over her lap. Cassia flipped up the multitudinous layers of Aurelia’s skirts. Aurelia felt a cool breeze caress her bottom as Cassia loosened her drawstrings and bared her. A part of her was giddy with excitement not only was Cassia not involved with Tullius, she was touching her. All the times she had pushed Cassia for a reaction this was more than she had dared to hope for. She also, however, felt a sense of building anxiety. She had witnessed enough servants and peasant children punished to understand the meaning of the position in which she now found herself. However, she had never been subjected to corporal punishment personally. She shivered in a combination of fear and anticipation.
Cassia’s palm descended meeting its target with a crisp smack. Aurelia flinched it hadn’t hurt quite as much as she feared it might but it had definitely hurt. Cassia smacked her again, a little harder this time. Aurelia drew a sharp breath. Cassia’s hand rained down a swift barrage of smacks, spread out to cover every inch of Aurelia’s bottom. Aurelia squirmed under the onslaught.
“I understand you were jealous of me, felt threatened by the relationship you perceived to exist between Tullius and myself. However, your choice of methods to address the issue were unbefitting of an adult much less a future ruler.” Cassia emphasized her statement with a pair of extra hard smacks to Aurelia’s sit-spots. Aurelia yelped.
“That’s not why… I’m not…” Aurelia stopped and started, unsure how much she wanted to say. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” She barked. Cassia responded with a rapid volley of smacks, igniting a sting Aurelia had not thought possible. Aurelia attempted to twist out of the way but Cassia held her in position with ease.
“You would have me believe your most recent display of unacceptable behaviour did not come from a place of jealousy?” Cassia’s tone was doubtful.
“I didn’t say that.” Aurelia mumbled, “I just wasn’t jealous of you.”
“Oh?” Cassia prompted.
“I was jealous of Tullius… and I was angry with you for wanting him when I wished you wanted me…” Aurelia’s voice was barely above a whisper. Cassia groaned inwardly. Tullius had been right.
“And your disrespect prior to Tullius’ presence?” Cassia questioned.
“You treated me like a person rather than a princess. It was… nice. I just wanted more of that.” Aurelia mumbled.
“It did not occur to you to simply be yourself? Treat me as a friend?” Cassia snorted.
“I… I don’t know how.” Aurelia’s voice was barely above a whisper. “I’ve never had a friend. I could never just be myself around members of the nobility. In all my interactions with them, I was a representative of my father. He would instruct me on how to behave, what to say. The peasants, well, they’re all afraid of me.” Tears slid down her cheeks. All she really wanted was someone to care about her, not just about what she could do for them, or what she might do to them if they displeased her. It seemed now that Cassia may have been prepared to do that had she done things differently. She had quite obviously ruined her chances now though. Perhaps, it was her own fault that nobody cared.
Cassia regarded the trembling figure across her lap for a long moment. She felt a not entirely welcome but growing concern for the girl. She couldn’t imagine what that must have been like. Her own father had always valued her as more than simply a tool to be used to his benefit. She and Tulli had been inseparable as children and she was well loved by her father’s court. A small part of her wanted to hold Aurelia, comfort her. However, the anger Aurelia’s behaviour had inspired had yet to fully fade and that part won out. Against her better judgment, she was actually starting to consider Tullius’ suggestion. However, if that was ever going to happen Aurelia needed to understand poor behaviour would not be tolerated regardless of the reasons behind it.
Cassia recommenced the spanking. She peppered Aurelia’s bottom and thighs with sharp smacks. She kept the spanking varied. Whenever Aurelia started to feel like she could anticipate what was coming next Cassia would change her style. She delivered many swats in quick succession leaving Aurelia squirming and breathless. She spanked extra hard leaving long pauses between smacks to let the pain sink in, eliciting a series of howls. She alternated between spacing the swats out evenly and smacking the same spot repeatedly until Aurelia almost bucked off her lap.
Aurelia wriggled and kicked, attempted to roll off Cassia’s lap however a vice-like grip kept her firmly in place. Tears flowed in rivers blurring her vision. She was sure she must have created a puddle on the forest floor by now. She felt like she had sat in a nest of recently antagonized hornets and no amount of wiggling would ease the ever-increasing fire. Cassia continued to lecture as the spanking progressed but Aurelia could not concentrate on what she was saying. The stimuli around her felt out of focus, overpowered by the raging inferno that was her bottom. Though the haze of pain she willed Cassia to stop, recognize she was sorry, she couldn’t quite bring herself to say the words. As much as she wanted the pain to stop she also wanted to be close to Cassia. There was a small part of her which feared this was the best she was going to get, that as soon as the spanking stopped Cassia would be gone from her life forever. That hurt almost as much as the spanking.
Cassia began to slow the spanking, delivering successively lighter smacks. Her hand was beginning to throb and Aurelia’s broken sobbing did not provide the satisfaction she had anticipated when she first decided to do this. Eventually, she stopped altogether and lifted Aurelia to sit on her lap. Aurelia whimpered as her bottom met rough leather. She looked up at Cassia through her tears, her posture tense, expression questioning. The vulnerability in her eyes broke through the last vestiges of Cassia’s irritation and she wrapped her arms her. Aurelia’s body relaxed and she buried her face in Cassia’s neck. She continued to sob, clinging to Cassia as if even the slightest space between them would make her disappear. Cassia ran her fingers through Aurelia’s hair.
“Don’t leave me.” Aurelia pleaded in an almost inaudible whisper.
“You know…” Cassia continued to stroke Aurelia’s hair “before you stormed into my brother’s chambers throwing things, he proposed the outlandish idea that I should be the one to marry you. At the time I thought he had taken leave of his senses however the suggestion is starting to grow on me.”
Aurelia looked up at her. The joy in her eyes almost eased Cassia’s uncertainty. Her father needed this alliance and Tullius had been right about Aurelia’s feelings for her. She may have seen a more pleasant side of her tonight but she knew little about her beyond her title and the fact she was emotionally maladjusted. She had a distinct feeling such a union would end poorly.
“I have some conditions.” Cassia continued “As I mentioned before, I am my father’s heir. Someday I shall rule the Kingdom of Alsilvis. If we were to marry that would mean you would someday become my Queen. Before I commit to this I expect you to prove to me that you possess the capacity to behave with a level of maturity appropriate to such a role. I do not expect perfection from you. However, I expect to see consistent improvement and you can be certain that any time your behaviour fails to meet my standards I will not hesitate to put you back over my knee. Do we have an agreement?”
Aurelia was submerged in a cocktail of emotions. She was exhausted from the spanking, ashamed of her behaviour, her insecurities still lingered, but she also felt a rising sense of excitement and hope. She didn’t trust her voice so she nodded and hugged Cassia tighter.