Chapter One – Aegerion
‘Do you think she will fight?’
‘She is a Lady, disgraced or not. She will attempt to take it in stoic pride.’
‘Do you think they will display her burst maidenhead?’
‘Without doubt. It is part of the ritual. Now concentrate on your work.’
Iriel returned to her sewing, concentrating on making the stitches as tiny as possible. Across the room from her, beyond a long table piled with cloth at one end and neatly spread with partly finished garments at the other, Mistress Loida stooped low over a pattern, cutting shears in hand. After less than a hand breadth of stitches Iriel spoke again.
‘Should we not attend the shaming, Mistress? Would it not do good for my own sense of decency?’
‘What sense of decency is that?’ Mistress Loida demanded. ‘You have none, save what I impose on you with the flat of my hand. Now work.’
Again Iriel returned to her work, trying hard to apply herself to the delicate task of following the precise curve needed in fixing together the two cuts of silk in her hands. Again she failed, a sudden surge of noise drawing her attention to the window and the street beyond. She looked up, to see the backs and heads of the crowd outside, red hair and tawny, rough cut or plaited and tied in the male and female fashions, and beyond, the high wheels of a tumbril. Unable to push her excitement under any longer, she dashed for the window, to stare out at the scene, mouth open, her head filled with scorn and pity, amusement and shock.
In the tumbril, high above the heads of even the tallest among the crowd, stood the Lady Kaissia, a girl no older than Iriel and of similar build; tall, slim, full at the chest, but blonde where Iriel’s own hair was red. She was still dressed, in a long blue gown, soiled and torn at the hem, but she was fixed to the central post of the tumbril, her hands tied tight together behind it. Her face was a mask, mouth set hard, eyes staring out, seemingly focussed on some point in the far distance.
‘Iriel!’ Mistress Loida snapped.
‘Sorry, Mistress,’ Iriel answered quickly, turning back towards her work only to discover Mistress Loida already on her feet and in the act of rolling a sleeve purposefully up one brawny arm.
‘Time for a spanking,’ the Mistress stated.
Iriel’s emotions changed sharply, to self-pity and consternation. She gave one horrified glance to the window, outside which maybe a dozen people would only have to turn to see the inevitable exposure of her bottom, and the spanking that would follow. Cursing herself for