On her third morning in the Eastern Woods, Malia woke alone and the officers of the estate informed the visiting Duchess so politely that the Duke had business and would not be available until lunch…
Malia craved an early-morning ride. The brisk air, the rigorous beat of the beast - great cardio. So, she enlisted her handmaid - a pretty little girl no more than seventeen but with a wide array of skills as a servant - to pack a breakfast and meet her in the stables to claim the two mares who had carried them into the region in the first place.
Malia found it so curious that the young man in the stable insisted heartily that if the Duchess planned to go riding, she needed an escort. She hardly wanted a man - nay, a boy - telling here where and how far to ride. It was dangerous, didn't she know?, there were Marauders or werewolves or…
The boy would not let up, as if his life depended on defending the Northern Duchess on her innocent morning exercise.
But she didn't need him and hardly wanted to argue with thim. A whiff of Carniflower juice and the stable boy had become much less an issue. And Malia and her servant galloped off into the dawn.
----- Five Hours Later ----
A young woman's quiet sobbing greeted the Green Duke when he returned to the estate. She sat only an arm's length from her mistress, but her emotions overflowed where the noblewoman showed none but boredom.
Malia sat in the parlor with her chin turned up, wincing but allowing a healer to attend to the nasty bruise across her cheek and the shallow gash on her throat, right across the bruise the Green Duke himself had gifted her with two nights ago. The rope burns on her wrists weren't severe enough to need tending, even if her dark skin had reddened…
"My lord, the situation is under control," an officer spoke up as he intercepted the Duke at the door - his reassurance anything but reassuring, and he knew it.
Castile backhanded the officer with such force it sent him sprawling. Heads would roll, and some of them were in his own estate. His orders were to be followed to the letter… a certain horse handler and stable boy would be lucky indeed not to find their heads on pikes before the day was done. His mouth was a firm, tight line across his features as he turned on the handmaiden, and hissed like a cut snake “Enough with your weeping, girl!”
The Duke pushed the estate’s physician aside and reached out with a gloved hand to touch Malia’s chin with such gentleness it was hard to believe he had just struck a man down. “What happened?” he asked plainly, his expression said that Castile would not be tolerable of anything but the truth.
His thumb rubbed back and forth over the bruise on her cheek. “Bring parsley and vinegar, and a bowl of warm water” James grunted to the officer, who was just getting back on his feet.
When the Duke arrived and he dismissed the healer, Malia smiled at his touch and his concern, even grasping his wrist gently - but hers was not the conciliatory smile of a victim, and she responded in a low whisper, "James, please, I promise - I am not made of glass." He was protective and possessive, but he knew that truth better than most…
Malia watched her young handmaiden scatter - followed closely by the same young soldier who had brought them cider the other evening - and Malia was equally relieved to be rid of the girl's crying. Some rough housing and an unwanted kiss or two from a couple outlaws was no reason to lose your head…
To answer the Duke's question, Malia was honest. "I went out, this morning, hoping to bring you a gift." At first, her words might have implied that she sought, perhaps, a bouquet of flowers: "I so appreciate your hospitality, my lord, and I hoped to return it…" Her tone was so very innocent, at first, which should have been a red flag...
"Do not blame your men," Malia implored, as a formality because she gave about as many fucks about the duke's men as he gave about her opinion about how he ran them. "They did not want to let me go..."
"Our trek was more… dangerous than I expected," Malia said, gesturing at her face and her throat, the wounds visible but not serious. Her book had been spot on about how far to travel and in what direction to find Marauders, but nothing specified precautionary measures. But a few bruises were a small price. "I hope you won't mind, I asked your men to help me bring in your gift…"
She stood, and as she did, one and then another officer entered the estate, each carrying a Marauder who was senselessly passed out, dead weight.
"Carniflower juice," Malia whispered to the Duke, low enough that none of the attending servants would hear. "These two Marauders gave me a few bumps or bruises…" None of which bothered her in the slightest. Instead, she smiled as she offered her hard-won gifts to her very generous host - two enemies, drugged and duped out of their minds as they stumbled down into the Duke's own dungeon. "I trust you'll enjoy paying those back to them in full?"
James gave her a smile that was deceptively warm, before he leaned down slightly to kiss Malia on the mouth with vigor. He clearly liked her gift, and didn’t care what his men, servants or her handmaiden thought.
“You are reckless, my Duchess” he breathed out in a low tone against her skin. Playing bait and hunter it her own trap, predator and prey. She certainly was not to be underestimated.
Reckless she was not - anything but. Malia liked all her plots to be planned, calculated, insured, and her book with its perceptive abilities allowed her to do that, but she was unwilling to reveal its secrets at present. She didn't correct the duke, and instead enjoyed the rather public display of affection he offered her in a kiss that she returned enthusiastically, her arm wrapping around his wide shoulder as she did.
When they released for a breath, Malia met her lover's eyes and whispered. "I would love you to teach me… what you do." So far as an independent Duchess, Malia had only been able to hire hunters, interrogators, executioners, because she honestly had little idea what went into this sort of situation. She didn't like to rely on outsiders. If she could learn methods from a tried-and-infamous Duke, she would be ahead of the game. "Show me. Let me watch."
Castile turned his head to narrow his eyes at his new prisoners, before turning to look at Malia with… curiosity. And then he shook his head, and caressed her face with hands that would surely kill soon. “My duchess…. I can not refuse you…. But be warned I will not temper my hand because of your presence”.
Malia's instinct was to smile and quip in return, but both his concern and his acquiescence were genuine and so she owed him an authentic response. "I cannot learn this from a book," the librarian-turned-Duchess admitted, and she allowed the notes of uncertainty on her face to pass the carefully-constructed mask of a diplomat that she usually hid behind. She did not need that here. "I am a good student, I promise," Malia said, and only after she spoke did she realize the irony - that she was that student who had been known to sleep with her professor…
The Duke tilted his head, and curled one side of his mouth. Before he did something that was almost… affectionate… instead of offering his elbow, he took Malia by the hand. “I am sure you are, my Duchess. Your thirst for knowledge is admirable, but you must have a care….” his thumb rubbed her skin and he turned over her hand to stare at the red marks on her wrist. “...everything has a price in Eventyr”.
The cellars beneath the Eastern fortress estate had massive roots woven into the stones. Trees that could not be removed, and yet others that grew over the manmade structure undeterred. Castile ordered his men to bring Malia a comfortable chair, and cider before he asked her, “Which one marked my Duchess?”
Clearly he would start with whomever dared to put bruises on her skin. Only James Castile could mar such a fine canvas in painful pleasure. She was his territory like the green realm, and he would brook no trespassers.
For several breathless moments, Malia was transfixed by the both the beauty and the function of the cellar - the mixture of roots and stone must have required not only the most skillful builder, but the most visionary. Most, she expected, would have ripped the inconvenient trees out… and in doing so, lost the centuries of strength in their reach.. but not a true Easterner, who respected the power and tradition of the roots.
Soon, servants were bringing her a seat and more of the cider she had fallen in love with, and, settling in, Malia had the unnerving sensation she was preparing to watch a horror movie - like Saw - in her living room. It did not take more than a moment of hesitation to realize that she was willing and eager to participate, even as the subjects were roused with potent smelling salts that cancelled their delirium all too quickly.
"The pale one," Malia accused, extending just her pointer finger while her palm supported her cup of cider. In what could only be a show, she pressed the chilled cup against her throat as if to dull the ache there. The young man had skin like snow and hair like corn, but he was taller and older than his partner, and he had definitely initiated the attack… baited though the Marauder might have been, no one mourned for the fish.
Castile was on the young man, his face showed no anger or satisfaction as he cupped the outlander’s face with one hand. It was easy to see he was no Easterner with his unusual pale skin, and it was a minor comfort to the Duke that he was not betrayed by one of his own people. Not yet at least.
“Bring a mender, I wouldn’t want of them to die prematurely” he ordered one of his men, as another strapped wooden dowels into the men’s mouths to prevent them from biting off their tongues in an act of defiance or self mercy.
“You’ll tell me everything you know, and only then will I grace you with the sweet release of death” he stated before he pushed his thumb into the man’s eye with enough force to crush it completely. The wooden gag did nothing to muffle the man’s scream, and now the Duke did smile.
But his brow furrowed a moment later and he turned his head to look over a broad shoulder at Malia. And for a moment he looked…. Unsure…. As if perhaps this would be too much for her. But his eyes fixated on the bruise around her neck, and suddenly narrowed. A large elbow hammered the albino’s side and there was the ugly sound of ribs breaking.
No questions were asked, this was personal at the moment. The other prisoner looked horrified as he had the closest seat to watch the Duke, and knowing it was his fate too. James cleaned his hands and approached Malia to drink cider with her for a moment… And perhaps to make sure her constitution was holding up.
“Have you ever seen an alicorn before, my Duchess?” he asked as his mender showed up with his bag and a long wooden ornate case.
There was no stopping the shocked gasp drawn from the Duchess along with the sick popping sound of the Marauder's eyeball in his skull. It reminded her immediately of the vicious blinding scene from Shakespeare's King Lear: "'See' ’t shalt thou never..." That scene, too, had been saturated in anger and intensely personal - and that excited her more than she expected, that this horror was being carried out in her name. There was disgust on her face when the Green Duke looked back at her, yes, as well as fear, but the Duchess tried to process these reactions rather than hide from them. "Out, vile jelly!" Malia quoted a play James would never know because she couldn't yet form her own words. The crunch of ribs was sickening, but a sip of cold cider settled her stomach.
When James took a break, the tension in Malia's body and the adrenaline pumping through her veins prompted her to stand. Her hand gripped his elbow gently - the contact made her feel grounded, but there was also a fascination there at touching what she now saw as a dangerous weapon. Her eyes flickered, interestedly, to the box as she answered, "No - I thought they were just stories."
The Duke’s mender presented the box to the two nobles before he went to check on his patient. James opened the black box and inside laid a snowy white pelt that was old, and faded of short hair much like a horse. And a brittle dried out husk of a horn that spiraled into a point….
“Unicorns are rare creatures, and the hunting of them must be regulated or they will vanish from Eventyr. But we get poachers in the Eastern woods, greed is sometimes all the courage a man needs. This animal was lost already, but the hide and horn are uncommon commodities for spellcasters and alchemists” he explained letting his fingers graze the decaying horn.
Castile tilted his head at Malia, “Are you sure you wish to stay, my lady? Things will only escalate once I have my pound of literal flesh for the affront this man has done to you. Acquiring information is a delicate task”. He was clearly giving her one last out if she wanted it.
He preferred to be her strange miracle in Malia’s eyes, rather than the monster he knew he truly was. Castile reached out his hand and touched her cheek, “I will not be offended, my duchess”.
Malia reached up, her hand to his jaw, catching the Green Duke's lips in a kiss, even knowing he might object to the gesture. It was affectionate, yes, but also needy. Malia was not unmoved - everything she saw disgusted and upset her - but all the same, Malia refused to relent. James could give her every escape hatch in the dungeon, but she did not want to get away. She sought comfort in the uncomfortable, and she was nothing but grateful that her new ally could give her such necessary instruction. She knew James Castile was a monster - but in a way, his brutality only highlighted the deficits in Malia's own temperament, and she craved more, not less.
Wrapping her arm around James' lower back, Malia turned her attention to the artifacts he presented. She knew little about unicorns - the North had none, to her knowledge - for they thrived in wooded areas. Her fingers reached out to brush against the precious artifacts - they must have been hundreds of years old, and she might have been curious but Malia respected their ownership and withdrew her hand with only a question, "What are they for?"
“At this moment? To keep these fools alive until I receive satisfaction….” the Duke replied. He stroked the pelt allowing his hand to touch Malia’s as well, he seemed content that she retained the intestinal fortitude to remain by his side. Her kiss affirming their bond… their allegiance…
“Alchemists and spellbinders say that it can purify water, heal the body, protect against sickness and poisons when used properly” he explained, although the Duke had no need to test such things in his own current condition. As far as James was concern the rare beast might have been attributed these so called powers simply by ignorant men looking for a miracle.
Castile touched her face with uncharacteristic gentleness, “Are you alright to continue here, my Duchess?” His captives respite was over, and his preliminary prodding and testing to see exactly how much one or the other could take before passing out was over. Now the interrogation was truly to begin.
Perhaps the alicorn would be a balm to his Duchess, as it was said to be in this instance.
"I am," Malia said with a sure nod. "I brought them here, and I am here with you." She could not shy away from the decision she had made. And it was not a far-fetched possibility that Malia could have her own warlord to content with in her coming years as Duchess: she needed to understand this process.
Turning her attention to the two young men, Malia did not sit and no longer intended to watch passively. These Marauders, she told herself, were terrorists - not unlike those whose uppity so-called jihad forced her grandson into war that cost him too much. Taking a sip to bolster herself, Malia stepped forward, her steps appearing less sure than they were. Plucking a cloth from the mender's kit as he cleaned blood and mucus from the pale prisoner's eye, Malia knelt beside the other Marauder, the one yet untouched.
"Listen, listen," she bid, quietly. Her hand rested on his knee, and she wiped the sweat from his brow. It was cool down here; his perspiration was only from stress. "We cannot help your friend. He brought it on himself." Her bruises were proof of that. She lowered her voice - no intention, of course, of hiding her words from James who could well have just stepped closer at any moment, but to give the illusion to the prisoner that they had a secret. "But if you would be willing to talk to me," Malia lied. "None of that has to happen to you."
Gagged as he was, the Marauder could not actually answer, but his gaze flicked quickly between the Green Duke and his pretty lover, not buying her words but not willing to throw away the semblance of hope they offered either…
Castile meanwhile had gone back to his torture of the pale man, he took a particular interest in him. His mender was working hard to keep the man conscious and from bleeding out as the Duke removed fingernails one by one.
He looked over a large shoulder at the other man and Malia nearby….. And then he smiled, a wicked curl of his mouth. “Have no fear, my Duchess…. I will deal with that varlet soon enough” he said, before turning back to the albino to set to work on his teeth next.
That - dental work - was way too much for Malia. Visibly stressed, enough that her Marauder could see that she was a moment or two from retreating, Malia saw that he finally latched on to her. Maybe it was his fear, maybe her vulnerability, but when she saw his eyes focus intently on her face, Malia asked: "Do you know where Marcus the Vile will be this week?"
And the young man hesitated, but as if his friend's scream spurred him on, he nodded suddenly. Malia's eyebrows raised, hopeful, but she knew that meant nothing. He could just be trying to appease her to save himself. And so, with that, Malia withdrew. As much as the pale one had incriminated himself by touching her, the other did as much by admitting knowledge. She did not care whether he was telling the truth, and did not care if it was found, or if it was credible. Getting that nod was the best she could do for day one, and it felt less a retreat if she had managed a victory in a confession. James would use it as he pleased.
Plucking up her glass, Malia finally had to retreat, ascending the stairs back into the estate proper. And at that point, she was all Duchess. Her orders were quiet but delivered with every expectation that they would be followed… and the Eastern servants moved, frankly, quicker than her own. She wanted hot water and soap brought to her room. She wanted more cider, and soup with it, to settle her stomach. She wanted her commoner's clothes, dirtied from the attack, replaced with a gown - green this time.
A knock came to the door of her guest chambers later, however it was not a servant but the Duke himself. “My Duchess, I had a bath drawn… I thought my lady might like to join me” he commented and gave a slight smile.
His knuckles were battered, and the skin broken…. Castile reached out to touch the green gown she wore, and his mouth curled even more. A pleased sound escaped him.
Malia arrived at the door and her surprise was apparent - she'd expected the Duke to be busy for quite a bit longer - and then concerned, for she hoped her inexperience and lack of backbone had not robbed him of his pleasure in the process. That had been the whole point of her adventure into the woods this morning…
But the moment he took notice of her choice of gown, all those worries melted away. It was a jeweled green, like an emerald, and she loved how it looked against her mocha skin as much as he seemed to. So she smiled, "I would love a bath with my duke."
Malia's servant girl brought and deposited a bag for her lady, presumably of her preferred lotions, making no fuss of herself, when Malia was waist-deep in steaming water, examining the wounds on James' knuckles from the gentle foam of the scents and soaps dissolved in the water.
"You should wear gloves," Malia suggested, disapproving of the tears in his skin as she gingerly held his hand outside the water that she knew would sting. The truth was that she worried about infection or scar tissue immobilizing his hands over time, but she opted for the more political: "Simpletons do not deserve even a drop of royal blood spilled on them."
One creature comfort that James did appreciate, heartless or not, was a hot bath. And one with the curvaceous Duchess of the North in his arms was so much better… He held his hand up with fingers splayed in Malia’s smaller, slimmer palm. Tilting his head to take in the difference in size and the color of their skins.
He smiled at the seeming concern for his well being, even if it was because the duchess needed an ally with a strong arm and back as well as the royal blood she spoke of. “It will heal, my Duchess” he assured her saying her title with almost reverent regard. It hadn’t escaped his notice that she referred to him as her duke as well, although the last man to bear that title had died under mysterious circumstances.
His hand moved around her throat stroking the marred skin there, caressing the bruise there. The idea that the duchess had plotted and planned her late husband’s death, although unproven and hardly even hinted at in most circles…. Malia played the widow well… but every instinct in him screamed that he knew exactly what she was and why she was here. But James Castile didn’t care….
“Does it frighten you, when your plans do not always follow as the path you have divine for them?” he asked in her ear. His uninjured hand drifted under the surface of the water to the juncture between her legs. “Or does it send a thrill through your veins to try and outwit an adversary on the spot with mind games?” he breathed out warmly, pressing his clear arousal against her flesh. “Did you make promises so they would unbind you, or did you secret a potion on your skin?”
It didn’t matter save that it allowed him to see how she liked to think. So far Malia had been remarkably honest with him, as much as she could be without revealing all her plans. He was a far more instinctual creature that made plans literally on his toes…. Toes that were currently stroking the back of the duchess’s calf.
His question was more perceptive than Malia expected - perhaps she was allowing herself too much honesty? She pushed that thought away, though. James was a brute, but he was straightforward; he wasn't playing games with her. His touches - remarkably gentle now, and she wondered if he was compensating for the day's violence - distracted her train of thought and instead of second-guessing herself, she spoke her mind. "Mmm… if that happened often, I wouldn't be much of a diviner, would I, now?" Her knees spread at his prompting, and she met his eyes as she answered, honestly. "Not a thrill, no. It makes me angry as hell." When careful planning and beautiful plots were dashed by some unexpected twist? Malia had been prone to her own streak of wrath. It might not have included pulling out literal teeth, but it had its own kind of ugliness.
When he asked about her escapade that morning, an amused smile lit her face. "Nothing so sinister." Aside from the fact that she'd necessarily needed to borrow such fine horses, Malia had made every other effort to look like a commoner. It would have been a standard robbery, had her servant girl not slipped up and called her milady. Only then had the Marauders decided she was worth taking to their famed Marcus the Vile. "Fewer men that you would expect will take advantage," and Malia was very much above playing the pouting prisoner to tempt a couple of thugs. So, she had put the potion on the food in their breakfast basket. Simple, fool-proof. "But all men get hungry."
As she shifted, water sloshed over the bath's edge, so Malia's movements were slow, careful, as she first rose up, a hand tangling gently in his hair, to offer her breast for a kiss, then lowering herself onto him.
The Duke did more than kiss those ample bosoms, he gave a sigh of…. Contentment… as the duchess sheathed him with her warmth. He gave a satisfied grunt, and nodded his head at her answer. Honest, and yet still so vague one could not quite put their finger on it.
“Still… you should not take such risks, my duchess…” he said and looked up at her as he let his hands come to rest on her hips. “I…. do not wish for you to come down to the lower levels of the Estate again”.
Grinding gently but smoothly against her new lover, Malia purred into his ear, lips brushing his cheek. She was hardly surprised to hear his wish - she had probably been rightly green for half her time there, and not the kind James Castile liked to see her wearing, either! - but it did interest her that he chose the word wish. This was his home, his realm, his domain, and he gave orders as easily as he breathed. Was this more about her… or himself?
Malia timed her movements for optimal distraction, nuzzled the sensitive area behind his ear, and asked, "Why not?"
He writhed under her like a headless snake, and groaned shaking his head from side to side. Reaching up with his hands he cupped her face, “Because I don’t want you to see what I really am” James breathed out. “And such atrocities are not for you…. I will do far worse than you have seen tonight.”
She had vast knowledge and a love for books, he had seen manuscripts said to come from great distances. “I am death, the mighty destroyer of the world, out to destroy” he quoted as the Duke thrusted into her with every syllable, and looked intensely into her eyes.
He would not refrain from violence because of her courtly sensibilities. But a part of him wanted her to see him with that expression of awe she wore with their first sexual liaison in the reading room.
Malia's mind competed with her body as she tried to process his words while her nerve endings sang and she relished how energetic and receptive her new body was. Her nails bit into his shoulder as she held fast for support…
destroyer? James was preserving his realm, why was he talking about destroying?...
but then, all she could think about was the grip of his hands on her hips…
but I am death sounded so familiar?...
…thoughts were finally defeated when the sensations pushed Malia over the edge and she lost herself in aching pleasure, her lips seeking, begging for a kiss as she rode out the wave of ecstasy...
But, coming down from the high, Malia's brain made the connection easily. That was a quote from the Bhagavad Gita, an Indian text, that she had cited forty years ago in a paper for graduate school. How the fuck did someone from Eventyr know it? Was it possible that it could have been recreated, out of context, by a poet a world away? Malia would not know until she read it. And if not - this would be the connection between Earth and Eventyr she had been looking for, now, for ten years.
Her fingernails had drawn blood, Malia saw the reddish tinge to the water as she blinked her eyes open and withdrew her hand. Instead, she seized the duke's jaw, with a sudden intensity that was hard to interpret: "Where did you read that? Mighty destroyer of the world, where did it come from?" As the librarian's brain continued to process, the expression of wonder that James had just been envying crossed her face with just as much intensity - violence forgotten - as she realized that she might have just found more than an alliance here…
Castile was lazing in the warm water with Malia on top of him when her question registered in his mind. His brow furrowed in concentration, “A book, when I was a youth...a scholar that taught my brother and I, insisted that we read it”. Castile sneered, “Philip could not get past the third chapter”.
He turned his face to kiss her hand, and a smile crept across his face. “I stole the book… it is very old, the scholar said it was discovered in the South duchy……” Castile sat up straighter, but remained intimately linked to the duchess. “....But it comes from much further”.
"I know where it comes from," Malia said. James' education must have come from a place of mystery, but Malia literally knew where this text had originated. India, 200-400 BCE. Although she was resolved to say nothing of her world, the implication that she had greater knowledge Malia had to disguise, lest she raise red flags, was clear for any perceptive partner.
Her trust of the Green Duke allowed Malia more room, though. A sigh of pleasure escape her as she drew in, her hand tracing through James' curling hair, his shoulder, his chest... "I need to read this book. If you stole it, you have it?"
Castile narrowed his eyes and sat up straighter letting his arms drift low around Malia’s sides. “Of course I still have it, a unique manuscript. The scholar that tutored us was rewriting it for the King’s library when I liberated the original...it was a less than satisfactory condition for the royal archives”.
He grounded himself up against her, and gave a sly smile. “And how is it, my Duchess, that you know of this manuscript. I believe it was the only one in the realm…”
So James had been sneaky in his appropriation of the text. Malia had hardly pegged him for the underhanded type, but if not even his status as Duke or the King's brother enabled him to simply demand it, it must have been rare and precious indeed. Answering his question was dangerous - Malia had worked so hard to be accepted in Eventyr and having her backstory questioned too much could earn her a label as a witch or changeling that would make her ambitions much harder to achieve.
But her curiosity outweighed her caution, as she wondered if the Bhagavad Gita was alone in its connection to Earth or if, perhaps, there were others. "If I am anything, I am first a reader," Malia said, vaguely. "I studied it as a youth, alongside its brothers: the Torah, the Bible, the Quran, the writings of Confucius or Buddha…" She listed them, watching his face closely for recognition, and then returned his sly smile as she shifted in the water. Turning away, bracing her hands on the edge of the tub, and sending an inviting smile over her shoulder as she welcomed him to take control. "I think you would like the Old Testament - it features a particularly vengeful god."
“Then you are extremely well educated, my Duchess. I have only heard of perhaps two of those manuscript titles, while in the royal library as a youth. My father would not let me enter after liberating the one” his brow had crunched in concentration and thought, but eased when she turned and glanced over her shoulder.
“My brother is far more lenient, but made me swear an oath not to liberate any manuscripts permanently again” he smiled for a moment, a hint of a mischievous boy under the man’s features. Cupping her breasts he pulled her against his chest and spoke into her ear softly, apparently the Duke’s one organ was unaffected by his lack of another. “You are a mystery to me, Malia. You speak of things you should not know, books that have been secreted away in the King’s castle some since before my brother’s birth”.
He let a hand drifted down between her legs, while the other came up around her throat and Castile thrusted into the warmth of her body as if Malia were one of his conquests. “I will not be lied to, or used….my Duchess…. I know you do not come from the farest Northern borders, or any part of the realm” he whispered dangerously in her ear.
Thick calloused fingers pressed firmly into her womanhood, almost to the point where it was no longer pleasurable. James let his tongue flick out against Malia’s ear to lick the outside shell. “I do not care where you originate from, Malia Von Oehsen, Duchess of the North” he admitted with a grunt. It was a trade off in a way, because she didn’t care that she bedded a truly ‘heartless’ man.
“Are you a witch, my Duchess?”
The noises from Malia's mouth ranged widely from pleasured and enthusiastic to significantly less so. But as resolved as she was not to push him away, she had also resolved not to lie, and that included the instinctively frightened gasp when his hand closed around her throat. She might have sounded abrasive when she responded in a hiss, "Then do not ask me what I cannot answer!" Her voice was was halfway indignant but could not deny the overwhelming satisfaction when he filled her again or the way she pressed back against him.
Her hand gripped James' meaty forearm as his question and the assault on her senses made a coy or political answer impossible. "Witch is just a word for a woman more powerful than she should be," the Duchess asserted, "So you tell me."
James slid his hand from her throat to her jaw and turn Malia’s face toward his. He smiled coyly, before his tongue flicked out and he licked her cheek with one of his thrusts. “A sorceress possibly, but a witch? I think not…… I have served a witch before, I would say your definition is not quite exact…”
The Duke held her tighter to him, “Is that what you want, Duchess, for me to serve you?” Castile seemed to like to torture people in his estate in different ways when he interrogated them. He gave a particularly deep thrust at the question. He was attracted to her in a way his mind couldn’t quite wrap around…. Was it the unanswered questions, the ambition?
James Castile only knew that she stirred something other than justified rage inside of him.
Malia's head fell back against the duke's opposite shoulder, offering him the pulse point of her throat he seemed to find so enchanting - the pulse itself notably skyrocketing in physical exertion as well as a healthy measure of fear.
He drew another cry from her lips that tapered into a moan - although her mind was keenly aware of how these hands had just spent their afternoon pulling out teeth and fingernails, her fresh young body was ripe and swollen enough that all the duke's attentions sent her nerve endings fizzling and even if Malia half worried that his hand on her jaw could snap her neck in an instant, the other half of her relished how much that realization made her feel alive - not a small feat for a woman with a terminal diagnosis.
"No," Malia answered, voice harsher and hoarser than she preferred… and held the rest of her response for a half-dozen heartbeats of silence, tempting from the duke more aggressive thrusting that made her bite her lip and her nails dig into his arm as sensation overwhelmed her again and all she could say was the truth: "I want a partner worthy of me."
As exquisite as this form of interrogation was, it could only go on so long like any other. The ends of their fingers were wrinkled from moisture, the water had gone from steaming hot to barely tepid. And the Duchess was...only human after all….and probably hadn’t notice the passage of time during their act of coitus.
His mouth lingered over the pulse on Malia’s neck that she had so generously offered him. “I too seek a worthy partner…” James replied. The Duke brought them both to the natural climatic high, biting at her throat with his teeth as he groaned in her ear. “ We have an accord, my Duchess”.
Rising out of the bath he offered a hand to her, “You should rest before dinner, my lady. I can have it served in your room if you’d like….” The Duke wrapped thick robes around them both apparently not wanting to be disturbed by servants. “...And I shall have the Gita brought from the library for you”.
Malia relied a bit too much on the Duke's offered assistance as she exited the tub, the fatigue of the day - both the traumatic and pleasurable - weighing heavily on her. And when he offered a robe, Malia wrapped herself not just in the fabric, but pulled his arms around her as well, an amused smile tugging at tired lips. He managed to be considerate when he cared to be, and that just made the Duchess all the more curious about his… condition.
"Thank you - that would be lovely," Malia said as she withdrew, pulling her thick hair over her shoulder, fingers gently separating thick curls. She lifted herself up on her toes to kiss the Duke's mouth with feigned chastity, gripped his hand briefly, and smiled. Physically worn out but intellectually excited, the evening promised deep sleep and satisfying dreams. "I think I will rest soundly tonight."
James arched his brow, and the end of his mouth curled slightly. “I am...pleased then, my lady” he said nodding his head. The Duke had work to finish tonight, he was determined to give his second prisoner all the reason in the world to give the Duchess whatever information she asked for…. Or he would spend the next evening prying it out of him, one tooth at a time….