Queen Captured – Act II: Bishop (scene iv)

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Fifth Chapter of W.H. Collins’s dark erotic fantasy. All fourteen chapters are now available from Amazon under the title The Fall of the Black Queen.

Note that this story is intended for mature audiences only and contains extremely graphic depictions of material that many audiences will find disturbing, including spanking and forced nudity. Nothing herein is intended to glorify or condone the horrific experiences which the protagonist endures, and the reader is strictly instructed not to take any prurient interest in this tale of medieval violence and sexual exploitation.

The next morning the Bishop returned. Sister Agnes awoke Isabella from a dreamless stupor with a splash of cold water. She had with her a bucket and a sponge and proceeded to wash down her captive before unshackling her. If she noticed the dried semen on the Queen’s legs or anything else amiss, she said nothing.

Too exhausted and dispirited to resist, Isabella allowed herself to be dragged to her feet and led over to the wall, where another set of shackles closed around her wrists and held her standing, back flat against the stonework, with arms outstretched. With something that might have been mistaken for tenderness, Sister Agnes unhooked the leather strap that held the wooden rod in place between Isabella’s teeth. The bit was removed, and she flexed her stiff and aching jaw.

The old nun pressed a ladle to Isabella’s lips. The water had come from the same bucket that had been used in her perfunctory sponge bath, but the Queen was in no position to argue hygiene. Her throat raw and dry, she greedily slurped at the liquid, her heart sinking when the ladle was tossed back into the bucket without the offer of further respite.

Sister Agnes stepped aside. The Bishop approached. He looked Isabella up and down while running a palm contemplatively across his bald head.

“Good morning, Lady Isabella. Are you ready to confess your sins?”

Isabella opened and closed her mouth experimentally, unsure, between the soreness of her jaw and her dehydration, if she would be capable of producing sounds. Her head was cloudy, her vision blurry. She would have rubbed her eyes if she could. Instead, she blinked hard, jerking her head to the side to shake off the haze, her black hair, still surprisingly bouncy and lustrous despite her ordeal, whipping down across half her face.

She looked up, and her one uncovered eye fell upon the two guards, standing at attention behind the Bishop. Her muscles clenched in anger, and she swallowed hard, her rising fury seeming to somehow lubricate her parched throat.

“Your men . . .” she croaked, “. . . they came to me in the night . . . like beasts . . . used me . . .”

“The witch lies!” protested Brother Duncan. At the same time, Sister Agnes announced her view of the accusation with dismissive snort, full of derision and disappointment. But the Bishop raised his hand to silence them both.

“Once again, my child, you mistake this for a conversation. The only words that can save you are ones of repentance. I ask you again: are you ready to confess your sins before God?”

“God . . .” Isabella hissed bitterly, dropping her eyes to the floor in despair, “God has forsaken this place.”

The Bishop shook his head in a show of disappointment. He turned and plucked a metal object from a nearby workbench, an elongated, pear-shaped device of polished bronze. Holding it up before the chained queen, he tested a knob at its base. As he twisted, the head of the tool slowly flared, bursting into three pieces and yawning like the mouth of some unnatural creature.

“Very well,” said the Bishop. “The interrogation continues.”

The pattern continued for days. How many days, Isabella could not be certain, for the same mental defenses that allowed her to endure what was being done to her seemed to block her from counting how many times it happened.

By day, she was tortured. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for ten. Sometimes in one long session, sometimes in shifts. Sometimes she was hounded for a confession, sometimes the Bishop and his assistants went about their work in silence. All according to her captors’ whims.

By night, the guards would come. It was just Duncan and Theodore at first, but then, growing bolder perhaps, they began to bring others, men that Isabella did not recognize, comrades from other details presumably. One night, they were accompanied by a tonsured monk, who wasted no time eagerly hiking up his habit to mount the bound noblewoman. On more than one occasion, Isabella saw coins exchanged between Brother Duncan and the visitors.

Somehow, however many days she had been locked in the tower, she remained intact. Physically intact, at any rate. She had been in peak health when she had been taken at Malburgh, and her body was remarkably resilient in the face of her tribulations. Her mind had its own battles to fight.

The torments devised for her were varied and endless. One day, she had been forced to sit for hours straddling a narrow wooden beam, set at a height just inches above where she could comfortably stand, its edges digging into her crotch whenever her muscles would no longer permit her to remain on tip toes.

Another cruel morning had seen her nipples placed into tiny vices which were closed crank by crank around the tender flesh.

She had been strapped to a table as the bottoms of her feet were beaten with a birch cane. Wet cloth had been pressed to her face to simulate the sensation of drowning. Hot wax had been dripped across every inch of her skin and into every crevice of her body. A procession of foreign objects had been shoved into her asshole, sometimes left there to protrude from her body like a flag planted deep in newly-conquered earth.

These were painful, agonizing ordeals, without question. Degrading, yes, beyond all imagining. But, based on what Isabella had knew of the interrogation techniques employed by the Tribunal of Heresies, the tortures the Bishop had selected for her seemed calculated not to inflict permanent injury, to leave no lasting scars or, indeed, marks of any kind. For a while, through the grim haze of her pain and humiliation and despair, this realization was some small hope. The Bishop needed her alive, in one piece and largely unblemished. Whatever his pronouncements about church prerogative, he must at some point still intend to turn her over to Queen Joan and her feeble White King.

Yet the unremitting nature of her torture and captivity took its toll. Though her bones remained unbroken, the cumulative trauma of such ceaseless pain and debasement was steadily breaking down her spirit. The diurnal rhythms of her existence were divided between the Bishop’s whip and his servants’ cocks, and the helplessness of her situation was wearing her down. She was losing her mind and with it her sense of self. Lady Isabella might remain bodily whole, but the Black Queen was dying.

One night, many days, weeks perhaps, after her confinement began, she lay face down in the darkness. Unusually, she had not been chained to the floor at the end of the day. Instead, she had been left strapped to the apparatus that had been the site of the day’s torture.

It was a whipping bench, and Isabella knelt on a raised plank with her legs spread at shoulder width, her thighs secured against the body of the apparatus with broad leather belts. She was bent forward over an elevated portion of the bench, the weight of her upper body resting on her stomach, her breasts hanging loose over the front. More leather bands wrapped around her elbows and wrists, tying her arms fast to the slanted legs of the bench. Her head dangled freely and would have been shrouded by the curtain of her black hair had Sister Agnes not gathered it up into a neat bun that bobbled atop her skull.

Whether it had been oversight or conscious disregard that had left her there, part of Isabella still had sufficient sense of agency to contemplate turning this carelessness to her advantage. She began to wriggle.

Very quickly, she despaired. The buckles around her arms and legs might not have the durability of the heavy iron chains that were her usual bedtime accommodations, but they would suffice to hold her. She had neither the strength nor the leverage to break or twist out of tight leather straps. Even if she could, how did she expect to get herself out of the tower, naked and alone and surrounded by the Bishop’s men and other loyalists of the White regime?

Somehow, even in her uncomfortable position, sleep eventually overcame the exhausted Isabella. At the creak of the chamber door, however, she immediately woke, her heart already racing in a learned fear response. She lifted her head but could not crane her neck around sufficiently to see the door. She listened, muscles tensing, as a single set of footsteps approached from behind her at a steady, unhurried pace. Eerie shadows arose from the darkness as the flickering glow of candlelight spilled across the chamber and then grew closer.

“Mmmmmpph . .  uuuuhhh.” Isabella mumbled into her bit, hoping pathetically to elicit some response that would at least break the tension and horrible anticipation.

The intruder’s footsteps stopped behind her. Isabella held her breath. Was it Duncan? Or Theodore? Or had they sold her off to some third person for tonight? She tucked her chin but could barely see her knees past the obstruction of her pendulous breasts, let alone make out the identity of the figure of looming over her upraised bottom.

To her surprise, Isabella heard the sound of soft, ritualistic murmuring. Someone was praying. The words came fast and only half-vocalized, such that the fettered queen could only catch snippets here and there.

“ . . . that the Lord may forgive my unclean thoughts . . . this temptress sent by the devil to test men’s weakness . . . and afterwards to purify myself in whatever manner Thou command . . . that Thy will be done . . .”

The breathy mutterings were so indistinct that it took Isabella a moment to recognize that it was the Bishop himself standing behind her. No sooner had she made this realization than she felt leather-gloved hands on her buttocks, a palm pressed flat against each cheek as if sizing up her backside. Isabella squirmed. Tied down, draped over this bench, she could not have felt more exposed, with her bottom sticking up in the air above her stooped torso and her legs parted just enough to offer up both her front and rear orifices for display.

From the leisurely, silent way that the Bishop ran his hands over her bottom, squeezing her cheeks gently together and pulling them apart as if evaluating the ripeness of a large piece of fruit, he seemed to be taking in with relish the spectacle of the Queen’s exhibited parts.

One hand brushed down between her legs and ran slowly across the folds of her vagina and then up the valley floor between the mounds of her ass. The Bishop then released her bottom, and Isabella heard a soft pop that sounded like a stopper being removed from a jar. A moment later, she lurched forward in surprise as two fingers, ungloved but covered in something cold and slippery, jabbed against her anus without warning.

“Fffffmmmmmm! . . .” Isabella squealed, wiggling her bottom reflexively in a futile attempt to evade the Bishop’s touch, but the leather straps held her in place.

Helplessly, she stared down at the stone floor, feeling the invasive fingers circle round and round her asshole, smearing it thoroughly with lubricant. Isabella didn’t know what was in the slimy tincture, but she had grown familiar with the cold, oily feeling of having it rubbed on her and in her. It was the same concoction Sister Agnes used when preparing her to have one of her holes plugged by some new instrument of torture or humiliation, be it the Flemish Pear or the Beaded Confessor.

Sure enough, the unseen hands at her backside wasted no time in pushing their way inside her. First one slick finger burrowed into her ass, then another. Rhythmically, they slid in and out. Isabella moaned at the indignity.

The fingers molesting her bottom slowed and then withdrew. Isabella felt a fleeting sense of relief, but a moment later she wished the Bishop had been more thorough in applying the ointment. A burst of pain coursed through her as she felt her interrogator’s stiff and dismayingly thick penis press against her asshole and then roughly shove its way in.

In silence, save for Isabella’s muffled grunts of pain, the White Bishop fucked the Black Queen’s ass. The ordeal didn’t take long, and after a final stoic thrust, the Bishop wordlessly removed himself from Isabella’s aching hole. The Queen felt several globs of hot semen splatter against her right butt cheek. She choked back a sob while, behind her, the sadistic clergyman muttered another hurried prayer, presumably stuffing his wet cock back inside his holy vestments.

The footsteps and the candlelight receded, and the door creaked and closed. Isabella was left once more in the darkness, naked and bound, waiting for what new torments the dawn would bring, wondering wretchedly how much more abuse she could compartmentalize before the woman she had been was strangled and drowned.

The heavy chamber door and its visceral engravings of damnation swung slowly open again, its shrill creak once again triggering an immediate anxiety reflex in the captive queen. It seemed like only a moment ago the Bishop had left, but perhaps she had dropped out of consciousness at some point, through sleep or simply her mind shutting down to help dull the trauma.

Sister Agnes came first, walking across the chamber and into Isabella’s field of vision, carrying the bucket of water for her prisoner’s morning bath. Though she could not see them, Isabella knew that Brother Duncan and Brother Theodore would no doubt be taking their stations flanking the entryway, settling in to enjoy another session watching their master torment and humiliate the Old King’s fallen daughter.

Sister Agnes loosened the straps around Isabella’s arms and legs but did not release her from the whipping bench. Isabella gingerly adjusted her stiff appendages but moved slowly and deliberately lest the nun think she was trying to struggle or fight. The old woman circled around her, sponging down her body. As usual, she gave no indication that she noticed the remnants of the night’s visitations sticking in crusty splotches to the fettered woman’s bottom and thighs.

Once Isabella had been wiped down, her surfaces and crevices dutifully polished like a well-kept piece of furniture or machinery, Sister Agnes removed the bit from between her teeth and gave her a ladle of water, which Isabella slurped at gratefully while the nun held a hand beneath her chin to support her dangling head. Then came the creak of the door and the steady, methodical footsteps that could only by the Bishop’s.

Isabella cringed with each footfall. There was a rustle of objects at a nearby table, and she imagined the grim-faced churchman musing over the day’s favored tools. Eventually, a flourish of white linen swooped past her face, and Isabella lifted her head, straining upwards to meet the eyes of the figure looming above and before her.

When she saw his expression, though, as cold and imperious as always, not the slightest flicker acknowledging what he had done to her during the night, she found that she could not hold his gaze. She allowed her head to sag back to its resting place between her stooped shoulders. Eyes fixed on the Bishop’s boots, she waited.

“Lady Isabella of Aardmore, you know well the charges against you. By the mercy of Almighty God, you are given this day a further opportunity to confess your sins and repent your wickedness. Will you take His proffered succor? What say you?”

Isabella’s head swam. She could no longer remember her stratagem, what she was holding out for, her reasons for defiance. She tried to focus, but the sober, calculating parts of her mind kept being disrupted by crazy thoughts. Perhaps she was a witch after all. Perhaps if she admitted her witchcraft, they would burn her. Burn her, yes, and the flames would caress her, soothe her, take her away from all this.

She shook her head, trying to brush off the wild imaginings. She opened her mouth, wincing at the stiffness in her jaw from days of being muzzled.

“Aahh . . .” she began, addressing the Bishop’s shins before swallowing, running her tongue across the dry roof of her mouth and trying again. “I . . . I . . .”

What had she been about to say? She didn’t know how to continue. All she could think about was leaving this awful tower, moving freely again, seeing the sun again. She moistened her lips once more as best she could. As she did so, her eyes were drawn to the braided cords that dangled beside the Bishop’s boot heel.

There were three of them, tightly woven and each ending in thick, uneven knots. She followed the cords up past the hem of the Bishop’s robes, all the way to where they came together, snaking out from an ivory handle clutched firmly in the Bishop’s gloved fist. Isabella hadn’t seen this particular flail before, but she’d learned enough of the varying qualities of such instruments during her prolonged interrogation to recognize pain when she saw it.

“I . . .” she stammered, as much to the flail as to the Bishop, “I . . .”

“Speak,” grumbled the Bishop impatiently.

But Isabella found she couldn’t bring her tongue under her command. She stared into the Bishop’s knees, mouth agape, breathing heavily.

“Her soul gasps for reconciliation with God, Your Purity and Grace,” Sister Agnes announced. “But the Devil stifles her. You must drive him out.”

“Sister Agnes speaks true,” replied the Bishop. “I can see you are close. We will help you break free of the final chains binding you to sin. Submit to God, Lady Isabella. You will see. Submission is conquest. Set down your defiance, your pride. Surrender yourself fully and be free. Sister, ready the cloth.”

The Bishop snapped his flail, which cracked the air with a horrifying pop. His boots marched past Isabella and out of her field of vision.

“No . . . Wait . . .” she cried, her voice quavering wildly in volume and pitch. “Wait no . . .”

She strained her head up to find Sister Agnes coming towards her fast, a dripping wet cloth in her hand.

“No . . . I . . . I . . . Mmmmmmmppphh”

The nun smashed the wet cloth into Isabella’s face and wrapped it around her head, pulling it taut with both hands clenched tight against the back of the noblewoman’s neck. Isabella sucked desperately against the damp fabric. What little air made it through was worse than none at all. She was suffocating slowly, a faithful recreation of the experience of drowning. She struggled frantically against her restraints, shaking the bench.

Suddenly, even through the deadening barrier of the cloth wrapped round her head, she heard the flail crack. A white hot line of pain erupted across her buttocks. She screamed, the sound largely absorbed by the wet fabric plastered across her mouth and nose.

Having wasted precious breath on her wail of agony, her lungs burned. She bucked hard. The leather straps around her arms and legs dug into her skin, but it barely registered. Then, there was another loud crack from behind her and the pain across her backside was overwhelming. She screamed again, but the reaction was weaker this time. Her struggles slowed. She felt like she was about to black out.

Just as she was readying herself to embrace unconsciousness, the cloth was whipped off her face. Isabella gasped and gasped. The streaks where the lash had fallen across her upturned ass sizzled, bringing tears to her eyes. Her body shuddered with a series of half-coughs, half-sobs. The Bishop stepped in front of her and slapped the side of her face to get her attention.

“Confess, Lady Isabella. Confess and taste God’s mercy.”

“I . . .” Isabella sputtered, not sure what she was saying. “I . . . Yes, I confess . . . I . . . Mercy . . . Please . . . no more . . . I surrender submit confess . . . I confess . . .”

“My heart gladdens,” said the Bishop in a cold, even tone. “God will grant you the mercy you seek, My Child. Sister, ink and parchment. Prepare to transcribe the declaration. What is it you confess, Lady Isabella?”

“All . . .” Isabella panted as Sister Agnes dragged a stool up beside the whipping bench and smoothed a piece of parchment, “I confess it all . . . Everything . . . Just no more . . .”

The Bishop cocked a skeptical eyebrow towards his assistant.

“I warn you that the Tribunal does not tolerate insincerity, My Child. Only open repentance, full and frank and genuine, can bring forgiveness. You must detail your sins.”

Isabella tried to remember the full litany of ridiculous charges that had been brought against her, searching for something to offer up. It was a list that had been repeatedly thrown at her, smeared across her, over the course of her torture and was by now etched firmly into her memory. It should have been easy for her to simply regurgitate the demeaning accusations, but at the moment Isabella wasn’t thinking straight.

When she tried to summon one of the disgraceful lies about her, to repeat and confirm the vile slander, she fumbled for the phrasing. Her words failed her. She could do nothing but gape dumbly at the Bishop’s knees. Was she too traumatized to form sentences? Or was there yet some defiant part of her holding her back?

“Her mendacity is palpable, Your Purity and Grace,” spat Sister Agnes in disgust, setting down her parchment, “She will not repent until her sins are dragged from her, bit by bit.”

The Bishop sighed and gave the nun a nod. With astonishing deftness for a woman her age, Sister Agnes snatched up the cloth from where she had deposited it in the water bucket and turned towards Isabella.

“No! . . . Wait! . . .” cried Isabella hoarsely. “I confess! . . . I confess!”

But it was too late. The wet cloth was wrapped around her face, stifling her pleas. Once more, Isabella felt herself suffocating, drowning. And then came the crack of the flail across her exposed bottom. Once. Twice. And just when she thought she might pass out from the pain and lack of air, the shroud was abruptly removed.

“Confess,” barked the Bishop, circling back in front of her and raising his flail threateningly. “Set forth your sins.”

“I . . . buuuuh . . b-books!” Isabella sputtered. “B-books of . . . of spells and potions! I . . . aaah . . . I had them! T-t-to practice witchcraft! I confess! I made the potions . . . the potions from the books! Dark ones! And spells! Dark spells! I cast them all! I . . . I confess! . . . Mercy . . .”

At a nod from the Bishop, Sister Agnes set down her cloth and picked up the parchment. Isabella stared down at the floor to hide the tears that had welled up in her eyes. Giving the braided cords of his instrument and satisfied flick, the Bishop paced before her.

“And to what ends did you employ these dark arts?” he prompted.

“To g-g-gain power at court? . . .” Isabella stammered, trying to recall the details of the accusations. “I . . . cast spells on men of influence . . . forced them to . . . forced them to lay with me . . .”

“And how many men did you fuck in this way?”

Isabella answered with a sob of humiliation before mustering control of her voice and continuing.

“Scores of men . . .” she answered, her voice quavering, “I . . . fuh . . . fucked countless men using my witchcraft . . . my . . . my father’s closest advisors . . . important barons . . . ambassadors from abroad . . . archbishops of the Church. . . I fucked them all. I confess!”

“Blasphemy . . .” whispered Sister Agnes to herself as she transcribed Isabella’s admissions.

Isabella hung her head in silence, hoping that she had given them enough for now, but the Bishop paced behind her and, when further confessions were not forthcoming, delivered a slap with his flail. It was a comparatively light blow, designed to grab her attention, but it still delivered a painful shock to her already-sore buttocks. Isabella yelped.

“Continue,” commanded the Bishop.

“I . . . my servingwomen! I made them . . . made them t-touch one another. I confess it! I made them . . . perform pagan rites! We would . . . would kiss and lick one another’s bodies and achieve unnatural ecstasies in mockery of God . . . I made them . . . Daily I made them pleasure me . . . their heads between my legs . . . caressing my breasts day and night . . . I confess!”

“Continue,” repeated the Bishop, prompting Isabella with another slap of the flail across her bottom.

“Aaaaaaah! . . . I . . . My mother and I . . . we worshipped the Devil . . . She initiated me among his followers . . . taught me witchcraft . . . She watched me . . . watched me pledge myself . . .” At this point, Isabella choked up, barely able to get the words out. “. . . g-give myself to the Devil. . . before my mother and . . . and all our . . . our f-fellow witches and . . . and . . .”

Isabella trailed off, and the Bishop hit her again.

“This ritual. What did it involve?”

“A d-demon! . . . A huge demon with claws and the face of a goat! . . . And I . . . I knelt before him . . . And I wrapped my mouth around his . . . his penis . . . And I pleasured him . . . for hours . . . for hours and hours . . . running my lips up and down its giant . . . giant p-penis . . And then . . . and then . . . I let it fuck me . . . I let the demon fuck me . . .”

“And you enjoyed these depraved, unholy acts?” demanded the Bishop.

“Yes!” Isabella sobbed. “I . . . I loved it . . . I confess . . . I confess it all! I’ve lain with men and women and animals and demons! I practice witchcraft and sorcery! I murdered my father! My mother . . . my mother is Satan’s whore! I confess!”

The Bishop continued to press her, making her repeat certain admissions and delve into greater, often graphic, detail for others. But eventually he seemed satisfied. Isabella was released from the whipping bench, and she was given a fresh penitent’s cassock before being shackled to the wall. As before, the vestments were roughly woven and ill-fitting, but after uncounted days lying naked in the tower, they felt positively dignified.

Her mouth was left ungagged. Yet the Queen remained passive and silent while her leather bindings were being loosened, while the simple brown frock was being fetched and pulled down over her head, while the iron cuffs closed around her wrists. She had no wish to provoke any renewed aggression from her captors. Besides, what was there to say? They left her hanging there, chained to the wall, the humiliation of her utter submission pulling down upon her like a deadweight.

Later, she was brought food and water. It was delivered by young Sister Geneveive, whom Isabella had not seen since the ordeal in the bathhouse, a disgrace that now seemed a world away. The Queen could see the change in herself reflected in the youthful nun’s shocked reaction, the look of fascination that could not decide between delight and horror. The gruel, lifted to Isabella’s lips spoonful by spoonful, tasted thicker than the stuff she’d been given to sustain her during her interrogation; the water, less corrupted.

Eventually, Sister Agnes returned. She had with her the transcript of the confession. Isabella was temporarily unchained, a quill thrust into her hand. Staring down at the document with bleary, unfocused eyes, she noted that it already bore the signatures of the Bishop, Sister Agnes, Brother Duncan and Brother Theodore, attesting as witnesses to the accuracy of the shameful declaration she’d been forced to give. Otherwise, she could not bear to read it. Swallowing her feelings of debasement, she swiftly made her mark at the bottom of the page.

After that, she was alone again, hanging there in the dark chamber, left to contemplate her fate. She had no illusions about the sort of “mercy” she could expect. Her understanding of the legal procedures followed by the Tribunal of Heresies was spotty, but she knew that confessions of the magnitude that she had just signed only led one place. She only hoped that she would have the chance to see the daylight sky again before the flames consumed her flesh.

A great commotion from the antechamber suddenly caused Isabella to lift her head and set aside some of her morbid reflections. Just outside the entrance to the interrogation room, there was shouting and then what sounded like the clanging of steel. Something heavy was thrown against the tall carved doors, and they shook. More shouting. Cries of pain.

Finally, the ruckus stopped. Then, after a momentary silence, the familiar sound of keys rattling in the chamber door, followed by the terrible creak that had awoken Isabella to so many nights and days of horror. When the door had opened a crack, it stopped. A figure stood motionless in the narrow opening. Though backlit, Isabella knew from his build that it was Brother Duncan, leaning forward with his mail-clad shoulder against the door frame, seemingly frozen at the room’s threshold.

Torchlight from the wall sconces fell upon the White Guardsman’s face, and as Isabella’s eyes adjusted she could make out his features. His eyes were wide in consternation, his lips parted in a comical little “o.” Suddenly, his shoulder began to slide down the doorway and he collapsed onto his stomach like a rag doll, his chin slamming down hard against the stone floor. From behind the door, a heavy boot appeared and clamped its heel down upon the limp Duncan’s head as if to steady it. Then, from the same direction, a sword blade flashed into view, glinting against the torchlight as it jabbed straight downward and into Brother Duncan’s neck.

Fluid splurted upwards like a wine skin squeezed too forcefully. Duncan emitted a pathetic gurgle that slowed and then faded away. Meanwhile, his killer pulled the sword free and stepped over the body. It was a soldier, dressed in the uniform of the Whites. A second soldier followed him, carefully avoiding the puddle of blood pooling around Duncan’s neck as he entered the interrogation chamber.

When they saw Isabella chained to the wall, both men stopped. The one who had finished off Brother Duncan sheathed his sword and approached her slowly, looking her up and down in apparent uncertainty and puzzlement.

“Is that . . .” he asked.

His comrade grunted in affirmation and called out towards the antechamber.

“She’s here!”

The first soldier brought a torch closer to better illuminate the shackled queen, barefoot and clad in coarse brown penitent’s garb. As he did so, they were joined by two more men. The first was the Bishop, who stepped over the crumpled body of his slaughtered goon with a look of loathing and trepidation. At his shoulder, nudging the cowed clergyman forward, swaggered a figure whose armor was polished to such a dazzling sheen that Isabella had to momentarily close her eyes against the reflected glare.

When she opened them, the shiny newcomer had left the Bishop glowering off to the side and was pacing casually in front of Isabella, regarding the captured queen with a smirk that seemed to animate his entire body. Contemplatively, he ran his fingers across the length of his long, curling moustache, the same light brown color and just as carefully groomed as the mane of hair of that fell in a neat arc around his shoulders. Isabella’s eyes narrowed and her heartbeat quickened.

“Well . . . Well well well . . .” hummed the dapper warrior.

“Sir Stewart,” hissed the Queen.

Sir Stewart, the White Knight himself, sauntered closer, eyeing Isabella’s ill-fitting cassock and uncovered calves with smug, pursed lips. He then gave her an elaborate courtly bow.

“Your Majesty . . .”

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