Sixth 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.
“I’m to be given a triumph, you know.”
Isabella knew. The White Knight had not stopped talking about it since he had taken her from Evanshire Abbey, releasing her from the Bishop’s clutches and grasping her firmly in his own.
It was fleeting, the satisfaction she had felt stepping over the slain body of Brother Duncan and later walking past the similarly lifeless Brother Theodore lying in the hall outside the interrogation chamber. She was glad they were dead. She was glad to have left the Bishop’s flail behind and to no longer spend her nights chained to the floor of the Abbey’s cold tower. But there had been moments over the last two days, as the wagon train made its way towards the capital that she would almost have preferred the agony and fear that had previously gripped her to the aching despair she now felt.
“Acrobats. Moorish dancers. No expense spared. The Kingdom’ll not have seen its like in a generation, I dare say.”
Isabella knew all this as well. But it was not her that Sir Stewart was addressing. There was another man standing beside the White Knight, just outside the spacious canvas dome that surrounded her. A big man, both tall and fat. Isabella only had his silhouette to go by, projected up against the linen walls of Sir Stewart’s tent by the light of the campfire outside, but Isabella concluded that the shadow likely belonged to Baldwin d’Carrick, a local lord of the Vale of East Dentshire, where the caravan had camped for the night.
“. . . with a most exquisite saddle that’s being crafted just for the occasion. And monkeys, if you’ll believe it. Quite a collection of them, taken from Old Aardmore’s private menagerie. Say what you will about the Black Duke, he had an eye for curious beasts . . .”
As Sir Stewart continued to describe the grand celebration in his honor that awaited him in the capital, the flaps of the tent parted. The White Knight entered, followed by Lord d’Carrick, stooping to pass through the entryway.
“. . . But of course here we have the centerpiece of the whole affair. I just have to sort out where to place her. For maximum effect, you see, but without drawing undue focus . . .”
Lord d’Carrick made eye contact with Isabella. He appeared to catch his breath, hesitating at the tent’s threshold for a moment before following Sir Stewart’s lead and approaching her cage.
It was literally a cage. Stewart had ordered it constructed as soon as he and his men had ridden back into camp with their prize captive in tow, having sorted out at swordpoint the jurisdictional disagreement that had apparently arisen between the Tribunal of Heresies and the crown. The cage was rectangular, with iron bars sunk into its wooden base at intervals wide enough that Isabella could almost slip her head through. Almost but not quite. It was too short heightwise for her to stand upright, too short lengthwise for her to lay fully prone. So she sat or knelt or curled herself up into a ball on the straw bedding that lined the cage floor.
By day, the cage was mounted onto a wagon, and she was pulled like a circus animal along with the caravan’s other spoils of war, inching inexorably down the long road that led to the capital. By night, Sir Stewart had her placed in his tent, a spacious pavilion that the Knight’s servants filled with velvet rugs and other luxuries each night after the company made camp. He had arranged his wine casks and his tableware on top of the cage, as if the enclosure holding the Queen were simply furniture, an interesting conversation piece to entertain visitors.
He talked to her sometimes, particularly after he’d refilled his cup several times from the bar above Isabella’s head. To Isabella’s great relief, his banter seldom called for a response, and she was for the most part allowed to meet his japes and his self-absorbed proclamations with silent despondency.
It was a notable change from the repartee in which the two had sometimes engaged back before King Harold’s death. There had been no love lost between Princess Isabella and the young noble not yet known as the White Knight, her cousin once removed on her father’s side. She’d had no patience for his foppish excesses or his empty chivalry, and she made her disdain known at every opportunity. She’d spread rumors about him, and more than once their hostility had erupted in public verbal bouts that breached court decorum.
Though vain and frivolous, Isabella could not deny that Sir Stewart was capable of sporadic displays of wit, and before the war she might even have admitted to enjoying their spirited rivalry on some level. But that was before the Battle of St. Anthony’s Hill had established his reputation as a military commander of unquestionable brutality and, in Isabella’s opinion, a total lack of basic honor.
If Sir Stewart was disappointed by his inability to get a rise from his formerly feisty sparring partner, he didn’t show it. If anything, he seemed pleased, or fascinated perhaps, by his prisoner’s newfound servility. Even when he wasn’t lecturing her on the shortcomings of her battle tactics or discoursing on the minutia of planning his coming parade, he seemed to take satisfaction in simply putting his feet up and watching the silent Queen in her cage.
“Join me in a stoup of wine, My Lord?”
Lord d’Carrick did not answer. He leaned down to peer into Isabella’s cage, as if incredulous that the woman in the box was really King Harold’s eldest daughter. They had met on several occasions, and Isabella regarded him as a good man. He was tied to the House of Aardmore by marriage and would likely have declared for the Blacks if his estates had not been so close to the capital, surrounded by lands controlled by Queen Joan and her allies.
“Your Ma—” he began, before catching himself. “Lady Isabella. An . . . urm . . . an honor to . . .”
He trailed off. Sir Stewart thrust a cup of wine into the lord’s hand and then crouched next to him, staring alongside him at the woman in the cage. He clinked the wine bottle slowly across the bars.
Isabella adjusted her position, rising from a cross-legged squat to kneeling. Her corset squeezed her torso painfully as she did so. After so many days chained up naked in the Bishop’s interrogation chamber, it should have been a relief to at least endure this latest humiliation fully clothed.
It had, in fact, been one of Sir Stewart’s first priorities upon escorting her back to his encampment. Tsking his tongue in disapproval as she stood before him in his tent, her rough-spun penitent’s vestment hanging off her like a sack of turnips, he ordered garments brought befitting a lady of royal birth. To Isabella’s surprise, his men had immediately returned with several trunks of gowns and other elegant apparel. She could not comprehend what need a cavalry regiment in the field would have for such a wide selection of women’s finery. Only later did she learn the extent of the loot that Sir Stewart’s soldiers were escorting or whence it was plundered.
It was not the outfit she would have selected. She recognized the cut as one that had recently come into fashion, especially among young noblewomen who had spent time abroad, but the scandalous way it hugged her curves and the coquettish flashes of skin it revealed would never have passed muster at court in her father’s day. But she had no say in the matter. Sir Stewart seemed to enjoy picking out what she would wear, dressing her up to his liking as if she were some sort of doll.
Every morning, he would bring in a pair of female camp followers (prostitutes, Isabella was certain) to brush and braid her hair before placing her back in cage, ensuring that she looked appropriately regal as her mobile jail was wheeled across the countryside. Even her chains were polished and delicate, more like jewelry than like the heavy shackles which had bound her in the Abbey tower. A short strand of metal hanging between two bracelets kept her wrists close together. A similar chain ran between her ankles.
At least the dress was black.
“Queen Joan wished her sent ahead,” said Sir Stewart, tapping the neck of his bottle nonchalantly back and forth between two bars, “but I persuaded her to be patient. A cunning woman, our queen, but no sense of showmanship. Would have undermined entirely the suspense of my triumph, ruined the whole effect. It must be the city’s first look at the commander whose defeat has brought the Kingdom peace. The people will throng to see with their own eyes what’s become of the Black Queen.”$*Lord d’Carrick furrowed his brow quizzically, as if waiting for the Black Queen to respond. Isabella found herself forced to look away. Despite the fine black gown, despite the noble bearing that animated her instinctively, she did not feel much like a queen. The torture she had endured at Evanshire Abbey had broken something within her that was not easily repaired. A sense of powerlessness had permeated her, a lack of agency so foreign to her previous sense of self that she now struggled to retain a grip on who she was.
As shattered as her psyche had been, there were moments while riding away from the Abbey, the tower of its sinister inner sanctum receding in the distance, when she had tried to kindle the embers of hope that still flickered here and there within her. There was a time, after all—no more than a week or two ago, though it seemed a lifetime away now, before she’d been stripped naked in front of the Bishop and his men, before her body had been whipped and abused, before she’d been chained for days on end in the dark, violated repeatedly according to her captors’ whims—when this had been exactly what she had demanded: to be taken to the capital that she might negotiate a peace.
What Sir Stewart told her shortly thereafter was what had finally strangled these last fragile vestiges of hope, disposing of their mutilated husks to make room for the billowing despair that now stretched endlessly before her. From the moment Isabella had carelessly allowed herself to be captured in Malburgh Woods by the vile pair of White foot soldiers, she had been isolated. The White Knight’s boastful running commentary, as he sorted through chests of clothes and played dress-up with his new captive, was therefore the first news she’d had in days concerning the war’s progress.
The news was devastating. Shortly after her abduction, the White forces had managed to breach the walls of Malburgh Castle. Stewart had hinted that several members of the night’s garrison had been paid to open the gates. In any case, the castle had fallen. With the ancient fortress in their control, Queen Joan’s forces had quickly swept southward, burning and pillaging a path across the once-fertile lands the Duchy of Aardmore. Her uncle and his men had been forced to flee, and Aardmore Castle too had been ransacked and stripped of anything of value.
Meanwhile, the Black King had been surrounded. Cut off from his allies, his army had been cornered. Pinned against the sea and with White banners descending on his position from different directions, Isabella’s husband had surrendered. In exchange for amnesty for himself and his men, he had renounced his claim to the throne and pledged the swords at his command to the service of the White Queen and King.
In one spineless, selfish stroke, the Baron of the East Midlands, the old man that Isabella had married out of cold strategic calculation, had brought the conflict effectively to a close. The captured Queen felt her leverage evaporate. Suddenly, she was no longer a prisoner of war; she was a trophy of victory.
This news, as much as anything else, had knocked the fight out of the Grey Lion’s proud daughter. It was why she knelt silently on the floor of her cage as Lord d’Carrick stared at her incredulously through the bars, the White Knight smirking insufferably behind him.
“Between the two of us, it always seemed to me as if she might have the better claim,” offered Sir Stewart, continuing to speak about Isabella as if she wasn’t there as he rose to carve a hunk of bread from a platter of food that sat on top of the cage. “But then I’m no legal scholar. Something to soak up the wine, My Lord? This bread really is quite passable. Of course, you would know. It’s from your ovens, is it not? The crown thanks you warmly for your hospitality.”
Lord d’Carrick straightened upright, stepping back so that he could keep his eye on the caged Queen. He declined the outstretched bread with a mutter and a shake of his head. Sir Stewart shrugged and tore off a piece for himself, stuffing it into his cheek with relish. He then tore off a smaller piece and proffered it between the bars of the cage.
It was not the first time during her captivity that the knight had insisted on feeding her by hand. Isabella warily eyed the hand bobbing in front of her face in a theatrical display of enticement. She hazarded a swift sideways glance towards d’Carrick. Her impulse was to reject the humiliating offer, spit on the bread, bite the hand perhaps. But as the spongy white morsel danced before her, she realized how long it had been since she had eaten, and more primal instincts took over. She reached out for it.
Sir Stewart gently slapped her hand away, pulling the bread back. She had forgotten herself. Isabella’s anger and resentment flared for a moment but subsided with surprising speed, subdued in part by hunger. So quickly that it was one fluid movement, her hands tensed into tight fists, nails digging into her palms, and then relaxed, dropping demurely into her lap. Sir Stewart smiled and once more extended the tiny bite of bread. Isabella leaned forward and opened her mouth. The White Knight plopped his offering inside.
Glancing back at d’Carrick with a suppressed smile that might as well have been a wink, Sir Stewart tore off another small piece and fed it through the bars, straight into Isabella’s mouth. Tiny bite by tiny bite, the kneeling queen accepted the nourishment. She could only imagine how peculiar the scene must look to the knight’s guest: the notorious Lady Isabella of Aardmore, renowned throughout the Kingdom for both her beauty and her ferocity, kept like piece personal chattel in this army tent, clothed in a lavish if somewhat immodest gown while eating tamely from the cavalry commander’s hand like a baby goat.
The large nobleman touched his beard thoughtfully as, with a faintly furrowed brow, he watched the demeaning interaction.
“Shall I . . . Shall I send men to escort Lady Isabella to the banquet as well? We would be most honored to welcome her royal personage to our humble table along with the other gentlefolk among your party. Surely, this . . . this . . .”
Trailing off, he waved a meaty hand at the cramped cage, at the chains pooling around Isabella’s knees, at the small glob of bread pinched between Sir Stewart’s fingers.
“. . . all this is not necessary. In spite of all, Sir, she is the trueborn daughter of King Harold, is she not?”
“Nothing would please me more, My Lord,” answered Sir Stewart, tearing off another bite of bread. It bumped up against Isabella’s closed mouth, whose focus had shifted to the men’s conversation. After a few insistent taps against her lips, though, she opened up and accepted the food. “But it’s too dangerous I’m afraid.”
“Dangerous . . .?” scoffed Lord d’Carrick. “I assure you, my men . . .”
“I do not doubt your men’s competence, sir, nor their loyalty. But you underestimate the Black Queen’s powers. Sorcery and so on. You must have heard?”
“Rumors, surely . . .”
“I might have thought so too, My Lord. But she confessed all to the Tribunal of Heresies. I have the documents here . . .”
Sir Stewart set down the loaf of bread on top of the cage and picked up a roll of parchment. He unfurled it and handed it to his guest.
“Scandalous stuff. Fucked nearly every man at court. Satanic orgies with her serving girls. Tried to seduce her own father, apparently. But you’ll have to skip down towards the end for the truly titillating bits. Tasted the seed of the Devil himself, she says. Her and her mother both, on many occasions. It’s the source of the Aardmore women’s black magic, Satan’s gift for willingly yielding their bodies for his depraved pleasures. And those of his foul minions, whenever he chooses to favor one with the use of his finest whores.”
Lord d’Carrick blanched as he skimmed across the long list of admissions. Isabella doubted that he actually believed any of the ludicrous charges, any more than Sir Stewart did. But the signed confession had a momentum of its own. It would make it that much more dangerous for any would-be allies to defend or protect her. And it would be used to justify whatever sentence her enemies wished to pass upon her. d’Carrick stared hard at the line where Isabella had been forced to scrawl her assent and at the signatures of the witnesses who affirmed the veracity of the confession. Eventually, he rolled the parchment back up, looking down at the caged queen with a solemn expression full of impotent pity.
“Most shocking . . .” he muttered.
“Indeed,” agreed Sir Stewart, “So as you can see, the circumstances of the Black Lady’s confinement are strict but warranted. Who knows what witchcraft she might manage if we let her run loose, conjuring spirits and gathering reagents and whatnot? Summoning up one of her demonic paramours to her aid? No no, I’m afraid Lady Isabella will not be able to attend your banquet. She sends her regrets.”
Sir Stewart rapped his fist sharply against the top of Isabella’s cage for emphasis before pivoting back towards the entrance of the tent.
“But speaking of banquets, the evening grows late. Shall we ride, My Lord?”
The nobleman gave a sad silent nod before bowing respectfully towards Isabella.
“You have my prayers, My Lady.”
He turned and followed the knight out of the tent. Sir Stewart’s chatter resumed as the two men walked towards their horses.
“ . . . the bars are coated with holy water I’m told. And the frame is peachwood or some such. All quite resistant to enchantment. My scribe, Brother Joseph, supervised the particulars . . .”
Isabella listened as the voice faded, mingling with the other sounds of camp until it became indistinct. She shut her eyes and curled up on the floor of the cage. She tried to muster prayers of her own, but the words eluded her.
Sir Stewart did not return to his tent that night, having no doubt found more comfortable sleeping arrangements in Lord d’Carrick’s keep. When daybreak came, it was not the White Knight but his page who threw open the flaps of the canvas pavilion, followed by several soldiers from his regiment. Wearily, with frequent breaks to crack stiff joints and muscles, they set about dismantling the tent and gathering their commander’s things, his caged noblewoman included.
Isabella pretended to remain asleep, curled up amid her straw bedding, as the tent roof gave way to a pinkish dawn sky, the sounds and smells of camp suddenly washing over her unimpeded, smoke from breakfast fires and the shouts and clatter of men preparing for the day’s march.
She tried to think back to the last time she had passed through East Dentshire. The Vale couldn’t possibly be more than three or four hours’ ride from the capital, though the White Knight’s ponderous wagon train would obviously take longer to arrive. Even at this slower pace, however, their journey was almost certainly coming to an end. Isabella had no idea what could possibly await her thereafter, and her stomach knotted with the amorphous dread of it.
Sir Stewart’s troops were better disciplined than the pair of White peasant conscripts who had assaulted her in the woods. Aside from the lecherous stares and an occasional crude joke, they tended their prisoner with relative professionalism. Her crate had been loaded onto its wagon by the same four soldiers every morning since their journey began, and the men by now had their system down. Each knew his corner, and with no more than a gruff “hup hup hup” by way of coordination, they hefted the queen’s cage into the air and hauled it across the camp to its waiting undercarriage.
The jostling cut short Isabella’s stubborn feigned slumber. As the cage floor beneath her rocked unsteadily, she slid against the bars, rolling partly onto her back with a tinkling of chains. Before she could right herself, her enclosure was dropped suddenly into place, causing her stomach to lurch with the momentary sensation of freefall before the impact knocked her skull and the floor against one another with a resounding pop.
Isabella groaned and sat up. All around her, the camp was being struck: saddlebags packed, fires doused, horses mounted. The wagon carrying her mobile jail cell had already been hitched, and someone was already taking the reins of the speckled brown mare that would pull her down the uneven stone road that led to the capital.
As the driver whistled and the wheels beneath her creaked, Isabella grasped the bars of her cage and pulled her face between them until the iron squeezed against her cheekbones and temples, wondering if this would be the last sunrise she would see.