Thorn Queen (Page 23)

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There is no real way to describe rape.

Sex with Kiyo or Dorian, the men I loved…well, I could have described that for hours in exquisite detail. I could have elaborated on the way they stroked my hair or the way their lips touched my skin. Even with Dean-my cheating bastard ex-sex had still had its share of affection and joy, back when things had been good between us.

There was none of that with Leith.

Well, not on my part, at least. And I think that's what made it especially bad. For him, with his crazy infatuation, it really was an act of love. He visited me often over the next few days, and each time he took me against my will, he'd tell me he loved me and attempt some sort of gentleness and affection. The horrible part was, I couldn't even resist that. It barely required any force on his part to make me submit. Honestly, I wished it had been violent. I wished he'd been cruel and brutal. I'd spent my life in fights, dealing with pain and blows. There would have been something comfortingly familiar about that, like it was just another battle for me. The twisted love he showed for me during each act of rape, however…well, that made it harder to bear.

In that time, I only saw Art once. Abigail checked on me a number of times, and I learned that it was she who mixed the nightshade, though Leith had taught her the recipe. Cariena was the one I saw the most. She seemed to have been installed as the live-in maid and occasional sex toy for visiting guys. When I arrived, there had been three other gentry girls, but Isanna-the one I'd heard mentioned that first day-left shortly. She was very pretty, and Abigail seemed particularly happy at the price she'd gotten for her.

The other two were stunning as well, and they seemed to glumly accept that their time would come. They faced it without much emotion or protest, like condemned criminals going to the gallows. Mostly, their faces were like pieces of a dream. I was kept so heavily drugged that my moments of clarity were few-though the drugs never made me forget what Leith did. None of the other girls had to be drugged; the iron was enough for them. Cariena told me, however, that when other women had required the nightshade, they hadn't taken nearly as much as me. Art and Abigail were too afraid of me getting loose, so they gave it to me more frequently than usual.

“When will you know?” Leith demanded one day. He had just arrived and stood outside my room, arguing with Abigail. The door was ajar. “I thought you people had the ability to tell this kind of thing.”

“We can,” snapped Abigail. “But not this soon. You've probably got to wait at least two weeks. Besides, you don't seem to mind passing the time that much.” The sneer in her voice came through loud and clear. I made a mental note to choke the life out of that bitch.

Leith, however, didn't sound so happy. “Two weeks is a long time. I need to bring her back pregnant before anyone finds her! They're looking for her. She has powerful allies. Her people are loyal, and both the Oak King and the Willow Queen have taken up the search.”

Dorian's dedication didn't surprise me, and knowing he was working to find me gave me the first hope I'd had in a while. But Maiwenn, too? Had that been Kiyo's doing? Or truly her own kindness?

“I don't care about your tree-based monarchs,” said Abigail impatiently. “Nobody would think to look for her here.”

“She suspected before. She told others. Someone could scry for her.”

“They won't find her. Scrying won't work. Not with the wards here. Now why don't you stop whining and just get in there and do your business so this won't be a problem. She's almost due for her next dose.”

I decided wringing her neck wasn't slow and painful enough. Yet, their words had given me a lot to think about. There was a search on, enough of one that Leith feared discovery. Her mentioning the wards had reminded me of when I'd sent Volusian here. Volusian…there was an option I hadn't considered yet. I could summon Volusian to me and have him warn the others. The wards were a problem. He couldn't break them on his own, but if I was calling him, the ties that bound us would be enough to pull him through. If I could muster the energy to do it. The iron and nightshade affected the gentry part of my magic. My shamanic powers, the ones I'd used for years, were tied into my strength and will-which I didn't have a lot of lately.

That being said, I felt more coherent now than I had in a while-which was still pretty addled. Abigail had said it was almost time for my next dose. I had to imagine the further from the dose I got, the more its effects would dim. Cariena had said most people didn't take as much, which probably meant the nightshade would still stay in my system awhile. But if I could reach a point when its effects were lessened…

My brainstorming was halted as Leith entered. Consternation from his argument with Abigail showed on his face, but it soon transformed to a smile when he saw me. “Eugenie…you look so pretty today.”

Yes, yes, I'd heard it all before. I was so beautiful, so amazing, a jewel among women that he loved so much. His words irritated me as much as insults would have. I'd been put in an ivory damask dress today, which gave me sickening bridal associations.

He looked me over, and his admiration again changed to a frown. I was lying on the bed, one hand cuffed to the headboard. “What's this?” he asked. “Why did they do that?”

“I was a smartass to Abigail. This was her punishment.”

His face darkened further as he sat on the bed. “I don't like that…don't like her doing that. But, Eugenie, you have to admit you bring it on yourself….”

Oh, Leith. He was so lucky I could barely lift my free arm, or I would have punched that pretty face of his.

He peered at me intently. “You have to get pregnant soon.”

“It's not something I can really control,” I said. Well, I could have controlled not getting pregnant if I was still on the pill. I hadn't taken it in…how many days? Three? Four? I wasn't sure how long I'd been here. I knew all the stats, though, about women who'd gotten pregnant from just missing one pill….

He sighed and began unlacing the bodice of my dress. “We'll just have to keep trying then. If we just wait a little while afterward, I can do it twice today.”

Oh, how fucking lovely. I wanted to explain that it wouldn't matter how many times he did it, not if I wasn't ovulating. That kind of science was lost on him, I knew, alleged genius or no. As far as most gentry were concerned, sex equaled babies, end of story.

“Once it's done, we can go home. We'll get married, and you won't have to be restrained like this anymore. You can move freely and use your magic.”

I decided not to mention that if we did that, the first thing I'd do with my magic was make sure I was a widow.

“Things'll be good then,” he said, moving his body over mine. “I promise. I love you so much….”

I didn't need any nightshade to make me feel numb after Leith left. He'd held good to his word to have sex twice, and I was slowly reaching that point where it just didn't matter. I couldn't feel anything. My body wasn't even attached to my consciousness. It was like my mind existed elsewhere, dreaming or, occasionally, plotting my revenge through the drugged haze. I thought of anything I could-anything that wasn't the violation of my body-while he was on top of me. Usually, I imagined it was happening to someone else and not me. That made it easier to bear until after he left, when the ache inside reminded me that it had indeed been me.

Cariena and another girl arrived shortly thereafter to give me my next dose of nightshade. I couldn't recall the other girl's name, though not for lack of caring. It was just the way my brain worked lately. She was extremely pretty, with curly black hair and sky blue eyes that reminded me of Ysabel's.

Abigail occasionally let the girls administer the nightshade, confident enough in her hold over them to do it. And her confidence was well-founded. I'd tried before to talk them out of it, but their fear of her was too great. This time, I merely attempted a delay.

“Wait,” I said, as they leaned over. It looked like the black-haired girl was going to hold me down while Cariena poured. “Let me just talk to you for a minute.”

Cariena immediately grew nervous. “Your majesty, we can't…” Sometimes I found her use of my title endearing. Other times, I thought it was a joke, considering my present situation.

“Just a minute. That's all.”

“Let her,” said the other girl.

I flashed her a grateful smile. “What's your name again?”

“Markelle.”

It sounded familiar. Markelle. I would remember this time. I wanted to treat her as a person, not an object. “Look, I just want to know about the nightshade. How often do I take it?”

“Every six hours,” said Cariena, still clearly worried about this delay.

“That's twice as often as they usually give it,” added Markelle. And with those words, I saw the slightest flash of bitterness in her eyes, the first I'd seen in any girl. I wondered then if she was one of the other “difficult” ones that Cariena had described, one who had to be drugged as well and eventually subdued.

“Is there any way…is there any way you guys could, like, dilute it?” There it was, the big question.

Cariena gasped, but Markelle readily answered. “No, your majesty. Abigail makes it herself and makes sure we come straight here. There's no opportunity.”

“Where? Where does she make it?”

“In the kitchen. She has the ingredients set aside and makes a fresh batch every day.”

“What else is in it? Aside from the nightshade?”

Markelle looked at Cariena expectantly. Cariena gulped, and it took her several seconds to answer. She rattled off a list of herbs, some of which I knew, some of which were unfamiliar. They probably had different names in the Otherworld.

“Do Abigail and Art ever eat here? Like, do they cook? Is their kitchen stocked?”

Markelle nodded. “But we never prepare the food-it's always them.” She was quick-minded; she'd probably thought I was going to suggest poison. Not a bad idea, really.

“Are there any ingredients in the nightshade mix that look like other herbs they might have in the kitchen?”

Both girls looked confused. “I've seen no other herbs,” said Cariena.

“You have freedom of the house.” I knew most girls stayed in the basement, though. “The next time they're not around, go through the cupboards. If their kitchen's stocked, they must have a spice rack.”

A knock sounded at the door. “What's taking so long?” Abigail called.

“See if any spices look like the ones in the potion,” I hissed as the doorknob turned. “Swap them.”

Abigail entered just as Markelle held me down. Cariena poured while Abigail watched with a critical eye. “You're too slow,” snapped the shaman. “She needs this regularly.”

Both girls groveled, bowing their heads deferentially. “Forgive us,” said Cariena. I knew her contrition wasn't faked. “It won't happen again.”

Abigail rolled her eyes. “Stupid girls. I'll have to do it myself next time.”

The instant effect that damned potion always had began to run through me. The familiar blackness swept over me, and I slept.

Another day went by. Leith “visited,” and the girls apparently hadn't taken my advice on the nightshade because my six-hour cycle repeated as usual. Abigail usually came with one of the girls now, apparently not trusting them anymore. Art came once as well, and a few caustic comments from me earned me another cuffed hand.

I began to understand the roles they played. Both participated in the brokering and sale of the girls. Art helped Leith's men catch the girls and offered his home-the one I'd once thought too large for a guy like him-as their prison. Abigail seemed to handle the day-to-day affairs of taking care of the girls, and it occurred to me one day that those handcuffs at her place hadn't been part of anything kinky. They'd been part of her arsenal for this hellhole, and I suspected the trip to see her “sister” that day had probably been to deliver some poor girl to her new owner. I cringed at what that car ride must have been like. For a gentry to be surrounded in all that metal and technology…it would have been awful for her.

Leith was getting dressed after one of his conjugal visits one day. I was close enough to my next nightshade dose that I was able to shoot him looks of contempt-ones he didn't notice. He seemed particularly excited.

“It's been a week,” he said. “One more week, and Abigail says we can test to see if you're carrying my child.” He pressed a kiss to my forehead. “I can feel it, Eugenie. I know we've done it.”

There was no “we” in sexual assault, but again, I found it easier just to remain silent lately. It usually made him leave that much more quickly, which then left me alone with my thoughts and my aching body. Sometimes after he visited, my body would feel so violated and dirty that I'd hate it. Then I'd remember that none of this was the fault of my body or me. It was Leith.

Shortly after his departure that day, Abigail and Markelle came in with my next dose. I'd heard talk that Markelle had a buyer. Her days really were numbered now, and I felt bad for her, this girl who'd once fought back against her captors. I was so used to the nightshade by now that they almost didn't need to hold me down anymore to force me to take it. It was a bit disheartening that I felt that way now and wondered if I too was on my way to that sad resignation everyone else had.

The two of them left, and I lay there, waiting for the unconsciousness that always followed. It usually lasted an hour or so before I came to and lived in my fuzzy state until the next dose. Sure enough, I started to feel a little tingly…but no sleepiness followed. I lay there, scarcely daring to breathe. After falling drearily into a strict regimen, any sort of change was a shock to my system. I waited and waited. No unconsciousness.

My blurry, addled state didn't disappear, but it didn't get any worse than when I was due for my next dose. Holy shit. One of them had done it. One of those girls had swapped out the nightshade tincture's ingredients. Who? I would have wagered money on Markelle over timid Cariena. Markelle occasionally had that rebellious spark in her eyes, despite her docile behavior, and her impending sale would be serious motivation. She was from the Thorn Land too-my subject. Sometimes I got the feeling that she truly believed her queen could get her out of this.

But did I? I still didn't know if I could get myself out of this. My weapons were long since gone, and I didn't think I had the strength to launch a physical attack on Abigail or Art. My door was kept locked, so there was no prowling for me. Gingerly, I sat up. The world shifted as usual, but again, not like it normally would have post-potion.

What to do with this freedom? I had no guarantees my next dose wouldn't be the usual stuff. That gave me six hours, and the further that time progressed, the better shape I'd be in. I would have given anything for a clock or even a glimpse of the sun. I needed to track the time, waiting until the last possible moment for my strength to be at its peak. It looked like I'd have to wing it and hope my guess was right.

For a moment, panic washed over me. There seemed no obvious options, and I didn't know how fast the potion would let up. Anyone could walk right in at any time. Leith could come in. Leith…With some of that fuzziness gone from my head, the memories of what he'd done to me came through more sharply, and my fear grew-

No! I swiftly ordered myself not to think about any of that. Not Leith. Not overwhelming odds. I needed to think only of escape, and for that, I needed to start with small details.

I'd been good today-no bindings. And with the nightshade, no one felt the need to give me iron bracelets like the girls. That meant no blocking of my magic, short of the potion. Somehow, I doubted I'd have the power in six hours to blow this place up with a mini-hurricane. What did that leave me? Hopefully physical stamina…and with it…my shamanic powers?

Now the countdown began. The minutes were agony, particularly since I had no way to count them. At first, I just attempted general counting in my head, but that grew tedious. I had nothing to do but wait and gauge my own body's recovery.

And recover it did. Oh, I was a long way from being able to kick anyone's ass, but my wits grew a little clearer. Standing and moving didn't hurt much either. Finally, I decided it was now or never. I had to take my gamble. Maybe it was well before the six hours, but I couldn't risk going over.

It would have been easier with my wand, candles, and other accoutrements. What I had to do wasn't impossible, though. I turned off the lights, plunging me into darkness, and sat on the bed cross-legged.

“Volusian,” I said softly. “By the ties that bind, I summon you to come to me and obey my commands.”

Weak as I was, I felt my will go out, stretching beyond the worlds to my minion. At first, I thought it was useless-then, I felt it. The slightest twitching of our bond. I gritted my teeth, drawing all the strength I could. “I summon you,” I growled. “Obey me and come.”

For a moment, I thought I'd failed. Then, a coldness filled the room, and red eyes burned before me. Seeing them in the blackness was too scary, and I stumbled up to turn the lights back on.

“My mistress returns,” he said. “Or rather, I return to my mistress.”

I didn't need to see the slight curling of the spirit's lips to know my hold on him was tenuous. It was like a fragile string of silk, ready to snap at any moment. Bringing him here, through those worlds, had sapped more of me than I thought imaginable. I still held him, but for the first time in the years I'd enslaved him, the full realization of just how powerful-and dangerous-he was hit me.

“I have tasks for you,” I said sternly. I could show no weakness.

He took a few steps toward me. “My mistress is bold to say so. You can barely maintain the bond between us as it is.”

“I can hold this bond until the end of time. Now, you will obey me.”

And almost before I saw what was happening, his clawed hands were around my neck-cold, cold. So cold that they burned.

“I have waited for this for so long,” he hissed. “So long for you to weaken so that I may finally kill you and make you suffer the way you have tormented me these years, enslaving me and sending me to do your menial errands.”

I couldn't even manage a scream, not with the way his hands were cutting off my air. I could only manage something that was half-grunt and half-gasp. Desperately, desperately, I fought him mentally. I was one of the most powerful shamans in the world. I could control wayward spirits. I could enslave them easily. I'd once had a host of them. I could fight this.

“You will feel pain like you have never dreamed possible,” he continued. “You will beg for death, beg for dismemberment…for even that would be easier than the agony I will inflict on you.”

Everyone had warned me so many times about keeping Volusian. What if your control slips? they had all asked. Dorian had even offered to help banish him to the Underworld for good. I had laughed the worries off. I was strong. Even after a battle like I'd had with the fire demons, maintaining that link to Volusian was practically subconscious. But now…now, this was different.

“You are losing it-the bonds are nearly broken. In a few heartbeats, your control will be gone….”

No! I couldn't speak a response, but the words in my mind burned. I would not lose this. I would not lose control of him. Wrenching up the last scraps of my strength was like ripping my own heart out. You will obey me! Back off!

The world started to sparkle as my air grew less and less, and then-he did back off.

His eyes blazed with malice. He'd been so, so close, and we both knew it. My control now was still a tenuous thing, and I had to hope I would recover my strength soon and solidify my grasp.

“You will obey me,” I said in a thin voice. “You will not harm me.”

“As my mistress commands.” But I could tell from his voice that he didn't believe this would last, that he was biding his time.

Meanwhile, I was running out of time to decide what to do, not only because I didn't know if he'd break free again but also because Abigail could be here at any moment. My initial instinct was to tell him to simply get me out of here. But if that command took the last of my strength, he could easily kill me once we were out. And even if I made it out, what about the girls? I couldn't rescue them on my own. How long until Markelle disappeared?

No, I needed to kick Volusian out of the house. If I didn't summon him back, those wards would keep me safe. I needed to send him for help, and that choice had to be a wise one.

“Leave this house. Go to Dorian,” I said. I drew upon that fleeting strength of mine to enforce the order. “I command you. Go to Dorian and tell him where I'm at. Exactly where I'm at.”

I could have sent him to Kiyo. Kiyo knew where this house was. But if the effort of these commands was enough to finally shatter my hold on Volusian, Dorian might be able to bind him back. It would be better than Volusian running loose. That, of course, depended on whether my order was strong enough to even get Volusian to Dorian to deliver the message. My first command had been to get Volusian out of the house and keep me behind the wards. If that was all I could manage, Volusian would no longer be bound to obey. He has to, I thought desperately. He has to get to Dorian….

“Go!” I ordered harshly.

“As you command.”

Volusian vanished, eyes narrowed, confident our bond was about to break. As soon as he was gone, I fell onto the bed, nearly ready to pass out. Would it work? Or had I just broken the last fragments of our bond? I was too afraid to reach out and test the link. I didn't have the strength.

The door suddenly unlocked. Nightshade time. With a sickening thought, I realized that if it was the original kind, I would almost certainly lose that control of Volusian. If it was Markelle's decoy, I could hold onto my strength.

Abigail entered, a cup in hand and Markelle in her wake. The gentry girl's eyes were down, her whole posture meek. I bit my lip at their approach, waiting to see what my future held.