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The Inquisitor (chapter 22)

"Very well." said their master at last. "I am afraid you have been summoned. The Queen wishes to see you in her chambers after you have bathed and dressed." With that, he bade her go, looking long after her as she left for the bathing chamber.

When they were alone, the princess marveled at the changes in his appearance. Though she noticed his stock-white hair first, on closer inspection, other differences came to light. For one thing, he seemed almost.... fuzzy.

The princess found she could not even describe the change to her own mind. The fibers of his cloak seemed as though they'd been dragged over sharp rocks, but as she pondered them; they appeared exactly as they had. His mask as well; the golden filigrees seemed faded, though when the light struck them, they gleamed as they always had. The curves of his mouth seemed indistinct, but as he spoke, they curled as they always had.

At last, she could stand it no longer. "What has become of you, my master. What evil has leeched the color from your beard and your hair?" Despite herself, she found her hand reaching up to softly pass though the rich whitened curls. It felt as she remembered, but the look of it filled her with dread.

"Do not trouble yourself, my dear." He spoke, backing away from her gentle touch. "All will be well in time. These last days have been.... taxing."

All at once, his gentle demeanor shifted, and he was once again the imposing Inquisitor. When he turned to face her, his eyes had taken on a hard edge. He looked the princess up and down, seeming to contemplate his next move. As they stood, she could hear the fall of water from the bathing chambers, and in her minds eye, she could envision the maid's supple body exiting the warm waters.

He listened to the soft sounds from the antechamber for a moment, and then turned again to regard the princess.

"So, my princess... You have returned from your errand for our Queen. I trust you found the outlanders...to be good hosts?" His voice was strong and low, his eyes drinking in the sight of her before him. "Our Queen may have sent you to them... but does your bond still belong to me?

"Yes, my lord." she said, bowing her head low.

"Very good, my princess." he hissed. "I know that you went with a fearful heart, but you obeyed as commanded?"

"Yes, my lord. I did all that was asked of me." The princess blushed in spite of herself, remembering the night's revelry, the men before her as she pleasured them one after another. Her coyness was not lost upon the Inquisitor.

"We shall see, my dear." said the Inquisitor thoughtfully. "Our Queen has demanded audience with your beautiful maid, and has commanded me as well."

"Commanded, my lord?"

"Oh yes, princess. You are to be... instructed. Your Queen believes you belong to her now, and she is... jealous, shall we say, of your affections. Though your bond belongs to me now, I cannot say I am above such emotions either."

"Your body belongs to me now, though the Queen believes otherwise, and I may do with it as I please. But I will acknowledge a slight sting when I picture you pleasuring another..." He let the words hang like smoke.

"I have been remiss in your lessons. Other duties have called me away, and I have had to entrust much of your instruction to the lovely Chrysanthemum. Tell me, did you enjoy my machines?"

Again the princess's cheeks burned as she stood before her master. Her body recalled the intense pleasure the Inquisitor's machines had given her, her mind remembering the devices he'd used on her. Though some were more pleasurable than others, their memory triggered an instant arousal within her.

Her eyes still averted, she whispered, "Yes my lord. In truth, I was greatly pleased by them, in spite of myself."

The Inquisitor's eyes sparkled as he heard what he already knew.

"That is good, my princess. Very good."

A slight noise caught their attention, and they turned to find the maid waiting in the alcove. She had bathed and freshened. She was dressed in a long velvet gown of the darkest green. The princess thought it black at first, which surprised her greatly, as she'd never seen Chrysanthemum wear any shade other than green.

Upon seeing her, his demeanor softened again, and he went to her side, speaking softly to her. They spoke quietly, and the again the princess could not make out their words. Suddenly, he cried out in rage.

"No! I shall not allow it!" But the maid soothed him with soft words and caressed his masked face. Thought the princess could scarce believe it, she thought she could see tears in his eyes.

At last, the Inquisitor's shoulders sank, and he allowed her to pass. The maid wiped her own tears, and straightening, drew very close to the princess, who looked on in great confusion.

"What is happening, my love?" began the princess, but the maid silenced her with a soft finger pressed to her full lips.

"Fear not for me, my love." said Chrysanthemum. "This night has been on the horizon for a very long time. I have no doubt our Queen has dire plans for me. I may be sent away for a time... but know that I have loved you for longer than you know. I leave you in the care of our master... who loves you as well."

"He may be a strict master, but in time you will know the whole of his design. For now, remember your oaths, both to him and your own. Break them not, for all our sakes!"

Large tears welled up in her bright green eyes as she spoke, but she paid them no heed.

"Obey, my love." she continued. "Hold to the oaths you have sworn, no matter what occurs."

The princess could stand no more, her own eyes heavy with tears. "No, my love! Stay with me!"

The maid gently touched her face and stroked the princess's hair. "Alas, my dear princess. I cannot. My destiny lies down a different path. It has steadily approached since you arrived here. I have given you all I can. Trust me when I say... we may see each other again in another life!"

Before the princess could protest, she turned on her heel, and left the chamber in silence.

- - -

For a long time, all was silence within her bedchambers. She stood looking after Chrysanthemum, the Inquisitor slowly pacing back and forth. It seemed an eternity before either was ready to speak.

At last, it was he who broke the quiet.

"Weep no more, my princess." he said kindly. "The events of this night were set in motion long before either of us came to this realm. Chrysanthemum and our Queen have unfinished business between them, and it is beyond either you... or I."

The princess stifled back tears, gazing upon her master with unspoken questions.

"Is there nothing to be done, my master?" she asked at last.

"The tempest approaches, my lady." he said softly. "Neither tears nor rage could restrain it."

"I know of the revelry the two of you enjoyed on your excursion." said He, deciding upon a necessary change of subject. "And we shall address that in a while. But first, there are other things I must know. During your time with the outlanders.... Did you happen to meet anyone... anyone other than warriors?"

The princess caught the back-handed barb, but saw through to its real meaning.

"Why, yes my lord." She replied. "Other than the warriors," a small coy smile. "I met a very old man. We spoke well into the small hours of the night."

"Ah..." said the Inquisitor, drawing the sound out long. "You spoke with Syr Va'ahl , did you?

"You know him, my lord?" she asked.

"Oh yes, my princess. I know him well." His voice sounded far off, and for a moment, the ring of steel upon steel and desperate cries sounded in her ears. "If he travels with them... Then the outlanders do know of our King's fate. Yes, that answers much. Now, girl... tell me everything you spoke of."

The princess began to recount the plan that the old man had laid before her. Though she knew the Inquisitor was known throughout the land to be the Queen's loyal enforcer, her own experience told her otherwise. The strong talisman he had hung 'round her neck before her last audience with the Queen reinforced her trust in him. Though she did not know the entirety of his plan, one thing was certain. Even if he professed undying devotion to Her Majesty, he was definitely not on her side.

He listened intently as the princess laid down Syr Va'ahl's plot. When she had finished, he sat quietly for a time, hands folded before his chin as he had when they'd first arrived in her chambers.

"A good plan..." he murmered. Looking up at the princess, he asked pointedly. "And do you still have the item he secretly gave you?"

A moment's hesitation, and then, "Yes, my lord. I carried it safe from their camp hidden in my bodice."

A sly smile slipped across his mouth when she mentioned "bodice," but he quickly returned to the subject at hand.

"Excellent, my princess. Use it at first light. Do not attempt to use it during the hours of darkness, or it will betray you. Discover all that you can. You must solve the riddle, else the plot will fail and all our kinsmen will be slain."

End of Story