| The late afternoon sun washed its way through gathering clouds to dimly light the courtyard as a harvest breeze pushed gathering dark clouds towards the castle. Rosamond and the other servants all hurried to assemble in the courtyard. The portcullis creaked and groaned as long rusted chains lifted it for the approaching tramp of armored feet and the plod of laden hooves. Prince Robert's black coach led the way, his entourage followed across the stones of the courtyard. The time had once again come for the taxes to be paid to the crown.
Rosamond huddled in line behind the older servants, peering for her first glimpse of the Prince. From the time she had came to the service of Sir Galvin at fourteen years she had always marveled at the royal tax procession. The large black horses trotting heavily through the gates, the lines of seemingly tired soldiers marching, their spears raised to their armored shoulders. Then, the all black coach would stop at the steps to the hall, and the door would open and then she would see him, that ever so handsome son of the king. His curling black hair, his piercing green eyes, his red and black velvets surrounded by his flowing cloak that would billow as he leapt from the black door of the coach. Sir Galvin would nervously welcome his guest to his house. This was the only man who made Sir Galvin nervous. Rosamond was never sure why, but thought it was because not only was he the royal tax collector here to put poor Sir Galvin to poverty, but also he was the second son of the king. Rosamond had always giggled a bit about his dread of this time of year, and what he would always mutter when she served him his breakfast, just as he had done this morning, muttering quietly to himself, "Another fertile field falls fallow, today," he said. He had said that for five harvests since she had come to serve here after her parents had died in a fire in the village.
The wheels of the carriage stopped and Rosamond leaned her neck past the older maids who all seemed to keep their eyes lowered in these moments, as if they did not wish to be seen, and doing their best to thwart Rosamond's efforts to glimpse the royal guest. A polished black boot burst from the carriage door without waiting for the footmen to open it. That boot landed hard on the broken stones of the small courtyard just as thunder boomed softly in the distance. Rosamond felt the small soiled scarf that lay loosely over her long braided blonde locks as a sudden swirl of cold wind swept over the courtyard.
She stuck a hand up to catch it from flying away when she noticed that those prying green eyes were locked tightly on her soft blue ones. At once, she felt the wash of cold air and the flood of crimson heat to her cheeks; quickly she lowered her eyes and cowered back into her position in line. This was the first time he had actually looked at her, never before had she seen such eyes, and they fell upon her clutching at a dirty rag that served as a scarf over her head. The embarrassment was intense; no doubt, she would be scolded later for it as well.
Sir Gavin, who bade him enter before the approaching storm arrived, greeted the Prince. Prince Robert smiled and clapped a red velvet gloved hand on Sir Galvin's shoulder, and allowed his subservient host to escort him into the hall. As the two nobles disappeared, the courtyard began to break up from its formal ranks, the servants scurrying off to duties and soldiers slogging off in other directions. The heavily laden wagon, pulled by aging strained horses clinked from the contents of gathered treasure, the regal coach prancing off to welcome care, all dissipating, as Rosamond stood stunned. Only the first cold drop of rain splashing her face shook her into motion, scurrying off to the kitchen to prepare for the feast as the wind whipped dark clouds closer to the curtain walls.
Rosamond had just barely pushed her way into the scullery door when her arm was seized and she was pulled off to a corner, crowded with freshly plucked and hung chickens buzzing with flies. She looked right into the age weathered and shriveled face of Mary, the head housekeeper, who's fingers dug into her arm savagely. "You foolish little girl," the old woman spat into Rosamond's face, "haven't you ever heard the tales about that. That man?"
"Ow," Rosamond protested cocking her head to one side and stomping a foot, "Mistress Mary, that hurts." Rosamond pulled her arm free of the old crone's grip and rubbed her arm with her hand. "Child," Mary began slowly in a trembling voice, "his highness is in league with darkness." Rosamond looked at the floor, turning her head to one side ignoring the old woman's spinning of wild tales she had heard scores of times. The words seemed silent and Rosamond could think only of the way the Prince's eyes had plucked her from the crowd. How handsome he was in his regal black velvets and billowing cloak.
Rosamond's day dream was interrupted by a sharp stinging pain on her left cheek and the loud snap in her ear as Mary slapped her face, snapping her back to Mary's attention. "Do you really think, girl that a man like that would even look at you if he were a man? A man like that only looks at young girls when he thinks she has a hidden fruit for him to pluck! I am embarrassed to serve in the same household as a whore like you!" With that, the old woman pushed past Rosamond muttering to herself about lost souls of foolish girls. Rosamond turned slowly and followed the old woman rubbing the sting from her cheek as she approached the hot blasts and reddish glows of the kitchen.
The next couple of hours were a blur of activity as Rosamond scurried about with the others making sure that all the finery was set at the table, all the goblets were filled with Sir Galvin's finest wines, the great hall's fires were stoked and ready. Rosamond carried a pitcher of wine and stood at her place in the shadows waiting to serve the table. She could hear the rattle of wind drive rain beating on the window behind her, and the roar of thunder as it shook the heavens above the hall. Finally, in this moment of peace her thoughts turned to the list of wives' tales she had heard whispered by sad old women to frighten young ones about the Prince.
It was said he was a wild philanderer by some. Still others said he was nothing more than a thief and a murderer. Still more told of him being the flesh of the devil, seeking out naive young virgins to steal their souls, feast on their purity and turn them into witches. Rosamond had to hide her lips with her hand and stifle a giggle at the madness of these tales. Sadly, the older women actually believed the wildest of tales. "Silly old cows," Rosamond giggled silently to herself.
The feast proceeded normally; his highness never even laid one of those piercing green eyes upon her. She never got near the head of the table. Rosamond noticed that the prince did seem to drink a great amount during the feast, and seemed in a merry cheer, until he rose to make his exit. Then he scowled at his subject host, Rosamond had seen a glowing reflection of his eyes full of malice as he glared at Sir Galvin. A very close thunderbolt flooded the hall with its blazing whiteness for a split second; the sight caused Rosamond to spill a few drops of wine, leaving a deep burgundy stain on her butternut apron.
The next few hours were of a more usual drudgery; Rosamond did her part of washing soiled crockery, stacking things, scrapping grease from pots. Rosamond was not a lazy servant, but kitchen chores were not her favorite. It was hot and filled with foul smells of fetid meats, coupled with tedium, and all crowded into a mass of sweating bodies shuffling past one another all seeking their own chaotic path past dying fires, racks of meat crawling with maggots, spilt and spilled sacks of grain, over stones covered thick with layers of grease and soot. "Far more sanitary in the pig's sty than in the ovens," one old woman had told her years before. Rosamond was forced to agree.
It was long after midnight when Rosamond finally collapsed into the small straw covered pallet of her cell that she shared with three other women. Exhausted and somewhat disheartened after tonight's feast she quickly fell asleep to the sounds of Kirsten and Gwyneth crowding into one pallet with their sinful giggles barely suppressed.
No sooner, had Rosamond's cheek hit her hard gain filled pillow then she seemed to be dreaming. She was out in the storm, the icy droplets pounding her flesh and streaming over her scarf and dripping own her long braid of hair. Lightning lit the sky and thunder shook the ground. Her eyes strained to see the sky swirling with shades of nude women a flight. Circling high in the heavens over the crumbling castle walls, they were all shrieking, some balling, some moaning, some laughing madly, some writhing in torment others panting like she dogs in heat. However, she could hear no sound from their lips, though some seemed to plead with her, others looked as if they were shouting a frightful warning. The scene was madness in her mind. A tiny part of her wanted to run from the scene. But a greater part of her wanted to dream of her prince, dark and handsome, as that part of her seemed to take hold in her mind her dream faded into a peaceful blackness that seemed to go on forever. Then out of it, snapped open tow giant, blazing green eyes that seemed to look straight into her soul.
Rosamond sat bolt upright in bed, the thin moth eaten blanket clutched tightly to her breasts. When she came face to face with old Mary who was kneeling beside her pallet, "Excuse me child for disturbing you, but his highness is in need of a chambermaid, my dear." Rosamond blinked and shook the images from her mind, though they had already vanished and she wondered why her heart was racing, even more than why Mary had woke her, of all people.
"Yes, mum," Rosamond nodded as she slung her legs out from the weak comfort of her blanket, and reached for her soiled dress. Mary helped her pull it over her flax shift, and tie her apron around her waist. As Rosamond grabbed her small scarf and loosely tied it over her head, Mary hurried her towards the door, not even allowing her to grab her tiny hole pitted slippers, "Hurry child, we mustn't keep his highness waiting, no off you go," Mary said pushing her out of her cell. Rosamond nodded and picked her way towards the door that lead to the small spiraling stairwell that the servants used to go about unnoticed by noble eyes.
Passing a small mirror, Rosamond glanced at herself in the stairway, using the light of a single flickering candle to regard herself for her presentation to royalty. Her face was smudged with kitchen grime, her hair was mussed in its braid, and her plain linen dress was soiled and stained. Her apron still bore the fresh stain of wine atop other various past incidents of toil. Patting her hair into place and running her palms over her dress to smooth it a bit, a sudden pall fell over her heart. Therefore, with a sigh she turned away from the mirror and lowered her head forcing her feet to climb the wedge like stone slabs to the top of the stair.
Opening the tiny door at the end of the hall, Rosamond crept into the darkened hall. The heavy rain and moaning wind battered at the windows like all the souls of hell hammering and clamoring at the gates, the cold stones of the hall chilling her soles as she walked past all the single doors of the hall. Brilliant lightning filling the empty hall with brief, blinding flashes, reaching the heavy double oaken doors at the far end of the hall that led to Sir Galvin's bedchamber. His royal guest no doubt commandeered it. Rosamond timidly reached out with a small hand to knock on the door, hoping that his highness would be too much laden with wine to notice the state of her clothes.
Her pale knuckles rapped softly upon the wood, just as an eruption of thunder boomed in the heavens so loudly it seemed the entire earth shook under the trod of heavy hooves. Rosamond jumped back, her heart in her throat, and drumming quickly against her breastbone. She shook herself angrily, "You stupid, frightened little girl," she admonished herself, "you let all those old wives tales frighten you into a timid kitten. What are you waiting for, your Prince is waiting to be served, knock again," she whispered to herself, a slight smile creeping across her young face as she overcame her fears. She hardly noticed that the temperature dropped enough that her words floated and froze in the air from her full lips as she stepped back to the door and knocked once more.
Rosamond stood waiting before the door, there was no sound, no sign. Even the storm seemed to quiet a bit. Though she did not know what made her so bold, she wrapped her labor-grimed fingers around the large iron ring to the bedchamber and pushed it inward slowly. The heavy door creaked loudly on it hinges, revealing the soreness of the hall. Rosamond poked her head in timidly, surprisingly there was no light at all, and not even the great hearth was lit. She smiled to herself that the prince had succumbed to too much wine and was in no need at this hour of any services, save those of sleep. She could feel the cold wind washing over her face from the open balcony windows. Rain poured in and the curtains fluttered on the chill air. Rosamond made the decision to step forward and close the window for his highness' health, and for herself as she may be the one to scrub the stones after the storm.
She had no sooner fully passed through the doorway than her left wrist was seized in a velvet-covered grip of steel. The heavy oak door screamed on its weary hinges. Slamming shut behind her with a clap of thunder, the heavy iron bolt flew shut preventing entry or escape. Rosamond jumped and her mouth flew wide to scream. Her cry was cut off forcibly by a roar of thunder that seemed to come from the very walls of the room, as a velvet glove crushed itself over her lips with irresistible strength.
Her left wrist was twisted and thrust up high between her shoulder blades. Pain wracked her limb as she tried to toss her head free, only succeeding in having her neck pinned hard to one side. "LLMMFGGHH!" Rosamond cried uselessly into the velvet fingers at her lips. A deep hollow laughter erupted behind her right ear in retort, as the fingers over her mouth crushed tighter still. Her brain hardly had time to comprehend that the pressure at her lips was causing pain as her tender inner lips were battered over her teeth and filled her mouth with the metallic taste of her own blood.
"It is too late to change your mind now, my pretty," The loud cavernous voice at her ear hissed like a torture master over the condemned. "You have desired this moment your entire life. I have watched you. Jealously protecting your virtue from the advances of eager stable boys, and sweaty soldiers, waiting for your prince to come and salvage you. Well, I have finally come to collect your purity."
Rosamond flailed her right arm behind her desperate to strike a blow and free herself from the now obvious services his highness wanted, writhing about in his grasp only serving to drive herself more into his powerful arms. Roaring with laughter, he lifted her bare feet from the floor by her wrist and chin. Two legs kicking violently in protest while she screamed uselessly into the velvet glove at her mouth. She did not notice the howl of the cold wind on her bare legs as they fluttered higher in the room. Nor did her mind understand what her eyes revealed to it as the room erupted in a deep red glow of light, casting long dark darting shadows over the room as the hearth belched with sudden flames and rancid smoke.
"Yes, bitch, fight," the ominous voice chuckled as she flailed uselessly about, "soon you will be begging me for my attention to your wanton flesh. Once I take your purity, you will forever be bound to a need of my searing flesh and icy seed. I shall make you a whore of hell! You will beg me to give you what you hunger for, for so long as you live, you will live for another taste of my lust. And once you lose your grip on life, you will beg me to torture your soul, plead for eternity for me to fuck you in flames!" Rosamond heard only the tone of his voice. Her mind to stunned to understand the words.
With that the voice roared with laughter and Rosamond felt herself lunge forward in his arms, his every footstep seeming to stomp the stone floor like the trod of a warhorse in the halls. The large four-poster bed loomed before her blue eyes. Her legs kicked and her arm flailed, knowing that when she reached the bed her maidenhead would be shattered. Broken and used her prospects of a marriage, of any life at all beyond these halls would be dashed. Desperation kicked in, her own greed for her own life driving her to blows. Rosamond kicked back hard, trying to dislodge herself from those velvet gloves.
The deep voice boomed with rage, ringing an animalistic snarl into her ear on its hot breath as her tiny bare heel struck, glancing off a shinbone. However, the movement did not stop, the grip on her arm and face ground tighter. Her arm was wrenched further up her spine, her wrist screamed and her shoulder pleaded as it felt both were being unscrewed from themselves. Rosamond screamed pathetically into the glove at her lips, leaking blood on to fine velvet.
Tears streamed from her blue eyes. As she fought with all her strength to escape, staring her neck to shake her head from side to side she succeeded in only knocking the scarf from her hair and beginning to unravel her braid. She was swept past the bed towards the open balcony. With the first ice-cold darts of rain hitting her face, she was certain, that her kick had drove him from the brink of rape to murderous bloodlust. Rosamond's mind could see herself spilling over the small stone battlements of the balcony watching helplessly as the stones of the courtyard rushed up to caress her. Her heart leapt into her throat, racing at a desperate pace, as if it were trying to rush fast enough to escape the goal of her chest and flee.
Rosamond was thrust quickly towards the battlements, but she was crushed over one. Her eyes caught the cracked stones of the courtyard swirling below her, but they did not rush up. Instantly, Rosamond almost wished they had. The breath knocking from her body at the blow, her braid exploding to fling her long blonde trusses over her hanging head like a sunburst in the midst of a midnight storm, twisting and snarling in the wind driven rain.
The glove on her mouth pulled back releasing her lips, Rosamond cough and gasped, splattering the rain slickened stones with blood. She felt velvet clad fingers slide beneath the neckline of her dress across her skin. The grip on her left wrist squeezed tighter. Hard drops of rain pelted her skin and soaked her soiled dress. Her right hand fluttered about, shattering a fingernail on the stone in the hopes of escape. The air was split by the sounds of tearing linen, her well-worn dress and shapeless shift clinging to life and crushing her breasts tight as if they were her defending angels. The insurmountable attack of the glove pulling skyward as her own twisted aching arm was used to pin her to the cold, weather beaten stones; was too much for the weak and aged cloth that surrendered to the inevitable and shredded, leaving her breasts to swing free in the chill of the storm over the courtyard. Her nipples instantly reacting to the night air and swelling as hard as the rain slickened stone of the battlement her milky breasts swung like two banners of lust in the wind from.
Rosamond's eyes watched a teardrop loose its hold on her cheek and plummet heavily to the stones below. Just as the sky was split with a thunderbolt, sparkling the fluttering tatters of her dress with pure white energy, as they sailed away on icy currents of air. The pale expanse of her back instantly feeling the chill of a thousand small drops of rain, as if heaven itself was sobbing over her fate. "AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!" Rosamond screamed into the wind.