“I know that we are young, and I know that you may love me…”
The sound of her voice still rings in his ears as he stands quietly at the railing. They might have been said yesterday, these words, and every nuance lingers in his memory.
“But I just can’t be with you like this anymore. Alejandro…”
Anything she was about to add was lost as he turned away; the pity would be worse than the proclamation itself, and he needed to be somewhere, anywhere else.
These are the things that come to him as he leans against the railing, forearms resting against the cold metal, his hands clasped together. In the yard below, the kingdom’s elites – men, all of them, all alabaster Adonises – are drilling, marching in neat columns, shirtless, clad in what would seem to be too little for the cold weather. They are uncomplaining, though, and no man’s expression even suggests that he is aware of the near-freezing temperature. The winter sky looms above, cold and grey.
And then she steps into the yard – the Lady, she of the perfect blonde bob, the severe black catsuit and the elaborate headgear. Maybe, in another place or time, her accoutrements would be strange, but in this place and this time they serve as markers of her station, her position – for she is their priestess, the sun in their spiritual sky. The soldiers continue their drills; if anything, their backs are straighter, their kicks higher. Alejandro is a long way off, but even at this distance he knows her features like his own, can see the brief smile she allows herself.
She turns in his direction; not because she sees him, but so she can walk down between the two groups of soldiers, observing them, alert to any flaw. They finish a set of drills; each man stands ramrod-straight, the effect more robotic than human. She’s walking toward him, closer, closer still. She looks up, and their gazes lock, but the pride, the haughtiness, the disdain he expects – they are nowhere in that gaze. She has a far-away look – not forlorn, but something akin to it, in the same way that annoyance is akin to rage.
She is the one to break from the gaze first, turning to look back over the ranks, her expression unreadable for those few moments before she’s facing away from him again. When she finally strides, without a word, back across the courtyard toward the barracks, the men fall in behind her. There are rituals to be performed. Flesh to be toughened. Lusts to be tamed, perhaps.
The Lady pauses, lets the soldiers walk ahead of her; they continue as though they haven’t yet wound down, all leather and perfect skin and impeccably-sculpted shoulderblades. She turns for a moment, but Alejandro has gone, no longer standing at the railing. The ghost of a frown crosses her face before she remembers herself, turning to follow behind her apostles, closing the double doors once she’s inside.
The barracks, such as they are, are only about half allocated for sleeping. In the other half there certainly are beds, but these are intended for the sculpting and perfecting of minds and bodies and the ritual release of lusts rather than for anything as simple as sleeping. The Lady knows, and the generals know, and for that matter the Lord himself knows that men cannot be shaped into instruments of war when they are troubled by their lusts; moreover, these lusts are forces to be harnessed and not spent frivolously. It’s to this task that the Lady bends herself, sometimes figuratively, at other times literally. The soldiers feel they are in control, sometimes, fleetingly, but ultimately there is no question as to who holds the reins.
Already they’re moving toward the beds. The slightest flicker of anticipation here and there – even such well-trained men as they cannot help but respond to their lusts occasionally. At every bed a man finds a partner, and in some places there are threes and even fours, often with some mentoring others in various techniques, tricks, and tools. Ropes are brought out, employed, hands and feet bound to simple metal headboards, forcing discipline onto toned bodies as those bodies are pushed to their limits.
The Lady moves among them, here correcting a posture, there caressing a spine, and in still another place joining in, taking a soldier’s place for a few moments to better demonstrate, or at least under the guise of doing so.
At the same time, she’s swimming in their energy. It’s nearly a tangible thing, here, almost a mist, something she can nearly see through the haze of pleasure and pain. She’s experienced despite her age, but it’s the Lord’s gift that lets her draw in and manipulate this energy the way she does, collecting, shaping, redoubling it. The generals haven’t seen a gift like hers; her predecessor was professional but otherwise unremarkable. As she moves among the men, she acts as they do, submitting in one place, making an unquestionable show of her dominance in another.
As she moves from bed to bed, drawing in the energy of the rituals – which have in some places devolved into frenzied couplings, especially among the younger and less-experienced men – that familiar tingle builds somewhere in her belly, and her hands stray there, resting against her abdomen for a moment. She steps toward a bed in the center of the room, and like moths to a flame they come to her. Some are too deeply engaged to be drawn, and will later lament their failure to their fellows.
Then she’s on the bed, and they’re upon her, crawling over her body like – or, at this point, as – animals. She’s lost her outfit in stages, and is now completely unclad, the tattoo on her left shoulderblade charcoal-grey against her pale skin. Their hands are everywhere, and as the power surges from her, they draw it in, wordlessly consuming the energy and lust and knowledge that she exudes. The men who share in this experience will, likewise, remind their absent fellows of what they’ve missed, and it is glorious in every way.
When she steps back into the courtyard hours later, Alejandro is once again leaning against the railing, his officer’s cap pulled down, a cigarette between his full lips. She lifts her head and gazes up at him, quiet again; he lowers his and their eyes meet once more.
Alejandro taps the ash off his cigarette, gives it one more slow pull, and tosses the butt into an ashtray. He stands straight, now, and his right hand lifts, describing a perfect salute. The Lady lets herself smile, nearly, and brings her own hand up to return it in kind.