Who to forbidden pleasures are inclin'd
Will find at last they leave a sting behind.
- Anonymous, Aristotle’s Masterpiece, 1684
The damned thing of it is, Peter detests slavery, and with better reason than most. Loathes it with every fiber of his body and soul, the pain, the humiliation, the lack of dignity.
It also happens to be precisely the thing that slickens his wife’s cunt.
Arabella is a sweet girl, with courage in unexpected places and a wide open heart, and it’s for these reasons that Peter adores her and loves her so profoundly - her proclivities, however unexpected or demanding, are merely something to be borne.
So he sets aside his pride and endures, takes an imprecise, eager beating at his wife’s delicate hand while he kneels at the foot of their bed, clutching at the neckcloths binding him to the posts.
It’s one of her shoes that she’s battering him with tonight - a fine little thing of kid leather, embroidered all over with leaves and pink blossoms, and quite innocent in appearance until it happens to be thrashed against a defenseless shoulder blade. The wickedly arched heel has corners sharper than a Spanish cutlass, and it’s a wonder that Peter can’t already detect the scent of his own blood in the air, a stench he’s become far more familiar with in the last three months than in the whole of his career at Trinity and three years among the Brethren of the Coast.
Be damned, but he’s certain his pretty little bride could give even Captain Montbars a lesson in brutality.
Arabella tires her arms at last (he’s only grateful she didn’t have the opportunity to reach for something more injurious, like the sugar cutter) and, gasping with exertion, climbs onto the featherbed to kneel in front of him.
She’s gloriously, beautifully naked, her belly inches from his mouth. Perspiration glistens on her porcelain skin like the glitter of sunlight over a fountain, and despite the pain, he wants so badly to taste her - a lingering memory from a time before this shared madness.
Dark eyes fever bright, she strikes him across the face with a viciousness entirely at odds with her blushing cheeks and coos of love, as if he had offered her sonnets instead of his oh-so breakable skin.
Evidently at the end of her endurance, Arabella picks the bonds loose from his wrists, allowing him to crawl on top of her while he winces with every movement, and make love as Nature intended.
He’s always exhausted after giving her these midnight liberties, and while the physician in him would study it, the clod of flesh and ichor that makes up the rest of him merely pleads silently for it to end - knowing from the past that if he weakens before she’s glutted entirely on satiety, the hours until dawn will be spent soothing quiet tears and dismay at her own perceived failure to inspire him.
Arabella is no fool, but there are some things she simply cannot be made to understand.
Even though she’s wetter than an October morning, it’s a struggle for him to attain a ragged, trembling completion before crawling away with a gasp, face buried in the goosedown pillows. Peter only hopes that she’ll allow him to sleep this time - there have been evenings when, half-maddened, he’s been forced to plead with her.
There are quarrels, of course, when it first comes to light not long after their wedding - shame, tears, anger.
In all, the sketches are about twenty-seven in number, surprisingly skillful for their substance, and would likely have remained hidden behind the Naval lists in the library had it not been for chance.
Each image was obviously rendered by someone with a ladies’ schooling at such delicate pastimes, but it’s doubtful that any tutor would have suggested it - while other girls of her station and breeding had contented themselves with portraits of a wildflower or two, Arabella had preferred her uncle’s slaves as subjects. Peter recognizes the boulders of the waterwheel being turned by broad-shouldered men, sheened in sweat, striped with whip marks, and - in a flight of artistic inspiration - nude.
That particular collection alone would be shocking enough, but amid this revolting distortion of Peter’s own experience trapped within Bishop’s carefully constructed Hell on Earth, he’s nauseated and not a little furious to discover an unmistakeable likeness of himself lovingly etched in lead, bound hand and foot to the flogging post while blood seeps from whip weals in his flesh. The sheer number of similar drawings would suggest that this particular scenario was an oft-considered favorite.
He can’t reconcile why she’d want to watch him suffer, and she’s humiliated for wanting it, but implores, wheedles all the same.
“It isn’t cruelty, or wickedness, you must see that! Only - only I can’t explain it, how watching Kent beat them - you - and knowing how helpless you were to whatever might be inflicted, I - oh, it may be a sin, but doesn’t every woman want power over her husband in some way? Perhaps it’s natural, and simply unspoken of?”
Peter is not wholly convinced, haunted for once in his adult life by childhood assurances of hellfire from a cassock-clad priest, and the views of various scientific minds who have concluded - indisputably - that any offspring gotten out of such diseased couplings will be misshapen in the extreme.
He sleeps in his study for three nights, thinking hard and knowing that there’s bound to be talk among the servants if they don’t come to an arrangement soon. He’s not a brute - he has no desire to force his darling into acts she can’t enjoy or find pleasure in, and besides… he doubts very much she has much weight in her arm, so surely his own wellbeing is in no danger?
A silent nod across the dinner table is the only sign of his acquiescence, but the moment they’re standing together in the bedchamber and she takes a massive iron bannock spade from a drawer in her dressing table, Peter begins to wonder if some sacrifices are too great.
“I found this in the kitchen…” she murmurs hesitantly. “I- I thought it might do.”
He tells her it should be quite adequate.
That first night he’s kept standing, both wrists tied to the bedposts at the footboard with a pair of Arabella’s stockings - her preferred posture until spells of unconsciousness had required otherwise - and seconds before the first blow comes down with surprising ferocity he realizes how desperately he’d like to see her face. Slaves, however, are not permitted to speak.
She continues battering him, clumsily but frantically, until her every breath has become a shriek of exertion and he’s begun to fear that a rib may break under the onslaught - or worse, his back - when quite abruptly, everything stops and becomes quite silent.
Sagging in his bonds, Peter chances a glimpse over his bruised shoulder, and wonders with a giddy detachment if she’s through with him already, but the instant the thought passes through his mind Arabella reappears, a tallow candle in hand, and without warning flicks a splash of wax onto his cheekbone.
The pain isn’t so very bad, not when compared to the bone-deep throb all down his back, but it’s unexpected, and that alone is enough to make him break his word to himself and cry out.
Alarmed by his sudden struggling, Arabella cuts him free and assures him - shakily - that it would be quite alright if they went to bed now.
The burn on his face still stings, and he ought to bathe it in cold water now rather than later, but after all, hadn’t he suffered through the past hour in order to allow his wife a mutually satisfactory fuck? Better to have it over with than endure being thrashed like a lame horse all over again.
Despite her earlier anxiety, the night’s efforts have indeed inflamed her to a wildness that he doubts even the most expensive Caribbean whores could ever match, and it’s a balm to the mortification - even if, while Arabella swears her love so desperately she grows tearful, Peter can’t help but wonder if this isn’t what stud slaves feel in their mistresses’ arms.
She drops off to sleep quickly enough, sparing him the humiliation of a failed second endeavour. Human flesh can only take so much abuse before it refuses to perform.
Gingerly, a little terrified of disturbing her, Peter stumbles off the bed over to the pewter basin in the corner, splashing water on his face as usual - it never manages to entirely remove the lightheadedness, or the tremors, but it brings a bit of clarity for a moment, and that tends to be the best he can hope for.
He can’t manage more than a cursory examination, running both hands across his shoulders and the small of his back - it hurts of course, and the bruises will last, but at least his palms don’t come away bloody this time.
Back when it all began, he’d drunk wine afterward to steady his nerves, but in the past few months his gut seems entirely unwilling to accept anything in the wake of Arabella’s brutality. He’d vomited once even after a sip of water.
Something scratches at his leg, and he glances down to find his wife’s lap dog whining piteously. Spoiled little wretch - it can’t imagine what a privileged life it leads. A fine world it is, when a woman lavishes affection upon her spaniel and beats her husband.
Guilt washes through him at the thought, emotions ebbing and flowing with such unpredictable speed it could leave him gibbering like a madman, and desperate for reassurance he crawls back beside his wife where she’s sprawled beautifully across the damask counterpane, and holds her close.
Arabella murmurs wordlessly in her sleep, but her tone is one of adoration. Fragile little fingers - so much unsparing barbarity hidden in their deceptively weak grip! - close reflexively around his big paw, and somehow this unconscious endearment settles his mind, promises that this arrangement, while onerous, does not spring from a lack of love.
Perhaps one day he’ll become accustomed to it, even understand it’s appeal.
But for the given time, he’s hardly in a position to have anything to say about it.