The Duchess And The Ponygirl

By Xaltatun of Acheron

This work is copyright 2001 by Xaltatun of Acheron (A Pseudonym). It may be posted on the Internet to any free forum, provided it is not modified in any way, and provided that this notice is included in its entirety. It may not be sold, or included in any compilation that is sold, or posted on any forum that requires a fee for access, without my written permission. My permission will require payment, terms to be negotiated. For purposes of this notice, sites guarded by Adult Check or similar packages are considered pay sites. Posting on any site must include this copyright notice.

Adult Content Warning - this story contains adult themes, including ponygirl bondage and consensual slavery. If you are under the lawful age for such materials (18 in most jurisdictions) or if you would find such material offensive, please go elsewhere.

OK - now on to the story -------


This is a sequel to “Ponygirl Hostage.” This story can be read without reading the earlier story, but some things may puzzle the reader. Briefly, in that story, Lady Deborah’s father, the Duke of Balizon, rose in rebellion against the rulers of the kingdom, King Abronix and Queen Pugimax. Lady Deborah, who was staying at the King and Queen’s castle as a hostage for her father’s good behavior, was sentenced to become a ponygirl. The royal couple’s daughter, Princess Malrode, commandeered her for her own, and rode her just about everywhere in the kingdom. Through various machinations - tortuous, religions, sorcerous and otherwise, she finally manages the overthrow of the dynasty, and the restoration of the previous dynasty. After a short, sorcerous discussion, she and Princess Malrode come to an accommodation that leaves everyone else uneasy, aghast or just plain confused. Considering that both she and Malrode are quite powerful sorceresses, nobody is quite ready to push the point.

Chapter 1. An interview with the King.

“Deborah,” King Rupert said, “It’s time to find you a husband.”

Find me a husband? “But why?” I sputtered. I must have looked stunned.

“Consider the facts,” he said. “You are a Duke’s daughter. Your brother will inherit the duchy. As long as you remain unmarried, you will be the center of a certain amount of political intrigue, and you know perfectly well it’s already started.”

“But,” I sputtered again. Then I got control of myself. “I don’t want to be married.”

“Why not?” he asked. “It’s perfectly normal for a woman to want a husband. Its not like you prefer the girls, after all.”

I stared at him, speechless for a change.

He smiled thinly. “It’s supposed to be beneath my dignity to know who shares your bed. I’d have to be an absolute fool to take official notice unless it was causing a major problem, but I’d be an even worse fool not to know.”

I took a deep breath and relaxed. “You’re completely right, sire. I’d like a husband. There’s just never been an offer from anyone even remotely suitable.”

“I know. We’re a minor kingdom on the frontier of the Empire, and none of the aspiring younger nobles around here is in the least suitable. The ones that want you are looking for a sorceress to further their own ambitions, and frankly, I don’t want you anywhere around here if you marry one of them.”

I’m afraid I gaped at him again. I do not like losing control like this.

“So,” he continued. “If you want to continue being a spinster, then you can stay as long as you like; I can always use a sorceress, and it keeps what’s left of Princess Malrode under my eye. On the other hand, if you want a husband suitable to your station, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.”

I’d gotten myself back under control, or so I thought. “And where would elsewhere be, sire?” I asked demurely.

“I believe that the current hunting ground is the University of Sebastian the Contemplative,” he said.

“In the capital? That’s got a reputation…” I trailed off.

“For just about anything the current speaker finds disagreeable,” he agreed. “Some of it’s even true. You’ll be staying with Lady Marissa and her consort; that should be enough to protect your reputation, assuming you want it protected.”

“But I don’t know anything about the capitol,” I said.

“You’ll learn,” he replied. “That’s what universities are for, after all. You leave in two days. I’m sending a maid with you, and a squad as an escort. They’ll come back when you’re settled. Oh, and take that damn table of yours with.”

My table? Oh, he meant Malrode. That was obviously the end of the interview.

“Yes, sire.” I rose and backed out of the room, turning with a swirl of skirts.

My apartments were as I had left them, not that I expected otherwise. It was fairly small, as such things go; a bed chamber, a sitting room, and a small anteroom that connected both of them to the corridor door. My sitting room doubled as a sorcerous workroom, with its rack of scrolls and shelves of books. My writing table stood against the far wall.

“Malrode!” I snapped in the sorcerous tongue, “Mirror!” The writing table shimmered, and then vanished. In its place stood an ornate full length oval mirror, rim chased in shining metal dragons and other interesting beasts. The twin horizontal poles out of the center held it in a wrought iron stand. The various things that had been on the table silently reappeared in their proper places.

I contemplated my image for a moment. My oval face and almond eyes are a bit too severe to be pretty, but they are much better than plain. I know that such judgments are supposed to be impossible to make for oneself, but that’s one of the benefits of being a sorceress. I could bespell myself so that I could look at my image without recognizing it.

What was worse was that I stood above most women, and above most men, for that matter. To say I was heavily built would have been flattery. I am built like a blacksmith; one of the ones that begins his morning by pressing his anvil above his head a hundred times.

Well, enough of that. I gestured, and my image vanished from the mirror. “Show me the arrangements for our stay in the Capitol,” I said. The surface swirled, and then writing appeared. I studied it. The King had provided me with a stipend; it looked like it might be adequate, but then, I had no way of telling. Or did I?

“Malrode, find out if this is going to be enough.”

The mirror cleared, and the image of a young woman with flaming red hair and flashing green eyes stood imperiously before me, hands on her hips. “And just how,” she said “am I supposed to find that out?”

I shook my head.  “Find a young noblewoman there, and find out how much she needs.”

“Oh.” The image vanished. A moment later, the mirror cleared again. There were six names, with annual amounts. Princess Stephanie. Lady Rhona. Lady Dianne. Lady Avilar. Lady Eleanor. Lady Motralia. I looked at details for a while. Damn. The king’s stipend wasn’t going to come close to covering expenses unless I lived like a nun. And I had no intention of doing that. Also, I had no intention of working for a living; that was too far beneath my station.


The mirror cleared again, showing the green-eyed woman. “You could make gemstones?” she said, a bit hesitantly.

“You know sorcerous gemstones don’t last,” I said.

“Not if you just put a glamour on a pebble. However, if you make a real stone…” she said.

“Make a stone? Are you out of whatever you’re using for a mind these days?”

She actually giggled at me. “I’ve done it. I made the ruby in my pendant myself. It was incredibly difficult, until I found the key.”

“Show me,” I said.

She was right. It was incredibly difficult. Her explanation of how rocks were really put together was nothing like the descriptions in the scrolls. I’d have written it all off as a fantasy, except for two things. One was that fabulous ruby in the center of her prize pendant; the second was that I knew from personal experience that large sections of the scrolls were inspired guessing, covered up by pure obfuscation, and supported by plausible sounding irrelevancies.

“So you can make gold and sliver?” I asked.

She winced. “I tried once. They’re elements on the level we’ve been talking about. They’re actually built of pieces another level down, but I can’t handle it safely. That’s where the South Tower went.”

Right. The ruins of the South Tower still glow in the night. It’s reputed to be very unhealthy to go anywhere near it. I felt the hairs on the nape of my neck stir. Some of the bard’s tales of the long ago Wizard War Centuries came to mind.

Chapter 2. On the road.

It is said that all roads lead, eventually, to Kafuzalum the Magnificent. That’s actually true, if you don’t mind going through some not quite so magnificent places on the journey. Like our current stopping point, Splurg the Sty. We went through it to the traveler’s glen on the other side without stopping, not that I actually wanted to investigate the three taverns, tawdry merchant shops and smithy with the dented anvil. Or the pigs that seemed to be wallowing freely anywhere one looked. One look at the Inn showed it was definitely Out.

The traveler’s glen, on the other hand, was just a flat piece of land, surrounded by a bit of forest, with a brook at the back. I tended the magnificent chestnut stallion I’d been riding while the guard troop got our tents set up. I waved my hand, and the stallion shimmered and vanished, replaced by a young redheaded, green-eyed woman dressed in a short tunic and sandals. She smiled saucily at me, and then vanished into the tent. I followed a bit more sedately.

A hot bath, a massage and a change of costume made me a new woman. Food was next on the agenda. It smelled like the cook had dinner ready, so we went out to join the troops.

Dinner on the road is as simple as it is filling. We discussed the next day’s journey plan, and then the conversation turned to other things. I made to leave when one of the men spoke up.

“Begging your pardon, lady, but we’re all curious.” The cook could have cut the silence with a knife, and served it up for breakfast.

“About what?” I asked. As if I didn’t know.

“What’s with your horse and your maid? Are they…?” He trailed off.

Oh, well. “They’re both Princess Malrode. We came to an agreement after the sudden change of dynasty last year.”

“I thought she…” He seemed to be having a bit of trouble completing his thoughts. Not that I blamed hem.

“You thought she died with her parents. No such luck. She’s whatever I want her to be. Right now, I need a horse and a maid. Other times…” I let the thought dangle, to match him.

“But, what if she…”

“Gets out of control?” I decided to bring it out in the open. “She won’t. Her pleasure is serving my needs; she really has no other interests.”

“But how…”

“We reached an agreement, and then sealed it with sorcery. Her pleasure is doing what I find useful. Right now, I find a horse useful.”

He looked like he wanted to say more, but wisely kept his mouth firmly shut. Malrode and I rose and left so they would feel free to indulge in men talk. When we got back, we put our flame and raven heads together and continued our study of the composition and manufacture of gemstones.

Chapter 3. Kafuzalum the Magnificent.

Kafuzalum the Magnificent lay spread out below me like a gaudy tapestry; all browns, reds and greens with occasional flashes of white and gray, set against the deep blue of the bay and the lighter blue and white of the sky. The trouble with it, I reflected, was that the tapestry needed cleaning. Urgently. Smoke from the fires overlaid the city like a dirty shroud.

Our little troop followed the winding road down the mountain, maintaining our place in the line of merchant caravans and other travelers.

We were about halfway down when a nice young man in the green and gold uniform of the Emperor’s Guard cantered up on a piebald gelding. He gave the guard captain a pole with a flag, made a note in a list he carried, and then rode on. The flag had a big, black number on a dirty white background. Like the city, it could have done with a good scrub.

The line moved, stopped, moved, stopped and moved again. And again. More men in the green and gold uniforms rode by, in both directions. Eventually, we got to where they were waving merchant caravans into an enormous field; another young man in green and gold attached himself to our party, and led us into the city.

What can I say about Kafuzalum? In a word, it was kafuzaling. People dressed in every color imaginable, and a few I wish I hadn’t imagined, walked everywhere. Relatively few men on horses. Three, and sometimes, four story buildings. Out here, the buildings mostly seemed to be wood. Farther in, they seemed to be more stone – sandstone, limestone, marble.

The tide of people made way for our party. Eventually, we came to this forbidding limestone edifice. It turned out to be Lady Marissa’s Boarding House for Young Ladies.

Our party rode into the yard, team and wagon trailing behind. A middle-aged honey blonde, back straight as if she had swallowed a poker, came down the steps to meet us.

“You’re Lady Deborah of Balizon’s party, I take it?” she announced.

“They certainly are,” the Emperor’s guardsman said. “May I introduce you to Lady Deborah?”

We made our introductions. After the usual flattery, she got down to business.

“This house doesn’t run on charity. I need the first month before you move another foot.”

“How much?” the guard captain asked.

“Ten gold.”

“The agreement was for two.”

“What agreement? Ten has been my price for the last six years!”

I reached into my purse. Good thing we’d been practicing on the journey here. “Will this do?” I handed her a middling large diamond.

She tossed it at a gangling, balding man. “Jenks. Is this genuine?” He got that abstracted look that journeyman sorcerers get when they check things over for spells.

“Far as I can tell. If it’s a fake, it’s too good a job for me.”

“Which means it’s too good for most of the gem trade to recognize, either.”

She turned back. “That’s worth half of it.”

“Five!” I said, shocked. “That’s highway robbery! I’d have to pay at least thirty for another like it!”

“Eight at the most. No one’s going to give me more than that.”

“Two months lodging. That’s as low as I’ll go.”

“One month.”

“One month, and half of anything over that you get when you sell it.”

“One third over.”

“Done.” We shook hands over the deal while the Emperor’s guardsman sat on his horse, trying not to laugh.

“The letter also said there was a Princess Malrode with your party?”

Oh, right. Time to do a little demonstration. I snapped my fingers. “Malrode!” My chestnut shimmered and vanished, replaced by the princess. Lady Marissa was made of stern stuff; she only blinked. The Emperor’s guardsman fought his horse back to a standstill, his expression of worldly-wise boredom dismissed as if it had never been. The house sorcerer made various signs in the air, looking more and more puzzled by the moment. The rest of the staff vanished as if they’d been bespelled.

“Lady Marissa, may I introduce the Princess Malrode, the last survivor of the prior rulers of the Kingdom of Zedom?”

She bowed slightly. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. I take it you’re King Abronix’ and Queen Pugimax’s daughter?”

“The same.”

“We heard there had been a change of management, but credible details were remarkably scarce.”

“King Rupert has made it quite clear that he prefers it that way, Ma’am.”

Lady Marissa turned to Jenks. “How did they do that?”

“I have no idea. It wasn’t any kind of transformation I’ve ever heard of. The horse just vanished, and the Princess appeared, without so much as a by-your-leave.”

“I see,” Lady Marissa said to no one in particular, “that we’re going to have some interesting times.”

Part of the reason for Lady Marissa’s exorbitant rates became obvious quickly. Our apartments were good. Not opulent, but quite a bit above what I would have expected from a commercial establishment. The food was excellent quality, well prepared, and plentiful. As it turned out, either Princess Malrode or I was the ranking member of the nobility in residence. Whether a Princess of a deposed dynasty ranked the daughter of a duke of a minor kingdom was a question for the protocol advisors, especially since said Princess was clearly, um, well, clearly. Since no one showed any interest in asking, they showed no interest in venturing an opinion; the waters were simply too murky and shark-infested. My place at table was usually on the Lady’s right, unless a gentleman of higher rank was joining one of my fellow guests for dinner.

Two nights later, the Lady threw a get acquainted party for all the residents and their escorts, with enough unattached young men to make things balance. I took the opportunity to get acquainted with everyone – nothing like polishing your social skills. There’s no telling when you might need them.

Then his Grace, Lord Jobon, threw a contremps my way. The younger son of the Baron of Mykalen seemed to be a thoroughly rotten young man, dissipated, petulant and used to getting his own way. In other words, the typical highborn bully.

“I say, Lady Deborah, I hear you’re a bit of a sorceress.” He managed to make it not sound quite like a sneer.

“Well, I work at it a bit, your Grace,” I replied. “I like to think I have some small success,” I added with an airy wave of my hand, as if it was of no consequence.

“Sorcery is so interesting. Pity my time is taken up elsewhere, or I’d delve into it more fully myself.” Translation, I thought. He’s got absolutely no talent, and the theory baffles him. “It might solve a little problem I’m currently experiencing.”


“It’s Lady Dina. She’s so easily influenced that she allows just anyone to escort her around and then enjoy her charms.” Lady Dina was one of our residents; she was the one who had invited this creep to the ball tonight.

“That hardly sounds like it would do her reputation much good, does it?” I tried to get out ahead of where he seemed to be going.

“Quite. I was hoping you might have some influence with her. The Gods know that no one else seems to have.”

“I will certainly take the matter under advisement, your Grace.”

“I’m so relieved; I’ve been quite worried about her. I’m almost ready to go ask my father for advice.”

Right. Remind me of the reason that creeps like this don’t get squashed as soon as they crawl out from under their favorite rock. They’ve got relatives.

A little while later, I cornered Dina in one of the nooks artfully scattered around the ballroom. We sat on the marble seat, sharing a small bunch of grapes. I opened the conversation.

“Dina, your boyfriend seems to think you’ve got a problem.”

Dina’s back arched, and then she sagged. “I do. I just can’t say no.”

“Why not? You’ve got a spine there somewhere.”

“Daddy had our castle sorcerer put a chastity spell on me before I came here.”

“That could crimp your social life, but it doesn’t look like it took.”

“It took, all right. One of our young blades had a local sorcerer cancel it. Without asking me.” That put some starch into her back, all right.

“That doesn’t sound like a promiscuity spell to me.”

“I don’t completely understand it myself. It might have something to do with another spell father had him put on me. I can’t commit to any man until we’re formally engaged, with his permission.”

“Clever wording, that. I can see how it backfired.” I said. “The real question is: What do you want out of this?”

“I’d rather not have either spell, frankly. Either that, or both of them. Not being able to refuse walking garbage like that is killing me.”

“Poor dear,” I sympathized. “It might be all over shortly. Just don’t be surprised at whatever happens.”

Her eyes widened in surprise. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know yet. I might be able to restore your chastity spell, but I need to check out the political consequences.”

“I’d rather have both spells off.” She sounded like she was getting a bit of spirit back.

“I know you would, but your father has both the law and custom on his side. As long as we’re both under Lady Marissa’s roof, I can’t risk having that tracked back to me.”

We finished up the last grape, and rejoined the swirl.

I spied Jenks in the crowd around the repast table, and maneuvered him to where we could talk.

“Jenks, what do you know about chastity spells?”

“Ah, talking to Lady Dina, have you been?”

“Why, yes. You know about her?”

“Of course. Her father isn’t paying Lady Marissa for a chastity spell, so I can’t interfere.”

“I wouldn’t think you’d be able to put a spell on that most of the master sorcerers couldn’t remove.”

“I can’t. I’m not that powerful. They simply know who put it on, and they won’t cross Lady Marissa.”

“I see. So how would I put one on?”

We discussed it for a while. Jenks knew much more about the subject than he could put into a spell. I decided to retire from the party a bit early. A couple of hours later, I caught the backwash as His Grace tried to rape Lady Dina – and failed.

Chapter 4. Interlude

“This place is a mess,” said His Grace, Takran, the younger son of the Duke of Gorkom, and the chief investigator for His Grace, the Duke of Kafuzalum in matters concerning the nobility and other notables. “Was Master Strewth usually this messy?”

“Not at all, Your Grace, not at all,” replied His Worshipful Excellency, Ebeneezer; High Master of the Guild of Sorcerers for the Empire and City of Kafuzalum. “He was rather better organized than most, actually.”

“Which only adds to the mystery of what did happen to him,” said Takran, studiously ignoring the body that lay cooling on the floor.

“We can probably find that out quite easily, Your Grace,” said Ebeneezer. “He did quite a bit of commission work, and he kept his notes on it up to date.” He made a pass in the air, and then walked over to a scroll that lay, half unrolled, where it had been flung against the far wall, taking care to avoid a puddle of reagent in the middle of the room. After making another gesture, he picked it up and stepped very carefully back to the entrance.

“Let’s see,” he muttered to himself. “Here it is. ‘Began to remove chastity spell on Lady Dina.’ That’s the last entry.”

“He was doing what?” growled the Duke. “Who paid for the commission?”

The High Master had already unwound more of the scroll. “Here it is. ‘Remove chastity spell on Lady Dina, staying at Lady Marissa’s. 20 gold, paid by Lord Jobon.” That’s what it says.”

“That,” said the Duke, “is not good. I’d wondered how that scapegrace seduced all of those girls. I’d been intending to look into laxness in the nobility protecting their daughters. Disgraceful!”

“Quite,” said the High Master. “However, removing a chastity spell shouldn’t have backfired this badly. It’s routine, actually. They’re intended to come off during the marriage ceremony. Well, there’s nothing for it.” So saying, he made his way cautiously to a clear space in the center of the room, and began chanting in some unknown language, and gesticulating in a manner that would have made a contortionist blanch. Then he stared at something, and began laughing.

“Well, we always did tell him that pride was going to be his downfall.” He picked his way back to the door, turned around, said a word and made a gesture. There was a flash, and the puddles of reagents quit smoking, the escaped animals fell over dead, and other uncanny things suddenly became mundane.

“It’s safe to go clean it up,” he told the waiting servants. “Pack all the scrolls to my attention, and send the rest to the toxic spell dump.”

“So what,” demanded His Grace, from the depths of a comfortable overstuffed chair in His Excellency’s study, “was so funny about that?” He paused to look at the wineglass in his hand. “Quite a good vintage, this. I don’t think I’ve tasted it’s like in, oh 19 years.”

“It is a good vintage. I broke it out to toast Master Strewth’s passing. He was a royal pain in the ass.”

“Humn.” His Grace took another sip, and settled down a bit further into the chair. “But still?”

“Exactly. It turns out that the chastity spell in question had been installed, or I should say reinstalled, by a certain Lady Deborah, also staying at Lady Marissa’s. She left quite a detailed note, including a warning that it was trapped, and not to tamper with it.”

“Thus,” His Grace said, “the comment about pride.”

“Exactly. I have to admit to my share as well. I knew about her, but ignored my duty of inviting her to apply to the Guild. After all, who cares about another back country sorceress from a no-account kingdom on the marches?”

Chapter 5. Ponygirl Place.

Two days later, Dina asked me if I wanted to go see a ponygirl show with her.

Of course, I said yes. I didn’t tell her that I, or rather my body, had been a ponygirl for a year, or that Princess Malrode had been my rider.

Our carriage went past the gaudy tapestries and hanging girl-cages of the Avenue of Pleasurable Delights to the Place of Unutterable Pleasures. We went past an establishment that had a naked, hooded lass in a pillory as an advertisement. The carriage dropped us off at the entrance beneath the sign of the Ponygirl. At least, it looked like it might be one: it had a pretty face encased in a bridle and bit.

Once inside, we were met by an open carriage with four nude women harnessed to the shafts. They just stood stolidly there in the traces, arms pinioned crosswise behind their backs, tails drooping. The driver controlled them by reins attached to bits in their mouths, held in place by cruel bridles. We got in, the coachman flicked the reins, and we were off. We went around a long, low, dark building and stopped in the back.

The light spilling out the entrance showed it was a stable of some kind. A tall, saturnine man hurried up. “Lady Dina, how good to see you tonight! Will you introduce me to your companion?”

Dina obliged. “Lady Deborah, please meet Lord Paul. He owns Ponygirl Place. Lord Paul, Lady Deborah.” Lord Paul took a half step back, but recovered quickly.

“Lady Deborah, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.” He bowed lightly over my hand.

“And I, yours. Lady Dina has been extolling the delights of this place.”

“We try. As you realize, we cater to a very specialized, and, may I say it, exclusive clientele.”

“Ah, yes. Some places, the undercurrents run strong. It’s best not to get into them in the first place.”

“Quite. Would you care to see our stables?”

“Of course. I would love to know how you manage their tails. The spell doesn’t seem to be all that obvious.”

“A charming effect, is it not? Our staff sorcerer is quite the artist.”

We wandered inside. It was, basically, a stable. Rows of nude girls stood, arms fastened behind their backs, one to a stall. A few of them looked our way as we entered, but most just stood there, gazing blankly at nothing. I couldn’t imagine how they were going to manage an interesting race. I’d seen more spirit in captured prisoners after our torturers had gotten done extracting military intelligence.

“How do you get your ponies, if I may be so bold as to ask?”

“The city courts sell them to us.”

“I thought the courts were very rigid on the treatment of slaves.”

“They are, they are. But they don’t care what we do with livestock, as long as we’re fairly discrete about it.”

“Livestock? How…” I let the thought trail off.

“They tried to commit suicide. You know the penalty for that.”

“I know suicide is a capital crime, but I could never figure out why, and nobody I asked knew either. I always thought that whoever wrote the laws was just having his little joke.”

“As I understand it, they treat suicide the same as murder. If you don’t succeed, its attempted murder.”

I gestured at the girls. “That still doesn’t explain them.”

“An animal can’t commit murder. You have to be human to do that. It’s an affront to the Emperor’s belief in the justice of his rulership and the quality of life in the Empire that anyone would want to murder anyone, let alone themselves, so murderers and suicides are obviously not quite human. It lets his ministers report that they’ve eradicated murder.”

“I take it quite a few people are killed by dangerous animals.”

“Quite true. There is a stiff fine for not keeping your livestock under control.”

“His majesty’s ministers are certainly diligent in pursuing their duties.”

“As they should be.”

We wandered down the line of stalls as he made comments about the various mares and geldings. Eventually, we got to a lovely blonde who still had a bit of fire in her eyes, despite the white lines of scar tissue from old whippings, overlaid with the red weals of more recent strokes.

“I take it your sorcerer heals them up after a whipping.”

“Usually. We can’t take a chance on their getting infected; good ponies aren’t that easy to come by.”

“Oh?” I raised my eyebrows.

“Most of the murderers and suicides aren’t really suitable for us. They go to the establishments that specialize in torture. When they get a good looking filly, the torture bordellos try to snap her up.”

“I can imagine. This one must have cost you a bit.”

“Most of ours run around three gold.”

My eyes quirked a bit at that. A slave worth training for personal service usually runs about one gold.

“If I may?” I gestured.

“Certainly,” he said. “But you realize she’s not fully broken yet.”

“What can she do?” I asked. “Bite or kick? It’s not like she’s a horse, with hooves and iron horseshoes.”

“Quite true. As long as you realize…” He gestured to one of the stable attendants. The man grinned and held up a rope bridle. The filly snorted and backed away from him, not that her stall was that big. He fingered his whip suggestively. She shrugged her shoulders slightly, pranced to the front, and presented her head to be bridled. He looped it over her head and drew the cinch tight under her chin; then he opened the gate to her stall, led her out and threw the rope over a convenient rail.

I walked up behind her, making a crooning sound, and touched her gently. She started and whinnied. I stroked her until she settled down and began leaning into my touches a bit. Then I began looking her over in detail.

There was something curious about her throat. I’d noticed that none of the ponies seemed to talk; now I understood why. There was a very clever and subtle bit of sorcery that kept them from being able to coordinate their tongue and mouth sufficiently to form sounds into words. I’d never seen anything quite like it; what we used to keep prisoners in the dungeons from talking was crude and ham-handed in comparison. In fact, this was so subtle I’d have missed it if I hadn’t been looking for it. Jenks wouldn’t have been able to detect it.

The device pinning her arms behind her was actually two sets of three iron rings riveted together. Two rings in each one of the pair kept her arms at right angles at the elbow; the other ring welded her wrist into the set. When I looked deeply into it, I was thankful for the time I’d spent with Malrode working on gems. The ironwork was neither better nor worse than it should have been. However, most of it had been very subtly rotted away by sorcery, and replaced by something that could be broken with a minor spell. I didn’t know whether she planned on escaping, or just taking as many of them with her as she could before they killed her.

Which lead me to her tail. The last few vertebra that are normally fused into the tailbone extended into her tail, which was covered with blond hair the exact shade of the hair on her head. I couldn’t detect any sorcery whatever maintaining it, just the normal ebb and flow of the life forces, and the ceaseless chatter of the various parts of the body talking to each other.

“That tail,” I said as I stood up again, “intrigues me. I’ve never seen a sorcery that could create something like that without leaving traces. If this left any, they’re way too good for me to detect.”

“Our sorcerer invented the process. He says something about changing the way the body sees itself, and then doing a lost limb type of healing.”

“Clever. I’d love to study the process with him some day.”

“So far, he hasn’t found a student who understands it, let alone who can do it.”

“I can understand that. Healing is mostly instinctive, or a gift of the Gods. Nobody really knows how it works, either.”

He was eager to let me try out her paces; I think he scented another regular patron for his coffers. One of the stable hands harnessed her for me, and then led her out and hitched her to a sulky. I took the opportunity to check the harness. It anchored around her waist and hips, coming between her thighs and up to split around her tail. The topmost part wound around her torso, between her breasts and over her shoulders. He’d gotten it tight enough so it molded itself to her curves; there wasn’t anything loose to chafe, which was good.

When I flicked the reins, she decided to balk. I drew a finger in the air, and she lunged forward with a high-pitched scream, almost jerking me off the seat, as a thick red line drew itself down her flank. After that, she decided to be good, and answered to the reins. I took her around the ring until she started to wilt, and then headed her back to the barn. I got off the sulky, took out her bit and held up my hand. She nuzzled into it and took the piece of candy with her tongue. I scratched her behind the ears, and she wuffled a little. She’d certainly gotten her pony sounds down.

Then I took her by the bridle and held her head rigid. “There’s just one thing, pony. DON’T BALK AGAIN ON ME!” I dropped her bridle and gave her an open handed slap that sent her to the ground. Then I picked her up by the harness, and added: “AND START OFF GENTLE NEXT TIME!” followed by another open handed slap on the other side.

Lord Paul hurried up, babbling apologies for the way she had started. I waved him off; he’d told me she hadn’t been fully broken, and no harm done. Then he asked if I’d like to do a race.

“Of course. Could I use the same filly? She handles nicely, once she’s gotten the idea of who’s in control.”

This race was for pretty rank beginners. Even so, I really had no business in it; I was easily twice as heavy as any of the other racers. The steward gave me the pole position as compensation for the weight handicap. If only he knew!

This time, she started right off on the gun and sped up to a dead run. I pulled her back; there was no way she could keep up that pace. I knew enough about racing to know that all we had to do was make sure that nobody pulled ahead of us before the turn. We traded positions a few times, and then finished in the middle of the pack. She simply didn’t have enough reserve stamina to make a final sprint with my weight, although she tried. I had to rein her back; I didn’t want her collapsing on the straightaway.

A few days later, I heard the news. One of the ponies had somehow gotten loose, and killed Baron Jobon before they subdued her. She’d been sold to one of the torture establishments. The entire affair made barely a ripple in the ceaseless tide of gossip and idle chatter that passed for news in the Capitol of the greatest Empire of all time.

Chapter 6. The Place of Delicious Screaming

Today they had a hooded young man stretched out vertically on a rack as their display piece.

“Now that,” said, Stephen, my guide from the Torturer’s Guild, “is a waste of a perfectly good subject.”

“How so?” I replied. “That’s a quite painful posture, especially with the way they’ve got his arms twisted.”

“Exactly. By the time he’s served up tonight, he’ll be too far gone to provide much of a show.”

“Humph. I suppose they figure the advertising is worth it.”

“Possibly. It’s just that I detest amateurs; unfortunately, they can pay more than we can for the best material.”

“I’d suppose the city dungeons would supply those.”

“Those,” he practically sneered. “They’re so… driven. Its get in, get the information, then either call in the healer or dispose of the carcass. There’s no time for a really artistic job.”

“They’re that tiresome?” I sympathized. “A truly artistic job is so much more terrifying in the long run.”

He brightened a bit. “That is so true. Now, the old commandant, he knew that. He positively relished the stories that leaked out of the dungeons. Keep the populace in line, he’d say. That new popinjay, it’s all efficiency, get the job done and hold down costs. Pfagh!”

“Now this,” Derick said, showing me through an archway carved from black basalt, “is our stockroom for live subjects. Pick any of the ones with a yellow tag.”

My first impression was bars marching down the gloom. They turned out to be cages, about two feet wide, three high and six deep, stacked two high. Most of the cages were occupied. The stench was overpowering.

A number of the cages had heads protruding, each with a funnel set into its mouth. As I watched, an attendant opened a small panel inset in the bottom of a cage door, and the occupant’s head popped out, face up. He made another adjustment, and then hung a funnel from the top of the cage, and ladled something into it. I could see her cheeks move in and out as she sucked it down.

I understood Stephen’s complaint about amateurs. Part of the interest in torture is playing with the subject, building the terror bit by bit, gnawing through their resistance until finally, they are utterly incapable of holding anything back, or of making anything up. To do that, you have to have contrasts. The good and the bad, the pleasurable and the painful. These, on the other hand, seemed like they would look forward to being tortured to death.

We pulled a few out of their cages, and inspected them as they sprawled on the floor. They all looked somehow sodden, not crisp, not starchy. Tormenting spaghetti would be more interesting. Finally, I went back to a cage in the middle of the row that held a very disheveled blonde with a tail, and with her arms ironed behind her back.

“That tail intrigues me. I’ve never had the opportunity to work on a tail before.”

“They’re not all that rare. The ponygirl place down the road sells them to us.”

“Oh? It must keep expenses down.”

“Certainly. That’s why they’re yellow tag.”

He opened the cage door, and I put a leash on her throat and yanked her out. She sprawled on the floor, and then followed us docily to her fate.

Torture room six had all kinds of interesting equipment; at least, it would have been interesting if you didn’t know much about the trade. Well, I suppose some people like variety. Fortunately, it had a good supply of the much simpler tools of the working torturer’s art.

On the way there, I’d decided what to do with the tail, at least initially. I draped it through a ring set low in the wall, and then fixed it there with a word and a snap of my fingers. I turned away to light the fire we used for heating irons. As soon as my back was turned, she tried to walk away, and failed. It was almost comical, watching her in my minds eye.

Eventually, she settled down, and I felt the subtle stirrings as she began to probe my spell with her mind. She was quite deft about it. By the time the fire had settled down to a nice, hot bed of coals, she’d begun to unravel it, bit by bit. I watched her technique. She had a very nice, light touch that many sorcerers would miss completely. On the other hand, she wasn’t all that skilled at the complexities of unraveling spells. She’d missed several of the turns and twists already, taking it apart the hard way rather than the easy way. And she seemed to be completely unaware of the trap buried in the center of the spell that was allowing me to watch her.

I bustled about a bit, arranging this and that as she worked at it. Finally, she had her tail loose. What was she waiting for? I found out. The irons came off her arms, and she sprang at me like a tigress. Then she came to a dead stop in a flash of cerulean fire, hanging in mid-leap in the center of the room. The surprise on her face was almost comical as she sagged to the floor, lying there in a heap.

I hauled her back up by the ring in her collar and hung her on a vertical rack, tying her four limbs into the cuffs dangling from the corners and tightening them until she began to moan in pain. Then I hauled her head up by wrapping that lovely ash-blonde hair around another ring that depended from the top of the frame, and fixed it in place with a minor spell. A step back to check my work. It lacked symmetry, somehow. Oh, right. I attached her tail to a ring in the base of the frame.

She moaned in pain as I tightened it again, then looked daggers at me when I came back around to the front.

I grabbed her chin in my hand. She tried to bite, and discovered quickly that it doesn’t work with her head suspended by the hair. “Little one, I allowed that as a gesture of futility.” Hackneyed phrases are so useful for setting the tone.

“We’re going to play a little game. I want to know about the slave markets. You want to keep me from learning what you know about them. I’m going to rip it out of you, painful piece by painful piece. You’re going to try to keep me from learning anything useful before you die in unutterable agony. Understand?”

She whinnied at me, a look of pure, confused terror in her eyes.

I drew a line of pain up the side of one breast with my finger. “I asked you a question. Understand?”

She whinnied again. I let a look of comprehension light my face. “Oh, right. You can’t talk, can you? Do you know what they did to you?”

She shook her head desperately and whinnied again.

“This.” I stroked her throat gently and removed the spell. Her eyes widened. She was definitely good. I hadn’t made any effort to cover up the effects of removing the spell, but they weren’t all that blatant, either.

She hung there and looked at me, defiantly. “Why should I? You’re going to kill me, one way or the other.”

“So? We all die, some sooner than others. You can go out fighting to the end, or you can live a bit longer as I try new techniques out on your body.”

She tried to shrug. “Kill me now, kill me later. I’m going to die horribly anyway, bitch.” Her throat worked, then she tried to spit in my eye. She missed.

“I like that spirit, girl. I thought you had it in you when I drove you a few days ago. I can tell you’re going to give me a good session.”

“So, quit talking and get it over with.”

“You really don’t understand, do you? If you don’t give me a good, spirited fight, I’ll just heal you and pop you back into your cage, and reserve you for my next session, whenever I feel like it. In fact, I might just do that anyway; I don’t often get the chance to practice my healing on a really good case of broken bones, sprained muscles, ripped flesh and burned skin.”

I think I pushed her past her astonishment threshold with that one.

“But why the slave market? I don’t really know that much about it.”

“I need a maid. As long as I’ve got you on the rack, I might as well learn something useful.”

“A maid?” She sounded astonished. I could sympathize. Torturing the information about where to buy a maid out of someone certainly seemed to be the hard way of doing it. Then I saw a hastily covered up look of calculation cross her face. Good. It looked like she was taking the bait.

“My hobby is torture, and I need some practice. Like this.” I drew a line down the front of her body, from the hollow of her throat, between her breasts, across her naval and to the top of her thatch. She arched back and screamed.

“I’ll be your maid!”

“So? It saves me from one shopping trip, but then I’d just have to get another subject to play with.” I paused to draw a circle of pain around the aureole on the other breast. “Besides which, how could I ever trust you?” I asked, as if to myself, once the screaming stopped so I was sure she heard me.

“I’ll be faithful. I promise.” She practically sobbed.

“Oh, really?” I sounded skeptical. Then I shrugged. “There’s the legal difficulty.”

“Legal difficulty?” She sounded confused again.

“You’re livestock. The laws don’t seem to have any way of changing that.”

“That damn…” There was fire in her eyes. Then she locked her jaw shut.

“Oh, really? That damn who did what to you, pet?”

She looked at me stubbornly, mouth set in a firm line.

I drew another line of pain in a figure eight around her breasts. “I did ask you a question, girl.”

Her jaw just set even tighter. I let a flame play over my finger, and then gradually lengthen. Her eyes followed it; then the dam burst.

“Joban, damn him. Dear Lord Joban. I was stealing things for him. Letters and stuff.”

“Any jewelry?”

“No, not jewelry. Just letters he could use to blackmail people with.”

“And then what happened?”

“He got in a bit too far, and decided to get rid of me. He cased my hands in concrete and threw me off of Suicide Point. The Guard picked me up before I drowned.”

“Why didn’t you tell them he tried to murder you?”

“The guard seals your voice when they pick you up. As if I’d rat on him anyway.”

“How do they do that?” There was genuine curiosity in my voice this time.

“I don’t…” she started to say. I held up my finger, with the flame coming out of it.

“I really don’t know for sure. There’s some kind of a crystal they carry.”

“Humph. Well, that would be the way of it. That spell is too subtle for any but the best sorcerer to set.”

“We’re back to the questions, again, girl. How can I trust you?” I paused for effect. “The thing is, girl, there is loyalty in your soul. Loyalty can be given, but it has to be earned. If Joban was being himself with you, you were probably close to breaking with him anyway.”

She sagged some more. “That…”

“Exactly. What can I give you to ensure your loyalty?”

“I don’t understand?”

“I’m sure you don’t. Leaders make a great deal out of loyalty, and then they betray it at the first sign of difficulty. As my maid, you have a roof over your head, food to eat, clothing to wear and work to keep your hands busy. That isn’t enough. If you give me loyalty, I have to honor the gift. And the only way of doing that is to honor you. What is it that you really, truly want out of life?”

“Magic.” She said it so low I almost couldn’t hear her.

“Magic.” I repeated. “So you want to be a sorceress. Honor. Glory. Wealth.”

“None of that. I wouldn’t know what to do with any of that anyway. Magic is just so… interesting.”

“Do you think you’ll ever be any good at it?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“I think you will. The way you picked my spell apart was quite good for someone with no training. And what you did with that iron was, let’s say interesting. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

“But I couldn’t do anything about getting my voice back.”

“I suspect you didn’t actually see the spell, or you could have picked it apart. It was no more difficult than the one of mine you did.”

“I didn’t see it, for a fact.”

“I didn’t think so. I almost missed it myself, and I’ve got a great deal more experience and training than you.”

I stepped back a bit. “So, the agreement is that you give me your complete and undivided loyalty, and agree to do whatever I direct, without any consideration of law, honor, propriety or your self-interest, and in return I promise to train you as a sorceress to the extent of your ability or mine, and to put whatever sorcerous abilities you acquire to use to my benefit.”

She thought for a moment, and then in a curious silence that enveloped the two of us, said: “I agree.” I let my breath out; I hadn’t realized I had been holding it.

“Good. Just in case you’re wondering about what I can do if you go back on it, I’m going to heal your back. This is going to hurt.” I walked behind her and put one hand around her neck, and another around her tail. She screamed like she was being dipped in oil. The scar tissue from the whippings gradually faded, replaced by new, whole flesh and skin.

I walked back in front, and looked at her. “Did you learn anything from that, girl?”

“You’re cruel, mistress.”

“That’s true, but that wasn’t the lesson.”

Her eyes widened in blank confusion. “It wasn’t?”

“No girl. You asked to be trained in sorcery.” I poked her between the eyes. “Use that brain for something besides cooling the blood.”

She looked at me, confused. I walked away and started putting tools back in their racks.

When I looked back, she still looked confused. “Girl, you’re not doing very well. Let me give you a clue. You’ve seen healers before. What was different this time?”

“Oh. They put their patient out before they started.”

“Exactly. What does that tell you?”

The light dawned. “Healing is always painful.”

“At least, that kind of healing. Now, I’m going to do one other thing. This is going to hurt. Scream all you want.” I bent down and traced the pattern I’d registered the day before on her thigh. Then I placed my hands on either side, and watched the raw burn heal into white scar tissue.

When she got her breath back, I asked: “What did I just do, and why did I do it?”

“I think you branded me.”

“Exactly right. Why?”

“To remind me I belong to you?”

“Partially. Also to remind you that you’re legally livestock, and conduct yourself accordingly.”

I walked around, finishing tidying up the dungeon while she moaned a bit on the rack.

“Girl, am I going to have to wait all day for you?”

Her head tried to jerk back. “What?”

“I’m not going to take you off that rack. You’re perfectly capable of doing it yourself.”

When I felt her begin her spell work, I left to clean up the paperwork. When I got back, she was kneeling in the middle of the dungeon, eyes down in the prescribed position.

Chapter 7. An evening at home

I had never learned her name, and she didn’t want to tell me. She’d have given it to me if I’d asked, and anyway, I could have found out easily enough by sorcery or by asking Malrode. I honored her wish for a break with her past, and named her Ambora. She tried to go through the wall backwards the first time I gestured, and my writing table turned into a mirror.

After that, and a few other little incidents, she started to settle in as my maid. Old habits die hard; she managed to pick all of the magical locks I left around the place, and did a credible job of putting them back together. She found the children’s scroll I had left at the beginning of the scroll-case, and began studying it when she thought I wasn’t looking.

One night, I gestured for her to sit at my feet, and asked her to tell me what she had learned from the scroll. She blanched, and kept herself from leaping up and running by main force of will.

“Little one,” I said. “Did you really think I didn’t know what you were doing?”

“I…” she stuttered.

“You really did,” I said, as I let her see my amusement. “There’s nothing you do that either I or Malrode don’t know about when you do it. So far, you’ve done exactly what we’ve laid out for you, and we’ve learned more about you than you know. It’s time to start your formal training.”

“So, what have you learned from the scroll?”

“Nothing.” She hung her head.

“That’s not exactly true. You’ve learned how to draw some of the symbols.”

She brightened a bit. “Yes. Do you want to see them? Oh, you’ve seen them, haven’t you?”

“Yes, we have.” I snapped my fingers, and Malrode popped into existence, seated on my other side. This time, Ambora didn’t start at the sight.

“Let’s start with the picture of a bird with a man’s head,” Malrode said. “What do you think it is?”

“A bird with a man’s head?” Ambora hazarded.

“Now, when have you ever heard of a bird with a man’s head?” she chided. “You can do better than that. Treat it as a riddle.”

“A bird that thinks like a man?”

“Not bad, but that’s not it. Try again.”

Ambora thought a moment. “A man that flies like a bird?”

“Closer, but not it. Have you ever seen pictures of a man that flies?”

“You mean angels? Like in the temples?”

“Exactly. This is not that. What’s different?”

“Oh. It’s part of a man – just the head. So it’s a part of a man that flies.”

“Almost there. What part of a man flies?”

“Uh – the soul?”

“Got it!” Malrode grabbed Ambora and hugged her.

When they came up for air, I interjected. “Let’s take that one step further. Why is it a head, not a heart or a hand or a pair of feet?”

“Because the soul thinks? It doesn’t walk?”

“Exactly. You’ve now learned something about the soul. I want you to take the rest of the pictures you’ve learned how to draw and think about them.”

She shifted to get up.

“No, stay here. I want you to know what we’re going to discuss next since it concerns you. Mal,” I shifted to talk to her, “what’s happening with the Joban affair?”

“I’ve found all the places he cached those letters, and traced the people he was blackmailing.”


“Three of them are muck-swamps. The others seem to be ordinary people who committed some indiscretions. I’d like to dump those three into the hands of the authorities.”

“Set it up, and return the others to their rightful owners.”

“I hear and obey, oh mistress,” she intoned with a slight hint of mockery.

I giggled. “You’ve been looking in on some of the shows.”

“And learning how a magical being is supposed to act,” she said, portentously.

“Oh, put it where it hurts! I like you just the way you are, flame red hair and all.”

Ambora just looked back and forth in puzzlement. Malrode grinned at her.

I cleared my throat. “What about Joban’s father?”

“He’s still stewing, pulling strings and trying to find out what happened. He hasn’t traced Ambora yet; in fact, it hasn’t dawned on him that tracing her would show him anything. He also hasn’t related the explosion at the sorcerer’s guild. He hasn’t connected anything with you, either. Our late Lord Joban didn’t tell his father anything in the ten-day before he died.”

“So he’s still in a fog. Do you think he’ll stay there, or pull an interesting string sooner or later?”

“Sooner. It can’t be too long before it occurs to him that Dina may know something. And he’s going to start reading Joban’s diaries for clues shortly.”

“Can we do anything about them?”

“Not without leaving big, black boot marks all over it. They’re Veritas spell-locked.”

“Damn. That make it just about impossible.”

“Not just about. Breaking that system would be a major project. I don’t even know if it can be done – the general opinion is that it’s unbreakable.”

“So assume he reads the diaries. I take it you know what’s in them?”

“Yes. It’s a dice roll whether he decides to go after Dina or Ambora first.”

“Why Ambora? Joban thought he killed her.”

“He found out she was still alive. That’s why he was at Ponygirl Place. He was trying to buy her so he could finish the job.”

“And if he goes after Ambora, he’ll find out that she’s the one that killed him. Damn.” I thought a moment. “You’re the strategist. What would your strategy scrolls say?”

“When enemy pursuing, set up deadfall.”

“Set up deadfall?” Ambora said, puzzled.

“Treat it like a riddle. A real deadfall wouldn’t work in this case. What the scion of the House of the Sun meant is that you want a deadly trap of some kind.”

“I see. Sudden and final.” She shivered. Then she suggested something. We looked at it for a while, but it seemed to have too many loose ends.

I tousled Ambora’s hair. “Time for a change of subject. Mal, are you getting anywhere with that tail?”

“Well, yes. Kind of. I watched Lord Paul’s sorcerer as he did several new ponygirls, and found his notes. What he’s doing is a good deal harder than rocks.”

“Harder than rocks? You’ve got me intrigued.”

“The scrolls all say that there is a pattern somewhere,” she waved her hand airily, “but they never say exactly where, or what it’s made of.”

“Too true. So you’re saying he found out?”

“Exactly. It’s immense, and it’s complicated in the sense that there don’t seem to be any design principles that help in working out the details. It looks like it’s just a balance between Opportunity and Necessity.”

“Ugh. So how did he do it?”

“Well, it seems that the patterns aren’t all that different for different species. He looked at monkeys and found how we’re different. He seems to have done quite a bit of experimentation, isolating how tails work and what is missing in our pattern. However, Lord Paul didn’t like monkey’s tails; so then he did the same thing for horses. According to his notes, it’s not that different – more a matter of how the hair grows than anything fundamental.”

“Are you far enough along to do Ambora’s tail?”

“My tail? But I like my tail,” Ambora wailed, cradling it in her lap.

“I thought you didn’t, pet.”

“Well, I thought so too, but then I started taking what I liked and didn’t like apart the way you showed me.”


“I like the attention I get from the other servants. It marks me as kind of special. I didn’t like the stalls, the whippings or not being able to talk. I like running, and I liked pulling the cart. I didn’t like the bit; it cut my mouth.”

Malrode got a real thoughtful look for a moment. I settled back to wait.

“How’d you like to do some more races, Ambora?” she asked when she came up for air.

“They were fun!” Ambora exclaimed. “Everything but the bit and the whippings.”

“You’ve got something in mind?” I asked Mal.

“You mean besides missing our own girls? If he’s going to be looking for her, why not put her right under his eye?”

“A stalking horse, eh? Well, that’s part of the plan. What happens when he takes the bait?”

“Good question, Deb. We need to let it stew and see what develops.”

Chapter 8. Another Day at the Races

The Day finally arrived. We’d managed to maneuver things so that all the ingredients were about to hop into the stew-pot, apparently of their own accord. Ambora looked nervous, as well she might. If things went wrong, she might become very dead – or worse.

We found a back room in the stables where Ambora could change.

“Out of those clothes, kid,” I ordered. She made a production of shedding her shift, nipple rings gleaming in the lantern light. Malrode brushed her throat lightly, installing the spell that took away her speech. Her eyes widened as she felt the effects. Then they narrowed in concentration and finally she shrugged slightly. She still couldn’t spot exactly what we had done any more than she had been able to earlier.

“Arms behind you, pet,” I told her next. She folded her arms behind, hands on elbows. Malrode came up and clamped the restraints over her left arm and right wrist. Unlike the prior restraints, these were bronze, not iron, and came in two pieces. One part went under her arm and wrist, cupping each in half a circlet. The other half went over, completing the three circlets that pinioned her arms and wrist in an unbreakable hold. The two parts fit together with an overlapping join so tightly that one would have to look very closely to spot it. Five pins held them together: one on each side of the circlet that held her upper arm, and one on each side of her forearm and wrist. I slipped the pins in to where they seated flush with the surface. I muttered a spell, and the entire assemblage shimmered and fused as if it had always been one piece of metal. It wasn’t coming off without the counterspell.

We put the cuffs on the right arm and left wrist next. I stood back and looked. Her ash-blond hair cascaded down her back to her waist, framed by the bronze-gold of the arm restraints.

Next, we put a pair of circlets around her ankles, of the same bronze as the arm restraints. A word of power, and they fused. An eighteen-inch hobble chain completed that part of the ensemble. I didn’t really like it, but Lord Paul had insisted that he wouldn’t have her around the establishment unless she was hobbled. She’d already killed one person with a kick, so we’d been practicing to ensure that she could walk adequately. In fact, the practice helped cure her of a tendency to run everywhere, and take steps that were too large to look good with her build.

The collar was next. Like the arm restraints and the ankle cuffs, this was two half circles of gold-bronze that fitted together with overlapping tongues. I held the two circles in place while Malrode slipped in the pins and muttered the spell.

For the final touch, I tilted her head back and installed her nose ring. This fitted into a plate we’d installed in her septum and healed in place so it was effectively part of her body. The ring itself went through a tunnel at the bottom of a u-shaped piece of bronze; the arms of the u fit up the insides of her nostrils, and merged with the plate. The ring itself set in closer to the tip of her nose than to the base, and fell down to rest lightly against her upper lip.

Next came the harness. It started with a belt around her waist, cinched tight in back. From there, two straps came down the edges of the triangle, just inside where her legs had to move, joining at the base of her crotch, and continuing up between her ass cheeks to just below her tail. Then the split to go around it and rejoin the belt. The crotch piece was pierced in the appropriate places so she could relieve herself.

Three straps came up her front to rings just below each breast, and between them. Each of the rings below her breasts had two more straps, one to the ring between them, and one to a ring on the outside. The inside ring and the outside rings had straps that went up to rings just above each breast. These rings were considerably larger, since they also had straps that went entirely around her torso, and anchored the front of a pair of padded shoulder straps.

The torso straps went completely around and joined rings that anchored the other end of the shoulder straps. From here, the webbing dropped two inches to join the straps that held the rings on the outside of her breasts apart, and then went down to the waistband.

Her bridle finished off the harness. It was built around a circle around her head at the brow, a second half-circle lower down from rings on each side of her mouth, and a vertical circle from under her chin over the top of her head. The circles on the side of her mouth anchored to a join just above her nose between her eyes; this went up to the brow strap. On the downward side, they were connected with a second chinstrap.

We’d remembered her complaint about the bits used in the stable, so we’d put some work into this one. It fit between her teeth, but it had depressions to let her mouth almost close.

I stepped back to look. She stood easily, with a look of anticipation in her eyes. I scratched her softly under the chin, and she whuffled at me.  I thought the nose-ring looked out of place, but she’d asked for it, and Malrode liked it. After today, it probably wouldn’t make much difference.

Malrode clipped a pair of reins to her bit and led her out. I made my way out of the stable to the stands to watch.

What can I say about the races themselves? Frankly, they were awful. The drivers had to use the whip way too much to get the girls up to a respectable speed. They didn’t seem to have any grasp of race strategy, but then, the way the girls were responding, it probably wouldn’t have been any use if they had.

Malrode and Ambora stood out like a ray of sunlight on a gloomy day. Ambora’s entire idea of running was to head for the finish line as fast as she could go. Fortunately, she’d learned enough from the time I drove her, and from our discussions to let Malrode guide her. They came off the far end of the starting line like she’d been goosed. Malrode cut her through the field, weaving back and forth, and managed to make the fence in front of the field by the first turn. After that, there was no looking back, literally. Mal has more than enough of the sight that she didn’t need to look to tell where everyone was. She kept Ambora handily out in front without pushing her, and without having to mark her up with the whip.

Trevor, the Baron of Mykalen, looked like an older and nastier version of his late son. His son had been a dissipated bully; Trevor struck me as having a certain low cunning to back it up.

“Quite a nice race your pony ran, Lady Deborah,” he opened with.

“I think so. Well worth every gold I paid for her, your Lordship.”

“Quite so. Pity I’m going to have to ask you to have her destroyed,” he said, deadpan.

“Oh?” I feigned surprise. “Why?”

“You don’t know that she killed someone?”

“Killed someone?” I said, shocked. “Her? She’s quite gentle if you handle her right.”

“She killed my son,” he ground out. “She must be destroyed immediately.”

“Out of the question, Baron,” I said. “I’m sure she had provocation. Pity we can’t ask her and find out.”

“You will destroy her. Immediately. Or else…” he let it hang in the air.

By this point, we’d collected a bit of a crowd. I was happy to see His Grace Takran, the Duke of Kafuzalum’s chief investigator, standing behind the Baron, well out of his line of sight.

“Or else what, Baron?” I asked with an edge to my voice.

“Or else something unpleasant might happen to you.”

“Are you threatening me?” I asked in a voice like ground glass.

“I do not make threats,” the Baron said. “You will destroy her, or I will destroy you.”

“Oh, really,” I drawled contemptuously. “Like your son attempted to kill the woman who was collecting blackmail information for you?”

“Attempted?” the Baron bellowed. “He killed her!”

“What’s this?” His Grace Takran exclaimed from behind the Baron. “Murder? Blackmail? What’s your evidence?”

“Yes, just what is your evidence?” drawled the Baron.

“Besides your admission?” He paled as I did a shark’s smile at him. “Your son’s Veritas locked diary in the safe in your study. I might say that safe also contains the blackmail evidence for three of your victims.”

“You did admit it, you know,” His Grace said to the Baron, a bid sadly. Then he turned to his two guards. “Take him.”

The Baron tried to run and slipped on something. The resulting collision with a pole caved his head in.

His Grace sighed heavily. “The wages of sin, indeed.”

The evidence in the Baron’s safe condemned a Duke and two Counts for treason. The story shook the establishment; there hadn’t been a whiff of suspicion, although the pattern was plain enough in retrospect.

I got the former Duke’s duchy out of it, and Ambora got a judicial determination setting aside the sentence for attempted suicide. A second determination said that since Lord Joban had attempted to murder her, killing him was not a crime. I need to find some competent managers for the Ducal estates; the former Duke let them run down while he was pursuing his treason and other hobbies. I expect to be quite busy with my hobbies, and don’t intend to make the same mistake.