Lessons: Chapter 1

I don’t normally post full chapters here, but I figure that, since I’m debuting Lessons in person for the first time at Frolicon, which is next week, it wouldn’t hurt to share the first chapter. If you buy the paperback at Frolicon, you’ll save a couple of bucks versus the price online, so come find me!

Twosday was the day Princess Eleanora met with her chamber of ministers, and she dreaded it. Not as much as she dreaded Fivesday, the day where she held audiences for the people, but still, she didn’t look forward to Twosdays either. For starters, the chamber meetings were boring — old men and women arguing about laws and money and defense, when really the final say rested with Eleanora herself. The only reason she kept the chamber running was because she didn’t want to deal with the minutiae of running the kingdom. She wanted to be left alone to read, and swim, and ride her horse, and mourn her family. They’d been gone for two years, and a year ago Eleanora and her prime minister, Sheldon, had finally given up searching for them. “They may have been killed,” Sheldon had said, and for that Eleanora had ordered him thrown into the dungeon before bursting into tears.

Sheldon hadn’t gone to the dungeon; he’d simply held Eleanora while she cried, and then she threatened his life if anyone ever heard about it. So far, she was fairly certain he’d kept his word. In return, she kept the chamber of ministers in power, although there were days like today where she just wanted to have them all beheaded.

The argument had been going on, in a genteel fashion, for several weeks, much to Eleanora’s frustration. “I shall tell you again,” said the minister of defense, a small woman with dark skin and silver hair in a long braid that fell down her back, almost to her waist, “that if we do not get more funds, we won’t be able to repel invaders should they attack us!”

“And I shall tell you again,” said the minister of the treasury, a stout man Eleanora’s own height but with green eyes and an obvious hairpiece hiding his baldness, “that we have had peace in the kingdoms for decades!” On the last word he slapped his hand on the huge polished wooden table around which the ministers sat. “Funds are better spent on the kingdom itself!”

Eleanora glanced over at the minister of the interior, who managed the public areas of the kingdom, including its well-paved cobblestone roads, and saw the man smiling in a self-satisfied fashion. Though Eleanora despised these meetings, she was smart and observant, and she was aware of the alliance between the ministries of the treasury, the interior, and the land — the last one in charge of protecting and preserving the trees that gave the kingdom its name. The minister of defense, she knew, had no allies in the chamber, and Eleanora almost felt sorry for her. Every time she tried to get more funding, the minister of the treasury would fight back.

And, realistically, Eleanora would step in to support the treasury if asked. Why waste money when it didn’t need to be spent? The kingdom wasn’t wealthy, though its people lived comfortably enough, and the castle where Eleanora resided was small, as such things went, no bigger than four large houses combined together. It was plenty of room for her, and plenty of room for her staff and her guards, and it befit the small kingdom that the Saorsa had ruled for ten generations.

The kingdom that she ruled now.

“I must contest your esteemed opinion,” the minister of defense was saying, biting off the words. “Just because we haven’t been attacked in over eighty years doesn’t mean we never will be.” She was on her feet, hands on the table, trying to intimidate the minister of the treasury. Eleanora almost felt sorry for her; despite her ability to run the defense ministry, the minister herself wasn’t very intimidating. “We need to protect our people, and our princess!”

Eleanora looked up from the small journal in which she was doodling a pattern of interlinked circles. She liked art, and liked to draw when she was bored. And these meetings were boring.

The minister of the treasury appealed to Sheldon, who sat beside the princess’s large chair at the head of the table. “Sir,” he said, “please tell my esteemed colleague we do not need any more funds directed toward defense.”

“That’s not my decision to make,” Sheldon said. He had a pleasant tenor voice, perhaps a little more raspy than it had been when he was younger — he was nearing sixty years of age, and was tall and spare, with dark-gray hair and a hooked nose below hooded eyes. Eleanora sometimes thought he looked like a predatory bird, although he didn’t act at all like one. He had on occasion attempted to fill a fatherly role, but Eleanora wouldn’t have any of that.

“Then who makes the decision, sir?” asked the minister of defense. “Her majesty?”

Eleanora shook her head and tossed her journal onto the table; it landed with a thump. She threw her pencil after it, which clattered. “Sort it out yourselves.”

“Your majesty, my colleague has been pushing this agenda for many sessions,” said the minister of the treasury. “We appeal to you to make a ruling.”

“You want a ruling?” Eleanora sighed. “Here’s my ruling: both of you can spend a night in the dungeons, and then figure it out among yourselves. Happy now?”

“Your majesty!” Sheldon looked alarmed, though honestly he shouldn’t have been surprised. What were the dungeons for, Eleanora reasoned, if not to give people time to think about their actions? “Your majesty, you can’t–“

“Excuse me?” She rose to her feet and put her hands on her hips. “Who are you to tell me, your princess, that I can’t do anything?”

Sheldon was immediately chastened. “I’m sorry, your majesty. You are of course correct.” He waved to the guards who stood at the entrance to the ministry chamber. “Take them away.” He sounded tired, but Eleanora didn’t really care. She’d ruled; she’d solved the problem. Tomorrow the ministers would be released, and they would figure out their problems, and she wouldn’t have to do anything about it.

Which was just the way she liked it.

Eleanora noticed a man step into the chamber as the two ministers were led out. He bowed briefly to the princess, and then took a seat at the far end of the table after she sat back down in her chair. He must be some sort of deputy minister, she guessed; she didn’t recognize him. “Who are you?”

“My name is Peter Brogan, your majesty.”

“Your family name is unfamiliar. You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No, your majesty.”

There was something in this man Peter’s voice that set Eleanora on edge. It shouldn’t have — it was quiet and deep, but not too deep. In fact, nothing about Peter was too much of anything; he was tall but not too tall, and dressed well but not too well. He had plain brown hair and a short beard. Nondescript; that was the word she wanted to use. “Who do you work for? Why are you here?”

“I’m here at the behest of your prime minister,” Peter said, rising and walking slowly around the table. “I was asked to come and assist him.”

“What with?”

Peter came to Sheldon’s seat and put his hand on the prime minister’s shoulder. “With his princess.”

“Excuse me?” She felt her eyebrows raise. “Sheldon, what in all the hells is he talking about? Why do you say you need help–“

“Because he does.”

Now Eleanora was on her feet too. “How dare you!” she snapped. She felt the color rising in her cheeks — she hated how obvious it was when she was angry. “How dare you interrupt me!”

“Someone should have interrupted you long before it got to this point.” He stepped back a bit. “Sheldon, please clear the room.”

“What?” Eleanora looked around, but no one was moving to assist her. “Guards! Guards, get in here!”

“They’re gone, your majesty,” Sheldon said. “You ordered them to take your ministers to the dungeon.”

“But… But…”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Sheldon said, standing, “this meeting is adjourned.”

Eleanora sputtered and stammered, but nothing came out that made any sense. What in the world was happening? Why weren’t her ministers obeying her? Why were they leaving? “Sheldon! Stop!”

Sheldon looked back at Eleanora, and then at Peter, and then left. To Eleanora’s eyes he seemed ashamed of himself. Well, he should be, leaving her with this random person and no guards.

The door closed. Eleanora, from the small pedestal on which her chair sat, looked down at Peter. “Who are you?” she asked again.

“Peter Brogan,” he said. “I’m a teacher.”

“I don’t need a teacher!” She felt herself flush even hotter, and knew she was getting angrier and angrier by the second. “I’m the princess of this kingdom, and I’m an adult, and I–“

“You,” Peter said, speaking over her, “are in trouble, young lady.”

“Young… young…!” More stammering. She hated how she got this way when she was mad. And yes, Peter looked to be in his thirties, so Eleanora would be young compared to him, but she was no child. She didn’t need a teacher! “Get out of my sight before I have you thrown in the dungeon for the next year!”

“You won’t do that,” he said calmly. “You can’t, as a matter of fact.”

“I… I can’t?” She shook her head. “What in the world do you mean?”

“I’m here because you’re in trouble, your majesty,” Peter said. “Your people fear you, or worse they hate you, and they want you out of power. Only Sheldon has stood in their way, but even he has his limits. Which is why he called me.”

“What are you going to do about it?” she challenged.

“I’m known for changing attitudes and behavior.” Peter slipped off his cloak. Under it he was wearing tan pants and a dark-green tunic, and she could see scars on his left hand going up past his wrist and into the long sleeve. “Your behavior is the problem, and I’m going to deal with it.”

“‘Deal’ with it.” She folded her arms. “And exactly how is that going to be– hey!”

That last was because Peter had stepped close enough to get the princess off her little dais. She was maybe an inch shorter than him, which left them nearly eye-to-eye. “You have some lessons to learn, your majesty. And I’m going to teach them to you.”

For a brief moment, Eleanora remembered a time when her parents were away and she was left in the care of her late grandmother. She’d been maybe five years old, and had done… done something… and her grandmother had said something similar, and then slapped her bottom several times and sent her to sit on a chair in the corner. Was Peter going to… was he… “You had better not touch me, sir,” and she said that last with as much sarcasm as she could muster, “or it will be the last thing you ever do!”

“I would say you’re incorrect about that, your majesty.”

And then, without warning, Peter took her by the arm and bent her over the ministers’ table. “Stop!” she shouted. “Stop this instant! I order you!”

“I’ll stop when you do,” he said.

Without warning, she felt her gown being lifted, revealing her petticoats. 

That was when she started to really protest — and the princess had learned self-defense; her parents hadn’t wanted her to be helpless, and she could fight with her hands and feet, and with a sword, and she could shoot a bow and arrow with some degree of accuracy. But in this position, with no leverage, with Peter holding her down by the wrist at the small of her back, she had no way to move at all.

Soon the princess’s petticoats were lifted as well, and only her undergarments remained. Was he going to–

“No!” Eleanora screamed. “Don’t you dare!”

Peter dared. Eleanora felt the cool air of the room on her bared backside. And then…

Crack!

“Oww!” She cried out. “Stop that instantly! I order you! I–“

Crack!

This was nothing like her grandmother, who had swatted her on the seat of her gown. This hurt much, much worse.

Crack!

And he wasn’t stopping.

Crack!

Eleanora tried to fight back, tried to kick and squirm, but Peter was stronger than he looked, and she couldn’t get away, and he crack! just crack! kept crack! hitting crack! her! 

Eventually Eleanora gave herself over to it. She could get back at him later. This was only pain in her backside — a lot of pain, she realized — but she could survive it.

She was Princess Eleanora Saorsa, and she could survive anything.

Even a spanking.

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