A Fanatic, Two Feisty Slave Girls, and a Wedding Party

This is a damsels-in-distress story, not a torturers-in-action story. The storytelling is as important as the scenes of naked women in chains. If you want nothing but descriptions of sex with whips and chains, then I am not the author for you.


During the 23rd century A.D. on Earth, a semi-religious group known as "The Followers of Eric Potsdam" saw an opportunity to carry out the hijacking of Planet CBQ 4960, which they named after their founder. These Followers dynamited the warp gates that were the only way to reach the planet, cutting themselves off to guarantee their own way of life and to avoid the plagues that were then raging on Earth. That way of life was built on three fundamental ideas:

Everything in moderation, including progress.
People need real work, important work that needs to be done, in order to be happy. Computers steal work.
Men are happiest when they are in charge of their women. Women are happiest when they are under the control of their men.

And so the Followers of Eric Potsdam established a way of life based on his version of an ideal society in the year 1900, before computers took over so many jobs and left so many people with no real work to do. And unlike Earth in the year 1900, female slavery was an accepted part of Eric Potsdam's ideal lifestyle.

This story is set in Erionalle. One of my previous pieces, The Story of Sushann, Tarrahh, and Natilya, is also set primarily in Erionalle, about five years earlier.


Gerhard Gernemann sat in a reclining chair on the porch of the farm house where he was staying and looked up from his newspaper. He ordered the pretty naked girl who knelt in the open storage chest by his feet to "Go to the barn and find Ulf Hapkin! Tell him I want to see him."

She wore no collar and was not tattooed, both indications that her legal status was freewoman. But she wore only a pair of extra-broad Irish-8-style handcuffs behind her back.

She said "Yes sir, I hear and obey." She stood up, stepped out of the storage chest, and walked away. Gerhard set his newspaper down to watch her. He thought that the cuffs compelled her to move very gracefully and keep her elbows close together, which emphasized the lines of her breasts. Why couldn't everybody see that all women, slave or free, should be kept captive at all times?

Gerhard was the High Director of the Erionalle Society for the True Faith of Eric Potsdam. The Society's guidebook Proper Interpretation of Eric Potsdam's Writings clearly demonstrated that Eric had believed in keeping all women confined at all times. Eric had not been able to achieve that ideal state of affairs back on Earth in the village that he founded. Other ideas had contaminated the thinking of many of the first settlers on the planet. But after more than two thousand years of settlement, it was time and well past time that Eric Potsdam's ideals should become universal on the planet Ericpotsdam that was named for him. The Society of the True Faith had set that as their goal.

Society believers did keep their women in total confinement. The messenger that he had sent to find Ulf was the girlfriend or wife - he wasn't sure which - of one of the True Faith Troopers. The Trooper had brought her out to Gerhard's farm for training. She still sometimes showed resentment. She would learn her proper place before much longer.

She returned from the barn, which was serving as the Trooper barracks, with Ulf, who was the Commandant of the True Faith Troopers. Society members had written books and pamphlets, and had delivered speeches and radio broadcasts, but all of this persuasion had failed to convince the people of the island nation of Erionalle of the truth of the Society's thinking. Society members were likely to be hassled by nonbelievers. The True Faith Troopers had been organized to protect the faithful, and to strike back as necessary. And events were giving the Society and its Troopers the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the meaning and the implications of their beliefs.

Gerhard ordered the messenger girl "Into the chest! Kneel! Head down to your knees!" As soon as she followed these orders, he closed and latched the chest. The messenger girl would not be able to hear the plans that Gerhard was about to propose. She would stay squashed in the chest until somebody released her.

The Grand Duke's Police suspected that Gerhard Gernemann might be planning something illegal, and that combat-trained Troopers were the principal crop of the farm where he was staying, but so far the police investigations had not been able to come up with enough proof to make any arrests. People associated with the Society had made only small-scale purchases of guns, and the police searches had failed to locate the buried storage bunkers of whips, swords, and homemade grenades. Camp-outs were not illegal, even though the campers seemed to be rather old for Boy Scouts.

Ulf exchanged "True Faith!" salutes with Gerhard. Their right arms thrust upward and outward, palm vertical, followed by a chopping-downward motion with elbows straight until their hands were at their sides.

Gerhard said "Ulf, our opportunity has come! Soon we will be able to teach all of Erionalle the proper way to treat women."

Ulf glanced at the newspaper that Gerhard had been reading and asked "Uh, Boss, how are you reaching this conclusion from reading the society page?"

"It's far and away the most effective way to keep up with the doings of the upper crust. Those society reporters are one of our best spy services, without even trying to be. For that matter, without even suspecting it."

"Oh, so what is the upper crust up to now?"

"Glendarra Vandenn is going to marry Lieutenant Tamis Morton of the Grand Duke's Marines. The ceremony will be at Schloss vee in Altseit, the Vandenn fake castle and family home. All of the topmost rich creamy layer of the upper crust will be there. And the Grand Duke's very own daughter, the Contessa Tialla, is going to be the maid of honor."

"So, are you thinking about snatching Glendarra Vandenn, and the Contessa Tialla, and maybe a few other girls, and stripping and chaining them all so that they will look like Eric Potsdam would want girls to look, and maybe giving the keys to Tamis Morton so he can keep his bride as he should?"

"Close. I'm thinking of snagging every free woman in that party, and seeing to it that they are all naked in chains for the wedding. Once we have shown them, I am certain that many of the men will continue to treat their women right."

"Hmmm. Boss, I can see us sneaking up on that place through the woods. It isn't very far from our camp here. But that place not only looks like a planet-Earth medieval castle; it's just about as secure. How are we going to climb a ten-meter cliff, and then the walls of the castle, and then accomplish anything? Besides that, we'll probably need to get away afterwards. If they catch us and put us in jail, we'll all just be crooks and not the men who showed the nation how girls should be treated."

"We'll sneak out, but we aren't going to sneak in. Afterward, we'll go out down that wall and that cliff. We'll come back here through forest trails that only we know. The cops will never think of that way out. In case I'm wrong about that, I want you to deploy Miko's team to wing a few bullets, toss a few grenades, and distract the cops while we get away. But we're going in through the front door."

"But Boss, we'd have to get past the security checkpoint. There is only one way in to that castle, so the cops and palace security will need only one checkpoint. Are we all going to claim that we were invited?"

"Not exactly. But I've got some contacts. We will be getting in. And I think that that checkpoint is a great idea from our point of view. That is where all of the cops will be concentrated. Once we are in the building, we will lower the portcullis and raise the drawbridge, and the cops will be locked out while we show them what they should be doing and how they should be treating girls."

"There won't be any cops or palace security on the inside?"

"No, there won't. I've gotten the word from Boris Badenov. He's our spy in the castle. Josef Vandenn doesn't want a bunch of cops messing with his daughter's wedding. They will all be outside, at the security checkpoint. Those damn fools don't have the foggiest idea of how to really keep things secure. We'll be showing them that also."

"Boris Badenov. Who picked that code name, anyway?"

"He did. He's on the ball, he knows his classics, and he's got a good imagination."

"I'm glad to hear he's on the ball. I will have to divide the strike force into teams, each with a specific assignment. Maps would be useful, so that each team could go straight to where it will be needed. We will also need to know the best time to strike. Can Boris Badenov get us this information?"

"I will insist on it. Leave me now. Begin your planning. We will need teams to round up the women, and neutralize the men, and seize and guard the castle walls. Think about who you'll assign to what."

"Yes Boss. I'll get right on it. True Faith!" Ulf and Gerhard exchanged salutes, and Ulf left. Gerhard picked up a note pad and began to draft a message for Boris Badenov. Eventually he remembered his messenger girl, and he released her from her storage chest.

= = 0 = =

First Sergeant Mack Preston of the Grand Duke's Erionalle Marines stood at the security checkpoint in front of the Schloss vee in Altseit and watched two more wagons climb the zigzag driveway to the gate. The Schloss had been built on a rocky promontory, with cliffs around much of the perimeter and a moat in front of the main gate, looking like many castles back on Earth in medieval Germany. The driveway had been built zigzagging because a direct route would have been too steep, but even so, it was a tough climb for men and horses.

Both approaching wagons were white, with a solid wooden box design, and both were lettered "Clineman Florists" with pictures of pretty flowers painted on their sides and meter-tall vases lashed on the backs, blocking the doors. The wagons paused at the security checkpoint. The driver of the lead wagon passed some paperwork down to the Palace Security armsman who was checking invitations as people arrived. The paperwork was apparently good enough. After some discussion, the two wagons proceeded across the drawbridge and through the palace gate.

The Palace Security armsman who checked the paperwork was wearing his full-dress uniform: a dark-blue jacket with white trim, light blue pants with orange stripes on the sides, and a tall dark-blue bearskin hat with an orange trim rod sticking up from the headband. The other armsmen at the security checkpoint wore the same uniform. They looked much fancier than the marines, who wore dull green.

Marine Sergeant Durand came up behind his detachment leader Preston and observed "If the Marines were running this show instead of Palace Security, we would never let wagons like that go through without opening them and inspecting the cargo."

Preston replied "Yeah. Lieutenant Morton doesn't trust Palace Security, and I can see why. He wanted us here to reinforce the armsmen. But I don't think that you and I and Corporal Braun are accomplishing much. We would need at least a full squad, with authority to search everybody's luggage, to really be sure that nobody is bringing any bombs in."

Durand took another look and commented "You know, if I were planning a surprise attack, I would sneak my troopers in using wagons just like those." The florist wagons rolled across the drawbridge and through the open gate of the castle.

"Would you allow yourself and your men to be confined into a wagon by a couple of big vases like the ones on the back platforms, strapped securely in place and blocking the doors?"

"Mmmm. No. But I might put vases like that to block the doors and keep the prying eyes of Security armsmen out of my wagons, and I would have another secret way out."

Moments after Sergeant Durand made this observation, things suddenly became much more interesting.

= = 0 = =

Lieutenant Tamis Morton walked across the courtyard of the Schloss vee in Altseit, wheeling his Marine-Corps-issue suitcase along behind. He saw his imminent father-in-law Josef Vandenn going across in the other direction, and said "Hello Sir. I won't be calling you sir much longer. By this time tomorrow you will be Pops Vandenn to me."

"Yup. Proud to have you joining the family, Tamis, proud to have you joining the family. You know you could already have one of the family servants haul that suitcase wherever you want it to be."

"I'd have to round up that servant, and then follow in his footsteps anyway. I'm young. I'm strong. Having a servant haul my suitcase when I can obviously do it myself would just make all the servants and slave girls think that I am snooty."

"Oh of course, you're hauling it up to the tower apartment over the front gate and thinking about tomorrow night. It's better to be alone when thinking those kinds of thoughts and unpacking whatever you will be putting on your bride. Jiuliya and I spent our wedding night there too, and so did my parents. Family tradition. I probably don't have to tell you that there are anchor points for chains built into the walls and the bed."

"I want to check out everything in that apartment and be sure it is ready before I carry my bride across the threshold. It would be embarrassing to find out tomorrow night that something one of us needs is missing. She gave me a checklist."

"You did check your military service guns into the castle armory, didn't you? There isn't anything more hidden in your suitcase, is there? Nobody is allowed to carry in this schloss tomorrow, not even you. There will be too much drinking going on."

"Yes I did, and I suppose that it makes sense. Regulations say that I don't absolutely have to carry my guns while I am on leave. And a honeymoon is definitely an on-leave event."

"Okay, good. I have some things to do, and I am sure that you do too. Let's get working." Josef Vandenn turned and walked away.

Tamis Morton climbed the gracefully carved staircase that led across the front of the Great Hall Building. His route to the front tower apartment took him up both flights of those stairs and onto the walkway along the top of the castle walls, on the west side of the gateway tower. He paused, and looked down at the two florist's wagons that were parking in the courtyard. His fiancée's family were apparently doing things up really big. How many flowers had they ordered to decorate the castle for the next day's wedding? Two wagonloads seemed like more than enough.

At that moment the driver of the lead wagon jumped down, raised his arm upward and outward with palm vertical, turned toward the other wagon, and bellowed "True Faith!" The sides of both wagons fell away. Men armed with swords and guns and whips came storming out. They all wore tan jackets, black pants, and black hoods with eye holes.

Tamis watched for a few moments. He told himself that "Pops Vandenn is not going to like this at all."

= = 0 = =

Gerhard Gernemann had been hidden in the lead florist's wagon. He jumped down. His hooded Troopers split into teams, and each team member knew exactly where to go. Boris Badenov had provided good information, and Trooper Commandant Ulf Hapkin had done a good job of selection, organization, and training.

One team spread out, following orders from Ulf Hapkin. Those Troopers entered several doors of the residence wing. Gerhard heard shouts, and a few pistol shots. The men in the castle -- guests, residents, and staff -- were being herded back into their rooms, or into the breakfast room. Gerhard hoped that nobody had been hit by the pistol bullets. He wanted to avoid hurting people in this operation if at all possible. He realized that somebody might get hurt anyway.

Another team headed for the armory. Gerhard expected that the castle armorer would lock the door before that team arrived. The Troopers would not be able to gain access to the stored guns without risking being shot by the armorer. But the Troopers could block access by anybody else, and they would keep the armorer trapped inside.

A third team entered the ground-floor doors of the Great Hall Building, en route to the kitchens. Most of the remaining Troopers turned to Gerhard for leadership. His part of the castle invasion was to lead the storming of the Great Hall. He called "You guys, follow me!" He went up one flight of the stairs on the front of that building, turned right, and entered the Great Hall anteroom.

All of the women who had been invited for the wedding were in the Great Hall celebrating Glendarra's batchelorette party. The Contessa Tialla was giving a speech. She paused when she heard strange noises from outside the Hall, then tried gamely to carry on. But then one of the cooks entered the Hall and screamed "We're being invaded!"

At that moment all of the doors from the anteroom to the Hall itself burst open. Black-hooded men charged in, shouting "True Faith!" and snapping long whips. Amid screams of panic and a few shouts of pain, the women were all herded into one corner of the Hall.

The Contessa Tialla had no trouble in picking out the boss of the invaders. She had noticed that several of them had black bars or stars sewn on the left sides of their jackets, apparently insignia of rank. The boss was probably the top leader of the True Faith fanatics, who had been mentioned often enough in newspaper articles. She tried to remember his name: Gerhard something-or-other. His insignia was a grenade hanging from his breast pocket.

Gerhard had no trouble picking her out either. Her blue honors sash was edged in silver thread. Besides, photos of her had appeared in many newspapers over the years.

He took a whip from a holding loop on his belt, pulled a pair of handcuffs out of a jacket pocket, pointed at the Contessa, and beckoned with one finger.

She put her hands on her hips, glanced at his whip, glared at him, and exclaimed "You wouldn't dare!"

He replied "Perhaps I would, and perhaps I wouldn't. I haven't made up my mind yet. But if I decide that you are protected by being a contessa, that protection does not extend to any of the rest of the girls in this room."

He uncoiled and snapped his whip. The girl next to Tialla gasped and said "Hey! Owww!" Tialla turned to her, and realized that she was the bride's sister Callie, a young teenager, almost too young to attend a batchelorette party. Callie began to cry.

Ten feet to her right, another Trooper lashed out with a whip, and another girl said "OW!" Tialla realized that the Troopers would keep whipping other girls, unless she cooperated with them. She didn't want to be responsible for that.

So she glared again at the leader with the grenade hanging from his breast pocket, told him "You are a dirty rat-fink!", and stepped forward with her hands held together in front. He handcuffed her. The cuffs were solid steel, not leather, with a 15-centimeter linking chain. He activated a double lock on each cuff when he had it properly adjusted, so the cuffs could not squash her wrists. Tialla realized that the confinement could have been much worse.

Gerhard pointed to Callie, pulled out another pair of handcuffs, and beckoned. Callie sniffed back her tears and cooperated, since she had seen that the Contessa Tialla had surrendered to cuffing. Gerhard then picked out two more girls for cuffing, and he secured them. Another Trooper looped a long chain between Tialla's arms, and also between the arms of each of the other three handcuffed girls. He guided them to the other side of the Great Hall and attached the ends of the long chain to an anchor point there.

The Trooper leader pointed to Glendarra, who was easy to recognize because she was wearing her white wedding dress. She became the first of the next group of four girls.

After the second group, Gerhard stepped back and let some of his men do the picking out and handcuffing. He didn't want to keep all of the fun part of this raid for himself. That would have been bad for morale.

One of the Troopers was carrying a leather sack of cuffs. As the fifth group was being cuffed, this Trooper asked "Hey Boss. What do you want to do with these esdigies?" It seemed that several of the invited men had brought their esdigie slave girls instead of their wives, girlfriends, or mistresses. These esdigies had also come to the batchelorette party. An Erionaller man could have as many slave girls as he could afford, but only one of them could be an esdigie.

According to the rules of etiquette in Erionalle, esdigies needed to be kept in restraints at wedding parties and other formal events, just like the slave servants and any other slave girls who happened to be present. But most of these esdigies were effectively as free as the free women. Several of them were "confined" only by chains from their collars along their arms down to their wrist cuffs; they could move however they wished. Others had wrist cuffs connected by chains that ran through loops on their belts, but the connecting chains were so long that these esdigies could reach out with both arms and not pull their restraints taut. Only one of the esdigies was actually closely confined by one-piece handcuffs that held her wrists even tighter together than the cuffs that the Troopers were using.

Gerhard looked the esdigies over. At least they were all properly tattooed, although some of the tattoos were not on the left bicep, the standard place for Erionaller slave girls. One of esdigies wore a bare-midriff outfit to display the five-pointed star centered on her bellybutton. Another had vines and leaves all up and down her entire left arm. The esdigie in the tightly-restraining cuffs had her tattoo on her forehead.

Gerhard pointed to the esdigie in the tightly-restraining cuffs and said "Her master has the right idea. None of our cuffs for her. She won't be able to slip our wall-anchor chains anyway. Put the rest of them in our cuffs like the free women."

= = 0 = =

While Gerhard led his team into the Great Hall, one more team of True Faith Troopers started up the same staircase that Tamis had just climbed. They were mostly riflemen. Tamis realized that they would probably grab him if he let them. He turned and ran toward the west door of the tower over the main gate.

Could he close that door and keep the True Faith Troopers out? They weren't very far behind him. Another batch of Troopers would probably soon be at the east door, which was also open. A bullet whanged off of the nearby stonework. Tamis decided that he would have to retreat into the tower and up the curving staircase to the apartment. The staircase was narrow enough that the Troopers would have to go up it single-file. They would not be able to get behind him or gang up on him.

Would any of them chase him up those stairs? If he was lucky, they would be assigned to raise the drawbridge first. Could he get the apartment door open in time, and then shut it and lock it and keep them out? The architecture of the Schloss vee in Altseit was copied in many ways from that of a genuine medieval castle. The tower apartment had originally been designed as if it would be a guardroom for lookouts that kept watch from the tower roof. The massive door had an elaborate heavy-duty locking system for use in case that guardroom had to be defended from hostile invaders. It could take a minute to unlock it, if somebody had thrown all of the deadbolts.

Tamis was surprised to find that the door was open. He entered, put his suitcase down, slammed the door, and spun his key for three full turns in the lock cylinder. All four deadbolts engaged. For the first time ever, the door would be keeping real hostile invaders out.

Who had unlocked the door? Tamis looked around the apartment. A slave girl was kneeling, facing the foot of the bed. He checked her out, as any normal male would: small, slim, probably less than 45 kilograms total weight, dark brown hair to her shoulders, quite a nice package.

Her only clothing was a camisk, completely opaque and bleached white, but still just a camisk. She also wore a gray steel collar and broad polished stainless-steel wrist cuffs linked by about 35 centimeters of chain. She was probably ordered to wear that white camisk and those gleaming cuffs in honor of the next day's wedding. A key to the apartment door was welded to a chain that she wore around her neck.

Tamis asked her "Who are you, and what the hell are you doing here?"

She replied "I am Tsaroé, Master. I am cleaning this room and getting it ready for you and for your bride. Right at this moment I'm making the bed. Is something going wrong?"

"You could say that. A gang of True Faith Troopers is taking over the castle. Don't you dare try to unlock the door. Stay out of my way." He grabbed a white towel from the pile of laundry that Tsaroé had left on a table, walked over to a window, and began to wave the towel behind the glass.

The architect had cheated a bit when that window was designed. It was about 25 centimeters wide, much too wide for a true firing slot for a bowman defending a real medieval castle. This oversize slot allowed natural daylight to illuminate the room. It also allowed Tamis to watch as the castle drawbridge was raised. Raising that drawbridge had apparently been the first priority of the Troopers who had followed him into the tower.

= = 0 = =

The marines and the armsmen at the security checkpoint in front of the castle could easily see the white towel that Tamis was waving in the tower window. Marine Corporal Braun viewed the window through binoculars and said "It's Morse code, Sergeant. Lieutenant Morton has forted up in a room at the top of the gate tower."

Sergeant Preston ordered him to "Set up the baffled heliograph. Aim it carefully at that window. We don't want to let the True Faith Troopers know that we are communicating with the lieutenant. Sergeant Durand, grab the fastest of our marine horses and get to the dockyard. Tell Colonel Lorenz what has happened, and ask for all the reinforcements that he can round up."

The commander of the Palace Security armsmen at the checkpoint said "Hey, wait a moment! I'm the senior officer present here. Don't you think that you ought to get my input before going off half-cocked?"

Sergeant Preston replied "You may notice, Sir, that the stripes on my sleeve are outlined in red. That shows that my appointment as a noncommissioned officer was made by an officer with a Service commission, not an honorary Fleet commission. I follow only orders from Navy and Marine officers with Service commissions. And I am sure that my lieutenant in the tower would want me to take action right away."

The Palace Security officer paused and thought for a long moment. Then he said "Okay. Sergeant Durand, when you are done at the dockyard, please proceed to Desrilay Palace. Tell Palace Security they are to carry out Emergency Plan F, by order of Colonel Richards, that's me in case you didn't realize. Tell them I did not want to order an emergency plan over the radio because the True Faith terrorists in the castle might be listening in.

"Tell them also that I want Sergeant Nallard and his team to report to me ASAP, in full dress uniform, but with their sniper rifles. Nod okay, at Sergeant Preston, don't salute me. Go, now, carry out your orders."

Sergeant Durand jumped on a horse and left.

Colonel Richards turned back and ordered "Tenn-SHUN, Sergeant!" Sergeant Preston stiffened automatically into the regulation position. The colonel continued "You see that my men and I are running around in these fancy new four-color dress uniforms. They make us look like we are strictly decorative, not functional. Perhaps you think that I had something to do with the design of these uniforms. You could certainly think that I had something to do with the stupid decision to station all of the security team out here."

"Uh, well, sir, I wouldn't put it quite that way, sir."

"Of course you would, if you weren't showing just enough respect to an officer. Cage those eyeballs, Sergeant, strict attention!"

Colonel Richards paced back and forth. "This is going to look like absolutely the worst reaming-out you have ever received, Sergeant. I want anybody looking at us with binoculars from the castle wall to be certain that Palace Security types like me are as useless in the real world as these uniforms make us look. I must be a fatheaded idiot who is asserting the full authority of Palace Security and insisting on being in charge here. I obviously do not want any help from the Grand Duke's Marines or anybody else. I obviously do not know how to deal with the situation. In a few minutes I am going to dismiss you. Is that clearly understood, Sergeant?!" The last words were shouted directly into Sergeant Preston's face.

"Sir Yes Sir!"

"When I dismiss you, you will walk away slowly down the driveway with your head down and your shoulders rolled forward. You will look back occasionally and aim a glare in my direction, then keep walking slowly.

"When you look back and see that you are just out of sight of anybody on the castle walls, you will stop and hold position. You will stop any reinforcements, from the Marines or from Palace Security or from the Fire Department with its hook-and-ladder trucks, from climbing any higher. I want all of these people to stay behind the ridge and the trees, hidden from the True Faith bastards in the castle, until everything is organized. I want our counterattack to be as much of a surprise as possible. Do you understand, Sergeant!"

"Sir Yes Sir!"

"There is one exception. Sergeant Nallard is to bring his squad right on up to me. They are one of the better drill teams in Palace Security. They are also our championship rifle marksmen. I want them available to pick off any True Faith Troopers who try to interfere with our counterattack.

"Now wait here, despite my next order. I think that you will want to watch me doing my fatheaded routine for the Troopers on the walls. Dismissed, Sergeant!"

"Sir Yes Sir!" Sergeant Preston did a precision about-face and stepped about two paces away from Colonel Richards.

Colonel Richards walked up to the castle moat, looked up at the Troopers who were observing the security checkpoint from the wall just to the east of the gate tower, and said "I say! I must speak to your supervisor!"

One of the Troopers leaned over the parapet and answered "I am as much of a supervisor as you're gonna get!"

"I demand that you lower the drawbridge and raise the portcullis immediately! Your actions are quite improper!"

"Yeah, yeah go fuck yourself."

"I insist! If the gate is not opened by sunset, there will be consequences!"

"I already told you once to go fuck yourself! Scram, before we start taking potshots at you." The Trooper turned and stepped away from the parapet.

"The Grand Duke himself will be back from the naval maneuvers by sunrise tomorrow morning. There will be severe consequences if the gate is not open before then!"

One of the other Troopers on the wall unslung his rifle from his back. Colonel Richards promptly scurried back to the security checkpoint.

He turned to Sergeant Preston and said "That ought to convince them that they have nothing to worry about for hours yet. I hope that we can all get organized long before that. It's time for you to do your act now. You were dismissed, Sergeant!"

Sergeant Preston stiffened to attention again and replied "Sir Yes Sir!" He grinned to himself as he walked slowly down the castle driveway. But the grin did not show in his downward gaze, his rounded shoulders, or his slow, obviously discouraged walk.

= = 0 = =

After all of the girls in the Great Hall were handcuffed and chained to the wall in groups of four, The Troopers started the next step in Gerhard Gernemann's plan. One of the Troopers began taking short lengths of chain tied to long lengths of rope and tossing them over a massive ceiling beam of the Great Hall. That beam was twelve feet above the floor, and the top was rounded, grooved, and polished. It had obviously been modified to serve as an overhead anchor when confining captives.

When she was about five years old, Glendarra Vandenn had been told that if she was bad, her hands would be tied to that beam to punish her. That had never happened, of course; the grown-ups were just teasing their little girl. But she had often given that beam a wary glance ever since. She realized that she was about to be chained to it and stripped of her wedding gown. She did not like that idea at all, but there was no way to stop it from happening.

The Troopers no longer needed to keep a close watch on all of the girls, since they were chained to the wall and could not get away. Six strong men converged on Glendarra's group. One of them unlocked the group's long wall chain. Glendarra allowed herself to be led from the wall to the ropes and chains dangling from the ceiling beam. She hoped that she would at least be allowed to keep her underwear.

One Trooper clipped a ceiling chain in a loop around the link chain of her handcuffs. Another Trooper pulled on the rope attached to that ceiling chain until her hands were high above her head. The chain clip was even higher and completely out of her reach. She was trapped and helpless. She was thankful that her wedding gown was strapless and could be removed without damage.

But that didn't happen. The Trooper boss with the grenade on his shirt pocket walked up to her and pulled out a knife. He slipped the tip between her bra and her breasts and began to slice downward. Within moments several thousand ducats' worth of satin, lace, and embroidery were reduced to rags on the floor.

And that wasn't the end. The boss gathered up the fabric and carried it over to a fireplace at one end of the Great Hall. He tossed them in on top of the wood that had been laid for that evening's fire. Another Trooper added a burning newspaper. The clothing that the other girls in her group had worn was all soon added to the resulting blaze.

Glendarra and the other three girls in her group were taken naked to the other side of the Great Hall and secured there by their long chain, passed between their arms again and padlocked to the wall. She watched as the second group was removed from the opposite wall and rigged for stripping. That group included Callie, her kid sister, and also the Contessa Tialla, the Grand Duke's daughter. They soon joined Glendarra's group at the opposite wall, also naked, handcuffed, and chained.

Several esdigies were in the fifth group to receive this treatment. The leader of the Trooper stripping team asked the boss "Shall we let the one in her own close cuffs keep her dress on? Her master knows how to treat girls properly. That would be a good way of showing everybody that he has the right idea. He's even dressed her right." She was wearing a sleeveless pink minidress with a skirt that reached only about a third of the way between her crotch and her knees. It was the shortest hemline in the room.

The boss answered "That's a great idea. I like the irony. A lowly esdigie slave girl in close chains stays dressed, while the noble aristocrats are all naked. Do it!"

Half an hour later Glendarra looked over at that esdigie, who was still wearing her pink minidress, close-cuffed and chained to the wall with several other esdigies who were naked. The one in the dress looked embarrassed. She appeared to be humiliated by wearing a dress when all of the other girls around her were naked. That was certainly upside-down from the way the world usually worked.

The last of the clothing that the girls in the Great Hall had been wearing went up in flames. Then another man in a Trooper uniform pushed a janitorial cart into the Great Hall. The cart was essentially a canvas bin on wheels, normally used to haul dirty bedding and towels from guest rooms to the laundry. The cart was full of women's garments. The newly-arrived Trooper parked it by the fireplace.

Gerhard looked this new arrival over and asked "Who are you? I thought that I knew all of the Troopers who were assigned to this room. If you aren't assigned here, you should go back to where you are supposed to be and carry out your assignments."

The new arrival answered "You can call me Boris Badenov. I don't have an official assignment, because I was spying here when the assignments were made. So I was able to pick a job that needed doing and that nobody had started yet.

"I had Ulf put me in charge of a squad of swordsmen. I took my squad into the family suite and grabbed the master keys from old Josef Vandenn. Then I used those keys to let my squad into all of the guest rooms. We neutralized the men in those rooms at swordpoint, and cleaned all the female clothing out of the suitcases, closets, and drawers. It's in this dirty-laundry cart now. I brought it here to be burned. We don't want these girls getting dressed again after we leave."

"That sounds like a good idea. Matt, empty the dirty-laundry cart into the fireplace, a few pieces at a time." A Trooper apparently named Matt began to follow this order.

'Boris Badenov' stood near the bride's kid sister Callie as this burning began. He told her "You will not own a single piece of clothing when we are done." She watched as one of her winter coats, and then one pair of her summer shorts, were fed into the fireplace. The other captive girls and women had each brought one or two suitcases of clothing to the Schloss vee in Altseit. They would still own all of the clothing that they had left at home. But the Schloss was Callie's home, and also Glendarra's home. The Troopers had gotten into their rooms and cleaned out their closets and drawers. She realized that 'Boris' was right and that she soon would not own any clothing at all.

'Boris' watched her reaction to this. Would she plead? Would she beg? Would she just break down and cry? All of his guesses were wrong. Callie said nothing. She gave him a steady angry glare. She stood up, so that she could better estimate how tall he was by comparison with her own height. She looked him up, she looked him down, and she memorized every detail that she could see. He was wearing a black Trooper hood, so she could not see his face. But if she ever had the chance to identify him, she wanted to observe enough details that her identification would stand up in court.

The clothes burning continued anyway.

= = 0 = =

In the tower apartment, Tsaroé suddenly said "Please, Master!" She moved away from the locked door at the head of the stairs and jangled the chain between her wrists.

Tamis looked away from the window where he had been exchanging Morse-code signals with Corporal Braun. Tsaroé pointed to the door, and gestured down the staircase, and mouthed a silent message that Tamis didn't quite understand. With his attention shifted away from the window, Tamis could hear somebody coming up the stairs.

He grabbed Tsaroé, turned her to face away from him, and slipped his left arm between her left arm and her back, near her shoulder. He reached across her back and grabbed her upper right arm with his left hand. With his grip, and the chain between her wrists, her hands were pinned against her waist at either side. A few moments later, somebody pounded on the door and demanded "Open up!"

Tamis manhandled Tsaroé over to the door and said "Why the hell should I?"

"'Cause I am telling you to."

"Go mind your own goddamn business. We're busy in here." With his right hand, Tamis began undoing the leather thong belt of Tsaroé's camisk.

Tsaroé looked around at him with an anxious expression and implored "Please, Master. You are going to be married tomorrow. What would your fiancée say?"

"Yeah, sure, tomorrow I will be pledged to Glendarra. So I have one last day to have fun with somebody else. Come along, slave girl!" He turned to the doorway and added "Buddy, don't be a pain in the ass there! Go find somebody else to fuck!" Then he hustled Tsaroé over to a chain dangling from the ceiling, out of view of the True Faith Trooper at the door. The window in that door was a small one, with a poor angle for viewing the apartment. The Trooper couldn't see most of the room.

Tamis clipped Tsaroé's wrists over her head to the hanging chain. He finished taking her camisk off, leaving her naked. He mumbled into her ear "You are about to get a severe whipping." He took a broad whip from a hook on the wall and swung it hard against the back of a nearby leather chair.

The whip made a loud Thwap! Tsaroé fell silent.

Tamis mumbled into her ear again, "You are being very quiet for a girl who is being whipped."

A minute later he hit the chair back again. Tsaroé opened her mouth, clamped her teeth together, and sucked air in to create a hissing sound. Tamis mumbled "That's more like it."

Tsaroé began to moan after the third blow on the chair back. Anybody listening could be certain that she was being given a slow, sustained whipping.

After about the fifth blow, Tamis mumbled "Can you keep up this act by yourself? Keep whipping the chair back and moaning. I've got some other stuff I need to do."

Tsaroé nodded agreement. Tamis released her from the ceiling chain and handed her the whip. She gave that whip a wicked twirl and brought it down hard on the chair back, then moaned and began pleading "Please, Master . . . " Tamis gave her an 'OK' hand sign.

Then he reached into his pockets and pulled out two genuine Suisarmi Brand folding stainless steel multitools, imported from Vegonyn City, absolutely the finest pocket multitools made anywhere on the planet Ericpotsdam. Although these tools had folding knife blades, they were never intended to be weapons. Tamis had kept them when he turned in his regulation belt knife and sidearm for storage in the castle armory.

One of the multitools unfolded into a pair of pliers. A screwdriver blade opened from the other one. Tamis began to disassemble another chair, which was made in the fashionable "Industrial" style, with visible screw and bolt heads.

In only a few minutes, he had a sturdy 75-centimeter piece of wood that had supported one side of the chair back. After just a bit longer, he also had a forty-centimeter piece that had been one of the front legs.

He turned his attention to his suitcase. He emptied it by dumping it out. The sides were canvas, reinforced with leather straps. With his Suisarmi knife, he cut through the canvas along the edges of the straps. He unfolded a leather punch from the multitool and put holes in both ends of each of the resulting canvas-backed straps.

He cut Tsaroé's leather thong camisk belt into short convenient pieces. He wrapped the cut-off canvas sides of his suitcase around his left arm and held them in place with multiple-layer wraps of leather strapping. He tied the short pieces of camisk belt thong through the freshly-punched holes in the suitcase strapping and pulled the entire arrangement snug around his left arm and palm. He saved one last piece of canvas-backed leather strapping to wrap around his fingers. Then he was ready.

Tsaroé stopped whipping the chair back. She said "Please, Master, I will tell you a secret that I have never told anybody else. I am very ticklish, Master. Please, Master. YIPE!" Then she giggled, and shook the chain hanging from the ceiling. Anybody listening would easily tell that the guy torturing her had switched from whipping to tickling.

Tamis went back to the window and exchanged a few more Morse messages with Corporal Braun. Then he checked his wristwatch, returned to Tsaroé, and informed her loud and clear that "This is the time for the grand finale. Onto the bed!" He moved her away from the hanging chain and shoved her where he had told her to be. There they sang a duet of moans and sighs and jangling slave chains that built to a glorious-sounding (but totally phony) double climax.

Tamis then ordered Tsaroé "Shhh!" in her ear. It must soon have been obvious to any listener that they had both fallen asleep. Assuredly the True Faith Troopers would not be at any risk from either of them anytime soon.

= = 0 = =

Gerhard Gernemann looked across the Great Hall and smiled. Things were going according to plan. His True Faith Troopers were in full control of the situation.

Several dozen naked aristocratic women were chained along one wall, wearing handcuffs, the prettiest sight that he had ever seen. Most of the women were sitting on the floor and leaning against that wall. One team of his Troopers was escorting women to and from the toilets in groups of four. Each group was put in leg shackles until they were once again secured to the wall.

Gerhard walked along that wall, inspecting his captives. A few of them tried to smile back at him, apparently hoping that by smiling they could avoid whippings or rapings or other further unpleasantness. Some of them glared angrily at him. Still others kept their expressions as neutral as possible.

As a general rule, the women were young and pretty. Gerhard paused as he passed Glendarra Vandenn, studied her for a moment, and said "You will soon be an especially beautiful naked bride. You are tall, for a woman, and the lack of clothes will show off your figure to best advantage."

Glendarra tilted her head to the right, rolled her eyeballs upward to look at him, and answered "I don't know about that. I suppose we'll think of something. I may have to borrow a wedding dress from some friends, but we'll think of something, as soon as the cops get rid of you."

Gerhard replied "What if your menfolk are convinced that we of the True Faith understand how women should be treated? They will come in and see this entire room of naked beauties, and I think that they will decide to keep you that way. They won't be able to get you out of the cuffs in any case. These cuffs have special locks, with two banks of pin-tumbler pins. Even a locksmith would have trouble with them. The only keys will be leaving with my Troopers when we go. Sawing through those broad and thick steel cuffs would be a major project, probably taking weeks to get them off all of you."

Glendarra had nothing more to say to the fanatic who had imprisoned her in her own house. She broke eye contact and looked down. Gerhard added one more comment. "Your red-brown hair is in a hairdo that only a bride should wear, piled on your head in multiple braids like that. I hope that your groom will chain you kneeling at his feet while he undoes that fancy hairdo during your wedding night."

Then he moved on. Contessa Tialla was chained to the wall just a short distance away. Gerhard stood in front of her with his hands on his hips and ordered "Stand up!"

Callie was sitting on Tialla's left, wearing a worried look, clearly wondering if she would be whipped again to persuade the contessa to cooperate. Gerhard did have a coiled whip on one hip, ready to use. So Tialla stood up. She was a bit taller than her tall friend Glendarra. She realized that she could give this intruder a better dirty look if they were eyeball-to-eyeball at about the same height.

Gerhard looked her up, he looked her down, and he said "I'll give you the best judgment of a man who has had many opportunities to see properly-undressed women. Your face is very nice. Your hair is quite good. But your slim waist is absolutely spectacular. Very few women can develop a waist like yours, no matter how hard they diet. You should think about staying naked in your cuffs, even when you get the chance to wear some sort of clothes. You are the contessa, you could start a fashion trend."

Tialla smiled and replied "I can just imagine the effect I would have if I showed up still naked and chained at the next grand-ducal reception. My dad would have a screaming fit."

"Who cares about how fuddy-duddy old fathers react? They don't set fashion trends. I'd bet that if you do it, you wouldn't be alone."

Glendarra just smiled in response. To herself, she thought Fat chance of that ever happening! as Gerhard moved on.

= = 0 = =

Sergeant Nallard led his squad of palace armsmen up to the security checkpoint outside the Schloss.

They made a drill ceremony out of their arrival, all shouted orders and marching in place and column-left turns, perfectly in step. When the armsmen all were in place, Sergeant Nallard marched up to one of them and ordered "Present-Arms! Inspection!" using a parade-ground voice that carried all the way to the castle walls. The armsman handed his rifle over, and Sergeant Nallard spun it around in several directions and looked for possible flaws in finish or cleanliness.

The True Faith Troopers on the castle walls watched this drill. When Ulf Hapkin came by a few minutes later on an inspection trip, the leader of his wall detachment told him that a group of armsmen had arrived, but that the True Faith Troopers had nothing to worry about. The new arrivals were clearly parade-ground soldiers.

The True Faith Troopers hadn't noticed that these "parade-ground soldiers" were carrying combat rifles, not drill-and-ceremonies dummy guns.

Half an hour later, Colonel Richards watched a horseman in civilian clothing arrive. The horseman wore a light yellow Fedora hat with a dark brown hatband and a business card tucked into that band on one side. That hat identified the rider as a newspaper reporter.

Colonel Richards braced himself for some sharp questions. But to his surprise, the horseman introduced himself as "Captain Anry Nissun of the Grand Duke's Army Reserve, Sir. I'm also a real reporter for the News-Journal, and I hope that I can get some exclusive interviews from this event later. But right at the moment, I am acting primarily as a military courier, with a message from Colonel Lorenz of the Marines."

Richards answered "So what is the message?"

"Colonel Lorenz has four platoons of marines and four squads of Palace Security armsmen assembled, hidden behind that ridge and out of sight of anybody in the Schloss. That's about 150 combat-trained men in all. The Desrilay City Police are deploying in the forest on the other side of the castle, ready to try to capture any True Faith Troopers who try to escape in that direction. The City Fire Department is sending its three longest hook-and-ladder trucks to be used in storming over the walls. Do you have any suggestions on how to use these assets?"

"Yes I do. We are in Morse code communication with the bridegroom for tomorrow's wedding, Tamis Morton. You probably know that he is a Marine lieutenant. He is in an apartment in the front gate tower, with the Troopers locked out, and he's got a plan for retaking the tower and getting the drawbridge down. He plans to try at 1330 hours sharp. Will the marines and armsmen be ready to storm in if he succeeds?"

"They should be, yes. Actually, they are ready now."

"OK, good. You are probably aware that I am doing a fatheaded-idiot act for anybody watching from the castle walls. I'll kick you out now, and have Private Schulse escort you away at bayonet point. That will explain your short stay here, and you will be able to tell Colonel Lorenz to expect something to happen along about 1330."

= = 0 = =

Half an hour after the end of their totally phony sexual climax, Tamis checked his watch again and whispered to Tsaroé "OK, it's time for the next act. Give me a frightened, anxious expression. Sneak quietly over to the door, and look down. You are wondering whether to risk yet more whipping and tickling with me, or go through the door and take your chances with the True Faith Troopers. I need to know if anybody is still sitting on the steps, listening, and getting bored by our silence."

Tsaroé looked. Nobody was listening. Tsaroé gestured at the door with the key that was chained around her neck and looked a question at Tamis. He nodded. She turned the key three times in the keyhole, slowly and as quietly as possible.

They both heard a sustained burst of gunfire which began at that moment. Sergeant Nallard and his Palace Security sharpshooters were pouring bullets into the stonework and through the notches in the crenellated parapet just to the east of the gate tower. They weren't aiming to kill, just trying to create a distraction. A group of True Faith Troopers had been standing along that stretch of the castle wall. They ducked below the parapet and moved along the wall away from the tower, trying to get out of the stream of bullets and into position to return fire.

Tamis picked up his longer wooden chair part by one end in his right hand. He seized the middle of the shorter piece in his left hand and nodded to Tsaroé. She yanked the door of the tower apartment rapidly open, and he ran down the stairs.

Three True Faith Troopers had been assigned as tower guards. All three of them were looking away from him and out of the east door, watching their comrades shift away from the tower and listening to bullets ricochet off of the stonework. Tamis came out of the stairway behind them and swung his longer chair part at the closest Trooper, who was carrying a coiled-up whip on his belt.

His blow landed on the back of the neck of that Trooper, who went down immediately, stunned unconscious. The coiled-up whip stayed in its carry loop.

The second trooper turned and began to draw a pistol. Before he could aim it, Tamis lunged and poked the end of his longer chair part directly into the Trooper's solar plexus. The Trooper dropped the gun, and Tamis kicked it away. Two down.

The third trooper drew a sword and came at Tamis. Tamis batted the sword aside with the shorter chair part in his left hand, trapped the sword between the chair part and his leather-wrapped left arm, lunged again, and hit the Trooper on top of his right shoulder. That blow broke the Trooper's collarbone and the Trooper dropped the sword. A follow-up blow to his temple put him completely out of action.

Tamis raced quickly to the east door of the tower, unlatched it from the parapet wall, closed it, and deadbolted it. Then he turned toward the west door and got two surprises.

Ulf Hapkin, the True Faith Trooper Commandant, had been patrolling the castle courtyard with a squad of riflemen, ready to deal with any problems. When the shooting started, he led his squad up the stairs and onto the wall to the west of the tower. He thought that they would be returning fire at whoever was shooting outside. But when he looked along the wall, he saw through the west tower door that somebody must have closed the east door. That wasn't according to orders; something was going wrong. He ran toward the west door. He and his men would be there before Tamis could reach it.

But Tsaroé had also surprised Tamis by following him down the apartment stairs. She turned left at the foot of those stairs when Tamis turned right, and she ran to the west door while he was closing the east door. She got the west door closed and deadbolted before Ulf could reach it from the outside.

Tamis grinned, gave her an enthusiastic "OK" hand sign, and moved into the recess where the control wheels for the gate were located. He began to lower the drawbridge.

Tsaroé said "Uh, Master, as a slave I am not supposed to handle weapons." She pointed to the pistol and the sword that the Troopers had dropped.

Tamis answered "I'm not worried. Those three Troopers are out cold -- now wait a minute -- I'm making the same mistake they made, underestimating an enemy. You're right, thanks Tsaroé. Come here and keep the wheel spinning." He went back to the three Troopers and picked up the pistol, the sword, and also the coiled-up whip still on its belt carrier loop.

He turned back toward the control wheels. Tsaroé was using all the strength of her small naked body to keep the drawbridge going down and its counterweights going up. She jumped to grab each spoke of the big wheel and hanged on until her feet were back on the stone flooring. The chain between her wrists jingled each time she jumped. Tamis thought that she was putting on a marvelous athletic show. But then he remembered his duty and put the captured weapons down in the control-wheel recess, far from the three Troopers. He began to turn the other wheel, the one for the portcullis.

The drawbridge wheel began to spin on its own as the additional weight of several marines was added to the drawbridge. A new thunder filled the tower. After only a moment both Tamis and Tsaroé identified that sound as marine boots pounding on the wooden drawbridge. Tamis and Tsaroé had accomplished their primary mission.

Tamis turned his attention to the three Troopers on the floor, who were beginning to recover. He waved his baton at them and ordered "Lie there. If you try to get up, I'll clobber you again."

Tsaroé asked "Did you train for using disassembled chairs to clobber people, Master?"

Tamis nodded and answered "Several hundred years ago the commandant of the Grand Duke's Officers Academy was an amateur student of the history of fighting without official weapons. The skills trace back thousands of years, all the way to Old Earth. The English developed quarterstaffs; Robin Hood and Little John were good with those. The Japanese developed jiujitsu, the Okinawans developed karate, and the East Africans developed baton combat, which is what I just used. The commandant way-back-when believed that all cadets should be trained in those arts, and now it's a tradition. Academy cadets can win honors in all of them. I have a black belt in baton combat."

"Do cadets in training clobber each other like you clobbered those Troopers?"

"We wear leather and aluminum armor, and our batons are made of semi-stiff rubber instead of wood. It's still a rough sport. I've had a few bruises myself."

Then he changed the subject. "Tsaroé, I couldn't have done it without your help. You were beautiful. I really owe you. If there is ever anything I can do for you, just let me know. You can't have me, Glendarra would object. But anything else . . . " He grabbed her and hugged her and spun her around.

Tsaroé grinned. "Master, buy me. There is a groom named Olav on the castle staff who wants me. He creeps me out. If you buy me, I won't have to worry about being assigned to him."

"Tsaroé, one way or another I won't let that happen."

"And Master, as a down payment, can I have permission to put my camisk back on?"

= = 0 = =

Sergeant Preston lay behind a hedge of bushes at the top of the ridge that blocked the view from the Schloss vee in Altseit to the lower driveway. He peered at the Schloss with binoculars, with only his head above the ridgeline. Nobody in the Schloss would be able to spot him and realize that somebody besides the colonel at the security checkpoint had them under observation.

Shortly after 1330 hours, he turned and shouted "Colonel, the drawbridge is coming down!"

Colonel Lorenz shouted "Forward!" The entire body of marines and palace armsmen began to flow up the driveway in column of fours.

= = 0 = =

Ulf Hapkin pounded briefly on the west tower door, but he quickly realized that he wouldn't be able to get into the tower. He looked outward and saw that the drawbridge was being lowered. An seemingly unending stream of marines and armsmen was emerging from behind a ridge and double-timing toward the gate of the Schloss. The True Faith Troopers in the Schloss would be completely outnumbered.

Ulf blew five short blasts on his police whistle, shouted "Back!" to the other Troopers with him, and ran back the other way, halfway down the stairs in front of the Great Hall building, where he turned left into the Hall anteroom. Moments later he entered the Hall and announced "Boss, the gate is open and the marines will be in the Schloss in less than a minute!"

Gerhard Gernemann replied "Shit! How did it happen? Never mind that now. Rig the escape ropes! Go! Go!"

The back wall of the Great Hall had several large windows. This was one of the biggest exceptions to the castle-style architecture of the Schloss. The Troopers had placed three coils of knotted ropes by those windows, anchored securely to metal loops in the walls that were meant for confining slave girls. They opened the windows and tossed the ropes out. The Troopers began to climb down the ropes to the foot of the ten-meter cliff below the back walls of the Schloss.

Several more Troopers entered the Great Hall. They had been alerted by Ulf's five short whistle blasts, and they had made it across the castle courtyard before the Marines entered. The Troopers who did not react in time were quickly arrested as the marines and armsmen poured through the castle gate.

Ulf detailed several of his riflemen to take positions at the doors between the anteroom and the Great Hall. By the time these Troopers took their positions, a group of marines had arrived at the door on the other side of the anteroom, but the marines did not enter. The Trooper riflemen were shooting. The glass windows in the outer door were shattered by bullets. The marines would have had to take some casualties in order to cross the anteroom. Besides, the women in the Great Hall were effectively hostages and might be hurt if the Great Hall were stormed.

After most of the Troopers in the Hall had gone down the ropes, Gerhard Gernemann ordered the riflemen who had delayed the marines "You leave now too."

Ulf asked Gerhard "What about you?"

Gerhard answered "Don't worry. I will delay them further when I go."

He stayed until last. Then he went over to the windows, gave the Hall a "True Faith!" salute, started down, and tossed the grenade from his left-front jacket pocket toward the captive women. This would be a diversion, and also his revenge.

It landed only a few steps in front of the Contessa Tialla, just beyond her reach owing to her chains. She could do nothing but stare at it in horror, for about two seconds. Then it was scooped up and carried away.


Sergeant Preston turned to Colonel Lorenz, who had come up beside him on the stairs outside the anteroom. He said "That was a grenade! I think they're blowing the women up!"

Colonel Lorenz ordered "Covering fire! Kneel down and aim upward! Move in!" Sergeant Preston led a squad up to positions alongside the doors from the anteroom to the Hall, while Marine bullets streamed close past them into the doorways to discourage any defending Troopers. Bullets which passed through the doors traveled too high to hit any captive women inside. When his entire squad was beside the Hall doors, Sergeant Preston raised his arm as a signal. The covering fire stopped. Preston's squad surged through the doors with their bayonets at the ready.

There was no opposition.

Naked girls were confined all along the opposite wall of the Hall. Most were young, and many were pretty. Most of the naked girls had chosen to sit in ball-tie position, with their knees at their chests and their arms around their ankles. The most private parts of their bodies were hidden. Sergeant Preston paused for a moment to scan this incredible sight before giving any further orders.

One girl was free and wore an esdigie minidress; she crouched beside the windows next to an escape rope. Sergeant Preston ordered "Grab her!" Two marines promptly carried out that order.

One of the naked girls was standing, making no attempt to cover herself. Sergeant Preston checked her out automatically: slim ankles, well-shaped legs, nicely-rounded hips, breasts nicely proportioned to her body, long black hair unbound and hanging down her back, face . . . .

Her face . . . .

It was the face of the Contessa Tialla, the daughter of the Grand Duke. She was using both of her cuffed-together arms to point toward the girl beside the windows. She was saying "Turn. Her. Loose. Now!!"

"Uh, Contessa, it appeared to me that she was about to escape out the window and down one of those - "

"Bullshit!!" Were contessas even allowed to use words like that? "She is the heroine of the hour! She just saved me from severe injury, probably from death, by snatching a live grenade, hugging it, running with it to the window, and tossing it out. If that grenade had exploded two seconds sooner, you would be cleaning her guts from all over the floor and the ceiling! Turn. Her. Loose. Now!"

Sergeant Preston nodded at the two marines who held the girl by the window. While they released her, he asked the Contessa Tialla "Wasn't she chained like all of the other women? How did she get loose?"

Tialla answered "I don't know how she got loose. I intend to ask her. But you are not allowed to put her through a Marine interrogation. She is the heroine of the hour and I will not see her treated like that!"

A few moments later the esdigie with the minidress came over to Tialla, knelt at her feet, and said "Thank you for your support, Mistress Contessa. Do you want my tunic to cover yourself?"

"No, definitely not. I am not going to be responsible for stripping the heroine of the hour naked. What is your name? How did you get loose?"

"My name is Sushann, Mistress Contessa. Sushann esdigie Wreford Morton. I am not allowed to tell you that I know the combination to the lock that I had on my handcuffs, but you can probably figure that out for yourself. The combination works by counting clicks when you spin the dial. You can get the cuffs off very quickly if you dial all but the last click ahead of time."

"So you have always been able to get loose whenever you please?"

"No, Mistress Contessa. I am confined by the orders of Master Wreford. I have never released myself without an order from him."

One of the marines commented "Until now."

"No, Master. I am covered by general order number three. Master Wreford gave me my general orders while we were on a ship. Number three is: If the ship sinks, or in any other similar emergency, I am to release myself and deal with the emergency as best I can. A live grenade is definitely an emergency."

"Out of curiosity, what are your other general orders?"

"Number one is, I am not allowed to release myself without a specific or general order from my master.

"Number two is, I am ordered to release myself if my master accidentally hurts me.

"You know number three already.

"Number four is, I am not allowed to tell anybody that I know the combination to the padlocks which are used to confine me. So I didn't. You had to figure that out for yourselves."

"Why did you hug the grenade, Sushann?"

"If it had gone off while I was still holding it, the difference to me between hugging it and holding it at arm's length wouldn't have amounted to anything. By hugging it, I could be certain that my body absorbed all of the shrapnel and nobody else would get hurt."

"You could have tossed it."

"Indeed, Mistress Contessa, but what if I had missed the window?"

"Sushann esdigie Wreford Morton, you have done an outstanding job of following your master's orders. Should I insist that he free you and marry you? You deserve it."

"Thank you, Mistress Contessa, but no. I rotate as esdigie with my sister Tarrahh. She is at home today with our children. Master has worked hard to be certain that we are treated equally. If he were married to one of us, the careful balance between us would be lost."

"Well, you certainly deserve something. I will talk to my father and to your owner. We'll see what we can come up with."

A new voice entered the conversation. Colonel Lorenz said "One honor she's won, for sure. Fifty thousand ducats. That's the standing reward for the capture of anybody who tries to hurt a member of the Grand Duke's family. She dropped the grenade out the window, and the explosion badly wounded Gerhard Gernemann. He was unable to ride off and escape and we've captured him. She deserves the reward."

= = 0 = =

In the gate tower, Tsaroé grinned. "And Master, as a down payment, can I have permission to put my camisk back on?"

"Permission denied." Tsaroé stared up at him, surprised. "Hold out your wrists. Fortunately the Vandenn family and the Morton family use the same model of handcuffs on their slaves." He pulled out his key case and unlocked Tsaroé's cuffs.

He continued "On the apartment floor is all of the stuff that I dumped out of my suitcase when I cut it up to make an arm guard. Pick out one of my gray long-sleeve dress shirts and put it on. It's got long tails. It should cover everything really important on your small body.

"Follow this order right now, quick-quick. I'm worried about how Glendarra is doing, and I want you to stay with me. I'm not going to let anybody interfere with your privilege of wearing that shirt with no chains."

A few minutes later, a squad of marines arrived at the west door and knocked a Morse-code ID. Tamis let them in, and they took possession of his three Trooper prisoners. Then Tamis took Tsaroé over to the Great Hall.

= = 0 = =

Several Palace Security armsmen were standing at the door from the outside stairs to the Great Hall anteroom. One of them told Tamis "Sorry, only husbands, boyfriends, and owners allowed in. You and your girl will have to wait until the women in the Great Hall are freed and dressed."

Tamis answered "I qualify for entry. I'm the groom for tomorrow's wedding. My bride is in there."

The armsman pointed at Tsaroé and asked "Who is this girl?"

"She is the heroine of the hour. I wouldn't have been able to get the drawbridge down and the portcullis up without her help."

"She's got some competition as the heroine of the hour. You'll hear about that inside. But okay, you can pass."

When Tamis and Tsaroé entered the Great Hall, most of the women were still handcuffed and chained to the opposite wall. A man in Vandenn servant's livery was passing out bath towels to the captive women so they could cover their nakedness. Tamis looked around, spotted Glendarra, and dashed over to her to give her a reassuring hug. The hug lasted for several minutes, and included quite a few tears.

The servant carrying the pile of bath towels spotted Tsaroé, turned away from the wall to confront her, and demanded "What are you doing in that man-style dress shirt? You are supposed to be in cuffs and a camisk!"

Tsaroé could not shake off twenty years of servitude and submission instantly. She said "Uhh, Sir, that is, I am under orders . . . "

Before Tsaroé could say anything more, Callie spoke up from where she was still chained to the wall: "Hey, look at the back of that servant's pants. Did anybody else notice what I'm noticing?"

From a short distance away along the wall, Tamis's cousin Mannaea said "Yes, now that you mention it. That is Boris Badenov."

Olav replied "What is wrong with my pants? These pants are part of my Vandenn livery. Lots of people besides True Faith Troopers wear black pants."

Callie said "Black pants, with three tan fingerprints made of dried horse shit arranged in the exact same way around the left back pocket? Of course, every man wearing black pants has that exact same pattern of fingerprints, even those who aren't horse grooms. Not!"

Tamis turned to a couple of marines standing near by and used his lieutenant-in-command voice to say "Search him!"

The marines followed that order. Within moments one of them was saying "A key ring, and also a key chain. Most people use only one of them to carry all of their keys. Why both?"

Callie said "The key ring is my dad's. I recognize the fob."

Tamis said "Toss me the chain. I think that I recognize one of the keys." He tried to unlock Glendarra's handcuffs with the key that he had spotted, and they opened. "Well, well. Special handcuffs, with pin-tumbler locks, six pins in two groups three up and three down. And this so-called servant has a key that fits. I think that's enough evidence to prove he was part of the conspiracy. I wondered how the Troopers knew just when and how to strike. Now we know. This character was their spy."

Tamis turned to Callie and added "Nice call, Callie. You deserve to be let loose next." And to the marines, while he was undoing Callie's handcuffs: "Take his shirt off, gently. We'll give it to Callie so that she will have more than a towel to cover herself." Then he took his own jacket off and gave it to Glendarra.

Tsaroé said "Oh thank goodness! The spy is the man who wanted me. Now I can quit worrying about being assigned to him as bed partner!"

= = 0 = =

During the wedding the next day, the clothing for all of the women in the bridal party was men's shirts, with large white bath towels worn as wrap skirts. There was no way to replace the conventional wedding apparel in a reasonable amount of time, so Bride Glendarra and Maid of Honor Contessa Tialla agreed that, under the circumstances, this clothing would be appropriate. But they also agreed that underwear was necessary. One of the castle servants made a trip to a downtown store to buy it.

Tsaroé and Sushann were added to the wedding party. Eventually Tsaroé was awarded the Grand Duke's Meritorious Action Medal, while Sushann received the Medal of Heroism, the highest civilian honor for bravery. They were the first slave girls so decorated. They couldn't wear their medals on blue honors sashes, as freewomen would, so they put short blue ribbons around their slave collars instead.

Tsaroé's award brought her to the attention of a young man who had been a guest at the wedding. He had always wanted a woman with spirit, so he resolved to possess her. Since she was a slave he could have just bought her, but he didn't want to possibly crush the spirit that made her so attractive to him. So he courted her and won her heart before he bought her and made her his esdigie.

A year later the Contessa Tialla was married herself. She also wore a white men's-style shirt over a skirt made from toweling as her wedding dress. Glendarra as matron of honor wore the same things, in pink. Because the Grand Duke's daughter had dressed that way, and had dressed her wedding party that way, it became an acceptable style for wedding dresses in the Grand Duchy of Erionalle.

In one respect, Gerhard Gernemann did get exactly what he was hoping for. Both Glendarra and Tialla were chained kneeling at the feet of their grooms on their wedding nights, while the grooms undid their fancy bridal hairdos and combed their hair out. Of course Gerhard was never allowed to know this. Those events took place in the privacy of wedding suites on wedding nights. Neither the brides nor the grooms ever told anybody else exactly what happened there.

The End

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