Liesl was numb and unresponsive through the preparation phase for her trial by the emperor that took most of the next day. The bathing and powdering and rouging went more calmly than Lutgard had thought possible, mainly because Liesl moved languidly as if she were in a trance, so far had she withdrawn into herself, into a protective shell of disbelief and separation from reality. There was a brief flash in the eyes of both Liesl and Lutgard - but for differing reasons for the two - when the gold hair clips bought the previous day in the Christmas market were affixed in Liesl's glossy, much stroked raven-black hair. And the only twinge of panic that could be discerned flowing through the young lady's perfectly formed and lovingly prepared body came when the only article of clothing brought out for her journey was a thick, white ermine cape robe.

As the sun set across the valley of the land of Freidenschaft and the lights began to twinkle on in the town below, a massive gilded sleigh on runners and pulled by six gray Clydesdales pulled up at the end of the drawbridge. it had snowed all day, and the city was a fairy wonderland that Liesl only barely saw through the fog of the heavy breath of the horses as she was bundled out the castle and buried as deeply as Lutgard could manage into the many layers of fur blankets in the sleigh. Liesl was still numb and unresponsive. Lutgard was smiling and clucking, trying to will courage into her child who was being torn out of her arms, and quite possibly out of her life. But the tears streaming down the old woman's cheeks belied her emotions of grief and the terror that lay ahead in all directions.

The maroon-uniformed footman slapped the stairs into the open sleigh up and fastened them, creating a door separating Liesl from her family and her life, and he was barely back up onto the driver's bench before the sleigh's equally maroon-uniformed driver had flicked his whip and set the Clydesdales into motion down the steep snowy street between the deceptively silent and unseeing hulking shops and residences of the Hochstrasse winding its way down to the market square, the residents of the high city all unseen but their eyes glued to the corners of their windows to take in every aspect of the momentous occasion of the emperor summoning the pride of their city for trial. This would not be just Liesl's trial - this would have a lasting effect, one way or the other, on all of their lives and fortunes.

Down through the Hochstrasse flew the sleigh; whipping past the boarded and sleeping booths of the Christmas market in the Marketplatz; down, down, through Runeburg's lower town on the Ausstrasse; through the market gate in the massive city wall, open at this time of day only for the convenience of the emperor's sleigh; sliding out into the cold, snow-clad night of the Freidenschaft countryside; ever faster, homing onto the track toward the high alps; gliding through the eerily silent night toward Konigstein; the high mountain fastness of the emperor's winter castle and the bed of an old, diseased, wife-splitting man.

Liesl's lethargy had not all been natural. Lutgard had dosed her with brandy - several times - in the past twenty-four hours, doing what she could to stave off the young woman's terror for as long as possible. The cold night air whipping past her in the open sleigh caused Liesl to sober up, however. Chills were running through her ermine swathed naked body, chills that were not only the result of the cold, snow-flaked air. She was also sobering to the realization that this was what she had been bred for. She was just an object, an pawn in the game of furthering not only her family's position and fortune but the future and livelihood of Runeburg and the entire Freidenschaft region as a whole. There was no chance for her personally. This was her fate. It was her duty to please the old emperor no matter how repulsive or overpossessing he might be.

But she had also been taught that the Germanic emperors approached divinity. What if he could read into her soul? What if he could see that she had already been defiled, there in the Hochallee just the previous day. Would he have her killed on the spot? Or worse, would he return her to her stepfather? Liesl had no illusions what the intentions of her stepfather were. And her mother hadn't been able to keep the truth of her stepfather and his fetishes from her. His whippings and beatings and the size of him and his relentless taking and taking and taking.

Liesl whimpered in spite of her resolve and burrowed deeper into the mound of furs inside the sleigh, trying to escape from the cold, trying to escape from the inevitable, trying to disappear altogether from her fate.

It took her several moments - as the sleigh glided on through the night with only the sound of the scrapping of the runners sliding along the snowy roadbed - to realize that the furs were moving of their own volition. She was burrowing down into them, but they also were moving, rising around her, swallowing her. And her ermine robe was sliding up along her back. She was being lifted up, away from the soft fur of the robe, and something cool and hard was coming between her and the fur.

She screamed with the realization that she was feeling flesh, hard bulging flesh against her back and her buttocks and her thighs. But her screams were being carried away from the wind. She called to the driver and footman for help, for deliverance from this terrifying realization that she wasn't alone in the sleigh. But the driver and footman didn't flinch. If they heard her at all, they paid no heed to her cries. They leaned into the wind, pressing the Clydesdales on in an every quicker rhythm. The alps now clearly in sight. The Clydesdales sensing that they were homeward bound, and willingly increasing their pace.

Strong corded, naked arms encircled Liesl, and she was drawn into the chest and loins of a young, virile man, his desire and need and intent unmistakable even to the virginal Liesl, pressed into the small of her back. His face was buried into the hollow of her neck from behind, and while one arm held her to him, its hand encasing and squeezing one of her breasts, his other hand went to her secret crease. Long, slender, powerful fingers found her there and entered her, searching and finding a nub, sending streaks of sensation through her body that she had never felt before, setting her on fire. Fire and ice. He was kissing her neck and nipping at her there, as his hands worked in concert. Her breasts rose and fell to the rhythm of his touch, her nipples engorging and setting off fireworks at the slightest flick of his thumb. Below she was melting to his attentions. She was flowing, and moaning, and sighing, and groaning. She felt his need stabbing at her back, rubbing up and down.

The tone of her cries were changing. She had no idea she could make sounds such as this. She was no longer calling for help. She was crying for this never to end, for the Clydesdales to streak toward the alps in a life-long, slow-motion journey into the snow-flaked night in a flight to ecstasy that would never end. And now, for the first time, she caught the footman turning his face surreptitiously toward her, smiling a leery smile, knowing what was happening. No relief from that source.

She was moving with the rhythm. This was her lover, she knew that now. She accepted that now. This wasn't an old man - neither emperor nor stepfather. This was a young, virile, strong lover. Either of those would kill her for what was happening now, what was being denied them. Her virginity being stolen. The disgrace she was bringing onto her family and her mother's fiefdom. Her first taking. But just now she didn't care. Even if this was the last time she would be made love to in this way, whatever befell her was worth it.

Her mysterious lover felt the change in her. Her giving in. Her giving over. She was flowing for him. She was ready. Lisle felt her hips being raised and being lifted away from his huge manhood. And then she was descending. He was holding her open with the fingers of his hand, and she felt the bulbous hugeness at her entrance. She was being gently lowered onto him as he rose up, throbbingly inside her. A flashing moment of pain, a feeling of release and flow. Crying out and gulping for air. Catching the footman taking another stolen look at her. Seeing only her face, but knowing. Knowing this was the moment, the opening of a door that never again could be sealed. Nudging the driver, who looked around, the same leering, knowing smile on his lips. Licking his lips. Both vicariously sharing in her deflowering.

Undone completely. No secret. The emperor would know all as soon as they arrived.

Deeper, deeper inside her, opening her up, stretching her, moving deeper inside her. Making her moan and writhe. Held tightly to a heaving, virile chest by strong, possessing arms. Turning her head toward his face as he lifted it from the hollow of her neck. Dancing hazel eyes, handsome, chiseled blondness. Full lips. Possessing lips. He took possession of her lips as, an arm under her rib cage, he began to move her up and down on his deeply embedded manhood.

His possession of her lips kept her from crying out again as her world exploded orgasmically with churning of thighs and flopping of arms within her ermine prison.

He was still hard as she recovered from collapse and began stroking herself up and down on him of her own volition. This time it was his turn to cry out in ecstasy as he released his seed deep inside her.

The sleigh was ascending now, winding its way around the proud alpine Konigsberg, up, up toward the emperor in his winter den at Konigstein castle. The lights of the castle started to provide a homing target, and the Clydesdales picked up the pace as they smelled home and their food bags. Liesl and her mysterious lover drifted off into an exhausted sleep.

The loud voices of a crowd and the flashes of torchlight bouncing off the stone walls of the castle woke Liesl. She was alone in the sleigh. She had a moment of regret, followed by a flash of anger that the man who had taken her virginity had now left her to face the wrath of the emperor alone. This, though, was immediately replaced by the rejoicing of having been so fully and magnificently loved at least once in her life - an experience that she had grown to accept would never happen. Then for a brief moment, she wondered if it were only a dream. But her well-loved body told her otherwise. That had been no dream.

The cacophony of sound being produced by the voices around the sleigh began to sort themselves out, and Liesl realized that she was being bid to dismount and enter the castle.

The time of reckoning was at hand.

A delegation of elegantly clad nobles, with the color maroon predominating, escorted her through the guard house and across the inner castle courtyard and up an impressive flight of stone stairs. Through tall windows, she could see that a large hall opened straight ahead beyond the double doors at the top of the stairs that was blazing with light and bursting with convivial banqueting.

Was she to be put on display in front of the entire court? Were what the driver and footman knew to be passed to the emperor even there, so that a hall full of nobles could watch his building wrath and his public denunciation and humiliation of her? Would she be tossed back at her stepfather to be forced to open her legs to him and suffer that splitting club of his besmirching the loving taking she had just experienced?

Liesl willed herself to be numb again. Not to care. This was disaster for her and for her family and her city and region, but it was not of her doing. The society of the empire could hold her accountable, but they could not touch her own sense of rightness and justice. The kiss had been stolen from her yesterday. Her maidenhood had been stolen from her just now. The fact that she had enjoyed both of the takings was completely immaterial. She would steal her inner self, do what they would to her.

She lifted her head into the regal position her noble status had bred into her, straightened her backbone, and, upon reaching the top of the stone staircase, prepared to enter straight into the hall.

But there was a murmur at her ear.

'Nein, your grace,' the herald was whispering. 'Not there. The emperor is entertaining there. Turn this way, please. Through this door.'

Confused, Liesl did as he asked, she turned to her right and saw that the stone steps had led to a balcony of sorts and that there was another door set at an angle that was opening as she approached it. While the others in the welcoming party passed into the hall, a single escort whisked her silently through ornately gilded and lavishly draped galleries and then up a sweeping staircase and into a large bed chamber.

The chamber was undoubtedly imperial in appointment. A large canopied bed, draped in heavy maroon silk occupied the center of the room. Lush oriental carpets covered the floor. Two white Italian marble-faced mantles set against rose-colored marble walls at least twenty feet high faced each other. Both were set with roaring fires, fighting hard to heat the large room against the snowy winter night.

At least I have this, Liesl thought as her escort poured a glass of sherry from a decanter set on a delicate cherry tea table into one of two crystal glasses, set it down, and backed out of the room with a genuflection in her direction. My confrontation with the emperor or his representative will be in private, at least. And at least not everyone knows of my shame, she let run through her brain as the door clicked shut.

She picked up the glass of sherry and turned to face the bed. It looked divinely comfortable, and she was exhausted, having been through the full range of emotions that a young woman could experience in two days. She let her free hand run over the silken sheets.

Regrettable, she thought. She could become accustomed to such splendor and comfort. She lifted her eyes to stare through the window into the night. The snow was coming down harder now, pelting against the window, on the verge of turning into ice. The world outside was frozen. Her world also was about to become frozen. The short, sensational flash of fire and now the freeze. Would the emperor turn her out into the snow naked? Would her punishment be to disappear under the snow on this alpine peak?

She heard the click of the door. She dared not turn around. When she turned around, her world would come crashing down. Every second of suspension was a blessing now.

But she saw him in reflection in one of the windows. Not the emperor. Not an old, syphilitic man. But young, strong, virile. Hazel eyes and chisel-featured blondness, and a wondrous smile.

She turned to him.

'You,' she said. She couldn't think of anything better to say.

'Yes, me. I can't stay away from you. Will you have me? I'm sorry, but I couldn't help myself. You stole my heart.'

This was madness. The emperor or his representative would be arriving at any moment. She had thought that the emperor knowing what they had done was the worst scenario. But him seeing them together would be far worse. This was disastrous.

Liesl held out her glass of sherry to the young man. He took it, turned and placed it on the cherry tea table, and then turned back to her.

In that moment, she had opened her ermine fur wide and stood there, naked. Offering herself to him. At the same time, her brain was screaming, 'Disaster, disaster, disaster.'

His clothes, a diaphanous and billowy white linen shirt over tight maroon velvet leggings, seemed to flow gracefully off his strong, hard body in one, rapid movement, and he moved to her in three long strides.

When he reached her, he wrapped one arm around her waist and lifted and tipped her back onto the high-mattressed bed. Liesl spread her legs wide for him and he, already rock hard, glided inside her and took her in long, deep thrusts that would be taken as the long-practiced fucking of two experienced lovers.

Afterward he found that she was crying.

'What's wrong, my love?' he asked in gentle tones. 'Did I hurt you?'

'No, no. But you must go. The emperor must not find you here like this. I am lost, but you needn't be. Go, please go. For me. One of us must be free.'

'But didn't you hear me ask if you would have me?' Stephan murmured.

'Yes, so?' Liesl responded. 'You had me. And now my purpose for coming here has been defeated. I'm lost.'

'No, dear one,' Stephan said. He gave a low laugh and then went on, 'You are not lost; you are found. The emperor isn't coming. This is my room. We can do this all night if you wish, and the emperor will not come. The emperor has no idea you are here, or, in truth, that you exist. I caused you to be brought here.'

'But, but, I don't understand.' Liesl said. 'I'm ruined anyway, No one will have me.'

'I will have you. When I asked if you would have me, I was offering a crown.'

'A crown?'

'Yes. You came here on the off chance of being what would probably be a short-term empress. Would you settle for being lifelong queen of Lower Hansa? The emperor is my father. my older brother will likely rise to his crown, but I think I have a very nice crown of my own to set on your pretty head.'

Liesl arched her back and gasped through the laughter that Stephan's revelation and the realization of his scheming to get her here had brought up. Stephan, too enamored to wait for her answer, had thrust inside her again and was moving rapidly in and out, setting her ablaze once more.

'Yes, yes, my love,' Liesl cried through clinched teeth, feeling him move ever deeper inside her. 'Oh, God, yes. Again, again! Yes!'

 

Habu

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