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Erdislune slept. The soft warm Irish air from off the Western Sea bathed the ancient place in benevolence. It had slept thus for a thousand years, opening a sleepy eye from time to watch the brutal frailties of men. The pickets Costigan had posted lay with their rifles pointed at an enemy that was not there. They, too, were drowsy and inclined to shut an eye from time to time. Each, in his own way, believed they kept watch for ghosts. An enemy hovered, but they had never seen it. They never would.
Costigan stood at the window of the room he had made his own. He was angry with his vigil. But he would see her for a brief space as she made her shameful way to George with his shameful message. He was irritated with the girl and with himself. He wished now that he might recall her. But it was too late. An order is an order. Generals do not rescind them. The trouble, of course, lay with Erdislune itself. How perfect it was! Yet it harbored a malignancy that he must excise. The possibility that the threat might not be human was an Irish whimsy he refused to countenance. Pensively he watched the slight figure of the girl as she passed upon his errand. When she passed from sight he shook himself as though to dissolve the ghosts his men believed in. But in actuality to thrust aside a dream. What would a guerrilla do with a wife! Even as a camp follower or captive she would not be safe. He was the leader, but men are men. When death is close a woman belongs to who can take her. Gloomily he returned to his desk.
Clare wondered why she was not angry. Was it sorrow for the man on whose errand she obediently set her steps. In spite of his ruthlessness and the brutalities of some of his men, there hung about him an aura of sadness that was as Irish as the day itself. He was a man who knew his destiny, and this is a terrible knowledge! If his men knew theirs, they gave small evidence of it. They lived each moment and each day without introspection.
At times like this Clare always considered escape. Being chained always left open that small door. Because her ankles were chained, and because handcuffs were on her wrists, no one would consider her a risk. On her present task she could not hurry. The links between her feet made a pleasant clinking accompaniment to her measured steps. But perhaps this was the time! No one would miss her for thirty minutes. How far could a chained girl walk in half an hour! And what would they do to her when they caught her! It would be something horrible. They were on edge. An escapee would not be popular. Escape was a tantalizing temptation. That was all.
Clare considered that which was about to happen to her. She should be in screaming hysterics. But she had grown a protective armor of Irish humor. Since Erdislune had been taken, one either laughed or wept. She had an intuitive conviction that with these strange moody men it was safer to laugh and to make them laugh too. Not easy for a girl in pain. But she would try.
She clinked her way toward her punishment.
George was pleased to see her. He was working on the jeep. She spared him nothing. "Mr. Costigan requests you give me six strokes with the came." She put as much comradely warmth into the words as her cringing skin would allow.
George was electrified. So were his two colleagues who had been watching his efforts. For a moment Clare enjoyed a sense of drama.
"Ohhh, Miss. It's making fun of me, you are."
"No, George. I think it's an order. You have to cane my bottom. You know, " mischief got the best of her, "I bend over and touch my toes and you hit it."
George sought moral support by scratching his hair. "That'll hurt somethin' awful, Miss." He offered a profound revelation.
"Yes, won't it," Clare agreed brightly.
George was torn. Belatedly he blushed. "Mean you'd really let me, Miss... your bottom an' all...?"
"My bottom and all, George. Aren't you lucky! I think the term is 'six of the best'."
Inspiration dawned. "I don't have a cane, Miss."
"I know where's a cane!" One of George's companions disappeared with alacrity.
"Clever bastard, ain't 'e." George was miffed. "Ain't never done it before, Miss."
"You don't do it before. You do it behind." His colleague guffawed, then added, "I'll cane her arse if you don't want to."
"It's George's responsibility," Clare said primly.
George accepted the cane dubiously. But visible evidence of concupiscence had appeared. He eyed Clare's nether equipment with heightened, almost professional, interest. "Real hard, Miss?"
"Of course, darling," Clare gushed. "Look, I'll bend over nicely for you. See! There's a wonderful target. You can't miss." She suited action to the words, and presented those present with what was probably the most beautiful and barest derriere they had ever beheld. Events of the past days had worn shame and humiliation threadbare. Oddly enough, Clare was aware of thankfulness that they were gone. They were excess baggage.
George's nature was simple and direct. "I'll have to fuck you afterwards... You won't mind, Miss?"
"Get on with the job, George," Clare requested sweetly.
It was harder and hurt more than expected. She yelped and straightened up, massaging her rump.
"See, I told yer. Knew yer wouldn't like it."
"You did very well, George." She managed to keep the hurt out of her voice. Smiling archly, she temporized. "By all means, make it a little lighter."
"Oh, I couldn't do that, Miss! You said yourself... " He added with naive honesty: " 'Sides I like it."
Sighing but resigned, the naked girl exposed herself once more before the three men. The cane sliced her harder than before.
Clare had made up her mind to avail herself of whatever latitude George would tolerate. But, even if she had made a determined effort to remain quiet and still it is doubtful that she could have done so. Her cry of pain and the rueful rubbing of the wound gained a respite and actually seemed to help. The twins would never have allowed her to behave so. But George was easy... She turned apologetic eyes to the three rapt male faces.
"Let's have a go, George. Me and Len both got a hard-on too." It was a voice from the audience.
"No jolly fear!" George stood up for his rights. "Mr. Costigan sent her to me, 'e did."
"Oh, what a shame I'm only to have six," Clare said sweetly. She bent forward again before the argument could get heated.
She took her six as conversationally as she could. It was easy. The three men were as anxious to prolong her caning as she was to get the breathers. George hit hard every time. The pain was intense. But Clare felt that, with the intermissions, she managed to carry off her whipping with some aplomb. Once again she felt the detachment of being the plaything of a force carrying her she knew not where. But she did know that she wanted to go where she must with a smile or a jest wherever it was possible. "Thank you, George," she said brightly when she had finished rubbing for the last time.
George wasted neither words nor time. Taking a rug from the jeep he spread it on the floor. Then looked at the naked girl he had just caned. Clare smiled back at him. Their eyes locked. Clare shrugged and, accepting the inevitable, did what she was forced to do, sometimes several times a day, and arranged her body for his pleasure. When he had grunted his way to a sweaty conclusion she was possessed by the other two in turn. She managed to smile at each as though they were the only one. But her bottom hurt.
"At attention. Chest out. Sir!" She had managed a quick toilette on the way back.
"Turn round and let me look."
Clare obeyed, not knowing whether Costigan was methodical or Qarnal. Her striped bottom had had a profound effect on the three males she had left behind.
"Did a damn fine job!" He looked at her quizzically. "Do anything else?"
"Three of them did something else, sir." She turned and faced him.
He nodded somberly. "I told you. Fair shares."
"They wished to share my caning, sir."
He eyed her shrewdly. "Anything to tell me?"
She shook her head. "There's nothing to tell, sir."
"In "that case," he said quietly, "go back down and tell the other two chaps to give you six apiece. Wouldn't want 'em to feel cheated, would we!"
Tears sprung to her eyes. He saw them but did not relent. "Please, sir. If I must be caned again I wish you'd do it."
She was not sure she knew. She could not answer. But dabbed at her tears with her chained hands. He sat quiet, expressionless. Chagrined, she wheeled quickly and went to seek her punishment.
They were overjoyed. Clare did not know whether to feel flattered or fearful. In spite of the severity of what she must now endure, and in spite of the tears that still dewed her cheeks, her mood was still high. She knew it would betray her: or she it. But she would play it to the end. She smiled at the two startled oafs lovingly and asked demurely: "Please, darlings, will each of you cane my bottom six times the way George did. With Mr. Costigan's compliments... "
"The way you said that you give me another hard-on," George accused.
"I'm flattered. What about you two?"
They shuffled. Clare loved the sense of power, brief though it might be. "Will you require servicing afterwards?" she inquired outrageously.
"What's servicing?" Bill was groping.
"She means fuck, you silly arse," Len reproved. "That's right, ain't it, Miss?"
"You're sweet," Clare cooed wickedly. "Would you like to unchain me?"
"Ain't got the key, Miss."
"If you could get it I could be so much nicer to you."
"This un's kissed the blarney, for sure," Bill declared. "But nix on the key. Costigan 'ud flay us. You do better in handcuffs than most girls do completely free."
It was a gratuitous compliment. In spite of incongruity, Clare felt flattered. "Thank you, kind sir. Now, how would you two like to cane me? One at a time? Or, if one of you is left-handed you could stand on each side and lay into me alternately?"
They looked at her aghast. She knew herself a phenomenon and was glad. She would suffer now and in days to come. But she would sing as she writhed. Make them wonder. Keep Costigan as off balance as he tried to keep her. Men had taken her. She could never deceive Costigan. But his cohorts were another matter. She would extract what joy she could from them as they used her body.
"Think we got to stay just on yer bottom, Miss?" Len inquired.
Clare knew it her least vulnerable spot. "I'm afraid so, darling. Where would you like to cane me?"
"How 'bout them tits?"
She curled up inside. Men! Always at a girl's nipples or her vagina! Animals!
"How sweet of you to think of them, love." Her look of ardent admiration almost withered him where he stood. "But they do mark so. Mr. Costigan wouldn't like it. Would you like me to bend over?" Without waiting for an answer she took up position.
"Bloody remarkable, ain't she?" Bill ejaculated.
"Fair caution, if yer ask me," Len agreed, and struck her naked cheeks with savage delight.
Clare managed to hold still. Perhaps George's infliction had blunted shock. "You next, Bill," she invited amiably.
Bill's thwack across her taut seat brought her upright, rubbing furiously. She dared not think of the remaining ten. She could not take them rapidly unless tied. She did not want to be tied. Repartee was her only salvation.
"You both whip a girl so well. I'm sure you've had practice?"
"How about a few on your cunt?" Len wheedled.
She pretended to consider. The ten strokes might be difficult at this rate. "A girl's cunt isn't usually caned when it's going to be used," she pointed out reasonably. "Now do be good boys and give me two nice strokes on my bottom."
Clare absorbed the brutal pain stoically. Eight to go.
"Heard tell some girls shave their cunts?" Len said. He was evidently determined to exploit a rare occasion.
"Quite a lot do," Clare told him rationally. "Just a matter of taste. I did it once. But it's a nuisance. You have to keep shaving it or it looks sort of silly." She giggled. "The bristles prick the pricks. So I let mine grow again."
Len shuffled his feet. Amazing how shy a murderer could be! "I say, Miss, would you mind if I just pulled a few? Plucking, they call it. Spelt with a 'P', of course," he added with a flourish of wit.
The naked girl sighed inwardly. The stronger sex! Good heavens! Well, if they were doing that, at least they weren't hurting her in other ways. "What a gorgeous idea!" she enthused. "I've never been plucked. I'll watch." She spread her legs as wide as her chain would allow, and arched her pudendum with its thatch of shining hair into maximum prominence. She bent her head and watched. Fascinated in spite of her irritation.
Len fell to his knees before her in unconscious tribute to the female, the eternal woman, before whom all men are prostrate. His eyes glued, in pure joy, upon the dark hair from which he had once emerged. Clare watched, amused and only faintly apprehensive, as his fingers approached her most secret place...
It hurt more than she supposed. He deliberately chose a single hair and pulled it out slowly to give her the maximum suspense and pain. It was quite absurd that so small an act should so discomfort a girl. But her cunt hairs were well anchored and relinquished their roots with much protest to the nerves. She gasped, but smiled reassuringly when he looked up at her anxiously. "You should keep them," she told him tenderly. "When you are old you can take them out and remember me."
She knew he worshiped her. She owned him. If only he held the key to her chains! She watched as his fingers selected another of the longest members of her bush. She held her breath as he pulled. Savoring with him all the ecstasy of the simple act. For her, only a small absurd pain. Yet she could share with him the glory he found in her female hair. Watching, she became the eternal feminine. Mother to all the pathetic race of men! "I think you should cane me again," she said gently.
They caned her naked bottom. Savagely as men must always ravage female flesh. Four strokes she took before standing again so that her hands might give solace. She was cut in two. She longed for tears. But only four more to go. She turned her attention to her slaves. "I think you should all do a little plucking," she invited provocatively. "I want you all to keep them always." She thrust out her furry mound for their adoration.
Detached, she watched as they satiated a strange need. George had joined the collectors. It was a good thing her hair was abundant, she reflected wryly. Stab after stab of pain told her of their assiduous pursuit of some quintessence of femininity beyond her ken. Men lived by dreams. If cunt hairs-her cunt hairs-gave them solace in their eternal quest she would not deny. Again she felt the strange pride in being stronger than they. "I think you should cane me again," she told them. It was as though she had told a child to wash some dishes.
It was as though, in their sexual excitation, they must always strike her harder and harder. Their canes cut into her and fell away from her punished flesh as though reluctant to sever a bond. She moaned and moaned again. Knowing her audience, she cast aside inhibitions. They loved her moans and her pain compelled motions. They loved to watch her fingers seek her wounds. So why deny herself these comforts. They were nature's salve. Eroticism was her only weapon. The entrancement of these three men spelled its potency. Perhaps if she used it enough she might one day persuade one of these bemused louts to loose her chains. Once free of shackles she could run...
"You sure do know how to hit a girl," she breathed admiringly. "That cane really bit into me. Golly, it hurt!" She rubbed her seat as she smiled at them.
"Corker what you can do with a girl, ain't it!" George sounded intrigued by the versatility of female flesh.
"Oh, you poor darling! Did you think we were only good to fuck!" Clare purred lovingly. "There's all sorts of deliciously painful things you can make us scream with."
"You're having me on, Miss."
"She ain't, y'know, George," Bill was patronizing. "You just ain't been around."
"Not even around the other side, I'll bet," Len contributed with deep meaning and a snicker.
Bill laughed knowingly. Clare cringed inwardly. George looked sideways, suddenly glimpsing fresh horizons. "You mean, you really can...?"
"Poor bastard's just discovered the Northwest Passage," Bill guffawed.
George was intrigued. But he had been well brought up. "They can't help being rude, Miss. Don't pay no attention." He paused and scratched his hair, groping: "I say, though! Would you mind?"
"Would I mind what?"
George was perspiring. "You know... ! I mean-ter-say, not in the usual place, like."
"Oh, you want to use my mouth, darling?" Make him sweat!
George's explorations into the realms of sex were broadening too rapidly. He was in much the position of a thief who, having placed his hand upon the Cullinan diamond, finds beside it, also, the Koh-I-noor. An unknown infinity of riches...
"Well, hadn't really thought o' that, Miss." It was obvious that he was now thinking about it furiously.
"My hand perhaps. A girl can do an awful lot with her hand." She made a small moue of disparagement. "Even if it is chained." Clare was reveling in George's agony.
"He wants to fuck you up the arse, Miss," Len explained helpfully.
"He's really sweet, isn't he!" Her audience could not but understand her awed discovery of hidden virtue. She beamed impartially. "But it's time I was caned again. You hadn't forgotten...?"
They had not forgotten! Clare had guessed these last two would be bad. But they were delivered with such impact that she was driven forward to her knees. The pain went deep, all-encompassing, sheathing her buttocks and loins in a sickening creeping agony.
Clare stayed kneeling where the final stroke had driven her. She buried her face in her hands and wept. No one had previously struck her with such brutality. The pain went beyond the point where she wished to explore it with her fingers. She wanted only to be left alone to cope with it and to dry her tears when they were done.
"She's cryin'," George marveled at an extraordinary phenomenon.
"Watchin' that 'ull give yer a hard-on too," Bill observed clinically.
"Lovely bit o' stuff, ain't she!" Len's contribution was pure worship.
Reverently the three men stood and watched a naked girl kneeling, bowed, sobbing into the sanctuary of her hands. Her glowing bottom with its scarlet and purple stripes a testimonial to their prowess with the cane. Perhaps they guessed, within their limited comprehensions, that what they beheld was probably the most beautifully touching thing they would ever see.
They made no blundering gestures of chivalry. After all, she was a prisoner of war! Clare was grateful. When she was done with tears and sobbing breath she eyed them dubiously over her chained hands. She had had enough. It was obvious they had not.
"I got this lovely hard... " George's statement might have come from Sir Francis Drake who, having refitted the Golden Hind, was in need of an uncharted ocean to explore.
"Couple more over here," Bill said encouragingly.
She quailed. Had Costigan known he was sending her to this! "It's time I reported back to the office," she ventured.
"Won't take us long, Miss," Len offered generously. "It's only old George wants it up the back."
A General faced with defeat cuts losses. Manfully, Clare returned on stage.
"Oh George, you don't really, do you?" Her voice was dulcet.
"Sure do, Miss. Bad!" He was eagerly resigned to degeneracy.
Clare sighed. Had it not been for the rampant bulges beneath three pairs of trousers she might have temporized further. But she did not wish to be manhandled. Getting to her feet she gave her would-be sodomizer a winning smile, spread her feet as wide as her chain would allow, and bent forward to touch the floor.
George watched these maneuvers with surprise. "I already caned your arse," he pointed out plaintively. "I want something else now."
"Isn't this the approved position?" For some reason she did not wish them to know it was her first time too. She flushed at the possibility of being positioned all wrong.
"Want us to guide it in for you," Bill suggested helpfully.
Len had found what looked like vaseline on the work bench. By way of helping a comrade through a difficult task he smeared a dab of the stuff over the naked girl's anus and rubbed it around. When he inserted a well-greased finger where she had no wish to have it, Clare longed to slap his face and run. But what was the use! She endured. If other girls had survived, she would.
She knew a familiar guilt that she longed to stand to one side and watch. It was absurd, ludicrous, impossible. But it was happening. A three-man operation with one caned girl obscenely spread. Len had anointed George's weapon with more grease. Bill was kneeling supporting her shoulders in anticipation of forward momentum. The star performer moved forward into battle. Clare gritted her teeth and clutched determinedly at her ankles...
* * *
Standing with her back to his desk, Clare hoped Costigan was shamed by her bottom. She knew it was livid and ridged. She had been cruelly caned.
"Basted you well, didn't they," was his only comment. "What took so long? Damn near sent a search party."
Clare strove to be unemotional. "I have been caned eighteen times on my bare skin," she reported evenly. "Endured compulsory copulation five times, and been sodomized once." She looked him in the eye. "Will there be anything more... Sir?"
Costigan leaned back in his chair surveying the naked girl who stood stiffly to attention before him, her breasts pointedly and arrogantly out-thrust, her handcuffed wrists held tight against her tummy. He suspected she was not far from tears.
"Any information yet?" His voice was gruff. "There never was any... Sir."
He nodded. There was admiration in his glance. "Do you want me to send you down to them again?"
"No sir." She was trembling. "I don't think I could stand another round."
Clare's voice was unsteady. It held pleading. "If you want me tortured more, sir, couldn't you take me to the... the room? You must have found it by now. It's got all the horrible things to use. But it's private... "
Costigan laughed in genuine amusement. "Oh, sit down, Clare. You can stop sticking your tits out at me, and you can stop calling me sir. For the time being, anyway." He poured two generous drinks and handed her one. "Alright. So you don't know anything."
Her chained hands lifted the glass. She gulped gratefully. "Why do you send me to others to be hurt?"
"I told you." His face was enigmatic.
"You are not in love with me."
He made a gesture of frustration. "What do you call this thing between a man and a woman? You give it a name."
"George or Bill or Len could give it a name."
"You know it's not that!" His voice was impatient.
Clare knew a sudden wave of sympathy for this man. He was lonely. He was travelling a desolate road. On impulse she told him of the rapist and the arrow that killed him. It would save speculation, and show she wanted to be reasonable.
He listened quietly without surprise. "It makes sense," he nodded. "Why didn't you tell me before?"
She tried to spread her chained hands, but was foiled. "I'm not sure I know. We were enemies. When you gave me the drink you were kind."
He poured another. "Was I kind to send you down there twice to get... what you got?"
"It wasn't really you who did those things to me... " She stumbled with an uncertain premise. "I expect some of them were my own fault." She smiled ruefully. "I'm afraid I provoked them. I thought I was being amusing, but to them it was erotic."
"Everything's erotic to men away from females," Costigan said amusedly. "We're a silly lot of bastards." He gave her one of his shrewd appraisals. "If I set you free about this place and relieved you of all chains and such like you'd have the whole ruddy lot demoralized in a week."
"Is that a compliment?"
"Actually, yes. You affect me powerfully. So I can imagine what you do to the rest of the bunch." He considered something in his memory. "Y'know, there's an interesting psychological query popped to mind: If I hadn't had you... well, punished, you'd never have told me about that man of mine getting killed."
"Does it matter?"
"Sort of." He made a gesture of helplessness and chuckled. "It's absurd. I don't mind in the least seeing you whipped for amusement. But I feel an absolute bastard for sending you downstairs this afternoon. But what you have just done in telling me justifies the means."
"You want to rationalize the virtue of torture. Well, I suppose you've done it. Congratulations! My bottom hurts in a good cause."
"You're quite something." He said it as though whatever she might be it made him proud.
"I suppose you are whipping the other girls regularly? Have any luck with information?" Clare asked demurely.
"You can forget the other girls," Costigan told her decisively. "I'll break you of being a lesbian even if I have to order you whipped fore and aft daily."
"There you go again!" Clare complained. "Order me whipped! Why the hell can't you whip me yourself?"
Instantly she knew she'd done it once too often. Clare quailed.
"You actually want me to, don't you, love?" he asked seriously.
Oh, why must she be chained! She longed to beat her fists on the desk, or better still on him! Or to stamp her feet in an expenditure of angry energy releasing the turgid emotions she was suddenly afraid to face. She had trapped herself unwittingly by a strange passion she had glimpsed too late. Tavie and Alethea had built better than they knew.
The small lonely word spoke volumes. Costigan nodded understandingly. "Go down and get the cane from the boys and bring it back here."
Clare made the now familiar journey in a daze of shame, guilt, happiness, and a terrible excitement. Her third appearance created a sensation. Her errand provoked ribaldry. Awkwardly holding the cane with which she was to be whipped, she escaped with flaming cheeks.
He had poured two more big drinks. They sat and sipped in a strange rapport, the cane potent between them on the desk.
"This is really your idea, love."
"Are you sure?" Clare was not sure herself. "If it is my idea, my bottom is going to be very angry with me."
"Look, sweetheart, enough's enough. That nice little behind of yours doesn't need anymore today. I'm not going to cane all those welts you have already."
She pouted. "You would if I held a secret. You'd send me right back down without a qualm."
"I suppose I would," he admitted meditatively. "Rummy business. Anyway, your nice little derriere is quite safe."
"I have other nice places, sir," she said.
"I won't use a cane on 'em," he stated firmly.
"My bottom is still in one piece, y'know," she tantalized.
"You are a wanton hussy." He capitulated, sharing a smile they both understood. "How many do you want?"
"Six of the best. Sort of de rigueur, aren't they!"
He poured more drinks. "Here's to a little girl who's either very brave or very wicked."
"I'm both," said Clare with certainty. And raised her glass.
Each, in their own way, approached the punishment Clare had provoked. He with a determination not to relent. But to make her sorry for her mischievous baiting. He judged correctly her wantonness to be bequeathed by the two girls who were still a mystery to him.
Clare, for her part, was only concerned with acquitting herself well in his eyes. She knew she was pandering to a hot erotic memory of Tavie and Alethea. An eroticism unsatisfied by such as George or Len or Bill. But Costigan was something different. She knew he held for her, and she for him, something of that magic quality impossible to define. There was a current between them. Perhaps she had made him whip her to see if the current could be dissolved by pain.
"How would you like me?" she asked sweetly. He told her. She obeyed.
It was pure hell! But a beautiful golden erotic hell. He planted his six upon her in ways and places the men below had not known. He whipped her with subtlety. They had been brutal. He was clever and very wise. She marveled. Only in the last swishing careless stroke did he cross the wounds inflicted by his men. She was consumed in a flaming holocaust of sensual joy. She had not moved or screamed.
"It's all over, love."
Clare was still bent, drifting in the multicolored world of pure sensation. Gently he guided her to the chair, for which he had found a cushion.
She nodded thankfully. She had needed him as some sort of cathartic. She would never be cured, for she did not wish to be. But, for the moment, she was back in his world.
"Thank you," she said simply.
"Terribly. I don't mind."
Clare nodded. "Yes. I didn't know till now."
They sat with their thoughts for a few moments. Then Costigan said briskly: "Now that little matter has been dealt with. I want to talk about those two girls."
"What about them?" Clare did not wish to talk to him about the twins. "They have killed two of my men."
She could not share his concern for men who would have used her ill. "Neither of us can be sure it was the girls." She pointed out reasonably. "No one saw who shot those arrows."
"Who else shoots arrows!"
"Go away from here," she pleaded. A sudden prescience gripped her. "Give them back their home. I'm afraid... afraid for all of us. This is not like other places. Montrilas is different-"
"It's the old part. I was chained in the big hall there when George found me. It's the original name. Before Erdislune... "
"Witches and warlocks and noises at night," he jibed.
"Go away. Take me with you if you want. Not in chains. I'll go willingly if you'll give them back what belongs to them."
"They murdered two of the men who trust me. They have already been sentenced."
Clare looked at him incredulously.
"To hang." He was deadly intent. "We held court after Rory."
"Leave this place!" she demanded again. "Please! Please. Take me with you."
"Have you considered something, love? Both men were killed because they threatened you. Maybe those two girls with their bows and arrows aren't all that concerned with this old ruin. What they want is you." , "That's easy then. Set me free. If I wander off through the park they'll find me."
"Exactly. That's how we are going to catch them. They want you. You are a perpetual bait. Sooner or later they will fall into a trap trying to get at you."
"I'll never help you hurt them." She was angry with him for spoiling a mood, and flashed angrily. "I'd escape if I could, and go to them."
He laughed without rancor. "Why do you think we keep you chained!"
She wished he was different. How absurd men were with their silly notions of politics and honor! What incomprehensible compulsions they carried around with them! Forever driven! For he who sat across the desk she could feel at that moment only pity and a great sorrow.
Clare was not returned to the dungeon that night.
But he did not loose her chains.
* * *
How good it felt! How absurd! How very Irish! Clare wanted to sing. The whole adventure was exciting and delightful. It was like release from prison. Actually that was what it was! An illusory freedom, of course. Her left wrist was firmly handcuffed to a ring in the seat of the truck. But her right hand was her own. She could raise or lower the window of the cab, and even stick her head out into the rush of air as the moor sped by beneath their wheels.
"Aren't you afraid I'll call a policeman?" Clare asked happily.
George was an intent driver, but more than willing to spare a glance for the naked girl chained beside him. "Ain't goin' ter be seein' no coppers," he assured her with certainty.
"Well, somebody who sees us is sure to report a naked girl."
"Not likely. Irish mind their own business these days."
"Aren't you embarrassed?"
"What 'ud I be embarrassed about, Miss?"
"Me not having any clothes."
"Yer never do have any, Miss. Boss said you'd be easier to handle naked."
"I'm surprised you didn't put me in the back with the other two chaps?"