``Michael Petrich! Um, that is, Your Royal Highness! What on earth are you doing
here?'' Mila remembered to curtsy as she spoke, but was uncomfortably aware that
her question might sound presumptuous. Still, king or no king, he should
understand that any young woman might be shocked into forgetting her court
manners if she arrived home after eleven to find her sovereign waiting in her
The young king inclined his head politely. ``I apologize for the intrusion, my
dear countess. I felt it was important for us to talk as soon as possible. My
impulse seems to have been ill-timed. It didn't occur to me that you might be
out this late.''
``I apologize for keeping you waiting . . . Sir.'' She remembered the honorific
just in time. ``I had an important meeting with my editorial staff.'' Mila
fancied she saw his expression flicker at this reference to the newspaper. But
he instantly suppressed his annoyance, or whatever it was.
``It hasn't been a long wait. And how could I mind waiting for you in this
lovely room? I have just been thinking, it must have been your ninth name-day
party the last time I was here?''
Mila nodded. The room was still lovely, even though its furnishings were now a
generation out of date. Eighteen years of exile, rather than shortness of funds,
accounted for that.
King Michael III approached her. He was a strikingly handsome young man, with
the black hair, high forehead, and strong jaw for which his family was known.
The king wore his military uniform, a simpler affair than the one in the
coronation portraits one saw everywhere, with the ramrod-straight ease of
posture that only Europe's finest cadet schools were capable of teaching. He
reached for Mila's hand, and she put it out for him to kiss.
She colored a little. Her dress, though both attractive and respectable, was not
what protocol demanded for receiving royalty, and she was conscious that several
hours of intensive work had passed since she had given thought to the
arrangement of her hair. But the gaslight was forgiving. In 1905, electric
lights were still a relative novelty even here in the capital, for theirs was a
very small country, and by no means a rich one.
Mila was aware of the close scrutiny the king was giving her. She, too, had
grown tall and straight in the years since their last meeting. Her own hair was
black, and her forehead high___for were they not, on her father's side, fourth
cousins?___but the extraordinary green eyes were a legacy from her mother.
Did he seem reluctant to release her hand? No, she was being foolish. ``Do you
remember that party?'' he was asking. ``I seem to recall that you cried.''
Mila smiled. ``I was somewhat prone to overexcitement on big occasions.''
Michael smiled in turn. ``But no longer?''
She was puzzled. ``What do you mean, Sir?''
He shook his head. ``We do wish you would not feel obliged to address us as
Sir,'' he said mock-pompously. ``Michael was good enough nineteen years ago. It
will serve well enough now, unless you're addressing me in public on some
``I'm sorry . . . Michael,'' said Mila. ``You've taken me quite by surprise, you
know. I was sure we'd meet soon, but I expected more time to prepare.''
``Yes, yes, I know,'' he said. ``It seems to take forever to arrange to see
anyone through regular court protocol. The only alternative is a royal . . .
impulse of this kind.''
``Are you sure it's safe for you to go about alone like this at night?'' she
He grinned. ``I am less alone than I appear to be. Colonel Radov's agents are
watching all the entrances from discreetly concealed positions. There are a few
men in the house as well.'' The colonel, she thought, must be the
sinister-looking officer who had stood a little distance behind Peter in the
hall, as the old servant blurted the news of her unexpected visitor. ``In any
event,'' the young king went on, ``our reports indicate that my late uncle's
most ardent supporters have all been rounded up or driven into exile. And we
have expelled the worst of the Hapsburg agents.''
For a moment, seeing that grin, Mila could remember him at ten, darting away
from Domna during a game of Blind Man's Buff. It must have been at that same
name-day party. The memory of her cousin brought an inward frown. No doubt
Domna's teasing had provoked her to tears. It had happened often enough.
Their world had come crashing down only a few weeks later. King Peter had
succumbed to a stroke, and his brother Gavrilo, instead of becoming regent,
had___with the help of the Austrians and a corrupt faction in the
army___engineered a deathbed abdication in his own favor. Loyal elements in the
military, caught unprepared, were paralyzed, and many of the royal family's
closest supporters, including Mila and her father, had left the country. The
ten-year-old prince had been smuggled across the border by the Archimandrite's
secretary, disguised as an acolyte.
``Mila,'' the king said suddenly, his face stricken. ``I have entirely forgotten
myself! Please accept my condolences, so belatedly, on the death of your
She smiled softly. ``Thank you, but you have no reason to reproach yourself. I
received the message you sent at the time. It meant a great deal to me.''
``So,'' said Michael, standing back to look at her. ``You have been in America!
And become rich! And learned to manage a newspaper! How very extraordinary for
someone I remember only as a pretty little girl! I'm pleased to see,'' he added,
``that in spite of all changes, your eyes are still as large, as green, and as
lovely as I remember them.''
``Thank you,'' said Mila, blushing just a little. ``It was my father who became
rich; I am only his heir. It surprised the Americans that a count should do so
well in their stock market, but father always said that a count in this country
is only two generations removed from a horse trader, and it seems he retained
the talent.'' She frowned. ``But he worked hard to earn that money. Too hard. If
he had been content to become a little less rich he might have lived long enough
to come home with me.''
Michael gave a sympathetic nod. ``And the newspaper business?''
``Oh, I didn't learn that in America. As a matter of fact, you pay me an
undeserved compliment when you credit me with managing the Express. I am only
the publisher___in other words, I own it. My editors manage it for me. I found
it easy to recruit a first-rate staff, since your uncle had closed so many
newspapers and thrown so many first-rate journalists out of work.''
``So it is only your money that makes you a journalist?'' he asked teasingly.
Mila refused to be teased. ``My money has something to do with it. But it cost
less than you would think. Some of the smaller papers your uncle suppressed were
bankrupt and unable to make another start. Their presses and even large stocks
of newsprint were available at a very low price.''
``It seems the blood of the horse traders has been honestly inherited.'' Mila
curtseyed mockingly. ``But if you were not a journalist in America, why have you
chosen to become one now that you are home?''
``I tried to think what would be the best contribution I could make to my
country's welfare, now that I have more money than I can spend on myself,'' the
young woman said quietly. ``In America I was given a good education, and I was
introduced to many ideas this country needs to hear about. By starting a new
journal, untainted by associations with old parties and factions, I could
provide a public voice for those ideas.'' Responding to his quizzical look, she
continued, aware that she might be launching into deep water. ``I don't know
that you will be pleased to hear this,'' Mila said a bit nervously, ``but I mean
such ideas as freedom, liberality, and___though I am aware it is not favored in
Michael raised a black eyebrow and smiled enigmatically. ``You would perhaps be
surprised to hear some of the things that are favored in Russia,'' he said,
``though not, I grant, by the Tsar or the government. But do you think every
graduate of the imperial military academy absorbs the political doctrines of the
``I don't know what to think about that. I do know that your first official act
of any consequence in the six months since your coronation is apparently going
to be the signing of a friendship treaty with Russia___the most repressive and
anti-democratic nation in Europe.'' Sharpness had come into her voice, and her
eyes were flashing.
``My dear young woman,'' said the king in sudden exasperation, ``what would you
have me do? For the past eighteen years our country has been in Austria's
pocket! The situation has changed only because some fanatics in the army got fed
up and assassinated my uncle. I came back, as you know, only on condition that
the assassins be repudiated and exiled___I couldn't have hanged them, as they
deserved, without losing the rest of the army. And the Archduke has been
watching us like a hawk. He'd like nothing better than to declare me a murderer
and send his army across the border in the name of international decency. In
fact, if he had succeeded in getting the German Kaiser's support, he would have
done it before now! In such circumstances, a country of less than three million
needs a protector. Franz Ferdinand will think long and hard before he provokes a
war with Russia.''
``There are other powers you could turn to,'' said Mila hotly. ``England,
``Both a long way from the Balkans,'' said Michael. ``And America is even a
longer way. These Western powers are quite willing to lend us their money at
market rates of interest, but they'd never fight for us. And even if they would,
the Austrians would have swallowed us whole before the English or the French had
managed to organize an expeditionary force.''
``I think you underestimate the power of free men to defend their country,''
said Mila with more conviction than she honestly felt.
``Free men, perhaps,'' said the king. ``But our people are not yet free, though
it is possible that in time they could become so. Oh, yes,'' he said, seeing her
surprise, ``I agree that our poor little country could benefit from those fine
ideas you've learned about in America. But our progress, to succeed, must be
gradual. Radical agitation of the kind I found in your lead editorial this
morning''___Mila flushed, for she had written it___``does more harm than good.
It encourages all sorts of wild expectations, and brings extremists out of the
woodwork. That will not, in the long run, help the cause of freedom or
``These are principles,'' said Mila firmly. ``They cannot be compromised.''
``My dear young woman,'' the king said again. This time Mila noticed it, and
found it infuriating. He was only a year older than she! ``Do you think I don't
know what I'm talking about? There are voices calling for suppression already.
The conservative nobility, for whom your lovely cousin Domna has somehow become
the principle spokeswoman, would like to see me shut down your newspaper and
throw you and the handful of lawyers and politicians who support it into prison!
These people don't know the difference between a democrat and a communist and
``Furthermore, there are some genuine radicals who would like nothing better
than to overthrow the monarchy and institute a socialist regime. Some of these
people have been using your movement as protective coloration. If you succeed in
stirring up discontent among the people___and there are signs that your
editorials, and the talk they cause, have begun to do that___you may find that
you have lit the fuse without knowing where the powderkeg is buried.
``Mila,'' he concluded, ``I can't have it. I don't want to suppress your
newspaper or any other. I detest that kind of thing. But I am walking a
tightrope here, and I can't allow you to shake the post. Believe me when I say
that I have the best interests of our country at heart.''
``Are you ordering me to submit to censorship?'' Mila demanded fiercely.
``Not formally, no. But you must cease agitating against this Russian treaty.
Domna's party and a good many in the army are all in favor of it. They would
welcome a Russian-style autocracy as long as they have a share in the role of
autocrat. The treaty will have no such result___I promise you that___but what
harm if they think so? I need their support at present. By this time next year
we will be able to establish a new constitution. It won't be as free as the
Americans', but it will be a beginning. I feel sure that, within a few years, we
will have such a constituency for democratic reform that the `Russian party'
won't be able to stop it.
``But we don't have that constituency now, and I need that treaty! Do you
Mila bit her lip. ``I respect your intentions,'' she said. ``But how can I be
sure you'd be able to keep this `Russian party' under control once you signed
the treaty? With Russian money and Russian influence making us all dependent on
St. Petersburg? Isn't it possible you would find yourself their prisoner?''
``Possible,'' said the king calmly. ``But I think I know what I'm about. You
must trust me.''
``And you must trust me, Michael Petrich,'' said Mila. ``I will consider what
you have said most seriously, but I must do what I feel is best for my
The king was far from pleased. He held Mila firmly by the upper arm and looked
hard into her eyes. His own were the gray of steel, and just as hard. ``That
won't do, my dear Countess of Dumajda,'' he said, wielding her title like a
weapon. ``I insist that you refrain from publishing another editorial against
this treaty. I except tomorrow's paper, for I imagine it's too late to stop that
now. But if I see such an editorial on Wednesday, or any day thereafter until
the treaty is ratified,'' he said, drawing his black brows together and
emphasizing his words with little shakes of her arm, you will answer to me
personally. Do you understand?''
Mila stared at him, large-eyed. The ten-year-old crown prince had had no such
ability to intimidate. She neither nodded nor shook her head, but simply kept
staring. He let go of her arm.
``I think you understand,'' said Michael. ``I'm sorry to have to make my point
so forcibly, but your father was always noted for stubbornness, and you are
truly his daughter. I hope when we next meet it will be on a pleasanter
occasion.'' He clicked his heels and bowed slightly. ``Good night, my lady.
Please forgive so late an intrusion.'' The smile with which he took his leave
was strongly ironic.
* * *
Some of Mila's editors were chagrined when she announced the change of policy,
but they knew their country's politics well enough not to be surprised. Although
the Express did not take a position in favor of the treaty, it stopped agitating
against it, and published several biting critiques of Austrian policy in the
Balkans. Mila was surprised to see how quickly public opinion on the subject
calmed down; this brought home to her how badly her paper's voice was needed.
But did she then, she wondered, have the right to remain silent? The king was
doing his best, she was convinced of that. But perhaps he needed to be saved
from himself, and from the repressive grip of Domna's Russian party. If the
treaty were defeated, he might have cause to thank her some day.
No sooner would she begin thinking along these lines than the grim image of his
face would return, and she would feel the iron tightness of his grip on her arm.
``You will answer to me personally!'' What could he have meant?
So the Express maintained its neutral policy on the treaty. Negotiations
proceeded smoothly, and when most details had been worked out, a high-level
delegation came from St. Petersburg to apply the finishing touches.
Mila, as it chanced, was in the main square when they arrived. A cavalcade of
open carriages, escorted by the royal cavalry regiment, entered the square by
the street that led from the railway station. They drew up before a flag-draped
dais in front of the Chancery, where members of the Crown Council waited to
greet the Russian plenipotentiary. This splendid dignitary was accompanied by an
even more splendid general with red face and monocle, his hair as white as his
gold-braided uniform jacket.
There was another Russian officer, in a much plainer uniform. Watching him cast
a professional eye over the security arrangements, Mila recognized in him the
professional equivalent of Colonel Radov. His face seemed to express at once the
hauteur of the aristocrat and the ruthlessness of the secret policeman. She
thought again of the way Russia was governed. Was she, by her silence, abetting
the destruction of her country's freedom?
The diplomats finished their speeches, a military band began to play, and
several important personages who had been seated at the foot of the dais went up
to greet the delegates personally. Among them, Mila saw, was her cousin Domna.
She greeted the sinister officer as an old friend.
Well, Mila thought, Domna had spent her exile in the Crimea. She probably did
know the man. They might even be related, for both Domna's mother and her late
husband had been Russian. But the scene bothered her. Domna's politics, from
what Mila knew, were all too congenial to the mix of evil qualities she had
discerned in the Russian officer's look.
The cousins had, by mutual instinct rooted in long-standing dislike, avoided one
another since returning from their separate exiles. This had not been difficult,
for Mila threw herself into her work and avoided the social occasions to which
her rank entitled her. Apart from courtesy calls on a few older relatives, she
had kept to her house and her office. Domna, she knew, attended every soirée and
ball whose host was of sufficiently high rank. These social events were reported
in the other newspapers, which Mila dutifully read, though the Express, in
keeping with its democratic principles, had no society page.
Trudging back to her office, Mila's thoughts kept revolving about her willful
cousin and the sinister Russian. She kept imagining her country in the grip of
men like that, the people's hopes for prosperity and freedom crushed into the
dust. And their king, Michael III, once their hope and pride, helpless in the
embrace of his overpowering ``protector.'' And___perhaps___helpless in the
embrace of her cousin Domna, the friend and patroness of that insidious
No! Mila could not let it happen. Entering the Express offices, she told the
porter to summon the editors to an immediate meeting in her conference room.
* * *
The following evening at about midnight, a press-boy from the Express came
pounding at the door of Mila's house. Mila, who was still up, reading, listened
to his report with horror. A gang of thugs, most of them drunk on plum brandy,
had attacked the newspaper office, beaten up several editors and reporters,
scattered the type, and were now engaged in wrecking the presses. The police,
though frantically summoned, had not responded. Horrified, Mila sent the boy to
find a cab while she dressed herself to go out.
There was a knock on the door just as she came into the hall, and in spite of
old Peter's objections she opened it, expecting to find the press-boy or the cab
driver. Instead, there were three men in uniform. One was Colonel Radov.
``Good evening, my lady. You will come with us, please.''
``What do you mean? I must get to the Express offices immediately.''
``Not immediately, my lady. I am afraid you must consider yourself under
arrest.'' The two enlisted men, stout country lads with huge, fierce moustaches,
placed themselves on either side of her, and in spite of her frantic protests,
Mila was marched to a closed carriage, hustled inside, and driven straight to
the Turkish Fort, the huge, ugly stone structure where the army, including
Colonel Radov's special branch of it, maintained its headquarters.
The colonel refused to tell her on what charge she was being held, and she saw
no one else above the lowest rank. They led her down a long corridor and locked
her into a small bare room that held a chair, a table, and a low bed, nothing
The longer she waited for she knew not what to happen, the more Mila's
indignation gave place to fear. The king had all but promised some form of
retaliation for a hostile editorial. Yes, but he had said she would answer to
him personally. She had not expected Colonel Radov and his brutes. Nor had she
expected the attack on the newspaper office. If this was Michael's idea of a
personal calling-to-account, she was in worse trouble than she had bargained
for, and so was the country. How could she have misjudged the man so profoundly?
When, after a long spell of such sobering reflections, a key turned in the lock,
Mila's heart thumped wildly. The sight of King Michael, alone, brought her a
mixture of relief and apprehension.
``Your Royal Highness,'' she began, ``I protest this___''
``Be quiet, you silly girl!'' he almost roared. ``Do you know where I've been
for the last three hours? Trying to calm the nerves and smooth the ruffled
sensibilities of the Russians. Mud was thrown on them in the main square of our
capital this evening___and there's no doubt whatsoever that your foolish
editorial inflamed the stupid passions of the drunken louts who were
responsible.'' He stifled her protest with a look. ``This treaty___and therefore
the fate of this country___are hanging by a thread, thanks to you! If I can't
salvage the situation, we'll be just another province of the Austro-Hungarian
empire by this time next year. You can see how much freedom and democracy you'll
be able to enjoy then!''
``Almost as much as we enjoy now!'' snapped Mila, pulling herself together. ``Is
it more free and democratic to send a gang of thugs to wreck a newspaper office
and beat up the staff than to send soldiers to shut the newspaper down?''
``I'm not responsible for that,'' said the king impatiently.
``I don't believe you.''
Fury suffused his face, and for a moment she thought he was going to attack her.
But, with a massive and visible effort, he regained control. ``Nevertheless, I
assure you that you are wrong. I told you that you would answer to me
personally. I do not employ thugs for that purpose. Nor do I believe in closing
newspapers, by any method, no matter what you may think. I sent the army to stop
the attack on the Express office, though unfortunately a good deal of damage was
``Why have you brought me here?''
``In part, for your own safety. But mostly,'' he said, ignoring her contemptuous
look, ``because I can't be seen visiting your house, nor can I have you brought
to the palace. There are too many wagging tongues in both places.''
``What are you going to do with me?''
``You will find that out soon enough. First, however, excuse me for a moment.''
He bowed and clicked before turning his back on her. At the door, the king spoke
inaudibly to someone who waited outside. The door open wide, and Domna, clad in
a rich evening gown of mauve silk, her neck ablaze with diamonds, strode into
``So, little Mila, in disgrace again,'' she said contemptuously. ``How little
has changed in eighteen years!''
Mila's heart sank low. All her worst fantasies had come true. Michael was under
Domna's thumb already!
Domna was even taller than Mila, though not as straight. Her coloring___pink
skin, blue eyes, strawberry-blonde hair___came from her Russian mother. She was
as high-born as any woman in the kingdom, and, unlike most of them, had the
money to act the part, as her clothes, jewels, and elaborate coiffure declared.
Domna had, during her exile, married a Russian prince, and been twice blessed in
her husband___once in the abundance of his fortune, and twice in the extreme
shortness of his life.
``Princess Milevsky,'' the king acknowledged her. ``As you are aware, the
newspaper for which your cousin the Countess of Dumajda is responsible has
published, against my express orders, an inflammatory editorial.''
``A revolting piece of work,'' sniffed the blonde countess disdainfully. ``An
attempt to poison relations with our natural ally. Such treason deserves a
``I wanted you to witness,'' said the king, ``that this country has only one
ruler. My methods may not be as spectacular as those of our Russian allies, but
it is desirable for you to see that my authority is not thwarted with
``Of course, Your Royal Highness,'' said Domna. ``That is the only way for a
``I'm glad you understand. Now, the Countess of Dumajda,'' he continued, talking
about Mila as though she were not present, ``was told to publish no further
editorials against the treaty. I gave her a full and candid explanation of the
reasons for this prohibition.''
``Surely that was unnecessary, Sir,'' said Domna. ``Your command should be
sufficient for any subject.''
``Be that as it may, the countess has taken it upon herself to set her judgement
in place of mine, and to disobey my command. Is that not so?'' He turned to Mila
for the first time.
``Yes, but I believe___''
``What you believe does not matter. The affairs of this kingdom are my
responsibility, not yours. I hoped to win your cooperation by taking you into my
confidence''___here Domna sniffed audibly___``and you preferred having your own
way, like a stubborn, selfish little girl. You must learn that such behavior has
its price. Come here.''
``What___what are you going to do?''
``I am going to beat you soundly, as you deserve. Come over here.'' The king was
removing his military tunic. The shirt underneath was snowy white.
Mila's head swam. She was dimly aware of Domna's eyes, gleaming hungrily. ``N-no
. . .'' she said faintly.
``I said you would answer to me personally, and that was exactly what I meant.
You might prefer being thrown in a cell for a month or two___that would impress
you with your own importance and enable you to play the martyr among your
friends. But I have in mind something more appropriate. Something all stubborn,
selfish little girls need, but too seldom get after they come of age.'' He sat
on the chair and beckoned complacently. ``Now come here and be beaten.''
Mila straightened her back, her face going scarlet as the reality of what he
proposed to do sank in on her. ``No!'' she shouted, horrified, and backed into a
corner of the cell.
Michael shook his head. ``You aren't making this any easier on yourself,'' he
said wearily, as he rose and came after her. There was nowhere to run. Again
Mila felt the iron grip on her arm as he dragged her back to the chair.
``A rod!'' cried Domna breathlessly. ``Shouldn't I get a rod? I'm sure they have
plenty of them here!''
``I'm sure they have,'' said the king, pushing Mila's limp weight down over his
knees, ``but I won't be needing one. This was a little girl's crime and will
receive a little girl's punishment.'' He was busy hauling voluminous skirts and
petticoats upward. ``Umph,'' he said suddenly, baffled. He had come to her
corset, tightly laced to cover the top of her drawers.
``Let me, Sir, please,'' said Domna helpfully, unhooking the back of Mila's
dress and pulling her linen corset cover up to uncover the laces. ``Hold her
still,'' she added, as Mila came to life and began to struggle.
With one arm on her shoulders and the other across both thighs, the king did
exactly that. His touch on her thighs burned even through the silk of her
Domna had never had to lace or unlace a corset, though she wore one every day,
but her fingers proved equal to the task, and the corset was soon loosened
enough to permit her to tug the waistband of the drawers out from under it. She
looked questioningly at her sovereign. Michael nodded. Down came the white silk
drawers, inside out, to hand in loose folds about Mila's slender,
The only covering that remained was a loose chemise of fine-spun cotton. Mila
groaned miserably as she felt it slide up, up, uncovering her stocking tops and
the rose garters that encircled them, then her bare thighs, and finally her
generous, white, bare, bottom, a sight no man had seen since her father had last
punished her, at the age of eleven.
The ignominy of being bared and shamed in this way, especially before Domna,
drove Mila into a sudden despairing frenzy, and she rolled, kicked, and twisted
on his lap in the midst of the heap of rucked-up underlinen. With both hands she
tried to push her skirts and chemise back down to cover her.
Michael seized both her hands, but her wild motion still made her hard to
control. He surmised that it was probably harder to spank a full-grown woman
than a small girl. Mila had more height than some of his soldiers.
``Let me, Sir,'' said Domna once again. In spite of all Mila could do to prevent
it, the tall blonde took both her wrists and drew them forward, stretching her
helplessly even farther over the young king's lap, so that her bottom, when he
got it bared again, was prominently raised. Domna was able to sit on the bed,
where she gave her humiliated cousin a look of such pure, triumphant malice that
Mila shut her eyes tightly and did not open them again. She no longer struggled,
but lay there quietly, bared and upended.
The king spoke again. ``I want you to remember this, Mila, the next time I give
you a command for the good of your country.''
Splat! The awful sound of his hard, bare hand resonating on her soft, bare
bottom split the air. Biting her lip, Mila grunted softly. Whack! Smack! Splat!
Mila was no coward. She had broken her ankle one summer, and the pain she was
now beginning to feel in her hindquarters was nothing in comparison. But the
circumstances were so different! To have the tenderest, most intimate parts of
her body exposed and assaulted in this public way, as her lifelong enemy looked
on and gloated! She could feel every quiver and jiggle of her soft flesh, and
the others could see! It was all too easy to imagine the pink tinge that was
invading the white skin, spreading, intensifying over the rounded surfaces. And
she had been fighting tears even before he started!
And the pain___it was so concentrated! It never had a chance to die down; it
kept renewing and increasing as Michael's punishing hand kept up its assault.
Soon she was forced to twist and squirm; she simply couldn't help it, and as if
this were the final ignominy, the tears came squeezing through her tight-shut
Michael heard her choke back a sob. He hesitated, but only for a moment; she
really hadn't had much of a spanking yet. He smacked on and on without mercy
until her bottom was bright red and bounding and she was crying hard and
``Mila!'' He paused. Spanked her again. ``Mila!''
``What.'' A sullen murmur.
``What are you going to do the next time I command you?''
Silence. He administered another flurry of spanks to the two ruddy hemispheres
above his lap, making the flesh ripple and bounce.
``What will you do next time?''
``Follow my conscience! Owww!'' The king sighed and went back to spanking
Domna was beginning to feel randy. The peasant bitch (for so she thought of most
of her relatives) was putting on quite a show. Though enthusiastically
heterosexual, Domna was not impervious to the beauty of naked female flesh, and
she had to admit that her cousin possessed a first-rate body. Over Mila's back
she watched the stubborn young woman's buttocks flatten, rebound, and quiver as
Michael's hand (Domna could grow weak just thinking about that hand) came down
on them again and again.
Now Mila was groaning softly, occasionally letting out a little grunt when his
hand stung her flesh. The grunts became gradually louder until a full-throated
yell followed each and every smack.
Michael paused again. ``Mila!''
``Much better. Now, who is your lawful ruler?''
``You are, Sir!''
``And who are you bound to obey?''
``You, Sir___as my conscience permits.'' Smack! ``Owww!''
``Mila, who knows best what is good for the kingdom?''
. . . . Smack! ``Aaaiii!''
``Answer me, Mila!''
Smack! ``Aaaiii! You, Sir!''
``That's much better. Now, was this disagreement about the treaty a matter of
conscience or of judgement?''
Even with her sore bottom to distract her, Mila had to see his point. She was
headstrong, but not dishonest with herself. ``Judgement, Sir.''
``We are pleased to have your assent. And in matters of the country's welfare,
whose judgement is most to be followed?''
She yielded. ``The king's.''
``Very good. Now let us return to our original question. What are you going to
do the next time I give you a command?''
``Obey it, Sir . . . if it isn't against my conscience.'' The king sighed, and
the rain of spanks resumed.
Mila was kicking like a brat of five. ``Ah! Ai! Aaaiii! Sir! Michael!''
Domna, who had never been offered the privilege, licked her lips at the thought
of how he would react to this use of his given name. But to her disappointment
the king appeared to take no notice.
``Aaoow! I admit that I was wrong this time!''
``Good. What about the next time?''
``How can I tell, Sir?'' Smack! ``Ooooh!''
``Mila, Mila, Mila. Can you not learn to be a good and loyal subject?''
``With respect, Sir, I am a good and loyal subject! With respect, you need
subjects who are not so loyal they surrender their consciences!'' Having blurted
this out, Mila clenched her buttocks tightly against the shower of slaps she was
sure would follow.
Michael groaned. There was something in what she said, but she must learn
discretion. Perhaps he could undertake to teach her in ways less violent than
the present one.
She had been well paid, but the lesson wanted rounding. Raising his hand, the
king sent a last volley of hard, cracking spanks across the whole breadth of her
backside, whose sweet curves, now that his anger was sated, were beginning to
affect him pleasantly. Mila bucked and jerked on his lap, howls of misery
pouring unaffectedly from her. She began to doubt that this spanking would ever
But suddenly he was no longer hitting her. Awkwardly, he yanked up her drawers
and smoothed her skirts down, making no effort to rearrange her corset or
chemise. Mila stumbled clumsily to her feet, anxiously alert for slipping
underwear, but everything seemed to be holding. Her buttocks flamed; she wanted
to run, to prance, to trot. But she forced herself to stand still. She faced the
corner, unable to look at either of them.
``Your Royal Highness is most merciful,'' she heard Domna say. ``In Russia, she
would have the skin taken off her backside by the Cossacks!''
``Ah, well, we aren't yet as advanced as Russia,'' the king said mildly.
``Besides, it appears that this punishment was not the only consequence of the
countess's indiscretion. Her newspaper office was wrecked this evening. I'm
afraid she has suffered expensive damage and will be unable to publish for some
Domna looked complacent. ``Well, to be sure,'' she said, ``something of the sort
was bound to happen. There was a good deal of public outrage over that
disgusting and offensive editorial.''
``Most of the outrage seems to have been concentrated in your own circle,'' the
king said. ``Are you certain you had nothing to do with the attack on the
newspaper office?'' Mila, startled, forgot her shame and turned to stare at her
cousin, whose complacency was unshaken.
``Oh, I don't say such a thing is impossible,'' Domna said coyly. ``But very
difficult to prove.''
``And the curious bashfulness of the police? How was that managed?''
``Mind you, I admit nothing___but there are patriots everywhere.'' Domna's
expression was almost a smirk.
Michael stepped forward, put his hand on Mila's shoulder, and pushed her down on
the bed just in time to keep her from attacking Domna. She squawked when her
backside contacted the hard wooden pallet, but the look in Michael's eye warned
her to stay put.
``As a matter of fact, Princess Milevsky,'' the king said coolly, ``such things
are easier to prove than you think. Colonel Radov's men rounded up the leaders
of that gang of hooligans you hired, and they were not at all shy about telling
whose money had paid them.''
Domna blinked, her composure falling away. ``But___Your Royal Highness___we did
it only because we knew it was what you would want, and wished to spare you
involvement! Surely it is impossible to have such poison being published while
the treaty is being negotiated?''
``I can't say I'm entirely unhappy that Mila won't be able to express herself
for a few weeks.'' Domna smiled with relief. ``But I utterly and completely
reject the means! Suppressing a newspaper is an act of criminal barbarism! We
have many enemies abroad who are only too eager to paint us as savages. I would
far rather put up with a few indiscreet editorials, damaging as they might be,
than condone the destruction of a newspaper. Especially one that may someday
make valuable contributions to the political education of our people.''
Both women were staring at him open-mouthed. ``I am very sorry,'' Domna said
stiffly. ``Evidently I misread Your Royal Highness's intentions.''
``You did indeed,'' said the king coldly, ``but you did something much worse.
You took the law into your own hands. At present, I, and those whom I deputize,
are the only legitimate executors of the law in this kingdom. To usurp that
authority is a serious crime against the state and the monarchy.''
``Your Royal Highness, I___apologize most humbly!'' His tone had her thoroughly
frightened. ``I admit my wrongdoing and beg for your mercy!''
``As your sovereign, and, by a more ancient law of our land, as the chief of
your clan, I have the right to pronounce judgement on you. Do you dispute
``N-no, Your Royal Highness.''
``Very well. Hear my judgement. First, I assess a fine equal to the damages
suffered in tonight's attack on the Express offices. You will pay it directly to
your cousin the Countess of Dumajda as soon as an accurate assessment has been
made. You will do this in my presence. Is this understood?''
``But___Your . . . yes.'' Domna looked as if she had eaten a worm.
``Second, you will cease all agitation and political provocation in favor of the
Russian treaty. You know I want that treaty and intend to make it. But some of
our negotiators have come under pressure from your party to make concessions we
need not make. Russia doesn't need such eager assistants in a little country
like this. She is very strong and can take care of her own interests. Is this
``Yes, Your Royal Highness.''
``Good, because if there's any more of it, you will be exiled to Russia and can
spend the rest of your days there. Is that what you want?''
``No! Your Royal Highness!'' The vehemence of this response surprised Michael.
No doubt Domna and her money cut a much less impressive figure in Russian
society than here. She was happier dominating local society.
``Finally,'' said the king, ``since your attack on the newspaper was clearly the
behavior of a little girl no less willful and self-centered than the one who
wrote the offensive editorial, you will, here and now, submit yourself to the
Domna went white all over, then blushed to the roots of her hair. ``No!'' she
gasped. ``Your Royal Highness, you . . . you can't! I am a noblewoman of the
``Your cousin here is a noblewoman of the blood, but nobility didn't protect her
bottom, nor will it protect yours. I asked you before to witness that my
authority cannot be thwarted with impunity. Did you not witness that?''
``Y-yes, but . . . but___''
``Then you know that no exception will be made for you. Come and be beaten.''
Loyal as Domna might be to the principles of autocracy, she proved no more
willing than Mila to surrender her person and her dignity.
``Come,'' said the king briskly; ``I'm waiting. Don't trouble yourself any
further about the offense to your rank, for you will have to admit that I
outrank you. Now, get over here!''
Domna stood rooted, speechless, to the spot, and in the end he was forced to
collect her. Though no more willing than Mila to be publicly stripped, the
blonde princess-by-marriage seemed to have lost the ability to move, talk, or
protest. Her gown was much too close-fitting to be raised, and had to be removed
completely. Mila, whose morale had taken a great leap upward in the last few
minutes, willingly served as lady's maid.
While Domna stood like a somnambulist, passively turning or extending her arms
when required, her black-haired cousin removed, in turn, her gown, the long slip
beneath it, a pair of wide-legged silk drawers, and an elaborate Parisian corset
with broad suspenders that had to be unhooked from the gray stockings they
supported. Mila marveled at her passivity, but noted shrewdly that her cousin,
for all her wealth, would be unlikely to let such expensive garments be torn.
At last Domna stood before them clad only in a gray silk chemise, beautifully
embroidered. Her unhooked stockings drooped around her ankles. The king, who had
sat watching the unveiling with imperturbable calm, nodded sternly and reached
out to take her wrist.
``Down you go, Princess,'' he said briskly, bending the tall blonde over his
lap. Domna lay passively, her face hidden in her hands, as he swept up the
chemise to lay her bare. She simply could not believe this was happening to her.
Domna's bottom was a trifle fuller, perhaps also a trifle softer than Mila's,
but its curves were equally graceful and feminine. Mila winced as the first
loud, stinging slap came down, and her own bottom gave a twitch, but it would be
too much to attribute this to sympathy.
``Aaaoooww!'' shrieked Domna, agitating herself into sudden motion. For one who
could talk coolly about the Cossacks taking off people's skin, she seemed quite
unfamiliar with pain. Indeed, there was as much indignation as self-pity in the
screams with which she reacted to each splatting impact of royal hand on noble
buttock. Her eyes and mouth had flown open in outrage, and she quickly placed
both hands, palms up, over the pink-and-white, handprinted expanse of her bare
Mila was only too happy to perform the same service Domna had done for her. Her
expression, as she seized Domna's wrists and yanked her hands forward to uncover
the broad target, would have been more appropriate to her Turk-fighting
mountaineer ancestors than to a liberal apostle of democratic government. But as
she sat on the bed, her cousin's tightly imprisoned hands clutching and clawing
at her skirt, Mila's expression moderated by degrees until it reflected frank
awe. King Michael III administering chastisement was a severely awesome sight.
Smack! ``Aaaow!'' Splat! ``Aaaiii!'' Smack! ``Oooooh!'' Whap! ``Oooowow!''
Thwack! ``Ooohoohoohoohoohoohooooo!'' Mila's eyes were wide. Her cousin's white
buttocks were going from white, to pink, to rose, to crimson as she kicked and
waggled and bawled.
Oh, my___did I jiggle that much? Mila found herself wondering. Was I as red as
that? To her surprise, she found herself hoping that the king had been pleased
with the sight of her bare bottom, reddened and wiggling as it may have been___a
thought that she would never have imagined she'd be capable of.
Domna wailed loudly and carried on like a baby from the beginning. Mila doubted
that Michael would be fooled, and he was not. The princess was perhaps the only
one taken in by her own act, for she thought she was suffering the tortures of
the damned, and carried on accordingly.
She had been spared punishment too often as a girl, Mila thought. Her father had
been ill and her mother indulgent. Domna had often delighted in getting herself
and her cousin into a scrape, knowing that Mila's backside would be striped
while she would be let off with a half-hearted reproach.
It would be too much to say she was making up for it now, but Mila was glad she
had been able to display a little more fortitude. (Not too much, she reminded
herself. Indeed, she was still sniffling from time to time, and her bottom
throbbed relentlessly with a dull ache.)
Judging from Domna's behavior that a dialogue would be useless, Michael spanked
without pausing until he felt that she was well and truly chastised. This took
some time. Domna wailed shrilly, arched her back, and kicked her bare legs, from
which shoes and loose stockings had long since taken flight.
Her upreared hindquarters were a writhing, jouncing, quivering mass of red, from
which Mila could almost feel the heat radiating. It was almost to be wondered at
that the flesh was not beaten flat out of its roundness___but no, Domna's bottom
rebounded to its lovely, twin-mounded shape after every blow. Mila had to admit,
in honesty, that it was a beautiful bottom, red as it was. But so was hers!
Wasn't it? She blushed anew, unnoticed by either of the others.
Such piteous howls mingled with the unceasing, volleying crack of bare hand on
bare bottom that Mila had to remind herself that Domna, like herself, was
twenty-seven___no, almost a year older, twenty-eight. She sounded like a naughty
child. What a demotion for the grand dame of court and capital! Mila realized,
with so much pleasure she was almost ashamed, that her presence must be at least
as humiliating to Domna as Domna's had been to her.
When the king stopped spanking and released her, Domna flung herself face down
on the bed and lay there, crying, kneading her reddened hindquarters, and
writhing. Finally she got herself under control, and was too dispirited even to
resist when Mila helped her back into her clothes. Mercifully, or perhaps to
save time, she avoided lacing the corset to its previous tightness.
When Domna was once again fully dressed, more or less, Mila saw that Michael had
resumed his tunic. ``Ladies,'' he said, inclining his head slightly, ``I deeply
regret this necessary but unpleasant business, and trust that we will all forget
it as soon as possible. Princess Milevsky, the corporal outside the door will
escort you to your carriage. Don't forget what you have promised. Good
morning!'' He clicked his heels with finality.
Domna curtseyed painfully at this dismissal and limped through the door. The
king turned to Mila. ``My dear,'' he said, ``I regret this more than I can say.
But I had to demonstrate to you, since you will apparently take nothing on
faith, that I was in earnest. I hope, most sincerely, that such an occasion
never arises again.''
``I share that hope, Your Royal Highness,'' Mila said as he kissed her hand.
The king raised his eyes and looked at her quizzically.