Lottie stood in front of one of the long full bookshelves that filled the wall of the Library. Her left hand rested in the pocket of her tunic while her right sat on the edge of the shelf at eye-level. One thin finger reached out and ran along the spine the book nearest. Then she traced the spine of the next. And the next.
She read the titles absentmindedly. The Season of Lilacs. Magic Beans and other Myths. Ethics of Hexcraft. But she wasn’t here to pick a book, not for pleasure or for study. Not today. She was here waiting for Ren to come home, and with looming trouble on her mind, the Library was the only place she found comfort. And so, she nibbled her lip and traced her books, one after another. Tea Kettle Patterns, a blue bound tome full of intricate designs. Mother/Daughter, a volume about hereditary magic. Beck and Call: The Intimate Relationship Between–
The soft scrape of the door against the thick Library carpet interrupted her mental cataloging, but she didn’t turn around. Instead she gripped the bookshelf with the hand that before had merely perched there. She didn’t relax until she felt Ren’s arm slide around her waist, and then she leaned back into the witch reflexively.
“You fled today,” Ren said gently into her ear. Lottie hesitated only a moment and then nodded, remembering how mad she’d gotten in the tent where she was preparing leafy bundles to send home with some of the people in the village. The twine she was using to bind them had been carelessly wrapped and pricked at her fingers and she’d cursed whoever made it roundly in her head as she tied the knots. She’d also grabbed a mealy apple for her mid-afternoon snack, a discovery she’d decided to take personally.
By the time two roughhousing teens had knocked into her makeshift work area, she was sore-fingered, hungry, and out of patience. Her eyes had flashed with anger as she’d stormed out of the opening and she was sure they’d remember the tongue-lashing she’d given them for many years. She’d ended with a command that they both leave, at once, and they were more than happy to scramble away when she did, ears burning. When Lottie had turned back around, there had been Ren.
“I don’t like it when you leave me,” Ren said, her voice still low but her tone a bit less soft. Lottie swallowed hard. Her companion had crooked a finger at her there by the tent, and though Lottie had every intention of obeying, an escaped tear changed her mind. She didn’t want to be calmed and she didn’t want to be in trouble, and she didn’t want to cry, and so… she’d left. Where the silver-haired woman had stood moments before, there had appeared a stunning brown and white barred owl already mid-flight. With a great swoop of her wings, she’d propelled herself upward and was soon gone.
“And you ignored my calls to return,” Ren said, voice firmer still. Lottie felt her body tense, as this was the thing she felt most ashamed of; the other woman’s grip around her tightened in response. The connection between them as witch and familiar was a low hum always, a gentle exchange of emotions that could grow louder and softer for any number of reasons. And Lottie had felt Ren’s command clearly, felt the concern for her it carried, and still had flown on.
Now she turned in the arm that encircled her, her hands going to the delicate chain necklace around Ren’s neck so she could watch her fingers fiddle there instead of looking up. “I didn’t mean to,” she said softly.
Ren had long ago figured out that what this really meant was, I can’t explain it. And that may well be, but it didn’t change the consequences. She leaned in to kiss Lottie’s forehead, then moved her hands to the girl’s hips and took a decisive step backwards. The corners of Lottie’s mouth dipped into a pout as she let Ren’s necklace slip through her fingers and drop before any tension tugged at the length of it.
“We’ll talk more about it when you’re over my knee, my Lottie,” Ren said, moving one hand to grip the girl’s chin and point her face upward. Her familiar made brief eye contact before centering her gaze across Ren’s shoulder.
Apparently this provided her no comfort, as the look of betrayal that crossed her face made Ren quirk an eyebrow and look backward herself. An explanation for Lottie’s look rested on the large study table there: a beautiful wooden hairbrush not unlike the one that resided in their bedroom. The trace of a smile visited Ren’s face. The room always provided, and Lottie’s opinions didn’t appear to affect the magic.
Without turning back around, Ren walked over to the table and pulled one of the ornate straight-back chairs away from it, turning it toward her companion before grabbing the hairbrush and taking a seat. “I think you’ve had enough time to contemplate today,” she said, and Lottie thought only Ren could make the lack of corner time feel punitive. The witch was right, though; after hours spent skyward, she was tired of her own thoughts. It was what had driven her to the Library in the first place.
She trudged over to stand by Ren’s knee, and the other woman reached out to tug the hem of Lottie’s tunic up and then her leggings and underwear down. A match couldn’t have taken light faster than the blush that claimed the girl’s face as she realized not all parts of their ritual were to be abandoned. She folder her arms compliantly behind her, though, keeping her shirt up and out of the way.
“Tell me why I’m going to spank you, Lottie,” Ren said, looking up at her familiar expectantly.
“For getting frustrated and–” A discouraging sound came from Ren’s throat and a raised eyebrow with it, and Lottie paused and bit her lip and then corrected herself. “Because when I was frustrated, I rushed off without speaking to you. And then ignored you.”
“That’s a good place to start,” Ren said, and then she surprised Lottie by holding out the hand that wasn’t holding the hairbrush, palm up. “Let me see your hands, please.”
Hesitantly, Lottie did as she was bidden. She wasn’t sure of Ren’s intentions, which didn’t happen often. She might not always like what the witch had in mind, may not even want to admit to the knowledge she held, but rarely did she feel completely surprised. Her tunic slipped down with its release, but Lottie found the touch of fabric against her bottom even more embarrassing than standing there bare. She wished for Ren’s examination to be over quickly.
The woman looked up at her with sympathy, which made Lottie look again at her fingers. She noticed a few cuts in places and became aware of the dull pain pulsing there. She supposed adrenaline and nervousness had kept her from noticing before. “The twine today,” she offered. “It was roughly made.”
Ren’s mouth had tightened a bit, but she saved her thoughts on this for herself, and Lottie knew this particular look of frustration wasn’t directed at her. Aloud, Ren said, “We will tend to this as well. One task at a time, though. Over my knee, please.”
Lottie obeyed, positioning herself belly down across the other woman’s lap, marveling briefly at how the sudden tenderness of her companion made her feel warm even now, on the cusp of what was sure to be an unpleasant experience. She reached out toward the floor, finding herself oddly comforted to have the thick pile in which to bury her smarting fingertips.
She felt Ren rest her left hand on the small of her back, hairbrush still in her grip as her right scooted the girl’s tunic up again, leaving her bottom exposed and ready for the coming spanking. It was her hand that first made contact, landing with a loud pop, and **she spanked steadily on from there. No amount of determination ever kept Lottie still for the beginning of a punishment. Ren’s arms were corded with muscle and her palm rough and worn from her work in the gardens, and it didn’t take long for her to heat the whole of Lottie’s round bottom. When Ren concentrated on her sit-spots, the girl let out a reluctant wail and moved to grip the ornately carved rung of the chair.
Her feet kicked at the floor, but otherwise Lottie remained in position, finding her breath under the continued attack on her bottom. Ren made it all the more difficult to be still by deciding to ask questions.
“Why didn’t you tell me you needed new supplies?” the woman asked, her voice as much curious as it was chiding.
Lottie’s hands jumped down to the carpet again, and she grunted before she could answer. “It just wasn’t that bad!” Ren’s hand smacked down harder, revealing the true potential of her disciplinary palm for a moment, and the girl squealed and added, “Not at first! Not at first!”
“Ahh,” Ren said above her, returning to her previous tempo and exertion. It was a small relief, but appreciated nonetheless. “So you committed yourself to seeing it through.”
Lottie’s hands jumped again, this time one scooting forward as the other wrapped around Ren’s ankle. The swats were concentrated once again on the delicate connection of her thighs and bottom, and her embarrassment at Ren’s observation was acute. She always managed to find a way to lay out the barest facts of the matter, which was somehow much worse than if she’d gone through the details. And she was always correct. The poorly made twine had irritated Lottie at first but seemed bearable, and she was determined not to make a fuss about it. They spent all day around people complaining about this or that, as much of it nonsense as not, and she did not want to be like them.
Ren’s hand came down hard again, and she said, “I’m sure the gnawing in your belly didn’t help steer you in a better direction.”
There was a pause during which Lottie could feel the hairbrush exchanging hands above her, and she groaned loudly. “How did you know that?!”
“Because my own stomach rumbled with your hunger, and I’d just eaten,” Ren said grimly before bringing the implement down with a smack. “It’s what called me to your tent.”
Lottie blushed anew as she struggled under the steady onslaught of the hairbrush. If there was difference between this and the wretched wooden thing supposedly back on her dresser, she couldn’t tell it. Her bottom throbbed and burned and she was sure any second that she would be unable to take another swat. No amount of desperate thinking seemed to affect Ren’s steady hand, though. She kept spanking, and she kept scolding, and Lottie was powerless to do anything but accept it.
“The little things add up,” Ren said. “I’d have sent the troublemakers off as well, though maybe not with the blistering you gave them.” Lottie sensed this was more of observation than it was an admonishment, though it was hard to appreciate it when the hairbrush was occupying most of her concentration and her eyes were threatening tears again.
“What did you think I was going to say before you disappeared on me, young lady?” Ren continued, merciless on multiple fronts.
“I thought you were going to be mad,” Lottie choked out. Her hand crept up Ren’s leg to rest on her knee as she tried to keep from bucking.
The girl’s struggling only seemed to increase the witch’s determination, and she moved her foot up, bracing it against the chair and laying into Lottie’s sit-spots now with the hairbrush in hand. “I was not mad,” she said sternly. “I was concerned. And when you flew away, I became more concerned. And when you didn’t answer, I became more concerned yet.”
Now Lottie’s eyes swam with tears, and for the second time that day one breached the levee of her lids and dripped onto her cheek. “I’m sorry!” she howled pitifully.
“I know,” Ren said, not without sympathy. She said little else after that, content to use the hairbrush alone for the rest of the punishment. Each crack of the oval across her companion’s bottom elicited a squeal or a cry now, and she spent several minutes with nothing but these and the occasional wailed apology.
Eventually, when she was sure Lottie would sleep gratefully on her stomach for this night and perhaps one or two after, Ren slowed and then stopped spanking. She set the hairbrush behind her on the table, then turned back to offer comfort with the same harsh hands now turned gentle as a mullein leaf. The familiar sniffled as she soaked up her companion’s caressed, squeezing her tightly moments later when she was pulled up to sit on the woman’s lap. She adjusted herself delicately, trying to save her throbbing bottom from unnecessary pressure and then kicking her leggings and underthings off before throwing her arms around Ren’s neck.
A funny sort of laugh interrupted Lottie’s sniffling as she found her gaze once again focused over the other woman’s shoulder, followed by a watery but grateful glance around her beloved Library. Ren looked up at her curiously, and Lottie stood so they could both look. On the study table now rested two tea cups on matching saucers, both covered in a delicate blue and green pattern and filled with soothing hot brew. Ren smiled, pleased, and stood to adjust the chair. Then she snagged Lottie with one arm once again, pulling her over for another squeeze and another forehead kiss.
“Next time–” she began gently, wanting to put a firm pin in the conversation before they began the last part of their ritual.
“There won’t be a next time,” Lottie interrupted her quickly, rubbing her bottom.
Ren smiled at her, happy to see the earnest look on her darling familiar’s face. She thought that was perhaps too big of a promise than could be entirely kept, but she believed Lottie would do her best. She always did. Ren smiled and nodded. “Good.”