Abraham glared as a flock of birds took flight, startled by the resounding yalp he had just released. He had been pacing among the trees, trying to calm his temper. It was time to do something. He tired of seeing his wife punished for the whims of that woman-child daughter of the King. He need to act, but Camilla was right. She usually was. Getting himself hanged wouldn’t do them much good. She’d probably be forced to move into the castle full time if he died. As it was, they lived just outside the grounds, in the nearby wood. There were other servants’ quarters scattered about, all humble cottages spaced well apart.
Just thinking about Camilla suffering unjustly made his temper rise again and without thinking, Abraham turned and hurled his axe blindly. It landed with a powerful thunk, buried deep into the trunk of a sturdy oak tree.
“I’m awfully glad I don’t walk any faster than I do,” came a dry voice from the vicinity of his ax. Abraham looked over to see a woman, one dressed more finely than anyone he would usually see in these parts, but she didn’t strike him as royalty, and he didn’t kneel. She was standing alarmingly close to the tree he had hit, but she didn’t seem fazed and he didn’t dwell on it. Each one looked the other for a moment before Helena said, “I’m looking for Camilla, wife of Abraham.”
“What do you want with her?” Abraham asked, his entire body tensing. If this was a summons, he’d risk a hanging. She would not return to the castle tonight. Helena eyed him appraisingly and then seemed to drop her guard. “I want to know if she is okay,” she said. “She had a difficult day.”
Abraham relaxed a little, though he still looked at her with scrutiny. After a moment he said, “Follow me.”
They walked in silence back toward the cottage; Camilla ran out and threw her arms around her husband as he stepped out of the trees and into the clearing around the home. Her dress was righted now and her face washed, even though her eyes were red from crying. Helena observed them quietly; she was unsure what Camilla’s reaction to seeing her would be. They had a strange relationship; there was a strong affection between them, given the nature of their interactions. The governess knew about Abraham, about the garden Camilla tended, about her love of animals. In the quiet moments after a discipline session, the two women often had time together while the princess was with her father. Helena would smooth cooling cream on the other woman’s punished backside, distracting her from the discomfort by asking questions about her life.
To Helena’s surprise and delight, Camilla embraced her after Abraham. They could not have shown such familiarity in the castle, and had never seen each other outside of it. Helena should not be here now, but had decided to take the risk. She was also glad for her own sake. She didn’t know how Abraham would react once he knew that the marks Camilla bore came from Helena’s hand, no matter that she had no choice. She could see he loved her well, though, and if Camilla could forgive her, he would find it in him to do the same.
Soon they were inside, and Camilla brewed tea as they made awkward introductions. Abraham was angry to hear who Helena was, but calmed himself quickly. He understood what it meant to be under the thumb of a leader to whom one did not willingly owe fealty. Begrudgingly, he was able to admit that it was not upon Helena that he wished revenge. Given the chance, though, he would thrash the princess within an inch of her life. Camilla shuddered at these words; Helena grinned. She wanted much the same, but there was no way she could lay a hand on Phillipa without surely losing her own life.
But perhaps there was a way to give the uppity princess her dues.
Helena had not come to the wood with a plan, but she and Abraham were of one mind when it came to this. They both wanted the princess to know the sting of leather.
And so, a plan was hatched. Helena knew the princess was foolish, and could be courted easily into danger. Her plush life was indeed boring; on her more sympathetic days, Helena could see why the girl sought trouble so often. They would lure her with a series of love letters, written by Abraham but dictated by Camilla. Common women did not read, but she would know what to say. She could give these letters to Helena, who would hide them for the princess to find. With the smallest luck, they would be able to lure the impudent girl into the woods, past the cottages, where she would find no lover waiting for her.
~ ~ ~
It worked almost too well. The princess was foolish and eager; she had seen too many women married off and found herself constantly jealous. So when a letter from Sir Bartholomew found its way under her pillow, Phillipa bought his flimsy lines without question. “Bartholomew” claimed that he had seen her at one of the banquets, and her father refused to grant him an audience because he was knight and not a prince. That was about all it said of him, though. The rest of the letter lauded her beauty, her grace, her wit. He asked that if she would allow him, he would like to write her again; she was instructed to leave a blue handkerchief on the path she road the next morning. Phillipa generally took her beautiful brown mare out after breakfast.
Helena fought not to roll her eyes as the princess spent an exorbitant amount of time readying herself, tucking a blue handkerchief among her skirts. The ride was uneventful, the drop off successful. Another letter came two days later. He described what she had been wearing in detail, and she was dreamy-eyed over dinner. An added bonus to the lover letters was that Princess Phillipa began spending much of her time riding her horse or staring wistfully out of her window. She was not finding trouble as often as the castle staff was used to hearing. Though incidents that required large implements were viewed by the king and selected audience, it was much more common to hear poor Camilla being spanked with a hand or hairbrush on an almost daily basis while Helena scolded the princess. The governess avoided this where she could, but she was bound by her own constraints. There were witnesses everywhere with much less pity in their hearts for the whipping girl. They knew only what the king expected, and both Camilla and Helena would suffer greatly if he suspected any sympathies between them.
The governess was beginning to think that they may get to spring their trap without another severe punishment. The letters came for two weeks; they knew that asking her to meet would be the riskiest part, and wanted to proceed with utmost caution. Princess Phillipa was truly enthralled with her fictional knight, though, and they finally sent her a letter with detailed instructions on where to meet.
It was that day, of course, that their good luck ended. Phillipa breakfasted with the king and his court as she always did on Sundays. She indulged too much in the sweet wines they served, and it made her clumsy and brash. Near the end of the meal, her father took note and signaled the governess to take Phillipa to her quarters and away from the banquet table. This wasn’t uncommon for the indulgent princess, but when Helena beckoned her, Phillipa refused come. Frustrated and trying to avoid a scene, she leaned down to attempt a pleading conversation with the young woman. Phillipa stood and turned, preparing for a tantrum. Helena shifted her tone, and said firmly “Phillipa, this not the time. Your father has business to conduct with his guests. We are needed elsewhere.” Without warning, Princess Phillipa turned, throwing her full glass of wine in the direction of her governess.
The only bit of good news was that in her drunkenness, the princess had missed Helena almost entirely. The King had witnessed the entire event, and his face reddened with his temper. Helena stood frozen with shock, as did most of the other guests. Even Phillipa, who rarely even feigned fear of repercussion, was wide-eyed and still. “Father,” she finally got out, but he interrupted her with a roar: “To the Discipline Room!” Helena kept in step behind the princess as they immediately made to follow the order. As they walked down the chamber, they heard another command echo. “Fetch the whipping girl!”
~ ~ ~
In the small room adjacent to the Discipline Room, Helena glared at Phillipa. She was furious. The senseless girl had embarrassed her father. Few things raised his ire more. She kept her eyes on the floor and seemed genuinely contrite this time, but little good it did anyone. Within moments, they were summoned. The King felt it important that a spectacle be made of the one being punished, which was why the room was designed as such. Helena had witness many spankings in this room in the many years she had been caring for the princess. The king’s wife had born him eight sons before her namesake, Phillipa, and soon after she had passed away. Unlike his daughter, the king had no qualms about the discipline of his sons. Helena had seen all of them at various points marched up the very aisle which she now walked with the princess, followed by their tutors to the platform ahead. No implement along that wall had gone unused for long when they roamed the castle, and to her knowledge, the king found no age of adulthood late enough to stop the use of them as he saw fit.
Only Phillipa escaped the actual punishment, and despite the added publicity, today would be no different. The benches were fuller than Helena had ever seen them; it seemed most of the breakfast party had answered the invitation to watch. Helena and her charge assumed their positions, with the princess standing to the side of the seated governess. She was thoroughly scolded before the older woman began to declare, as she always did, “For this, you will receive a spanking and a strapping on your bare bottom, witnessed by–”
She was cut off by the monarch’s deep voice. “The cane, governess,” he commanded simply. Helena kept her face schooled, though she winced on the inside. She began again. “For this, you will receive a spanking and a caning on your bare bottom, witnessed by your father the King. Six strokes.”
All too soon, they had completed the warm-up ritual. Like so many times before, Helena had taken Camilla across her lap and spanked her, making sure every inch of her bottom was hot before re-positioning her for the cane. Her eyes were shut tightly and she had a death grip on the chair. Knowing that over a dozen witnesses were staring at the whipping girl’s exposed and sore bottom, Helena did not waste time making her choice of canes. She picked one of both medium weight and medium thickness. She found the thin ones to be too biting, and in many ways more painful than the thicker canes. The thickest she found unwieldy. She tested her pick in the air, swishing it twice and enjoying the sound it made in spite of her reluctance to perform the task. She walked back to the chair and tipped Camilla’s chin as she always did before she began. Today she said, “Be brave. Remember tonight.”
And then the governess walked to the edge of the platform, looking directly at Phillipa as she did so. The princess looked guilty, but she couldn’t quite pull off remorseful. Helena was glad of their plans for her this night as she lifted the cane and tapped it twice on the waiting backside. She took aim and the cane whistled and thwack– a line appeared across the fullest part of Camilla’s round cheeks.
The girl bent her knees and let out a cry, then righted herself quickly. Helena didn’t give her much time before thwack, another line appeared just an inch below the first. Again, she cried out and bent her knees before straightening them again. Helena noticed the tremble in girl’s knees as she made ready for the third stroke, but she didn’t hesitate as she brought the cane down again, this time an inch above the original stroke. She paused then, watching the three parallel lines raise. She thought again of tonight and the princess getting a taste of her own medicine, and it steadied her hand as she brought it down again, a new lowest line, and again, a new highest. Each time, Camilla cried out and bent her knees, almost to the floor by the fifth one. It took her longer to straighten her knees, but after a moment she did so. The second they were locked, thwack-– the sixth and final stroke landed just above Camilla’s thighs.
The governess turned and looked to the King, who nodded. Phillipa stood as she was supposed to, walking with a contriteness that looked out of place on her usually unapologetic face. “Have you learned your lesson?” the king asked solemnly. “Yes, Papa. I’m sorry.”
“Good,” he replied, standing. Helena found it ironic that he still seemed dissatisfied, though this appeared to her the only time a lesson had actually been learned. He turned and left, and Phillipa followed meekly.
Helena adjusted Camilla’s pantaloons and lowered her skirt before gently thumbing the tears from the girl’s cheeks. “Good girl, Camilla,” she said. “Such a good girl.”