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From the noise outside, Daphne knew that the ship must have reached port. Orders were shouted, whips cracked. Roman soldiers jeered at their captives. 'Move, you rebel filth! Like the taste of the lash, do you? Get used to it, boy! That's what happens to soft Greek scum who rise against Rome!'

Slowly the activity died down. The other classes of slave had been herded off the ship, she guessed, and she and the other select maidens had been left until last. Unlike the others, who had been pushed down into holds below deck, Daphne and her companions in misfortune were housed in a sort of room built on top of the deck. Now the doors were pulled wide.

'Come on out, my lovelies! We don't want mark your pretty skins with the lash now! We'll leave that pleasure to your new owners! But we've got straps that won't break the skin to speed up heifers who don't move quick enough! So get on your feet and get off the ship!'

Daphne and the other girls got slowly to their feet, stiff after their inactivity on the sea journey. Outside, the sunlight of early summer on the Mediterranean was blinding after so long indoors. They passed down a gangplank to the shore where they were loaded onto carts whose tops were large iron cages. Mobs of coarse-looking loiterers leered at them as the mules pulled them rumbling away along the streets.

Before long the carts rolled in through a large pair of gates, which shut with an ominously solid clang behind. They were in a courtyard surrounded by a big menacing stone building on three sides and the wall with the gate on the other. The iron cage was unlocked and Daphne and the other girls climbed numbly out. They were soon out of the sun again, as the overseers ordered them into a door that stood open on one side of the building. They were hurried along corridors into a large stone room most of whose floor was occupied by a bath. The doors were shut behind them and they were alone with female overseers, stern matrons who gave them sharp orders.

The girls were ordered to undress and get in the bath, which was cool but not chilly. When they had bathed they were given cloths to dry themselves. Each slave girl was given a pair of wooden sandals and then they were marched, naked but for their footgear, into another large room, this one well lit from many windows high in the wall. They were sat down on a wooden bench, still naked and damp in places from the bath. Several ageing women were there and went behind the slaves to comb their hair. Occasional sharp orders rang out: 'Sit still, girl! Sit up straight! Stop fidgeting!'

Once Daphne's hair was done, one of the fearsome matrons approached Daphne and curtly told her to stand. She led Daphne to a corner of the room and pulled out a shift of almost transparently fine weave. At her command Daphne raised her arms, and the matron lowered the garment--if such an insubstantial thing could be thought worthy of that title--onto her. Next came a dab of perfumed oil behind each ear. Then the matron quickly arranged Daphne's hair, draping it loose about her shoulders.

With that done, Daphne was pushed to a group of girls who had already been prepared in the same manner, and was sternly told to keep still and not to touch her hair. Daphne looked at the other girls and saw that the curving shapes of their young bodies were not concealed at all by the shifts. Not only were the sinuous swellings of their figures open to the eye, but a dark patch showed clear through the fine material at the base of each girl's belly, and every shift was pressed out by nipples that stood out plain to see. Daphne's hands knotted into tight fists and pressed defensively over her lower belly, pressing down to cover her loins. In doing so she pulled down on the fine shift, stretching it tight over her bosom so that her nipples pressed out still more sharply from her front.

Before all the girls were dressed and their hair prepared, Daphne and several other girls were led away into another room. This too was well lit, and along its middle stood a row of upright wooden posts, and from the waist-high top of each post hung two stout iron chains, each ending in a manacle. Daphne was marched to stand between two posts, and the matron took hold of her right forearm just above the wrist and lifted it. Daphne struggled without thinking, and the woman made an ugly hissing noise. Her grip was strong and she got the cold iron band around Daphne's wrist without difficulty. Daphne's heart pounded and she wanted to try to run, but she was rooted to the spot with fear and did nothing more to resist as the woman chained her other wrist to the other post.

With cold efficiency the matrons got the other girls chained up between the posts. The girls stood in a line, their hands chained out to their sides so that they could not run or turn away, and neither could they cover themselves to protect their bodies from the shame of men's prying gaze. When all the girls were all secured, the matrons withdrew. There was a brief tense wait, during which no-one spoke, though Daphne heard a muffled sob from further down the line. Then another door opened, and two men entered. One was fat, pompous, and obviously assured of his own importance. The other was deferential, simpering.

'What is the origin of these slaves?' the fat pompous man asked.

'The rebellion at Tarentum, noble senator.'

The senator started to pass in front of the line of helpless girls. 'Hmm. Tarentines. A noxious mixture of Greeks and Carthaginians. Still ... some of them are somewhat ... pleasing...'

'You honor our humble establishment with your praise, noble senator.'

'All are virgin?'

'All are virgin indeed, noble senator.'

The fat odious customer walked along the line of girls, ogling them. When he reached Daphne he paused. His gaze ran down her body, as if seeking the sweet fruits of her unstained body to ravish them away with his eyes. Daphne needed to cover herself, to escape the shame of her body's secrets being seen by gloating eyes, and her arms jerked inward. But the cruel iron bonds held her fast. She struggled, panicking, and his face lit up with covetous lust. In revulsion she flinched away from the senator, stepping back until the chains would let her retreat no further. Then she stood with her knees pressed desperately together, face down, doing her best to hold back tears.

'This one shows fear very prettily. She might amuse me for a little while.' The hateful man licked his fat lips slightly and then moved on down the line. As walked slowly down the line, Daphne stood trembling, her innards knotted with terror. She heard him making comments about other girls.

What would happen to a girl if this man bought her? Daphne knew what men did to women in the night: she came from a small farm, and in the one room where her family had lived she had often heard her parents loving. She had heard the animal sounds of rutting that her parents made, and wondered whether it was pain or pleasure for her mother.

When Tarentum had rebelled against Rome, Daphne's father and brothers had joined the rebellion and the family had taken shelter within the city walls. After the Romans had overcome Tarentum and the population had been rounded up, Daphne had seen the soldiers taking their pleasure from women in the streets. She had seen women screeching in desperate terror as gangs of soldiers had ripped off their clothes. Then she had heard those screams turn into cries more horrible still as the soldiers had used them.

Daphne had been among those who had been spared. The Roman officers had gone around rounding up the youngest and prettiest. Daphne had been corralled in the street with others of her age while the sack of Tarentum had raged around her. The common soldiers had made no effort to hide it when they had despoiled the women of Tarentum: it had all happened out in the streets, and Daphne had seen it with her own eyes. She had seen the spears of flesh growing from the soldiers' loins, seen those spears being pushed into women who fought with all their strength to escape the men holding them. The sight of their contorted faces and the sounds they had made had left Daphne in no doubt that to be speared like that was torment beyond bearing for the women. Was this brutality the same thing that her father had worked upon her mother so many times in their farmhouse?

At Tarentum the Romans had told Daphne and the other girls whom they had saved that they were being preserved, that they would fetch a better price untouched. It had only been a delay: was she not destined to suffer the same vile fate now? Would this fat Roman pig drive such a spear into her as she had seen the soldiers doing to women in the streets of Tarentum?

The senator reached the end of the line, and passed back down it, this time behind the girls. He reached the end of the line and then slowly walked back toward Daphne. He stopped. A cold sweat of fear seized her. Had he chosen her? Then the voice behind her spoke, chilling her heart with despair.

'This one's seat is perfect. Those curves were made to be thrashed. I shall take her.'

'Very good, noble senator. An excellent selection, if I may make so bold, noble senator. Unchain number twelve.'

Two of the matronly women came over, one approaching from each end of the line. One stopped before Daphne. The other stopped before another girl two places to Daphne's right. Then they reached for the arms of the girl on Daphne's immediate right, and having taken firm hold then unlocked the manacles from her wrists.

'Not me! Oh Orpheus and Artemis, not me! Please not--'

'Silence, my wicked child!' the senator boomed. 'You are my slave now, and it is you place to show me deference. For those sinful words I shall thrash the skin off your luscious globes every hour of the day.'

The matrons bound the girl's hands in front of her with a leather thong. Another matron came up behind and put a cloak around the girl's shoulders, and one of the women at her front fastened it in front of her with a pin to conceal her near-nudity. Then she was led away, shoulders shaking with violent sobs. When she and her new owner had left, another girl was brought in to fill the gap in the line. Once she had been chained in place, another customer of obvious wealth and rank came in and made another purchase. Men came and went, most leaving with a girl, one with two girls. Each time, Daphne's heart almost burst with fear that she might be the one chosen to suffer the ignominy of being a man's chattel, to fill with his goading spike whenever it pleased him.

Then another customer came in, and Daphne gasped. This one was a woman, a pale woman of about thirty with fair hair. Desperate hope welled within Daphne, along with the poignant fear of seeing it dashed. There had been noble ladies in Tarentum who had kept body-servants to bathe them and dress their hair. Surely such girls must be free from the fear of being a man's plaything. Would one lucky slave girl be bought by this lady to be her personal attendant? Could Daphne dare to hope that she might be the one?

Hardly daring to breathe, Daphne studied the lady as she entered. Her bearing was as haughty as the most pompous of the men had been, radiating confidence in her superiority and assured that she deserved groveling deference as her birthright. Daphne must catch her eye by showing her eagerness to serve her, and must show that she was willing to prostrate herself in suitable supplication.

The lady walked along in front of the line of girls, eyeing them as the men had. When she got close, Daphne bowed from the waist, lowering her face, quivering lips slightly parted. Her gaze stole up to the lady's face, but then Daphne immediately dropped it to the floor, not wishing to glare impudently. The lady paused in front of Daphne then continued to walk along the line. She walked along behind the line, then back again behind the line even more slowly, before walking along the front of the line once again. Then she returned slowly and stopped in front of Daphne.

Daphne dared to risk raising her eyes for a moment, then lowered them again, looking at the lady's feet. In the one brief glance she had caught of the lady's face, it had seemed to smile with amusement or perhaps even approval.

'Do you speak Latin?'

'Y-ye-yes, yes, no-noble mistress.'

'Are you Tarentine?'

'Yes--yes, noble, noble mistress.'

In Greek the lady said, 'Do you speak Greek?'

'Yes, noble mistress,' Daphne replied in her own language.

The lady extended her right arm and put two fingers under Daphne's chin, raising her face. Daphne looked up by bending her neck, still staying bowed, and felt herself swallow hard. The lady's smile was still there.

'What is your name, child?'

'Daphne, noble mis-mistress.'

'Are you humble, Daphne? Can you obey with a slave's proper humility?'

'I am the noble mistress's humble servant--I--I long to lower myself to the ground at the noble mistress's feet.'

The lady's smile grew brighter. 'This one pleases me. I shall take her.' As she heard those words, a great gasping breath of gratitude and relief escaped Daphne's chest. She wanted to spill out her thanks to her savior, but she could find no words. Her lips seemed numb, her throat choked.

'Very good, noble lady. Unchain number eleven.'

The lady stepped back and the two matrons came to unchain Daphne. They bound her hands with cord and the cloak was put around her from behind. Then Daphne stepped forward from the line of chained girls to be with the lady who had saved her from horror. The lady took hold of Daphne's hand and led her to a pair of doors. Two attendants bowed low and then opened the doors. Daphne and her owner stepped out into the sunlight in a courtyard where a litter waited, surrounded by soldiers.

The lady climbed into the litter and then turned to Daphne, who followed her in. The inside was dark polished wood, with a long seat strewn with cushions at the litter's rear. The lady sat down on that seat, leaning her back on the wooden wall behind her. The other three walls of the litter were curtains. She gestured to the floor at her feet. Daphne knelt down there and looked up at her mistress, awaiting further instructions. A guard closed the curtains on the side by which they had entered, and the inside of the litter was cut off from the world outside. A voice outside cried 'Take up!' and the litter lurched.

'Your face is wet, child. Why do you weep?'

'For joy, noble mistress, and gratitude.'

'Good girl. Lay your face against my feet.'

Daphne lay down, curling up on the floor on her side as one might to sleep, and laid her cheek against the curve of her new owner's ankles and the tops of her feet. She heard no other instructions during the journey, so she lay there still and silent the whole way, relief flooding through her being that she was not in the clutches of a man who would scourge her body with pain and humiliation.

Eventually the litter was set down and a voice outside said, 'We are here, mistress.'

'Open,' the lady replied. The curtains opened on the side by which they had entered the litter. 'Stand, child.' Daphne got to her feet, a little clumsily as her hands were still tied in front of her and the folds of the loose cloak were under her knees. When she was up the lady stood too and smiled, touching the backs of her fingers to Daphne's cheek. Daphne smiled back.

'Out, child.' Daphne stepped out and found herself in a walled garden surrounding a huge house. The armed men who had escorted the litter stood in grim silence, shoulder to shoulder in a line, eyes forward and level instead of clawing at Daphne's body as those of the soldiers in Tarentum had. Still, Daphne felt small and vulnerable in their presence. She felt the reassuring warmth of a friendly human touch as the lady placed a hand lightly on her waist.

'Into the house, girl.' The lady's hand pressed on Daphne's waist and Daphne followed her guidance, turning to face the house so that the lady's hand was now on the small of her back. Together, mistress and slave walked along the path of flat slabs and entered the house. Two girls in light tunics reaching to their knees opened the door and bowed silently as the lady entered. They closed the doors and then the lady said, 'Take my new slave's cloak.' One of the door-girls undid the pin that held the cloak closed, and the other pulled it off Daphne's shoulders from behind. Now Daphne stood in her almost transparent shift and sandals, wrists still bound in front of her by the leather thong.

Without another word the lady took hold of one of Daphne's hands and led her further into the house, one of the door-girls following after. Shortly they came to an internal door.

'My private apartments. You will live here, as my body-slave.' She waved at the door and the door-girl opened it, bowing. Inside was a tall, pale girl with jet-black hair. The girl's face was a picture of beauty, warm with gladness as the door opened. But her face fell, turning to shock and pain, as she saw that the lady was not alone.

'Mistress--my lady--I--I-' Her eyes flicked back and forth between Daphne and the lady as she babbled, recoiling back a step, hands raised in front of her as if to ward off the vision of Daphne.

'Lyda! Know your place!'

'I--I, I b-beg the, the mistress's forgiveness.' Lyda spoke as if it cost her a great effort, struggling to breathe. Her face grew stony hard as she fought for self control, but Daphne could see hers eyes growing wet. Why was the girl so upset to see that her mistress had another slave? Did she fear to lose a position of favor? Was she the current body-slave, and was that such a high position among the slaves? Daphne knew little of the arrangements in a noble household, but she recalled vague rumors that some slaves did the hard work, the drudgery of the house, while others lived lives of ease and comfort, more like companions than servants to their owners. Was a body-slave one of the privileged ones?

The lady stepped forward into the room where Lyda stood blinking back tears. Daphne, her hand in the lady's, passed in after her and the door closed softly behind them. The lady drew Daphne from behind her around to her side. Once Daphne was beside her, the lady released her hand.

'Lyda. Lyda! Stop sniveling, you silly girl! Are you listening to me, child?'

'Ye-yes, mistress.' Lyda was looking down and sniffed miserably.

'Really, child, you can be most tiresome sometimes. I often wonder why I bother keeping you here at all. Now listen to me. This is Daphne, my new slave.' The lady patted Daphne on the bottom twice. 'She will be helping you with your duties from now on. And I expect both of you to make the effort to get on and be friends. I don't want to see any silly sulking or jealousy from you, Lyda. From either of you.' The lady took her hand off Daphne's bottom to pat it again. 'Do you understand me?'

'Y-yes, my lady,' Lyda said dully.

'Yes, noble mistress,' Daphne breathed, eager to show herself humble and willing to please.

'Very good. Lyda, untie Daphne's hands.' Face lowered, Lyda shuffled forward and fumbled with shaking hands at the leather bands around Daphne's wrists. 'Come along, child! Do as I tell you!' Lyda's fumbling became more agitated, and she finally managed to get the straps undone. She pulled them away and Daphne maintained her position, wrists crossed in front of her. She felt like rubbing her wrists, but suppressed the impulse. It would not be fitting to show that she was thinking of her own comfort first. Instead she stayed demurely still.

'Now take that shift off her. Daphne, raise your arms.' The lady took her hand off Daphne's bottom and Daphne put her arms up to let Lyda lift the shift off her. When it was off and she was naked but for sandals, Daphne stood upright with her face just slightly lowered. The lady slowly walked around her, looking her up and down. Lyda stepped back to get out of the lady's way, clutching the thin shift, her lips pressed together into a hard line and her sorrowful eyes following her owner as the lady walked. After walking around Daphne several times, the lady stopped before her and spoke again.

'You are very pleasing, Daphne. I believe you will serve me well. Come. Give me your hand.' She extended a hand and Daphne took it lightly. 'Now you will bathe me.' She turned to walk away and then looked at Lyda, who was still standing with Daphne's shift clutched in her hands, which her balled into tight fists. 'Oh Lyda, you silly girl, do put that thing down somewhere. And is my bath hot?'

'Y-yes, yes m-my, my lady...'

'Good. Come, Daphne.' The lady led Daphne into the next room, which had a bath sunk in its middle. At two opposite ends of the bath, instead of a vertical wall there were steps leading down into the water. The air was hot and moist and scented. As Daphne passed through the door she heard Lyda burst into tears behind her. She felt sorry for the other slave, but it all seemed like a rather silly over-reaction. The lady was not demoting her to the place of a kitchen-girl. Lyda would still perform the duties of a body-slave, but now that work would be shared between the two of them. Was Lyda so proud of her position that she could not bare to share the work of a body-slave with another? It seemed prideful of the girl. From what Daphne had seen of the lady so far, it seemed obvious that she would not tolerate a prideful slave. Daphne reminded herself of the need to show humility at all times--no, not to show humility, she chided herself, but to be genuinely humble. She owed the lady a great debt of gratitude for saving her.

'Take off your sandals.' Daphne stepped out of the sandals and felt the marble floor cool and a little slippery with moisture beneath the bare soles of her feet. 'Put them over there, under that table. Now you must learn to undress me.' Patiently the lady showed Daphne how to undo her stola, her outer garment, and then the underclothes were easy. As Daphne stripped off the lady's clothes she found a slim and narrow-waisted body beneath, its skin pale pink with a light golden sheen. At the base of her belly, where Daphne had a thick mass of short black hairs, her owner had a rich field of ripe wheat as golden as that on her head.

'And--and my noble mistress's hair?' Daphne asked, voice quavering with the worry that she might have overstepped a slave's bounds by asking instead of waiting to be told. But the lady smiled.

'Not today, Daphne. This will only be a body bath, not a hair bath. But how attentive of you to think of it. Have you been a lady's body-servant before?'

'N-no, no, noble mistress.'

'Have you worked in a house before?'

'No, noble mistress.'

'And yet you thought of it. What a thoughtful girl.' She reached up and brushed her fingertips against Daphne's cheek, making her blush and smile. 'It pleases me that you consider your duties so.' He fingers left Daphne's face and alighted on her shoulder, then trailed down her upper arm. The lady ran her hand up and down there a few times and then said, 'Turn to face the bath.' Daphne did so, and the lady patted her on the bottom again, and placed a light kiss on the roundness of her shoulder.

'Go in the water.'

'Yes, noble mistress.' In front of Daphne the side of the bath was made up of steps leading down into the water. She stepped forward and put a foot into the water, finding it hot around her ankle. She giggled at it and at her pleasure at being here safe with a lady who treated her with such kind gentleness, when she could have been the property of a horrid man who wanted to hurt her. When she had found the level floor of the bath she stopped with the water around her thighs and turned to face her owner, and saw her looking down critically.

'You don't walk too gracefully, do you child?'

'I--I humbly beg the noble mistress's pardon.' Daphne looked down, ashamed.

'Don't worry, child. You will be taught ... improved.' Daphne saw the lady, her pale skin interrupted by such a vivid patch of gold, approaching as she descended the steps into the water. She put a hand under Daphne's chin, and the other settled on Daphne's shoulder. She kissed her slave on the forehead, then raised her face from its bowed position. They looked into one another's eye, and it was clear that Daphne's new owner was pleased with her: her blue eyes glowed with pleasure.

They stood there looking for some time, the lady's fingers stroking up the side of Daphne's neck and then down again, and Daphne felt she could have stood there forever. Then the lady stepped back and said, 'Go down under the water. Get your hair wet.' Daphne obeyed wordlessly, going down on her knees, bowing her back to get completely under the water. When she raised her head she saw that the lady had got under the water too, and only her head and shoulders remained above its surface. Her hair, elaborately tressed up on her head, remained dry.

'Now you must wash me, Daphne. Come here and I will show you how to do it.' On her knees, Daphne came closer to her mistress. 'Come here. Kneel beside me and turn your side to face me. Stay down with your body under the water, like me.' Daphne took up her position and the lady put a hand on her back, and started to rub it slowly up and down.

'The purpose of this is not so much to clean off dirt as to soothe the body. Do you see?'

'Mmm--myes, yes, my noble muh-mistress.'

'Now tell me, girl, if you have never worked in a lady's household, then what did you do in Tarentum?'

'I--I lived on a, on a farm, noble mistress.' Daphne drew in a deep breath as the lady's fingertips started to rub up and down her spine.

'Yes, I suspected as much. Your Latin will have to be improved.' The lady changed to speaking Greek. 'Speak to me in Greek. How many people were there on your farm, Daphne?' The soft hand moved up and lifted the long wet locks of black hair from Daphne's shoulder on the side close to the lady, then swept it up over her far shoulder.

'Just my close family--my parents, two sisters--ah--a-and, two, two brothers, muh, muy no-noble mistress.' Daphne's voice shook as the lady's hand slid down her spine again and carried on going down. That soft hand glided lower still and lower, fingertips traveling down over the sinuous cleft between her nether cheeks, down to the line where the tops of her legs were pressed together. At the same time, the lady laid several light kisses on her slave's shoulder.

'Does that soothe you, Daphne?'

'Yes--yes, yes, no-noble lady...'

'Your Greek needs improvement too. I will not tolerate my slaves drawling like rustic yokels.' The soothing hand slowly trailed up the back of Daphne's body again, over her round seat, the small of her back.

'I--I--s-sorry, my lady--sorry...' As Daphne spoke the lady brushed her hair away from herself, over the far shoulder.

'Hush, child. It will be seen to. I have a teacher for you who will improve your manners.'

'Yes--yes, my l-lady ... nhaahh...' Daphne's words gave way to an incoherent sound as those delicate fingers stroked the back of her neck, revealed now that her hair had been swept sideways. More soft kisses brushed Daphne's shoulder as the hand moved down her spine again.

'Now turn and lie with your back across my legs. Here.' The lady splashed the water to her front-side. Daphne shuffled across the floor of the bath on her knees, placing the soles of her feet against the lady's leg.

'Lie back now. I will show you how to soothe the front of the body.' The lady's hand took a firm grip on Daphne's shoulder and pulled her back. Daphne went with it, leaning back so that the small of her back was on her owner's legs. She put her arms back and caught herself. Propped up on her arms, the water was up to her neck.

The lady looked down on Daphne's upturned face, smiling, and touched her on the chin. One finger ran over the top of the slave's chin and then brushed back and forth across the underside of her lower lip. The lady placed her other hand on Daphne's nearer arm, and then stroking that arm slightly she lifted her hand from Daphne's mouth. She moved it down, just brushing the tip of her chin again, and then touching with the same lightness of Daphne's distended throat. One fingertip touched her again on the smooth plain at the top of her chest as the hand passed down into the water, and brushed in the cleft between the orbs of Daphne's chest.

Then, under the water, the lady's hand settled on Daphne's smooth olive-skinned belly. It tickled lightly up and down, and Daphne heard herself giggling. Slowly the fingertips, pressing softly yet firmly, worked their way up to Daphne's chest. The lady's fingers roamed over the soft feminine swellings in little circles, prodding in and then easing off again and again. Then Daphne drew in a sharp, almost shocked-sounding breath as the lady took one of the buds on her chest between finger and thumb and squeezed it.

'Oh--oh my--my mistress--I-' Daphne gasped as the play went on. She felt an urge to raise her arms across her chest and push the lady's hand away, but she knew that she must not even think such disobedience. Behind her own back Daphne clasped one hand around her opposite wrist and suffered the insistent tweaking to go on. It was not unpleasant, now that she was used to it. It was just that it had come as a shock after she had been so relaxed with the hot water and the lady's delicate touch on her skin.

When the lady had tweaked both of Daphne's nipples long and thoroughly, she gently pushed the slave-girl away. 'Now you will clean me, Daphne. Be slow, gentle and thorough. Above all be soothing. Go behind me, start with my neck and shoulders, and work down.' The lady turned her back, and knelt forward until her shoulders were just out of the water.

Hoping that her untutored fingers would meet with approval, Daphne carefully laid their tips on the sides of the lady's neck, her thumbs on the back of the neck either side of the spine. Afraid to offend by being too forceful, Daphne started to move her thumbs in two small circles with exquisite care. She gradually moved her hands down and was rewarded with an 'Mmmm...' from her owner, unmistakably a sound of pleasure. Daphne's confidence grew as she worked her way down, soothing the muscles of the lady's back under the water. Eventually her confidence grew so great that she dared to do as the lady had done to her and placed a butterfly-light kiss on her shoulder. The lady drew in an audible breath and held it, saying nothing. Daphne could feel a sort of tension spring up in the flesh under her hands.

'I--I humbly be the noble mistress's forgiveness if--if I have--'

'You have been overly forward.' The lady's voice was quiet, almost sighing, and more than a little tremulous.

'I--I humbly beg--'

'Hush, child. I forgive you. You may continue.'

'Yes--yes, noble mistress. I humbly thank you, noble mistress.' Glad that she had found something that pleased her owner, Daphne put her lips to the lady's shoulder again and gave her more kisses of equal delicacy, gradually working up her shoulder and the side of her neck.

'My, my front.' The lady's voice was still a trifle shaken when she eventually spoke. 'You must ... soothe my front now.'

'Yes, noble mistress.' Daphne moved back and the lady turned to lean her back against the side of the bath, spreading her arms wide to lay them along the top of the bath's edge. Daphne knelt at her side, one knee touching the lady's thigh under the water, and touched her mistress's belly. She worked upward as she had worked down the lady's back, soothing her with fingertips, ever fearful that she might press too hard and outrage her owner's person with sharp discomfort. Daphne took her time and the lady showed no inclination to hurry her. By some Roman magic the water stayed warm. Indeed, the bottom of the bath seemed almost hot against Daphne's shins and toes. The lady let Daphne take her time, looking all the while into the slave's face, into her eyes, as if searching for something.

Finally Daphne's hand reached the lady's nipple. When the lady had soothed Daphne she had squeezed with force, but Daphne didn't dare do the same. Her fingers closed lightly around the bud, finding it as hard as a piece of sapling wood cut in the springtime. She did not tweak but kneaded it, and soon saw the lady's lips twitching at each slight motion of her fingers. Soon those lips parted and Daphne caught a glimpse of her owner's tongue before white teeth came down to bite into the lower lip.

Then the lady's hand was behind Daphne's head. The lady drew her slowly closer. Their faces drew together until Daphne could feel the lady's unsteady breath in her own mouth.

'My--my lady--my noble mis-' Daphne stammered. Her heart was hammering within her breast, and she felt an urge to push away and flee, yet she could not. Her body locked still. But the lady was not still: she moved her head forward, and her lips brushed Daphne's. Then she pulled back and gave Daphne another searching look, her eyes of such dazzling blue piercing Daphne to the very core.

Keeping one hand behind Daphne's head, the lady raised her other hand to caress the girl's cheek. Daphne realized that she was not breathing, and let her breath out suddenly, then gasped it back in again. Then their lips met again and she lost her breath once more.

For an unknowable time the two women's lips stayed together, warming and melting Daphne's body throughout. When the long breathless moments of kissing, or eternities as they might have been, were over, the lady told Daphne to stand up. She did so, stumbling, weak at the knees. The lady stood herself and taking Daphne's hand she led her up the steps, out of the bath.

'Lyda! Bring towels!'

After a moment there was a clatter of sandals on marble as Lyda stamped in, her eyes red and puffy from weeping.

'Lyda! How dare you stamp around my house like that, you insufferable sulky brat?'

Lyda staggered as if she had been slapped, then fell shakily to her knees. Holding out the towels in front of her she lowered her face and said miserably, 'I humbly beg the mistress' forgiveness for my wickedness.'

'I should think you do!' The lady picked up a towel from Lyda's hands and handed it to Daphne. 'Dry yourself.' Daphne rubbed her body dry, constantly aware of the lady's eyes on her. 'Your hair too. Rub it dry.' When Daphne had done that, the lady pulled the towel out of her hands and threw it to the floor beside Lyda's still kneeling form. She picked up the other towel and handed that to Daphne too. 'Now dry me. And don't be rough.' The lady turned her back.

'Y-yes, noble mistress.' Daphne gingerly dabbed at the lady's back with the folded towel, not rubbing but simply pressing. She knelt to dab the back of the lady's legs, and saw that the silent Lyda had bowed her face to the ground. Her forehead touched the marble just in front of the lady's feet, though Lyda did not make so bold as to touch her owner. When Daphne had finished the backs of the mistress's legs, the lady turned and Daphne dried her front as well. Wishing to show her humility she stayed kneeling and reached up with stretched arms rather than standing to dry the lady's chest.

The lady took hold of the towel in her hand and pulled it away. 'That is dry enough.' She threw the towel down. 'Lyda, clear up in here. After that I shall not want you again tonight.'

'Ye-yes, yes mi-mist, mistress.' Lyda's broken voice was wretched. Ignoring her, the naked lady took her equally nude slave by the hand and led her into another room. This one appeared to be a bedchamber.

'Go and lie on the bed.'

'Yes--yes mistress.' Daphne heard how breathless her voice was. She climbed onto the huge bed, and marveled at the feeling of it beneath her hands and knees and shins. 'So--it's so soft!'

'Yes, child. It's full of feathers. Now do as I tell you and lie down.'

'I--I'm sorry, mistress. Noble mistress.' Daphne lay flat on her back, hands on her belly.

The lady got onto the bed, kneeling at Daphne's side and looking down on her, smiling. 'On what did you sleep on your farm?'

'On straw, noble mistress.'

'You deserve better than straw, Daphne. Lift your head.' The lady reached over Daphne and brushed the long damp tresses of raven hair out from behind her head, arranging them on the bed. 'You may lower your head again.' As Daphne relaxed her neck the lady took hold of her slave's nearer arm and pulled it up, laying it flat on the bed next to her head, its back on the spread of her own hair. 'Put your other arm the same way.' Daphne obeyed and her arms were either side of her head, the soft inner surfaces of her wrists facing upward, fists closed. The lady extended a finger and touched its tip to her upper arm. She trailed it up to Daphne's wrist, stroked there for a while, and then moved it up to the heel of her hand.

'Open your hands. Spread them out. Fingers straight.' Daphne straightened her fingers so that her palms were spread and taut, the backs of her hands against her hair and the bed-covers beneath. 'Now keep your hands like that, until I tell you otherwise. If you disobey, I shall have to apply corrective measures.'

'Yes-s, my noble mistr--mistress.' Daphne faltered as the lady started touching her again on the soft patch of skin inside the wrist. Her touch moved up, over the heel of Daphne's hand to the shallow bowl of her palm. She touched there for a long time, running her fingertip around the hollow, and it was only with an effort of will that Daphne could keep her fingers stretched out straight.

Next the lady moved down Daphne's arm again, caressing the inside of the wrist and then moving down, down to her elbow, up toward her shoulder. Then leaving her hand lying on Daphne's upper arm the lady lowered her face. She kissed Daphne on the arm, starting near the elbow and placing soft touches of her lips against the skin all the way up to the wrist. Then she turned her face sideways and touched her cheek to the same place, ran it down Daphne's cubit and back up again. Then she lifted her face and looked down on Daphne's with solemn mock-severity, unable to suppress a smile for all that she was trying to look stern.

'You have disobeyed me, wicked child.'

'Mistress--I--I?' Daphne asked, confused.

'I told you to keep your fingers straight, child. Do you not remember?'

Daphne looked at her hands and saw that her fingers had curled up. 'I--I--noble mist--'

'Do you or do you not remember?'

'Y-yes, noble mistress, I'm sorry, noble mistress, I, I--I beg forgiveness--'

'I should not have needed to ask you twice, child. You should have answered my question the first time. Your insolence displeases me, as does your disobedience. I told you that I would apply corrective measures. Now you will suffer them as you deserve.'

'Y-yes, noble mistress.' Daphne bit her lip, wondering what would be done to her.

The lady got off the bed. From under one side of it she brought a leather cord with a loop at the end. She laid it on the bed, walked around the other side, and got another from under the other side of the bed. She got onto the bed again and took hold of Daphne's arm. Daphne put up no resistance, letting her owner pull her arm out straight and then tighten the leather bond around its wrist. The lady crawled over the bed and over Daphne to attach the first loop she had got out, and then Daphne was tied and helpless. The lady looked down on her with smiling approval.

'A slave who does not obey voluntarily must be made to obey by force, by restraint and physical punishment if necessary.'

'Yes--yes, noble mistress.'

The lady put her hands to her new slave's body, this time not to her arms but her torso. Before she had been soft and gentle, but now her hands moved quickly. Her fingertips brushed just as lightly over the flesh as they had before, if not more so, but the swiftness of their movement across her skin made Daphne gasp. Her stomach muscles jerked inward, into her body with a gasp as the lady drew her touch across them. But retreat was no use. The fingers came down to touch Daphne again, caressing her with a maddening tickle. Daphne's belly started to spasm and she shifted in her bonds, grinding her back and bottom into the soft feather bed. She bit her full, plump lower lip between her teeth, and her breath came shallow and unsteady. The lady's hands roved over her, tickling up her flanks, exploring the warm olive skin of her chest and thighs and waist, feeling that skin burn as she tortured it with the lightness of her caress to make Daphne sweat from a fire that burned deep within her.

It stopped quite suddenly. The lady ended her tickling and laid her palms flat and still on Daphne's flanks below her breasts, leaving her gasping. She looked down on her with obvious satisfaction, feeling the quick shallow heaving beneath her hands. Then lowering her face she started to kiss. She started at the top of Daphne's belly, brushing her soft lips across the olive skin, occasionally flicking at it with the tip of her tongue to taste its salt and the heat in it. She worked her way up onto the two globes of Daphne's chest, and finally found a nipple. There her teeth went to work, nipping sharply to make Daphne cry out. One after another and then back to the first the lady worked on Daphne's nipples, squeezing with her teeth, now with gentle nuzzling while her tongue rubbed frenziedly, now biting almost painfully hard and twisting her head from side to side.

Finally releasing Daphne's chest-buds, the lady sat up and ran a hand down over the slave's belly, over the dark forest of tangled black hair and down the fronts of the thighs.

'Part your thighs. Put them as wide as you can.'

Through all the twisting of her body under the tickle torture and the ravishing of her nipples, Daphne's legs had stayed pressed tightly together, though her knees were bent and her feet wide apart on the bed. Now Daphne took a deep breath and then forced her legs wide apart. She felt vulnerable suddenly, as if she could come under some attack there.

The lady shifted her position on the bed to turn more toward Daphne's lower body. She lay her left hand on Daphne's belly, which rose and fell quickly with unsteady agitation. The fingers of her right hand touched on Daphne's lower belly just above her tangle of short black hairs. As those fingers wandered lower their touch tickled less than before, but it seemed somehow to probe into a more intimate recess of Daphne's person when they caressed the smooth taut inner surfaces of her thighs.

'Your flower is in bloom.' The lady's voice glowed with pleasure as she said the words.

'M-mistress? Flower?'

'The flower between your legs. Its calyx has opened and the petals within are unfurling.'

Daphne looked down and saw a vivid flash of pink between the two dark-haired outer lips between her legs. 'Mistress--mist--aa-oaah...' Her words broke down into sounds as a finger touched in the middle of the folds and brushed slowly down. That one finger explored her, slowly and gradually, just skimming the surface of the flushed convolutions within Daphne's flower as it moved, making contact and then breaking off from touching again and again.

The tickling of her belly and ribs had made Daphne sweat and writhe, but that had been nothing to what the slave went through now. To be touched there was an intrusion into the inmost privacy of her body, no matter how gently it was done, and Daphne felt an urge to press her knees together again and try to kick the softly probing hand away. Yet at the same time she felt a conflicting desire to spread her legs wider apart, to press her feet down against the bed and push her loins upward to meet the intruder gladly. Her body seemed pulled in different directions by contradictory lusts, with the result that every part of her twitched without sense or reason. Her spine shifted, arching to press her belly up and her bottom down into the bed, while her head twisted panting from side to side. Her legs moved in uncoordinated jerks as if she was deranged, rising from the bed and then falling again, pulling up toward her head or pushing down or out to her sides, closing spasmodically a little and then wavering outward again. Her breath was rapid, like one consumed by fever, and the sweat running from her burning skin made that impression all the stronger.

For a long time the lady toyed with Daphne like that, light touches coming here and there within the open compass of her blooming rose, but without pattern or regularity. But then she changed her tactics. She put her finger into the middle of the flower between the two inner petals, drawing it slowly up and then drawing it down again. She continued like that, up then down, up then down, each time drawing her finger a little higher and pushing it down a little lower. Daphne's gasping started to come in time with the slow predictable rhythm of it, and her body seemed to move in harmony with its motion too. As the finger approached each end of its travel, whether at the bottom or the top of its path, Daphne would push her body up to press herself onto it, to feel it pushed harder into the pink patch of burning tenderness wherein her owner teased her.

The lady had been brushing the soft skin of her finger's tip over Daphne's bloom, but now she bent her finger and pressed her hard nail into the delicate flesh. The catch in Daphne's breath was sharper, and the corners of her mouth twitched back into her cheeks. But she did not cease to push herself up. The lady lifted her finger from the rose and Daphne struggled to raise her lower body, making a needy sound in her throat. The lady touched the pad of her fingertip to the bottom of the moist pinkness and drew it up over the convolutions, again bending it to press the nail into the soft flesh, and again Daphne rose to impale herself willingly on the prodding nail as it pressed down.

The lady caressed Daphne's flaming love-flower in the same way several times more, using her nail at the end of it, each time raising her hand a little higher, and each time Daphne pushed her body up to meet the retreating hand that gave her a pleasure that she had never before known. Then the lady lifted her hand away completely. Daphne looked at her with imploring eyes, and made a sound in her throat, a wordless wail that conveyed the desperation of her yearning. The lady smiled with cruel delight at Daphne's expression, and brushed all four of her fingertips lightly sideways across Daphne's love several times in quick succession, making the slave's breath break into a fluttering burst of ragged panting.

Then without warning the lady jumped on top of her slave, her face pressing greedily into Daphne's sweat-slick throat. As the lips hungrily kissed the front of her neck, Daphne's body felt every inch of the lady's skin as it pressed down on her. It was as though Daphne's skin had become a hundred times more sensitive to touch. Her owner's nipples felt as hard as rocks pressing into the lower swell of Daphne's chest, and she could feel the golden hairs of her owner's loins rubbing inside her open feminine flower with a maddening tickle that made her want to scream with the delight and the agony that it simultaneously brought her.

The lady's face ranged all over Daphne's neck and shoulders, her fiery kisses searing the slave's skin with the burning brand-marks of ownership. Between her parted lips the lady's tongue flicked out here and there to lash Daphne's skin with pleasure, and at times her sharp teeth closed to nip and pinch the flesh of the helpless girl, who writhed in her bonds as her mistress loved her. The kisses scalded shoulders, neck and throat and then eventually mounted up to her chin. Then the lady's mouth was on Daphne's.

The kisses in the bath had been gentle and warming and sedate, with closed lips pressing softly together. These were different: these were kisses of fire, scorching Daphne's mouth and the whole of her being. The lady took Daphne's generous lower lip between her teeth and ran her tongue along it before pressing her open mouth to her slave's and driving her hot eager tongue deep inside. Daphne gave a choke of shock as she was so roughly invaded, and her body spasmed beneath the equally hot flesh of her mistress pressing down on top of her. But her own tongue seemed to have a life of its own and it responded vigorously, licking the dancing length of the lady's tongue and slipping into her mouth to explore its hot wetness, just as Daphne herself was ruthlessly probed by her owner.

Their mouth-love went on for a long time, Daphne still tied down to the bed with her arms wide and the mistress on top of her. Their mouths melted together and their bodies rubbed, belly on slick belly, their stiff nipples poking into each other's soft chests, and the hair-covered hills above their femininities grinding against one another, gold pressing down on black. Consumed by need for each other, thus they went on long into the night.

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