Alexandra Viktoria, Countess von Hoyos, surveyed the ballroom with thinly veiled contempt. Although there were numerous clusters of richly dressed men and women in the area surrounding the dance floor, she stood alone, and she would have it no other way. They may despise me, she thought savagely, but they have no idea how deeply I despise them.
As the music ended, King Rupert ended the dance just before her and bowed to his wife, Princess Henriette, before leading her off the floor. As he passed by, his eyes met those of Alexandra, and his face stiffened as he read the disdain in her eyes. But she didn't care; in less than a week, precious King Rupert would be a nameless slave, dispatched to live out the remainder of his worthless life in the mines, while his lovely Princess Henriette would be lucky if she was simply thrown to the soldiers of the mercenary battalions even today forming just beyond the frontier. Her family was much older than the upstart who held the throne today, but they had been shunted aside by the council formed to pick a new king when the old king died, the end of his line, with no legitimate pretenders to the throne.
The Countess Alexandra Viktoria was one of the most beautiful women in the room, which made her isolation even more mysterious. Another mystery was why she had even condescended to attend this even, since her feud with the king was long-standing and well-known. Even those few in the room who were in sympathy with her hidden goals would not approach her for fear of being associated in the king’s mind with her own public opposition. As she stood surveying the crowd, her lush beauty should have turned every eye in the room. She was certainly dressed for the occasion, wearing a white satin dress with short puffy sleeves, and a bodice of starched, silvery-blue silk. The material of her gown was of the finest, and the dress itself had been carefully tailored to mold itself to her voluptuous body. The front was cut low and square, displaying the cleavage of her bosom to maximum effect. Even in a room in which many another woman displayed an impressive figure, Alexandra’s bounteous bosom stood out, providing a dramatic contrast with her tiny waist and flaring hips. Her arms were clad in white satin gloves up to the midway point on her upper arms, and a silver tiara sparkled among the waves of her black hair, which was cut shorter than was currently fashionable. Especially arresting was the cold blue of her eyes, the coldness of the ice maiden that she was reputed to be, since she was thirty years old and had never been married. Perhaps the reason for her lack of husband was the mouth which was a perfect counterpart to her icy blue eyes, since its fullness was seemingly always adorned with a sneer or a pout.
They will pay, all of them will pay, she thought to herself with a cold smile on her lips. Our soldiers will sweep through the rotten retainers of this upstart King like a hot knife through butter. Led by the man who should rightfully be King, her cousin, Oskar, Prince of Prussia, Count von Bassewitz.
Now there is a man, she thought, the only man strong enough to gather in the feuding principalities and weld them into a single country, strong enough to stand up to any enemy foolish enough to attack. And then we'll see who snubs who, who would stare at her in open contempt then. Especially when Oskar picks the only suitable candidate to be his queen, the only woman strong enough and intelligent enough and, most importantly, ruthless enough to sit by his side.
Alexandra, Princess of Prussia! It certainly has a nice sound to it, she thought delightedly. She looked over at the Princess Henriette as she pointedly ignored Alexandra. I don't think you will go to the soldiers, after all, my dear, she thought. I think I'll have you taken down to the quite well-stocked, if little used, dungeons below this very castle, and I'll have you interrogated just for amusement. I'll supervise it myself. I know you don't have a thought in that brainless head worth knowing, but you are a lovely woman, and your suffering will be diverting. And, at the end, after you've tried desperately to find something to tell us to make the pain stop, if only for a few minutes, then I believe I'll have you flayed alive and hung by a hook in the courtyard while you're still living!
Alexandra was so engrossed in contemplation to the delightful atrocities that would be committed on the lovely body of the Princess Henriette, that she did not see the non-descript little man dressed in servant’s clothing approach King Rupert and whisper in his ear. King Rupert started in surprise and directed a hard look at Countess Alexandra, then bent back down to receive the rest of the message. When the message was complete, his face grew as hard as iron, and he then whispered a command to the servant, who quickly bowed and departed.
About ten minutes later, Countess Alexandra was dreamily visualizing the soft skin being peeled from Princess Henriette’s breasts as the woman shrieked dementedly when hard hands grabbed her from behind and jerked her from her pleasant reverie. With a gasp, she suddenly found herself surrounded by armed soldiers, who quickly twisted her around to face King Rupert.
“Ah, Countess Alexandra,” he smiled evilly, “did we interrupt your pleasant daydreams?” His smile grew wider. “A daydream of deposing your beloved king, perhaps?”
Her face must have shown her shock and dismay, for King Rupert chuckled, and motioned to a servant who stood off to one side. “Have you ever met my spymaster, dear Countess? No? Well, I'd like to introduce you to Grigor von Steinitz, who personally compiled the evidence which led to your arrest.”
Countess Alexandra found her voice for the first time. “Arrest? What do you mean, arrest?” she sneered.
“Oh, you didn't know you were arrested? But of course you are arrested, my dear! The charge is High Treason, plotting with the English and your precious cousin, Oskar, to depose me and place him on the throne.”
Alexandra sneered. “You cannot have a peer arrested, Rupert. Only a council of the nobility can order the arrest of a high noble!”
“Oh, did I forget to mention the council held two weeks ago, when my good Grigor brought us the first evidence of your guilt? Where is it, I know I have it somewhere . . .”
The non-descript man dressed in servant’s clothes handed him a folded piece of stationery. “Ah, thank you, Grigor! Here it is, my dear Alexandra, the order to have you arrested once my spymaster collected the last of the evidence, which he has just informed me has been placed in his hands.”
Alexandra looked over at the small man for the first time, and he gave her a crooked smile and sketched a small bow. “Your servant, your grace,” he said with a sardonic grin.
“I've seen you somewhere before . . . ” Alexandra knew the man looked vaguely familiar, but she could not place him . . .
“You've seen me daily for the past six months, since I've been in your employ as a footman in your home,” the man called Grigor said with a smile.
Alexandra felt a sense of shock as she realized that he told the truth. But who ever noticed servants, she thought frantically, as the man continued speaking. “I must say, it was quite depressing to have you sweep by me regally several times a day while I had to play the part of the good footman holding open the door so that your precious hands would not be soiled opening the door yourself.”
But now he smiled, a hard, cruel smile, “But now it’s worth it, to see you humbled by such as me. It’s quite pleasing, I find.”
“What about the other conspirators, Grigor?” Rupert asked his spymaster.
“We could not find that information, your Majesty. The Countess never wrote it down. If she hadn't kept the letters from her cousin, I would have been hard pressed to find the information I needed to convince the council.”
“We need that information before the conspirators can escape,” the King said anxiously.
“I quite understand, your Majesty,” Grigor responded. “Some of them are surely in this room, so I took the liberty of ordering your guard to seal the palace so that none can leave or even send messages.”
“Good, good,” said the king. “But how do we get the names?”
Grigor nodded at the Countess. “She knows,” he said simply.
“And if I did know anything, which of course I don't,” Alexandra said haughtily, “I would never tell you anything, little man!”
“Oh, I think you will,” he responded with a small smile, then he turned to the king. “Interrogation is not my specialty, your Highness, but I do have an associate who is quite skilled. I also took the liberty when I entered the palace to send him down to unlock the old torture chambers and ready some of the equipment.”
“Torture chambers!” sniffed the Countess. “Those haven't been used for generations. Anyway, you can't torture a member of the high nobility.”
“Except for High Treason,” smiled Grigor.
“You'll never learn anything from me,” hissed the Countess.
“Oh, I think we will,” said Grigor. “Sometimes, the old ways can be surprisingly effective.” He turned to the soldiers, “With the king’s permission,” and Rupert nodded agreement, “take Alexandra Viktoria, Countess von Hoyos down to the torture chambers and remand her to the custody of Henrik, the old man you'll find down there. He'll tell you what to do. I'll join you shortly”
And Alexandra was dragged from the ballroom, still defiant and issuing threats against King Rupert, Princess Henriette, and especially Grigor von Steinitz, but her threats and protests availed her nothing as she was taken down halls to an old staircase that led down deep into the cellars of the palace until she was eventually dragged through double doors into a dusty chamber that had been dimly lit in previous days by candles and torches but which was brightly lit tonight by oil-fed lamps.
An elderly gentleman awaited her there. He bowed as she was led into the dungeon. “Ah, Countess. Welcome to this somewhat out of use but still functional chamber. I have been preparing for your arrival.”
“Dog!” she spat. “Unhand me! Do you know who I am?”
“You are a traitor, Countess,” he told her mildly, “and I am informed that you will be providing us a list of names.” He waved to the side, where a young man sat at a table with pen, ink, and paper. Beside the young man stood two burly men with black hoods over their faces down to their noses.
“I will provide you nothing! Do you hear me? Nothing!”
“How many times have I heard that?” the old man said tiredly. “Please, Countess, dispense with the theatrics and give us what we need. It will go much easier with you.”
“When my cousin, Oskar, hears of this, his vengeance will be terrible to behold! Release me now, and your lives may yet be spared!”
The old man sighed. “Countess, you have no idea how many times I have heard such threats, and yet here I stand. The loud, brash ones like you are always the easiest to break. It’s the quiet ones that are the hardest. I remember one, a quiet peasant girl, she never said anything from the time we started until she finally expired. It took almost a week, and we got nothing from her. Of course, she could not be recognized by the end, she was nothing but bloody rags. But you, Countess?” He laughed softly. “For you, we will need nothing but the rack.”
He turned and pointed to an inclined table with rollers at top and bottom. “Place her there while my assistants secure her.”
Kicking and screaming insults and threats, Countess Alexandra was dragged unwillingly by the two soldiers over to the device and forced down on it on her back while the two burly men came over to attend her. First, they buckled thick leather cuffs around her wrists, leaving her long gloves on her hands and arms, and then threaded a rope through metal loops at the top of the cuffs, pulling the cuffs together in a loop and knotting the rope, drawing her wrists together. Then they secured the rope to the top roller and wound several turns onto the roller until her wrists were pulled over her head. The cuffs were made of soft leather and were about five inches in length, designed to spread the pressure so that she would not suffer too much damage to her wrists. If the Countess was able to resist the rack, then they might need her hands and fingers as a source of pain.
Then they bent to her feet. They captured each frantically kicking leg and removed the shoe from each foot. Then similar leather cuffs went around each trim, stocking-clad ankle and were buckled tight. They used separate ropes to secure her ankles, then secured the ropes to the bottom roller about three feet apart and again wound the slack rope around the rollers until most of the slack was removed and several turns were wound around the roller. The Countess Alexandra was now secured to the rack, and the first signs of fear were visible in her eyes. The old man noted that her threats had also stopped, and he gave a slight smile.
Turning to the two soldiers, he told them that they could return to the King and the spymaster and report that the interrogation of Countess Alexandra was about to begin. “When I have what they need, I'll send a messenger.” He smiled, looking at the increasingly worried noblewoman secured to the rack. “Tell them I do no think it will take long.”
It was obvious that the soldiers would have preferred to stay, as they looked rather longingly at the bound Countess as they departed. The old man smiled down at Alexandra rather fondly. “I think they wanted to stay, since they undoubtedly thought that you were going to be stripped. They even thought there might be the opportunity to indulge in a little rape. But, unfortunately for their rather active imaginations, neither of these fates will befall you, at least at this time.”
“Gutter slime!” Alexandra spat. Just then, the door opened again and the king’s spymaster entered, pleased to see the traitor already secured to the rack for questioning.
“I see you chose the rack,” he said as he joined the old man. He took his time inspecting the bound woman. She was certainly handsome, he thought. He appreciated the way her elaborate court gown fit her lovely body, especially the way her low-cut bodice displayed the extensive expanse of her creamy bosom. He knew that she was thirty and had never married or had children, but she had the wide hips indicating that she was made for that. Too bad she will never have the opportunity, he thought. But the king’s orders were explicit; unless she died under torture, she was to be executed following the confirmation of her information.
“It was in perfect condition except for the ropes, which I easily replaced,” Henrik was saying. “Besides, it will work quite well for a woman such as the Countess, since I very much doubt that she has had to deal with severe pain before. I don't believe that we'll have to resurrect any of the other equipment, though there were some spiked rollers and a witch’s chair which appeared to have been preserved with rather more care than the rest of the engines.”
“Then begin, good Henrik. I would prefer to have her full confession before midnight.”
“You bastards!” Alexandra hissed.
Henrik nodded in obedience, and commanded his two assistants, “Take the slack out of the ropes evenly until they just begin to tighten.”
The two burly assistants nodded silently, then bent to their job. One of them turned the roller at the top until the locking pawl raised on the wooden gear tooth and then fell into the notch with a ‘thunk.’
“Hear that sound, Grigor?” said Henrik derisively. “That’s the sound of good workmanship. Not like some of those poor excuses you might find down in one of those southern countries like France or Spain.”
Grigor nodded in agreement as the other assistant moved his roller one notch also. Then they continued rotating the rollers, alternating from top to bottom, until about six more inches of rope were wound on each of the two rollers. One assistant felt the tension in the rope which pulled Alexandra’s arms straight up toward the top of the table. “Ready, sir,” he told Henrik.
“Put a piece of wood behind her head to prop her head up so we can see her face,” said the old man, and Alexandra felt her head lifted up until a flat piece of wood could fit between her head and her arms. When her head was released, it rested on the wood and looked straight into the smiling eyes of the old man.
“Perhaps you would like to tell us now, Countess?” the spymaster asked.
“Spawn of animals!” she said stridently. “My cousin will be here to rescue me.”
The spymaster shook his head. “The king’s army has moved to block your mercenaries, my dear. There will be no rescue.”
The shock of his words swept through Alexandra suddenly, leaving an icy fear behind. No rescue? she thought. Then how do I escape this . . .
The spymaster read the sudden fear in her eyes. “There will be no rescue,” he repeated, “and there will be no one to stop the pain until you tell us what we must know.” He nodded to Henrik. “Begin.”
Grigor said simply. “One notch on the upper.”
Alexandra felt her arms pulled a bit higher as the wooden pawl seated with another ‘thunk.’
“One notch on the lower.”
This time her legs were pulled downward by the turn of the roller.
“Another on the upper,” Henrik said quietly.
This time the woman felt her arms pulled tight, so that her arms were completely lifted off the splintery wood surface of the rack. She looked at the two men calmly watching her, the short spymaster with an air of sardonic amusement and the older man with an air of interest. The interest of a cat watching a mouse, she thought. Or the interest of a scholar watching an insect being consumed by a spider, came a moment afterward. She could not repress a shudder at the thought.
“One on the lower.”
This time Alexandra felt all the slackness pulled completely from her body. Now her limbs were stretched tautly to the rope on the roller. She was so tightly stretched that she did not see how she could be stretched any more tightly. The tension was uncomfortable, quite uncomfortable, but not actively painful yet.
“One on the upper.”
“Ahhhhhhhhhh!” Alexandra felt the slight cry escape her lips as she felt the first actual pain from her stretching, a sudden, sharp jab in her major joints, mostly in her shoulders and hips but also partly in her knees and elbows.
“Ah,” said the old man with satisfaction, the satisfaction of a skill artisan in seeing a particular piece of work well done, “I see the Countess starts to see the manner in which the rack works. I guess that she thought that its reputation was not authentic, perhaps!”
“It will get worse than this, Alexandra Viktoria,” said the spymaster. “I really suggest that you give us the names of your fellow conspirators.”
“Never!” said Alexandra through gritted teeth. She regretted her cry of pain now. She resolved on not crying out again in order to keep them from gaining the satisfaction of seeing her in pain.
The spymaster looked at the old man with raised eyebrows, and he nodded. “I don't think we have to wait for the next one. Later, when it gets really painful, we'll pause longer between turns to let her appreciated the pain and to let her body stretch under the tension. We don't want to go too fast and tear something inside her before we have to.”
He nodded to an assistant. “One on the lower.”
“Right!” said the assistant eagerly and bent to the roller. He loved the way the haughty aristocrat was stretched tight, and he wanted to stretch her tighter, until she was as taut as a bowstring. He only wished that his superior had ordered the woman stripped naked, but then, she was an aristocrat after all. Perhaps he had to treat her different because of that. He knew from experience that the old man usually stripped his subjects before actually starting the torture to increase their humiliation and helplessness and thus increase their vulnerability. But now he had work to do, and the roller was getting harder to turn. His muscles bunched as he rotated the roller another part of an inch . . .
“Aaaaaaaaeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Alexandra shrieked suddenly, all thought of restraining her scream lost as the sudden eruption of pain in her already tight shoulders and hips. Her body shifted on the splintery table as the ropes pulled her body slightly downward. Sudden sweat broke out on her forehead and on her upper chest above her deeply cut bodice. Her shoulders lifted slightly, still touching the table but no longer fully lying on the wood.
“Now we'll wait,” said the old man.
Alexandra had to bite her lip to hold back further cries after that first involuntary cry was wrenched from her. The pain was worse than any she had ever before experienced in her pampered life. She had been waited on her whole life, her soft skin softened by creams spread by other hands. She had been dressed by maids and her every order carried out immediately. Nothing had prepared her for this.
A sudden popping sound came from her left shoulder, accompanied by a swift pang of pain as something in the joint changed position to accommodate the stress, and Alexandra hissed in pain. The pain, which had previously been sharply focused in her hips and shoulders, now began to spread through her shoulders and up her arms and upward from her hips and down her legs.
Another pop and another quick surge of pain. Then other pops sounded from her joints, even along her spine as it adjusted to the new tension. She began to be truly frightened, since she was starting to understand how bad the pain might get, yet this was hardly more than fifteen or twenty minutes into her interrogation. Already the pain was making her nauseous. And, as usual for such an arrogant woman as the Countess von Hoyos, her fear made her angry, and her anger made her issue threats.
“My cousin will be here soon,” she threatened, having to catch her breath because she was having difficulty inflating her lungs, “and he will make you pay. All of you. You'll all pay in blood!”
After that, she had to strain to catch her breath while the two men looked on bemusedly. “Perhaps you ought to save your breath, Countess,” said the old man. “You'll need it for breathing and for telling us what will end your pain, not for mouthing worthless threats.” He spoke to an assistant. “One notch on the upper.”
The assistant had to strain as he turned the roller, and the rope creaked as the strain increased, winding another fraction of an inch on the roller. The Countess managed to hold back her scream this time, but only by savagely biting her lip until blood flowed in her mouth. She had been biting her lip to keep from crying out, but when the new pain exploded down the length of her body, she bit down hard as her joints were cruelly stretched. This additional stretching and the strain on her arms raised her shoulders off the surface of the rack. Her muscles were pulled terribly taut, and they actually creaked as they stretched. There were more popping sounds from all her major joints as tendons and ligaments adjusted to the hideous strain, and each audible pop brought a gasp or a cry from the stretched woman. She was now sweating more than ever as the pain was so bad that she felt nauseous. Her face, neck, and the skin of her chest and bosom above her bodice shone in the sheen of sweat that covered her skin. Damp patches were visible in spots, especially under her arms and just below her breasts.
Alexandra had never anything could hurt this much, and her head turned back and forth as she reflexively moved the only part of her body which was under her control. Movement of any other part of her body, except her fingers and toes, was literally not possible, yet she tried to find some way to escape the agony which not only didn't go away but got worse as the old man gave the beautiful woman time to experience the full effect of the pain and think on what was yet to come.
The spymaster came over beside the rack and bent over her. “Tell us, Countess,” he said mildly. “You will have to talk in the end. Everyone does. Henrik is a master – he'll keep you alive and suffering the whole time, and if you won't talk, he'll take you off the rack and show you how some of the other toys down here work.”
“Go . . . to . . . the . . . devil,” Alexandra said through gritted teeth, having to draw a breath for each word. She shook her head again, trying to clear the sweat which ran into her eyes. The spymaster chuckled at the hate he saw in her eyes. Hate will help you keep the pain away for a while, he thought, but not that long, oh, no, not that long!
After the hateful spymaster moved away, Alexandra fought to keep from giving in to the pain, but it was difficult, so difficult! Her muscles burned from the strain, but that was almost lost in the worse pain in her joints, especially her shoulders and hips. She felt the struggle her ligaments and tendons were putting up to keep her bones in the joints, but she was too little educated in the mysteries of the human body or the techniques of the interrogators to know what she was feeling. She only knew that it hurt worse than she had ever hurt in her life, yet she could not betray her cousin and her other conspirators to slime like King Rupert and his pawns!
She heard the old man say quietly, “One on the lower,” and tried to steel herself again, determined to hold back her scream again. Be strong! she told herself. Don't give the scum anything!
But this time, the mere touch of the assistant’s hand on the handles of the roller sent a shock of pain flashing up and down her body. As he began to strain against the wooden bar to move the roller, the Countess suddenly lost the battle to keep silent. She screamed, a thin, shrill scream that told the pain of the sudden white hot fire that invaded her shoulders and hips and spread out from those centers. Her vision had dimmed down to just a thin circle, like looking down a cave at a far-away entrance to the light, and she cast off any attempt to stop the screams. Nothing mattered in the world except the hideous, overwhelming agony that filled her body.
The old man did not even try to ask the stretched woman any questions right now. He knew that the first minutes after being stretched a further increment caused pain so intense that the victim could hardly see or hear. He would let the pain soak in and ferment, spreading throughout her body until the lady came slowly back to her senses. Right now, she was sunk into a haze of agony and could only scream again and again. Each scream cost her great effort, since she had to painfully inflate her lungs against the strain and then bellow out her anguish. Her head was moving again, back and forth, and her fingers clenched and unclenched, seeming to attempt to grasp at something, anything that would stop this pain. Her stocking-clad toes curled just as desperately and just as uselessly.
After about five minutes of screaming, Alexandra began to quiet down. Her screams dwindled to whimpers and moans. Her muscles were drawn hard and taut, and the old man ran his skilled fingers up and down her arms and legs, testing the firmness of her muscles. He felt her shoulders and hips, and he could feel the difference as the woman’s sinews were losing the battle against the pull of the rack. He noted how her belly had sunk in from the strain, and even her magnificent breasts were being remolded, pulled high and flattening as her arms and shoulders were stretching. He judged that there was nothing left to stretch. The next notch would tear bones from their socket, either shoulder or hip. It didn't matter, except as a further increment in the tortured woman’s soul-consuming agony.
When the Countess Alexandra was finally able to comprehend what he had to say, the spymaster returned to her side. “Your fellow conspirators, Countess. Tell us who you conspired with, and the pain will stop.”
“No . . . please . . . no . . . more.” she gasped. “Money . . . jewels . . . I . . . will . . . pay . . . just . . . do . . . not . . . hurt . . . me . . . again.”
The spymaster shook his head, and he could see the despair in the Countess’ eyes as he rejected her attempt to bribe him. “King Rupert pays me enough for my needs, and Prussia is not large enough for the man who would betray him.”
“Anything . . . you . . . want,” she pleaded. “No . . . more . . . please . . . no . . . more.”
The spymaster only smiled at her.
“Please,” she pleaded desperately, tears leaking from her eyes. “I . . . do . . . not . . . want . . . to . . . die . . .”
The spymaster’s smile grew wider. “You're already dead, Countess,” he said with gleeful malice, enjoying the look of defeat that suddenly blossomed in her eyes. “It’s just a matter of whether it’s a nice, quick death at the hands of a skilled headsman, or whether you die by inches down here in this dungeon. The choice is up to you, madam.”
Alexandra wailed in despair as he left her to her pain, and she dimly heard the old man say, “One more on the lower.”
“No . . . no . . . I . . . beg . . . you,” she cried out to the assistant as he stepped up and bent down to the roller. She was drenched in sweat by now, and all of her dress that was in contact with her skin was damp and clung to her body. Her black hair was matted to her forehead by her sweat as she continued to plead until the assistant began to heave at the lever. Then she began to scream as the pain doubled as the roller turned and the pawl fell into its notch again. Over the wails of her screams could be heard the cracking as ligaments and cartilage were stretched to the breaking point.
Alexandra’s eyes bulged as unbelievable pain blossomed in each shoulder joint, causing every other pain to dwindle to insignificance as the ball joints in her shoulder began to move. The sound her shoulders made as the joints slid out of the cartilage and stretched the ligaments was soft and wet, totally nauseating. Alexandra shrieked like a demented soul as a final soft ‘pop . . . pop’ signaled the dislocations of both shoulders. She could shriek because the movement of her shoulders caused the tension to be released as her body length increased by almost an inch. Now she could draw breath easily, and her screams were full-throated and so loud they bounced off the harsh stone walls.
The walls cared as little for the tortured woman’s screams as did the four men who watched. The two assistants cared little and rather enjoyed the show the haughty aristocrat was putting on. The old man watched with the care of a master of his craft but with little emotion. And the spymaster watched with the point of view of the hunter, who watched the painful struggles of his prey with idle detachment.
But Alexandra Viktoria, formerly the Countess von Hoyos and now a traitor condemned to death by her sovereign possessed precious little detachment as the old man said, “One on the upper,” and the movement of the roller took up most of the slack gained by the dislocation of her arms. She shrieked again and again, but she shrieked even louder as he ordered, “One on the lower.”
This increment completely reduced all slackness and returned her to the level of rock-hard strain just before her arms dislocated. Pain that had only been diminished by the even greater pain of her arms dislocating now surged through her body as her ligaments and muscles held her arms to the rest of her body and put all remaining stress on her hips, which had already loosened in their sockets. Alexandra gasped for breath, twisting her head back and forth. She could no longer move her fingers, and her hands were bent by the stress of her stretched muscles. All her muscles, from her forearms down to her calves, burned with the intolerable pain of being stretched, and she was stretched so tightly that her entire body was almost literally pulled taut in mid-air. The old man ran a hand under her legs and her backs, and only her buttocks still remained in contact with the table. It did not provide any support for her stretched body.
When Alexandra had suffered a goodly period, the spymaster returned, and this time the old man came with him. “Tell us, Countess,” he demanded. “Your shoulders are disjointed, and your hips will go next. After that, your elbows and knees. You'll look like a scarecrow, all stretched out. And for what? You'll talk anyway. Tell her, Henrik.”
“He’s correct, Countess,” he old man told her. “It’s your body against the sturdy wood and the ropes of the rack. All the strain is gone out of the ropes and out of you. Each notch will tear something else now. You're learning what I learned long ago – no one leaves the rack whole.”
“Please,” Alexandra pleaded. “Help . . . me . . . Oskar . . . will . . . reward . . . you . . . protect . . . you.” She struggled to fill her lungs. “Join . . . us . . . help . . . me . . . please . . . ”
“Then you choose to suffer more,” said the old man sadly.
“No,” she gasped. “Please . . . mercy . . . it . . . hurts . . . so . . . badly . . . ”
“Of course, it hurts,” said the old man in mild surprise. “You're being tortured. It’s supposed to hurt.” He nodded to the assistant. “One on the upper.”
“Mercy!” Alexandra managed to gasp as the assistant laid hold of the handle.
This time the assistant had to truly strain to make the roller move. The table was heavy, immovable, and slowly the roller turned, pulling at Alexandra Viktoria’s strong young body.
Alexandra was at first unable to breathe as the pain escalated to unbearable levels. She felt a tearing pain in her hips, felt the bones begin to move. With another of the nauseating wet, tearing sounds, her right hip began to slide out of joint. Suddenly, the ball joint was torn past the clasp of the enclosing cartilage with a hideous ‘crack!’ The woman shrieked anew, but the effort of drawing a breath seemed to provide the impetus to cause her other hip to explosively dislocate with a similar ‘crack!’
The suffering woman shrieked as it felt like she was being burned from the inside out. The tearing and ripping of her internal sinew felt like molten metal was being poured into both of her hip joints, and again the tension released as her body stretched so that she could shriek dementedly for long minutes until the old man said, “One on the lower.”
The roller turned, the pawl went ‘thunk,’ but the sound was not heard over the maniacal shriek of the tortured woman as all the strain loosened by the dislocation of her hips tightened back up again. Her body was filled with pain, from her wrists down to her ankles, and the old man left her to her suffering as he watched with interested eyes. He was somewhat surprised that the Countess had been able to hold out this long, and he did not think he could go beyond two more turns, perhaps three without risking death. If she did not talk by then, he would need to release the tension, slowly of course, and then move to other forms of persuasion. The witchchair, perhaps, with the basket under the seat and behind the back filled to the brim with red-hot coals and the Countess, stripped naked for this torture, seated on the sharp spikes while they heated inside her flesh.
He talked of this with the spymaster, who also expressed surprise at the strength and determination of the Countess, but she had already confessed her guild when she tried to enlist them with her rebellion. The spymaster could not believe that she could hold out much longer.
They left Alexandra moaning and keening in terrible pain, tears running from her eyes as she slowly turned her head in agonized desperation. The pain from her stretched and broken body was worse than she could have ever imagined, and it was difficult to say from what well of courage or determination or loyalty came the strength to refrain from confessing and identifying her confederates. But even she could feel her ability to hold out weakening. She was trying to stiffen her flagging resolve when her thoughts were frozen by the old man saying, “One on the lower.”
The tormented woman’s pleading became a shriek of agony as the roller slowly turned, rope creaking, wood creaking, Alexandra’s muscles, bone, and sinew creaking. The pain in her arms exploded as she felt the tearing in her elbows as the bone separated from bone, tearing ligaments loose from their mooring, stretching her elongated body just under an inch. This pain was too intense, and the Countess Alexandra fainted for the first time in her ordeal.
The first bucket of water did not produce instant consciousness. It was only when the second bucket of freezing water hit her directly in the face that Alexandra wakened to the living nightmare that she had fled.
“No . . . more,” she begged. “Mercy . . . please . . . I . . . suffer . . . it . . . is . . . unbearable.”
“It can't be unbearable, Countess, since you're bearing it and not telling us the names we need,” said the old man. “Confess, and I will reset your joints. You can sleep.”
“Until . . . the . . . ax . . . falls,” said the Countess.
“It is the only end to your pain that you have, Countess,” said the spymaster. “Death is the just desserts of the traitor.”
By this time, the Countess Alexandra was drenched in water. Her white court dress had turned mostly translucent, and it clung to her every curve. The ridges of the corded muscles in her sunken belly, her thighs, her calves, and her arms were easily visible, as was the dark patch of her pubic hair and the curve of her breasts tipped by the rigid brown nubs of her nipples. She is still a beautiful woman, and she will look pleasing seated naked in the witch chair, the old man thought. I wonder if she can hold her tongue when the fiery coals turn the metal red-hot under her bare skin. That will be next unless she confesses on this turn . . .
“One more on the lower,” the old man ordered. This one would tell the tale, he thought. If she can hold out on this one, I will have to have her released. We will not be through by midnight.
“Please . . . no . . . mercy . . . pain . . . too . . . much,” Alexandra babbled as the assistant began to strain. But the assistant had no mercy, and he grunted as he strained, pitting his strength against the sinews of her own feminine body.
Her body lost. The roller turned. The pawl went ‘thunk.’ Alexandra could not even shriek or even wail as the pain burst inside her, especially her legs. She had not believed that the pain could get even worse. It filled her whole body as her ribcage was lifted up by the strain. Long seconds of unbearable agony went by, her torn and strained muscles trying to resist the strain. Her dislocated hips, shoulders, and elbows screamed with agony, and even the vertebrae in her spine were beginning to come apart.
But worst of all was her knees, since they were the last major joint still intact. Alexandra managed to emit a whine as she felt her knees began to come apart with a sickening sound of tearing cartilage and tendons. It took almost thirty seconds from the first tearing sound until the onlookers could see her body visibly lengthen as her knees came apart.
Alexandra screamed then, the scream of a woman in mortal agony. Even more, it was the defeated scream of a woman who has finally faced the limits of her own strength, and she was babbling that she would confess, she would tell them anything, anything at all, just don't stretch her again . . .
The old man sighed. He had accomplished his purpose. He watched as the spymaster began to question the Countess, who by this time was stretched almost six inches longer than her height, and the poor woman could hardly wait to tell him everything he wanted. Too bad, he thought. I would have liked to see you in the witchchair.
Then he cheered up as her heard the Countess whisper, “Christa . . . Baroness . . . von . . . Humboldt . . . Wilhelm . . . Baron . . . von . . . ”
He smiled to himself. Grigor will want to question them also. The Baroness von Humboldt may not be as beautiful as the Countess Alexandra, but she would still look quite attractive in the witchchair as it turns red-hot . . .
Six hours later, Christa, Baroness von Humbolt shrieked dementedly as she sat in the red-hot spiked chair, with two inches of sizzling spikes resting inside the soft skin of her thighs and buttocks and with an inch of spike deep in the flesh of her back. Metal bands kept her milk-white, naked body in the chair while other spikes penetrated the backs of her calves, her bare feet, and her arms, all of which were tightly strapped to the metal of the fiendish chair. Her lush body shook and spasmed in the extremity of her frenzied suffering, and the old man smiled to himself as he emptied a scoop of fiery embers into the trough that he had placed against the noblewoman’s torso under her chest so that her lush breasts rested inside the hollow. The first scoop of embers filled the bottom of the trough, so that the bulging undersides of the woman’s breasts actually rested in the embers. Her maniacal shrieks grew even louder and joined the cacophony of the other interrogations going on in the suddenly busy dungeon.
He thought of the Countess Alexandra, who lay moaning in her sleep as she waited for her dawn appointment with the headsman while her conspirators were being broken in their turn. He had hoped to see her here in this chair, but this lovely lady would do, and his smile grew larger as he filled his scoop with embers again. The Baroness Christa had protested her innocence during the entire length of her interrogation, from the moment she was first strapped into the chair up until just before the chair began to turn red-hot. The old man was beginning to think that the Baroness either didn't know anything of significance or was actually innocent, but in either case, he didn't think he had to take especial care to make certain of her information before she died. In fact, he wasn't sure she could even think well enough to attempt to confess, in the agony she was in.
It had been a busy night and promised to be an even busier day. He moved over to the Baroness Christa’s husband as he lay stretched on the rack, evaluating his condition before ordering, “One on the upper.”