Man Behaving Badly, 2
 

Jean was feeling more and more like someone had pulled the rug out from
under him. He'd expected Carmine to pronounce some dreadful, immediate
punishment... and now he was being put up in a guest room? (He heard a
key being turned in the lock behind him, though--not that that would
keep a vampire in, but there was a principle involved here...)

It was a very nice guest room, too; worthy of the consort of a foreign
Prince. Someone had even thoughtfully provided toiletries, pajamas, and
clean clothes that looked like they'd fit. Jean sat down heavily on the
bed (a very good bed, he noted mentally, hardly a metal cot or cheap
rate coffin) to try and see if he could figure out why Carmine was
treating him like this... like he was a slightly inconvenient guest
rather than a penitent awaiting punishment.

The other shoe was undoubtedly going to drop. Jean just wondered when
and how hard. He wasn't afraid of Carmine--never had been, never would
be--but he did worry that if the punishment was too severe, it would
cause a rift between Princes. Genevieve had a soft spot for
Carmine--they had a history that Jean was not completely clear
about--and it would be terrible if his own bad behaviour caused anything
to happen between them.

He felt miserable and guilty as hell. How could he ever make this up to
Genevieve? He was completely wrong as a consort, she should never have
taken that step! He'd been very pleased at the time, but now he saw how
wrong it was.

He lay down on the bed and waited for dawn--still quite some time away,
but there was nothing else to do.

It was several long-suffering hours later, hours during which Jean had
nothing to do but review his own sins (something he generally wasted
little time on), when he heard the key in the door of his bedroom
turning in the lock.

The door opened and Carmine entered. He was alone. He carried two
glasses and a decanter of something red. Wine, or... Jean knew in
Carmine's court the usual sustenance was human blood.

Without a word, Carmine approached the bed next to which Jean was now
standing at a sort of military attention and offered Jean a glass.

Not wishing to give further offense, Jean took the glass. Carmine poured
liquid into that glass. Jean was relieved to smell it was not blood.
Just good wine. It smelled suspiciously like Chateau de Monet merlot.When he finally tasted it he realized it was.

Carmine sauntered over to sit in one chair off in a small alcove. He
motioned for Jean to join him and sit in the other.

Jean, still totally uncertain what was going on, approached and sat.

Carmine sipped his wine, his eyes on Jean.

This silent treatment was nearly making Jean squirm. That was bad.
Vampires don't squirm - mostly.

"Prince..." Jean began.

Carmine waved away his attempt to speak.

Another eternity later, another glass of wine, and Carmine finally said,
"I propose two alternative punishments for you. You may choose which
one you prefer.

"The first, you kneel to me at court tomorrow night, and make a pretty
apology. I am generous and I only kick you once. You leave for France
and all is forgotten if not forgiven."

"And the alternative?" Jean couldn't help but ask.

"Tomorrow at court, I beat you with a stick sent to me by Blaine of
England. I have you thrown out of my court, you make your own way home
as best you can. And on the way, you do me a very small favour."

"Why would I pick the second?" Jean asked a bit belligerently, feeling
the hairs on his neck rise.

"Because you would earn my gratitude by doing me this service.
Admittedly your ego will suffer. "

Jean sat and mulled this over. "I admit that I deserve the beating," he
said. "And the Council, at least Blaine, seems to anticipate that this
is the fate you will bestow upon me. But if you throw me out, to make
my own way home, it will reflect badly on Genevieve. I have made
matters there bad enough as they are. She would not survive another
motion of censure for not being able to control her consort."

"You should have thought of that before you insulted me, Jean."

"I know."

Carmine sipped what was left of his wine. "I told you years ago that
you must learn to curb your tongue. Learn that, Jean. Learnself-control, learn when to hold your tongue. If I must beat this
lesson into you, I will do so. I will see to it that the Council does
not act upon any punishment I inflict on you, no matter how it reflects
on Genevieve. But for God's sake, learn from this, sothat it may not
reflect on her in the future."

"And if I accept the second punishment..." Jean's eyes showed signs of
hope. "Will you forgive me?"

Carmine's lips twitched. "Perhaps you'd best discover what that small
favour is before you decide if my forgiveness is worth the trouble."

"Your forgiveness is worth the trouble, Signore."

Carmine smiled. "Wisely said. There may possibly be hope for you yet."

"Tomorrow as you leave you will be given a note with my instructions
written on it. I ask only that you do your best to accommodate my
request."

Carmine stood, Jean jumping to his feet as well. The Prince eyed the
Pirate then walked to the door. But before he exited the room he added,
"I have few illusions with regard to success regarding this mission.
Failure on your part will not reflect badly on you. And what I ask will
in no way reflect badly on your own Prince, nor will it test your
loyalty to her. Buonoa notte."

"Prince Carmine?" Jean asked, just as the door was shutting.

"Si?"

"Thank you for what you did at the Council, to save Genevieve."

"Prego. I saved you too, after all."

"I am nothing. She is the one that matters."

"You are not nothing. For that, Jean, you get two extra strokes of the
cane tomorrow night. And do not think I will be gentle."

Jean looked at the floor. "No, signore."

"Prepare yourself. I will send Uberto when I am ready for you. Until
then," Carmine said, and this time he firmly shut and locked the door.

When Jean rose the next evening, he showered and dressed in the garmentsthat had been provided. They were quite luxurious. He did, however,
keep his boots.

He paced restively, awaiting his punishment. And he wondered what the
task might be. Murder? He wouldn't put it past Carmine. But Italy had
promised that the task would not compromise Gen. Hadn't he? Perhaps
he'd been rash to trust Carmine. Still, Carmine had saved Gen. He cursed
himself and sat down.

After what seemed forever, the key turned in the lock and Siena stood
there.

"I do believe you'll keep your head," she commented. "It would be such a
shame to remove it."

Siena led him through the hallways, some of which looked familiar. He'd
been to Villa Medici several times for Council meetings with Genevieve.
In fact, next month he'd ... well, she'd ... be returning here. He was
probably no longer welcome--which was going to make politics even
stickier. Dieu, but he felt stupid; and he would deserve every blow of
the beating he was going to get. He had ruined things for Gen.

Then they were in the main salon. It was a lovely room. Marble columns,
marble floors, ornate ceilings, glittering chandaliers. Jean noticed
very little of the room, however. He felt the Prince's eyes on him the
moment he entered the room. They seemed to burn a hole through Jean's
forehead as if the Prince were trying to see into his soul.

The court glittered, everyone dressed to the nines. But Carmine. He was
barefoot, as usual, at home. Particularly here at the Villa. Jean
wondered about that habit. What did it mean? His shirt, as usual,
undone. He did wear dress slacks. He was draped across a comfortable
looking chair that sat on a somewhat raised dias. He was flanked by
Orsino and Uberto. Uberto held a hickory cane. Carmine had said it had
been sent by Blaine. Was that the truth?

Then he and Siena came to a halt in front of Carmine.

Jean, at a signal from Siena, knelt at Carmine's feet. He kept his head
bowed, not meeting the Prince's eyes.

"So," said Carmine softly. "Jean de la Mare."

"Signore," said Jean, rising but not looking Carmine in the eyes.

"You have insulted me in public, and not just once. Although you have
offered a very pretty apology, this is not enough to pay for the
insults. You agreed to submit to whatever punishment I chose to inflict
upon you. Do you still so agree?"
"Yes, Prince Carmine, I agree."

"It is well within my rights to take your head," Carmine said.
"However, your Prince and others have pleaded with me for clemency. I
would not wish to offend France and sever our ties of friendship. You
may keep your head--but I trust that you will use it more wisely from
now on."

"Thank you, Prince Carmine, for your mercy."

"Do you see what Uberto is holding?"

Jean swallowed. He was not afraid, not even now, but he was getting
slightly worried. Surely Carmine didn't _really_ mean to cane him like
an errant schoolboy? In front of the entire Italian court? Then he
remembered what Carmine had said the previous night, about Jean having
earned himself two extra strokes. Dieu, he did mean it.

"Yes, Signore, I see it." Hard not to, since Uberto was stroking it, an
evil smile on his face.

"That is my mercy," said Carmine. "Courtesy of Blaine of Great Britain.
I believe he suggested twelve strokes. Where they would do the most
good."

Jean met Carmine's eyes for the first time. "If that is your sentence,
Signore," he said, "then I accept it."

"Take off your shirt."

His shirt? Maybe it wouldn't be quite so humiliating as it could be...
He removed his shirt.

"Kneel."

Jean knelt where Uberto indicated. Would Uberto be doing the beating?
No, it was Carmine who took the hickory rod in hand.

Everyone was watching. Silence spread through the room. Breathers held
their breath as Carmine raised the rod.

Dieu!

Carmine did not hold back. The first blow nearly made Jean lose his
balance. He closed his eyes and concentrated on not crying out.

Onlookers did not laugh. There was nothing at all amusing about this;
several people wanted to tell Carmine to stop. The cane was raisingwelts across Jean's back, drawing blood, this was no light admonishment but a severe
whipping. Carmine did not relent, though, and Jean did not cry out or
beg for mercy and a surcease from the beating. He took all fourteen
blows without a sound, although those nearby could see that he had gone
very white, even for a vampire.

Damn Carmine, he'd remembered the extra two. Those two had been
delivered quite low across the back, too--the only ones that had grazed
Jean's butt instead of his shoulders and back.

"Get up," Carmine ordered, "and put your shirt back on."

Everybody in the room winced as Jean rose up and slipped back into his
shirt. It must have hurt like hell, but he gave no indication. He could feel the fine silk sticking to his bloody back. It was going to be the very devil to take off.

"Uberto, Siena," Carmine signalled to his two bodyguards. "Escort the
consort of France out of my court and to the border of Florence. He can
find his own way back to France. If his own Prince sees it within her
heart to forgive him, then I shall do so as well, and he shall be
welcomed back here as her consort in his proper place."

Jean bowed, still without giving away how much pain he was in. "Truly
you are merciful, Signore."

Siena was almost gentle when she came to take one of Jean's arms, but
Uberto slapped him on the butt. Jean, at the end of his patience and
tolerance for pain, very nearly bit the bodyguard... until he realized
that Uberto had actually slipped something into his pocket. Papers and
keys, from the feel of it.

Keys?

He was bustled out of the still silent Court. He never had another
chance to look at Carmine and he wasn't sure he wanted to see him ever
again.

Siena and Uberto held him, and were making it look as if they were
bustling him along roughly. In reality they were relieving Jean of most
of the work of trying to walk. They supported him, and helped him.

They led him out to a car and placed him in the back seat. They drove
him out to the edge of the city. Siena, who'd been driving, pulled up
on a turnout on a major highway. It was late enough the traffic was
fairly light.

As she shut the car down she looked at Uberto then turned to Jean.
"Here is where we leave you, Jean. We hope to see you next month."