It was a fine dinner. A gourmet dinner. One to remember as much for it's delicate mix of styles and flavours, as its substance. In ordinary circumstances, it was a dinner that would have made Sara exceedingly content. But these were not ordinary circumstances. So, for all the temptation that passed before her, heaped on fine silver platters, she ate barely enough to satisfy a slip of a girl - let alone her own six feet of lean and lanky appetite.
For it was the dinner of the condemned man. Or in this case, the condemned girls. Jane. Meg. And Sara. She did not know what slight the other two had inflicted upon the wizard to incur their fates.
Rumours abounded that Jane had laughingly rejected his amorous advances. If true, thought Sara, then the wizard's renowned sense of humour most certainly guaranteed her a fate that would be embarrassing and humiliating in the extreme.
But what had she, Sara, ever done to him? Nothing. Except refuse to dance. Unwittingly, alas.
Every now and then - once, perhaps, in a generation - the wizard opened his doors to celebrate the mid-Winter festival of renewal. The local gentry were invited. Nobility. Villagers. Country people too. Few refused. It was a rare opportunity to see the inside of his dark, hilltop palace. It was, too, an occasion renowned for its lavish hospitality: whether your poison was feasting or drinking, music or dancing, you were sure to be more than satisfied. So almost all went happily along. Those few who did not care for such show usually went too. Just in case, you understand; just in case a refusal might give offence. For when it came to wizards, who knew where offence might lead?
So it was that not long after midnight, the Ball in full swing, a man - tall, slim, not unattractive, dressed all in black - had bowed before her tall begowned figure. He extended one hand. And Sara would have taken it on the spot, had not Meg and a couple of boys from the village come bounding up and rushed her away for livelier entertainment and familiar faces.
For the rest of that night and most of the next day, Sara remained in blissful ignorance of her gaffe. It was not until evening that her mother, looking drawn and serious, sat her down and asked if she had anything to tell her about the previous night. 'Because', she said, 'there are dreadful rumours going around as to how yourself and Jane and Meg have... offended... his Lordship'.
Sara shuddered then. There were too many stories about what befell those who had given such offence in the past. Tales of dark and twisted transformation. Men and women turned to slaves or beasts or...
She swallowed nervously. She remembered, as a young girl, being scared by the story of great aunt Emily and the uncanny resemblance between her distant relative and a pristine white and marble statue positioned near the entrance to the wizard's palace. She had almost forgotten Emily entirely, until the night of the Ball. Then, passing the statue on her way in, she had laughed and made some silly joke about it.
She remembered, too, the story of the vain serving girl, supposedly transformed into a gilt-edged mirror: forever, now, illuminating the beauty and vanity of others. Countless others sprang to mind. A myriad half-confirmed myths surrounded the wizard's career. Glib, easy threats to put young children in their places - or to marvel at, after dark, in pleasant company.
Wonderful tales they were. So long as they applied to someone else. Not her.
She was scared then. Desperately scared. But as a day, and a second and a third day passed without further incident, her fears quieted. She stopped frighting at sudden noises and shadows: was almost calm once more.
When the invitation arrived. Gilded envelope: expensive paper. The pleasure of her further acquaintance was requested at dinner the following night. At the palace.
Lest there be any doubt as to the circumstance of her summons, she quickly learnt that she would not be alone: two other girls from the village - the very two believed to have offended the wizard - were also invited.
The hours passed all too speedily thereafter. For a moment, as all must do who receive such a summons, she contemplated defiance. But that would never do. Whatever fate awaited her on the morrow, she knew it would be served up a hundredfold if she added disobedience to her list of misdemeanours.
So, with heavy heart, she put on her best and lightest evening dress, bade farewell to her friends and family, and ascended the carriage sent to collect her.
And apart from the knowledge of impending retribution, it would have been a perfect evening. Driven from home to palace: greeted and waited upon by the most proper of servants; a fine dinner; the company of a wizard who, for all his terrible reputation, was also a witty, charming and attentive host; and finally, for each of the three girls, a delicate, finely wrapped package. Their going home present.
If, that is, it were intended that they go home.
For they had heard the telling of enough stories to understand the significance of this final gesture. The wizard must have his fun: cat-like, he had invited his prey into his home, and played with them for a while; had wined and dined and entertained. Now, if there were a price to be paid, it came served on a silver platter, bound up with pretty silk bows.
Silence fell across the table.
The wizard smiled.
No-one wanted to be the first to open her gift.
He picked up a knife, and balanced it carefully between thumb and forefinger. 'Does nobody wish to know what her gift might be?'
The air buzzed with silence: the shimmering tension of three people trying as hard as they might to say nothing; to become unnoticeable.
'Meg?' The wizard's quiet inquiry sliced through the silence.
'Sir?', she asked meekly.
'Open your prize.'
With trembling fingers, fearful of the consequence, yet even more afraid to disobey, Meg tugged at the ribbon surrounding her present. It came easily undone. She peeled back the paper and slowly, gingerly, lifted the lid of the box inside.
She turned white as a sheet.
'No', she breathed, almost inaudible. 'Please, no.' The wizard said nothing.
Gently, she replaced the lid on the box, put the box back on the table. For a few moments more, she sat, staring forlornly at it. Then, summoning up some inner resource, she picked up the box and stood up.
'Then I must leave you', she stated. Outward bravado went some little way to disguising her inner terror.
The wizard nodded. 'You may go.'
And then there were two. Jane seemed, if anything, to be even more terrified than Meg. So, Sara realised with sinking heart, her turn would be next.
If Meg could do it, so could she!
Yet could this be a test? The wizard had asked, not commanded. She had come. The gift was offered to her. She did not have to take it. Did she?
She shook her present gently. Inside the pink paper and red ribbon: inside the box, something rattled. Something heavy and solid. A brooch? A ring? It had that sort of feel to it.
She would rather not find out for sure.
Boldly, she stood up. 'My Lord,' she began timidly, 'I have been honoured by your invitation. I beg only that you excuse me now and grant me your permission to leave your table.'
A smile. A nod. Not exactly release. But an opening, and one which Sara seized with both hands. Still clutching her present, she bowed as graciously as she could, and started to walk away from the table.
The journey, from table to door, was one of the longest of her life. With every step, she expected to be stopped in her tracks. Called back. Or frozen to the floor. Ensorcelled. Her back itched with a sense of imminent menace.
She reached the heavy wooden doors that opened out into the Palace's main corridor, and passed through without incident. She closed the door behind her. She walked, more quickly now, down a broad corridor, lit at even intervals by cheery torches mounted on the wall.
'Yes', she told herself, and 'YE-ES!' she exulted into the still air.
Not out yet. But out of the frying pan, with no sign yet of any fire. And maybe.... just maybe, a magical gift that would make her fortune when she got back to her village.
Except for one thing. She wasn't out. And now, through her elation, came the faintly disturbing realisation that she didn't quite know HOW to get out. The servants - so attentive before - were nowhere to be seen. The corridor stretched on for what seemed like miles. Occasional doors punctuated its walls. Once, twice, she opened one to see what she might see.
First, nothing - a nothing so dark and blank and empty that it hurt her eyes to gaze upon it. That door she closed quickly.
The second time, warmth and half-light and heavy myrrh-laden air. Shapes moving, slowly, sensuously within. Shapes that were human and maybe something else as well. Naked shapes. Bodies writhing and twisting with pleasure, inside a warm, comfortable womb of a room. There she tarried a while longer, breathing in the air and feeling a sense of dark excitement welling up within her.
'No'. A burst of cold anger replaced the warmth that was starting to build.
She slammed the door, angry at the realisation that she had almost been seduced - sucked in to whatever degeneracy that room contained. Angry, too - though she would not admit it - that she would not allow herself to give in. It was tempting. So tempting. So much easier than fighting her way out of this place and trekking back to her ordinary life in the village. Would it really be so bad to give in?
After that, no more doors. She understood how dangerous they could be - and how dangers did not always come in easily recognisable packages.
She remembered - how could she have forgotten? - the present she held close to her breast. Would it be better to leave it behind? If it were intended to do her harm, surely its potency would not fade just because she escaped the wizard's home?
Not yet. She would decide when the time came.
For still she was no nearer getting away. The corridor seemed to curve back on itself. If she were not careful, she would soon be back in the wizard's Dining Room. The last place she wanted to go right now. They had come up stairs to get there. She needed stairs!
And behold: rounding a slight bend in the corridor, she found herself facing an arch - and through the arch, a stairwell. Was this a trap? Could the castle actually respond to what she was thinking?
She dismissed that idea with a shrug. If it could, then she was truly lost. Best just to press on and hope that an exit would eventually present itself.
Forward: down broad, well-lit stairs that circled downward for at least two floors. The stairs issued out into a circular chamber. Four doors led into it. Or rather, four entrances. The archway through which she descended: and at the three remaining points of the compass, three more arches; three more doors.
Those to right and left were locked. The one ahead responded to her touch. It swung easily open, giving on to another downward staircase.
Sara sighed. Had they really ascended so far? Or was she now creating a trap for herself - propelling herself willingly, perhaps, into the wizard's dungeon?
It was disturbing. Yet Sara was pragmatic about such things. She might as well go forward as back: and down she went. Once more, she felt like she was spiralling two floors down. She had no way of telling exactly.
Once more, the stairs exited through a door that led into a circular chamber. Once more, four doors led in - or out - depending on your point of view.
This time, though, disaster struck. As she stepped into the centre of the room, the door behind her swung shut. Sara whirled around, not fast enough. She sensed, even before she tried to turn the handle, that it was now locked fast. She was right. For a minute she heaved and panted, trying desperately to push open the solid wooden door, before giving up and turning to face the door opposite.
No matter, she told herself. They weren't ALL locked before. She strode across the room and twisted a second handle, only to find it as immoveable as the first.
Then came disaster number two.
As she stood, once more, contemplating her options, she heard a slight noise behind the third door - the one, that is, that was on her left when she entered the chamber. Had she imagined it?
No. There was definitely a footfall outside the door. Now the sound of a key in the lock: the squeaking of tumblers in need of oil; and the handle was starting to turn.
Only one thing for it. Door number four. It must be... it had to be... open, she prayed silently to herself.
So it was.
And blessedly noiseless in the opening of it, too.
With the merest fraction of a second to spare, she pulled the door to behind her: placed one eye to the keyhole; just in time to spy the wizard entering the chamber and stride into the middle of it.
Where he paused. And bent down. Smiled. And picked up a small rectangular object. A box, wrapped up in pink paper and bound round with a red ribbon, tied off neatly in a bow in the middle.
Sara cursed her stupidity. In her efforts to escape the chamber, she had put down her gift: and when the wizard arrived, she had been in too much of a panic to retrieve it. He must know that she had been this way. Even if he had given her permission to leave, she had no idea what he might do if he found her still wandering around his property. She had no desire to find out.
He was going to find her now. He had only to take a half dozen steps forward and open the door to find her.
In her panic, she hadn't yet examined the room into which she had fallen. Perhaps she could hide herself in it.
Turning away from the door - it took some effort to turn her back on where she knew the wizard to be - she almost gasped out loud. This room was beautiful. Amazing. Wonderful. She didn't have words to describe it. How could she possibly not have noticed before?
A room full of light.
Not quite circular, like the chamber she had just emerged from: in truth, six-sided, hexagonal. Slightly smaller: six or seven paces, perhaps, from side to side.
And filled from wall to ceiling with glass and crystal. A motley of mirrors covered each wall. Not single, plain mirrors. That would be too coarse. A myriad of multi-faceted mirrors, reflecting Sara back at herself, and reflecting reflections of Sara back again from a thousand different points around the room. Even the door, she saw now, was mirror coated.
If she focused on one small mirror, she could see herself, very small, as though at a great distance. If she took in a whole wall, she saw herself again, reflected back at herself in tiny fragments.
Move - and her image moved with her, like a wave, rippling across the sand.
At intervals between the mirrors, candles flickered a bright yellow light back at her. So not only could Sara see herself moving: she could also feel the light flicker and shimmer back at her. With the least draught the candle light bent and changed direction. Her image altered its shape. The play of light and image shimmered around her.
Above her, too.
For the ceiling was mirrored as well.
From its centre hung a great crystal chandelier. A hundred candles, maybe more, flickered there. Each light bounced back from the ceiling and refracted through a dozen crystal pendants before it mingled with the light below and started its own merry dance around the walls.
Sara stood entranced, her back to the door.
For the moment, all thought of her own danger was gone.
Never had she experienced anything like this. Never again, she thought, would she experience this. If she was to be confined to the dreariness of village life hereafter, for now she would drink in the light: fill herself with it.
According to some philosophers, Beauty was just an abstract concept. Sara knew better. As long as she could, she would stay and drink it in. Beauty. As solid and sustaining as fresh spring water in the middle of a hot and dusty summer's day.
The light filled her with joy. To her astonishment, it excited her, too. The merest tingling across the surface of her skin told her so.
She stepped forward. The further into the room, the better it was. The more she was central, the more the patterns seemed to play with one another, swooping and soaring and blending, one with the other.
Another step. Stood, now, at the very centre of the light, she felt different sensations sweeping through her. Joy, yes. Excitement. Even more so. To her embarrassment, she sensed her nipples pop up and rub gently against the fabric of her dress. If she brushed one hand downward...just....so... if she pressed down at the point where her dress gathered itself in just below her waist, she felt little hot shivers dancing up and down her skin. Beneath her dress, she was velvety warm, wet....ever so comfortably turned on.
She felt the tightness of her bodice pressing in on her ample bosom, gathering up her breasts, pushing them up and out. She enjoyed the feeling it gave her: a feeling of sexiness and of being attractive. With breasts like these - firm, rounded, desirable - she would be the centre of attention at any Ball.
So good. Although....Sara paused for thought. She didn't really have large breasts. She was tall, a little on the skinny side. Not unattractive. But she didn't look the way she was feeling right now.
She pushed her shoulders back and lifted her head. The mirror-Sara gave the lie to her self-image: for the Sara that looked back at her, she could see now, was more than well provided for in that area.
Was it only illusion? It didn't appear so. She looked like she had breasts. She felt like she had breasts. Raising her arms to her chest, she kneaded her two beautiful fleshy mounds, enjoying the sensations that action sent sweeping down her body, luxuriating in the sheer knowledge of her own desireability.
She definitely liked her image.
She loved the way she looked under this light, reflected back from a thousand mirrors. She would see what pose showed her off best.
Hands on hips.
That looked good: perhaps a little too assertive.
One hand on her right hip. Just lightly resting there. The other hand raised up and stopped behind her neck.
That was better. Assertive and yet demure at one and the same time.
How had she not noticed before? The body of her dress was so much tighter than she had intended.
She felt it now, squeezing her waist and firming her tummy. That felt good: and in the mirror, it looked good.
But underneath: that same tightness seemed to be pushing upward, flattening her lips and pressing delicately against her clit. It couldn't possibly have been that tight before. She would have noticed.
Sara nearly swooned from the pleasure of it. As she tried to step forward, the tightness of the material became all too apparent. Her clit was completely surrounded: controlled and subject to pleasure. It was an awful sensation; a wonderful feeling.
Moving - any movement - was so nearly impossible. Because the slightest movement sent her tottering to the edge of orgasm which, for some reason, she knew was not presently possible.
An image of the wizard flitted briefly across her mind. Of course: mustn't come, or he will hear!
'Shhh!', she shooshed herself soundlessly.
Best just to stand and wait until he goes. Best to stand and wait and admire the way I look. Because I AM so beautiful.
Sara stood quite still, admiring the way she looked. Her body was just perfect: slim, elegant, doll-like almost. A thin waist and boyish hips, topped by a pair of well-rounded breasts.
Her dress, she saw now, was the most perfect dress for showing her off.... The top half clung to her body and hugged her figure. The skirt, all scrunched up, came out from her body - was that the way it had been before? Sara couldn't remember - like a ballerina's costume. So the remainder of the dress hugged below the waist as tightly, if not more so, than the bodice did above. Lovely. Lovely.
She could stand all day and watch herself in the mirror. Although: she must be imagining; it couldn't be THAT tight; surely she couldn't really see the outline of her pussy, her nether lips, pressing through the material down there.
She shivered. It certainly felt that way. A little twist of her hips was all it took to send her scuttering once again to the brink of orgasm.
Remember: Not allowed.
Sara shook her head and continued to fall in love with her reflection.
She looked so perfect in pink. Perfect pink, with a perfect red ribbon, tied, sash-like, around her waist and fastened in a bow at the back.
(Had she really put on pink to come out tonight? Vaguely, a memory of something darker and so much less elegant stirred in the depths of her mind. But it was pink now - and that was good enough... perfect enough....for her. The independent thought subsided.)
And her pose. That was pretty perfect too. Almost. She liked the way she stood so straight and proud, looking herself in the eye. That was a good sign: the sign of a woman in control. Her hands. They were right, too. Standing like that was just perfect for showing off her breasts: showing off her perfect breasts to prove to all who passed what a beautiful figure she had.
They were so lovely and smooth. Doll-like. Sara paused. The second time she had thought that. Why?
Because that is what they look like. Smooth. Held neatly in place, nipples nicely smoothed down so as not to spoil the perfect symmetry of an ideal figure.
Just like below. Where the pattern of her cunt that had been pressing through the material of her dress and spoiling the smoothness of it all had now vanished. She felt smooth. Perfectly smooth all over.
Especially down there. Her labia had always felt so coarse. So inelegant. How could one be a proper, perfect lady with sexual equipment that looked like THAT?
Almost, almost, almost perfect. There was just one more thing to do.
If she stood up on tiptoe. Like this. And drew one foot across the front of the other leg...
She looked even taller, more elegant than before.
To balance: she needed only to rest back lightly against the metal pole, so conveniently positioned in the centre of the room. She hadn't noticed that before. Of course, she had had other things to notice instead.
She looked good: she felt good.
Resting back like this, she could hold her pose for hours if she had to.
She would try to hold her pose. If she could only be beautiful for a while, she would hold on to it for as long as she could.
Behind her, Sara sensed movement. A slight draught, as though someone had opened the door and entered the room.
He must not see her.
If she stood perfectly still, held her position rigidly as long as he was there, he would not notice. He was looking for her. She would fool him.
The draught set the crystal in the chandelier tinkling. Yet more beauty! Sara listened to it with half an ear. A part of her was still fearful: another part was confident, now, that so long as she stood absolutely still he could not find her.
The music, she knew, was part of that same process. So long as there was music and so long as she stood there, being perfect, he could not see her.
And if she joined with the music? Why, she would be totally, perfectly invisible to him.
For a moment more she listened to it, letting it fill her with its soft irregular cadence. It flowed through her, becoming one with herself and the light and the Beauty that filled the room. It moved her, quite literally.
As the music swayed first this way, then that, she felt an irresistible urge to move with it. To turn, ever so little, letting the light shift its patterns in time with the music.
Turn again, Sara. Leaning back on the pole, she swivelled a few more degrees. The arm on her hip jerked upward an inch or so. The one behind her head came down. She lifted the leg that was already raised. Another inch.
That felt delicious. Music and light and Sara moving together in perfect harmony.
Swivel. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. Swivel.
Slowly, deliberately, Sara turned around the room. A quarter. A half. Three quarters. Full circle. As she turned, she alternately raised one arm and lowered the other: raised one leg, until it was fully outstretched and she balanced impossibly on one toe.
She understood now how perfectly clever of her it had been to use the pole. Because she needed it - needed it inside her - to accomplish all she needed to do. It nestled cool, firm, hard inside her ass. That was a good place for it to be, since she had never much liked that part of her anatomy before
Swivel. Jerk. Je-erk. Je-e-e-rk.
She felt herself slowing down.
It was sad to slow down. She was less excited. Less joyful. It was the music going away. The chimes had ceased to swing. The tinkling was fading - and with that fading, Sara faded too.
Sw-i-i-i-i-vel. Je-e-e-. Stop.
Sara came to a halt and froze in mid-movement. Her arms were half way between hip and neck: her leg half extended.
Not perfect any more.
She felt blank, unable to think properly like this. Wizard was behind her. Wizard was opening something. A little box, wrapped in pink paper and red ribbon.
Wizard was taking something out of the box.
Sara could not see.
She only knew when he pressed it against her back, pushing it inside of her, where it fitted.
It was her key.
Her beautiful key.
She needed to be wound up. Else she didn't go.
Wizard started winding. Sara felt the life beginning to return to her limbs. No more sadness. She could hear the music: hear it tinkling merrily around her. She could feel the light. Once more, she needed to dance.
So she did.
Wizard stepped back. He smiled.
Sara had worked out well.
He watched for a few minutes as she went through her mechanical routine. Turning, turning, always to her left: bringing up first one arm; then the other. Raising and extending her leg. Then back again.
She had a good body. Almost beautiful. Her face was pretty too - although the slightly exaggerated doll features she now wore might not be to everyone's liking. Still, he liked deep red lips, plenty of rouge, and sharp, black eye-brows. It meant you knew were you were: could tell the difference between doll and human.
And Sara was definitely all doll.
He could tell that the position suited her. And since she needed winding just once a day, she was going to be his perfect, happy ballerina for many years to come.
He turned and walked back into the main chamber.
Of course, it could have been very different. Neither Jane nor Meg had had a chance. For them, his enchantments had been inevitable. But he had given Sara a chance. Stay inside the castle, and sooner or later, the spell would get her.
His present would simply seal it in. He smiled at the memory of Sara dancing mechanically, the key clicking away slowly in her back.
The irony of it was that a key can have more than one use.
It could be used, for example, to seal a spell.
But it could also be used to open doors.
It could, for example, have opened the other door to the chamber. The door that led outside his Palace walls and, after a brusque walk, back to the village.
If Sara had not been so careful: if she had dared to open his present; would she have figured it out.
Whatever will be, will be.
Che Sara, sara.
How incredibly apt.
And besides: she really does make the perfect ballerina.
Continued in Part 3...