Down, down the Lady goes, into the deepest part of the dungeon. Her page walks before her with a torch to light their way, as there are no windows here.
She stands outside the cell where Jeanne is kept, and holds a perfumed handkerchief to her nose and recites prayers as the guard dunks Jeanne into a trough, again and again. The peasant witch coughs and sputters each time, and she shakes with cold, but each time she meets the Lady's eyes her gaze is clear-eyed and proud.
Why will she not learn her place? As God had decreed that all men are to serve him, and all women are to serve men, so he had decreed that those of common blood were meant to bow to their betters. Such a life is not always an easy one, the Lady knows, but it is how the world was meant to be, and there is no joy to be had in subverting the laws of nature.
After the Lady loses track of the number of times Jeanne has gone under, and there is more water on the ground than in the trough, she calls a halt. She leaves Jeanne shivering in her soaked shift to learn some humility, locks the door with a key from her belt, and lets her page lead the way back into the light.
Scourge her body, the priest had said, until the light of God shines into her soul and teaches her meekness. The Lady remembers when her own mother had taught her meekness, with harsh words and slaps and hours on her knees in church. She knows her place now: below her Lord, above such witches as Jeanne, and she is better for it. The Lady has her pride, of course, but it is a pious pride appropriate to her station, and therefore one she is allowed to keep.
Down, down the Lady goes again, into the deepest part of the dungeon. Her page is with her still, with the torch to light their way.
There are flea bites on Jeanne's legs and feet, and likely more are covered by her shift, gray now with grime. Her hair is a tangled, lank mess around her. The Lady should order it shaved-- it would be cleaner, and a woman's hair is her pride, it would teach the witch some humility-- but when she thinks of her own hair being shorn she cannot help a shiver of reluctance to do give the order. The priest and her husband would chide her for her kind heart, she knows.
Yet despite her wretched state, despite the bruises and the shadows around her eyes, Jeanne's green gaze is still clear as she looks at the Lady. There is no humility there, only pride and anger. It's unnatural, and the Lady despises her for it.
“Will you give up your foolish pride?” asks the Lady. “Will you submit yourself to me and to the Lord? Will you beg for forgiveness? If so, you will be Saved.”
Jeanne's lips, purple with cold, draw back into something halfway between a smile and a snarl.
“But I did submit myself to you, Milady,” she answers. “Years ago, as a new bride, and you did not save me.”
The Lady wants to step back from the contempt in the witch's voice; she wants to step forward and slap Jeanne for speaking so rudely to her betters. She does neither, but holds herself still and silent and tall. There is nothing she has done for which she needs to feel shame.
“I had nothing but my pride and my love,” Jeanne continues, “and those were not enough for your lord, and so you gave my body to him and his men. As though my body was one of the cows he demanded. As though you were never once a young maiden in love.”
Had the Lady once been a young maiden in love? She supposes she must have been, for she can remember the feeling. But her body has never truly been her own; no woman's is, and a common woman's even less. The Lady had done Jeanne a favor in teaching her that.
“It was within my rights to do so,” says the Lady.
“My body and my pride were broken that night,” she says. “And my love was, too. I managed to repair them, and I will not let you break them again.” She stands, and this time the Lady does step back. “You and the others say I am a witch, but I was a woman once, and you, Milady, made me a witch.”
This time the Lady turns on her heel and stalks out of Jeanne's cell. She locks the door with a key from her belt, and lets her page light the way back to her realm.
All that night the Lady tosses and turns in anger. How dare that woman speak like that to her? How dare she presume to know her, and to judge her? It was clear Jeanne would never humble herself, and so it fell upon the Lady to humble her.
Down, down the Lady goes, again into the deepest part of the dungeon. Her page walks in front of her with a torch, though he often glances back at her in concern. She ignores him.
This time, she has requested a bath of warm water be brought to Jeanne's cell, along with strong soap and a scrubbing brush. Cold water is all Jeanne deserves, but the Lady shall be scourging the witch herself, and she has no love of discomfort.
She orders Jeanne stripped and then dismisses the guards. They balk, not wanting to leave their Lady alone with a witch, but she remains firm. Her page she orders outside the cell.
Once she is alone with Jeanne, the Lady removes her outer layer; it will only soak up water and make things more difficult. There is nowhere clean to place it, and for a moment she regrets asking her page to remain outside, but it would not be proper for him to see her as she is. She folds it and places it by the door.
Jeanne shivers next to the tub. She stares at the Lady, and the Lady thinks she looks uncertain for once.
“Get into the tub,” she orders. Jeanne hesitates for a moment, but the water is warmer than the air, and she clambers in stiffly. Even filthy and bitten and thin as she is, she is still lovely. No doubt the Devil's work.
The Lady picks up the soap and brush and begins to scrub at Jeanne's skin. There is no gentleness to the action; Jeanne squirms and winces as the bristles raise red welts and open flea bites. The Lady mutters prayers as she scrubs, shoving Jeanne roughly this way and that. Jeanne, for the most part, seems to be trying to pretend she is somewhere else.
The Lady's arms are tired; she is not used to this kind of work. But she has a duty, to cleanse the evil from this young woman, and so she shall do it. She scrubs and scrubs the skin in front of her, uncaring of the scratches and blood the brush leaves behind. She reaches Jeanne's thigh, and pauses for a moment. As she resumes her work, the Lady thinks.
She grabs the witch's far foot and drags it closer, working her way up Jeanne's leg. Jeanne slips and splutters in the water; the Lady pays her no heed, but continues to furiously scrub until she gets to the place between Jeanne's legs.
This, here, is the cause of all this trouble. Surely if there is a place that needs to be cleansed, this is it. And so the Lady drops the brush and forces two fingers into the witch's cunt.
Jeanne starts and cries out at the intrusion, raising her hands to push the Lady away from her. The Lady raises her other hand and slaps her.
“This is for your own good,” she says. “You must be scoured clean in the eyes of God. You say I am the reason for your pain? Then you cannot be upset that I am washing it from you.” Jeanne glares hot hatred at her, and the Lady continues. “Or, if you'd rather, I can call back the guards and they can take my place.”
Jeanne continues to glare, but lowers her arms back into the water, and the Lady continues. In and out she moves her fingers, pressing them as deep into Jeanne's cunt as she can, dragging her fingertips along the walls. She presses upward, and Jeanne's breath hitches. The Lady presses again, more firmly, and Jeanne clenches around her.
“Slut,” hisses the Lady, and works in a third finger. She wonders, with all the men Jeanne's had (including, if tales of witches were true, the Devil himself), she could take the Lady's entire hand.
But that would be unseemly. She twists her fingers inside Jeanne, hears her breath hitch once more, and pushes them as deep as she can. This time, Jeanne winces, and the Lady smiles.
“You are a peasant,” she tells the girl. “You have no need for pride. As your Lady, your body is mine to do with as I please, to give to my husband or not, as I see fit. God has designed the world this way: man over woman, nobility over peasantry, and there is no changing it. Accept this, and you will be free.”
“The world is broken,” Jeanne answers. “Every time I have tried to accept it as it is, I have been shown anew that it is broken. I shall keep my pride, Milady.” The last word said with as much venom as the witch can muster.
The Lady removes her fingers from Jeanne's cunt and slaps her again.
“You will humble yourself,” she snaps. “I will make sure of it.”
Part of her wishes to take up the brush and scour Jeanne's flesh anew, but her hands are cramping and her arms are sore, and so she stands, her knees used to kneeling on stone floors from her days in church.
“I will be back tomorrow, and we will continue,” says the Lady. She fetches her outer robe and shakes it out, drawing it close around her.
Jeanne rubs her cheek and spits.
The Lady purses her lips and exits the cell, calling for her page to light her way.
The next morning, Jeanne's cell is empty.