Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great: The sisters Natasha and Irina had been born serfs, property to the wealthy lords, destined to be worked to death on the fields. Yet Natasha and Irina had been lucky, for their talent at dancing caught the eye of the powerful Countess Rashkova, who made the girls part of her personal ballet company, to dance for the delectation of the wealthy and the powerful.
But life is dangerous in the ballet company of the Countess Rashkova, for even the slightest misstep is punished most harshly. And so Natasha and Irina find themselves thrown into a rat-infested cell deep beneath the elegant Palais Rashkov in St. Petersburg. But the dungeon is only the beginning, for the sadistic Countess Rashkova and her pet, the torturer Dimitri, are about to subject Natasha and Irina to the knout, that fiendish Russian whip whose caress was once considered a death sentence.
Warning: There is quite a bit of violence in this story, so sensitive readers should tread carefully.
Read an excerpt.
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Some background information:
- Under the Knout is a short story of 4600 words. As far as I know, this story is a digital premiere and has never been published anywhere else.
- That said, I wrote Under the Knout as a commission for Man’s Story 2, a magazine of spicy pulp fiction in the style of the men’s adventure mags of the 1960s to which I occasionally sold stories some years ago. I was even paid for the story, though I don’t think it was ever published, not unless my contributor’s copy got lost in the mail.
- The background of this story is that the editors of Man’s Story 2 sent me copy of a pseudo-factual article about tortured Russian dancers from a men’s adventure magazines of the 1960s and asked me if I could turn that into a story. I said I could and Under the Knout is the result. Seraglio, another story I originally wrote for Man’s Story 2, has a similar history.
- I call the article pseudo-factual, because actual facts were very rare in that sort of magazine. Most of the time, the writers were using a few basic facts and made up a story full of blood and guts and sex and naked flesh around them, regardless whether they were writing fiction or non-fiction.
- That said, the effects of a whipping with the knout are described accurately. If anything, the real thing was worse.
- There are more similarities between Seraglio and Under the Knout than just the fact that both were written as commissions for Man’s Story 2 magazine. Both also happen to feature two sisters enslaved by a sadistic master or mistress and their equally sadistic lieutenant.
- I was never quite happy with the ending of the original story, so I changed it to something more upbeat. However, the original bleak ending remains as an extra in the e-book edition, for those who prefer their fiction depressing.
- I also changed the title of the story. The story was originally entitled Dancing to the Crack of the Lash, but the original title was too long not to mention too melodramatic for my taste, so I changed it.
- The working title was “Whipped Russian dancing girls story”, by the way.
- The cover is a 19th century illustration of a certain Madame Lapouchin being whipped with a knout for her suspected involvement in a conspiracy against the Russian Empress Elizabeth. The unfortunate Madame Lapouchin was one of the very few women to survive a whipping with the knout.
- The original version of the cover, featuring the same illustration, but a different background, may be seen here.