A Winter’s Tale VI


nude in the forestPart I

The finger of morning sun pierced the small castle windows with a cascade of beams like an accusatory fingers, each landing in a pool of golden light at intervals along the passage floor marking Sofia’s passing like theatre illuminations on a stage. Even now she felt as if her behind had been polished raw with a grinding stone and the rounds of her bottom still throbbed and stung even though it was two days since her whipping at the hands of her father and Baroness Moskova.

Nor had the baroness spared her shame afterwards for no sooner had the birch rods stopped searing her tender curves than she had been sent to the corner for a good long cry with her bare bottom exposed while the door to the room had been left wide for the edification of any passing servant.

This penance was meant to confirm that far from being a pampered princess, she was just another naughty girl who had been spanked and sent to bed without supper. This last sanction had been yet another humiliating sufferance for the noblewoman, not that she had much of an appetite once the baroness was done with her.

Instead she had thrown herself face down on her bed while a maid dabbed wet cloths on the twin domes of her empurpled bottom as she had bawled noisily and without dignity into her pillow. Throughout this thoroughly shaming ordeal all she could think of was that she would never ever see Ivan again.

Such thoughts troubled her still and even now it was all she could do to put one foot in front of the other as she made her way down the passage having been summoned by her father.

“I may never sit down again,” Sofia sighed, but under her breath she muttered that she would have suffered a thousand such fates if Ivan so decreed.

Speaking thus aloud, even if softly, gave the words power as if she were invoking God in prayer, which in a way she was. She thought too of Ivan’s stories of the whippings his sisters and girl cousins got, a thousand biting lashes before the whole village for their shame. A harsh life, she thought, but one she would gladly share.

Then she found a smile. Perhaps it is the destiny of the women of Russia never to sit comfortably, she giggled at the thought. She thought too of the old proverb: never strike a woman’s face when God provides a better place. Perhaps a woman’s bottom is God’s decree that she should be whipped, Sofia pondered. She was willing to bet that Ivan thought so.

Further thoughts of Ivan brought a frown and she bit back a bitter tear. Then with another step the pain flared again in her bottom and she decided to save her tears for later, it looked as if she may need them if the baroness had her way.


“The Dvorsky family are an old and noble family,” her father was saying, “Above all they are loyal,” which was to say their loyalty was in question, knowing political speak like she did.

Sofia had eschewed the offered chair and was now standing dutifully before her father while he made what sounded like a speech. In due course no doubt he would get to the point but the state of Sofia’s bottom held her obedient for once and she inclined her head politely.

“The Count is not a young man but… nor is he old,” the Prince said evasively. “He served with my father as a boy and was still among the retinue when I came in to my father’s lands…”

Sofia risked a squeeze of her bottom under her skirts and winced at the contact.

“So I have decided that you and he shall marry…” her father continued.

Whatever else was said was lost in a faraway hubbub. Sofia neither knew nor cared about the details. But what had she expected, she had always known this day would come and once she would have been excited. Now all she could think of was Ivan.

“Sofia, attend,” her father barked, “Are you even listening to me?”

“Count Dvorsky is not a young man, but he is loyal,” Sofia said woodenly, “You are going to marry me to him,” she continued, “yes Father.”

“Yes well,” the Prince harrumphed, “It seems that a whipping did you some good after all.”

“Yes Father,” Sofia agreed dutifully.


The wedding was hastily arranged and consequently was a small event. Castle Molotov’s chapel could accommodate only 50 or so people and in any case given the speed of the affair most of the far flung family could not have arrived in time.

The highly ornate but rather gloomy chamber was not how Sofia had pictured the pivotal event of her life. In her drams she had thought of the cathedral in St Petersburg and a young prince or even an Arch-Duke or a future tsar. Less than a year before she would have been devastated to marry the ageing Count Dvorsky, but now it barely mattered, not really. The child in her had gone and what did she cared if she were given to a prince or a count, none of them would be Ivan? She was no fool, even elevated to the rank of rystar, the man she now knew she loved was far beneath her. That was just the way it was.

At least her father had made some effort for the big day. Even the priest had taken a bath, the thought of which made her giggle. She pictured the hirsute old man scowling as he viewed a steaming tub, perhaps his first such encountered since he had grown a beard.

Her own costume was garish to say the least, whoever had decided on wedding gowns had definitely had no taste. The headdress was a complete fright and sat on her head like the patriarch’s mitre. It cut into her brow as it tugged at her high piled hair, making it quite the most uncomfortable thing she had ever worn. The rest of the costume was scarcely much better. She particularly hated the way the heavy brocade parted at the back so that she had to stand and walk with an exaggerated care or else it would open up behind and shamefully expose her.

At least she had been allowed tight linen leggings against the cold, but they only partially aided her modesty. The material was so thin that her flesh shone pink from beneath and the slightest moisture upon it would leave all but transparent.

Still it was more than many peasant girls got and even some of her contemporaries were made to wear even more shaming attire. Sofia blushed at the thought of it. It was a peony complexion that did not leave her face right up to the altar.

Every girl knew the purpose of such attire. At her wedding she was supposed to present her bottom to her father’s whip for the last time and accept at least one lash before he gave the rod to her new husband.

Often this was just a ritual affair and very much a token but in Molotov lands it was sometimes carried out more earnestly. Sofia had seen peasant girls and even lower noblewomen whipped raw on the bare by both father and husband while friends and family looked on with approval.

She tried hard not to look at the whip in her father’s hand as he escorted her and instead fixed her eyes firmly on the old priest and the hunched grey man standing next to him. Oh Lord, is this your will? It was a miserable prayer and she tried to square it with her revelation in the forest. Surely that had meant something? Why show her that life and give her that shameful ordeal if she were not to profit from it?

Finally they reached the altar and the priest bowed to her father, then ignoring her presence both count and prince bowed to each other.

Sofia barely heard a word as the priest intoned the sacred words. Only when it was her turn to speak did she look up at all. Then her father stepped forward and in a daze she found herself bending to the whip.

As the back of her gown parted before a full chapel she felt almost as exposed as if she had been bare bottomed. Then in three quick swipes her father lashed her bottom and she had to grit her teeth. These were not just for show.

It seemed to take an age for the quirt to be passed to the count and she braced herself. Maybe he was man enough for her after all she hoped. But his strokes were feeble, just a token of force, and Sofia’s heart sank. So she was married.


Spring was not yet fully upon them and the road to the count’s home, her home, she amended, was not yet free of mud. Even in the winter they would have made better progress. The coach and four was a ridiculous way to travel the forest roads anyway and Sofia had suggested that they travel on horseback like the three outriders. But Count Dvorsky wouldn’t hear of it.

“My dear countess,” he said expansively, “I would not hear of it.”

For a moment she wondered whom he was addressing and then she remembered. She was no longer a Molotov, she was the new Countess Dvorsky. Damn the man, she thought as she saw him leering at her. Sofia doubted he would wait until they gained his stronghold before he claimed his marital rights. She pictured some sordid inn at the roadside while his men and a few peasants listened at the door cackling drunkenly.

She averted her eyes and instead tried to pick out deer and other beauties among the trees. Most of all she thought of Ivan, although to do so made her feel sick. Luckily the count took her evasion as modesty and smiled indulgently as he patted her knee. She cringed.

Neither of them saw from where the arrow came. They didn’t even quite believe the twang-thunk of it as it cut the rear outrider from his saddle. It did not help that the man hung for a moment in space before dropping with a heavy thud to the ground. By then two more arrows had skimmed the party, the third jutting hideously from the first outrider’s neck.

Although she hated herself for it, Sofia screamed and reached for the dagger that had been her companion since childhood. Of course it was not there, Ivan had it. She smiled sadly to herself, taking comfort in that. It would have availed her nothing in any case, she was quite sure of that.

Instead she prayed and watched the last of the outriders tumble into the mud. The count was standing up now and had managed to draw his sword. There was courage in his eyes and she took some comfort from this too but by now there were men in the woods on all sides.

She was strangely calm in the face of death. Then something fell hard against her and she half turned. The coach driver who had been sitting behind and above her up front was slumped backwards. His eyes were wide and staring sightlessly into the sky. From somewhere there was blood, but this time Sofia could see no arrow.

“My lord,” she screamed as she turned back to look for her husband, but he as gone. For a moment she feared he had left her but then she saw his inverted boot hanging over the side of the coach. She followed a leg down to his slumped body. Not consummated then, she thought wistfully as if it mattered, I wonder then if I am married.


Ivan hung back from the large group of men gathered in the courtyard of Castle Molotov. Even though he held the rank of rystar, he did not yet feel as if he was one of these men. Although if the truth were told, most of them were as ill-educated and as unkempt as he was. But more than that, they were here merely to do their duty at the Prince’s summons and instead of showing concern they laughed and swigged vodka as they waited for the prince.

Ivan for his part felt sick and it was all he could do not to set off at once. The trouble was, as yet little was known. Count Dvorsky and his men had been found dead, but of Sofia there was no sign. Also it was not yet known who had attacked the party.

At first glance it appeared to be the work of bandits, but although ready valuables were taken the count’s expensive clothes were left with him and no serious attempt had been made to ransack the carriage and the bodies. All this suggested that the purpose had been other than robbery and the thefts were either opportunistic or a crude attempt to cover the attackers tracks.

Ivan’s only immediate hope was that Sofia had been the target of a kidnapping and that this had something to do with Prince Molotov’s enemies. That would mean that she might yet be alive and the subject of a ransom. However, if the count’s murder had been the aim then taking Sofia had merely been another opportunistic act and… Ivan bit back a sob and stopped his mind drifting any further in that direction.

He looked around hastily in case anyone had seen his weakness but his fellow landsman and retainers of the prince were fully absorbed with their revelry and vodka. It was almost as if they had gathered for a day’s hunting.

It was another 20 minutes before the Prince came and the mood in the courtyard changed abruptly.

“Gentlemen,” the Prince growled, “We suspect the Kern, but we cannot rule out the Kelch or some other party. Count Borsky will lead a party to the Kelch lands and look for evidence while the rest of us will make for the Kern territory.”

Ivan stood straight and reached into his coat for Sofia’s dagger. Its solid presence comforted him Prince Molotov explained his response. The men with the best horses and arms would go with the Prince and ride directly on Castle Kern, they were told. While the others would skirt wider looking for a trail and taking in some of the outlaying Kern villages to see what they could find. Ivan was depressed to find that he was to be part of this second group and all his instincts told him to follow the prince to take immediate action. But the Prince was right, the best organised and faster men should mount an early assault rescue and men such as he, those with better woodsmen skills, should scout more widely.

No sooner had the prince stopped talking then all Castle Molotov broke into a commotion. Bells rang as men leaped onto horses and by the time Ivan had clawed his way clumsily into the saddle most had already rode hard into the woods leaving the former woodsman among the stragglers.

It pained him to admit it, but he was no match for men who had been born to the saddle and had trained for war all their lives. No the forest was his domain and he would make it work for him.

To be continued

3 Responses to “A Winter’s Tale VI”

  1. 1 Richard

    At first i thought this tale now i want too see ivan have his obvious lover

  2. Oh my.

  3. 3 Dave

    Hey! not a bad tale, looking forward to what happens next.

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