A Winter’s Tale VII

03Oct14

bare bottom

Part I

The storm was bad. It was perhaps the worst storm Ivan could remember for the time of year. Not that it was any worse than those he had lived through over many a winter. But he did understand why many of the Prince’s men quailed in the face of it.

The rain fell almost horizontally and as they passed great trees bowed down to them as if in supplication for their plight. So low did the great branches swing at them that whips of birch lashed at them and after too long most of the men had to dismount and all but drag their horses along the paths through the trees.

“We must find shelter until the storm passes,” their captain bellowed.

Ivan nearly laughed at this until he saw most nodding and the grim chuckle died on his face.

Just then a sudden burst of wet wind sent several horses rearing and two men were dragged along in mud until they could gain control.

“There is a village near here, we will hold up there for a few hours,” the captain decisively announced.

With horses it made sense but Ivan could only think of Sofia and in any case he was no rider and knew they could make better time afoot. But it would do little to protest for most here stood higher than he and his word carried no weight.

*

The sky broke in great shouts of pain as rain-laden thunder tore through the dark clouds in protest. Sofia wondered if God had not sent the storm in his anger at her treatment, but if God was so angry why had he let her suffer so in the first place?

Not that she could see much of the sky. The room had two high windows and unless the sun shone on it directly it was almost as night in the chamber. Therefore she was only dimly aware of the bars facing the outer wall and had as yet had no idea what was beyond them in the gloom.

Also it was cold where she was, the stone floor was hard and she lay shivering in terror as she reassembled the pieces of her broken mind. They had given her but a single fur to hide what was left of her attire and she had struggled to know whether to cover herself or use it to soften the icy ground. So instead she curled in a ball on the floor staring at the windows, half under and half on the fur.

She had no idea where she was or how exactly she came here. She remembered only blood and crowing warriors standing around the body of her husband. Then had come hard fast riding through close razor trees, much of it bundled under a sheet and all of it bruising to body and soul. By the time she had been dragged through the castle gates she had been half conscious and certain that she would die.

But they hadn’t killed her, not yet. They had merely stripped her outer clothes and anything of value and thrown her in this chamber. If they meant to kill her why would they have taken her? For a second she stopped mid shiver and set her eyes wide and alert. It was but a pause in her chill-trembling huddle but she took comfort from it and began to strain her gaze to the room.

There was a jug of what she presumed was water to the right of the windows and in the corner facing it was a privy with a narrow chute to the outside. She knew the kind and although there were many grim tales of smelly escapes through drains, she knew there would be no succour there, even for one as small as her.

So instead she sat up and studied the bars. She could see now that the room was an open cell with one wall that was all bars opening out onto another as unlit area. Not a cell for a Countess, still less for one that was a daughter of a prince, but yet here she was. Did they know who she was and what her father would pay as a ransom?

What would he pay, she wondered? After all she was no longer his concern and even if she had been, she had been a disappointment and a runaway. She hardly thought he would rouse his warriors on her account. But perhaps that was not her captor’s business then?

Sofia hugged the fur tight and refused that train of thought.

Outside the storm had eased somewhat and although the light was still a dim bluish grey, the sound had settled down to a hard rush of a million droplets tumbling over stones. It was the kind of heavy rain that cut the dust and gave off a bitter odour. Sofia crinkled her nose. She smelt none too good herself and lamented the amount of water so close at hand when she had no bath.

*

Ivan had opted for leaving the horse and trudging onwards through the rain. At least he was again his own master and the paths he took through the forest led efficiently towards his quarry. He did not dwell on the fact that his quarry was no more than his captain’s guess. It was his earnest prayer that the Prince had fared better and had had the right of it. He also doubted that Prince Molotov would have been deterred by a little rain. Ivan grinned. Water fell like God’s piss and had the ground not been well-drained he would have been wading waist deep in mud. He had been hard on his comrades, the devil curse them, this was no small rain.

But still he strode out, one leg lunging ahead of the other by sheer force of will. Mile after mile he went scarcely looking up as he scanned the rising ground for a sure footing as he picked his way through the trees to the top of a long slow ridge.

He knew that out in the open where the horses were most useful there was no shelter and men would be huddled around fires drinking mulled ale and vodka from flasks. For a moment he envied them and cursed his stubbornness. He would be still scouring the forest days after the issue was settled at this rate. Then he thought again on Sofia and his hand gripped his sword hilt. His steps fell a little lighter then and he pressed on.

Ten minutes later he crested the hill in triumph. From the top he saw no great fortress or bandit camp. Instead, bellow the ridge was another line of trees rising to yet another; a day’s stride encompassed in a single gaze. Well what did he expect? Then with a grunt he took another step.

*

The rain fell more gently now and the light from the windows penetrated the gloom. Not that she saw much more grounds for hope. The only thing she had missed was a hunk of rye bread next to the water jug and that didn’t look worth the gaze.

But perhaps because of the softer rain, or because it had not been there before, she now heard the sound of iron and boots on hard floors. As she listened she was sure it was coming nearer and despite herself she huddled back into the fur like a frightened child. She prayed then to God, muttering familiar words under breath as she asked for help and daddy and… her lip trembled and tears came… and Ivan.

The chains were distinctly audible and something else… there were tears that were not her own which she could clearly hear above the sound of tramping boots. But why would men in boots be weeping? She pondered it in her befuddled mind and listened at the sound as it drew ever nearer, more curious now than afraid.

Under the tramping and chains and above the gentle sobbing was a slapping sound like… she thought of fish flapping on wet stones by the river and of the steady applause in an alehouse. No it was not that. It was the sound of bare feet on stone.

Just then light swept the chamber beyond the bars and a large hairy fur-clad Cossack strode into the room carrying a flaming torch. In his wake came a line of huddled naked women all walking at a hunch and cowering in chains. Sofia could see them clearly now. None of them were old and most of them were very young. And only from their hair could Sofia glean some idea of their rank. Although she knew at a glance that most of the women were peasants, some Sofia could tell, must have been higher servants or even rystar’s wives.

Victims of a raid then, but what use were they for ransom?

As Sofia watched she saw a woman of 20 or so dragged half resisting from the line, her legs buckling as she dug in her heels and she tugged on a chain that held at the wrists. It was a brief resistance and the willowy blonde was soon pulled forward and thrown face down over a barrel-like affair that stood against the wall. The device had only come into a view with the light of the torches and Sofia could now see other odd contraptions and racks of knouts there. There were even pokers and iron brands on hand, but mercifully there was no brazier lit for these. But the knouts and whips were fearful enough.

The blonde was now bent double over the barrel with her pale bare bottom glistening in the torchlight as a Cossack moved behind her with a stout birch rod braced in his fists. The girl was more stoical than Sofia would have been and even from her place in her cage huddled under the fur the newly widowed countess could hear the naked woman’s tight breath.

A moment later the birch lashed down with hissing crack that landed with a sharp thwack upon the girl’s bottom. Only her fellows squealed, no doubt knowing they were next, because despite the sudden rash of angry red that now marred the blonde’s bare behind the blonde made no sound.

Thrice more the birch lashed down and only then did the birch-wielding Cossack become frustrated at the woman’s stoicism. So in a rage he thrashed his arm more than dozen times in a frenzy until the girl made a scream.

Sofia remembered Ivan’s words and how his cousins and sisters had been thrashed a thousand lashes at times and she feared the worst for the girl. But within a half a minute the Cossack seemed satisfied and pulled the girl up with her hair and sent her staggering towards the end of the chamber. Although her bottom was grazed and raw, Sofia knew that even she had had worse and she relaxed a little. The scene might even be called fun if she hadn’t been so afraid. An unworthy thought soon supressed as another woman was hauled forward for the same treatment.

This girl was older, perhaps 30 or so and already she carried pockmarks on her thighs and her belly was a little sagging as if she might have been a mother. She too took her thrashing well but had the sense to cry out at each biting stroke and was let up after perhaps only two dozen.

And so it when on, 20 in all Sofia counted, one after the other bent over and soundly birched. Then without a word of anger the Cossacks shoved at the last of the women and left.

For a long moment Sofia waited as the women sniffed and sobbed to themselves huddled in the half-light. Then seeing the second woman standing to comfort one of the other girls she decide to speak.

“Hey you,” Sofia hissed, “Who are you?”

The woman wheeled around and immediately curtseyed. She knew nobility when she heard it.

“I am Anya Ma’am, from the Village of Ansk,” she answered, again incongruously dipping at the knees and averting her eyes. “There was a raid and we…. we… the men are all dead,” she almost sobbed.

Then the woman shrugged.

“We will be fine, after all we are just serfs,” she said bitterly, “We will be sold to a new lord. Our lives will not change so much. But my lady, who are you? What are you doing here?”

Anya found the courage to look up now and regarded Sofia quizzically.

“I am Sofia M… Countess Dvorsky, my husband too is dead,” Sofia replied.

Anya shrugged.

“Where are we?” Sofia asked.

“Who knows? The Cossacks frequently take captives in these lands; if you are truly a Countess then they will seek a ransom. Did they use you?” Anya sniffed.

She sounded bored now and was rubbing idly at her bottom.

“Use me?” Sofia frowned and then she realised and shook her head.

“Then you have some value. Lucky you,” Anya sighed.

*

Ivan had slept in the hollow of an old tree and was as stiff as old bear skins. But at least the rain had stopped and with greater visibility he had made better time. His comrades would be on the move again, although how they would find Sofia in this dense forest was beginning to trouble him.

Ahead of him lay yet another ridge of dense trees. He didn’t need to ask God what lay beyond it.

“Maybe I have died and this is hell eh Lord,” he chuckled. “Is this the endless toil of hell, wall after wall of trees? Well lord this is had been my life and there is no forest on earth that can best Ivan Ivanov.”

However, after two days of thick undergrowth the going at least had become easier, as if perhaps a village lay nearby. But all the same the narrow path wound crossways to the slope so that for half an hour Ivan had to zig-zag back and forth to gain the top of the next ridge.

From the top he just knew there would be another vista of trees, but he cared not. Bring it on, he said inwardly as he placed one foot soundly before the other.

Finally he reached the summit and even he had to pause to lean on a stout tree overhanging the valley; a small victory in all his travails. But as he looked up it was not another sea of trees that he saw but a ruined castle which still stood at three sides still containing intact towers. Before this upon some open ground were two dozen tents and many campfires.

“Cossacks,” Ivan cursed and dropped to a crouch.

But although he had no logical reason for hope his heart soared. If there was a God in heaven then he had guided Ivan here, he prayed. No there could not be two groups of raiders in these parts, not bearing banners of the Count of Kern.

To be continued.



2 Responses to “A Winter’s Tale VII”

  1. What a treat to visit and find not one but two installments of this tale! Sofia is certainly in a mess now. At least it is not her fault this time. She is lucky Ivan did not give up due to the storm but I fear he will have quite a task to get her out safely. I wonder why all the serf women were whipped upon entering the dungeon (other than for our reading pleasure)? To teach them to obey their new masters, perhaps? I am much looking forward to a daring rescue where Ivan is given some excuse to administer some more spankings on the journey home and hopefully a consumation of love for them before our story ends. Thank you so much for putting such thought and effort into this story!


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