A Winter’s Tale IX

22Oct14

winterPart I

Sofia strained to see down the dark dank tunnels. There was something there, something coming for her. All around there were naked women all smiling foolishly thinking they were saved and none of them would listen as she tried to tell them. Tried and failed, it was all she could do but point at something in the dark getting ever nearer. Then she screamed.

The dark exploded with light and Sofia sat-up with a start. She was bathed in sweat and the dread of the dream clung to her like the sticky sheets next to her flesh. Castle Molotov was altogether more airy than the dungeon and as light poured through the lattice glass the tan-coloured wood panels on the walls of her room glowed like gold and the myriad coloured mural above them seemed to come alive.

In her youth she had loved the hunting scene painted there and the deep green forest facing her four poster bed. To the left in the wall were flowers and the same forest as seen in spring and to the right, framing the heavy dark wood door, it was perpetual autumn, where darker brown and gold trees occluded stags at bay and more mythical creatures like unicorns peeking out from the undergrowth.

She was home she realised with a sigh.

Sofia lay back to stretch out like a cat and gazed up at the green velvet canopy draping her bed, as she did so she saw the fourth forest scene on the wall behind her bed where the window was set. This was a winter scene and fur-clad men trudged through snow or laughed at camp fires.

She thought for a moment of the Cossacks and shuddered, but these hunters were smiling like… Ivan. Sofia sat-up and shook herself fully awake. By the time her feet had touched the cool hard wood of the floor she was naked and shucking off the linen nightdress like another dream.

She would have preferred hunting clothes as she had worn the day she had first encountered him, but the maids had left out only a matron’s gown in black brocade silk with a grim headdress. Why black, she thought idly, did someone die? Her thoughts went to Ivan and then her father. There had been a mighty battle hadn’t there?

But her father had carried her home and although they had not spoken, Ivan too had been at her side with his sword as if daring the world to attack them. Then she remembered. Her husband had been killed right in front of her. She felt ashamed. He was her lawful husband and he had died defending her. She had no right to think of Ivan. I should be whipped, she thought earnestly, but a vision of Ivan and his spanking hand burst into her mind and she blushed.

“I really need to be whipped,” she sighed.

“What was that my lady?” said a maid as she slipped expertly and quietly into the room.

The woman was around 30 with dark blonde hair coiled tightly around her head and she carried herself with the heavy health of good peasant stock. She must have loitered without for hours waiting for Sofia to stir.

Sofia considered repeating herself and accept the shame as a kind of punishment by itself, but instead she stood up straight and raised her arms so that the maid could pull the first layer of her many underclothes over her head.

*

When Sofia finally made her way downstairs breakfast had long been abandoned, although the maid had insisted that she take something from the tray before she was allowed to make her way to the great hall.

“Your father…” the maid said anxiously.

Sofia had nodded and had quickly dunked a hunk of rye bread into some cabbage soup and eaten it on the hoof. By the time she reached the stairs she was swallowing down the last mouthful and steeling herself for a meeting with her father.

There was a fire in the grate to ward off the cold and her father stood over it rubbing his hands in its glow. He didn’t even turn as she entered and she had to cross the room before he even acknowledged her.

“Father I…”

He nodded and looked faintly embarrassed. For days he had thrown all decorum and prudence to the wind and torn away the forest to find her. But now the old order must be restored and reckless displays of emotion had to be shunned.

“Thank you my lord,” she whispered.

“Pity about that husband of yours,” the prince shrugged, “It will be hard to find another suitable nobleman who will take you.”

“Yes, a great pity,” Sofia said absently.

She could not mourn a man she did not love but all the same he had married her and died for her in good faith, surely he deserved more than… but that was the way of things and not worth dwelling upon.

“I could always marry you to that peasant who saved you,” the Prince chuckled.

“Peasant?” Sofia felt her heart catch in her throat.

“Oh you know that… rystar I promoted, the one that saved you last time.” Her father sounded dismissive but in truth he studied his daughter carefully from the corner of his eye.

“Why not?” she replied sounding equally dismissive, “I mean he is at least a noble now and he deserves some kind of reward.”

The room was still now and Sofia was acutely aware of the breeze from the window and how the morning sun played on the polished black lead of the frames. She could see where the floral detail in the stone around the sill was worn and needed attending to. She couldn’t remember ever even noticing the pattern before.

The fire crackled in sharp cutting sounds as flames danced in coils extending towards her father’s fingers as he warmed his hands. They were hands of a god who held her life more surely than any Cossack slaver.

“The women we captured with you…” the Prince said casually, “Some of them have been offered husbands among my men and a few jobs here at the castle. You see fortunes rise and fall and things can change.”

“That is good father,” Sofia said in a dead voice.

“Oh and that rystar, Ivan Ivanov Illyich, he did put on a good show, saved the day probably,” the Prince shrugged, “I’ll find him some reward for his services as you suggest, but I hardly thinks he rates a dowager countess.”

“No I suppose not,” Sofia said softly, “But…”

“Yes,” the Prince said sharply.

Sofia swallowed and bit back a sob.

“May I not… not marry who I want now?” she whispered.

“No,” her father said sharply. Then to forestall any further debate he held up a hand and bellowed for the concierge.

The man who entered wore a clean smock over loose fitting trousers and beard you could hide a bird’s nest in.

“Bring in Rytar Illyich,” the Prince sighed, and then to Sofia he said, “Let’s get this over with.”

Sofia lost all composure now and clasping both hands she brought them to her face to chew at the back of her thumbs.

Ivan strode into the room like a bear walking upright; his sable coat too adding to the look, although his beard was now trimmed and worn close to his face in courtly style. His face bore no emotion and he looked at neither Sofia, nor really at the Prince to whom he bowed at the prescribed eight paces before him.

“Are Illyich,” the Prince said warmly, “That’s more like it,” he said admiring the man’s new clothes, “All you need now is to learn to read and you could be a courtier.”

“I read well enough lord,” Ivan said with another bow.

Prince Molotov shot a glance at his ashen faced daughter and pursed his lips. “Better than most rystar who serve me then,” he said thoughtfully. “No matter, I owe you some reward I think.”

“I am in your service lord and did no more than my duty,” Ivan bowed again as was the fashion, his eyes fixed firmly staring into space.

“Still… I am minded to make you a baron and double your lands,” the Prince yawned, “especially since you can read. After your current service to me I can use a man like you.”

“I would be honoured my lord,” Ivan said carefully.

This time he didn’t bow.

“But my daughter has another suggestion,” the Prince said in a bored voice and then he laughed as if making a joke. “She thinks you might take her hand instead.”

Ivan slowly swivelled his gaze right as if seeing Sofia for the first time. Her eyes were pooled with tears and she stood as white as fine oriental porcelain and twice as likely to break. He felt sick, like a starving man offered bread who knew it would be snatched away if he reached for it.

“Indeed Lord,” he replied, his throat closing on itself like a collapsing leather bag.

God I would… anything great father if… if… Ivan let his gaze fall softly over the small pale girl standing so near. Her white skin shone in contrast to her raven hair making her seem ghostly in her black brocade gown. The only detectable colour was in her eyes, which were sapphire blue and seemed to plead with the universe for something.

“So let me play at Solomon,” Prince Molotov said heartedly. “I can make you a Baron with new lands or you can stay a rystar, little better than a kulak, and marry my daughter.”

Ivan tore his gaze from his love and allowed a smile.

“Suits me my lord,” he said evenly.

He expected a dozen guards to swarm him for his audacity and strived not to flinch. This was a dangerous game he now played.

Sofia didn’t wait. She exploded with joy and rushed the great bear of a man as if storming a castle.

“You understand that if you make this choice you will spend your life scrubbing floors and I could scarcely welcome such a lowborn one’s wife into this castle,” the Prince’s voice sounded dead.

Sofia looked from Ivan to her father and groaned. Not the petulant sound of her childhood or the brat she could be, but the groan of a woman dying, one last breath of her old life.

“I understand father,” she said firmly.

The prince nodded.

“Do you take this woman and leave?” he said to Ivan.

“Now there is nothing that could stop me,” Ivan growled, deliberately omitting the word lord.

“Sofia?” her father whispered. He was as if one grieving.

She nodded and then said “Yes My Lord.”

“Then so be it,” Prince Molotov agreed.

Before the couple could embrace again he snapped his hands twice in a clap and bellowed with a laugh.

“You think I would have my daughter marry a rystar or some lowly baron,” he roared, “Besides, a peasant who can read is no peasant, so you might as well be a Count.”

Sofia gaped and Ivan grasped his sword as if ready for a fight.

“Father…?” Sofia whispered.

The Prince smiled and stepped forward now to embrace her. Then taking her hand he passed it to Ivan.

“I had to be sure,” he said and kissed her forehead.

Now it was Ivan’s turn to gape.

“Well man, kiss her you oaf,” the Prince roared, but Sofia had already been lifted off her feet and into a great bear hug.

Then the two lovers kissed.

To be continued.



9 Responses to “A Winter’s Tale IX”

  1. 1 Jon

    Excellent. Simply excellent. Jon

  2. 3 Raffe

    Oh, it looks like this is comming to the end shortly and no spanking again. I would miss Sofia’s mischiefs.

  3. 5 DC

    I absolutely love this story!

  4. Love! This is my favorite story!

  5. 9 saram

    Yay!!


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