tagNonHumanSleeping Beast Ch. 01

Sleeping Beast Ch. 01

bySteffiOlsen©

REMINDER- I write long stories; some parts don't have naughty bits, but the parts that do will make more sense if you read the non-naughty bits, too. Also, I usually prefer the text to stand alone, but I'm cheating this time-- Zamok is Russian for "castle", dyevushka means "young lady", & Troitsa is pronounced troy-EETS-sah, with a long, sexy, rolling R. Thanks for reading!

--o----O----o--

Trinity shifted in her saddle and tossed her head, trying to free herself from the tangled curtain of hair obscuring her vision. The attempt failed, as had her last ten tries. She grimaced. The wind was coming from the south, and they were heading northwest, so the long dark strands had been tormenting her for hours now. If her hands weren't tied, she'd braid it and put her hood up against the coming night, too, but she doubted the men she was traveling with would allow it, even if she asked, which she wouldn't.

They didn't know she spoke their language, and she'd prefer to carry on that way. Trinity had discovered that by keeping her eyes down and her mouth closed, she could learn things that helped her stay alive and even occasionally out of pain. Since her new owners lived in an entirely different region, it wasn't expected that Trinity speak the native tongue. She'd learn eventually, was the thought, if anyone ever bothered to consider the question. It wasn't necessary for the master's whore to speak, after all.

At the last place she'd lived, she'd pretended to be all but deaf and dumb, and in that way, learned to avoid the master when he drank and the mistress when she didn't. It wasn't a difficult pretense, since she was an ethic slave, and they were known to be universally stupid. The tactic wasn't always successful, of course-- she'd been beaten scores of times in the four and a half years since her family was slaughtered, but she might have endured twice that many whippings if she hadn't been a good listener.

She shook her head again, tossing as much of the tangled mass toward her right side as possible, and keeping her face turned far to her left, hoping the wind would tug at least a few strands away from her eyes. It worked, though not well, and several minutes later her head was still turned. She was about to relax-- her neck was getting sore-- when a flash of white caught her attention. She turned to face forward and, moving only her eyes, peered up into the trees.

The taiga was beginning to thin as their path grew steeper. To her left, she'd been catching glimpses of endless slopes above them, distant meadows receding into the thick cloud cover which had dogged them since the beginning of their journey. The trail, such as it was, wound through high, rocky embankments on either side. They hadn't seen another person in two days, and the last fellow had warned them away from this route.

Her lackadaisical guards had mocked his somber warning. They didn't have the ladies and their fancy carriage bogging them down; by cutting through the mountain pass, they'd take five days off their journey.

"It won't snow again this year, old man," the oldest of the servants had announced, smiling at the caution.

The stable-keeper who'd given them fresh horses had eyed Trinity from head to toe, though most of her was covered by a heavy woolen cloak. "It ain't snow you hafta worry about up in them hills. You ought not to take the girl through there."

The warning had piqued their curiosity and they'd nagged the old ostler into a terse explanation. They'd left still laughing, Trinity in tow, looking over her shoulder at the old man, who stared after them, his eyes on her.

"A beast who steals maidens and takes them to wed!" the youngest servant had laughed as they rode away.

"No, no-- 'twas a demon, not a beast, Tom," the oldest one corrected jovially. "An' a white wolf for a pet!"

The fat one practically fell out of his saddle pointing at Trinity. "And she ain't no maid, neither! That demon won't want her!"

It was cold in the mountains, but they had food and blankets and daggers, and the men were neither superstitious nor foolish, they believed.

Keeping her head forward, Trinity scanned the rocky hillside and the twisted, dark trunks of the ancient forest for beast or demon... and she saw it again... a flash of white.

--o----O----o--

Trinity's first mistress had beaten her, because the master was fond of her. He used Trinity, of course, but he wasn't unkind-- the wife, on the other hand, took great pleasure in causing Trinity pain and humiliating her whenever possible.

Sometimes she'd have the servants toss her over a barrel out back and one of her husband's men would administer a cold clyster in the middle of the stable-yard. After she was made to squat in a corner and empty her bowels, they'd throw buckets of water over her while the mistress called her a filthy Mongol whore. Fortunately, the master found out and put a stop to the sport when Trinity was fifteen or so, but all the male servants had gotten a grope at her by then.

Trinity's life had gone back to being merely wretched until fifteen months prior, when the master had gotten her with child. The mistress called an old woman to come scrape the babe from her womb, and Trinity almost bled to death. She was so weak for so long, the mistress didn't even beat her. Or mayhap the mistress had been deterred by the beatings she herself received for causing the death of her husband's child. Eventually Trinity had recovered, and everyone but the master left her alone after that.

A sennight ago he'd left for business in Ufa, though, and the mistress had hauled Trinity rightaway to the barn. A couple of husky male servants had thrown her in a horse cart and made haste in the opposite direction from the master, with the mistress' old governess sitting up front.

After several stops, when one or the other of the men would dash inside whichever building was nigh, a rich-looking man had come out to stare at Trinity for a minute, then two ladies had come out of the same building. Trinity thought it might be a wayside stopping-place, because the man and the two ladies were too finely dressed for such a rough dwelling.

The governess climbed out of the cart and stood on one side while the ladies stood on the other asking questions about Trinity. How old was she? (18 or so, missus.) Was she slatternly? (No, she's a right neat wench, keeps her bed made and her dress clean.) Did she mix with the servants or dally with other men in the household? (Hardly talks to no one, missus, does what she's told and don't eat much, neither.)

The taller of the two rich ladies stared at Trinity for another long minute, then sighed, "Well, she's not much to look at, but I suppose he'll like her well enough."

As she turned away, she said to the other lady, "If she keeps the lummox out of my bed, I'll feed the little tart whatever she likes!"

"You mean Tartar, don't you?" the second lady jested, referring to Trinity's supposed ethnicity.

They laughed prettily, and a minute later, the well-dressed man came back out, gave the governess a clinking pouch of kopeks, and took Trinity from the cart.

For days now, she'd been riding north or northwest, bound for the tall lady's estate with three male servants. None of them touched her save to haul her off her horse, or to untie her wrists so she could see to feeding and caring for herself.

Trinity didn't mind.

"Lummox" didn't sound violent, her new mistress hadn't seemed as harsh as the old one, and maybe she'd get more to eat at the new place. Maybe she could even make a friend eventually, though that was doubtful. Respectable servants scorned the company of girls like Trinity. She sighed, watching for another flash of white, but it never came. Before nightfall, they were through the pass and bedded down on the slope leading down to her new home. Trinity pulled her hood over her eyes to block out the firelight, wrapped herself in her cloak and the thick woolen blanket they'd given her, and went to sleep.

No one noticed the wolf.

--o----O----o--

Half a mile above and two miles to the east, Argus stormed from the spiral staircase of the tower and down the long hall toward the castle kitchens, snarling curses heavenward. He was still swearing when he arrived.

Talgut barely flicked a glance in his direction, but Argus spoke as though he were answering the other man's question.

"He's gone! He went for another woman, and the damn wolves are out, so I can't even go after him."

He paced around the hearth, where Talgut sat stirring what looked like some kind of stew, though it smelled more like a swamp than a stew.

"He might be hunting, y'know. The last one's only been gone a fortnight. He ain't usually het up 'nuff to go after another yet."

Argus stopped for a moment, staring at the coals beneath the iron pot, then he began to pace again, without another word. He was still pacing an hour later when Talgut set the cooling cauldron in the spring room and went to bed.

The fire was nearly out when Argus woke. For a moment, he didn't move, but muffled thunking from the rear of the building brought him to his feet. From the darkness at the other end of the cavernous room, a giant emerged, a twisted, frightening thing with wild black fur, glowing eyes, and horns like those of a mouflon, the great wild sheep that roamed these mountains.

And a shapeless, wool-wrapped bundle thrown over its shoulder.

"Dammit, Nivid!" Argus cursed, turning away from the molten-eyed beast.

Wordlessly the thing followed his pool of lantern-light through spacious corridors to one of the few chambers still kept ready to receive guests. Argus lit the torches flanking the door before opening it and then the two facing into the room before setting the lantern on the hearth.

"Here," he said, approaching the beast with his arms extended.

Cradling the small form he'd seized, Argus stared up at the monster. "Can you at least give her a reprieve until the morrow?"

Nivid grunted, yawned, and left the room. As the beast began fading into somnolence, Argus grew clearer.

He listened as the clop of cloven hooves on the corridor's huge paving stones receded, finally lowering his bundle gently to the bed and backing away. "You're safe now, if you want to come out of there."

For a long moment, the blankets didn't move. Argus didn't either. He waited; he'd felt the tension running through the body in his arms as soon as Nivid handed her over. At last, the bundle shifted, the folds of wool moving in the gloom like a wide gray river rippling in the mist. When the figure sat up, Argus at first thought she was clad in another blanket, but a small hand emerged and pushed the hood away, revealing an olive-skinned face framed by a mass of tangled dark hair.

Argus' eyebrows rose. Their captive wasn't Russian.

After a quick glance around the chamber-- excepting his mother's elaborate tapestries, there was nothing much to see-- the bed, a wardrobe, a trunk, and a small table with two chairs near the cold hearth-- her eyes returned to Argus. She didn't speak. Nor did she cower. She ran her eyes over him and came to rest on his face, waiting for him to speak first.

Argus was surprised by more than the girl's ethnicity. Usually a woman was off the other side and curled in a corner by now, or scrambling beneath the bed. This little dark-eyed wench just sat, staring balefully as she waited for an explanation.

"Dyevushka," Argus half-bowed, using the polite title to address her. "I beg your pardon for the precipitous nature of your arrival, but I bid you welcome to Zamok Denova."

Trinity had everything she could do not to snort aloud at the man's temerity. Precipitous arrival indeed. She'd woken surrounded by a pack of snarling wolves, seconds before being snatched from the ground by a giant and carried here over his shoulder in the dark of night. She might be a slave, but polite titles and pretty words wouldn't dull her wits.

She stared at him, wondering whether she should pretend not to understand. He'd risen from his bow and was waiting patiently for her response. He was very handsome. His light brown hair was long, silky, and loosely clubbed, and he was clean-shaven, though his squarish jaw sported a late-day frosting of blond stubble. He wore a plain, white tunic of homespun cloth, dark trousers, and high leather boots. Nothing fancy nor even fine, but he had the look of a prince, and it had nothing to do with their sumptuous surroundings.

Trinity sighed. She didn't think her linguistic abilities would matter to someone used to making off with uncooperative women. She pushed the snarls away from her forehead and swung her feet off the bed, meeting the prince's eyes. "Where am I? Not the name of your domicile-- the land."

Argus started at the tone of her voice. It was low and quiet, not a hint of hysteria about it, yet the girl looked like just that-- a girl. In his rather extensive experience, she should have been cowering and weeping.

" 'Tis Nogai doroga, dyevushka. Two days south and east of Ufa." He frowned, unaware that he did so. "Did you not know this as you traversed the pass below?"

"I wasn't traversing the pass by choice. My escorts told me naught." She wiggled her bottom off the bed and wrapped her cloak more tightly about her, eyeing the hearth as she tried to cover the joy thundering through her veins. The skies had been gray all week, and she hadn't been positive which direction they were headed. Knowing she was on the western Steppes again made her heart soar, whether or not she still had a home here. She tamped down her overly emotional response. "Why have I been detained?"

The change in topic tore his mind from his study of her person, and he suddenly realized he'd missed a vital bit of their introduction. "Pardon." He bowed again, a more formal gesture this time. "I am Argus Denova."

Trinity only hesitated a moment before curtsying in return, though no one had ever greeted her so formally. "Trinity, kapitan." She gave her name in Russian-- Troitsa-- since it wasn't her real name, anyway, but one the foreign slavers had given her, and she granted him the rank to emphasize their circumstance, quite rudely, too. She didn't offer the usual platitudes.

When she lifted her eyes to his, she repeated her query. "Why am I here?"

It was Argus' turn to sigh. No matter how many times he performed the same distasteful duty, his explanations never became easier to deliver. He supposed it was a good thing he'd managed to hold onto that ounce of humanity through all the horrors.

--o----O----o--

He gestured toward the table at the hearth. "Would you care to sit, while I light a fire to warm the room?"

She kept the woolen blanket wrapped around her shoulders as she watched him set spark to the tinder and tend the first glowing licks of flame, before joining her at the small table. "Would you like wine, or perhaps a--"

She shook her head briskly.

He sighed again. "Did you see who brought you here?"

Trinity shook her head again. Her captor was very large, she knew that much from the glimpses she'd gotten of the faraway ground through the folds of blanket swaddling her head as she was transported swiftly upward over the rugged mountainside.

Argus studied his hands, on the table before him.

"My mother was Finnish, from a noble family, my father was Russian and wealthy, from merchant stock. He was trading in her country when they fell in love and eloped, though she was promised to another. Her intended succumbed to illness a short time later and his mother blamed it on my father for having broken her son's heart. She hired a witch, who put a curse on our family."

He glanced up at the girl to gauge how she was taking it. Her face was calm and showed nothing of her thoughts. Her serenity was beginning to rattle Argus. He shook it off.

"My father was cursed with sons who would steal the joy from his existence as he and my mother had torn the joy from hers. One son would be good, but weak, and the other would be strong, but too wild to be anything but evil."

She waited.

"My brother, Nivid, is the one who brought you here. He is...." Argus grimaced. "He is a beast, in every sense of the word, a wild animal who lives only to hunt, mate, and defend his territory. If his instincts are foiled, he becomes a killing machine. None can fight or control him. I have tried to take his life myself, and failed. The only way to keep others safe is to let him do as he will. We are far from civilization. He hunts in the mountains and fights other beasts which roam here, and--"

Argus shifted uncomfortably. "--he takes women for pleasure."

After a long, unexpected silence, Argus met her eyes again. She didn't look... anything. He was at a loss. Every other woman had cowered and cried or fought and then cowered. None had done... this.

He cleared his throat. "You will reside here temporarily, then Talgut-- I-- we will give you enough gold to live a lifetime in luxury. I don't know your previous circumstances--"

Trinity interrupted. "After my family was killed five years ago, I was taken as a slave. Betwixt then and now, I've spent my time violated and beaten. I was sold again several days ago and was being taken to my new home when you... your brother waylaid me."

Argus didn't speak. He couldn't. She was looking at him so directly, so placidly, describing the terrible things which had been done to her as though the words were merely trivial facts without substance or significance. And here, in his home, she'd be subject to atrocities equally as bad.

"I am sorry." He cleared his throat and lowered his gaze. "If there were any escape, I'd take it, but there is none. All I can say is that if you can find it within yourself to look to the future, you will have the means and freedom to do anything you please when your sojourn here has ended."

She turned her head, perusing the room. "If you're spinning this tale to gain my cooperation, you needn't bother-- I will do whatever is required of me."

Argus gave a mournful half smile and stood. When Trinity took the hand he offered, he walked with her to the chest of drawers beneath the shuttered window. A small wooden casket rested atop it. He turned the brass latch and threw the lid back, revealing a mound of coins and jewels Trinity could never have imagined. Very lightly, she reached out and touched one of the golden coins. That single coin would have fed her entire family for a year or more, and there must be at least a hundred of them in this box, not to mention the jewels. She pulled her finger back and turned wide-eyed to her host.

With another sad smile, he quipped, "Don't you know every fairy tale has a dragon, Troitsa? And every dragon guards a treasure."

He meant to leave her alone after that, after warning her about the wolves roaming the forest, and telling her that the tower at the eastern corner of the castle was where Nivid made his home. He didn't have to warn her not to roam there, he surmised.

Trinity turned away to face the glowing fire. "So I'm to spend all my days in this chamber?"

"Nyet," he hurried to correct her impression, "you're not imprisoned, Troitsa. You may go anywhere you like save the east tower: we have a library, a fortepiano, a garden, I'll purchase paints and foolscap if you enjoy drawing, or fabric to make yourself...." Argus gestured to the brown homespun dress she wore and saw a flash of interest in her eyes.

"You're free to go outside oft as you like-- just be certain he's locked the wolves up. I realize this situation seems cruel, but I truly don't wish for you to be harmed."

--o----O----o--

After another long moment of staring balefully at him, Trinity abruptly changed the subject, "Have you anything I may eat, kapitan? Perhaps a roll or a piece of bread?"

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