tagNonHumanSleeping Beast Ch. 06

Sleeping Beast Ch. 06

bySteffiOlsen©

USUAL REMINDER: This is a long chapter, but it's only one part of a much longer story. If you're just looking for a helping hand, Chapter 2 is good for that. (IMO)

NOTE:"Egorri" is a common name for St. George. Russian folklore often links St. George with tales of wild animals.

ALSO: Please be aware this is only a 3rd draft of this chapter. You guys don't usually see anything until I've been over it six or seven [or eighteen] times, but we've been having a family issue, and I haven't had much time to write. I've kept you hanging for so long I figured you'd rather have a mostly-finished chapter than NO chapter. (Events are all here, but it's less polished than I'd like.) So, grammar gurus, kindly take it easy on my typos, but definitely let me know if you find anything particularly convoluted or confusing. Maybe I can cut down on my average number of drafts!

PS- You don't actually need to know this, but Maslenitsa is yet another pagan holiday co-opted by Christianity. Depending on one's degree of devotion to church or distillery, it's either a time of prayerful ritual preparation for Lent (which starts the following week), seven days of family fun and revelry, or a great excuse to get sloshed six nights in a row. Enjoy!!

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

The rain Troi had been expecting never materialized, but the cloud cover which had been looming over the valley crept eastward, gradually engulfing the mountaintops around Zamok Denova. The mist wasn't thick enough to truly veil anything but the fields, though wisps of it wrapped themselves around the trees at the edge of the taiga, obscuring those beyond. From a distance, the muffled thud of hammer blows punched through the dense, moist air.

Troi ignored the sounds. She assumed Argus and Nivid had begun repairing the door he crashed through in a temper, and tried to keep her mind altogether away from the subject.

"Do you want to see the wolves?"

She stopped abruptly, her eyes rising from the dark planks beneath her feet to fix on Talgut's face. They'd been meandering for a while, parading like gentlefolk of leisurely means around the gallery on the castle's second level. This was the first word either of them had spoken since leaving the balcony overlooking the valley floor, she realized.

"Well?"

Her eyebrows rose. "Da, of course!" Troi nodded eagerly.

Talgut slowed at the next corner and peeked around it, pointing to where a covered parapet led to a ruined watch-tower in the most ancient part of the castle compound. "Behind the rampart is an old stable," he whispered. "The roof's long rotted, so if you look over the wall, you will see straight down into it."

Troi nodded and stepped quickly sideways to go 'round him, but Talgut grabbed her arm. "They'll hear you coming, like as not..." he cautioned. "Don't be alarmed to see one or two of the beasts leaping toward your nose. None of them jump so far as for you to be concerned." His mouth twisted into a wry smile. "I'd be no more if they were able."

She nodded and tugged her arm away, tiptoeing the last twenty steps to the near end of the walkway. She stayed to the left side as she ventured onto it. A few yards inside the tunnel-like passage, Troi turned and eased her way over to the wall.

Back at the corner, Talgut watched her rise to her toes, slowly leaning forward to peer into the stable. He waited for the explosion of snarls and yaps he expected to hear. Nothing happened.

"Dammit!" He frowned.

Where the hell were they?

Supporting her upper body on her elbows, Troi glanced over her shoulder as Talgut stepped out from behind the corner of the building.

He growled the question aloud to himself as he stalked in her direction. "Where did Nivid put them this time?"

He paused, thinking. The old donjon, mayhap?

"Put what?" Troi asked, her voice low as she craned her neck to look back at him.

"The wolves, where'd he put the wolves?"

Troi sunk back onto her heels, her forehead wrinkling. "Talgut, they're right here. Don't you remember asking me if I wanted to see them?"

Talgut rolled his eyes, dismissing the statement as more of Troi's teasing, but went to join her anyway. When he poked his head over the edge, humoring her, the silent pack in the stable below exploded into a snarling, leaping mass of fur.

Troi shoved herself away from the wall with a yip of alarm. Even Talgut drew his head back, though he'd long since stopped being frightened of the wolves... so long as he was up here and they were down there.

Troi was glaring at him. "Egorri! Talgut, what'd you do to them? They HATE you?"

Befuddled, he looked from Troi to the irascible wolves. When he'd first stuck his head over the edge, at least a third of the pack had been calmly gazing up at her, their ears forward, their mouths open, their tongues lolling happily outside the ivory fangs. He'd never seen them wearing an expression like it.

"It's not me," he finally replied. "This is how the demons always behave. Even Nivid doesn't truly trust the beasts."

Troi cast a skeptical eye at him and turned, after glancing down one last time at the two dozen leggy, slavering creatures in the ruins of the stone stable.

-- o --

As Troi assumed, Argus and Nivid had begun repairing the wreck of the door that kept the pack from roaming unchecked through the halls of Zamok Denova. Talgut had rigged up a temporary barrier the night before, but it wouldn't stop the wolves for very long if they really wanted in.

After Talgut left in pursuit of Troi, Argus and Nivid hadn't bothered to divide their consciousness as they usually did, and the piece of his mind which Argus saw as his self was left wondering the same thing he'd been wondering earlier: when had they started pulling themselves apart in that fashion? Since neither was currently blocking, it became something of a one-sided conversation in two tones.

When had that stopped?

At the moment of the accident, they'd become one, inhabiting each other's minds as naturally as if their early, divided lives had been the aberration.

Both of us knew everything, all the time, because there was no "both." After only a day or two "he" and "me" became "we" and "I," because there was no difference, save in the food we ate and when the bodies slept. We perforce needed to remind ourselves there were two bodies requiring rest and sustenance, or we'd neglect to switch between them. We weren't tired then like now, because one of us slumbered always, and our minds were never split, except that tiny portion left behind to keep a sleeping man alive. Otherwise, there was no divide. We were one.

It had been years since either of them had referred to themselves in that manner.

When had it stopped?

When had one become two?

Argus fumbled the sledge he was using to knock the old door apart, nearly walloping his own leg. He cursed aloud. Working with one hand was more of a trial than he'd anticipated. He'd been bracing things with a foot or knee, but the maneuver wasn't overly effective. At this rate the door wouldn't be built soon enough to block next winter's snows. He cursed again and gritted his teeth, restraining a burning need to cast the offending hammer aside.

Sending subtle, calming thoughts toward his other half, Nivid lifted the end of the door and propped it on a log to make Vesa's task easier. He turned back to the fire, which was hot enough for him to start banging out the salvageable bits of hardware from the old door and fashioning new hinges. Smithing was work he enjoyed, and the contentment he felt while doing it would help soothe Vesa.

Vesa worried too much about things that meant nothing.

In Nivid's mind, Argus was never anything but "Vesa," the moniker he'd given his younger brother at birth.

The woman was safe. Everyone had been fed. The door would be fixed by nightfall, or mayhap the morn, and all would be well.

The flat steel bar in his hand was hot enough to work, and Nivid swung away from the fire to the anvil, letting his brother's agitated thoughts roll past the piece of himself he kept hidden. Besides being less apt to become anxious, that was another difference between them: Nivid held back a portion of his mind, keeping completely separate. His brother didn't have that ability. He could temporarily block Nivid during waking hours, but their memories would merge as soon as Argus slept. If an event was significant enough for Argus to remember, Nivid would wake with the knowledge in his mind.

This morning, when Argus opened, summoning him to the kitchen, Nivid had been hit by a wave of recollection and regret. Since kissing Troi, he'd been tormenting himself with the shame and guilt of his "betrayal."

In Nivid's estimation, the things Argus chose to brood about were past and therefore of no importance but, permitted to wallow, Argus would hang onto them until the end of time. Nivid didn't dwell on it, but for Argus' sake, he wished it weren't so, especially in light of their father's theory.

Before his death, the elder Denova had dedicated long hours to preparing his sons for their future, both singly and together. In discussing the curse with Nivid and his younger brother, their father had offered opinions and shared many speculations. When their minds merged after the accident and Nivid gained his brother's memories, he'd come to the conclusion that many of his father's carefully guarded suppositions were correct.

He hadn't shared the knowledge with his brother, nor any of the other beliefs he'd formed in the years since then. Argus already had plenty of things to fret about, and if Nivid and their father were correct, he had plenty of time in which to do it. Because one of the many things he and his father agreed upon was that the words "never to die" were used literally in the curse. Twenty years ago, he'd hoped to be wrong, but every sign since then had pointed the same direction.

Nivid didn't think Argus could live with looking forward to eternity.

He dipped the hammered piece of iron in the bucket at his side, quenching the metal.

Nivid kept these rare bouts of idle conjecture to himself, locked away the part of his mind Argus knew nothing about. It wasn't difficult: Nivid didn't speculate often. Living by instinct simplified things. If his belly was full, his bed was dry, and a woman was beneath him on occasion, all was well. Nothing else was of any consequence. That philosophy, such as it was, had been the sum of Nivid's existence for the past twenty-five years. He ate. He slept. He fought. He fucked. And that was that.

Until Troitsa.

Burying his first finished piece of hardware in a pile of ash at the back of the hearth, where it would temper as it cooled, Nivid chose another blank to heat.

He'd known from the start how Argus felt about Troi, but it didn't affect their daily lives, and Nivid was certain Argus would never act on his desire. Besides, Nivid loved Troi. Since they shared a mind, Argus probably couldn't prevent himself from loving her, too.

In Nivid's world, that was that.

But Troi's arrival hadn't altered his life alone. It seemed her presence was destined to change a whole slew of things happening on their hilltop, even when she didn't mean to stir the pot. And Troi putting her hand on his brother's cock, well... she'd most definitely meant that to be an incendiary move.

Nivid's face remained impassive, but in his mind he smiled. He was no longer angry at Vesa, and he'd never been angry with Troi. The muscles in his belly and his face tensed as he bit back a chuckle, recalling the utter shock zipping through his brother's body.

Suddenly, Nivid froze, amusement wiped out by the minor epiphany of a single query.

When was the last time he'd laughed?

He couldn't remember.

And there, just like that, was another momentous change the small Bashkir woman had wrought in their lives.

His thoughts returned to the scene by the dry clifftop pool.

In Nivid's estimation, Vesa deserved the jolt Troi's unconventional caress had dealt.

Through their bond, he'd felt a shadow of his brother's desire to strike out at Troi, to shove her away for selfish reasons, shielding his craven heart among them. That was what had so enraged Nivid. Academically, he knew Argus would never physically harm Troitsa, but he also knew passion could go awry, and the beast's instinct to protect his woman had prevailed.

That was the main difference between them, of course. Argus operated on intellect and Nivid on instinct.

Nivid set his mind to matching the curve of the iron in his hand to the arc of the last piece he'd created, his concentration and contentment filtering through the damp spring air to his brother's slightly less-agitated mind.

-- o --

"So, how does it work?"

Talgut's eyes snapped down to the woman at his side. Her tone was mild, but for Talgut, her question was fraught with danger signs.

Troi kept her eyes on the wooden surface before her, where she was butchering a few scant handfuls of dried mushrooms she'd discovered in one of the castle kitchen's many neglected nooks. Their scent was fading and their flavor would be faint, but they were adequate for thickening and seasoning the stew she had in mind for the evening meal.

Despite the sorrow and anger lurking in the cowardly corners of her mind, she wasn't unhappy with the task. It was strange, but wonderful, after so many years away from the clan, to once again have duties that contributed the well-being of "her people," rather than being merely the master's whore. No doubt it seemed odd to other people, too, since she'd been destined to fulfill the same role here.

Troi's teeth ground together as she tried to tamp down her resentment.

"Prastite?" Talgut asked. He thought he understood the question, but he wanted to be sure before he stepped in the wrong pile of shit.

"How does it work? Nivid and Argus-- they are part of one person, you said?"

Talgut continued to tear small bits off the hunk of leftover boar while he thought it over. Her question was still vague, but Troi knew only the most basic facts of the curse; anything he shared was sure to inform her. He wanted to say he was the wrong person to ask, but he'd already volunteered himself when he went to find her on the balcony. He'd taken his freedom for granted once they left the balcony, but apparently he'd been wrong. Inwardly, he sighed.

"I'm not certain I can provide much of an explanation, because I'm only a spectator, but... did you see how they looked?"

"Da?" Diffidence belied her answer.

"Both of them spent and sluggardly, like to nod off at any moment?"

Troi murmured her assent, recalling her similar thoughts that morning.

"Well," Talgut explained, "it's not their bodies that are worn. There's two men sharing one man's mind-- If both are awake, neither can concentrate worth a damn. Nivid don't talk much at the best of times, but you'll see Argus slow right down, soon as his brother rises. They try to split it even: Argus is up daytimes, and Nivid at night. When one of them sleeps, the other takes over his thinking ability and... his... I guess you'd call it strength or will-power."

He paused, carefully constructing his next sentence.

"I don't know what happened on the cliff, Troitsa, but my guess is that Nivid wouldn't have been able to pull himself out of that rage he was in if Argus hadn't thrown everything he had at his brother."

Troi finished chopping the mushrooms and threw a bone in the stewpot with Talgut's shredded meat, then sent him to the root cellar while she started on the bread.

All the potatoes were washed and half their number quartered before Troi took up the conversation again. "Argus said he was locked in with Nivid, experiencing the same starvation, after their parents died. So..." She paused. "...one always knows what the other is doing?"

There was something in her voice that made Talgut's hands hover, unmoving, among the potatoes. "Well, one of them's usually sleeping, so... I'd think not."

They were quiet while he finished the potatoes, and when Talgut came back from filing the pot with water and fetching an armful of wood, Troi asked about his favorite foods, saying naught of her situation. He lingered while she finished her supper preparations, feeling ill-at-ease and as though he'd failed in some respect, though he couldn't work out how or why.

After a small midday meal, Troi reminded him of the tour he'd offered, and they went off to see the nooks and crannies of the castle, all the little secrets of Zamok Denova no one had thought to share with their busy Bashkir captive.

-- o --

Argus swore mildly when the board he was cutting slipped sideways, but his oath was less heated than those that morning. The sound-dampening mist and the peace of working in concert with his brother had pierced and dulled his earlier irritation.

No doubt Nivid had something to do with that. Argus hadn't sensed any overt interference, but Veli wouldn't hesitate to butt in if he thought he could help.

He smiled to himself.

Veli.

They slipped naturally into using their old nicknames for each other whenever they spent time together, so Nivid had been calling Argus "Vesa," Finnish for "Sprout," since they began working on the door. Reflexively, Argus had been thinking of Nivid as "Veli," which meant "brother" in their mother's native tongue.

His smile dimmed as he shoved the finished board off the support Nivid had rigged for him.

They were hardly ever together for any significant length of time now. Had that stopped when they reverted to thinking of themselves as individuals, or was it the other way around?

Frowning, he bent to grab another board.

Did it matter?

Spending so many hours with Troi over these past few weeks had underlined for Argus how empty his life had been before. It wasn't just the company of women he missed; he'd practically given up conversing with anyone at all...

When had he stopped talking? Maybe when Talgut showed up?

Talgut himself hadn't spoken for a full year.

To this day, they knew naught about what had befallen the lad before Nivid found him in the taiga, but it was a year before Talgut was able to put aside the fear that kept him leaping at every small noise and periodically screaming out in his sleep.

In the meantime, Nivid had tried not to alarm him. He may have rescued Talgut from the wolves, but the beast's appearance had been understandably upsetting. Argus had taken over the task of showing Talgut what he needed to know to keep himself alive, in the forest and the kitchen.

Maybe that was when he and Veli stopped living in each other's heads, stopped talking, stopped thinking of themselves as one inseparable being.

By the time Talgut was over his initial fear, the habit was formed: Nivid stayed awake at night and Argus during the day. It afforded them each more energy and concentration, but it also deprived each man of his only close relationship. And Talgut, as silent and solitary as a monk on a mountaintop, hadn't filled the role for either of them in the years since then.

Argus glanced at Nivid, who was absorbed in the work of his smithy, and caught a hint of memory behind his brother's contentment. The truth came crashing back.

His frown deepened.

For the first time in twenty years, one of them had a real companion.

Argus could see her in his mind as Nivid saw her every night: curled into the curve of his arm or lying atop him as they indulged in kisses and whispers after loving. They smiled a lot, something else Argus and Nivid hadn't done together in a very long time.

Nivid's wide, mobile mouth turned up at the corners as his mind wandered. He couldn't help smiling at the memory of Troi draped like melted butter across his body, but he shielded his thoughts to keep them private. Setting his recollections aside, he turned to speak with his brother.

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