tagNonHumanSleeping Beast Ch. 08

Sleeping Beast Ch. 08


AUTHOR'S NOTE: I think my disclaimer has been lacking something, ergo...

WARNING (LOUDLY FLASHING, OBNOXIOUSLY-BRIGHT LIGHTS): I write long stories, and I like to build them in layers which may only gradually reveal their impact. Not everything will make sense immediately, and not every chapter has sex. ....... HOWEVER, in "erotica," sex does play a meaningful role. The entire story may not hinge on Cinderella getting banged before midnight, but if she doesn't get any at all, Prince Charming sure as hell won't be getting hitched, 'cuz Cindy ain't buying those shoes without trying 'em on first. ....... SO, some of this tale is told in action, some in conversation, some in narrative, and some in steamy, wet, pleading-for-mercy SEX. If you hang in there, it'll all come together eventually.

Again, I apologize for the long wait between chapters. Due to some stressful, ongoing health issues, I'm still making the ten-hour round-trip to see my parents as often as possible. My mind just isn't in the game sometimes. I am working on SB whenever possible, though; I promise! Also, this isn't a finished draft. It's bumpier than.... well, you'll see....

Many, many thanks-- Stef


For the third day in a row, Troi woke long before dawn and lay staring at the blocky hints of lighter black which marked the east-facing windows of the tower room. Beyond the sheer drapery and the diamond panes, the creatures of the taiga still slept. Four-footed animals in fur coats, feathered creatures, and even insects, all slumbered peacefully in den and nest. All except the one stupid white dove sitting on Nivid's windowsill, pecking at its reflection. For the third day in a row.

Didn't the Russians say a bird tapping on the window foretold a sudden death?

With a sigh, she uncurled, easing herself gently from Nivid's side so as not to wake him.

If the dove was trying to tell her something, he was too late. Argus had warned her weeks ago that if she stayed, she was sure to be a victim of the villagers' hypothetical but inevitable hunt for the monster in their mountains. And Nivid had been following her around for days, unhappily watching every move she made. She hadn't asked why; she felt his disapproval every time she mentioned the curse. He obviously didn't like the idea of her poking her head up and drawing the attention of whatever demon or evil entity was responsible for it.

Troi rolled to her feet and glanced back. Nivid was barely visible in the pre-dawn light, but she could easily have located him by sound alone: her vicious, untamed beast snored sonorously like a bear beneath the winter snows. She'd watched him often enough to know his velvety chocolate nostrils would be fluttering with each rumbling inhalation.

She collected her clothing and donned her shift it in darkness, and with a smile she tiptoed out, the remainder of her garments draped over one arm. As she closed the door behind her, she noticed the dove had quit tapping. It was a good thing Nivid was still sleeping: he'd probably take that as confirmation that the bird's "warning" was meant for her. She didn't want to start the day with an argument, but Troi had no intention of being turned from her goal, dove or no dove, witch or no witch.

Because there was definitely a witch.

She grimaced and picked up her pace, flying down the cold stone staircase on bare feet. The luxurious carpets in Nivid's chamber had protected her feet, but the mornings were nearly always chilly in the mountains, and the massive wedges of gray held stubbornly to the past weeks' weather.

Her own bed-chamber was no warmer than the hallway, but at least her feet were comfortable on the carpeting. Troi dumped her clothing on the perfectly-made bed and donned the flowing robe Argus had given her after Nivid tore his first offering from her shaking body. The elk-skin slippers she found hiding beneath the edge of her bed were those that Talgut had crafted the very next day.

As she headed for the kitchen, her mind returned to the Denova curse and whatever vengeful being was tending it now. She'd mentioned the possibility of a talisman to the others because she daren't risk leaving some vital avenue untrammeled, and it was no lie: some enchanted item could very well be hidden within the castle walls. Or not.

But there was definitely a witch.

Or a sorcerer. Or something.

She'd been thinking of the mother of Suvi Denova's jilted lover as the one who conjured up the curse, ergo the appellation "witch," but in truth, she wasn't even sure of that much. Mayhap the entity she hunted wasn't born of a human at all; it could be a demon or spirit, either of which would be more dangerous and less likely to be swayed by whatever minor magic Troi was able to summon.

Troi frowned at the kindling as she loaded the small summer stove. Many paces behind her, the giant masonry ovens lay emptied of their seasonal ash, their built-in beds cold and quiet in the early-morning gloom. One corner of her mind grumbled idly at the daunting thought of how much wood she'd be feeding it in winters to come, while her conscious mind brushed aside the prospect of living that long.

In one way, it didn't matter who or what was out there watching over her and the endless, adverse repercussions of the Denova curse: she still had to plow the field, sow the seed, and harvest whatever crop she could. She must protect her family, vanquish the vengeful spirit-- human or otherwise, and break the damned curse. There were no choices to be made.

After days of driving herself-- and everyone else--- to distraction, Troi had finally come to the same conclusion about her other dilemma, too. The question of whether Argus had influenced Nivid's feelings was of no consequence. If he confessed today that he'd manipulated them into a relationship, into bed, and into each other's hearts because he hoped to free himself from the curse, Troi's desire to do the same wouldn't change. That minor epiphany made many of her questions moot, but she continued ask about their family.

With the fire snapping at her fingers, Troi propped a few larger sticks of birch atop the pine kindling she'd piled in the cast-iron chamber. The weather was warming and she didn't want the kitchen to over-heat, but the pine and birch would burn quickly. Her small fire would suffice for breakfast, tea, and washing water, and she'd start a larger one before supper-time. Hopefully Talgut would be back by then, and if he'd gotten the wheat flour she requested, she'd make lagman noodles for supper tonight.

Despite the grave situation, Troi was ridiculously excited by that prospect. Like her younger sisters, she'd been learning to cook since she was old enough to toddle at her mother's knee, but in her mistress's kitchen, she'd only been given leave to scour the greasy floors. Feeding her family was an ongoing delight, as well as an unending experiment. Troi couldn't always recall every ingredient of a particular dish, and occasionally forgot basic steps like letting her bread dough rise a second time.

Troi smirked as she filled the kettle from the bucket by the back door. Regardless of what she put in the pot, she didn't think her men would complain of the results: none of her errors could possibly produce anything as horrifically bad as the aromatic swamp-stew Talgut had been cooking the night of her arrival. She shuddered at the memory, and the shudder turned to a shake as she laughed. When Argus had apologized for the poor dinner that evening, she'd avoided his eyes, thinking there was no chance of her volunteering to cook anything for anyone after they sacrificed her to his beast of a brother.

She'd certainly been wrong in that regard, hadn't she?

She was still smiling when she lifted her eyes to the window and caught a glimpse of a shadow creeping through the dreary taiga. She froze in consternation.

Something was out there.


She'd felt it over and over again, almost since the day of her arrival: something or someone was attending her. More than once she'd turned away from foraging or her infant garden to come inside, barring the kitchen door behind her before going to find one of the men, making some craven excuse to be in the company of another.

She'd never spoken of those amorphous fears, because she'd blamed them on her circumstances. She'd become adept at avoiding her most traumatic memories, but Troi was an escaped slave. The sound, logical part of her didn't think anything would come of it, but she'd been beaten and terrorized for the past five years. Before her abduction turned to an affair, she'd endured several nightmares about her master or mistress sneaking into the castle to steal her away.

Focusing, her eyes scanned the darkness beneath the trees, which seemed to grow more dusky as the sun skimmed more brightly across the topmost needles of the evergreens above. Her heart beating sharply in her ears, Troi stared until a fox slipping between shadows eased the tension in her belly. A nervous laugh whooshed from her lungs. That skinny grey beast was hardly the loathsome sorcerer she was seeking.

She lingered at the window, her thoughts returning to the larger issue. Listening in on Asa's conversations with the elders and holy men of her clan, Troi had learned that a witch's familiar could be anything from an elk to a mouse to a tiny, fragile bird-- or even a hungry little fox. But her instincts said no one was watching her now.

Troi tore her gaze from the dawning day and fetched a potful of barley from the spring room, where she'd left it soaking overnight.

No threatening presence in the taiga would alter the provisions she'd been making. This morning, she'd set everyone to searching the castle for potential talismans, and this afternoon she'd begin her most important project. Troi refused to hide her barren basket of skills under a pretty layer of hope. She didn't need Talgut's skeptical glances to tell her she had very little chance of succeeding, and above all else, she didn't want her fumbling to worsen the Denova brothers' lot in life.

There were some risks Troi would have to take and some consequences she could barely hope to avoid, but her family shouldn't suffer for her ignorance. Today she'd begin the task of shielding them as well as she was able.

Troi shuffled back to her chamber with a hot cup of tea, a half-bucket of warm water, and the coming day's labors fixed firmly in her mind.

-- o --

Talgut ruined her designs for the day, of course.

Troi's first fractious thought was supplanted immediately by the shock of his announcement.

Silently, she watched him settle the woven-willow cage against the wall behind the summer stove, where the thirteen chicks inside would be warm until they were strong enough to move them elsewhere. He straightened and met her eyes.

"What?" he grunted, his attention skittering sideways to Argus and Nivid.

Troi's glance followed as she wondered if she was alone in her concern, but no . . . they too were staring at Talgut, wearing versions of the same apprehensive expression she felt on her face.

Argus spoke first. "Talgut, tell me you gave her a few kopeks," he groaned.

Talgut had fetched back the chicks Troitsa requested from town, but on his way home, he'd also accepted three grown hens offered to him by an old woman who was moving away and couldn't take them with her.

Talgut's forehead wrinkled. "Nyet. Why should I? That old baba's clothing was far finer than mine."


"Shaitan barumta!" Troi's curse came hard on the heels of Nivid's growl and Argus' more colorful expletive. "I suppose you were standing at a crossroad, too? You know you have to give a few pennies!"

"That old tale?!" Talgut scoffed as he decoded their objection. "You should be ashamed of yourself, a strong Bashkir woman believing such Russian yerunda!"

Troi paused to consider his accusation. In a way, he was right; it wasn't a superstition she'd learned in a Bashkir yurt, but one she'd absorbed in the house of her former owners: taking gifts from a stranger was taboo. No one living in this part of the world would question a kopek given in return.


She waved off the criticism. "I don't care who started the tale. At this point, I'll beg the help of any god willing to turn a kind eye in our direction. None of us can afford to disregard their wishes, even those conveyed by scraps of 'old Russian yerunda'."

When her remonstrance ended, Talgut looked away to find the other men glaring their agreement. His voice rose as he barked, "Well, I'm not going out to hunt her down, if that's what you expect!!"

Troi's hands fell from her hips, her ire somewhat quenched by the fact he hadn't made another excuse. "Nyet. We will kill the chickens now, eat them tonight."

Nivid hadn't yet released the wolves, so she sent the men out to chase down the meal she'd be cooking in lieu of lagman noodles. Recalling that plan reminded Troi of their dwindling supplies, but her hand hadn't fallen on the first of Talgut's straining packs when she realized they couldn't just go ahead and kill the chickens. Dashing across the kitchen, she yanked the door open and ran straight into Argus. He 'oof'ed and wrapped an arm around her waist, steadying her.

The collision knocked a gasp from her lungs, and from her spot beneath his chin, Troi noticed Argus had winced, too. The movement was minute, but it involved nearly his entire body, blessedly supplanting sudden, uncomfortable awareness of the tall, muscular form so briefly pressed to hers.

Stepping back, she noticed the bindings on Argus' left arm were less bulky than in previous days and assumed that was the origin of his wince, since he'd caught her with the injured limb.

"Prastite." She huffed a breathless apology as she recovered, her eyes determinedly bypassing the landmarks of his body as they fell to the two squawking balls hanging upside down from Argus' right hand.

"Molodets!" With a wide smile, she pointed to his feathered burden, adding, "Don't kill them yet-- I want to ensure they are safe for us to eat."

At his disparaging look, she added a shrug. In truth, she couldn't credit the notion that a trio of gifted chickens would bring bad luck, but better to be safe.

When Nivid and Talgut returned, Troi was halfway through a ritual purification of the two hens. After a fleeting glance at their empty hands, she continued the task, lighting four small bundles placed in a diamond formation around the birds, which had been swaddled in rags and were lying peacefully side by side in a circle of red string. With a few words of Bashkir, she lit each bundle, from north to south, then west to east.

In a musical whisper, she reversed the path, chanting her way around the four fires and the doomed chickens. On her next trip, Troi sprinkled streams of a grainy black substance she pinched from a tiny wooden bowl in her other hand. Pyramids of serene white flame flickered only inches high, but when the mysterious black grains fell on the last of them, all four spit their objection simultaneously into the air. With a sudden flare, the four fires jumped to several feet in height, winking out a moment later, also in concert.

Nivid blinked and lifted his eyes to Troi's, requesting an explanation.

Temporarily disregarding Nivid's curiosity, she placed her bowl on the wood-splitting stump, freeing her fists to perch arrogantly at her hips. She glared at Talgut, who glared right back. There was no need for words; she could clearly see they hadn't found the third chicken.

Nivid circled the swaddled birds, ignoring the silent staring contest in favor of examining the grainy substance in the wooden bowl. He sniffed, but the mixture of smells was confusing, so he touched. It was surprisingly sandy, and he grunted, drawing Troi's attention.

She hissed like a mad bobcat and took the bowl from his hands, where it looked no bigger than a thimble. "Stop that," she murmured, her mild tone belying the hiss of displeasure.

Nivid's bull-like brow and solid sable eyes didn't lend themselves to the conveyance of human emotion, but Troi was learning to interpret his subtle facial cues. She answered the unspoken question. "Black ban salt. Drives away evil."

Argus snorted in derision and spun on his heel, muttering imprecations about salting the whole damn castle and skipping all this other "yerunda."

Talgut stalked away in the opposite direction, both men evidently unwilling to endure another moment of their company. Although Nivid could feel the weight of worries accumulating beneath Troi's mild manner, when she turned to face him, she rolled her eyes, mocking their dramatic departure. As she unwound four fine, fire-blackened chains from the remnants of her offerings, she looked meaningfully from him to the swaddled chickens.

Nivid grunted again and bent to deal with the birds, disregarding the rasping mental noise of his brother's derision. Over the past quarter century, he'd become accustomed to Vesa's casual observations on the difficulties of living a cursed existence. While lacking their former insouciance, his most recent rash of lamentations just seemed like more of the same, made more numerous by ailment and fatigue.

He sensed Troi's perception differed-- he'd seen a few narrow glances darting in Vesa's direction-- but as long as his brother didn't let sharpen the edges of his attitude on Troi, Nivid could easily dismiss the bellyaching as inconsequential. A few mild, ill-humored remarks were tolerable, but if they began adding to the weight Troi carried, Nivid would put a stop to it.

-- o --

Due to the necessity of killing and cleaning the chickens-- Troi hung them in the spring room to save the plucking for later-- breakfast was both a delayed and a disgruntled affair. Not normally the most sensitive of individuals, even Nivid could sense hostility clinging to the table where they gathered for the meal. In spite of the tension, no one objected when Troi insisted they all tour the castle together after they'd eaten. Thankfully, Argus refrained from sniping as they roamed.

With the others flanking her, Nivid walked slightly behind and to one side of Troi, a position from which he was better able to watch over her. She'd only just realized what he was doing, whereupon she quit stopping every few steps and waiting for him to take his place by her side. He hadn't been trying to conceal his intentions, nor the fact he was apprehensive about Troi becoming entangled in the curse. He might not kick up a fuss like Argus was doing, but that didn't mean he approved. His vigilance couldn't protect her from magic, but watching over her was the only way Nivid could cope with that disapproval, or the dozen other unruly emotions which assailed him every day.

Troi's anxiety had become a constant companion to them both, and it haunted him in a way nothing had done before. The fear he'd felt after she learned the truth of the curse, when he'd so clearly sensed her desire to leave him, wasn't to be the last time Nivid experienced the novelty of being uncertain. After twenty-five years of letting instinct guide his actions, he now had a lot to think about.

On a deep, visceral level, Nivid's body responded to Troi's anxiety with its own restlessness, an unfulfilled need to expend that energy protecting his mate, but her own actions made that nearly impossible. Begging Troi to cease her alarming explorations would be useless: nothing short of iron bars would sway her from her current path. Nivid's formerly peaceful mind conjured up images of him locking her in the tower room and settling the wolves outside her door, and the certain knowledge that he couldn't do so was severely tested by twenty years of giving in to his instinctive urges.

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bySteffiOlsen© 8 comments/ 7857 views/ 21 favorites

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