As Thorvald and his wife prepared to settle for the evening, the woodcutter offered their guest a place by the fire. However, in a show of humility, Yuwen Blue-Eyes insisted that such a thing would be an intrusion, and claimed that he would be happy with a place on the storage room floor. Gritta seemed mildly displeased– perhaps by how this might reflect on her as mistress of the house– but Thorvald was easily convinced to agree.
And so it is that the slave girl Sora finds herself sharing the close confines of the storage room with the traveler named Yuwen. He’s stretched behind her, closer to the wall, wrapped in his cloak with his hood drawn up over his face. Frail fingers of warmth from the banked fire scarcely reach beneath the leather hanging to the place where Sora lies, so the stranger must be subject to whatever chill the house’s logs can’t keep out. Wind thrums over and around the house at intervals.
He doesn’t move, but Sora has little doubt that Yuwen is awake in the darkness behind her. Awake, and watching her.
The silence takes on an unexpected and alien weight as Sora lies there, tinglingly aware of the man’s presence in the room. She has steadfastly kept her eyes closed and her body utterly still on her little pallet, and controls even the shallow pitch of her breathing so as not to disturb the quiet that rings in her ears. But stillness and silence don’t bring rest. She stirs, and it’s to shiver but not from the cold.
Against the rough wool of her shift– the same garment she wears about her chores through the day– and under the thin folds of the single blanket given to her by Gritta, she feels the tiny hairs on her body rise. The press of his focus on her is unlike anything she’s experienced before and here, now, there is no master, no mistress, to distract the stranger from her person.
It’s then that she knows that sleep will not come any time soon.
You are being a silly girl, she chides herself. He has been traveling and is tired himself. You’re imagining that he’d stare at you.
But the only way she could test that assertion, the only way she could reassure herself that she was being oversensitive, and imagining things, is to gather a wisp of a breath and open her eyes against the silence. Sora turns her head a fraction to mark the place where Yuwen was rolled in cloak and hood. To see if she is indeed imagining things.
The man’s eyes are flecks of amethyst in the gloom– half-lidded, but studying her. Embers trace a ruddy line along his cheekbone, the angle of his jaw. One pale braid coils like a snake under his face. Softly he exhales.
Then fabric rustles as Yuwen shifts closer to Sora’s back, her bottom. She can feel the warmth of his body across the space between them; it’s odd that he would radiate so in the icy air. The man goes up on elbow, leans slowly forward until his mouth is close to Sora’s ear.
“Can’t sleep?” he half-whispers, half-murmurs. “I don’t think you trust me, Sora. Your master is a good man and true, but not, I would say, a thinker.” Yuwen’s lips come almost to brush her earlobe as he speaks. “You, young mistress, are a thinker. I can see it in you. You have questions. If I can, I’d like to allay your fears.”
Her first instinct is to snap her eyes shut and pretend she hadn’t been caught peeking, to press her cheek back against her folded hands. To lie.
But with Yuwen now so close and all of her senses seeming attuned to that nearness– and a part of her suspecting that he is too well aware of the fact– she gives up the pretense. Her eyes open again in the half-light, looking not at their guest but across the span of the tiny room in which she makes her bed. When another shiver travels through her, summoned by the caress of breath and lips at her ear, she doesn’t bother trying to control it. He’d only feel that effort.
And probably smile, Sora suspects.
“I am not mistress,” she whispers. Not for fear of Gritta overhearing, or the master, but because the hush of the room seems to demand it. The girl is silent for a moment after that, for long enough it seems she might not speak again.
Until, cautiously, carefully and most importantly, quietly, Sora murmurs, “Did you do something to him? To my master? To the mistress?”
“Sora, then,” he says softly. The man slides closer still, as if to speak without troubling the sleepers in the main room; as he does, his hips press the slave’s bottom through the lean cloth of blanket and shift. “I am a storyteller, Sora. I make my living with my mouth.”
Did his lips touch the girl’s earlobe with that word? A moment’s warmth, the tease of a small bird’s wing.
“Your mistress, I think, simply finds me charming,” Yuwen murmurs, laughter in his voice. “Your master… well. In my travels, Sora, I’ve learned certain tricks, ways of speaking. Ways to be convincing to men like Thorvald. You see, I need his help.”
The stranger inhales against Sora’s dark hair, scenting her.
“I need your help, too.”
It hadn’t been like this with the young master. Sora thinks she knows what that lift of hips against her rump means but the way her own body responds to it is strange– a melting in his heat rather than patient submission and a private desire for a quick finish, that she might find sleep soon. Her shivering fades so quickly she forgets it entirely, instead holding herself utterly still and cautiously curious.
When that feathering at her ear is felt, her breath catches.
She smells of a simple life. Woodsmoke and salt, the herbs Gritta uses in the stew pot, the wool and leather that decorates bodies and furnishings around them. Her own scent is hidden beneath that melange, only to be released as her skin soaks in and then begins to radiate its own warmth.
Sora flushes and breathes out slowly. Yes, she can believe he knows certain tricks.
“I don’t know what help I can give you, sir,” she tells him softly, “unless it’s your pallet you want warmed for the night.”
She might have left it there but he has named her a thinker and she wants very much to not lose herself entirely to these muddled senses, this curious pull to lean back into his body. So she adds, “And there was more than talking. You touched him. I saw.”
The stranger moves his hips against her, subtly, but enough for the girl to feel the stiff crown of his organ briefly between her clothed thighs. “To get his attention,” Yuwen explains. He rolls his hips, nudges her again, his trapped manhood brushing up the fabric between them. “I did nothing but with my voice, I swear to you.”
“I want what you want, Sora,” the man murmurs. Then his lips are on the shell of the girl’s ear, a too-warm kiss, followed by the tingling heat of his tongue as he flicks her earlobe. “I want you. You can feel that, I think.” Then his hand is between them, pushing aside her blanket, gathering up the back of her rough woolen shift.
“But what I need– the help I need– is beyond that.”
“Your voice is a spell, then,” Sora whispers, and thinks, and your touch too. But those words go unspoken. She swallows them down on a gasp that comes with the wet stroke of his tongue’s tip. What happens beneath, the whisper of fabric over her skin and the feel of his excitement pushing at her is more familiar, but not entirely so.
Of their own accord, it seems, her thighs part with one knee lifting higher to ease his way once her shift is drawn up. With that lifting comes her true perfume, the faint but distinct scent of salt and sweetness.
That sense of hot moisture is unknown, so much so that Sora slides her own hand down her belly, and is surprised to find her fingertips meeting heated oil. More surprising, the throb of pleasure from the tiny bud that crowns her sex.
Her breathing stumbles again.
She should ask what help he means but such focus is beyond her now. Instead, the slave girl succumbs and arches her back, pushes her hips back, a gentle presenting of herself to his nudging.
That motion earns her a ragged sigh against her ear, hot, hungry sound of a sojourner too long from his last meal. Yuwen licks the slave girl’s earlobe into his mouth, sucks on it, tastes the salt from her skin before moving his mouth down the side of her throat, kiss by eager kiss.
The man’s body is tense behind her, almost palpably so. But first, first that strong male hand goes between her legs, covering her own, pressing the pads of the girl’s fingers against the nub of her pleasure.
“Did the master’s boy take his time with you, Sora?” he murmurs, between suckling kisses. He teases a finger between hers. “Did he make you feel the pleasures lurking in the flesh?” Yuwen works the swollen, covered head of his manhood against their tangled fingers.
“No.” The word bursts from her lips and only her breathlessness keeps it from rising above a whisper. Still, it is vehement with the sweetness felt under his fingers’ pressure, the novelty of his hand, her hand, his hard organ stroking and spreading her wetness in a way that she can actually feel.
Her body knows the dance even if her mind is only just awakening to it. Without her guidance her hips rock forward beneath their joined fingers. Sora is rewarded with a fresh throbbing and her next vocalization is a ragged little whimper.
She lifts her thigh higher, and hooks her foot back over his leg to help support hers. Once braced she moves her hips again, surer this time. She tilts her head, moving her jaw out of the way of his mouth.
Winter is forgotten, and her master and mistress. All that’s left is the tingling warmth under the blanket, the sensation of feeling herself swelling, spilling over, like a cup held too long under the pitcher.
When it is over, Sora falls into a relaxation that is tinged with exhaustion.
And, as consciousness returns, uncertainty.
He’ll know the exact moment that she’s thinking again. The lassitude that had filled her firm limbs eases into a watchful stillness, though the girl has yet to open her eyes.
The sweat is prickling on her skin, along her scalp, cooling. Into the cup of his hand she whispers, “…sir?”
Yuwen lets his hand fall away from the girl’s mouth. The other plays slowly, fondly with her black hair, sweeps the gloss behind her ear. Above the motion of his fingers, one half-lidded eye watches the dark space where the storage room’s curtain of hide gives way to the shadows beyond.
There is no sound from the main room of Thorvald’s cottage. No feet appear beneath the curtain. After a moment, Yuwen exhales.
“We haven’t roused them,” he murmurs, drowsy and amused. “Not for lack of trying. Did you enjoy that, Sora? I did.”
“I’m sorry.” The first words that spring to her lips are heartfelt– she’s sure of that sentiment, from long practice. But the uncertainty doesn’t fade under his petting, however tempting it is to drowse and simply bask in the glow their exertions have created.
No time at all is needed to form an answer to his question but Sora is quiet for a moment, all the same.
Then, softly, and with the same earnest honesty, “I’ve never felt anything finer.” Again her tongue touches her lips. Her eyes open in the gloom and look at the same curtain. Her heartbeat has returned to normal but nothing else would, she was sure of that.
“What help did you need, sir?”
Yuwen shifts a little behind her, nudging the slave girl’s bottom as he arranges her blanket over the both of them. The back of his hand brushes her shoulder, and then he curls his arm over her torso and around her waist. He pulls Sora back into the warmth of his body.
“You make a man glad, Sora,” he chuckles, and gives her earlobe a tiny kiss. “Frail competition as mine host’s son may be.” Then the laughter leaves his voice. “I’ll tell you why I was so far from hearth and home this cold night, and what luck it was to me that your master Thorvald found me.”
He takes a breath, then explains softly, “My tunic was a gift from the lady of a Jarl not far from these parts. She gave it me in recompense for the stories I told to delight her. However… it happens that her gift belonged to the Jarl himself, and when he saw me wearing it, he took it… poorly. A man seeing such a thing will make assumptions. I left that place in some haste, you may be sure.”
Yuwen settles his head on the pallet behind Sora, breathing into her hair. “The Jarl sent one of his liegemen after me. I’ve kept ahead of him, but only by pressing my march past the set of sun. I fear that he’ll soon catch up to me again.”
“If Thorvald and I hadn’t met, this bitter night might have done the man’s work for him. But now, with Thorvald’s help– and with yours, Sora– I may be able to end my ordeal.”
It’s slow in coming– too slow, given her years of service– but loyalty to the family that has been hers, and she it, leads Sora to murmur some soft word of defense for her owners’ son. If pressed later, she wouldn’t be able to tell what that word had been, for her mind is at the moment far busier in turning over the tale Yuwen spins out.
It seems a natural thing as she thinks to drape her arm loose over his, making that cuddling a mutual thing. The night’s chill is never far, she tells herself, and it is warmer like this.
She doesn’t reckon how it is also pleasant, to rest with the man this way.
“My master won’t want to anger a Jarl,” she says quietly, after her time spent reflecting. “How do you think he can help? And me? Guest-right will keep you for a night but when the mistress sees them coming…”
Gritta’s change of heart when faced with the anger of a Jarl, even regarding a man with golden hair and sky blue eyes, doesn’t need to be declared aloud, she supposes.
“Sees him coming,” Yuwen whispers.”One man, Sora. Alone, road-weary, far from his hearth. And never suspecting that his prey has doubled back and is lying in wait for him.”
The stranger inhales, then presses the lightest of kisses to the nape of Sora’s neck, through her dark hair. The energy in his body is palpable, despite their recent exertions.
“Your master and his good wife swear no loyalty to Ulgern. He keeps his hall many days’ ride from here, by the lake shore. He’s no Jarl to them, I think.” A touch of amusement enters the man’s voice as he adds, “And I’ll hazard that I can make Thorvald see things my way.”
Yuwen’s arm around her waist tenses, keeping the slave girl fetched up against him beneath the blanket. “All you need do, Sora, is watch for this man,” he explains softly. “Give me warning when he comes. Make him welcome, as your mistress would wish.”
“Thorvald and I will do the rest.”
“With a few words,” Sora says quietly, thoughtfully, at the twinkle of humor in Yuwen’s tone when he speaks of Thorvald.
Her skepticism is written plain in the lines of her body, which settle against his– save for the tiniest of shivers at that kiss– without quite surrendering to the peace found in an embrace. The situation he describes is troubling, the trap he means to spring a source of potential danger…
In the dark, Sora worries at her lower lip, refreshing the sting she’d sunk there earlier during their coupling.
“What is it you mean to do?” She asks instead of pledging her assistance, and she does her best to make her tone, quiet though it is, seem firm. A bold demand, from a slavegirl, and in its wake she holds her breath to see how this blue-eyed guest, this man of pleasure and laughter, might react.
“I’ll do what I must,” he says quietly. Then after a breath adds, “Or Thorvald will, at any rate. I’m no fighter. But your master has been raiding in his day, as you well know. With surprise on his side, and whatever help I can lend…”
The stranger’s voice drops to an urgent whisper; the arm that hems Sora in is like iron.
“Sora, what can I do? This man means to kill me. And for what? Singing my song, earning my little bread. A plain misunderstanding, that his pig-headed master refuses to see in the light of reason. With my pursuer–” Yuwen swallows.
“With my pursuer dead, it’ll be weeks before Ulgern knows anything has fallen foul. I’ll be long gone from here, out of his reach.”
Yuwen’s fingers brush her thigh, back and forth, over the fabric of her shift; again he kisses her, softly, on the shoulder.
“When I go, Sora– if it’s what you want– I’ll take you with me.”
Sora is fond of Thorvald, that much is clear, but she is also well aware that he is still a strong, proud man, even at his age. Probably quite capable, as Yuwen reasons too, of taking out this would-be assassin. And she is not without sympathy for the man’s explanation, she who has felt the barb of Gritta’s tongue and hand more often than not.
But her reservations evaporate with the last offer. His touch is sweet, his mouth warm, but her mind is reeling with what he says. The words are so simple and yet they contain an entire world she’d never considered. Never even dreamt of.
The breath she’d been holding is released slowly. Inside the iron of his circling arm, she wriggles about to get onto her back, in order to look up at his face. Her eyes, dark as they are, glint in the lesser darkness of the little room they share.
“Yes.” Sora had meant to question him more. This is the word that comes to her lips again and it is rich with all of the sudden longing her young heart can muster. To be taken away. “Yes, I want to go.”
The stranger’s smile spreads like moonrise over her, in the gloom of their makeshift chamber. For a moment Yuwen’s eyes, looking down at her, seem almost black; they heave with flashes of deep purple, like the surface of some sunken sea. Then again they are deep blue, and bright.
“Then we’ll go,” he whispers, and chases the promise with a kiss pressed to Sora’s innocent lips. “Back to the Plains, perhaps. Among your people.”
Yuwen’s smile falters, just a little. “But first, this one thing. Just this, Sora, and we’re free. I need you. Will you help me?”
And for that moment, Sora is enraptured. Such strangeness hovering over it and yet her lips part, her own eyes shine with a wonder that speaks of her inexperience– and her being perhaps as weak to the dazzle of the exotic as Gritta had proven to be. She looks between his eyes, tiny ticks that seek to drink up every strange nuance.
In the glow of his pleasure, she shines.
The promise of the plains sees her lifting to meet that kiss, hers closed-lipped but no less enthusiastic for it. Delicately so, still uncertain, but pressed boldly mouth to mouth in spite of it.
When it ends, her head lowers to the ground again and his smile is studied, her mood going solemn. “Yes. I’ll help you, I’ll watch for the man sent to harm you.”
For if Yuwen was harmed, then she would never be taken away. And perhaps never know the sweetness he’d given her, ever again.