Don't Go There
The cabman had no ears. He had lost both in the intense cold of the north of the Great Continent. Winter was coming and have little to be seen beyond the white snow, black stones and trunks of dead trees. The man guided his vehicle while whipping two unfortunate horses with frozen manes. Inside the car the temperature was a little milder.
Nadja Yudin was well wrapped up in black bearskin and waterproof boots made of seal leather, but a shiver ran through her whole body. She was being taken to the Castle Otorten. The idea of being in a luxurious building, sheltered from the cold and with a good fireplace did not take her fear away.
Many strange things spoke of the Lord in the most northern provinces. For many people he was a generous and kind boyar, for others he was an arrogant and bloodthirsty sovereign. Much has been talked about his strong hand to protect his people from the wild Kossakos, while some said he treated the population with the same tyranny. Nadja asked the cabman during the entire trip how was the boyar Otorten, but he limited himself to say that he had never seen him: he was not worthy enough to see him.
Throughout the tour through the snow the impression that the girl had was that they were traveling alone on the ice immensity. But she knew she was being guarded by the oprichniki, the elite guard of the Czar of All North. Powerful and violent men who almost never moved away from his master. How important was the boyar Otorten to the highest czar's warriors were under his orders?
Nadja sat back in the soft seat of the carriage. She covered her face with blond hair. She was being taken to marry Otorten. A man who had never seen before and the stories confused about him were useless to give a clue about what to expect.
Many peasant envied the life of noble, their jewelry, their feasts and their nobility. At least the low-born had more freedom to choose his men. The boyar daughters had no choice at all. His father, the Kevillachia yearling, had promised his only daughter to the mysterious noble of the far north. Nothing to discuss.
A violent blow was struck against the carriage window, startling the girl. Oprichnik a white dress rubbed his glass to remove the excess snow and see inside. Inside the carriage was all dark, but he could see Nadja, huddled on the bench. He announced:
"We've arrived, boyarda".
They called her boyarda. She didn't know if that was good or bad.
An immense construction emerged from the snow, leaning against a large black mountain, dotted with white. It was the Otorten castle. Their structures were somewhat misshapen, crooked, with strange diagonal projections involving the towers as if they were stone vines climbing a tree. The appearance was unpleasantly organic. The construction was black, as if the bricks have been made of ebony. Bricks? Approaching more the impression was that the castle had been carved into the mountain and not built on it. A large portcullis opened for an entry that looked like a mouth with sharp fangs.
The Oprichnik left her at the door and the girl was soon greeted by three old maids. Without a word or a smile, the ladies escorted the girl to a large room lit by a nice fireplace. They put food on hand and left the room silent and stoic. The internal environment of the castle was much more welcoming, with large curtains and new and beautiful furniture. All clean and beautiful silver trays with bread, honey, nuts, wild cloudberries and a heated beer jug. For a moment, nibbling snacks, Nadja completely forgot where she was.
She was remembered when a powerful gust of wind opened one of the windows and shook a heavy curtain on the opposite wall. There was a huge picture there. A painting of the large mountain that was guarding the back of the castle, but without the presence of construction.
"The name Otorten comes from it."
The voice was velvet soft and pleasant; almost feminine. For a moment the girl thought it was just a whisper in her head, until she looked back. Before her, there was the man called Wenceslaw Otorten, the twentieth of his name.
There was nothing of frightening on him. He dressed well, like any aristocrat. He had a round face and white skin, with almost no color in her cheeks, though his rounded nose was noticeably red. His hair was so blond and bright that was almost white, rebels as a wild sheep fur. His eyes were also very clear, with black pupils highlighting uncomfortably. It was the only strange and fearful feature that lord had.
"Otorten is the name of the mountain." said the gentleman, approaching cautiously as if he was a virgin to be delivered to consort. "Wild tribes lived here before the kossakos and the Tsar people. They were exterminated, but some of their names remained. They used to call this mountain Otorten, which in the old language means don't go there."
Nadja was silent for a few seconds until she realized she was being rude.
"Boyar ..." whispered the girl, bowing in a bow. "My father, the boyar of Kevillachia, wish you health, peace and wealth ... and his daughter."
"You, of course."
"Yes ..." Nadja whispered that with the pain of those who confesses a terrible sin.
When she looked up, the girl felt the gloved hand of the Lord hold her cheeks gently. She looked up at his face. She was surprised to see the sad expression that Wenceslaw was carrying, as if sorry for her. After a few seconds he let go and turned toward the beer pitcher, filling two crystal tankards.
"Ah, the old Yudin! Finally going to get what he wanted." he reached a pitcher for the girl. "His father is making me proposals for years. I don't think you had completed nine when he promised me you the first time."
"Really?" she looked surprised.
"Yes, since I was in his castle and saw you play with your siblings in the courtyard."
"Oh." the surprise was even bigger. "I ... forgive me, but I do... not ..."
"... don't remember? There is nothing to forgive, because at the time we're not presented." he took a sip of beer. "I went for a quick and discreet visit to Yudin and he casually showed me you from the bedroom balcony. He exhibited you as a gift. He wanted me to marry you, but I refused."
"You refused me ...?" Nadja looked confused and pressed the cup.
"Of course I refused. You were a child. Still is, I suppose."
"I'm a woman." the girl lifted her chin. "I've had my first bloom last year."
"That doesn't make you a woman."
Nadja seemed upset for a moment.
"Why did you tell me this?" she questioned, suspiciously. "Don't you want me? Will you refuse me again?"
"You're here, aren't you?" Wenceslaw looked sad again. He turned what was left of the pitcher in a swig. "Yudin won. Although I confess that I prefer to keep my widowhood for some time."
"Oh! You're widowed?" her father had not told him that. In fact there was not passed to it any information about her husband. Just tucked it in the carriage and sent her to marry. "My ... sincere condolences..."
"You was well trained in the art of empty etiquette." the man's expression changed to a resolute one. "Well, we do not waste time. I will order the maids to bathe you and offer you a good dinner. They will prepare our room and then we immediately consummate our marriage. Tonight."
"Consummate ...?" fear danced in the eyes of the young girl. I just arrived. I just see him for the first time. Barely exchanged words ... It will be so, so quickly? She thought to say, but didn't. All she could do was mutter: "But ... and the ceremony ...?"
"Ceremony? You mean the sacrament of our union before the gods?" Otorten exhibited a wry smile and turned toward the picture of the mountain that gave his surname. "Remember what I said about the wild ones? They avoided this place because they said that two demons was living here."
"Demons. Their names were Knolat and Syakhyl. Invoked by the witchcraft of a expelled shaman of the tribe long ago. They say the two creatures were destroyed, or perhaps simply sent back to hell. But his demonic taint remained here. And where there is the taint, the gods are not able to see or hear anything. A ceremony in this place would be superfluous because the divine could not witness it."
Nadja's eyes widened and left the pitcher tipped her hands, holding it before falling, but pouring some beer.
"The gods ... cannot come here?" the fear was established in her voice. "They cannot hear us...?!"
"And cannot see us. There is no place in the world where prayers are most unhelpful. Do you remember the name of the mountain? Don't go there."
Georgy Yudin was angry. He argued with his father three times when the letter arrived stating that Nadja and Wenceslaw were married. Unceremoniously. No sacrament.
"How he dares take a maiden without asking permission from the gods?!"
Of all Nadja's siblings, he was the only one who seemed genuinely concerned with the happiness of the girl. He tried to convince the old Yudin that she deserved at least have the right to say yes or no to the suitors that will be offered, and not marry the first one. There was no talk. That marriage was too important in political and economic terms.
Kevillachia and Otorten were the two largest provinces of the czar kingdom, but they were cooler and uninhabited. The combined income of the treasures was the desire of Yudin for many years. The news of the consummation of marriage without the marriage itself was seen as a 'done' from the little caring father, a guarantee that the agreement was signed. But Georgy was mad.
"I'll see my sister! I demand to see her! I want to know how she is being treated for this Wenceslaw-hair-of-sheep!"
When the boy saw him for the first time, four years ago, he judged him lethargic and effeminate. His father scolded, saying that the man was depressed due to the recent death of his wife. He did not like hearing about the plan of marriage of Nadja, the sister of only nine, to that weird widower. And even now the proposal still it was indigestible. But there was not much to do.
Before the gates that looked like a grinning mouth, Georgy was greeted by a valet and escorted into the Otorten castle. He demanded to see his sister, something he didn't have to speak twice.
Nadja appeared before him. She was beautiful, adorned with a dark dress, with her blond hair tied in a very fine tiara. She smiled.
"Little Sister!" the boy hugged her. "Gods, are you okay?"
"If am I right?!" the girl raised her voice triumphantly. "Georgy, I'm great!"
"Great?" the boy looked confused. "Are you really ...?"
He walked away with docility, looking at her belly. It was bulky.
"What does it means?!" he exclaimed.
"How well does that mean? I'm pregnant, brother!"
The statement shocked him.
"Pregnant?!" he looked at the girl's face. "But ... pregnant? What do you mean?"
"Well, that's not what happens on the wedding night of a man and a woman?"
A man and a woman?! Nadja ... my sister ... when you matured so much?!
"I ..." the words failed. "Yes, that's what happens. But it was all so fast. I mean ... there was no ceremony. We received a letter saying that you and Otorten had consummated the marriage, but not been called to any party or banquet ..."
"Now, why waste time on it? My Wenceslaw was very wise to rush things."
MY Wenceslaw?! thought the boy.
"So ... do you like him? Do you really liked him, Nadja?"
"What? My dear Wenceslaw was the best thing that happened to me. After you, of course, Georgy!"
The young man remembered the fear and discontent expression on her sister's face, his poor little sister, when his father ordered her to marry the stranger boyar. He remembered the doubts and the night she cried and he comforted her. The apprehension she felt before the wedding. The older brother tried to reassure her: Otorten will be good for you. Because if he's not, I'll kill him!
Apparently Georgy wouldn't need to kill anyone.
"Come on, dear!" she pulled him by the hand. "Let me show you my room. And also my jewels and dresses. And the patio and the little garden that we have inside the castle. Oh, it's so beautiful here!"
"Beautiful ..." the boy would never ever use this adverb to describe the jammed black castle on the mountain. "Nadja ... are you really happy?"
"Why, of course! Why are you doubting?"
"I do not know ..." all so fast ... "Well, but if you're happy, if you guarantee me that is really happy..."
"I am! And I'll be even more so when my two children were born."
"Yes! Will be twins!"
"How can you be sure?"
"Oh, the nurse who is taking care of me is a very experienced midwife. And a shaman. She knows these things. She assured me that my children are twins. A boy and a girl! Wonderful, isn't?"
"Yes, I suppose so." Georgy looked at the belly sister, still incredulous. By the gods, months ago she was just a little girl ... "And has you already chosen the names of the children?"
"Yes!" Nadja's smile was the most bright and tender that Georgy had ever seen. "Will be Knolat and Syakhyl!"