Natasha stopped by the roadside because she could go no further. Unable to secure even a horse, she had walked for a day and a night, keeping, wherever possible, out of sight. Where she had come from had been the next best thing to slavery – luxury laced with imprisonment. She had woken as if from a sickly, dizzy dream, and left whilst the palace slept, in the first lavender hour of dawn. At every step she had expected the hoof beats of the Tsar’s soldiers, come to bring her back, but so far she had met only farmers’ wives and the occasional hen. Now her boots were split and her shins were scratched and she felt her flight to be over.
The coach came over the brow of the hill, silhouetted against a rapidly falling dusk. If this was her pursuers, she thought, then so be it. She sat on a milestone and waited.
The coach was drawn by four black horses, mares, she thought, her country girl’s eyes spotting the difference. It slowed, showing a driver wrapped in an all-enveloping black shutout, muffled against the likelihood of snow. She could not tell if it were man, woman or child: just a hunched figure holding the reins in gloved fingers. The coach came to a standstill with a rearing of horses.
“You poor thing!” The voice came from inside the vehicle. It sounded like warm rain. It was not a soldier.
In the doorway stood a woman, clearly a woman by the way its capacious fur coat hugged its contours. The hood was up, but nestled in the folds was a face, luminous in the twilight, with eyes like the two lone candles in a church.
“You must be perished, my dear. Give me your hand.” The hand was tapered and warm, the fingernails dyed a purple color. Natasha stepped into the coach which, at a word from its owner, began to move once more.
Inside was deliriously warm, lit dimly by ornate lamps which swung on chains from the ceiling. It was so dim that she smelt the room at first, rather than saw it: a magnificent scent. The woman had been burning spices, rich aromas suggestive of old wood and the Far East.
“Sit down,” invited her hostess. Natasha sat down, on what? It was hard to see in the gloom. This was a much bigger coach than any she had ever been in. It was like an omnibus, a private barouche. The couch she sat on was soft and springy. It had a silky covering. The dimensions of the space were unclear, but she was glad to be out of the cold wind and seated for the first time in two days. She could feel no wall behind her. The woman called out for the driver outside to slow and as the coach rolled along she lit a tiny stove and warmed some water. Whilst it heated, she sat by the cold, tired girl’s side, making solicitous noises, brushing her tangled hair from her eyes. The woman questioned her and gradually, Natasha told her story. The woman’s voice said she was appalled, but even in the gloom Natasha could see her eyes widen and her pupils dilate. In telling the tale of her captivity she had spared no detail.
“My name is Natasha,” she volunteered. “What is yours?”
“I must bathe these cuts of yours,” was the reply. “The water is ready.”
“Where are we going? Is this coach yours?”
Her hostess made no answer but added to the water a scented oil which filled the cabin with a mouthwatering astringency. Natasha’s eyes had adjusted to the dark well enough now. She was intrigued to discover that she was sitting on the end of a large bed. Her heart fluttered.
The stranger removed the ruined shoes and, raising the skirt, eased down the tattered stockings, revealing the torn and bruised limbs beneath. The woman’s hands were firm and she plied the medicinal cloth with tenderness. Natasha listened to the wind outside and the crunch of the coach’s wheels on the frosty earth below their bodies. Above these sounds she became aware of another noise. It was coming from the woman. A soft noise, a kind of gentle mewing. Her bedside manner was not as professional as it appeared. The “washing” crept further up her legs. The edge of her already rucked skirt was getting wet. She felt a kindling in her belly, a little like the moment when, blowing sparks on a handful of straw, it flickers into fire. She hid her hungry look and bit her lip.
“What are you doing?”
“Your poor legs,” came the uneven reply. “Will you let me remove your skirt?”
“I, I don’t know.”
With a force that belied the caring in her voice the woman dragged the skirt down Natasha’s thighs. The knickers came too. Natasha wondered if she noticed the pearly sheen on her underthings which had blossomed at the first touch of the woman’s hands. Next Natasha’s blouse was raised over her arms, her slip and underthings coming too, exposing her skin to the lips of the warm air around her.
“That’s better,” said the woman. Natasha sat further back on the bed, utterly naked in the half-light, her buttocks slithering on the shiny coverlet, aware of her own wetness and the rigidity of her nipples. She was still prepared to be coy if that was what was needed but, despite her empty stomach and her exhausted limbs, a deeper need was surfacing. The coach rattled on, its motion jiggling her breasts slightly, making her whole body experience an imperceptible state of flux, like the thrumming of a hummingbird’s wings. Her stomach mimicked her body’s tremors.
The stranger’s ache was perceptible now. Still pretending to wash Natasha she knelt on the bed in front of her, rubbing her stomach with the cloth. The warm water ran down her belly and pooled in her lap, matting her pubic hair. The cloth cleaned her pubis, gently, dipped between her buttocks and down the backs of her legs. Natasha’s lips parted. She never broke eye contact with her companion. Gradually the woman leaned further and further over until Natasha was forced to lean back. Gravity and the rocking of the coach took their course, and the two ladies reclined, the still fur-swathed stranger sprawling on top of Natasha, nestling between her open legs. The experience of having her nakedness covered in heavy, silky fur, fur which moved with the impatience of arousal, was entirely new to Natasha and entirely welcome. Without further pretence, their mouths met in a deep kiss. The woman’s tongue crept over the threshold of Natasha’s small mouth and her taste was dark, something like the very rich black cherry preserves Natasha had eaten as a girl, something like that, but behind it the bitterness of black coffee, or warm liquor. The tang of Roubles. Natasha’s thighs parted wider as the stranger ground down her furred hips into the throbbing bed.
“Can you pay the fare?” the woman asked.
“I don’t have any money,” replied Natasha, smiling.
The woman licked her lips. “Good.”
“What is your name?” Natasha asked again.
“My name?” the woman breathed. The warm air filled Natasha’s mouth. “For tonight you may call me Lara. Now. Answer my question. Can you pay the fare?”
“I hope so,” replied the naked girl.
The woman smiled and stood, unfastening her coat, parting the glistening fur. Underneath, her skin shone with health and warmth, naked, as Natasha knew she would be, undulating like the steppe itself. Her small, neat triangle competed for glossiness with the tumbling mink on either side, and there were clear marks of dew on her ample thighs. Her nipples too were erect, tickled now by the tendrils of fur at their tips.
Stalking around the cabin, rocking her body expertly to keep her feet against the roll of the coach, Lara assembled a small group of objects.
Natasha lay on her front, her buttocks wobbling, watching the enchanting creature pick up a bottle here, a jar there, and last of all, a large Russian Doll, what Natasha’s mother would have called a Babushka.
“What’s that?” she asked, as, still furred, Lara kneeled beside her on the bed.
“Your fare,” said Lara.