The snow had already been falling for hours when Eleanor woke up and looked out. It had drifted against the sill, making it all but impossible to open the window. She wiped the steam from the glass, and tried to see through the falling snow. Everywhere was white; it lay thick on all the branches of the trees, and there was no sign of the road beneath the deep drifts that covered the ground.
Good job I cut all that wood last week, she thought. There’ll be no going out in this. She dressed, uncovered the fire, and then, with some difficulty, opened the door and, clearing a path before her with a shovel, went out to feed the goats and the chickens. It was cold, and damp, but there was little wind, for a mercy, though it had blown hard in the night. The beasts seen to, she came back in and warmed up some porridge to break her fast. As she ate, she thought of what food she had in store, and for how long it might last her. It could easily be days before she could get out for more. She would have to go carefully, and make sure she had enough to last. Which meant there would be no Yuletide feast. She sighed, and wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders.
Eleanor’s cot stood hard by the forest eaves, out of sight of any other dwelling. This was partly because she did not like to be crowded, but mostly because she was a witch. She herself preferred the term ‘wise-woman’, as this sounded more impressive, but nobody else ever called her that, despite many hints. She made a living dispensing healing herbs and potions, and sometimes essayed a small cantrip to try and help someone in need. She was never entirely certain if these spells actually worked or not, but they usually made the recipient feel better about themselves, and she supposed that was the important thing.
She stood at the window, drinking a hot posset, and glowering at the weather, which continued to be snowy. Not only did this mean she couldn’t get out, and visit the Yuletide celebrations, but nobody was likely to come to her, and she had prepared a large batch of her finest indigestion remedies, which always sold well in the days after Yule. She cursed, as only a witch can. And then, even if it was only the late forenoon, she took a jug of her own apple brandy, poured herself a generous measure, added hot water from the kettle, and then sat and sipped it in front of the fire, wrapped in a quilt and feeling sorry for herself.
An hour or two passed, and the snow gradually ceased to fall. Eleanor looked out again, and sighed. It made no difference; the drifts were too bad for anyone to travel. This was one of those times, she reflected, when it was a shame that witches couldn’t really fly on broomsticks. As she gazed gloomily out over the snowscape, a movement caught her eye. She stiffened, and shaded her eyes, the better to see against the white background. A deer, perhaps? Wolf? Oh, please, not a bear. No, it was moving too straight, too purposefully, to be an animal. Whatever was struggling through the snow toward her cot, it was human.
She watched for several minutes as the dark figure, hooded and bundled in furs, fought its way through the drifts. As it got nearer, Eleanor wrapped her shawl around her shoulders, and with a practiced heave, opened the door a crack. She held the door chain in one hand, ready to shut it quick if need be, and in the other hand, out of sight, she held a stout cudgel, with nails in it.
“Good day,” she called, as the traveller came closer. “Where might you be a-going, in weather such as this?” The traveller stood upright, leaning on a staff, and threw back the hood. Tresses of auburn hair, held in a net at the back, revealed the stranger to be a woman; a tall, handsome looking young woman, with a steady gaze and clear, bright eyes.
“Good day to you, mistress,” she replied, in a ringing, confident voice. “I am travelling to Castle Chariot, in the long run, but for now I seek any shelter I might find.”
“’Tis a long gait, to Castle Chariot,” Eleanor replied; “was you thinking of walking all that way?”
The woman smiled, ruefully.
“No, indeed not. But my horse bolted, and did not come back, when wolves set upon us. I climbed a tree, but I fear I have seen the last of that horse. It has been a weary struggle, through the forest, on foot, but I durst not stop, without fire or food or shelter. Mistress, I would be very glad of any shelter you could offer me … although I am afraid I cannot pay you much for it; most of my coin went with my mount.”
“Come in, and be welcome,” Eleanor said, smiling. “I should be pleased to have company over Yule, if you will accept my poor fare.”
“Yule? Is it Yule already?”
“Aye; today is Yuletide Eve, as ever is.”
“I have lost count, being so long on the road. I shall take your offer kindly, Mistress. But, please, forgive my lack of courtesy; I am called the Lady Isabella, of Greystones in Reath.”
“Come in,” Eleanor said again, “and then I can shut this blessed door against the cold. I am Eleanor, and folk call me a wise-woman.”
The Lady Isabella waded through the snow and entered the cot, grateful to escape the cold. Inside, she laid down her staff and her pack, and took her cloak, crusted with snow, off. Uncloaked, Eleanor saw she was wearing a stout jerkin, riding boots, and breeches. Eleanor smiled to herself, but said nothing.
“Oh, it is good to be in the warm!” Isabella cried, removing her gloves and rubbing her hands together.
“Take a little brandy and hot water, and sit by the fire,” Eleanor entreated her, and Isabella was only too willing to accept. She cast off her jerkin, and her boots, and Eleanor wrapped a warm dry blanket over her shoulders, and then set her down in a chair in front of the fire.
Once Isabella had warmed up a bit, she looked more closely at her host; Eleanor was a dark-haired, somewhat plump woman of about thirty summers or so, who was watching Isabella with a slightly odd smile on her face.
“Forgive me, Mistress Eleanor, but you seem a little … young, for a wise-woman.”
“Not all the wise are crones, Lady Isabella. And be assured that I am in truth just as you see me; I use no arts to appear young or fair, if that’s what you were thinking.”
“Something of that sort,” she admitted. “If it hadn’t been so damned cold and wet outside I might have stayed out, for fear of being turned into a toad.”
“You are in no such danger, my Lady, as I think you know quite well. And there’s no need to be calling me ‘Mistress’ all the while, either; it makes me feel old, and besides, I live here alone, and have no husband, or any other master.”
Isabella sipped her brandy, and raised an eyebrow.
“I do not know if that makes me feel safer or not,” she said. Eleanor only smiled, and the talk passed on to other things; of Isabella’s journey, and of her home in Greystones, and why she was travelling so far in the bleak midwinter.
“It was not so chill, when I first set out, and I looked to be there well before the hard weather set in. But I was delayed, and there were many difficulties on the road, not least the wolves, and so I came to be here, in the forest, in the snow.”
“It must be an urgent errand, to travel so far so late in the year.”
“It is,” Isabella said, and changed the subject.
Later on, they ate, and if the Lady Isabella found the stew of rabbit and beans less rich than her usual fare, she made no complaint, and gave every sign of enjoying it. And then after the meal they sat before the fire again, with more brandy, and talked on as the light faded. Eleanor pulled heavy drapes over the windows and the door, and they drew the chairs closer to the fire – and nearer to each other. Eleanor took a large log and laid it on the fire for a Yule offering, and the flames rose up to caress it, making the room warmer.
And maybe it was the brandy, or the warmth of the fire, or maybe it was the herbs Eleanor had put in the stew, but whatever it was Isabella felt very warm, very safe, and very contented. She relaxed as she had not been able to do for a long time, and spoke to Eleanor with no thought of their stations in life, but as if she were a friend she had known for many years. The world outside ceased to exist, and there was nothing but the circle of firelight, the enclosing dark, and the sound of their own hushed voices.
After a time, Eleanor got up and lighted candles, and the room grew a little brighter; sitting down again, she leant nearer to Isabella, and asked;
“You’ve said naught of any love you might have, Lady Isabella. Is there no knight-errant, longing for my lady’s favours?”
Isabella gave a sly grin.
“Nay, there is not,” she said.
“But this is passing strange, is it not, in one so fair and well-born?”
“You may say so, surely. Passing strange, indeed. Oh, there have been young gallants who wished to pay me a courtesy, but I … I heed them not.”
“How very odd.”
“Odd, say you? No more odd than I find a woman like you, clever, quick of wit and fair of face, capable and handy around the house … and yet withal she has no husband, nor any sign of a man at all. Is this, too, not strange?”
Eleanor smiled in her turn, and drank a little brandy.
“Well, there could be a perfectly innocent explanation for these things, of course,” she said, looking directly into Isabella’s eyes, “or, then again, perhaps the same reasons do for us both.”
“Perhaps they do. Tell me, Eleanor, how do you normally celebrate Yule?”
“Most years I go over to the village; there’s a feast, in the hall, and a bonfire, and dancing, and singing, and other … celebrations.”
“It will be a poor Yule for you, I fear, with only my company. I should like to try and make up for you missing the celebrations, if I can.”
Eleanor smiled again, a slow lazy smile that sent a little chill down Isabella’s spine.
“Oh, I think you could,” she said. “What say you, my lady, that we have our own Yule celebrations, as best we may? For certain it is you shan’t be able to travel on for a day or two yet.”
“Indeed not. I will stay, and thank-you kindly. I can think of worse ways of spending Yule.”
“So can I. I was not eager to spend the holiday alone. But, my lady, look you; this is but a small cot; there is only the one bed in it.”
“I daresay one will suffice, so it be large enough for two. But tell me, Eleanor, so we are clear on the matter; what reason is yours for living alone, with no husband or lover?”
“Why, as to that, when it comes to matters of passion, it’s not any man I look to. Rather, to say it bluntly, I prefer to sport with my own sex. And what of you, Lady Isabella? Is your reason of the same sort?”
Isabella sat up, and brought her face close to Eleanor’s. The dancing light from fire and candles made their eyes glitter, and it seemed to Eleanor that time itself had slowed down, and that the few moments that passed before Isabella replied stretched into minutes … hours …
“Of exactly the same sort, Eleanor. I too cleave only to my own kind.”
“And did you mean it, when you said I was fair of face?”
“Oh, I did, Eleanor, I did most truly.”
And then with one accord, they moved together, and kissed.
Gently at first, getting used to each other, tasting and smelling as their faces touched, and then more urgently. Isabella opened her lips, and Eleanor darted her tongue into her guest’s mouth, mingling deliciously, savouring the taste of a new lover. Without breaking the kiss, Eleanor rose up out of her chair and moved across to sit in Isabella’s lap, knees drawn up so her legs could straddle Isabella’s. Isabella reached up to pull Eleanor closer, and their bodies squeezed together. Eleanor reached up, and carefully undid the net that held Isabella’s hair. Long auburn tresses cascaded down, and Eleanor drew them forward, so she could stroke and kiss Isabella’s hair.
“You are so lovely, Lady Isabella,” she murmured. Isabella ran her fingers across Eleanor’s cheek.
“As are you, wise-woman,” she replied. “If this be enchantment, then more of it, I say.”
“The only enchantress here is you,” Eleanor told her. “I was in thrall from the moment you passed my door. The finest Yule gift I’ve ever had.”
“A gift, am I? Well, then, I think you should unwrap your gift, Eleanor, and see what else might be for you, within.”
“I daresay the contents are very pretty,” she said, “but best make sure, eh?”
With deft fingers she untied the lacings at the collar of Isabella’s shirt, and then worked her way down, undoing all the fastenings, until she was able to draw the linen aside and expose what lay beneath … which turned out to be another shirt.
“My lady, you are a tease,” Eleanor said, reprovingly.
“By no means! Well, no, that is an untruth. I am indeed a great tease, but in this case I plead the cold of midwinter; two shirts were most necessary, believe me. But I assure you that if you carry on, you will strike treasure.”
The undershirt was less fine, and Eleanor undid the lacings of it as quickly as she might, less careful of breaking a lace than she had been before. Swiftly she pulled the fabric apart, and there beneath lay the naked breasts of the Lady Isabella. They were not particularly large, but perfectly formed, and the nipples of them stood pink and upright. Eleanor idly ran a finger around the left nipple, while remarking
“Some there are who do not care for their titties to be touched; what says my lady?”
“My lady says touch, aye, and suck, and as quick as you may.” Isabella’s voice had changed; it was no longer so light and clear, but thick and urgent. It sent a charge through Eleanor, and she ceased her own teasing, and instead bent her head, and put her lips around the stiff nipple, and gave suck to it. Isabella sighed happily. Eleanor ran her lips and tongue around Isabella’s left breast for some minutes, before transferring her attentions to the right, nibbling gently at it, and pulling on the nipple with her lips. Eventually she paused.
“I take it from your sighs that my lady enjoys my attentions?” she said, grinning.
“Oh, yes, very much;” Isabella replied, grinning back, “but now I am wondering what other skills your lips and tongue might have.”
“Ah, my lady likes that, does she?”
“Indeed she does, wise-woman, and I am hoping that you are not loth to perform this service.”
“By no means; it’s a taste I love above all things.”
“Then for the love of all that is holy, use your tongue for that, instead of talking!”
Eleanor slid herself off Isabella’s knees, and pulled a cushion off the other chair to kneel on. Once comfortably positioned, she began to unfasten the belt on Isabella’s breeches. Once it was loose, Isabella raised her hips and wriggled to help Eleanor pull the breeches down over her thighs. Linen drawers followed swiftly – drawers that Eleanor noticed had a definite damp patch in them.
Isabella now lay fully exposed, her young, lithe body all but bare, for Eleanor to see and touch. She parted strong thighs, the better to look at the unruly brown curls that nested between Isabella’s legs.
“My lady appears to be a little wet,” Eleanor observed, striving to sound calm.
“I have been wet for hours,” Isabella replied, not sounding very calm at all. “Please, Eleanor …”
At this entreaty Eleanor relented, and lowered her lips toward those delicious curls. With a practiced tongue, she began to pleasure Isabella.
Isabella said “Ah!”, and then a little later, “Ng.” She had her hands twined in Eleanor’s hair, and a look of bliss on her face. Not that Eleanor was looking; her attention was solely devoted to devouring Isabella’s cunny, although she did lay her right hand on Isabella’s stomach, the better the feel the flutterings within, and judge how far Isabella might be from her peak of excitement. As Eleanor’s tongue lapped at her, Isabella gave a short wordless cry, whether of joy or anguish neither woman could tell.
Eleanor could feel the tumult in Isabella’s body growing, and she judged the moment right to slip the long finger of her left hand into Isabella’s cunny; it met no resistance, but generated more cries and a markedly increased level of excitement in Isabella. Eleanor wondered if Isabella was able to take more, or was she too tight? Certainly, it felt as if there had been few intruders before. There was only one way to find out; Eleanor withdrew her finger, and then re-entered, but this time with two fingers, which she crossed, and then turned them widdershins as she pushed them in. Isabella bucked her hips and shouted out a number of things that no lady ought to know, and Eleanor was hard pressed to hold on. She would have liked to tease Isabella, to bring her close to the edge, and then recede, and then once more to the brink and so on, until she had the woman crying for mercy, but this was not the time for such games. Eleanor could feel, with every writhe of Isabella’s body, with every tremble and flutter in her stomach, every sensation transmitted through her fingers and her tongue, that what Isabella needed more than anything right now was to be carried over the edge and allowed to fall all the way down.
Which she very soon did, crying out almost as if in pain, and arching her hips as the climax took her, digging her fingers into Eleanor’s scalp. Eleanor rode out the storm, her tongue, lips and fingers still busy on and in Isabella as the torrent ran its course, until at last the tumult subsided, and as Isabella relaxed, whimpering, Eleanor slowly removed her fingers, and raised her head from Isabella’s lap.
Isabella lay back for a moment, catching her breath, and then sat up and kissed Eleanor passionately, tasting herself on Eleanor’s lips and tongue.
“I take it it’s been a while,” Eleanor said when they paused for breath.
“Such a long while,” Isabella agreed. “But worth every minute of the wait. You are most skilled, wise-woman. And now, I think it is time I took all your clothes off. Help me stand up.”
Eleanor stood up, and helped Isabella up out of the chair. They embraced, and kissed again, while Isabella’s hands were busy undoing every fastening she could find in Eleanor’s clothes. She soon discovered that Eleanor had much larger breasts, which she kept bound up in cloth. It took Isabella a moment or two to free them, but once she had, she lost no time in plunging her hands into the soft, plump flesh. Encouraged by Eleanor’s happy little cries, she bent her head – quite a lot, as she was much taller than Eleanor – and applied her mouth to the pink tips of Eleanor’s breasts, first one, and then the other, sucking at them and licking greedily.
Meanwhile her hands were not wasting time, unfastening Eleanor’s skirts, and lowering first her smock and then her petticoats to the floor, leaving her all but naked. Eleanor stepped out of the ruins of her clothes, and led Isabella over to the bed; she nearly tripped, as her feet were still entangled in her drawers and breeches, but she kicked them aside, shrugged her shirts off her shoulders, and fell down onto the bed with Eleanor. They rolled gleefully across the quilts, hands and mouths seeking out all the other’s flesh, giggling like little maids.
Isabella put her hand down between Eleanor’s legs and felt the delicious velvety texture of her cunny.
“So, wise-woman, what is it you like, h’m?”
Eleanor grinned, and reached for the cabinet at the side of the bed, from which she picked up a leather case such as might contain a spyglass. She undid the cord that held it closed, and pulled from it a blunt instrument, some seven inches long and about two inches thick; it was white, and chased with strange runes and patterns. She handed it to Isabella.
“Oh, my,” Isabella said reverently, running her fingers over the highly polished surface of it. “What is it made of?”
“Ivory,” Eleanor told her, “or so I am told.”
“I have never seen such a thing,” Isabella said, “wherever did you get it?”
“It was a gift, from a grateful customer; for every wise-woman ought to have a wand, and truly, this wand works great magic. But here, my lady, you will need this, also.”
And she passed across a little pot; opening the lid, Isabella found it contained a rich, oily substance, She put a little on her finger, and sniffed it.
“What is in it?” she asked, for the curious, musky smell was unknown to her.
“Ah, that, my lady, is a secret of my craft, but you will find it quite safe to use … in all parts. Put a little about the wand, if you please.”
Isabella anointed the wand with the oil, and then introduced the head of it to Eleanor’s nether lips.
“The oil,” Isabella observed, “is hardly necessary.”
Eleanor, who was sat up, the better to see, laughed.
“Well, you know how it is, my lady, spending time with a handsome woman can do that to me, and – ah – when she does things like – oh – that to me, I …”
Her words faded away, replaced only by heavy breathing and gasps of delight, as Isabella began to work the wand back and forth. When Isabella judged the moment to be ripe, she leaned forward and added her lips and tongue to the blend of delights, at which point Eleanor grabbed Isabella’s free hand, threw her head back, and surrendered herself to joy.
A little later, once everything had calmed down somewhat, and they lay entwined, Isabella’s head resting on Eleanor’s shoulder, Isabella said:
“Is that why you live so far away from anybody?”
“Is what why I live so far away from anybody?”
“Well … you were so noisy.”
“Yes. You sounded like a woman in childbirth.”
“Ah. Did I? I can’t say I noticed, myself. Anyway, I live out here by the forest for many reasons. First, I am by trade a wise-woman, or, to use the vulgar word, witch, and people aren’t always keen to abide close to witches. And for another, I don’t want anybody else poking their noses into my business, or my craft. And for a third, if I want to have a little fun with a willing lass now and then, it’s best nobody else knows about it.”
“You have me convinced, wise-woman. I for one am very glad nobody heard us just now. Although I am very glad to have been the occasion of such loud pleasure.”
“Are you now? How do you feel about occasioning a little more?”
Isabella giggled, and kissed Eleanor warmly.
“If you insist, I shall have to comply, of course. How about you try using your magic wand on me, wise-woman?”
“Aren’t you afraid it will turn you into something unnatural?”
“I am rather hoping it will. And while you do it, I should like you to -” and she whispered something into Eleanor’s ear, something that made Eleanor feel very warm all of a sudden, despite the fact that she was naked and some way from the fire.
They did what Isabella asked, and many other marvellous things, in the hours before Eleanor at last got up, covered the fire, and put out the candles. They snuggled together under the quilts, tired but happy.
“I’m glad you came by, my lady,” Eleanor said, softly.
“I am glad you let me in,” Isabella replied, equally softly.
And then they slept.
Morning found them still entangled under the quilts; Eleanor woke late, when a shaft of sunlight pierced through a chink in the drapes at the window. Carefully, she unwound herself from Isabella, and stepped down from the bed. Wrapping her shawl about her shoulders, she peered through the drapes at an impossibly bright world. The sun shone in a clear blue sky, and the light rebounded from every snow-covered surface, making it very difficult to see anything.
Eleanor bustled about quietly, trying not to wake Isabella as she dressed, but there was no way of opening the door quietly. It needed a good heave, and the hinges squealed as it opened. Isabella sat up in bed, looking bleary and tousled.
“Eugh. What hour is it?” she asked.
“About nine, by the clock,” Eleanor told her. “Not that I have a clock. I need to see to the beasts, I shall be back shortly. There’s water in the ewer, and you’ll find the pot in a cupboard by the bed.”
When Eleanor returned, stamping the snow off her boots, she found Isabella dressed, and looking a little more human.
“And how are you this morning, my lady? Shall you have breakfast? It’s only porridge, but made with fresh goat milk.”
“Thank-you, I will. I feel as if I could do with more sleep, to tell truth. It was a long day yesterday – and a long night.”
“Not I. I have never spent a better night.”
“Sleep again, if you will, my lady. There’s no call for any hurry; though the sun shines, the snow lies as thick as ever. Twill be a day or two yet, before you can move on.”
“No, no, I am dressed now, and beside, I would help you about the house, if I can.”
Eleanor looked at her, a little surprised.
“Well, I won’t say it’s not welcome,” she replied, “but sit you by and have your porridge, first.”
Once she had shovelled enough hot porridge into her mouth, Isabella felt bold enough to broach the subject she had been turning over in her mind since last night.
“What you were saying, before, about me moving on,” she began.
“Well … look, Eleanor, last night was wonderful. When I said I had never spent a better, I meant it. Not even in a palace. And it wasn’t just the, you know. No. It was you.” And she looked up, and met Eleanor’s eyes. “All of you. The way you spoke, and the way you held me, and … Eleanor, I do not want to leave.”
Eleanor’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“But what of your errand to Castle Chariot, that was so dire you left on the brink of winter?”
Isabella looked down at her porridge bowl, and stirred her spoon slowly.
“What I sought at Castle Chariot, I found here, instead, and more beside. Let me stay with you, Eleanor, for I … I do think I love you.”
Eleanor smiled, and sat closer to Isabella.
“Well, perhaps you can tell me, then, what use you might be to me, were you maybe to stay?”
“Let me see; I am good at tracking, and hunting, and handy with a bow, or a knife, and a little with the small sword. I can pluck a bird, and prepare game, and gut fish, and set a fire. I’m strong, and hardy, and not afraid of work. And I can sew – not daintily, but well enough to mend things, and … I am led to believe I am passing fair at the arts of love.”
“That you are, indeed. But think of what you’re saying, Lady Isabella. You are a high-born lady, and I but a poor cottager. My father was a smith – a good smith, too, but a cottar only. Could you be happy here?” Isabella took Eleanor’s hands in hers, and shook her head.
“Do not think, wise-woman, that I have lived my life in some perfumed bower, attended by servants and pampered all day long. I was born into war, and my life has often been hard, hard beyond telling. I care not for palaces and silks. I prefer the greenwood, and sleep in the open as oft as not. I am no slave to comfort.”
“What shall people think, though, if a noble Lady dwells in a humble cot, earning her bread like any common villager?”
“Would you care what people thought?”
“I wouldn’t, no, it’s true. But I was thinking more of your kin. Will they not send out for you, when you don’t arrive at Castle Chariot?”
Isabella gave a short, bitter laugh.
“Nay, not they. Why do you think I travelled alone? There are none now to care where I might go, or what I might do, save only my enemies; and they will doubtless think I perished on the road, and good riddance to me.”
“It is a dull life I lead here; I have no adventures to tell of. Shall you not get bored?”
“I have had enough of adventure. I weary of a life of being hunted, and having no home. I did not know it, but I was looking for you all this time, and now I have found you I am loth, very loth, to lose you. Let me stay by you, Eleanor. Please?”
And then Eleanor smiled, and kissed Isabella’s hands.
“For my part I have loved you since first you walked out of the snow,” she said, “but hadn’t dared hope you might return my love. And I too have been alone too long. You say you shun luxury and comfort; I have been looking for another sort of comfort, and, sooth to say, had thought of leaving, and seeking it elsewhere. And yet by strange chance winter has brought comfort to me. Aye, stay here with me, Isabella my love, and we shall build a nest against the winter chill, for as long as we have. Nay, love, do not cry. You are come home at last.”
“I know it, but I cannot help my tears. I cry for joy, joy I had never hoped to find.”
They kissed, long and passionately.
“I am the mistress of this house, and you are to do everything I say, mind,” Eleanor warned her, in between kisses.
“Gladly,” Isabella returned.
“And you are to work – I can take on no idle hands.”
“I fear no work,” Isabella told her, kissing her again. “Are there not chores to do, now?”
“Yes, yes, there are, but they can go hang just for once, because by all the heavens I’m going to take you to bed again right now.”
“As my mistress commands,” Isabella said, meekly. “You know, I think I am going to enjoy living here.”