The Boy-Toy Wife

6. In Which Cards are Played, and Whiskey Imbibed

by gargulec

Tags: #cw:noncon #D/s #dom:female #f/f #humiliation #pov:bottom #sub:female #bondage #f/nb #fantasy

A flight of worn-down granite stairs took Miria below the street level and into the hazy embrace of the Three Crowns. The air inside was naught but tobacco smoke laced with the sharp stench of exhausted bodies and expensive liquor, all settling on Miria's tongue alongside the soot from long-burning wicks. She hesitated for a moment on the threshold, and then, with a hand roguishly resting on the hilt of her sword, dove in.

Tired eyes welcomed her, reflecting pin-prick embers of sputtering candles. A writhing mass of men-shapes, bristling with weapons and muscle, surrounded her; it made Miria think of the sculpted wall of flesh in the Lady Governor's shrine, and of the first wife's ministrations. She stumbled under the weight of that memory, and the masculine expectations it was failing.

But men around her did not notice; they only saw a boy's swagger turn to a misstep.

"Careful there, braveheart," a pair of canine eyes, straight from the Lupine Republics, cheered from one of the tables.

"Don't stab yourself with that needle," the wolf-man's companion added, entirely hidden from view, but speaking with the unmistakable drawl of an upland Leshite.

They both laughed, and Miria laughed with them, the well-worn chuckle of a boy letting himself be made the punchline of the joke. It worked; attention slid off her, turning into indifference. She became just one more shape awkwardly stumbling through the discordant quiet of a party stretched long past everyone's endurance. Empty bottles of akvavit lined the old chestnut tables; a gray-haired fiddler was catching a nap in the corner, his apprentice warily guarding a chest bursting with a long day's worth of spare silver. Somewhere deeper in, voices argued, laden with long exhaustion and far too much drink. 

The men she was after did not make themselves hard to find; they were the axle the night turned around. Theirs was the table of honour, by the great fireplace; even now, a servant was throwing another fat chunk of beech into the flame, sending a shower of sparks up towards the ceiling. There were four of them gathered, all pictures of Leshite brawn, with their long sabers, hair kept long on one side of the head and shaved clean on the other, and gilded pistols tucked behind wide belts of brocaded silk. A woman in immodest dress tended to them, her skin sticky with sweat; they passed her from hand to hand over spent playing cards littering the floor at their feet, a deck for each game played. From a mantlepiece portrait, the late king stared them all down, burn-marks turning his stately face into a picture of pox. Whenever a new round arrived at the table, the men toasted him with crooked smiles and barked laughs.

"Vivat rex!" 

The girl laughed with the men, their strained voices braiding together into a grinding, ugly sound, as familiar and as unwelcome to Miria as the weight of the sword on her belt. She dropped onto an empty seat, right outside the fireplace's ring of orange light, unsure on how to approach the late wife's bodyguards. If the men were not shouting, it was only because their throats had been shot already; their growling voices drilled into Mira a sharp yearning to be anywhere but here. Her body had stiffened at some point—perhaps the taste of air was familiar enough to remind it of its old fears of being seen through as a fraud. Anxiously, she stared at the girl in the men's large hands and briefly, in the flash of her ruby earrings, their eyes met—but hers did not linger on Miria, sliding off her as easily as they would off any other man. The same was true for the men, to whom she was only yet another boy-shaped shape in the haze; and yet, every time they moved their hard-featured heads in her direction, she tensed, expecting their eyes to fix on her, notice her fraud and punish her for it. This too was a familiar feeling. She swallowed, pushing down the choking mass of her fear, and tried to focus; tried to think about Ambros, and her purpose here, among men.

A card slammed on the table, breaking the languid quiet. The girl jumped from the lap she was in, climbing onto the shoulder of the victor, to kiss his hoary cheek. Across the table, his comrade swore viciously, tossing the losing deal to the floor. 

"What's with this silence?" he roared, jagged voice jolting a dozen tired heads from their stupor. "Drink my ruin, you fucks! Akvavit, everyone!" 

A rumbling cheer rose in the dark; encouraged by the clinking of gold, ruffled servants rushed with bottles and glasses. 

"Bottoms up!" 

Liquor burned its way down Miria's throat; when the Three Crowns broke into the obligatory song, she found her voice leading: a slight, tinny falsetto set against a choir of spent men.  

"Louts!" the victor banged the table, throwing cards and glasses an inch up into the air. "Wasted louts, all of you! Sing, fuckers, sing!"

Instinct, beaten into Miria's flesh over the years of her father's tutelage, took wholly over. She downed the glass, and freshly flushed, broke into song again, cheerful cracks opening in her voice. For better or worse, it worked: she made herself heard, and the men at the table of honour staring straight at her, idle interest playing in their eyes.

"He gets it!" 

Another man, small and mousy, with a face like a chipped knife, grinned at her, beckoning her closer.

"Sit with us, kid!" he called, grinning with a row of golden teeth.

Though she tried her best to appear at ease, she still stumbled as she stepped towards the table. The men did not mind. The biggest of the three held the girl on his lap close, freeing her seat for Miria; she sat down to the tune of her small, mocking protestations, feeling her shoulders brush against the arms of the last deal’s loser. With an awkward smile twitching on her lips, she felt herself close down, suddenly dwarfed by those men—less so their physical size, though they felt larger than her, and more by the sheer intensity of  their sweat-and-smoke cheer. A mound of imperial thalers piled up in the middle of their table, proudly displayed for all to see. Those men had not just just been paid off: they were also proud of it.

"So what's with the cunty voice?" the loser asked, giving her a sharp slap on the back. 

He used to be handsome, once, before something burned a scowl permanently onto his face. A medal for battlefield courage glinted on his chest. Oak leaves: earned in one of the interminable wars waged by the republican wolves. 

"Somebody snipped your balls? That's why you cross your legs?"

He made a scissoring gesture with his fingers. The table rumbled with idle laughter. Only Miria's stomach closed on itself, as if squeezed by an invisible hand. Cursing new habits, she forced her legs apart, earning another burst of laughter from the scarred man. Fresh shame reddened her cheeks. She sought the girl on the victor's lap, but again found no recognition nor comfort in her beautiful face.

"Or they haven't dropped yet!" the knife-face croaked, slamming a glass in front of Miria, and pouring her generously. "Look at how smooth his cheeks are!"

"Like goddamn buttermilk!" the loser's hand reached towards Miria's face, as if to touch. She froze so as not to recoil. "Hey kid, are you even old enough to remember that asshole?"

He toasted the portrait again; Miria followed on reflex, desperate to show some kind of camaraderie. Whatever they were drinking was no akvavit; it left a cool, harsh after-taste, like metal, like blood. 

"Vivat rex!"

Iron barley whiskey, Miria remembered; a specialty from far in the West, to keep the fey at bay. No one ever drank it for taste. The hoary man spilled half of his round; the rest paid it no mind as if it was just vodka, not an imported delicacy. Even without thalers piling on the table, it was clear the men became recently rich, and had little desire to hold onto the wealth. 

"Well, at least you drink like a man!" the knife-face laughed, and finally looked away from her, content..

"But still blush like a virgin," the loser added, continuing to watch her closely.

Miria tried to match his stare, and found herself glancing away, anyway. She felt odd under the weight of his curiosity. For the first time tonight, she could not shake the feeling that she had been noticed somehow—and that notice pierced right through her, spearing her to the chair. Alcohol spread across her body, in a wave of warmth far less reassuring than she would have wanted it to be. 

"Holy," the knife-face shook his head. "He really does!"

"Lay off, Koshei," the hoary victor shrugged, the girl in his arms holding on tightly so as not to slip off. "You're all scaring the kid. He hasn't even said a word yet!"

That much was true, though 'fear' was perhaps not the best word to describe the paralyzing pressure that made Miria freeze, as if the entire coffee-house was closing on her with a crushing force. Again, she tried to catch her bearing, and remember why she was here in the first place: to ask those looming masses of muscle, violence, and hunger about why they sold the life of the one they were sworn to protect.

Suddenly, her visit here no longer felt like a good idea at all.

"What's wrong with asking?" the one who lost the game and was called Koshei said, with mock indignation in his voice. "Do you know how many neutered boys I've had, back south? Wolfmen love them some…"

Again, he made the same scissoring gesture, and when the croaked laughs stopped, Miria finally recognized what it was that she felt brush over her skin as he looked at her: lust. The man ate her up as she would at those demon women on a theater's balcony, at Luna, at Asha. Or maybe not quite, she realized moments later; this was a different kind of hunger, altogether more possessive and nowhere near as careful. For a split-second, she glanced back at him, and saw the kind of want that would not hold back—nor would it be careful. Carefully, she exhaled, and fixed a smile on her face. Koshei was already pouring her another round. She thanked him by leaning into his shoulder, just shy of conspicuously. If the gesture was awkward, all the better. He seemed to fancy that. Others noticed.

"Don't let me ruin your fun," the knife-face said.

They drank; they played cards. Their leader—the hoary one, whom they called Bej—kept his hands wandering over and under the fine blue chiffon dress of the girl on his lap. She returned the advances with empty giggles and sloppy kisses, only sometimes stealing a glance towards the pile of gold, as if to make sure it was still there. She did not talk much, and neither did Miria. At some point—it was increasingly difficult to tell in the half-drunken stupor—Koshei yanked her from her seat and squeezed right next to himself, an arm possessively wrapped around her neck, so that she barely could turn her head. From up close, she could smell the spiciness of his sweat, and the earthen musk of his favoured tobacco.

When they next dealt cards, Miria did not receive a hand. Instead, she watched Koshei play his, and then cheered as he won and squeezed her in a tight, greedy hug in celebration. Only then did the girl in Bej's hand finally look at her, and smile, however briefly, in recognition of something she and Miria were sharing.

"Great call, Sirgij," Koshei smiled at the knife-face; his fingers brushing through Miria's hair, ready to pull at a moment's notice. "Wouldn't have noticed the sweetheart myself!"

Slowly, but inexorably, something changed in the way those men towered over the boy-toy wife. It was no longer that old, familiar fear of being near what she could never fully become; when they looked at her, she no longer felt like they were seeing their failure. No, there was no more open aggression or challenge directed at her, no need to prove to others that they were better than her; in Koshei's grasp, she was not a peer to them, but a prize. With dawning horror that not even the liquor could dull, Miria realized that if she tried to leave now, it would not go well for her. The fear was strangely sweet to sample, and not too dissimilar from arousal. She did not struggle against the hand, not even as it rested inches under the small mounds of her budding breasts. Worse yet, if she tried to ask about Visza, they would not hear her; she no longer had a voice.

Around, the coffee-house gradually emptied; not even the magnetic pull of the great wealth on the table could hold the party going on forever. Tired men sneaked out into the night, candles at the tables going out one by one. But not the fireplace. Bej would not allow the fire to draw low there, demanding that the servants stoke it, and paying with gold for each log thrown in. Koshei balked at that, and briefly turning away from holding onto Miria turned to face his comrade and accuse him of wastefulness, of pissing away the money now that they were out of work. With her head propped against his shoulder, Miria looked away, and listened keenly on, the words more real than whatever it was that was happening to her body.

In a deep bellow of a man too drunk to lie, Bej said he did not care for the money, for it was splattered with blood, and that was not how it was meant to be, and that even if they could care for it, it would bring them no good to hoard, for Karsz was soon to go up in flames, and that they were the ones that made it so. With a shout, he interrupted Koshei's protestation, demanding more iron-barley whiskey. 

"This is the prize for my stupidity," he snarled, grabbing a handful of coins and tossing it around, towards the empty seats, "and I decide how to spend it!"

Then, he grabbed a servant and demanded that he find him a fiddler, and put some merriment back in the air, before the infernal troops burn the city to foundations. Three thalers were enough to convince the man to go out into the night and search. There were so many questions Miria wanted to ask, all of them silenced by the push of an arm squeezing her ever tighter; she could tell each time a twitch of worry went through Koshei, winding him up even more taut. Only Sirgij felt at ease, promising them that come morning, they would board a coach that would take them west, far west, beyond the lowlands, and maybe to the island courts of the fey, or to the Lupine Republics that were gearing up for war again, and would always need more soldiers.

"Oh, not me," Koshei barked in response. "Never trust those dogs, I tell you. Never."

From above his glass, Bej pointed at the medal on Koshei's chest, and the man spat out a jagged laugh, his fingers digging into Miria's shirt and flesh. He told a story, next, in sparse, unpleasant words, about catching the attention of a lupine general during the peninsular campaigns. 

"Oh, he loved me alright," he crooned, "but you know how the dogs love. He wanted to make his bitch," he spat the word with boundless contempt, shaking Miria like a puppet as he did. He needed them to see that he was the one taking hold. "I am a fucking Leshite, and he wanted me to be his fucking dog bitch!"

He then told them, his speech growing faster and more frantic, about how he shot the general dead, and put the entire camp on fire before fleeing, pointing at his scarred face as evidence of the deed. Each exclamation point in the story, he punctuated by banging the table and squishing Miria in his hold.

"I am no one's bitch!" he exclaimed at the end, the noise far too loud for how late the night was.

Miria wondered if his comrades could see his vulnerability, the fear and hurt underpinning this bravado. She was, like the medal on his chest, a proof of something to him, and every time he looked at her, she saw how much it meant to him to keep her in his hands. There was no escaping him, nor was there any denying him—and yet, she understood that she too had power over him, not so different from the spell Luna had put her under, back in the shrine to Want. Holding onto what was loveliest about his touch—on the way it made her feel bound, and appreciated, and needed—she leaned over into his ear, and whispered, not hiding the boyish twang of her voice:

"Can I?"

There was a hook in those words, in their awkward, stumbling eagerness. It slid oh-so-very-easily into the cracks of the shell of him, pulling his attention as surely as if she had him secured on a leash. But there was no force necessary; she only needed him to hear what he wanted to hear, and knew what that was because in the disfigured mess of his sadness she saw, with cold and sad certainty, a life she could have led, had she not chosen to become a wife instead. 

"Can I be your bitch instead?"

It was as if he was waiting for her to ask that all night long. Ignoring Sirgij's chuckles and Bej's demands he stay and play with them, he seized Miria by the wrist and pulled her up, and through the haze, towards the quiet, dark booths in the back of the Three Crowns, that were as famous as impolite to ever mention. She struggled to keep up, not even able to grab her sword before Koshei was all over her, hands, mouth, skin. With the calls of his comrades still echoing in the dark, he pushed her against a wall, fingers slipping under the shirt and finding Miria's breasts. Her breath caught.

"I knew it," he whispered a damp swoon into her ear, "I knew you were a toy."

She tried to imagine herself as leashing him, as being the one in control; but with his hand now shooting into her trousers, and closing around her crotch, she was not. He probably expected her to moan, so she moaned slightly as he squeezed and pulled at her nethers, and truth be told, it was not altogether unpleasant, merely distant. It was also, she realized, infidelity. She tensed in the man's grasp, and with needy kisses on her neck, he understood it to be arousal.

"Why didn't you tell me," he asked, stupidly.

The question, too, was an opening. Miria stifled a moan as he squeezed her breast far too tightly for any pleasure, pinching and twisting as if juicing a lemon—but this was only her body. Her thoughts were elsewhere now, circling around how she should explain it to the Lady Governor, and remembering, obsessively over and over again, what she came into this place for. The lie came easily to her, mostly because it was not a lie.

"I was afraid," she cried. "They killed one of us. The lady's wife…"

For a moment, only his hands spoke. He did not know when to stop, or perhaps had just been too hungry for too long, and could not stop marveling at how the pliant flesh did not meld away back into a dream, at how someone wanted to be his. Each squeeze, each pinch, was a joyous confirmation of something he had long since given up on.

"Shh," he murmured, "don't worry about it. It's not because he was a toy…"

He. It stung; even through the veil of separation Miria mantled herself in, it stung. He wanted her, she finally realized—but he did not want her. The hands were asking for her body, and nothing else.

"...his wife, she set him up. She paid, so that he would die."

It was a good thing that the dark shielded them, and that her body was frozen in Koshei's hold, too still to be moved even by the shock of those words. 

"That was the Lady Governor's money?" she managed.

His hands finally slid from under her clothes; his arms bumped into her back as he struggled with the belt on his pants, drunk enough that even the simple knot holding together slipped in his fingers.

"It came from the palace, so who else?"

She could name at least a few names. Unfortunately, most of them were the Lady Governor's wives. Miria's throat clenched, heart refusing to steady. Koshei could hear her ragged breath, and clearly liked the sound of it.

"It was not about being a toy," he repeated. "His wife just needed an excuse…"

A few wet, squishing noises reached her ear; Koshei's arm moved a few times, as if working something up and down, followed by a frustrated sigh. He reached around her waist, fingers closing around the buckle of her belt, fumbling to undo it.

"Come on…" he murmured.

"Excuse?" she asked.

"To put the Episcopacy down, are you thick? Just help me here!" 

Anger built up in his voice and touch, and Miria had to reach down and, braiding her fingers with his, tweak at the belt, until it finally gave up, and allowed her trousers to drop. Something damp and soft wormed its way between her thighs.

"Fuck," Koshei huffed, his fist smashing the wall right next to her head, hard enough to split skin. There was a split-second when Miria could not tell if the blow had not been meant for her. "Fuck!"

A false, ugly note reverberated in his voice, turning what just moments ago was joy sour and violent. The sound of it alone was enough to make Miria's own thoughts stop, waiting for what he would do next. He tried to work his dick with his hand, to fit it between her legs; it only left a slick stain on her skin, too soft for anything more.

"Fuck!" he cried, stepping back. "Wait here. I'll get something, I'll get it working… Bej had some fly, I think."

She nodded, even if he couldn't quite see the gesture in the dark. But once his shuffling steps vanished behind her, into the grinding noise of the hurdy-gurdy playing in the main room, she did not wait. Her body moved like a puppet, but at least it was her will that pulled at the strings; she made her hands pull the trousers back up, made them buckle the belt again, and then made her legs move into the haze of the coffee-house and out towards the stairwell up. She stepped lightly, and the ragged, drunken music muffled the sound of her escape. She had what she came for, and hadn’t even needed to commit infidelity for it. For all the sickness churning in her stomach, this was a success. 

Koshei's touch lingered on her skin long after she emerged into the cold streets above. It was hard to shake, for it did not burn with shame and disgust only, but also something more. There were moments back below, in that thick air, when his hands felt almost good, like something she wanted. No, worse: it was something she wanted. She wanted to be held like that, with her face pressed into a brick wall, she wanted to be made a possession of; she did not want the fist right next to her head, and the cold knowledge that to those hands, she was meat, and nothing else. But still, want she did.

In some ways, thinking about how close she came to adultery seemed easier than considering the other side of the night, that is the fact of the gold on the table, infernal thalers piled high as a price for the second wife's life. If Koshei did not lie—and why would one lie to a boy-toy like Miria—then whoever planned Visza's death could be found at the palace. And the notion that it could have been the Lady Governor herself, however impossible, lodged itself thorn-like between Miria's thoughts. Could she really be so callous as to sacrifice her beloved wife, just to wage war on an already conquered land? It seemed so cruel, so pointless, so vicious—but was she not an heir to Azya the Dire Hand, whom they also called the Red River? As much as she did not want to, Miria could not help but to remember the old lessons the episcopal pamphlets held about demons: that they kill as men spit, and mourn only the loss of power.

By the time she reached the mansion hill, and climbed up the secret path, she was no longer sure, and the image of the Lady Governor counting coins that would name Visza's death played out every time she closed her eyes. So instead, she kept them open, and thanked the good fortune that the night did not put any more demands on her. She found her dress hidden as she had left it, and crossed no guards' nor servant's path as she worked her way back into the palace, and then through its cozily warm corridors, towards her room, and bed, which for a few—too few—hours would offer her a reprieve from the mess she insisted on getting herself into.

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