Author's Note: Alexei, a nobleman in Tsarist Russia, falls into the hands of a witch. What will she do with him? Horny nonsense that’s a pastiche of Russian lit from the 19th century/supernatural non-consensual feeding/garbage. I’m ashamed. —— An Inn near Odessa by Shh! Don't tell! Although it was only four in the afternoon, night had fallen, the long midwinter night that starts in the early afternoon and continues until late in the morning. Despite the extreme cold, Alexei had begun to sweat under his sheepskin coat. He looked out the window of the carriage at the snowy, open steppe, gripped by anxiety that was dangerously close to becoming fear. “Aren’t we near Odessa?” He called to the driver. “What?” Called back the hard-of-hearing driver. “Aren’t we near Odessa? I thought that we were supposed to get there an hour ago.” “My apologies, my lord,” said the driver. “The fresh snow makes the roads hard to drive on. We’ll get there in time.” “Will we be there soon? Night’s falling and I don’t like the idea of riding in the dark for hours” said Alexei. He had a rational, but unusually intense fear of the things that come out at night, wolves and bandits and other such things. “We might not be there for some time,” said the driver. “I see smoke across that field. Would you like to see if there’s an inn there, my lord?” “Yes, please,” said Alexei, feeling relieved that they wouldn’t have to drive the rest of the way to Odessa in the dark. He was also quite hungry and, although he had some bread and cheese with him in a basket, he’d love to get a hot meal at an inn to warm him up on this winter’s evening. They approached the smoke, which was rising from the chimney of a little house with a warm light coming from it’s windows. Overhead hung a waning cresent moon. Alexei walked with the driver to the door and knocked. The door opened almost immediately. “Pardon me-“ said Alexei, and then stopped as he saw the girl who’d opened the door. Most of the women he’d encountered during his time on this trip away from Moscow had been utterly unappealing to him. What a country-ish, peasant look they have to them, he’d thought. Mannish and maternal and plain. The inn-keeper’s wives had been the worst of the bunch, shrieking in some unknown tongue at their husbands. Dreadful. This girl was another breed altogether. She was slender and slight, with narrow shoulders, narrow hips. Her hair, which was as dark and as soft as smoke, fell past the small of her back. And her eyes, her eyes-wide and wild and strange and blue. “Pardon me,” said the driver to the girl. “Does your husband rent rooms here?” “No, my father does,” said the girl. “He’s away on a trip, but I can show you both rooms.” Her voice was like many bells all ringing together and it chilled Alexei worse then the brutal cold. He was fixated by the cat-like lines of her face, by her soft, full lips. Alexei came into the inn and removed his hat, feeling a little embarrassed to show the balding top of his head in front of the pretty inn-keeper’s daughter. He’d once been proud of his pale blond locks in his youth, but now he was a man of forty and his looks were fading. He touched the slightly rounded, soft belly he’d developed over the past several years thoughtfully as he took off his coat. Time! Time conquers all. The driver took the horses to the barn to put them inside. The inn was a lovely little place, with a crackling fire and a pot of something which smelled delicious boiling on it. “Would you like some stew?” said the girl. “Please,” said Alexei, sitting down. “And some beer, if you have it.” The girl gave him a tall mug of beer, which she’d seemed to conjure from nowhere. “There’s no one else here, is there?” said Alexei. He had a fantasy of creeping into the girl’s room tonight and crawling into her bed. “No one else staying at this inn?” “No,” said the girl, making him a rather large bowl of stew. Alexei took it gratefully. The meat was fatty and tender and there were chunks of onion and cabbage. Wonderful. He scarfed it down, occasionally glancing at the girl, her lovely slender form. “What’s your name?” He asked the girl. “Morgen,” said the girl. “I’m Alexei Nikolayevich,” Alexei said. Then felt compelled to add-“I’ve met the Tsar.” Morgen raised a dark eyebrow. “Have you?” “Yes. At a ball.” “What was he like?” She didn’t seem as impressed as he’d hoped she’d be by his glance with greatness. “Very nice. Polite. Mmm.” Alexei slurped up the last of the stew. It had been so delicious that he’d eaten that large bowl like it was nothing. “This is very good. You’re a wonderful cook.” “Have some more,” said the girl, already refilling his bowl. Alexei tucked into his second helping happily. “I’ll make you some pierogi, too.” She fried up a large pan of the little potato dumplings as Alexei scarfed down the second bowl of stew, then a third. After the third bowl, his stomach felt tightly full, but the pierogi smelled irresistibly delicious. As he gobbled them down and Morgen refilled his beer, he briefly wondered where the driver had gone but was distracted by how unbelievably good the food tasted and how intoxicatingly beautiful Morgen was as she served him his-fourth? Fifth? bowl of stew. He ate that and the last of the pierogi and belched so enormously he thought he felt the house rattle. “Excuse me,” Alexei grunted.