tagSci-Fi & FantasyIn an Iron Sling

In an Iron Sling

byMountain Rider©

Another "Heartland Tale", with a nod to "Heartland" creator and Literotica author Trisha Monks for her inspiration and indulgence. Follow the link on my Favorites page to see her work.

This is a standalone story though and may be read without the context of other "Heartland Tales" stories.


*****

"Be careful going home," called Hannah out the door of her cottage through the lightly drifting snow. "It's growing dark already, and the cold will come upon you quicker than the wolves."

"Aye," responded the man over his shoulder. "Thanks again. The wife will appreciate this draught more'n you know, and so will I."

Kerl's wife had a nasty cough that was keeping them both up at night. It was nothing that a simple tincture of horehound and coltsfoot added to honey then added to her tea wouldn't fix in no time though. Any decent witch could have made it, but Hannah was the only witch in this part of the Cathalian wilderness.

It was a dubious honor at best. The country folk loved her and feared her in equal measure, and the noble folk ignored her completely unless they were in real trouble. Then they came to her with gold and demands. Witches don't like demands. Demands suggest that there are no options, and witches don't like limits on their freedom.

Hannah often found herself having to explain the moving parts of the word "no" to people who had more money than sense. It was her prerogative after all. One does not use magick for disharmonious purposes and expect to live long. Hannah was well into her fourth decade and planned to live a lot longer than that, so she was careful to stay on good terms with the powers that be.

Still there had been sacrifices over the years. She had never had a husband or children. When you're married to the land and mother to everyone on it, it's hard to share your life with one man and only his children. Sometimes she ached inside for that fulfillment, but her station was worth the price. That's not to say that she was a stranger to carnal knowledge, far from it. There just wasn't enough room in her life for the commitment of family.

Yes, there had been sacrifices. Hannah's brown hair was shot through prematurely with wide ribbons of silver that followed its full length down past her feet. She most often wore it in a winding braid, but even then it glistened silver in the light. Her arms and legs were muscular and her hands were rough from woodland work instead of dainty like a court lady's. She had also lost an eye to a particularly demanding spell once upon a time. The patch she wore gave her a roguish look despite her otherwise feminine face.

There were also significant benefits to knowing your way around herbs and nutrition though. Despite a life of labor and spiritual exertion, Hannah was in excellent health and of surpassing beauty. Her shape was goddess-like, almost exaggeratedly feminine, and her hair and skin fairly glowed. Yes, she thought for the ten thousandth time, I would have made a fine wife and mother, voluptuous and strong. I make a finer witch though, and that's where the greater need lies. It was just hard sometimes when she had to deal with happy couples, like Kerl trying to take good care of his ailing wife.

As the light faded and the temperature dropped, Hannah stoked up the fire. She had just settled onto a stool in front of the warm blaze with a mortar, pestle, and some ingredients for a salve when a desperate pounding came at the door.

Hannah carefully set her things aside and out of the way of any windblast from the door and stood up wondering. Now is not a time for visitors, she thought. That means something is wrong. She approached the door warily and caught up her witch's broom on the way.

"Who's there?" she called and pressed her forehead to the cold banded oak of the door. Hazily an image formed in her head of a bundled figure shivering on the front stoop. She widened her vision a little and verified that whoever it was, was in fact alone.

"Please, I need shelter!" came the cry from the other side.

From the looks and sound of the visitor, Hannah reckoned it to be a woman or a boy. She put her broom between her body and the stranger and carefully opened the door. In truth it was a young man.

"P-p-please m'lady. I almost f-f-frozen through, may I come in?"

"Enter, but stamp the snow off your boots before you do," Hannah said quickly and moved aside. She still kept her broom between them though. "You are not known to me, but you are welcome to shelter, food, and warmth."

The hospitality spell was ancient, and even if the stranger meant her harm, it offered some measure of protection. Few could bring themselves to violate it, but this lad was no danger to her. She could see his thoughts form in the ether just above and in front of his head as he stamped the snow off quickly and darted inside. Nothing in his thoughts showed anything but gratitude and relief.

"Thank you m'lady, thank you," he kept repeating as he danced in place and clapped his arms around his body in an attempt to warm up. "It's colder than a witch's teat in an iron sling out there."

"I beg your pardon!"

The young man froze in mid-shiver and mumbled, "Sorry m'lady, an army expression that's all. I meant -- oh cripes!" He stopped and paled as his surroundings dawned on him. All at once he took in the cauldrons hanging on hooks all about the room, the jars and bundles of herbs and other ingredients on every shelf and doorjamb, the broom, and most assuredly the imposing one-eyed woman glaring at him from behind it.

"Oh dear -- oh -- oh cripes. Please don't hurt me."

"Hush and mind your manners then," Hannah said, shaking her broom at him, which made the lad flinch. The space above his head was lit up with fear now.

"I-," he began.

"Hush, " repeated Hannah. "First you warm up; then you eat; then we talk. You are a guest, and your comfort comes first."

She turned and retrieved a heavy woolen blanket from a chest to one side of the hearth. Tossing it to the lad, she said, "You get out of those wet clothes and wrap up in this. I'll get you some broth and bread."

Hannah turned back to the fire and ladled hot broth from the hanging pot there into a large bowl. Then taking a hunk of bread from the larder, she turned back to the lad and pointed with her broom to the stool near the fire.

"Sit. Eat."

The blanket-wrapped young man quickly obeyed and gratefully accepted the proffered meal. Shortly, the food was consumed and his clothes and boots hung by the side of the hearth to dry. Hannah put away her mortar, pestle, and ingredients and turned to regard the lad.

"Are you warm enough?"

He nodded.

"Is your belly full?"

He nodded again and patted his stomach through the blanket.

"Now then, how did you, a scout soldier of Tilnon by the look of your livery, come to be this far north into the Cathalian wilderness and alone on my doorstep on a winter's night, hmmm?"

"I was on my way to Tuloth and became separated from my patrol in the bad weather," he said, as if rehearsed. The lie was plain in his thoughts.

"No... try again," said Hannah.

"I was on my way to Tuloth and deserted my patrol in the bad weather?" he said, clearly unable to lie to her.

There it was. "I thought as much. Why?"

"I -- I'm homesick. I miss my family, and I want to go home."

"You look a little young to have a wife and children."

"I'm twenty winters!" he said, a touch defiantly. "But it's my parents I miss, and my little brother."

"Cider?" she offered from a jug that had been warming on the hearth.

"Yes, please," he said and took a sip before handing it back. It warmed him inside, and he continued. "I joined the legion because I wanted to get away from home. Now it's the one place in the world I want to get back to."

"I understand," the witch nodded. "Those roots don't come up easy." She took a sip from the jug as well before corking it and putting it back by the fire. "Got a name?"

"Cerif."

"Well met Cerif," she responded and offered her hand. "I'm Hannah. You're a long way east of your desired route, and it will take some miles to put you back with your patrol."

"But I don't want to go back with my patrol!" he responded and clasped her hand in proper greeting.

"I know that, but you committed yourself to the Tilnon legion and owe them your loyalty. Your family would want you to live up to your obligations rather than see you home and have you hanged for desertion. Besides, your patrol may be endangering itself in searching for you. Had you thought of that?"

"No, I had not."

"Youth is not an excuse to stop your view of the world at the end of your own nose. That's one thing the legion will teach you. It's a big world, and you're not the center of it. Everything and everyone you touch affects something else. Believe that."


"Are you a veteran?"

"No, I'm a witch. Witches know these things." Hannah said and sat back into the shadows by the hearth. Her one eye gleamed out at him in the firelight.

"Forgive me," he said and lowered his gaze.

"Do you fear me young man? Have I not been hospitable?"

"Yes, yes, you have m'lady, but I thought for sure you were going to cast a spell on me with your broom when I entered your home!"

"Actually, I planned to thump you on the head with it if you proved to be unfriendly. Why use magick when a solid piece of ash will do in a pinch?"

Cerif's eyes grew wide, until he realized that Hannah was grinning at him out of the shadows. He lowered his eyes and smiled bashfully.

"You don't know much about witches do you?"

"No ma'am. You're the only one I've met."

"Am I what you expected?"

"Yes and no," Cerif said thoughtfully. "The cottage looks like the old tales say, but you're not the hag that's supposed to live in it. You're young and pretty, and you've been kind to me."

"I'm well more than twice your age, but I'll accept the other compliments at face value," Hannah responded smoothly. "I don't know where the legends of witches as hags came from. We were all young once, but I guess those of my kind live longer than most, so people remember us as the old crones we become."

"Is it magick that keeps you alive?"

"Sort of my dear boy, but it's not as exciting as you make it sound. We witches are the country doctors. We just know how to take care of our own bodies and minds as well as any other we treat. For example, did you know that mistletoe can strengthen your heart, and cure wasting disease?"

Cerif shook his head.

"It can, but only certain parts of it. Other parts can kill you. It's my life and my calling to know things like that. Nature is full of things that heal and kill and create and change. If that's not magick, I don't know what is.

"Witches try to bring health where there is sickness; fertility where there is barrenness; life where there is death; happiness where there is grief. We walk the boundaries and build bridges where we may. We see things. We know things. We remember and pass the knowledge on. That's magick, lad.

"We live so that we can fulfill these obligations. Just as you must fulfill yours. I committed to this path, and you committed to your path in the Tilnon legion. Taking responsibility for your own actions is a big step in growing up. Stay the course, boy. Stay the course."

They were quiet for a few moments, listening to the crackle of the fire. Cerif thought about his obligations and Hannah watched his thoughts struggle.

Eventually the young soldier sighed and asked, "Will you help me find my way back?"

"Of course, but it can wait until morning."

Cerif glanced around the cottage. It was all one big room -- kitchen, hearth, sitting room, and bed all in one place. "Where shall I sleep?"

"Anywhere you like. On bitter nights like this, I usually make a pallet in front of the fire and sleep there. You are welcome to share the pallet or take the bed if you like. Just stay warm."

Nervousness bloomed in Cerif's thoughts and Hannah saw that he was concerned about his nakedness and afraid that she would laugh at him. Images of her unclothed body also flitted through his mind shaded slightly with hints of desire, and she was amused to see herself so depicted in the young man's head. So she decided to tease him a little.

"Of course I'll need that blanket back..." she said with a straight face.

"B-but I haven't anything else to wear!" stammered Cerif.

"True enough, but your clothes will be dry by morning. Perhaps you should have thought about taking your pack when you ran off from your patrol."

Cerif glanced around and then reluctantly shrugged his way out of the blanket and handed it back to the witch. He looked completely comical trying to cover his manhood with his hands while squirming his naked backside around on the little stool.

Hannah turned toward the fire and set the blanket aside, allowing herself to smile while her back was to the young soldier. Then she gathered her skirts up and unwound them from her hips to stand naked from the waist down. Her silhouette curved sensuously in the orange light as she bent at the waist to spread her thick layered skirts on the floor before the fire and covered them with the blanket she had taken from Cerif.

She heard Cerif gulp behind her and turned to face him. Immediately his eyes dropped to the sparse thatch of brown curls between her legs, just below the bottom edge of her blouse. The silver that also shot through that downy hair sparkled in the firelight. Lust, fear, and uncertainty flickered in the air over his head as his cockstem swelled under his hands, and he vainly tried to suppress it.

Hannah began to unlace her bodice which drew Cerif's eyes upward to her fingers and emerging cleavage, then to her face. The witch's eye captured his attention. She was grinning!

"Relax young Cerif. You're not hiding anything I haven't see before, but I'm flattered that an old woman like me can put you all aflutter."

"You're so beautiful, I can't help it," Cerif responded, slightly less embarrassed. He still struggled to hide his erect cockstem though.

"Then why?"

"Why what m'lady?"

"Why do you hide your cock from me?"

"Are all witches as plain spoken as you?" Cerif asked.

"It helps us in our work to be able to express ourselves clearly. There is often too much to do to mince niceties. Besides, what purpose does it serve to speak in riddles and innuendos?"

"None I guess," said Cerif, but he still had not moved his hands.

"Then why do you hide your cock from me?"

"Because I've never been unclothed in front of a woman before, and I'm embarrassed."

"I've seen plenty of cocks before, Cerif. Do remember that I am the local doctor here. I am also a wise woman, and have felt my share of cocks inside me."

"Yes, but I've never seen a woman naked before, or been naked with a woman before, or put my cock in anything!" the young soldier blurted out, and Hannah knew he spoke the truth.

"There's a first time for everything." There let him chew on that for a minute, Hannah thought. On the other hand, he has something I could use.

She completed unlacing her bodice and removed both it and her blouse. Cerif's eyes widened further at the spectacle of her. Her long braid was wrapped around her narrow waist more than once and tied like belt, and her arms and torso were covered in small intricately designed tattoos. They seemed to move on her skin in the flickering light and chase each other around the contours of her body.

What captured Cerif's attention most though was the strange contraption she wore to support her very large breasts. It looked like a normal cloth sling, but with what appeared to be metal braces like armor sewn into the back, shoulders, and support pockets of it.

"Believe it or not," she said to his gaping expression, "it's an iron sling. My breasts are so heavy that I had this dwarf-designed iron-reinforced sling made to take the stress off my back."

"I've never seen breasts so large, and your hair is impossibly long," gawked the young soldier. "Truly your magick has had some strange effects."

"You still don't know much about witches or magick, dear boy. My hair is long simply because I've never cut it, as is traditional for wise women. It's an ancient belief that to cut your hair is to cut your magick. I don't believe it to be true, but I follow the tradition out of respect for my teacher.

"My breasts are so large because I've been giving surrogate milk for many years. Even though I have no children, I am the only midwife for many many miles, and sometimes young mothers can't make enough milk on their own. I help them with that. Human milk is also a powerful spell ingredient, and I know the right herbs to eat to make sure that my breasts are full whenever it is needed. The repeated fullness of nursing has made them larger and larger as the years pass.

"So yes it is magick, but it's natural magick. Like makes like. Good begets good. Life creates life. That is the way Nature works. It is mysterious and powerful enough on its own without us interfering in it."

"What do the marks in your skin mean?" Cerif asked, pointing.

"Each symbol is a tiny piece of knowledge, a lesson, a skill, a permanent wisdom... a spell if you will. I've earned each and every one of them too... some at great cost," Hannah explained and briefly touched her eye patch. "My teacher was covered head to foot, but I'm not that old yet. Neither do I know as much as she did. Watch now, and I'll show you something."

Hannah turned two small metal latches that unfastened the iron sling and released her breasts. She set the sling aside and stood naked except for her tattoos in the firelight before him. Then a brief look of concentration crossed her face, and each tiny tattoo flared to luminous life. Networks and cascades of the markings glowed with a subtle blue light and traced effervescent designs over her curves. The patterns pursued each other across her skin in shimmering waves for a few moments until the glow died away.

"You cannot mean to tell me that was not magick either?" Cerif asked incredulously

"The ink used for these tattoos was made with a fungus that glows when it gets hot. I just concentrated on raising the heat in my skin, and it made them light up. So yes, it is magick but also natural."

"Why are you telling me all this?"

"To make a point and perhaps cure you of some of your youthful silliness," the witch smiled. "The magick that is in plants to cure the sick, or in fungus to glow, or in my body to bleed once a moon cycle without dying, or in my breasts to feed a child, or in the sun to ripen the grain is the same magick that makes your cock grow from small and cold to large and stiff. It is the same magick that fills you with seed and quickens your heart to feel a woman's body next to your own -- to fill her with your cock and to create new life with that fertile seed. It is magick as ancient as any living thing that the gods put on this world, so why would you ever be embarrassed by that?"

"I -- I don't know. I never thought about it like that." Cerif began to relax slightly and without realizing it let his hands fall open in this lap. His hard cock stretched upward and a clear drop of fluid wept from the tip.

"You have a lot to learn about the world and your obligation in it, young Cerif," Hannah whispered sensuously, pressing her advantage as she leaned down toward the young soldier. "Start by accepting yourself. You were made by Nature into a beautiful creature, and you must trust Nature's design."

Cerif caught his breath as Hannah's lips stopped just above his ear. Her breasts swayed inches from his face, and his peripheral vision was teased intermittently with small blue flashes as individual tattoos winked on and faded.

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