How NOT to Save the World (Season 1, Episode 2)

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry

The security team hit the doors and spread throughout the building. It looked choreographed because it was. The team had spent hundreds of hours drilling in a virtual mock-up of the World Government Building.1

As she stepped out of her armored car, Tracey wondered again why no one had come up with a more original name for it.2 (If she’d thought it worth researching, she’d have learned ‘World Government’ and ‘World Government Building’ were classic political compromises — no one got anything they liked, but no one hated it enough to keep fighting. The final selling point had been that you could translate ‘World Government’ into any language, and it would still work.)3

Wu, now in late 20th Century grunge,4 flanked her, scanning the gathering crowd. Word of the World Government’s surrender had spread quickly. The streets were filled with mostly-peaceful demonstrators — both those who supported and opposed Frederickson. More supporters, truth be told. If dissatisfaction with the World Government hadn’t been so high, she never could have pulled off her coup. But Wu was well aware that it only took one person willing to become a martyr. Tracey, after all, had sent out several such martyrs.5

Behind Wu, hidden by her sheer tininess, Tracey could hear Deborah’s quiet chanting. Deborah looked more like someone’s sweet old grandmother6 than one of the most powerful Kabbahlists in the world.7 (Like many whose power came from connection with a/the Greater Power, you called her ‘magician’ at your peril8). She was, in fact, both a sweet old grandmother and an incredibly powerful mystic. (That term was acceptable in most contexts.) Tracey had asked Deborah to explain her work one time and quickly learned that you only ask a Kabbalist to explain /anything/ if you have a spare decade or two.9 Deborah would only act offensively under rigorous circumstances that no one else understood.10 But her defense Tracey had trusted her life to many times. As always, Tracey found the sound of her invoking the NAMES of God reassuring. (Not ‘her’ God, something else Tracey had learned the hard way. There was only one God, Deborah insisted. It was just that people don’t all see God the same. Tracey eventually stopped asking Deborah questions.)11

By the time Tracey and her team took six strides, they had reached the door and the security team called the first floor clear.

Gunshot!

Forty feet of golden dragon wrapped around Tracey. Outside the coils, words of fire hung in the air before her, trapping the bullet. Deborah said something and the words faded, taking the bullet with them.

She, Wu, and Deborah held positions while security scrambled. The shooter was found and dragged away. Wu shimmered, hir golden scales fading and reforming into the human-seeming Tracey was familiar with. Wearing the ancient garments Wu called “hanfu.” Why, Tracey wondered, always hanfu when she transformed? And what happened to the grunge gear?12

Pushing aside the inanities, Tracey examined the various people gathered around her.

Outside the building, the sidewalks (and a good chunk of the street) were full and overfull. Security personnel had erected a barrier that kept Tracey’s supporters (a healthy mix of magical people and humans) and detractors (almost all human) away from each other.

Inside the building were humans (and perhaps a few magical beings in human seeming). Both inside and outside the building emotions ran high. Uncertainty, fear, hope, resentment, anger, exhilaration…

And above them, just outside the legal privacy limit, hovered the cam drones.

Tracey decided it was as good a moment as any. She signaled Deborah, who stepped back, fading into the crowd of staff, guards, and bureaucrats-to-be who were still climbing out of their vehicles. Then she waved the cam drones closer.

“Not how I wanted to start my first day on the job,” she said, “But first days tend to be shit anyway.” The tepid joke got a bit of a laugh. To her relief, the crowds settled a bit.

“All of you,” she took in the bureaucrats, “are probably wondering what to expect. There are going to be a lot of changes, and you aren’t going to like some of them. But I hope some of them you will like. For now, keep doing your jobs and focus on making sure food and energy keep moving to the people who need them. You’ll have plenty of time to gawk at me later. Promise.”

She refocused on the cams and the crowds. “To my supporters thank you. And go home! We have a lot of work to do, so don’t wear yourself out here. The real fight hasn’t begun yet. Now we need to fix things.

“If you want to help, stop blocking the street and check in with your cell leaders. Gene,” He gestured to the balding bespectacled man wearing his usual tweed and khakis, who waved at the crowd, “you may know him as Abbadon66613, is keeping the task boards running.”

They needed an outlet for all their emotion. Normally, that would be some kind of speech and event. But Tracey was self-aware enough to know she wasn’t any kind of speechmaker. So instead, she gave them something to do.

“To the protesters, I’m not going to silence you. I’m not going to arrest you. I’m not going to attack you. As long as you stick to making noise in the street, you can knock yourselves out. Any of you thinking that rebellion or armed resistance might be a good idea–let’s just say you do NOT want to join your friend with the gun.”14

As she finished speaking security called in to report the upper levels clear.

“For real this time?”

“Ah… yes, sir. For real this time.”

“Good.”

She signed forward and he, Wu, and the rest of the team that had gathered behind them moved for the lifts.

It was going to be a long day.

 

Tracey’s new office was at the top floor of the building. It gave her a panoramic view of the crowds. Many of her supporters had started to disperse. Others had sat down right in the street to pull up the holoboards and see what Gene had going for them.

Tracey couldn’t afford to tear down the whole government apparatus. She had to somehow control it and bend it to her needs. That task had broken better revolutionaries than he. But those people, with their numbers and drive, with her clearing the way, might just do enough in the short time they had.

Wu stepped up beside her. “General Winehurst wants to speak with you.”

“Already? He knows the timetable, damnit.” Tracey sighed.

“I believe he has his own timetable,” Wu said.

“Okay. Might as well get it over with. Send him in.”

Wu bowed and left. Tracey turned away from the window to survey the office again. Three cream-colored walls, bare of decoration, and one wall of windows rose 15 ft to a ceiling that had been painted with a mural of the world and its peoples. Or at least, it’s human peoples. The floor…

Winehurst burst in before she had finished the survey.

“We did it! I told you my troops were the ones for the job.” Winehurst’s milk-pale face glowed with excitement. Tracey almost hated to disappoint him. Almost.

Tracey smiled and took the general’s hand in both of hers. “You did, and they did. Your people have done us all proud.”

“So when do we start cleaning up?”

“Why, now, actually.” She tightened her grip, making the general wince. “I am delighted to accept your resignation general, dated immediately. Your assassination and leg-breaking teams were invaluable in creating this new world, and I know you’ll want to rest from your labors.”

Winehurst tried to pull away, but she had trained with weapons 30 years ago. Tracey trained in hand-to-hand daily with Wu. She couldn’t beat a real fighter–she hadn’t kept in real training for nearly ten years herself. But the general wasn’t escaping him by main strength.15

“What! No. Damnit we talked about this. You promised me a chance to rebuild the military, make it a real fighting force again! Let go, damn it!”

Tracey timed her release so the general lost his balance, stumbling backward and nearly tripping over Wu and Deborah.

Tracey’s biggest weakness as a world-conquering villain was poor improv. She was a planner, and Winehurst had arrived early.

Looking around she saw Deborah wore a distant look and her lips moved in a silent murmur. Tracey looked around and saw an almost-shimmer on one of the windows. So.

“I have every intention of keeping my promise, general. But I’m afraid you and I have very different ideas of what a ‘real’ fighting force will look like. My idea does not look like the murderers and bullies you’ve gathered around you to abuse and extort civilian populations. It looks like a military force. With discipline and a purpose.

“So I suggest you take your retirement bonus and go. You won’t get a better offer.”

Winehurst strode towards Tracey, getting in her face and looming over her. “I’m the only military officer you’ve got. Without me, you can’t hold the troops. And without the troops, your ass will be dead before the week is out. You may be the one with the big chair, but you don’t scare me.”

“I see. Well, I admit I was warned that even if you took retirement you’d be likely to try to… meddle. Better to have everything out in the open, then.”

“Darn right I would. Now let’s talk salary.”

“Of course.” Time to follow Deborah’s lead. Tracey stepped back, giving way to the general. A hand behind the general’s elbow turned him toward one of the conference tables. Then the grip shifted, and the elbow lock forced Winehurst to keep moving until he walked into–and through–the glowing 30-story window16 that should have held up to a shoulder-fired SAM. And it had before Deborah cast her spell.

Winehurst screamed all the way down, of course. Tracey sighed. “Goodbye general. I told you you wouldn’t get a better offer.”17

A squad of the security gryphons winged down to hover before the window. “Ma’am?”

“I’m fine. However, we need to up our weapon search procedures.” Tracey shook her head. “I don’t know what he thought he was doing, attacking me with Wu and Deborah right here. And please order a cleanup crew for the sidewalk.”

Deborah came to stand beside her and looked down at the splattered remains of the general.

“Thank you, Deborah. That was quick thinking.”

“Gevorah,” she said. “It was justice.”18

“Was it?” Tracey heard herself ask.

Wu put a hand on her shoulder, “Honored friend, not all the deaths on our hands will be just ones. But your servant has seen his work first hand. Even if he had accepted your offer, he would have continued doing harm to many. This death was indeed just.

“And having it known that you can defend yourself against attack at need? Your honored servant will sleep much better at night knowing that your enemies will know you are no easy target.”

With the window gone, the noise of the crowds, now punctuated by screams and shouts, came to her clearly. She looked down at them and waved, doing her best to show them that she was alive and unharmed. Cam drones zoomed towards her. “Wu, deal with those please.” She turned her back on the broken window and sat at the desk she had done so much to claim.

“I have work to do.”

1

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ADogNamedDog

 

2

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LampshadeHanging

 

3

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LemonyNarrator

 

4

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AwesomeAnachronisticApparel

 

5

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AtLeastIAdmitIt

 

6

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GrannyClassic

 

7

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NeverMessWithGranny

 

8

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ReligionIsMagic

 

9

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RamblingOldManMonologue

 

10

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RulesLawyer

 

11

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AllMythsAreTrue

 

12

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AWizardDidIt

 

13

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DeathbringerTheAdorable

 

14

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DontMakeMeDestroyYou

 

15

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EvilVersusEvil

 

16

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DestinationDefenestration

 

17

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YouHaveOutlivedYourUsefulness

 

18

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MurderIsTheBestSolution

 

The Price of Survival (S. 1, E. 6), She did what?

Season Content Notes: attempted genocide (off screen), child deaths (off screen), prejudice, violence

While Alfhard’s advisors were yelling, swearing, and banging the table, one of the waiting pages brought the extra chair over and placed it in the space left for it.

Navin studied the Queen and Pack Mother a moment, then tilted his head again in submission and took the seat she had arranged.

To both of their surprise, it was Revazi who fell quiet first — possibly recalling the Queen’s earlier warning. Both Navin and Alfhard sat silent until the rest of the council ran themselves out. Yevgenia, the royal secretary, was the last to stop. Not surprising, as she had lost a son and a sister in the war. Alfhard had some sympathy for her but had no intention of allowing that to sway her course.

When silence had held in the council chamber for a full minute, Alfhard said, “Sir Wolf?”

“Caldelon did not war for the valley. They likely will not contest you for it. They wanted to destroy… the Long Valley wolves.

“With the pack out of their reach, they may make peace. If they do attack, I would look for assassins rather than armies.

“But if the pack’s escape gives them time to lay claim to the valley before the… the army can, who could say?”

“Lubomir will have received his orders by now. He will be moving by tomorrow,” General Revazi said. “As long as there will be no… trouble from the wolves, he will hold the passes.”

“Will that be enough?” Yevgenia asked the general. “The wolves,” she glared at Navin, who pretended not to notice, “did the most damage when they came over the mountains.”

Revazi growled, opened his mouth, then looked at Alfhard, who watched him closely. “I… do not know. Wolf?” He might have meant to use Navin’s surname. Or not.

Navin’s smile was full of teeth. “I don’t think we need to stand on formality, general. Not with how… close you became to my cousin. Use my name.”

Tension sang in the council room for a long moment, then Navin sat back.

“Caldelon tried to send raiding parties over the mountain trails but didn’t have the mountain knowledge to overcome our guards. They gave that up within a year. Then they threw numbers at us until they overwhelmed us in the passes. They never had the numbers to hold a pass, just force through raiding parties.”

His sister nudged him. They would taste the general’s blood soon enough, but they had a duty to the human Packmother.

“Tell your Lubomir that Cyneburg, who was second, will know who can show him the mountain trails and how we defended them.”

The general nodded curtly, and the discussion turned to supplies.

Alfhard dismissed the council some four hours later. The council had made decisions and handed out assignments both for Long Valley and the army that would occupy it. They had hammered out a compromise for the distribution of the land. (The land belonged to the Queen, but both the land itself and the mines would be assigned new patents of nobility and some of the army’s officers appointed as marcher lords.) The Queen had committed to financing citizens and peasants moving to the new lands. The transport of the wolves from the quartering base to their new home had been arranged. As well as supplies the Queen would set aside for the wolves to allow them to rebuild the abandoned villages. That was plenty for one afternoon. They all knew they’d be back again the next morning.

Navin said little, but what he did say surprised several of the councilors. Despite his appearance yesterday, many of them did not expect him to be as calm, well-spoken, or intelligent as he was.

Most of the councilors left quickly once dismissed. Partly to avoid the wolf but also ready for the garderobe, a softer seat, and food (mostly in that order).

Navin remained behind, watching Alfhard. Who watched him back. When most of the others were gone and the room quiet, he asked, “Why?”

She didn’t pretend to misunderstand him. “Many reasons. But the simple one is — I intend that I and my dynasty will survive.”

He waited.

“I told you that I needed your knowledge of the wolves — which is true. But that knowledge is no good to me if you must wait for me to ask a question rather than telling me outright I am making a mistake. So now you have the rank to speak to me at any time, whether I send for you or not.

“You need rank of your own to prevent General Revazi from causing… problems. I may need to remove him, but would prefer to avoid it. And I can’t have him interfering with you or any tasks I set you.

“You have given me the obedience of your — our — wolves. I need to earn their loyalty.

“I need my scheming, power-hungry, ambitious nobility to know that I have not just your surrender, but your loyalty.

“I need those loyal to me, noble and common, to stop seeing you as a boogeyman. Or to start seeing you as my boogeyman.

“And I need everyone, loyal or not, to get used to you wolves being here, being part of society.”

She sighed, “You will not yet understand noble society, Sir Wolf, though you will learn it soon. When you made me Pack Mother, gave me the personal loyalty of your pack, you became a threat to everyone who would like to see my power lessened — or me overthrown.”

Navin understood immediately. Their survival was bound together because the pack would destroy any who harmed their leader outside of proper challenge. (Possibly even then. There had been no challenge for leadership in living memory. The pack had better traditions now.) And any possible usurper would soon know that.

The long term, he would think about later. In the short term…

He licked his lips. “Majesty, you have sent messengers to your army. What message did you send to the pack?”

“None. They knew you came to surrender, so they should obey the orders of my officers…” she trailed off. “That was a mistake, wasn’t it?”

“Not yet, but it will become one soon.”

“So. This is why I need you.”

“I am lessoned.” He bent his head as the wolves did to acknowledge one who bested them.

“Who has authority in your absence?”

“My… those who were my seconds, if your general tells them I survived, will continue to act in my name until they learn you are Pack Mother. Then it will be expected that you confirm them as your seconds or appoint new.”

Alfhard smiled. Appointing Navin Wolf to her council satisfied human custom. Now she had the answer for how to work within wolf custom. “How many seconds can a pack leader have?”

“However many they feel they need.”

“Good.” She nodded. “You are my second then. And those who were your seconds retain their rank for now.

“You may use a royal courier to send word to the pack. Have some wolves you trust come here, I wish you to have guards and messengers you can trust. And my court to get used to seeing wolves beside yourself.

“The counselor’s seat comes with a stipend. Use it to provide for yourself and your attendants.”

She got up and swept from the room. “And get a shirt.”

How NOT to Save the World (Season 1, Episode 1)

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry

Author note: This story started on TVTropes and never left. It is not meant to be taken seriously and few (if any) of the characters are fully developed as they are, first and foremost, defined by the tropes that inspired them. Tropes are footnoted1 for my fellow fans of all things Troperific.2 For everyone else, please enjoy a rather silly story that knows not to take itself seriously.

Prologue3

In 2199, the usually ‘New century’ hysteria took over (The milder version of the new millennium hysteria which made 1999 so memorable for the people who lived through it).

No one really expected anything to change, except for the calendars.

Especially since many of them still remembered 2099.

For once, the hysterics were right.

On New Year, at the stroke of midnight (UTC -14:00)4, the universe as humanity knew it ended.5 Magic ripped through the world, returning6 from god-knows-where (and ze isn’t telling). In an instant, people were gifted with magical abilities, transformed, or in some cases just plain dead (usually of heart attacks).

Dragons appeared, and unicorns, and elves, and little plaid men in blue kilts who spent all their time getting drunk and stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down.7

And… the world went on. Granted it went on very differently than before, but food still had to be grown, sex was still a driving force behind society-as-we-knew-it, and politicians continued blathering.

One group rejoiced in the arrival of magic: bureaucrats, who were able to create a half dozen new departments at every level of government, and had an excuse to create new and arcane paperwork for people to fill out.

The argument about whether or not non-human intelligent races were people lasted about one month. By which point the dragons had eaten anyone stupid enough to get on tv and say that dragons shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

The head of the World police force, who had himself been transformed into a dragon, expressed consternation and dismay at his department’s inability to catch the perpetrators of these horrid crimes.8

Science tried to analyze magic, magic refused to be analyzed. Magic tried to invalidate science, science refused to stop working.9 In the end they settled into an uneasy truce, where science was allowed to catalog magic and they worked in parallel to find new ways to improve daily life and bring death and destruction upon the world. And thus did things continue, until the present day.

T-minus 2 years10 11

Tracey* Frederickson,12 who sometimes managed to forget for hours at a time that she had once been Ameohne’e of the Cheyenne, officially conquered the world,13 14 at 1:15 GMT on the 6th of March, 2465. At which time she was sitting in her office reviewing an archaic list15 a friend had shared with her the night before.

“‘All naive, busty tavern wenches…’ whoever heard of a naive bar server?” She flicked her finger, deleting the paragraph from her holographic display. ” ‘All non-instantaneous deathtraps…’ Really? Note.” A new holographic screen popped up, adding a bluish sheen to her bronze skin. “Wu: research old vids with drowning pools, trash compactors, and/or gas chambers for next month’s marathon. Send.” The second screen winked out. “There’s gotta be something behind that one. ‘All slain enemies will be cremated…’ how is that not obvious. Necromancers. ‘1.45 MB file size? Padded?” A light flickered at the corner of her eye. “Yes?”

“Ma’am, Mx. Lu is here to speak with you.”

She sat up, the chair reshaping itself as she moved. “Send zir in!”

The handle on the old-fashioned door opened and Wu stepped in. Tracey, for once allowing nerves to drive her into procrastination, took the excuse of admiring Xu once again. And as far as Tracey was concerned, Lu Xia Wu16 17 was always worth admiring.18

Wu was a small person with what zi said were ‘classic’ Han features. Though the scattering of golden scales19 across hir skin wasn’t really ‘classic.’ But as far as Tracey was concerned, they turned Wu’s face into a work of art. Wu wore a 20th-century Western man’s business suit, in pale yellow.20 To modern eyes the simplicity of the outfit marked it as antique and androgynous.

Wu, excited and impatient, cleared hir throat as Tracey admired the way the color of the suit brought out the warmth of Wu’s skin.

Tracey shook her head. “Yes, I’m delaying.” She took a deep breath, but couldn’t continue.

Wu bowed but kept hir eyes on Tracey. “May this humble one give zir report?”

It was a chastisement, though likely only Tracey and a few others would recognize it.

“Okay, I’ll be good.” Another deep breath. “Tell me.”

Xu smiled, grinned actually. “They have conceded. As of 1142 Greenwich, you are officially the ruler of–”

Zi didn’t get to finish because Tracey had raced across the room in an instant and caught Wu up in a bear hug.21 “We did it!”

“You did, my friend.” Wu’s voice rasped with grief and memories and lack of air.22 “You led the way and won the prize. Even when this one thought it impossible, you persevered.”

“Not alone, Wu. And I couldn’t have done it without you at my back.” She released Wu and took another breath. Allowed herself a moment to thank whatever gods or spirits might be listening. She hadn’t been bluffing, but there is a long distance between ‘not bluffing’ and ‘eager to assassinate opponents and their families in job-lots.’ Tracey was honest enough to know she was a villain. But there are villains and villains, and there were some types of villains she didn’t want to become.23

A moment only.

“We planned for this. Is everyone ready?”

They were of course, and Wu assured her that everything waited only on her orders.

“Perfect!” Tracey threw a formal robe with interlinking black-and-red triangles over her casual office outfit. “Let’s go.”

On the way to the door, she called over her shoulder, “Computer, print poster-sized copy of document ‘Evil Overlord list’.”

A yellow ‘acknowledged’ light blinked.

“Evil overlord list?” Wu tapped the sigil temp-branded on zir wrist that would order all units to start moving.

Tracey grinned. “Something for the waiting room of my new office.” They strode out of her old office together, moving for the garage. “I figure it will amuse people.”24

“You mean people’s reactions to it will amuse you,” Wu said, as zi summoned the elevator.

“I’m a people too.”

“Allegedly.”

Five minutes later a convoy emerged from the underground bunker, headed for the World Government headquarters in the city of Maua.


If you enjoyed this, subscribe to the newsletter! Newsletter subscribes get the story 6 weeks early, so they have 6 more episodes of How NOT to Save the World to enjoy.


1 Footnoting has been rather more of a pain than I’d hoped. Enjoy for now, but I can’t promise to continue.

* From the beginning (over 5 years ago), this character has been Trevor. But for some reason, I found about 2 pages of an earlier draft where ‘man!Trevor’ became ‘woman!Tracey’. After a lot of back and forth, I decided to go with both. So the newsletter has Trevor and the website has Tracey. Both are canon.

The Price of Survival (S1. E5.)

Season Content Notes: attempted genocide (off screen), child murders (off screen),prejudice, violence

Aswathi was not a happy man as he stood by his cart and waited for the new ‘cargo’ he was to carry. He had been hauling for the army for two years, he and his mule, Stubborn. It was good steady work, paid well, and mostly kept him out of the city. All good things, as far as he was concerned.

He’d arrived late the night before with another load of food and fodder, to find the world (or at least the army) had turned upside down. And he would now be carting /wolves/.

He’d been told to expect children, pregnant, and injured wolves, two wolf-guards, and a squad of army-guards. Transport to the same base he’d been carting supplies from. Why? Who knew? Not him.

Stubborn, unlike his person, was quite happy to stand and eat some of the surviving grass with no worries for the future. A sunny day, food, no work, and no predators are a mule’s idea of heaven.

Stubborn’s heaven was abruptly shattered as an army squad escorted a group of wolves and a single — very pregnant — woman through the lines and right up to Aswathi’s cart.

Elisabeti barely noticed the carter trying desperately to calm his mule. She was focused on helping the other wolves into the cart. The army humans, of course, just watched her and made the occasional joke. There had been supposed to be two warriors traveling with them as well, but something had gone wrong somewhere — no one told her what, of course — and their guards were now among the injured.

Thankfully, most of the wolves were able to hop in on their own, injured or not. But one had a damaged rear leg that made jumping… difficult. And of course, there were the other two wolves who were expected to give birth in the next month. They weren’t nearly as mobile as they used to be.

Not that she was either. When she finally got the others in, she had to turn and look for someone — some human — to help her in.

The wolves didn’t feel safe around the army, which is why all of them but Elisabeti were traveling as wolves. She didn’t have a choice. Having chosen nearly 9 months ago to spend her pregnancy human, it was far past too late to change her mind.

Luckily for her, by then Aswathi had the mule calm enough (for the moment). Stubborn did not like all these predators suddenly crowded in behind him. And he liked the idea of needing to work nearly as little. But he trusted his person and would do a great deal for the promise of an apple to snack on. So Aswathi saw the wolf-woman ask the soldiers for help and be just… ignored.

Aswathi didn’t like wolves. Was, in fact, near as frightened of them as Stubborn. But he knew what his father would say if he ever learned Aswathi had failed in his duty or turned away someone needing help for no reason but fear.

So he took a deep breath and approached her. “Ma’am? You can sit on the bench with me. It’s easier to climb onto than the cart bed and we can keep each other company.”

Elisabeti was taken aback by the offer from the strange human. And one who was afraid of her in a way the army-men weren’t. But she gratefully accepted and did her best to settle comfortably on the narrow driving bench.

“Thank you. I am called Elisabeti.”

Aswathi made sure everything was secure and chirruped to Stubborn, who took off at a fast walk. If he hoped to leave the predators behind, he was disappointed. But Aswathi was just relieved to have an easy start to the trip.

Neither of them said anything for a while, but the quiet meant Aswathi (and Stubborn) could hear every whine, scratch, and even occasional growl or snap from the cart. Desperate for a distraction he asked the first thing that came to mind — “Why aren’t you a wolf?”

Elisabeti started and turned to look at him. “Oh… you don’t know about us, do you? I can’t. Not until the baby is born.”

“Why no– oh.” Aswathi’s brain caught up with his mouth and he paled. “The baby can’t…”

“Not until around 3 months. Most of us can only get pregnant in one form. I’m lucky, I could choose. My wolf and I… we chose this, and now it’s too late to change our minds.”

“Oh.”

They were quiet a bit longer, then it was Elisabeti who broke the silence. “Do you know where we are going?”

Aswathi shrugged. “Today we are going to an army depot. We got a late start, so we won’t get there till after dark. After that, I don’t know. They’ll have another load of supplies for me to load up and take to the front, but no one told me what they were… where you are going. I don’t think they’ll keep you at the depot long, though. There isn’t a lot of room there.”

And it was Elisabeti’s turn to say, “… Oh.”

“Do you know… I was told there would be children?”

Elisabeti’s face turned grey and she swayed in the seat. Worried, Aswathi grabbed for her, holding her in place. To his surprise, she didn’t shy away. Instead, she clung to him. “You don’t know? They didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

Elisabeti grasped for words. For clear thinking. Should she say anything? What if he — or the guards riding on either side of them — weren’t supposed to know?

But that was ridiculous. There was no way to keep it secret, and the Packfather wasn’t a fool.

“There are no children. Caldelon killed them all.” She swallowed and rubbed her stomach. “That’s why they are sending us away, why we’re willing to risk being separated from the pack.” She closed her eyes. “Why the Packfather surrendered.”

Aswathi dropped the reins in shock. Stubborn grumbled and turned to stare at him. After a moment he fumbled to pick them up again and Stubborn resumed following the road. “Do… did you have…”

She smiled sadly. “No. No. I had waited, you see. I had… but my nieces and nephews, my friends’ children… and these past weeks, knowing that if we couldn’t do something, it would be my baby next.” She glanced back into the cart where the other pregnant wolves had crowded forward to press themselves near her. She buried her hand in the fur and warmth. “It would be all of our babies next.”

Again, there was silence. Aswathi had no idea what he could say, what could anyone say? And Elisabeti was lost in her thoughts and memories for a time.

Finally, one of the other wolves chuffed and nudged her hand. She wiped her tears and laughed a little. “Indira reminds me of my manners.

“Thank you, human.” She paused and raised her voice, looking to the guards as well. “Our thanks to all of you. We know you do not like us, fear us, or hate us. But you take us and our cubs to safety, and we are grateful.”

Aswathi flushed, and the guards looked down and muttered something indecipherable before announcing they would ride ahead to check the bridge.

Blinking back tears of his own, Aswathi smiled. “You remind me of my own manners. I am Aswathi, and the glue-pot-to-be there is Stubborn.

“Unfortunately, you don’t get one of us without the other, which is how he got his name.” Shoving aside his fear, he looked over his shoulder to include the other wolves in his story. “You see…”

He launched into the story of a young mule who would not stop following him everywhere. It was a silly story, and he made it sillier with every telling. More silly than ever now. He was rewarded with Elisabeti’s watery chuckles at several points and read gratitude again in her eyes.

Bound by His Oath, Finale

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

King Marcel, known among the Anglish as ‘the conqueror’ (to his pleasure or displeasure depending on the day) was not happy. William the Black was currently out of favor with his majesty, his ambitions having exceeded all reasonable bounds. Marcel had traveled halfway across his kingdom in hopes of finding some justification for stripping William’s son of the lordship he had against all expectation or reason, laid claim to.

Unfortunately, Reimund was as clever as his father, avoiding every trap the king had laid for him. Even insults that would have brought most men to the point of drawn steel he met with a calm face and a cool deflection. And an invitation for any of the king’s men to spar with the keep armsmaster. The king’s knights reported that Reimund’s knights referred to the armsmaster as ‘that Anglish bastard’. Seeing that old bastard hold off his best men gave Marcel a new understanding for how a mere woman had held onto her father’s keep so long.

And whatever else that unnatural woman was, she knew how to manage a household. The way her people had turned to and provided feasts, bedding, and stabling for all Marcel’s retainers on such short notice was proof of that.

No, Marcel the Conqueror was not a happy man.

Finally, he accepted that he had no choice. He had promised a boon to the man who brought the bitch to heel. And whatever his… unconventional methods (and how had he maneuvered his way from prisoner to lord?), Reimund — Lord Reimund of Oak Haven now, damn him to the darkness — had managed it.

The offer of a reward took Reimund completely by surprise. He and Milthryth had been so worried about the Baron’s threat, they had forgotten the king’s promised reward. He had been relying quite heavily on what Mildthryth called his ‘Nornish mask’ and other skills from court. That mask kept his surprise off his face, but didn’t help him find an answer for the king. Reimund was not unaware of the king’s hostility. He needed to ask for a boon that gave him a clear benefit, one the king could understand or his Majesty would look for a hidden benefit. If he could, he needed something that made it clear he was not his father’s ally or tool. And if possible he needed something that Mildthryth would approve of.

They had been getting better at working together. Helped somewhat by Reimund spending time with Lady Valdis, learning more of the strange Dragma customs. But while Reimund no longer knelt to his wife, while he understood now what she wanted from their marriage, he didn’t forget that he had sworn liege-oath.

Even if most days it still rankled — a little less each day.

Unfortunately, more than anything else he needed an answer quickly.

When an idea came to him he bit back a chuckle. There had been a thing he had been thinking of late. A thing he had thought there was no way to make happen. But the king could make it happen…

“Majesty, if it is not to much to ask, I would like you to grant me wardship of my sister, Eveline.” He paused and allowed himself a slight smile of triumph. “And for your majesty to provide her dowry.”

The king stared at him a moment, then chuckled. “So, not your father’s man after all.”

Reimund snorted. “I suppose I owe a debt to my father. In a sense. If he had been willing to pay my ransom, I would never have achieved this,” he gestured around the room, to Mildthryth sitting next to him, her eyes properly lowered. “But I think the ancestors will forgive me for holding a small grudge.”

“Good, good.” Marcel grinned. The king could afford to dispense with the mask. “Yes. I grant you wardship of your sister – and any alliance you can make for yourself with her hand in marriage. And a reasonable dowry from my own funds, so you won’t lose a penny in the bargain.”

“Thank you, Majesty.” Reimund said.

The king ate for a few minutes, thinking through all the implications of Reimund’s clever boon. He paused to savor a bite of roast and it was his turn to snort. “Perhaps your wife can teach her to manage a household. I’d feel much more kindly to your father if I didn’t feel I was risking my life every time I ate at your mother’s table.”

“As a dutiful son to my mother, I cannot in good conscious agree with your Majesty.” Reimund murmured. “But your Majesty may wish to save some room for dessert.”

The next morning, the whole burg gave a sigh of relief as the king and his entourage disappeared around a bend in the road. With luck they would not draw his attention again until it was time to celebrate the birth of an heir.

As they watched from the tower walkway, Mildthryth finally asked the question she had been biting back since dinner the night before. “So why did you ask for your sister as your ward? I know it wasn’t just to use her as a bargaining chip – if only because you know exactly what I’d think of any such thing.”

“I am trying to be a dutiful husband, my lady.” Now he grinned, a mischievous expression Mildthryth once would have not believed he was capable of. “Could you not believe that I have family feelings for her?”

“Reimund, until last night I didn’t even know you had a sister.”

“I do care for her,” he said. “And she deserves better than whatever marriage my father would force on her.

“But mostly… Ancestors’ witness, but I’m starting to believe John was right to call you witch. Why else would I think…” he trailed off.

Mildthryth tried to glare, but couldn’t stop the corner of her mouth from twitching. “Out with it, sirrah. Or you’ll sleep in your own bed tonight.”

Reimund took up her hand and kissed it. “I thought she could use a better role model.”

It was several minutes before either of them could speak again. But when they finally released each other, he said, “And my mother’s table really is deadly.”


All’s well that ends well. And maybe we’ll peek back in on Eveline in a few years.

Next week we’ll be starting How NOT to Save the World (season 1)

They are a plucky band of rebels, fighting against a tyrant who overthrew the rightful government and is supported by an army of monsters. The only problem? They think they’re the good guys.

They are family, grandmother and granddaughter. Students of Kabbalah in a world where someone could really create the Golem of Prague. They are done sitting back while injustice takes place around them. The only problem? They’re on opposite sides.

They’re just a kid, trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in this crazy world their father just took over. And their new mentor is trying to kill their father. The only problem? Everything!

They are coming to usher humanity into a new galactic society. They have the best of intentions, amazing technology to sell us, and know exactly what will fix all our problems. The only problem? If someone doesn’t stop them, they are going to destroy the world.

He has a prophecy foretelling his success, a dragon sidekick, and plans for the biggest battle station ever built. He’s going to save the world. The only problem? He’s the bad guy.

The subscription newsletter is already on episode 6 of How NOT to Save the World.

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Return to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 1
Bound by His Oath, Ep 16

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World, Ep 1
The Price of Survival, Ep 1
Meadowsweet, Ep 1 (Coming Soon)

The Price of Survival (S1 E4), Pause Before the Storm

Season Content Notes: attempted genocide (off screen), child deaths (off screen), prejudice, violence

Navin and his sister spent most of the day as wolf. The wolf was more patient than the human, less upset by waiting. More than willing to doze and see what happened. Especially after the forced march from Long Valley to the capital and the stress of their surrender and near-death.

A servant brought food sometime around midday, walking into the suite without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’. He walked out even more quickly when he saw the wolf curled up on the bedding. At least he remembered to leave the food behind.

Navin thought that perhaps terrifying the servants was not a good idea, but the wolf snorted. If the Pack Mother wished to keep them here (which the wolf was just as happy with, mind) then the humans would need to get used to them. Both of them.

By then, having slept nearly a full day through – their audience with Alfhard had begun shortly after midday – they were not tired enough to return to sleep. The wolf – who’s name was warmth in a blizzard and sharp teeth to guard – worried at Navin. Navin had never been as good at relaxing as his soul-sister. Going from holding responsibility for the lives of their pack and fighting a two-front war, to having nothing to do and no responsibilities was a bit jarring even for the wolf.

Unwilling to let Navin come to the fore again when he would only fret himself into harm, she investigated the space they had been given. When she found a corner where bright summer sun spilled in through a window, she dragged one of the pillows over to it and curled up. It was nice to sit in the warm sun without any cares. (We don’t deserve it, Navin whispered) The wolf snorted at him. Who needed to deserve a warm patch of sunlight? Sooner or later they would be summoned by the human pack leader. (The queen.) Until then, they need only wait. In the sun.

 

After sending Navin to rest, Alfhard had held emergency meetings with various courtiers and councilors. She needed to clear away all the things on her schedule that absolutely had to be dealt with in the next week. By evening she had dealt with or postponed everything she could.

With that done, she decided she couldn’t put it off any longer. First thing the next morning, she sent for General Revazi.

What followed was one of the more painful interviews of her time as queen. She had known Revazi all her life. He had served under her father as subcommander and she had been delighted to promote him to general shortly after her reign began. She could no longer afford his prejudice against the wolves. Especially not if his prejudice left him blind or indifferent to her soldiers butchering people, by the ancestors!

He was not happy with the choice she gave him, but he wasn’t foolish enough to argue. He also wasn’t ready to retire. So she got his pledge to speak no more ill of the wolves, to treat them as he would any of her subjects, and to clear her army of those guilty of that… that butchery.

He wasn’t lying when he said that he hadn’t known. She believed that. Rightly, as the case may be. The general had been very careful to speak nothing but the truth. But Alfhard had been queen long enough to learn how truth could be shaded.

He hadn’t known.

She would wait. She would see the results of his investigation. Alfhard hoped her suspicions were wrong.

She needed to meet with her council. There was much to be done. To prepare for the wolves arrival. To prepare for a possible attack by Caldelon. To prepare her people for dealing with the wolves.

But she could steal some time now. Her messenger had set out for Lubomir’s headquarters at the front. Everything else could wait. Not long, but a bit.

She needed to think. There were some decisions she would make for herself, with no help — or interference — from the council.

Her rule was secure, though she lacked an heir. But no ruler was ever so secure they couldn’t be overthrown. It had been the personal loyalty of a few score guards and servants who had saved her father (and her mother, brother, and herself) when some of those the lords attempted a coup. Her father made sure she learned the lesson — the strength of ruler’s seat rested in the love and loyalty of the commons first.

Navin had given her the wolves personal loyalty. To them, she wouldn’t be a distant monarch whose power was disbursed through ministers, councilors, and feudal lords. She would be Pack Mother.

Her own people — her human people — would want to see the wolves subjugated. She could do that. Or she could raise the wolves up.

This, she decided, was a time for boldness.

 

Before lunch with the court, she sent a pair of messengers.

After lunch, she went to meet with her council. As she had ordered, an extra chair stood against the wall in the council room. Navin Wolf followed a page into the room just as the last of the councilors had arrived.

He was bare-chested, which shocked several of the councilors. He would not wear his tunic again until he had added the embroidery that said he had retired as Pack-Father. Of course, none there knew that a wolf’s tunics carried the record of their life and deeds. That to wear it with the symbols of the Pack Father would be the same as to wear a copy of the monarch’s crown.

It amused him even as it stung his recent wounds.

Still, the time to rest had done him good. The cracks in his mask were gone, and he faced Alfhard and her council as calm and confident as when he’d first walked into the throne room.

Alfhard gave him a brief nod and he bent his head to the side, acknowledging her as Pack Leader. She decided to tackle the biggest problem first.

“How soon after they learn I have taken Long Valley are we going to find ourselves at war with Caldelon?”

Her advisors started arguing among themselves – would Caldelon back down, knowing that their two realms were on near equal terms? Or would they try to press their claim? Or perhaps seek some diplomatic gambit?

The wolf remained silent, but something in his face had her thinking he was restraining himself.

“As you can see, Sir Wolf, my councilors do not stand on formality. If you have something to say, say it.”

There was one moment of stunned silence as her councilors realized she had just named Navin Wolf as one of their number.

Then chaos erupted.


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Bound by His Oath, Episode 16

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

Reimund looked up from showing Henre how to repair a broken armor scale as Lady Mildthryth swept into the room.

She stopped, just inside the door, and for the first time since their marriage seemed uncertain.

“Henre,” he said, “go to the practice yard. Work on your right overhand until the dinner bell.”

“Yes, my lord.”

He waited till Henre was gone to set the armor aside. “My lady?” he got up and started to kneel, the motion almost natural after all these weeks.

“Stop.” She strode across the room put an arm under his elbow. “I don’t want you to kneel to me again.”

He froze. “I don’t understand, my lady.”

“Oh, for the love of the Ancestors, Reimund, I’m your wife, you can use my name!”

She rubbed her face with her hands.

“I didn’t understand. I knew you Norns had your superstitions and restrictions on women and our behavior. I had no idea just how dark this Nornish perversion is.”

“Are you well… Lady Mildthryth?”

“I’m raving aren’t I? Like a dark-curst madwoman. This is what you’ve brought me to!” And she burst out laughing.

Before he could decide if he should excuse himself and send for the priest, she calmed down.

“I’m sorry, my lord. I’ve scared you, and that was not my intent. Please, sit down. We are going to talk, as we probably should have done weeks ago.”

They sat, but neither spoke. Reimund didn’t know what was going on, and Mildthryth didn’t know where to begin. Finally, she said. “It was Sir John who gave me the first real clue. Oh, I should have known something was wrong when I realized how you expected them to react. But our fears are so often irrational, aren’t they?”

“Fear… certainly can be, lady.”

She grinned a moment. “Humoring the mad woman? I am grateful, I supposed.” the grin faded. “Sir John’s reaction…” she shuddered in memory, the fear somehow worse now than it had been in the moment when he had attacked her.

Reimund saw the fear and bowed his head. It was his weakness that had put her at risk and his failure to guard her that left her vulnerable. What could he say?

Mildthryth reached and put a hand on his arm. “It wasn’t your fault, Reimund. It was my choice to tell them, and if I’d trusted you about how… badly they might react I would have been prepared myself.

“I doubt,” she mused, responding to the doubt he didn’t voice, “that Sir John ever told you that it was me who broke his nose that day in the chapel. I could never have defeated him, but I did have enough training to hold him off until Wigmar could step in. If I’d been prepared, I could have defended myself — or dodged him — long enough, Reimund. I promise you that.”

It wasn’t clear if he believed her or not, but some of his guilt eased. She squeezed his hand and continued.

“Anyway, that Sir John immediately jumped to witch craft… why would he think that the only reason you might kneel to me would be sorcery? Especially when he knew I held all your lives in my hand?”

She looked at Reimund a moment and he, too, remembered that day. Remembered standing on the walkway of the tower. Knowing John’s life… the lives of all of them… hung on his decision.

“I never meant to shame you, Reimund,” she said gently.

“I didn’t think you did, my lady… Lady Mildthryth. I thought… I remember thinking that you had found a solution to your problems, and if that solution was shameful to one who sought to harm you, what was that to you?”

She nodded. “I didn’t know it would be shameful for you, to kneel to a woman. To your wife. If I had known… that day, I would have done nothing different.

“But I would have done things differently after.”

She stopped a moment, and Reimund remembered also his sense from that day, of one preparing to make a possibly suicidal cavalry charge.

Or, as she would put, the lightning strike. After which everything would be changed and she didn’t now if it would be for good or ill.

“Reimund… I knew among the Norns that a woman could not rule in her own right. I feared you would try to find some way to subvert your oath, that I needed to remind you, constantly, that you had given oath and were bound to me.”

He flushed with shame. “You… weren’t wrong, lady.”

“I think I was.” She waved away anything he might have said. “Oh, the wedding vows, yes. I haven’t forgotten that. But perhaps I remember that day differently than you do. On the walkway, you gave me your word. But after our wedding, you did something different, didn’t you? You gave me your oath, in the words of the ancestors.

“And you never thought to do otherwise, did you? I was too afraid to see it – though I think you saw my fear.” He nodded. “But looking back, you never once thought of using force against me. You gave your oath and from that moment on have done nothing to give me cause to doubt.”

He swallowed. “I tried not to.” A moment. “It has been… difficult, Lady. But it was my choice to make.”

“Perhaps. But I think perhaps you didn’t really understand what I was asking… no, not what I was asking, but what I wanted and didn’t trust you enough to ask for.”

“Reimund… my lord… it was not common among the Anglish, for a woman to rule. But it happened. And when it did, her husband would give her oath, not to be her servant, but to acknowledge that the… the normal manner of a marriage did not apply.”

He thought about that a moment. “I knew that there were ruling ladies among the Anglish. It… never occurred to me they might have married. Or how such marriages might work.”

“I don’t actually know much of how they worked myself.” She grimaced. “Even before the conqueror came, they were rare. But as I believe I have mentioned, I am also Dragma. Among my mother’s people, the idea of making a man make such an oath would be horrifying. Everyone would know that a man of lower rank would bow to his wife, and to ask an oath of him, to suggest that he would even think of usurping his wife, would be an insult of the highest order.”

Reimund shook his head, trying to understand how such a barbarous custom could even work. Then he looked again at Mildthryth… at his wife. “I suppose, if you are representative of Dragma women, the system might work better than I would have expected.”

She laughed. “Is that a compliment my lord?”

“I think… I think perhaps it is.”

“I trust you, Lord Reimund. I trust you with my holding, with my people. I trust you with myself. I don’t want you as a servant, I don’t want to be rubbing your nose every day in my position.

“I want you as my husband. My partner, my aide, my confidant. My right hand as I am your left.”

She said nothing further, but waited his response. It was one of the things he cherished about her – that for all her lightning quickness she could be patient and give him time to think through without rushing or badgering him. He did cherish her. How often had he wished he could be her husband in truth? But she was not a Nornish woman, and he had been blind to what that meant. As blind as she had been to his pain these last weeks.

He knew, he thought, what he wanted to say. But how to say it, that was harder.

Finally, he stood, looming over her as he had after their wedding, but this time he could see she was not afraid. Slowly, he went to his knees before her, surprised by how easy it was. “Lady, I kneel one last time of my own will. If I feel shame in it, that is my failing, for any man should be honored to serve you.” Then he stood and bowed as she said a Dragma man might. “And I am honored to have you as my wife… Mildthryth.”


Looks like they’re actually getting a happy ending. Just one more loose end…

Return to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 1
Bound By His Oath, Finale

The Price of Survival (S1, E3): Bargain Between Enemies

Season Content Notes: attempted genocide (off screen), child murders (off screen), prejudice, violence

While Navin and his soul-sister settled into sleep, the wolf whose name was the feel of racing paws and the crack of lightning crept through the human city. Had Navin and his soul-sister known the wolf was there, they would have been angry. This wolf and his soul-sister, who human’s called Cyneburg, had no right to risk themselves and disobey Navin’s orders. But the wolf whose name was the feel of racing paws and the crack of lightning had needed to know, and his soul-sister had put human reasoning behind animal intuition. They had followed in secret, had hidden well, had heard and understood the howl Navin had thought none would ever know of.

It had taken everything the wolf had in him, and the strong support of his soul-sister, not to lift his voice in response. Only death could have stopped Navin from singing out after a battle such as this day. That same instinct urged this wolf to return the cry, to add his piece to the story the howl started, but could not finish.

Navin was not a singer, not one of those who could fill a howl with almost as much meaning and texture as human speech. But nor was he a cub just finding his voice. So this wolf and his soul-sister had learned much from Navin’s howl. Learned that he lived, of course. That he expected to continue living. That he no longer marked himself as pack-father and so must have given throat. (To who? The howl did not say. Perhaps could not say. Some human, it must be. Cyneburg murmured that there was only one human it could be, but the wolf would make no assumptions and Cyneburg accepted her soul-brother’s caution.) Most importantly, that Navin had won everything he had hoped to from his battle and perhaps more besides. That there was a new grief upon him. A small grief in comparison to that they all had carried these last weeks, but a sharp one none the less.

Cyneburg wanted to worry at that new grief, but the wolf kept her focused on the moment. If she needed to waste time worrying at something they knew nothing about, she could do it when they were free of the city. Then they would have miles of woods to run through.

To the wolf’s relief, though, getting out of the city was even easier than getting in. He had long known humans were scent-blind but it never ceased to surprise him how close he could come — even from downwind! — and not be detected. Though they made up for that during the day with their vision. Their ability to see ‘red’ (which the wolf had seen through Cyneburg’s eyes but never understood) was a baffling marvel that could reveal the best-hidden hunter if they weren’t careful.

But the wolf had Cyneburg to guide him when he might have put a foot wrong. Before long they were free of the city and running through the fields and hedgerows. Not easy passage, no, but also no humans around to see them and any that did would think them a normal wolf. So, not safe, but safe enough.

It was a long run to the border, three times what normal wolves would travel in a day. But a wolf soul-bounded to a human partook of the human’s endurance. A wolf’s steady lope combined with a human’s ability to just keep going meant that they arrived at the border late the next morning. Exhausted and in desperate need of food, but there.

He was close to the road when he started to smell the human war camp. He started to move to slip around the camp and into Long Valley, but Cyneburg stopped him. He could feel her thinking, fears, concerns, needs.

They could sneak around the human war camp and cross into Long Valley unseen. They had done it before. But it was a risk. Cyneburg thought it was a risk they couldn’t afford.

The wolf didn’t agree — or rather, thought showing themselves to the humans was more of a risk. But… humans were sneakier than wolves. Would these humans think they meant to violate the surrender Navin had given at such risk?

Perhaps. Perhaps.

So he gave way and allowed Cyneburg to stand once again on two feet.

It was near the end of a long, boring guard shift when a strange woman, dressed wolf-style, in undyed leathers and wool, including a heavily embroidered tunic, stepped into sight. The guards, too surprised to be alarmed, called a challenge.

They were more surprised when Cyneburg walked right up to their post and asked they take her to the war leader in charge of the camp.

They knew of course — everyone knew — that The Wolf had gone to the capital to officially surrender. There were bets around the campfires about how soon after that he’d lose his head. But everyone also knew he’d gone alone. There should be no other wolves on this side of the border.

General Lubomir was equally surprised when his rear area guards brought the wolf-woman to him. Lubomir had a fair bit of experience with the wolves, and somewhat less contempt for them than many in the camp that day. But he was used to wolves being silent. They didn’t lie. They might be deceptive on the battlefield, but face-to-face they didn’t lie. Usually, they just said nothing.

This one talked.

“The Queen accepted our surrender from Navin Wolf. I’m sure your own messengers will be bringing word soon, but horses…” she shrugged, not impressed with the human’s preferred travel companion. “But before he left Navin told us his plans so we could be prepared. We will be evacuating Long Valley, General, leaving it for your Queen to do with as she wishes. And we will go wherever she chooses to send us. But Caldelon attacks us also. Where ever your queen sends us, we will be making a fighting retreat. We need to be making preparations as soon as possible, not waiting on your queen’s messenger and scrambling at the last moment.”

This one, Lubomir reflected, did not stop talking. His eyes skimmed the map spread out on his council table.

“And if I do not wait for the Queen’s messenger?”

The wolf-woman snarled. “If you think to wipe us out before–”

“Peace, wolf!” he shook his head, “I mean no such thing!” He rubbed a hand across his balding head, exasperated.

Cybeburg — for that, of course, was who the wolf-woman was — eyed him warily.

“You have rank among the wolves?” He demanded.

She hesitated then nodded. “Under Navin Wolf, I was a Second. None of us know, though–”

“Yes, yes, everything is about to get turned upside down. For you especially, but I expect for all of us. Look you, wolf. If your… people… will accept your word and follow your lead, I will accept your word that her majesty has accepted Navin Wolf’s surrender of Long Valley.

“I’m not interested in pushing Caldelon back out of Long Valley after you make a fighting retreat. Instead, I’ll bring my soldiers in now. You hand over control of the western passes to us. It’s less fighting for us in the long run and you can evacuate without needing to fight your way out.”

Cyneburg studied him a long moment, then turned and walked out of his tent. The guards started, but Lubomir, thoughtful, waved them back. Standing just outside the general’s tent, Cyneburg tipped her head back and howled. The sound echoed across the camp long and ululating. When she finished there was silence for a moment, then a few quick yips from disturbingly close to the border side of the camp. A few moments after that, more voices copying the wolf-woman’s howl rolled out into the valley.

Cyneburg turned back to the general. “Give us an hour to spread the word, General. Then your path will be clear.

“Just… keep your soldiers out of our communities. The roads, the fields, the mines, the passes, take as you wish. Leave us our homes and what safety is left to us until the queen’s orders come.”

She knew — all the wolves knew — that their individual safety might disappear the moment the queen’s word arrived. But that was an evil for tomorrow — or perhaps later today.

“Agreed, wolf. My people will escort you to the border so you can begin organizing your evacuation.” He thought a moment. “We send several wagons back for supplies every day. When there are no wounded, they go back empty. If it works within her majesty’s orders, you can use some of them to transport your children and elderly away from Long Valley.”

“Thank you, General.” He noted the pain that flashed across her face but dismissed it. Not his concern.

He dismissed her and allowed himself a brief moment of thought to the future.

With the wolves surrender, he might finally have a chance at testing an idle fantasy of his. Her majesty was not one to waste a resource, and whatever their other failings, if he could create a scouting group that combined dragoons and wolves…

It would be good to return to peace footing and have time to experiment with the best weapons mixes and armor types without risking his soldiers’ lives. With wolves added to the mix… Another wolf voice, further away now, took up the cry. Ah! Messengers…

Cyneburg knew the general cared nothing for the wolves. That was alright. There were no children to ride in the wagons the human had offered. But there were three bitches who expected to give birth within the month. And many others less far along. Wind and road witness it, if the general would guard their backs, those mothers and their cubs might survive.

Bound by His Oath, Episode 15

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

When Wulfrun, the housekeeper, learned that Mildthryth had been alone in her chambers with Lord Reimund and his knights she was quietly horrified. First, of course, that her lady had been alone with four men. While there had never been any hint of impropriety – no hint of sexual impropriety, at least – in Lady Mildthryth’s behavior, tongues would wag. And with the king arriving in the next weeks no less! Perhaps more importantly, that the Nornish lord and his Nornish knights who had so recently tried to conquer the keep were alone with Wulfrun’s friend and lady.

Wulfrun had formed a reasonably good opinion of Lord Reimund since the wedding. But she would not soon forget or forgive what he had meant to do to her lady. So without saying anything to Lady Mildthryth, Wulfrun had a quiet word with servants she most trusted.

The next day, Sir Damian accompanied Lord Reimund into Mildthryth’s quarters for what had become their nightly conference. Not one, but two maids remained in the lady’s rooms until after Sir Damian left. They were there again two days later when Sir John joined the lord and lady for a private breakfast.

Mildthryth decided to be amused by Wulfrun’s caution. Reimund, after thinking about it, sought Wulfrun out and thanked her for her concern for Lady Mildthryth’s well being. If her concerns were insulting – and they were – he had had a great deal of practice in ignoring insults of late. And if ignoring this insult gained him some trust from one of the most important people in the keep, so much the better.

A few months ago, it would not have occurred to Reimund to view a servant woman as one of the most important people in the keep. Nornish keeps didn’t have housekeepers. But Nornish ladies weren’t as… involved in the running of the keep as Lady Mildryth was. The keep and everything in it not directly involved in defense was, to the lady and her fellow Anglish, the lady’s domain. Within that domain, Wulfrun ran their actual household – ensuring meals were served on time, laundry was done, rushes were changed, and everything else that made the living areas of the keep… livable.

Reimund was not inclined to find his quarters in disrepair and meals cold because he slighted the woman who ensured they weren’t.

Only Wulfrun said or did anything, but many people noted that their lady was spending more time with the Nornish knights. Wulfrun was likely overcautious. Overall, the Anglish of the keep thought it well. Lady Mildthryth knew how to win a person’s loyalty – didn’t they know it! If she could win the loyalty of these knights, then everyone could trust them and the keep would be stronger for it.

And if Lord Reimund seemed ill-tempered, who could blame him with the conqueror descending on him and the Baron’s not-so-subtle threat?

Still, Lord Reimund wasn’t a fool, and Lady Mildthryth was a gift from the Ancestors themselves. They would find a way to outsmart the conqueror and they could finally get on with their lives.

Mildthryth did not have her people’s confidence. She did not forget Reimund’s words – “…do not mock me so. Better to say I am your servant. Or your dog.” Her husband had regained some of his surety now that he knew his friends stood by him, but there was something… something that lurked behind his pained words that day.

She could ask him. He would not, she was sure, refuse her. Not after their last… discussion. But she did not want to hurt him so again. Not if she could avoid it. Which had led her here, to the room Wulfrum had finally cleared for the Nornish knights.

Twice Mildthryth nearly turned away. Her mother would laugh to see her. Her grandfather cringe. A daughter of Dragma, hesitating! But somethings were more intimidating than a charge of Nornish calvary.

Finally, laughing at herself, she raised her hand and knocked.

Sir Damian answered the door to the knights’ quarters. “My lady?”

“I wish to speak with Sir John.”

The quiet knight stepped back from the door, allowing her entry.

Sir John was seated on a bench, mending a torn strap on his armor. He looked up as she entered and grimaced. “My lady witch.”

“John,” Sir Damian chided.

“No,” Mildthryth said. “That is precisely why it is Sir John I wish to speak with. He will tell me his truth where my husband and Sir Hereweald will give me courtly faces and you, Sir Damian, hide behind dignified silence.”

Sir John laughed. “You are right there, my lady witch.” He took a deep breath and let it out with a hiss. “So which of my lord’s secrets do you come to me for?”

Mildthryth smiled. “Actually, Sir John, I’m here for your secrets.”

He stilled and set down his work. “I have no secrets. As you rightly note, my lady, I am an open scroll.”

Something in that sent warning notes down Mildthryth’s spine, but she didn’t let the hint of threat deter her. “I suspect you have many secrets Sir John, but I expect the one I am after today you scarce consider a secret.

“Why do you hate me, Sir John? Why do you call me witch and burn with anger to see my husband kneel to me?”

Sir John growled. “I would have thought mockery beneath you, witch.”

Sir Damian shifted but stayed where he was.

“My lord said something painfully similar before I had him send for you the other day. You both are acting under a false assumption.”

“What would that be? That we are worthy of your mockery?”

Mildthryth laughed. She couldn’t help herself. “Ancestors bless, Sir John, I swear you are a breath of fresh air after weeks of seeking answers from Nornish stone! You are almost as honestly expressive as a proper Dragma warrior.”

For the first time, he looked insulted. “My lord’s liege or not, call me a blighted barbarian again, and I’ll cry challenge for the insult.”

“I mean no insult Sir John, and I care nothing for your challenge. As you and my husband seem to have forgotten I am an Anglish lady and daughter and granddaughter of Dragma ‘barbarians’. Cry challenge on me and my mother will demand the right to be my champion and turn you into steaks.

“But that is not what I am here for. I am not Nornish, Sir John. I have no knowledge of your cursed ‘civilized’ ways. Until your darkened Conquerer tossed me to the wolves I could count on my hands the number of times I had seen Norns.

“So no, Sir John, I mean no mockery. I have not one star to guide me in this matter. Tell me, Sir John. Tell me why you hate me. Tell me why kneeling to me is a shame that is destroying my husband. Tell me what I need to know to save him.”


That’s coming straight to the point…

Return to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 1
Bound by His Oath, Ep 14

Continue to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 16

The Price of Survival (S1, E2): Gut Decisions

Season Content Notes: attempted genocide (off screen), child murders (off screen), prejudice, violence

 

It was only for the cubs-to-be that the wolf endured the touch of death on their skin as long as she had. Her brother understood human things and promised her that so long as they didn’t fight the human Pack Mother the new cubs would be safe. The wolf had already failed their cubs once.

So she had not listened to her brother’s words or the words of the human Pack Mother. She could when she wished to, but with the knife resting on their skin she burrowed down into her brother’s hold fighting her instinct to attack or flee.

Finally, the knife moved, their bonds were cut, and her brother released her.

She felt his relief, but also his fear that the human Pack Mother was only playing with them, as a cat played with its food.

She burst from her brother’s skin, endured the disorienting feel of fur growing and bones shifting.

Immediately she backed away from the human Pack Leader, giving a warning snap toward the blade the human still held, but keeping her head and tail down, her ears soft. She could kill every human in this room, though she might die in the doing. But the cubs. Even without Navin’s reminder, she would never have forgotten the cubs.

Backing up, she stepped over Navin’s human things. That upset the protector-humans for some reason. She would have simply moved away, the human things meant nothing to her. But Navin’s shirt. That human thing meant much to her brother. Still, Navin urged her to leave it be, to not anger the humans. She pawed it once and moved off to the side. She was far enough back from the human Pack Mother to feel safe and her brother assured her that the others would not attack without the Pack Mother’s permission.

The sideways move brought her closer to some of the humans. For the first time, she caught the scent of death and wolf. It was old that scent, but it lingered. She knew that scent.

Without moving, she and her brother looked closer at the humans they had dismissed. Looked and saw–

The human Pack Mother was speaking, “Do you understand me, wolf?”

Rage and grief rode them, but both knew their duty. The wolf looked back to the human Pack Mother while her brother did his best to soothe them both.

The wolf cocked her head a moment, then tried to imitate the human ‘nodding’. It was an odd movement, but the humans here wouldn’t understand her otherwise. “Come here.” the human commanded.

With Navin’s encouragement, she moved closer, staying clear of Navin’s human things that so upset these other humans. She didn’t like going back to the reach of that knife. Not when she knew she could not defend herself. But it needed to be done.

She walked until she stood before the human Pack Mother. Then, slowly, laid herself down and, holding tight to her brother, stretched out her neck as he had done only a few minutes since.

Thankfully, the human Pack Mother kept the blade away. Instead, she demanded to see Navin once more.

Immediately, the wolf retreated, and Navin rose up through her skin. These were human matters, and she was happy to leave them to him.

Once again in his own skin, Navin knelt again with his hands behind his back. It might be that the queen was toying with him, but he was beginning to think not. Not toying, testing. And he and his sister must jump through her hoops for as long as she demanded. No matter what.

Alfhard studied the man before her, not sure what to make of him. She had, more through their desperation than her skills at war, conquered the wolves. But to conquer is not to rule. If Navin was any measure, she did not understand them enough to rule them effectively, save that as with all people, they would do anything for their children.

Even as a wolf, Navin had, in the end, offered his throat.

“Stand.”

He did, with the same calm gaze that was all the expression she had seen from him.

“Very well, Pack Father–”

He shook his head, startling her into silence.

Only Navin knew how hard it was to maintain that calm face, but he knew it well. “I have given you throat, majesty. You are Pack Mother now. I am only a wolf.”

That stunned her, she had nearly as much control as Navin, but the shock showed on her face. “Why?”

“If I died with no clear successor there would be chaos and Caldelon would pick us off in the confusion.” Now it was he who took comfort from his sister. She had no name a human throat could voice, but through their soul-bond, he called to her and she came. She wrapped herself around him, crooning to ease his pain and grief. “I could not allow that.”

How much must it have cost him, Alfhard wondered, to offer up not just his life, but everything he was? She held his gaze steadily as she said, “Return Sir Wolf’s honors to him. He has more than proved his right to them today.”

For a moment, she had the satisfaction of seeing his eyes widen in surprise, then he bowed to her and when he looked up again he once more wore his mask.

But before Navin had even finished his bow, one of Alfhard’s general’s protested, “Majesty, no.” He approached the dais and Navin’s nostril’s flared, as he caught again the scent of death and wolf his sister had noticed before. “Majesty, if you will not kill this beast that is your right, but he is a monster, not a man. And if you do not wish his death on your hands I beg you allow me to challenge him and kill him myself.”

Alfhard was surprised by the wolf’s sudden stillness. He seemed for the moment to barely breathe. Curious, she asked, “Sir Wolf?”

Somehow, in that instant, he changed. Not physically, beyond his eyes changing again to that bright gold. But suddenly she had no doubt that she was in the presence of /the Wolf/. The general recognized it as well, stepping back and reaching for his sword.

His movements slow and controlled, Navin leaned forward and spat on the floor where the general had been standing. “This man who calls me monster wears my cousin’s skin across his back,” Navin growled. “He still lives only because he is yours.”

“General.” Alfhard turned to the man who had held charge of her forces for three years. “The Wolf has been accused of being many things. But never have I heard it said he was a liar. I believe you told me that your cloak was a gift from some of your soldiers.” Ashen, the man nodded. “Go start an investigation into this. Now. And leave your cloak.”

The man’s fingers fumbled as he undid the catch and let his cloak fall to the floor. Then he turned and fled the room.

Then the Wolf was gone. It was only a man standing before her. And somewhat to her relief, even his mask was beginning to crack around the edges. He crouched down and ran a hand over the fur pelt that lined the cloak. “Thank you, Majesty.” He made himself stand and for the first time met Alfhard’s gaze. “Her human name was Lila Greyfur. We found what was left of her body in one of your soldier’s camps. It was not the first such. Nor the last.

“It would mean much to her family if this could be returned to them.”

“I will see to it myself.”

He dropped his eyes then, tired, so tired. He had at last completed all his duties.

He accepted his tunic from one of her people and held it close, but did not move to put it on. “By your leave Majesty, I would return to Long Valley and do what I can to hold off Caldelon until the rest of the pack can be moved to safety.”

Navin’s sister didn’t agree with his plans, but she understood how guilt drove her brother. She would not add to his pain by fighting against what he needed.

To Alfhard, it sounded like a sensible plan, but she hesitated. Her thoughts of how she did not know enough to truly rule the wolves echoed. But so did something in his voice, in those cracks at the edge of his mask.

He came here expecting to die.

“No, Sir Wolf.” She heard herself say. “I need someone with your experience and knowledge too much to let you race off to your death. You will remain here and advise me on matters involving your– /our/ pack.”

With that single statement, Navin knew, the queen and Pack Mother had won an instant advocate and ally in his sister-wolf. She was so relieved and happy with this forced reprieve that she crowded close, her fur once again flickering over his face. Perhaps he had reached some emotional equivalent of being punch drunk because something about the whole thing tickled his humor and he surprised himself by laughing for the first time since the cubs were killed.

“Very well, your majesty. I put my life in your hands. I cannot very well complain when you do not wish to let go your prize.

“My sister, for one, is grateful to you.”

Alfhard was stunned once again by Navin’s response. “Your… sister?” she finally asked, watching the strange dance of fur across his skin fade away. The mask slide across his face. “My wolf, majesty. She is my soul-sister.”

“Your wolf… is female.” Alfhard paused. “I see I have even more to learn than I realized.” She smiled and waved forward one of the pages. “Get Sir Wolf settled in one of the guest rooms and tell the Seneschal I want permanent quarters arranged for him as soon as possible.”

He bowed and followed the page out with the same calm confidence he had entered. But she thought she had begun to see what lay under that confidence. She looked forward to learning more.

The small suite the page led Navin to was comfortable, and there were no locks on the doors. Once the page left, he opened one of the windows and looked out across the grounds. A few minutes later, a single howl rolled across the land. Of course, there was no answer.

It took the wolf some time to get the bed arranged to her satisfaction. Especially since Navin wouldn’t let her shred the pillows. Eventually, she settled down with a sigh. Against all expectation, they had survived the day. Now Navin would need to learn how to live again. The wolf? She fell asleep to happy thoughts of ripping the general’s throat out.