Bound by his Oath, Episode 10

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 barely slept that night. The next day passed in a haze. He must have made some explanation for the bruise on his cheek but didn’t recall what. His thoughts were dark and he worked himself into exhaustion to silence them. He took last meal in his rooms and slept restlessly, waking at the first sign of dawn.

The next day repeated the pattern. He avoided Lady Mildthryth and she allowed him to.

Shortly after last meal, his door burst open. Lady Valdis stood glaring at him. “You. Come with me.”

“Lady Valdis…”

“No. You will come and you will listen. As will my foolish daughter. This has gone on long enough.”

“I don’t believe–”

“Did I ask what you believe? No. Come. We will talk somewhere private.”

He saw no option other than physically forcing her from his rooms – which would be not only undignified but likely rather difficult – so he went with her.

She led him up to the tower walk. He was not surprised to see Lady Mildthryth waiting, though she seemed surprised to see him.

“Mother–”

He walked to the low wall and looked out into the darkness. The stars, the steady light of them, soothed his soul. They had guided the ancestors through the heavens, could they guide him?

“Ha. I was right. Sex. Nothing else makes you blush so.”

A knight must rely only on his own strength, or so he was taught, but he had long known that teaching was a lie.

“Mother!”

Yes, he would turn to the ancestors. No one could object if he began spending more time in the chapel.

“Now you will listen to me. Both of you, Lord Reimund. When you have listened, then you may talk.”

He turned back to Lady Valdis, clinging to the peace the stars gave him.

“Sex makes fools of us. More than anything else except pride and wealth. You were strangers to each other, just beginning to build something. You will not let sex tear you apart before you have found if you have anything to build.” She snorted. “Even your father was not that foolish.”

“Even my father was not so foolish as to make you bleed!”

“So? You told me there was no blood.”

“He wishes there was!”

“So…”

They were speaking words he knew, but nothing they said made sense. Was it normal among Dragma for a woman to take lovers before her wedding? “Is it such a crime to wish my bride a virgin? To wish I were the first to bring her pleasure?”

Mildthryth snarled, but Lady Valdis held up a hand and Mildthryth said nothing. “Do you say that blood is the sign of a virgin?”

“Of course it is!” Was the woman mad? “Even the Dragma must know that. The first intercourse pierces a woman’s veil and there is always some blood.” Whatever peace he had taken from the stars was stripped from him.

Lady Mildthryth stared at him as if… as if a star had come to alight on his head. “You thought that… because I didn’t bleed, I must have had lovers.”

“What else am I to think?” He took a breath. Glanced at Lady Valdis and away. “Lady Mildthryth, I don’t… that is–” he had no idea how to continue with Lady Valdis standing there. But he didn’t need to.

“Be quiet a minute, Reimund.” He obeyed. What else could he do? “I don’t know where to start with your ridiculous beliefs. But I swear to you, there was no one before you. There is no one else now.”

“My la–” The words burst from him before he could stop them.

“No.” The word was soft, gentle even. “I know you have little reason to trust me. Mother is right, we have only just begun building something between us. But I promise you by the ancestors. There was no one else.

“You’re wrong about this ‘virgin blood’ – but even if you weren’t, do you think I never touched myself? If I ever did have any such ‘veil’, I would have pierced it with my fingers long before we met.”

The blood drained from Reimund’s face. It had never occurred to him that a woman might pleasure herself. That… he swallowed… when she said she could see to her own pleasure, she had meant it literally. That she needed no one else.

“As for my knowledge… Reimund have you never seen a Dragma longhouse? They are one great room, with no walls, no privacy. I couldn’t have avoided seeing if I wanted to.”

No walls? No privacy? That was… well, yes, barbaric. But it would also explain so much. So very much.

“If!” Valdis cackled. “You delighted in it.”

By everything he had ever known, he had been right. But all he had known meant nothing in this mountainous land. And he realized it too late.

Moving as stiffly as an old man, he lowered himself to his knees and bowed his head. “My lady, there is no excusing the insult I offered you, nor will I try. I can only hope in time I may atone for it and earn your forgiveness.”

Did he serve any other, they would cast him off for such an insult. But he was her wedded husband and she could not sever that bond. However much he might deserve it.

“Reimund.” A gentle touch on his face, a hand under his chin. “Stand up, please.”

Of course. Even now, he must keep up the pretense.

“Is that what was upsetting you, my lord? That you thought I had taken lovers?”

“No, my lady. Not exactly. But please do not trouble yourself with it. I have not the right…”

“You asked me to let you pleasure me.”

“Yes, my lady.”

Suddenly she was pressing up against him, rubbing herself on him. “You didn’t care if I had lovers or not?”

He closed his eyes and braced himself to stand. There was more than honor between them now, there was insult. And if he didn’t understand what she was doing or why, he still had no right to question or protest. “I did care, my lady. But I could have accepted. But to be denied the right to pleasure you…” Her hand wrapped around his shaft and began slowly pumping.

Dimly, he realized that Lady Valdis had left. Lady Mildthryth crouched down in front of him and began unlacing his pants. He clenched his fists at his side, longing to reach out and touch her but knowing he had forever lost the right.

Her hand was on his shaft, her tongue licking him.

“Explain it to me, Reimund.”

Why? But she asked so he must answer. So he found a way to put into words what he had known for as long as he could recall.

“A man who cannot bring his wife pleasure is no true man. Ah!” Her tongue flickered inside his slit and he struggled to stay on his feet. “Such a man is below contempt…” a scrape of teeth made him gasp “…he has failed… as a husband and…”

He struggled to remember what he was going to say. “It is… shame…” The pleasure washed through him and he lost the thread of his words. It built and built and…

Cold air washed over his shaft. He opened his eyes to see Lady Mildthryth stand and step back from him.

He said nothing. What was there to say? He tucked himself back in his pants and bowed. “If you will excuse me, Lady Mildthryth. I should seek my bed.”

She took his hand. Gentle, her face soft. Now, of all times did she let him see the woman who lived behind the mask of the ruling lady.

“Is that all?” she asked, “You have nothing else to say to me?”

“No, my lady.” He bowed his head. “I am sure I have said enough and more than enough to last us both a lifetime.”

“Then come with me, Reimund.”

Confused, helpless to do anything else, he followed her to her bedroom, where she immediately stripped off her clothing. His eyes drank her in.

She sat on the edge of her bed. Opening her legs to show him her petals, already glistening in the lamplight.

“Lord Reimund, I am used to taking care of my own needs. But I would be honored if you would help me tonight.”

Hardly daring to believe his ears, he walked to her. One step. Another. And squatted down between her knees.

“My lady? Why?”

“Because I didn’t understand. Because I never meant to shame you or deny you your place as my husband. But I did insult you, didn’t I? Even on our wedding day, when I didn’t allow you to touch me.”

He nodded, hardly daring to hope, but said “I am your sworn man. If you did not wish…”

She stopped him with a finger over his lips. “My husband, we have, all unmeaning, traded insult for insult. Trade with me now pardon for pardon. And seal the exchange as the Ancestors did, with a kiss.”

“As you wish, my lady.” With a prayer of thanks to the ancestors, he kissed her. Gently at first. Then nibbling around her petals. Teasing her with his lips. And as her whimpers became moans and moans became cries, he plunged his tongue into her depths.


See how well things work when you communicate?

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 10 – The Decision

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

When they returned to the compound, Chotaikytsai had gotten Chestef to take a nap and was working the garden. Kolchais tried to join em but Chotaikytsai took one good look at Kolchais’ face and insisted ey sit down and eat something. Ey had done enough today.

Kolchais protested that ey didn’t do anything. “Rot and stagnation!” Lefeng exclaimed. “You guided us around the city, introduced us to people, and helped us understand how the city works. That is enough for anyone to do in one day.

“If I am tired, you must be exhausted.”

The once-weaver gave Lefeng a respectful nod and said, “Besides, I was about to stop and eat something. The gardens can wait for a time.”

Lefeng and the others joined the grandparent by the fire pit and shared the roasted vegetables and beer ey had prepared. Ey did eir best to make small talk through the meal — especially as the golden-eyed had fallen silent. Lefeng desperately wanted to ask what the once-weaver had decided, to ask Kolchais if ey might be willing to consider them, but held to the hunt-patience and waited.

Thankfully, when they finished eating, Chotaikytsai decided to take pity on em. “I will be part of this new family,” the once-weaver said, “but only if Kolchais is also part of it. Ey is already root-kin to me and it is only right that ey be part of any family I build.”

“What!” Kolchais exclaimed before Lefeng or Paiokp could respond. “You can’t do that! You can’t throw away this chance for my sake!”

Chotaikytsai threw up eir hands and shook eir head. “What? You think I should give up the family I have to take a new one? Or are you saying there are not family-feelings between us?”

The limping-one cut em off, and Paiokp leaned over to whisper in Lefeng’s ear, “They certainly fight like family.”

Lefeng snorted and nudged the sun-touched. “Go on then. You’re the rooted-one. They’ll listen to you better than me.”

Paiokp laughed. “I’d get between a mountain cat and it’s meat before I got in the middle of a family quarrel.”

“Very well,” Lefeng sighed. “I’ll do it. Otherwise, I see us having our first family quarrel over who will interrupt their family quarrel.”

Kolchais and the once-weaver were standing now, yelling at each other. Lefeng considered a moment. How different were the city’s courting customs?

Ey stood and put two fingers under Kolchais’ chin, startling the stubborn-one into silence and turning eir head to face Lefeng. “Shut up long enough for us to answer, courting-sib.” Lefeng leaned in until ey could feel Kolchais’ breath on eir lips. To eir delight, Kolchais recognized the invitation and leaned into the kiss. It was light and sweet, and Lefeng could taste the stubborn-one’s uncertainty, inexperience. So different from intense Paiespaiokp or teasing Poutsneptsaipn or any of eir other lost ones. Ey pulled back and blinked away tears. It took a moment to clear eir throat and regain the teasing tone ey had intended. “Unless you’ve rather not be married to us. I can’t imagine we’d be prime catch for a sophisticated city person.”

Kolchais stared a moment, reaching up to touch eir lips. “You don’t know what you are saying.”

“You city folk talk weird, I’ll admit. but I’m pretty sure I’m saying exactly what I meant to. Paiokp?”

“Stop teasing em, Lefeng. I swear when you get an idea in your head…” Paiokp shook eir head and looked down at eir hands. “Kolchais, if the once-weaver hadn’t said something, we would have asked you. I know it’s indecently fast to speak of marriage and mating and… and there are things about us that you should know before we ever asked. But you could be a big help to us, with how well you know the city. And we… I … like you.”

“We,” Lefeng said. “Smart, aware, kind, city grown, and cute.”

“I…” Kolchais swallows. “I like you too. But you saw what people think of me.”

Lefeng shrugged. “I’m a mountain child who would follow the old ways and live in a tent most of the year. Have you not heard what the people here say of me? Why should I believe they speak any more truth about you?”

Chotaikytsai chuckled. “Enough my children. If we are all agreed?”

Lefeng looked at Kolchais and raised eir eyebrows. Slowly, the stubborn-one nodded. “Agreed.”

“Go get your things,” Chotaikytsai said. “You will all stay here now. And you,” ey poked Lefeng, “who brags of sleeping in tents, you will be in charge of putting together someplace for you all to sleep until we can…” Ey stopped and took a deep breath. “Can rebuild the compound.”

Lefeng heard an echo of eir own grief in that pause and offered a hand to eir parent-to-be, who gripped it tightly.

“Off with you then! The faster you go, the sooner you are back.”

With a nod, Lefeng turned and jogged for the gate, Paiokp trailing behind.

When Lefeng returned, Chestef was awake and pestering eir grandparent-to-be with questions.

Lefeng put eir pack down out of the way and went to squat down near the child. Chotaikytsai said, “Alright, child. Lefeng is back now and we have something important to tell you.”

“You know why we came here?” Lefeng asked, picking up the grandparent’s cue. “To make a new family?”

Chestef nodded. “You and Paiokp are going to be my parents. And we would find more parents and grandparents. But will I have a new cenn?”

The child’s voice wobbled a bit at that last and Lefeng picked up the child and held eir tight. “No, Chestef. There is only one cenn, one birthing parent, for each of us. But there can be many paitche, many parents. And new Babas as well.

“Chotaikytsai and Kolchais — the short city-folk who is child to Chotaikytsai, the stubborn-one — will be joining our family. Chotaikytsai will be your grandparent, and can be baba if you want em to be.”

“Baba?” Chestef asked, looking at the once-weaver.

“Yes, child,” Chotaikytsai said, and Chestef launched emself at eir new Baba so fast that ey nearly knocked Lefeng over. Chestef clung to eir new grandparent and cried. It was a long time before eir tears finally stopped.

They talked plans over dinner. As Lefeng was afraid, the city would make everything more complicated than it had to be. They couldn’t just go before a priest and have their new family blessed. Chotaikytsai said that ey would find out when the next council meeting would be. They would need to get a hearing before the council to request recognition as citizens.

Lefeng tuned most of it out. It would be important, ey knew. But it was not something ey could help with. Leave it to those who could. Ey’s concern was getting shelter for everyone.

By nightfall, they were temporarily settled. Chestef would sleep in the lean-to with eir Baba. Lefeng, Paiokp, and Kolchais all had space under a shelter Lefeng constructed in a corner of the compound. Tomorrow, ey would start work on a winter shelter — the not-so-temporary shelters the far-walkers used when they planned to stay in one place for several weeks or months. The shelters were named for the winter in-gathers when the far-walking clans came together and an entire mountain valley would be filled from end-to-end with the winter shelters of all the families there…

The future opened before Lefeng — but the past remained, dogging eir steps.

Bound by His Oath, Episode 9

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 was sorry when the day ended. He had learned a lot about the defensive set up of the keep, and the state of the lands. Integrating the Nornish and Anglish warriors would be a challenge. Already in training, a fight had broken out when Taylor refused to fight alongside a woman.

The idea was outlandish to Reimund as well, but having seen the woman in question with a spear in her hands, he wasn’t inclined to argue. Not yet anyway. And he would not soon forget who had been soundly defeated when his forces and the Anglish last fought.

But he also realized that the Anglish fighting style was most suited to the forested mountains. If they had managed to catch his men in the open fields, there likely would have been a much different outcome.

He said as much to Wigmar and was pleased when the armsmaster didn’t get defensive. “Aye, and that’s how your conqueror took us. Lured our fighters out into the open and your cavalry cut us to pieces. But we might have surprised you yet, m’lord.”

And for a time, while he learned his new warriors, reviewed the accounts with the seneschal, began teaching Henre the rudiments of the knight’s art… he was able to forget.

But now last meal approached. Lady Mildthryth awaited him. And he could no longer have the luxury of denial.

After the meal, he again went with her back to her chambers. He told her of his day while her attendant brushed out her hair and helped her ready for bed. She reciprocated. Most of what she shared was not relevant to his duties, household management. But he listened respectfully and learned a few things – about the available stores and the needs of the keep – that were of interest.

He found he truly enjoyed talking with her. She listened and commented intelligently. And while she lacked a great deal of knowledge of warfare, her knowledge of the land and people was impressive.

Her servant finally departed.

Alone with Lady Mildthryth, he forced himself to cross the room and kneel at her feet.

She smiled and patted his cheek. Like a girl rewarding an obedient dog. “I am pleased you remembered my wishes.”

“I am not likely to forget, my lady.” Somehow, the words came out almost normally.

She continued the conversation as if nothing had changed. But the small pleasure Reimund had been able to take in it was gone.

Finally, they retired to bed. He had hoped that at least here she would permit him to be a proper husband, but that hope quickly shattered. She did not even remove her shift, instead having him strip and sit on the edge of the bed.

It felt like a mockery, for her to kneel before him here while denying him everything that should be his. And yet, when her mouth closed over him, and her hands began to caress his thighs and sac, he lost himself in the pleasure that she brought him.

He had not been a virgin, of course. But nor had he been one to spend overmuch time on his pleasures, preferring to practice and learn so when the time came, he could properly bed his wife. She wrung more pleasure from him than any had before. She watched him, paid attention, and responded to him. And when he released, it was beyond anything he had ever known.

Was this, he wondered as he dressed later, why men were commanded to please their wives? To keep them in this mindless state of pleasure? He feared that if she continued this assault on his senses, she would not need his oath, she could lead him around by his shaft.

But not once had she allowed him to touch her.

Why would she not permit him to give her pleasure? Had her lovers never been able to bring her to this peak so she didn’t know to crave it? Or… did she not crave it from him because she still saw them, and had no intention of permitting him to fulfill even his most basic purpose as her husband?

“Did I displease you last night, my lady?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then why do you not let me bring you pleasure?”

She smiled. “I can tend my own pleasure well enough.”

“My lady will do as she wishes.” Somehow he kept his tone even, though he knew he had failed to fully control his face. He had been a fool. She had needed the marriage consummated, of course. But he had known from the beginning he would be no true husband to her.

“What is it?” the lady asked. “I thought you enjoyed yourself well enough.”

He owed her honesty. And even if she had changed her wedding vows, still she had made them. Perhaps she would care enough to listen.

Reimund took a deep breath and braced himself. “Lady, I know ours is not a… regular marriage, but I am your husband.”

“Of course! Has any dared say otherwise?”

“I… not…” Was she being deliberately difficult? Did she truly not understand? “I had hoped that if I pleased you well enough, you would give over your lovers, my lady.”

“Lovers?” She blinked. “Why would you think I have lovers?”

“Give me the respect of honesty, at least, my lady. There was no blood between your legs after you first took me to your bed. And no virgin would know so much of sex and pleasure.

“It is my duty and privilege as your husband to give you pleasure. Even if you would continue to…. Am I not man enough to be even one of those who bring you pleasure?”

As he spoke, her expression changed, from confused, to incredulous, to angry.

“You wished me to bleed?”

He blinked. “What man does not wish to see virgin-blood when he first beds his wife?”

The blow took him by surprise, opened handed but hard enough to have done injury if he had tensed for it.

“Get out of my sight.”

He bowed and left.

Planting Life in a Dying City; Season 1, Episode 9 – The Abandoned

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Lefeng rose early the next morning. The hospitality family offered fruit and a strange kind of flatbread. Ey took the flatbread and ate it a small bit at a time. By the time ey finished, the sun was rising. Ey roused Paiokp and Chestef and waited, as patiently as ey could, while they ate. Then the three headed out to speak again with the weaver.

When they arrived again at the old compound, the once-weaver let them in, but refused to speak with them. “Kolchais will show you around the city,” ey said instead. “If you would live here, you should know it. I will watch the youngling for you. Ey can help me with the weeding.”

Lefeng was reluctant to leave, wanting to talk with the once-weaver about the family and eir thoughts on it, but Chotaikytsai was firm. Chestef, to eir surprise, liked the plan. Eventually, Lefeng realized that the youngling would feel safer in a family compound — any family compound. With the assurance of the youngling’s safety, ey agreed.

Kolchais was extremely knowledgeable about the city. Ey not only pointed out directions and landmarks but explained some of the city customs and organization. There was a council that ruled the city, made up of one member of each family. The council made the laws and set policy, and once a year elected between three and ten people to do the day-to-day work of managing the city.

“In theory, anyone can be elected.” Kolchais paused a moment to gulp for breath. “In practice, it’s almost always people from the most successful 20 or 30 families. Fifty years ago, though, one of the family-less was elected. Ey had become a hero in the fighting when North Shore tried to invade. I guess the council thought they needed to do something about em before ey became a threat, though. Ey was caught ‘stealing’ from the city and executed as a traitor.”

Lefeng glanced at Paiokp and saw the golden-eyed one looking back at em. Paiokp rolled eir eyes and Lefeng nodded. Don’t trust the council, message received.

Their town-guide stumbled. Lefeng caught eir elbow reflexively, but let go as soon as Kolchais had eir feet again. “Apologies, Kolchais. I did not mean to intrude.”

Kolchais looked down and away, pulling away from Lefeng. “No apology needed, far-walker. I… appreciate the help. Turn here. I’m sure you’d like to see the main trader’s market.”

Lefeng followed, trying to give the town-guide space. But the once-fisher hurried after and asked, “Are you okay?”

“Of course. The market runs every day, but by custom first day through fourth day are reserved for trading families. Fifth and sixth days are open to other families, and on seventh day they let family-less who have enough tokens in to buy what little we can.” Ey continued talking about the market, but Lefeng stopped listening. The once-walker had heard enough of markets, now it was time to watch.

Once Lefeng was paying attention to eir eyes rather than eir ears, it became obvious that Paiokp had been right to worry about their guide. Kolchais was sweating and limping. There was a pattern to eir steps. It reminded Lefeng of grandparents in their last year on the trails. Something that spoke of an inner strength and stubbornness, but an outer strength that could no longer keep up with that inner determination.

Worse, ey now noticed the other city-folk around them staring. Not staring at the two out-town strangers, but at their guide. The stares were hostile, and more than one person made warding gestures or signs of contempt. City folk were disgusting.

Lefeng ignored the staring strangers. They were not a problem — now, anyway. Ey hesitated before speaking, not wanting to offend Kolchais again. But Lefeng could not stay silent while the stubborn-one pushed emself into injury. “We should stop and rest a bit. You are going to harm yourself if you keep pushing yourself.” Kolchais looked down and away again, and this time Lefeng could see it for embarrassment and shame, not the anger ey had thought.

“Besides,” Paiokp put in, “my thoughts are more stuffed than a child on a feast-day. We need time to absorb everything you have said before we hear any more.”

Kolchais didn’t try to argue. Paiokp, Lefeng thought, turned the tide, giving the city-folk a reason to stop that eir pride could accept. They found a wall to sit by. Lefeng and Paiokp squated down but Kolchais leaned against the wall. “If I squat down,” ey muttered, “I may not be able to get up.”

The city-folk seemed to expect some response, but Lefeng couldn’t imagine what. Ey shrugged and went back to watching the people around them.

They had barely walked a finger-width of the sun’s course, and it took the stubborn-one a half-fingerwidth to breathe easy and stop eir legs from shaking. Not wanting the stubborn-one to push emself again so quickly — and still having much to learn — Lefeng and Paiokp began asking questions.

Before too long, Paiokp began to get restless, after traveling with em for a month Lefeng recognized the signs. But Lefeng was used to judging eir family’s fitness for the trail and gestured patience. After another finger-width, Lefeng asked Kolchais if they could continue.

The city-folk agreed, but Lefeng insisted that ey tell them when ey needed to rest again. Lefeng found eir eyes caressing Kolchais’ broad face and the cute way ey bit eir lip while ey thought. “Alright. As long as you don’t mind…”

“If I minded, I wouldn’t ask.”

So they walked and rested, walked and rested. Over the course of the morning, Kolchais explained everything from the street sweepers who passed by (family-less hired as day-labor) to the working of the council. From class distinctions within the city (class being a combination of a family’s trade, location, and wealth) to how family compounds could be sold or trade hands. Even how the family-less lived in the city.

Lefeng and Paiokp were by then used to the physical presence of the city. But they had many questions about how so many people managed to live together. Kolchais’ explanations help them make sense of how the city worked and how they would need to function to survive within it.

Lefeng was not happy with city ways. They were, as eir family always believed, unhealthy and ridiculous. Why they practically lived in their own filth! But this is the choice ey had made, so ey would deal with it as best ey could.

Ey wondered if Paiokp might also be having second thoughts. Sometimes the wind shifted to blow from the sea. Each time the golden-eyed-one looked toward it with longing, in spite of the horrific smell that came from the docks.

Throughout the day, Lefeng continued to see (and sometimes hear!) strangers stop and yell taunts or make rude gestures at Kolchais. For most of the walk, Lefeng and Paiokp politely ignored it as a personal matter they didn’t want to call attention to. But Lefeng found emself thinking that this stubborn-one, with eir knowledge of the city and how it functioned and the best ways for someone without power and influence to survive, could be a valuable addition to their family. Plus ey liked em. Paiokp must have been having similar thoughts. Lefeng could see eir hands clenching and eyes narrowing at each new insult. So ey wasn’t surprised when the golden-eyed-one asked about the rude people.

Lefeng expected the city-folk, stubborn-one to refuse to answer. It was an invasive question. But Kolchais began talking of eir family and eir illness. How eir slowness and difficulty walking was the result of something that caused them to be constantly in pain. Eir family believed ey was lying and lazy to get out of contributing and doing work for the family.

“That’s ridiculous,” Lefeng burst out. “You nearly pushed yourself to collapse this morning. Anyone with eyes can see that you do what you can and more. Or was it someone else working in the garden with the once-weaver yesterday?”

Kolchais shrugged. “It is what they believe. And for a long time, I thought they were right.”

“Were the healers and priests unable to help?” Paiokp asked gently.

Kolchais looked down. “There are no healers for the family-less. The one healer my family brought to see me gave a potion that helped the pain, but it didn’t stop it.”

“I’m sorry,” Paiokp said.

They didn’t speak of it further, and soon Kolchais turned their steps back toward the once-weaver’s compound. But Lefeng caught the golden-eyed watching em with eyebrows raised in question. Lefeng grinned and nodded. Yes, ey thought they could do well with this one.

Bound by His Oath, Episode 8

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.

Mildthryth entered her sunroom and sat in her favorite chair. It was placed to best catch the sun at any time of day. The lady of the keep’s sunroom had more windows – and thus was more exposed – than any other room in the fortress. That was why it was on the highest floor of the keep, and the windows – though many – were small and narrow.

Reimund followed her a short time later. She glanced from him to the floor by her feet and back. He took a breath then came to her and knelt, with his accustomed grace.

She put a finger under his chin and lifted his head so she could see his eyes. As always, his face was a mask that told her nothing.

“I prefer that you kneel when we are in private here or in your rooms, my lord.” That should do for reminding him of his place going forward. “In other areas or when we are not alone here, you may sit or stand as you prefer.”

“Yes, lady.”

“Henre studied warfare under my father until his death. Similar to what you Norn’s would call being his squire. I understand you did not bring a ‘squire’ with you. I wish you to take Henre.”

His eyes flashed but he only said, “As you wish, Lady Mildthryth.”

“Sit now, my lord. It won’t be long before he joins us.”

He stood quickly and moved to the chair opposite hers. “Thank you, Lady Mildthryth.”

They sat in silence until there was a rap on the door and Henre slipped in.

“You sent for me, my lord, my lady?”

She said nothing, looking at Reimund. He met her eyes for a long moment, then turned to Henre.

“You are Henre, yes?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Lady Mildthryth has recommended you to me. I am in need of a squire as well as someone I can trust to help me learn Anglish custom.”

He turned and met Mildthryth’s eyes. “Somethings here will need to change to the Nornish manner.”

He was right, she realized. It would look strange if a new Nornish lord did not institute his own ways and customs. And, quick-witted, he had found a way to tell her so without making it an order or a request. She nodded and he turned back to Henre.

“But I would prefer to avoid disrupting the routines or distressing the cook.” He winked and Henre chuckled. Mildthryth smiled and shook her head. For all the stone face he had shown her so far, he knew how to charm another warrior. She had been right to take this man as her lord. If only she could trust him to be a true consort to her, a partner she could rely on and not a threat she must guard against.

And on that thought… “Henre, I agree with everything Lord Reimund has said, but Lord Reimund is right about not understanding our ways or people. If you have any concerns I expect you to bring them to me as well as Lord Reimund so I can guide him as he requires.”

Reimund’s good humor disappeared in an instant. But he nodded his agreement. “As my lady says, Henre.” He took a deep breath. “She is still lady here and I wish her to be obeyed as myself.” He turned to speak with Mildthryth, “I doubt those who have been loyal to you so long need it said, my lady, but I will make sure that… our Nornish warriors understand as well.”

“Thank you, my lord. I am sure you are correct, but it is best to be sure.” And reassuring that he would make it clear.

“I believe,” he continued, still looking at her, “That my lady would prefer to have me to herself for today.” She nodded, surprised, and again pleased that he didn’t take the excuse of Henre’s new duties to evade her. “Move your things to my quarters today and then speak with Sir Hereweald’s squire, Frances. I expect you to report on a squire’s duties and what additional equipment you might need at breakfast tomorrow.”

“Yes, my lord. My lady.” Henre bowed and left in a hurry.

When the door closed, Reimund stared at her, gripping the arms of his chair. She waited.

Slowly, he stood and came, once again, to kneel before her.

“You did well, Lord Reimund. I have set you a difficult task and am reassured that I was right to trust you with it.”

“Thank you, my lady.” He didn’t, quite, wince, at her emphasis on trust. Neither of them would soon forget his attempted betrayal, but he seemed to have resigned himself to her victory over him. There were many ways he could pervert or twist his oath to her and gain power. But he himself was giving the orders that would prevent many of them.

She stood. “Come, Lord Reimund. We have a short time before supper. I will give you a tour of the keep.”

After supper Mildthryth took Reimund on a ride around their lands. To review them ‘properly, this time.’ To Reimund’s discomfort, she also invited her mother to join them. Yet Lady Valdis, for all the Dragma reputation for crudity and aggression, was a delightful companion. For much of the ride, Lady Mildthryth spoke of the land and answered any questions he had. But any time a silence lengthened between them, Lady Valdis had a song or story to share. What she called the shorter ‘sagas’ of the Dragma, including the story of the Ancestors’ arrival on this world. Though she insisted she was no ‘Singer’ Reimund swore that she would be welcomed at any noble court.

Around Lady Valdis, Lady Mildthryth also relaxed, teasing and laughing. And Reimund found himself fascinated with the lady’s Dragma stories and the very different life they revealed. The trio returned shortly before last meal.

Reimund had, thankfully, had a chance to tell Lady Mildthryth that his knights would expect to be seated at the high table in acknowledgment of their rank. The Lady had agreed to adjust her own customs but added to the table the priest, Armsmaster, and Seneschal.

He had feared an awkward and uncomfortable meal. Lady Valdis again saved them. She picked up their earlier conversation and involved the priest and Damian in a comparison of their people’s different stories of the landing. The priest was unsurprisingly familiar with the lady’s Dragma heresy. He responded to her outrageous statements with good humor and confident rebuttals. Damian, spurned from his usual silence by new ideas, took his cue from the priest.

With the three debaters going full gallop, Reimund and the others need only sit back and listen. Though Lady Mildthryth jumped in from time to time, alternately skewering one of the partisans or presenting a perspective that unified conflicting views. It seemed that to ‘strike like lightning’ was indeed a Dragma custom. More than once one of the ladies would sit silent for a time, then ‘strike’ the conversation with a comment that would send Damian reeling. The Priest seemed used to this tactic, adapting quickly to each attack.

After the Priest made one telling rebuttal, Lady Mildthryth burst out laughing, a high pitched giggle that Reimund found delightful. The lady fascinated him. If he had only been able to take her as wife in truth, and not this mockery that left him half a man, he would have counted himself one of the luckiest men in the world.

He did his best to push aside his bitterness, focusing on Damian’s fresh offensive against the priest. Really, who could believe the Ancestors had slept thousands of years in their voyage to this world?

After last meal, he followed Mildthryth to her rooms, where she once again took him in her bed. This time she did not restrict his hands. He was able to wrap his fingers around her curves, palm her breasts, and give her some small portion of the pleasure that should be his right to bestow as her husband.

They fell asleep together, but during the night he woke and removed to his own rooms. Henre was there, sleeping at the foot of his bed, as was proper. But he found himself wishing that the boy had been a bit less… eager to take up his new duties. For even in his own rooms, he could not have privacy.

The next morning, Reimund broke his fast alone, but a message came from Lady Mildthryth as he finished. She asked his plans for the day. A reasonable question from a new wife. Except that she would pass judgment on his plans. Except that he hadn’t been sure he would be allowed to plan his day.

Except that he was on his knees before her.

But she said only that it would be a relief to have him take over managing the defense and land and let her focus on managing the burgh.

It occurred to him for the first time that the king’s edict would not be the only reason she had wished to wed. She had been doing the jobs of ruling lord and lady both since her father died.

After Reimund left to review their defenses with Wigmar, Mildthryth asked her mother to join her in the sunroom.

Unsurprisingly, the blunt Dragma lady immediately did exactly what Mildthryth hoped she would: asked about sex.

“Even knowing you all my life, mother, I still don’t know how you can be so forward about it, but right now, I’m grateful.”

“Problems? Tell me the nit didn’t make you bleed, or I’ll bleed him for you.”

Mildthryth laughed ruefully. “No mother, I remembered well enough your lessons and everything the cousins told me.” She shook her head. “Ancestors know you and they shocked me enough I had no chance of forgetting.”

“Anglish foolishness.”

“So you always say, mother.” She sighed. “I think I’m doing something wrong.”

“Bah. Either you remember your lessons or you do not. If you do, how could you go wrong?”

“It’s… For my first experience, it went well. Wonderful, really. But… I was the only one who was relaxed afterward. Reimund had his release, but instead of drifting as I did, he remained tense and stiff–”

“Stiff?”

“His muscles, mother, not…”

“Ah.” her mother was silent for a time. “And it was good for you? No, I do not ask for details. Not from my so-Anglish daughter. But tell me true.”

She blushed. She couldn’t help it. “Ah. Hm. Yes. You warned me that the first time I wasn’t likely to… ah… And you were right. But if I can have that again, then I don’t think I care if I ever get to… ah…”

Her mother nodded. “Some never do. For me, I will say it was the one thing your father–”

“Mother!” Mildthryth covered her ears. Really, even for Dragma there should be limits!

“Ha! Anglish, as I said. Very well.” Valdis was silent again. “It may be, daughter, that you were too focused on yourself. Release is always good for a man, but there is a difference between good and wonderful, yes?”

Mildthryth nodded, frowning.

“No! I do not say you did wrong. I know you daughter. For your first time to focus mostly on yourself is good. But see if you can focus on his pleasure this night. That may make much difference.”

Mildthryth nodded again, smiling this time. “Thank you, mother. And I know exactly what I’ll do.”

“It is good. Now, shall we ride.”


Cross cultural relationships can have the worst landmines, you know?

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 8 – The Weaver

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

They set out early the next morning to speak with the weaver. But navigating the city was difficult and it took them until mid-morning to find the compound of the Colorworkweaving family.

The gate was broken off the hinges and leaned against the inside of the wall. In its place, a simple wooden bar blocked the entrance. Through the mostly-open gate, they could see the partly-cleared-away burnt remains of a large compound. Lefeng thought it could have comfortably held a family of over thirty. Around and behind the ruins were gardens that were in various stages of tending. Most showed some level of neglect and a few were completely overrun with weeds. But a few were thriving. Two people worked in one of the gardens. One who was old enough to be a grandparent, and was likely the weaver they were seeking. The other was of an age to be a parent. They were focused on their work and didn’t notice their visitors. Lefeng shook eir head. Especially with no gate, it wasn’t safe for them to not be alert.

A knocker still hung beside where the gate had been. Lefeng rang the knocker, though gentler than usual for fear it, too, was in disrepair. But it rang out clearly in spite of its battered appearance.

The two working the garden looked up and the maybe-grandparent stood and approached the gate. As ey got closer, Lefeng could see there were still a few black strands mixed in with the bright white curls of eir hair — too loose to be called coils. Lefeng had noticed that was common in the city. Eir face was broad, with a button nose, and unusually for the rooted folk, as dark as Lefeng and many of eir family.

“Greetings strangers. Who are you and what brings you to my gate?”

Lefeng glanced at Paiokp and found Paiokp looking back at em. Ey guessed Paiokp was wondering the same thing — how did one without family introduce themself?

After a moment, Lefeng says, “I am… I was farwalker near-adult of Sandy Cove. The great wave a month ago destroyed my village… and my family. My companions are also left familyless by the wave.

“I met a parent of the Southward Cobblers in the market yesterday, and ey asked that I come here and give eir greetings.”

“I am Chotaikytsai, once a weaver.” The once-weaver shook eir head at their surprised look and said. “Among the familyless, personal names are given freely. We have no other designation to share.”

“Oh.” Lefeng took a breath and glanced at Paiokp again. The once-fisher glanced away, clearly unwilling or unable to speak. “Of… course. I am… Lefeng. And this is Paiokp.” Courtesy or not, ey wouldn’t name Chestef to a stranger. It was bad enough sharing eir and Paiokp’s names.

“You are a long way from home. Though I expect farwalkers are always a long way from home.”

Lefeng blinked in surprise. “The farwalkers carry their homes with them, once-weaver. But yes, I am a long way from the fires of my family.”

“I expect,” the once-weaver said in a sudden change of tone and topic, “that my nibling did not send you here just to give greetings ey could have brought emself. And I am too old and tired to dance around what brings you here.”

But not, Lefeng noticed with a grin, so discourteous as to ask outright. And the humor of that gave eir current enough of a boost to push em onward.

“We wish to start a new family together. But three people don’t make a family. So we’re looking for others who might want to join us. It was after I told em this, that your nibling asked me to come.”

Chotaikytsai said nothing, but lifted the bar across the gate and gestured for them to come in. As they entered, the other person stood from the garden–moving more like an elder than a young parent. Chotaikytsai introduces em as Kolchais, once a messenger. This one had proper coils around eir broad face, and skin lighter brown than the weaver, but still darker than Chestef or the fisher.

Kolchais snorted and shook eir head. “No, never a messenger, just the child of them.”

Ey and Chotaikytsai exchanged looks like this was an old argument. Lefeng decided to remember that but said nothing.

“I was getting ready to break for some food. Would you join me?” Chotaikytsai asked.

“If you wish,” Lefeng said, fearing to take from what small reserve this pair must have. “We have some trail food left if you wish to share.”

It took a few minutes, but the once-weaver and… Kolchais… had more food on hand than Lefeng would have expected from the state of the compound. Between what they had and the trail food, they were all settled near an old fire pit with food in less than a fingers-width.

After they ate quietly for a few minutes, the once-weaver asked, “You would make family with strangers? Many people are lazy, good for nothings. You would risk burdening yourself with their care for how do you know which is which? And what of your own families? Would they wish you to abandon them? Their ways and traditions and history?”

Lefeng shook eir head. “I have nothing left. My family followed the old way so we kept few possessions that couldn’t be carried in a pack, and most of those were destroyed by the wave. I could make my way in the mountains, but a lone traveler in the mountains has a fool for a companion. My family would rather see me make a new life, walking the path before me than dead on the trail to no purpose.” Ey looked to the once-fisher.

Paiokp shrugged. “My family would rather be forgotten than have me be their only memory. And the longer I am gone from them, the happier I am to have it so. Let the dead bury the dead, for they will have none of me.”

Kolchais looked at Paoikp consideringly. “Sometimes no family is better than the family you had.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Paiokp grinned, “But the longer they are gone the more I see how much they hated me. Why should I give them the respect they never offered?”

“As for making a family of strangers…” Lefeng shrugged, “we don’t propose to join with anyone we meet. Courting can take many forms, after all.”

Chotaikytsai said nothing. Ey looked around the compound, the burnt wreck of eir home. “I am all that is left of my family,” ey said finally. “So long as I remain, some part of them lives on. But you ask me to abandon them to help you create a new family.”

Kolchais snorted. “Would your family wish you spend the rest of your life familyless trying to keep them alive beyond the grave? You forget the cycle with such thoughts. All things end, and in the endings are new beginnings. Your family will end. If not now, then when you die. Will you turn your back on a beginning in a futile effort to prevent an ending?”

Chotaikytsai didn’t respond, but Lefeng could tell ey was disturbed. Ey, Paiokp, and Kolchais left em to eir thoughts, instead discussing the city and Lefeng and Paiokp’s first impressions of it.

They ended up staying through the afternoon until it was time for evening meal. Chestef, unwilling to sit for long, got up to investigate the gardens, and, still silent, Chotaikytsai followed.

Eventually, the conversation wound down, leaving Lefeng with a strong respect for how much the stranger — Kolchais — understood eir home city. Finally, Lefeng decided it was time to leave. The once-weaver had said nothing, but Kolchais was worn out and they had stayed far longer than Lefeng had planned. Ey stood and called Chestef back. Paiokp stood with em and they made their farewells.

“Come back tomorrow,” Chotaitkysai said. “I will have an answer for you then.”

Ey reached into a small pouch under eir tunic and squatted down beside Chestef. “Here, child,” ey holds out a colorful woven band that could be a necklace or headband.

As they got up to leave, Lefeng saw Chotaikytsai grab the other cityfolk’s hand and ask em to stay the night. The cityfolk’s — Kolchais’ expression told Lefeng ey had never expected the request. Lefeng hurried Paiokp and Chestef out, leaving the two city folk to talk. But it seemed the once-weaver was already changing eir habits, and that made Lefeng hopeful.

Bound by His Oath, Episode 7

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.

Lady Mildthryth continued to move quickly, declaring the wedding would be the very next day. The ceremony, according to Anglish custom, was held in the morning, as the sun broke the horizon. Reimund did his best to ignore the sick feeling in his stomach. He reminded himself that he was doing what was best for Lady Mildthryth as well as himself. Surely no woman could remain ruling lady for long without being overwhelmed by the position. Disaster would follow.

Most of the ceremony passed in a blur but came into focus during the exchange of vows. He was able to swear without reservation that he would cherish, honor, and protect her. In his own mind, he added a vow to respect her. Ancestors knew she had earned the respect of any man, and did he not owe her at least that much for planning to subvert his promise to be her man?

Then it was her turn. The moment turned crystalline and relief and shame both surged through him as she vowed to cherish, honor and… care for? What?

The priest continued the ceremony as if nothing untoward had happened. Reimund responded as one of the ancient automata, body following the priest’s instructions while his mind rang with shock and horror.

Then the ceremony was over, and the priest and witnesses filed out, leaving he and Lady Mildthryth alone for their first time as a married couple.

He waited until they were alone, then stepped away, putting space between them. “You changed your marriage vows, my lady.”

“I told Father Wistgan we would use an old Anglish alternative. Though I had hoped it would not be necessary.”

He kept himself turned away while he battled with rage and despair.

After a long moment, she spoke again. “Do you have aught else to say sirrah or shall we join the feast?” Ice dripped from her words.

Never since he left the nursery had any woman spoken to him so. He throttled his anger. A step at a time he approached her. She tensed and he knew—as if he could hear her very thoughts—that she was afraid. That she recognized his anger and knew she could not stand against him. But she didn’t back down.

He could take her, might—might–be able to take control of the castle with his men, overwhelm her loyal retainers. Have what should have been his by right, as her husband and lord of these lands.

But if he did, he would no longer have his honor.

He fell, gracelessly, to his knees. “Lady, you have trapped me fairly. You knew how I sought to pervert my vow and now I have no escape. I am your man, heart and mind and blade.”

Almost, he could feel the ancient oath binding him. Trapping past all escape. “What do you wish of me?”

She sighed, and he could hear the relief in it. “Let us go to the feast, my lord. Then we will retire for a time and discuss your service.”

“As you wish, my lady.”

Supper was… difficult. Anglish customs were, as he had noted a dozen times since arriving here, different. Men-at-arms, and even servants, called out comments on their marriage, and the bedding to follow. Early on, he had nearly lunged to his feet at a comment that impugned his… ability to function. The lady put a hand on his knee. “It is custom, my lord,” she said. “To wish us well or offer congratulations would bring bad luck.”

So he gritted his teeth and endured it. His knights took their cue from him and kept the silence. Halfway through the meal, John’s face had taken on a permanent purple color. Reimund was amazed that Damian and Hereweald didn’t need to physically sit on him.

It was a relief when the last course was done and he could stand to offer Lady Mildthryth his arm.

When they reached her rooms, Mildthryth hesitated. Tradition held that the rest of the day was for the married couple to get to know each other. The bedding could take place anytime during the day, the choice of when was left to the couple.

Rumor said that Nornish custom required witnesses to the bedding. But she had no intention of bringing in others to see something so intimate. As well couple in a Dragma longhouse!

Initially, she had planned to spend some time talking with Reimund. Try to make plans for how they would manage their duties. But now she hesitated.

She had been right about the need to stay alert and remind her new husband that she was in charge. But she had shown him the whip hand strongly today. Perhaps it was time for some reward.

She pushed the door open and stepped through. He closed the door behind him and, though he hesitated, knelt before her without needing her to say anything. To her surprise, there was something very appealing about the strong warrior kneeling at her feet. But she pushed that thought aside. It was indeed time to reward her reluctant lord.

“I believe, Lord Reimund, that we may postpone any conversation. We have, after all, other responsibilities to fulfill.” He looked up at her, stoic as usual but she thought she saw a trace of confusion around his eyes. “Come.” She led him into her bedroom.

“Strip, Lord Reimund,” she told him.

His stoicism cracked finally, surprise and a hint of heat peaking out. He was out of his clothes in moments and reached for her.

She shook her head. So… a small reminder was needed. “Lay on the bed, hands behind your head.”

“My lady, do you, ah…”

“I know exactly what I am doing, sirrah. My mother was a proper Dragma warrior maid. She had little patience for Anglish silliness, never mind Nornish. She made sure I would know exactly what to expect on my wedding day.”

He swallowed and laid down.

She began removing her dress. Taking care to do so slowly, teasing him hints of flesh and gradual reveals. By the time she was naked his shaft was standing up from his body, pointing to the ceiling.

She came to the bed and straddled him, trapping his cock so the length of it pressed against her mound.

“Lady…”

She ground herself against his length, and he broke off with a gasp. The press of him against her folds was good, but when she parted her folds so her nub ground directly against him it was better. She played with her nipples, tweaking and pulling, adding the slightest hint of pain to the pleasure building within her.

Reimund held himself still and endured. The pleasure was making it hard to think. But it did not, quite, drown out the shame of lying here while his wife pleasured herself with his body.

Then she did something else, he couldn’t see what, and he stopped being able to think at all.

There was a pause, a moment’s stillness as she lifted herself off of him and he moaned at the loss of pleasure.

Then she was lifting his shaft, placing the tip where she wanted it, and lowering herself, engulfing his length, thumb by thumb, until her body had swallowed him and he wanted to cry for the sheer pleasure of her tight wetness.

She began to move, and he lost himself in her and the pleasure she gave him.

When they finished, she lay down beside him, cushioning her head on his shoulder. He lay still, hardly daring to breathe as she nuzzled his neck and sighed.

It had been… truly amazing, beyond any of his previous experiences. She had taken her time, drawing out the pleasure, bringing him to the brink again and again before letting him go over.

He saw no virgin blood on his shaft. Obviously, she had experience and learned well how to play a man’s body. And play him she had. He had been a toy for her use…

“Is something wrong, husband?”

“No.” He cleared his throat, forcing his voice to normalcy. “No, my lady.” Everything was as it should be. His unmanning had begun.

“Will you hold me?”

“Of course, my lady.” Finally, he pulled his hands from behind his head and wrapped his arms around her. She was so small, so fragile. But she would destroy him.

Her hands fluttered over him and his shaft twitched at her touch.

She would destroy him. And if she kept giving such pleasure as this – he might go willingly to the slaughter.

Sometime later, she rose and cleaned herself. He followed her and saw his fear confirmed. No blood, anywhere. His wife was no virgin. Jealousy roared within him. Even this was denied him. And he could do nothing to stop her from continuing to lay with her lovers. The best he could hope was that she would not flaunt them. Surely that would raise too many questions for her to wish when they had this abominable secret to keep.

When they were dressed, he waited to know what she would decree next.

“Send for Henre, Lord Reimund. We will speak in my solar.”

“Yes, my lady.” He bowed and left the room.


Lot of ASS-umptions going around here…

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 7 – The City (Part 2)

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

At the area the guard directed em to, Lefeng laid out eir tent-leather as a blanket to sit on. There was room on the blanket for the leather and other things ey had brought to sell. The market was quiet, with only a handful of people haggling. Several near-adults were loitering — talking and playing dice games. One of them came over, took a close look at eir offerings, and took off at a run.

The person next to Lefeng, who had such a random clutter Lefeng wondered where ey had gotten it, laughed at eir surprise.

“Message runner,” ey said. “Families that need something and don’t want to hunt the markets themselves will hire a messenger to watch and alert them when the goods they need are available.” Ey leaned over and took a close look at Lefeng’s leathers. “I’m surprised more than one hasn’t taken off. You’re the first I’ve seen here with leather since before the bright season.”

“Thank you,” Lefeng said.

“Do you mean to set yourself up at a trader?” The other asked.

“No.” Lefeng wondered if the other was worried about competition.

“Well, if you have anything left at the end of the market, I’ll buy it from you.”

Lefeng narrowed eir eyes. “Why?”

The other tittered, rocking back and forth on eir heels. “You are new. Look, I’m a parent of the Beadtraders family.” Lefeng eyed eir goods. “I know, I know, we’ve fallen on hard times, and rarely trade in beads anymore. But it’s worth it for one of us to sit in the various smaller markets each day. You can’t afford to spend too long here — you’ll not want to pay the fee more days than necessary, and you must have things you came here to do.

“If you sell to me, I can sit here with it until it is sold or rots. I can hold onto it until a family that needs it comes along, and make more from it than you might, who must sell for what you can get. And you get the money you need and can go on with your tasks without being tied to this market or carrying around goods you have no need for.”

Lefeng thought a minute, then said, “Let us see how the day goes.”

A few minutes later the runner returned with a stranger and pointed the stranger to Lefeng.

The stranger came to where Lefeng sits, and crouched down in front of eir, fingering the half-finished leathers. “You are out-of-season, farwalker. Usually, it is in Spring, before the Bright Season, that your people come from the mountains and flood the city with leather and fur and herbs.”

Lefeng clenched eir hands but managed to speak calmly. “I am no longer farwalker, city-folk. My family was destroyed in the great wave and I have brought the last of the summer’s traplines to get money to stay in the city.”

The stranger nodded but made no further comment until ey was done examining the hides. “You will accept city tokens, then, once-farwalker?”

“Yes,” Lefeng says, “if you have fishing tokens.” The city tokens confused Lefeng, but the hospitality family had set their price in fishing tokens. Lefeng knew how well the hides would have traded for fish in Sandy Cove.

They dickered for a short time, but in the end, the stranger took all the hides. Ey left Lefeng with enough tokens for a week with the Hearthsafes. Lefeng suspected that the stranger got the better of eir, but the price ey got was much better than what the traders paid when they come–came–to the village each spring. So ey did not complain.

As the stranger gathered the hides, the ey asked, “What will you do in the city, once-walker? I would have expected you to head for the mountains and find another family there.”

“What business of yours stranger?” Lefeng gestures agreement, though. Ey and Paiokp had agreed that starting gossip would be a good thing. “I come with two other family-less, rooted folk, left alone by the great wave a month ago. We hope to find others and perhaps form a new family together.”

To Lefeng’s amusement, the Beadtrader’s ears were practically twitching as ey tried to pretend ey wasn’t listening. But to Lefeng’s surprise, the stranger also looked interested and crouched back down.

“So… once-walker, I am a parent of the Southwardcobbler family. Are you looking only for those of your own generation, or grandparents and elders as well?”

Lefeng sat up suddenly. If this cobbler was implying… “A family needs all generations to be complete, does it not, Southwardcobbler?”

Ey nodded in satisfaction. “Just so. Just so. Though too many family-less of the city will deny this.

“My Cenn married out of the Colorworkweaver family. You can find the remains of their compound on the street of Hares

“The remains?”

“Yes. There was a fire when I was a child. The only survivor was one of my ommer, my Cenn’s sibling. A parent then, ey was too old to be adopted into another family.”

Lefeng nodded, knowing ey was doing a poor job of hiding eir eagerness. “Perhaps we might pay a call upon eir?”

The cobbler nodded several times and smiled. “If you would give eir my greetings, I would be grateful. I do not have time to go down to that part of the city often.

“Ey still lives in the remains of the compound. My Cenn visits from time to time, so I know ey has not left.”

Lefeng accepted the suggestion with thanks and promises to bring the cobbler’s greetings to the weaver. Ey was tempted to sell what ey had left to the Beadtrader but forced eirself to patience. The weaver would not disappear overnight.

By day’s end, Lefeng sold most of eir other goods. Ey sold the few things that were left to the BeadTrader for a few tokens. Then ey returned to the inn to meet with Paiokp and Chestef.

Over the evening meal, they discuss the results of the day. Lefeng told Paiokp of the Colorworkweaver they will need to seek out. Paiokp, unfortunately, has less hopeful news. “No one has heard of others who survived the wave coming here.” Ey shrugged “We should have expected it, I think. The damage got less as we traveled, and if any further than your village had survived and come this way, they would have reached my village before we left. There are many family-less here, I am told. But they are born family-less and instead of forming proper families, have joined into fake marriage groups with no connection from one generation to the next.”

Lefeng shakes eir head. How can the children be raised properly with no grandparents to tend them while the parents work? How can the grandparents and elders be well with no parents and near-adult children to care for them? But… “We knew city ways were strange. I don’t see it as much stranger than any other thing rooted folk have done. Perhaps some of them will be willing to consider new family ties.”

Paiokp stared at Lefeng, then focused on eir food. Rooted folks. Each so sure that only their way was best.

Enjoying the story? Can’t wait to finish? Newsletter subscribers received the Season 1 Finale today — subscribe now to find out what happens!

Bound by His Oath, Episode 6

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.

The lord’s quarters were smaller than those of a proper castle. But what the modernized burg lacked in size, it more than made up for in comfort. Or at least that’s how it seemed to Reimund as he sat on the first bed he had seen in weeks.

The rooms had been cleaned recently, and the warrior had shown him the respect due to a lord.

Somehow, Reimund had not expected that. Had expected to return to the dungeon. It seemed the lady was correct about one thing – when she was ready, she moved like a lightning strike – leaving those in range stunned senseless and the landscape overturned.

He moved through the pair of rooms, feeling as if he was in a dream. It took another moment for him to notice the next shock the lady had left for him —

His things were here. Even his armor and weapons. Had she been that confident of his decision?

No. If he hadn’t given Lady Mildthryth the answer she wanted, he would have been returned to the dungeon and never known this. The ‘endless’ discussion was not wasted time. It was the preparation that made the lightning strike possible. And she would have prepared for either answer from him.

No, he wouldn’t have returned to the dungeon if he gave the wrong answer. He shuddered. Ruthless as she was, somewhere convenient there was a noose and a place to drop him from. She was ready to be done with her problem, one way or another. So done the lady would be.

The clothespress, when he opened it, held the few changes of clothing he had traveled with. Clean, and in at least one case, mended.

A knock at the door startled him out of his shock. “Come in,” he called, expecting one of the guards and still surprised they bothered to knock.

Instead, it was a woman, somewhat older than Mildthryth and well dressed, but not noble. She bowed briefly. “Milord. I am Wulfrun. I have been housekeeper here since before Lady Mildthryth’s father died. I came to introduce myself and make sure you have everything you need. The kitchen will be sending up a hot meal soon, and I thought perhaps a bath?”

A bath! Just the thought of it had his skin itching under the layers of dirt and sweat. “Yes, a bath would be good. Thank you, Wulfrun.”

“Of course, milord.” She seemed to hesitate a moment. “No disrespect milord, but we do hear that Norns do things differently – there’s a speaking tube in the corner that connects to the kitchen.”

“A speaking tube?” Reimund blinked and looked where the woman pointed. There was a tube of copper coming up out of the floor…

“Yes, milord. Just lift the lid and they’ll hear you in the kitchen. When you need anything, call down and someone will be up. There is another speaking tube in Lady Mildthryth’s quarters.”

“I see.”

“Is there anything else you need now, milord?”

Reimund blinked. There was something odd about her manner. She was more forward than he would have expected, but that might be Anglish custom. Their lady certainly wasn’t afraid to speak the unthinkable!

“I need to speak with my– with the knights who came with me. Can you arrange that?”

“Of course, milord. I understand Wigmar was to tell those in the barracks that you and milady have come to terms. I expect your knights will be seeking you out soon, but I’ll just make sure of it.”

Those in the barracks… “Please make sure that Wigmar sends Sir John to me as well.”

“Yes, milord.” Her eyes widened and her voice was full of curiosity. Apparently, John’s… indisposure was not widely known.

“Thank you.” She bowed and turned to leave.

And he realized why she had seemed nervous. “Actually, one last thing.” She stopped and turned back. This time he could see her fists clenching in her skirts. “Lady Mildthryth has obviously been happy with how her home was managed. I don’t expect I’ll be making any changes.”

Relief swept through her, clear in her sudden relaxation. She doesn’t know, he thought with sudden bitterness, that I had no power to change anything. All she knows is a new lord can set her out or overturn everything she did here.

“Thank you, milord.”

He couldn’t bring himself to speak past that bitterness, so he nodded and turned away. The door opened and closed behind him.

Mildthryth was still on the walk when Wulfrun, came looking for her sometime later. “Milord is settled, lady, and asked to speak to his knights.”

“Good. His folk?”

“As you suggested, most of them should do well enough in the barracks. It’ll need some cleaning and such, but it’ll be a relief for the girls to have something to turn their hands to other than endless weaving.”

Mildthryth snorted. She, too, would be happy to not see a loom for the next year or two.

“I wasn’t sure about the knights. We can put them together in the old reeves’ quarters.”

Prior to the conquest, Eorls like Mildryth’s father had overseen a hundred or more reeves, each responsible for a hundred families. They managed day-to-day administration of the Eorl’s region while the Eorls managed defense and collected the king’s taxes. Mildryth’s father had kept a room set aside to host the reeves who came to deliver their hundred’s taxes and report on any needs those families had. The Conqueror had gradually overturned the old ways, and the room had sat empty the last few years.

But as a gesture of trust, that room was off the same section of hall as the lord’s and lady’s quarters. Mildthryth and Wulfrun exchanged a glance and both grimaced.

“Otherwise I’m not sure we have anything available that would be considered suitable for their rank,” Wulfrun finished.

Mildthryth sighed. “For now, they can continue to stay in the barracks. We may need to rearrange how we handle rooming, but that is not something to be done without planning.”

Wulfrun smiled and squeezed her shoulder. “Of course, Mildthryth. Just as well, perhaps. With the reeves’ room so little used I fear it has developed some mildewing.”

“Well, we cannot insult the good knights with such poorly maintained quarters,” Mildthryth smiled back.

He was surprised that John arrived first. He would have expected Wigmar to push the limits of the soon-to-be lord’s command and leave John in the dungeon as long as possible. His arms, though, were still bound behind him.

Reimund found he couldn’t blame the Anglish – injured and half-blind as he was, John was tense and ready for a fight.

That was so… John.

“Stand down, Sir John,” he said. Then to the Anglish, “Release him.”

Wigmar immediately began untying John’s bonds, saying, “He’s your problem now, milord. If he becomes my problem again,” Wigmar looked up and met Reimund’s eyes with a death glare, “then I’ll take his head and be done with it.”

He finished pulling the ties off John without looking away. “You’re the best of a bad lot, milord, and so I told her. But never you forget that she is our lady.”

John, for a wonder, had the sense to keep his mouth shut.

“I understand,” Reimund answered the Anglish warrior. Wigmar nodded and left the room, leaving Reimund and John alone.

Reimund led John to the room’s one chair and made him sit. “What the hell were you thinking, John? I can’t believe that hard bastard didn’t kill you for putting hands on Lady Mildthryth.”

“He wanted to. She wouldn’t let him. She said… I’m sorry Reimund. Thought I’d gotten you killed breaking parole. But she was going to kill you anyway. Asked if I’d be willing to swear service to her after she killed you.”

“Damn it, John! You could have gotten everyone else killed…” Reimund caught himself and sighed. “Could have but didn’t. You, my impulsive, loyal, friend, may have been the saving of us.”

John gaped and Reimund found himself laughing. Somewhat hysterically.

“The lady gave me her terms, John. Terms for a marriage contract.”

Reimund’s laughter died completely at the memory of what those terms were.

John’s mouth dropped further. Stunned to silence for the first time since Reimund had known him. The lightning strike was still reverberating, it seemed.

“She is in a position to set terms as she pleases, and knows it. Her man – that one who just promised to take your head if you threaten his lady again – will continue to lead the warriors and training here.”

He waited until John picked his chin up and nodded. “There’s more, some that I’ll want to discuss with all of you, some that is… between she and I.”

John licked his swollen lips. “You trust her, Reimund? Granted, I don’t see how she could turn on you once she’s your wife, but… could she be playing you somehow? Promising you marriage to keep the King off her back while in practice keeping you a prisoner? She still rules until after the wedding.”

If only John knew – she had no reason to play him like that when he had given her his word. “No, John. I know your eyes are swollen shut, but you should be able to see something. These are the lord’s quarters. The housekeeper has already been by to make sure I’m not going to replace her. That’s my sword and halberd over there – moved here even before the lady gave me her terms.

“I don’t blame you for being suspicious. But Lady Mildthryth doesn’t need to play games with me. She already won that game. But it’s the king she’s really been playing against, and there she knows she can’t win. She’s told me as much. So she’ll risk giving me her wedding oath and hold what she can, rather than wait for the king to sweep her off the board.”

Wedding oath. Something about that…

Even with his swollen lip, John managed to grin. “So be it, then. I won’t be happy serving under that Anglish bastard, mind. But nothing would please me more than to see you take your proper rank–however it came to you–and to serve you as my lord.”

He slipped off the chair and onto his knees. “My lord, I am your man, heart and mind and blade. What do you wish of me?”

As he spoke, the door opened, and Damian and Hereweald entered – looking as stunned as John had a few moments earlier.

Reimund ignored them to rest a hand on John’s head, surprised and touched by the ancient oath he realized now he had never truly expected to hear.

“Rise Sir John, and go tell the armsmen they will soon have a new lady.”

“Yes, my lord,” John stood and limped past Damian and Hereweald to the door – still grinning

“And John? If you so much as raise a hand to my lady again I will string you up myself.”

John bowed, deeply. “I understand.”

Reimund turned to Damian and Hereweald, to answer the questions that were lurking in their eyes.

For John’s sake, and all his men, he would continue to kneel to Lady Mildthryth and wed her knowing he’d be all but cuckolding himself. Somehow he would endure. Wed her…

Wedding oath… as his wife, she would vow to obey him. Would that not supersede his word to her? Relief filled him, tinged with shame. It was not an honorable thing he contemplated. But right now he would happily live with that slight dishonor. And he allowed himself to grin as well as he waved his brothers-in-spirit over to explain to them what was happening.


So Reimund has a plan… How do you think that’s going to go for him?

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 6 – The City (Part 1)

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Lefeng crouched down to examine the trail. That morning it had widened, from a narrow forest trail to a packed dirt path. Now, the dirt had given way to what looked like logs. As thick around as Lefeng’s arm, they lay perpendicular to the road, pressed deep into the dirt. The bark had been removed but the wood was rough, pitted and scarred and worn away in places to expose the ridges formed by the rings of the original tree. Most of them were showing signs of rot, returning to the earth. Paiokp stopped beside em and said, “I didn’t think they did this on the trails. The roads inside the city are all made this way. They say it keeps the streets from turning to mud after a rain.”

Lefeng shook eir head. “How?”

“I don’t know,” Paiokp shrugged. “It’s a great deal of work, isn’t it? Especially all the way out here, where we can’t even see the city. Maybe there are families who specialize in road building?”

Shortly after the logs appeared on the road, the forest surrounding the road disappeared. They came out of the forest into a clear area that stretched three times the length of Sandy Cove. The open area ended at the edge of the city.

The area was half a giant bowl with the deepest part of the bowl as the edge of the sea. High up on the ridge were what appeared to be family compounds, but two and three times the size of any Lefeng had ever seen. Lower down were more normal family compounds grouped around what appeared to be markets and other open areas. Most of the open areas had a great pillar, taller than any of the surrounding buildings by several person-lengths. Lightning towers, Lefeng guessed. The village had talked about constructing one from time to time, but there were many tall trees on the ridge above the village to draw the lightning. Lightning had never struck the village in Lefeng’s lifetime. A few of the towers were particolored. One grew what looked like a stone tree atop it. Lightning did strike here. Perhaps often.

Down towards the water were smaller buildings. They might have been homes for small families, but had no walls or yards to separate them from their neighbors. And right before the docks ware large buildings that Paiokp said stored food and sometimes other goods.

The city was overwhelming. The noise and smell of it alone, even from a finger-width away, were shocking. The youngling seemed shocked as well. Chestef clung to the two adults, staring at the city. “Are you okay?” Lefeng asked.

“There’s so many people…” the youngling replied before burying eir face in Lefeng’s tunic. Of course. The youngling wasn’t used to seeing the various adults of eir village. Now ey was confronted with thousands of people beyond anything ey ever imagined.

The number of people was a bit much for Lefeng as well, but ey had seen hundreds and thousands gathered together before at the great farwalker conclaves each winter. It was the buildings, the sheer number and variety of them, that took eir breath away.

Paiokp wrapped an arm around Chestef’s shoulders. “It’s big. Bigger than I remembered. I don’t recall it being this loud, either.

“Look, there’s the gate.” Ahead of them, the path ended — or perhaps began — at a gate set in a wooden palisade. “No wall though. The harbor is surrounded by a sea-wall, to hold off raiders.”

“Raiders?”

Paiokp looked at Lefeng in surprise. “There are sea-raiders all up and down the coast. Your village never saw them?”

Lefeng shook eir head. “The fishing fleet was attacked from time to time. But never the village.” Ey smiled. “Almost, I would have liked to see them try. Half the village was farwalking families. Any raiders who tried would find themselves in a hornet’s nest.”

“Ah.” Paiokp was quiet a moment. “The sea-wall is two person-heights and made of stone. They say it will hold off the local raiders, and attacks by other cities. I thought they’d have a similar wall here.”

“Not if I understand you right.” Lefeng pointed to the mountain side. “They have little danger from the land-side. The mountains climb high above the city, there’s no space for towns and villages which might hide the land-version of your sea raiders. And few farwalkers would stay anywhere near the city. The noise and smells would drive away game and the forests would be stripped bare by city-dwellers seeking to feed their vast numbers.

“There is no other city for a month’s travel south of here — there is no area with a good enough harbor to support such a large fleet, and the mountains are too close to the coast to allow much farming.” Ey spit on the ground at the mention of that aspect of rooted life. Fishing folk and crafters kept to their villages and waves, but farmers tore up the forest and burnt the trees which were the birthright of the farwalkers.

Paiokp nodded, understanding what ey said. “So, at worst, bandits here, lawless folk from the city itself. Not organized raiders or attacks from another city.

“Not from this side of the bowl.” Lefeng scanned the city. “Perhaps the other side.”

As Paiokp warned, guards stopped them at the gate and required them to state their business. Lefeng told the gate guard that eir village was destroyed and ey had come to the city because there was nowhere else to go. The guard was brusque but sympathetic, telling em that they have one month to find a permanent place to stay or they’d need to leave the city. Lefeng was confused but decided that asking would not be wise. Lefeng and Paiokp ware both given clay tokens to carry with them and show to any official who asked. Lefeng found a spot for eirs in a pouch. Any farwalker, who carried everything they owned, had many pouches about their person. Paiokp strung eirs on a cord and wore it as a necklace.

Paiokp led them, with some difficulty, down to the docks. From there ey remembered the route to what ey said was a “hospitality family.” The family provided a place for travelers to stay while in the city. Paiokp had eaten in this family’s compound before, though eir family always stayed on their boat when they traveled to the city. Lefeng was confused and uncomfortable with the idea of a home being constantly intruded on by strangers. Didn’t that defeat the purpose of each family having their own space? But the place Paiokp led them too looked nothing like any compound Lefeng has seen before.

Instead of a solid fence with a single gate facing the street, this compound had a small building right on the street. The fence stood behind the building, set back from the street. Next to the building was a shed where Paiokp told Lefeng to leave the travois. Lefeng wasn’t comfortable with it out of eir sight, but a near-adult of the hospitality family, Hearthsafe, came forward and promised it was safe. Reluctantly, Lefeng accepted the assurance and followed Paiokp inside.

In some ways, the building was similar to Lefeng’s home. There was a central firepit where several members of the family were preparing food, lots of shelves and pegs for hanging coats and bags and things, and a floor covered with rushes and old, tattered blankets.

A parent of the Hearthsafe family greeted them. Ey gave them a price in trade-tokens for staying there. The trade tokens were nothing but confusing to Lefeng. Thankfully, this family was used to hosting traders.

“You have trade goods?” The Hearthsafe asked.

“Some. Mostly half-cured leather, some herbs.”

The Hearth-safe nodded. “You’re here out of season–that’s why we’re empty. The few guests we have are about their business and will return for evening meal. You’ll likely get good trades for the leather. If you’ll leave half your leather as surety, we’ll offer 3 nights’ shelter and food. Trade the rest of your leathers and pay us before the fourth night, or you forfeit your surety and need to go elsewhere.”

After checking with Paiokp, Lefeng agreed. The Hearthsafe gave Lefeng directions to a market. Lefeng got the trade goods off the travois, leaving half the leather with the Hearthsafe. Then ey headed out again, leaving Paiokp to get Chestef settled. The two rooted folk would want to rest after their travels, but Lefeng was well rested after the slow pace they had taken. Ey wanted to settle with the Hearth-Safe family as quickly as possible.

The traveler’s market was between the docks and one of the smaller landward gates. It is three times the size of the Sandy Cove quarter-moon market, but smaller than other markets they had passed through on the way to the Hearth-Safes. A bored person in a uniform stopped Lefeng as ey entered.

“Token?”

Lefeng withdrew the clay token ey had been given at the gate. The guard looked it over then asked, “Selling or buying?”

“Selling,” Lefeng answered. “Leather and herbs and leftovers.”

The guard nodded, examining the embroidery of eir tunic. “I don’t know your family, farwalker.”

Lefeng blinked. Not many rooted folks even knew that the embroidery of a farwalker had meaning, never mind was able to read the meaning in it. “Longstride,” Lefeng stopped, cleared eir throat. “Longstride summered a half-moon down the coast. The wave last month destroyed our village and I am the last.”

The guard nodded but didn’t make any attempt at sympathy, for which Lefeng was grateful. “You’ll be new to the city then, family-last. This is the right market for you. Come again if you have more to trade. Big traders don’t come here. Small traders and travelers who have a few things to sell only. There’s an open spot on the sunward side you can set up. Sun won’t bother you none, not like some of our city folk?”

“Not this time of year, guard.” Lefeng said with the finger flick that meant ‘instructions understood.’ To eir surprise, the guard responded with the sign meaning ‘on your way.’

How did a city guard learn not just farwalker embroidery but farwalker trail signs? But cross family marriages could spread information in the strangest ways.