Bound by His Oath, Episode 14

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.


“I bend knee every day to my wife.”

Almost before he stopped speaking, John yelled, “Witch!”

He whirled around to see John, with his blade out, advancing on Lady Mildthryth.

“No!” He threw himself at John, knocking his friend to the ground and the sword from his hand. Somehow, Reimund kept his own feet. Terrified of what he would need to do, Reimund drew his own sword. By the time John found his feet, Reimund’s sword was at his throat. “Stand down, Sir John.”

“She’s bewitched you, Reimund, can’t you see?”

“By the Ancestors and your oath, stand down.”

Hereweald came up beside John. For a moment Reimund feared he would need to face down both of them, but the big man grabbed John’s sword and passed it to Damian.

For a moment, he couldn’t make himself speak, couldn’t do what came next. “John. Damn it, John,” he whispered. “Sir John of Kaldon,” when he spoke again his voice was harsh and weary, “I place you under arrest for–”

“Lord Reimund.” Mildthryth interrupted him.

What now? Why now? Was his darkness not deep enough? “Yes, my lady?”

“Come here, husband.”

Reimund took a slow step back, watching John and Hereweald. John’s face was still frozen in shock, but Hereweald nodded and put a heavy hand on John’s shoulder.

Trusting Hereweald to keep John under control, Reimund slowly sheathed his sword. He turned and walked toward her, each step seeming to echo endlessly. They would see now. They would see and despise, as he despised, and he could nothing but obey for though he was close, so very close to breaking, he was not broken yet.

He knelt before her. Displaying his degradation for those he loved best to see and understand. “What is your wish, my lady?”

She was as calm and poised as if a warrior twice her size hadn’t just threatened her life, and she smiled at him. “I’m afraid I became absorbed in my embroidery.” Her voice was loud as if… as if she weren’t speaking just to him. “I’m afraid I missed part of your conversation with these good knights. Of your courtesy, did you discuss anything of import which I should know?”

He stared, unable to believe what she seemed to be telling him. But she raised her eyebrows and almost he thought he saw her wink. “Nothing.” He whispered it, barely daring to hope.

She gave the faintest nod and smiled.

He cleared his throat and spoke as loud as he could. “Nothing, my lady. You missed nothing.”

She smiled more broadly and placed a hand again on his shoulder.

Relief flooded him, taking away his strength. He bowed until his forehead nearly touched his knee. “Thank you, my lady,” he choked out.

He heard, as if from a dream, Lady Mildthryth speak again. “I hope you will forgive my inattention, sir knights. I fear it has been a long day. If you will excuse me a minute, I will summon refreshments for us. I doubt I am the only one that needs them.”

She dropped her embroidery and, ignoring the speaking tube in the corner, walked out of the room. The embroidery hoop fell within Reimund’s view and he stared for a minute. “Absorbed” indeed. He was no expert in embroidery but if she had made more than half a dozen stitches he would eat his armor.

He stood and turned back to his friends.

“I warned you once before John, against raising a hand to my wife. Believe me bewitched if you will. Scorn me as unmanned and unworthy if you will, but do not doubt how serious I am. It would break my heart to kill you, but I would shatter my heart before I betray my oath.”

For the third time, he was met with stunned silence. But this time he held firm and did not look away.

John shook his head. “Unmanned? Unworthy? You were the best of us, how could you even think–”

Reimund laughed bitterly. “Yes, I was the best of you. What am I now? Do you think I don’t feel the shame of it? That I go out there,” he swept a hand towards the door, “where I am ‘my lorded’ and deferred to and know it is all a sham? Do you think it doesn’t pain me every time I kneel to her? There are jokes about men who are ruled by their wives, and I’ve heard each of you make them. Just as I have made them.

“I wish I were bewitched.” The last words slipped out before he could call them back. Tears dripped down his cheeks, his mask shattered beyond repair. “How could I not think you would despise what I have become? Darkness knows, I despise myself enough for all of you.”

“Why?” Damian blurted out. “If you hate it this much, why would you do such a thing?”

He closed his eyes and again dropped his head. “I told John that she was in a position to set demands upon our marriage, and knew it… I just… never told any of you what her greatest demand was.

“If it was just myself, I might have refused and hoped for ransom. I don’t know. But I couldn’t risk your lives on the chance of my father’s generosity.”

He shook his head. “The why doesn’t matter. This is my life now, and if you continued to serve me, then your service will be to her.”

John was turning purple. “You thought…” he finally took his sword back from Damian and resheathed it. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so insulted in my life.”

It hurt, even more than Reimund expected, but he stood firm. “If the insult is too great for you to bear, then I will release you from my service and you need not concern yourself with me further.”

“You benighted fool.” Suddenly, John was upon him, pulling him into a great hug. “You think I care about that? I can’t believe you thought we would abandon you. Especially after you tell us something like this!”

A hand on his shoulder and Hereweald said, “John’s right. You are our lord and we’ve worked and waited years to serve you as such. And to endure this for our sake? You are more a man, more a lord, than anyone I have ever known.”

Damian said nothing, but his hand rested on Reimund’s other shoulder.

For the first time in his memory, he broke down and wept like a child. But here and now, with these men, his men, he felt no shame in it.


See Reimund? Talking works. (Enjoy your friends’ support — you’ve earned it.)

Return to:
Bound By his Oath, Ep 1
Bound by His Oath, Ep 13

Continue to
Bound by His Oath, EP 15

The Price of Survival, Season 1 Episode 1 — Choice of Desperation

Navin Wolf, Pack Father of the Long Valley Wolves strode into the court of Queen Alfhard as if he owned it. Looking neither at the gaping courtiers surrounding him nor the soldiers who escorted him. He looked only at Alfhard. She would have called his stare a challenge, except he did not meet her eyes.

When he reached the foot of the dais he stopped and waited. Alfhard studied him for a moment. He was smaller than she expected. Slight, with a hint of fat in his cheeks and belt. But hard, for all that.

Her examination didn’t bother Navin, he’d expected it. But the wolf within him paced fretfully. They knew what was to come, Navin and his wolf. And neither of them liked it.

The herald belatedly announced him, and his purpose, “… come to offer surrender on behalf of the Long Valley Wolves and all of their pack.”

Alfhard had known, of course, that the offer of surrender was coming. But she had expected a messenger, not the Wolf himself. That he put himself in her hands without even a promise of safe conduct spoke of either great trust or desperation. Possibly both.

“And what are your conditions, Pack Father?” she asked.

Though no one else saw it, his eyes flickered, flashing golden for a moment before returning to their human brown. It startled Alfhard, who had heard all her life of the wolves but had never met one before. She was sure it meant something but didn’t know what.

“One condition only, Majesty,” he replied, the strain in his voice belying the calm on his face. “The life of my people.”

She knew then that he was desperate. But why? He was losing the war, yes, but still had the position and forces to demand real concessions.

She accepted as Navin had known she would. In some ways, she had no choice. To reject his surrender under such easy terms would anger her soldiers, who died daily in the war, and their families who wanted them home. At her signal, the Lieutenant who headed the Wolf’s escort stepped forward.

“Surrender your weapons,” the soldier demanded. Navin unbuckled his sword belt and let it fall to the floor.

“Surrender your armor.” The brigantine took longer to remove but was discarded likewise.

“Surrender your honors.” His tunic this time, bedecked and embroidered with all the markings and honors of his life. This he folded and crouched down to place on the floor.

“Surrender yourself.” His wolf-sister tried to rise at this, but he silenced her with a memory of dead cubs. He knelt and put his arms behind his back. Rough hands grabbed him and bound his wrists together. Navin had known they would not offer him parole. Not to the Wolf.

A hand shoved between his shoulders and he bent over until his forehead touched the floor.

Alfhard walked to the edge of the dais and rested her foot on his neck. She considered him for a moment. Considered the questions she needed answers to, and dismissed her court.

Some of them wasted no time in leaving, eager to be as far away from the infamous Wolf as possible. Even in apparent captivity. Others tried to linger, looking over their shoulders, stretching ears.

But finally, the doors closed, leaving only her trusted advisors and guards.

“Why?”

“Caldelon presses us from the east. Either one of you we could standoff, but both would overwhelm us eventually.” He paused and she was astonished to see fur grow out of his skin a wave, disappearing almost as fast as it appeared. “Two months ago they sent a raid. Targetted. Our cubs are dead.”

A murmur of shock spread through the room.

It took Alfhard a moment to wrap her mind around the enormity of it. For all the atrocities by both sides in their long war, to deliberately target children, to somehow kill all the children… the life of his people. Not the condition that she would not kill them, but that she would protect them as he could not.

“I understand your condition now.”

He did not reply, focused only on keeping his breathing steady, his wolf sister calm. There was still time for this to go very badly.

“There is a valley north of here. It is smaller than Long Valley but should be large enough. The villages there were destroyed in an avalanche two years ago and the survivors refuse to return, believing it cursed. Caldelon will not be able to reach your people there. I will send messengers before the day is over.”

For Navin, the relief was beyond words. He relaxed at last. Alfhard was known for her trustworthiness. If she said it, it would be so. He could go to his death in peace.

“Thank you, your majesty.”

As if his thoughts had triggered it, there was a scrape of steel. “You asked for life for your people. But your life is mine to do as I will.”

Hugging his wolf-sister to himself he tilted his head to the side, exposing his throat. And waited.

Alfhard took the dagger her guard had offered her and rested the edge against Navin’s throat. But she hesitated. She had not expected him to beg. Not the Wolf. But she had expected… something. Some resistance or defiance. “You give me your throat?”

“I did not expect to survive this day.” There was a tightness in his voice. His voice, she noted, was the secret to reading him. “Better your blade than the noose.”

She did not know what to do. This was not the brutal monster Wolf who had terrorized her soldiers and even sometimes civilians these last ten years. There was none of the rage, the volatility she would have expected of any wolf, never mind this one.

“How can one prevent a wolf from changing?”

“You can’t.” There was a hint of a whine in his voice, and she felt her guard tense. Fur was again appearing and disappearing in patches on his skin. “At best you can make it… unwise. This,” he flexed his wrists against the ties that bound them. “I would dislocate my shoulders and probably break my arms if I tried to change now.” He stopped, breathing harshly. “A collar. Not for every wolf. For me, yes, for me. I am a small man, but my wolf is large. I would strangle myself. If I could force the change I would still be dangerous for a few minutes, but would be dead before long.”

He said nothing further, just panted like a man after a long run. Or a dog. He began to twitch, little twinges and muscle spasms.

“Majesty,” again his voice contained that trace of a whine. “It is not the way of a wolf to wait for death. If you would take your cut, do it soon.” It might have been fear, that whine. But she didn’t think so. It was strain. The strain of controlling the wolf within him.

Somehow, that was what decided her. Not his words, but that little trace of a whine.

She moved the dagger away from his neck and sliced through the leather ties on his wrists. He froze, even the constantly shifting patches of fur stopped.

“Show me your wolf.”


As someone who is aphantasic, character description does not come naturally to me. This time I have given myself permission not to worry about it. Picture the characters however you choose — but I reserve the right to give them canon descriptions later.

Bound by His Oath, Episode 13

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 had ample opportunity to regret her poorly chosen words.

It had created a strain between them that she didn’t know how to fix. Especially when Reimund avoided her as much as possible. Including sending several rather flimsy excuses for not coming to see her in the evening the last several days. When he couldn’t avoid her, he continued to hide his feelings behind that damn Nornish mask.

She was on the tower walk, brooding, when a throat cleared behind her. She turned to find Sir Hereweald waiting at the top of the stairs.

“Pardon the interruption, my lady. I was hoping to find Lord Reimund with you.”

“No pardon needed, Sir Hereweald.” And she would not shun the opportunity. “I’m afraid I don’t know what his plans for this afternoon were.

“But tell me, have you spent time with Lord Reimund recently?”

“No, milady.” Sir Hereweald had spent little time in Lady Mildthryth’s company. But he considered himself a good judge of character, and for all her strange ways Lady Mildthryth did seem to care about Reimund. So he took a chance. “My lord has been… very busy of late.”

“Ah. I have been… concerned. As you say he has been… very busy.” Mildthryth and Hereweald shared a look, joined in their mutual concern. “If you do find him…”

The knight gave a courtly bow. “Shall I let him know you wish to speak with him?”

“I… Yes, that may be best.”

Reimund wearily climbed the stairs to end his day by reporting to his lady-wife. He had always counted himself a strong man, but he was being sorely tested. Like a man who stood sentry too long, he was losing his edge, getting worn down from the constant strain. And now to have his friends carrying orders from his wife… friends who would scorn him if they knew the truth.

He opened the door and slipped inside. Lady Mildthryth was working on some piece of embroidery.

“How went your day, my lord?”

She couldn’t even bother to look at him.

“Don’t call me that!” he snapped.

He cursed himself as she looked up. Seeming more confused than angry. “What?”

He grabbed hold of his temper, but with temper restrained he had no mask for his pain.

“Please, my lady,” he cringed as his voice broke, as it hadn’t since he was a stripling. “In public, we must play our roles, but here?” the words poured out past his ability to stop. “We both know I am no lord to you. Of your mercy lady, do not mock me so. Better to say I am your servant. Or your dog.” He ended on a bitter whisper, shamed past bearing by his loss of control.

He turned to flee, but before he could open the door her voice rang out. “Stop.”

Almost he kept going. But he held to honor by a thread.

Mildthryth stood and walked over to her husband. For once, he wore an actual expression. For once, he told her what he was thinking, what he was feeling. And she had not the first clue what to do.

His face was turned away, his hand still gripping the door handle until his knuckles turned white. As if he was still on the edge of running. How had she broken him this badly, brought him to the point of abandoning his honor, and not known it? She laid a hand on his shoulder and found he was shaking.

“Reimund, I swear by the Ancestors, I intend no mockery.”

He turned to look at her, tears gathered in his eyes, though not yet falling.

“By the dark, I wish you would do this more often. Then maybe I’d have some idea what was going on.”

He laughed harshly. “Does it please you for me to shame myself, my lady?”

“No. It pleases me for you to express yourself. To tell me what you are thinking and feeling. I have no idea what is going on right now except that you are upset. You are my husband, lord to my lady. How is this mockery? Servant, yes, if you wish to see it so. I forced that oath on you. But dog? What have I done that you would think such a thing?”

“I come at your call, sit at your feet, speak on your command. When you are pleased with me you even pat my head. In what way am I not your dog?”

“Reimund…” She reached for him, but he stepped away.

“Don’t. Of your mercy lady, don’t.”

She stopped. Bewildered. “Is this why you have been avoiding me? Avoiding your friends?”

For a long moment, he said nothing, then he laughed again. “You will have the last bit of me, then. Destroy even the dregs…

“Yes, my lady, this is why I avoid them. I cannot stand to lie to them and cannot face how they would scorn me if they knew the truth.”

“Scorn you?” There was something here. Like when her mother forced them to confront each other those weeks ago, something that she was missing. And perhaps something he was missing as well. She could feel it there, the edges of it. But not understand it.

Picking her words with the care she started with what seemed to her to be obvious. “Reimund, whatever else may be between us, you are my husband. Any who would scorn you, for any reason, has no place in this keep.

“Send for your friends. I think they will prove true friends to you, but if not? Then best you know sooner.”

“My lady…”

“Send for them, husband. This, at least, we can solve tonight.”

Reimund bowed and stepped into her sunroom. Her maid waited there, he was able to send her to find and summon the knights. The maid left quickly and Reimund took a few moments to brace himself for what was to come.

When he stepped back in, Mildthryth was waiting patiently, once again working on her embroidery. “My lady… what did you mean… that you wish I would express myself more?”

She took a startled breath, wondering if she was not the only one groping in the dark for understanding.

“Do you remember when my mother forced us to speak on the tower walk?”

“I will not soon forget, my lady. Neither that conversation nor what came after.” Her heart lifted to see a faint smile on his face.

“You seem to have some… Nornish belief that it is shameful to show your feelings. You do not tell me when something bothers you. You seem to wear a mask, always calm, always polite.

“I know this was not the marriage either of us expected. But I’ve come to care for you. I want you to be happy with me. To be… to be a partner to me. How can I help, how can I provide for you as I swore to, if I don’t know when something is wrong?”

He blinked. “I… had not thought of it that way. I am used to court, where manipulation and intrigue make it dangerous to show your true face. I have, indeed, masked myself for most of my life. I don’t know if I can stop. But… I will try.

“I have come to care for you also, my lady.”

Reimund stared out the window and listened to Lady Mildthryth pace. He recognized her pacing as a sign that she was thinking deeply. And that opened up the understanding of why she was so frustrated with his mask. Why his hard-won control was doing him more harm than good with his lady wife. It was time to relax that control.

A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. “Come,” Mildthryth said. Hereweald entered, followed by John and Damian.

“My lord,” John, as he frequently did, spoke for them. “Is something wrong?”

Of course, they worried. He had never brought them into these private rooms, always going to them and keeping a distance between them and Mildthryth.

“No,” Reimund made himself say. He glanced at Lady Mildthryth, but she simply nodded, leaving the conversation to him. “Everything is alright… For now, at least.” He took a breath. “I have something I need to tell you, but it must not go beyond this room.”

The three exchanged glances, “Is it the king?”

“No.”

“Of course, if you wish it kept private.” The other’s murmured agreement.

Reimund shook his head. “Your oaths. That even if you choose to… leave my service you will never speak of this.”

That stopped them. John clenching his sword hilt, probably angry at the implied insult. Hereweald even blander than usual. Damian simply wide-eyed in shock.

Mildthryth stopped her pacing and came to rest a hand on his shoulder, as she had earlier during his… episode. “You should know,” she said, “That it was my wish to keep this matter hidden. I fear the… king’s reaction should he learn of it. But it has weighed on Lord Reimund to keep it from you, and as he trusts you, I will trust you.”

She stepped back and seated herself, picking at her embroidery, giving them the illusion of privacy, if not it’s reality.

Hereweald came and knelt before him. “Lord, I swear by the Ancestors I will keep your secrets unto my death.”

A moment later the others were beside him, swearing likewise.

“Thank you, my friends.”

For a moment, no one moved.

Damian popped to his feet and smacked Reimund’s shoulder. “And now that you’ve scared us all half to death—oh, and insulted John’s ever-fragile honor—tell us what by the dark is going on. What could shake you so?”

He licked his lips and decided that sometimes the suicidal charge had its virtues.

“I do not rule here. Before our wedding, I took Lady Mildthryth as my liege and I renewed that oath after we were wed.” He turned away, unable to bear watching their shock turn to disgust. “I bend knee every day to my wife.”


Breathe Reimund, you’ll get through this.

Return to:
Bound By His Oath, Ep 1
Bound by His Oath, Ep 12

Continue to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 14

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Season Finale

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Tears leaked down Lefeng’s cheeks. Dripped on eir dead hands.

It was done. They had a family. Enough of one.

Tears dropped faster now. Ey choked back a sob.

As quietly as ey could, ey moved away, to the far corner of the compound. Ey crouched down, leaning against the wall, and let the tears pour forth. Ey had kept eir promise to Chestef. It was like laying a burden down.

So why did it hurt so much?

Eventually, ey slept.

Lefeng woke slowly the next morning. Moving was hard and thinking was harder. Eir whole self felt slow and weighed down. Like ey was carrying a heavy pack through thick brambles instead of… just waking up.

Tears leaked from eir eyes and ey buried eir head in the blankets.

Blankets?

Ey looked around. Ey was still in the corner of the compound where ey had retreated to last night. But someone must have found em and brought blankets during the night.

More tears poured forth. Wrapping a blanket around eir shoulders like a cloak, ey stood and stumbled toward the firepit.

Paiokp and Kolchais were up and eating. They filled Lefeng in on what ey missed. Tsouchm went back to eir rooms last night, but would be moving into the compound that day. Kolchais and Paiokp were to put together a sleeping area for Tsouchm while Lefeng helped Tsouchm move eir things into the compound.

Lefeng said nothing. Talking seemed to be too much effort. Ey had known ey was not doing well since Chotaikytsai accepted them, but that had been a general grumpiness and tiredness ey had put down to being stuck in the city. This was different.

Ey barely managed to choke down any food and more than once had to scrub tears from eir face.

Chotaikytsai was absorbed with Chestef, but Paiokp and Kolchais asked em what was wrong. Lefeng tried to shrug it off, push the way ey was feeling aside, but Kolchais wouldn’t let em.

“Pushing stuff away doesn’t help. I mean, if you’re in danger and have to push stuff away to deal with it, that’s one thing. But you’re safe here, so don’t push it away, whatever it is.”

“Maybe you should rest for a day,” Paiokp said, “You haven’t stopped pushing yourself since… ” ey swallowed, “…Since the wave killed everyone.”

Once Lefeng had witnessed a flash flood in the mountains. One minute the narrow canyon had been dry, the next it was running knee-deep with water, and rising. That was what it felt like now, as grief surged through em and washed eir control away. Ey broke down, crying, sobbing, blubbering.

By the time Tsouchm arrived, the worst of the storm had passed. Paiokp had helped Lefeng retrieve the Baba’s old necklace from the bottom of eir pack and Lefeng had wrapped it around eir hand, fingering the beads.

Lefeng managed to help get Tsouchm’s things but had no life to spare for curiosity about the city or the new grandparent. As soon as they returned to the compound, Lefeng retreated again. Ey had done eir duty to the living, but Kolchais was right. Lefeng couldn’t push eir dead away any longer.

Ey had much grieving to do.

Return to:
Episode 11 The Grandparents


This ended up being a very short episode. Sorry about that.

Next week we’ll be starting the first season of The Price of Survival.

The wolves of Long Valley knew they couldn’t win a two front war, but they thought they had leverage for a negotiated settlement.

A genocidal attack has forced their hand. The Pack Father will offer full surrender to the lesser of two evils. Now the pack will discover – can they afford to pay the price of survival?

The subscription newsletter is already on episode 6 of The Price of Survival.

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Bound by his Oath, Episode 12

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.

Last meal went well. While their stores were low, Mildthryth and the cooks were able to come up with enough ‘fancy’ dishes to make it clear they were honoring the king’s baron. And Mildthryth had time before the meal to warn her mother. Lady Valdis, much to Reimund’s relief, decided she was ‘unwell’ that evening and would take her meal in her room.

That evening, when the baron was finally to bed for the night, Reimund went to Mildthryth’s rooms.

It was late enough that her maid was already sleeping in her public room. Reimund stepped around the woman to knock gently on Mildthryth’s bedroom door.

“Come in.”

He stepped in quickly, closing the door behind him.

“I was beginning to wonder if you would be attending me at all this evening, sirrah.”

He crossed the room to kneel before her, hoping the maid was not a light sleeper.

“I nearly didn’t, my lady. Lord Bernard will think it odd that I come to you, rather than summoning you to me.”

“And we must keep Lord Bernard happy.”

“My lady.” His liege, he reminded himself, had a right to speak so. “I understand your anger lady, and I thank you for your trust this day. Yes, we must keep Lord Bernard happy. He told me today that the king is coming and if the king is not pleased, he may deny my lordship here.”

“He can’t do that!” Mildthryth jumped to her feet, aghast. “I followed his edict, he has no grounds to deny me…”

“No grounds to deny you, my lady.”

She stopped, stared at him a moment, and cursed.

“So we must keep the king happy, which means keeping this baron happy.”

“Yes.”

Mildthryth sighed. She was ready to damn all Norns to the endless dark. “We will need to talk about how to go about keeping the king happy, but for now, it is late.” All but one, perhaps.

“Of course, my lady.” He stood, taking her words as dismissal. But she caught his hands.

“Come to bed with my Lord Reimund.” She grinned. “I see no reason to let this intrusion deprive us.”

Surprised, and pleased, he did as she asked.

The next day they were both grateful to say an early farewell to Lord Bernard. The king, he said, would be expecting his report. They spoke briefly after he left, making their plans for the day. Then Reimund called Wigmar and his knights while Mildthryth gathered up Wulfrun and Cook. They had less than a month to prepare for an invasion by the king and his entourage. There were supplies to be laid in, defenses to increase, meals to plan, entertainment to arrange.

It would be a very busy month and they both prayed to the ancestors for light to guide them through it.

That night, after discussed the work of the day and they had made plans for the next, he had every expectation of being welcomed to her bed. But for the first time since Lady Valdis had forced them to talk, she turned him away. Her monthly time had come, and she would not permit his touch. She was also more disappointed than he expected that she was not with child.

He was disappointed himself – they needed heirs. Nor, of course, did he like being barred from her bed. But childbirth… she was still recovering from the strain of the years since her father’s death.

“We have time, my lady.” He tried to reassure her. “Waiting a few months more is not a bad thing. And childbirth can be dangerous. Are you so eager for that risk?”

Mildthryth hid fear with irritability. It never occurred to her that the king would continue to cause problems after she wed. An heir on the way might help sway the king, but she had failed in that, and what if… she shrugged, trying to push away her fears “What is the worst that can happen? That you will hold here alone? Surely that is not so distasteful to you.”

Reimund ground his teeth, biting back an angry retort. Did she think so little of him? He had hoped her trust the day before had meant something. He had been a fool.

“By your leave, my lady.” He bowed and, not waiting to hear her response, left her rooms.

Mildthryth watched him stalk out and cursed her runaway mouth. The first day or two of her flow she tended to impulse, both in word and action. She had learned to speak little and make no important decisions during that brief window. But Reimund had surprised her and the words slipped out before she realized how they must sound to him.

But just as truth could be found in the bottom of an ale mug, it sometimes slipped out on impulse. She hadn’t realized how deep her distrust still ran. Or perhaps distrust wasn’t the word. He would keep his oath – she trusted in that. But on some level, she still saw him as an enemy. As one who would strip her rights and holding from her if he could have.

The recent reminder that to the Nornish king and his nobles she had no rights had been the spark that brought light to her fears.

The next morning Mildthryth sought Reimund out and tried to apologize. Whatever her fears, he had deserved better treatment from her than that. She told him it was her pain and fears speaking. That for all her fears his presence reassured her. If anything happened to her, in childbirth or otherwise, he would be here to take care of her people. She reached out to him, missing his touch. Wishing that his Nornish stoicism would allow him to touch her outside of the bedroom. Touch was one area they seemed to mesh well together – now at least.

Reimund accepted her apology. Even he could not have said if he fully believed it, but those doubts were unworthy of his service so he pushed them down. Her touch… she reached up and run her hand over his hair. Once again petting him, as one would a dog. He found himself leaning into it, eager for this small touch which was all he was permitted until her time had passed.

But his soul shriveled in shame. Why, he wondered, did she feel the need to denigrate him so? And how low had he fallen that he would take her touch in any way he could – even as her pet?

Reimund threw himself into his duties. There was still much to do to prepare for the king’s visit, never mind all the work they had already been doing. That added strain to what he had already been enduring. Barred from Mildthryth’s bed — and the small ease that brought — the falseness of his life, of his unmanned state, wore at him more deeply than ever. He found himself avoiding his friends, unable to hide how badly he was doing and unable to continue facing them with lies on his lips.


Oh, Reimund…

Return to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 1
Bound by His Oath, Ep 11

Continue to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 13

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 11 — The Grandparents

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

While Chotaikytsai spoke with eir visitor, Lefeng and Kolchais continued discussing what they needed to build a new home. “I don’t know how much any of it will cost, but we also need money for food and drink and the bathhouse,” Kolchais was saying, “And no matter how much we have between us, it won’t be enough.”

“It’s walking season for the far-walking families. That means little leather or furs are coming into the city. I could go foraging in the forests near here. I’d need to find an area that hasn’t been hunted clear or claimed by another family though.”

“What most familyless do — and some of the poorer families — is take day-labor. The city is always hiring day-labor for work on the roads or walls. And many families will hire day-labor for things like extending their home or unloading a ship after a successful trade-run.”

Lefeng nodded and focused on digging around the burnt post. Nothing remained of the old daub, and little of the wattle, but most of the support beams remained. They were stubbornly stuck in the ground. Ey was beginning to suspect…

“Stillness throttle it!” Buried to the depth of Lefeng’s forearms, was a thick beam with holes drilled into. The poles of the wattle and the roof’s support beams were set into those holes. Possibly a few in the middle of the home for the central support beans.

Ey stood up and dusted eir hands off. “We need shovels. There are base-beams down here. I suppose that’s normal for city-construction?”

Kolchais shrugged, “I don’t know.”

Paiokp spoke up for the first time, “Probably. Only far walkers who don’t care if their home falls apart in a few years don’t put foundation beams in. And foraging would be a mistake — you’d be gone for a week or more while we need help here to get a new home built and roots only know what the council will require.”

“Enough for now, then,” Kolchais said. “Let’s put our money together and see if we have enough for at least one good shovel. We’ll need it for building as well so might as well get a good one if we can.”

Lefeng agreed and carried the last of the broken bits ey had been able to gather to the new scrap woodpile. Kolchais said they’d be able to sell it, and if not it would be firewood for a good while. That done, ey washed eir hands at the water bucket and dug out eir small pouch of trade tokens. Ey gave them to Kolchais to make sense of.

They all ended up gathered around the firepit. It was becoming a bit of a thing and Lefeng enjoyed the familiarity of it. While Kolchais went through the money and maked sense of it, Lefeng turned to ask Chotaikytsai about eir visitor.

“Tsouchm,” Chotaikytsai said, making Lefeng wince at the free use of a stranger’s name. Chotaikytsai smiled gently. “Ey has been a friend and is another family-less who has some influence in the family-less community but is very much a loner.”

Kolchais chuckles and said, “Tsouchm would have started courting Chotaikytsai years ago if ey thought Chotaikytsai would accept eir.”

Chotaiktysai looked down and away, as if embarrassed. “Stop being silly,” ey said, but it didn’t come out as forceful as Lefeng thought ey had meant it.

Kolchais laughed and said, “Now we know it’s true — if it wasn’t Chotaikytsai wouldn’t have gotten flustered.”

For a moment, it seemed the world was still. The current unsure of which direction it should turn. Lefeng looked up at Paiokp and Kolchais, and saw them looking back, just as wide-eyed as Lefeng felt.

“You know,” Lefeng said, picking eir words as carefully as footsteps on a strange night-trail. “A family should have at least two grandparents. That way they can trade off baby care and such. Even with the cenn helping out, you need at least three trading off if anyone is going to get a good night’s rest with a new baby.”

Paiokp and Kolchais grinned. “You’re right,” Kolchais said. “Isn’t ey right, Chotaikytsai?”

Chotaikytsai laughed uncomfortably. “Stop being ridiculous. Tsouchm is a friend and, yes, I like em, a lot. But ey is the biggest loner in the city. The family-less often form fake-family groups, for support and protection. Tsouchm is famous for refusing to join any of them. If ey doesn’t even want to be part of the loosely structured fake-families because it will restrict em, why would ey want to be part of a real family with even more demands on em?”

In the corner of eir eye, Lefeng saw Kolchais mouthing “Nope.” and chuckled. But the young adults all let the topic drop. A few minutes later Kolchais announced that they should have enough for the shovel, but it would mean tight rations for a week and they’d need money soon after that.

“The first of the winter beans should be ready to harvest soon,” Chotaikytsai said. “We will do well enough.”

Kolchais and Paiokp went out to buy the shovel, Lefeng having had enough of the city’s markets to last em a season. Shortly after they returned — and Lefeng was once again digging in the dirt — the gate bell rang again. Lefeng put the shovel down and heads for the gate. Paiokp rolled eir eyes at Lefeng’s hurry to get to the gate first. Paiokp, Lefeng suspected, saw it as a version of the childish ‘Me first!’.

If it made em happy to think so, Lefeng wasn’t going to try to convince em otherwise. Kolchais, ey expected, understood.

To Lefeng’s surprise, Chotaikytsai’s friend was waiting at the gate once more. After their earlier conversation, Lefeng didn’t bother asking eir to wait but invited em in immediately. This time, ey followed the strange family-less to the fire pit and squatted down near Chotaiktysai, who was preparing dinner. To eir relief, Chotaikytsai didn’t try to introduce Lefeng to the stranger. Lefeng would prefer not to have eir name given freely, no matter what the customs of the family-less were. And they had not yet discussed how to label themselves until their new family could be made official.

Instead, Chotaikytsai said, “Back so soon? Well, it may be the current steered you well for us. Kolchais was explaining to long-stride here about day-labor in the city.” Lefeng managed, barely, to keep from wincing. Ey hadn’t told the city-folk the name of eir lost family, and ey did have a longer stride than the city-folk. It was just an unfortunate nickname.

The stranger’s eyebrows reached for eir hairline — and it was a long reach. The other’s greying hair had receded to eir ears.

“We need money for building supplies,” Lefeng explained, “and we have no trade yet. I could go back on the trails, leather and furs sell well here. But that would take me from the city for too long.”

“Then day-labor is your best — possibly your only — option,” the grey-haired one confirmed. “Now that the wood has had time to dry, the city will be hiring many to do the work of repairing the roads. It will be hard work, but steady, and pays well. I’ll show you where to go for it?”

“That is good,” Lefeng said, and then let the topic drop. The grey-haired one had come for a reason, and Lefeng had hopes as to what it might be. Thankfully, the stranger didn’t wait to speak.

“I have been thinking all day on what you are doing here.” Lefeng bit back a cheer and glanced at Kolchais who had come to stand behind Chotaikytsai and was biting eir lip and trying to hold back a grin. “I know well my reputation, but while I have embraced my solitude, being alone has not been entirely my own choice. I would join this family you are creating, if you would have me.” The grey-haired one glanced around at the gathered group, but Lefeng wasn’t surprised when eir gaze was drawn to Chotaikytsai.

Lefeng held eir breath, waiting, and it seemed Paiokp was doing the same. Neither of them looked at Chotaikytsai.

Kolchais was not so restrained and whatever ey saw in their grandparent’s face made the hearth-fire flare-up — ey burst out laughing.

Worst thing ey could do. The grey-haired one mostly kept eir face blank but Lefeng saw the slight wince ey couldn’t control. Lefeng didn’t know how to save the situation. Kolchais started gasped words through the laughter. “I told eir… A dozen times… I…. told eir and… ey… didn’t believe me.”

The hidden wince changed to open confusion and Lefeng sighed in relief. Perhaps ey should have trusted the city-folk more. “I do not understand,” the stranger grated out.

Kolchais was still laughing too hard to be fully coherent and Paiokp had once again withdrawn to an unaccustomed silence. Lefeng was surprised at how hard it was to speak, how heavy eir tongue was in eir mouth. But someone needed to say something. “Of course you don’t.” Ey nudged Kolchais. “Stop it. Even I know better than that!”

“After you left earlier,” Lefeng said, speaking past a lump in eir throat. Why? Ey should be happy… “We,” ey gestured to eirself and Paiokp, “got to witness the hundredth cycle of an argument. That stubborn-one has been sure you were interested in courting the once-weaver. And our parent-to-be has been sure you were too much of loner to ever court anyone.”

Kolchais finally got control of eirself and stood, nudging Lefeng in turn and tapping Paiokp on the shoulder. Lefeng nodded heavily and stood. “The spouses – or spouse in this case,” Kolchais said, ” accepts the courtship. We had our say earlier, anyway. Come on, you two.”

Kolchais and Paiokp rounded up Chestef and headed toward the sleeping shed. Good, it was time for Chestef to sleep.

But Lefeng was unable to make emself follow them. Instead, ey moved off a short distance and looked through the charred scraps for a piece that might be worth carving. Far enough that ey wouldn’t be intruding, but close enough ey could still hear.

Ey had to know.

“So,” the grey-hair said, “You thought I could not be interested, hm? Did you also think I was a dead? Even trees twine their roots together, though they stand apart.”

“Are you a tree? I see no leaves.” Chotaikytsai’s voice was full of humor and Lefeng was glad of it. The grandparent needed someone to play with.

“No? But here is my lustrous bark and my limbs dance in the wind.” Lefeng couldn’t help glancing over eir shoulder at that — the stranger had raised eir hands over eir head and was waving them around. Ey and Chotaikytsai laughed together.

“I don’t know anything about being part of a family. And tides know how I’ll manage as a grandparent when I have never known children. But I will do my best by this family. And I have been alone long enough.”

Lefeng heard Chotaikytsai accept, and then the whole world blurred.

Return to:
Interlude: Tsouchm

Continue to:
Season Finale

Bound by his Oath, Episode 11

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 next days continued difficult for Reimund. But each night she took him to her bed. She no longer gave commands in bed. Instead he saw to her pleasure. The chance to in this one way be a true husband to her washed away the worst of his strain. Still, it built in him, each time he lied to his friends. Each time he knelt to her, each time he had to defer a decision that should be his to make, because he did not know what she would want.

Yet, as one week became two, he deferred fewer and fewer decisions. For matters of defense and training, he found she truly meant for him to manage as he saw fit. More, when she did disagree with what he wanted – mostly in matters of managing the land and peasants who worked it – she did not hand down orders. They discussed the issue, and he persuaded her of his view as often as the reverse.

His state was, he knew, far better than it could have been. He held that thought to him when the strain began to wear, and tried to keep busy. There was, after all, much to do.

Aside from nights and last meal, they saw little of each other. Mildthryth, much like Reimund, buried herself in her duties. While she had managed to fill the roles of both lady and lord, it had been difficult. Many small things had been allowed to slide from that alone. Add in the amount of time and resources that had gone into fighting off her many ‘suitors,’ and there was much to be done.

They were not trying to avoid each other. But they didn’t make any effort to spend time together either. Lady Valdis watched with disapproval, but said nothing. The rest of the keep thought it unsurprising in a political marriage. They were simply relieved the new Nornish lord did respect their lady and hadn’t overturned their daily routines overmuch.

Everyone was beginning to settle into their new normal when the messenger from the king arrived.

Reimund was finishing a training bout with Wigmar – spear vs the great ax the Dragma preferred, a weapon Reimund had not come against before – when one of the men who had been on patrol came cantering up to the gates. “Strangers on the south road!” he reported. “Three mounted and a dozen on foot. Banners green over yellow with a black horse standing.”

“Lord Bernard of Ashby, Baron of the king,” Reimund identified the banner. “He would not come this far from his lands during growing season unless the king sent him.”

Wigmar nodded. “It’s been long enough for the king to receive word of your marriage and send him back here.”

“Yes.” Reimund waved Henre over. “Run and tell Lady Mildryth that we have company, then prepare me a hot bath and lay out my formal wear.”

“Aye, milord.” The young Anglish took off at a run. He had a ways to go yet as a squire, but Reimund couldn’t fault his willingness or obedience.

“Wigmar continue the training. Have Damien at the gate ready to greet Lord Bernard if he gets here before I am back.”

Wigmar looked long at Reimund, and Reimund met his gaze, the two measuring each other as they had not since Reimund’s first few days as lord there. By rights, it should be Wigmar as Reimund’s armsmaster who stood in for him. But Wigmar didn’t think the lord was slighting him. No, Damien was a Norn and the best of the three knights at courtly matters. Let him keep the king’s spy placated in the belief that the Norns held full control finally of the keep that had long been a thorn in the king’s side. And if the king was not placated, their warriors would need the best training possible before too long.

So Wigmar nodded. Reimund returned the nod and strode off.

Either Lord Bernard was moving slowly or the patrol had seen him from further out than Reimund expected. He and Mildthryth not only had time to prepare for his arrival, but ended up waiting several minutes.

Mildthryth paced as they waited, betraying an agitation that surprised Reimund. Had she not expected the king to send anyone? Or had she expected a lesser ranked visitor than one of the king’s Barons – those directly sworn to the king’s service who, when not administering their own lands, carried the king’s word throughout his domains.

He moved to stand in front of her and reached out a hand. To his relief – and some surprise – she accepted it and came to stand close. “I fear I have failed you, my lady,” he murmured. “I knew the king would likely send one of his Barons and didn’t think to warn you. Nor did I think to discuss with you how we must handle him.”

She said nothing for a long moment. Reimund kept his eyes down. They both ignored the servants who moved in and out of the Great Hall, preparing for last meal and the last-minute feast which would welcome their visitor.

“I take it you have a plan, Lord Reimund?”

“A plan?”

“For how best to deal with our unwanted guest.” She began to tap her foot.

Reimund took a deep breath and said, “Not a plan, exactly. But I’ve spent enough time at the king’s court to know how to keep the barons happy, my lady. Will you trust me?”

It was a hard question. It had been less than a month since their wedding and Reimund’s attempted betrayal. He had done nothing to raise her doubts since then, but with a fellow Norn at the gate, she had to wonder where his loyalty to the Nornish king would take him. But did she truly have a choice?

“Yes, Lord Reimund. I will trust you.”

Through the open doors of the hall, they heard the gate guard called a demand to stand and be recognized. Reimund bowed and offered Mildthryth his arm, “Let us greet our guest together, milady.”

The official greetings took only a short time. Bernard was impressed that they were already on hand and ready to greet him – either he hadn’t seen the patrol or hadn’t expected the Anglish warriors to send warning to their new Nornish lord.

He was condescending and insulting to the Anglish in general, the keep, and the state of the lands. Reimund ignored or deflected as needed. Long experience with the Nornish court meant his polite mask never wavered. Bernhard was wise enough to keep his mouth off of Lady Mildthryth or anything else which would force Reimund to cry challenge.

With Mildthryth still on his arm, Reimund escorted Bernard to his study. Before they were even seated, Bernhard suggested it was time for the men to speak without womanly interference. Reimund had expected the ‘suggestion’ and brusquely sent Mildthryth to see to the preparations for last meal. She left, her eyes down, as was proper for a Nornish wife but Reimund knew she wasn’t being demure – she was ensuring Bernhard didn’t see her anger at that dismissal.

Reimund took a moment to thank the ancestors he’d had at least a few moments to speak with her before Bernard arrived.

The truth was that Reimund would never have been so harsh had he truly been her lord. It was disrespectful, insulting even. But the Baron needed to be convinced that Reimund held the reins here and the unruly lady was firmly under his thumb.

Once Mildthryth left, Lord Bernard got straight to the point. “I’m sure you expected my visit, or another like it, Lord Reimund.”

“Yes, Lord Baron.” Reimund offered to refill the man’s cup, which he had already emptied. “Given the… difficult attitude of this keep in the past and my own… unconventional claim to the lordship of course the king would wish a report on matters here.”

“Hm. Unconventional is one word for it. The report you sent the king was very scant on details, but your messengers were not averse to gossiping.”

Reimund shrugged. “That does not surprise me, Lord Baron. I will admit, at the time I was not sure how firm my hold on the keep was.”

“You are sure now?”

“Completely sure.” Which was, Reimund reflect, absolute truth. He was completely sure he had no hold on the keep at all. “While they were loyal to Lady Mildthryth, many of the Anglish here were uncomfortable having no lord.” Also truth. “I have had, and expect, no problems so long as no public insult is given to Lady Mildthryth.” He shrugged again. “Many of them grew up in service to the old Eorl, so some lingering loyalty is to be expected.”

“I suppose so.” Bernard grimaced. “Well, Lord Reimund, the king is not inclined to ask too many questions about how you brought the bitch to heel, so long as you did it. To that end, I have been sent ahead as his messenger. He will be coming to assess your holding here and confirm – or not – your lordship. You may expect him in four weeks or so.”

“Of course, Lord Baron. I look forward to it.” That, of course, was no bit of truth. And Lord Bernard knew it.


Well, they do say a common enemy brings people together. Right?

Return to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 10

Continue to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 12

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Interlude — Tschoum

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Tsouchm got breakfast, as usual, from a rundown cooking-family by the docks that catered to the familyless. Ey sat and ate alone, unusual among even the family-less in eir stubborn individuality. When ey was younger it had seemed a fine thing to make emself a reverse of the society that had rejected em. Not for em the banding together in unsanctioned “families” that mimicked (and mocked) the ‘proper’ families that ruled the city. Ey went eir own way, as eir own person, and did eir own thing. Ey had survived, and even to some small extent thrived, alone since eir Cenn died when ey was still a child.

But lately, ey had been feeling regrets. Age was creeping up on em. It was a fine thing to walk alone amidst the whispers and stares as a young one, daring the world to react to eir choice. And if ey could be sure of a quick, clean death, it would not be a bad way to finish eir life.

But the memory of eir cenn dying slowly, coughing out eir life over long, horrible weeks, haunted em. Nothing could have saved eir Cenn, but the dying would have not been as hard if there had been anyone other than a poor child to take care of em. It was, Tsouchm thought, the beginning of old age and these creeping fears that had em dreaming of eir cenn’s death so often of late.

For the first time since Cenn died, Tsouchm found emself wishing for a family to belong to.

It was with these things in mind that Tsouchm heard the gossip. The two strangers ey had spoken briefly with a few days before, given directions to the husk of a family compound where old Chotaikytsai stubbornly held on, sought to form a new family. That last night they had been seen moving all their things into the once-weaver’s place.

From the gossip, not many would bond with strangers. Why force a new family into being when one could live life as best ey can with friends and unfamily? But Tsouchm was curious. Ey had done business with Chotaikytsai many times over the years. They had become friends. Ey didn’t know Kolchais as well, but the younger had frequently been at Chotaikytsai’s home when Tsouchm had visited the last several years. So they knew each other.

Deciding to humor eir curiosity, Tsouchm paid for the tab and headed out.

Arriving at the burnt-out compound set off a familiar routine. Or should have. But it was a stranger who came to open the gate, the lean far-walker who had constantly checked eir stride to keep from outdistancing eir companion. Ey would not let Tschoum in immediately but asked em to wait. Family propriety was already reasserting itself.

Chotaikytsai was technically not familyless but family-last. And ey had been raised in exactly the kind of family that would least encourage a marriage to such as Tsouchm. When eir family had lived, Tschoum would not even have been allowed inside the gate except for occasional day-labor. But to Tschoum’s relief, Chotaikytsai came to the gate a moment later. Ey greeted Tsouchm as always, with full courtesy, giving respect to eir rank among the familyless.

Tsouchm had always liked Chotaikytsai, and the once-weaver’s respect was part of why. Ey was the only one from a family who looked at Tsouchm as a person deserving of respect and consideration.

Tsouchm had at one time considered a liaison with Chotaikytsai but had decided against saying anything. The weaver was still very much a child of the families. And one thing that stuck with em from eir childhood was that no physical liaisons were to be had outside of the marriage group. It would have shamed eir family.

Chotaikytsai’s loyalty to eir family had made Tsouchm doubt the rumors. But the stranger who had opened the gates went to join another stranger and a child. They were clearing the remains of the burnt house while Kolchais sat nearby talking with them.

“I heard rumors but did not know what to believe. You will do this thing?”

Chotaikytsai nodded. “I had thought to never be a grandparent. But the cycle has turned and it is time to start anew.”

Tsouchm grunted. “I hope that this cycle is a good one then.” Ey looked around the familiar compound. “I… expect I shall see you less often. Now that you will have a family.”

Chotaikytsai flipped a rude hand sign meaning ‘root rot’. “You have been a friend when I needed one most. You will always be welcome in my home and my family’s home.” Tsouchm laughed and shook eir head. Ey should have known better than to think Chotaikytsai would go all proper on em.

They spoke for a few more minutes, and then Tsouchm took eir leave, much distracted.

Tsouchm had enough saved by that ey didn’t need to seek work for a few days. So ey went to the edge of the dockyards and squatted in eir accustomed place. Any of the familyless who wished to seek em out knew they could find em there. A twinge of arthritis reminded em of eir age. Ey didn’t know how old ey was. Like many familyless Tsouchm had no one to remember eir birthing and no younglings to count the years by. But eir hair had grayed several years ago, so ey was probably of an age with Chotaikytsai.

One of eir neighbors stopped by, needing information on what families were hiring for day-labor. They haggle briefly, but Tsouchm’s heart wasn’t in it.

Unlike proper families, the groups the familyless formed were all the same age. When those eir age were banding together, Tsouchm had been taking care of eir cenn. Cenn had been part of a group, but they all died either before Tsouchm was born or while ey was very little. So ey and eir cenn had no one else. Tsouchm could only have joined a group by leaving eir cenn to die alone. And ey refused to do that.

By the time eir cenn finally died, ey had a reputation as a loner. Even if the groups forming by then would have been willing to accept someone older, everyone just assumed Tsouchm wanted nothing to do with any group. And ey had been too proud to ask.

So Tsouchm made a badge of eir alone-ness instead. And it had worked for em. Ey was known and respected not just by the family-less but also by some of the families. Ey had even done business a few times with members of the council. And ey never looked back.

It was a bold thing these strangers were doing. They had to have had families. No one born to familyless-ness would have considered it. To start a new family with strangers, trusting that the belief in family and what it meant would be enough to bind them together for generations.

Tsouchm grimaced. Old age was making em too prone to endless thinking and not enough doing. But, ey admitted, in this case, there was a reason for that. What ey was thinking of doing scared em.

Slowly, Tsouchm stood up and headed for eir tiny room in the port district. Ey changed into eir one set of good clothing and strode back to the compound which was once the home of the color-work weaving family. Boldness and refusal to apologize for who ey was has gotten em this far. Ey would ride that current where it took em now.

Continue to:
Episode 11: The Grandparents

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?

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Bound by His Oath, Ep 9

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Bound by His Oath, Ep 11

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.

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Episode 9: The Abandoned

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Interlude: Tschoum