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, of a blessing, allowed to speak with his retainers briefly. Their wounds had been tended to, and they were locked in a barracks room. He could offer them little hope, but told them not to give in to despair. Then he was led, courteously, to a small cell. It had, surprisingly, a straw stuffed mattress in one corner, as well as the more standard bucket of water, and chamber pot. He made use of the latter two before stretching himself out on the mattress and letting exhaustion pull him into sleep, and away from his own fears.
When he woke, he found food had been shoved into the cell with him. Little more than a round of bread and some wine near to vinegar. He ate it slowly, not knowing when more would come.
Following his own advice was difficult. The sensible thing for the lady to do would be to kill him. With no ransom to be gotten, keeping him prisoner was a useless expense. But his body could be useful, as a warning to others.
So far, Lady Mildthryth had been sensible beyond any woman of his experience. He could only hope that in this she would prove to be woman-soft.
He was fed twice more before the door opened fully and a guard told him to come out.
The guard led him up a winding staircase to a walkway wrapped around a low tower. Lady Mildthryth waited for him there, looking out across the valley.
He bowed briefly. “Lady.”
She said nothing and after moment he stepped over to the low wall next to her. Leather creaked as the guard behind him shifted, but didn’t stop him.
When she spoke, it was in a low voice he had to strain to hear over the winds.
“Tell me, Sir Reimund, If you came here and found the bodies of my prior ‘suitors’ hanging from the walls, would you have turned around and gone home?”
He kept his face blank and thought quickly. The truth would likely insult her and might be seen as self serving. But lying could be laying the path for his own death. With no way of knowing what she sought, he went with simple truth. “No, lady. I would have thought them fools to be bested by a woman and that the reward would be worth the risk.”
“Are you, then, a fool?”
He nodded, “Aye, lady. I underestimated you because of your gender.”
When she said nothing further he asked, “Would you, of your mercy, tell me the reward for my folly?” He tried to keep his tone relaxed, but could clearly hear the strain under it.
“I have not decided.”
Strange how hope and fear could grow so close together.
“You obviously know the conqueror’s edict against me. In my place, what would you do?”
He glanced at her, unable to help himself. She still looked out across the valley, with a serenity he could only envy. What a strange thought to have. What a strange thing to ask a prisoner who had sought to force himself on her.
She was a woman. But a woman who had managed her lands capably for several years, and who had bested several men in battle. Who was being required to wed one of her people’s enemies. Why wouldn’t she wish to refuse any marriage and retain her own power?
“You cannot stand against the king, lady,” he said, feeling his way as he spoke. “He contents himself with having landless younger sons harass you now, but sooner or later if you do not wed he will bring his full might against you. The other Anglish lords will stand aside, they are lucky to hold onto as much of their land and rights as they have.”
“In your place, lady, I would actively seek a husband. One weak willed enough I could bend him to my will and retain power in my own home, but of high enough rank among Nornish nobility to satisfy the king that his word was obeyed.”
Now she turned to look at him.
“Then you are a fool, indeed. A weak husband could not stand against the conqueror or rival lords. He would fritter away my land and destroy my home, leaving nothing of my heritage to pass on to my children.”
“If you were willing to bow to a lord and be rule by him, you would already have done so, lady. You risk your people and lands everyday you don’t. I allowed your serfs and peasants to escape my raids. Others will simply slaughter them so there are none to tend the fields that fill your storehouse, trusting the king’s reward for bringing you to heel to keep them fed over the winter. Your warriors… courage and skill only go so far, lady. Soon they will fail entirely and then what?”
She signaled the guards and they came to escort him back to the darkness of his cell.
He knew nothing further of what to expect, but he had learned a great deal of Lady Mildthryth. He wished even more now that he had been able to conqueror her. What a fascinating woman.
Mildthryth remained on the tower walk for some time after the prisoner – Reimund – had been led away. He was, if she read him right, not afraid to die. Some part of him even expected it. It was the uncertainty that added strain to his voice. He, like most warriors, would not do well not knowing.
They had no concept of what it was like to live as a woman in their world, knowing every day that your life might change in an instant on the whim of the man who held power over you. Was it any wonder so many of her peers retreated into mindless obsession with fashion and social status? That they closed their eyes and ears to all but their bower and the management of their household? The uncertainty, the powerlessness, if you let yourself think about it, could grind you into nothing.
Mildthryth cursed her father. If he had only done his duty and arranged a marriage for her she would not be in this position. But he was proud and would not see her wed to any of their new, Nornish neighbors.
Yet how could she blame him, when she was just as unwilling now to wed those same neighbors? Nornish men who saw her as little more than a broodmare.
Until the day her father died, he had hoped for a son from one of his mistresses he could bring forward to hold the land after him.
Well, he had no sons. And Mildthryth had no husband, neither strong willed to hold the land nor weak willed to be ruled by her.
And the Nornish conqueror, damn him to the Great Darkness between the stars, would not allow a mere woman to rule lands in her own right.
The last of the smoke from yesterday’s fires had finally dwindled to nothing. She could see in the dwindling light the serfs picking their way through the burnt fields, looking for any hidden remnants of fire.
They would till the field, plowing the ash and char under, and the field would yield even more next year thanks to this year’s destruction.
But if they were to see that growth, they would need to survive until next year.
Wigmar returned and came to stand beside her.
“Are you thinking what I think you are, my lady?”
“You could do worse, if you don’t mind my saying so. Truth, given your options it might be hard to do better.”
“Aye.” She sighed. “Speak to the fighters for me, Wigmar. Especially Gwen and Helen.”
“No worries there, lady. Gwen and Helen know what’s coming as well as you do. And a lord who can respect your defeating him will treat them a sight better than one who calls you a demon for daring to be better than him.”
“Aye that.” She sighed again. “Speak with them anyway, please. Make sure they know that whatever comes, I will see them taken care of.”
“Of course, my lady.”
“Tomorrow, I will speak with one of his knights. In the chapel.”
“I’ll see to it.”
Mildthryth has a plan. Do you think Reimund will like it?
Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism
Lefeng hailed the first person ey saw who wasn’t busy–a young person about Lefeng’s own age who sat at the edge of the village staring at the water. Like the youngling, this one had golden highlights in eir hair, but the coils were looser, like Lefeng’s own. Eir skin was brown, without the burnished look farwalkers developed after a lifetime on the trails. Unlike the youngling, this one was familiar. Perhaps Lefeng had seen em on past travels to this village. The eyes especially, bright gold with a darker ring around them, touched Lefeng’s memory.
The stranger started, as one who had been lost in thought. Then ey stood and dusted emself off before looking over Lefeng and the youngling. To Lefeng’s dismay, the stranger recognize the youngling, and eir face showed eir sorrow.
“Hail Net-mend youngling. Greetings stranger.”
“Greetings,” Lefeng replied, “I am…” ey stumbled, “I was Longstride near-adult of Sandy Cove. Sandy Cove is no more. As is Longstride.”
The stranger closed eir eyes and swallowed, as if forcing down eir own grief. Lefeng’s eyes tightened. Was this village more damaged than it looked?
“I am sorry for your loss. Youngling…” Ey crouched down to be on the youngling’s level, and Lefeng knew eir fears were right. “Youngling, I am sorry, your family… No one else has survived the wave. Net-mend, too, is no more.”
The youngling stared, then turned to the Lefeng with accusing eyes. “They have to be here. You said you’d bring me back to them. So they have to be here.”
“I am sorry, youngling. I said I would bring you here and we would look for them. But if they are not here…” Lefeng, too, crouched down.
The youngling grabbed eir hand, and Lefeng didn’t try to stop em. “They can’t all be gone! They can’t!”
Lefeng looked at the stranger, hoping for some chance to offer the youngling. But the stranger shook eir head. “The roof came down,” ey murmured.
Lefeng nodded and picked the youngling up. The stranger stared, but Lefeng ignored em. Propriety took second place to a child in need. And there was no family left now, to be offended.
“The rest of the village?” Lefeng asked.
“Most families survive. My own…” ey shrugged and Lefeng nodded eir understanding, “but the others remain. Though none are undamaged.”
“I am sorry for your loss.” Lefeng knew eir response sounded rote, not a proper reply to such grief. But ey couldn’t take eir focus off the child. “Do any of the youngling’s ommers survive?”
“I don’t know. But that generation was hit hardest,” the stranger shrugged again.
They would have been. The younglings and grandparents and elders would have been in the home compounds. It was the adults and near-adults who would have been out in the boats or on the trails.
“I want to go home!” The youngling cried. But ey has no home left.
Lefeng held the youngling until ey cried emself to sleep. Around them, the survivors went about their work, only occasionally glancing at the devastated child. Lefeng knew it was courtesy, propriety, to not interfere with the child of another family. But part of em burned with anger at their indifference. If Lefeng had not been there — a stranger from another village — would anyone have cared for the child in eir need?
When the child quieted, the near-adult of High Trail shifted eir feet and said, “I am… I was Deepfisher near-adult of this village. You and Net-mend youngling can shelter in… my home tonight, and ask around for any relatives ey may have tomorrow.”
Lefeng hesitated. Ey wasn’t eager to spend the night under a roof. Especially a strange roof.
“It might be best if you don’t,” the Deepfisher blurted out. “I… the others here will distrust you, if you stay with me.”
“The child needs a night under a roof. The trail was rough for em.” Lefeng spoke as much to emself as the Deepfisher. “I will be leaving once ey is settled and don’t care what stagnant strangers think of me.” Ey spoke the insult recklessly, angrily. These people were none of eirs. Ey wanted nothing from them but a home for the child.
To eir surprise, the Deepfisher wasn’t bothered by eir words. Ey simply waved a hand and lead Lefeng to a small compound, barely large enough for a double hand of people. The bottom of the outer walls were pocked with gaps where the water had washed away the mud-daub, revealing the wattle whithes underneath.
Inside, the space was different from anything Lefeng had seen. Instead of a large open space, many inner walls divided the building into several smaller spaces. Most of them were in disarray, but the largest had been cleared of the water-logged wreckage. A single bed, a pile of food, and a few pieces of clothing sat to one side. A firepit with a few softly glowing embers lay in the middle of the space. Otherwise it was empty. Sunlight seeped in through cracks and holes in the walls, but the inner support beams, at least, were intact.
“The youngling can sleep on the bed.” Deepfisher said. “I, ah, I haven’t sorted through most of what’s left.”
Lefeng placed the youngling down carefully and shrugged. “I have slept on the ground before, and will again.”
“Yes,” the quiet voice replied. “I suppose you have.”
Staying in the compound was a wise choice. The child had a bad night, waking up frequently from nightmares. But the familiar — the dim-red glow of the hearth, the ingrained fish smell, the sound of others sleeping nearby — helped sooth em back to sleep each time.
The next morning, the Deepfisher provided breakfast, a thin porridge with a briny taste. Lefeng recognized it from when Paiespaiokp would use sea water to add flavor to a late-season meal. Lefend had fresh food in eir pack, harvested on the move as ey and the youngling had travelled. But to offer would insult the Deepfisher’s strained hospitality.
Distracting emself from the meal, Lefeng turned to the youngling. “Do you know any of your ommer?”
“Ommer?” the youngling scratched at the dirt, not looking at Lefeng.
“Your parent’s siblings who married-out?”
The child nodded. “My… my Cenn married-out. Ey grew up in High-Fields family. Ey said that gutting fish was better than kneeling in the mud and ey felt bad for eir siblings who stayed High-Fields. Are… are eir siblings my ommer? Because they didn’t like em. So I don’t like them!”
By the time ey finished speaking, tears were rolling down eir face. “I want my Cenn and my Baba!”
Lefeng reached out to em, but this time the youngling jumped up and ran away, to curl up against the wall and cry.
Lefeng let the youngling be, instead asking the Deepfisher about the other families of the village. Unfortunately, the Deepfisher could only tell em that neither eir family nor the family ey meant to marry out to had an close ties to Net-mend. Apparently, the Deepfisher had little care for the doings of the wider village.
Lefeng leaned against the wall and closed eir eyes. The next step would likely be to find out if this village had a priest. Lefeng had never liked the priest of eir village, preferring to go to a Long Trail near-adult who had been training as a Trail-Quester in the far-walker traditions. But Trail-Questers were rare. Last year this village had only retained a single far-walking family. There would be no Quester here.
The youngling interrupted eir thoughts. “I want to go home.”
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 moved among his men. His hands were bound before him, and they’d taken his weapons, but otherwise let him be. None had even asked for his parole. Those of his men would could walk had been gathered here at the edge of the forest, guarded by a handful of warriors.
The remaining ambushers moved carefully across the rocks, gathering dead and wounded alike. More than one of them wore old bandages, and one, a woman or all unnatural things, wore a split. It hadn’t stopped her, weasel quick, from spearing the armsman guarding Reimund’s left mere moments into the battle.
He spoke briefly to each of the men he passed. Several wore rough field dressings, but most still bled from wounds not dangerous enough to need immediate tending.
He found two of his knights, John and Damian near a tree trunk, as far away from the rocks as they could get. “Have you seen Hereweald?”
John shook his head but Damian said, “He took an arrow and went down. He’s out there somewhere… one way or another.”
Reimund looked back over the rocky slope, but saw no sign of his old friend.
“I will offer our parole. See if you can get the men organized. The faster we get the wounded the better.”
He left them to it, and headed for the nearest of their guards. “I am Sir Reimund Swiđhun, leader of these men. I wish to offer our parole”
The guard looked him up and down, then said, “Follow me.”
The guard led him to where an older warrior with a bandage wrapped around his head was directing the clean up from the battle. “This one says he wants to give parole.” the guard told him, then spat at Reimund’s feet.
The insult was unexpected, but Reimund knew better than to respond. Instead, he offered a minimal bow to the warrior and said, “I am Sir Reimund Swiđhun. I offer our parole so we can help tend the wounded. We won’t seek to escape or fight back until I am able to discuss terms with Lady Mildthryth.”
“And I suppose you want your weapons back.”
Reimund stared. What game did the man think he was playing? “Goodman, I have men there that may be dying. As do you.”
The man actually looked at him this time. “I think you actually mean that.” He held up a hand and Reimund bit back a sharp retort. “More than once now, we’ve had to deal with bastards who thought parole given to us who serve a woman meant nothing. You’re right, Sir Reimund, we both have wounded that need tending. But I can’t risk losing more warriors if I’m wrong about you.”
Reimund nodded. Mostly to buy time. If the man spoke truth – and Reimund had no reason to doubt him – then he would be a fool to accept their parole. But he seemed to want to believe Reimund. And hadn’t simply sent him back.
“Let my men aid you, and I will remain here as surety.” And under the old warrior’s blade.
The warrior was silent a moment. “Who is your second, Sir Reimund?”
He swallowed a sigh of relief. “Sir John and Sir Damian are organizing the men-at-arms to aid you. Sir Hereweald is among the wounded.”
The Anglish commander led him back to where his men waited and listened while he spoke with John and Damian. John tried to protest and Reimund stopped him. “Hereweald, John. And Estienne and Gosse and the others. I will be fine. Better than fine.” He smiled. “After all, you’ll be the ones laboring in the heat, while I get to laze back and watch you work.”
Damian, as predictably silent as John was argumentative, only nodded and held out his hands for his bindings to be cut.
The Anglish went back to his post and Reimund followed without prompting. He did his best to remain silent and out of the way while the Anglish directed the cleanup and recovery. Trouble came only once: when the Anglish set his men to stripping their own dead. Luckily, John was right there. He backhanded the worst of the protesters and started stripping the bodies himself.
The Anglish grunted and glanced at Reimund with a look of respect. Reimund gritted his teeth. “Was that a test, goodman?”
“No, that was getting this clusterfuck cleaned up and home as quickly as possible.” He flashed a quick grin. “If it gave me a chance to see the mettle of your men, that was extra.”
“What will become of our dead?”
“If we can, we’ll bring them home for burial. But we’ll need most of the horses for the wounded.” He shook his head. “For that, I’m truly sorry, Sir Reimund. But we didn’t bring horses and not many of your own are fit to ride. At least some of our dead will probably be left here as well.”
But they had more horses. He didn’t give himself time for second thoughts. “Damian!”
The Anglish glared “What are you up to now, Norn?”
Before he could answer Damian came trotting up, trailed by a pair of suspicious Anglish warriors. “Damian, show them the camp.” He turned to the Anglish. “We have another score of horses. Some were injured yesterday in the rocks, but there should be enough.”
The Anglish stared at him for a long moment, then told off a handful of his men to follow Damian and bring back the horses. As well as anything else of value they found.
Reimund didn’t react to the last. He had expected it. But his men had to come first, no matter how much it cost him.
The Anglish grabbed Reimund’s arm and used his sword to slice through the ropes binding him. “Your wounded are there,” he jerked his chin. “Get them ready to travel. I want to get your men and all the wounded back to the keep before noon. Your knight and my men can bring the dead without us.”
“Thank you, goodman.”
Mildthryth had forced herself to trust Wigmar and focus on her own tasks. But she still found herself staring off to the east – even when ‘east’ was just one of the walls of the keep.
Finally, a messenger arrived. Wigmar had won and would return with prisoners as soon as he could.
Sadly, the needs of tending prisoners had become… routine. Though based on Wigmar’s report, this time they would have more prisoners than ever before. As well as more dead.
She sent to the priest to tend to the dead and bereaved, then gave orders to clear the old barracks to house the prisoners. There simply wasn’t room for all of them in the dungeon.
She reviewed, again, their medicines and bandages. They had enough for today. For now, that would serve.
She needed a way to end this. Soon.
When they arrived, she was shocked to see that the prisoners walked and rode unbound. Had Wigmar accepted their parole? That was…
She shook off her surprise. There was work to do. She ordered the leader taken to her solar. The hale prisoners and those with minor wounds went to the old barracks. They could tend each other. Mildthryth set to organizing care of her own wounded and the badly wounded prisoners.
Dark take it, she needed to be dealing with the leader, but the wounded couldn’t wait. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a husband to take half this burden from her. A keep wasn’t meant to run by one person alone.
Pushing the familiar thoughts aside, she grabbed needle and thread and started stitching wounds.
Reimund schooled himself to patience. And to wakefulness. After an early morning, a battle, and it’s aftermath, all he wanted to do was be sure his men were alright, and sleep.
They had found Hereweald unconscious. The arrow had hit muscle, but from the blood in his hair, his head had hit a rock when he fell. There had been several broken legs from falls among the rocks, more arrow wounds…
He tried to stay awake by reviewing what he had seen and knew of the battle. In hindsight, crossing the rocks had been a fatal mistake. The Anglish had been prepared to fight on the rocks as his own men had not. And given that they sent wounded out to fight Lady Mildthryth had to be on her last reserves. He would have done better to meet her warriors in the open or even invite an ambush on his camp.
If his father ever heard … dark! If he ever saw his father again, there would be hell to pay. Of course, it was that ‘if’ that truly frayed his nerves.
He sat in a comfortable chair, the only one in this room that seemed strong enough to take his armored weight. He waited, and he prayed.
There was nothing else he could do.
It seemed hours later, though the sun was still high in the sky, when the last wounds had been tended and Mildthryth could finally go to her rooms. Exhaustion ate at her, but she wasn’t done for the day. Far from it.
Wigmar was waiting outside the door, a sign of trust she would never have expected to see him give a Norn after what some of their last… visitors had attempted. She raised her eyebrows and Wigmar shrugged and nodded. Mildthryth pursed her lips and nodded back.
So… Wigmar thought well of this one. That was… promising.
Wigmar opened the door and bowed her into the public room of her suite, unusually formal in front of the stranger.
“Lady Mildthryth,” he said, “here is Reimund Swiđhun, son of William the Black.”
The stranger stood as the door opened and met her gaze boldly, bowing slightly as he was named. From the slight waver as he stood, he must be at least as tired as she was.
He was pale, in the Nornish way, even his long hair and beard were pale, the color of straw left to dry in the sun. A cut across his temple had been cleaned and scabbed over, giving him a rakish look. The room was as she had left it. Nothing missing, nothing moved even. Well.
“So, Reimund Swiđhun.” She did not return his bow – she thought she might fall over if she tried. Instead, she swept across the room and took a seat in front of the western windows. She could see him clearly, but her face was in shadow. “I would ask what brings you here, but I suspect I already know.”
He nodded. “For a landless younger son, the King’s edict against you is the chance of a lifetime, Lady Mildthryth. I regret losing, but I can’t regret trying. And…” his eyes swept over her, then returned to her face. “…the man who does win you should count himself very lucky.” He shook his head. “I haven’t been that neatly trapped since I took my dubbing.”
Mildthryth chose to ignore the flattery.
“And who will pay your ransom?”
He looked away. “No one, Lady Mildthryth.” He looked at her again, grey eyes strangely dark. “My Lord Father will disown me when he learns I was captured by a woman and no one else of my family has money for a ransom.
“Whatever you choose to do with me, lady, you will get no more than what I carry on me.”
Looks like things are going from bad to worse for Reimund.
Reimund Swiđhun has it made. With the king’s blessing, he will capture Lady Mildthryth, marry her, and finally have land to call his own.
Lady Mildthryth Rúna has been fighting off would-be ‘suitors’ for months. She will marry on her terms or not at all.
Usually in historical romance, the too-independent noble woman is forced into marriage and gradually comes to love her husband and accept her subordinate place.
Mildthryth has other plans.
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 Rúna was in the weaving room. Again. So was her mother, the lady dowager, and every woman who wasn’t sleeping or too fumble-fingered to work a loom.
They wove in shifts now, running through a month’s worth of wool in a week. In the surrounding villages, old maids and young girls were spinning their fingers bloody to supply the ladies of the burg.
Still, the piles of bandages in the still room shrunk.
It had been six months since the Conqueror had withdrawn his protection. Since he promised a boon to the lord who brought her to heel. The Nornish conqueror would not abide the blasphemy of a woman holding lands in her own right.
So far, the Nornish idea of courtship had left much to be desired. So far, she had been able to send her erstwhile suitors packing.
From the walls, a horn rang out, calling the warriors once more to battle.
Reimund Swiđhun watched with satisfaction as his men put the fields to torch. The serfs and freemen had all fled, unpursued. Reimund expected to be ruling that land by year’s end. He didn’t want to rule over a land gone barren because there was no one to work the fields.
He looked up at the castle high on the hill above. It wasn’t really a castle, just a rough attempt at making a proper fortress out of one of the old Anglish bughs. Even with his small force, he thought he could overwhelm it. Probably.
But why chance it?
Your fields burn, lady, he thought to himself, Soon you will have nothing to feed yourself or your people. Then we will see how stubborn you are.
The gate to the castle opened and warriors lightly armed in the Anglish fashion poured through. They moved faster than Reimund had planned for, but he still had enough time.
Reimund blew his horn twice, summoning his men back. They had done what they came to do. Now it was time to leave, while they could still lose themselves in the surrounding forests.
Mildthryth tried to stare into the darkening forest the invaders had hidden in. This wasn’t the first Nornish lordling to attack her, but so far he was the cunningest. The others had assumed a ‘mere female’ wouldn’t be able to stand against even a token show of force.
All crept home like whipped curs after learning that the daughter of an Anglish lord and a Dragma warmaid had forgot none of the lessons of her ancestors. Most had fled, but a few she had been able to capture and ransom.
If they could survive long enough, they would at least have no problem buying new supplies.
Footsteps on the stairs behind her announced the arrival of her Armsmaster, Wigmar. He still wore his armor but had taken off his helmet. Sweat soaked through the old bandage on his head.
“You shouldn’t have gone out yourself, Wigmar.”
He came to stand by her and scratched at the old wound, itchy with healing. “Too many injured and unable to ride, milady. I’m hale enough, as long as I don’t take another blow to the head.”
“You weren’t planning on taking the first one,” she ground out.
Wigmar ignored her comment and started his report, “As I warned you milady, they had too much of a head start, and we couldn’t catch them before the trees.”
“No sign of their camp?”
Wigmar shook his head. “They’ve crossed over that rocky strip to the south. Don’t know how they didn’t lose a dozen horses to broken legs, but it’s big enough to break their trail. Woodsmen are trying to work their way around the strip and find where they come across it. But it’s a big strip. And we can’t be sure they didn’t leave an ambush, so our people need to move slow. With dark falling, it will take a miracle from the Ancestors to find them.” He made the sign for the Ancestor’s ancient ships. “He’s a smart one milady.”
She snorted. “Let’s be honest Wigmar, it doesn’t take much smarts to figure out what any rabbit escaping the fox knows. He’s just the first of our… uninvited guests who thinks I have the brains to put my own shoes on.”
Mildthryth started pacing. “How likely are they to try this again?”
“If it works for them…” Wigmar shrugged. “Against your father, likely they’d move and hit somewhere else, but…”
“Aye.” She was silent for a moment. “Pull our people back, don’t wait for full dark. Let them think we’ve given up.”
He eyed her speculatively.
“Tomorrow, before first light, get as many of our warriors as you can ready to ambush them as they cross the stone river.”
The old Anglish warrior grinned. “Your mother’s daughter, my lady. I’ll start planning.”
Reimund dismounted to lead his horse over the rocks. His favorite mount was already lame – not on slick rocks but on a gopher hole within sight of camp. If he wasn’t careful with this horse, he’d have nothing left to ride. After a few minutes, his scouts signaled all was clear—there was no sign of the Anglish.
Which was exactly what he expected. But Reimund knew if they were to be ambushed, this would be the spot. He wasn’t happy about that, but the alternative to crossing what he thought of as ‘the hell patch’ was to risk being tracked and ambushed in camp.
The ambush you knew to expect was always best.
Reimund frowned in thought as he led his men out of the scrub and over the rocks. True, the castle was held by a mere woman, but if he continued coming from the same direction she would start setting ambushes. His sister Eveline certainly would have, and by tomorrow at the latest! Though his mother, it would have taken another week or more, and then she would have no idea what else to try.
He hoped Lady Mildthryth wasn’t as foolish as his mother. He’d wed her regardless, but he wanted a wife he could hold a conversation with from time to time.
If she was anything like Eveline, she would soon have her people out on patrol or guarding the remaining farms. He’d need to be prepared for that.
He was deep in plans and halfway across the rocky terrain when a flight of arrows hissed out of the surrounding scrub, followed by dozens of lightly armored warriors on foot.
Mildthryth strode along the watch-walk of Oakley Keep, squinting into the glare of the rising sun. She snorted at her foolishness. As well try to fly as to see through the very mountain.
It had been a risk, setting up an ambush with her warriors on the rocks. But a calculated one. The Norns were experts at siege and open field combat, but Mildthryth’s people had learned a faster, more brutal form of mountain warfare from the Dragma.
That harsh lessoning might, today, buy their survival for a time.
But Wigmar wasn’t the only injured warrior fighting today. Time was something they were running out of.
Hopefully this time she’d be able to put her plan into action.
With an effort, she forced her mind back to practicality. However the ambush fell out, there would be injured to care for. Best she be prepared for them.
Reimund dodged the whirling axe, then lunged forward. His spearpoint slid into a gap in the axeman’s armor and stuck there. Releasing the spear, he drew his sword.
Unhorsed, his heavily armored knights were at a disadvantage. They had better protection, yes, but had already lost their greatest weapon—the momentum of their mounts.
The first attack had taken out a full tenth of his men. Outnumbered, unable to retreat… he was down at least another tenth, probably more.
Shamed, but seeing no other answer save dying, he stepped back from the front line and pulled the battle horn from his belt. The solemn call for surrender rang across the battlefield.
The waiting is always the hardest part, right?
Left alone after a tsunami destroys eir village, Lefeng would have walked into the mountains and not looked back. But a child lost on the trails redirected eir course and another survivor plants the seed of an idea – a new family. Lefeng’s commitment to those ey comes to love will take em to the hated city and a new way of life. But in a slowly dying city, Lefeng’s determination can only carry them so far.
Planting Life in a Dying City is a low fantasy, multi-generational found family story. Each season will be told from the PoV of a different character. No explicit sex, minimal violence, lots of trauma. Agender, disabled, elder, and autistic characters.
Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism
A shaft of sunlight lanced through the forest gloom highlighting another empty snare. Lefeng shook eir head as ey pulled up the small game snare and examined the grass rope for damage. Somehow no one had seen that break in the canopy over the summer. They were lucky the snare hadn’t been sun-touched.
A small ground shake rattled the trees as ey coiled and stash the snare-rope it in eir pack. Lefeng had pulled a dozen others earlier that day and found a pair of lemurs that had been caught by two of the traps. Ey had been surprised by them. Penpy ran the trapline two days ago but had forgotten to pull the snares. Lefeng was just as glad. It gave em a chance to get into the foothills on eir own one last time before the bright months ended.
Ey moved to the next snare, pausing on the way to pull leaves from a low growing mint plant. Munching on the leaves refreshed eir spirit and moistened eir mouth. The air was dry in the foothills, above the influence of the ocean. But ey only had a few more snares to pull and then ey could head home.
Tomorrow, the adults and near-adults like Lefeng would start packing for their winter travels. They’d follow the old ways, camping for a short time to gather food and supplies, then traveling on when the area they were in started to become depleted. Each year they traveled a slightly different path, giving the land time to recover. This year, Paiespaiokh would come with them, spending a full journey season with the family. If all went well, Lefeng and Paiespaiokh would join the marriage group together next spring. Spouses who married the group at the same time weren’t always close, but ey and Lefeng had been pair-bonded since childhood, and Lefeng couldn’t wait to bring em fully into eir family and life.
The ground shook again, making a stone under eir foot move. Ey fell to the ground. “Stagnant water!” ey cursed. That was the third shake today. The first one had been strong enough to bring down some of the young saplings. Earth shakes were a part of life. As the priest liked to remind them, even the earth is alive in its own way. But three in one day was unusual.
Ey stood and cursed again. Eir right ankle hurt when ey put weight on it. Checking the ankle showed that it was only swelling a bit. And it had held when ey put weight on it. Ey hobbled up to a straight sapling and used eir handaxe to cut the sapling down and strip the branches from it. With this rough-made walking stick, ey continued down the trail carefully.
Lefeng had no intention of staying in the village this walking-season. And a bad injury would keep em in the home compound this winter with elders, the young children, and some of the grandparents. Two of Lefeng’s siblings were courting other families in the village. They would be staying with their prospective-spouses most of the winter.
Lefeng couldn’t understand why they would want to marry-out to village families. Who could want to live a rooted life? If they had married out to another farwalker family, like Tsukstaifupy last summer, that Lefeng could understand.
But no matter what eir siblings did, Lefeng would be walking-on with the other near-adults and the rest of the family next week. Plus, ey was hoping to get some time with Paiespaiokh outside of the crowded confines of the compound. So no more falls!
A short time later, ey had finished pulling the snares and was headed home. The sun was setting—ey’s injury was making em late. But there was still light to see by.
A half-mark from the village ey reached the lookout clearing. The hilltop had been cleared of trees to give a view of the sea. The fisher families used it in storm season to watch for storms gathering on the horizon. Most years only saw one or two of the great storms, but that was more than enough. Lefeng was a bit surprised they weren’t already posting watch. The bright days were all but passed and the great storms sometimes came early in the year.
There were no storms today, but the sea looked strange. More like a mud puddle a child had jumped in, swirling around and full of debris.
Lefeng licked eir lips and looked harder. Ey had the best far sight in eir family, and while ey had never seen the sea like that, some of that debris looked familiar. Like the scraps of wood and sail that washed up on shore sometimes after a wreck.
Paiespaiokh had gone out with eir family boat that morning. Ey told Lefeng ey wanted to feel the sea under em one more time before spending more than half the year in the mountains.
Caution forgotten, Lefeng pelted down the trail, skidding and sliding in damp leaves and muddy loam. A short time later, ey burst from the trees at the village edge and stumbled to a halt.
Everything was mud. Mud and dead fish and ragged stumps of wood where walls and homes had been that morning. Here and there, a lump sprawled in the mud — lumps covered with fabric and often trailing banners of waterlogged hair.
Lefeng stared, trying to take in what ey was seeing. It was like the entire village had been washed away. Step by step ey crept out into the mud. It sucked at eir boots and clung to eir legs.
The first body ey came to was the elder, Chainchyu. Ey’s face was unrecognizable, but somehow ey was still wearing the silly bracelet of nuts and dried berries ey had worn for nearly twenty years. Lefeng sank into the mud next to em and gently touched the bracelet. Lefeng had given it to em, a childish gift from a youngling to eir favorite grandparent. Chainchyu had promised never to take it off.
Now, Lefeng removed it for em. “Journey long, Baba. Until I join you at the meeting-fire.”
Tears pouring down eir face, Lefeng forced emself to stand. Somewhere, there had to be someone still alive. There had to.
When dark fell, Lefeng, retreated into the shelter of the trees and made a small camp. Ey forced emself to eat, having learned well the lessons of the trail. Never go hungry when there is food, you don’t know when you will find more. Sleep couldn’t be forced.
With dawn, ey returned to the remains of the village.
Most were gone, leaving no sign they had ever existed.
Where eir family’s compound had once stood were a few stumps from the fence and the support beams of the house. Scattered throughout the village were a few–a very few–things ey recognized as once belonging to eir family. Ey gathered everything ey could, both from eir family and others, that might be useful.
The next day, ey spent gathering the double handful of bodies together on a pile with as much wood as ey was able to move. It had been over a year since ey had started a fire without coal or spark to work with. And the wet wood didn’t want to burn. But the effort of getting the fire started kept em from thinking about what ey was doing.
About what ey would do next.
Others from the village might have survived, but no one had been off on a long journey. Only the far-walking families regularly went further than a half days travel from the village, and they had all been here, preparing for the winter journeying. Even the fishing boats returned each day except for their yearly trips up the coast to the big city. Anyone who hadn’t been in the village when… whatever it was had happened should have returned by now.
Which meant Lefeng was completely alone.
Finally, the fire started. Ey sat upwind and watched it burn. Saying and singing the prayers for burying the dead. But there was no way ey, alone, could bury them all before scavengers became too bold for em to chase away.
The fire burned long into the night and ey watched.
Left alone after a tsunami destroys eir village, Lefeng would have walked into the mountains and not looked back. But a child lost on the trails redirected eir course and another survivor plants the seed of an idea – a new family. Lefeng’s commitment to those ey comes to love will take eir to the hated city and a new way of life. But in a slowly dying city, Lefeng’s determination can only carry them so far.
Planting Life will be the first multi-season piece in my new serialized fiction. It will begin posting for free on February 12.
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At this point I have almost entirely separated myself from the polyam communities. Partly, that’s been the result of my needing to get the hell off of Facebook for my own wellbeing. But another part, that I have never talked about publicly, is that I was gaslit by one polyam leader in front of a dozen or so other polyam leaders, and no one, including (I think) some of the folks on the team calling Franklin out now, spoke up*. Two people reached out me privately, one of whom wanted something from me related to the discussion, so I’ve never been sure if they would have reached out otherwise.
There isn’t a decent sized polyam group on the web that some of those people aren’t part of. So I just don’t feel safe.
No, the person who gaslit me wasn’t Franklin. No I am not going to name them at this time. Or probably ever, honestly. They did reach out me privately about a year after the incident to offer an (I believe sincere) apology. Unfortunately, the way they apologized compounded the original harm done as well as arriving at literally the worst possible time. My reply to them was rather harsh as a result and I haven’t heard from them since.
If you read this, I am in a better place now and am still willing to talk further when you are ready.
If you were part of that community and discussion and stood by, fuck you for having a hand in driving me out of a community I loved and being too blind to even notice.
I am glad that Franklin is being called in. The more distance I gave myself from the community, the more clearly I saw the problems in his attitude and writing. I was saddened but not surprised by the post on Medium last week.
But it’s not just Franklin, okay?
Just like it wasn’t just Wes. And it won’t be just whoever is called in/out next.
I am not good at community. I substitute enthusiasm for real ability at people stuff and mostly it works well enough. But I don’t begin to know what, if anything can be done about the pervasiveness of abuse, much of which is the result of living in an abusive culture that actively teaches harmful interactions.
So I don’t have any useful suggestions or ideas. Just… be aware, okay? Be aware.
*Multiple people on that team were part of that community. I do not clearly recall if any were part of that specific discussion. Truth is, my PTSD brain doesn’t much care.
Edited for typos, grammar oopsies and stigmatizing language. April 12, 2018.
As should be obvious by now, I am not in any way advocating for any specific relationship style — neither abstinence nor closed relationships would be a comfortable fit for me. There is certainly nothing wrong with open relationships or lots and lots of good sex. But for some people they are valid life choices, so we’re gonna talk about them.
Abstinence-only programs like to say that if you don’t have sex, you can’t get STIs. They are wrong. You can get infected with both forms of herpes, HIV and Hep B without ever touching any genitals in any fashion. These infections are considered STIs because they are often transmitted sexually, they are not only transmitted sexually.
That said, it is true that the best protection available against STIs really is to not have sex outside of sexually exclusive relationships. Really doesn’t matter how many people are in the relationship — whether you have 2 people or 10 people or even 200 people, if all of them join the relationship as virgins (by which I mean, never having touched another person’s genitals, ever), and none of them ever have sex (by which I mean touching another person’s genitals or having their genitals touched any conceivable configuration, including hand jobs, using toys, and other stuff that yes really is sex) with anyone outside the relationship, then the chance of any of them getting and STI are extremely low. The more people in the relationship, the higher the risk of something crazy happening, because statistics is like that. But it is fairly safe to say that is you have a sexually exclusive group of 5 or fewer people (none of whom are drug users), your chances of getting any STI other than (possibly) herpes is damn near incalculable.
Herpes is the real joker in the deck. The blood born stuff (HIV and Hep) you are going to be safe from unless you play with needles (either S&M play or drug use) or just get insanely unlucky. Herpes, compared to most STIs is insanely easy to spread. Partly, this is because herpes (both HSV1 and HSV2) can infect the mouth (and other areas) as well as the genitals. You can get either version of herpes by any form of skin contact with an infected area. Sometimes herpes (especially HSV1) can be spread by sharing sex toys, lipstick or drinks. This means that if your best friend goes down on someone with HSV2, they can get an oral infection of herpes, and the next time you and your friend share a soda, you can get infected. Now your closed polyam quad is exposed to herpes, even though all of you were negative and none of you had sex outside the quad.
Aside from herpes, total abstinence outside of sexually exclusive relationships has a near perfect success rate. If STIs are a real concern, and you can manage it, then establishing a closed relationship with people who have tested negative of STIs you want to be sure you won’t get can be the best way to protect yourselves.
STIs and Cheating
The down side of abstinence or closed relationships as protection against STIs is that staying abstinent or closed just doesn’t work for everyone. Most polyamorists are familiar with the high rate of cheating among monogamous couples. What you may not know is that cheating (defined by the individual) is actually pretty common in polyam relationships.
Now, here’s the kicker when it comes to STIs. A study found that people who cheat are more likely to have sex without condoms, than people who are openly non-monogamous. Now, this study was comparing monogamous cheaters to non-monogamous people, but the results may apply to polyam cheaters. If you can’t deal with a closed relationship, that’s okay. It’s better to have an open relationship and negotiate a safer sex agreement then risk your health and the health of your partners by going behind their backs.
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This post is part of the Safer Sex Blog Series.