Bound by his Oath, Episode 5

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 roused from sleep by the sound of keys rattling outside his cell door. A few moments later, the door opened and the same warrior gestured for him to come. He obeyed but froze at the sight that greeted him. “John!”

John sagged in the warrior’s grip. Blood dripped down his face and tunic from a broken nose, both his eyes were blackened, his arms were bruised and bound behind him, he was favoring his right hip…

The warrior shook his head when Reimund reached for his knight, and reluctantly, Reimund fell back.

“I’m sorry, Reimund,” John mumbled around a swollen lip. “I…” The warrior shoved him into the cell, and he landed hard, crying out.

“It’ll be alright, John,” Reimund made himself say as the warrior closed the cell door. “It’ll be alright.

Then he turned and followed the battered old man, heart heavy and lost in darkness.

Once more the warrior escorted him up onto the tower walk. Lady Mildthryth waited there, the shoulder of her tunic torn and fresh blood on her sleeve. Damn it, John!

He sank to his knees, not caring in this moment how he shamed himself. “My lady, I beg you–”

“Stand up, Sir Reimund.” She cut him off. “You are not here to discuss your oh-so-loyal knight.”

He obeyed silently.

After a moment she sniffed and turned to look out over the mountains. “I would dislike hanging you and your men from my walls, Sir Reimund. It would be wasteful, and I prefer not to offend the Ancestors. But continuing to feed you and your men to no purpose would be more wasteful, especially when, for some reason, our food stores will be lower than expected this year.”

He took a grip on his temper. This was nothing he did not know. “Is it the Anglish way to talk endlessly about possibilities and never take action? If so, no wonder we conquered you so easily.”

She laughed, but it was a heavy sound, full of bitterness. He wondered what her true laughter sounded like. “No. My mother would say it is the Dragma way to talk endlessly about possibilities and then strike like lightning when the time is right.” She spun to face him, and there was something in her movements, in her face, that frightened him. He had seen men look so before they rode into a battle where they expected to die.

“I have a proposal for you, Sir Reimund. I doubt it will be to your liking, but you might find it has its merits.”

“I am, of course, at your service, Lady Mildthryth.” He said, choosing his words like his footing over those damnable rocks.

To his surprise, she laughed again. “Yes, precisely.” She took a deep breath, and Reimund braced himself for her charge. “You will take oath as my liegeman.”

She spoke softly, so only he could hear her. But the words landed like a blade through his guts. He snarled, unable, in that moment of shock, to control himself. “You dare…”

The guard stepped forward, but she held up her hand, stopping him.

“I suggest you control yourself, sirrah.”

Reimund forced himself to step back, to uncurl his firsts. “If you were a man, I’d challenge you for such an insult.”

She looked at him for a moment as if he had two heads, then shrugged, “If I understand you Norns, if I were a man, it wouldn’t be an insult.” She gestured out to the distant woods. “You have built your ship, invader. You may live with it or die in it.

“Your man was ready to die for you. Will you have the courage to live for him?”

She waited, but he said nothing. “For the time being, I would keep this oath private. None shall know of this except we two. Once you have given your oath, I will wed you, making you lord of Oak Haven. You will rule all here. I will rule you.”

Only the iron control he was holding prevent him from reacting to that second shock. It took him a moment to understand, but when he did was near as shocked by the woman’s cunning and ruthlessness.

In one stroke she satisfied the king, kept her freedom and power, and turned a burden—he and his men—into an asset. He himself got almost everything he had come here for.

But to get it, he would need to become what many would consider only half a man. Ruled, shamefully, by his wife, with no power over her or her actions. Some might say that death would be better.

She examined him as he did her, her face displaying a range of emotion, flickering between hope, fear, need, and what might have been… desire?

He didn’t think she intended insult. She had almost seemed surprised that he was insulted. No, she had found a solution to her problem, and if the solution was such that had another warrior even hinted at such a thing he would have called them out, what was it to her? She had her honor and her duty, and the honor of a prisoner who had sought to conquer her was not her concern.

But, oh, how he burned at the thought of it. To unman himself and bend knee to a woman — to his wife, no less!

He had already knelt to her though, to beg for John. Would this be any different?

Well, yes. There is a difference between a momentary shame and an endless one. But… “Sir John?”

“Consider him my betrothal gift, and deal with him as you will.” Her laugh had a breathless quality now, and he realized that he had been right before – she felt she was throwing herself off a cliff just as much as he did. “It was his loyalty to you that convinced me to trust you with this… chance. Would you rather reward him for that or punish him I wonder?”

Reimund shook his head, not sure himself how to answer that question. Thankfully she didn’t seem to expect one. “The rest of my men–?”

She waved a hand, dismissing his concern. “Will have whatever place here you find for them. I will not see my people displaced, but I believe there is room here for the men who are sworn to you.” Her tone darkened for a moment “Ancestors know we have enough dead whose shoes they can fill.”

He nodded and resisted the urge to lick his lips. Slowly this time, he lowered himself to his knees. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t force out the words of the ancient oath. Finally, he cobbled together something he hoped she would accept. “I will… take you as my liege, Lady Mildthryth. By my word, you shall have my loyalty and obedience for all my life.”

She placed a hand on his bent head and he shuddered at her touch. “It is done then.”

Mildthryth watched Wigmar lead Sir Reimund back into the keep – this time to the lord’s quarters. The risk she was taking terrified her.

Among the Anglish, her plans would be unusual but accepted. The Dragma, if her mother’s tales could be trusted, the idea of him giving his oath would be ludicrous – the difference in their ranks would mean her position would be assumed by all – including her husband!

But the Norns, with their refusal to admit a woman could rule…

She would not be able to treat him as an Anglish husband. Each day she would need to remind him of his subservience lest he forget that she ruled here.

He clearly inspired loyalty, she thought, carefully testing her bruising. Surely a man who knew how to inspire such loyalty knew how to give it? If he was capable of giving it, then her gamble would truly pay off.

But if he was one to swear an oath and then break it for convenience… at best, the holding would be turn apart as her people battled his, leaving them all ripe for plucking by the conqueror. The worst… was not worth considering.


I expect they’ll both have trouble sleeping tonight.

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 5 – The Idea

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Lefeng was washing eir clothes when the golden-eyed one approached em. Ey walked hesitantly, eyes down and fists clenching and unclenching. Scared? Had ey ever seen the golden-eyed one scared? Lefeng didn’t think so.

“Are you okay?” Had the villagers done something?

“I’m…” the once-fisher stopped. Cleared eir throat. “I had an idea. For the youngling. For… us.”

Lefeng put down eir laundry and gave em eir full attention. “For us?” It hadn’t occurred to Lefeng that there was an ‘us’. Though ey liked the once-fisher and hadn’t been looking forward to leaving when the youngling was settled. That was one reason ey had been willing to delay, despite eir need to return to the trails.

“The youngling… the youngling is acting like we are family to em.”

Lefeng nodded. “I’ve noticed. It worries me.”

“Well, why not… why not be a family?”

Lefeng stares, stunned. A family. A new family. It… “A family of three people? How?”

“Oh, not alone, a family of just three people would be ridiculous.” The once-fisher, golden-eyed one chuckled, but it sounded forced. “How could we manage with only two parents? Worse, no grandparents! But there had to be others who lost family. Maybe from this wave, but also… disease or disaster. We both know it happens. Why continue to be alone when we could come together?

“We could go to the city, I know from our trading runs that there are more family-less there. We can find others and create a new family together.”

“I… why wouldn’t the family-less in the city have already come together like that? Surely it can’t be that easy.”

The golden-eyed one shrugged, “I don’t know. But it can’t hurt to try, can it? None of us can stay here much longer. So why not try to stay together?”

Lefeng nodded, thinking. It was a clever idea, but Lefeng wasn’t sure ey liked it. Ey had never been to the city and never wanted to go. Village living was as far from the old ways as ey had ever wanted to get. But ey needed to do something, and ey had made a promise to the youngling–a promise that was keeping em sane despite eir loss and grief. And it would let em keep the golden-eyed one.

Maybe in the city, far from everything ey had ever known, the voices of eir dead would stop haunting em.

“Yes.” Lefeng finally said. The once-fisher stared at em as if ey couldn’t believe it. Or as if Lefeng had been speaking another language. “Yes. We will go to the city and see what family we can build there.”

The golden-eyed one jumped and clapped. Then, for the first time, ey reached out a hand to touch Lefeng. To share the intimacy of family.

Lefeng didn’t hesitate this time. Ey grabbed the offered hand and pulled the golden-eyed one into a hug. The once-fisher returned the hug, holding on as if eir life depended on it.

Maybe both of their lives did.

“I am Lefeng,” ey murmured, getting it over with quickly.

The golden-eyed one stilled, pulled back. “What?”

Lefeng felt blood rising in eir cheeks and looked down. “I… ah… my name. Is Lefeng.”

The once-fisher stared a moment longer but thankfully didn’t ask. Ey just said, “I am Paiokp.”

Lefeng nodded, hiding a wince at the reminder of eir dead betrothed. ‘Wave’ and variations on it were common names among fisher families. “Paiokp,” Lefeng made emself say. “Alright, clever-one, I suppose we should go have a talk with our youngling.”

The youngling’s name was Chestef, lightning. It was a name of chance, and danger, and opportunity. Lefeng found emself wondering if Chestef’s Cenn had sought out that name for eir child, or like Lefeng’s Cenn, been unlucky.

Chestef needed no convincing to accept Lefeng and Paiokp as eir parents. Ey was excited and relieved to be able to stay with them, even if it meant moving to a strange place–with eir family compound destroyed, every place was strange now anyway.

They needed to travel overland to a city. Not only were there no undamaged boats left in the village, but no one is willing to have Paiokp on their boat. Out of patience with root-bound superstitions, Lefeng asked Paiokp “What is their problem?”

Paiokp looked away. “You should know…” Ey turned around and lifted eir tunic, displaying eir back. The skin under the tunic is unusually pale as if the Deepfisher had never taken eir tunic off. Ey had a round-ish scar the size of Lefeng’s hand and a half-inch deep across the left shoulder blade.

Lefeng, baffled, asked. “What, you aren’t tanned enough?”

Paiokp stared at em. “The scar. I slipped out of the compound as a child on one of the bright days. I’m sun-branded. Bad luck will follow me everywhere.”

Ey swallowed, looked away, “I should tell you to leave without me but… I’m too afraid.”

Lefeng shook eir head in disbelief. “Sun branded? Foolishness. Do you know how lucky you are to have survived the sun’s kiss?”

“Yes, of course. Most of my parents thought it was a waste of resources for a cursed child, but my Cenn insisted. They cut the sun-damaged flesh out and I spent weeks in delirium. The old priest prayed and blessed me, which was a waste but I guess it worked.”

“A waste!” Lefeng yelled, then, caught emself, continued in an irate whisper. “Listen to me. Among the old clans in the mountains, the sun-kissed are hunt leaders, way-finders. Everything you touch is lucky because you are lucky. Because you had to be lucky to survive the sun’s kiss. If you weren’t lucky you’d be dead. So how can you be unlucky? How can you curse those around you when you carry such luck?” Clever one? Ha. Not if ey believed these.. these… “These fools should be bringing you gifts to come when their cenn’s give birth! But they shun you and refuse you even the courtesy of aid in travel! You are right to leave. Let them rot in their own foolishness. If I had the sense of the tides I’d scoop you up into the mountains where the old ways still hold and you’d be treated as the treasure you are!”

Paiokp had been staring at em in shock, but at that last, shook eir head and jerked away. “You would not! What would I do in the mountains? Live in a tent? Never have a home? No shelter from the bright days and get branded again? No. We’ll leave, but we’re going to the city. And I will be careful to hide my brand because in the city they aren’t ignorant and know how unlucky I am.”

Lefeng gave up trying to convince Paiokp. Ey has seen this before. The root-bound insisted that the barbaric farwalkers knew nothing and anything they said could be dismissed. If Paiokp wished to be a fool like those who surrounded em, Lefeng would not waste breath. Instead, ey focused on preparing for the journey. The overland path to the city was longer than the sea path, but Lefeng didn’t mind. Ey knew the woods and overland paths. Ey had never actually been on a boat. Though Paiespaiokp… Paiespaiokp had often teased em and promised to take em out with eir family before they left for the mountains that fall.

Lefeng had insisted on checking the trap lines instead. If ey hadn’t, ey would be with eir family now…

Slowly, Lefeng put eir work down and walked out of the village, under the trees. Not the great trees, which provided shade and shelter to many of the unrooted folk in the summer months. But still, the hushed green space was as much ‘home’ as anywhere under a roof.

Why was ey doing this? Why go to a city? It would be full of strangers with strange ways who looked down on the unrooted life and would never know this sacred space.

But ey had nothing else to do. No other path to take. So ey would walk this path and hope it was the right one.

Over the next few days, Lefeng approached those families who owed debts to the Deepfishers. On Paiokp’s behalf, Lefeng bargained for partial payment immediately in return for Paiokp forgiving the rest of the debts. To those who were owed debts, ey gave rights to take whatever they wished from Paiokp’s family compound after they were gone. It wasn’t enough to completely cover the debts, but the cut and cured wood in the support beams and roof would make repairs and rebuilding much easier. Everyone was pleased.

They weren’t sure what to do about the land and (remaining) possessions from Chestef’s family. They didn’t want to sell Chestef’s inheritance but they couldn’t take it with them. After much discussion, they took Chestef to the ruined compound. Ey picked out a few things from what remained that ey wanted to keep and take with them. They told the priest to sell what was left and hold the funds until ey heard from Chestef.

Given Paiokp’s experiences with this priest, Lefeng wasn’t sure ey trusted em, but they don’t have many other options, so this was what they would do.

There were three cities in the region they could have traveled to. Lefeng had never seen any of them. But the great winter meetings included several farwalking families from each of them. Paiokp had actually been to one and heard of two others from other fishing folk. Paiokp knew of several cities from much further away, including one across the sea, but they didn’t want to travel that far with the youngling. Well, Lefeng didn’t want to travel that far with the youngling. Paiokp didn’t want to travel that far at all.

After some discussion, they agreed to set out for Deep Harbor. It was a small city to the north that had grown around a natural harbor. It was the one city Paiokp had seen before, but that wasn’t the only reason they chose it. The city was sheltered by a spur of mountains that would have blocked the worst of the wave.

The trip to the city took half a moon. On her own Lefeng could have managed it in under a quarter-moon, but ey didn’t try to push the pace. Paiokp and Chestef didn’t have experience walking for hours or experience living on the trail. So taking it slow and leaving extra time for making camp and all just made sense.

Lefeng had made a travois out of some of the salvage from the Net-mend compound. With that ey was able to bring most of what they had. Including the results of eir last check on the trap lines–half cured leather, dried meat, and herbs–and goods remained from the two family compounds.

They passed by a few more villages and one town on the way to the city. The worst of the wave’s damage seemed to be behind them, and Lefeng and Paiokp were doubly glad they hadn’t decided to try for the southern cities. The wave must have been strongest to the south.

The trip itself went smoothly. Traveling in a group most assume them to be part of a family. Chestef’s presence was unusual but Lefeng was clearly one of the trail-hardened farwalkers. Everyone ‘knew’ their children traveled with them.

The closer they get to the city the busier the trail got. On the last day, they traveled with a small stream of people. Paiokp said that most people come to the city by boat, usually. But with the damage from the wave, there may have been more foot traffic than usual.

Bound by his Oath, Episode 4

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’s mother was in the stableyard lunging her horse. As always since Mildthryth’s father died, she wore the intricately braided hairstyles and brightly embroidered clothing of her Dragma kin.

She smiled when she saw Mildthryth.

They stood silently for a time, watching the horse exercise. “I’m sorry we can’t go on our rides anymore.”

Her mother shrugged. “It is what it is. The time will come when we can ride again without worrying about these nits.

“You are a good daughter, and honor to your grandfather and your father, little though he deserves it. You will find your way.

“The men may rule, most of the time, for they are stronger and the Ancestors’ perfect world died ages past. But these Norns are fools to think that men can rule all the time, for we women have our own strength and you will teach them that.”

Now Mildthryth echoed her mother’s earlier sigh. “What would you have done?”

“I?” The older woman snorted. “I would have been saddled and gone before your father was cold in the grave. Your uncle would welcome me back, and you as well if you wished, and I could help raise the nieces and nephews, make good cheese, and listen to the Singer tell the old tales and sagas of when the world was new and the Ancestors believed they could make a new paradise in this cursed realm. And live in a proper, round building without all these cursed corners!

“But you are too Anglish. Stubborn as Dragma, but soft-spoken and happy with your sharp corners and dark chapels. You would not be happy making cheese and listening to the Singers.”

Her mother had taken her once, much against her father’s wishes but before the Conqueror came he dared not disrespect his father in law, to visit her Dragma relatives. There were many things she envied them, but she could never remember the great round building they all lived in without a shudder. It wasn’t the lack of corners, exactly, but there were no walls. It was one great room that everyone… well it was big enough it wasn’t actually crowded, but it felt that way, with no quiet space away from it all unless you went outside in the cold.

Lady Valdis laughed. “Yes? I see that face. So my solution will not work for you and you will find your own way. And I will stay in this place of corners because I love you more than a proper home and proper cheese and all the songs of the Singers.”

Mildthryth took the lunge line from her mother, handed it to a nearby groom, then threw herself into Lady Valdis’ arms. Valdis, the only person in her life who was demonstrative than she was, hugged her back, then picked her up and swung her around, proving that she hadn’t lost her strength as she aged.

“It will be well, daughter. Now, what is it you came here to tell me, for surely you did not come to ask my advice!”

Mildthryth buried her face in her mother’s neck. “Will you trust me, mother? No matter what?”

Valdis pulled Mildthryth away and lifted her chin to study her face. “You have found your path. And it isn’t a straightforward Dragma path, but a twisty, cornered Anglish path.”

Mildthryth nodded and dropped her eyes, afraid of what she would see in her mother’s face.

“You are my daughter. Whatever path you have found, these Norns will never see the blow before it falls.”

Mildthryth laughed and hugged her mother again. “Mother. There is nothing straightforward about crossing a Dragma roundhouse.”

From the stables, Mildthryth went directly to the chapel. She had a path forward, but that did not mean it would work. So she knelt before the altar and recited the ancient litany of the Ancestors. Her mother had never grown used to Anglish worship in a closed room away from the sky. But in this Mildthryth was her father’s daughter. The night sky always filled her with wonder and awe, seeing the stars from which the Ancestors had traveled and to which her people would one day return.

But prayer was for quiet spaces, unadorned rooms. A single candle for focus. Just as the sun had been a focus for the Ancestors on their great journey.

She didn’t know how long she was there when the door to the chapel opened. “Lady Mildthryth,” Wigmar said, “Here is Sir John of Kaldon, as you requested.”

Mildthryth did not turn but gestured for the knight to join her.

After a moment, he came forward and knelt nearby. She could hear his whispered prayer.

In the candlelight, she could see only the vague outline of his face. Bearded but with hair cut unusually short.

When he finished praying, she stood and asked, “Sir Reimund has none to pay his ransom. Is there any who would ransom you or your fellows, Sir John?”

He stood also, his height making him loom over her in the dark. She didn’t think it was intentional as he stepped back a moment later. Or maybe she had just shocked him. “No, Lady Mildthryth,” he hissed. He shook himself, strong enough to be visible even in the dim light, then spoke more normally. “Had Sir Reimund escaped your trap he would have sought to ransom me, but there are no others. Sir Damien and Sir Hereweald likewise. The men-at-arms, I cannot say.”

She stepped closer, invading his space. He stood his ground.

“I dislike waste, Sir John, and I have need of defense, as you well know. Would you take service with me?”

His feet shifted and she thought she heard his teeth grinding. “No, Lady,” he growled. “While he is loyal to me, I will not betray Sir Reimund.”

Mildthryth nodded, she had expected that. “And if he were no longer alive?”

In the dark, she had no warning. A strong hand grabbed her tunic jerking her close. “Harm him and…”

He never got to finish his threat. Lady Valdis had known her daughter would never be a warrior, but she hadn’t left Mildthryth ignorant of defense. Her palm slammed into the man’s nose at the same time her heel landed on his instep.

Wigmar, of course, moved even faster than she did. In an instant, he had the Norn wrestled to the ground with his arms pinned.

“Anglish bitch,” he hissed.

She crouched down next to the Norn, careful to stay out of Wigmar’s way. “That’s ‘Lady Bitch,’ Sir John. And you had best remember it if you want to see your leader again. Will he thank you for breaking his parole do you think?” She nodded to Wigmar. “Take him to the dungeon. Then bring Reimund to me.”

The knight roared and tried to break free of Wigmar, but the old warrior wasn’t that old. Mildthryth smirked. In truth, Sir Reimund was more likely to thank his knight than not. But he had earned at least a few hours fear for what his lack of discipline might have cost.

Wigmar finally got the knight on his feet and started towards the door. “And Wigmar, unless he tries to get away from you, all the rest of his blood best be in his body when you close the door on him.”

“Aye lady,” Wigmar growled, “Your lady mother would have let me string him up and use him for target practice, though.”

She let the impertinence pass. Wigmar had earned it for putting up with her need to risk herself like this.

Besides, she was Anglish enough to understand that sometimes a diplomatic response was required. But she was Dragma enough to take pleasure in the fact that Sir John would be sporting more and worse bruises before he reached the dungeon.


Damn it, John!

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 4 – The Orphans (part 2)

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

“I want to go home.”

Lefeng opened eir eyes.

The youngling stood in front to Lefeng, staring defiantly into eir eyes.

“Youngling…”

“No! You tell me they are gone. That they all died like Baba Chestef last year. But Baba Chestef was buried. Even when Auilefengk was lost in a storm, we buried eir clothing and toys so eir spirit could find it’s way home. I want to go home. I want to see that they are gone. To see where they rest and to sleep in my own bed where… where they can find me.”

The once-fisher, the last Deepfisher, met Lefeng’s eyes and nodded. Lefeng sighed. “Alright, youngling. We can take you to your home. But…”

“But youngling,” the once-fisher said, “I doubt they have been buried. There has been no one to bury them. And possibly nothing to bury.”

A short walk proved the once-fisher to be right. The Netmend compound had been the last one of the village. It had been built near the edge of the rise that sloped down into the shallows and the battered mangrove forest below.

The back of the fence was gone. The sides and front whittled down to half the normal height, the walls of the central building had also been destroyed. But worst of all, the remains of the roof, washed up against half-ruined fence. The support beams snapped in half like twigs. Scattered among them, a bit of fabric, or swatch of netting. And, faintly, a hint of rot.

Looking at the village as a whole, the Netmend compound had taken the brunt of the wave. Their fence and walls had forced the water to part around them until they were destroyed.

The youngling cried out and raced towards the jumble of wreckage, prying bits of wood and wattle up and flinging them away.

They spent a long day sifting through the wreckage. The remains they found are bloated from the heat and rarely whole. Hidden under the broken bits of building and fence, scavengers had been feasting.

After they found the first of the remains, Lefeng insisted the youngling return to the Deepfisher compound. “We will care for your family, the Deepfisher and I. But this is not a task for a youngling.”

To eir relief, neither the youngling nor the once-fisher argued. Finding and then burying all the remains took the rest of that long, brutal day. They dug a great pit in the mud where the house had been and buried all the remains together. All they could find, anyway.

The next day, they talked again about the youngling’s ommer.

Lefeng explained that eir ommer are not just eir Cenn’s Highfields siblings, but also eir parents’ siblings who were born to the Netmend family and married-out to other families.

The youngling rejected Lefeng’s explanation. Ey didn’t know eir ommers, ey knew Lefeng. And Lefeng promised to bring em back to eir family. How can the ommers be family if they left the family?

Lefeng didn’t have an answer for em, but knew that the youngling had no other options. So they went out into the village, the youngling staying as close as ey could, frequently hiding behind Lefeng’s legs, to seek the youngling’s Ommers.

The search didn’t go well. The truth was that while the village seemed to survive well at first glance, it lost many people. Almost the entire parent generation of all the fishing families are gone, out in their boats when the wave hit. One family had hopes that their parents survived, as they had planned to travel up the coast to the city for trade and might have been clear of the wave. The others are in mourning.

Even the families that didn’t fish had lost people, swept up by the wave as the youngling was and, unlike the youngling, never returned. To eir relief, late that afternoon, Lefeng found that the youngling had two surviving ommer’s who had married-out from Netmend. Ey tracked the first one down to the water-grove the fishing folk here used to tie up their boats. “No,” ey said bluntly as soon as Lefeng explained why ey was there. “I’m sorry for the nibling. I can put some trade goods towards eir needs until ey can find a place. But only four of my marriage group survived. We still have all our children and grandparents and even two elders relying on us. We can’t take in another.”

Lefeng tried to convince the fisher, but in truth ey understood. That family would be lucky to feed everyone the next few years.

Ey was less understanding with the other of the youngling’s ommers, a well dressed parent in a trading family. They had lost only a few to the wave but refused to even hear why Lefeng sought em out. As they left the trader’s compound, Lefeng set eir heel on a small patch of grass that had survived the wave and ground it into the mud. Few here would recognize the farwalker curse on those who betrayed family, but if the grass died — likely with how damaged it had already been — then the curse would set regardless.

Petty revenge did nothing for the youngling, but it allowed Lefeng some small release for eir anger.

Unfortunately, the youngling had been right about how the HighField’s family regard ey and eir Cenn. HighField’s had dismissed em even faster than the rude trader.

Lefeng was out of ideas.

That night, Lefeng asked the once-fisher’s help in finding a place for the youngling. The golden-eyed one shook eir head. “I would be a hinderance.”

“What? Why”

Ey snorted. “In the days you have been here, how often has anyone come to check on me? To see if I need anything? To ask for my help?”

Lefeng blinked in surprise, then thought back. No one. Not one person had come to the once-fisher’s compound. The times ey had gone out, those of the village had spoken with em little and ended the conversations as quickly as possible. Lefeng had assumed it was shock but… “I am sorry.”

The once-fisher, golden eyes shimming, shrugged. “I have always been unlucky. But I had been courted the Wavebreak family and things were settled between us—or so I thought. The day you arrived, they rejected my suit.

“I should be grateful they waited long enough to help me bury my dead.” The golden-eyed one curled in on emself as ey spoke. “Not that there was much to bury, with even the littlest in mangroves when the wave hit.” Ey rested eir head on eir knees.

“I want to help the youngling,” the once-fisher finished quietly, “Sea and root know, someone should. But all I could do is make things worse.”

Lefeng didn’t push further.

For the next several days, Lefeng did nothing about finding a permanent home for the youngling. Ey avoided thinking about it, as ey had avoided thinking about eir own family. Instead ey kept busy. When ey could, Lefeng did work around the village, trading labor for tools and supplies that ey would need when ey took the trail again. Other times, ey helped the once-fisher sort through and clean out the waterlogged mess that was a family home less than a moon-quarter past.

Ey also spent time with the youngling, doing eir best to give the youngling some sense of security. Ey noticed the golden-eyed one doing the same, and was grateful. Talking with the youngling, Lefeng realized that ey didn’t know anyone in the village. The youngling hadn’t been out of the family compound long enough to make friends from other families. So Lefeng, and now the once-fisher, were the only people ey felt connected to at all. And Lefeng had saved em, found em in the wilderness like something out of a tale. How could the child not be affected?

And how could Lefeng, having offered eir support and security, up end the youngling’s life again by leaving eir with strangers?

The golden-eyed one, ey noticed, spent less and less time out in the village. The other villagers were increasingly hostile, some even going to far as to blame the Deepfisher for the wave. The village priest had offered em no defense, listening gravely to those with concerns and promising to give them “due consideration.” It was possible that before long the village won’t be safe for em any longer.

Lefeng wanted to be able to help the once-fisher as well, but how?

Ey didn’t regret stopping to help the youngling. But ey was tired of this village. Tired of the hostile people. Tired of being trapped in a strange building. Ey wanted to get back on the trails. Deep in the trees and mountains where ey might, for a time, forget.

Might, if lucky, find another farwalker family that would accept em among them. If only as a travel companion.

But ey couldn’t leave while the youngling and the once-fisher were not safe.

Sometimes, when ey heard one of the villagers bad mouthing the once-fisher, ey found eir hand clutching the long knife at eir hip. But this was not a problem that could be settled by fighting it.

Lefeng wasn’t sure it could be settled at all.

Bound by his Oath, Episode 3

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?”

“Yes.”

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?”

“Probably.”

“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?

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 3 — The Orphans (Part 1)

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

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.”

Bound by His Oath, Episode 2

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.”

“Aye.”

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.

But…

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.

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 2 – The Child

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

In the morning, when the fire had burned down to embers and there was no way it could spread in the wet and the mud, Lefeng shouldered eir pack. It was overfull with everything ey could salvage–and buried in the bottom, a simple, childish bracelet. Without looking back, ey started down the trail to the next village, hoping to find someone there alive. Hoping to find answers.

The trail was more mud than trail, as if a great storm had soaked the area. Lefeng added it to the strangeness ey had seen and focused on following the path that was nearly unrecognizable from when ey had walked it last spring. The trail ran up in the foothills. High enough to have mostly escaped… this. Down towards the sea, Lefeng could see places where whole trees had been ripped from the soil or broken in half. Whole stands of saplings ripped away. Around the trail itself, ground cover had been ripped away, soil eroded and rocks exposed or pulled out of the ground. But the trees and brush had mostly survived.

Lefeng watched the trail more carefully than ey needed to. Eir ankle was mostly healed, and ey needed to keep watch on the changed trail to avoid reinjuring it. But more, keeping watch on the trail kept em from thinking about what had happened.

Late in the evening, Lefeng heard crying. At first, ey thought ey imagined it. Too often that day ey had been haunted by the memory of those ey had lost. Why would ey not imagine hearing the tears ey was unable to shed?

So ey was unprepared to come around a bend in the trail and find a young child sitting on the verge, crying. Lefeng squatted down a few paces from the child. “Hello.” The child looked up. “I’m a farwalker near-adult from Sandy Cove. What are you?”

The child’s hair was more tightly coiled than Lefeng’s with golden highlights brightening the auburn that no one in Sandy Cove had sported. Eir skin was tawny and lighter than most folks Lefeng had met — in the village or on the trail. Ey had the button nose of most children and wide-set eyes.

Lefeng didn’t recognize em.

The child rubbed eir eyes. “I’m–I’m fisherfolk youngling. I– I don’t know the name of our village.”

Youngling meant the child was old enough to leave the family compound, around 5 years. This one looked young enough to have just left the compound that season. And Lefeng spent so much time in the foothills, ey might not have seen this child.

“Did your village have a sandy beach where the fisherfolk could pull their boats right up onto the shore?”

“No. The trees grow right out over the water and the boats are tied up to the roots.”

Not Sandy Cove, then. But… “That sounds like High Trail village. I’m traveling there. Will you travel with me?”

“I want my Baba and my Cenn and my parents.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“They were at the boat. It got broke and they were fixing it. I was playing with my friends when the water disappeared. Everyone was shouting and yelling and then the water came back and it picked me up and brought me here and I didn’t know how to go home.”

By the end of eir little speech, the child was crying again. Lefeng offered em a scrap of soft leather to wipe eir face.

“It is almost dark. How about if I sleep here with you tonight, and in the morning we will go to High Trail and see if your parents are there.” Ey wanted to pick up the child and hold em, as Lefeng would have done with eir sibling’s babes. But one did not touch the children of another family. So ey could only sit and wait.

To Lefeng’s shock, the child threw emself at Lefeng. Lefeng caught em instinctively and ey burrowed into Lefeng’s arms, clinging to em.

When the child calmed, Lefeng settled em on a cool rock and began laying out a small camp. The child devoured the food Lefeng offered as if ey hadn’t eaten in days. Which ey probably hadn’t. Ey took water too, though ey didn’t seem particularly thirsty. When Lefeng asked, the child said that ey had been drinking water from a ditch a short distance from the trail. With a full stomach, the youngling began to drowse. Lefeng, after a moment’s hesitation, pulled out eir greatcat fur that had, miraculously, survived the… the wave to make a soft, dry bed for the youngling. Exhaustion and safety carried the youngling off into a deep sleep. Hopefully, it would be free of dreams.

On the other side of their banked fire, Lefeng slept lightly. It wasn’t likely they would have trouble. Not on a well-trod trail this close to a village. But the wave must have disrupted the habits of the animals in the areas as well. The child might seem easy prey to predators looking for a meal.

Besides, any time ey started to fall into a proper sleep, ey dreamed.

In eir dreams, ey saw the wall of water the youngling described crashing over eir home. Eir family battered or swept away or sucked out to sea in the great undertow such a thing would carry with it.

The next morning, Lefeng was eager to get back on the trail, and away from eir thoughts. The youngling was slow to start moving, but once awake seemed relieved to have a grownup telling em what to do. They ate a quick meal of trail rations and started walking. At first, the child seemed cheery and curious. Lefeng’s presence and promise to help em find eir family was enough reassurance to have em darting ahead along the trail or lingering behind to examine some plant or interesting rock. Ey asked questions constantly about this or that thing ey saw.

But as the day lengthened ey became quiet. Ey stopped exploring and instead stayed close to Lefeng, frequently clinging to eir hand. Lefeng should have pulled away, but didn’t. The youngling needed comfort and reassurance. Even knowing how eir actions would have shamed Lefeng’s family, ey couldn’t deny the youngling’s need.

The youngling’s presence also helped Lefeng. Ey no longer heard the voices of eir dead or saw the sprawled bodies, like discarded dolls. The need to take care of the youngling, keep em from danger, and comfort em kept Lefeng focused on the moment.

Eventually, as the youngling clung more and more and began to stumble from exhaustion, Lefeng picked em up and carried em.

Often, Lefeng had carried an infant sibling on the trail. Less often, ey had carried younglings, those old enough to follow the trail but still young enough to be worn out at the end of the day’s walk. The familiarity of it finally brought the tears to Lefeng’s eyes. Ey didn’t wipe the tears, not willing to let go of the youngling. They dripped down eir face to soak into the youngling’s hair.

Lefeng’s arms were just starting to get tired when ey saw the first set of footprints in the trail. Sometime since the wave, someone had walked part of the trail then turned back. When Lefeng started seeing footprints in the mud covering the trail, Ey roused the youngling and set em on eir feet. The village was likely nearby, and it would not be well to approach the village with Lefeng holding or touching a child not of eir family.

They walked into the village as the sun was touching the tops of the mountains.

Unlike Sandy Cove, this village had been built on a rise a fingers-width walk from the water’s edge. Lefeng had heard fisherfolk in Sandy Cove talk about the foolishness of it. Why build so far out you couldn’t even see your boats from your gateway? But Lefeng saw the wisdom of it now. Sandy Cove had been destroyed by the water. This village was damaged, yes, but it was still standing, and full of people who even now were bustling around repairing compound walls or clearing detritus from the street. It was worse damage than Lefeng had ever seen after any storm, but not unrecoverable.

It gave Lefeng hope, that the fisherfolk youngling might be luckier than ey was.

Bound by His Oath, Episode 1

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.

So far.

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.”

“Ay…”

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?

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

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

Pronunciation Guide

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.

There wasn’t.

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.