The Bargain (S1, E6)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex

Even from her office, Jahlene could taste Mattin, not just taste him, but taste him strongly enough to know where he was. The kitchen.

She didn’t know else was with him — Cook presumably, and his assistants. But all them blended together, the energy of thei emotions mixing with with everyone else in the manor and surrounding area. There were many, like Brit or Joth, that should pick out if she looked for them. People she was tied to in some way. But usually anyone not in the room with her was part of the blend. It was was a complex blend, made of contentment, pleasure, worry, stress, joy, and a spark of pleasure — Crait and his wife perhaps, taking advantage of the beating she’d given him yesterday.

But Mattin stood out from that, had throughout the night. It was a curious thing, and made her wish (again) that she could have had a proper fae upbringing and actually learned how her glamour worked.

On the other hand, she thought, somewhat tartly, if she had a ‘proper’ fae upbringing, she probably would have learned to enjoy the taste of fear and hate, to see her family as tools and not people she cared for.

Perhaps it was for the best, then, that she didn’t know, even if it left her confused and curious.

Pulling herself away from her thoughts, she set aside the piece of scrap paper she’d been doodling on and turned to Parlen, the only other person in the room with her. “Would you mind repeating that?”

“Of course, Mistress. The simplest option — and most likely to succeed — would be blackmail.”

There were two problems with that. First, blackmail really was simple. Parlen enjoyed politics, which was one of the reasons Jahlen relied on her. She never had simple suggestions. The other problem was that it wasn’t likely to succeed, at all.

“Unpack that Parlen.”

“Count Orloeff still wants to prove you unfit so he can claim Erida. That’s why he’s been sending spies into the county.”

Jahlene nodded and made an encouraging sound. Conversations with Parlen were like this — she’d skip ahead three stpes, then go back ten and repeat everything you already knew.

“I know we could never prove it, but I still think that Oeloss sent that Mare cursed horseshit a few years ago.”

The horseshit in question was another man who had shown up asking for Jahlene’s collar. Though he was human, he’d had a fae-like darkness in him, and harmed another of Jahlene’s people before she and Brit caught him and got rid of him. She hissed at the memory.

“Mattin is nothing like Ston was,” Jahlene said. “I would recognize that again.”

“Exactly. But Oeloff isn’t going to give up. he wants someone sending him information, possibly sabotaguing you for him.”

“Right.”

“Well,” Parlen patted her intricately braided hair and smiled. “Count Oeloff already met Mattin, and knows that Mattin’s sister is his slave. If you give him the chance, he’ll probably try to blackmail Mattin into giving him information in return for his sister’s safety.”

Jahlene laughed and shook her head. “Simple.”

“Exactly. All we need is to have a witness, someone who isn’t allied with either of you.

“You can either take the case before his Imperial Highness — that would be best politically, but it’s possible the Emperor would order the girl killed rather than let her go free. Or you can then blackmail Oeloff — make him give you political or trade concessions, andgive you the girl so you can be sure he can’t use her against you again.”

Only Parlen would describe this type of political maneuver as simple. “Blackmail the blackmailer. And if he doesn’t go for it?”

“That’s why we have a back up plan. I don’t any of them as much — too complicated and a bit risky.”

“We wouldn’t want to try anything complicated, would we?” Jahlene smiled. “Alright, so we need a witness and a chance for Oeloff to blackmail Mattin.”

“It would be best if Mattin comes with you to Winter Court.” Parlen said. “You could take him as your personal attendant and–”

“No.”

“It’s the best option, Mistress, and you know Brit wouldn’t–”

“I said no!”

“–mind. It’s been nearly a decade–”

“NO!”

***

After they left the kitchen, Jaffrey to Mattin took meet the Housekeeper, Lona. Where Cook had put Mattin straight to work, Housekeeper asked him questions. Lots of questions.

Questions about how best to remove stains, about how to clean wood, about how many sheets would be needed for so many rooms, and had he ever polished silver.

When she finally let him go, Mattin was completely wrung out, and he hadn’t done anything but stand straight and talk.

Their next stop was the stables, where the Stablemistress was happy enough with Mattin’s work, and the kennels where the dogs took an instant dislike to them.

They had just finished at the kennels when the dinner bell rang. They washed quickly at the pump behind the stables. While they washed, Jaffrey said, “If Cook doesn’t grab you, I think Brit and Anral would put you in stables.”

Mattin smiled. “I’d like that.”

Jaffrey rubbed his head and chuckled. “Me too, kid.”

“I’m not a kid!” Mattin splashed water at Jaffrey who laughed and splashed him back.

“Hey I just call it like I see it. Kid.”

Whatever Mattin would have said was interrupted by the Stablemistress clearing her throat. “Both of you kids better stop playing and get up to dinner before I kick your asses back to stable to clean out a few more stalls.”

That threat was good to get them moving and they ran back to the manor laughing.

“You really think I could work in the stables?” Mattin asked once the laughter died down, trying not to sound wistful.

“Yeah. Old Litra’s going to be retiring in a few years and then we’ll be short handed.”

“Retiring?” Mattin stopped and grabbed Jaffrey’s arm, the collar on his neck suddenly tight. “He’s a slave, right? how old could he be?”

“Litra? He’s older than Brit, I know that. He was here under the old countess, Mare’s Blessing, he’s got to be at least 60. He doesn’t want to admit he’s getting old but he limps bad in the morning.”

“Sixty.” Mattin’s knees went week and he swayed. “There’s a slave here who’s sixty years old?”

“Whoa, are you okay? Look sit down a minute.” Jaffrey pushed him down to sit in a corner with his back against the wall. “I’m going to run and get Brit.”


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The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E5)

The Last Lady of Lună (S1, E1)

I was a child when enemies destroyed our clan. My mother escaped and tried to raise me in secret, but without my fathers’ blood, she aged and died. Now I am the last head of the Lună vampire clan. My enemies think I am dead, my clan is scattered to the winds, and I am just coming into my powers. I will claim my birthright, rebuild my clan, and destroy our enemies. I’m just going to need a bit of help.

Luckily I know where to find it. A hot team of human mercenaries specializing in security is looking for their next job. They’re exactly what I need. Now I just need to convince them to believe me, keep my secrets, and rain hell on my enemies.

And if Lună is still watching out for me, maybe I’ll finally get laid.


Season Content Notes: abduction, blood

Nastasia

I squatted next to my mother’s grave and watched Lună play hide and seek with the clouds. My skin tingled with the power of her light.

“I think I’ve found them,” I told Mama. “I’ve been stalking them online a while, but I wasn’t sure. I finally got to see them in person. And I felt it. Lună likes them. I think.”

Lună’s light caressed my face, and I heard the memory of laughter. I was still learning to hear Lună’s voice, too young to hear clearly, and with Mama gone, there was no one to teach me. But with her face unveiled, it was easier to recognize her amusement. She liked how excited I was.

“Emil and Ozanna like them, too. Ozanna won’t admit it, though. She says I picked them because of how hot they are.” I ran my hand over the freshly cut grass that grew from Mama’s body. It had been a trick to get her buried here, in a Jewish graveyard. But my people and the Jews both understood the importance of going back to the earth. Mama was the grass now, which would also return to the earth to grow again and again.

And because Mama was the grass, Mama heard me. Even if she couldn’t answer.

“They are hot. All different kinds of hot.” I’d found a picture of them after a job gone wrong. They probably would have preferred not to get into a running firefight. But I’d fallen asleep that night dreaming of ripped clothes, skin gleaming with sweat and smeared with dirt and blood, and eyes shining with victory. The woman they’d been guarding had been leaning on Marcus, a bit bloody and exhausted herself, but still on her feet. “They kick ass, and they’re hot, and Lună likes them. Sound like my kind of sotii, right?

“I just hope they’re kind too.”

I stood up and shook out my legs. They’d been going numb.

“I’ll be, ah… meeting them tomorrow. You wouldn’t approve how, but my dads’ all knew you were a vampire. These people don’t. So don’t start lecturing.” Mama didn’t, of course. I smiled sadly. “I’ll be back in a week to tell you how it goes.”

***

Marcus

Marcus Lear woke up slowly and immediately knew that something was wrong. After over 20 years in the security business, long trained habit had him snapping awake. Or should have. The dark didn’t bother him at first — he always kept his room dark. But he was sitting up, and when he tried to stretch, only his left arm would move.

That finally woke him up.

He was sitting up, alright: tied to a chair (except his left arm was free) and blindfolded. Around him, he heard some rustling, a quiet grunt, a scraping sound like a chair moving on a hard floor, tile or concrete. Other people with him, also tied up. Those quiet sounds echoed a bit; otherwise, it was silent. No noise of other people, no cars driving by. Where the hell were they? A basement somewhere?

“Don’t.” The deep, sultry voice with the faintest hint of an accent rang out of the darkness. It ran straight down Marcus’ spine to his groin; for a dizzying moment, he wondered if he was dreaming. BDSM fantasies weren’t usually his thing. But for that voice, he’d be happy to make an exception. “Don’t take off the blindfold. It’s for your sake as much as mine.”

And that was the bucket of cold water. The threat was politely phrased, but it was a threat.

A chair scraped again, out and in. In front of him, this time. Someone else, probably the woman behind the voice, had joined them. He hadn’t heard her footsteps at all. She might have been barefoot or wearing soft-soled shoes…

“Alright, Ms…”

“Nastasia.”

“Ms. Nastasia, I assume you brought us here for a reason. How about you tell us what you want from us?” Whoever ‘us’ was. Marcus hoped the rest of his team wasn’t there, but he wouldn’t have bet on it.

They’d been together, celebrating the end of a successful job with a night out. He remembered Karen whipping them all at the bar trivia game — again — and then nothing else. Drugged, probably.

“Marcus — is it okay if I call you Marcus? I hope we’ll get to know each other very well.” Her emphasis on that ‘very’ hit him with another zing of arousal.

“Fuck!” The word slipped out before he could stop himself and the woman giggled. To his left, he heard someone else swear under their breath. Sounded like Leyla. She’d had a weird kink for giggles as long as he’d known her, so he wasn’t the only one in danger of tripping over his own balls.

“Sure,” he said, trying to sound relaxed, “we can keep it informal.”

“Thank you.” She paused. “Before we begin, I promise I didn’t leave all of you with an arm free by accident. I’m not that much of a fool. I…” she stumbled a moment, “that is…” Marcus realized the confident, sexy vixen he’d been picturing wasn’t that confident, after all. He heard her take a deep breath. “It is an old custom that I doubt will mean much to you. But as a good faith offering, there is food and water. Nothing poisoned or… unsafe.”

“Thank you, Nastasia,” Marcus replied.

“Appreciate it.” Leyla, definitely to his left.

“Ma’am.” Benj, also left but a bit further than Leyla.

“Thanks.” Victor sounded curtly from Marcus’ right.

No one else spoke. Karen either wasn’t there or hadn’t realized that the others had been using the chance to say something as a way to give a subtle roll call. With that woman, it could be… A clatter from the right, sounding closer than Victor.

“Bread and salt,” Karen said. “Hospitality oath. Old, old stuff. Middle ages.”

Marcus rolled his eyes. No one could see it, so he might as well indulge. That was so… Karen.

At least he knew where everyone was — seated around a table with their disturbingly sexy captor. He needed to stop thinking of her as sexy and get his head in the game.

“You do know it!” Their captor sounded delighted. “I mean it. Don’t force my hand, and I promise you’re safe here.”

“Force your hand such as, for instance, get a look at your face so we can identify you later,” Benj said. “That’s fine, ma’am. Long as you keep talking, I’m happy to sit here with my eyes closed for a while. Just a while, mind you.”

Marcus would have kicked Benj if he could. Flirting with the woman who kidnapped you and politely threatened to kill you was not a healthy negotiating tactic.

But Nastasia laughed a little sadly. “I think you’ll be happier with your fantasies.”

“Don’t worry,” Victor said. “Benj will always prefer a badass woman who can take us all down than a pretty face.”

Marcus hadn’t expected the marksman to speak up at all. He was the epitome of ‘walk softly and carry a big stick.’ That voice was getting to all of them. Karen might be keeping her head, but Marcus wouldn’t bet on it.

“I cheated.” Nastasia replied to Victor, “But I wouldn’t mind trying some hand-to-hand later if you stick around.”

“That implies we have a choice.” Marcus tried to steer the conversation back to getting them the hell out of there. “So let’s get back to why you took us in the first place.”

“Of course.” A pause. “I supposed you could say that I want to offer you a job. A permanent position.”

Marcus was surprised by how unsurprised he was. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he’d been putting clues together, and apparently, two plus two did make five.

“And I assume there’s a reason you couldn’t go through headquarters?”

“A few. As you might guess, the biggest one is just… privacy. I know your company is used to handling a lot of secrets. But I’m… my secrets aren’t ordinary ones.”

“Secret is one thing,” Marcus said, “Illegal is another.”

“No! No, I’m not… what a drug lord or something? I’m… an heiress, I guess you’d say? With a lot of enemies and only a few people, I can trust.

“Also, I’m not looking to hire Hartford Security. I’m looking to hire you. You’d need to resign from your contracts — I would cover any early-out fees.

“And like I said, this is a permanent position. It took me a while to find the right team — people with no relationships who might be willing to disappear from their old lives, some of the best in your field, and… um… sorry Marcus, but one thing I looked for was ‘close to retirement.’ ”

Marcus froze.

“We don’t say the r-word,” Benj said in a whisper that could have carried across a football field.

It took Marcus a moment to get his jaw to unclench. “Even assuming I was ‘close to retirement,’ why would that be something you wanted?” Marcus kicked himself even as he asked the question. That was a negotiating question when he could have just said ‘no’ and seen if she was serious about not trying to hold onto them. Before he could take it back, she was talking.

“This is the part I could never figure out how to do…” she murmured.

“The position comes with a… unique benefits package? I thought someone… ah… ‘close to retirement’ might be easier to convince to take a chance.”

His cock had its own ideas on what that ‘unique benefits package’ might be, but Marcus made himself focus. “We’re all ears.”

A deep breath and then, in a voice that managed to be firm but also frightened.

“I don’t expect you — any of you — to believe me. But I am a vampire.

“And I can make you — or keep you — young.”


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The Bargain (S1, E5)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex

After breakfast, Jaffrey led Mattin to Brit’s office. The steward had a large space, and he needed every bit of it. Shelves stuffed with papers and files, a desk, several chairs, and some chests filled the room. The morning sun peeked through the south-facing windows, which gave Brit plenty of light to see by. The bright light also made the man a shadowy figure to anyone standing in front of him. It was intimidating, until he spoke.

“Sit down, boy. I don’t need a crick in my neck looking up at you.”

Mattin sat. Jaffrey remained standing by the door. “Anything I assign you to is temporary. When Parlen and the mistress finish their plotting, we may need to change things. For now, that’s not your problem. You do what I tell you, you stay out of trouble, and you try to get comfortable.”

He paused expectantly so Mattin nodded and said, “Yes, sir.”

“Now. I’m the steward, that means I run everything in the manor. Marshal Anral runs everything outside the manor. If we do our jobs right, Jahlene doesn’t even notice us except for regular reports, and can focus on running the county.

“Same will go for you. You’ll have a task or tasks and if you do them well, Anral and I won’t notice anything except that everything is going well. And if we don’t notice you, our mistress… well, she won’t forget you exist, but you will never need to see her except to pass in the hall sometimes.”

“Yes, sir!” Relief coursed through Mattin. He had planned to avoid the lady as much as possible. To be told that it was, essentially, his job to make sure she didn’t notice him, well… Everything about this day kept getting better.

“Cooking, cleaning, and horses…” Brit mused, then turned to Jaffrey. “Take him to the Stablemistress and Housekeeper. Tell them to put him through his paces and let me know if they can make use of him.”

“Yes, Brit. Should I take him to the kitchen too?”

The Steward grumbled. “Yes, see what that bastard thinks of him.”

***

The kitchen was Jaffrey’s first stop, to see ‘that bastard.’

Mattin had thought he knew what to expect — a kitchen was a kitchen, even if this one was three times the size of the kitchen at his father’s inn. He was mostly right, but he hadn’t expected the man bending down into the oven. He was as wide as any two men Mattin had ever met. Mattin had a vision of his getting stuck in the oven and the whole household gathering ‘round to pull him out.

Then the man stood up and all thoughts—foolish and otherwise—vanished from Mattin’s head.

He had pointed ears. Fae ears.

“Well, Jaffrey?” the male asked as he turned around, carrying a tray of rolls. The hot bread filled the kitchen with the scent of rosemary. “Escaped the stables for once?” The male’s eyes were not the slit pupil of the fae, but round and human.

“Showing the new one around, Cook. Steward says to try his paces and see if you like him.”

The male snorted and looked Mattin up and down. “I’m sure the Steward said just that. He set the tray on a wooden table and closed the oven. “Go get yourself a pastry then, and scat. I’ll see you after dinner to help with the dishes.”

Jaffrey grinned and grabbed a pastry out of a cupboard. Mattin, still staring at the cook, didn’t noticed when Jaffrey left the kitchen.

“Sit down, lad.” The cook gestured towards a bench by the table. Mattin sidled over and sat, never taking his eyes off of the male. A few other people moved about the kitchen — finishing that last of the breakfast cleaning and preparing for lunch. Mattin barely noticed them. The countess was supposed to be the only fae here, and —

“Never seen a halfling before, have you?” the male asked, “Well calm down, I don’t mince up little boys to make pies.”

The tone—amused and exasperated—startled Mattin into a laugh.

“That’s better. Now, I know Brit wasn’t happy about sending you down here. The steward and I have our issues, and we keep us apart as much as possible. So he probably didn’t think to warn you. But the kitchen is my realm and I decide who goes or stays.

“I also,” he said more softly, “have barely a touch of the glamour. I don’t need to feed it and even if I did would prefer to keep my stomach in any case. That’s how I became a cook.” He smiled and Mattin was surprised to find himself charmed.

This male — man? — half fae would have made a good innkeeper, able to charm the customers into another round or out the door as needed.

“Yes, sir.”

“Hmph. No sir, lad. Just Cook. Now, if you’re like every other new lad through here, you had no stomach for breakfast this morning.” Cook tossed him one of the fresh rolls. He caught it and nearly burnt his hand. “Eat and tell me what you know about kitchen work and pantlery.”

The bread was good, tangy and sweet. Mattin was still full from breakfast, but managed to find some extra room for the roll. The kitchen reminded him of home even more than the bathing room. Cook turned out to be friendly and understanding. Mattin found himself relaxing with the half-fae, and telling him far more than he intended to, from the ways he helped his father, Bren, in the kitchen to what brought him to seek out the Lady Jahlene. Thinking of Bren, he realized how much he must have hurt his father. How would he react? Would he—Mattin pushed the thoughts aside. He couldn’t think of it. He wouldn’t…

“Bad business, that.” Cook said, as Mattin slowly chewed last of the roll in his mouth. “You’re in for a rough time, lad. You have any trouble, you come to me. Or tell the steward. Don’t keep your mouth shut on it.”

Taken by surprise, Mattin choked on the bread. Cook walloped his back, dislodging the bread and nearly knocking Mattin over. “And no dying.”

Coughing and struggling to catch his breath, Mattin nodded weakly. Why was he supposed to come to the half-fae with his problems? Or the stewards? What did a slave’s problems matter and didn’t Brit sayd his job was to not be noticed?

Before he put words to his confusion—or worked up the boldness to say anything—Cook grabbed his hands, examining them front and back. He frowned at the scabs on Mattin’s palms. “You wash those before you work in this kitchen. And then we’ll bandage those cuts, as should have been done already.”

Once Mattin’s hands were clean and bandaged to the half-fae’s satisfaction, Cook sent Mattin into the root cellar to fetch vegetables for a stew. He guessed at which vegetables and how much—Cook refused to be specific. Two trips later, he had a large stack of turnips, carrots, radish and sweet onions on the table. Enough, he thought, for a stew that would feed the household. Or at least everyone he saw at breakfast.

Most of an hour, and many chopped vegetables later, Cook sent him on his way. “You did good lad. You’ll find Jaffrey lolling about with my Toerff, out the main door and go left.

“You know your way around a kitchen. Do you want to come back?”

“What?” Mattin blinked.

“Do you want to come back? I’ve work for you, but if you aren’t comfortable best you be elsewhere.”

Mattin stared a moment, hand again reachin up to touch the collar. Another expectation turned on it’s head — not even his father had asked what work he wanted to do!

But he had been comfortable in the kitchen, and had been charmed by the charming half fae.

“I think I would like that.”

The Bargain (S1, E4)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex

As promised, the shelf had a stack of livery with a note saying it was for Mattin. It included a tunic, a pair of pants, and socks, all a dark blue and white, trimmed in yellow. Much like Jaffrey’s clothing, but fancier – Jaffrey didn’t have any trim. Mattin grimaced at it, and Jaffrey grinned. “Stablehands don’t need the fancy, we’d just make a mess of it. If the suit fits too badly, you can take it to Gerth, and he’ll fit you.”

Mattin climbed into the pants, which gave him an excuse to keep looking down. In the bath, it had been easy to let Elose and Anral, and the need to wash, distract him. To not see the bruises that covered Jaffrey’s body. With just the two of them in the small antechamber, it was… harder.

The pants were loose but wearable. Mattin kept his eyes on the floor and reached blindly for the tunic. “What if I end up in the stable?”

“Then Gerth’ll take the fancy off for you. This is probably what he has on hand.” Jaffrey hissed as he bent to pull his own pants on and rubbed at the bruises on his back.

With his eyes still on the floor, Mattin asked, “Are… are you alright?”

“Eh? Oh, I’m fine. Mistress played a bit rougher than usual last week, which is one reason I’m showing you around today. I get light work for a couple more days.” Mattin swallowed, “Rougher than usual?”

“Yeah. I’m not Joth – that man isn’t happy unless he’s stuck in bed for a day or two after she’s done with him. But she usually knows how to make the pain sing without laying me out, hey? Sometimes,” he sighed contentedly, “sometimes we both need something more.”

Shock had Mattin’s head snapping up. “Y-you like that…” Jaffrey blinked at him, then shook his head. “Right, I’m not used to dealing with lowlanders anymore.” He paused. “Well, not lowlanders who don’t serve the Mistress anyway.” Another pause. “Joth, Crait, and I are the Mistress’ toys. We’re the ones she plays with. It’s part of why I came here, hey?

“It’s usually the warriors who get the Mare’s Blessing. My clan didn’t know what to do with me.” As Jaffrey spoke, Mattin was examining his body with a frankness that was flat-out rude. But he needed to know, to see.

Jaffrey had no scars like Brit. Certainly, he carried none of the despair and horror of Marta’s once-fiance. Mattin had seen Losel once after Oeloff claimed him, but he would never forget… If not for the bruises…

Oblivious to his thoughts, Jaffrey continued, “Fae pleasures, I think you’d call it, though the fae call it… Are you alright?” Jaffrey put a hand out to steady Mattin as he swayed.

“I… you…” Mattin shook his head, trying to stop the room swimming around him. “How can you…?” “Eh?” Jaffrey smiled a bit, but there was sympathy in his eyes. “Sorry, it’s a bit to take in at first. I grew up in the trader clans, so I know a bit of what that’s like. Only the warriors are supposed to be touched by the Mare.

“Just… try not to worry about it too much. You’ve probably got enough to deal with, hey?” Mattin took a deep breath. Another. “I don’t understand. Fae kill people for their magic; she could kill you. Do you not care?” Jaffrey’s eye’s widened. He huffed, catching a laugh before it could escape. “No. Mattin, no. I’ve been here 10 years. I’ve been the Mistress’ toy that whole time, and the only scars I have are from the horses.

“Eh, Joth’s got a bit of a collection, but that’s because he likes it that way.

“That’s why I’m here, Mattin. Because Lady Jahlene isn’t like most of the nobles.” Jaffrey paused. “I don’t think most of the fae are like the nobles. But I haven’t met many.”

“There aren’t many fae in White Oak,” Mattin muttered. “Just Lord Oeloff and his people.” “White Oak! Mare and Stone, that’s where you’re from?” Jaffrey looked like he wanted to spit. “Even for fae nobles, Oeloff is bad. We – the Mountain traders – won’t go there anymore. Even before my clan bargained with Jahlene, White Oak was barred.” A bell rang out, and Jaffrey shook himself. “Black stone! We’re going to miss breakfast if we don’t hurry.” Mattin’s stomach gurgled at that. He made himself take another breath. “The lady isn’t like Oeloff. I know that.”

“Good.” Jaffrey hurried to throw on his clothes, wincing a few more times as he did so. “Let’s get breakfast and how you the place. We can talk more later if you want.”

Mattin laughed. “I think I’m good for now. As long as… you’re sure you’re safe.”

“Safer here than I was riding the roads, I’m sure of that!” Jaffrey clapped Mattin on the shoulder and guided him towards the dining hall. “Come on.”

***

Mattin’s appetite surprised him. Of course, the food helped. The lady’s cook was better than Mattin’s father had ever been, and there was a great deal of it. After the surprises so far, Mattin was happy to lose himself in fresh baked bread and jam, three bowls of porridge, two sausages, and a handful of sliced fruit and honey. Jaffrey said little but kept adding food to Mattin’s plate with an amused smile.

Jaffrey himself was satisfied with a bowl of syrup and a bit of porridge. When Mattin finally pushed his plate away and sat back with a sigh, Jaffrey grinned at him. “You eat like this often?”

Mattin shook his head. “Haven’t been eating well lately. And don’t think I’ve ever had this much food at once. Is this… every day?”

“That’d be nice! No, porridge and bread we always get as much as we want, but the rest… Cook usually puts out a nice spread when someone joins the manor. His way of saying ‘welcome, hey? Most days it’s just one – fruit or honey or jam. Syrup comes with the traders, which is why I’ve made a pig of myself.”

“Oh.” Mattin looked around the room. Over two dozen people half-filled the large hall. Most of them sat, as he and Jaffrey did, at a long table that ran the length of the room. A much shorter table at the head of the room, with chairs rather than benches. Jaffrey pointed out a few of the people higher up the table. — “That’s Lona there — she’s Housekeeper. You’ll want to stay on her good side.”

The woman Jaffrey indicated gave him a scathing look that he responded to with an impudent grin. But when she looked at Mattin, her gaze softened, and she nodded a greeting. Mattin nodded back, hoping that was the right thing to do. “You probably met Parlen; she’s never far from the Mistress. I don’t see Dolf; he’s captain of the guard. Only about half the guard is here most days. The rest are on patrol or…” he waved a hand back and forth, “… you know, elsewhere. Doing something.”

Now that Mattin was looking, he saw a few others along the table nod or wave. But other than that, he and Jaffrey were left alone. In fact, they sat at an empty section of table. The hall continued to fill, but no one took a space near them. Even when it meant crowding in another bench further along the table. “Are they avoiding me?”

“Sort of,” Jaffrey shrugged, “Lots of us have been new here, one time or another. We’ve got years to get to know each other, so you get some space while you settle in. Most folks don’t like meeting tens of strangers all at once.”

Put that way, Mattin didn’t mind being ‘avoided.’

The room reminded him of the inn on a good morning. The scent of fresh bread and sausages. People waking up, talking, joking. Everyone was in good spirits, and no one had the kind of scarring he’d seen on Brit last night. When Jaffrey scraped the last syrup from his bowl and stood up, Mattin found himself hopeful about the day.

Return to:
The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E3)

The Bargain (S1, E3)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex

Mattin hadn’t expected to sleep, but he was roused the next morning by a knock on the door. He opened his eyes and saw only darkness. For a moment he didn’t remember where he was. Then memory returned, and he reached for the collar, both hoping and fearing that the prior night had been a dream.

It hadn’t.

The knock came again.

“Come in?”

The door swung out, letting light into a small cubby of a room. It was barely large enough for the small pallet it held.

Mattin blinked against the light and saw a person silhouetted in the doorway. Too tall and thin to be anyone Mattin had met the night before.

“Fair-morn.” The voice was a light tenor and sounded too happy for first thing in the morning. “Bathwater should be heated, and Cook will have breakfast on by the time we’re done.”

Mattin shoved his feet in his boots and scrambled up. He’d slept in his clothes — by the time he’d reached the pallet he’d been too tired to keep his eyes open. That had added another layer of wrinkles on top of the wear of several days’ travel. The stranger noticed his dismay and said, “They’ll be livery for you at the bathroom. The Steward stays on top of things like that.”

“Oh.” Mattin tugged at the collar. It was bad enough to have the collar telling the whole world he belonged to one of the fae. He wasn’t ready for livery too.

But he wouldn’t have a choice in the matter, and clean clothes… well, were clean clothes. “Thank you.”

He stepped out of the cubby and finally got a good look at the man waiting for him. Tall, yes, and thin, but well-muscled, like a runner. His skin was dark, darker than almost any human Mattin had seen, and his hair black and tightly curled. He was, Mattin realized after a moment, one of the Mountain Folk. The strange humans who had held their high passes against the fae for nearly a millennium. When Mattin had been a child, one of the trade caravans of the Mountain Folk had traveled as far as White Oak and spent a month at the summer trade fair, selling odd goods from far places. The full story of how a child of the Mountains had come to serve the Countess was one Mattin would be years in learning.

“Come on,” the man said. “The front door’s there,” he pointed behind them, and Mattin recognized the hall he’d entered the night before. “That’s the door cubby you had last night. Usually, there’s one of us the pages there in case someone comes knocking in the middle of the night. Was supposed to be Toby last night, but she took sick, so you got a quiet spot to sleep. Even if the pallet hasn’t been restuffed in a mule’s age.”

As he spoke he led Mattin deeper into the building. “There’s a couple of barracks rooms most of us sleep in, you’ll get a spot there tonight. But I expect Brit didn’t want to throw a bunch of strangers at you right out the pass, hey?”

Mattin didn’t know what to say in response to this flow of words, but the man didn’t give Mattin a chance to say anything. He just kept talking. Since a great deal of what he said was useful, Mattin set himself to remember as much as he could.

He turned right into another room, the first place (other than the cubby) that wasn’t decorated in the blue-and-dark-wood-paneling. Instead, a simple rush mat covered the floor, and the walls were whitewashed. “These are the private quarters, our area. The Mistress keeps the public rooms in her colors, and these back areas are kept simple. We get to decorate our barracks how we like, though, and some folks have gotten pretty creative.”

It wasn’t until they reached a small room with a stone floor that he stopped and said, “Sorry, my name’s Jaffrey. The Steward told me you’re Mattin?”

The sudden change startled Mattin, but he managed to nod.

“Well, so you know, no one will know anything else. No one here will go telling tales about how you came here, hey? Or what brought you. We all have our own stories, and you choose who you share it with.

“But hey, if you do want to talk, most folks here will listen. We might understand more than you think.”

Mattin couldn’t help laughing at that. “Somehow I doubt it. But… thanks.”

Jaffrey shrugged. “You’ll do.” He gestured around the room. One wall was lined with hooks, each holding a rough towel. A few stacks of clothing sat on a small shelf at one end of the room. “Dirty stuff in the corner, laundry will do their thing and get it back to you. One of those on the shelf will be yours. Bath twice a week if you work the manor, daily if you work outside like I do. I’m in the stables. Mistress has decent horses here. Nothing I’d take into the mountains, but good for you lowlanders.” As he spoke, Jaffery stripped off his clothing, folded it neatly, and stacked it on the shelf.

“You’ll get two sets of livery a year, wear one/wash one hey?”

“Right,” Mattin said, trying not to stare at the green and blue fading bruises that covered Jaffrey’s back and legs. He wanted to ask but was afraid of the answers.

***

The bathing room was similar to the bathhouses Mattin was used to, just smaller. The wooden floor slanted towards a central drain, and benches lined the walls. High shelves held buckets, ladles, soap, and bundles of fresh herbs. In one corner, a copper boiler heated water for washing. The familiarity, as much as the herb-scented steam, had Mattin relaxing.

The bath wasn’t empty. Next to the boiler, a tanned older man scrubbed soap over his long arms and chest. In the corner, a young, blond-haired woman covered in soap suds was tipping a bucket over her head. She groaned as the warm water poured over her.

Mattin snatched his eyes away, ears growing warm. The bathhouses in White Oak had separate rooms for men and women…

The older man chuckled. “What’s your name, lad?” he asked. “Mattin… sir.”

“No ‘sirs’ in the bath, Mattin.” The man winked. “I’m Anral; the tease is Elose.”

The young woman—Elose—put her bucket down and stuck her tongue out at Anral. Elose took her pleasure — in all its forms– freely. Some, like Anral, made assumptions because of that.

Elose shook herself off and tossed her head so her hair fell down her back, making several areas of her body bounce. “It’s my body, you old lech. If it turns your brain to mush, that’s not my problem.”

Her words didn’t register with Mattin. Nor did her body any longer. With her hair away from her neck, he saw she wasn’t quite naked: she wore a collar. So did Anral. Without thinking, his hand tugged on the collar around his own neck. He had forgotten for a moment. How had he forgotten?

He didn’t notice the glance that passed between the other three. “Just how new are you Mattin?” Anral asked, “I don’t keep up with things in the manor as well as I should.”

Mattin flushed again under the man’s scrutiny. “I… I got here last night.”

“Well–

Jaffrey stepped past Mattin with a theatrical sigh. “Anral, since when did you stop counting heads at the dinner table? Did you think you missed a face?”

Anral snorted, “I don’t miss anything. Not like someone who missed a stall last Godsday! You–”

Jaffrey gave Mattin a slight shove and Mattin took the hint. He grabbed a bucket off the wall and went to fill it at the boiler.

The warm water eased tension in his muscles — enough that he nearly took a second bucket. But that was greedy when others had to fill the boiler, so he turned to look for the soap.

A few minutes later, when he rinsed the soap from his hair (and eyes), he saw Elose standing nearby holding a small jar.

“The collar chafes some in the beginning,” she said. “Housekeeper makes this to help.” She held out the jar and (careful to keep his eyes on her face) he accepted it.

“Thanks.”

“Friends can help too if you let us.” She smiled. Her smile was radiant. She smiled with her whole body as if happiness filled her entire self.

Mattin found himself smiling—really smiling—in response. He also became aware of a growing hardness in his groin. He started counting off the towns he passed through on his journey. “I… Thanks?”

She laughed. “I need to get to work, but I’ll be around.” She walked out of the room, and Mattin hurried to finish rinsing. He prayed the other men wouldn’t notice his—

“She caught another one!” Anral grinned at him.

Embarrassed, Mattin turned away, hiding both his shaft and his flush.

He heard barely heard Jaffrey’s whispered “Sorry” over the other man’s laugh.

“Don’t worry Mattin, no man in this house—and precious few women—can keep their eyes off Elose.” Anral chuckled and stood up. “Well, back to work for me. I’ll see you around, Mattin.”

Thankfully he didn’t wait for Mattin to reply before leaving the room. Mattin dearly did not want to see that man again.

“Anral’s a decent overseer,” Jaffrey said after the door closed, “but has no sense of decency off the job. If you have any sense of embarrassment, pray you get assigned to the main house.”

“Overseer?” Mattin blanched.

“He’s the Marshal, in charge of everything outside the manor. I’m told most nobles have other fae as overseers, but the Mistress doesn’t allow any other fae here. Doesn’t trust them.”

“Bloody Mare!” Mattin started praying.

Planting Life in a Dying City (S2 Finale)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

The next day Tsouchm and Lefeng went out again to turn logs into boards for the city. Tchyawfu met them again but said little. And nothing of their discussion the day before. Tsouchm left em to eir silence. Some things need a little time; others need a lot of time.

On the third day, they stayed home. They needed to be on the road crew at least five days of the week or lose their places. In other circumstances, Tsouchm would have worked every day of the week. But as much as they needed the money, they needed time at home also.

The silent-one and Kolchais had cleared the last of the debris from where the colorwork weavers home once stood. Chotaikytsai had, embarrassed, asked that their new home be built elsewhere. Everyone had agreed, and the youngsters had spent part of the night before discussing where it would best be located.

Before Lefeng even ate, the silent-one grabbed eir to clear ground for the new building. They set to work at the back of the compound, very near the wall. Tsouchm frowned when he saw where they worked. If Colorwork-weavers’ house had been built so close to the wall, the fire would have jumped from home to wall and destroyed the entire compound. Or so it seemed to em.

Tsouchm shook eir head and grumbled, but it was early, and ey was quickly becoming spoiled by the chance to break eir fast right after rising. Chotaiktysai had set a pot of porridge in the embers to cook overnight, and a bowl of that was just what Tsouchm needed to wake up.

Well, two bowls.

After ey finished eating, ey got up to help clear the ground, only to be stopped by Kolchais. “I’ve been trying to figure out money stuff. Can you go over it with me?”

Tschoum hesitates — but Chotaikytsai is busy in the gardens, working as hard or harder than Tsouchm at the logs so they’d have enough food. And Lefeng and the silent-one know less of money than ey does. “I can try.”

So instead of another day of physical work, Tsouchm spent the morning discussing with Kolchais money and needs. The amount of money ey and Lefeng would earn by the time the rains started, if Kolchais’ numbers were right, astounded Tsouchm. Tsouchm has never seen so much money in one place. Never mind had such an amount eirself.

“But… you said you’ve done day labor with the roads for years?”

“Yes, but I didn’t get to save the money!” Tsouchm looked at Kolchais. “Child of mine,” ey savored the words, the connection, “You lived as familyless. You know what it is like.”

“But… but you could work! I thought…” ey hunched eir shoulders in, “I thought it was so bad because I couldn’t. That people who could do the day labor at least could do well.”

Tsouchm thought a moment before responding. “It is true, that some familyless can become wealthy — wealthy for familyless anyway! I suppose I might have done better if I hadn’t been alone. I needed less, taking care only of myself, but I also had no one to help me when I needed it. If I did manage to save money — and you know how hard the city makes that!–”

Kolchais grimaced and nodded. Everything was more expensive for the familyless: the families willing to deal with them charged extra for the ‘privilege’. That the city charged a head tax on all residents who weren’t members of recognized families didn’t help. The council claimed it was meant to keep foreigners from overrunning the city, but Tsouchm had never believed a word of it.

“–then I lost it quick enough when I got sick or injured, or in the rainy season when there was little work, and I wasn’t desperate enough to take it.”

“I’m sorry,” Kolchais muttered.

Tsouchm reached out cautiously and ruffled Kolchais’ hair. Ey’s Cenn had done that, and ey had seen many others. But Tsouchm had never made the gesture emself. “It’s alright, child of mine. It’s good you ask. We may be family, but we still need to learn about each other, right?”

Ey hoped it was right. Stillness knew ey was making this up as ey went. But Kolchais smiled and said, “Right!” So ey had muddled through that well enough.

“You had it worse in many ways because you couldn’t take the daywork,” Tsouchm murmured. “If you and Chotaikytsai hadn’t found each other, helped each other… it scares me what might have happened to you.

“But even those of us who work every day rarely manage more than to be a little comfortable between disasters. The wealthy ones… you stay away from any ‘familyless’ with real wealth. They didn’t make it at day labor.”

Kolchais swallowed. “Yeah. I know those.”

Tsouchm nodded and took a deep breath, then turned back to the question of money. There was too much they didn’t know for sure. What it cost Tsouchm to feed emself did not predict what it would cost the family to feed many. Tsouchm had never been able to buy more than one or two days’ food at a time, nor had ey had gardens to supplement what ey bought.

“We will have enough for now, that is certain. For the future? I am not a clerk to know numbers that complicated.”

Ey looked around. At Lefeng and the silent-one, laughing together, free briefly from the stillness of their losses. In the garden, which Tsouchm dreaded working in, Chestef crouched down, watching Chotaikytsai point something out on the stem of some plant or other. What would their future be? What currents — good and bad — would it bring?

“We must save some,” Ey murmured.

Kolchais shook eir head. “What did you say?”

Tsouchm cleared eir throat. “I said, child of mine, that we must save some. Some of the money should be set aside for the future.”

Return to:
Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life (S2, E8)

Continue to:
Webserial Catalog
A VERY Different Kind of Family
First Came Trust (E1)


So, we’re leaving Tsouchm & fam here for now. Tsouchm’s found eir feet as a grandparent and the family is moving forward towards the future they all see together. Rough patches on the horizon though. We’ll be back to see how they navigate some of those rough patches next spring.

For now… I goofed, and we’re going to miss a couple of Fridays. But when we come back, we have a new story. For once, I’m trying to write an actually romance story. Wish the characters luck — they may just need it.

The Last Lady of Lună

I was a child when enemies destroyed our clan. My mother escaped and tried to raise me in secret, but without my fathers’ blood, she aged and died. Now I am the last head of the Lună vampire clan. My enemies think I am dead, my clan is scattered to the winds, and I am just coming into my powers. I will claim my birthright, rebuild my clan, and destroy our enemies. I’m just going to need a bit of help.

Luckily I know where to find it. A hot team of human mercenaries specializing in security is looking for their next job. They’re exactly what I need. Now I just need to convince them to believe me, keep my secrets, and rain hell on my enemies.

And if Lună is still watching out for me, maybe I’ll finally get laid.

Posting starts 5/20/2022

The Bargain (S1, E2)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, sex

Countess Jahlene n’Erida had been barely more than a child the day she’d killed her mother to save the one person in all the world she had loved.

Decades later, she could still taste Brit’s unwavering trust and love as he stood at her back evaluating this stranger.

Mattin Brenson was as unimpressive as any human she’d ever met — and Jahlene had met many humans. At least to look at. But to taste… to taste he offered her a bounty she had rarely known the equal of. Fear, desperation, hope, need, her glamour feasted on all of them and sought hungrily for more. Even the lingering slimey feel of Oeloff’s glamour wasn’t enough to put her off.

He stared at her with wide eyes and the acrid taste of fear grew until it seemed to coat her tongue. Jahlene forced her hunger back, out of her awareness and forced her face to smoothness.

He offered a feast — but a feast that would come at a high cost. So she shook her head slightly saying, “My household is full and needs no additions. Did I need further service, many in the county would be eager to serve me. Unless you have a useful skill, your offer is of little worth.”

The fear receded, replaced by a mix of relief, despair, and confusion. She leaned back in her chair and her hands began picking apart her braid, as they often did when she was focused on her own thoughts. If she confused him, he was just as confusing to her.

She half expected him to take the escape she offered, to excuse himself and begin the long walk to the nearest town. But a long moment passed, then another, and she realized she had missed something in him. Hidden behind the overwhelmding fear had been something else. Barely noticed at first, a hint of fire that grew moment by moment until it overwhelmed everything else.

As his determination swept through her, she wondered if anything would make him leave. Her mouth quirked at the image of the slim, grubby man being forcibly removed from her study, only to camp out on her steps, refusing to leave until she accepted his bargain or killed him.

“I’m an innkeeper’s son, lady. There’s little I haven’t done. Horse care, cleaning, some cooking, and whatever else was needed.”

Jahlene glanced over her shoulder at Brit, saw Parlen had stopped pacing and was scribbling notes are her desk. Brit was calm, no longer annoyed at this late night interruption but didn’t feel strongly about this bargain either way. Parlen… Parlen was excited. The woman lived for politics. Jahlene turned back to Mattin with a hidden smile.

Confusion, fear, hope, all warred in the man, still overlain with that fiery determination.

“Why, Mattin Brenson?”

He shook his head as his confusion spiked.

“You know what Oeloff is. You have no reason to think I am any different. Yet you would trade your freedom and life for your sister’s. Do you expect her to thank you for it?”

A touch on her shoulder surprised her. She reached a hand up and glasped Brit’s fingers. He wasn’t calm any longer. Pride, regret, a memory of fear.

Forty years before he had told her in no uncertain terms that he would not thank her for making such a trade, that he would infact spank her like a child if she ever did such a thing again.

She squeezed her odd-brother’s hand and knew she couldn’t turn Mattin away.

But that didn’t mean she needed to make it easy for him.

“Well, Mattin?”

“Lady, I… do not know what you may be. But you are not like Lord Oeloff.” He nodded at the linked hands—human and fae.

Parlen giggled. “He has you there, Mistress.”

Jahlene couldn’t keep her smile hidden any longer. “And your sister?”

Mattin took a deep breath. “I have always protected my sister, Lady. I can’t abandon her.” His eyes flickered to Brit’s ruined hand. Probably thinking Jahlene had ruined it. Most humans did when they first met him. “And I am strong, Lady. I can endure what… what she cannot.”

That was not what Jahlene had expected him to say. The smile slipped from her face. “You don’t think much of her, do you?”

He almost sputtered and Parlen laughed again. “Older brother, right?” she asked.

Mattin nodded and Jahlene tasted what she would have sworn was insult.

“It’s human custom, Mistress,” Parlen said. “He’s a boy, he’s physically stronger and older than his sister, so it’s his job to protect her. Even if she’s perfectly capable of protecting herself.”

Jahlene had lived with humans all her life, loved many of them, and would never understand them.

But whatever his odd reasoning, she couldn’t say Mattin was wrong to make this sacrifice.

“As you say, Parlen.” Jahlene shook her head. “We’ll talk details later, but you are sure we can hurt Oeloff?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“So…” There was one problem remaining, one danger, even. “I’d like to accept your bargain. A chance to hurt Oeloff at court…

“But my people serve me willingly, Mattin Brenson. Each one came to me because they wished to enter my service. I did not seek them out nor do I use coercion or glamour on my family.”

Mattin clearly didn’t believe her, but she didn’t care.

“You do not share my people’s need to serve, nor do you have any love or loyalty to me. How then do I trust you to keep your end of our bargain, in spirit as well as word?

“A bitter and resentful slave who hates all around him would be a cancer in my home.”

Jahlene nearly spat as the odd-flavour-not flavour of someone dissociating flooded the room. Mattin spoke perfectly calmly, not noticing the blood dripping down his fisted hands.

“Lady.” Even his voice sounded distant. “You are right. I don’t want to be a slave. I can’t believe anyone would.

“Love? Loyalty? I am an honest man, and I would keep my word to you. If that is not enough then…. Then I am wasting both our time.” The firey taste of determination faded a moment, then flared. Beyond that…

Lies had no taste. But the emotions behind them did. Detecting them was an art and one Jahlene was still learning. But she tasted nothing to make her doubt.

“Brit?”

“Honest, capable of loyalty, and if he grew up in an inn, he knows how to work. We’ve dealt with worse.”

Jahlene and Brit had many ways to speak without speaking. Brit would never disrespect her openly in front of a stranger, but he squeezed her shoulder now in a pattern and she nodded. She had pushed Mattin enough.

Too far, it turned out. Before she could say anything he jumped to his feet crying, “Bloody Mare! Stop playing with me. Yes or no?”

“Yes, Mattin,” she stood up and walked to a cabinet in the corner of the room. Most of the cabinet held files and writing tools, but one small box was kept there for just this purpose. “You have your bargain.”

Jahlene brought the box back to her desk and pulled out the simple strap of leather that waited with in.

Most of the great magic was lost to the fae when they fled their old home a thousand years earlier, but this one piece was left to them. Placing her hands on the leather, Jahlene gathered her glamour as she would to bind a weaker person to her will. She gathered in as well the taste, the essence, of Mattin as he stood before her. Determination, fear, relief, need, yes. But also the subtler emotions that made him, him. Those which she could barely sense now but which would come to the fore when he was not being pushed and pulled by the needs of others.

Her fingers stroked the leather in a pattern she knew without knowing, as deep as her bones. Over and over she repeated the pattern, with each repeat the power she held lessened, sinking into the leather, until it was gone, bound. As it would bind she and Mattin together as long as he wore it.

When she again had the energy to look outside herself, she saw Mattin staring at her, looking almost like one blinded by the sun. “What… what was that, Lady?”

Her lips quirked. “Glamour. A powerful glamour placed within the collar. While my sigil is upon you, no other fae can control you.”

Even as she spoke, the taste of Oeloff’s touch on him was dissipating.

“But you can.” Despair rolled off him in waves. Sour was not a flavor she had ever enjoyed, and she only hoped that as he adjusted to her home his emotions would settle into something more… palatable.

“I have never used glamour so, but I could. Your ancestors struck a bargain—they gave control to one they trusted in return for protection from the many they did not.”

Behind her Brit scoffed. “And that worked out well.”

Jahlene glared at him a moment, but couldn’t disagree. She was tired.

“The collar is for you to put on — or not.

“Seal our bargain, Mattin Brenson, so we can all get some sleep.”

As if it were a snake that might bite him, Mattin picked up the leather. When it did nothing but hang limply in his hands, he wrapped it around his neck. Jahlene tasted the burst of power as the two ends sealed together, bound tighter than any clasp or lock.

Jahlene had never learned to read faces, but even if she had been glamour-lost she could have read the anger and bitterness in his eyes as he stared at her.

Brit stepped around the desk and offer Mattin a hand. “Come on, boy. Let’s find a meal to wrap you around and a bed for the night. With your permission, mistress.”

He didn’t wait for her to respond, just bowed and turned, smacking Mattin lightly when the young man went to follow him without stopping to bow. Jahlene was pleased to see Mattin corrected himself immediately, though exhaustion had his feet dragging on the carpet as he followed Brit from the room.

Jahlene wasn’t much better. Parlen joined her and began undoing Jahlene’s braids, brushing her hair out and fixing the damage Jahlene had done. “Are you sure of this Mistress?”

“Yes.” With Mattin no longer right in front of her, Jahlene could again taste the manor as a whole. The dominant flavor was mellow contentment, dotted here and there with other notes. But nearly as strong was the bittersweet that flowed from the newest member of her household. Barely — just barely — more sweet than bitter. If he hadn’t been conflicted, she’d have been worried. But it seemed that out of her presence, hope was winning out.

“I couldn’t have turned him away, Parlen. And I would have been a fool to do so. I could feast on him alone and be sated for a week or more. He may be a key to cutting Oeloff back. And…”

And she had been dreaming for a week or more. A fae dreamt rarely, and when they did the dreams always meant something.

Jahlene bade Parlen goodnight and headed for her rooms, wondering if Mattin’s coming would end the dreams. And if it did, what would that mean?


After arguing with myself, I’m tagging Mattin’s relationship with Jahlene as con noncon rather than fictional slavery, because he asked for her collar. Same applies for the rest of her people. It really could be argued both ways. What decided me is I think having different terms for Jahlene’s relationship with her people, and what Oeloff and other fae do, will make it easier for readers to know what to expect.

Planting Life in a Dying City: Tsouchm (S2, E8)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

Tsouchm and Tchyawfu spoke of small things on the way home. Tchyawfu, unlike Tsouchm, was part of a ‘pseudofamily’ and had news to share of what eir partners were up to. The few children they had had were gone, living their own lives. Some with partners of their own, one going Tsouchm’s route and living a solitary life. One had taken ship on one of the great trading boats that crossed the sea and had not returned.

Nor had Tchyawfu expected em to, of course. The great sea voyages were safe enough except during the bright days, but the land on the other side of it… Who could say? The great sailing families did well, but the familyless who sailed with them did not return as often as not. And the child had always had what Tchyawfu called ‘an itchy foot.’

Lefeng nodded with understanding. “Itchy. That is a good way to say it. My feet itch, sometimes now. But not so much as I feared they would. Ey would have done well in the mountains, perhaps.”

Tchyawfu turned over eir hands in a small shrug. “Perhaps in a different cycle, but in this one?”

It was Tsouchm’s turn to nod. “I have heard you say that one who walks the mountains alone has a fool for a trail partner.”

“True.”

Little else was said until they reached the gate. While they waited for Paiokp to answer their ring, Lefeng glared at the broken barrier. “Fixing that must be our next priority.”

Tsouchm clapped eir on the shoulder. “Protective one.”

Lefeng blinked, “That is not…” ey stopped. “Am I truly?”

“Is it such a surprise?”

“I have been so named before. I am not… I was never…”

The gate opened before ey could put thoughts to words. Tsouchm said what seemed obvious to em, “You have lost much. Is it any wonder you do not wish to lose again?”

“Oh…” Ey blinked then, blinked again. “Forgive me, friend of my parent. I think… I think I must excuse myself…”

Tchyawfu looked between Tsouchm and Lefeng. “Yes?”

Tsouchm watched in concern, Tchyawfu in confusion, as Lefeng hurried away.

Paiokp, standing by the open gate, cleared eir throat. “My parent? You have a guest?”

“Yes,” Tsouchm struggled to pull eir attention back to the present. “This is an old friend of mine. Ey is known as Tchyawfu.”

Paiokp nodded, “Welcome, friend. Excuse me.”

Ey closed the gate behind them and slouched away.

“Is this what a family is like?” Tchyawfu asked.

Tsouchm shook eir head. Ey knew why Lefeng, at least, was so rude but was not sure how to explain. Especially after Lefeng had worked so well with Tchyawfu all day.

“Come, let’s get some food and talk.”

To Tsouchm’s relief, Chotaikytsai was more open in eir welcome. “I apologize for my children,” ey said. “None of us came to this family without grief, but theirs is the most recent.”

Tchyawfu took the opening and asked how the family had come to be. So Chotaikytsai told the story of the wave, of Lefeng and Paiokp’s loss and Paiokp’s idea to start afresh, to create a new family.

“But while Lefeng suffers the grief of eir loss and throws eirself into our future, the caring one I fear is stagnating.”

Tchyawfu nodded. “No apology is needed, then. There are none of us untouched by grief.”

“Truth,” Tsouchm said.

“And more grief coming soon, it seems.” Tchyawfu narrowed eir eyes at Tsouchm. “You spoke of Chopaums.”

Tsouchm sighed. “A fear only. But the priests have plans.”

“You as well, I think.”

“I have hopes.” Tsouchm stirred the banked fire, causing embers to jump into the air. “I am no longer of the family-less, but still to be familyless is anchored in my heart and soul. I would not see this priest bring death upon those I grew up with and care for.

“And having been both now, familyless and familied, some things I see more clearly.”

Chotaikytsai slapped eir wrist to get em to leave the fire alone, then buried some tubers in the hot ashes. “You will join us for dinner, friend?”

“Ah… yes. Thank you.”

“Good.” Ey squatted down with them. “Our quick child and I might share some of that understanding, but I at least was never really part of the familyless. Ey… ey lived among you long enough to know some. But not to understand as my spouse does, in eir blood and current.”

“And what is it you see so clearly, then?”

Tsouchm shrugged, “Only this — if you had seen the chance I did — if someone you knew was creating a new family, would you seek to join them?”

“No!” Tchyawfu burst out. Then hesitated. “I mean… it is a dream. You know it well, Tsouchm, all of us dream of being part of a family when we are young. But…”

“But you are not young. And you have a family of your own.”

“What?” Tchyawfu and Chotaikytsai spoke at once. “What family could I possibly have?”

“You know.” Tsouchm met eir eyes steadily. “Why do you say you would not join a family?”

“Because I will not… leave… my partners…” ey trailed off as Tsouchm smiled.

“Your partners. Your spouses. You have a family. It is a different kind of family. But still a family.”

Chotaikytsai closed her gaping jaw. “You… are right. You are right, for if any of my old spouses had survived, but none of the grandparents or children, still we would have been family.”

Tchyawfu was still staring. “But. But…”

“We are not bound as a family,” Tsouchm said. “We have not gone before tree or wave. But still, we name ourselves spouses, children, parents.

“It was our protective one who threw it in our faces — asked if the council refused us permission would we… stop being family, go our separate ways?

“Of course not. We have made promises to each other. So we are, whether the council recognizes us or not.”

Now Tchyawfu started out of eir shock, “Whether the council recognizes you or not?”

“Just so.”

“And you say we are family? My partners and I?”

Tsouchm reverted to familyless courtesy and took Tchyawfu’s shoulder, shaking em. “My friend, why does it matter what I say?

“What do you say?”

Blinking as if ey had stepped into bright sunlight, ey whispered, “Yes.”

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Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life S2 E7

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Planting Life S2 Finale

The Bargain (S1, E1)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon (nonsexual), pain play, sex

It takes a rare and desperate human to deliberately seek out a fae noble. But rumor says that not all nobles are the same, and Mattin Brenson is desperate. Desperate enough to bargain with Countess Jahlene n’Erida for the highest of stakes.

Bargains with the fae are dangerous, but sometimes what starts as a bargain, can become something more.


The Corlaen Empire had been created by fae exiles on the bones of an ancient human civilization. Rather, the bones were the leftovers after the fae tore down the old order and devoured it. Nearly a millennia after the fae had first set foot on this continent, the humans under fae rule remembered little of their ancient history except myth and legend.

For three centuries, the Empire expanded. Eventually, the other human realms brought it to a halt. The mountains to the west and north were impenetrable, the passes held by human clans who held an unknown immunity to fae glamour. To the south was a human kingdom that united once they understood the fae menace. Even through multiple civil wars and a revolution or two, they never forgot to guard their borders. So in the Empire’s fourth century, the fae turned their attention inward.

There were never enough fae to drive out or destroy the humans within the Empire, nor did they want to. Many fae commoners lived alongside the humans, but still, most of the work of the Empire was done by the conquered humans. And a human within the Empire could live well — if they avoided the notice of fae nobles.

If a human attracted noble attention… The faes’ magic did not come from nothing. It needed to be fed. A powerful fae — and power was how a fae became noble — could be driven insane or die if they failed to feed their glamour. And as many humans learned to their cost, glamour fed on pain.

It took a rare and desperate human to seek the attention of a fae noble. But rumor said that not all nobles were the same, and Mattin Brenson was desperate.

Near the western border of the Empire, where the foothills began to turn into mountains, Mattin watched the light filtering through the trees dim. He was footsore and heartsick, trying not to remember the last sight of his sister.

She had walked meekly behind Lord Oeloff, the fae who ruled their home city of Oakhaven. He had tried to interfere — not to attack or protest, but just to plead — and Lord Oeloff’s glamour had driven him to his knees. He could only watch in mute agony as Marta had climbed into the lord’s carriage and was gone. Never to be seen again.

His father had tried to comfort him in shared grief, but Mattin refused to be comforted. For over a week he had followed rumor and desperation west into the mountains, to this well-worn road through the woods.

Finally, the road turned, and the trees thinned, and Mattin faced the future he had chosen: a manor house, three stories tall and made of a black stone, glittered blue in the fading sunlight. A guard stood by the door, looking first at Mattin then scanning the road and woods behind him.

Mattin stopped a moment, tried to wipe the worst travel stains from his clothes, and approached the door.

The manor wasn’t alone but surrounded by outbuildings, pastures, even a few hay fields squeezed into what flat space was available. Several other people were moving about the yards, but none looked toward the road, and Mattin ignored them in turn.

The guard was tall, with blond hair hanging raggedly over a light-skinned face, and pulled into a rough queue in the back. He wore a blue and white uniform and a sword belt (with sword). His leather boots were much sturdier than the shoes Mattin wore. (Mattin thought there might be a new hole in the left sole).

Most importantly, the guard had round ears and wore a collar. The collar was leather with a yellow device stamped into the front. Mattin had seen them often enough to know that the collar had no buckle, no tie. It would be an unbroken circle of leather surrounding the man’s neck for the rest of his life.

By now, Marta would be wearing one like it. But she wouldn’t be here. She would be to the east, in Lord Oeloff’s manor. And Oeloff would never trust a human to guard his doors.

Mattin had been told Jahlene n’Erida was different. He stared now at the first proof he’d been told true, and swallowed against a dry throat.

He stopped in easy speaking distance of the guard, swallowed again, and said, “My name is Mattin Brenson. I’ve come to bargain with Countess n’Erida.”

The guard sent for a page, who disappeared into the manor. The page was shortly replaced by an older man. He carried himself with the pride and certainty of a guild master but, like the guard and page, wore the collar of a slave. The man’s white face was deeply marked by an old scar that barely missed his left eye. His left hand was twisted into a claw from another old injury.

Mattin flexed his own hand, wondering how many humans in this manor carried similar scars. And how long it would be before he did as well.

He didn’t have long to wonder. The older man looked him over, then said, “Come, our mistress has agreed to speak with you.” He turned and disappeared back into the manor.

Mattin caught his breath, then followed.

He was both relieved and disturbed to see, just inside the doorway, another slave with a basin of cold water and a towel. At the older man’s direction, Mattin washed his face and hands. This time he managed to remove the worst of the road dust. He wet down his hair, turning the dark auburn brown, in hopes of getting it to lie straight.

Then the man was off again, Mattin hurrying to follow.

The manor couldn’t have been more difficult to navigate than the streets of Oak Haven, but Mattin was lost almost immediately. One room followed another, all paneled in dark wood with polished wooden floors. All perfumed with the faint scent of flowers, though there were no flowers in sight.

Finally, the man stopped before a set of double doors and knocked.

“Enter,” a voice called.

The man opened the door and stepped aside. Mattin hesitated a moment, his legs not wanting to work. Then he stepped through the door.

Across the room, a woman sat behind a desk, her long black hair pulled back to expose delicately pointed ears. Her deep green eyes stood out against dark amber skin. The Countess Jahlene n’Erida.

Her throat, of course, was free of the collar that every human in the manor would wear.

Behind her was a human woman at a small standing desk, her brown hair tied intricate looping braids that stood out darkly against her pale skin. Mattin barely glanced at her: fear and hope both kept his eyes on the fae woman. He didn’t know what to say now that he was here.

So he bowed and waited.

A warm voice told him to stand, and he looked up to see the countess smiling at him. It surprised him enough that he smiled back. Remembering himself, he straightened his face and looked down at the carpet.

“You wish to bargain? I don’t remember the last time a human came to me to bargain.”

Bargains were art, game, and hobby to the fae. No human came out ahead in a bargain with the fae. Not because they used their glamour — that would be cheating — but because they had human lifetimes to perfect their skill.

But Mattin had nothing left to lose. “Yes, lady.”

There was a moment of silence, and Mattin bent his knees slightly, preparing to once again be forced to the floor by fae magic. But she surprised him again. “What is your name?”

“Mattin, lady.” He looked up, and she was still smiling, relaxed, and friendly. There was something else behind the smile, though. Hunger. He swallowed and looked away. “Mattin Brenson.”

She chuckled. “For a proper bargain, I should invite you to sit down with me and share food, but I think that would make you even more uncomfortable.

“What is it you wish of me?”

“My sister…” Mattin stopped himself; started again. “My family is from Oakhaven, lady. Recently Lord Oeloff claimed my sister as his slave.

“I want you to free her.”

The human woman started, and the older man hissed. But the countess only leaned back in her chair. When she said nothing after a moment, Mattin continued. “Lord Oeloff is your enemy,” or so he had been told, “if you can force him to free one of his slaves, that will hurt him.”

“Oeloff would barely notice the loss of one slave.” Now Mattin started. The voice was rough and oddly accented and came from behind him. It belonged to the older man, the slave who escorted Mattin to meet the countess.

The human woman was tapping her fingers then, staring into the distance. When she spoke, her voice was deep — even deeper than the man’s. “Winter court is not far away. If it was a public matter, he would lose face. Lady Collanne would love you for giving her such gossip.”

The countess’ small smile became an outright grin. “She would, wouldn’t she? But can it be done without breaking the emperor’s law?”

The tapping intensified. “Maybe? He’s so focused on the council, he may be vulnerable in other ways.”

“Think about it.”

The human woman immediately stepped away from her desk and began pacing, quick steps taking her back and forth across the carpet. The man stepped away from Mattin and moved behind the countess’ desk to stand at her back.

The countess tossed her hair and looked back to Mattin. “So… I might be able to help your sister, and yes, it might benefit me. But I need more than that.” She examined Mattin, taking in the weariness in his face, his untended hair, and his worn clothing. “I would ask a large price for this bargain of yours, and I don’t see how you can afford it.”

“I can’t pay, lady, but I can offer a trade.” He met her eyes then, saw the hunger flare in them as he lowered himself to his knees. “My sister’s freedom, for… for mine.”


Well, that’s a hell of an offer.

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Planting Life: Tsouchm (S2, E7)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

The next day, Tsouchm led Lefeng through the slums of the city toward the west gate and the worker’s market. The hard work of digging up the base beams was done, and what was left Paiokp and Kolchais could do. Which meant it was time for Tsouchm and Lefeng to start bringing in money.

It was also a chance for Tsouchm to return to eir old territory. To reach out to people ey trusted about what ey had done, what the priest had said… and what ey thought the ‘familyless’ might do about it.

Tsouchm felt odd, walking through familiar areas, streets ey had lived most of eir life, and knowing ey no longer belonged there. That someone else would take eir squat on the corner where for most of eir life ey had sat trading gossip with others. The hospitality-family ey had found floor space with the past several months would miss Tsouchm’s money, but soon find another boarder.

An entire life spent on these streets; swept away in a matter of days.

Tsouchm shook off eir mood as they turned a corner and came in view of the market.

“Stay to the right as we enter,” ey warned Lefeng. “We are seeking day work only, and we don’t want to be mistaken for those selling themselves.”

Lefeng didn’t respond but stayed close to Tsouchm.

The market was as much of a madhouse as ever, especially to the right. On the left, those who were desperate, or despairing, or taking the great gamble, stood on a platform. They would advertise their skills, hoping someone would buy the life of their labor in return for food, shelter, and a healer’s care for however long they lived.

On the right, dozens of ‘familyless’ and some from families fallen on hard times crowded near another platform. One by one, those who sought ‘unskilled’ workers for a day or a week or a month announced their needs. It was there that Tsouchm led Lefeng, joining the throng waiting for a good job — or any job they could do.

Tsouchm scanned the line of those hiring and picked out a few ey knew.

“You can use an ax, yes?” ey asked Lefeng.

The parent looked back in surprise. “Of course! How else to get wood for the fire?”

Tsouchm grunted.

After a minute, it became clear that they would be waiting. The line of those calling for workers moved slowly. Tsouchm could have taken several of the offered jobs but chose to wait. But they weren’t good jobs for what the family needed. Sorting fish was a single-day job that would have them back here tomorrow looking for more work. The rock quarry was only for the desperate who weren’t quite ready to sell their lives away. And it would take them out of the city for a month.

Noticing some familiar faces in the crowd, Tsouchm gestured to the official ey was waiting for. “I need to talk with someone. Watch that one and let me know when ey reaches the front of the line.”

Lefeng nodded, and Tsouchm threaded through the crowd. “Tchyawfu!”

Eir friend turned and grinned, pushing the always-tangled hair out of eir face. “Tsouchm! I did not expect to see you here.” Ey frowned. “Rumor must have lied then; you did not magic yourself into a new family?”

“Rumor speaks more truth than usual,” Tsouchm replied. “I am indeed to be Grandparent to the Trial Family.” Ey could have burst with pride at giving eir new name for the first time. “But a new family without trade still needs money, so back I come.”

“Grandparent, then.” Tchyawfu’s voice went cool, and ey drew back a way. “You are lucky indeed, my friend. If I may still call you that.”

Tsouchm was glad then for the time ey had thought the night before. For if ey had not expected this reaction, ey might have hesitated, have drawn back emself. Instead, ey said, “Bah, did you forget my name so quickly then? I always said you would forget your own given half a chance.

“But,” as Tchyawfu relaxed and smiled again, Tsouchm leaned in and spoke softly, “I may not be so lucky, or I may not be the only one so lucky. There has been talk of other new families, talk also of Chopaums.”

Tchyawfu had always been quick and proved so again. “So…, you’ll go for road work then? You always liked the wood chopping.

“Aye. It’s steady work for steady pay. I have–”

Lefeng was then beside em, standing head and more above the crowd on those long legs. “Grandparent? The one you were watching has jumped the line.”

“Have ey? Stillness taken bureaucrats.” Tsouchm wasn’t surprised. The families that supplied the city with wood for the roads weren’t known for their patience. “Child-of-mine, this is my old friend. We have some catching up to do. Shall we drag em along with us?”

Tsouchm was grateful, though not surprised, that Tchyawfu was willing to be dragged.

The Road official knew Tsouchm — as Tchyawfu had said, ey preferred the road work. So ey was happy to select Tchyawfu and eir companions among the others ey hired for the month or so of work. Ey led them out of the market, across most of the city, and out the Sunrise gate. They came to a wide-open area with logs piled at one end and the middle filled with every step of the process that turned logs into the wooden slats that made up most of the cities roads and walkways.

“If you know what you are doing, get to work. If you are new, follow me.”

Tsouchm gave Lefeng a nod and headed towards the pile of axes, mauls, and wedges.

By the time Lefeng was through the introduction and ready to start work, Tsouchm and Tchyawfu had cut the first barrel-length section from the log they had chosen. Those sections would be halved, then quartered, then split twice more to make the thumb-thick boards of the city streets.

As the three worked, Tsouchm told Tchyawfu a bit of eir new family and a great deal of the council meeting and the words of the tree-priest. Lefeng stayed quiet, focused on the work.

Which, in Tsouchm’s opinion, was for the best. Lefeng had little experience at the work and it showed. Still, Tsouchm and Tchyawfu were able to keep the pace up.

By the midday break, Tsouchm’s shoulders were burning. Ey made sure to swing eir arms and shrug eir shoulders every few seconds while they ate, to keep from stiffening.

After the break, Tchyawfu was silent, and Tsouchm let em think. They all focused on the work and finished their log just before the day was called. By then, Lefeng had picked up the flow of the work, and they had a neatly integrated team.

Tchyawfu had still said nothing more when they collected their pay: three fish markers (or equivalent) for each log turned into planks. One marker for each of them, an amazing income for one of the familyless.

When they reached the Sunrise gate, Tchyawfu finally spoke. “You told me what happened, but not what you think of it. And your child has said nothing.”

Lefeng looked from Tchyawfu to Tsouchm. “Forgive me, friend of my parent. I did not mean to be rude. I just… was lost in my thoughts.”

Tsouchm, knowing the thoughts Lefeng was most likely to be lost in, put a hand on eir shoulder. “My friend wonders what you think of the priest.”

Lefeng visibly restrained emself from spitting. Then eir eyebrows rose and ey looked at Tsouchm a minute. Tsouchm nodded, hoping Lefeng would understand what ey wanted.

Tsouch knew little of families, but ey did know that some things were for the parents to decide.

Lefeng did understand. Ey turned back to Tchyawfu with a smile and asked, “Would you like to meet the rest of our family?”

Return to:
Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life S2 E6

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Planting Life S2 E8