Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.
Reimund barely slept that night. The next day passed in a haze. He must have made some explanation for the bruise on his cheek but didn’t recall what. His thoughts were dark and he worked himself into exhaustion to silence them. He took last meal in his rooms and slept restlessly, waking at the first sign of dawn.
The next day repeated the pattern. He avoided Lady Mildthryth and she allowed him to.
Shortly after last meal, his door burst open. Lady Valdis stood glaring at him. “You. Come with me.”
“No. You will come and you will listen. As will my foolish daughter. This has gone on long enough.”
“I don’t believe–”
“Did I ask what you believe? No. Come. We will talk somewhere private.”
He saw no option other than physically forcing her from his rooms – which would be not only undignified but likely rather difficult – so he went with her.
She led him up to the tower walk. He was not surprised to see Lady Mildthryth waiting, though she seemed surprised to see him.
He walked to the low wall and looked out into the darkness. The stars, the steady light of them, soothed his soul. They had guided the ancestors through the heavens, could they guide him?
“Ha. I was right. Sex. Nothing else makes you blush so.”
A knight must rely only on his own strength, or so he was taught, but he had long known that teaching was a lie.
Yes, he would turn to the ancestors. No one could object if he began spending more time in the chapel.
“Now you will listen to me. Both of you, Lord Reimund. When you have listened, then you may talk.”
He turned back to Lady Valdis, clinging to the peace the stars gave him.
“Sex makes fools of us. More than anything else except pride and wealth. You were strangers to each other, just beginning to build something. You will not let sex tear you apart before you have found if you have anything to build.” She snorted. “Even your father was not that foolish.”
“Even my father was not so foolish as to make you bleed!”
“So? You told me there was no blood.”
“He wishes there was!”
They were speaking words he knew, but nothing they said made sense. Was it normal among Dragma for a woman to take lovers before her wedding? “Is it such a crime to wish my bride a virgin? To wish I were the first to bring her pleasure?”
Mildthryth snarled, but Lady Valdis held up a hand and Mildthryth said nothing. “Do you say that blood is the sign of a virgin?”
“Of course it is!” Was the woman mad? “Even the Dragma must know that. The first intercourse pierces a woman’s veil and there is always some blood.” Whatever peace he had taken from the stars was stripped from him.
Lady Mildthryth stared at him as if… as if a star had come to alight on his head. “You thought that… because I didn’t bleed, I must have had lovers.”
“What else am I to think?” He took a breath. Glanced at Lady Valdis and away. “Lady Mildthryth, I don’t… that is–” he had no idea how to continue with Lady Valdis standing there. But he didn’t need to.
“Be quiet a minute, Reimund.” He obeyed. What else could he do? “I don’t know where to start with your ridiculous beliefs. But I swear to you, there was no one before you. There is no one else now.”
“My la–” The words burst from him before he could stop them.
“No.” The word was soft, gentle even. “I know you have little reason to trust me. Mother is right, we have only just begun building something between us. But I promise you by the ancestors. There was no one else.
“You’re wrong about this ‘virgin blood’ – but even if you weren’t, do you think I never touched myself? If I ever did have any such ‘veil’, I would have pierced it with my fingers long before we met.”
The blood drained from Reimund’s face. It had never occurred to him that a woman might pleasure herself. That… he swallowed… when she said she could see to her own pleasure, she had meant it literally. That she needed no one else.
“As for my knowledge… Reimund have you never seen a Dragma longhouse? They are one great room, with no walls, no privacy. I couldn’t have avoided seeing if I wanted to.”
No walls? No privacy? That was… well, yes, barbaric. But it would also explain so much. So very much.
“If!” Valdis cackled. “You delighted in it.”
By everything he had ever known, he had been right. But all he had known meant nothing in this mountainous land. And he realized it too late.
Moving as stiffly as an old man, he lowered himself to his knees and bowed his head. “My lady, there is no excusing the insult I offered you, nor will I try. I can only hope in time I may atone for it and earn your forgiveness.”
Did he serve any other, they would cast him off for such an insult. But he was her wedded husband and she could not sever that bond. However much he might deserve it.
“Reimund.” A gentle touch on his face, a hand under his chin. “Stand up, please.”
Of course. Even now, he must keep up the pretense.
“Is that what was upsetting you, my lord? That you thought I had taken lovers?”
“No, my lady. Not exactly. But please do not trouble yourself with it. I have not the right…”
“You asked me to let you pleasure me.”
“Yes, my lady.”
Suddenly she was pressing up against him, rubbing herself on him. “You didn’t care if I had lovers or not?”
He closed his eyes and braced himself to stand. There was more than honor between them now, there was insult. And if he didn’t understand what she was doing or why, he still had no right to question or protest. “I did care, my lady. But I could have accepted. But to be denied the right to pleasure you…” Her hand wrapped around his shaft and began slowly pumping.
Dimly, he realized that Lady Valdis had left. Lady Mildthryth crouched down in front of him and began unlacing his pants. He clenched his fists at his side, longing to reach out and touch her but knowing he had forever lost the right.
Her hand was on his shaft, her tongue licking him.
“Explain it to me, Reimund.”
Why? But she asked so he must answer. So he found a way to put into words what he had known for as long as he could recall.
“A man who cannot bring his wife pleasure is no true man. Ah!” Her tongue flickered inside his slit and he struggled to stay on his feet. “Such a man is below contempt…” a scrape of teeth made him gasp “…he has failed… as a husband and…”
He struggled to remember what he was going to say. “It is… shame…” The pleasure washed through him and he lost the thread of his words. It built and built and…
Cold air washed over his shaft. He opened his eyes to see Lady Mildthryth stand and step back from him.
He said nothing. What was there to say? He tucked himself back in his pants and bowed. “If you will excuse me, Lady Mildthryth. I should seek my bed.”
She took his hand. Gentle, her face soft. Now, of all times did she let him see the woman who lived behind the mask of the ruling lady.
“Is that all?” she asked, “You have nothing else to say to me?”
“No, my lady.” He bowed his head. “I am sure I have said enough and more than enough to last us both a lifetime.”
“Then come with me, Reimund.”
Confused, helpless to do anything else, he followed her to her bedroom, where she immediately stripped off her clothing. His eyes drank her in.
She sat on the edge of her bed. Opening her legs to show him her petals, already glistening in the lamplight.
“Lord Reimund, I am used to taking care of my own needs. But I would be honored if you would help me tonight.”
Hardly daring to believe his ears, he walked to her. One step. Another. And squatted down between her knees.
“My lady? Why?”
“Because I didn’t understand. Because I never meant to shame you or deny you your place as my husband. But I did insult you, didn’t I? Even on our wedding day, when I didn’t allow you to touch me.”
He nodded, hardly daring to hope, but said “I am your sworn man. If you did not wish…”
She stopped him with a finger over his lips. “My husband, we have, all unmeaning, traded insult for insult. Trade with me now pardon for pardon. And seal the exchange as the Ancestors did, with a kiss.”
“As you wish, my lady.” With a prayer of thanks to the ancestors, he kissed her. Gently at first. Then nibbling around her petals. Teasing her with his lips. And as her whimpers became moans and moans became cries, he plunged his tongue into her depths.
See how well things work when you communicate?