Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.
Last meal went well. While their stores were low, Mildthryth and the cooks were able to come up with enough ‘fancy’ dishes to make it clear they were honoring the king’s baron. And Mildthryth had time before the meal to warn her mother. Lady Valdis, much to Reimund’s relief, decided she was ‘unwell’ that evening and would take her meal in her room.
That evening, when the baron was finally to bed for the night, Reimund went to Mildthryth’s rooms.
It was late enough that her maid was already sleeping in her public room. Reimund stepped around the woman to knock gently on Mildthryth’s bedroom door.
He stepped in quickly, closing the door behind him.
“I was beginning to wonder if you would be attending me at all this evening, sirrah.”
He crossed the room to kneel before her, hoping the maid was not a light sleeper.
“I nearly didn’t, my lady. Lord Bernard will think it odd that I come to you, rather than summoning you to me.”
“And we must keep Lord Bernard happy.”
“My lady.” His liege, he reminded himself, had a right to speak so. “I understand your anger lady, and I thank you for your trust this day. Yes, we must keep Lord Bernard happy. He told me today that the king is coming and if the king is not pleased, he may deny my lordship here.”
“He can’t do that!” Mildthryth jumped to her feet, aghast. “I followed his edict, he has no grounds to deny me…”
“No grounds to deny you, my lady.”
She stopped, stared at him a moment, and cursed.
“So we must keep the king happy, which means keeping this baron happy.”
Mildthryth sighed. She was ready to damn all Norns to the endless dark. “We will need to talk about how to go about keeping the king happy, but for now, it is late.” All but one, perhaps.
“Of course, my lady.” He stood, taking her words as dismissal. But she caught his hands.
“Come to bed with my Lord Reimund.” She grinned. “I see no reason to let this intrusion deprive us.”
Surprised, and pleased, he did as she asked.
The next day they were both grateful to say an early farewell to Lord Bernard. The king, he said, would be expecting his report. They spoke briefly after he left, making their plans for the day. Then Reimund called Wigmar and his knights while Mildthryth gathered up Wulfrun and Cook. They had less than a month to prepare for an invasion by the king and his entourage. There were supplies to be laid in, defenses to increase, meals to plan, entertainment to arrange.
It would be a very busy month and they both prayed to the ancestors for light to guide them through it.
That night, after discussed the work of the day and they had made plans for the next, he had every expectation of being welcomed to her bed. But for the first time since Lady Valdis had forced them to talk, she turned him away. Her monthly time had come, and she would not permit his touch. She was also more disappointed than he expected that she was not with child.
He was disappointed himself – they needed heirs. Nor, of course, did he like being barred from her bed. But childbirth… she was still recovering from the strain of the years since her father’s death.
“We have time, my lady.” He tried to reassure her. “Waiting a few months more is not a bad thing. And childbirth can be dangerous. Are you so eager for that risk?”
Mildthryth hid fear with irritability. It never occurred to her that the king would continue to cause problems after she wed. An heir on the way might help sway the king, but she had failed in that, and what if… she shrugged, trying to push away her fears “What is the worst that can happen? That you will hold here alone? Surely that is not so distasteful to you.”
Reimund ground his teeth, biting back an angry retort. Did she think so little of him? He had hoped her trust the day before had meant something. He had been a fool.
“By your leave, my lady.” He bowed and, not waiting to hear her response, left her rooms.
Mildthryth watched him stalk out and cursed her runaway mouth. The first day or two of her flow she tended to impulse, both in word and action. She had learned to speak little and make no important decisions during that brief window. But Reimund had surprised her and the words slipped out before she realized how they must sound to him.
But just as truth could be found in the bottom of an ale mug, it sometimes slipped out on impulse. She hadn’t realized how deep her distrust still ran. Or perhaps distrust wasn’t the word. He would keep his oath – she trusted in that. But on some level, she still saw him as an enemy. As one who would strip her rights and holding from her if he could have.
The recent reminder that to the Nornish king and his nobles she had no rights had been the spark that brought light to her fears.
The next morning Mildthryth sought Reimund out and tried to apologize. Whatever her fears, he had deserved better treatment from her than that. She told him it was her pain and fears speaking. That for all her fears his presence reassured her. If anything happened to her, in childbirth or otherwise, he would be here to take care of her people. She reached out to him, missing his touch. Wishing that his Nornish stoicism would allow him to touch her outside of the bedroom. Touch was one area they seemed to mesh well together – now at least.
Reimund accepted her apology. Even he could not have said if he fully believed it, but those doubts were unworthy of his service so he pushed them down. Her touch… she reached up and run her hand over his hair. Once again petting him, as one would a dog. He found himself leaning into it, eager for this small touch which was all he was permitted until her time had passed.
But his soul shriveled in shame. Why, he wondered, did she feel the need to denigrate him so? And how low had he fallen that he would take her touch in any way he could – even as her pet?
Reimund threw himself into his duties. There was still much to do to prepare for the king’s visit, never mind all the work they had already been doing. That added strain to what he had already been enduring. Barred from Mildthryth’s bed — and the small ease that brought — the falseness of his life, of his unmanned state, wore at him more deeply than ever. He found himself avoiding his friends, unable to hide how badly he was doing and unable to continue facing them with lies on his lips.