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.
When Wulfrun, the housekeeper, learned that Mildthryth had been alone in her chambers with Lord Reimund and his knights she was quietly horrified. First, of course, that her lady had been alone with four men. While there had never been any hint of impropriety – no hint of sexual impropriety, at least – in Lady Mildthryth’s behavior, tongues would wag. And with the king arriving in the next weeks no less! Perhaps more importantly, that the Nornish lord and his Nornish knights who had so recently tried to conquer the keep were alone with Wulfrun’s friend and lady.
Wulfrun had formed a reasonably good opinion of Lord Reimund since the wedding. But she would not soon forget or forgive what he had meant to do to her lady. So without saying anything to Lady Mildthryth, Wulfrun had a quiet word with servants she most trusted.
The next day, Sir Damian accompanied Lord Reimund into Mildthryth’s quarters for what had become their nightly conference. Not one, but two maids remained in the lady’s rooms until after Sir Damian left. They were there again two days later when Sir John joined the lord and lady for a private breakfast.
Mildthryth decided to be amused by Wulfrun’s caution. Reimund, after thinking about it, sought Wulfrun out and thanked her for her concern for Lady Mildthryth’s well being. If her concerns were insulting – and they were – he had had a great deal of practice in ignoring insults of late. And if ignoring this insult gained him some trust from one of the most important people in the keep, so much the better.
A few months ago, it would not have occurred to Reimund to view a servant woman as one of the most important people in the keep. Nornish keeps didn’t have housekeepers. But Nornish ladies weren’t as… involved in the running of the keep as Lady Mildryth was. The keep and everything in it not directly involved in defense was, to the lady and her fellow Anglish, the lady’s domain. Within that domain, Wulfrun ran their actual household – ensuring meals were served on time, laundry was done, rushes were changed, and everything else that made the living areas of the keep… livable.
Reimund was not inclined to find his quarters in disrepair and meals cold because he slighted the woman who ensured they weren’t.
Only Wulfrun said or did anything, but many people noted that their lady was spending more time with the Nornish knights. Wulfrun was likely overcautious. Overall, the Anglish of the keep thought it well. Lady Mildthryth knew how to win a person’s loyalty – didn’t they know it! If she could win the loyalty of these knights, then everyone could trust them and the keep would be stronger for it.
And if Lord Reimund seemed ill-tempered, who could blame him with the conqueror descending on him and the Baron’s not-so-subtle threat?
Still, Lord Reimund wasn’t a fool, and Lady Mildthryth was a gift from the Ancestors themselves. They would find a way to outsmart the conqueror and they could finally get on with their lives.
Mildthryth did not have her people’s confidence. She did not forget Reimund’s words – “…do not mock me so. Better to say I am your servant. Or your dog.” Her husband had regained some of his surety now that he knew his friends stood by him, but there was something… something that lurked behind his pained words that day.
She could ask him. He would not, she was sure, refuse her. Not after their last… discussion. But she did not want to hurt him so again. Not if she could avoid it. Which had led her here, to the room Wulfrum had finally cleared for the Nornish knights.
Twice Mildthryth nearly turned away. Her mother would laugh to see her. Her grandfather cringe. A daughter of Dragma, hesitating! But somethings were more intimidating than a charge of Nornish calvary.
Finally, laughing at herself, she raised her hand and knocked.
Sir Damian answered the door to the knights’ quarters. “My lady?”
“I wish to speak with Sir John.”
The quiet knight stepped back from the door, allowing her entry.
Sir John was seated on a bench, mending a torn strap on his armor. He looked up as she entered and grimaced. “My lady witch.”
“John,” Sir Damian chided.
“No,” Mildthryth said. “That is precisely why it is Sir John I wish to speak with. He will tell me his truth where my husband and Sir Hereweald will give me courtly faces and you, Sir Damian, hide behind dignified silence.”
Sir John laughed. “You are right there, my lady witch.” He took a deep breath and let it out with a hiss. “So which of my lord’s secrets do you come to me for?”
Mildthryth smiled. “Actually, Sir John, I’m here for your secrets.”
He stilled and set down his work. “I have no secrets. As you rightly note, my lady, I am an open scroll.”
Something in that sent warning notes down Mildthryth’s spine, but she didn’t let the hint of threat deter her. “I suspect you have many secrets Sir John, but I expect the one I am after today you scarce consider a secret.
“Why do you hate me, Sir John? Why do you call me witch and burn with anger to see my husband kneel to me?”
Sir John growled. “I would have thought mockery beneath you, witch.”
Sir Damian shifted but stayed where he was.
“My lord said something painfully similar before I had him send for you the other day. You both are acting under a false assumption.”
“What would that be? That we are worthy of your mockery?”
Mildthryth laughed. She couldn’t help herself. “Ancestors bless, Sir John, I swear you are a breath of fresh air after weeks of seeking answers from Nornish stone! You are almost as honestly expressive as a proper Dragma warrior.”
For the first time, he looked insulted. “My lord’s liege or not, call me a blighted barbarian again, and I’ll cry challenge for the insult.”
“I mean no insult Sir John, and I care nothing for your challenge. As you and my husband seem to have forgotten I am an Anglish lady and daughter and granddaughter of Dragma ‘barbarians’. Cry challenge on me and my mother will demand the right to be my champion and turn you into steaks.
“But that is not what I am here for. I am not Nornish, Sir John. I have no knowledge of your cursed ‘civilized’ ways. Until your darkened Conquerer tossed me to the wolves I could count on my hands the number of times I had seen Norns.
“So no, Sir John, I mean no mockery. I have not one star to guide me in this matter. Tell me, Sir John. Tell me why you hate me. Tell me why kneeling to me is a shame that is destroying my husband. Tell me what I need to know to save him.”
That’s coming straight to the point…
Bound by His Oath, Ep 16