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 looked up from showing Henre how to repair a broken armor scale as Lady Mildthryth swept into the room.
She stopped, just inside the door, and for the first time since their marriage seemed uncertain.
“Henre,” he said, “go to the practice yard. Work on your right overhand until the dinner bell.”
“Yes, my lord.”
He waited till Henre was gone to set the armor aside. “My lady?” he got up and started to kneel, the motion almost natural after all these weeks.
“Stop.” She strode across the room put an arm under his elbow. “I don’t want you to kneel to me again.”
He froze. “I don’t understand, my lady.”
“Oh, for the love of the Ancestors, Reimund, I’m your wife, you can use my name!”
She rubbed her face with her hands.
“I didn’t understand. I knew you Norns had your superstitions and restrictions on women and our behavior. I had no idea just how dark this Nornish perversion is.”
“Are you well… Lady Mildthryth?”
“I’m raving aren’t I? Like a dark-curst madwoman. This is what you’ve brought me to!” And she burst out laughing.
Before he could decide if he should excuse himself and send for the priest, she calmed down.
“I’m sorry, my lord. I’ve scared you, and that was not my intent. Please, sit down. We are going to talk, as we probably should have done weeks ago.”
They sat, but neither spoke. Reimund didn’t know what was going on, and Mildthryth didn’t know where to begin. Finally, she said. “It was Sir John who gave me the first real clue. Oh, I should have known something was wrong when I realized how you expected them to react. But our fears are so often irrational, aren’t they?”
“Fear… certainly can be, lady.”
She grinned a moment. “Humoring the mad woman? I am grateful, I supposed.” the grin faded. “Sir John’s reaction…” she shuddered in memory, the fear somehow worse now than it had been in the moment when he had attacked her.
Reimund saw the fear and bowed his head. It was his weakness that had put her at risk and his failure to guard her that left her vulnerable. What could he say?
Mildthryth reached and put a hand on his arm. “It wasn’t your fault, Reimund. It was my choice to tell them, and if I’d trusted you about how… badly they might react I would have been prepared myself.
“I doubt,” she mused, responding to the doubt he didn’t voice, “that Sir John ever told you that it was me who broke his nose that day in the chapel. I could never have defeated him, but I did have enough training to hold him off until Wigmar could step in. If I’d been prepared, I could have defended myself — or dodged him — long enough, Reimund. I promise you that.”
It wasn’t clear if he believed her or not, but some of his guilt eased. She squeezed his hand and continued.
“Anyway, that Sir John immediately jumped to witch craft… why would he think that the only reason you might kneel to me would be sorcery? Especially when he knew I held all your lives in my hand?”
She looked at Reimund a moment and he, too, remembered that day. Remembered standing on the walkway of the tower. Knowing John’s life… the lives of all of them… hung on his decision.
“I never meant to shame you, Reimund,” she said gently.
“I didn’t think you did, my lady… Lady Mildthryth. I thought… I remember thinking that you had found a solution to your problems, and if that solution was shameful to one who sought to harm you, what was that to you?”
She nodded. “I didn’t know it would be shameful for you, to kneel to a woman. To your wife. If I had known… that day, I would have done nothing different.
“But I would have done things differently after.”
She stopped a moment, and Reimund remembered also his sense from that day, of one preparing to make a possibly suicidal cavalry charge.
Or, as she would put, the lightning strike. After which everything would be changed and she didn’t now if it would be for good or ill.
“Reimund… I knew among the Norns that a woman could not rule in her own right. I feared you would try to find some way to subvert your oath, that I needed to remind you, constantly, that you had given oath and were bound to me.”
He flushed with shame. “You… weren’t wrong, lady.”
“I think I was.” She waved away anything he might have said. “Oh, the wedding vows, yes. I haven’t forgotten that. But perhaps I remember that day differently than you do. On the walkway, you gave me your word. But after our wedding, you did something different, didn’t you? You gave me your oath, in the words of the ancestors.
“And you never thought to do otherwise, did you? I was too afraid to see it – though I think you saw my fear.” He nodded. “But looking back, you never once thought of using force against me. You gave your oath and from that moment on have done nothing to give me cause to doubt.”
He swallowed. “I tried not to.” A moment. “It has been… difficult, Lady. But it was my choice to make.”
“Perhaps. But I think perhaps you didn’t really understand what I was asking… no, not what I was asking, but what I wanted and didn’t trust you enough to ask for.”
“Reimund… my lord… it was not common among the Anglish, for a woman to rule. But it happened. And when it did, her husband would give her oath, not to be her servant, but to acknowledge that the… the normal manner of a marriage did not apply.”
He thought about that a moment. “I knew that there were ruling ladies among the Anglish. It… never occurred to me they might have married. Or how such marriages might work.”
“I don’t actually know much of how they worked myself.” She grimaced. “Even before the conqueror came, they were rare. But as I believe I have mentioned, I am also Dragma. Among my mother’s people, the idea of making a man make such an oath would be horrifying. Everyone would know that a man of lower rank would bow to his wife, and to ask an oath of him, to suggest that he would even think of usurping his wife, would be an insult of the highest order.”
Reimund shook his head, trying to understand how such a barbarous custom could even work. Then he looked again at Mildthryth… at his wife. “I suppose, if you are representative of Dragma women, the system might work better than I would have expected.”
She laughed. “Is that a compliment my lord?”
“I think… I think perhaps it is.”
“I trust you, Lord Reimund. I trust you with my holding, with my people. I trust you with myself. I don’t want you as a servant, I don’t want to be rubbing your nose every day in my position.
“I want you as my husband. My partner, my aide, my confidant. My right hand as I am your left.”
She said nothing further, but waited his response. It was one of the things he cherished about her – that for all her lightning quickness she could be patient and give him time to think through without rushing or badgering him. He did cherish her. How often had he wished he could be her husband in truth? But she was not a Nornish woman, and he had been blind to what that meant. As blind as she had been to his pain these last weeks.
He knew, he thought, what he wanted to say. But how to say it, that was harder.
Finally, he stood, looming over her as he had after their wedding, but this time he could see she was not afraid. Slowly, he went to his knees before her, surprised by how easy it was. “Lady, I kneel one last time of my own will. If I feel shame in it, that is my failing, for any man should be honored to serve you.” Then he stood and bowed as she said a Dragma man might. “And I am honored to have you as my wife… Mildthryth.”
Looks like they’re actually getting a happy ending. Just one more loose end…