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 was, of a blessing, allowed to speak with his retainers briefly. Their wounds had been tended to, and they were locked in a barracks room. He could offer them little hope, but told them not to give in to despair. Then he was led, courteously, to a small cell. It had, surprisingly, a straw stuffed mattress in one corner, as well as the more standard bucket of water, and chamber pot. He made use of the latter two before stretching himself out on the mattress and letting exhaustion pull him into sleep, and away from his own fears.
When he woke, he found food had been shoved into the cell with him. Little more than a round of bread and some wine near to vinegar. He ate it slowly, not knowing when more would come.
Following his own advice was difficult. The sensible thing for the lady to do would be to kill him. With no ransom to be gotten, keeping him prisoner was a useless expense. But his body could be useful, as a warning to others.
So far, Lady Mildthryth had been sensible beyond any woman of his experience. He could only hope that in this she would prove to be woman-soft.
He was fed twice more before the door opened fully and a guard told him to come out.
The guard led him up a winding staircase to a walkway wrapped around a low tower. Lady Mildthryth waited for him there, looking out across the valley.
He bowed briefly. “Lady.”
She said nothing and after moment he stepped over to the low wall next to her. Leather creaked as the guard behind him shifted, but didn’t stop him.
When she spoke, it was in a low voice he had to strain to hear over the winds.
“Tell me, Sir Reimund, If you came here and found the bodies of my prior ‘suitors’ hanging from the walls, would you have turned around and gone home?”
He kept his face blank and thought quickly. The truth would likely insult her and might be seen as self serving. But lying could be laying the path for his own death. With no way of knowing what she sought, he went with simple truth. “No, lady. I would have thought them fools to be bested by a woman and that the reward would be worth the risk.”
“Are you, then, a fool?”
He nodded, “Aye, lady. I underestimated you because of your gender.”
When she said nothing further he asked, “Would you, of your mercy, tell me the reward for my folly?” He tried to keep his tone relaxed, but could clearly hear the strain under it.
“I have not decided.”
Strange how hope and fear could grow so close together.
“You obviously know the conqueror’s edict against me. In my place, what would you do?”
He glanced at her, unable to help himself. She still looked out across the valley, with a serenity he could only envy. What a strange thought to have. What a strange thing to ask a prisoner who had sought to force himself on her.
She was a woman. But a woman who had managed her lands capably for several years, and who had bested several men in battle. Who was being required to wed one of her people’s enemies. Why wouldn’t she wish to refuse any marriage and retain her own power?
“You cannot stand against the king, lady,” he said, feeling his way as he spoke. “He contents himself with having landless younger sons harass you now, but sooner or later if you do not wed he will bring his full might against you. The other Anglish lords will stand aside, they are lucky to hold onto as much of their land and rights as they have.”
“In your place, lady, I would actively seek a husband. One weak willed enough I could bend him to my will and retain power in my own home, but of high enough rank among Nornish nobility to satisfy the king that his word was obeyed.”
Now she turned to look at him.
“Then you are a fool, indeed. A weak husband could not stand against the conqueror or rival lords. He would fritter away my land and destroy my home, leaving nothing of my heritage to pass on to my children.”
“If you were willing to bow to a lord and be rule by him, you would already have done so, lady. You risk your people and lands everyday you don’t. I allowed your serfs and peasants to escape my raids. Others will simply slaughter them so there are none to tend the fields that fill your storehouse, trusting the king’s reward for bringing you to heel to keep them fed over the winter. Your warriors… courage and skill only go so far, lady. Soon they will fail entirely and then what?”
She signaled the guards and they came to escort him back to the darkness of his cell.
He knew nothing further of what to expect, but he had learned a great deal of Lady Mildthryth. He wished even more now that he had been able to conqueror her. What a fascinating woman.
Mildthryth remained on the tower walk for some time after the prisoner – Reimund – had been led away. He was, if she read him right, not afraid to die. Some part of him even expected it. It was the uncertainty that added strain to his voice. He, like most warriors, would not do well not knowing.
They had no concept of what it was like to live as a woman in their world, knowing every day that your life might change in an instant on the whim of the man who held power over you. Was it any wonder so many of her peers retreated into mindless obsession with fashion and social status? That they closed their eyes and ears to all but their bower and the management of their household? The uncertainty, the powerlessness, if you let yourself think about it, could grind you into nothing.
Mildthryth cursed her father. If he had only done his duty and arranged a marriage for her she would not be in this position. But he was proud and would not see her wed to any of their new, Nornish neighbors.
Yet how could she blame him, when she was just as unwilling now to wed those same neighbors? Nornish men who saw her as little more than a broodmare.
Until the day her father died, he had hoped for a son from one of his mistresses he could bring forward to hold the land after him.
Well, he had no sons. And Mildthryth had no husband, neither strong willed to hold the land nor weak willed to be ruled by her.
And the Nornish conqueror, damn him to the Great Darkness between the stars, would not allow a mere woman to rule lands in her own right.
The last of the smoke from yesterday’s fires had finally dwindled to nothing. She could see in the dwindling light the serfs picking their way through the burnt fields, looking for any hidden remnants of fire.
They would till the field, plowing the ash and char under, and the field would yield even more next year thanks to this year’s destruction.
But if they were to see that growth, they would need to survive until next year.
Wigmar returned and came to stand beside her.
“Are you thinking what I think you are, my lady?”
“You could do worse, if you don’t mind my saying so. Truth, given your options it might be hard to do better.”
“Aye.” She sighed. “Speak to the fighters for me, Wigmar. Especially Gwen and Helen.”
“No worries there, lady. Gwen and Helen know what’s coming as well as you do. And a lord who can respect your defeating him will treat them a sight better than one who calls you a demon for daring to be better than him.”
“Aye that.” She sighed again. “Speak with them anyway, please. Make sure they know that whatever comes, I will see them taken care of.”
“Of course, my lady.”
“Tomorrow, I will speak with one of his knights. In the chapel.”
“I’ll see to it.”
Mildthryth has a plan. Do you think Reimund will like it?