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.
Mildthryth’s mother was in the stableyard lunging her horse. As always since Mildthryth’s father died, she wore the intricately braided hairstyles and brightly embroidered clothing of her Dragma kin.
She smiled when she saw Mildthryth.
They stood silently for a time, watching the horse exercise. “I’m sorry we can’t go on our rides anymore.”
Her mother shrugged. “It is what it is. The time will come when we can ride again without worrying about these nits.
“You are a good daughter, and honor to your grandfather and your father, little though he deserves it. You will find your way.
“The men may rule, most of the time, for they are stronger and the Ancestors’ perfect world died ages past. But these Norns are fools to think that men can rule all the time, for we women have our own strength and you will teach them that.”
Now Mildthryth echoed her mother’s earlier sigh. “What would you have done?”
“I?” The older woman snorted. “I would have been saddled and gone before your father was cold in the grave. Your uncle would welcome me back, and you as well if you wished, and I could help raise the nieces and nephews, make good cheese, and listen to the Singer tell the old tales and sagas of when the world was new and the Ancestors believed they could make a new paradise in this cursed realm. And live in a proper, round building without all these cursed corners!
“But you are too Anglish. Stubborn as Dragma, but soft-spoken and happy with your sharp corners and dark chapels. You would not be happy making cheese and listening to the Singers.”
Her mother had taken her once, much against her father’s wishes but before the Conqueror came he dared not disrespect his father in law, to visit her Dragma relatives. There were many things she envied them, but she could never remember the great round building they all lived in without a shudder. It wasn’t the lack of corners, exactly, but there were no walls. It was one great room that everyone… well it was big enough it wasn’t actually crowded, but it felt that way, with no quiet space away from it all unless you went outside in the cold.
Lady Valdis laughed. “Yes? I see that face. So my solution will not work for you and you will find your own way. And I will stay in this place of corners because I love you more than a proper home and proper cheese and all the songs of the Singers.”
Mildthryth took the lunge line from her mother, handed it to a nearby groom, then threw herself into Lady Valdis’ arms. Valdis, the only person in her life who was demonstrative than she was, hugged her back, then picked her up and swung her around, proving that she hadn’t lost her strength as she aged.
“It will be well, daughter. Now, what is it you came here to tell me, for surely you did not come to ask my advice!”
Mildthryth buried her face in her mother’s neck. “Will you trust me, mother? No matter what?”
Valdis pulled Mildthryth away and lifted her chin to study her face. “You have found your path. And it isn’t a straightforward Dragma path, but a twisty, cornered Anglish path.”
Mildthryth nodded and dropped her eyes, afraid of what she would see in her mother’s face.
“You are my daughter. Whatever path you have found, these Norns will never see the blow before it falls.”
Mildthryth laughed and hugged her mother again. “Mother. There is nothing straightforward about crossing a Dragma roundhouse.”
From the stables, Mildthryth went directly to the chapel. She had a path forward, but that did not mean it would work. So she knelt before the altar and recited the ancient litany of the Ancestors. Her mother had never grown used to Anglish worship in a closed room away from the sky. But in this Mildthryth was her father’s daughter. The night sky always filled her with wonder and awe, seeing the stars from which the Ancestors had traveled and to which her people would one day return.
But prayer was for quiet spaces, unadorned rooms. A single candle for focus. Just as the sun had been a focus for the Ancestors on their great journey.
She didn’t know how long she was there when the door to the chapel opened. “Lady Mildthryth,” Wigmar said, “Here is Sir John of Kaldon, as you requested.”
Mildthryth did not turn but gestured for the knight to join her.
After a moment, he came forward and knelt nearby. She could hear his whispered prayer.
In the candlelight, she could see only the vague outline of his face. Bearded but with hair cut unusually short.
When he finished praying, she stood and asked, “Sir Reimund has none to pay his ransom. Is there any who would ransom you or your fellows, Sir John?”
He stood also, his height making him loom over her in the dark. She didn’t think it was intentional as he stepped back a moment later. Or maybe she had just shocked him. “No, Lady Mildthryth,” he hissed. He shook himself, strong enough to be visible even in the dim light, then spoke more normally. “Had Sir Reimund escaped your trap he would have sought to ransom me, but there are no others. Sir Damien and Sir Hereweald likewise. The men-at-arms, I cannot say.”
She stepped closer, invading his space. He stood his ground.
“I dislike waste, Sir John, and I have need of defense, as you well know. Would you take service with me?”
His feet shifted and she thought she heard his teeth grinding. “No, Lady,” he growled. “While he is loyal to me, I will not betray Sir Reimund.”
Mildthryth nodded, she had expected that. “And if he were no longer alive?”
In the dark, she had no warning. A strong hand grabbed her tunic jerking her close. “Harm him and…”
He never got to finish his threat. Lady Valdis had known her daughter would never be a warrior, but she hadn’t left Mildthryth ignorant of defense. Her palm slammed into the man’s nose at the same time her heel landed on his instep.
Wigmar, of course, moved even faster than she did. In an instant, he had the Norn wrestled to the ground with his arms pinned.
“Anglish bitch,” he hissed.
She crouched down next to the Norn, careful to stay out of Wigmar’s way. “That’s ‘Lady Bitch,’ Sir John. And you had best remember it if you want to see your leader again. Will he thank you for breaking his parole do you think?” She nodded to Wigmar. “Take him to the dungeon. Then bring Reimund to me.”
The knight roared and tried to break free of Wigmar, but the old warrior wasn’t that old. Mildthryth smirked. In truth, Sir Reimund was more likely to thank his knight than not. But he had earned at least a few hours fear for what his lack of discipline might have cost.
Wigmar finally got the knight on his feet and started towards the door. “And Wigmar, unless he tries to get away from you, all the rest of his blood best be in his body when you close the door on him.”
“Aye lady,” Wigmar growled, “Your lady mother would have let me string him up and use him for target practice, though.”
She let the impertinence pass. Wigmar had earned it for putting up with her need to risk herself like this.
Besides, she was Anglish enough to understand that sometimes a diplomatic response was required. But she was Dragma enough to take pleasure in the fact that Sir John would be sporting more and worse bruises before he reached the dungeon.
Damn it, John!
Bound by His Oath, Ep3
Bound by His Oath, EP5