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.
The lord’s quarters were smaller than those of a proper castle. But what the modernized burg lacked in size, it more than made up for in comfort. Or at least that’s how it seemed to Reimund as he sat on the first bed he had seen in weeks.
The rooms had been cleaned recently, and the warrior had shown him the respect due to a lord.
Somehow, Reimund had not expected that. Had expected to return to the dungeon. It seemed the lady was correct about one thing – when she was ready, she moved like a lightning strike – leaving those in range stunned senseless and the landscape overturned.
He moved through the pair of rooms, feeling as if he was in a dream. It took another moment for him to notice the next shock the lady had left for him —
His things were here. Even his armor and weapons. Had she been that confident of his decision?
No. If he hadn’t given Lady Mildthryth the answer she wanted, he would have been returned to the dungeon and never known this. The ‘endless’ discussion was not wasted time. It was the preparation that made the lightning strike possible. And she would have prepared for either answer from him.
No, he wouldn’t have returned to the dungeon if he gave the wrong answer. He shuddered. Ruthless as she was, somewhere convenient there was a noose and a place to drop him from. She was ready to be done with her problem, one way or another. So done the lady would be.
The clothespress, when he opened it, held the few changes of clothing he had traveled with. Clean, and in at least one case, mended.
A knock at the door startled him out of his shock. “Come in,” he called, expecting one of the guards and still surprised they bothered to knock.
Instead, it was a woman, somewhat older than Mildthryth and well dressed, but not noble. She bowed briefly. “Milord. I am Wulfrun. I have been housekeeper here since before Lady Mildthryth’s father died. I came to introduce myself and make sure you have everything you need. The kitchen will be sending up a hot meal soon, and I thought perhaps a bath?”
A bath! Just the thought of it had his skin itching under the layers of dirt and sweat. “Yes, a bath would be good. Thank you, Wulfrun.”
“Of course, milord.” She seemed to hesitate a moment. “No disrespect milord, but we do hear that Norns do things differently – there’s a speaking tube in the corner that connects to the kitchen.”
“A speaking tube?” Reimund blinked and looked where the woman pointed. There was a tube of copper coming up out of the floor…
“Yes, milord. Just lift the lid and they’ll hear you in the kitchen. When you need anything, call down and someone will be up. There is another speaking tube in Lady Mildthryth’s quarters.”
“Is there anything else you need now, milord?”
Reimund blinked. There was something odd about her manner. She was more forward than he would have expected, but that might be Anglish custom. Their lady certainly wasn’t afraid to speak the unthinkable!
“I need to speak with my– with the knights who came with me. Can you arrange that?”
“Of course, milord. I understand Wigmar was to tell those in the barracks that you and milady have come to terms. I expect your knights will be seeking you out soon, but I’ll just make sure of it.”
Those in the barracks… “Please make sure that Wigmar sends Sir John to me as well.”
“Yes, milord.” Her eyes widened and her voice was full of curiosity. Apparently, John’s… indisposure was not widely known.
“Thank you.” She bowed and turned to leave.
And he realized why she had seemed nervous. “Actually, one last thing.” She stopped and turned back. This time he could see her fists clenching in her skirts. “Lady Mildthryth has obviously been happy with how her home was managed. I don’t expect I’ll be making any changes.”
Relief swept through her, clear in her sudden relaxation. She doesn’t know, he thought with sudden bitterness, that I had no power to change anything. All she knows is a new lord can set her out or overturn everything she did here.
“Thank you, milord.”
He couldn’t bring himself to speak past that bitterness, so he nodded and turned away. The door opened and closed behind him.
Mildthryth was still on the walk when Wulfrun, came looking for her sometime later. “Milord is settled, lady, and asked to speak to his knights.”
“Good. His folk?”
“As you suggested, most of them should do well enough in the barracks. It’ll need some cleaning and such, but it’ll be a relief for the girls to have something to turn their hands to other than endless weaving.”
Mildthryth snorted. She, too, would be happy to not see a loom for the next year or two.
“I wasn’t sure about the knights. We can put them together in the old reeves’ quarters.”
Prior to the conquest, Eorls like Mildryth’s father had overseen a hundred or more reeves, each responsible for a hundred families. They managed day-to-day administration of the Eorl’s region while the Eorls managed defense and collected the king’s taxes. Mildryth’s father had kept a room set aside to host the reeves who came to deliver their hundred’s taxes and report on any needs those families had. The Conqueror had gradually overturned the old ways, and the room had sat empty the last few years.
But as a gesture of trust, that room was off the same section of hall as the lord’s and lady’s quarters. Mildthryth and Wulfrun exchanged a glance and both grimaced.
“Otherwise I’m not sure we have anything available that would be considered suitable for their rank,” Wulfrun finished.
Mildthryth sighed. “For now, they can continue to stay in the barracks. We may need to rearrange how we handle rooming, but that is not something to be done without planning.”
Wulfrun smiled and squeezed her shoulder. “Of course, Mildthryth. Just as well, perhaps. With the reeves’ room so little used I fear it has developed some mildewing.”
“Well, we cannot insult the good knights with such poorly maintained quarters,” Mildthryth smiled back.
He was surprised that John arrived first. He would have expected Wigmar to push the limits of the soon-to-be lord’s command and leave John in the dungeon as long as possible. His arms, though, were still bound behind him.
Reimund found he couldn’t blame the Anglish – injured and half-blind as he was, John was tense and ready for a fight.
That was so… John.
“Stand down, Sir John,” he said. Then to the Anglish, “Release him.”
Wigmar immediately began untying John’s bonds, saying, “He’s your problem now, milord. If he becomes my problem again,” Wigmar looked up and met Reimund’s eyes with a death glare, “then I’ll take his head and be done with it.”
He finished pulling the ties off John without looking away. “You’re the best of a bad lot, milord, and so I told her. But never you forget that she is our lady.”
John, for a wonder, had the sense to keep his mouth shut.
“I understand,” Reimund answered the Anglish warrior. Wigmar nodded and left the room, leaving Reimund and John alone.
Reimund led John to the room’s one chair and made him sit. “What the hell were you thinking, John? I can’t believe that hard bastard didn’t kill you for putting hands on Lady Mildthryth.”
“He wanted to. She wouldn’t let him. She said… I’m sorry Reimund. Thought I’d gotten you killed breaking parole. But she was going to kill you anyway. Asked if I’d be willing to swear service to her after she killed you.”
“Damn it, John! You could have gotten everyone else killed…” Reimund caught himself and sighed. “Could have but didn’t. You, my impulsive, loyal, friend, may have been the saving of us.”
John gaped and Reimund found himself laughing. Somewhat hysterically.
“The lady gave me her terms, John. Terms for a marriage contract.”
Reimund’s laughter died completely at the memory of what those terms were.
John’s mouth dropped further. Stunned to silence for the first time since Reimund had known him. The lightning strike was still reverberating, it seemed.
“She is in a position to set terms as she pleases, and knows it. Her man – that one who just promised to take your head if you threaten his lady again – will continue to lead the warriors and training here.”
He waited until John picked his chin up and nodded. “There’s more, some that I’ll want to discuss with all of you, some that is… between she and I.”
John licked his swollen lips. “You trust her, Reimund? Granted, I don’t see how she could turn on you once she’s your wife, but… could she be playing you somehow? Promising you marriage to keep the King off her back while in practice keeping you a prisoner? She still rules until after the wedding.”
If only John knew – she had no reason to play him like that when he had given her his word. “No, John. I know your eyes are swollen shut, but you should be able to see something. These are the lord’s quarters. The housekeeper has already been by to make sure I’m not going to replace her. That’s my sword and halberd over there – moved here even before the lady gave me her terms.
“I don’t blame you for being suspicious. But Lady Mildthryth doesn’t need to play games with me. She already won that game. But it’s the king she’s really been playing against, and there she knows she can’t win. She’s told me as much. So she’ll risk giving me her wedding oath and hold what she can, rather than wait for the king to sweep her off the board.”
Wedding oath. Something about that…
Even with his swollen lip, John managed to grin. “So be it, then. I won’t be happy serving under that Anglish bastard, mind. But nothing would please me more than to see you take your proper rank–however it came to you–and to serve you as my lord.”
He slipped off the chair and onto his knees. “My lord, I am your man, heart and mind and blade. What do you wish of me?”
As he spoke, the door opened, and Damian and Hereweald entered – looking as stunned as John had a few moments earlier.
Reimund ignored them to rest a hand on John’s head, surprised and touched by the ancient oath he realized now he had never truly expected to hear.
“Rise Sir John, and go tell the armsmen they will soon have a new lady.”
“Yes, my lord,” John stood and limped past Damian and Hereweald to the door – still grinning
“And John? If you so much as raise a hand to my lady again I will string you up myself.”
John bowed, deeply. “I understand.”
Reimund turned to Damian and Hereweald, to answer the questions that were lurking in their eyes.
For John’s sake, and all his men, he would continue to kneel to Lady Mildthryth and wed her knowing he’d be all but cuckolding himself. Somehow he would endure. Wed her…
Wedding oath… as his wife, she would vow to obey him. Would that not supersede his word to her? Relief filled him, tinged with shame. It was not an honorable thing he contemplated. But right now he would happily live with that slight dishonor. And he allowed himself to grin as well as he waved his brothers-in-spirit over to explain to them what was happening.
So Reimund has a plan… How do you think that’s going to go for him?