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 entered her sunroom and sat in her favorite chair. It was placed to best catch the sun at any time of day. The lady of the keep’s sunroom had more windows – and thus was more exposed – than any other room in the fortress. That was why it was on the highest floor of the keep, and the windows – though many – were small and narrow.
Reimund followed her a short time later. She glanced from him to the floor by her feet and back. He took a breath then came to her and knelt, with his accustomed grace.
She put a finger under his chin and lifted his head so she could see his eyes. As always, his face was a mask that told her nothing.
“I prefer that you kneel when we are in private here or in your rooms, my lord.” That should do for reminding him of his place going forward. “In other areas or when we are not alone here, you may sit or stand as you prefer.”
“Henre studied warfare under my father until his death. Similar to what you Norn’s would call being his squire. I understand you did not bring a ‘squire’ with you. I wish you to take Henre.”
His eyes flashed but he only said, “As you wish, Lady Mildthryth.”
“Sit now, my lord. It won’t be long before he joins us.”
He stood quickly and moved to the chair opposite hers. “Thank you, Lady Mildthryth.”
They sat in silence until there was a rap on the door and Henre slipped in.
“You sent for me, my lord, my lady?”
She said nothing, looking at Reimund. He met her eyes for a long moment, then turned to Henre.
“You are Henre, yes?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Lady Mildthryth has recommended you to me. I am in need of a squire as well as someone I can trust to help me learn Anglish custom.”
He turned and met Mildthryth’s eyes. “Somethings here will need to change to the Nornish manner.”
He was right, she realized. It would look strange if a new Nornish lord did not institute his own ways and customs. And, quick-witted, he had found a way to tell her so without making it an order or a request. She nodded and he turned back to Henre.
“But I would prefer to avoid disrupting the routines or distressing the cook.” He winked and Henre chuckled. Mildthryth smiled and shook her head. For all the stone face he had shown her so far, he knew how to charm another warrior. She had been right to take this man as her lord. If only she could trust him to be a true consort to her, a partner she could rely on and not a threat she must guard against.
And on that thought… “Henre, I agree with everything Lord Reimund has said, but Lord Reimund is right about not understanding our ways or people. If you have any concerns I expect you to bring them to me as well as Lord Reimund so I can guide him as he requires.”
Reimund’s good humor disappeared in an instant. But he nodded his agreement. “As my lady says, Henre.” He took a deep breath. “She is still lady here and I wish her to be obeyed as myself.” He turned to speak with Mildthryth, “I doubt those who have been loyal to you so long need it said, my lady, but I will make sure that… our Nornish warriors understand as well.”
“Thank you, my lord. I am sure you are correct, but it is best to be sure.” And reassuring that he would make it clear.
“I believe,” he continued, still looking at her, “That my lady would prefer to have me to herself for today.” She nodded, surprised, and again pleased that he didn’t take the excuse of Henre’s new duties to evade her. “Move your things to my quarters today and then speak with Sir Hereweald’s squire, Frances. I expect you to report on a squire’s duties and what additional equipment you might need at breakfast tomorrow.”
“Yes, my lord. My lady.” Henre bowed and left in a hurry.
When the door closed, Reimund stared at her, gripping the arms of his chair. She waited.
Slowly, he stood and came, once again, to kneel before her.
“You did well, Lord Reimund. I have set you a difficult task and am reassured that I was right to trust you with it.”
“Thank you, my lady.” He didn’t, quite, wince, at her emphasis on trust. Neither of them would soon forget his attempted betrayal, but he seemed to have resigned himself to her victory over him. There were many ways he could pervert or twist his oath to her and gain power. But he himself was giving the orders that would prevent many of them.
She stood. “Come, Lord Reimund. We have a short time before supper. I will give you a tour of the keep.”
After supper Mildthryth took Reimund on a ride around their lands. To review them ‘properly, this time.’ To Reimund’s discomfort, she also invited her mother to join them. Yet Lady Valdis, for all the Dragma reputation for crudity and aggression, was a delightful companion. For much of the ride, Lady Mildthryth spoke of the land and answered any questions he had. But any time a silence lengthened between them, Lady Valdis had a song or story to share. What she called the shorter ‘sagas’ of the Dragma, including the story of the Ancestors’ arrival on this world. Though she insisted she was no ‘Singer’ Reimund swore that she would be welcomed at any noble court.
Around Lady Valdis, Lady Mildthryth also relaxed, teasing and laughing. And Reimund found himself fascinated with the lady’s Dragma stories and the very different life they revealed. The trio returned shortly before last meal.
Reimund had, thankfully, had a chance to tell Lady Mildthryth that his knights would expect to be seated at the high table in acknowledgment of their rank. The Lady had agreed to adjust her own customs but added to the table the priest, Armsmaster, and Seneschal.
He had feared an awkward and uncomfortable meal. Lady Valdis again saved them. She picked up their earlier conversation and involved the priest and Damian in a comparison of their people’s different stories of the landing. The priest was unsurprisingly familiar with the lady’s Dragma heresy. He responded to her outrageous statements with good humor and confident rebuttals. Damian, spurned from his usual silence by new ideas, took his cue from the priest.
With the three debaters going full gallop, Reimund and the others need only sit back and listen. Though Lady Mildthryth jumped in from time to time, alternately skewering one of the partisans or presenting a perspective that unified conflicting views. It seemed that to ‘strike like lightning’ was indeed a Dragma custom. More than once one of the ladies would sit silent for a time, then ‘strike’ the conversation with a comment that would send Damian reeling. The Priest seemed used to this tactic, adapting quickly to each attack.
After the Priest made one telling rebuttal, Lady Mildthryth burst out laughing, a high pitched giggle that Reimund found delightful. The lady fascinated him. If he had only been able to take her as wife in truth, and not this mockery that left him half a man, he would have counted himself one of the luckiest men in the world.
He did his best to push aside his bitterness, focusing on Damian’s fresh offensive against the priest. Really, who could believe the Ancestors had slept thousands of years in their voyage to this world?
After last meal, he followed Mildthryth to her rooms, where she once again took him in her bed. This time she did not restrict his hands. He was able to wrap his fingers around her curves, palm her breasts, and give her some small portion of the pleasure that should be his right to bestow as her husband.
They fell asleep together, but during the night he woke and removed to his own rooms. Henre was there, sleeping at the foot of his bed, as was proper. But he found himself wishing that the boy had been a bit less… eager to take up his new duties. For even in his own rooms, he could not have privacy.
The next morning, Reimund broke his fast alone, but a message came from Lady Mildthryth as he finished. She asked his plans for the day. A reasonable question from a new wife. Except that she would pass judgment on his plans. Except that he hadn’t been sure he would be allowed to plan his day.
Except that he was on his knees before her.
But she said only that it would be a relief to have him take over managing the defense and land and let her focus on managing the burgh.
It occurred to him for the first time that the king’s edict would not be the only reason she had wished to wed. She had been doing the jobs of ruling lord and lady both since her father died.
After Reimund left to review their defenses with Wigmar, Mildthryth asked her mother to join her in the sunroom.
Unsurprisingly, the blunt Dragma lady immediately did exactly what Mildthryth hoped she would: asked about sex.
“Even knowing you all my life, mother, I still don’t know how you can be so forward about it, but right now, I’m grateful.”
“Problems? Tell me the nit didn’t make you bleed, or I’ll bleed him for you.”
Mildthryth laughed ruefully. “No mother, I remembered well enough your lessons and everything the cousins told me.” She shook her head. “Ancestors know you and they shocked me enough I had no chance of forgetting.”
“So you always say, mother.” She sighed. “I think I’m doing something wrong.”
“Bah. Either you remember your lessons or you do not. If you do, how could you go wrong?”
“It’s… For my first experience, it went well. Wonderful, really. But… I was the only one who was relaxed afterward. Reimund had his release, but instead of drifting as I did, he remained tense and stiff–”
“His muscles, mother, not…”
“Ah.” her mother was silent for a time. “And it was good for you? No, I do not ask for details. Not from my so-Anglish daughter. But tell me true.”
She blushed. She couldn’t help it. “Ah. Hm. Yes. You warned me that the first time I wasn’t likely to… ah… And you were right. But if I can have that again, then I don’t think I care if I ever get to… ah…”
Her mother nodded. “Some never do. For me, I will say it was the one thing your father–”
“Mother!” Mildthryth covered her ears. Really, even for Dragma there should be limits!
“Ha! Anglish, as I said. Very well.” Valdis was silent again. “It may be, daughter, that you were too focused on yourself. Release is always good for a man, but there is a difference between good and wonderful, yes?”
Mildthryth nodded, frowning.
“No! I do not say you did wrong. I know you daughter. For your first time to focus mostly on yourself is good. But see if you can focus on his pleasure this night. That may make much difference.”
Mildthryth nodded again, smiling this time. “Thank you, mother. And I know exactly what I’ll do.”
“It is good. Now, shall we ride.”
Cross cultural relationships can have the worst landmines, you know?