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.
King Marcel, known among the Anglish as ‘the conqueror’ (to his pleasure or displeasure depending on the day) was not happy. William the Black was currently out of favor with his majesty, his ambitions having exceeded all reasonable bounds. Marcel had traveled halfway across his kingdom in hopes of finding some justification for stripping William’s son of the lordship he had against all expectation or reason, laid claim to.
Unfortunately, Reimund was as clever as his father, avoiding every trap the king had laid for him. Even insults that would have brought most men to the point of drawn steel he met with a calm face and a cool deflection. And an invitation for any of the king’s men to spar with the keep armsmaster. The king’s knights reported that Reimund’s knights referred to the armsmaster as ‘that Anglish bastard’. Seeing that old bastard hold off his best men gave Marcel a new understanding for how a mere woman had held onto her father’s keep so long.
And whatever else that unnatural woman was, she knew how to manage a household. The way her people had turned to and provided feasts, bedding, and stabling for all Marcel’s retainers on such short notice was proof of that.
No, Marcel the Conqueror was not a happy man.
Finally, he accepted that he had no choice. He had promised a boon to the man who brought the bitch to heel. And whatever his… unconventional methods (and how had he maneuvered his way from prisoner to lord?), Reimund — Lord Reimund of Oak Haven now, damn him to the darkness — had managed it.
The offer of a reward took Reimund completely by surprise. He and Milthryth had been so worried about the Baron’s threat, they had forgotten the king’s promised reward. He had been relying quite heavily on what Mildthryth called his ‘Nornish mask’ and other skills from court. That mask kept his surprise off his face, but didn’t help him find an answer for the king. Reimund was not unaware of the king’s hostility. He needed to ask for a boon that gave him a clear benefit, one the king could understand or his Majesty would look for a hidden benefit. If he could, he needed something that made it clear he was not his father’s ally or tool. And if possible he needed something that Mildthryth would approve of.
They had been getting better at working together. Helped somewhat by Reimund spending time with Lady Valdis, learning more of the strange Dragma customs. But while Reimund no longer knelt to his wife, while he understood now what she wanted from their marriage, he didn’t forget that he had sworn liege-oath.
Even if most days it still rankled — a little less each day.
Unfortunately, more than anything else he needed an answer quickly.
When an idea came to him he bit back a chuckle. There had been a thing he had been thinking of late. A thing he had thought there was no way to make happen. But the king could make it happen…
“Majesty, if it is not to much to ask, I would like you to grant me wardship of my sister, Eveline.” He paused and allowed himself a slight smile of triumph. “And for your majesty to provide her dowry.”
The king stared at him a moment, then chuckled. “So, not your father’s man after all.”
Reimund snorted. “I suppose I owe a debt to my father. In a sense. If he had been willing to pay my ransom, I would never have achieved this,” he gestured around the room, to Mildthryth sitting next to him, her eyes properly lowered. “But I think the ancestors will forgive me for holding a small grudge.”
“Good, good.” Marcel grinned. The king could afford to dispense with the mask. “Yes. I grant you wardship of your sister – and any alliance you can make for yourself with her hand in marriage. And a reasonable dowry from my own funds, so you won’t lose a penny in the bargain.”
“Thank you, Majesty.” Reimund said.
The king ate for a few minutes, thinking through all the implications of Reimund’s clever boon. He paused to savor a bite of roast and it was his turn to snort. “Perhaps your wife can teach her to manage a household. I’d feel much more kindly to your father if I didn’t feel I was risking my life every time I ate at your mother’s table.”
“As a dutiful son to my mother, I cannot in good conscious agree with your Majesty.” Reimund murmured. “But your Majesty may wish to save some room for dessert.”
The next morning, the whole burg gave a sigh of relief as the king and his entourage disappeared around a bend in the road. With luck they would not draw his attention again until it was time to celebrate the birth of an heir.
As they watched from the tower walkway, Mildthryth finally asked the question she had been biting back since dinner the night before. “So why did you ask for your sister as your ward? I know it wasn’t just to use her as a bargaining chip – if only because you know exactly what I’d think of any such thing.”
“I am trying to be a dutiful husband, my lady.” Now he grinned, a mischievous expression Mildthryth once would have not believed he was capable of. “Could you not believe that I have family feelings for her?”
“Reimund, until last night I didn’t even know you had a sister.”
“I do care for her,” he said. “And she deserves better than whatever marriage my father would force on her.
“But mostly… Ancestors’ witness, but I’m starting to believe John was right to call you witch. Why else would I think…” he trailed off.
Mildthryth tried to glare, but couldn’t stop the corner of her mouth from twitching. “Out with it, sirrah. Or you’ll sleep in your own bed tonight.”
Reimund took up her hand and kissed it. “I thought she could use a better role model.”
It was several minutes before either of them could speak again. But when they finally released each other, he said, “And my mother’s table really is deadly.”
All’s well that ends well. And maybe we’ll peek back in on Eveline in a few years.
Next week we’ll be starting How NOT to Save the World (season 1)
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