The Bargain (S2 Finale)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN season ending, mind fuck

Mattin froze in the doorway to the lady’s office, too ashamed to face her. Finally, he forced his feet forward. One step at a time until he was before her desk. He dropped to his knees and prostrated himself. His throat was dry and wouldn’t work. Then he waited, praying she wouldn’t leave him there all day.

After what seemed far too long but was probably a few moments, she spoke. “Stand up.”

He stood but couldn’t raise his head. “I will not throw away my chance to stop my enemy because a fool boy let his fear run away with him. If you are willing to wear my collar, it will be returned to you.”

Mattin’s knees went weak with relief, “Thank you, Lady. I—”

“Quiet.”

His mouth snapped shut. He felt a chill of fear. “If I could, I would ban you from the glamourhame. Court makes that impossible. Instead, you will never again speak while in the glamourhame. If you do, I will gag you.

“You will never again speak to Jaffrey or any of my toys unless you are carrying a message for me.”

Mattin heard Brit stir, but the older man stopped when Jahlene glared at him. “You will never again speak of glamourhai in my hearing.”

“Yes, Lady,” Mattin whispered. It… he deserved all this and more. She had every right to place these restrictions on him… but…

It didn’t matter. The lady despised him now, and he couldn’t blame her. Jaffrey would feel the same… But he still had a chance to save Marta. And he had Brit, whose solid presence had supported him since the day he arrived here. Cook, Elose… he couldn’t walk away from them any more than he could walk away from Marta.

The lady had a collar ready on her desk. For all Mattin knew, it was the same collar she had ripped from him the day before. She didn’t give it to him but tossed it to Brit. The older man turned to face Mattin and held the collar up. “Does it matter what you want, boy?”

Despite everything, a faint smile tugged at Mattin’s lips. “Yes… Yes, sir.”

He reached for the collar, but Brit stepped forward and fitted the leather around his neck. It felt right. God and Mare help him, the collar felt right. “You’ll do, lad.”

After a moment, Brit stepped back and moved to his place at the lady’s shoulder.

“Clean up and return.” Jahlene ordered, “It will be a long day.”

“Thank you, Lady.” Mattin bowed himself out and headed for the washroom and a clean suit of clothes.

~~~

Jahlene watched Mattin leave and allowed herself a moment to bury her head in her hands. Brit had been right. The pain radiated off of him. How had she missed it? She had seen what she wanted to see—what she expected to see and ignored the rest.

She managed to hold steady during their interview—barely. But dear Dannu, she had never imagined hurting so much. Not since her mother died had anyone been able to strike her to the heart that way.

“I’m not sure that was wise, lass,” Brit spoke from beside her.

“It was necessary,” she snapped.

“For who? The lad’s near to breaking. In one stroke, you stripped him of the best source for answers and his closest friend here.”

“For both of us.”

Brit sighed and ran a hand through his hair, “Alright, lass. I think you’re making a mistake, but you do what you need to. Make sure you don’t destroy him in the process.”

“I’ll try not to. At least this time… this time, he actually wanted the collar. It’s more than I hoped for.” She heard the wistfulness in her own voice and squelched it. Keeping her distance would protect both of them. There was no other way.

~~~

Mattin tried to slip back into the rhythm of a normal day. The pattern remained the same as always. Only the mood changed. The lady treated him with cold formality; there was no conversation, no banter. Just orders and obedience.

Mattin tried hard to focus on his relief, his gratitude. The formality, the distance, the coldness hurt. But surely he’d hurt the lady as much, if not more. He didn’t want to make the damage worse by inflicting his pain on her. So he smiled and reminded himself how lucky he was. He brushed a hand along the collar, reminding himself how right it felt. Still, the hours passed slowly.

The rest of the household made it easier to be grateful through the long day. Gossip ran swiftly, and everyone in the manor would know of his disgrace. He expected a harsh welcome from many, yet when he passed Elose while running an errand, she kissed him on the cheek and told him she worried about him. Toerff, when he went down to the kitchen, clapped him on the shoulder and slipped him a pastry saved from dinner. Even silent Harth took a moment to grab his shoulders and shake him, saying “Don’t scare us like that!”

Cook said nothing but pulled him into a awkward bear hug.

He didn’t deserve their support and care, but he clung to it. Especially when he returned to Jahlene and faced, again, her cold distance.

Poor sleep, a liquid dinner the night before, and his hangover combined to make the day a misery. Sleep weighed on his eyes for most of the afternoon. After dinner, exhaustion and formality made his attendance on Jahlene’s bath almost mechanical.

She stiffened under his hands as he washed her hair, and his heart broke a little more. In the intimate setting, the distance cut deeper. When she was settled in her dressing gown, he requested permission to seek his own bed. For the first time since he started serving the lady Mattin wanted desperately to leave her presence.

As he crawled into bed, he called to mind his last memory of Marta. “I remember, Marta. You are the reason I’m here. I won’t forget again.”

~~~

Jahlene huddled in bed, remembering the acid bite of Mattin’s fear and desperation. His eagerness to flee.

She had tasted his desire for the collar earlier. Somehow, he craved her collar but wanted nothing to do with her. She would need to armor herself against him. As soon as possible, she’d move him to another part of the manor. Before they destroyed each other.


That… didn’t go well.

We’re going to give these two a desperately needed break and start Season 2 of Mighty Hero Force Epsilon next week.

There are certain rules a sentai team is supposed to follow. They’re supposed to have matching uniforms, and a theme. And they ALWAYS have a guide or mentor. Someone who gave them their powers and can tell them how to use those powers. Someone who tells them what their team name is supposed to be and the history of their enemy.

The rules have been broken. They have no team uniform, the have no guide. They have magic powers they don’t understand and an unknown enemy taking over random cities.

At least they get along, right?

As usual, the newsletter is ahead of the website, so if you want to read the first month of Epsilon now, go ahead and sign up.

The Bargain (S2, E11)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN season ending, mind fuck

Mattin woke up and wanted to die. He wasn’t sure which was worse, the memories or the pain. After a long moment, he opened his eyes. The pain won.

Looking around, he saw a pitcher of water and a loaf of bread next to the pallet. With a whisper of thanks to Brit, he grabbed for the water. The sound of his own voice set his head ringing, and he swore he would never touch uisqe bache again.

Where the hell had Brit gotten the stuff?

He got up slowly, trying to avoid setting off any more wracking pain.

For a while, he sat, not thinking. Whenever the pain subsided a bit, he’d take a drink of water or a bite of the bread. By the time the bread was gone and half the water inside him, he felt nearly human.

Which meant he had to face how badly he had screwed up.

His dreams haunted him. Marta was right—he had forgotten her, forgotten everything he did here was for her. He’d let his own fears take over, and…

And managed to destroy everything in one moment of stupidity.

His hand came up and rubbed his neck. He wanted for yesterday to have never happened. To be up in the manor helping Cook with the bread or bringing the lady her breakfast. He felt… naked without the collar.

Mattin had nothing now. He had failed Marta and had no other chance, no other way of saving her. Couldn’t go back to his father’s inn, had destroyed his place with the lady… maybe she would give him another chance? Bloody Mare, why would she? She’d accepted his bargain in the first place as a way to hurt Oeloff. How could he be anything but a menace to her at court if he couldn’t control himself? He was useless to the lady and Marta both.

Not knowing what else to do but unable to bear his thoughts, he drank the rest of the water and started cleaning the cabin. He couldn’t stay, but as long as he delayed, he didn’t need to figure out where to go.

~~~

Mattin had just finished making up the bed when the cabin door opened. “Still here?” Mattin spun around. Brit stood in the doorway. “Good. Meant to be back earlier.”

“I wasn’t going to leave a mess for you to clean up.” His voice shook.

Brit nodded and leaned against the door frame. “Can’t say I don’t appreciate it.” When he didn’t say anything else, Mattin went back to cleaning. He couldn’t look at the older man and had no idea what to say. “So, you’ve a chance to start fresh. What do you want to do with it? You could go back to your inn, could find work in town. Lots of options if you’re willing to take them.”

“Fresh start?” Mattin surprised himself with a bitter laugh. “I failed Marta, betrayed the lady, and lost…” He picked up the broom and jabbed at the floor, blinking away the blurriness of his vision.

“Mayhap.” Brit rubbed his chin and nodded. “If all that’s true, then nothing matters but what you want.”

“I’ll figure something out.” Mattin stopped trying to sweep and propped the broom against a wall. His hands shook without the broom handle to steady his grip. “I’ll get out of your way.”

“Boy, if I wanted you to take off, I wouldn’t be standing here blocking the doorway. Now answer the damn question.”

The old man’s growl stopped Mattin in his tracks. This had the feel of another of Brit’s lessons — no explanations, just leading questions until Mattin gave him the answer he wanted. And that made no sense. “Why?” Mattin demanded, “In case you forgot, I’m not your problem anymore.”

Brit walked over and smacked Mattin on the back of his head.

Mattin tried to glare at him, but… the world blurred again, and he turned away. “You’re wrong, Brit,” he finally said, “what I want doesn’t matter.”

Brit snorted and shook his head, “Then I suppose you might as well come with me.”

“What?” Mattin shook his head.

“You gone deaf, too, boy?” Brit went through the door at a fast walk. “Hope your legs still work. I won’t be carrying you.”

Confused, hungover, and for the first time daring to hope, Mattin jogged after him, wincing with every step.

Brit spoke only once more as they jogged to the manor– when Mattin threw up a few hundred feet out from the cabin. “Alright, boy?” he asked and pulled out a clean rag to wipe Mattin’s face.

“Do I look alright?” Mattin gasped.

Brit chuckled, helped him to his feet, and they continued on.

Brit’s silence gave Mattin far too much time to think, which only added to the churning in his stomach. He was (please, Lady) going to get a chance. He had to make things right. Somehow.

~~~

When they reached the manor, Mattin had to brace himself to walk up the steps. For a moment, he was afraid the lady’s glamour would block him from entering, but it didn’t. Joth was on door guard and he patted Mattin’s shoulder awkwardly as he passed. Mattin was grateful for the support, even if he couldn’t imagine why it was offered.

Brit led him through the manor to Jahlene’s office. He remembered clearly the first time he had followed Brit down this hall, the last time he came to ask Lady Jahlene for her collar. He’d been terrified then because he had no idea what to expect, but hoping desperately she’d accept him.

He knew what to expect now, and that made both the terror and the hope worse.

The lady sat at her desk, hair bound up in a severe and intricate style. Her eyes were cold, her lips tight. Under her pitiless gaze, hope shriveled to a faint spark. Only the presence of Brit behind him kept Mattin from turning and running again.

The Bargain (S2, E10

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN season ending, mind fuck

By the time Brit reached Jahlene’s door, he was in a foul mood. Jaffrey and Crait’s revelations had pushed his temper to the breaking point. He barged in on Jahlene and Parlen without bothering to knock. Jahlene sat on the couch, knees drawn up under her chin—the girl was hurt and trying to hide it. Parlen sat on the floor beside Jahlene fiddling with her blasted skirts.

Jahlene jumped up and started towards him.

The lost little girl look on her face was too much. “What, by the Mare’s Mane, were you thinking?!” he bellowed.

Parlen cleared her throat.

Jahlene froze in her rush to greet him and stared at him. “What was I thinking? What was I thinking! That… that man practically attacked me, had Jaffrey in tears, you ran off to coddle him, and you want to know what I was thinking? How dare you!”

“Excuse me,” Parlen said.

Brit was close to slapping Jahlene. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been this angry, this betrayed. He stepped towards her, hands fisted, “You have a hell of a lot of nerve, Jahlene. Jaffrey is fine, as you’d know if you even bothered to listen to him for five seconds. He was afraid /for/ Mattin. And I am about to take you over my knee like a little brat. How dare you use glamour on that boy? How dare you endanger him like that?”

“Will you both shut up!” Parlen bellowed.

Brit and Jahlene both stared at her.

“It would be very nice,” she continued demurely, “if you could sit down and fill me in on what you are talking about.”

Brit and Jahlene looked at each other, looked back at Parlen. After a moment, they both sat down and started talking.

~~~

Parlen was rather a bit shocked that Jahlene and Brit had actually listened, but it worked. By getting them to tell her what happened, she also got each to hear what the other was saying. And she didn’t want to see Jahlene—or Brit—angry again anytime soon. That would be bad.

Of course, the sheer obliviousness staggered her. “You mean you both knew Mattin was developing an interest in glamourhai, and neither one of you expected him to have some minor problems. Problems like—oh, I don’t know—thinking he was going crazy?”

Brit sighed and rubbed his head, “Thank you, Madam Obvious. You are the third person to point out our oversight this evening. Though the other two were more respectful.”

Parlen found herself rolling her eye, but at least Brit understood. Jahlene, unfortunately, was staring at Parlen like she had two heads. “That makes no sense. What in the world does liking pain have to do with being crazy? The way he was acting this afternoon—that was crazy!”

Parlen opened her mouth, then stopped, “It’s a human thing, Mistress.”

“None of my toys ever did anything like this.”

She… Parlen tried not to think of it as pouting.

Brit sighed, “Actually, Crait and Jaffrey say they went through the same thing. It happened before they came here. Bad enough Jaffrey nearly killed himself. He knew Mattin was attacking himself earlier. If you’d bothered to listen to him when he tried to tell you—or pay attention to your own bloody senses—you’d have known it, too.”

“Alright Brit, I get it.” She hunched down and wrapped her arms around her knees. “I messed up. Can we please get back on the subject?”

“Which one? I count at least five.” Parlen felt compelled to point out.

“Five?” Brit asked.

“Mattin’s outburst, the mistress’ using glamour on him, your collective stupidity, what, if anything, will happen to Mattin now, and how this mess affects our trap for Oeloff.”

Jahlene threw her arms out, “How can anything happen to Mattin now—he’s gone. Probably heading back to his father’s inn and the ‘normal’ life he’s been pining for.”

Brit shook his head. “He’s passed out drunk in the hunting cabin. Even aside from the uisqe, he’s not in good shape and is definitely not going prancing anywhere come morning.”

“Why not? Why stay if he thinks I’m a monster no different from Oeloff?”

Brit sighed, “Lass, the last time I saw you act this bratty, your mother ruled the county. Since then, you’ve put up with me, this fool, the cook, and the disasters this place throws at you without breaking a sweat. I do not believe you are acting like a ninny because Mattin opened his mouth and shoved his foot down into his stomach. Are you falling in love with the boy?”

Jahlene jerked her head up. “Fae don’t love like humans do, you know that, Brit.”

“Uh-huh.” Brit rolled his eyes. “Fae also aren’t supposed to care about humans and certainly aren’t supposed to claim one for a brother. Cut the manure.”

“By Dannu, Brit, how should I know!” Jahlene hopped off the couch and began to pace—much like Brit normally did. “I don’t know what love is. I like him, I was hoping… I want him to be mine Brit! Really mine and none of this holding back and resentment.” She stopped, and her hands groped in front of her—reaching for a missed catch. “In the past few weeks, he’s become like another set of hands I didn’t know I was missing… I can’t have him close to me if I can’t trust him, Brit. I can’t.”

Parlen bit her lip. As if all the humans in the manor didn’t need to trust Jahlene, no matter how many mistakes she might make. But not a helpful thing to say. Let Brit handle it now that he had calmed down.

“But you did let him close, and he screwed up and hurt you. Well, you screwed up and hurt him, too. Would you let him back?”

“I… Into the household, yes. For the political advantages, if nothing else. But I can’t trust him, Brit. I can’t.” She seemed to sag around herself. Parlen got up and drew her back to the couch. Once Jahlene was seated, Parlen began braiding her hair. Slowly, Jahlene’s shoulders relaxed.

“Alright.” Brit rubbed the scar on his face. “I’ll talk with him in the morning. You’ll need to be careful of him—he’s blasted fragile right now.” He sighed. “And you’ll need to fix things with Jaffrey. He’s hurting too. I can’t deal with the rest of this mess tonight. But… damn it, girl.”

Jahlene spread her hands, “I’m sorry, Brit. You were right. I promised you I’d never use glamour to control my people. I just… he wasn’t one of mine, then. He hurt me, I thought he hurt Jaffrey, and I don’t let anyone hurt the people who are mine.”

Brit accepted this with a grudging nod, “Yeah, well, check your aim better next time. And for god’s sake, use your damned senses. Tasting emotions is the one part of your bloody glamour that’s more of a help than pain, so don’t ignore it!”

~~~

Mattin slept horribly, his dreams filled with Marta. She sat on the floor next to him with her head resting on her knees. “Did I mean so little to you?” she asked, tears running down her cheeks, “Why did you forget me?”

He wrapped his arms around her, “You’re my sister! I could never forget you.”

“But you did! You did, and now it’s too late.” Her back split under his hands, and blood poured down and pooled on the floor. “You forgot me, Mattin.” A gash opened across her face, and white skull showed between the edges. “You failed me, Mattin.” Her voice echoed and split. “I trusted you, and you failed me.” She stood, and then the lady was beside her. “You made me a promise,” they said. Marta’s arm twisted and bent, becoming scarred and useless. The lady’s power blazed about her like a star, blinding him. “I trusted you. You failed me.” The lady faded into nothingness, and Marta collapsed to the ground. “Why did you forget, Mattin?” Blood bubbled from her lips. She said no more.

~~~

Jahlene missed Mattin as she readied for bed. She was used to having him with her throughout the day. A steady presence she could rely on. She had let herself forget–he wasn’t like the rest of her people. She had watched his growing interest in the glamourhame, his growing comfort at her side. Somehow she had missed the pain, the fear, underneath.

She had seen what she wanted to see, and she’d hurt him as well as herself. She had broken a near-sacred promise made to Brit. She had hurt one of her cherished toys.

She didn’t know how to help Mattin. As the night crept by, she realized any attempt she made to help was likely to hurt him more. So her initial impulse would be best for him as well. Keep a distance. Divorce him from glamourhai as much as possible while still training him for glamourhame service in court. With enough distance between them, they wouldn’t hurt each other again.

When they returned from court, he could go back to the kitchen or perhaps the stables.

She would miss him by her side, but it would be better that way.

Surely it would be better that way.

The Bargain (S2, E9)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN season ending, mind fuck

Brit took Mattin to the old hunting cabin he’d turned into a private retreat. He didn’t know who had built it or why. It was too close to the manor to be worthwhile as a rest home for the nobles who owned the land. The huntmaster took the hounds up to it now and again for extra training. Otherwise, it was left empty.

Brit, with Jahlene’s permission, kept the place stocked with food and drink that wouldn’t go bad. It became his hideout when the memories got too bad. He hadn’t needed it in years, but he kept it ready, just in case. And the huntmaster never objected to finding good drink and fresh sheets.

Mattin settled down to drinking easily enough—trying to drown his sorrows if Brit was any judge. Neither of them said anything for the first half hour or so, but when Brit thought the boy had enough drink in him, he started asking questions. The rambling responses took a bit of work to piece together, but he was finally getting some actual information. Soon Brit had a clear picture of what happened. A damn horrifying picture, but a picture. What he couldn’t for the life of him figure out was why. Why had Mattin gone off that way? Why hadn’t Jahlene seen the boy’s pain? What by the Mare’s Blood and God’s Hammer had led her to break every promise she ever made him and use her hoof-damned glamour on the boy?

He really wanted an answer to that question.

Brit took the spirits away when Mattin stopped being able to speak in full sentences. He stuffed a half loaf of bread and a pitcher of water into the boy, got him out to the privy, and tucked him into bed. The boy would need a lot more than a night’s drunk to get through this mess, but damned if he could do anything else right now. He looked around for some way to leave a note but couldn’t find anything. He would have to be back before the boy woke in the morning. Shouldn’t be too hard. Mattin didn’t know how to hold hard liquor. He latched the door behind him and started back to the manor, praying nothing else had blown up in his absence.

~~~

An hour later, the steward was digging for the next set of answers.

The jog back gave Brit too much time to think. He wanted to go straight to Jahlene and find out what, by the Mare, she had been thinking. Damn it, even he could tell Mattin had lashed out from pain, and the girl was supposed to be able to taste emotions! But Brit remembered his responsibilities—even if a certain girl who thought she was too big to be put over his damned knee insisted on forgetting hers. So before he cornered Jahlene, he checked on Jaffrey.

He found the boy well enough, bandaged and resting with Crait and Joth keeping him company. “You’re looking better than I was afraid of.”

Jaffrey shrugged, “It’s… good to have time with her after, but not necessary. Not for me anyway.”

Crait snorted, “Not usually. Today was…”

“Time with the mistress was the last thing I needed after today,” Jaffrey said.

Brit winced. Jahlene would be a long time cleaning up the damage from this day’s work. Jaffrey took a deep breath and looked down at his feet. “If you can cover for Crait and Joth ditching work to sit with me, it would be good.”

“Done,” Brit promised. Relieved to see at least one part of the mess was in hand, he turned to go.

“How is Mattin?” Jaffrey asked.

Brit sighed and shook his head, “Not well. And that was before I poured a dram of uisqe down his throat.”

Crait winced. He’d had a taste of Brit’s special a time or two. “Why?”

“Only way I could think of to get him to open up, and I still don’t understand what set him off.” Brit paced the room as he spoke.

Jaffrey and Crait both laughed. Brit froze, then glared at them. “I don’t suppose either of you would care to share the joke?”

The two japesters tried to stop laughing, but every time they quieted, a glance or a snort would set them off again. Crait got control of himself enough to say. “It’s- Well, normally, it isn’t quite so bloody obvious you were raised among fae.”

Brit looked at Joth and found Joth looking back at him. Joth shrugged. He clearly didn’t understand any more than Brit did.

Brit took a deep breath and reminded himself that neither of them had done anything to deserve a black eye. Another deep breath. A third. “Explain.”

Crait stood, spreading his hands in front of him. “It’s a normal reaction for a human raised by humans. Especially one raised to see fae and glamourhai as evil. Jaffrey and I both went through something similar—though I think, ” he glanced at Jaffrey, “the Mountain Folk handle things a bit differently.”

Jaffrey snorted, “If I hadn’t come from a trading family, I’d have known better, but we spent so much time among you low-landers… Once I convinced myself to talk to someone, the Oracle straightened me out in a hurry.”

Brit shook his head, confused. If anyone knew the fae were evil, it was someone raised by them! What did that have to do with anything?

Crait tried again. “Glamourhai is a fae thing. Humans aren’t supposed to like hurting people. Humans aren’t supposed to like being hurt. A human who is interested in glamourhai is just as much of a monster as the fae.”

Brit’s jaw dropped.

“Enjoying fae pleasures among most humans wouldn’t be seen much differently than a fae using a child for their pleasures. It’s… that level of wrong.”

“Most humans who live around here,” Jaffrey put in. “The further you get from fae-controlled land, the more different things are from what any of you are used to.”

“Oh.” He needed to start picking Parlen’s brain. Life for humans outside the fae manors was even stranger than he’d thought. Hadn’t these boys heard of King Garel? Or the God’s ride on the Bloody Mare? He shoved the confusion aside. What he understood now threw the afternoon in a whole new light. And raised new questions. “But you came here anyway?”

“I had it easier.” Jaffrey met Brit’s eyes with a challenging look. “With the mistress wanting something from the Folk, I didn’t need to worry as much that she would be like most fae.” Brit nodded, understanding what Jaffrey couldn’t say—the Mountain Folk had their own reasons for wanting him here. The boy grinned and shrugged, “Plus, the warrior families… they call it—the desire for pain—the Mare’s Blessing. They took me in hand once I stopped hiding everything. By the time I came here, I knew there was nothing wrong with me.”

“It was a real risk,” Crait said, staring off into the distance. “I didn’t have the… support Jaffrey had. What if the mistress wasn’t different? What if the rumors were wrong? And even if they weren’t, did I want to do this? To be this crazy person? Give up everything in my life for this perversion? When my father found out, he disowned me. So I came here.”

Brit was stunned. He’d spent a lot of time with Jaffrey and Crait. Trained them the same as he’d trained Mattin and, hell, most of the household. “I never knew.”

Joth reached out and put a hand on Crait’s shoulder.

“Here, it was normal.” After all these years, Crait’s voice still held a hint of wonder, “That was the strange thing. Suddenly this horrible secret is out in the open, and no one cared.”

He turned to Joth. “Strangest thing in my life was watching you walk up to the mistress and say you wanted glamourhai the moment you were old enough. Like it was the most reasonable thing in the world.”

“But you and Jaffrey never broke the way Mattin is.” Brit started pacing again.

Crait and Jaffrey exchanged glances, “Not here, no. I came… Well, if I hadn’t heard of the mistress from a passing trader, I don’t know what I would have done when my father disowned me.”

Jaffrey held up his wrist. The scar was invisible from a distance, but Brit knew it was there now. How had he not noticed before?

“I nearly killed myself before I could admit my feelings to the Oracles. One way or another, Crait and I wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t already been through what he’s doing to himself and come out alive and heart-whole.”

Brit felt himself freeze. He’d seen Jaffrey’s scar, recognized how scared the boy had been, but hadn’t understood the fear. The thought of Mattin spending a night alone was suddenly a lot less reassuring.

“And Mattin?”

Jaffrey nodded, “I was worried. If… well, he’s not me, and you were able to find him.” He swallowed. “Is… will he be back?”

“I hope so.” Brit headed for the door. “I need to find the mistress. Thank you. You’ve helped a lot.”

He pretended he didn’t hear the murmur as the door closed behind him, “Yeah, find her and pound some sense into her.”

The Bargain (S2, E8)

Bound by His Oath is 50% off on Smashwords now through Jan 1. If you missed it last summer, go pick it up now.


Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN season ending, mind fuck

Mattin stood by the door of the glamourhame and watched the lady play with Jaffrey. It wasn’t the second time he had been there, or the fifth. Each time had been a little bit easier. And a little bit more disturbing.

This had been a long session. The longest Mattin had witnessed. He swayed on his feet, and fought to keep his thoughts under control. When did he stop finding the lady’s hunger terrifying and start finding it… entrancing? God and Mare, he was disgusting.

Jaffrey got down from the cross, covered in sweat and blood, stinking of pain and arousal. Mattin had a nearly overwhelming desire to throw himself at her feet and beg her to let him serve her as Jaffrey did. What demon was she to do this to him?

Jahlene was flushed and breathing hard; her body glistened with sweat—she was beautiful. Mattin wanted, more than he would have imagined possible, to have her look at him with that hunger—and know he would be the one to sate it.

A sound, a moan, escaped his throat, drawing Jahlene’s attention.

She looked him up and down, and saw… he didn’t know what she saw. But she strode up to him, grabbed his hair, pulled his head down, and kissed him. Hard.

Stunned, overwhelmed, he wanted nothing more than to melt for her.

Horror and revulsion welled up. He shoved her away, tripping over his own feet in his desperation to get away.

She approached him cautiously, eyes narrowed, “Mattin, are you alright? I thought-”

“Alright?” his voice was a squeak, “This… it’s… it’s disgusting. It’s monstrous. You torture people, and they…” he turned on Jaffrey, “How can you do this? How can you let yourself be used as a- a toy, to be hurt and broken for no reason other than someone’s degenerate pleasure? How can you want this!”

Jahlene slapped him.

It shocked him back into control of himself. Tears poured down his cheeks. He fell to his knees. Tried to gather his wits, to babble out an apology.

“Be silent.” Her voice sliced like a knife. “Jaffrey, please wait for me outside.”

Jaffrey shook his head, “Mistress, I need—”

“I’ll be with you shortly, love. I know you need care. Please wait outside.”

“Mistress, you—”

“Now, Jaffrey.” A long moment of silence and then footsteps walked past him, the door opened and closed. It was a relief. Whatever happened now, at least no one else would witness it.

“Stand up.”

Without even thinking, Mattin found himself on his feet. Her voice took over his thoughts, his will. When he raised his eyes to look at her, she was overwhelming. She filled his vision, perfection given form. She was magnificent. And he had failed her. He wanted to beg her forgiveness, to grovel at her feet. She did not allow it.

She reached up and ripped his collar from his neck. The leather pulled away so easily. Like cobwebs.

“You are not mine. Get out.”

His hands grasped uselessly, and tears poured down his cheeks. And his feet turned and led him from her presence. He walked in a womb of cotton, forced on by her will. Somewhere nearby, he heard voices. Something that might have been his name. It didn’t matter. He had to leave. His feet carried him down the hall and out the door. He kept going until he was out of sight of the manor.

His body returned to his control. He lowered himself to the ground and buried his head in his hands.

~~~

Brit was coming in from the stables when he saw Mattin walking down the hall. One look at his face, at the way he moved, and Brit felt the pulse start pounding in his head. The betrayal hurt more than he’d ever imagined. He swallowed the fury down and fought to maintain control of himself. He had to help Mattin before he could seek out Jahlene and give in to the anger.

As he forced the rage under control, he became aware of Jaffrey: naked, bleeding, and a disgusting mess, trailing after Mattin, trying to get his friend’s attention.

“Jaffrey?”

“Mattin!” Jaffrey called again.

Brit put a hand on Jaffrey’s shoulder, stopping him. “He can’t hear you, lad. She glamoured him.” Rage tried to flare as he spoke the betrayal out loud. He held onto an icy calm, praying the facade would hold up. “Tell me what happened.”

“He needs help. He’s breaking and he doesn’t understand.” Jaffrey turned to Brit. “Please, just…”

Brit growled. He didn’t like Jaffrey, didn’t trust him, but the boy deserved better than this. He needed help too, and Brit didn’t know which way to go. Motion caught his eye: Jaffrey was rubbing his wrist. Over and over and over. That motion… Brit grabbed Jaffrey’s hand and saw for the first time the scar, running from his wrist up his forearm. The boy had tried to kill himself. When?

“Damn it Brit, he can’t be alone right now. Let me go!”

Jaffrey had once tried to kill himself. Now he was terrified of Mattin being left alone. The blood drained from Brit’s face. “Get a hold of yourself. I’ll go after him. But you need help too. Go back to the…” He trailed off. No, the boy couldn’t go back to the glamourhame and Jahlene. Not when that treacherous bitch…

Jaffrey’s words echoed his own thoughts. “I can’t go to her, I can’t… I—I’ll get help! Crait and Joth… I’ll be alright. Just, please, go!”

Brit didn’t wait any longer. He ran. Running through the door, he yelled to the guard, “Tell Parlen to get to the mistress and stay with her ‘til I come back!” He didn’t wait for an answer. Parlen had survived Erebeth. Even at her worst, she could deal with Jahlene and keep everyone else away from her. His heart broke a little more, that he needed to think such a thing. But…

Thank the Mare, he found Mattin not far off, sitting in the middle of the roadway. Which was… not nearly as bad as he had feared. Mattin looked up when Brit stopped beside him. The boy wasn’t wearing his collar. In a dizzying sensation the world dropped out from under Brit, even as the pain in his heart eased. Whatever else came of this mess, Jahlene had kept the letter of her word. The letter, but not the spirit. Fucking fae.

Feeling like a shaky old man, he sat down next to Mattin and forced himself to focus.

“Care to tell me what the hell happened?”

Mattin swallowed and rubbed at his throat. “Does it matter? I… I’m not your trainee anymore… Not anything anymore.”

Brit cuffed the back of his head. The glare he got in return was… pitiful. “Boy, whatever is going on, I will, by the Bloody Mare, be the one stuck cleaning it up. And I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.”

The boy hunched in on himself, “I screwed up. I lost control, forgot every damned thing you taught me. Failed Marta, failed the lady… Jaffrey…”

“Is fine.” Brit cut him off. “He is upset with Jahlene and tending to himself. I will deal with that when I get some sense out of you.” Brit was about ready to strangle the boy if it would get him some kind of straight answer. Unfortunately, when he strangled people, they stopped being able to talk. Not helpful.

He tried a few more times to get a coherent tale from the boy but didn’t have much success. Not knowing what else to do, he stood up and pulled Mattin to his feet. “Sitting in the road isn’t doing either of us any good. Let’s get somewhere private.” Somewhere he could pour enough uisqe bache into Mattin to pry open his fool mouth and get some information.

The Bargain (S2, E7)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending, mind fuck

Nothing further was said about how Mattin addressed the lady, though he still thought about that night—and all its revelations. He had an established routine now—early in the morning, he snuck into the kitchen to help Cook with the baking. Then he spent a brief hour with Brit, learning more of the high protocol needed for Court. The rest of the day was devoted to the lady.

In theory, his every thought throughout the day should be focused on making her day easier. In reality, he might spend a day doing nothing while the lady worked on the household budget or tax records—or he might run all over the manor: checking supplies, dealing with problems, or carrying messages. When she left the manor he accompanied her. And at night, he helped her get ready for bed.

~~~

Halfway through his second month at the manor, they went out to inspect a new coal mine. Usually, Jahlene took her carriage, but this time they rode. It was Mattin’s first time on a horse, and he did not enjoy the experience. By the time they reached the mine, he couldn’t feel his legs—or anything between them.

The trail wound through the mountains, and it was clear why they rode—a carriage would never manage the rough mountain track. The mine was little more than a hole in the ground, a few hundred yards away from a deep stream. The mine manager and workers stayed in tents clustered around the mine, as did the dozen donkeys that played a crucial part in the mining.

Mattin had nothing to do but follow Jahlene around. Partly out of boredom, he kept his eyes and ears open. A great deal went on at the mine, even above ground. But what he noticed instead was how the miners reacted to him. Glancing at him out of the corner of their eyes. Muttered comments cut off as Jahlene approached with him in tow. He tried to convince himself they were reacting to the presence of the fae but… for the first time in days, his collar chafed at his throat.

It was pity he saw in their eyes, Mattin realized. He lived in a manor, never went hungry, had people he liked and cared for around him… And these men—who lived in tents, ate whatever could be barged up from town, and spent their lives digging rock from the ground—these men pitied him. Because they had something he never would again.

They had their freedom.

The ride home—yes, he realized, he did think of the manor as home—was long. The pity of those men ate at him, angered him. And he had far too much time to think—even with the damned saddle sores developing on his arse.

“Mattin, is everything alright?”

“You mean aside from the chafing, Lady? Bouncing around on top of the carriage is not nearly as bad as bouncing around on top of this horse!”

She laughed. “What did you think of Goodman Wrotty?”

Mattin called up his recollections of the mine manager. “He’s a hard man, Lady. He’ll drive his people, but I think he’ll push himself just as hard.”

“And the miners?”

He answered as best he could—and she asked several more questions—until he felt like she had wrung from him every observation about the day. Finally, she nodded, “Please write down your thoughts when we get back. I’d like to have them to refer to in the future.”

Startled, he lost time with the horse’s movements and almost fell from the saddle. “Yes, Lady,” he said, as he regained his balance, “I’m glad you find my thoughts helpful.”

She flashed a grin at him, “You are, aren’t you? Good. But you aren’t telling me something.”

“Lady?”

“I try not to push Mattin and to leave you some privacy, but something upset you. I need to know what.”

“Ah.” He grimaced, “Is that a command, Lady?” Damn it, couldn’t she at least leave him his thoughts? Must he give her everything? And this… already his resentment and fear hurt her. He didn’t want to hurt her more. Why couldn’t she leave well enough alone?

“I was going for subtle request, but if I have to make it a command, I will.”

“I didn’t want to… disturb you, Lady.”

“It’s hardly disturbing me when I’m asking.”

The phrasing tickled his humor. “But you haven’t asked,” he said with a grin.

She raised a fist in mock threat. Then her eyes narrowed. “Mattin, as much as I enjoy your teasing, you’re stalling. Tell me, now.”

He looked down, rubbing at his collar. The lady rarely commanded outright—that she did now meant he had pushed her far as he could. So, thinking about the words as little as possible, he told her. “Some of the miners… seemed as if they pitied me.”

“I see,” the humor was gone from her voice. When Mattin glanced over at her, she sat stiffly, her face a mask.

“Lady, I—”

“Spare me.”

Mattin bit his tongue, and they rode in silence again, but words pressed against his teeth. Finally, he burst out, “No. You wanted to know what was bothering me, you wanted to I know my feelings, and by the Mare, I’ll tell you!”

She pulled up her horse and opened her mouth. Mattin rushed to speak, rolling right over her.

“I’m angry, Lady. I’m angry at them. Why, by the Mare, should they pity me? This may not be the life I want, but it’s a good life with good people. And it’s the life I chose. They had no right to look at me that way, and… and I wouldn’t trade places with them if someone paid me to! And Mare’s Bridle, Lady, I care about you. I didn’t want to, but I do. Will you please stop thinking that every time I’m upset, it’s about you!” He stopped and took a deep, shuddering breath. She stared at him, the mask fading from her features. “I don’t think I can ever be what you want, Lady. But I’m starting to wish I could. And I hate knowing that I’m hurting you.” He hadn’t realized, hadn’t even admitted to himself, how strongly he felt. But it fit. It was right. And by the Mare’s Blood, it was good to say it.

The lady edged her horse next to his, then reached out and rested a hand on his cheek. She was so solemn, he didn’t know what to think. But it was the first time she had touched him… just… touched him. As nervous as if he approached a scared and cornered animal, he reached up and put his hand against hers.

“Maybe you are right, Mattin. But you’ve still given me more than I expected.”

Neither of them said anything for a long moment. Before Mattin could feel uncomfortable or awkward, she pulled her hand away with a laugh and kicked her horse into a run. Over her shoulder, she called, “Race you to the next hill.”

Cursing, he grabbed on tight as his horse ran after her. The forgotten guards clattered along behind.

~~~

Jahlene reined in her horse a half mile out from the manor. A tension Mattin hadn’t noticed flowed out of her shoulders and she sat for a moment.

“Lady?”

“It’s always good when I can taste home again.” She smiled at him and nudged her mare into a walk. “If I try, I can pick up the flavor of home from farther out. When I come back from court each year, I can sometimes taste Brit as far away as the bridge we passed. But usually, it’s right about here.”

“I didn’t realize you could… taste… from such a distance.” Mattin shifted in the saddle. He’d known his feelings were open to her—and how often they hurt her. But… he’d assumed she “tasted” people physically close to her. How did she live like that? Constantly aware of the emotions of everyone for miles around?

How much had she felt from him when he wasn’t around her? Couldn’t he go anywhere he wouldn’t hurt her? Where he could feel without feeling guilty?

Her smile faded, and he cursed himself for his lack of self-control.

“I thought you knew about glamour.”

He nodded, “Yes, Lady. I wasn’t aware it reached so far.”

“For most fae, it doesn’t. But if I didn’t have strong glamour I wouldn’t be a countess.” She spoke so calmly, so matter-of-factly, that Mattin almost missed the real meaning behind her words.

“Do you mean…you become a noble because of glamour?”

“Something like that, though politics and family are mixed in as well. The Emperor is supposed to be the fae with the strongest glamour, but it doesn’t always work that way.”

By mutual agreement, they spent the rest of the ride discussing how a fae achieved nobility. Mattin welcomed the distraction from his worsening saddle sores.

However, as they reached the stables and dismounted, Jahlene said, “Brit keeps a cabin in the woods, far enough out I can’t taste him, even if I try. Speak with him if you wish to use it.”

“Yes, Lady.” The whole thing got pushed out of his mind as he minced his way back to the manor, his thighs and buttocks protesting with every step.

The Bargain (S2, E6)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending, mind fuck

Mattin slept poorly that night. His dreams included the lady’s wistful voice, Brit’s hand on his shoulder, and flashes of things he couldn’t see clearly. Things he didn’t want to remember. He woke up early and decided to visit the bathing room before heading to the kitchen.

He was surprised to find the washroom already lit and the boiler going. Cook sat on a bench next to the water heater. He had a blackened eye and a gash across his cheek—and that was just his face. At the sound of the door closing, the half-fae opened his eyes.

“Good morning, lad. Though to be honest, I’m not sure how good it is.”

Mattin blinked “Should you be in the infirmary?”

The other shrugged, then winced. “I’ll admit a poultice or two would be good, but going to the infirmary would cause other problems. Worse problems than these,” Cook gestured to his face, “will already cause.”

Mattin scratched his head. “No riddles this morning, Cook, please! How could getting help cause problems? I mean, wouldn’t the lady be annoyed if you need help and don’t get it?”

Cook snorted, “Lady Jahlene is already annoyed if I judge things a-right.” He held a hand close to the broiler and nodded. “Just warm enough.” He stood up with a groan and filled a bucket, dumping it over his head before grabbing the soap to start washing. “There has been an unspoken rule between Brit and I—however badly we fight, we don’t injure each other so others can notice. Getting hit in the face is bad enough, but if I go to the infirmary, I’ll be saying he went too far. As… volatile as tempers are right now, I’d rather like to avoid that.”

Shaking his head, Mattin stripped and filled a bucket with hot water. He had too much to try and figure out from last night already; he didn’t need to break his head anymore figuring out Brit and Cook. Unless… Mare, Brit was probably angry with Parlen for trying to mess with the lady. Like Cook had said, it wasn’t always about him.

The hot water and soap banished the last echoes of his dreams, leaving him awake and almost ready to face the day. Washing under and around the collar took extra time, but he was growing used to it.

Cook finished rinsing off and stepped out to get dressed. Mattin followed him a few minutes later.

Once dressed, they walked down to the kitchen together. The long rising dough, set out the night before, was ready to be beaten down and shaped into loaves. Mattin beat the risen dough while Cook mixed the dough for the rest of the day’s bread. After a few minutes, Cook said, “Brit was… rather less informative than usual. Care to tell me why I’m feeling like ground meat this morning?”

Mattin wiped hair out of his face with one flour-covered hand. “You know, I should have waited and taken a bath after dealing with the baking.”

“You figured that out now, lad?”

Shaking his head, Mattin went back to pounding on the risen dough. Cook said nothing, giving him time. A few minutes later, Mattin had three loaves set for their second rising and was flouring the table for another batch. “Last night, Parlen said I can’t use ‘lady’ at court. Brit and… and the lady said they had been waiting to say anything to me.” He took a breath. “It… was a strange conversation. Brit was really upset, and the lady was…” he bit his lip, not sure he should tell anyone about the strange conversation in the lady’s bath. “She mentioned asking you about other protocols.”

Cook shook his head. “Well, Jahlene will put her in her place soon enough—if she hasn’t already.” He paused but continued when Mattin didn’t say anything. “There are some other titles, some ways to avoid the issue. Easiest,” he gave Mattin a sympathetic look, “easiest would be to start calling her ‘Mistress’ if you can.”

“I could make myself say it, and I said so, but…” Mattin sighed. “Damn it, why does everything have to be so hard!”

Cook shook his head again, “Because she’s an idealistic young lass, and you’re a scared young buck. You want my suggestion, lad?”

Mattin spent a minute pounding at the dough, getting out his frustration—and fear. “Yeah, Cook.”

“Practice calling her ‘Mistress’ in private. It’ll mean a lot to her and won’t harm you to get used to the word. And trust Brit and Jahlene to tell you what you need to know for court.”

They worked in silence until Toerff appeared to start preparing breakfast. Mattin went to report to Brit for the day’s training. And he thought about Cook’s suggestion.

~~~

That morning, Jahlene’s attempt to organize her day was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Come in,” she called, expecting (and dreading) Parlen with the day’s messages. Instead, Brit walked in with Mattin in tow.

Jahlene braced herself for more trouble, but Brit only said, “I need to ride down to the pensioner’s cottages. They’ve a few problems that need sorting out. The boy’s never been on a horse and won’t learn anything useful down there.”

If Jahlene needed to worry about anything, Brit would have said so. “I don’t need him this morning. If you have studying for him to do, he can work in the corner and be on hand if anything comes up.” In a way, she was relieved. Mattin’s usual stew of resentment and fear were muted today, behind a general wash of concern. The idea of not being alone when Parlen came in settled her nerves. “I planned on riding down to the Home Farms after lunch.”

Brit grunted at the unspoken question, “He’ll need to learn to ride eventually. If you want him along, tell Gwende to give him an easy mount.”

“I’ll think about it.”

A few minutes later, Mattin had a map of the Emperor’s palace to memorize and was doing a good job of disappearing into the corner. Jahlene was pleased to see his emotions muted further when he focused on his studies. She was able to start work on the budget without distractions.

When Parlen finally entered, she was preceded by a wave of fear that ripped at Jahlene’s heart. Cringing inwardly, Jahlene kept her eyes on the figures in front of her. Parlen would settle at her desk, and they would continue with the day as if nothing had happened. As if Jahlene could not taste the fear underlying everything Parlen would say or do.

But Parlen didn’t go to her desk. She crossed the room and knelt beside Jahlene’s chair. “Mistress.”

Jahlene looked up, bracing herself to deal with whatever protestation Parlen would offer. Her jaw dropped. Around Parlen’s neck twisted a golden rope. She had, Jahlene realized, made a rope with her own hair. Without thinking, Jahlene grabbed the end, pulling the noose tight around Parlen’s neck. “This… is unexpected.” The scene the night before and her vicious words played through her mind. What did this mean?

“Mistress,” Parlen took a deep breath, “You are right, I am a manipulative woman, but I’m also not entirely crazy. I promise you, I have learned my lesson. And if you ever do feel the need to hang me by my own hair, I am sure I will have earned it.”

Jahlene couldn’t speak. Parlen’s fear grew every moment. Fear, Jahlene realized, not of her, but of…rejection? She touched Parlen’s cheek and felt the woman’s jaw trembled under her hand.

Finally, Jahlene found her voice. “It would appear I didn’t scare you quite as thoroughly as I thought.”

Parlen laughed. It had a strained sound. The fear broke, and Jahlene tasted cool relief flooding through her. “Oh, you scared me, Mistress. But later, I thought about why you scared me. If being scared out of my wits for a few minutes is the worst to come from my foolishness, then I am lucky beyond words. As Brit might say, you are /my/ mistress, and I won’t forget again.”

Her hand came up to rest against Jahlene’s. They remained that way for a long moment.

~~~

Mattin stood quietly in the corner, trying to think. He was supposed to be studying the latest assignment from Brit, learning the layout of the Emperor’s palace. Instead, he couldn’t take his eyes away from the… scene between the lady and Parlen.

He had grown used to Parlen. He still didn’t understand her insistence that she was a woman, despite being born a boy. But ultimately, if she wanted to call herself a dancing toad, it was her business—hers and Jahlene’s. So he didn’t take any more notice her dress than he did with any woman he knew—if he could name the color of her outfit, it was a good day. But the hair noose definitely caught his eye. At first, he thought it was just some new strangeness, but Parlen had gone to kneel beside Jahlene…

They spoke so quietly Mattin barely heard the murmur of their voices. What he saw was enough. The rope was a symbol–or maybe an offering. Something to try and put right Parlen’s mistake.

Watching them, Mattin ached with envy. Whatever the lady had feared the night before, Parlen’s feelings were clear. She loved her mistress.

Mattin tugged at his collar. How could he want that so badly? How could he love a female who claimed him as a possession? And yet… Jahlene clearly loved Parlen as much as Parlen loved her. Could she ever love Mattin? Did he want her to? Did he want to have her as his mistress?

He didn’t find any answers that day, but he did manage to memorize the public areas of the palace.


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The Bargain (S2, E5)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending, mind fuck

Mattin had a routine for readying Jahlene’s rooms in the evening. The hard part was guessing when to start filling the bath. Luckily, drawing the bath was easier than he would have imagined before coming here. There were pipes carrying water throughout the manor. Jahlene’s washroom had a copper boiler, where the water heated during the afternoon. In the evening, he opened the spigot, and her tub filled with hot water.

He laid out her nightdress, put a warming pan in the bed, laid a fire for the morning, and did everything but fill the bath. When he ran out of other things to do, he waited. He couldn’t say how he knew when to start filling the tub, but he’d become familiar with the lady over the past several weeks. Lately, he’d started developing a sense of what she’d want, when.

Given how angry Brit and the lady had appeared, he figured he could wait to fill the bath. He hadn’t seen the lady when she was in a temper, but he knew Brit. And he would not want to be in Parlen’s shoes at the moment.

So he had time to think.

The lady and Brit were angry with Parlen for some reason, but that didn’t concern him. He shoved his confusion aside to focus on what mattered.

Mistress.

The word still stuck in his throat, heavy with meaning. Why did it matter? As Parlen said, it was just a word.

He couldn’t say it.

If he could say it, he would be hurting her.

He didn’t understand that. Didn’t understand why his feelings affected the lady. He had heard her sorrow, but he didn’t understand…

Her voice echoed in his memory, “My people serve me willingly, Mattin Brenson. Each one came to me because they wished to enter my service. I did not seek them out nor do I use coercion or glamour on my family.”

My family, she had said. He had derided it at the time, yet hadn’t he been thinking the same earlier?

A flash of insight came to him. She wanted him as part of her family and saw his resentment and fear as rejection. He couldn’t explain to himself why they weren’t. Why he could hate the collar and her power over him so much and yet… love… his family here. Which included Lady Jahlene.

Some instinct interrupted his thoughts, and he started filling the bath just in time. She entered the suite as he turned the water off.

She started stripping off her clothes, not waiting for his assistance. Her hair, which had been neatly styled when he left, was a mess. He tried to pick out her hairpins without pulling. He didn’t think he succeeded–she winced several times–but she didn’t say anything. As he worked, he tried to turn his confused thoughts into words.

But the lady’s hair was down, Mattin got his first good look at her face. She was drawn and pale, her eyes glassy. Her smile, when she caught his eyes, seemed forced. He winced. Her sorrow earlier had been bad enough, but this? His chest grew tight—had he hurt her this badly?

“Are… are you alright, Lady?”

She tipped her hand back and forth.

Mattin bit his lip and plunged ahead, “Lady, I know I have not—I mean—”

She looked up, “Oh. Not you, Mattin. Yes, you cause problems at times but isn’t that part of being alive? Court and its protocol are annoyances. We’ll find a way to deal with them.”

“Will… will you tell me what upsets you?”

She shrugged, “I expect you can guess part of it. Parlen should have brought her concerns to me, in private or with Brit. Not ambushed both of us. She was trying to control me.”

Mattin led her to the bath and tried to absorb this sudden change in focus. He’d known Parlen had done something to displease the lady, but… “How could she expect to control you? You have all the power here.” His normal resentment of her power didn’t stand a chance against his astonishment—thankfully. The lady was hurting enough without his adding to it.

Jahlene laughed, “You put too much stock in legends, Mattin. Nobles have been controlled by humans in their households in the past. It will happen again. There is more than one form of power.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

Jahlene stepped into the bath and stretched.

“To you. Don’t worry about it. She won’t try again.”

Mattin didn’t reply. Instead, he began soaping up her hair. For a few minutes, neither said anything.

Communal baths had been a part of Mattin’s life for as long as he could remember. Being around a naked female was nothing new or uncomfortable. But there was something especially intimate about helping the lady wash like this.

She preferred soaps scented with pine. Their crisp smell was a sharp contrast to her hair slipping through his hands. Most nights, Mattin hated himself for how much he enjoyed touching her. Tonight… tonight his fears and mistrust seemed small and foolish besides her pain.

Cautiously, he worked his hands down to her shoulders. She stiffened but didn’t say anything. He began rubbing at the muscles of her neck and shoulders, willing her to relax. Instead of pulling away as he feared, she leaned back into his hands. His shaft grew hard between his legs, but he ignored it and pushed aside his self-doubts. For a few minutes, he focused on her needs.

She relaxed a bit at a time. When Mattin finished, she reached up and touched his hand. “Thank you.” Her voice was strangely husky.

Several more minutes passed in silence before Jahlene said, “Parlen was given to me by a friend of my mother’s.”

Mattin froze. “You can do that? Give a person away?”

Jahlene shrugged and patted his hand in reassurance, “The human has to be willing to trade collars. It doesn’t happen often. She was happy enough to come. I have a reputation for coddling my people, and Erebeth is what you would expect from someone my mother liked.”

“Oh.” From the little Mattin had heard of Jahlene’s mother… He pushed the thought aside and stared hard at the back of the lady’s head.

“She had a hard time adjusting. She thought of fae as the enemy, but she loved the game of politics,” she sighed. “I thought I could win her over. I thought I had.”

She said nothing else as Mattin helped her rinse her hair and get into her night clothes.

As he bowed himself out, she said, “Good night Mattin. I hope… sleep well.”

The wistfulness in her voice stayed with him, and he fell asleep wondering what she had started to say.

The Bargain (S2, E4)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending, mind fuck

Brit moved as soon as Mattin was out of the door. He grabbed Parlen by the front of her dress and slammed her back into the floor. “If you ever second guess my decisions in front of my trainee again, I’ll beat you within an inch of your life and leave you for the Mare to drag off.”

Jahlene was impressed. She hadn’t seen him lose his temper since Cook entered the manor. If anything, he was faster than she remembered. Tempting as it was, she couldn’t let him kill her secretary. Not yet, anyway. “Let her up, Brit, and take the tea to the kitchen. Now please.”

For a long moment, he didn’t move. Jahlene was about to repeat herself when he released the dress and stood up. Gathering the tea things, he left without acknowledging her. Hopefully, Cook would be able to sort him out. She had other problems to address.

When Jahlene didn’t say anything further, Parlen sat up and straightened her dress and hair. She continued to sit in silence. Once, she opened her mouth, but a glance at Jahlene’s face had it snapping shut again. Jahlene waited long enough Parlen started to fidget and pull at her skirts. Long enough that Jahlene tasted the tension, the fear, building in Parlen.

When she knew Parlen could not take one more moment, Jahlene spoke.

“If you ever try and trap me into doing things your way again, I may let him.” Brit wasn’t the only one who was angry. Jahlene had trusted Parlen. Brought her deeply in Jahlene’s plans and secrets. No one but Brit could do more harm to her entire household and all the people who depended on her.

Which meant that even if she were willing to, she could not sell the woman. Or let her ‘escape’. But she also could not afford for Parlen to be disloyal…

Jahlene pulled her anger back and let her hunger rise. Hunger Parlen had never seen in all the time she’d been Jahlene’s.

Parlen blanched, pale skin gone bone white in an instant. Slowly, her spine curved, her shoulders hunched, until she cowered in fear. Jahlene grinned. Her people rarely stepped out of line this badly. She might as well enjoy it…

She stood up and moved in front of Parlen, towering over the kneeling woman.

“How long have you been mine?”

“Five years, Mistress,” Parlen’s eyes met hers—terrified eyes, like an animal caught in the gaze of a snake. So nice of her to take her mistress seriously.

“Five years. You came as a gift from Lady Erebeth. She runs a strict household.”

The reminder—and the implied threat—spurred Parlen’s terror. It was delicious. A treat Jahlene rarely tasted.

“Did you think because I am gentle, I am soft?” she whispered, knowing the cowering human must strain to hear. “Did you think that because I prefer willing service, I would allow myself to be manipulated?”

She waited. Parlen would—she must—bow to Jahlene’s rule now, or she was lost beyond recall.

For a moment, Parlen continued to meet Jahlene’s gaze, trying to convince herself that she had done nothing of the sort. But she couldn’t. She hung her head and clasped her hands behind her back, “Forgive me, Mistress.”

Relief swamped Jahlene, but she let none of it show. Parlen was still hers. But only barely. She grabbed Parlen’s hair and yanked her head back, “You are a manipulative woman, Parlen. That makes you useful to me.”

Not just fear but guilt and shame now bloomed. It wasn’t enough. As sweet as this feast was, it would pass too quickly. “But when you start manipulating me, you stop being useful. And then, what shall I do with you?” She had to ensure that Parlen remembered this night. That the fear and guilt would last—or, one day, they would be here again.

Besides, it was such a feast. Jahlene could see whites all around Parlen’s eyes. To Jahlene’s delight, sweat beaded on Parlen’s skin. She resisted the temptation to lean forward and lick it. “Did Brit ever tell you of my mother’s ‘special toys’?”

“N-no, Mistress.” And she didn’t want to know. Smart woman, but smarter if she had never pushed Jahlene this far.

“They lived in a cage in a special glamourhame. They came out to feed her pleasures. They had no purpose, no use, except to be tortured. It didn’t matter if they were crippled, or blinded, or broken. Sometimes she kept them alive for years, feeding on their despair and pain.

“I’ve never had a special toy. If you are no longer useful to me, you could be my first.”

Parlen opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Her uncertainty pierced Jahlene. She believed Jahlene might do it. Well, Jahlene could use that. Use Parlen’s doubt to reinforce the fear.

“The first thing I’d do is cut off your perfect hair and make a rope to hang you with. Each time we played, I’d finish by wrapping that golden rope around your neck. Watch your face purple and your feet kick against the air. Just for a minute or two. Until the day you wished, prayed, begged that I put an end to your misery. Because death would be nothing to fear but sweet freedom from a life of horror and agony.”

She let her voice caress each word. Let her hunger savor the possibility. Let the monster she truly was out for the woman to see.

“On that day, I would let you hang until you lost consciousness. Let you taste the blackness and believe I was finally ending it. Then I’d cut you down and drink in your despair when you woke and knew your torment wasn’t anywhere near over. And worse than the despair will be the knowledge that every minute of it, you. Brought. On. Your. Self.”

The thought roused Jahlene’s hunger further—a hunger she had been restraining since before Parlen had been born. Now she bent forward and licked Parlen’s neck, savoring the horror her words, her eager description, woke in the woman.

A single tear trickled down Parlen’s cheek.

Disgusted—with Parlen, with herself—Jahlene stood up and pushed Parlen over onto her back. Turning away, she wrestled with the hunger, choking it back into its cage. A long minute passed before she could speak, her voice a quiet rasp in the stillness of the room.

“Do you know why I bind myself in rules and restrictions when I could easily be as much a monster as Erebeth or that bastard Oeloff?”

“N-no, Mistress.” Parlen believed her. Believed she would do such a thing–but that she would only do it if Parlen didn’t learn to restrain herself. It was a bitter triumph.

“It’s because I scare myself more than I could ever scare that fool man drawing my bath.” She turned and looked Parlen in the eye. “How much do I scare you?”

Parlen scrambled to get off her back and threw herself flat on the floor before Jahlene. Her tear-streaked face pressed to the tiles, hands stretched out, pleading. “Mistress, I b—”

Jahlene cut her off. The words were meaningless. “Good. If you cannot give me willing service, then I will take fear. Now get out.”

She maintained her pose until Parlen took herself from the room. Then collapsed on the couch and wept out her own fear and self-hatred.

When Brit returned several minutes later, he didn’t need to ask what had happened. Just held her until the tears ran dry.

The Bargain (S2, E3)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending

As long as Mattin didn’t think of the glamourhame, the next week went… well. He started getting up early and helping Cook with the day’s baking. The old half-fae was becoming a real friend. So, to Mattin’s surprise, was Jahlene. Brit had always shown him a strange kindness. And, whenever he had time to himself, Jaffrey or Elose welcomed his company. It was as if he had gained a new family to replace the one he had lost.

Jahlene was surprisingly fun, and interesting to be around. He often forgot for hours at a time that he was her property. She treated him more like a possible advisor, someone she wanted to rely on. He, in turn, did his best to be someone she could trust.

Yet he could never get comfortable. Something always unbalanced him—like the issue of titles Parlen brought up one night.

~~~

Mattin was pouring tea for the three friends after dinner. Jahlene told him to go prepare her bath when he finished, and Mattin replied, “Yes, Lady.”

Parlen winced, “That is going to be a problem.”

Brit sighed and rubbed the scar on his face. “I told you not to bring it up.” Mattin finished pouring tea for Brit and took a discrete look around. He had no idea what Parlen was referring to.

“Which problem is this,” Jahlene asked, “and do you have a solution?”

“No,” Brit said. He waved off the tea and stood up, beginning to pace.

Parlen smoothed her skirts, “Mattin has been here over a month, Mistress, but still calls you ‘Lady’. It’s obvious neither you nor Brit has said anything to him, and you know the problems it will cause in court.”

Mattin froze, then carefully set the teapot down without pouring the last cup.

“No,” Brit growled. Mattin winced–Cook would be sporting new bruises by morning. “We hadn’t mentioned it. For a reason, by the Mare!”

Jahlene held up a hand, stopping Parlen’s retort. “Mattin, sit down, please.”

Mattin sat, on a chair rather than on the floor. His insides clenched as he waited to find out what was going on.

“Parlen, you’ve forced the issue. Which is what you planned. We will discuss this later.”

Parlen bowed her head, “Yes, Mistress.”

Brit rubbed his face, then looked at Mattin, “You’re not a fool, lad. Ride, boy, half your trouble comes from too much thinking.”

Mattin couldn’t think of anything to say, so he said nothing. He forced his hands to relax, not clench into fists.

“You know well and good that all of us call Jahlene ‘Mistress’—even me who spanked her bottom as a girl! You don’t. Here, as long Jahlene doesn’t care—”

Jahlene shrugged, “It’s complicated, but for this discussion, no, I don’t care.”

“—but at court, it’s a problem.”

About to demand why it mattered, Mattin stopped himself. He took a deep breath and ignored the way his stomach churned. They didn’t have time to waste with pointless questions. “You’re saying I need to call the lady—you—Mistress.” He choked on the word.

“Yes,” Parlen said. “Frankly, I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.”

“You’re a fool.” Brit shook his head and stopped pacing. “Boy, you tell me what calling Jahlene ‘Mistress’ means.”

Mattin swallowed and fumbled to find words. “I… it means that the lady is your owner… but you say it the way my father would say ‘my wife.’ Like she is…” He ran out of words, unable to find a way to say what he sensed so clearly.

Brit rescued him, “Like she belongs to me as much as I belong to her. She is my Mistress, and I am proud of my place in her life.”

Mattin nodded. “Yes. I can’t understand that. I don’t want to understand.” He turned to Jahlene. “Lady, you own me. I made that bargain.” The collar felt tight on his neck. “I… damn it, I like you, and I never expected to. I… when I can forget the collar, I think of you as a friend. But…” Her face was a rigid mask, and he stumbled to a stop.

When Jahlene spoke, her voice was cold and distant. “But first, you must forget you wear my collar. You cannot understand how Brit wears my collar without resenting me for the loss of his freedom.”

Mattin met her eyes, resisting the urge to drop his gaze to stare at the floor. “No, Lady.” It hurt, that coldness.

Parlen shook her head “It’s a word. You use it. Or at least, you had better.”

Brit smacked the back of Parlen’s head.

“What!”

Jahlene’s mask broke, and, for a moment, her eyes pleaded with him. “I hoped that your feelings might change in time. Brit and I haven’t discussed this, but I suspect he has been avoiding the issue for the same reason.”

Mattin looked away, not wanting to see her pain. Was that why she acted so distant? “I’m sorry.” He swallowed, facing her again. “So I need to call you,” he braced himself, “Mistress at court?”

“If you don’t, it’s a slap in the face.” Parlen put in, “Lady and lord are for nobles you aren’t bound to. Call the Mistress ‘Lady’ at court, and you announce to the world that she has no authority over you.”

Mattin barely kept from wincing. Each time he did it, he was also rejecting her.

Jahlene nodded, oblivious to his thoughts. “Unfortunately, she’s right. At best, I would be shamed before the other nobles and my position damaged. At worst, the Emperor might decide to take offense.”

“Forcing yourself to say it won’t work, though. Not really.” Brit rubbed his nose as he spoke, “It’s too obvious that it’s forced. Which at court is a sign the slave hasn’t been properly trained and would also shame the Mistress.”

Mattin clenched his hands, “What if… Court is two months away. If I start … by the time we go, it will be a habit.” He swallowed and looked up at the lady. “I don’t want to—” don’t want to hurt you, he couldn’t make himself say.

“I would rather not feel your resentment and despair grow stronger every time you speak with me.” The tart amusement in her words didn’t match the shuttered look in her eyes. “They are heavy enough now,”

Mattin did wince this time. “Lady, I…”

Jahlene shook her head, “It is who you are, Mattin Brenson, and you told me as much when you took my collar. Now we cope.” She stretched her mouth into a feeble copy of her bright grins, “I know you don’t mean to hurt me, Mattin. We will find a way through this.” Mattin managed to return her smile, though he suspected his was as weak as hers.

Parlen groaned and rubbed at her skirts, “You are all being ridiculous.”

Jahlene ignored Parlen and returned to the politics of the situation. “Older protocols exist. I had planned to ask Cook for his thoughts in a week or so.”

“Cook?” Mattin blinked.

“He grew up in court; his father was on the Emperor’s council.”

“Oh.” The idea of the plain-spoken half-fae growing up in the center of the Empire’s politics made his head hurt.

They sat in silence. Parlen seemed to be sulking, Brit thoughtful. Mattin didn’t even try to figure out Jahlene’s mood. She was usually free with her feelings, but often it seemed what he saw was only the surface of a deep pool. That sorrow…

Jahlene broke the moment, “Enough for now. Mattin, go lay out my things for the night. And try not to worry. We have two months to figure this out.”

Mattin stood and bowed, “Yes… Lady.” When he gathered up the tea things, Brit stopped him.

“Leave it. I can bring it down later.”

So Mattin left the tea, with a wince of sympathy for Cook, and went to get the lady’s bath ready.