Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, sex
Countess Jahlene n’Erida had been barely more than a child the day she’d killed her mother to save the one person in all the world she had loved.
Decades later, she could still taste Brit’s unwavering trust and love as he stood at her back evaluating this stranger.
Mattin Brenson was as unimpressive as any human she’d ever met — and Jahlene had met many humans. At least to look at. But to taste… to taste he offered her a bounty she had rarely known the equal of. Fear, desperation, hope, need, her glamour feasted on all of them and sought hungrily for more. Even the lingering slimey feel of Oeloff’s glamour wasn’t enough to put her off.
He stared at her with wide eyes and the acrid taste of fear grew until it seemed to coat her tongue. Jahlene forced her hunger back, out of her awareness and forced her face to smoothness.
He offered a feast — but a feast that would come at a high cost. So she shook her head slightly saying, “My household is full and needs no additions. Did I need further service, many in the county would be eager to serve me. Unless you have a useful skill, your offer is of little worth.”
The fear receded, replaced by a mix of relief, despair, and confusion. She leaned back in her chair and her hands began picking apart her braid, as they often did when she was focused on her own thoughts. If she confused him, he was just as confusing to her.
She half expected him to take the escape she offered, to excuse himself and begin the long walk to the nearest town. But a long moment passed, then another, and she realized she had missed something in him. Hidden behind the overwhelmding fear had been something else. Barely noticed at first, a hint of fire that grew moment by moment until it overwhelmed everything else.
As his determination swept through her, she wondered if anything would make him leave. Her mouth quirked at the image of the slim, grubby man being forcibly removed from her study, only to camp out on her steps, refusing to leave until she accepted his bargain or killed him.
“I’m an innkeeper’s son, lady. There’s little I haven’t done. Horse care, cleaning, some cooking, and whatever else was needed.”
Jahlene glanced over her shoulder at Brit, saw Parlen had stopped pacing and was scribbling notes are her desk. Brit was calm, no longer annoyed at this late night interruption but didn’t feel strongly about this bargain either way. Parlen… Parlen was excited. The woman lived for politics. Jahlene turned back to Mattin with a hidden smile.
Confusion, fear, hope, all warred in the man, still overlain with that fiery determination.
“Why, Mattin Brenson?”
He shook his head as his confusion spiked.
“You know what Oeloff is. You have no reason to think I am any different. Yet you would trade your freedom and life for your sister’s. Do you expect her to thank you for it?”
A touch on her shoulder surprised her. She reached a hand up and glasped Brit’s fingers. He wasn’t calm any longer. Pride, regret, a memory of fear.
Forty years before he had told her in no uncertain terms that he would not thank her for making such a trade, that he would infact spank her like a child if she ever did such a thing again.
She squeezed her odd-brother’s hand and knew she couldn’t turn Mattin away.
But that didn’t mean she needed to make it easy for him.
“Lady, I… do not know what you may be. But you are not like Lord Oeloff.” He nodded at the linked hands—human and fae.
Parlen giggled. “He has you there, Mistress.”
Jahlene couldn’t keep her smile hidden any longer. “And your sister?”
Mattin took a deep breath. “I have always protected my sister, Lady. I can’t abandon her.” His eyes flickered to Brit’s ruined hand. Probably thinking Jahlene had ruined it. Most humans did when they first met him. “And I am strong, Lady. I can endure what… what she cannot.”
That was not what Jahlene had expected him to say. The smile slipped from her face. “You don’t think much of her, do you?”
He almost sputtered and Parlen laughed again. “Older brother, right?” she asked.
Mattin nodded and Jahlene tasted what she would have sworn was insult.
“It’s human custom, Mistress,” Parlen said. “He’s a boy, he’s physically stronger and older than his sister, so it’s his job to protect her. Even if she’s perfectly capable of protecting herself.”
Jahlene had lived with humans all her life, loved many of them, and would never understand them.
But whatever his odd reasoning, she couldn’t say Mattin was wrong to make this sacrifice.
“As you say, Parlen.” Jahlene shook her head. “We’ll talk details later, but you are sure we can hurt Oeloff?”
“So…” There was one problem remaining, one danger, even. “I’d like to accept your bargain. A chance to hurt Oeloff at court…
“But 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.”
Mattin clearly didn’t believe her, but she didn’t care.
“You do not share my people’s need to serve, nor do you have any love or loyalty to me. How then do I trust you to keep your end of our bargain, in spirit as well as word?
“A bitter and resentful slave who hates all around him would be a cancer in my home.”
Jahlene nearly spat as the odd-flavour-not flavour of someone dissociating flooded the room. Mattin spoke perfectly calmly, not noticing the blood dripping down his fisted hands.
“Lady.” Even his voice sounded distant. “You are right. I don’t want to be a slave. I can’t believe anyone would.
“Love? Loyalty? I am an honest man, and I would keep my word to you. If that is not enough then…. Then I am wasting both our time.” The firey taste of determination faded a moment, then flared. Beyond that…
Lies had no taste. But the emotions behind them did. Detecting them was an art and one Jahlene was still learning. But she tasted nothing to make her doubt.
“Honest, capable of loyalty, and if he grew up in an inn, he knows how to work. We’ve dealt with worse.”
Jahlene and Brit had many ways to speak without speaking. Brit would never disrespect her openly in front of a stranger, but he squeezed her shoulder now in a pattern and she nodded. She had pushed Mattin enough.
Too far, it turned out. Before she could say anything he jumped to his feet crying, “Bloody Mare! Stop playing with me. Yes or no?”
“Yes, Mattin,” she stood up and walked to a cabinet in the corner of the room. Most of the cabinet held files and writing tools, but one small box was kept there for just this purpose. “You have your bargain.”
Jahlene brought the box back to her desk and pulled out the simple strap of leather that waited with in.
Most of the great magic was lost to the fae when they fled their old home a thousand years earlier, but this one piece was left to them. Placing her hands on the leather, Jahlene gathered her glamour as she would to bind a weaker person to her will. She gathered in as well the taste, the essence, of Mattin as he stood before her. Determination, fear, relief, need, yes. But also the subtler emotions that made him, him. Those which she could barely sense now but which would come to the fore when he was not being pushed and pulled by the needs of others.
Her fingers stroked the leather in a pattern she knew without knowing, as deep as her bones. Over and over she repeated the pattern, with each repeat the power she held lessened, sinking into the leather, until it was gone, bound. As it would bind she and Mattin together as long as he wore it.
When she again had the energy to look outside herself, she saw Mattin staring at her, looking almost like one blinded by the sun. “What… what was that, Lady?”
Her lips quirked. “Glamour. A powerful glamour placed within the collar. While my sigil is upon you, no other fae can control you.”
Even as she spoke, the taste of Oeloff’s touch on him was dissipating.
“But you can.” Despair rolled off him in waves. Sour was not a flavor she had ever enjoyed, and she only hoped that as he adjusted to her home his emotions would settle into something more… palatable.
“I have never used glamour so, but I could. Your ancestors struck a bargain—they gave control to one they trusted in return for protection from the many they did not.”
Behind her Brit scoffed. “And that worked out well.”
Jahlene glared at him a moment, but couldn’t disagree. She was tired.
“The collar is for you to put on — or not.
“Seal our bargain, Mattin Brenson, so we can all get some sleep.”
As if it were a snake that might bite him, Mattin picked up the leather. When it did nothing but hang limply in his hands, he wrapped it around his neck. Jahlene tasted the burst of power as the two ends sealed together, bound tighter than any clasp or lock.
Jahlene had never learned to read faces, but even if she had been glamour-lost she could have read the anger and bitterness in his eyes as he stared at her.
Brit stepped around the desk and offer Mattin a hand. “Come on, boy. Let’s find a meal to wrap you around and a bed for the night. With your permission, mistress.”
He didn’t wait for her to respond, just bowed and turned, smacking Mattin lightly when the young man went to follow him without stopping to bow. Jahlene was pleased to see Mattin corrected himself immediately, though exhaustion had his feet dragging on the carpet as he followed Brit from the room.
Jahlene wasn’t much better. Parlen joined her and began undoing Jahlene’s braids, brushing her hair out and fixing the damage Jahlene had done. “Are you sure of this Mistress?”
“Yes.” With Mattin no longer right in front of her, Jahlene could again taste the manor as a whole. The dominant flavor was mellow contentment, dotted here and there with other notes. But nearly as strong was the bittersweet that flowed from the newest member of her household. Barely — just barely — more sweet than bitter. If he hadn’t been conflicted, she’d have been worried. But it seemed that out of her presence, hope was winning out.
“I couldn’t have turned him away, Parlen. And I would have been a fool to do so. I could feast on him alone and be sated for a week or more. He may be a key to cutting Oeloff back. And…”
And she had been dreaming for a week or more. A fae dreamt rarely, and when they did the dreams always meant something.
Jahlene bade Parlen goodnight and headed for her rooms, wondering if Mattin’s coming would end the dreams. And if it did, what would that mean?
After arguing with myself, I’m tagging Mattin’s relationship with Jahlene as con noncon rather than fictional slavery, because he asked for her collar. Same applies for the rest of her people. It really could be argued both ways. What decided me is I think having different terms for Jahlene’s relationship with her people, and what Oeloff and other fae do, will make it easier for readers to know what to expect.
The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E3)