Bound by His Oath, Episode 13

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

Mildthryth had ample opportunity to regret her poorly chosen words.

It had created a strain between them that she didn’t know how to fix. Especially when Reimund avoided her as much as possible. Including sending several rather flimsy excuses for not coming to see her in the evening the last several days. When he couldn’t avoid her, he continued to hide his feelings behind that damn Nornish mask.

She was on the tower walk, brooding, when a throat cleared behind her. She turned to find Sir Hereweald waiting at the top of the stairs.

“Pardon the interruption, my lady. I was hoping to find Lord Reimund with you.”

“No pardon needed, Sir Hereweald.” And she would not shun the opportunity. “I’m afraid I don’t know what his plans for this afternoon were.

“But tell me, have you spent time with Lord Reimund recently?”

“No, milady.” Sir Hereweald had spent little time in Lady Mildthryth’s company. But he considered himself a good judge of character, and for all her strange ways Lady Mildthryth did seem to care about Reimund. So he took a chance. “My lord has been… very busy of late.”

“Ah. I have been… concerned. As you say he has been… very busy.” Mildthryth and Hereweald shared a look, joined in their mutual concern. “If you do find him…”

The knight gave a courtly bow. “Shall I let him know you wish to speak with him?”

“I… Yes, that may be best.”

Reimund wearily climbed the stairs to end his day by reporting to his lady-wife. He had always counted himself a strong man, but he was being sorely tested. Like a man who stood sentry too long, he was losing his edge, getting worn down from the constant strain. And now to have his friends carrying orders from his wife… friends who would scorn him if they knew the truth.

He opened the door and slipped inside. Lady Mildthryth was working on some piece of embroidery.

“How went your day, my lord?”

She couldn’t even bother to look at him.

“Don’t call me that!” he snapped.

He cursed himself as she looked up. Seeming more confused than angry. “What?”

He grabbed hold of his temper, but with temper restrained he had no mask for his pain.

“Please, my lady,” he cringed as his voice broke, as it hadn’t since he was a stripling. “In public, we must play our roles, but here?” the words poured out past his ability to stop. “We both know I am no lord to you. Of your mercy lady, do not mock me so. Better to say I am your servant. Or your dog.” He ended on a bitter whisper, shamed past bearing by his loss of control.

He turned to flee, but before he could open the door her voice rang out. “Stop.”

Almost he kept going. But he held to honor by a thread.

Mildthryth stood and walked over to her husband. For once, he wore an actual expression. For once, he told her what he was thinking, what he was feeling. And she had not the first clue what to do.

His face was turned away, his hand still gripping the door handle until his knuckles turned white. As if he was still on the edge of running. How had she broken him this badly, brought him to the point of abandoning his honor, and not known it? She laid a hand on his shoulder and found he was shaking.

“Reimund, I swear by the Ancestors, I intend no mockery.”

He turned to look at her, tears gathered in his eyes, though not yet falling.

“By the dark, I wish you would do this more often. Then maybe I’d have some idea what was going on.”

He laughed harshly. “Does it please you for me to shame myself, my lady?”

“No. It pleases me for you to express yourself. To tell me what you are thinking and feeling. I have no idea what is going on right now except that you are upset. You are my husband, lord to my lady. How is this mockery? Servant, yes, if you wish to see it so. I forced that oath on you. But dog? What have I done that you would think such a thing?”

“I come at your call, sit at your feet, speak on your command. When you are pleased with me you even pat my head. In what way am I not your dog?”

“Reimund…” She reached for him, but he stepped away.

“Don’t. Of your mercy lady, don’t.”

She stopped. Bewildered. “Is this why you have been avoiding me? Avoiding your friends?”

For a long moment, he said nothing, then he laughed again. “You will have the last bit of me, then. Destroy even the dregs…

“Yes, my lady, this is why I avoid them. I cannot stand to lie to them and cannot face how they would scorn me if they knew the truth.”

“Scorn you?” There was something here. Like when her mother forced them to confront each other those weeks ago, something that she was missing. And perhaps something he was missing as well. She could feel it there, the edges of it. But not understand it.

Picking her words with the care she started with what seemed to her to be obvious. “Reimund, whatever else may be between us, you are my husband. Any who would scorn you, for any reason, has no place in this keep.

“Send for your friends. I think they will prove true friends to you, but if not? Then best you know sooner.”

“My lady…”

“Send for them, husband. This, at least, we can solve tonight.”

Reimund bowed and stepped into her sunroom. Her maid waited there, he was able to send her to find and summon the knights. The maid left quickly and Reimund took a few moments to brace himself for what was to come.

When he stepped back in, Mildthryth was waiting patiently, once again working on her embroidery. “My lady… what did you mean… that you wish I would express myself more?”

She took a startled breath, wondering if she was not the only one groping in the dark for understanding.

“Do you remember when my mother forced us to speak on the tower walk?”

“I will not soon forget, my lady. Neither that conversation nor what came after.” Her heart lifted to see a faint smile on his face.

“You seem to have some… Nornish belief that it is shameful to show your feelings. You do not tell me when something bothers you. You seem to wear a mask, always calm, always polite.

“I know this was not the marriage either of us expected. But I’ve come to care for you. I want you to be happy with me. To be… to be a partner to me. How can I help, how can I provide for you as I swore to, if I don’t know when something is wrong?”

He blinked. “I… had not thought of it that way. I am used to court, where manipulation and intrigue make it dangerous to show your true face. I have, indeed, masked myself for most of my life. I don’t know if I can stop. But… I will try.

“I have come to care for you also, my lady.”

Reimund stared out the window and listened to Lady Mildthryth pace. He recognized her pacing as a sign that she was thinking deeply. And that opened up the understanding of why she was so frustrated with his mask. Why his hard-won control was doing him more harm than good with his lady wife. It was time to relax that control.

A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. “Come,” Mildthryth said. Hereweald entered, followed by John and Damian.

“My lord,” John, as he frequently did, spoke for them. “Is something wrong?”

Of course, they worried. He had never brought them into these private rooms, always going to them and keeping a distance between them and Mildthryth.

“No,” Reimund made himself say. He glanced at Lady Mildthryth, but she simply nodded, leaving the conversation to him. “Everything is alright… For now, at least.” He took a breath. “I have something I need to tell you, but it must not go beyond this room.”

The three exchanged glances, “Is it the king?”

“No.”

“Of course, if you wish it kept private.” The other’s murmured agreement.

Reimund shook his head. “Your oaths. That even if you choose to… leave my service you will never speak of this.”

That stopped them. John clenching his sword hilt, probably angry at the implied insult. Hereweald even blander than usual. Damian simply wide-eyed in shock.

Mildthryth stopped her pacing and came to rest a hand on his shoulder, as she had earlier during his… episode. “You should know,” she said, “That it was my wish to keep this matter hidden. I fear the… king’s reaction should he learn of it. But it has weighed on Lord Reimund to keep it from you, and as he trusts you, I will trust you.”

She stepped back and seated herself, picking at her embroidery, giving them the illusion of privacy, if not it’s reality.

Hereweald came and knelt before him. “Lord, I swear by the Ancestors I will keep your secrets unto my death.”

A moment later the others were beside him, swearing likewise.

“Thank you, my friends.”

For a moment, no one moved.

Damian popped to his feet and smacked Reimund’s shoulder. “And now that you’ve scared us all half to death—oh, and insulted John’s ever-fragile honor—tell us what by the dark is going on. What could shake you so?”

He licked his lips and decided that sometimes the suicidal charge had its virtues.

“I do not rule here. Before our wedding, I took Lady Mildthryth as my liege and I renewed that oath after we were wed.” He turned away, unable to bear watching their shock turn to disgust. “I bend knee every day to my wife.”


Breathe Reimund, you’ll get through this.

Bound by his Oath, Episode 12

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.

Last meal went well. While their stores were low, Mildthryth and the cooks were able to come up with enough ‘fancy’ dishes to make it clear they were honoring the king’s baron. And Mildthryth had time before the meal to warn her mother. Lady Valdis, much to Reimund’s relief, decided she was ‘unwell’ that evening and would take her meal in her room.

That evening, when the baron was finally to bed for the night, Reimund went to Mildthryth’s rooms.

It was late enough that her maid was already sleeping in her public room. Reimund stepped around the woman to knock gently on Mildthryth’s bedroom door.

“Come in.”

He stepped in quickly, closing the door behind him.

“I was beginning to wonder if you would be attending me at all this evening, sirrah.”

He crossed the room to kneel before her, hoping the maid was not a light sleeper.

“I nearly didn’t, my lady. Lord Bernard will think it odd that I come to you, rather than summoning you to me.”

“And we must keep Lord Bernard happy.”

“My lady.” His liege, he reminded himself, had a right to speak so. “I understand your anger lady, and I thank you for your trust this day. Yes, we must keep Lord Bernard happy. He told me today that the king is coming and if the king is not pleased, he may deny my lordship here.”

“He can’t do that!” Mildthryth jumped to her feet, aghast. “I followed his edict, he has no grounds to deny me…”

“No grounds to deny you, my lady.”

She stopped, stared at him a moment, and cursed.

“So we must keep the king happy, which means keeping this baron happy.”

“Yes.”

Mildthryth sighed. She was ready to damn all Norns to the endless dark. “We will need to talk about how to go about keeping the king happy, but for now, it is late.” All but one, perhaps.

“Of course, my lady.” He stood, taking her words as dismissal. But she caught his hands.

“Come to bed with my Lord Reimund.” She grinned. “I see no reason to let this intrusion deprive us.”

Surprised, and pleased, he did as she asked.

The next day they were both grateful to say an early farewell to Lord Bernard. The king, he said, would be expecting his report. They spoke briefly after he left, making their plans for the day. Then Reimund called Wigmar and his knights while Mildthryth gathered up Wulfrun and Cook. They had less than a month to prepare for an invasion by the king and his entourage. There were supplies to be laid in, defenses to increase, meals to plan, entertainment to arrange.

It would be a very busy month and they both prayed to the ancestors for light to guide them through it.

That night, after discussed the work of the day and they had made plans for the next, he had every expectation of being welcomed to her bed. But for the first time since Lady Valdis had forced them to talk, she turned him away. Her monthly time had come, and she would not permit his touch. She was also more disappointed than he expected that she was not with child.

He was disappointed himself – they needed heirs. Nor, of course, did he like being barred from her bed. But childbirth… she was still recovering from the strain of the years since her father’s death.

“We have time, my lady.” He tried to reassure her. “Waiting a few months more is not a bad thing. And childbirth can be dangerous. Are you so eager for that risk?”

Mildthryth hid fear with irritability. It never occurred to her that the king would continue to cause problems after she wed. An heir on the way might help sway the king, but she had failed in that, and what if… she shrugged, trying to push away her fears “What is the worst that can happen? That you will hold here alone? Surely that is not so distasteful to you.”

Reimund ground his teeth, biting back an angry retort. Did she think so little of him? He had hoped her trust the day before had meant something. He had been a fool.

“By your leave, my lady.” He bowed and, not waiting to hear her response, left her rooms.

Mildthryth watched him stalk out and cursed her runaway mouth. The first day or two of her flow she tended to impulse, both in word and action. She had learned to speak little and make no important decisions during that brief window. But Reimund had surprised her and the words slipped out before she realized how they must sound to him.

But just as truth could be found in the bottom of an ale mug, it sometimes slipped out on impulse. She hadn’t realized how deep her distrust still ran. Or perhaps distrust wasn’t the word. He would keep his oath – she trusted in that. But on some level, she still saw him as an enemy. As one who would strip her rights and holding from her if he could have.

The recent reminder that to the Nornish king and his nobles she had no rights had been the spark that brought light to her fears.

The next morning Mildthryth sought Reimund out and tried to apologize. Whatever her fears, he had deserved better treatment from her than that. She told him it was her pain and fears speaking. That for all her fears his presence reassured her. If anything happened to her, in childbirth or otherwise, he would be here to take care of her people. She reached out to him, missing his touch. Wishing that his Nornish stoicism would allow him to touch her outside of the bedroom. Touch was one area they seemed to mesh well together – now at least.

Reimund accepted her apology. Even he could not have said if he fully believed it, but those doubts were unworthy of his service so he pushed them down. Her touch… she reached up and run her hand over his hair. Once again petting him, as one would a dog. He found himself leaning into it, eager for this small touch which was all he was permitted until her time had passed.

But his soul shriveled in shame. Why, he wondered, did she feel the need to denigrate him so? And how low had he fallen that he would take her touch in any way he could – even as her pet?

Reimund threw himself into his duties. There was still much to do to prepare for the king’s visit, never mind all the work they had already been doing. That added strain to what he had already been enduring. Barred from Mildthryth’s bed — and the small ease that brought — the falseness of his life, of his unmanned state, wore at him more deeply than ever. He found himself avoiding his friends, unable to hide how badly he was doing and unable to continue facing them with lies on his lips.


Oh, Reimund…

Bound by his Oath, Episode 11

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

The next days continued difficult for Reimund. But each night she took him to her bed. She no longer gave commands in bed. Instead he saw to her pleasure. The chance to in this one way be a true husband to her washed away the worst of his strain. Still, it built in him, each time he lied to his friends. Each time he knelt to her, each time he had to defer a decision that should be his to make, because he did not know what she would want.

Yet, as one week became two, he deferred fewer and fewer decisions. For matters of defense and training, he found she truly meant for him to manage as he saw fit. More, when she did disagree with what he wanted – mostly in matters of managing the land and peasants who worked it – she did not hand down orders. They discussed the issue, and he persuaded her of his view as often as the reverse.

His state was, he knew, far better than it could have been. He held that thought to him when the strain began to wear, and tried to keep busy. There was, after all, much to do.

Aside from nights and last meal, they saw little of each other. Mildthryth, much like Reimund, buried herself in her duties. While she had managed to fill the roles of both lady and lord, it had been difficult. Many small things had been allowed to slide from that alone. Add in the amount of time and resources that had gone into fighting off her many ‘suitors,’ and there was much to be done.

They were not trying to avoid each other. But they didn’t make any effort to spend time together either. Lady Valdis watched with disapproval, but said nothing. The rest of the keep thought it unsurprising in a political marriage. They were simply relieved the new Nornish lord did respect their lady and hadn’t overturned their daily routines overmuch.

Everyone was beginning to settle into their new normal when the messenger from the king arrived.

Reimund was finishing a training bout with Wigmar – spear vs the great ax the Dragma preferred, a weapon Reimund had not come against before – when one of the men who had been on patrol came cantering up to the gates. “Strangers on the south road!” he reported. “Three mounted and a dozen on foot. Banners green over yellow with a black horse standing.”

“Lord Bernard of Ashby, Baron of the king,” Reimund identified the banner. “He would not come this far from his lands during growing season unless the king sent him.”

Wigmar nodded. “It’s been long enough for the king to receive word of your marriage and send him back here.”

“Yes.” Reimund waved Henre over. “Run and tell Lady Mildryth that we have company, then prepare me a hot bath and lay out my formal wear.”

“Aye, milord.” The young Anglish took off at a run. He had a ways to go yet as a squire, but Reimund couldn’t fault his willingness or obedience.

“Wigmar continue the training. Have Damien at the gate ready to greet Lord Bernard if he gets here before I am back.”

Wigmar looked long at Reimund, and Reimund met his gaze, the two measuring each other as they had not since Reimund’s first few days as lord there. By rights, it should be Wigmar as Reimund’s armsmaster who stood in for him. But Wigmar didn’t think the lord was slighting him. No, Damien was a Norn and the best of the three knights at courtly matters. Let him keep the king’s spy placated in the belief that the Norns held full control finally of the keep that had long been a thorn in the king’s side. And if the king was not placated, their warriors would need the best training possible before too long.

So Wigmar nodded. Reimund returned the nod and strode off.

Either Lord Bernard was moving slowly or the patrol had seen him from further out than Reimund expected. He and Mildthryth not only had time to prepare for his arrival, but ended up waiting several minutes.

Mildthryth paced as they waited, betraying an agitation that surprised Reimund. Had she not expected the king to send anyone? Or had she expected a lesser ranked visitor than one of the king’s Barons – those directly sworn to the king’s service who, when not administering their own lands, carried the king’s word throughout his domains.

He moved to stand in front of her and reached out a hand. To his relief – and some surprise – she accepted it and came to stand close. “I fear I have failed you, my lady,” he murmured. “I knew the king would likely send one of his Barons and didn’t think to warn you. Nor did I think to discuss with you how we must handle him.”

She said nothing for a long moment. Reimund kept his eyes down. They both ignored the servants who moved in and out of the Great Hall, preparing for last meal and the last-minute feast which would welcome their visitor.

“I take it you have a plan, Lord Reimund?”

“A plan?”

“For how best to deal with our unwanted guest.” She began to tap her foot.

Reimund took a deep breath and said, “Not a plan, exactly. But I’ve spent enough time at the king’s court to know how to keep the barons happy, my lady. Will you trust me?”

It was a hard question. It had been less than a month since their wedding and Reimund’s attempted betrayal. He had done nothing to raise her doubts since then, but with a fellow Norn at the gate, she had to wonder where his loyalty to the Nornish king would take him. But did she truly have a choice?

“Yes, Lord Reimund. I will trust you.”

Through the open doors of the hall, they heard the gate guard called a demand to stand and be recognized. Reimund bowed and offered Mildthryth his arm, “Let us greet our guest together, milady.”

The official greetings took only a short time. Bernard was impressed that they were already on hand and ready to greet him – either he hadn’t seen the patrol or hadn’t expected the Anglish warriors to send warning to their new Nornish lord.

He was condescending and insulting to the Anglish in general, the keep, and the state of the lands. Reimund ignored or deflected as needed. Long experience with the Nornish court meant his polite mask never wavered. Bernhard was wise enough to keep his mouth off of Lady Mildthryth or anything else which would force Reimund to cry challenge.

With Mildthryth still on his arm, Reimund escorted Bernard to his study. Before they were even seated, Bernhard suggested it was time for the men to speak without womanly interference. Reimund had expected the ‘suggestion’ and brusquely sent Mildthryth to see to the preparations for last meal. She left, her eyes down, as was proper for a Nornish wife but Reimund knew she wasn’t being demure – she was ensuring Bernhard didn’t see her anger at that dismissal.

Reimund took a moment to thank the ancestors he’d had at least a few moments to speak with her before Bernard arrived.

The truth was that Reimund would never have been so harsh had he truly been her lord. It was disrespectful, insulting even. But the Baron needed to be convinced that Reimund held the reins here and the unruly lady was firmly under his thumb.

Once Mildthryth left, Lord Bernard got straight to the point. “I’m sure you expected my visit, or another like it, Lord Reimund.”

“Yes, Lord Baron.” Reimund offered to refill the man’s cup, which he had already emptied. “Given the… difficult attitude of this keep in the past and my own… unconventional claim to the lordship of course the king would wish a report on matters here.”

“Hm. Unconventional is one word for it. The report you sent the king was very scant on details, but your messengers were not averse to gossiping.”

Reimund shrugged. “That does not surprise me, Lord Baron. I will admit, at the time I was not sure how firm my hold on the keep was.”

“You are sure now?”

“Completely sure.” Which was, Reimund reflect, absolute truth. He was completely sure he had no hold on the keep at all. “While they were loyal to Lady Mildthryth, many of the Anglish here were uncomfortable having no lord.” Also truth. “I have had, and expect, no problems so long as no public insult is given to Lady Mildthryth.” He shrugged again. “Many of them grew up in service to the old Eorl, so some lingering loyalty is to be expected.”

“I suppose so.” Bernard grimaced. “Well, Lord Reimund, the king is not inclined to ask too many questions about how you brought the bitch to heel, so long as you did it. To that end, I have been sent ahead as his messenger. He will be coming to assess your holding here and confirm – or not – your lordship. You may expect him in four weeks or so.”

“Of course, Lord Baron. I look forward to it.” That, of course, was no bit of truth. And Lord Bernard knew it.


Well, they do say a common enemy brings people together. Right?

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Bound by his Oath, Episode 10

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.

Reimund barely slept that night. The next day passed in a haze. He must have made some explanation for the bruise on his cheek but didn’t recall what. His thoughts were dark and he worked himself into exhaustion to silence them. He took last meal in his rooms and slept restlessly, waking at the first sign of dawn.

The next day repeated the pattern. He avoided Lady Mildthryth and she allowed him to.

Shortly after last meal, his door burst open. Lady Valdis stood glaring at him. “You. Come with me.”

“Lady Valdis…”

“No. You will come and you will listen. As will my foolish daughter. This has gone on long enough.”

“I don’t believe–”

“Did I ask what you believe? No. Come. We will talk somewhere private.”

He saw no option other than physically forcing her from his rooms – which would be not only undignified but likely rather difficult – so he went with her.

She led him up to the tower walk. He was not surprised to see Lady Mildthryth waiting, though she seemed surprised to see him.

“Mother–”

He walked to the low wall and looked out into the darkness. The stars, the steady light of them, soothed his soul. They had guided the ancestors through the heavens, could they guide him?

“Ha. I was right. Sex. Nothing else makes you blush so.”

A knight must rely only on his own strength, or so he was taught, but he had long known that teaching was a lie.

“Mother!”

Yes, he would turn to the ancestors. No one could object if he began spending more time in the chapel.

“Now you will listen to me. Both of you, Lord Reimund. When you have listened, then you may talk.”

He turned back to Lady Valdis, clinging to the peace the stars gave him.

“Sex makes fools of us. More than anything else except pride and wealth. You were strangers to each other, just beginning to build something. You will not let sex tear you apart before you have found if you have anything to build.” She snorted. “Even your father was not that foolish.”

“Even my father was not so foolish as to make you bleed!”

“So? You told me there was no blood.”

“He wishes there was!”

“So…”

They were speaking words he knew, but nothing they said made sense. Was it normal among Dragma for a woman to take lovers before her wedding? “Is it such a crime to wish my bride a virgin? To wish I were the first to bring her pleasure?”

Mildthryth snarled, but Lady Valdis held up a hand and Mildthryth said nothing. “Do you say that blood is the sign of a virgin?”

“Of course it is!” Was the woman mad? “Even the Dragma must know that. The first intercourse pierces a woman’s veil and there is always some blood.” Whatever peace he had taken from the stars was stripped from him.

Lady Mildthryth stared at him as if… as if a star had come to alight on his head. “You thought that… because I didn’t bleed, I must have had lovers.”

“What else am I to think?” He took a breath. Glanced at Lady Valdis and away. “Lady Mildthryth, I don’t… that is–” he had no idea how to continue with Lady Valdis standing there. But he didn’t need to.

“Be quiet a minute, Reimund.” He obeyed. What else could he do? “I don’t know where to start with your ridiculous beliefs. But I swear to you, there was no one before you. There is no one else now.”

“My la–” The words burst from him before he could stop them.

“No.” The word was soft, gentle even. “I know you have little reason to trust me. Mother is right, we have only just begun building something between us. But I promise you by the ancestors. There was no one else.

“You’re wrong about this ‘virgin blood’ – but even if you weren’t, do you think I never touched myself? If I ever did have any such ‘veil’, I would have pierced it with my fingers long before we met.”

The blood drained from Reimund’s face. It had never occurred to him that a woman might pleasure herself. That… he swallowed… when she said she could see to her own pleasure, she had meant it literally. That she needed no one else.

“As for my knowledge… Reimund have you never seen a Dragma longhouse? They are one great room, with no walls, no privacy. I couldn’t have avoided seeing if I wanted to.”

No walls? No privacy? That was… well, yes, barbaric. But it would also explain so much. So very much.

“If!” Valdis cackled. “You delighted in it.”

By everything he had ever known, he had been right. But all he had known meant nothing in this mountainous land. And he realized it too late.

Moving as stiffly as an old man, he lowered himself to his knees and bowed his head. “My lady, there is no excusing the insult I offered you, nor will I try. I can only hope in time I may atone for it and earn your forgiveness.”

Did he serve any other, they would cast him off for such an insult. But he was her wedded husband and she could not sever that bond. However much he might deserve it.

“Reimund.” A gentle touch on his face, a hand under his chin. “Stand up, please.”

Of course. Even now, he must keep up the pretense.

“Is that what was upsetting you, my lord? That you thought I had taken lovers?”

“No, my lady. Not exactly. But please do not trouble yourself with it. I have not the right…”

“You asked me to let you pleasure me.”

“Yes, my lady.”

Suddenly she was pressing up against him, rubbing herself on him. “You didn’t care if I had lovers or not?”

He closed his eyes and braced himself to stand. There was more than honor between them now, there was insult. And if he didn’t understand what she was doing or why, he still had no right to question or protest. “I did care, my lady. But I could have accepted. But to be denied the right to pleasure you…” Her hand wrapped around his shaft and began slowly pumping.

Dimly, he realized that Lady Valdis had left. Lady Mildthryth crouched down in front of him and began unlacing his pants. He clenched his fists at his side, longing to reach out and touch her but knowing he had forever lost the right.

Her hand was on his shaft, her tongue licking him.

“Explain it to me, Reimund.”

Why? But she asked so he must answer. So he found a way to put into words what he had known for as long as he could recall.

“A man who cannot bring his wife pleasure is no true man. Ah!” Her tongue flickered inside his slit and he struggled to stay on his feet. “Such a man is below contempt…” a scrape of teeth made him gasp “…he has failed… as a husband and…”

He struggled to remember what he was going to say. “It is… shame…” The pleasure washed through him and he lost the thread of his words. It built and built and…

Cold air washed over his shaft. He opened his eyes to see Lady Mildthryth stand and step back from him.

He said nothing. What was there to say? He tucked himself back in his pants and bowed. “If you will excuse me, Lady Mildthryth. I should seek my bed.”

She took his hand. Gentle, her face soft. Now, of all times did she let him see the woman who lived behind the mask of the ruling lady.

“Is that all?” she asked, “You have nothing else to say to me?”

“No, my lady.” He bowed his head. “I am sure I have said enough and more than enough to last us both a lifetime.”

“Then come with me, Reimund.”

Confused, helpless to do anything else, he followed her to her bedroom, where she immediately stripped off her clothing. His eyes drank her in.

She sat on the edge of her bed. Opening her legs to show him her petals, already glistening in the lamplight.

“Lord Reimund, I am used to taking care of my own needs. But I would be honored if you would help me tonight.”

Hardly daring to believe his ears, he walked to her. One step. Another. And squatted down between her knees.

“My lady? Why?”

“Because I didn’t understand. Because I never meant to shame you or deny you your place as my husband. But I did insult you, didn’t I? Even on our wedding day, when I didn’t allow you to touch me.”

He nodded, hardly daring to hope, but said “I am your sworn man. If you did not wish…”

She stopped him with a finger over his lips. “My husband, we have, all unmeaning, traded insult for insult. Trade with me now pardon for pardon. And seal the exchange as the Ancestors did, with a kiss.”

“As you wish, my lady.” With a prayer of thanks to the ancestors, he kissed her. Gently at first. Then nibbling around her petals. Teasing her with his lips. And as her whimpers became moans and moans became cries, he plunged his tongue into her depths.


See how well things work when you communicate?

Bound by His Oath, Episode 9

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.

Reimund was sorry when the day ended. He had learned a lot about the defensive set up of the keep, and the state of the lands. Integrating the Nornish and Anglish warriors would be a challenge. Already in training, a fight had broken out when Taylor refused to fight alongside a woman.

The idea was outlandish to Reimund as well, but having seen the woman in question with a spear in her hands, he wasn’t inclined to argue. Not yet anyway. And he would not soon forget who had been soundly defeated when his forces and the Anglish last fought.

But he also realized that the Anglish fighting style was most suited to the forested mountains. If they had managed to catch his men in the open fields, there likely would have been a much different outcome.

He said as much to Wigmar and was pleased when the armsmaster didn’t get defensive. “Aye, and that’s how your conqueror took us. Lured our fighters out into the open and your cavalry cut us to pieces. But we might have surprised you yet, m’lord.”

And for a time, while he learned his new warriors, reviewed the accounts with the seneschal, began teaching Henre the rudiments of the knight’s art… he was able to forget.

But now last meal approached. Lady Mildthryth awaited him. And he could no longer have the luxury of denial.

After the meal, he again went with her back to her chambers. He told her of his day while her attendant brushed out her hair and helped her ready for bed. She reciprocated. Most of what she shared was not relevant to his duties, household management. But he listened respectfully and learned a few things – about the available stores and the needs of the keep – that were of interest.

He found he truly enjoyed talking with her. She listened and commented intelligently. And while she lacked a great deal of knowledge of warfare, her knowledge of the land and people was impressive.

Her servant finally departed.

Alone with Lady Mildthryth, he forced himself to cross the room and kneel at her feet.

She smiled and patted his cheek. Like a girl rewarding an obedient dog. “I am pleased you remembered my wishes.”

“I am not likely to forget, my lady.” Somehow, the words came out almost normally.

She continued the conversation as if nothing had changed. But the small pleasure Reimund had been able to take in it was gone.

Finally, they retired to bed. He had hoped that at least here she would permit him to be a proper husband, but that hope quickly shattered. She did not even remove her shift, instead having him strip and sit on the edge of the bed.

It felt like a mockery, for her to kneel before him here while denying him everything that should be his. And yet, when her mouth closed over him, and her hands began to caress his thighs and sac, he lost himself in the pleasure that she brought him.

He had not been a virgin, of course. But nor had he been one to spend overmuch time on his pleasures, preferring to practice and learn so when the time came, he could properly bed his wife. She wrung more pleasure from him than any had before. She watched him, paid attention, and responded to him. And when he released, it was beyond anything he had ever known.

Was this, he wondered as he dressed later, why men were commanded to please their wives? To keep them in this mindless state of pleasure? He feared that if she continued this assault on his senses, she would not need his oath, she could lead him around by his shaft.

But not once had she allowed him to touch her.

Why would she not permit him to give her pleasure? Had her lovers never been able to bring her to this peak so she didn’t know to crave it? Or… did she not crave it from him because she still saw them, and had no intention of permitting him to fulfill even his most basic purpose as her husband?

“Did I displease you last night, my lady?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then why do you not let me bring you pleasure?”

She smiled. “I can tend my own pleasure well enough.”

“My lady will do as she wishes.” Somehow he kept his tone even, though he knew he had failed to fully control his face. He had been a fool. She had needed the marriage consummated, of course. But he had known from the beginning he would be no true husband to her.

“What is it?” the lady asked. “I thought you enjoyed yourself well enough.”

He owed her honesty. And even if she had changed her wedding vows, still she had made them. Perhaps she would care enough to listen.

Reimund took a deep breath and braced himself. “Lady, I know ours is not a… regular marriage, but I am your husband.”

“Of course! Has any dared say otherwise?”

“I… not…” Was she being deliberately difficult? Did she truly not understand? “I had hoped that if I pleased you well enough, you would give over your lovers, my lady.”

“Lovers?” She blinked. “Why would you think I have lovers?”

“Give me the respect of honesty, at least, my lady. There was no blood between your legs after you first took me to your bed. And no virgin would know so much of sex and pleasure.

“It is my duty and privilege as your husband to give you pleasure. Even if you would continue to…. Am I not man enough to be even one of those who bring you pleasure?”

As he spoke, her expression changed, from confused, to incredulous, to angry.

“You wished me to bleed?”

He blinked. “What man does not wish to see virgin-blood when he first beds his wife?”

The blow took him by surprise, opened handed but hard enough to have done injury if he had tensed for it.

“Get out of my sight.”

He bowed and left.

Bound by His Oath, Episode 8

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

Mildthryth entered her sunroom and sat in her favorite chair. It was placed to best catch the sun at any time of day. The lady of the keep’s sunroom had more windows – and thus was more exposed – than any other room in the fortress. That was why it was on the highest floor of the keep, and the windows – though many – were small and narrow.

Reimund followed her a short time later. She glanced from him to the floor by her feet and back. He took a breath then came to her and knelt, with his accustomed grace.

She put a finger under his chin and lifted his head so she could see his eyes. As always, his face was a mask that told her nothing.

“I prefer that you kneel when we are in private here or in your rooms, my lord.” That should do for reminding him of his place going forward. “In other areas or when we are not alone here, you may sit or stand as you prefer.”

“Yes, lady.”

“Henre studied warfare under my father until his death. Similar to what you Norn’s would call being his squire. I understand you did not bring a ‘squire’ with you. I wish you to take Henre.”

His eyes flashed but he only said, “As you wish, Lady Mildthryth.”

“Sit now, my lord. It won’t be long before he joins us.”

He stood quickly and moved to the chair opposite hers. “Thank you, Lady Mildthryth.”

They sat in silence until there was a rap on the door and Henre slipped in.

“You sent for me, my lord, my lady?”

She said nothing, looking at Reimund. He met her eyes for a long moment, then turned to Henre.

“You are Henre, yes?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Lady Mildthryth has recommended you to me. I am in need of a squire as well as someone I can trust to help me learn Anglish custom.”

He turned and met Mildthryth’s eyes. “Somethings here will need to change to the Nornish manner.”

He was right, she realized. It would look strange if a new Nornish lord did not institute his own ways and customs. And, quick-witted, he had found a way to tell her so without making it an order or a request. She nodded and he turned back to Henre.

“But I would prefer to avoid disrupting the routines or distressing the cook.” He winked and Henre chuckled. Mildthryth smiled and shook her head. For all the stone face he had shown her so far, he knew how to charm another warrior. She had been right to take this man as her lord. If only she could trust him to be a true consort to her, a partner she could rely on and not a threat she must guard against.

And on that thought… “Henre, I agree with everything Lord Reimund has said, but Lord Reimund is right about not understanding our ways or people. If you have any concerns I expect you to bring them to me as well as Lord Reimund so I can guide him as he requires.”

Reimund’s good humor disappeared in an instant. But he nodded his agreement. “As my lady says, Henre.” He took a deep breath. “She is still lady here and I wish her to be obeyed as myself.” He turned to speak with Mildthryth, “I doubt those who have been loyal to you so long need it said, my lady, but I will make sure that… our Nornish warriors understand as well.”

“Thank you, my lord. I am sure you are correct, but it is best to be sure.” And reassuring that he would make it clear.

“I believe,” he continued, still looking at her, “That my lady would prefer to have me to herself for today.” She nodded, surprised, and again pleased that he didn’t take the excuse of Henre’s new duties to evade her. “Move your things to my quarters today and then speak with Sir Hereweald’s squire, Frances. I expect you to report on a squire’s duties and what additional equipment you might need at breakfast tomorrow.”

“Yes, my lord. My lady.” Henre bowed and left in a hurry.

When the door closed, Reimund stared at her, gripping the arms of his chair. She waited.

Slowly, he stood and came, once again, to kneel before her.

“You did well, Lord Reimund. I have set you a difficult task and am reassured that I was right to trust you with it.”

“Thank you, my lady.” He didn’t, quite, wince, at her emphasis on trust. Neither of them would soon forget his attempted betrayal, but he seemed to have resigned himself to her victory over him. There were many ways he could pervert or twist his oath to her and gain power. But he himself was giving the orders that would prevent many of them.

She stood. “Come, Lord Reimund. We have a short time before supper. I will give you a tour of the keep.”

After supper Mildthryth took Reimund on a ride around their lands. To review them ‘properly, this time.’ To Reimund’s discomfort, she also invited her mother to join them. Yet Lady Valdis, for all the Dragma reputation for crudity and aggression, was a delightful companion. For much of the ride, Lady Mildthryth spoke of the land and answered any questions he had. But any time a silence lengthened between them, Lady Valdis had a song or story to share. What she called the shorter ‘sagas’ of the Dragma, including the story of the Ancestors’ arrival on this world. Though she insisted she was no ‘Singer’ Reimund swore that she would be welcomed at any noble court.

Around Lady Valdis, Lady Mildthryth also relaxed, teasing and laughing. And Reimund found himself fascinated with the lady’s Dragma stories and the very different life they revealed. The trio returned shortly before last meal.

Reimund had, thankfully, had a chance to tell Lady Mildthryth that his knights would expect to be seated at the high table in acknowledgment of their rank. The Lady had agreed to adjust her own customs but added to the table the priest, Armsmaster, and Seneschal.

He had feared an awkward and uncomfortable meal. Lady Valdis again saved them. She picked up their earlier conversation and involved the priest and Damian in a comparison of their people’s different stories of the landing. The priest was unsurprisingly familiar with the lady’s Dragma heresy. He responded to her outrageous statements with good humor and confident rebuttals. Damian, spurned from his usual silence by new ideas, took his cue from the priest.

With the three debaters going full gallop, Reimund and the others need only sit back and listen. Though Lady Mildthryth jumped in from time to time, alternately skewering one of the partisans or presenting a perspective that unified conflicting views. It seemed that to ‘strike like lightning’ was indeed a Dragma custom. More than once one of the ladies would sit silent for a time, then ‘strike’ the conversation with a comment that would send Damian reeling. The Priest seemed used to this tactic, adapting quickly to each attack.

After the Priest made one telling rebuttal, Lady Mildthryth burst out laughing, a high pitched giggle that Reimund found delightful. The lady fascinated him. If he had only been able to take her as wife in truth, and not this mockery that left him half a man, he would have counted himself one of the luckiest men in the world.

He did his best to push aside his bitterness, focusing on Damian’s fresh offensive against the priest. Really, who could believe the Ancestors had slept thousands of years in their voyage to this world?

After last meal, he followed Mildthryth to her rooms, where she once again took him in her bed. This time she did not restrict his hands. He was able to wrap his fingers around her curves, palm her breasts, and give her some small portion of the pleasure that should be his right to bestow as her husband.

They fell asleep together, but during the night he woke and removed to his own rooms. Henre was there, sleeping at the foot of his bed, as was proper. But he found himself wishing that the boy had been a bit less… eager to take up his new duties. For even in his own rooms, he could not have privacy.

The next morning, Reimund broke his fast alone, but a message came from Lady Mildthryth as he finished. She asked his plans for the day. A reasonable question from a new wife. Except that she would pass judgment on his plans. Except that he hadn’t been sure he would be allowed to plan his day.

Except that he was on his knees before her.

But she said only that it would be a relief to have him take over managing the defense and land and let her focus on managing the burgh.

It occurred to him for the first time that the king’s edict would not be the only reason she had wished to wed. She had been doing the jobs of ruling lord and lady both since her father died.

After Reimund left to review their defenses with Wigmar, Mildthryth asked her mother to join her in the sunroom.

Unsurprisingly, the blunt Dragma lady immediately did exactly what Mildthryth hoped she would: asked about sex.

“Even knowing you all my life, mother, I still don’t know how you can be so forward about it, but right now, I’m grateful.”

“Problems? Tell me the nit didn’t make you bleed, or I’ll bleed him for you.”

Mildthryth laughed ruefully. “No mother, I remembered well enough your lessons and everything the cousins told me.” She shook her head. “Ancestors know you and they shocked me enough I had no chance of forgetting.”

“Anglish foolishness.”

“So you always say, mother.” She sighed. “I think I’m doing something wrong.”

“Bah. Either you remember your lessons or you do not. If you do, how could you go wrong?”

“It’s… For my first experience, it went well. Wonderful, really. But… I was the only one who was relaxed afterward. Reimund had his release, but instead of drifting as I did, he remained tense and stiff–”

“Stiff?”

“His muscles, mother, not…”

“Ah.” her mother was silent for a time. “And it was good for you? No, I do not ask for details. Not from my so-Anglish daughter. But tell me true.”

She blushed. She couldn’t help it. “Ah. Hm. Yes. You warned me that the first time I wasn’t likely to… ah… And you were right. But if I can have that again, then I don’t think I care if I ever get to… ah…”

Her mother nodded. “Some never do. For me, I will say it was the one thing your father–”

“Mother!” Mildthryth covered her ears. Really, even for Dragma there should be limits!

“Ha! Anglish, as I said. Very well.” Valdis was silent again. “It may be, daughter, that you were too focused on yourself. Release is always good for a man, but there is a difference between good and wonderful, yes?”

Mildthryth nodded, frowning.

“No! I do not say you did wrong. I know you daughter. For your first time to focus mostly on yourself is good. But see if you can focus on his pleasure this night. That may make much difference.”

Mildthryth nodded again, smiling this time. “Thank you, mother. And I know exactly what I’ll do.”

“It is good. Now, shall we ride.”


Cross cultural relationships can have the worst landmines, you know?

Bound by His Oath, Episode 7

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.

Lady Mildthryth continued to move quickly, declaring the wedding would be the very next day. The ceremony, according to Anglish custom, was held in the morning, as the sun broke the horizon. Reimund did his best to ignore the sick feeling in his stomach. He reminded himself that he was doing what was best for Lady Mildthryth as well as himself. Surely no woman could remain ruling lady for long without being overwhelmed by the position. Disaster would follow.

Most of the ceremony passed in a blur but came into focus during the exchange of vows. He was able to swear without reservation that he would cherish, honor, and protect her. In his own mind, he added a vow to respect her. Ancestors knew she had earned the respect of any man, and did he not owe her at least that much for planning to subvert his promise to be her man?

Then it was her turn. The moment turned crystalline and relief and shame both surged through him as she vowed to cherish, honor and… care for? What?

The priest continued the ceremony as if nothing untoward had happened. Reimund responded as one of the ancient automata, body following the priest’s instructions while his mind rang with shock and horror.

Then the ceremony was over, and the priest and witnesses filed out, leaving he and Lady Mildthryth alone for their first time as a married couple.

He waited until they were alone, then stepped away, putting space between them. “You changed your marriage vows, my lady.”

“I told Father Wistgan we would use an old Anglish alternative. Though I had hoped it would not be necessary.”

He kept himself turned away while he battled with rage and despair.

After a long moment, she spoke again. “Do you have aught else to say sirrah or shall we join the feast?” Ice dripped from her words.

Never since he left the nursery had any woman spoken to him so. He throttled his anger. A step at a time he approached her. She tensed and he knew—as if he could hear her very thoughts—that she was afraid. That she recognized his anger and knew she could not stand against him. But she didn’t back down.

He could take her, might—might–be able to take control of the castle with his men, overwhelm her loyal retainers. Have what should have been his by right, as her husband and lord of these lands.

But if he did, he would no longer have his honor.

He fell, gracelessly, to his knees. “Lady, you have trapped me fairly. You knew how I sought to pervert my vow and now I have no escape. I am your man, heart and mind and blade.”

Almost, he could feel the ancient oath binding him. Trapping past all escape. “What do you wish of me?”

She sighed, and he could hear the relief in it. “Let us go to the feast, my lord. Then we will retire for a time and discuss your service.”

“As you wish, my lady.”

Supper was… difficult. Anglish customs were, as he had noted a dozen times since arriving here, different. Men-at-arms, and even servants, called out comments on their marriage, and the bedding to follow. Early on, he had nearly lunged to his feet at a comment that impugned his… ability to function. The lady put a hand on his knee. “It is custom, my lord,” she said. “To wish us well or offer congratulations would bring bad luck.”

So he gritted his teeth and endured it. His knights took their cue from him and kept the silence. Halfway through the meal, John’s face had taken on a permanent purple color. Reimund was amazed that Damian and Hereweald didn’t need to physically sit on him.

It was a relief when the last course was done and he could stand to offer Lady Mildthryth his arm.

When they reached her rooms, Mildthryth hesitated. Tradition held that the rest of the day was for the married couple to get to know each other. The bedding could take place anytime during the day, the choice of when was left to the couple.

Rumor said that Nornish custom required witnesses to the bedding. But she had no intention of bringing in others to see something so intimate. As well couple in a Dragma longhouse!

Initially, she had planned to spend some time talking with Reimund. Try to make plans for how they would manage their duties. But now she hesitated.

She had been right about the need to stay alert and remind her new husband that she was in charge. But she had shown him the whip hand strongly today. Perhaps it was time for some reward.

She pushed the door open and stepped through. He closed the door behind him and, though he hesitated, knelt before her without needing her to say anything. To her surprise, there was something very appealing about the strong warrior kneeling at her feet. But she pushed that thought aside. It was indeed time to reward her reluctant lord.

“I believe, Lord Reimund, that we may postpone any conversation. We have, after all, other responsibilities to fulfill.” He looked up at her, stoic as usual but she thought she saw a trace of confusion around his eyes. “Come.” She led him into her bedroom.

“Strip, Lord Reimund,” she told him.

His stoicism cracked finally, surprise and a hint of heat peaking out. He was out of his clothes in moments and reached for her.

She shook her head. So… a small reminder was needed. “Lay on the bed, hands behind your head.”

“My lady, do you, ah…”

“I know exactly what I am doing, sirrah. My mother was a proper Dragma warrior maid. She had little patience for Anglish silliness, never mind Nornish. She made sure I would know exactly what to expect on my wedding day.”

He swallowed and laid down.

She began removing her dress. Taking care to do so slowly, teasing him hints of flesh and gradual reveals. By the time she was naked his shaft was standing up from his body, pointing to the ceiling.

She came to the bed and straddled him, trapping his cock so the length of it pressed against her mound.

“Lady…”

She ground herself against his length, and he broke off with a gasp. The press of him against her folds was good, but when she parted her folds so her nub ground directly against him it was better. She played with her nipples, tweaking and pulling, adding the slightest hint of pain to the pleasure building within her.

Reimund held himself still and endured. The pleasure was making it hard to think. But it did not, quite, drown out the shame of lying here while his wife pleasured herself with his body.

Then she did something else, he couldn’t see what, and he stopped being able to think at all.

There was a pause, a moment’s stillness as she lifted herself off of him and he moaned at the loss of pleasure.

Then she was lifting his shaft, placing the tip where she wanted it, and lowering herself, engulfing his length, thumb by thumb, until her body had swallowed him and he wanted to cry for the sheer pleasure of her tight wetness.

She began to move, and he lost himself in her and the pleasure she gave him.

When they finished, she lay down beside him, cushioning her head on his shoulder. He lay still, hardly daring to breathe as she nuzzled his neck and sighed.

It had been… truly amazing, beyond any of his previous experiences. She had taken her time, drawing out the pleasure, bringing him to the brink again and again before letting him go over.

He saw no virgin blood on his shaft. Obviously, she had experience and learned well how to play a man’s body. And play him she had. He had been a toy for her use…

“Is something wrong, husband?”

“No.” He cleared his throat, forcing his voice to normalcy. “No, my lady.” Everything was as it should be. His unmanning had begun.

“Will you hold me?”

“Of course, my lady.” Finally, he pulled his hands from behind his head and wrapped his arms around her. She was so small, so fragile. But she would destroy him.

Her hands fluttered over him and his shaft twitched at her touch.

She would destroy him. And if she kept giving such pleasure as this – he might go willingly to the slaughter.

Sometime later, she rose and cleaned herself. He followed her and saw his fear confirmed. No blood, anywhere. His wife was no virgin. Jealousy roared within him. Even this was denied him. And he could do nothing to stop her from continuing to lay with her lovers. The best he could hope was that she would not flaunt them. Surely that would raise too many questions for her to wish when they had this abominable secret to keep.

When they were dressed, he waited to know what she would decree next.

“Send for Henre, Lord Reimund. We will speak in my solar.”

“Yes, my lady.” He bowed and left the room.


Lot of ASS-umptions going around here…

Bound by His Oath, Episode 6

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

The lord’s quarters were smaller than those of a proper castle. But what the modernized burg lacked in size, it more than made up for in comfort. Or at least that’s how it seemed to Reimund as he sat on the first bed he had seen in weeks.

The rooms had been cleaned recently, and the warrior had shown him the respect due to a lord.

Somehow, Reimund had not expected that. Had expected to return to the dungeon. It seemed the lady was correct about one thing – when she was ready, she moved like a lightning strike – leaving those in range stunned senseless and the landscape overturned.

He moved through the pair of rooms, feeling as if he was in a dream. It took another moment for him to notice the next shock the lady had left for him —

His things were here. Even his armor and weapons. Had she been that confident of his decision?

No. If he hadn’t given Lady Mildthryth the answer she wanted, he would have been returned to the dungeon and never known this. The ‘endless’ discussion was not wasted time. It was the preparation that made the lightning strike possible. And she would have prepared for either answer from him.

No, he wouldn’t have returned to the dungeon if he gave the wrong answer. He shuddered. Ruthless as she was, somewhere convenient there was a noose and a place to drop him from. She was ready to be done with her problem, one way or another. So done the lady would be.

The clothespress, when he opened it, held the few changes of clothing he had traveled with. Clean, and in at least one case, mended.

A knock at the door startled him out of his shock. “Come in,” he called, expecting one of the guards and still surprised they bothered to knock.

Instead, it was a woman, somewhat older than Mildthryth and well dressed, but not noble. She bowed briefly. “Milord. I am Wulfrun. I have been housekeeper here since before Lady Mildthryth’s father died. I came to introduce myself and make sure you have everything you need. The kitchen will be sending up a hot meal soon, and I thought perhaps a bath?”

A bath! Just the thought of it had his skin itching under the layers of dirt and sweat. “Yes, a bath would be good. Thank you, Wulfrun.”

“Of course, milord.” She seemed to hesitate a moment. “No disrespect milord, but we do hear that Norns do things differently – there’s a speaking tube in the corner that connects to the kitchen.”

“A speaking tube?” Reimund blinked and looked where the woman pointed. There was a tube of copper coming up out of the floor…

“Yes, milord. Just lift the lid and they’ll hear you in the kitchen. When you need anything, call down and someone will be up. There is another speaking tube in Lady Mildthryth’s quarters.”

“I see.”

“Is there anything else you need now, milord?”

Reimund blinked. There was something odd about her manner. She was more forward than he would have expected, but that might be Anglish custom. Their lady certainly wasn’t afraid to speak the unthinkable!

“I need to speak with my– with the knights who came with me. Can you arrange that?”

“Of course, milord. I understand Wigmar was to tell those in the barracks that you and milady have come to terms. I expect your knights will be seeking you out soon, but I’ll just make sure of it.”

Those in the barracks… “Please make sure that Wigmar sends Sir John to me as well.”

“Yes, milord.” Her eyes widened and her voice was full of curiosity. Apparently, John’s… indisposure was not widely known.

“Thank you.” She bowed and turned to leave.

And he realized why she had seemed nervous. “Actually, one last thing.” She stopped and turned back. This time he could see her fists clenching in her skirts. “Lady Mildthryth has obviously been happy with how her home was managed. I don’t expect I’ll be making any changes.”

Relief swept through her, clear in her sudden relaxation. She doesn’t know, he thought with sudden bitterness, that I had no power to change anything. All she knows is a new lord can set her out or overturn everything she did here.

“Thank you, milord.”

He couldn’t bring himself to speak past that bitterness, so he nodded and turned away. The door opened and closed behind him.

Mildthryth was still on the walk when Wulfrun, came looking for her sometime later. “Milord is settled, lady, and asked to speak to his knights.”

“Good. His folk?”

“As you suggested, most of them should do well enough in the barracks. It’ll need some cleaning and such, but it’ll be a relief for the girls to have something to turn their hands to other than endless weaving.”

Mildthryth snorted. She, too, would be happy to not see a loom for the next year or two.

“I wasn’t sure about the knights. We can put them together in the old reeves’ quarters.”

Prior to the conquest, Eorls like Mildryth’s father had overseen a hundred or more reeves, each responsible for a hundred families. They managed day-to-day administration of the Eorl’s region while the Eorls managed defense and collected the king’s taxes. Mildryth’s father had kept a room set aside to host the reeves who came to deliver their hundred’s taxes and report on any needs those families had. The Conqueror had gradually overturned the old ways, and the room had sat empty the last few years.

But as a gesture of trust, that room was off the same section of hall as the lord’s and lady’s quarters. Mildthryth and Wulfrun exchanged a glance and both grimaced.

“Otherwise I’m not sure we have anything available that would be considered suitable for their rank,” Wulfrun finished.

Mildthryth sighed. “For now, they can continue to stay in the barracks. We may need to rearrange how we handle rooming, but that is not something to be done without planning.”

Wulfrun smiled and squeezed her shoulder. “Of course, Mildthryth. Just as well, perhaps. With the reeves’ room so little used I fear it has developed some mildewing.”

“Well, we cannot insult the good knights with such poorly maintained quarters,” Mildthryth smiled back.

He was surprised that John arrived first. He would have expected Wigmar to push the limits of the soon-to-be lord’s command and leave John in the dungeon as long as possible. His arms, though, were still bound behind him.

Reimund found he couldn’t blame the Anglish – injured and half-blind as he was, John was tense and ready for a fight.

That was so… John.

“Stand down, Sir John,” he said. Then to the Anglish, “Release him.”

Wigmar immediately began untying John’s bonds, saying, “He’s your problem now, milord. If he becomes my problem again,” Wigmar looked up and met Reimund’s eyes with a death glare, “then I’ll take his head and be done with it.”

He finished pulling the ties off John without looking away. “You’re the best of a bad lot, milord, and so I told her. But never you forget that she is our lady.”

John, for a wonder, had the sense to keep his mouth shut.

“I understand,” Reimund answered the Anglish warrior. Wigmar nodded and left the room, leaving Reimund and John alone.

Reimund led John to the room’s one chair and made him sit. “What the hell were you thinking, John? I can’t believe that hard bastard didn’t kill you for putting hands on Lady Mildthryth.”

“He wanted to. She wouldn’t let him. She said… I’m sorry Reimund. Thought I’d gotten you killed breaking parole. But she was going to kill you anyway. Asked if I’d be willing to swear service to her after she killed you.”

“Damn it, John! You could have gotten everyone else killed…” Reimund caught himself and sighed. “Could have but didn’t. You, my impulsive, loyal, friend, may have been the saving of us.”

John gaped and Reimund found himself laughing. Somewhat hysterically.

“The lady gave me her terms, John. Terms for a marriage contract.”

Reimund’s laughter died completely at the memory of what those terms were.

John’s mouth dropped further. Stunned to silence for the first time since Reimund had known him. The lightning strike was still reverberating, it seemed.

“She is in a position to set terms as she pleases, and knows it. Her man – that one who just promised to take your head if you threaten his lady again – will continue to lead the warriors and training here.”

He waited until John picked his chin up and nodded. “There’s more, some that I’ll want to discuss with all of you, some that is… between she and I.”

John licked his swollen lips. “You trust her, Reimund? Granted, I don’t see how she could turn on you once she’s your wife, but… could she be playing you somehow? Promising you marriage to keep the King off her back while in practice keeping you a prisoner? She still rules until after the wedding.”

If only John knew – she had no reason to play him like that when he had given her his word. “No, John. I know your eyes are swollen shut, but you should be able to see something. These are the lord’s quarters. The housekeeper has already been by to make sure I’m not going to replace her. That’s my sword and halberd over there – moved here even before the lady gave me her terms.

“I don’t blame you for being suspicious. But Lady Mildthryth doesn’t need to play games with me. She already won that game. But it’s the king she’s really been playing against, and there she knows she can’t win. She’s told me as much. So she’ll risk giving me her wedding oath and hold what she can, rather than wait for the king to sweep her off the board.”

Wedding oath. Something about that…

Even with his swollen lip, John managed to grin. “So be it, then. I won’t be happy serving under that Anglish bastard, mind. But nothing would please me more than to see you take your proper rank–however it came to you–and to serve you as my lord.”

He slipped off the chair and onto his knees. “My lord, I am your man, heart and mind and blade. What do you wish of me?”

As he spoke, the door opened, and Damian and Hereweald entered – looking as stunned as John had a few moments earlier.

Reimund ignored them to rest a hand on John’s head, surprised and touched by the ancient oath he realized now he had never truly expected to hear.

“Rise Sir John, and go tell the armsmen they will soon have a new lady.”

“Yes, my lord,” John stood and limped past Damian and Hereweald to the door – still grinning

“And John? If you so much as raise a hand to my lady again I will string you up myself.”

John bowed, deeply. “I understand.”

Reimund turned to Damian and Hereweald, to answer the questions that were lurking in their eyes.

For John’s sake, and all his men, he would continue to kneel to Lady Mildthryth and wed her knowing he’d be all but cuckolding himself. Somehow he would endure. Wed her…

Wedding oath… as his wife, she would vow to obey him. Would that not supersede his word to her? Relief filled him, tinged with shame. It was not an honorable thing he contemplated. But right now he would happily live with that slight dishonor. And he allowed himself to grin as well as he waved his brothers-in-spirit over to explain to them what was happening.


So Reimund has a plan… How do you think that’s going to go for him?

Bound by his Oath, Episode 5

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.

Reimund was roused from sleep by the sound of keys rattling outside his cell door. A few moments later, the door opened and the same warrior gestured for him to come. He obeyed but froze at the sight that greeted him. “John!”

John sagged in the warrior’s grip. Blood dripped down his face and tunic from a broken nose, both his eyes were blackened, his arms were bruised and bound behind him, he was favoring his right hip…

The warrior shook his head when Reimund reached for his knight, and reluctantly, Reimund fell back.

“I’m sorry, Reimund,” John mumbled around a swollen lip. “I…” The warrior shoved him into the cell, and he landed hard, crying out.

“It’ll be alright, John,” Reimund made himself say as the warrior closed the cell door. “It’ll be alright.

Then he turned and followed the battered old man, heart heavy and lost in darkness.

Once more the warrior escorted him up onto the tower walk. Lady Mildthryth waited there, the shoulder of her tunic torn and fresh blood on her sleeve. Damn it, John!

He sank to his knees, not caring in this moment how he shamed himself. “My lady, I beg you–”

“Stand up, Sir Reimund.” She cut him off. “You are not here to discuss your oh-so-loyal knight.”

He obeyed silently.

After a moment she sniffed and turned to look out over the mountains. “I would dislike hanging you and your men from my walls, Sir Reimund. It would be wasteful, and I prefer not to offend the Ancestors. But continuing to feed you and your men to no purpose would be more wasteful, especially when, for some reason, our food stores will be lower than expected this year.”

He took a grip on his temper. This was nothing he did not know. “Is it the Anglish way to talk endlessly about possibilities and never take action? If so, no wonder we conquered you so easily.”

She laughed, but it was a heavy sound, full of bitterness. He wondered what her true laughter sounded like. “No. My mother would say it is the Dragma way to talk endlessly about possibilities and then strike like lightning when the time is right.” She spun to face him, and there was something in her movements, in her face, that frightened him. He had seen men look so before they rode into a battle where they expected to die.

“I have a proposal for you, Sir Reimund. I doubt it will be to your liking, but you might find it has its merits.”

“I am, of course, at your service, Lady Mildthryth.” He said, choosing his words like his footing over those damnable rocks.

To his surprise, she laughed again. “Yes, precisely.” She took a deep breath, and Reimund braced himself for her charge. “You will take oath as my liegeman.”

She spoke softly, so only he could hear her. But the words landed like a blade through his guts. He snarled, unable, in that moment of shock, to control himself. “You dare…”

The guard stepped forward, but she held up her hand, stopping him.

“I suggest you control yourself, sirrah.”

Reimund forced himself to step back, to uncurl his firsts. “If you were a man, I’d challenge you for such an insult.”

She looked at him for a moment as if he had two heads, then shrugged, “If I understand you Norns, if I were a man, it wouldn’t be an insult.” She gestured out to the distant woods. “You have built your ship, invader. You may live with it or die in it.

“Your man was ready to die for you. Will you have the courage to live for him?”

She waited, but he said nothing. “For the time being, I would keep this oath private. None shall know of this except we two. Once you have given your oath, I will wed you, making you lord of Oak Haven. You will rule all here. I will rule you.”

Only the iron control he was holding prevent him from reacting to that second shock. It took him a moment to understand, but when he did was near as shocked by the woman’s cunning and ruthlessness.

In one stroke she satisfied the king, kept her freedom and power, and turned a burden—he and his men—into an asset. He himself got almost everything he had come here for.

But to get it, he would need to become what many would consider only half a man. Ruled, shamefully, by his wife, with no power over her or her actions. Some might say that death would be better.

She examined him as he did her, her face displaying a range of emotion, flickering between hope, fear, need, and what might have been… desire?

He didn’t think she intended insult. She had almost seemed surprised that he was insulted. No, she had found a solution to her problem, and if the solution was such that had another warrior even hinted at such a thing he would have called them out, what was it to her? She had her honor and her duty, and the honor of a prisoner who had sought to conquer her was not her concern.

But, oh, how he burned at the thought of it. To unman himself and bend knee to a woman — to his wife, no less!

He had already knelt to her though, to beg for John. Would this be any different?

Well, yes. There is a difference between a momentary shame and an endless one. But… “Sir John?”

“Consider him my betrothal gift, and deal with him as you will.” Her laugh had a breathless quality now, and he realized that he had been right before – she felt she was throwing herself off a cliff just as much as he did. “It was his loyalty to you that convinced me to trust you with this… chance. Would you rather reward him for that or punish him I wonder?”

Reimund shook his head, not sure himself how to answer that question. Thankfully she didn’t seem to expect one. “The rest of my men–?”

She waved a hand, dismissing his concern. “Will have whatever place here you find for them. I will not see my people displaced, but I believe there is room here for the men who are sworn to you.” Her tone darkened for a moment “Ancestors know we have enough dead whose shoes they can fill.”

He nodded and resisted the urge to lick his lips. Slowly this time, he lowered himself to his knees. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t force out the words of the ancient oath. Finally, he cobbled together something he hoped she would accept. “I will… take you as my liege, Lady Mildthryth. By my word, you shall have my loyalty and obedience for all my life.”

She placed a hand on his bent head and he shuddered at her touch. “It is done then.”

Mildthryth watched Wigmar lead Sir Reimund back into the keep – this time to the lord’s quarters. The risk she was taking terrified her.

Among the Anglish, her plans would be unusual but accepted. The Dragma, if her mother’s tales could be trusted, the idea of him giving his oath would be ludicrous – the difference in their ranks would mean her position would be assumed by all – including her husband!

But the Norns, with their refusal to admit a woman could rule…

She would not be able to treat him as an Anglish husband. Each day she would need to remind him of his subservience lest he forget that she ruled here.

He clearly inspired loyalty, she thought, carefully testing her bruising. Surely a man who knew how to inspire such loyalty knew how to give it? If he was capable of giving it, then her gamble would truly pay off.

But if he was one to swear an oath and then break it for convenience… at best, the holding would be turn apart as her people battled his, leaving them all ripe for plucking by the conqueror. The worst… was not worth considering.


I expect they’ll both have trouble sleeping tonight.

Bound by his Oath, Episode 4

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

Mildthryth’s mother was in the stableyard lunging her horse. As always since Mildthryth’s father died, she wore the intricately braided hairstyles and brightly embroidered clothing of her Dragma kin.

She smiled when she saw Mildthryth.

They stood silently for a time, watching the horse exercise. “I’m sorry we can’t go on our rides anymore.”

Her mother shrugged. “It is what it is. The time will come when we can ride again without worrying about these nits.

“You are a good daughter, and honor to your grandfather and your father, little though he deserves it. You will find your way.

“The men may rule, most of the time, for they are stronger and the Ancestors’ perfect world died ages past. But these Norns are fools to think that men can rule all the time, for we women have our own strength and you will teach them that.”

Now Mildthryth echoed her mother’s earlier sigh. “What would you have done?”

“I?” The older woman snorted. “I would have been saddled and gone before your father was cold in the grave. Your uncle would welcome me back, and you as well if you wished, and I could help raise the nieces and nephews, make good cheese, and listen to the Singer tell the old tales and sagas of when the world was new and the Ancestors believed they could make a new paradise in this cursed realm. And live in a proper, round building without all these cursed corners!

“But you are too Anglish. Stubborn as Dragma, but soft-spoken and happy with your sharp corners and dark chapels. You would not be happy making cheese and listening to the Singers.”

Her mother had taken her once, much against her father’s wishes but before the Conqueror came he dared not disrespect his father in law, to visit her Dragma relatives. There were many things she envied them, but she could never remember the great round building they all lived in without a shudder. It wasn’t the lack of corners, exactly, but there were no walls. It was one great room that everyone… well it was big enough it wasn’t actually crowded, but it felt that way, with no quiet space away from it all unless you went outside in the cold.

Lady Valdis laughed. “Yes? I see that face. So my solution will not work for you and you will find your own way. And I will stay in this place of corners because I love you more than a proper home and proper cheese and all the songs of the Singers.”

Mildthryth took the lunge line from her mother, handed it to a nearby groom, then threw herself into Lady Valdis’ arms. Valdis, the only person in her life who was demonstrative than she was, hugged her back, then picked her up and swung her around, proving that she hadn’t lost her strength as she aged.

“It will be well, daughter. Now, what is it you came here to tell me, for surely you did not come to ask my advice!”

Mildthryth buried her face in her mother’s neck. “Will you trust me, mother? No matter what?”

Valdis pulled Mildthryth away and lifted her chin to study her face. “You have found your path. And it isn’t a straightforward Dragma path, but a twisty, cornered Anglish path.”

Mildthryth nodded and dropped her eyes, afraid of what she would see in her mother’s face.

“You are my daughter. Whatever path you have found, these Norns will never see the blow before it falls.”

Mildthryth laughed and hugged her mother again. “Mother. There is nothing straightforward about crossing a Dragma roundhouse.”

From the stables, Mildthryth went directly to the chapel. She had a path forward, but that did not mean it would work. So she knelt before the altar and recited the ancient litany of the Ancestors. Her mother had never grown used to Anglish worship in a closed room away from the sky. But in this Mildthryth was her father’s daughter. The night sky always filled her with wonder and awe, seeing the stars from which the Ancestors had traveled and to which her people would one day return.

But prayer was for quiet spaces, unadorned rooms. A single candle for focus. Just as the sun had been a focus for the Ancestors on their great journey.

She didn’t know how long she was there when the door to the chapel opened. “Lady Mildthryth,” Wigmar said, “Here is Sir John of Kaldon, as you requested.”

Mildthryth did not turn but gestured for the knight to join her.

After a moment, he came forward and knelt nearby. She could hear his whispered prayer.

In the candlelight, she could see only the vague outline of his face. Bearded but with hair cut unusually short.

When he finished praying, she stood and asked, “Sir Reimund has none to pay his ransom. Is there any who would ransom you or your fellows, Sir John?”

He stood also, his height making him loom over her in the dark. She didn’t think it was intentional as he stepped back a moment later. Or maybe she had just shocked him. “No, Lady Mildthryth,” he hissed. He shook himself, strong enough to be visible even in the dim light, then spoke more normally. “Had Sir Reimund escaped your trap he would have sought to ransom me, but there are no others. Sir Damien and Sir Hereweald likewise. The men-at-arms, I cannot say.”

She stepped closer, invading his space. He stood his ground.

“I dislike waste, Sir John, and I have need of defense, as you well know. Would you take service with me?”

His feet shifted and she thought she heard his teeth grinding. “No, Lady,” he growled. “While he is loyal to me, I will not betray Sir Reimund.”

Mildthryth nodded, she had expected that. “And if he were no longer alive?”

In the dark, she had no warning. A strong hand grabbed her tunic jerking her close. “Harm him and…”

He never got to finish his threat. Lady Valdis had known her daughter would never be a warrior, but she hadn’t left Mildthryth ignorant of defense. Her palm slammed into the man’s nose at the same time her heel landed on his instep.

Wigmar, of course, moved even faster than she did. In an instant, he had the Norn wrestled to the ground with his arms pinned.

“Anglish bitch,” he hissed.

She crouched down next to the Norn, careful to stay out of Wigmar’s way. “That’s ‘Lady Bitch,’ Sir John. And you had best remember it if you want to see your leader again. Will he thank you for breaking his parole do you think?” She nodded to Wigmar. “Take him to the dungeon. Then bring Reimund to me.”

The knight roared and tried to break free of Wigmar, but the old warrior wasn’t that old. Mildthryth smirked. In truth, Sir Reimund was more likely to thank his knight than not. But he had earned at least a few hours fear for what his lack of discipline might have cost.

Wigmar finally got the knight on his feet and started towards the door. “And Wigmar, unless he tries to get away from you, all the rest of his blood best be in his body when you close the door on him.”

“Aye lady,” Wigmar growled, “Your lady mother would have let me string him up and use him for target practice, though.”

She let the impertinence pass. Wigmar had earned it for putting up with her need to risk herself like this.

Besides, she was Anglish enough to understand that sometimes a diplomatic response was required. But she was Dragma enough to take pleasure in the fact that Sir John would be sporting more and worse bruises before he reached the dungeon.


Damn it, John!