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.”
“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?”
“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.