The Bargain (S2, E4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long have you been mine?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A single tear trickled down Parlen’s cheek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bargain (S2, E3)

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parlen bowed her head, “Yes, Mistress.”

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

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

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

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

“—but at court, it’s a problem.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brit smacked the back of Parlen’s head.

“What!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cook?” Mattin blinked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bargain (S1, Season Finale)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex, reference to/discussion of child abuse, violence

Two days later, Brit buried his own doubts and took Mattin into Jahlene’s glamourhame for the first time.

Mattin held to the many assurances he’d been given: the lady didn’t take anyone as a toy unless they wanted her to. But this once, he wished Brit would tell him what to expect. Why did he have any reason to be in the glamourhame at all?

But Brit didn’t offer any explanations, and Mattin wasn’t willing to ask.

The scents of wood, leather, and oil permeated the windowless room. But something else in the air set him on edge—even more on edge.

The walls were paneled in the same dark wood as the rest of the manor. Oil lamps, polished to a high shine, hung near the ceiling. Shelves covered one wall. They held…implements, many of which Mattin didn’t recognize and didn’t want to. The room was large, with a wide-open center area and a half dozen pieces of…furniture along the walls. A pair of shackles were bolted to the center of the floor. A chain hung from the ceiling above them. Mattin shuddered. His imagination painted vivid images of what would happen to someone hauled up there.

Someone cleared their throat behind him. He’d stopped in the doorway without realizing it. Crait stood behind him. Mattin hurried to move out of the man’s way—which, of course, put him inside the glamourhame.

Crait gave him a nod before turning to Brit. “You wanted me, sir?”

“The boy needs a demonstration. Is your wife off duty tonight?”

The floor dropped out from under Mattin. Demonstration? Crait’s face split into a huge grin. “Yes, sir!” The big man closed the door to the glamourhame and began stripping off his clothing.

“Good,” Brit said. “On the cross with you.”

Mattin stared. Crait, now naked, walked up to a large wooden X set in one corner and stretched himself out across it.

Brit walked over to one of the shelves and picked up a many-tailed whip. He then walked over to the X, waving for Mattin to join him. Mattin forced himself to walk across the room. Brit handed him the… “This is a flogger. Crait has a liking for them.”

Mattin stared at him, eyes wide and jaw loose. “You—you want me to…”

“You will spend time assisting the mistress in the glamourhame at court. You can’t avoid it. So get used to it now.”

Mattin eyed at the flogger in his hand, then looked at Crait. The man’s back was a mass of scars. He swallowed.

“Now, boy. Prove to both of us the glamourhame won’t break you or stop wasting my time.”

Mattin took a breath. He could do this. He didn’t want to, but he could. For Marta, he could do anything. He stepped forward and raised the flogger.

He swung it gently, afraid to hurt the man. Brit snorted. Crait muttered, “I know a four-year-old who hits better.”

Mattin gritted his teeth and took a firmer grip on the flogger.

The next hit made Crait jump, but when he didn’t cry out, Mattin raised the flogger again.

He tried to divorce himself from what he was doing. To forget he was hitting—beating—a living man. A friend. It made him sick, but he had to continue.

The flogger was heavy in his hand. After a few minutes, he found a good rhythm. Crait held himself on the cross. He could get down at any time. He didn’t. Instead, he clung, knuckles turning white on the handles, as his back turned red from the flogger.

Somehow, realizing he chose to stay there gave Mattin the detachment he needed. He focused on the feel of swinging his arm. The shift in his weight. The satisfaction of action after long hours behind a desk.

He was breathing hard now—sweating—but Crait just stood there. The room was silent except for the swish and thud of the flogger. Mattin found himself gritting his teeth. What was the point of hitting a man if he didn’t feel anything? Why, by the Mare, should he put himself through this if Crait didn’t even notice?

He swung harder. Crait grunted as the blow landed. It ripped something open in Mattin. The anger he had been pushing aside swamped him—at Oeloff, at himself, at Brit and the whole world. Mattin growled. Fear, desperation, shame: he poured them all out onto Crait’s back. He emptied himself of everything—everything except exhaustion. Without the focus of emotion, he felt the soreness in his arm—the ache in his heart.

“Enough,” Brit said.

Mattin’s arm fell. He found himself staring at Crait’s back. It was a very nice shade of red…

Mattin dropped the flogger like it was a snake. He turned away from Crait—couldn’t face what he’d done. Crait was—had been—his friend. He had been burning with anger and frustration for weeks. Now they were gone. He’d taken them all out on the man in front of him.

Crait hung in on the cross, panting. Brit helped him down. As Crait turned around, Mattin forced himself to face the man he’d beaten…

And was startled—shocked—to see Crait’s face split by a huge grin and his shaft erect.

Crait held out a hand to Mattin, who took it limply. “My thanks,” he said, “You have a good arm.”

“Ah… you’re welcome?” Mattin shook his head, trying to restart his thoughts.

“You gonna need any care?” Brit asked.

“Nothing m’wife can’t provide.”

“Good.”

After a moment, Crait shook himself off, bowed to Brit, and walked out the door.

Brit chuckled. “I wish I could get a painting of your face.”

“I… White Mare’s Blood! What…?”

“A lot of us have learned to enjoy a good beating, but Crait is the one man I know who can’t raise the standard without one. His wife will be thanking you tomorrow.”

Mattin’s mouth gaped.

“Welcome to a whole new world, boy.” Brit chuckled.

“I liked my old world better.”

The image of Crait’s grinning face, the thwack of the flogger landing, the joy and disgust, all mixed in his stomach. He swallowed hard.

Brit sobered and put a hand on Mattin’s shoulder. “I’d make it easier for you if I knew how.”

Mattin closed his eyes and tried to focus on the warmth of Brit’s hand. On being in the moment. “Yes, sir. Will… that… be required of me often?”

“No. If you weren’t going to court, you wouldn’t be here now. And I would have been the one with the flogger today if I thought watching would have gotten through to you.”

Much as he wanted to deny it, Mattin understood what Brit meant. If he had watched Brit with the flogger, he would have been focused on Brit, not Crait. Wouldn’t have seen Crait’s reaction. Wouldn’t have understood how much the “toy” enjoyed the game—but how could he?

“I don’t…why would any human do this?” Mattin’s stomach twisted, “It’s horrible.”

“For you, maybe.” Brit shrugged. “Not for Crait. Not for others.”

Mattin wanted to object—but he’d seen Crait’s reaction with his own eyes. And some part of him wondered—

An image flashed in his mind’s eye—Marta on a cross being beaten by Oeloff. He wanted to yell out—to deny—but he couldn’t. And he had gotten some form of pleasure from doing the same thing.

Brit would make excuses for him, the same way the older man made excuses for the lady, his beloved mistress. But it was all the same. That Crait, for some twisted reason, enjoyed the pain didn’t change anything. Right?


I wonder if Mattin and Jahlene’s language has a saying similar to ours about a certain river in Egypt… Ah well, Mattin will work through his issues in his own time. Or not.

In the meantime, we are returning to the world of Ma’evoto/Ameohne’e and all the rest of the troperific fun:

They are a plucky band of rebels, fighting against a tyrant who overthrew the rightful government and is supported by an army of monsters. The only problem?

They think they’re the good guys.

They are family, grandmother and granddaughter. Students of Kabbalah in a world where someone could really create the Golem of Prague. They are done sitting back while injustice takes place around them. The only problem?

They’re on opposite sides.

They’re just a kid, trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in this crazy world their mother just took over. And their new mentor is trying to kill their mother. The only problem?

Everything!

They are coming to usher humanity into a new galactic society. They have the best of intentions, amazing technology to sell us, and know exactly what will fix all our problems. The only problem?

If someone doesn’t stop them, they are going to destroy the world.

She has a prophecy foretelling her success, a dragon sidekick, and plans for the biggest battle station ever built. She’s going to save the world. The only problem?

She’s the bad guy.

See you next week!

Return to:
The Bargain (S1, E1)

Continue to:
Webserial Catalog
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E1)

The Bargain (S1, E11)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex, reference to/discussion of child abuse, violence

Brit forced a bit more food into Mattin, then sent him off to sleep. He cleaned up the tray and blamed the way his own eyes watered on the westering sun. Work. Work would distract him. There was always work to do.

When he looked up it was dark out, and his lamps had burned low. The dinner tray was still sitting on the corner of his desk.

Brit shook his head, cleared his desk, and carried the tray down to the kitchen. It didn’t make sense, he rationalized, to disturb one of the maids that late at night. By the time he realized what he was doing, it was too late.

As he stepped through the door, the half-fae cook pushed back from the sink and wiped his thick hands on his apron. “This is unexpected,” he said as he stalked toward Brit.

Brit strode past the fae to one of the big kitchen tables.

“I haven’t seen the lad since he picked up that tray.”

“He’s sleeping,” Brit growled. He put the tray down next to an old knife scar in the table. As usual, the wood was spotless. No matter how hard he searched, Brit never found any cause for complaint. He turned to the door and found the exit blocked by the fae. Brit’s temper, already strained to the breaking point, flared. His pulse throbbed in his old scars.

“Is he now? Straight to bed then, without stopping to say goodnight to his friends.” The fae bastard crooned.

Brit’s hands fisted. They both knew what was coming, but spur him if he would make it easy for the half-breed. “It’s been a long day. He was worn out.” He tried to edge past the cook, but the bigger man didn’t budge.

“Worn out, nothing. You’re pushing him too hard.”

The thread holding his temper snapped. The bastard fae always knew just where to push. Always turned Brit’s own doubts and fears against him.

Brit grabbed the male. A moment later Cook was flat against the wall with Brit’s arm at his throat. “I push him as hard as need be, and it is not for you to comment.”

Cook caught Brit’s free arm in a nerve pinch and twisted. Brit landed hard on the floor. He rolled to his feet and charged.

Cook fought silently. He responded to Brit’s brawling attacks with simple-seeming throws and pin-point nerve strikes. Brit didn’t worry about precision. No matter how well or how often the fae threw him about the room, anger and grief carried him forward. His intensity was rewarded with the stinging smack of punches landing.

As much as he wanted to wipe the smirk off the half-breed’s face, Brit stuck to body blows. Fighting was one thing, but displaying wounds before the household was unacceptable. And if he ever went for the face, the fae would do the same.

The fight ended when Brit came in low with a tackling lunge and took out the fae’s knees. Brit kept his footing—barely—and pressed one knee across Cook’s throat. He bent down and growled in the half-fae’s face. “Never criticize my training again.” Then he stood and strode out of the kitchen. Not allowing his wrenched knee to limp until he turned the corner.

Brit’s mind was clear, and he knew he’d be better able to sleep for the fight. Still, he cursed himself for letting the half-fae get under his skin.

~~~

For Mattin, the next day started a new phase of training. Crait spent a morning drilling him in the intricacies of formal table service. When they finished, Mattin reported to Brit in a small, elegant dining chamber. He placed the proper setting for a formal lunch and managed to serve the fancy court food Cook conjured up without major mishap. When Brit finished each course, Mattin cleared it away, and served the next. At the end of the meal Brit said, “You’ll practice with Crait one hour each morning.”

After lunch, Brit set him down with a stack of notes on the nobles of court. Names, titles of address, their appearance, their habits and foibles. Mattin did his best to study while Brit threw out random questions such as, “What drinks do you need on hand if the Mistress has a conference with Duke n’Trail?” or “Whose sigil is an oak tree formed into a circle?” And he’d spend several minutes flipping through the notes to find the answer. The first time he answered from memory (Lady Erebeth ruled County Reltra, long blond hair, usually worn loose)

Brit told him, “Take a break for a turn of the glass,” and Mattin had a chance to get a drink and shake out limbs gone stiff. When the sand ran out, he went back to studying—eager to get another answer right.

That was how the days went. Each morning, a new skill to be mastered; each afternoon, new information to be learned.

Mattin was exhausted at the end of each day. He had never realized that a day spent learning could be as difficult as a day of hard work at the inn. But he didn’t complain — being exhausted meant he fell asleep quickly and slept without dreams.

The only difficulty was that Crait insisted on talking about glamourhai sometimes. No specifics of the way the lady hurt him. Not usually. But schedules, or how Joth had taken a couple days off after an intense session. Little things that constantly reminded Mattin that his friends were being tortured to feed Jahlene. Little things that, bit by bit, stopped horrifying him and started making him curious. And that terrified him more than anything.

So he pushed his curiosity aside, pretended to not care about anything Crait said, and focused on his lessons.

The lessons, at least, went well. At the end of the second week, Mattin had learned the basic skills of court service. All that remained, Brit said, was polishing—a great deal of polishing. Brit was cautiously pleased. Mattin was ecstatic at the mild praise from his gruff teacher. And even happier when Brit gave him an afternoon off.

~~~

While Mattin went off to catch up with Cook, Jaffrey, and Elose, Brit reported to Jahlene.

“I think we’ll manage,” he said. “The boy learns faster than I expected.”

Jahlene nodded, glad to have one worry out of the way. Brit’s “probably” was as good as most people’s “certainly.”

“Good. Any problems so far?”

Brit grimaced. “He’s twitchy on glamourhai. Not surprising given what Oeloff is likely doing to his sister right now, but as he is, he can’t serve you in the glamourhame at court.”

“You want to push him.” The words were just short of an accusation.

“Want to, no—” Brit rubbed at the scar on his face. “But we don’t have time to let him adjust on his own.”

Jahlene took a section of her hair and began twisting it into a coil. “I don’t want him broken, Brit.”

He walked over to the window. “This isn’t something any of us have done. He’s becoming friends with Jaffrey, and I stuck him with Crait early on. I hoped he’d learn enough from them. He hasn’t. He needs to get in his gut that helping you in the glamourhame isn’t hurting them. If he doesn’t, you will break him.”

Jahlene uncoiled her hair. She spent a few minutes twining the ends through her fingers and making tiny braids. “Do it, whatever you’re thinking of. But be careful.”


Return to:
The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E10)

Continue to:
The Bargain (S1 Finale)

The Bargain (S1, E10)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex, reference to/discussion of child abuse

Mattin was never sure how he got through his second day of training. Exhaustion weighed him down, and his body was sore from standing. Again, he spent the entire day behind Brit’s shoulder, trying not to move. It wasn’t long before he felt like a piece of furniture.

He soon lost track of how often Brit corrected him throughout the morning. But the steward didn’t get annoyed or upset. By mid-afternoon, getting screamed at would have been a relief from the unending calm and controlled corrections.

The third day passed the same as the first two. And the fourth. Mattin stood in one place for hours. Sometimes he knelt. Rarely, Brit permitted him to sit. Always while remaining still and silent.

Except for correcting his posture or sending him for lunch, Brit acted like he didn’t exist. Sometimes he followed Brit to a different part of the manor. He pretended to be invisible while Brit dealt with inventory or ate in the dining room. Once in a while, he broke away from his frustration and resentment to wonder if this “training” had any point.

He didn’t ask. He said nothing to Brit except for the occasional “Yes, sir.”

When Brit sent him to fetch food from the kitchen, Cook gave him advice. More often, he was on his own.

On the fifth day, everything changed. Or rather, he changed, and that changed everything.

***

He knelt, holding the tray while Brit ate. For the hundredth time, the thought came that Brit treated him as a piece of furniture. A living table.

The long days had worn the resentment from the thought. By habit, the next thought in the refrain followed. I don’t want to be a piece of furniture. What I want doesn’t matter. I’m just a table.

Without the resentment, the familiar thoughts took on a new meaning. I’m a table. What I want doesn’t matter. A table doesn’t want. A table isn’t bored. A table isn’t afraid. Or in pain. A table… is.

The idea was strangely freeing. Nothing mattered to a table. Nothing but holding the tray. If Mattin was just a table, he only needed to hold the tray. He could let go.

Worries about Marta, fears for his future, sore knees, tired arms… it stopped. He was a table; he held a tray. Nothing else was his concern. He would have laughed aloud, but tables don’t laugh.

He held the tray.

***

The revelation stayed with him the rest of the day. Whether he stood in the corner being a post or became a fence rail in the yard. At night, lying in bed, he worried. Worried for Marta, trapped for three months as Oeloff’s slave. It was too long. He could hurt her—even kill her—long before they had a chance to save her. It was also too short—far too short for him to learn everything he needed. He could be a table, but the lady needed much more. He didn’t have time to learn everything.

Eventually, he fell asleep. Worries and all.

In the morning, becoming furniture again was a relief. Brit didn’t say anything, but when his gaze crossed Mattin’s, he would drop an eyelid in something that wasn’t quite a wink. Or his eyes would crinkle in a hidden smile.

That afternoon, he gave Mattin other jobs—other furniture to be. He followed Brit to the stables and became a hitching post. A storm broke, and Brit placed him in the front hall with a pile of towels: he became a shelf. He was a lamp holder in a storeroom while Brit counted the stores.

Sometimes his worries tried to come back. Or his arms or back would ache. But he held to being furniture. As long as he was a piece of furniture, nothing touched him. He was free.

The next day was more of the same. At least until dinnertime.

***

Right before the dinner bell, Brit began clearing the work off his desk. He directed Mattin to some of the papers away. After so long holding still, moving around was strange, awkward. When the desk was clear Brit sent Mattin down to the kitchen. This time, he said, “Bring back food for both of us.”

Cook was surprised to see him before the bell, but he didn’t have time to quiz Mattin. Just threw some food on a tray and sent him back. Mattin was relieved—he had no idea what he would have said.

When he got back to Brit’s office, he found a chair in front of the desk. Brit took the tray from him and put it on the desk. He stood, not sure what to do. “Sit down and eat, boy. My legs get tired watching you.”

Mattin settled himself into the chair. His thoughts chased themselves around his head… he was a person again. He put his hands in his lap, then rested them on the arms of the chair, pulled at the collar. Brit handed him a hunk of bread and butter. He took it. Watched Brit as the older man sat down and started eating. Once Brit was absorbed in his food, Mattin took a bite of the bread.

“You did well. Better than I expected. If you can hold onto whatever you found a few days ago, we might have you fit for court in three months.”

Mattin warmed at the praise. He reached for the second mug of cider and took a long drink. “Is… is being furniture so important?”

Brit coughed and sputtered, beer spraying out his nose. “Furniture?”

Mattin handed him a napkin. “Is… isn’t that what I was? A table, or a post, or… or something else.” A quick sip of tea helped a mouth gone dry.

“Hah!” Brit barked, “Furniture! I’ll remember that one.”

“I don’t understand. If I wasn’t being furniture, what was this? And why?”

“Furniture.” Brit snorted. “That’s actually a good description for how humans are treated at court. As for why: Stand up.” Mattin stood. “Now, look at yourself.”

At first, Mattin didn’t understand—he was standing. His hands clasped in front of him, weight balanced, chin…

“Kneel.”

He dropped to the floor. Back straight, knees apart, hands on his thighs…

“Hold this.” Brit handed him a plate. Mattin held it up. At the perfect height for Brit to reach. “Five days, and you don’t even think about it. Your body knows.”

The room spun around him. Mattin got to his feet.

His hands clasped themselves.

“I…” His breath caught. Knees just so. Pain gripped his chest. He tried to slouch. For a moment, his body didn’t remember how. Mattin swallowed hard. “You trained me like a dog.” The words slipped out almost unnoticed.

Brit snorted and took the plate from him. “Sit down and eat. I taught you part of what you need to have a chance of saving your sister. And to keep your bargain with the mistress.”

Mattin’s throat tightened. He tried to speak. He tried to breathe.

“Bloody Mare.” Brit’s hands took his shoulders, pushing him into the chair. A mug pressed against his lips. “Drink.” Tea, lukewarm, spilled into his mouth. He swallowed. Gasped. Coughed. The physical shock snapped him back to himself. He felt wetness on his face.

He stared around the room, hands reaching for… something.

Brit was in front of him, took his hands, rubbing warmth back into them. Mattin clung to the other man as if his life depended on it. Why did he feel so lost?

“It changes you,” Brit said, “You thought it would be like the stories—beatings and torture and cages. You’re tough. You can take it.”

Mattin shook his head. He wouldn’t change. He couldn’t… It was standing. That was all. Just standing.

“But it’s not like that, is it?”

“No.” Mattin whispered, “I thought… I thought…”

“You’d bargain your freedom but keep yourself?” Brit pulled a hand free and passed him a napkin to wipe his face. “The mistress demands all of us, boy. We become what she needs for her purpose.”

Mattin felt drained. Empty. He wanted to insist he was his own person, that he wouldn’t be shaped into someone else. But it wasn’t just standing. It was part of who he was. How much had Brit changed him in five days? How much would he be changed before Brit and the lady were satisfied?

“What is her purpose?” he rasped.

“Survival.”


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Check it out now!

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The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E9)

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The Bargain (S1, E11)

The Bargain (S1, E9)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex, reference to/discussion of child abuse

Brit released Mattin when the bell rang for dinner. After working in the kitchen the past week, it was odd to sit in the dining hall while Crait and the others served. But he enjoyed the chance to catch up with Jaffrey.

“She what!”

Mattin scrunched down as heads turned towards them. “Yeah, I know. According to Cook, she hasn’t taken a personal servant in decades.”

“Not since Brit took over for the old steward, Litra says.” Jaffrey shook his head, “I’m not sure if you landed in the ale or the fire-pit.”

“Fire-pit. Definitely fire-pit.”

Jaffrey laughed, “Trust me, her bark is worse than her bite, as you lowlanders say—I ought to know!”

“Yeah, right.” Mattin took a bite of bread. It melted in his mouth. Cook could teach his father a few things– His mind sheered away from thoughts of home. “Jaffrey, what’s the deal with the lady and Brit?”

Jaffrey quirked an eyebrow.

Mattin popped another bite of bread in his mouth. “I’d have to be blind not to see they’re… close. But… I don’t want to say something stupid by mistake, and I can’t ask them.”

Jaffrey used his own bread to sop up the gravy puddled on his plate. He ate the bread, taking his time. “I only know rumors, but it can’t hurt to tell you.

“Brit was a bit younger than you are, when Mistress Jahlene was born. Lady Trilla, the Mistress’ mother, made Brit’s mother the Mistress’ wet nurse. I guess she didn’t want to be a mother because Brit’s mother basically raised the Mistress. When she died, Brit took over.”

Mattin took a long drink as he tried to wrap his mind around that…

“From what some of the old ones say, Trilla was bad even for the fae. Maybe even worse than Oeloff.” Mattin snorted in disbelief. Jaffrey shook his head. “Do you know about fae and children?”

Mattin blinked. “No?”

Jaffrey sighed. “One of their few virtues. Most fae have a soft spot for children, even human children. I guess because they don’t have many. And they never use children for glamourhai—for feeding their magic. It’s unthinkable. But Trilla… she did.” He stopped and looked hard at Mattin.

It took Mattin a minute to catch up. He’d never thought that fae would have a ‘soft spot’ for any humans. But thinking, back he couldn’t remember a single time — or even a story of a time — that Oeloff had claimed a child to serve him.

So maybe Trilla really was worse than Oeloff. But Jaffrey had been talking about when the lady was a child… “No…”

Jaffrey nodded. “She did. And sometimes she dragged Brit in as well.”

He stabbed at his plate. “No one really knows what happened. As far as I know, neither of them ever said anything. But one day, they say the two of them came out of the glamourhame — Mistress Jahlene and Brit — and Trilla was dead.”

***

Late that night, terror jerked Jahlene out of slumber. Standing up, she threw on a dressing gown and set out through the halls. Her own fear muddled her glamour, giving her no taste of the others in the manor. She ran.

Moments later, she sat in Brit’s room, watching him sleep. Seeing with her eyes that he was safe.

Fae didn’t dream. Dannu might whisper in the night of things to come, but dreams as humans knew them, no. Yet sometimes, Jahlene dreamed. Or perhaps, remembered.

The last time, Brit slept in a small room in her suite. His hair had still been dark, and only a few small wrinkles had touched his skin.

Now, the color was gone from his hair, and his face was deeply lined. He slept in the steward’s chamber, available if anyone needed to find him during the night.

As Jahlene calmed, her glamour cleared. The gingery taste of Brit’s dreams came to her first. Even in sleep, he was irritable. Faintly she tasted the sleepy or drowsy minds filling the manor. Most of them, various shades of calm and contentment. Then sharp-sour horror washed over her. She wasn’t the only one dreaming tonight.

How did humans do it, she wondered. Endure these torments night after night. She thanked Dannu for protecting Her children from such horrors. Once a decade was all she wished to know of them.

With a sigh, she turned towards the door.

“How long has it been since you snuck into my room of a night?” Brit asked.

She chuckled. “This once, I thought I’d get out without waking you. Foolish of me.”

“Trilla is dead. She can’t hurt either of us anymore,” he said. Like the last time, and the time before that.

“Then why do I still dream?”

He sighed and continued their familiar script, “Because you still fear her.”

Shaking her head, Jahlene returned to the bed and rested a hand on his cheek. “Good night Brit. I’m sorry I woke you.”

***

Mattin stood in a dark room full of horrors. Marta lay before him, tied and gagged. He raised the knife and walked toward her. Behind him was an unseen presence forcing his body forward. He fought to stop, to turn the knife on the one who controlled him. He couldn’t. He wasn’t strong enough. When he reached his sister’s side, his body knelt down beside her. He slammed the knife down into her chest.

He woke screaming.

Boltin upright, Mattin staggered out into the hallway. Dimmed lamps cast faint reflections on the wood walls, their oil spreading the scent of violets into the night. He reached out and brushed his fingers across the chimney of the nearest lamp. The heat burned, and he knew he was awake. Holding back sobs of relief, he reached up and touched the collar about his neck. Countess Jahlene’s collar. Oeloff couldn’t touch him again. Could never force him as…

As the lady’s mother had forced her? Or forced Brit?

He laughed at himself. Jaffrey’s story must have disturbed him more than he realized. Not that it hadn’t been disturbing enough!

But maybe he understood a little better why the lady would be different from other fae, why she took his bargain when he’d had so little to offer.

He went back to his cubby and tried to relax. It was hard. however false it was, the image of Marta stretched out before him wouldn’t leave. Mattin was safe from Oeloff, but she wasn’t. Three months. Most of Oeloff’s slaves survived several years. Surely three months would be fast enough…

But when he finally drifted off, his last through wasn’t of Marta or Countess Jahlene. It was of himself. Of the moment in the hallway when he had checked to be sure his collar was still there. He had been glad, he realized, he wore the collar.

Glad to be a slave.

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The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E8)

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The Bargain (S1, E10)

The Bargain (S1, E7)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex

“Whoa, are you okay? Look, sit down a minute.” Jaffrey pushed him into a corner and made him sit. “I’m going to run and get Brit.”

“Wait.” Somehow Mattin grabbed Jaffrey’s hand. Clung to it, even. “No. I’m…” Jaffrey let him cling; his callused hands somehow helped Mattin anchor himself now.

He took a deep breath. Another.

“Alright,” Jaffrey said. “I’m not going anywhere. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“I just…” he shook his head and managed to stand up, his legs holding him steady this time.

“I thought I knew,” he let go of Jaffrey’s hand with a smile, “How different things are here, I mean. It’s not that I didn’t believe you; I just… I spent the whole trip here thinking I’d be lucky to survive ten years. And you tell me there are slaves here who are retiring?

“It shocked me.”

Jaffrey stared at him like he’d grown a second head. “Why by the Mare would you think you were going to die?”

Mattin grimaced. “Because that’s what happens to slaves of the fae.”

“The mistress isn’t–”

“Like most fae. Yeah. I’m… I guess I’m still being surprised by how different.” Mattin stepped away from the wall. “I can’t be the first new… slave here to have trouble wrapping my head around it.” After a cautious couple of steps to test his balance, Mattin continued towards dinner. Food would settle him.

Jaffrey shadowed him and kept a wary eye on his progress. “Not really. Most of the mistress’ people are from Erida and know what to expect. I think you’re the–” Jaffrey smacked himself on the forehead. “Of course. You are the first person since me who came here from outside the county.

“Sorry, Mattin, I didn’t even think of it. Heh. And me? I probably saw more fae by the time I was talking than you have in your whole life.”

“Really?” Mattin paused at a doorway, not sure which direction. Jaffrey led him to the left, then a quick right and they were into the hall. They sat at the same table section they’d used that morning. It wasn’t empty this time. Elose was there, and a few others. “What was that like? Traveling like that?”

“Fun, interesting, tedious, scary.” Elose waved at them, and Jaffrey waved back.

“Hey, Mattin. I’ll scat if you want, but I usually meet Jaffrey at dinner.”

“Um… no. I don’t mind.”

After the talk in the bath, he had a pretty good idea why Elose would be meeting Jaffrey, but it still wasn’t any of his business.

Except he was completely wrong. Instead of flirting — well, along with flirting — Elose pulled an old note and started quizzing Jaffrey on the letters in each word. “You can read?” Mattin blurted, then blushed to the roots of his hair. “Sorry, that was rude…”

Luckily, Elose laughed. “Not what you expected? I never am. I’m hoping to get promoted to Housekeeper when Lola retires. But I need to be able to read and do maths.”

“We trade,” Jaffrey said, studying the scrap. “The Mountain Folk use a different alphabet, and I never was good at reading, but I learned numbers and accounts on my father’s knee.”

“Huh.” Mattin thought a minute while Jaffrey painstakingly read the scrap out loud. “If you’re that good with numbers, why are you in the stables? Wouldn’t you be able to… like help keep the accounts here or something?”

Jaffrey froze.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Elose said. “He’s right, isn’t he. I bet you could help Brit a lot with all those numbers he hates.”

“The mistress needs me in the stables,” Jaffrey said. He sounded almost harsh.

“Yeah, but…”

Jaffrey was scowling now and rubbing his wrist. “I need to be in the stables.”

Mattin glanced at Elose. She was worried.

Though neither of them could know it, Mattin’s question had plunged the conversation into deep waters, things only a very few should know.

They did understand that the question upset Jaffrey. “Sorry I asked,” Mattin said. “It really isn’t our business.”

“Right,” Elose said. She forced a chuckle. “I’m the last one to be digging up other folks’ secrets, right?”

Jaffrey chuckled as well and took a deep breath. “Well, one thing that’s no secret is that Brit doesn’t trusted me. So office work is out, right?”

It wasn’t really an answer, and both his friends knew it wasn’t. But they also knew better than to push.

***

The next morning before breakfast, Cook came out and told Mattin he’d be working in the kitchen for the time being. As Cook finished speaking, Brit came over. The two glared at each other before Cook returned to the kitchen.

“This may be temporary,” Brit said, “Depending on how the mistress decides to deal with Oeloff. In the meantime, you’ll be meeting with me one afternoon a week. If you have any problems, tell me.”

Mattin reported to the kitchen after breakfast. Cook introduced him to Toerff, the under-cook he’d seen the day before, and set him to cleaning the dishes from breakfast. He finished just in time for luncheon.

He and Toerff helped two of the pages, Crait and Harth, carry out the food. Mattin recalled Jaffrey saying, Crait was another one of the lady’s “toys.” He was big enough to be a blacksmith. When he first entered the kitchen, he’d grinned at Mattin, saying “Welcome, new man. I’ve seen you around, but we haven’t been introduced. I’m Crait.”

“Uh… hi, my name is Mattin.”

“Yup. Heard a bit about you from Jaffrey. Someone should warn you: that man is the worst gossip.”

“…thanks. I think.”

Harth came into the kitchen, grunted a hello, but didn’t say another word to anyone.

Halfway through the meal, Elose came to get a tray for Jahlene. Mattin was surprised to hear Cook grumbling as he put the tray together.

Crait saw Mattin’s confusion. He winked and said, “The mistress never takes her meals regular. Sometimes she comes down to the hall, sometimes sends for a tray. And Cook never knows ahead of time which it will be.” Then he grabbed up a platter of meat pastries to carry out to the hall.

Mattin followed him with a basket of fruit. “That sounds… frustrating.”

“Very, but everyone except Cook is used to it. He remembers what it was like before the old steward died.”

Mattin blinked. Brit seemed on top of the household. “I don’t—”

“Cook can tell you more—but she hasn’t taken anyone to serve her personally since she made Brit steward. It leaves the rest of us filling in for what he used to do.”

***

Over the next few days, Mattin learned his way around the kitchen of the great house. Kitchen work started before dawn, but Cook told him to report after breakfast. Cook and Toerff started the day’s bread and prepared breakfast without him. In the evening, Cook sent Toerff off after dinner and left the cleaning to Mattin. Then, up to his elbows in soapy water and dishes, the homesickness hit.

He remembered nights at the inn, scrubbing pots while Bren told stories. Singing songs to speed the work. Or sitting around the fireplace on a storming night, relaxing in the quiet inn.

To his relief, Cook kept himself busy with other matters. If the old half-fae noticed the saltwater dripping into the sink over the course of an evening, he said nothing.

During the day, the kitchen was busy, not just with work but also with visitors. Everyone who worked inside and had a few minutes to spare dropped in to grab a roll and trade news.

By the fourth day, Mattin was becoming comfortable with the routine. Or—at least, the routine was becoming familiar. He didn’t see much of Jaffrey as he’d have liked, only at breakfast once. But he enjoyed Cook’s chatter, started to develop friendships with Crait and the other pages, and tried to get to know the quiet and elusive Toerff. Jahlene was a distant figure, seen once or twice when she came down to the hall for meals. Brit stopped him at breakfast each day to ask how he was getting on.

On his fifth morning as a slave, he woke to a surprising realization. In spite of the homesickness, the collar, everything, he was looking forward to the day.

That afternoon, Jahlene summoned him.


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The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E6)

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The Bargain (S1, E8)

 

The Bargain (S1, E5)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex

After breakfast, Jaffrey led Mattin to Brit’s office. The steward had a large space, and he needed every bit of it. Shelves stuffed with papers and files, a desk, several chairs, and some chests filled the room. The morning sun peeked through the south-facing windows, which gave Brit plenty of light to see by. The bright light also made the man a shadowy figure to anyone standing in front of him. It was intimidating, until he spoke.

“Sit down, boy. I don’t need a crick in my neck looking up at you.”

Mattin sat. Jaffrey remained standing by the door. “Anything I assign you to is temporary. When Parlen and the mistress finish their plotting, we may need to change things. For now, that’s not your problem. You do what I tell you, you stay out of trouble, and you try to get comfortable.”

He paused expectantly so Mattin nodded and said, “Yes, sir.”

“Now. I’m the steward, that means I run everything in the manor. Marshal Anral runs everything outside the manor. If we do our jobs right, Jahlene doesn’t even notice us except for regular reports, and can focus on running the county.

“Same will go for you. You’ll have a task or tasks and if you do them well, Anral and I won’t notice anything except that everything is going well. And if we don’t notice you, our mistress… well, she won’t forget you exist, but you will never need to see her except to pass in the hall sometimes.”

“Yes, sir!” Relief coursed through Mattin. He had planned to avoid the lady as much as possible. To be told that it was, essentially, his job to make sure she didn’t notice him, well… Everything about this day kept getting better.

“Cooking, cleaning, and horses…” Brit mused, then turned to Jaffrey. “Take him to the Stablemistress and Housekeeper. Tell them to put him through his paces and let me know if they can make use of him.”

“Yes, Brit. Should I take him to the kitchen too?”

The Steward grumbled. “Yes, see what that bastard thinks of him.”

***

The kitchen was Jaffrey’s first stop, to see ‘that bastard.’

Mattin had thought he knew what to expect — a kitchen was a kitchen, even if this one was three times the size of the kitchen at his father’s inn. He was mostly right, but he hadn’t expected the man bending down into the oven. He was as wide as any two men Mattin had ever met. Mattin had a vision of his getting stuck in the oven and the whole household gathering ‘round to pull him out.

Then the man stood up and all thoughts—foolish and otherwise—vanished from Mattin’s head.

He had pointed ears. Fae ears.

“Well, Jaffrey?” the male asked as he turned around, carrying a tray of rolls. The hot bread filled the kitchen with the scent of rosemary. “Escaped the stables for once?” The male’s eyes were not the slit pupil of the fae, but round and human.

“Showing the new one around, Cook. Steward says to try his paces and see if you like him.”

The male snorted and looked Mattin up and down. “I’m sure the Steward said just that. He set the tray on a wooden table and closed the oven. “Go get yourself a pastry then, and scat. I’ll see you after dinner to help with the dishes.”

Jaffrey grinned and grabbed a pastry out of a cupboard. Mattin, still staring at the cook, didn’t noticed when Jaffrey left the kitchen.

“Sit down, lad.” The cook gestured towards a bench by the table. Mattin sidled over and sat, never taking his eyes off of the male. A few other people moved about the kitchen — finishing that last of the breakfast cleaning and preparing for lunch. Mattin barely noticed them. The countess was supposed to be the only fae here, and —

“Never seen a halfling before, have you?” the male asked, “Well calm down, I don’t mince up little boys to make pies.”

The tone—amused and exasperated—startled Mattin into a laugh.

“That’s better. Now, I know Brit wasn’t happy about sending you down here. The steward and I have our issues, and we keep us apart as much as possible. So he probably didn’t think to warn you. But the kitchen is my realm and I decide who goes or stays.

“I also,” he said more softly, “have barely a touch of the glamour. I don’t need to feed it and even if I did would prefer to keep my stomach in any case. That’s how I became a cook.” He smiled and Mattin was surprised to find himself charmed.

This male — man? — half fae would have made a good innkeeper, able to charm the customers into another round or out the door as needed.

“Yes, sir.”

“Hmph. No sir, lad. Just Cook. Now, if you’re like every other new lad through here, you had no stomach for breakfast this morning.” Cook tossed him one of the fresh rolls. He caught it and nearly burnt his hand. “Eat and tell me what you know about kitchen work and pantlery.”

The bread was good, tangy and sweet. Mattin was still full from breakfast, but managed to find some extra room for the roll. The kitchen reminded him of home even more than the bathing room. Cook turned out to be friendly and understanding. Mattin found himself relaxing with the half-fae, and telling him far more than he intended to, from the ways he helped his father, Bren, in the kitchen to what brought him to seek out the Lady Jahlene. Thinking of Bren, he realized how much he must have hurt his father. How would he react? Would he—Mattin pushed the thoughts aside. He couldn’t think of it. He wouldn’t…

“Bad business, that.” Cook said, as Mattin slowly chewed last of the roll in his mouth. “You’re in for a rough time, lad. You have any trouble, you come to me. Or tell the steward. Don’t keep your mouth shut on it.”

Taken by surprise, Mattin choked on the bread. Cook walloped his back, dislodging the bread and nearly knocking Mattin over. “And no dying.”

Coughing and struggling to catch his breath, Mattin nodded weakly. Why was he supposed to come to the half-fae with his problems? Or the stewards? What did a slave’s problems matter and didn’t Brit sayd his job was to not be noticed?

Before he put words to his confusion—or worked up the boldness to say anything—Cook grabbed his hands, examining them front and back. He frowned at the scabs on Mattin’s palms. “You wash those before you work in this kitchen. And then we’ll bandage those cuts, as should have been done already.”

Once Mattin’s hands were clean and bandaged to the half-fae’s satisfaction, Cook sent Mattin into the root cellar to fetch vegetables for a stew. He guessed at which vegetables and how much—Cook refused to be specific. Two trips later, he had a large stack of turnips, carrots, radish and sweet onions on the table. Enough, he thought, for a stew that would feed the household. Or at least everyone he saw at breakfast.

Most of an hour, and many chopped vegetables later, Cook sent him on his way. “You did good lad. You’ll find Jaffrey lolling about with my Toerff, out the main door and go left.

“You know your way around a kitchen. Do you want to come back?”

“What?” Mattin blinked.

“Do you want to come back? I’ve work for you, but if you aren’t comfortable best you be elsewhere.”

Mattin stared a moment, hand again reachin up to touch the collar. Another expectation turned on it’s head — not even his father had asked what work he wanted to do!

But he had been comfortable in the kitchen, and had been charmed by the charming half fae.

“I think I would like that.”


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The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E4)

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The Bargain (S1, E6)

The Bargain (S1, E2)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, sex

Countess Jahlene n’Erida had been barely more than a child the day she’d killed her mother to save the one person in all the world she had loved.

Decades later, she could still taste Brit’s unwavering trust and love as he stood at her back evaluating this stranger.

Mattin Brenson was as unimpressive as any human she’d ever met — and Jahlene had met many humans. At least to look at. But to taste… to taste he offered her a bounty she had rarely known the equal of. Fear, desperation, hope, need, her glamour feasted on all of them and sought hungrily for more. Even the lingering slimey feel of Oeloff’s glamour wasn’t enough to put her off.

He stared at her with wide eyes and the acrid taste of fear grew until it seemed to coat her tongue. Jahlene forced her hunger back, out of her awareness and forced her face to smoothness.

He offered a feast — but a feast that would come at a high cost. So she shook her head slightly saying, “My household is full and needs no additions. Did I need further service, many in the county would be eager to serve me. Unless you have a useful skill, your offer is of little worth.”

The fear receded, replaced by a mix of relief, despair, and confusion. She leaned back in her chair and her hands began picking apart her braid, as they often did when she was focused on her own thoughts. If she confused him, he was just as confusing to her.

She half expected him to take the escape she offered, to excuse himself and begin the long walk to the nearest town. But a long moment passed, then another, and she realized she had missed something in him. Hidden behind the overwhelmding fear had been something else. Barely noticed at first, a hint of fire that grew moment by moment until it overwhelmed everything else.

As his determination swept through her, she wondered if anything would make him leave. Her mouth quirked at the image of the slim, grubby man being forcibly removed from her study, only to camp out on her steps, refusing to leave until she accepted his bargain or killed him.

“I’m an innkeeper’s son, lady. There’s little I haven’t done. Horse care, cleaning, some cooking, and whatever else was needed.”

Jahlene glanced over her shoulder at Brit, saw Parlen had stopped pacing and was scribbling notes are her desk. Brit was calm, no longer annoyed at this late night interruption but didn’t feel strongly about this bargain either way. Parlen… Parlen was excited. The woman lived for politics. Jahlene turned back to Mattin with a hidden smile.

Confusion, fear, hope, all warred in the man, still overlain with that fiery determination.

“Why, Mattin Brenson?”

He shook his head as his confusion spiked.

“You know what Oeloff is. You have no reason to think I am any different. Yet you would trade your freedom and life for your sister’s. Do you expect her to thank you for it?”

A touch on her shoulder surprised her. She reached a hand up and glasped Brit’s fingers. He wasn’t calm any longer. Pride, regret, a memory of fear.

Forty years before he had told her in no uncertain terms that he would not thank her for making such a trade, that he would infact spank her like a child if she ever did such a thing again.

She squeezed her odd-brother’s hand and knew she couldn’t turn Mattin away.

But that didn’t mean she needed to make it easy for him.

“Well, Mattin?”

“Lady, I… do not know what you may be. But you are not like Lord Oeloff.” He nodded at the linked hands—human and fae.

Parlen giggled. “He has you there, Mistress.”

Jahlene couldn’t keep her smile hidden any longer. “And your sister?”

Mattin took a deep breath. “I have always protected my sister, Lady. I can’t abandon her.” His eyes flickered to Brit’s ruined hand. Probably thinking Jahlene had ruined it. Most humans did when they first met him. “And I am strong, Lady. I can endure what… what she cannot.”

That was not what Jahlene had expected him to say. The smile slipped from her face. “You don’t think much of her, do you?”

He almost sputtered and Parlen laughed again. “Older brother, right?” she asked.

Mattin nodded and Jahlene tasted what she would have sworn was insult.

“It’s human custom, Mistress,” Parlen said. “He’s a boy, he’s physically stronger and older than his sister, so it’s his job to protect her. Even if she’s perfectly capable of protecting herself.”

Jahlene had lived with humans all her life, loved many of them, and would never understand them.

But whatever his odd reasoning, she couldn’t say Mattin was wrong to make this sacrifice.

“As you say, Parlen.” Jahlene shook her head. “We’ll talk details later, but you are sure we can hurt Oeloff?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“So…” There was one problem remaining, one danger, even. “I’d like to accept your bargain. A chance to hurt Oeloff at court…

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

Mattin clearly didn’t believe her, but she didn’t care.

“You do not share my people’s need to serve, nor do you have any love or loyalty to me. How then do I trust you to keep your end of our bargain, in spirit as well as word?

“A bitter and resentful slave who hates all around him would be a cancer in my home.”

Jahlene nearly spat as the odd-flavour-not flavour of someone dissociating flooded the room. Mattin spoke perfectly calmly, not noticing the blood dripping down his fisted hands.

“Lady.” Even his voice sounded distant. “You are right. I don’t want to be a slave. I can’t believe anyone would.

“Love? Loyalty? I am an honest man, and I would keep my word to you. If that is not enough then…. Then I am wasting both our time.” The firey taste of determination faded a moment, then flared. Beyond that…

Lies had no taste. But the emotions behind them did. Detecting them was an art and one Jahlene was still learning. But she tasted nothing to make her doubt.

“Brit?”

“Honest, capable of loyalty, and if he grew up in an inn, he knows how to work. We’ve dealt with worse.”

Jahlene and Brit had many ways to speak without speaking. Brit would never disrespect her openly in front of a stranger, but he squeezed her shoulder now in a pattern and she nodded. She had pushed Mattin enough.

Too far, it turned out. Before she could say anything he jumped to his feet crying, “Bloody Mare! Stop playing with me. Yes or no?”

“Yes, Mattin,” she stood up and walked to a cabinet in the corner of the room. Most of the cabinet held files and writing tools, but one small box was kept there for just this purpose. “You have your bargain.”

Jahlene brought the box back to her desk and pulled out the simple strap of leather that waited with in.

Most of the great magic was lost to the fae when they fled their old home a thousand years earlier, but this one piece was left to them. Placing her hands on the leather, Jahlene gathered her glamour as she would to bind a weaker person to her will. She gathered in as well the taste, the essence, of Mattin as he stood before her. Determination, fear, relief, need, yes. But also the subtler emotions that made him, him. Those which she could barely sense now but which would come to the fore when he was not being pushed and pulled by the needs of others.

Her fingers stroked the leather in a pattern she knew without knowing, as deep as her bones. Over and over she repeated the pattern, with each repeat the power she held lessened, sinking into the leather, until it was gone, bound. As it would bind she and Mattin together as long as he wore it.

When she again had the energy to look outside herself, she saw Mattin staring at her, looking almost like one blinded by the sun. “What… what was that, Lady?”

Her lips quirked. “Glamour. A powerful glamour placed within the collar. While my sigil is upon you, no other fae can control you.”

Even as she spoke, the taste of Oeloff’s touch on him was dissipating.

“But you can.” Despair rolled off him in waves. Sour was not a flavor she had ever enjoyed, and she only hoped that as he adjusted to her home his emotions would settle into something more… palatable.

“I have never used glamour so, but I could. Your ancestors struck a bargain—they gave control to one they trusted in return for protection from the many they did not.”

Behind her Brit scoffed. “And that worked out well.”

Jahlene glared at him a moment, but couldn’t disagree. She was tired.

“The collar is for you to put on — or not.

“Seal our bargain, Mattin Brenson, so we can all get some sleep.”

As if it were a snake that might bite him, Mattin picked up the leather. When it did nothing but hang limply in his hands, he wrapped it around his neck. Jahlene tasted the burst of power as the two ends sealed together, bound tighter than any clasp or lock.

Jahlene had never learned to read faces, but even if she had been glamour-lost she could have read the anger and bitterness in his eyes as he stared at her.

Brit stepped around the desk and offer Mattin a hand. “Come on, boy. Let’s find a meal to wrap you around and a bed for the night. With your permission, mistress.”

He didn’t wait for her to respond, just bowed and turned, smacking Mattin lightly when the young man went to follow him without stopping to bow. Jahlene was pleased to see Mattin corrected himself immediately, though exhaustion had his feet dragging on the carpet as he followed Brit from the room.

Jahlene wasn’t much better. Parlen joined her and began undoing Jahlene’s braids, brushing her hair out and fixing the damage Jahlene had done. “Are you sure of this Mistress?”

“Yes.” With Mattin no longer right in front of her, Jahlene could again taste the manor as a whole. The dominant flavor was mellow contentment, dotted here and there with other notes. But nearly as strong was the bittersweet that flowed from the newest member of her household. Barely — just barely — more sweet than bitter. If he hadn’t been conflicted, she’d have been worried. But it seemed that out of her presence, hope was winning out.

“I couldn’t have turned him away, Parlen. And I would have been a fool to do so. I could feast on him alone and be sated for a week or more. He may be a key to cutting Oeloff back. And…”

And she had been dreaming for a week or more. A fae dreamt rarely, and when they did the dreams always meant something.

Jahlene bade Parlen goodnight and headed for her rooms, wondering if Mattin’s coming would end the dreams. And if it did, what would that mean?


After arguing with myself, I’m tagging Mattin’s relationship with Jahlene as con noncon rather than fictional slavery, because he asked for her collar. Same applies for the rest of her people. It really could be argued both ways. What decided me is I think having different terms for Jahlene’s relationship with her people, and what Oeloff and other fae do, will make it easier for readers to know what to expect.

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The Bargain (S1, E1)

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The Bargain (S1, E3)

The Bargain (S1, E1)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon (nonsexual), pain play, sex

It takes a rare and desperate human to deliberately seek out a fae noble. But rumor says that not all nobles are the same, and Mattin Brenson is desperate. Desperate enough to bargain with Countess Jahlene n’Erida for the highest of stakes.

Bargains with the fae are dangerous, but sometimes what starts as a bargain, can become something more.


The Corlaen Empire had been created by fae exiles on the bones of an ancient human civilization. Rather, the bones were the leftovers after the fae tore down the old order and devoured it. Nearly a millennia after the fae had first set foot on this continent, the humans under fae rule remembered little of their ancient history except myth and legend.

For three centuries, the Empire expanded. Eventually, the other human realms brought it to a halt. The mountains to the west and north were impenetrable, the passes held by human clans who held an unknown immunity to fae glamour. To the south was a human kingdom that united once they understood the fae menace. Even through multiple civil wars and a revolution or two, they never forgot to guard their borders. So in the Empire’s fourth century, the fae turned their attention inward.

There were never enough fae to drive out or destroy the humans within the Empire, nor did they want to. Many fae commoners lived alongside the humans, but still, most of the work of the Empire was done by the conquered humans. And a human within the Empire could live well — if they avoided the notice of fae nobles.

If a human attracted noble attention… The faes’ magic did not come from nothing. It needed to be fed. A powerful fae — and power was how a fae became noble — could be driven insane or die if they failed to feed their glamour. And as many humans learned to their cost, glamour fed on pain.

It took a rare and desperate human to seek the attention of a fae noble. But rumor said that not all nobles were the same, and Mattin Brenson was desperate.

Near the western border of the Empire, where the foothills began to turn into mountains, Mattin watched the light filtering through the trees dim. He was footsore and heartsick, trying not to remember the last sight of his sister.

She had walked meekly behind Lord Oeloff, the fae who ruled their home city of Oakhaven. He had tried to interfere — not to attack or protest, but just to plead — and Lord Oeloff’s glamour had driven him to his knees. He could only watch in mute agony as Marta had climbed into the lord’s carriage and was gone. Never to be seen again.

His father had tried to comfort him in shared grief, but Mattin refused to be comforted. For over a week he had followed rumor and desperation west into the mountains, to this well-worn road through the woods.

Finally, the road turned, and the trees thinned, and Mattin faced the future he had chosen: a manor house, three stories tall and made of a black stone, glittered blue in the fading sunlight. A guard stood by the door, looking first at Mattin then scanning the road and woods behind him.

Mattin stopped a moment, tried to wipe the worst travel stains from his clothes, and approached the door.

The manor wasn’t alone but surrounded by outbuildings, pastures, even a few hay fields squeezed into what flat space was available. Several other people were moving about the yards, but none looked toward the road, and Mattin ignored them in turn.

The guard was tall, with blond hair hanging raggedly over a light-skinned face, and pulled into a rough queue in the back. He wore a blue and white uniform and a sword belt (with sword). His leather boots were much sturdier than the shoes Mattin wore. (Mattin thought there might be a new hole in his left sole).

Most importantly, the guard had round ears and wore a collar. The collar was leather with a yellow device stamped into the front. Mattin had seen them often enough to know that the collar had no buckle, no tie. It would be an unbroken circle of leather surrounding the man’s neck for the rest of his life.

By now, Marta would be wearing one like it. But she wouldn’t be here. She would be to the east, in Lord Oeloff’s manor. And Oeloff would never trust a human to guard his doors.

Mattin had been told Jahlene n’Erida was different. He stared now at the first proof he’d been told true, and swallowed against a dry throat.

He stopped in easy speaking distance of the guard, swallowed again, and said, “My name is Mattin Brenson. I’ve come to bargain with Countess n’Erida.”

The guard sent for a page, who disappeared into the manor. The page was shortly replaced by an older man. He carried himself with the pride and certainty of a guild master but, like the guard and page, wore the collar of a slave. The man’s white face was deeply marked by an old scar that barely missed his left eye. His left hand was twisted into a claw from another old injury.

Mattin flexed his own hand, wondering how many humans in this manor carried similar scars. And how long it would be before he did as well.

He didn’t have long to wonder. The older man looked him over, then said, “Come, our mistress has agreed to speak with you.” He turned and disappeared back into the manor.

Mattin caught his breath, then followed.

He was both relieved and disturbed to see, just inside the doorway, another slave with a basin of cold water and a towel. At the older man’s direction, Mattin washed his face and hands. This time he managed to remove the worst of the road dust. He wet down his hair, turning the dark auburn brown, in hopes of getting it to lie straight.

Then the man was off again, Mattin hurrying to follow.

The manor couldn’t have been more difficult to navigate than the streets of Oak Haven, but Mattin was lost almost immediately. One room followed another, all paneled in dark wood with polished wooden floors. All perfumed with the faint scent of flowers, though there were no flowers in sight.

Finally, the man stopped before a set of double doors and knocked.

“Enter,” a voice called.

The man opened the door and stepped aside. Mattin hesitated a moment, his legs not wanting to work. Then he stepped through the door.

Across the room, a woman sat behind a desk, her long black hair pulled back to expose delicately pointed ears. Her deep green eyes stood out against dark amber skin. The Countess Jahlene n’Erida.

Her throat, of course, was free of the collar that every human in the manor would wear.

Behind her was a human woman at a small standing desk, her brown hair tied intricate looping braids that stood out darkly against her pale skin. Mattin barely glanced at her: fear and hope both kept his eyes on the fae woman. He didn’t know what to say now that he was here.

So he bowed and waited.

A warm voice told him to stand, and he looked up to see the countess smiling at him. It surprised him enough that he smiled back. Remembering himself, he straightened his face and looked down at the carpet.

“You wish to bargain? I don’t remember the last time a human came to me to bargain.”

Bargains were art, game, and hobby to the fae. No human came out ahead in a bargain with the fae. Not because they used their glamour — that would be cheating — but because they had human lifetimes to perfect their skill.

But Mattin had nothing left to lose. “Yes, lady.”

There was a moment of silence, and Mattin bent his knees slightly, preparing to once again be forced to the floor by fae magic. But she surprised him again. “What is your name?”

“Mattin, lady.” He looked up, and she was still smiling, relaxed, and friendly. There was something else behind the smile, though. Hunger. He swallowed and looked away. “Mattin Brenson.”

She chuckled. “For a proper bargain, I should invite you to sit down with me and share food, but I think that would make you even more uncomfortable.

“What is it you wish of me?”

“My sister…” Mattin stopped himself; started again. “My family is from Oakhaven, lady. Recently Lord Oeloff claimed my sister as his slave.

“I want you to free her.”

The human woman started, and the older man hissed. But the countess only leaned back in her chair. When she said nothing after a moment, Mattin continued. “Lord Oeloff is your enemy,” or so he had been told, “if you can force him to free one of his slaves, that will hurt him.”

“Oeloff would barely notice the loss of one slave.” Now Mattin started. The voice was rough and oddly accented and came from behind him. It belonged to the older man, the slave who escorted Mattin to meet the countess.

The human woman was tapping her fingers then, staring into the distance. When she spoke, her voice was deep — even deeper than the man’s. “Winter court is not far away. If it was a public matter, he would lose face. Lady Collanne would love you for giving her such gossip.”

The countess’ small smile became an outright grin. “She would, wouldn’t she? But can it be done without breaking the emperor’s law?”

The tapping intensified. “Maybe? He’s so focused on the council, he may be vulnerable in other ways.”

“Think about it.”

The human woman immediately stepped away from her desk and began pacing, quick steps taking her back and forth across the carpet. The man stepped away from Mattin and moved behind the countess’ desk to stand at her back.

The countess tossed her hair and looked back to Mattin. “So… I might be able to help your sister, and yes, it might benefit me. But I need more than that.” She examined Mattin, taking in the weariness in his face, his untended hair, and his worn clothing. “I would ask a large price for this bargain of yours, and I don’t see how you can afford it.”

“I can’t pay, lady, but I can offer a trade.” He met her eyes then, saw the hunger flare in them as he lowered himself to his knees. “My sister’s freedom, for… for mine.”


Well, that’s a hell of an offer.

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The Bargain (S1, E2)

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