The Bargain (S2, E1)

(I made a mistake, so early post y’all. Enjoy!)

Welcome back! We left Mattin a bit shaken but ready for forge on. Let’s see what trouble he and Jahlene can make for themselves this season.

*Glances as content notes*

Yeah. This season is a humdinger.

If you missed it (or just need a refresher), you can read Season 1 here.

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, 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

Mattin Brenson had been a slave to Countess Jahlene for less than a month when he began to serve her directly. He had barely a week of training before Brit directed him to report to the lady. Mattin would assist her in the evenings, from dinner until she went to bed. Brit would still be in charge of his training during the day.

Before reporting to the lady, Mattin cleaned up and stopped in the kitchen to grab an early dinner. He hadn’t been to the kitchen in nearly a week, and when he breathed in the herb-scented air, he immediately relaxed.

Cook greeted him with a smile and a pastry. “Sit, eat. I hear rumors everywhere, but no news. Tell me everything.”

Mattin laughed and filled Cook in on what he had been doing between bites of meat pie. He tried to make light of what happened the day before — when Brit had brought him to the lady’s ‘glamourhame’ and made him whip his friend, Crait. Brit had wanted him to see that Crait enjoyed the pain — which Crait very clearly had, but…

“It bothers you. And you didn’t tell Brit or Jahlene. That’s not good, lad.”

“What difference does it make?” Mattin hunched in his shoulders and focused on his food. “I need to do what they tell me whether I like it or not.” They sat in silence while Mattin’s thoughts went round in circles. Finally, he burst. “Bloody Mare, I came here expecting to spend the rest of my life as a whipping boy for the fae. So why is it… why is it…”

Cook checked the meat on the spit and told Toerff to turn it a bit slower. “Why is it so hard? Maybe because what you thought you could endure from someone you hated is harder to take from someone you like. Harder to understand why someone who likes you would do it.”

Mattin grimaced but couldn’t disagree.

“And maybe—just maybe—it’s hard to understand why you find it intriguing.”

Mattin’s head shot up, and he glared at Cook. “I’m not—”

“You need to talk to Brit,” Cook said, for once rolling right over him. “You need to talk to Brit, and you need to take a good hard look at what you are feeling before you get yourself in trouble.”

“I can’t. You’re wrong.” He had to be wrong. Didn’t he?

“Lad…” Cook sighed and started pulling vegetables from roasting in the coals. “If you can’t forget what you know and learn something new, you’re going to get hurt.”

Mattin shook his head and focused on his food.

~~~~

Mattin reported to Lady Jahlene’s office before the dinner bell. He bowed as he entered, and she gestured for him to take a position behind her desk. Falling into the habit of standing—of being furniture—again was a relief.

An undercook arrived with a tray of dinner. The lady began clearing her desk. She didn’t give Mattin any instruction, so he watched. She ate quickly, neatly, and silently. When she was done, she reached for a bellpull behind her desk. A few minutes later, a maid arrived and took the tray away. He wished he knew what (if anything) he was supposed to be doing…

~~~

Jahlene was intensely aware of Mattin standing at her shoulder. It was damned awkward. The last time she’d had anyone acting as an assistant, it was Brit. She never had to tell Brit to do anything. Half the time, he’d take care of it before she thought to ask. Which made sense—the man had practically raised her—but didn’t help with the strange man standing behind her.

She spent half of dinner deciding how to handle the situation and wondering why she didn’t anticipate it. When Berta took the dinner tray she thought she was ready.

Moving over to the couch in her reading nook, she gestured to the chairs and floor, “Sit, try to be comfortable.”

After a moment, he settled himself on the edge of an armchair.

“Did Brit explain anything of what you will be doing?”

“Ah… no, Lady.” He paused a moment, then added, “He… doesn’t explain much of anything.”

Jahlene rolled her eyes. “Never does.” Damn the man. “The short version is you’ll be following me, doing what you can to make my day easier. That could be running around the manor rounding up people I need to talk with. It might mean laying out clothes for a formal dinner. What I’ve been doing, as you saw, is pulling someone from another part of the manor away from their usual duties whenever I need something.”

She stopped and waited to see how he’d respond. “That sounds… disruptive, Lady.”

She circled a hand over her head, “Everywhere. Mostly for Housekeeper, but yes. And you don’t have to say ‘Lady’ every time you speak.”

“Yes, L—ah…” A blush spread across his face, and his throat bobbed as he swallowed. She grinned.

“I’ve got a few more letters to deal with before I can quit for the day. Go find Brit and Parlen: tell them to entertain themselves this evening. We’ll save the strategy session for tomorrow, then find Housekeeper. Ask her to have Berta show you around my rooms, how to get my bath drawn and all.”

He bowed and left. Jahlene enjoyed the view as he walked away, then returned to her desk and started on her next letter.

~~~

A week later, Mattin showed up at Jahlene’s door with a dinner tray. He carried the tray to a table by her couch and arranged the food for her.

Grinning, Jahlene got up and walked over to the couch, shaking a finger at him. “You are going to go too far one day.”

His smile was a bit sheepish, but he didn’t back down. “You told me to use my own judgment if you hadn’t given instruction, Lady. My judgment is you need a break.”

Jahlene shook her head and sat down to eat. While she ate, Mattin straightened her desk. The evening continued in a pattern that had almost become routine. Mattin carried messages for her, making arrangements for the night and the morning.

The next day, Mattin started coming to her quarters in mid-afternoon. They developed an interesting relationship. Mattin, once he was comfortable, slipped easily into the relaxed informality she preferred. But only so long as he was able to forget. If anything reminded him of his collar, his sister, or her pleasures, he would withdraw into quiet invisibility.

Jahlene wasn’t sure what to make of it.

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.”


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The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E10)

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

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The Bargain (S1, E11)

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, E6)