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.”