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, E8)

 

The Bargain (S1, E3)

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

Mattin hadn’t expected to sleep, but he was roused the next morning by a knock on the door. He opened his eyes and saw only darkness. For a moment he didn’t remember where he was. Then memory returned, and he reached for the collar, both hoping and fearing that the prior night had been a dream.

It hadn’t.

The knock came again.

“Come in?”

The door swung out, letting light into a small cubby of a room. It was barely large enough for the small pallet it held.

Mattin blinked against the light and saw a person silhouetted in the doorway. Too tall and thin to be anyone Mattin had met the night before.

“Fair-morn.” The voice was a light tenor and sounded too happy for first thing in the morning. “Bathwater should be heated, and Cook will have breakfast on by the time we’re done.”

Mattin shoved his feet in his boots and scrambled up. He’d slept in his clothes — by the time he’d reached the pallet he’d been too tired to keep his eyes open. That had added another layer of wrinkles on top of the wear of several days’ travel. The stranger noticed his dismay and said, “They’ll be livery for you at the bathroom. The Steward stays on top of things like that.”

“Oh.” Mattin tugged at the collar. It was bad enough to have the collar telling the whole world he belonged to one of the fae. He wasn’t ready for livery too.

But he wouldn’t have a choice in the matter, and clean clothes… well, were clean clothes. “Thank you.”

He stepped out of the cubby and finally got a good look at the man waiting for him. Tall, yes, and thin, but well-muscled, like a runner. His skin was dark, darker than almost any human Mattin had seen, and his hair black and tightly curled. He was, Mattin realized after a moment, one of the Mountain Folk. The strange humans who had held their high passes against the fae for nearly a millennium. When Mattin had been a child, one of the trade caravans of the Mountain Folk had traveled as far as White Oak and spent a month at the summer trade fair, selling odd goods from far places. The full story of how a child of the Mountains had come to serve the Countess was one Mattin would be years in learning.

“Come on,” the man said. “The front door’s there,” he pointed behind them, and Mattin recognized the hall he’d entered the night before. “That’s the door cubby you had last night. Usually, there’s one of us the pages there in case someone comes knocking in the middle of the night. Was supposed to be Toby last night, but she took sick, so you got a quiet spot to sleep. Even if the pallet hasn’t been restuffed in a mule’s age.”

As he spoke he led Mattin deeper into the building. “There’s a couple of barracks rooms most of us sleep in, you’ll get a spot there tonight. But I expect Brit didn’t want to throw a bunch of strangers at you right out the pass, hey?”

Mattin didn’t know what to say in response to this flow of words, but the man didn’t give Mattin a chance to say anything. He just kept talking. Since a great deal of what he said was useful, Mattin set himself to remember as much as he could.

He turned right into another room, the first place (other than the cubby) that wasn’t decorated in the blue-and-dark-wood-paneling. Instead, a simple rush mat covered the floor, and the walls were whitewashed. “These are the private quarters, our area. The Mistress keeps the public rooms in her colors, and these back areas are kept simple. We get to decorate our barracks how we like, though, and some folks have gotten pretty creative.”

It wasn’t until they reached a small room with a stone floor that he stopped and said, “Sorry, my name’s Jaffrey. The Steward told me you’re Mattin?”

The sudden change startled Mattin, but he managed to nod.

“Well, so you know, no one will know anything else. No one here will go telling tales about how you came here, hey? Or what brought you. We all have our own stories, and you choose who you share it with.

“But hey, if you do want to talk, most folks here will listen. We might understand more than you think.”

Mattin couldn’t help laughing at that. “Somehow I doubt it. But… thanks.”

Jaffrey shrugged. “You’ll do.” He gestured around the room. One wall was lined with hooks, each holding a rough towel. A few stacks of clothing sat on a small shelf at one end of the room. “Dirty stuff in the corner, laundry will do their thing and get it back to you. One of those on the shelf will be yours. Bath twice a week if you work the manor, daily if you work outside like I do. I’m in the stables. Mistress has decent horses here. Nothing I’d take into the mountains, but good for you lowlanders.” As he spoke, Jaffery stripped off his clothing, folded it neatly, and stacked it on the shelf.

“You’ll get two sets of livery a year, wear one/wash one hey?”

“Right,” Mattin said, trying not to stare at the green and blue fading bruises that covered Jaffrey’s back and legs. He wanted to ask but was afraid of the answers.

***

The bathing room was similar to the bathhouses Mattin was used to, just smaller. The wooden floor slanted towards a central drain, and benches lined the walls. High shelves held buckets, ladles, soap, and bundles of fresh herbs. In one corner, a copper boiler heated water for washing. The familiarity, as much as the herb-scented steam, had Mattin relaxing.

The bath wasn’t empty. Next to the boiler, a tanned older man scrubbed soap over his long arms and chest. In the corner, a young, blond-haired woman covered in soap suds was tipping a bucket over her head. She groaned as the warm water poured over her.

Mattin snatched his eyes away, ears growing warm. The bathhouses in White Oak had separate rooms for men and women…

The older man chuckled. “What’s your name, lad?” he asked. “Mattin… sir.”

“No ‘sirs’ in the bath, Mattin.” The man winked. “I’m Anral; the tease is Elose.”

The young woman—Elose—put her bucket down and stuck her tongue out at Anral. Elose took her pleasure — in all its forms– freely. Some, like Anral, made assumptions because of that.

Elose shook herself off and tossed her head so her hair fell down her back, making several areas of her body bounce. “It’s my body, you old lech. If it turns your brain to mush, that’s not my problem.”

Her words didn’t register with Mattin. Nor did her body any longer. With her hair away from her neck, he saw she wasn’t quite naked: she wore a collar. So did Anral. Without thinking, his hand tugged on the collar around his own neck. He had forgotten for a moment. How had he forgotten?

He didn’t notice the glance that passed between the other three. “Just how new are you Mattin?” Anral asked, “I don’t keep up with things in the manor as well as I should.”

Mattin flushed again under the man’s scrutiny. “I… I got here last night.”

“Well–

Jaffrey stepped past Mattin with a theatrical sigh. “Anral, since when did you stop counting heads at the dinner table? Did you think you missed a face?”

Anral snorted, “I don’t miss anything. Not like someone who missed a stall last Godsday! You–”

Jaffrey gave Mattin a slight shove and Mattin took the hint. He grabbed a bucket off the wall and went to fill it at the boiler.

The warm water eased tension in his muscles — enough that he nearly took a second bucket. But that was greedy when others had to fill the boiler, so he turned to look for the soap.

A few minutes later, when he rinsed the soap from his hair (and eyes), he saw Elose standing nearby holding a small jar.

“The collar chafes some in the beginning,” she said. “Housekeeper makes this to help.” She held out the jar and (careful to keep his eyes on her face) he accepted it.

“Thanks.”

“Friends can help too if you let us.” She smiled. Her smile was radiant. She smiled with her whole body as if happiness filled her entire self.

Mattin found himself smiling—really smiling—in response. He also became aware of a growing hardness in his groin. He started counting off the towns he passed through on his journey. “I… Thanks?”

She laughed. “I need to get to work, but I’ll be around.” She walked out of the room, and Mattin hurried to finish rinsing. He prayed the other men wouldn’t notice his—

“She caught another one!” Anral grinned at him.

Embarrassed, Mattin turned away, hiding both his shaft and his flush.

He heard barely heard Jaffrey’s whispered “Sorry” over the other man’s laugh.

“Don’t worry Mattin, no man in this house—and precious few women—can keep their eyes off Elose.” Anral chuckled and stood up. “Well, back to work for me. I’ll see you around, Mattin.”

Thankfully he didn’t wait for Mattin to reply before leaving the room. Mattin dearly did not want to see that man again.

“Anral’s a decent overseer,” Jaffrey said after the door closed, “but has no sense of decency off the job. If you have any sense of embarrassment, pray you get assigned to the main house.”

“Overseer?” Mattin blanched.

“He’s the Marshal, in charge of everything outside the manor. I’m told most nobles have other fae as overseers, but the Mistress doesn’t allow any other fae here. Doesn’t trust them.”

“Bloody Mare!” Mattin started praying.


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