The Bargain (S3, E7)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact (implied), trauma reactions, people handling emotions badly, rape (not explicit), torture (not explicit), pony play, mind fuck (minor), privileged ally is privileged

When Mattin woke the next morning, Elose was still with him, squishing him into the wall. She stirred as he sat up and ran a hand over his chest.

“Morning, lover.”

He grinned and took her hand, kissing it. “That it is.” And it had been a good night. Even after he fell asleep—the first night without dreams since Oeloff took Marta.

He stood and inched over to the door. Cracking it open let in a small amount of light. Enough he could see Elose as a dark shadow against the bed. She sat up and stretched. “I’d like to come back tonight if you’ll have me.”

Mattin hesitated.

She began gathering up her clothing, “No pressure Mattin. But I like a man who doesn’t hog the blanket.” She looked up at him, grinning. “And you’re not bad with your cock, either.”

A flush crept up his cheeks, and he was grateful she wouldn’t see it in the dark.

“You’re cute when you blush, you know.” She laughed when he jumped. “No, I can’t see you. I know you that well. I’ve had my eye on you a while.”

He shook his head, “Then maybe you know what I want; Mare knows I don’t.” He sighed and began getting dressed. “I like you, Elose, but I’m not ready to…”

“Be serious?” She laughed again. “Mattin, you know I don’t do serious. Work hard, play hard. This is play.”

Neither said anything while shifts were pulled on and pants laced up.

“But you don’t play with just one person, do you?” Mattin finally asked.

“Of course not. Are you going to tell me that if the mistress asked you to join her bed, you’d say no?”

Mattin’s shaft sprang to attention. “Mare take it, Elose!”

She giggled, then came up behind him to put a hand on his shoulder. “I didn’t think so.” She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed. “Anyone with eyes around here knows you love her, Mattin. And if you can’t share your love with me, that’s okay. But I like you, I like to fuck, and I like the way you fuck. So let me know if you decide you want to play again.”

She planted a kiss on his cheek and walked out into the hallway, leaving him to sort through his confused thoughts alone.

But not so confused that he didn’t call down the hallway after her, “I like you, too!” She looked back and grinned before turning out of sight.


When Jahlene woke up, she had to deal with seeing off Falthro. She watched him ride away with mixed feelings. There were worse possible allies and the temptation of a real friend among her own people…

But he was still a noble. A very old noble, maybe even as old as the Empire. One of the powerful fae who did nothing to protect the humans they ruled over and were a threat to their own people…

After Falthro left, Jahlene went to the stables. Normally, she left the horses in Gwende and Anral’s hands, but if she needed to get extra mounts before going to court, better to know now. While there, she stopped by a tall roan Jaffrey was currying. “Falthro was asking about the Mountain Folk.”

He nodded without looking away from his work. “The traders don’t come for months, Mistress.”

“Yes. I like him, Jaffrey, but I don’t trust him.”

Jaffrey nodded again, and Jahlene finished her inspection. Her alliance with the Mountain Folk was a careful dance. Only Brit knew Jaffrey wasn’t just her slave: he was a spy for his people. She had done her part; the rest was in his hands.

Before shoving Falthro out of her mind, she allowed herself a moment of regret.


Now that they had Falthro’s agreement, everything became about preparing for Jahlene’s journey to court. Jahlene was out of the manor almost every day. She held several court days in the city and each of the large towns. After each court day, she met with local notables to address as many ’not big yet’ problems as possible.

At home, she and Anral went through all the outbuildings. They made sure that any supplies needed before winter were ordered in, making notes of any repairs that would be needed, and doing everything they could to prepare the manor for winter.

Mattin occasionally accompanied her, but more often stayed behind. He hadn’t had time to learn the outside tasks Jahlene handled in running the manor and county, but he knew the manor as well as people who had been with Jahlene for years.

So while Jahlene focused on the out-manor tasks, she set Mattin to assisting Housekeeper with the same tasks inside and helping Parlen with packing.

Jahlene was amused to note that Elose continued to keep Mattin company. Since the man’s nightmares got worse as their departure approached, Jahlene approved. Jahlene approved of Elose generally. The young woman wanted to take over for Housekeeper when she retired. She didn’t know that she was on the shortlist (with Crait) for becoming Brit’s apprentice.

So Jahlene was just as happy to see Elose and Mattin growing closer and the distraction that provided Mattin. She just hoped that Mattin understood what he was getting into. Elose was loyal in her way, but one reason she’d sought Jahlene’s service was to avoid marriage and being restricted to life with a single partner.

But that was a future problem, and Jahlene had problems enough. Some days it seemed like they would never get everything done in time. But finally, the frantic preparations were over.

Two weeks after Falthro left, they set out for Court.

The travel was blessedly easy — they caught a clear spot between the fall thunderstorms and the first of the winter snow. Once they got out of the mountains they moved quickly, reaching the capital in five days.

The journey itself was… awkward and uncomfortable. Carriages were never comfortable, being stuck in one for days with Mattin and all his emotions…

Well, for once she wouldn’t arrive in the capital desperate for glamourhai, but that didn’t mean she enjoyed knowing how little he liked being trapped with her.

She reminded herself constantly that most of Mattin’s fear was for court and confronting Oeloff. But the way he would look at her, then turn away anytime she saw him looking, the closed-down expressions he wore… in spite of how well they had been working together, and their shared amusement at trapping Falthro… well, she hadn’t been under any illusions. He may have been starting to like her at one time, but his fear and her mishandling had trampled that into dust.

The Bargain (S3, E6)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, people handling emotions badly, rape (not explicit), torture (not explicit), pony play, mind fuck (minor), privileged ally is privileged(? — I don’t know how to tag what’s going on with Jahlene in this episode, but it’s definitely all about being privileged)

A few minutes later, Mattin knocked on the door to the glamourhame. Jahlene opened the door after a moment. She didn’t say a word, but her eyebrows drew together in annoyance. Mattin bowed low and offered her the note he had stopped to pen on the way to the glamourhame. She accepted and read it. Mattin, unable to see into the room, strained his ears to hear something. Falthro’s voice came to him faintly — as if the fae were whispering. Even fainter were the quiet moans that had to be from Elose.

Jahlene turned to the room. “My cook is wondering how long he should expect to hold supper for us. What shall I tell him?”

“I believe I am finished.” Falthro sauntered into the doorway, nearly as immaculate as when he’d left his suite that morning. “I’m sure your toy can attend to things here while we clean up.”

The lady’s eyes flickered into the room, and Mattin knew she didn’t like the idea of leaving Elose. Whatever she saw must have reassured her because she nodded and offered Falthro her arm.

Mattin bowed again as they walked past him, dreading what he would find when he entered the glamourhame.

Elose hung on the cross, naked and limp. Her chest heaved with each breath, and her body glistened with sweat. Mattin was surprised—and relieved—to see no sign of injuries. She lifted her head. A cloth gag had muffled her cries, turning them into the low moans he had strained to hear. Her eyes were wide and bright, and tears streamed down her face. She pulled against her bonds, writhing on the cross.

Mattin hurried over to her and began to unstrap her. She shook her head, stopping him. Uncertain, Mattin reached towards the gag and removed it.

“Please.” She moaned. “Finish it.”

What did she mean? He couldn’t ask — even if his test with Falthro was over, the lady had ordered him never to speak in the glamourhame.

She writhed against the cross again, hips thrusting towards him. “Please, Mattin, that bastard kept me on the edge for hours. I’m going crazy—please finish me.”

A blush swept over Mattin as he realized what she meant. Hesitantly, he stepped forward and placed a hand between her legs, ready to pull away if she objected.

She didn’t. She moaned deep in her throat. Her cleft was warm and wet against his palm. “Please,” she whispered again.

He became hard. He had never imagined anything like this. Elose was spread before him, every inch warm and wet and exposed. “Please…” He leaned over and took her breast in his mouth while his fingers slipped inside her wetness. She cried out and pushed her hips against his hand. He pulled his hand back. She strained to follow him but couldn’t. She moaned, and the sound ripped through him. He relented and let his fingers return to her cleft. His tongue teased her nipples and she cried out again as shudders ripped through her body.

After a time, she hung limp on the cross, and Mattin stepped back. He watched her chest heave and kept himself from reaching for her again. He was not fae; he would not take what wasn’t offered. No matter how much he might want to.

When he had control of himself, he undid the cuffs around her ankles and wrists. She collapsed against him, her feet unwilling to support her weight. A quick look located her clothing, folded on the shelves by the lady’s tools. Very few of them had been used, and those that had were all implements for pleasure. Then he understood what the lord had done to Elose. The lady makes pain a pleasure, the thought flickered through his mind, but this lord managed to make pleasure a torture.

Pushing the strange idea aside, he helped Elose to the rack, ironically the only thing in the room that she could rest on, and got her clothing. She took the clothes with a quiet thank you and dressed.

When she finished, she slid off the rack and took his face in her hands. She stared into his eyes a long moment before surprising him with a kiss that left his head spinning and his shaft throbbing fit to burst.

When she pulled away, she smiled but wouldn’t meet his gaze. Shy and modest were not words he associated with Elose, but now she looked like a flustered maiden. Not sure what else to do, he took her hand and led her from the glamourhame to the hallway.

As the door closed behind them, he turned to her and kissed her again. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to skip dinner and come to my room?” His mouth was dry, but he managed to put a hint of humor into the question.

She didn’t answer but squeezed his hand, and this time it was she who led him through the hallway and to his bed. Where a pleasurable time was had by all.


Dinner with Falthro was also unexpected. Cook had managed, without instruction or prompting, to create a picnic-style dinner that had Falthro in raptures. Somehow Jahlene managed to suppress her surprise when she saw the xocalt-glazed chicken. Falthro didn’t notice—it was his first exposure to the southern treat, and he was a gourmet. He was oblivious to anything except the strange new taste. She was delighted to talk about food again rather than what passed for entertaining discourse in the court.

Just as well, perhaps. It took a few minutes for Jahlene to regain her focus and not be distracted by the things she was tasting from Mattin and Elose. Jahlene had never cared how her people spent time together as long as everyone was willing. She refused to be bothered now. Mattin would never be hers, so what he did in private was no business of hers.

So she focused on Falthro and his rhapsodizing about the food.

When he finally wound down, she asked about his technique in the glamourhame. It had been decades since she learned anything of worth from another fae, but she had to admit Falthro’s methods intrigued her. The feast he provided them had been as satisfying as anything she had ever managed—and without any harm to Elose.

“I thought you might like that,” Falthro said, “I admit, I’ve been watching your technique for some time.”

Jahlene stared at him a moment. Then laughed at herself. No point now in pretending he hadn’t surprised her. “Alright, I’ll bite.” Suiting action to words, she took a small bite of an apple slice glazed with honey. “Why?”

“Because,” Falthro took a sip of fruit juice, “You have managed to draw more emotion, without causing permanent harm to your toys, than anyone else. I might, as a master of exotic triaglamour take it as a challenge to my skill. But in truth, I have long found it… more comfortable to maintain the same staff for as long as possible. Crippling or traumatizing my humans means needing replacements sooner.

“So I find your skill something to be admired.”

Jahlene gripped the table to keep from reacting to that matter-of-fact statement. She tried to remember if anyone, even her few friends among the fae, had ever shown the faintest hint of approval for her way of handling her people and home. She couldn’t remember a single one. She took a long drink, using the action to cover her unsteady hands.

“So, I did some experimenting of my own,” he blithely continued, though he couldn’t be oblivious to her reaction. “The key, I’ve found, is to keep them right on the edge of completion without allowing them their satisfaction. It’s particularly effective to alternate my approach—the appetizer, if you will, of fear and anticipation when they do not know what to expect, pleasure or pain, is a flavor worth taking the time to savor.”

During the conversation which followed, Jahlene never tasted anything from Falthro but the amused detachment which was his trademark at court. Her own emotions ran wild, telling him far too much. Making it far too easy for him to manipulate her. And yet… and yet… in the end, Jahlene threw her worries aside and let herself bask in, for once, receiving approval from one of her peers. It was the most enjoyable conversation she’d had with another fae since… she didn’t know when.

By mutual consent, Jahlene and Falthro avoided politics, court, and the usual gossip. From glamourhai, the conversation moved to fashions, an area Jahlene didn’t care for but which Falthro managed to make interesting anyway. He was fascinated by what she knew of fashion and food among the Mountain Folk.

“Did you know,” he asked, his emotions flickering for a moment, too quickly for her to tease out their meaning, “no one—no one—has collared one of the Mountain Folk before? However, did you manage it?”

Jahlene nearly choked on her wine. “Nonsense. When we warred with them five hundred years ago, Emperor Kalid took several prisoners as slaves.”

“I know.” Falthro grimaced. “I was there. As soon as our backs were turned, they ripped off the collars and set about sabotaging our war camp. The Emperor was not pleased and… hm… quieted that part in the chronicles. To this day, no one knows how they escaped. Unless you do.”

Focusing hard on her disbelief, Jahlene shook her head. “Falthro, whatever I may be, my glamour is not strong enough to do what an Emperor could not! If Jaffrey wanted to leave, I expect he would manage as easily as his ancestors. Like all my people, Jaffrey wanted my collar.” She sighed and called up her exasperation with the other nobility to flavor her thoughts. “If there is any secret, it is one I have been trying to get someone to listen to for decades.”

To her hidden relief, Falthro chuckled and said, “Well, my Lady n’Erida, allow me to reassure you that one person has been listening.”

The Bargain (S3, E4)

I’ll be honest: this chapter is almost pure self indulgence.

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, people handling emotions badly, rape (not explicit), torture (not explicit), pony play, mind fuck (minor)

By the time they got to the courtyard, the two women were waiting for them. Jaffrey stood beside them with a light carriage and a mound of very odd-looking tack. Mattin knew Berta—she was the one who showed him how Jahlene liked her things laid out in the evening, and he’d spoken with her a few times over meals. Sare, he had seen at meals from time to time—Jaffrey had pointed her out once as having ‘an interest’ in Joth, but he’d never spoken with her.

Both stood, perfectly proper, doing their own version of being posts. But their eyes were bright and they stood with an eager tension—like racers waiting for the starting whistle.

Falthro examined the women, then turned to Jahlene.

The lady nodded to Jaffrey who bent down to the pile of tack and came up with something resembling a bridle. He approached Sare, clucking his tongue like he was soothing a restive horse. She stood, not responding until he slipped the bit in her mouth and fitted the bridle over her head.

“By Dannu!” Falthro whispered.

Sare transformed, though Mattin was never, then or later, fully able to describe or explain it. No longer a post, her weight shifted restlessly from foot to foot. She quivered and shook her head, for all the world like a nervous mare. From the way Falthro stared, Mattin guessed the change went deeper than Sare’s behavior.

Jaffrey rubbed her legs and arms and offered her a sugar cube. She nickered and lipped it from his hand, then stood while Jaffrey fitted the rest of her tack. He backed her between the shafts of the carriage and fitted her into a harness before shifting his attention to Berta.

In Berta, the transition was gradual. She opened her mouth for the bit, and Mattin caught her winking at Jaffrey. Her foot stomped, once. Then she was still, a post. But with each piece of tack her body language shifted a bit more. By the time Jaffrey was fitting her into the harness, she was blowing—pulling a trick as old as horses to keep Jaffrey from tightening the girth properly. When he’d dealt with her blowing and had her strapped in, she was all mare—and a restless one.

Jahlene climbed into the carriage and accepted the reins from Jaffrey. “Join me for a drive, my lord?”

After a moment Falthro climbed up beside her. Mattin stood beside the carriage and awaited any orders the lord would give. In the end, he gave no orders. Mattin watched as Jahlene sent the women—the mares—into a fast walk, and they drove down the road.

When they pulled up in the courtyard fifteen minutes later, Falthro was still staring at the mares. Mattin helped Jaffrey to unharness them, and then Jaffrey led them back to the stables.

When they were out of sight, Falthro turned to Jahlene and gave her a flourishing bow. “Countess n’Erida, I salute you. However did you manage that?”

Jahlene grinned. “Now Falthro, why should I tell you my secrets for free? My mares are a special pair. Even if I tell you what makes them so special, you wouldn’t be able to duplicate it.”

“Now that I cannot believe.” Falthro gestured widely. His eyes sparkled as brightly as the stones of the manor. “In all my years there has never been a traiglamour I have not been able to recreate. You challenge me, lady. Do you think I can let such a challenge stand?”

Jahlene laughed and offered Falthro her arm. They walked back towards the manor, Mattin trailing behind. “Falthro, your artistry is undeniable, but this… unless I am much mistaken, to recreate this taste, you would need to recreate my household.”

Falthro looked at her a long moment and sighed, some of the brightness flowing out of him. “You believe this. But that will not stop me from trying.”

“Then I will tell you this much: you cannot force it. A human either has the horse nature within them or they do not.”

Falthro said nothing further until they reached the formal dining room, and Jahlene sent for lunch.


After a meal spent dissecting the kitchen’s artistry (and Cook had outdone himself), Falthro turned to Jahlene with a grin. “You were correct, by the by. Your mares truly are a unique flavor, but not at all filling. Dare I hope you can offer more traditional fare?”

“Of course, Falthro.” She sent, again, for Elose and Jaffrey.

Mattin looked away. Falthro was examining them as if they were pieces of meat in a butcher’s shop. Mattin knew fae hospitality required Jahlene to offer the use of her glamourhame, but he’d hoped Berta and Sare would be enough to divert the lord.

Falthro chose Jaffrey and dismissed Elose. As Elose turned to go, the fae lord grabbed her about the throat and forced her to the floor. Mattin nearly jumped to help her but froze before it was too late. Jaffrey lunged for the fae lord, but Jahlene stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. Falthro released Elose almost as soon as he had grabbed her—the whole thing took seconds.

The fae lord walked up to Mattin and put a hand under his chin, forcing Mattin to meet his eyes. “That was close, little toy. I almost caught you. And may I say your anger and hatred are a delicious sauce. I haven’t tasted its like in a long time.”

Mattin wanted to tell the fae exactly what he thought, but instead managed to choke out, “It is my pleasure to serve you, Lord.”

Falthro grinned. “Preferably roasted with a side of greens, I’m sure.” He cocked his head to the side and winked, “Oh go ahead and give me an honest response, toy. I promise not to hold it against you.”

“I prefer my meat broiled… Lord.” Mattin cursed himself even as he spoke. But Falthro threw back his head and laughed.

“Oh, little toy, you are a delight. Very well Jahlene, I concede. You’ll have my help. And I don’t know which I will look forward to more, Trapping Oeloff or watching your bait squirm on its self-made hook.”

The fae lord turned his attention back to Jaffrey and Elose… probably enjoying the way he’d managed to turn the taste of victory sour in Mattin’s mouth.

Mattin forced himself to focus on the moment. Falthro was bending over Elose and whispering in her ear. Mattin couldn’t hear what he said or Elose’s reply. But a moment later, Jahlene dismissed him and Jaffrey, and escorted Falthro, with Elose, to the glamourhame.

Once they were gone, Mattin took a deep breath and strove to forget Lord Falthro’s games. The lord could play with Mattin all he wanted, Mattin had won this round.

He had won. He was on a long stride closer to saving Marta.

“Congratulations,” Jaffrey said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I knew you could do it.”

Mattin wanted to respond, to share his joy with his friend. But he would not risk everything now, of all times. So he only smiled in gratitude and left the room.

He thought of going to his cubby and being alone but decided to go to the kitchen instead. Cook was always glad of an extra pair of hands, and it would give him a chance to share the good news.

The Bargain (S3, E3)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, people handling emotions badly, rape (not explicit), torture (not explicit)

The rest of the evening went without incident. Barely. Mattin had observed Falthro’s habits during the meal. Little things, like knowing when to refill his drink, were easy. He found himself falling back on Brit’s earliest training: he stood at the lord’s shoulder and became a piece of furniture.

Falthro began trying to break him almost immediately. “Oh yes, I heard the tale from Althsuar. Oeloff had him and Lothren over some weeks ago. A pretty piece, and untouched.” The lord savored the words, almost as much as he savored Cook’s meats. “They had a delightful time helping him break her in. Said she fought like a wild thing. At least to start. By the time they finished she learned to beg very prettily. And Lothren took the chance to teach them all a fascinating trick with pins. I’ll have to try it sometime.”

The training he had hated and feared saved Mattin then. He became furniture, a post. A simple piece of wood that had been shaped into usefulness. A post doesn’t fear or rage. A post doesn’t have a sister in the hands of monsters. A post is. He was a post.

Once, a lifetime ago, Brit had told Mattin that Lady Jahlene would demand all of him. That he would change and be changed so he, like that post, could be he needed to be to survive. He hadn’t understood it then, not really. But now, as he played his role in a social dance that was key to saving Marta — now as they lady gambled the political power she needed on his ability to satisfy this strange fae — now, he understood. Not just his face and form, but the ‘taste’ of his emotions would determine the success of this venture.

He would feel later. He would fear and rage and weep. Cook would offer him tea which something extra added and listen while he broke. Brit would take him somewhere private so he could scream. Elose would offer a hand or a hug or a shoulder to lean on when he needed it. And he would do all of it. Cry, and scream, and need, and fear… later.

But he felt none of it now. Now, he felt nothing. He was only a post.

When the dinner was finished and cleared away, Falthro gave up trying to provoke Mattin. Instead, he suggested a game of chess. Mattin wasn’t sure if Falthro enjoyed the game or wanted to see if prolonged boredom would make him twitch. But posts don’t get bored.

The game took several hours; Mattin had plenty of time to figure out the rules of play. Maybe he could ask Cook or Brit if they played later. When he was done being a post.

After the game, Lord Falthro was finally ready to retire for the night. Mattin escorted the lord to the guest rooms he had been assigned.

The lord instructed Mattin to sleep in the sitting room of the guest suite, “In case I need anything overnight.” Mattin decided to play it safe and sleep on the floor, so the lord couldn’t take issue with his using a couch or chair without permission. He seemed like the type to do that.

As it turned out, where he slept wasn’t the issue. In fact, after the fourth time Falthro called him out of bed, he gave up on sleeping at all. The lord needed a hot drink. There was a lump in the bed. He wished Mattin to find him a book. The fire needed to be built up. The fire needed to be damped down.

Halfway through the night, Mattin was disgusted, annoyed and exhausted. It was more and more difficult to keep a courteous expression when responding to the lord’s summons. Finally, as the first light of dawn crept through the windows, Lord Falthro started to snore.

When Mattin realized he wasn’t going to be permitted any sleep, he had worked out a plan. He waited what felt like hours to be sure the Mare damned toothpick was truly asleep. When the fae remained quiet, he put his plan into action.


Walking as quietly as possible, he crossed the room and pulled on the bell to summon a servant. Then he opened the door, and waited in the doorway. A few minutes later, Elose, bleary eyed, hair mussed, and annoyed, came down the hall. She stopped when she saw him.

“Mattin? What’n hell?”

“Elose, I need help. I need to wake myself up and get presentable, and I can’t leave the lord alone. He’s asleep now but might wake up and start making demands any moment.”

“Oh!” She grinned at him, “So you’re the reason I’ve gotten some sleep with the bloody prick in the place. Sure I can help you out. For a price…” She winked at him.

Mattin’s brain shut down. “Ah… sure. Anything you want.”

“Good. You can start teaching me to read tomorrow.”

Mattin froze. “What?”

Elose giggled. “I’m teasing, Housekeeper’s already teaching me. But Mare’s sake, Mattin, never agree to a bargain without asking the terms.

“Now go on, I’ll look you up sometime when things are quiet and we’ll see what bargain we can really strike.” She stepped into the suite, twitching her rear at him as she passed.

Mattin closed the door—being careful to not make a sound. First stop, a bath.


An hour later, Mattin was alert, thanks to a brisk bath and some over-steeped tea. He was also neatly dressed with his hair straightened and not a thread out of place (he didn’t want to think about what Parlen would ask for in return for her help.) He had a tray of Lord Falthro’s usual breakfast (bless Cook for keeping notes on visitors) and an arrangement for a fresh tray to be brought up every half hour. No matter when the fae woke up, he’d have a hot meal waiting. Mattin also managed to grab a meat roll for himself and was as ready to face the day as he could manage.

Luckily, Falthro had slept—or at least been quiet. Elose hadn’t heard anything, and he was still snoring away. Mattin thanked her as she left and set the breakfast tray on a convenient table. He laid out three outfits for the lord, ranging from overdone to obscene. Mattin was taken by a strong urge to burn the stuff—and replace it with clothing that wasn’t drenched in lace, velvet, gems and frills. The male should look like a walking cake the way he dressed. But Mattin had to admit he managed to pull it off. Somehow.

Then it was waiting, and staying alert. An hour and a half after Elose left, the snoring stopped, and the lump under the covers began to stir. Mattin entered the bedroom and built up the fire for the day, then went to the bedside and bowed to the bleary-eyed fae. “Good morning, lord. Would you wish your breakfast in bed, or at table?”

Falthro glared at him “You are disgustingly awake, toy.” Mattin blinked, not knowing what to say. “It’s just the two of us now, and I know your mistress isn’t into all this starch and nonsense. So why not cut the act?”

“Lord,” Mattin fumbled, desperate for a “safe” response, “I am sorry if my conduct is not pleasing. I—if you will tell me your wish, I will comply.”

The fae scowled, but only said, “Breakfast.”

“Yes, lord.” Mattin replied. A quick bow hid his face long enough to hide his relief. Then he went to fetch the latest tray.


After Falthro finished eating and dressed, Mattin escorted him to a meeting with Lady Jahlene. They spent some time discussing matters before the council and the prospective trade agreement between their counties. Falthro instructed Mattin to take notes for him, while Parlen did the same for Jahlene. Shortly before lunch Falthro announced, “That’s all for business. I get enough at home. What entertainment can you offer a guest Jahlene? Hopefully something better than last time?”

Jahlene waved to Parlen. “Send a page for Jaffrey and Elose.”

Parlen bowed and left. Jahlene turned to Falthro with a smile Mattin knew was forced. “You can have your choice of entertainment, Falthro.” The smile changed, became more real. “Unless… no, probably not…” She sighed and shook her head.

Falthro jumped on the bait. “Unless what?”

“Unless you might be interested in an unusual traiglamour I’ve been experimenting with. It is not as satisfying a meal, I’ll admit. But a truly unique taste.”

Falthro fluffed the lace as his wrists, “Alright, my lady, you’ve caught my attention… again. What do you have up your charming sleeve?”

“Yes or no, Falthro.”

“Oh, very well.” The lord sniffed and looked down his nose at her. “Show me this ‘unique taste’ of yours.”

Jaffrey and Elose entered the room as he finished speaking. Jahlene turned to them with a smile. “Jaffrey, inform the stablemistress I require the light carriage and the special tack. Elose, please have Sare and Berta report to the courtyard.”

Both bowed and left the room at a run. Falthro stared at Jahlene with a mix of curiosity and skepticism. Mattin tried hard to remain invisible and not let his surprise show. Whatever Jahlene had planned, it was as new to him as it was to Falthro.

“I should warn you,” Jahlene said, “they’ll be a bit skittish. I haven’t had a chance to work with them in several months, and Berta especially gets restive.”

Falthro scowled. “You are baiting me.” He strode through the door and Mattin hurried to take his place on the male’s heels. “You would not be making a point of your slave’s misbehavior unless you were laying a trap. I decline to walk into it.”

Jahlene laughed. “Well, I had to try.”

Mattin suspected she had succeeded.

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, 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.”


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.


“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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The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E2)

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The Bargain (S1, E4)