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.
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.”
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.