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 (S3, E2)

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

Dealing with the dock fire occupied the rest of the day and most of several days to follow. Assistance had to be sent for those injured and those who lost livelihoods. Records of recent shipments and trade through the dock were lost: information from other sources had to be gathered to fill the gaps. Plans for rebuilding requested, authorized and implemented.

Throughout it all, the lady remained distant and formal. Mattin missed the banter and friendship, but understood his own actions had caused the distance. He hoped, in time, the lady might come to trust him again. A week after the dock fire, Mattin tried teasing her about working too hard. She forbade him to speak to her for the rest of the day.

So he kept his distance as well. His days were long and lonely. He continued to enjoy Cook’s company in the mornings and the company of others when he got a chance. But most of his time was spent with Jahlene, locked in icy formality.

The painful distance had one benefit: there was no chance he would forget his purpose again. He thought of Marta constantly. He woke in the morning reminding himself of Marta’s freedom. He went to bed at night remembering that he endured for her. Often, it was cold comfort. His unworded prayer was that Jahlene would permit Marta to remain nearby when she was free—or even within the manor itself. Others in the manor had family in a little cottager village a short walk distant. If Marta stayed there, if he saw her from time to time…. Maybe then he would feel less alone.

The remaining weeks before court went swiftly. Mattin threw himself into training with a new fervor, and Brit soon declared himself satisfied. Jahlene said nothing to Mattin, but Brit told him she was also satisfied.


While Mattin finished his training, Jahlene and Parlen began the political dance. Letters and the occasional messenger were sent to nobles who might be interested in helping them trap Oeloff. They also fielded inquiries and requests from allies seeking Jahlene’s support at court. Part of Mattin’s job became recording these discussions and keeping track of the various negotiations. Parlen said that knowing the goings on and who the players were would help him watch his step at court. Jahlene simply grunted.

Two weeks before they left, their efforts bore fruit. One of the neutral lords, Falthro of County Oultor, came to the manor. Jahlene and Parlen believed he could be convinced to witness Oeloff’s attempts to coerce Mattin.

The manor went into a frenzy of preparations. For this meeting, they would set out a full highcourt feast for two. Mattin was kept on the periphery of the discussions, so he would know his part. It remained to be seen if he could pull it off.


The smaller dining hall glowed with lamplight, sheltered flames reflecting off bright brass and glass polished to a high shine. A pure white cotton table cloth spoke of the wealth of the hostess. Moving with the silence and grace Brit had drilled into him, Mattin set Cook’s latest course—a spiced bread sculpted shaped as a stag’s head—before Lord Falthro n’Oultor. He placed a second sculpture before the lady, and the savory dipping sauces between them.

Lord Falthro lounged in his chair and waved one pale white hand over his plate, “Why Jahlene, I am honored. Such trouble you go to for a friendly meal.”

The lady shook her head and laughed, “Not I, Falthro. My Cook despairs of my quiet life and takes every excuse to show off his talents. But please, enjoy. The red sauce is a lovely thing, made with some southern spices the traders introduced this spring.”

Falthro broke open his sculpture and tried a piece in the red sauce. Mattin had no idea how the male kept the trailing lace of his cuffs from landing in the sauce along with the bread…

The sauce met with the fae lord’s approval, and he inquired into opening a trade for the new spices. The lady had a monopoly on some of the more exotic goods the mountain traders brought. Jaffrey’s presence in her household had given her some favor with the mountain folk.

By the time the bread course was finished, the two nobles had reached a tentative agreement on trade. Mattin set himself to remembering the details to be passed on to Parlen and the lady’s factor.

In a carefully arranged dance, Mattin removed the remainder of the bread and sauces and passed them to Crait. Narris handed Mattin the next course, baked fish stuffed with cheese. Mattin presented it to the lady with a flourish.

The conversation turned to court. Mattin was soon out of his depth. Even with all of Brit’s training, he didn’t know enough of the background. He took mental notes anyway. It gave him a distraction, and he could ask Cook or Brit to help him understand later.

Finally, the talk came around to Oeloff. “The man is a nuisance, I’ll agree,” Falthro said, “I’ll even agree I’d like to see him taken down a step or two, but he has the Emperor’s ear and one of the most powerful glamours in the empire. Best let sleeping enemies lie.”

“But he isn’t sleeping, is he? Or has the tariff on salt been a mild inconvenience?”

Falthro sighed and picked an invisible crumb off his sleeve. “We are managing. No wise person depends on a single revenue source. And we have no need to ship in food. Unlike some.”

“But,” Jahlene leaned forward, “if I showed you a way he could be weakened, you might be interested?”

“I’d certainly listen. Convince me it’s viable, and I might—might…even help.”

Jahlene nodded. “Oeloff has been trying to bribe or threaten members of my household for several years now. He wants to turn one of my own into a spy for him.”

Falthro pursed his lips. “Which is against the Emperor’s law but nearly impossible to prove. Your slaves have no voice in court, and your witness is suspect, at best.”

“True. But what if we arranged matters so you witness his next attempt…”

Falthro raised one eyebrow, “And how do you intend to pull this off?”

Jahlene gestured towards Mattin, “This is the newest addition to my household. He came to me after Oeloff claimed his sister. In fact, he drew Oeloff’s attention rather strongly when he tried to protect her.”

“So you expect Oeloff to remember your new toy and see a chance for some blackmail. But I know you, Jahlene. What did you promise your toy when he showed up at your door?”

“If possible, I will get his sister free of Oeloff.”

Falthro rolled his eyes. “Really, Jahlene, you’ve been soft on your slaves for years, but isn’t this going a bit far? Making an enemy of Oeloff for the sake of a pretty toy.” The lord waved a languid hand in Mattin’s direction.

Mattin ignored him. He had to be furniture. God and Mare knew what else he’d hear before the night ended.

The lady laughed. The bright sound ran through Mattin, letting him relax.

“Oh come, Falthro, you know, I know, and the dogs in the kennel know Oeloff has been trying to destroy me for years. And not just me, either.”

After a long moment, the hand–no longer languid–twitched an acknowledgment of the lady’s point. She continued, “If I can use Mattin to hurt Oeloff, don’t pretend you aren’t interested, no matter how ‘soft’ I may be. And any bargains I made are my own look out, are they not?”

Falthro nodded. Grudgingly.

“So, enough with the word games and dagger points of courtly manners. Will you bargain with me, Falthro?”

At the word “bargain” the lord’s ears twitched. The fae love of a good bargain reeling him in, if Mattin was any judge. “What kind of… bargain?”

That was Mattin’s cue. Bracing himself, he approached the lord and bowed.

“Test my ‘toy,’ Falthro. See if you can break his training. If you can, I’ll admit my plan is flawed. If you can’t, you help me humiliate Oeloff before the High Court.”

Falthro’s eyebrows nearly merged with his hair. “And if your toy does break?”

“Althsuar owes me a council vote this year. If you can break Mattin’s training, I will give the vote to you.”

Mattin fought to keep his jaw from dropping. He didn’t know much of fae politics, but he did understand how much Jahlene was offering. Sweat started dripping down his back.

Falthro leaned in, and the bargaining began in earnest.


Two hours later, the bargain was struck. Mattin’s head reeled. He had lost track of the details and insane objections, requirements and restrictions long ago. All he knew was that he had to serve Falthro until Jahlene told him to stop. (At one point, Falthro held out for a week, but Jahlene reminded Falthro he was leaving in the morning. Apparently the fae lord didn’t see any issue with taking Mattin home with him. Thankfully, Jahlene did.) If he served the lord without losing his composure, refusing an order, or doing anything the male could object to, Falthro would help them trap Oeloff. If he failed, the lady would be in Falthro’s debt, and they wouldn’t have the witness they needed.

He wished he could discretely wipe his hands on his pants. He had to trust the lady, trust that she hadn’t bargained him into an impossible position. He hoped he’d prove worthy of the trust she placed in him.

Jahlene summoned him with a look. He stepped to her side. “Do you understand your task?”

Mattin bowed silently. Cook’s suggestion on issues at court had been elegantly simple—he trained Mattin in the protocol known as ‘silent service.’ Unless ordered to speak, he would respond to anything Jahlene said with a variety of bows and gestures. Practicing often felt like dancing.

“Really, Jahlene. He doesn’t even respond to questions, and you think he is trained for court? Why waste our time with this ‘test’ of yours?”

Jahlene laughed, and her right eye flickered at Mattin in a secret wink. It was the first hint of familiarity or playfulness she’d shared with him in weeks. He had to bite his lip to keep from smiling.

“Oh, Falthro,” she drawled, “So quick to judgment? Mattin is forbidden to speak unless I direct him to. His response was entirely proper.”

Falthro’s eyebrows climbed towards his forehead. “How… unusual for you.”

Jahlene grinned, “Variety, Falthro. It’s a wonderful thing.”

“Little toy, once our test begins, I expect you to answer me when I speak to you.”

Mattin glanced at Jahlene as he bowed, extending his right hand in a sweeping acknowledgment. The lord glared at him.

“You may speak to answer Lord Falthro.” Mattin wondered if Falthro heard the bubble of laughter under her words.

“As you wish, Lord.”