The Bargain (S1, E11)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex, reference to/discussion of child abuse, violence

Brit forced a bit more food into Mattin, then sent him off to sleep. He cleaned up the tray and blamed the way his own eyes watered on the westering sun. Work. Work would distract him. There was always work to do.

When he looked up it was dark out, and his lamps had burned low. The dinner tray was still sitting on the corner of his desk.

Brit shook his head, cleared his desk, and carried the tray down to the kitchen. It didn’t make sense, he rationalized, to disturb one of the maids that late at night. By the time he realized what he was doing, it was too late.

As he stepped through the door, the half-fae cook pushed back from the sink and wiped his thick hands on his apron. “This is unexpected,” he said as he stalked toward Brit.

Brit strode past the fae to one of the big kitchen tables.

“I haven’t seen the lad since he picked up that tray.”

“He’s sleeping,” Brit growled. He put the tray down next to an old knife scar in the table. As usual, the wood was spotless. No matter how hard he searched, Brit never found any cause for complaint. He turned to the door and found the exit blocked by the fae. Brit’s temper, already strained to the breaking point, flared. His pulse throbbed in his old scars.

“Is he now? Straight to bed then, without stopping to say goodnight to his friends.” The fae bastard crooned.

Brit’s hands fisted. They both knew what was coming, but spur him if he would make it easy for the half-breed. “It’s been a long day. He was worn out.” He tried to edge past the cook, but the bigger man didn’t budge.

“Worn out, nothing. You’re pushing him too hard.”

The thread holding his temper snapped. The bastard fae always knew just where to push. Always turned Brit’s own doubts and fears against him.

Brit grabbed the male. A moment later Cook was flat against the wall with Brit’s arm at his throat. “I push him as hard as need be, and it is not for you to comment.”

Cook caught Brit’s free arm in a nerve pinch and twisted. Brit landed hard on the floor. He rolled to his feet and charged.

Cook fought silently. He responded to Brit’s brawling attacks with simple-seeming throws and pin-point nerve strikes. Brit didn’t worry about precision. No matter how well or how often the fae threw him about the room, anger and grief carried him forward. His intensity was rewarded with the stinging smack of punches landing.

As much as he wanted to wipe the smirk off the half-breed’s face, Brit stuck to body blows. Fighting was one thing, but displaying wounds before the household was unacceptable. And if he ever went for the face, the fae would do the same.

The fight ended when Brit came in low with a tackling lunge and took out the fae’s knees. Brit kept his footing—barely—and pressed one knee across Cook’s throat. He bent down and growled in the half-fae’s face. “Never criticize my training again.” Then he stood and strode out of the kitchen. Not allowing his wrenched knee to limp until he turned the corner.

Brit’s mind was clear, and he knew he’d be better able to sleep for the fight. Still, he cursed himself for letting the half-fae get under his skin.

~~~

For Mattin, the next day started a new phase of training. Crait spent a morning drilling him in the intricacies of formal table service. When they finished, Mattin reported to Brit in a small, elegant dining chamber. He placed the proper setting for a formal lunch and managed to serve the fancy court food Cook conjured up without major mishap. When Brit finished each course, Mattin cleared it away, and served the next. At the end of the meal Brit said, “You’ll practice with Crait one hour each morning.”

After lunch, Brit set him down with a stack of notes on the nobles of court. Names, titles of address, their appearance, their habits and foibles. Mattin did his best to study while Brit threw out random questions such as, “What drinks do you need on hand if the Mistress has a conference with Duke n’Trail?” or “Whose sigil is an oak tree formed into a circle?” And he’d spend several minutes flipping through the notes to find the answer. The first time he answered from memory (Lady Erebeth ruled County Reltra, long blond hair, usually worn loose)

Brit told him, “Take a break for a turn of the glass,” and Mattin had a chance to get a drink and shake out limbs gone stiff. When the sand ran out, he went back to studying—eager to get another answer right.

That was how the days went. Each morning, a new skill to be mastered; each afternoon, new information to be learned.

Mattin was exhausted at the end of each day. He had never realized that a day spent learning could be as difficult as a day of hard work at the inn. But he didn’t complain — being exhausted meant he fell asleep quickly and slept without dreams.

The only difficulty was that Crait insisted on talking about glamourhai sometimes. No specifics of the way the lady hurt him. Not usually. But schedules, or how Joth had taken a couple days off after an intense session. Little things that constantly reminded Mattin that his friends were being tortured to feed Jahlene. Little things that, bit by bit, stopped horrifying him and started making him curious. And that terrified him more than anything.

So he pushed his curiosity aside, pretended to not care about anything Crait said, and focused on his lessons.

The lessons, at least, went well. At the end of the second week, Mattin had learned the basic skills of court service. All that remained, Brit said, was polishing—a great deal of polishing. Brit was cautiously pleased. Mattin was ecstatic at the mild praise from his gruff teacher. And even happier when Brit gave him an afternoon off.

~~~

While Mattin went off to catch up with Cook, Jaffrey, and Elose, Brit reported to Jahlene.

“I think we’ll manage,” he said. “The boy learns faster than I expected.”

Jahlene nodded, glad to have one worry out of the way. Brit’s “probably” was as good as most people’s “certainly.”

“Good. Any problems so far?”

Brit grimaced. “He’s twitchy on glamourhai. Not surprising given what Oeloff is likely doing to his sister right now, but as he is, he can’t serve you in the glamourhame at court.”

“You want to push him.” The words were just short of an accusation.

“Want to, no—” Brit rubbed at the scar on his face. “But we don’t have time to let him adjust on his own.”

Jahlene took a section of her hair and began twisting it into a coil. “I don’t want him broken, Brit.”

He walked over to the window. “This isn’t something any of us have done. He’s becoming friends with Jaffrey, and I stuck him with Crait early on. I hoped he’d learn enough from them. He hasn’t. He needs to get in his gut that helping you in the glamourhame isn’t hurting them. If he doesn’t, you will break him.”

Jahlene uncoiled her hair. She spent a few minutes twining the ends through her fingers and making tiny braids. “Do it, whatever you’re thinking of. But be careful.”


Return to:
The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E10)

Continue to:
The Bargain (S1 Finale)

The Bargain (S1, E9)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex, reference to/discussion of child abuse

Brit released Mattin when the bell rang for dinner. After working in the kitchen the past week, it was odd to sit in the dining hall while Crait and the others served. But he enjoyed the chance to catch up with Jaffrey.

“She what!”

Mattin scrunched down as heads turned towards them. “Yeah, I know. According to Cook, she hasn’t taken a personal servant in decades.”

“Not since Brit took over for the old steward, Litra says.” Jaffrey shook his head, “I’m not sure if you landed in the ale or the fire-pit.”

“Fire-pit. Definitely fire-pit.”

Jaffrey laughed, “Trust me, her bark is worse than her bite, as you lowlanders say—I ought to know!”

“Yeah, right.” Mattin took a bite of bread. It melted in his mouth. Cook could teach his father a few things– His mind sheered away from thoughts of home. “Jaffrey, what’s the deal with the lady and Brit?”

Jaffrey quirked an eyebrow.

Mattin popped another bite of bread in his mouth. “I’d have to be blind not to see they’re… close. But… I don’t want to say something stupid by mistake, and I can’t ask them.”

Jaffrey used his own bread to sop up the gravy puddled on his plate. He ate the bread, taking his time. “I only know rumors, but it can’t hurt to tell you.

“Brit was a bit younger than you are, when Mistress Jahlene was born. Lady Trilla, the Mistress’ mother, made Brit’s mother the Mistress’ wet nurse. I guess she didn’t want to be a mother because Brit’s mother basically raised the Mistress. When she died, Brit took over.”

Mattin took a long drink as he tried to wrap his mind around that…

“From what some of the old ones say, Trilla was bad even for the fae. Maybe even worse than Oeloff.” Mattin snorted in disbelief. Jaffrey shook his head. “Do you know about fae and children?”

Mattin blinked. “No?”

Jaffrey sighed. “One of their few virtues. Most fae have a soft spot for children, even human children. I guess because they don’t have many. And they never use children for glamourhai—for feeding their magic. It’s unthinkable. But Trilla… she did.” He stopped and looked hard at Mattin.

It took Mattin a minute to catch up. He’d never thought that fae would have a ‘soft spot’ for any humans. But thinking, back he couldn’t remember a single time — or even a story of a time — that Oeloff had claimed a child to serve him.

So maybe Trilla really was worse than Oeloff. But Jaffrey had been talking about when the lady was a child… “No…”

Jaffrey nodded. “She did. And sometimes she dragged Brit in as well.”

He stabbed at his plate. “No one really knows what happened. As far as I know, neither of them ever said anything. But one day, they say the two of them came out of the glamourhame — Mistress Jahlene and Brit — and Trilla was dead.”

***

Late that night, terror jerked Jahlene out of slumber. Standing up, she threw on a dressing gown and set out through the halls. Her own fear muddled her glamour, giving her no taste of the others in the manor. She ran.

Moments later, she sat in Brit’s room, watching him sleep. Seeing with her eyes that he was safe.

Fae didn’t dream. Dannu might whisper in the night of things to come, but dreams as humans knew them, no. Yet sometimes, Jahlene dreamed. Or perhaps, remembered.

The last time, Brit slept in a small room in her suite. His hair had still been dark, and only a few small wrinkles had touched his skin.

Now, the color was gone from his hair, and his face was deeply lined. He slept in the steward’s chamber, available if anyone needed to find him during the night.

As Jahlene calmed, her glamour cleared. The gingery taste of Brit’s dreams came to her first. Even in sleep, he was irritable. Faintly she tasted the sleepy or drowsy minds filling the manor. Most of them, various shades of calm and contentment. Then sharp-sour horror washed over her. She wasn’t the only one dreaming tonight.

How did humans do it, she wondered. Endure these torments night after night. She thanked Dannu for protecting Her children from such horrors. Once a decade was all she wished to know of them.

With a sigh, she turned towards the door.

“How long has it been since you snuck into my room of a night?” Brit asked.

She chuckled. “This once, I thought I’d get out without waking you. Foolish of me.”

“Trilla is dead. She can’t hurt either of us anymore,” he said. Like the last time, and the time before that.

“Then why do I still dream?”

He sighed and continued their familiar script, “Because you still fear her.”

Shaking her head, Jahlene returned to the bed and rested a hand on his cheek. “Good night Brit. I’m sorry I woke you.”

***

Mattin stood in a dark room full of horrors. Marta lay before him, tied and gagged. He raised the knife and walked toward her. Behind him was an unseen presence forcing his body forward. He fought to stop, to turn the knife on the one who controlled him. He couldn’t. He wasn’t strong enough. When he reached his sister’s side, his body knelt down beside her. He slammed the knife down into her chest.

He woke screaming.

Boltin upright, Mattin staggered out into the hallway. Dimmed lamps cast faint reflections on the wood walls, their oil spreading the scent of violets into the night. He reached out and brushed his fingers across the chimney of the nearest lamp. The heat burned, and he knew he was awake. Holding back sobs of relief, he reached up and touched the collar about his neck. Countess Jahlene’s collar. Oeloff couldn’t touch him again. Could never force him as…

As the lady’s mother had forced her? Or forced Brit?

He laughed at himself. Jaffrey’s story must have disturbed him more than he realized. Not that it hadn’t been disturbing enough!

But maybe he understood a little better why the lady would be different from other fae, why she took his bargain when he’d had so little to offer.

He went back to his cubby and tried to relax. It was hard. however false it was, the image of Marta stretched out before him wouldn’t leave. Mattin was safe from Oeloff, but she wasn’t. Three months. Most of Oeloff’s slaves survived several years. Surely three months would be fast enough…

But when he finally drifted off, his last through wasn’t of Marta or Countess Jahlene. It was of himself. Of the moment in the hallway when he had checked to be sure his collar was still there. He had been glad, he realized, he wore the collar.

Glad to be a slave.

Return to:
The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E8)

Continue to:
The Bargain (S1, E10)

The Bargain (S1, E6)

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

Even from her office, Jahlene could taste Mattin, not just taste him, but taste him strongly enough to know where he was. The kitchen.

She didn’t know else was with him — Cook presumably, and his assistants. But all them blended together, the energy of thei emotions mixing with with everyone else in the manor and surrounding area. There were many, like Brit or Joth, that should pick out if she looked for them. People she was tied to in some way. But usually anyone not in the room with her was part of the blend. It was was a complex blend, made of contentment, pleasure, worry, stress, joy, and a spark of pleasure — Crait and his wife perhaps, taking advantage of the beating she’d given him yesterday.

But Mattin stood out from that, had throughout the night. It was a curious thing, and made her wish (again) that she could have had a proper fae upbringing and actually learned how her glamour worked.

On the other hand, she thought, somewhat tartly, if she had a ‘proper’ fae upbringing, she probably would have learned to enjoy the taste of fear and hate, to see her family as tools and not people she cared for.

Perhaps it was for the best, then, that she didn’t know, even if it left her confused and curious.

Pulling herself away from her thoughts, she set aside the piece of scrap paper she’d been doodling on and turned to Parlen, the only other person in the room with her. “Would you mind repeating that?”

“Of course, Mistress. The simplest option — and most likely to succeed — would be blackmail.”

There were two problems with that. First, blackmail really was simple. Parlen enjoyed politics, which was one of the reasons Jahlen relied on her. She never had simple suggestions. The other problem was that it wasn’t likely to succeed, at all.

“Unpack that Parlen.”

“Count Orloeff still wants to prove you unfit so he can claim Erida. That’s why he’s been sending spies into the county.”

Jahlene nodded and made an encouraging sound. Conversations with Parlen were like this — she’d skip ahead three stpes, then go back ten and repeat everything you already knew.

“I know we could never prove it, but I still think that Oeloss sent that Mare cursed horseshit a few years ago.”

The horseshit in question was another man who had shown up asking for Jahlene’s collar. Though he was human, he’d had a fae-like darkness in him, and harmed another of Jahlene’s people before she and Brit caught him and got rid of him. She hissed at the memory.

“Mattin is nothing like Ston was,” Jahlene said. “I would recognize that again.”

“Exactly. But Oeloff isn’t going to give up. he wants someone sending him information, possibly sabotaguing you for him.”

“Right.”

“Well,” Parlen patted her intricately braided hair and smiled. “Count Oeloff already met Mattin, and knows that Mattin’s sister is his slave. If you give him the chance, he’ll probably try to blackmail Mattin into giving him information in return for his sister’s safety.”

Jahlene laughed and shook her head. “Simple.”

“Exactly. All we need is to have a witness, someone who isn’t allied with either of you.

“You can either take the case before his Imperial Highness — that would be best politically, but it’s possible the Emperor would order the girl killed rather than let her go free. Or you can then blackmail Oeloff — make him give you political or trade concessions, andgive you the girl so you can be sure he can’t use her against you again.”

Only Parlen would describe this type of political maneuver as simple. “Blackmail the blackmailer. And if he doesn’t go for it?”

“That’s why we have a back up plan. I don’t any of them as much — too complicated and a bit risky.”

“We wouldn’t want to try anything complicated, would we?” Jahlene smiled. “Alright, so we need a witness and a chance for Oeloff to blackmail Mattin.”

“It would be best if Mattin comes with you to Winter Court.” Parlen said. “You could take him as your personal attendant and–”

“No.”

“It’s the best option, Mistress, and you know Brit wouldn’t–”

“I said no!”

“–mind. It’s been nearly a decade–”

“NO!”

***

After they left the kitchen, Jaffrey to Mattin took meet the Housekeeper, Lona. Where Cook had put Mattin straight to work, Housekeeper asked him questions. Lots of questions.

Questions about how best to remove stains, about how to clean wood, about how many sheets would be needed for so many rooms, and had he ever polished silver.

When she finally let him go, Mattin was completely wrung out, and he hadn’t done anything but stand straight and talk.

Their next stop was the stables, where the Stablemistress was happy enough with Mattin’s work, and the kennels where the dogs took an instant dislike to them.

They had just finished at the kennels when the dinner bell rang. They washed quickly at the pump behind the stables. While they washed, Jaffrey said, “If Cook doesn’t grab you, I think Brit and Anral would put you in stables.”

Mattin smiled. “I’d like that.”

Jaffrey rubbed his head and chuckled. “Me too, kid.”

“I’m not a kid!” Mattin splashed water at Jaffrey who laughed and splashed him back.

“Hey I just call it like I see it. Kid.”

Whatever Mattin would have said was interrupted by the Stablemistress clearing her throat. “Both of you kids better stop playing and get up to dinner before I kick your asses back to stable to clean out a few more stalls.”

That threat was good to get them moving and they ran back to the manor laughing.

“You really think I could work in the stables?” Mattin asked once the laughter died down, trying not to sound wistful.

“Yeah. Old Litra’s going to be retiring in a few years and then we’ll be short handed.”

“Retiring?” Mattin stopped and grabbed Jaffrey’s arm, the collar on his neck suddenly tight. “He’s a slave, right? how old could he be?”

“Litra? He’s older than Brit, I know that. He was here under the old countess, Mare’s Blessing, he’s got to be at least 60. He doesn’t want to admit he’s getting old but he limps bad in the morning.”

“Sixty.” Mattin’s knees went week and he swayed. “There’s a slave here who’s sixty years old?”

“Whoa, are you okay? Look sit down a minute.” Jaffrey pushed him down to sit in a corner with his back against the wall. “I’m going to run and get Brit.”


Folks reading the Early Access Newsletter got the Season Finale today. Don’t want to wait to find out what happens? Subscribe now!

Return to:
The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E5)

Continue to:
The Bargain (S1, E7)

The Bargain (S1, E2)

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

Countess Jahlene n’Erida had been barely more than a child the day she’d killed her mother to save the one person in all the world she had loved.

Decades later, she could still taste Brit’s unwavering trust and love as he stood at her back evaluating this stranger.

Mattin Brenson was as unimpressive as any human she’d ever met — and Jahlene had met many humans. At least to look at. But to taste… to taste he offered her a bounty she had rarely known the equal of. Fear, desperation, hope, need, her glamour feasted on all of them and sought hungrily for more. Even the lingering slimey feel of Oeloff’s glamour wasn’t enough to put her off.

He stared at her with wide eyes and the acrid taste of fear grew until it seemed to coat her tongue. Jahlene forced her hunger back, out of her awareness and forced her face to smoothness.

He offered a feast — but a feast that would come at a high cost. So she shook her head slightly saying, “My household is full and needs no additions. Did I need further service, many in the county would be eager to serve me. Unless you have a useful skill, your offer is of little worth.”

The fear receded, replaced by a mix of relief, despair, and confusion. She leaned back in her chair and her hands began picking apart her braid, as they often did when she was focused on her own thoughts. If she confused him, he was just as confusing to her.

She half expected him to take the escape she offered, to excuse himself and begin the long walk to the nearest town. But a long moment passed, then another, and she realized she had missed something in him. Hidden behind the overwhelmding fear had been something else. Barely noticed at first, a hint of fire that grew moment by moment until it overwhelmed everything else.

As his determination swept through her, she wondered if anything would make him leave. Her mouth quirked at the image of the slim, grubby man being forcibly removed from her study, only to camp out on her steps, refusing to leave until she accepted his bargain or killed him.

“I’m an innkeeper’s son, lady. There’s little I haven’t done. Horse care, cleaning, some cooking, and whatever else was needed.”

Jahlene glanced over her shoulder at Brit, saw Parlen had stopped pacing and was scribbling notes are her desk. Brit was calm, no longer annoyed at this late night interruption but didn’t feel strongly about this bargain either way. Parlen… Parlen was excited. The woman lived for politics. Jahlene turned back to Mattin with a hidden smile.

Confusion, fear, hope, all warred in the man, still overlain with that fiery determination.

“Why, Mattin Brenson?”

He shook his head as his confusion spiked.

“You know what Oeloff is. You have no reason to think I am any different. Yet you would trade your freedom and life for your sister’s. Do you expect her to thank you for it?”

A touch on her shoulder surprised her. She reached a hand up and glasped Brit’s fingers. He wasn’t calm any longer. Pride, regret, a memory of fear.

Forty years before he had told her in no uncertain terms that he would not thank her for making such a trade, that he would infact spank her like a child if she ever did such a thing again.

She squeezed her odd-brother’s hand and knew she couldn’t turn Mattin away.

But that didn’t mean she needed to make it easy for him.

“Well, Mattin?”

“Lady, I… do not know what you may be. But you are not like Lord Oeloff.” He nodded at the linked hands—human and fae.

Parlen giggled. “He has you there, Mistress.”

Jahlene couldn’t keep her smile hidden any longer. “And your sister?”

Mattin took a deep breath. “I have always protected my sister, Lady. I can’t abandon her.” His eyes flickered to Brit’s ruined hand. Probably thinking Jahlene had ruined it. Most humans did when they first met him. “And I am strong, Lady. I can endure what… what she cannot.”

That was not what Jahlene had expected him to say. The smile slipped from her face. “You don’t think much of her, do you?”

He almost sputtered and Parlen laughed again. “Older brother, right?” she asked.

Mattin nodded and Jahlene tasted what she would have sworn was insult.

“It’s human custom, Mistress,” Parlen said. “He’s a boy, he’s physically stronger and older than his sister, so it’s his job to protect her. Even if she’s perfectly capable of protecting herself.”

Jahlene had lived with humans all her life, loved many of them, and would never understand them.

But whatever his odd reasoning, she couldn’t say Mattin was wrong to make this sacrifice.

“As you say, Parlen.” Jahlene shook her head. “We’ll talk details later, but you are sure we can hurt Oeloff?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“So…” There was one problem remaining, one danger, even. “I’d like to accept your bargain. A chance to hurt Oeloff at court…

“But my people serve me willingly, Mattin Brenson. Each one came to me because they wished to enter my service. I did not seek them out nor do I use coercion or glamour on my family.”

Mattin clearly didn’t believe her, but she didn’t care.

“You do not share my people’s need to serve, nor do you have any love or loyalty to me. How then do I trust you to keep your end of our bargain, in spirit as well as word?

“A bitter and resentful slave who hates all around him would be a cancer in my home.”

Jahlene nearly spat as the odd-flavour-not flavour of someone dissociating flooded the room. Mattin spoke perfectly calmly, not noticing the blood dripping down his fisted hands.

“Lady.” Even his voice sounded distant. “You are right. I don’t want to be a slave. I can’t believe anyone would.

“Love? Loyalty? I am an honest man, and I would keep my word to you. If that is not enough then…. Then I am wasting both our time.” The firey taste of determination faded a moment, then flared. Beyond that…

Lies had no taste. But the emotions behind them did. Detecting them was an art and one Jahlene was still learning. But she tasted nothing to make her doubt.

“Brit?”

“Honest, capable of loyalty, and if he grew up in an inn, he knows how to work. We’ve dealt with worse.”

Jahlene and Brit had many ways to speak without speaking. Brit would never disrespect her openly in front of a stranger, but he squeezed her shoulder now in a pattern and she nodded. She had pushed Mattin enough.

Too far, it turned out. Before she could say anything he jumped to his feet crying, “Bloody Mare! Stop playing with me. Yes or no?”

“Yes, Mattin,” she stood up and walked to a cabinet in the corner of the room. Most of the cabinet held files and writing tools, but one small box was kept there for just this purpose. “You have your bargain.”

Jahlene brought the box back to her desk and pulled out the simple strap of leather that waited with in.

Most of the great magic was lost to the fae when they fled their old home a thousand years earlier, but this one piece was left to them. Placing her hands on the leather, Jahlene gathered her glamour as she would to bind a weaker person to her will. She gathered in as well the taste, the essence, of Mattin as he stood before her. Determination, fear, relief, need, yes. But also the subtler emotions that made him, him. Those which she could barely sense now but which would come to the fore when he was not being pushed and pulled by the needs of others.

Her fingers stroked the leather in a pattern she knew without knowing, as deep as her bones. Over and over she repeated the pattern, with each repeat the power she held lessened, sinking into the leather, until it was gone, bound. As it would bind she and Mattin together as long as he wore it.

When she again had the energy to look outside herself, she saw Mattin staring at her, looking almost like one blinded by the sun. “What… what was that, Lady?”

Her lips quirked. “Glamour. A powerful glamour placed within the collar. While my sigil is upon you, no other fae can control you.”

Even as she spoke, the taste of Oeloff’s touch on him was dissipating.

“But you can.” Despair rolled off him in waves. Sour was not a flavor she had ever enjoyed, and she only hoped that as he adjusted to her home his emotions would settle into something more… palatable.

“I have never used glamour so, but I could. Your ancestors struck a bargain—they gave control to one they trusted in return for protection from the many they did not.”

Behind her Brit scoffed. “And that worked out well.”

Jahlene glared at him a moment, but couldn’t disagree. She was tired.

“The collar is for you to put on — or not.

“Seal our bargain, Mattin Brenson, so we can all get some sleep.”

As if it were a snake that might bite him, Mattin picked up the leather. When it did nothing but hang limply in his hands, he wrapped it around his neck. Jahlene tasted the burst of power as the two ends sealed together, bound tighter than any clasp or lock.

Jahlene had never learned to read faces, but even if she had been glamour-lost she could have read the anger and bitterness in his eyes as he stared at her.

Brit stepped around the desk and offer Mattin a hand. “Come on, boy. Let’s find a meal to wrap you around and a bed for the night. With your permission, mistress.”

He didn’t wait for her to respond, just bowed and turned, smacking Mattin lightly when the young man went to follow him without stopping to bow. Jahlene was pleased to see Mattin corrected himself immediately, though exhaustion had his feet dragging on the carpet as he followed Brit from the room.

Jahlene wasn’t much better. Parlen joined her and began undoing Jahlene’s braids, brushing her hair out and fixing the damage Jahlene had done. “Are you sure of this Mistress?”

“Yes.” With Mattin no longer right in front of her, Jahlene could again taste the manor as a whole. The dominant flavor was mellow contentment, dotted here and there with other notes. But nearly as strong was the bittersweet that flowed from the newest member of her household. Barely — just barely — more sweet than bitter. If he hadn’t been conflicted, she’d have been worried. But it seemed that out of her presence, hope was winning out.

“I couldn’t have turned him away, Parlen. And I would have been a fool to do so. I could feast on him alone and be sated for a week or more. He may be a key to cutting Oeloff back. And…”

And she had been dreaming for a week or more. A fae dreamt rarely, and when they did the dreams always meant something.

Jahlene bade Parlen goodnight and headed for her rooms, wondering if Mattin’s coming would end the dreams. And if it did, what would that mean?


After arguing with myself, I’m tagging Mattin’s relationship with Jahlene as con noncon rather than fictional slavery, because he asked for her collar. Same applies for the rest of her people. It really could be argued both ways. What decided me is I think having different terms for Jahlene’s relationship with her people, and what Oeloff and other fae do, will make it easier for readers to know what to expect.

Return to:
The Bargain (S1, E1)

Continue to:
The Bargain (S1, E3)

The Bargain (S1, E1)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon (nonsexual), pain play, sex

It takes a rare and desperate human to deliberately seek out a fae noble. But rumor says that not all nobles are the same, and Mattin Brenson is desperate. Desperate enough to bargain with Countess Jahlene n’Erida for the highest of stakes.

Bargains with the fae are dangerous, but sometimes what starts as a bargain, can become something more.


The Corlaen Empire had been created by fae exiles on the bones of an ancient human civilization. Rather, the bones were the leftovers after the fae tore down the old order and devoured it. Nearly a millennia after the fae had first set foot on this continent, the humans under fae rule remembered little of their ancient history except myth and legend.

For three centuries, the Empire expanded. Eventually, the other human realms brought it to a halt. The mountains to the west and north were impenetrable, the passes held by human clans who held an unknown immunity to fae glamour. To the south was a human kingdom that united once they understood the fae menace. Even through multiple civil wars and a revolution or two, they never forgot to guard their borders. So in the Empire’s fourth century, the fae turned their attention inward.

There were never enough fae to drive out or destroy the humans within the Empire, nor did they want to. Many fae commoners lived alongside the humans, but still, most of the work of the Empire was done by the conquered humans. And a human within the Empire could live well — if they avoided the notice of fae nobles.

If a human attracted noble attention… The faes’ magic did not come from nothing. It needed to be fed. A powerful fae — and power was how a fae became noble — could be driven insane or die if they failed to feed their glamour. And as many humans learned to their cost, glamour fed on pain.

It took a rare and desperate human to seek the attention of a fae noble. But rumor said that not all nobles were the same, and Mattin Brenson was desperate.

Near the western border of the Empire, where the foothills began to turn into mountains, Mattin watched the light filtering through the trees dim. He was footsore and heartsick, trying not to remember the last sight of his sister.

She had walked meekly behind Lord Oeloff, the fae who ruled their home city of Oakhaven. He had tried to interfere — not to attack or protest, but just to plead — and Lord Oeloff’s glamour had driven him to his knees. He could only watch in mute agony as Marta had climbed into the lord’s carriage and was gone. Never to be seen again.

His father had tried to comfort him in shared grief, but Mattin refused to be comforted. For over a week he had followed rumor and desperation west into the mountains, to this well-worn road through the woods.

Finally, the road turned, and the trees thinned, and Mattin faced the future he had chosen: a manor house, three stories tall and made of a black stone, glittered blue in the fading sunlight. A guard stood by the door, looking first at Mattin then scanning the road and woods behind him.

Mattin stopped a moment, tried to wipe the worst travel stains from his clothes, and approached the door.

The manor wasn’t alone but surrounded by outbuildings, pastures, even a few hay fields squeezed into what flat space was available. Several other people were moving about the yards, but none looked toward the road, and Mattin ignored them in turn.

The guard was tall, with blond hair hanging raggedly over a light-skinned face, and pulled into a rough queue in the back. He wore a blue and white uniform and a sword belt (with sword). His leather boots were much sturdier than the shoes Mattin wore. (Mattin thought there might be a new hole in the left sole).

Most importantly, the guard had round ears and wore a collar. The collar was leather with a yellow device stamped into the front. Mattin had seen them often enough to know that the collar had no buckle, no tie. It would be an unbroken circle of leather surrounding the man’s neck for the rest of his life.

By now, Marta would be wearing one like it. But she wouldn’t be here. She would be to the east, in Lord Oeloff’s manor. And Oeloff would never trust a human to guard his doors.

Mattin had been told Jahlene n’Erida was different. He stared now at the first proof he’d been told true, and swallowed against a dry throat.

He stopped in easy speaking distance of the guard, swallowed again, and said, “My name is Mattin Brenson. I’ve come to bargain with Countess n’Erida.”

The guard sent for a page, who disappeared into the manor. The page was shortly replaced by an older man. He carried himself with the pride and certainty of a guild master but, like the guard and page, wore the collar of a slave. The man’s white face was deeply marked by an old scar that barely missed his left eye. His left hand was twisted into a claw from another old injury.

Mattin flexed his own hand, wondering how many humans in this manor carried similar scars. And how long it would be before he did as well.

He didn’t have long to wonder. The older man looked him over, then said, “Come, our mistress has agreed to speak with you.” He turned and disappeared back into the manor.

Mattin caught his breath, then followed.

He was both relieved and disturbed to see, just inside the doorway, another slave with a basin of cold water and a towel. At the older man’s direction, Mattin washed his face and hands. This time he managed to remove the worst of the road dust. He wet down his hair, turning the dark auburn brown, in hopes of getting it to lie straight.

Then the man was off again, Mattin hurrying to follow.

The manor couldn’t have been more difficult to navigate than the streets of Oak Haven, but Mattin was lost almost immediately. One room followed another, all paneled in dark wood with polished wooden floors. All perfumed with the faint scent of flowers, though there were no flowers in sight.

Finally, the man stopped before a set of double doors and knocked.

“Enter,” a voice called.

The man opened the door and stepped aside. Mattin hesitated a moment, his legs not wanting to work. Then he stepped through the door.

Across the room, a woman sat behind a desk, her long black hair pulled back to expose delicately pointed ears. Her deep green eyes stood out against dark amber skin. The Countess Jahlene n’Erida.

Her throat, of course, was free of the collar that every human in the manor would wear.

Behind her was a human woman at a small standing desk, her brown hair tied intricate looping braids that stood out darkly against her pale skin. Mattin barely glanced at her: fear and hope both kept his eyes on the fae woman. He didn’t know what to say now that he was here.

So he bowed and waited.

A warm voice told him to stand, and he looked up to see the countess smiling at him. It surprised him enough that he smiled back. Remembering himself, he straightened his face and looked down at the carpet.

“You wish to bargain? I don’t remember the last time a human came to me to bargain.”

Bargains were art, game, and hobby to the fae. No human came out ahead in a bargain with the fae. Not because they used their glamour — that would be cheating — but because they had human lifetimes to perfect their skill.

But Mattin had nothing left to lose. “Yes, lady.”

There was a moment of silence, and Mattin bent his knees slightly, preparing to once again be forced to the floor by fae magic. But she surprised him again. “What is your name?”

“Mattin, lady.” He looked up, and she was still smiling, relaxed, and friendly. There was something else behind the smile, though. Hunger. He swallowed and looked away. “Mattin Brenson.”

She chuckled. “For a proper bargain, I should invite you to sit down with me and share food, but I think that would make you even more uncomfortable.

“What is it you wish of me?”

“My sister…” Mattin stopped himself; started again. “My family is from Oakhaven, lady. Recently Lord Oeloff claimed my sister as his slave.

“I want you to free her.”

The human woman started, and the older man hissed. But the countess only leaned back in her chair. When she said nothing after a moment, Mattin continued. “Lord Oeloff is your enemy,” or so he had been told, “if you can force him to free one of his slaves, that will hurt him.”

“Oeloff would barely notice the loss of one slave.” Now Mattin started. The voice was rough and oddly accented and came from behind him. It belonged to the older man, the slave who escorted Mattin to meet the countess.

The human woman was tapping her fingers then, staring into the distance. When she spoke, her voice was deep — even deeper than the man’s. “Winter court is not far away. If it was a public matter, he would lose face. Lady Collanne would love you for giving her such gossip.”

The countess’ small smile became an outright grin. “She would, wouldn’t she? But can it be done without breaking the emperor’s law?”

The tapping intensified. “Maybe? He’s so focused on the council, he may be vulnerable in other ways.”

“Think about it.”

The human woman immediately stepped away from her desk and began pacing, quick steps taking her back and forth across the carpet. The man stepped away from Mattin and moved behind the countess’ desk to stand at her back.

The countess tossed her hair and looked back to Mattin. “So… I might be able to help your sister, and yes, it might benefit me. But I need more than that.” She examined Mattin, taking in the weariness in his face, his untended hair, and his worn clothing. “I would ask a large price for this bargain of yours, and I don’t see how you can afford it.”

“I can’t pay, lady, but I can offer a trade.” He met her eyes then, saw the hunger flare in them as he lowered himself to his knees. “My sister’s freedom, for… for mine.”


Well, that’s a hell of an offer.

Continue to:
The Bargain (S1, E2)

Return to:
Webserial Catalog