The Bargain (S2, E6)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending, mind fuck

Mattin slept poorly that night. His dreams included the lady’s wistful voice, Brit’s hand on his shoulder, and flashes of things he couldn’t see clearly. Things he didn’t want to remember. He woke up early and decided to visit the bathing room before heading to the kitchen.

He was surprised to find the washroom already lit and the boiler going. Cook sat on a bench next to the water heater. He had a blackened eye and a gash across his cheek—and that was just his face. At the sound of the door closing, the half-fae opened his eyes.

“Good morning, lad. Though to be honest, I’m not sure how good it is.”

Mattin blinked “Should you be in the infirmary?”

The other shrugged, then winced. “I’ll admit a poultice or two would be good, but going to the infirmary would cause other problems. Worse problems than these,” Cook gestured to his face, “will already cause.”

Mattin scratched his head. “No riddles this morning, Cook, please! How could getting help cause problems? I mean, wouldn’t the lady be annoyed if you need help and don’t get it?”

Cook snorted, “Lady Jahlene is already annoyed if I judge things a-right.” He held a hand close to the broiler and nodded. “Just warm enough.” He stood up with a groan and filled a bucket, dumping it over his head before grabbing the soap to start washing. “There has been an unspoken rule between Brit and I—however badly we fight, we don’t injure each other so others can notice. Getting hit in the face is bad enough, but if I go to the infirmary, I’ll be saying he went too far. As… volatile as tempers are right now, I’d rather like to avoid that.”

Shaking his head, Mattin stripped and filled a bucket with hot water. He had too much to try and figure out from last night already; he didn’t need to break his head anymore figuring out Brit and Cook. Unless… Mare, Brit was probably angry with Parlen for trying to mess with the lady. Like Cook had said, it wasn’t always about him.

The hot water and soap banished the last echoes of his dreams, leaving him awake and almost ready to face the day. Washing under and around the collar took extra time, but he was growing used to it.

Cook finished rinsing off and stepped out to get dressed. Mattin followed him a few minutes later.

Once dressed, they walked down to the kitchen together. The long rising dough, set out the night before, was ready to be beaten down and shaped into loaves. Mattin beat the risen dough while Cook mixed the dough for the rest of the day’s bread. After a few minutes, Cook said, “Brit was… rather less informative than usual. Care to tell me why I’m feeling like ground meat this morning?”

Mattin wiped hair out of his face with one flour-covered hand. “You know, I should have waited and taken a bath after dealing with the baking.”

“You figured that out now, lad?”

Shaking his head, Mattin went back to pounding on the risen dough. Cook said nothing, giving him time. A few minutes later, Mattin had three loaves set for their second rising and was flouring the table for another batch. “Last night, Parlen said I can’t use ‘lady’ at court. Brit and… and the lady said they had been waiting to say anything to me.” He took a breath. “It… was a strange conversation. Brit was really upset, and the lady was…” he bit his lip, not sure he should tell anyone about the strange conversation in the lady’s bath. “She mentioned asking you about other protocols.”

Cook shook his head. “Well, Jahlene will put her in her place soon enough—if she hasn’t already.” He paused but continued when Mattin didn’t say anything. “There are some other titles, some ways to avoid the issue. Easiest,” he gave Mattin a sympathetic look, “easiest would be to start calling her ‘Mistress’ if you can.”

“I could make myself say it, and I said so, but…” Mattin sighed. “Damn it, why does everything have to be so hard!”

Cook shook his head again, “Because she’s an idealistic young lass, and you’re a scared young buck. You want my suggestion, lad?”

Mattin spent a minute pounding at the dough, getting out his frustration—and fear. “Yeah, Cook.”

“Practice calling her ‘Mistress’ in private. It’ll mean a lot to her and won’t harm you to get used to the word. And trust Brit and Jahlene to tell you what you need to know for court.”

They worked in silence until Toerff appeared to start preparing breakfast. Mattin went to report to Brit for the day’s training. And he thought about Cook’s suggestion.

~~~

That morning, Jahlene’s attempt to organize her day was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Come in,” she called, expecting (and dreading) Parlen with the day’s messages. Instead, Brit walked in with Mattin in tow.

Jahlene braced herself for more trouble, but Brit only said, “I need to ride down to the pensioner’s cottages. They’ve a few problems that need sorting out. The boy’s never been on a horse and won’t learn anything useful down there.”

If Jahlene needed to worry about anything, Brit would have said so. “I don’t need him this morning. If you have studying for him to do, he can work in the corner and be on hand if anything comes up.” In a way, she was relieved. Mattin’s usual stew of resentment and fear were muted today, behind a general wash of concern. The idea of not being alone when Parlen came in settled her nerves. “I planned on riding down to the Home Farms after lunch.”

Brit grunted at the unspoken question, “He’ll need to learn to ride eventually. If you want him along, tell Gwende to give him an easy mount.”

“I’ll think about it.”

A few minutes later, Mattin had a map of the Emperor’s palace to memorize and was doing a good job of disappearing into the corner. Jahlene was pleased to see his emotions muted further when he focused on his studies. She was able to start work on the budget without distractions.

When Parlen finally entered, she was preceded by a wave of fear that ripped at Jahlene’s heart. Cringing inwardly, Jahlene kept her eyes on the figures in front of her. Parlen would settle at her desk, and they would continue with the day as if nothing had happened. As if Jahlene could not taste the fear underlying everything Parlen would say or do.

But Parlen didn’t go to her desk. She crossed the room and knelt beside Jahlene’s chair. “Mistress.”

Jahlene looked up, bracing herself to deal with whatever protestation Parlen would offer. Her jaw dropped. Around Parlen’s neck twisted a golden rope. She had, Jahlene realized, made a rope with her own hair. Without thinking, Jahlene grabbed the end, pulling the noose tight around Parlen’s neck. “This… is unexpected.” The scene the night before and her vicious words played through her mind. What did this mean?

“Mistress,” Parlen took a deep breath, “You are right, I am a manipulative woman, but I’m also not entirely crazy. I promise you, I have learned my lesson. And if you ever do feel the need to hang me by my own hair, I am sure I will have earned it.”

Jahlene couldn’t speak. Parlen’s fear grew every moment. Fear, Jahlene realized, not of her, but of…rejection? She touched Parlen’s cheek and felt the woman’s jaw trembled under her hand.

Finally, Jahlene found her voice. “It would appear I didn’t scare you quite as thoroughly as I thought.”

Parlen laughed. It had a strained sound. The fear broke, and Jahlene tasted cool relief flooding through her. “Oh, you scared me, Mistress. But later, I thought about why you scared me. If being scared out of my wits for a few minutes is the worst to come from my foolishness, then I am lucky beyond words. As Brit might say, you are /my/ mistress, and I won’t forget again.”

Her hand came up to rest against Jahlene’s. They remained that way for a long moment.

~~~

Mattin stood quietly in the corner, trying to think. He was supposed to be studying the latest assignment from Brit, learning the layout of the Emperor’s palace. Instead, he couldn’t take his eyes away from the… scene between the lady and Parlen.

He had grown used to Parlen. He still didn’t understand her insistence that she was a woman, despite being born a boy. But ultimately, if she wanted to call herself a dancing toad, it was her business—hers and Jahlene’s. So he didn’t take any more notice her dress than he did with any woman he knew—if he could name the color of her outfit, it was a good day. But the hair noose definitely caught his eye. At first, he thought it was just some new strangeness, but Parlen had gone to kneel beside Jahlene…

They spoke so quietly Mattin barely heard the murmur of their voices. What he saw was enough. The rope was a symbol–or maybe an offering. Something to try and put right Parlen’s mistake.

Watching them, Mattin ached with envy. Whatever the lady had feared the night before, Parlen’s feelings were clear. She loved her mistress.

Mattin tugged at his collar. How could he want that so badly? How could he love a female who claimed him as a possession? And yet… Jahlene clearly loved Parlen as much as Parlen loved her. Could she ever love Mattin? Did he want her to? Did he want to have her as his mistress?

He didn’t find any answers that day, but he did manage to memorize the public areas of the palace.


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The Bargain (S2, E5)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending, mind fuck

Mattin had a routine for readying Jahlene’s rooms in the evening. The hard part was guessing when to start filling the bath. Luckily, drawing the bath was easier than he would have imagined before coming here. There were pipes carrying water throughout the manor. Jahlene’s washroom had a copper boiler, where the water heated during the afternoon. In the evening, he opened the spigot, and her tub filled with hot water.

He laid out her nightdress, put a warming pan in the bed, laid a fire for the morning, and did everything but fill the bath. When he ran out of other things to do, he waited. He couldn’t say how he knew when to start filling the tub, but he’d become familiar with the lady over the past several weeks. Lately, he’d started developing a sense of what she’d want, when.

Given how angry Brit and the lady had appeared, he figured he could wait to fill the bath. He hadn’t seen the lady when she was in a temper, but he knew Brit. And he would not want to be in Parlen’s shoes at the moment.

So he had time to think.

The lady and Brit were angry with Parlen for some reason, but that didn’t concern him. He shoved his confusion aside to focus on what mattered.

Mistress.

The word still stuck in his throat, heavy with meaning. Why did it matter? As Parlen said, it was just a word.

He couldn’t say it.

If he could say it, he would be hurting her.

He didn’t understand that. Didn’t understand why his feelings affected the lady. He had heard her sorrow, but he didn’t understand…

Her voice echoed in his memory, “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.”

My family, she had said. He had derided it at the time, yet hadn’t he been thinking the same earlier?

A flash of insight came to him. She wanted him as part of her family and saw his resentment and fear as rejection. He couldn’t explain to himself why they weren’t. Why he could hate the collar and her power over him so much and yet… love… his family here. Which included Lady Jahlene.

Some instinct interrupted his thoughts, and he started filling the bath just in time. She entered the suite as he turned the water off.

She started stripping off her clothes, not waiting for his assistance. Her hair, which had been neatly styled when he left, was a mess. He tried to pick out her hairpins without pulling. He didn’t think he succeeded–she winced several times–but she didn’t say anything. As he worked, he tried to turn his confused thoughts into words.

But the lady’s hair was down, Mattin got his first good look at her face. She was drawn and pale, her eyes glassy. Her smile, when she caught his eyes, seemed forced. He winced. Her sorrow earlier had been bad enough, but this? His chest grew tight—had he hurt her this badly?

“Are… are you alright, Lady?”

She tipped her hand back and forth.

Mattin bit his lip and plunged ahead, “Lady, I know I have not—I mean—”

She looked up, “Oh. Not you, Mattin. Yes, you cause problems at times but isn’t that part of being alive? Court and its protocol are annoyances. We’ll find a way to deal with them.”

“Will… will you tell me what upsets you?”

She shrugged, “I expect you can guess part of it. Parlen should have brought her concerns to me, in private or with Brit. Not ambushed both of us. She was trying to control me.”

Mattin led her to the bath and tried to absorb this sudden change in focus. He’d known Parlen had done something to displease the lady, but… “How could she expect to control you? You have all the power here.” His normal resentment of her power didn’t stand a chance against his astonishment—thankfully. The lady was hurting enough without his adding to it.

Jahlene laughed, “You put too much stock in legends, Mattin. Nobles have been controlled by humans in their households in the past. It will happen again. There is more than one form of power.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

Jahlene stepped into the bath and stretched.

“To you. Don’t worry about it. She won’t try again.”

Mattin didn’t reply. Instead, he began soaping up her hair. For a few minutes, neither said anything.

Communal baths had been a part of Mattin’s life for as long as he could remember. Being around a naked female was nothing new or uncomfortable. But there was something especially intimate about helping the lady wash like this.

She preferred soaps scented with pine. Their crisp smell was a sharp contrast to her hair slipping through his hands. Most nights, Mattin hated himself for how much he enjoyed touching her. Tonight… tonight his fears and mistrust seemed small and foolish besides her pain.

Cautiously, he worked his hands down to her shoulders. She stiffened but didn’t say anything. He began rubbing at the muscles of her neck and shoulders, willing her to relax. Instead of pulling away as he feared, she leaned back into his hands. His shaft grew hard between his legs, but he ignored it and pushed aside his self-doubts. For a few minutes, he focused on her needs.

She relaxed a bit at a time. When Mattin finished, she reached up and touched his hand. “Thank you.” Her voice was strangely husky.

Several more minutes passed in silence before Jahlene said, “Parlen was given to me by a friend of my mother’s.”

Mattin froze. “You can do that? Give a person away?”

Jahlene shrugged and patted his hand in reassurance, “The human has to be willing to trade collars. It doesn’t happen often. She was happy enough to come. I have a reputation for coddling my people, and Erebeth is what you would expect from someone my mother liked.”

“Oh.” From the little Mattin had heard of Jahlene’s mother… He pushed the thought aside and stared hard at the back of the lady’s head.

“She had a hard time adjusting. She thought of fae as the enemy, but she loved the game of politics,” she sighed. “I thought I could win her over. I thought I had.”

She said nothing else as Mattin helped her rinse her hair and get into her night clothes.

As he bowed himself out, she said, “Good night Mattin. I hope… sleep well.”

The wistfulness in her voice stayed with him, and he fell asleep wondering what she had started to say.

The Bargain (S2, E3)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending

As long as Mattin didn’t think of the glamourhame, the next week went… well. He started getting up early and helping Cook with the day’s baking. The old half-fae was becoming a real friend. So, to Mattin’s surprise, was Jahlene. Brit had always shown him a strange kindness. And, whenever he had time to himself, Jaffrey or Elose welcomed his company. It was as if he had gained a new family to replace the one he had lost.

Jahlene was surprisingly fun, and interesting to be around. He often forgot for hours at a time that he was her property. She treated him more like a possible advisor, someone she wanted to rely on. He, in turn, did his best to be someone she could trust.

Yet he could never get comfortable. Something always unbalanced him—like the issue of titles Parlen brought up one night.

~~~

Mattin was pouring tea for the three friends after dinner. Jahlene told him to go prepare her bath when he finished, and Mattin replied, “Yes, Lady.”

Parlen winced, “That is going to be a problem.”

Brit sighed and rubbed the scar on his face. “I told you not to bring it up.” Mattin finished pouring tea for Brit and took a discrete look around. He had no idea what Parlen was referring to.

“Which problem is this,” Jahlene asked, “and do you have a solution?”

“No,” Brit said. He waved off the tea and stood up, beginning to pace.

Parlen smoothed her skirts, “Mattin has been here over a month, Mistress, but still calls you ‘Lady’. It’s obvious neither you nor Brit has said anything to him, and you know the problems it will cause in court.”

Mattin froze, then carefully set the teapot down without pouring the last cup.

“No,” Brit growled. Mattin winced–Cook would be sporting new bruises by morning. “We hadn’t mentioned it. For a reason, by the Mare!”

Jahlene held up a hand, stopping Parlen’s retort. “Mattin, sit down, please.”

Mattin sat, on a chair rather than on the floor. His insides clenched as he waited to find out what was going on.

“Parlen, you’ve forced the issue. Which is what you planned. We will discuss this later.”

Parlen bowed her head, “Yes, Mistress.”

Brit rubbed his face, then looked at Mattin, “You’re not a fool, lad. Ride, boy, half your trouble comes from too much thinking.”

Mattin couldn’t think of anything to say, so he said nothing. He forced his hands to relax, not clench into fists.

“You know well and good that all of us call Jahlene ‘Mistress’—even me who spanked her bottom as a girl! You don’t. Here, as long Jahlene doesn’t care—”

Jahlene shrugged, “It’s complicated, but for this discussion, no, I don’t care.”

“—but at court, it’s a problem.”

About to demand why it mattered, Mattin stopped himself. He took a deep breath and ignored the way his stomach churned. They didn’t have time to waste with pointless questions. “You’re saying I need to call the lady—you—Mistress.” He choked on the word.

“Yes,” Parlen said. “Frankly, I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.”

“You’re a fool.” Brit shook his head and stopped pacing. “Boy, you tell me what calling Jahlene ‘Mistress’ means.”

Mattin swallowed and fumbled to find words. “I… it means that the lady is your owner… but you say it the way my father would say ‘my wife.’ Like she is…” He ran out of words, unable to find a way to say what he sensed so clearly.

Brit rescued him, “Like she belongs to me as much as I belong to her. She is my Mistress, and I am proud of my place in her life.”

Mattin nodded. “Yes. I can’t understand that. I don’t want to understand.” He turned to Jahlene. “Lady, you own me. I made that bargain.” The collar felt tight on his neck. “I… damn it, I like you, and I never expected to. I… when I can forget the collar, I think of you as a friend. But…” Her face was a rigid mask, and he stumbled to a stop.

When Jahlene spoke, her voice was cold and distant. “But first, you must forget you wear my collar. You cannot understand how Brit wears my collar without resenting me for the loss of his freedom.”

Mattin met her eyes, resisting the urge to drop his gaze to stare at the floor. “No, Lady.” It hurt, that coldness.

Parlen shook her head “It’s a word. You use it. Or at least, you had better.”

Brit smacked the back of Parlen’s head.

“What!”

Jahlene’s mask broke, and, for a moment, her eyes pleaded with him. “I hoped that your feelings might change in time. Brit and I haven’t discussed this, but I suspect he has been avoiding the issue for the same reason.”

Mattin looked away, not wanting to see her pain. Was that why she acted so distant? “I’m sorry.” He swallowed, facing her again. “So I need to call you,” he braced himself, “Mistress at court?”

“If you don’t, it’s a slap in the face.” Parlen put in, “Lady and lord are for nobles you aren’t bound to. Call the Mistress ‘Lady’ at court, and you announce to the world that she has no authority over you.”

Mattin barely kept from wincing. Each time he did it, he was also rejecting her.

Jahlene nodded, oblivious to his thoughts. “Unfortunately, she’s right. At best, I would be shamed before the other nobles and my position damaged. At worst, the Emperor might decide to take offense.”

“Forcing yourself to say it won’t work, though. Not really.” Brit rubbed his nose as he spoke, “It’s too obvious that it’s forced. Which at court is a sign the slave hasn’t been properly trained and would also shame the Mistress.”

Mattin clenched his hands, “What if… Court is two months away. If I start … by the time we go, it will be a habit.” He swallowed and looked up at the lady. “I don’t want to—” don’t want to hurt you, he couldn’t make himself say.

“I would rather not feel your resentment and despair grow stronger every time you speak with me.” The tart amusement in her words didn’t match the shuttered look in her eyes. “They are heavy enough now,”

Mattin did wince this time. “Lady, I…”

Jahlene shook her head, “It is who you are, Mattin Brenson, and you told me as much when you took my collar. Now we cope.” She stretched her mouth into a feeble copy of her bright grins, “I know you don’t mean to hurt me, Mattin. We will find a way through this.” Mattin managed to return her smile, though he suspected his was as weak as hers.

Parlen groaned and rubbed at her skirts, “You are all being ridiculous.”

Jahlene ignored Parlen and returned to the politics of the situation. “Older protocols exist. I had planned to ask Cook for his thoughts in a week or so.”

“Cook?” Mattin blinked.

“He grew up in court; his father was on the Emperor’s council.”

“Oh.” The idea of the plain-spoken half-fae growing up in the center of the Empire’s politics made his head hurt.

They sat in silence. Parlen seemed to be sulking, Brit thoughtful. Mattin didn’t even try to figure out Jahlene’s mood. She was usually free with her feelings, but often it seemed what he saw was only the surface of a deep pool. That sorrow…

Jahlene broke the moment, “Enough for now. Mattin, go lay out my things for the night. And try not to worry. We have two months to figure this out.”

Mattin stood and bowed, “Yes… Lady.” When he gathered up the tea things, Brit stopped him.

“Leave it. I can bring it down later.”

So Mattin left the tea, with a wince of sympathy for Cook, and went to get the lady’s bath ready.

The Bargain (S2, E2)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending


Mattin spent the first few days of the following week running errands and occasionally taking notes on the lady’s meetings. The fourth afternoon, the lady ordered him to accompany her in the glamourhame.

Jaffrey met them there. The stablehand winked at Mattin and bowed to the lady, an eager smile on his face. He opened the door for the lady and followed her and Mattin into the room.

Mattin braced himself as they entered. He was careful to look anywhere but at the cross. The cross Crait had been tied to when Mattin whipped him… The memories crowded his mind, filling him with longing and disgust.

He got control of himself and turned his attention to the lady and Jaffrey. Jaffrey had stripped and knelt before Jahlene, hands clasped behind his back.

Jahlene’s face was transformed. Mattin had seen hints of hunger in her eyes since he first met her. For the first time, that hunger was fully revealed. She devoured Jaffrey with her eyes like he was a tasty treat she wanted to swallow whole.

She crouched down before Jaffrey and put a hand on his cheek. The tenderness of the gesture, combined with the naked hunger in the lady’s face, was disturbing… and arousing. Mattin tried to ignore the tightening in his shaft.

“Mattin needs to learn to serve in the glamourhame,” Jahlene said to Jaffrey, “Do you have any problem with his presence?”

Jaffrey glanced over at Mattin and hesitated for a moment. Mattin allowed himself to hope… but Jaffrey shook his head, “No, Mistress.”

Jahlene turned towards Mattin without looking at him. “Pick up Jaffrey’s clothes, then strap him to the rack.”

Mattin nodded, unable to make his voice work. He picked up the clothes and took his time folding them, then put them on an empty spot on the shelves that held the lady’s… tools. When he turned around, Jaffrey had stretched himself out on the rack.

The rack seemed complicated but was rather simple. Closing the pillory board over Jaffrey’s ankles and bolting it in place took only a moment. The cuffs, connected by a one-inch rope to a sturdy crank, encased the entire forearm. Mattin couldn’t look at Jaffrey as he started strapping the first cuff on.

With his free hand, Jaffrey reached over and grabbed Mattin’s arm. “Try and relax. I want this.”

Jaffrey’s face held an eagerness that nearly matched the lady’s hunger. Mattin shuddered and looked away. Jaffrey chuckled. Flushing, Mattin finished fastening the cuffs.

When he was done, he stepped back, keeping his gaze on the floor. Jahlene checked the cuffs and nodded her approval. Mattin’s stomach roiled, and he fought to remain still. He tried to become furniture but couldn’t.

“Fetch me the maiden’s teeth,” he heard Jahlene say.

It took him a minute to remember what she was referring to. The ‘maiden’s teeth’ was a strap of leather as long and wide as his hand that could be buckled into a narrow cuff. Small metal tacks lined the inside. Mattin had been afraid to ask what it was for. He found the device on a shelf with a collection of other, similarly incomprehensible tools. He bowed as he handed it to the lady, using protocol to avoid looking at her.

She took the maiden’s teeth from him and said, “Now turn the crank, five notches.”

The crank turned easily under Mattin’s hand. Five notches took in all the rope’s slack. When he finished, Jaffrey’s arms were stretched taut above his head.

Jaffrey gasped. Mattin looked down and froze. The lady had strapped the maiden’s teeth around Jaffrey’s cock. It sat loosely on him, and Mattin cringed as he realized why. If Jaffrey started to become hard, his shaft would fill the cuff. The tacks would cut into his flesh.

Mattin’s own shaft hardened at the thought. Horrified, he stepped back, bumping into the wall.

“Turn the crank another two notches,” the lady commanded.

Mattin wiped his sweating palms on his pants and took a firm grip on the handle of the craft. Click. The crank didn’t want to turn. With all the slack gone, he was pulling against Jaffrey’s weight. Stretching his body. Click. Jaffrey gasped, and Mattin froze.

Something touched Mattin’s arm.

He jumped. The lady stood beside him. “Wait by the door. I will call when I need you.”

Mattin bowed and backed away.

Later, he never recalled more than bits and pieces. It was surreal and yet the most intense thing he had ever witnessed. The warm glow of the oil lamps reflected off the room’s dark wood paneling, surrounding the lady and Jaffrey in a golden aura. She tightened the rack again, and Jaffrey’s moans filled the room. She played with his nipples, making his shaft harden. Then he’d gasp and pull against his bonds as the maiden’s teeth began to bite.

From across the room, the torture was invisible. The stretch of the rack as the lady released or tightened the crank must have been excruciating. Yet the only visible change was the movement of the crank handle around its circle. The maiden’s teeth looked like a simple piece of leather. Yet as Mattin watched, the lady reached down to fondle Jaffrey’s sack. His shaft jumped, instantly erect, and he cried out in pain.

Mattin swallowed and tried hard to ignore the tightening in his own groin.

The lady played with Jaffrey. Played him, his body an instrument under her hands. She knew exactly how to draw forth the reaction she desired.

Jaffrey’s skin gleamed as sweat beaded and ran down his sides. Sometimes he would cry out or beg. His cries cut through Mattin. Mattin tried to look away, but it was better to watch. To see. To know. Than to listen helplessly and blindly.

After an eternity, Jahlene stopped. She rested a hand on Jaffrey’s cheek and said, “Enough for today, I think, dear one.”

Mattin breathed a sigh of relief. He was shocked to hear Jaffrey’s hoarse plea, “Please, Mistress… not yet…I can take… more…”

Mattin bit his lip, praying that the lady would hold to her decision.

“I don’t think… Come here, Mattin.”

He tensed as she called him over. When he reached her side, she pointed him to the crank. “Release that, but slowly! One notch at a time and pause between them.”

He obeyed, slowly releasing the strain on the ropes—and Jaffrey’s body. As he worked, Jahlene removed the maiden’s teeth. Mattin couldn’t help watching, a cruel fascination driving him. Tiny scratches covered Jaffrey’s shaft, standing out bright red against his dark skin. The lady took his shaft in her hand, and he cried out. “Shall I stop?”

“No! No, please.”

The lady began stroking him. Blood from the scratches smeared Jaffrey’s shaft. He arched against the rack, eyes squeezed shut, mouth gaping in a silent cry.

Mattin tore his eyes away from the tableau and focused on his task. When the ropes lay loose on the table he began unstrapping the cuffs from Jaffrey’s arms. Mattin was unlatching the board holding Jaffrey’s feet when the other man shuddered and cried out.

Then it was over. Jaffrey lay, still stretched out across the rack, covered with sweat and cum and blood. Mattin released the footboard and stepped back, unsure what to do.

“Did Brit show you the after box?” Jahlene asked.

“Yes, Lady.”

“Fetch it for me.”

Relieved to have a task, Mattin went to get the wooden box. While he did that, Jahlene helped Jaffrey to bring his arms down and slowly sit up. With the supplies in the box Jahlene cleaned and cared for Jaffrey’s wounds. Mattin, following Brit’s training, cleaned and reset the rack.

Mattin focused on his work so he wouldn’t think. The room was scented with bodily fluids, overwhelming the usual scent of lamp oil and wood polish. When he finished tending to the rack, the maiden’s teeth had to be taken down to the laundress to be cleaned.

When he returned, he found Jahlene sitting in the room’s sole chair. Jaffrey knelt beside her, his head on her lap. Her hand stroked his hair. Tears, glinting in the lamp light, trickled down his cheeks.

“Go take a break, Mattin,” she told him, “or see if Cook could use a hand.”

He fled the room. But not without looking back.

~~~

That night, Mattin dreamed he was on the cross as Crait had been, the flogger laying lines of fire across his back. He looked down as a mouth closed on his erect shaft, and Jahlene grinned up at him.

He stood again at the head of the rack, tightening the crank to take up the extra rope. It was not Jaffrey who lay, bound and naked, but his sister, Marta. And Lord Oeloff stood beside him, gloating.

The Bargain (S2, E1)

(I made a mistake, so early post y’all. Enjoy!)

Welcome back! We left Mattin a bit shaken but ready for forge on. Let’s see what trouble he and Jahlene can make for themselves this season.

*Glances as content notes*

Yeah. This season is a humdinger.

If you missed it (or just need a refresher), you can read Season 1 here.

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending

Mattin Brenson had been a slave to Countess Jahlene for less than a month when he began to serve her directly. He had barely a week of training before Brit directed him to report to the lady. Mattin would assist her in the evenings, from dinner until she went to bed. Brit would still be in charge of his training during the day.

Before reporting to the lady, Mattin cleaned up and stopped in the kitchen to grab an early dinner. He hadn’t been to the kitchen in nearly a week, and when he breathed in the herb-scented air, he immediately relaxed.

Cook greeted him with a smile and a pastry. “Sit, eat. I hear rumors everywhere, but no news. Tell me everything.”

Mattin laughed and filled Cook in on what he had been doing between bites of meat pie. He tried to make light of what happened the day before — when Brit had brought him to the lady’s ‘glamourhame’ and made him whip his friend, Crait. Brit had wanted him to see that Crait enjoyed the pain — which Crait very clearly had, but…

“It bothers you. And you didn’t tell Brit or Jahlene. That’s not good, lad.”

“What difference does it make?” Mattin hunched in his shoulders and focused on his food. “I need to do what they tell me whether I like it or not.” They sat in silence while Mattin’s thoughts went round in circles. Finally, he burst. “Bloody Mare, I came here expecting to spend the rest of my life as a whipping boy for the fae. So why is it… why is it…”

Cook checked the meat on the spit and told Toerff to turn it a bit slower. “Why is it so hard? Maybe because what you thought you could endure from someone you hated is harder to take from someone you like. Harder to understand why someone who likes you would do it.”

Mattin grimaced but couldn’t disagree.

“And maybe—just maybe—it’s hard to understand why you find it intriguing.”

Mattin’s head shot up, and he glared at Cook. “I’m not—”

“You need to talk to Brit,” Cook said, for once rolling right over him. “You need to talk to Brit, and you need to take a good hard look at what you are feeling before you get yourself in trouble.”

“I can’t. You’re wrong.” He had to be wrong. Didn’t he?

“Lad…” Cook sighed and started pulling vegetables from roasting in the coals. “If you can’t forget what you know and learn something new, you’re going to get hurt.”

Mattin shook his head and focused on his food.

~~~~

Mattin reported to Lady Jahlene’s office before the dinner bell. He bowed as he entered, and she gestured for him to take a position behind her desk. Falling into the habit of standing—of being furniture—again was a relief.

An undercook arrived with a tray of dinner. The lady began clearing her desk. She didn’t give Mattin any instruction, so he watched. She ate quickly, neatly, and silently. When she was done, she reached for a bellpull behind her desk. A few minutes later, a maid arrived and took the tray away. He wished he knew what (if anything) he was supposed to be doing…

~~~

Jahlene was intensely aware of Mattin standing at her shoulder. It was damned awkward. The last time she’d had anyone acting as an assistant, it was Brit. She never had to tell Brit to do anything. Half the time, he’d take care of it before she thought to ask. Which made sense—the man had practically raised her—but didn’t help with the strange man standing behind her.

She spent half of dinner deciding how to handle the situation and wondering why she didn’t anticipate it. When Berta took the dinner tray she thought she was ready.

Moving over to the couch in her reading nook, she gestured to the chairs and floor, “Sit, try to be comfortable.”

After a moment, he settled himself on the edge of an armchair.

“Did Brit explain anything of what you will be doing?”

“Ah… no, Lady.” He paused a moment, then added, “He… doesn’t explain much of anything.”

Jahlene rolled her eyes. “Never does.” Damn the man. “The short version is you’ll be following me, doing what you can to make my day easier. That could be running around the manor rounding up people I need to talk with. It might mean laying out clothes for a formal dinner. What I’ve been doing, as you saw, is pulling someone from another part of the manor away from their usual duties whenever I need something.”

She stopped and waited to see how he’d respond. “That sounds… disruptive, Lady.”

She circled a hand over her head, “Everywhere. Mostly for Housekeeper, but yes. And you don’t have to say ‘Lady’ every time you speak.”

“Yes, L—ah…” A blush spread across his face, and his throat bobbed as he swallowed. She grinned.

“I’ve got a few more letters to deal with before I can quit for the day. Go find Brit and Parlen: tell them to entertain themselves this evening. We’ll save the strategy session for tomorrow, then find Housekeeper. Ask her to have Berta show you around my rooms, how to get my bath drawn and all.”

He bowed and left. Jahlene enjoyed the view as he walked away, then returned to her desk and started on her next letter.

~~~

A week later, Mattin showed up at Jahlene’s door with a dinner tray. He carried the tray to a table by her couch and arranged the food for her.

Grinning, Jahlene got up and walked over to the couch, shaking a finger at him. “You are going to go too far one day.”

His smile was a bit sheepish, but he didn’t back down. “You told me to use my own judgment if you hadn’t given instruction, Lady. My judgment is you need a break.”

Jahlene shook her head and sat down to eat. While she ate, Mattin straightened her desk. The evening continued in a pattern that had almost become routine. Mattin carried messages for her, making arrangements for the night and the morning.

The next day, Mattin started coming to her quarters in mid-afternoon. They developed an interesting relationship. Mattin, once he was comfortable, slipped easily into the relaxed informality she preferred. But only so long as he was able to forget. If anything reminded him of his collar, his sister, or her pleasures, he would withdraw into quiet invisibility.

Jahlene wasn’t sure what to make of it.

The Bargain (S1, Season Finale)

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

Two days later, Brit buried his own doubts and took Mattin into Jahlene’s glamourhame for the first time.

Mattin held to the many assurances he’d been given: the lady didn’t take anyone as a toy unless they wanted her to. But this once, he wished Brit would tell him what to expect. Why did he have any reason to be in the glamourhame at all?

But Brit didn’t offer any explanations, and Mattin wasn’t willing to ask.

The scents of wood, leather, and oil permeated the windowless room. But something else in the air set him on edge—even more on edge.

The walls were paneled in the same dark wood as the rest of the manor. Oil lamps, polished to a high shine, hung near the ceiling. Shelves covered one wall. They held…implements, many of which Mattin didn’t recognize and didn’t want to. The room was large, with a wide-open center area and a half dozen pieces of…furniture along the walls. A pair of shackles were bolted to the center of the floor. A chain hung from the ceiling above them. Mattin shuddered. His imagination painted vivid images of what would happen to someone hauled up there.

Someone cleared their throat behind him. He’d stopped in the doorway without realizing it. Crait stood behind him. Mattin hurried to move out of the man’s way—which, of course, put him inside the glamourhame.

Crait gave him a nod before turning to Brit. “You wanted me, sir?”

“The boy needs a demonstration. Is your wife off duty tonight?”

The floor dropped out from under Mattin. Demonstration? Crait’s face split into a huge grin. “Yes, sir!” The big man closed the door to the glamourhame and began stripping off his clothing.

“Good,” Brit said. “On the cross with you.”

Mattin stared. Crait, now naked, walked up to a large wooden X set in one corner and stretched himself out across it.

Brit walked over to one of the shelves and picked up a many-tailed whip. He then walked over to the X, waving for Mattin to join him. Mattin forced himself to walk across the room. Brit handed him the… “This is a flogger. Crait has a liking for them.”

Mattin stared at him, eyes wide and jaw loose. “You—you want me to…”

“You will spend time assisting the mistress in the glamourhame at court. You can’t avoid it. So get used to it now.”

Mattin eyed at the flogger in his hand, then looked at Crait. The man’s back was a mass of scars. He swallowed.

“Now, boy. Prove to both of us the glamourhame won’t break you or stop wasting my time.”

Mattin took a breath. He could do this. He didn’t want to, but he could. For Marta, he could do anything. He stepped forward and raised the flogger.

He swung it gently, afraid to hurt the man. Brit snorted. Crait muttered, “I know a four-year-old who hits better.”

Mattin gritted his teeth and took a firmer grip on the flogger.

The next hit made Crait jump, but when he didn’t cry out, Mattin raised the flogger again.

He tried to divorce himself from what he was doing. To forget he was hitting—beating—a living man. A friend. It made him sick, but he had to continue.

The flogger was heavy in his hand. After a few minutes, he found a good rhythm. Crait held himself on the cross. He could get down at any time. He didn’t. Instead, he clung, knuckles turning white on the handles, as his back turned red from the flogger.

Somehow, realizing he chose to stay there gave Mattin the detachment he needed. He focused on the feel of swinging his arm. The shift in his weight. The satisfaction of action after long hours behind a desk.

He was breathing hard now—sweating—but Crait just stood there. The room was silent except for the swish and thud of the flogger. Mattin found himself gritting his teeth. What was the point of hitting a man if he didn’t feel anything? Why, by the Mare, should he put himself through this if Crait didn’t even notice?

He swung harder. Crait grunted as the blow landed. It ripped something open in Mattin. The anger he had been pushing aside swamped him—at Oeloff, at himself, at Brit and the whole world. Mattin growled. Fear, desperation, shame: he poured them all out onto Crait’s back. He emptied himself of everything—everything except exhaustion. Without the focus of emotion, he felt the soreness in his arm—the ache in his heart.

“Enough,” Brit said.

Mattin’s arm fell. He found himself staring at Crait’s back. It was a very nice shade of red…

Mattin dropped the flogger like it was a snake. He turned away from Crait—couldn’t face what he’d done. Crait was—had been—his friend. He had been burning with anger and frustration for weeks. Now they were gone. He’d taken them all out on the man in front of him.

Crait hung in on the cross, panting. Brit helped him down. As Crait turned around, Mattin forced himself to face the man he’d beaten…

And was startled—shocked—to see Crait’s face split by a huge grin and his shaft erect.

Crait held out a hand to Mattin, who took it limply. “My thanks,” he said, “You have a good arm.”

“Ah… you’re welcome?” Mattin shook his head, trying to restart his thoughts.

“You gonna need any care?” Brit asked.

“Nothing m’wife can’t provide.”

“Good.”

After a moment, Crait shook himself off, bowed to Brit, and walked out the door.

Brit chuckled. “I wish I could get a painting of your face.”

“I… White Mare’s Blood! What…?”

“A lot of us have learned to enjoy a good beating, but Crait is the one man I know who can’t raise the standard without one. His wife will be thanking you tomorrow.”

Mattin’s mouth gaped.

“Welcome to a whole new world, boy.” Brit chuckled.

“I liked my old world better.”

The image of Crait’s grinning face, the thwack of the flogger landing, the joy and disgust, all mixed in his stomach. He swallowed hard.

Brit sobered and put a hand on Mattin’s shoulder. “I’d make it easier for you if I knew how.”

Mattin closed his eyes and tried to focus on the warmth of Brit’s hand. On being in the moment. “Yes, sir. Will… that… be required of me often?”

“No. If you weren’t going to court, you wouldn’t be here now. And I would have been the one with the flogger today if I thought watching would have gotten through to you.”

Much as he wanted to deny it, Mattin understood what Brit meant. If he had watched Brit with the flogger, he would have been focused on Brit, not Crait. Wouldn’t have seen Crait’s reaction. Wouldn’t have understood how much the “toy” enjoyed the game—but how could he?

“I don’t…why would any human do this?” Mattin’s stomach twisted, “It’s horrible.”

“For you, maybe.” Brit shrugged. “Not for Crait. Not for others.”

Mattin wanted to object—but he’d seen Crait’s reaction with his own eyes. And some part of him wondered—

An image flashed in his mind’s eye—Marta on a cross being beaten by Oeloff. He wanted to yell out—to deny—but he couldn’t. And he had gotten some form of pleasure from doing the same thing.

Brit would make excuses for him, the same way the older man made excuses for the lady, his beloved mistress. But it was all the same. That Crait, for some twisted reason, enjoyed the pain didn’t change anything. Right?


I wonder if Mattin and Jahlene’s language has a saying similar to ours about a certain river in Egypt… Ah well, Mattin will work through his issues in his own time. Or not.

In the meantime, we are returning to the world of Ma’evoto/Ameohne’e and all the rest of the troperific fun:

They are a plucky band of rebels, fighting against a tyrant who overthrew the rightful government and is supported by an army of monsters. The only problem?

They think they’re the good guys.

They are family, grandmother and granddaughter. Students of Kabbalah in a world where someone could really create the Golem of Prague. They are done sitting back while injustice takes place around them. The only problem?

They’re on opposite sides.

They’re just a kid, trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in this crazy world their mother just took over. And their new mentor is trying to kill their mother. The only problem?

Everything!

They are coming to usher humanity into a new galactic society. They have the best of intentions, amazing technology to sell us, and know exactly what will fix all our problems. The only problem?

If someone doesn’t stop them, they are going to destroy the world.

She has a prophecy foretelling her success, a dragon sidekick, and plans for the biggest battle station ever built. She’s going to save the world. The only problem?

She’s the bad guy.

See you next week!

Return to:
The Bargain (S1, E1)

Continue to:
Webserial Catalog
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E1)

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, E10)

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

Mattin was never sure how he got through his second day of training. Exhaustion weighed him down, and his body was sore from standing. Again, he spent the entire day behind Brit’s shoulder, trying not to move. It wasn’t long before he felt like a piece of furniture.

He soon lost track of how often Brit corrected him throughout the morning. But the steward didn’t get annoyed or upset. By mid-afternoon, getting screamed at would have been a relief from the unending calm and controlled corrections.

The third day passed the same as the first two. And the fourth. Mattin stood in one place for hours. Sometimes he knelt. Rarely, Brit permitted him to sit. Always while remaining still and silent.

Except for correcting his posture or sending him for lunch, Brit acted like he didn’t exist. Sometimes he followed Brit to a different part of the manor. He pretended to be invisible while Brit dealt with inventory or ate in the dining room. Once in a while, he broke away from his frustration and resentment to wonder if this “training” had any point.

He didn’t ask. He said nothing to Brit except for the occasional “Yes, sir.”

When Brit sent him to fetch food from the kitchen, Cook gave him advice. More often, he was on his own.

On the fifth day, everything changed. Or rather, he changed, and that changed everything.

***

He knelt, holding the tray while Brit ate. For the hundredth time, the thought came that Brit treated him as a piece of furniture. A living table.

The long days had worn the resentment from the thought. By habit, the next thought in the refrain followed. I don’t want to be a piece of furniture. What I want doesn’t matter. I’m just a table.

Without the resentment, the familiar thoughts took on a new meaning. I’m a table. What I want doesn’t matter. A table doesn’t want. A table isn’t bored. A table isn’t afraid. Or in pain. A table… is.

The idea was strangely freeing. Nothing mattered to a table. Nothing but holding the tray. If Mattin was just a table, he only needed to hold the tray. He could let go.

Worries about Marta, fears for his future, sore knees, tired arms… it stopped. He was a table; he held a tray. Nothing else was his concern. He would have laughed aloud, but tables don’t laugh.

He held the tray.

***

The revelation stayed with him the rest of the day. Whether he stood in the corner being a post or became a fence rail in the yard. At night, lying in bed, he worried. Worried for Marta, trapped for three months as Oeloff’s slave. It was too long. He could hurt her—even kill her—long before they had a chance to save her. It was also too short—far too short for him to learn everything he needed. He could be a table, but the lady needed much more. He didn’t have time to learn everything.

Eventually, he fell asleep. Worries and all.

In the morning, becoming furniture again was a relief. Brit didn’t say anything, but when his gaze crossed Mattin’s, he would drop an eyelid in something that wasn’t quite a wink. Or his eyes would crinkle in a hidden smile.

That afternoon, he gave Mattin other jobs—other furniture to be. He followed Brit to the stables and became a hitching post. A storm broke, and Brit placed him in the front hall with a pile of towels: he became a shelf. He was a lamp holder in a storeroom while Brit counted the stores.

Sometimes his worries tried to come back. Or his arms or back would ache. But he held to being furniture. As long as he was a piece of furniture, nothing touched him. He was free.

The next day was more of the same. At least until dinnertime.

***

Right before the dinner bell, Brit began clearing the work off his desk. He directed Mattin to some of the papers away. After so long holding still, moving around was strange, awkward. When the desk was clear Brit sent Mattin down to the kitchen. This time, he said, “Bring back food for both of us.”

Cook was surprised to see him before the bell, but he didn’t have time to quiz Mattin. Just threw some food on a tray and sent him back. Mattin was relieved—he had no idea what he would have said.

When he got back to Brit’s office, he found a chair in front of the desk. Brit took the tray from him and put it on the desk. He stood, not sure what to do. “Sit down and eat, boy. My legs get tired watching you.”

Mattin settled himself into the chair. His thoughts chased themselves around his head… he was a person again. He put his hands in his lap, then rested them on the arms of the chair, pulled at the collar. Brit handed him a hunk of bread and butter. He took it. Watched Brit as the older man sat down and started eating. Once Brit was absorbed in his food, Mattin took a bite of the bread.

“You did well. Better than I expected. If you can hold onto whatever you found a few days ago, we might have you fit for court in three months.”

Mattin warmed at the praise. He reached for the second mug of cider and took a long drink. “Is… is being furniture so important?”

Brit coughed and sputtered, beer spraying out his nose. “Furniture?”

Mattin handed him a napkin. “Is… isn’t that what I was? A table, or a post, or… or something else.” A quick sip of tea helped a mouth gone dry.

“Hah!” Brit barked, “Furniture! I’ll remember that one.”

“I don’t understand. If I wasn’t being furniture, what was this? And why?”

“Furniture.” Brit snorted. “That’s actually a good description for how humans are treated at court. As for why: Stand up.” Mattin stood. “Now, look at yourself.”

At first, Mattin didn’t understand—he was standing. His hands clasped in front of him, weight balanced, chin…

“Kneel.”

He dropped to the floor. Back straight, knees apart, hands on his thighs…

“Hold this.” Brit handed him a plate. Mattin held it up. At the perfect height for Brit to reach. “Five days, and you don’t even think about it. Your body knows.”

The room spun around him. Mattin got to his feet.

His hands clasped themselves.

“I…” His breath caught. Knees just so. Pain gripped his chest. He tried to slouch. For a moment, his body didn’t remember how. Mattin swallowed hard. “You trained me like a dog.” The words slipped out almost unnoticed.

Brit snorted and took the plate from him. “Sit down and eat. I taught you part of what you need to have a chance of saving your sister. And to keep your bargain with the mistress.”

Mattin’s throat tightened. He tried to speak. He tried to breathe.

“Bloody Mare.” Brit’s hands took his shoulders, pushing him into the chair. A mug pressed against his lips. “Drink.” Tea, lukewarm, spilled into his mouth. He swallowed. Gasped. Coughed. The physical shock snapped him back to himself. He felt wetness on his face.

He stared around the room, hands reaching for… something.

Brit was in front of him, took his hands, rubbing warmth back into them. Mattin clung to the other man as if his life depended on it. Why did he feel so lost?

“It changes you,” Brit said, “You thought it would be like the stories—beatings and torture and cages. You’re tough. You can take it.”

Mattin shook his head. He wouldn’t change. He couldn’t… It was standing. That was all. Just standing.

“But it’s not like that, is it?”

“No.” Mattin whispered, “I thought… I thought…”

“You’d bargain your freedom but keep yourself?” Brit pulled a hand free and passed him a napkin to wipe his face. “The mistress demands all of us, boy. We become what she needs for her purpose.”

Mattin felt drained. Empty. He wanted to insist he was his own person, that he wouldn’t be shaped into someone else. But it wasn’t just standing. It was part of who he was. How much had Brit changed him in five days? How much would he be changed before Brit and the lady were satisfied?

“What is her purpose?” he rasped.

“Survival.”


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The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E9)

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The Bargain (S1, E11)

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.

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The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E8)

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The Bargain (S1, E10)

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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