Bound by His Oath, Episode 6

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

The lord’s quarters were smaller than those of a proper castle. But what the modernized burg lacked in size, it more than made up for in comfort. Or at least that’s how it seemed to Reimund as he sat on the first bed he had seen in weeks.

The rooms had been cleaned recently, and the warrior had shown him the respect due to a lord.

Somehow, Reimund had not expected that. Had expected to return to the dungeon. It seemed the lady was correct about one thing – when she was ready, she moved like a lightning strike – leaving those in range stunned senseless and the landscape overturned.

He moved through the pair of rooms, feeling as if he was in a dream. It took another moment for him to notice the next shock the lady had left for him —

His things were here. Even his armor and weapons. Had she been that confident of his decision?

No. If he hadn’t given Lady Mildthryth the answer she wanted, he would have been returned to the dungeon and never known this. The ‘endless’ discussion was not wasted time. It was the preparation that made the lightning strike possible. And she would have prepared for either answer from him.

No, he wouldn’t have returned to the dungeon if he gave the wrong answer. He shuddered. Ruthless as she was, somewhere convenient there was a noose and a place to drop him from. She was ready to be done with her problem, one way or another. So done the lady would be.

The clothespress, when he opened it, held the few changes of clothing he had traveled with. Clean, and in at least one case, mended.

A knock at the door startled him out of his shock. “Come in,” he called, expecting one of the guards and still surprised they bothered to knock.

Instead, it was a woman, somewhat older than Mildthryth and well dressed, but not noble. She bowed briefly. “Milord. I am Wulfrun. I have been housekeeper here since before Lady Mildthryth’s father died. I came to introduce myself and make sure you have everything you need. The kitchen will be sending up a hot meal soon, and I thought perhaps a bath?”

A bath! Just the thought of it had his skin itching under the layers of dirt and sweat. “Yes, a bath would be good. Thank you, Wulfrun.”

“Of course, milord.” She seemed to hesitate a moment. “No disrespect milord, but we do hear that Norns do things differently – there’s a speaking tube in the corner that connects to the kitchen.”

“A speaking tube?” Reimund blinked and looked where the woman pointed. There was a tube of copper coming up out of the floor…

“Yes, milord. Just lift the lid and they’ll hear you in the kitchen. When you need anything, call down and someone will be up. There is another speaking tube in Lady Mildthryth’s quarters.”

“I see.”

“Is there anything else you need now, milord?”

Reimund blinked. There was something odd about her manner. She was more forward than he would have expected, but that might be Anglish custom. Their lady certainly wasn’t afraid to speak the unthinkable!

“I need to speak with my– with the knights who came with me. Can you arrange that?”

“Of course, milord. I understand Wigmar was to tell those in the barracks that you and milady have come to terms. I expect your knights will be seeking you out soon, but I’ll just make sure of it.”

Those in the barracks… “Please make sure that Wigmar sends Sir John to me as well.”

“Yes, milord.” Her eyes widened and her voice was full of curiosity. Apparently, John’s… indisposure was not widely known.

“Thank you.” She bowed and turned to leave.

And he realized why she had seemed nervous. “Actually, one last thing.” She stopped and turned back. This time he could see her fists clenching in her skirts. “Lady Mildthryth has obviously been happy with how her home was managed. I don’t expect I’ll be making any changes.”

Relief swept through her, clear in her sudden relaxation. She doesn’t know, he thought with sudden bitterness, that I had no power to change anything. All she knows is a new lord can set her out or overturn everything she did here.

“Thank you, milord.”

He couldn’t bring himself to speak past that bitterness, so he nodded and turned away. The door opened and closed behind him.

Mildthryth was still on the walk when Wulfrun, came looking for her sometime later. “Milord is settled, lady, and asked to speak to his knights.”

“Good. His folk?”

“As you suggested, most of them should do well enough in the barracks. It’ll need some cleaning and such, but it’ll be a relief for the girls to have something to turn their hands to other than endless weaving.”

Mildthryth snorted. She, too, would be happy to not see a loom for the next year or two.

“I wasn’t sure about the knights. We can put them together in the old reeves’ quarters.”

Prior to the conquest, Eorls like Mildryth’s father had overseen a hundred or more reeves, each responsible for a hundred families. They managed day-to-day administration of the Eorl’s region while the Eorls managed defense and collected the king’s taxes. Mildryth’s father had kept a room set aside to host the reeves who came to deliver their hundred’s taxes and report on any needs those families had. The Conqueror had gradually overturned the old ways, and the room had sat empty the last few years.

But as a gesture of trust, that room was off the same section of hall as the lord’s and lady’s quarters. Mildthryth and Wulfrun exchanged a glance and both grimaced.

“Otherwise I’m not sure we have anything available that would be considered suitable for their rank,” Wulfrun finished.

Mildthryth sighed. “For now, they can continue to stay in the barracks. We may need to rearrange how we handle rooming, but that is not something to be done without planning.”

Wulfrun smiled and squeezed her shoulder. “Of course, Mildthryth. Just as well, perhaps. With the reeves’ room so little used I fear it has developed some mildewing.”

“Well, we cannot insult the good knights with such poorly maintained quarters,” Mildthryth smiled back.

He was surprised that John arrived first. He would have expected Wigmar to push the limits of the soon-to-be lord’s command and leave John in the dungeon as long as possible. His arms, though, were still bound behind him.

Reimund found he couldn’t blame the Anglish – injured and half-blind as he was, John was tense and ready for a fight.

That was so… John.

“Stand down, Sir John,” he said. Then to the Anglish, “Release him.”

Wigmar immediately began untying John’s bonds, saying, “He’s your problem now, milord. If he becomes my problem again,” Wigmar looked up and met Reimund’s eyes with a death glare, “then I’ll take his head and be done with it.”

He finished pulling the ties off John without looking away. “You’re the best of a bad lot, milord, and so I told her. But never you forget that she is our lady.”

John, for a wonder, had the sense to keep his mouth shut.

“I understand,” Reimund answered the Anglish warrior. Wigmar nodded and left the room, leaving Reimund and John alone.

Reimund led John to the room’s one chair and made him sit. “What the hell were you thinking, John? I can’t believe that hard bastard didn’t kill you for putting hands on Lady Mildthryth.”

“He wanted to. She wouldn’t let him. She said… I’m sorry Reimund. Thought I’d gotten you killed breaking parole. But she was going to kill you anyway. Asked if I’d be willing to swear service to her after she killed you.”

“Damn it, John! You could have gotten everyone else killed…” Reimund caught himself and sighed. “Could have but didn’t. You, my impulsive, loyal, friend, may have been the saving of us.”

John gaped and Reimund found himself laughing. Somewhat hysterically.

“The lady gave me her terms, John. Terms for a marriage contract.”

Reimund’s laughter died completely at the memory of what those terms were.

John’s mouth dropped further. Stunned to silence for the first time since Reimund had known him. The lightning strike was still reverberating, it seemed.

“She is in a position to set terms as she pleases, and knows it. Her man – that one who just promised to take your head if you threaten his lady again – will continue to lead the warriors and training here.”

He waited until John picked his chin up and nodded. “There’s more, some that I’ll want to discuss with all of you, some that is… between she and I.”

John licked his swollen lips. “You trust her, Reimund? Granted, I don’t see how she could turn on you once she’s your wife, but… could she be playing you somehow? Promising you marriage to keep the King off her back while in practice keeping you a prisoner? She still rules until after the wedding.”

If only John knew – she had no reason to play him like that when he had given her his word. “No, John. I know your eyes are swollen shut, but you should be able to see something. These are the lord’s quarters. The housekeeper has already been by to make sure I’m not going to replace her. That’s my sword and halberd over there – moved here even before the lady gave me her terms.

“I don’t blame you for being suspicious. But Lady Mildthryth doesn’t need to play games with me. She already won that game. But it’s the king she’s really been playing against, and there she knows she can’t win. She’s told me as much. So she’ll risk giving me her wedding oath and hold what she can, rather than wait for the king to sweep her off the board.”

Wedding oath. Something about that…

Even with his swollen lip, John managed to grin. “So be it, then. I won’t be happy serving under that Anglish bastard, mind. But nothing would please me more than to see you take your proper rank–however it came to you–and to serve you as my lord.”

He slipped off the chair and onto his knees. “My lord, I am your man, heart and mind and blade. What do you wish of me?”

As he spoke, the door opened, and Damian and Hereweald entered – looking as stunned as John had a few moments earlier.

Reimund ignored them to rest a hand on John’s head, surprised and touched by the ancient oath he realized now he had never truly expected to hear.

“Rise Sir John, and go tell the armsmen they will soon have a new lady.”

“Yes, my lord,” John stood and limped past Damian and Hereweald to the door – still grinning

“And John? If you so much as raise a hand to my lady again I will string you up myself.”

John bowed, deeply. “I understand.”

Reimund turned to Damian and Hereweald, to answer the questions that were lurking in their eyes.

For John’s sake, and all his men, he would continue to kneel to Lady Mildthryth and wed her knowing he’d be all but cuckolding himself. Somehow he would endure. Wed her…

Wedding oath… as his wife, she would vow to obey him. Would that not supersede his word to her? Relief filled him, tinged with shame. It was not an honorable thing he contemplated. But right now he would happily live with that slight dishonor. And he allowed himself to grin as well as he waved his brothers-in-spirit over to explain to them what was happening.


So Reimund has a plan… How do you think that’s going to go for him?

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Bound by His Oath, Ep 5

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Bound by His Oath, Ep 7

Bound by his Oath, Episode 5

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

Reimund was roused from sleep by the sound of keys rattling outside his cell door. A few moments later, the door opened and the same warrior gestured for him to come. He obeyed but froze at the sight that greeted him. “John!”

John sagged in the warrior’s grip. Blood dripped down his face and tunic from a broken nose, both his eyes were blackened, his arms were bruised and bound behind him, he was favoring his right hip…

The warrior shook his head when Reimund reached for his knight, and reluctantly, Reimund fell back.

“I’m sorry, Reimund,” John mumbled around a swollen lip. “I…” The warrior shoved him into the cell, and he landed hard, crying out.

“It’ll be alright, John,” Reimund made himself say as the warrior closed the cell door. “It’ll be alright.

Then he turned and followed the battered old man, heart heavy and lost in darkness.

Once more the warrior escorted him up onto the tower walk. Lady Mildthryth waited there, the shoulder of her tunic torn and fresh blood on her sleeve. Damn it, John!

He sank to his knees, not caring in this moment how he shamed himself. “My lady, I beg you–”

“Stand up, Sir Reimund.” She cut him off. “You are not here to discuss your oh-so-loyal knight.”

He obeyed silently.

After a moment she sniffed and turned to look out over the mountains. “I would dislike hanging you and your men from my walls, Sir Reimund. It would be wasteful, and I prefer not to offend the Ancestors. But continuing to feed you and your men to no purpose would be more wasteful, especially when, for some reason, our food stores will be lower than expected this year.”

He took a grip on his temper. This was nothing he did not know. “Is it the Anglish way to talk endlessly about possibilities and never take action? If so, no wonder we conquered you so easily.”

She laughed, but it was a heavy sound, full of bitterness. He wondered what her true laughter sounded like. “No. My mother would say it is the Dragma way to talk endlessly about possibilities and then strike like lightning when the time is right.” She spun to face him, and there was something in her movements, in her face, that frightened him. He had seen men look so before they rode into a battle where they expected to die.

“I have a proposal for you, Sir Reimund. I doubt it will be to your liking, but you might find it has its merits.”

“I am, of course, at your service, Lady Mildthryth.” He said, choosing his words like his footing over those damnable rocks.

To his surprise, she laughed again. “Yes, precisely.” She took a deep breath, and Reimund braced himself for her charge. “You will take oath as my liegeman.”

She spoke softly, so only he could hear her. But the words landed like a blade through his guts. He snarled, unable, in that moment of shock, to control himself. “You dare…”

The guard stepped forward, but she held up her hand, stopping him.

“I suggest you control yourself, sirrah.”

Reimund forced himself to step back, to uncurl his firsts. “If you were a man, I’d challenge you for such an insult.”

She looked at him for a moment as if he had two heads, then shrugged, “If I understand you Norns, if I were a man, it wouldn’t be an insult.” She gestured out to the distant woods. “You have built your ship, invader. You may live with it or die in it.

“Your man was ready to die for you. Will you have the courage to live for him?”

She waited, but he said nothing. “For the time being, I would keep this oath private. None shall know of this except we two. Once you have given your oath, I will wed you, making you lord of Oak Haven. You will rule all here. I will rule you.”

Only the iron control he was holding prevent him from reacting to that second shock. It took him a moment to understand, but when he did was near as shocked by the woman’s cunning and ruthlessness.

In one stroke she satisfied the king, kept her freedom and power, and turned a burden—he and his men—into an asset. He himself got almost everything he had come here for.

But to get it, he would need to become what many would consider only half a man. Ruled, shamefully, by his wife, with no power over her or her actions. Some might say that death would be better.

She examined him as he did her, her face displaying a range of emotion, flickering between hope, fear, need, and what might have been… desire?

He didn’t think she intended insult. She had almost seemed surprised that he was insulted. No, she had found a solution to her problem, and if the solution was such that had another warrior even hinted at such a thing he would have called them out, what was it to her? She had her honor and her duty, and the honor of a prisoner who had sought to conquer her was not her concern.

But, oh, how he burned at the thought of it. To unman himself and bend knee to a woman — to his wife, no less!

He had already knelt to her though, to beg for John. Would this be any different?

Well, yes. There is a difference between a momentary shame and an endless one. But… “Sir John?”

“Consider him my betrothal gift, and deal with him as you will.” Her laugh had a breathless quality now, and he realized that he had been right before – she felt she was throwing herself off a cliff just as much as he did. “It was his loyalty to you that convinced me to trust you with this… chance. Would you rather reward him for that or punish him I wonder?”

Reimund shook his head, not sure himself how to answer that question. Thankfully she didn’t seem to expect one. “The rest of my men–?”

She waved a hand, dismissing his concern. “Will have whatever place here you find for them. I will not see my people displaced, but I believe there is room here for the men who are sworn to you.” Her tone darkened for a moment “Ancestors know we have enough dead whose shoes they can fill.”

He nodded and resisted the urge to lick his lips. Slowly this time, he lowered himself to his knees. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t force out the words of the ancient oath. Finally, he cobbled together something he hoped she would accept. “I will… take you as my liege, Lady Mildthryth. By my word, you shall have my loyalty and obedience for all my life.”

She placed a hand on his bent head and he shuddered at her touch. “It is done then.”

Mildthryth watched Wigmar lead Sir Reimund back into the keep – this time to the lord’s quarters. The risk she was taking terrified her.

Among the Anglish, her plans would be unusual but accepted. The Dragma, if her mother’s tales could be trusted, the idea of him giving his oath would be ludicrous – the difference in their ranks would mean her position would be assumed by all – including her husband!

But the Norns, with their refusal to admit a woman could rule…

She would not be able to treat him as an Anglish husband. Each day she would need to remind him of his subservience lest he forget that she ruled here.

He clearly inspired loyalty, she thought, carefully testing her bruising. Surely a man who knew how to inspire such loyalty knew how to give it? If he was capable of giving it, then her gamble would truly pay off.

But if he was one to swear an oath and then break it for convenience… at best, the holding would be turn apart as her people battled his, leaving them all ripe for plucking by the conqueror. The worst… was not worth considering.


I expect they’ll both have trouble sleeping tonight.

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Bound by His Oath, Ep4

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Bound by His Oath, Ep 6

Bound by his Oath, Episode 3

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

Reimund was, of a blessing, allowed to speak with his retainers briefly. Their wounds had been tended to, and they were locked in a barracks room. He could offer them little hope, but told them not to give in to despair. Then he was led, courteously, to a small cell. It had, surprisingly, a straw stuffed mattress in one corner, as well as the more standard bucket of water, and chamber pot. He made use of the latter two before stretching himself out on the mattress and letting exhaustion pull him into sleep, and away from his own fears.

When he woke, he found food had been shoved into the cell with him. Little more than a round of bread and some wine near to vinegar. He ate it slowly, not knowing when more would come.

Following his own advice was difficult. The sensible thing for the lady to do would be to kill him. With no ransom to be gotten, keeping him prisoner was a useless expense. But his body could be useful, as a warning to others.

So far, Lady Mildthryth had been sensible beyond any woman of his experience. He could only hope that in this she would prove to be woman-soft.

He was fed twice more before the door opened fully and a guard told him to come out.

The guard led him up a winding staircase to a walkway wrapped around a low tower. Lady Mildthryth waited for him there, looking out across the valley.

He bowed briefly. “Lady.”

She said nothing and after moment he stepped over to the low wall next to her. Leather creaked as the guard behind him shifted, but didn’t stop him.

When she spoke, it was in a low voice he had to strain to hear over the winds.

“Tell me, Sir Reimund, If you came here and found the bodies of my prior ‘suitors’ hanging from the walls, would you have turned around and gone home?”

He kept his face blank and thought quickly. The truth would likely insult her and might be seen as self serving. But lying could be laying the path for his own death. With no way of knowing what she sought, he went with simple truth. “No, lady. I would have thought them fools to be bested by a woman and that the reward would be worth the risk.”

“Are you, then, a fool?”

He nodded, “Aye, lady. I underestimated you because of your gender.”

When she said nothing further he asked, “Would you, of your mercy, tell me the reward for my folly?” He tried to keep his tone relaxed, but could clearly hear the strain under it.

“I have not decided.”

Strange how hope and fear could grow so close together.

“You obviously know the conqueror’s edict against me. In my place, what would you do?”

He glanced at her, unable to help himself. She still looked out across the valley, with a serenity he could only envy. What a strange thought to have. What a strange thing to ask a prisoner who had sought to force himself on her.

She was a woman. But a woman who had managed her lands capably for several years, and who had bested several men in battle. Who was being required to wed one of her people’s enemies. Why wouldn’t she wish to refuse any marriage and retain her own power?

“You cannot stand against the king, lady,” he said, feeling his way as he spoke. “He contents himself with having landless younger sons harass you now, but sooner or later if you do not wed he will bring his full might against you. The other Anglish lords will stand aside, they are lucky to hold onto as much of their land and rights as they have.”

“In your place, lady, I would actively seek a husband. One weak willed enough I could bend him to my will and retain power in my own home, but of high enough rank among Nornish nobility to satisfy the king that his word was obeyed.”

Now she turned to look at him.

“Then you are a fool, indeed. A weak husband could not stand against the conqueror or rival lords. He would fritter away my land and destroy my home, leaving nothing of my heritage to pass on to my children.”

“If you were willing to bow to a lord and be rule by him, you would already have done so, lady. You risk your people and lands everyday you don’t. I allowed your serfs and peasants to escape my raids. Others will simply slaughter them so there are none to tend the fields that fill your storehouse, trusting the king’s reward for bringing you to heel to keep them fed over the winter. Your warriors… courage and skill only go so far, lady. Soon they will fail entirely and then what?”

“Yes.”

She signaled the guards and they came to escort him back to the darkness of his cell.

He knew nothing further of what to expect, but he had learned a great deal of Lady Mildthryth. He wished even more now that he had been able to conqueror her. What a fascinating woman.

Mildthryth remained on the tower walk for some time after the prisoner – Reimund – had been led away. He was, if she read him right, not afraid to die. Some part of him even expected it. It was the uncertainty that added strain to his voice. He, like most warriors, would not do well not knowing.

They had no concept of what it was like to live as a woman in their world, knowing every day that your life might change in an instant on the whim of the man who held power over you. Was it any wonder so many of her peers retreated into mindless obsession with fashion and social status? That they closed their eyes and ears to all but their bower and the management of their household? The uncertainty, the powerlessness, if you let yourself think about it, could grind you into nothing.

Mildthryth cursed her father. If he had only done his duty and arranged a marriage for her she would not be in this position. But he was proud and would not see her wed to any of their new, Nornish neighbors.

Yet how could she blame him, when she was just as unwilling now to wed those same neighbors? Nornish men who saw her as little more than a broodmare.

Until the day her father died, he had hoped for a son from one of his mistresses he could bring forward to hold the land after him.

Well, he had no sons. And Mildthryth had no husband, neither strong willed to hold the land nor weak willed to be ruled by her.

And the Nornish conqueror, damn him to the Great Darkness between the stars, would not allow a mere woman to rule lands in her own right.

The last of the smoke from yesterday’s fires had finally dwindled to nothing. She could see in the dwindling light the serfs picking their way through the burnt fields, looking for any hidden remnants of fire.

They would till the field, plowing the ash and char under, and the field would yield even more next year thanks to this year’s destruction.

But if they were to see that growth, they would need to survive until next year.

Wigmar returned and came to stand beside her.

“Are you thinking what I think you are, my lady?”

“Probably.”

“You could do worse, if you don’t mind my saying so. Truth, given your options it might be hard to do better.”

“Aye.” She sighed. “Speak to the fighters for me, Wigmar. Especially Gwen and Helen.”

“No worries there, lady. Gwen and Helen know what’s coming as well as you do. And a lord who can respect your defeating him will treat them a sight better than one who calls you a demon for daring to be better than him.”

“Aye that.” She sighed again. “Speak with them anyway, please. Make sure they know that whatever comes, I will see them taken care of.”

“Of course, my lady.”

“Tomorrow, I will speak with one of his knights. In the chapel.”

“I’ll see to it.”


Mildthryth has a plan. Do you think Reimund will like it?

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Bound by His Oath, Ep 2

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Bound by His Oath, Ep4

Bound by His Oath, Episode 2

Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

Reimund moved among his men. His hands were bound before him, and they’d taken his weapons, but otherwise let him be. None had even asked for his parole. Those of his men would could walk had been gathered here at the edge of the forest, guarded by a handful of warriors.

The remaining ambushers moved carefully across the rocks, gathering dead and wounded alike. More than one of them wore old bandages, and one, a woman or all unnatural things, wore a split. It hadn’t stopped her, weasel quick, from spearing the armsman guarding Reimund’s left mere moments into the battle.

He spoke briefly to each of the men he passed. Several wore rough field dressings, but most still bled from wounds not dangerous enough to need immediate tending.

He found two of his knights, John and Damian near a tree trunk, as far away from the rocks as they could get. “Have you seen Hereweald?”

John shook his head but Damian said, “He took an arrow and went down. He’s out there somewhere… one way or another.”

Reimund looked back over the rocky slope, but saw no sign of his old friend.

“I will offer our parole. See if you can get the men organized. The faster we get the wounded the better.”

“Aye.”

He left them to it, and headed for the nearest of their guards. “I am Sir Reimund Swiđhun, leader of these men. I wish to offer our parole”

The guard looked him up and down, then said, “Follow me.”

The guard led him to where an older warrior with a bandage wrapped around his head was directing the clean up from the battle. “This one says he wants to give parole.” the guard told him, then spat at Reimund’s feet.

The insult was unexpected, but Reimund knew better than to respond. Instead, he offered a minimal bow to the warrior and said, “I am Sir Reimund Swiđhun. I offer our parole so we can help tend the wounded. We won’t seek to escape or fight back until I am able to discuss terms with Lady Mildthryth.”

“And I suppose you want your weapons back.”

Reimund stared. What game did the man think he was playing? “Goodman, I have men there that may be dying. As do you.”

The man actually looked at him this time. “I think you actually mean that.” He held up a hand and Reimund bit back a sharp retort. “More than once now, we’ve had to deal with bastards who thought parole given to us who serve a woman meant nothing. You’re right, Sir Reimund, we both have wounded that need tending. But I can’t risk losing more warriors if I’m wrong about you.”

Reimund nodded. Mostly to buy time. If the man spoke truth – and Reimund had no reason to doubt him – then he would be a fool to accept their parole. But he seemed to want to believe Reimund. And hadn’t simply sent him back.

“Let my men aid you, and I will remain here as surety.” And under the old warrior’s blade.

The warrior was silent a moment. “Who is your second, Sir Reimund?”

He swallowed a sigh of relief. “Sir John and Sir Damian are organizing the men-at-arms to aid you. Sir Hereweald is among the wounded.”

The Anglish commander led him back to where his men waited and listened while he spoke with John and Damian. John tried to protest and Reimund stopped him. “Hereweald, John. And Estienne and Gosse and the others. I will be fine. Better than fine.” He smiled. “After all, you’ll be the ones laboring in the heat, while I get to laze back and watch you work.”

Damian, as predictably silent as John was argumentative, only nodded and held out his hands for his bindings to be cut.

The Anglish went back to his post and Reimund followed without prompting. He did his best to remain silent and out of the way while the Anglish directed the cleanup and recovery. Trouble came only once: when the Anglish set his men to stripping their own dead. Luckily, John was right there. He backhanded the worst of the protesters and started stripping the bodies himself.

The Anglish grunted and glanced at Reimund with a look of respect. Reimund gritted his teeth. “Was that a test, goodman?”

“No, that was getting this clusterfuck cleaned up and home as quickly as possible.” He flashed a quick grin. “If it gave me a chance to see the mettle of your men, that was extra.”

“What will become of our dead?”

“If we can, we’ll bring them home for burial. But we’ll need most of the horses for the wounded.” He shook his head. “For that, I’m truly sorry, Sir Reimund. But we didn’t bring horses and not many of your own are fit to ride. At least some of our dead will probably be left here as well.”

But they had more horses. He didn’t give himself time for second thoughts. “Damian!”

The Anglish glared “What are you up to now, Norn?”

Before he could answer Damian came trotting up, trailed by a pair of suspicious Anglish warriors. “Damian, show them the camp.” He turned to the Anglish. “We have another score of horses. Some were injured yesterday in the rocks, but there should be enough.”

The Anglish stared at him for a long moment, then told off a handful of his men to follow Damian and bring back the horses. As well as anything else of value they found.

Reimund didn’t react to the last. He had expected it. But his men had to come first, no matter how much it cost him.

The Anglish grabbed Reimund’s arm and used his sword to slice through the ropes binding him. “Your wounded are there,” he jerked his chin. “Get them ready to travel. I want to get your men and all the wounded back to the keep before noon. Your knight and my men can bring the dead without us.”

“Thank you, goodman.”

Mildthryth had forced herself to trust Wigmar and focus on her own tasks. But she still found herself staring off to the east – even when ‘east’ was just one of the walls of the keep.

Finally, a messenger arrived. Wigmar had won and would return with prisoners as soon as he could.

Sadly, the needs of tending prisoners had become… routine. Though based on Wigmar’s report, this time they would have more prisoners than ever before. As well as more dead.

She sent to the priest to tend to the dead and bereaved, then gave orders to clear the old barracks to house the prisoners. There simply wasn’t room for all of them in the dungeon.

She reviewed, again, their medicines and bandages. They had enough for today. For now, that would serve.

She needed a way to end this. Soon.

When they arrived, she was shocked to see that the prisoners walked and rode unbound. Had Wigmar accepted their parole? That was…

She shook off her surprise. There was work to do. She ordered the leader taken to her solar. The hale prisoners and those with minor wounds went to the old barracks. They could tend each other. Mildthryth set to organizing care of her own wounded and the badly wounded prisoners.

Dark take it, she needed to be dealing with the leader, but the wounded couldn’t wait. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a husband to take half this burden from her. A keep wasn’t meant to run by one person alone.

But…

Pushing the familiar thoughts aside, she grabbed needle and thread and started stitching wounds.

Reimund schooled himself to patience. And to wakefulness. After an early morning, a battle, and it’s aftermath, all he wanted to do was be sure his men were alright, and sleep.

They had found Hereweald unconscious. The arrow had hit muscle, but from the blood in his hair, his head had hit a rock when he fell. There had been several broken legs from falls among the rocks, more arrow wounds…

He tried to stay awake by reviewing what he had seen and knew of the battle. In hindsight, crossing the rocks had been a fatal mistake. The Anglish had been prepared to fight on the rocks as his own men had not. And given that they sent wounded out to fight Lady Mildthryth had to be on her last reserves. He would have done better to meet her warriors in the open or even invite an ambush on his camp.

If his father ever heard … dark! If he ever saw his father again, there would be hell to pay. Of course, it was that ‘if’ that truly frayed his nerves.

He sat in a comfortable chair, the only one in this room that seemed strong enough to take his armored weight. He waited, and he prayed.

There was nothing else he could do.

It seemed hours later, though the sun was still high in the sky, when the last wounds had been tended and Mildthryth could finally go to her rooms. Exhaustion ate at her, but she wasn’t done for the day. Far from it.

Wigmar was waiting outside the door, a sign of trust she would never have expected to see him give a Norn after what some of their last… visitors had attempted. She raised her eyebrows and Wigmar shrugged and nodded. Mildthryth pursed her lips and nodded back.

So… Wigmar thought well of this one. That was… promising.

Wigmar opened the door and bowed her into the public room of her suite, unusually formal in front of the stranger.

“Lady Mildthryth,” he said, “here is Reimund Swiđhun, son of William the Black.”

The stranger stood as the door opened and met her gaze boldly, bowing slightly as he was named. From the slight waver as he stood, he must be at least as tired as she was.

He was pale, in the Nornish way, even his long hair and beard were pale, the color of straw left to dry in the sun. A cut across his temple had been cleaned and scabbed over, giving him a rakish look. The room was as she had left it. Nothing missing, nothing moved even. Well.

“So, Reimund Swiđhun.” She did not return his bow – she thought she might fall over if she tried. Instead, she swept across the room and took a seat in front of the western windows. She could see him clearly, but her face was in shadow. “I would ask what brings you here, but I suspect I already know.”

He nodded. “For a landless younger son, the King’s edict against you is the chance of a lifetime, Lady Mildthryth. I regret losing, but I can’t regret trying. And…” his eyes swept over her, then returned to her face. “…the man who does win you should count himself very lucky.” He shook his head. “I haven’t been that neatly trapped since I took my dubbing.”

Mildthryth chose to ignore the flattery.

“And who will pay your ransom?”

He looked away. “No one, Lady Mildthryth.” He looked at her again, grey eyes strangely dark. “My Lord Father will disown me when he learns I was captured by a woman and no one else of my family has money for a ransom.

“Whatever you choose to do with me, lady, you will get no more than what I carry on me.”


Looks like things are going from bad to worse for Reimund.

Return to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 1

Continue to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 3

Bound by His Oath, Episode 1

Reimund Swiđhun has it made. With the king’s blessing, he will capture Lady Mildthryth, marry her, and finally have land to call his own.

Lady Mildthryth Rúna has been fighting off would-be ‘suitors’ for months. She will marry on her terms or not at all.

Usually in historical romance, the too-independent noble woman is forced into marriage and gradually comes to love her husband and accept her subordinate place.

Mildthryth has other plans.


Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.

Lady Mildthryth Rúna was in the weaving room. Again. So was her mother, the lady dowager, and every woman who wasn’t sleeping or too fumble-fingered to work a loom.

They wove in shifts now, running through a month’s worth of wool in a week. In the surrounding villages, old maids and young girls were spinning their fingers bloody to supply the ladies of the burg.

Still, the piles of bandages in the still room shrunk.

It had been six months since the Conqueror had withdrawn his protection. Since he promised a boon to the lord who brought her to heel. The Nornish conqueror would not abide the blasphemy of a woman holding lands in her own right.

So far, the Nornish idea of courtship had left much to be desired. So far, she had been able to send her erstwhile suitors packing.

So far.

From the walls, a horn rang out, calling the warriors once more to battle.

Reimund Swiđhun watched with satisfaction as his men put the fields to torch. The serfs and freemen had all fled, unpursued. Reimund expected to be ruling that land by year’s end. He didn’t want to rule over a land gone barren because there was no one to work the fields.

He looked up at the castle high on the hill above. It wasn’t really a castle, just a rough attempt at making a proper fortress out of one of the old Anglish bughs. Even with his small force, he thought he could overwhelm it. Probably.

But why chance it?

Your fields burn, lady, he thought to himself, Soon you will have nothing to feed yourself or your people. Then we will see how stubborn you are.

The gate to the castle opened and warriors lightly armed in the Anglish fashion poured through. They moved faster than Reimund had planned for, but he still had enough time.

Reimund blew his horn twice, summoning his men back. They had done what they came to do. Now it was time to leave, while they could still lose themselves in the surrounding forests.

Mildthryth tried to stare into the darkening forest the invaders had hidden in. This wasn’t the first Nornish lordling to attack her, but so far he was the cunningest. The others had assumed a ‘mere female’ wouldn’t be able to stand against even a token show of force.

All crept home like whipped curs after learning that the daughter of an Anglish lord and a Dragma warmaid had forgot none of the lessons of her ancestors. Most had fled, but a few she had been able to capture and ransom.

If they could survive long enough, they would at least have no problem buying new supplies.

Footsteps on the stairs behind her announced the arrival of her Armsmaster, Wigmar. He still wore his armor but had taken off his helmet. Sweat soaked through the old bandage on his head.

“You shouldn’t have gone out yourself, Wigmar.”

He came to stand by her and scratched at the old wound, itchy with healing. “Too many injured and unable to ride, milady. I’m hale enough, as long as I don’t take another blow to the head.”

“You weren’t planning on taking the first one,” she ground out.

Wigmar ignored her comment and started his report, “As I warned you milady, they had too much of a head start, and we couldn’t catch them before the trees.”

“No sign of their camp?”

Wigmar shook his head. “They’ve crossed over that rocky strip to the south. Don’t know how they didn’t lose a dozen horses to broken legs, but it’s big enough to break their trail. Woodsmen are trying to work their way around the strip and find where they come across it. But it’s a big strip. And we can’t be sure they didn’t leave an ambush, so our people need to move slow. With dark falling, it will take a miracle from the Ancestors to find them.” He made the sign for the Ancestor’s ancient ships. “He’s a smart one milady.”

She snorted. “Let’s be honest Wigmar, it doesn’t take much smarts to figure out what any rabbit escaping the fox knows. He’s just the first of our… uninvited guests who thinks I have the brains to put my own shoes on.”

“Ay…”

Mildthryth started pacing. “How likely are they to try this again?”

“If it works for them…” Wigmar shrugged. “Against your father, likely they’d move and hit somewhere else, but…”

“Aye.” She was silent for a moment. “Pull our people back, don’t wait for full dark. Let them think we’ve given up.”

He eyed her speculatively.

“Tomorrow, before first light, get as many of our warriors as you can ready to ambush them as they cross the stone river.”

The old Anglish warrior grinned. “Your mother’s daughter, my lady. I’ll start planning.”

Reimund dismounted to lead his horse over the rocks. His favorite mount was already lame – not on slick rocks but on a gopher hole within sight of camp. If he wasn’t careful with this horse, he’d have nothing left to ride. After a few minutes, his scouts signaled all was clear—there was no sign of the Anglish.

Which was exactly what he expected. But Reimund knew if they were to be ambushed, this would be the spot. He wasn’t happy about that, but the alternative to crossing what he thought of as ‘the hell patch’ was to risk being tracked and ambushed in camp.

The ambush you knew to expect was always best.

Reimund frowned in thought as he led his men out of the scrub and over the rocks. True, the castle was held by a mere woman, but if he continued coming from the same direction she would start setting ambushes. His sister Eveline certainly would have, and by tomorrow at the latest! Though his mother, it would have taken another week or more, and then she would have no idea what else to try.

He hoped Lady Mildthryth wasn’t as foolish as his mother. He’d wed her regardless, but he wanted a wife he could hold a conversation with from time to time.

If she was anything like Eveline, she would soon have her people out on patrol or guarding the remaining farms. He’d need to be prepared for that.

He was deep in plans and halfway across the rocky terrain when a flight of arrows hissed out of the surrounding scrub, followed by dozens of lightly armored warriors on foot.

Mildthryth strode along the watch-walk of Oakley Keep, squinting into the glare of the rising sun. She snorted at her foolishness. As well try to fly as to see through the very mountain.

It had been a risk, setting up an ambush with her warriors on the rocks. But a calculated one. The Norns were experts at siege and open field combat, but Mildthryth’s people had learned a faster, more brutal form of mountain warfare from the Dragma.

That harsh lessoning might, today, buy their survival for a time.

But Wigmar wasn’t the only injured warrior fighting today. Time was something they were running out of.

Hopefully this time she’d be able to put her plan into action.

With an effort, she forced her mind back to practicality. However the ambush fell out, there would be injured to care for. Best she be prepared for them.

Reimund dodged the whirling axe, then lunged forward. His spearpoint slid into a gap in the axeman’s armor and stuck there. Releasing the spear, he drew his sword.

Unhorsed, his heavily armored knights were at a disadvantage. They had better protection, yes, but had already lost their greatest weapon—the momentum of their mounts.

The first attack had taken out a full tenth of his men. Outnumbered, unable to retreat… he was down at least another tenth, probably more.

Shamed, but seeing no other answer save dying, he stepped back from the front line and pulled the battle horn from his belt. The solemn call for surrender rang across the battlefield.


The waiting is always the hardest part, right?

Continue to:
Bound by His Oath, Ep 2