The Bargain (S2, E4)

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

Brit moved as soon as Mattin was out of the door. He grabbed Parlen by the front of her dress and slammed her back into the floor. “If you ever second guess my decisions in front of my trainee again, I’ll beat you within an inch of your life and leave you for the Mare to drag off.”

Jahlene was impressed. She hadn’t seen him lose his temper since Cook entered the manor. If anything, he was faster than she remembered. Tempting as it was, she couldn’t let him kill her secretary. Not yet, anyway. “Let her up, Brit, and take the tea to the kitchen. Now please.”

For a long moment, he didn’t move. Jahlene was about to repeat herself when he released the dress and stood up. Gathering the tea things, he left without acknowledging her. Hopefully, Cook would be able to sort him out. She had other problems to address.

When Jahlene didn’t say anything further, Parlen sat up and straightened her dress and hair. She continued to sit in silence. Once, she opened her mouth, but a glance at Jahlene’s face had it snapping shut again. Jahlene waited long enough Parlen started to fidget and pull at her skirts. Long enough that Jahlene tasted the tension, the fear, building in Parlen.

When she knew Parlen could not take one more moment, Jahlene spoke.

“If you ever try and trap me into doing things your way again, I may let him.” Brit wasn’t the only one who was angry. Jahlene had trusted Parlen. Brought her deeply in Jahlene’s plans and secrets. No one but Brit could do more harm to her entire household and all the people who depended on her.

Which meant that even if she were willing to, she could not sell the woman. Or let her ‘escape’. But she also could not afford for Parlen to be disloyal…

Jahlene pulled her anger back and let her hunger rise. Hunger Parlen had never seen in all the time she’d been Jahlene’s.

Parlen blanched, pale skin gone bone white in an instant. Slowly, her spine curved, her shoulders hunched, until she cowered in fear. Jahlene grinned. Her people rarely stepped out of line this badly. She might as well enjoy it…

She stood up and moved in front of Parlen, towering over the kneeling woman.

“How long have you been mine?”

“Five years, Mistress,” Parlen’s eyes met hers—terrified eyes, like an animal caught in the gaze of a snake. So nice of her to take her mistress seriously.

“Five years. You came as a gift from Lady Erebeth. She runs a strict household.”

The reminder—and the implied threat—spurred Parlen’s terror. It was delicious. A treat Jahlene rarely tasted.

“Did you think because I am gentle, I am soft?” she whispered, knowing the cowering human must strain to hear. “Did you think that because I prefer willing service, I would allow myself to be manipulated?”

She waited. Parlen would—she must—bow to Jahlene’s rule now, or she was lost beyond recall.

For a moment, Parlen continued to meet Jahlene’s gaze, trying to convince herself that she had done nothing of the sort. But she couldn’t. She hung her head and clasped her hands behind her back, “Forgive me, Mistress.”

Relief swamped Jahlene, but she let none of it show. Parlen was still hers. But only barely. She grabbed Parlen’s hair and yanked her head back, “You are a manipulative woman, Parlen. That makes you useful to me.”

Not just fear but guilt and shame now bloomed. It wasn’t enough. As sweet as this feast was, it would pass too quickly. “But when you start manipulating me, you stop being useful. And then, what shall I do with you?” She had to ensure that Parlen remembered this night. That the fear and guilt would last—or, one day, they would be here again.

Besides, it was such a feast. Jahlene could see whites all around Parlen’s eyes. To Jahlene’s delight, sweat beaded on Parlen’s skin. She resisted the temptation to lean forward and lick it. “Did Brit ever tell you of my mother’s ‘special toys’?”

“N-no, Mistress.” And she didn’t want to know. Smart woman, but smarter if she had never pushed Jahlene this far.

“They lived in a cage in a special glamourhame. They came out to feed her pleasures. They had no purpose, no use, except to be tortured. It didn’t matter if they were crippled, or blinded, or broken. Sometimes she kept them alive for years, feeding on their despair and pain.

“I’ve never had a special toy. If you are no longer useful to me, you could be my first.”

Parlen opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Her uncertainty pierced Jahlene. She believed Jahlene might do it. Well, Jahlene could use that. Use Parlen’s doubt to reinforce the fear.

“The first thing I’d do is cut off your perfect hair and make a rope to hang you with. Each time we played, I’d finish by wrapping that golden rope around your neck. Watch your face purple and your feet kick against the air. Just for a minute or two. Until the day you wished, prayed, begged that I put an end to your misery. Because death would be nothing to fear but sweet freedom from a life of horror and agony.”

She let her voice caress each word. Let her hunger savor the possibility. Let the monster she truly was out for the woman to see.

“On that day, I would let you hang until you lost consciousness. Let you taste the blackness and believe I was finally ending it. Then I’d cut you down and drink in your despair when you woke and knew your torment wasn’t anywhere near over. And worse than the despair will be the knowledge that every minute of it, you. Brought. On. Your. Self.”

The thought roused Jahlene’s hunger further—a hunger she had been restraining since before Parlen had been born. Now she bent forward and licked Parlen’s neck, savoring the horror her words, her eager description, woke in the woman.

A single tear trickled down Parlen’s cheek.

Disgusted—with Parlen, with herself—Jahlene stood up and pushed Parlen over onto her back. Turning away, she wrestled with the hunger, choking it back into its cage. A long minute passed before she could speak, her voice a quiet rasp in the stillness of the room.

“Do you know why I bind myself in rules and restrictions when I could easily be as much a monster as Erebeth or that bastard Oeloff?”

“N-no, Mistress.” Parlen believed her. Believed she would do such a thing–but that she would only do it if Parlen didn’t learn to restrain herself. It was a bitter triumph.

“It’s because I scare myself more than I could ever scare that fool man drawing my bath.” She turned and looked Parlen in the eye. “How much do I scare you?”

Parlen scrambled to get off her back and threw herself flat on the floor before Jahlene. Her tear-streaked face pressed to the tiles, hands stretched out, pleading. “Mistress, I b—”

Jahlene cut her off. The words were meaningless. “Good. If you cannot give me willing service, then I will take fear. Now get out.”

She maintained her pose until Parlen took herself from the room. Then collapsed on the couch and wept out her own fear and self-hatred.

When Brit returned several minutes later, he didn’t need to ask what had happened. Just held her until the tears ran dry.

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 (S1, E6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Unpack that Parlen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right.”

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

Jahlene laughed and shook her head. “Simple.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

“I said no!”

“–mind. It’s been nearly a decade–”

“NO!”

***

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

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

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

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

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

Mattin smiled. “I’d like that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Bargain (S1, E1)
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The Bargain (S1, E7)

The Bargain (S1, E2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why, Mattin Brenson?”

He shook his head as his confusion spiked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, Mattin?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Mistress.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Brit?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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The Bargain (S1, E1)

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The Bargain (S1, E3)

The Bargain (S1, E1)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mattin caught his breath, then followed.

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

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

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

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

“Enter,” a voice called.

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

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

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

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

So he bowed and waited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it you wish of me?”

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

“I want you to free her.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Think about it.”

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

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

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


Well, that’s a hell of an offer.

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The Bargain (S1, E2)

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