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.
“I bend knee every day to my wife.”
Almost before he stopped speaking, John yelled, “Witch!”
He whirled around to see John, with his blade out, advancing on Lady Mildthryth.
“No!” He threw himself at John, knocking his friend to the ground and the sword from his hand. Somehow, Reimund kept his own feet. Terrified of what he would need to do, Reimund drew his own sword. By the time John found his feet, Reimund’s sword was at his throat. “Stand down, Sir John.”
“She’s bewitched you, Reimund, can’t you see?”
“By the Ancestors and your oath, stand down.”
Hereweald came up beside John. For a moment Reimund feared he would need to face down both of them, but the big man grabbed John’s sword and passed it to Damian.
For a moment, he couldn’t make himself speak, couldn’t do what came next. “John. Damn it, John,” he whispered. “Sir John of Kaldon,” when he spoke again his voice was harsh and weary, “I place you under arrest for–”
“Lord Reimund.” Mildthryth interrupted him.
What now? Why now? Was his darkness not deep enough? “Yes, my lady?”
“Come here, husband.”
Reimund took a slow step back, watching John and Hereweald. John’s face was still frozen in shock, but Hereweald nodded and put a heavy hand on John’s shoulder.
Trusting Hereweald to keep John under control, Reimund slowly sheathed his sword. He turned and walked toward her, each step seeming to echo endlessly. They would see now. They would see and despise, as he despised, and he could nothing but obey for though he was close, so very close to breaking, he was not broken yet.
He knelt before her. Displaying his degradation for those he loved best to see and understand. “What is your wish, my lady?”
She was as calm and poised as if a warrior twice her size hadn’t just threatened her life, and she smiled at him. “I’m afraid I became absorbed in my embroidery.” Her voice was loud as if… as if she weren’t speaking just to him. “I’m afraid I missed part of your conversation with these good knights. Of your courtesy, did you discuss anything of import which I should know?”
He stared, unable to believe what she seemed to be telling him. But she raised her eyebrows and almost he thought he saw her wink. “Nothing.” He whispered it, barely daring to hope.
She gave the faintest nod and smiled.
He cleared his throat and spoke as loud as he could. “Nothing, my lady. You missed nothing.”
She smiled more broadly and placed a hand again on his shoulder.
Relief flooded him, taking away his strength. He bowed until his forehead nearly touched his knee. “Thank you, my lady,” he choked out.
He heard, as if from a dream, Lady Mildthryth speak again. “I hope you will forgive my inattention, sir knights. I fear it has been a long day. If you will excuse me a minute, I will summon refreshments for us. I doubt I am the only one that needs them.”
She dropped her embroidery and, ignoring the speaking tube in the corner, walked out of the room. The embroidery hoop fell within Reimund’s view and he stared for a minute. “Absorbed” indeed. He was no expert in embroidery but if she had made more than half a dozen stitches he would eat his armor.
He stood and turned back to his friends.
“I warned you once before John, against raising a hand to my wife. Believe me bewitched if you will. Scorn me as unmanned and unworthy if you will, but do not doubt how serious I am. It would break my heart to kill you, but I would shatter my heart before I betray my oath.”
For the third time, he was met with stunned silence. But this time he held firm and did not look away.
John shook his head. “Unmanned? Unworthy? You were the best of us, how could you even think–”
Reimund laughed bitterly. “Yes, I was the best of you. What am I now? Do you think I don’t feel the shame of it? That I go out there,” he swept a hand towards the door, “where I am ‘my lorded’ and deferred to and know it is all a sham? Do you think it doesn’t pain me every time I kneel to her? There are jokes about men who are ruled by their wives, and I’ve heard each of you make them. Just as I have made them.
“I wish I were bewitched.” The last words slipped out before he could call them back. Tears dripped down his cheeks, his mask shattered beyond repair. “How could I not think you would despise what I have become? Darkness knows, I despise myself enough for all of you.”
“Why?” Damian blurted out. “If you hate it this much, why would you do such a thing?”
He closed his eyes and again dropped his head. “I told John that she was in a position to set demands upon our marriage, and knew it… I just… never told any of you what her greatest demand was.
“If it was just myself, I might have refused and hoped for ransom. I don’t know. But I couldn’t risk your lives on the chance of my father’s generosity.”
He shook his head. “The why doesn’t matter. This is my life now, and if you continued to serve me, then your service will be to her.”
John was turning purple. “You thought…” he finally took his sword back from Damian and resheathed it. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so insulted in my life.”
It hurt, even more than Reimund expected, but he stood firm. “If the insult is too great for you to bear, then I will release you from my service and you need not concern yourself with me further.”
“You benighted fool.” Suddenly, John was upon him, pulling him into a great hug. “You think I care about that? I can’t believe you thought we would abandon you. Especially after you tell us something like this!”
A hand on his shoulder and Hereweald said, “John’s right. You are our lord and we’ve worked and waited years to serve you as such. And to endure this for our sake? You are more a man, more a lord, than anyone I have ever known.”
Damian said nothing, but his hand rested on Reimund’s other shoulder.
For the first time in his memory, he broke down and wept like a child. But here and now, with these men, his men, he felt no shame in it.
See Reimund? Talking works. (Enjoy your friend’s support — you’ve earned it.)