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?

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.

Bound by his Oath, Episode 4

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.

Mildthryth’s mother was in the stableyard lunging her horse. As always since Mildthryth’s father died, she wore the intricately braided hairstyles and brightly embroidered clothing of her Dragma kin.

She smiled when she saw Mildthryth.

They stood silently for a time, watching the horse exercise. “I’m sorry we can’t go on our rides anymore.”

Her mother shrugged. “It is what it is. The time will come when we can ride again without worrying about these nits.

“You are a good daughter, and honor to your grandfather and your father, little though he deserves it. You will find your way.

“The men may rule, most of the time, for they are stronger and the Ancestors’ perfect world died ages past. But these Norns are fools to think that men can rule all the time, for we women have our own strength and you will teach them that.”

Now Mildthryth echoed her mother’s earlier sigh. “What would you have done?”

“I?” The older woman snorted. “I would have been saddled and gone before your father was cold in the grave. Your uncle would welcome me back, and you as well if you wished, and I could help raise the nieces and nephews, make good cheese, and listen to the Singer tell the old tales and sagas of when the world was new and the Ancestors believed they could make a new paradise in this cursed realm. And live in a proper, round building without all these cursed corners!

“But you are too Anglish. Stubborn as Dragma, but soft-spoken and happy with your sharp corners and dark chapels. You would not be happy making cheese and listening to the Singers.”

Her mother had taken her once, much against her father’s wishes but before the Conqueror came he dared not disrespect his father in law, to visit her Dragma relatives. There were many things she envied them, but she could never remember the great round building they all lived in without a shudder. It wasn’t the lack of corners, exactly, but there were no walls. It was one great room that everyone… well it was big enough it wasn’t actually crowded, but it felt that way, with no quiet space away from it all unless you went outside in the cold.

Lady Valdis laughed. “Yes? I see that face. So my solution will not work for you and you will find your own way. And I will stay in this place of corners because I love you more than a proper home and proper cheese and all the songs of the Singers.”

Mildthryth took the lunge line from her mother, handed it to a nearby groom, then threw herself into Lady Valdis’ arms. Valdis, the only person in her life who was demonstrative than she was, hugged her back, then picked her up and swung her around, proving that she hadn’t lost her strength as she aged.

“It will be well, daughter. Now, what is it you came here to tell me, for surely you did not come to ask my advice!”

Mildthryth buried her face in her mother’s neck. “Will you trust me, mother? No matter what?”

Valdis pulled Mildthryth away and lifted her chin to study her face. “You have found your path. And it isn’t a straightforward Dragma path, but a twisty, cornered Anglish path.”

Mildthryth nodded and dropped her eyes, afraid of what she would see in her mother’s face.

“You are my daughter. Whatever path you have found, these Norns will never see the blow before it falls.”

Mildthryth laughed and hugged her mother again. “Mother. There is nothing straightforward about crossing a Dragma roundhouse.”

From the stables, Mildthryth went directly to the chapel. She had a path forward, but that did not mean it would work. So she knelt before the altar and recited the ancient litany of the Ancestors. Her mother had never grown used to Anglish worship in a closed room away from the sky. But in this Mildthryth was her father’s daughter. The night sky always filled her with wonder and awe, seeing the stars from which the Ancestors had traveled and to which her people would one day return.

But prayer was for quiet spaces, unadorned rooms. A single candle for focus. Just as the sun had been a focus for the Ancestors on their great journey.

She didn’t know how long she was there when the door to the chapel opened. “Lady Mildthryth,” Wigmar said, “Here is Sir John of Kaldon, as you requested.”

Mildthryth did not turn but gestured for the knight to join her.

After a moment, he came forward and knelt nearby. She could hear his whispered prayer.

In the candlelight, she could see only the vague outline of his face. Bearded but with hair cut unusually short.

When he finished praying, she stood and asked, “Sir Reimund has none to pay his ransom. Is there any who would ransom you or your fellows, Sir John?”

He stood also, his height making him loom over her in the dark. She didn’t think it was intentional as he stepped back a moment later. Or maybe she had just shocked him. “No, Lady Mildthryth,” he hissed. He shook himself, strong enough to be visible even in the dim light, then spoke more normally. “Had Sir Reimund escaped your trap he would have sought to ransom me, but there are no others. Sir Damien and Sir Hereweald likewise. The men-at-arms, I cannot say.”

She stepped closer, invading his space. He stood his ground.

“I dislike waste, Sir John, and I have need of defense, as you well know. Would you take service with me?”

His feet shifted and she thought she heard his teeth grinding. “No, Lady,” he growled. “While he is loyal to me, I will not betray Sir Reimund.”

Mildthryth nodded, she had expected that. “And if he were no longer alive?”

In the dark, she had no warning. A strong hand grabbed her tunic jerking her close. “Harm him and…”

He never got to finish his threat. Lady Valdis had known her daughter would never be a warrior, but she hadn’t left Mildthryth ignorant of defense. Her palm slammed into the man’s nose at the same time her heel landed on his instep.

Wigmar, of course, moved even faster than she did. In an instant, he had the Norn wrestled to the ground with his arms pinned.

“Anglish bitch,” he hissed.

She crouched down next to the Norn, careful to stay out of Wigmar’s way. “That’s ‘Lady Bitch,’ Sir John. And you had best remember it if you want to see your leader again. Will he thank you for breaking his parole do you think?” She nodded to Wigmar. “Take him to the dungeon. Then bring Reimund to me.”

The knight roared and tried to break free of Wigmar, but the old warrior wasn’t that old. Mildthryth smirked. In truth, Sir Reimund was more likely to thank his knight than not. But he had earned at least a few hours fear for what his lack of discipline might have cost.

Wigmar finally got the knight on his feet and started towards the door. “And Wigmar, unless he tries to get away from you, all the rest of his blood best be in his body when you close the door on him.”

“Aye lady,” Wigmar growled, “Your lady mother would have let me string him up and use him for target practice, though.”

She let the impertinence pass. Wigmar had earned it for putting up with her need to risk herself like this.

Besides, she was Anglish enough to understand that sometimes a diplomatic response was required. But she was Dragma enough to take pleasure in the fact that Sir John would be sporting more and worse bruises before he reached the dungeon.


Damn it, John!

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.