Bound by his Oath, Episode 11

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 next days continued difficult for Reimund. But each night she took him to her bed. She no longer gave commands in bed. Instead he saw to her pleasure. The chance to in this one way be a true husband to her washed away the worst of his strain. Still, it built in him, each time he lied to his friends. Each time he knelt to her, each time he had to defer a decision that should be his to make, because he did not know what she would want.

Yet, as one week became two, he deferred fewer and fewer decisions. For matters of defense and training, he found she truly meant for him to manage as he saw fit. More, when she did disagree with what he wanted – mostly in matters of managing the land and peasants who worked it – she did not hand down orders. They discussed the issue, and he persuaded her of his view as often as the reverse.

His state was, he knew, far better than it could have been. He held that thought to him when the strain began to wear, and tried to keep busy. There was, after all, much to do.

Aside from nights and last meal, they saw little of each other. Mildthryth, much like Reimund, buried herself in her duties. While she had managed to fill the roles of both lady and lord, it had been difficult. Many small things had been allowed to slide from that alone. Add in the amount of time and resources that had gone into fighting off her many ‘suitors,’ and there was much to be done.

They were not trying to avoid each other. But they didn’t make any effort to spend time together either. Lady Valdis watched with disapproval, but said nothing. The rest of the keep thought it unsurprising in a political marriage. They were simply relieved the new Nornish lord did respect their lady and hadn’t overturned their daily routines overmuch.

Everyone was beginning to settle into their new normal when the messenger from the king arrived.

Reimund was finishing a training bout with Wigmar – spear vs the great ax the Dragma preferred, a weapon Reimund had not come against before – when one of the men who had been on patrol came cantering up to the gates. “Strangers on the south road!” he reported. “Three mounted and a dozen on foot. Banners green over yellow with a black horse standing.”

“Lord Bernard of Ashby, Baron of the king,” Reimund identified the banner. “He would not come this far from his lands during growing season unless the king sent him.”

Wigmar nodded. “It’s been long enough for the king to receive word of your marriage and send him back here.”

“Yes.” Reimund waved Henre over. “Run and tell Lady Mildryth that we have company, then prepare me a hot bath and lay out my formal wear.”

“Aye, milord.” The young Anglish took off at a run. He had a ways to go yet as a squire, but Reimund couldn’t fault his willingness or obedience.

“Wigmar continue the training. Have Damien at the gate ready to greet Lord Bernard if he gets here before I am back.”

Wigmar looked long at Reimund, and Reimund met his gaze, the two measuring each other as they had not since Reimund’s first few days as lord there. By rights, it should be Wigmar as Reimund’s armsmaster who stood in for him. But Wigmar didn’t think the lord was slighting him. No, Damien was a Norn and the best of the three knights at courtly matters. Let him keep the king’s spy placated in the belief that the Norns held full control finally of the keep that had long been a thorn in the king’s side. And if the king was not placated, their warriors would need the best training possible before too long.

So Wigmar nodded. Reimund returned the nod and strode off.

Either Lord Bernard was moving slowly or the patrol had seen him from further out than Reimund expected. He and Mildthryth not only had time to prepare for his arrival, but ended up waiting several minutes.

Mildthryth paced as they waited, betraying an agitation that surprised Reimund. Had she not expected the king to send anyone? Or had she expected a lesser ranked visitor than one of the king’s Barons – those directly sworn to the king’s service who, when not administering their own lands, carried the king’s word throughout his domains.

He moved to stand in front of her and reached out a hand. To his relief – and some surprise – she accepted it and came to stand close. “I fear I have failed you, my lady,” he murmured. “I knew the king would likely send one of his Barons and didn’t think to warn you. Nor did I think to discuss with you how we must handle him.”

She said nothing for a long moment. Reimund kept his eyes down. They both ignored the servants who moved in and out of the Great Hall, preparing for last meal and the last-minute feast which would welcome their visitor.

“I take it you have a plan, Lord Reimund?”

“A plan?”

“For how best to deal with our unwanted guest.” She began to tap her foot.

Reimund took a deep breath and said, “Not a plan, exactly. But I’ve spent enough time at the king’s court to know how to keep the barons happy, my lady. Will you trust me?”

It was a hard question. It had been less than a month since their wedding and Reimund’s attempted betrayal. He had done nothing to raise her doubts since then, but with a fellow Norn at the gate, she had to wonder where his loyalty to the Nornish king would take him. But did she truly have a choice?

“Yes, Lord Reimund. I will trust you.”

Through the open doors of the hall, they heard the gate guard called a demand to stand and be recognized. Reimund bowed and offered Mildthryth his arm, “Let us greet our guest together, milady.”

The official greetings took only a short time. Bernard was impressed that they were already on hand and ready to greet him – either he hadn’t seen the patrol or hadn’t expected the Anglish warriors to send warning to their new Nornish lord.

He was condescending and insulting to the Anglish in general, the keep, and the state of the lands. Reimund ignored or deflected as needed. Long experience with the Nornish court meant his polite mask never wavered. Bernhard was wise enough to keep his mouth off of Lady Mildthryth or anything else which would force Reimund to cry challenge.

With Mildthryth still on his arm, Reimund escorted Bernard to his study. Before they were even seated, Bernhard suggested it was time for the men to speak without womanly interference. Reimund had expected the ‘suggestion’ and brusquely sent Mildthryth to see to the preparations for last meal. She left, her eyes down, as was proper for a Nornish wife but Reimund knew she wasn’t being demure – she was ensuring Bernhard didn’t see her anger at that dismissal.

Reimund took a moment to thank the ancestors he’d had at least a few moments to speak with her before Bernard arrived.

The truth was that Reimund would never have been so harsh had he truly been her lord. It was disrespectful, insulting even. But the Baron needed to be convinced that Reimund held the reins here and the unruly lady was firmly under his thumb.

Once Mildthryth left, Lord Bernard got straight to the point. “I’m sure you expected my visit, or another like it, Lord Reimund.”

“Yes, Lord Baron.” Reimund offered to refill the man’s cup, which he had already emptied. “Given the… difficult attitude of this keep in the past and my own… unconventional claim to the lordship of course the king would wish a report on matters here.”

“Hm. Unconventional is one word for it. The report you sent the king was very scant on details, but your messengers were not averse to gossiping.”

Reimund shrugged. “That does not surprise me, Lord Baron. I will admit, at the time I was not sure how firm my hold on the keep was.”

“You are sure now?”

“Completely sure.” Which was, Reimund reflect, absolute truth. He was completely sure he had no hold on the keep at all. “While they were loyal to Lady Mildthryth, many of the Anglish here were uncomfortable having no lord.” Also truth. “I have had, and expect, no problems so long as no public insult is given to Lady Mildthryth.” He shrugged again. “Many of them grew up in service to the old Eorl, so some lingering loyalty is to be expected.”

“I suppose so.” Bernard grimaced. “Well, Lord Reimund, the king is not inclined to ask too many questions about how you brought the bitch to heel, so long as you did it. To that end, I have been sent ahead as his messenger. He will be coming to assess your holding here and confirm – or not – your lordship. You may expect him in four weeks or so.”

“Of course, Lord Baron. I look forward to it.” That, of course, was no bit of truth. And Lord Bernard knew it.


Well, they do say a common enemy brings people together. Right?

The final episode is now available to paid subscribers —
if you don’t want to wait, sign up for the newsletter today!

Bound by His Oath, Episode 9

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 sorry when the day ended. He had learned a lot about the defensive set up of the keep, and the state of the lands. Integrating the Nornish and Anglish warriors would be a challenge. Already in training, a fight had broken out when Taylor refused to fight alongside a woman.

The idea was outlandish to Reimund as well, but having seen the woman in question with a spear in her hands, he wasn’t inclined to argue. Not yet anyway. And he would not soon forget who had been soundly defeated when his forces and the Anglish last fought.

But he also realized that the Anglish fighting style was most suited to the forested mountains. If they had managed to catch his men in the open fields, there likely would have been a much different outcome.

He said as much to Wigmar and was pleased when the armsmaster didn’t get defensive. “Aye, and that’s how your conqueror took us. Lured our fighters out into the open and your cavalry cut us to pieces. But we might have surprised you yet, m’lord.”

And for a time, while he learned his new warriors, reviewed the accounts with the seneschal, began teaching Henre the rudiments of the knight’s art… he was able to forget.

But now last meal approached. Lady Mildthryth awaited him. And he could no longer have the luxury of denial.

After the meal, he again went with her back to her chambers. He told her of his day while her attendant brushed out her hair and helped her ready for bed. She reciprocated. Most of what she shared was not relevant to his duties, household management. But he listened respectfully and learned a few things – about the available stores and the needs of the keep – that were of interest.

He found he truly enjoyed talking with her. She listened and commented intelligently. And while she lacked a great deal of knowledge of warfare, her knowledge of the land and people was impressive.

Her servant finally departed.

Alone with Lady Mildthryth, he forced himself to cross the room and kneel at her feet.

She smiled and patted his cheek. Like a girl rewarding an obedient dog. “I am pleased you remembered my wishes.”

“I am not likely to forget, my lady.” Somehow, the words came out almost normally.

She continued the conversation as if nothing had changed. But the small pleasure Reimund had been able to take in it was gone.

Finally, they retired to bed. He had hoped that at least here she would permit him to be a proper husband, but that hope quickly shattered. She did not even remove her shift, instead having him strip and sit on the edge of the bed.

It felt like a mockery, for her to kneel before him here while denying him everything that should be his. And yet, when her mouth closed over him, and her hands began to caress his thighs and sac, he lost himself in the pleasure that she brought him.

He had not been a virgin, of course. But nor had he been one to spend overmuch time on his pleasures, preferring to practice and learn so when the time came, he could properly bed his wife. She wrung more pleasure from him than any had before. She watched him, paid attention, and responded to him. And when he released, it was beyond anything he had ever known.

Was this, he wondered as he dressed later, why men were commanded to please their wives? To keep them in this mindless state of pleasure? He feared that if she continued this assault on his senses, she would not need his oath, she could lead him around by his shaft.

But not once had she allowed him to touch her.

Why would she not permit him to give her pleasure? Had her lovers never been able to bring her to this peak so she didn’t know to crave it? Or… did she not crave it from him because she still saw them, and had no intention of permitting him to fulfill even his most basic purpose as her husband?

“Did I displease you last night, my lady?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then why do you not let me bring you pleasure?”

She smiled. “I can tend my own pleasure well enough.”

“My lady will do as she wishes.” Somehow he kept his tone even, though he knew he had failed to fully control his face. He had been a fool. She had needed the marriage consummated, of course. But he had known from the beginning he would be no true husband to her.

“What is it?” the lady asked. “I thought you enjoyed yourself well enough.”

He owed her honesty. And even if she had changed her wedding vows, still she had made them. Perhaps she would care enough to listen.

Reimund took a deep breath and braced himself. “Lady, I know ours is not a… regular marriage, but I am your husband.”

“Of course! Has any dared say otherwise?”

“I… not…” Was she being deliberately difficult? Did she truly not understand? “I had hoped that if I pleased you well enough, you would give over your lovers, my lady.”

“Lovers?” She blinked. “Why would you think I have lovers?”

“Give me the respect of honesty, at least, my lady. There was no blood between your legs after you first took me to your bed. And no virgin would know so much of sex and pleasure.

“It is my duty and privilege as your husband to give you pleasure. Even if you would continue to…. Am I not man enough to be even one of those who bring you pleasure?”

As he spoke, her expression changed, from confused, to incredulous, to angry.

“You wished me to bleed?”

He blinked. “What man does not wish to see virgin-blood when he first beds his wife?”

The blow took him by surprise, opened handed but hard enough to have done injury if he had tensed for it.

“Get out of my sight.”

He bowed and left.

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 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?

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.

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?