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?”
“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?