Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex, reference to/discussion of child abuse
Mattin was never sure how he got through his second day of training. Exhaustion weighed him down, and his body was sore from standing. Again, he spent the entire day behind Brit’s shoulder, trying not to move. It wasn’t long before he felt like a piece of furniture.
He soon lost track of how often Brit corrected him throughout the morning. But the steward didn’t get annoyed or upset. By mid-afternoon, getting screamed at would have been a relief from the unending calm and controlled corrections.
The third day passed the same as the first two. And the fourth. Mattin stood in one place for hours. Sometimes he knelt. Rarely, Brit permitted him to sit. Always while remaining still and silent.
Except for correcting his posture or sending him for lunch, Brit acted like he didn’t exist. Sometimes he followed Brit to a different part of the manor. He pretended to be invisible while Brit dealt with inventory or ate in the dining room. Once in a while, he broke away from his frustration and resentment to wonder if this “training” had any point.
He didn’t ask. He said nothing to Brit except for the occasional “Yes, sir.”
When Brit sent him to fetch food from the kitchen, Cook gave him advice. More often, he was on his own.
On the fifth day, everything changed. Or rather, he changed, and that changed everything.
He knelt, holding the tray while Brit ate. For the hundredth time, the thought came that Brit treated him as a piece of furniture. A living table.
The long days had worn the resentment from the thought. By habit, the next thought in the refrain followed. I don’t want to be a piece of furniture. What I want doesn’t matter. I’m just a table.
Without the resentment, the familiar thoughts took on a new meaning. I’m a table. What I want doesn’t matter. A table doesn’t want. A table isn’t bored. A table isn’t afraid. Or in pain. A table… is.
The idea was strangely freeing. Nothing mattered to a table. Nothing but holding the tray. If Mattin was just a table, he only needed to hold the tray. He could let go.
Worries about Marta, fears for his future, sore knees, tired arms… it stopped. He was a table; he held a tray. Nothing else was his concern. He would have laughed aloud, but tables don’t laugh.
He held the tray.
The revelation stayed with him the rest of the day. Whether he stood in the corner being a post or became a fence rail in the yard. At night, lying in bed, he worried. Worried for Marta, trapped for three months as Oeloff’s slave. It was too long. He could hurt her—even kill her—long before they had a chance to save her. It was also too short—far too short for him to learn everything he needed. He could be a table, but the lady needed much more. He didn’t have time to learn everything.
Eventually, he fell asleep. Worries and all.
In the morning, becoming furniture again was a relief. Brit didn’t say anything, but when his gaze crossed Mattin’s, he would drop an eyelid in something that wasn’t quite a wink. Or his eyes would crinkle in a hidden smile.
That afternoon, he gave Mattin other jobs—other furniture to be. He followed Brit to the stables and became a hitching post. A storm broke, and Brit placed him in the front hall with a pile of towels: he became a shelf. He was a lamp holder in a storeroom while Brit counted the stores.
Sometimes his worries tried to come back. Or his arms or back would ache. But he held to being furniture. As long as he was a piece of furniture, nothing touched him. He was free.
The next day was more of the same. At least until dinnertime.
Right before the dinner bell, Brit began clearing the work off his desk. He directed Mattin to some of the papers away. After so long holding still, moving around was strange, awkward. When the desk was clear Brit sent Mattin down to the kitchen. This time, he said, “Bring back food for both of us.”
Cook was surprised to see him before the bell, but he didn’t have time to quiz Mattin. Just threw some food on a tray and sent him back. Mattin was relieved—he had no idea what he would have said.
When he got back to Brit’s office, he found a chair in front of the desk. Brit took the tray from him and put it on the desk. He stood, not sure what to do. “Sit down and eat, boy. My legs get tired watching you.”
Mattin settled himself into the chair. His thoughts chased themselves around his head… he was a person again. He put his hands in his lap, then rested them on the arms of the chair, pulled at the collar. Brit handed him a hunk of bread and butter. He took it. Watched Brit as the older man sat down and started eating. Once Brit was absorbed in his food, Mattin took a bite of the bread.
“You did well. Better than I expected. If you can hold onto whatever you found a few days ago, we might have you fit for court in three months.”
Mattin warmed at the praise. He reached for the second mug of cider and took a long drink. “Is… is being furniture so important?”
Brit coughed and sputtered, beer spraying out his nose. “Furniture?”
Mattin handed him a napkin. “Is… isn’t that what I was? A table, or a post, or… or something else.” A quick sip of tea helped a mouth gone dry.
“Hah!” Brit barked, “Furniture! I’ll remember that one.”
“I don’t understand. If I wasn’t being furniture, what was this? And why?”
“Furniture.” Brit snorted. “That’s actually a good description for how humans are treated at court. As for why: Stand up.” Mattin stood. “Now, look at yourself.”
At first, Mattin didn’t understand—he was standing. His hands clasped in front of him, weight balanced, chin…
He dropped to the floor. Back straight, knees apart, hands on his thighs…
“Hold this.” Brit handed him a plate. Mattin held it up. At the perfect height for Brit to reach. “Five days, and you don’t even think about it. Your body knows.”
The room spun around him. Mattin got to his feet.
His hands clasped themselves.
“I…” His breath caught. Knees just so. Pain gripped his chest. He tried to slouch. For a moment, his body didn’t remember how. Mattin swallowed hard. “You trained me like a dog.” The words slipped out almost unnoticed.
Brit snorted and took the plate from him. “Sit down and eat. I taught you part of what you need to have a chance of saving your sister. And to keep your bargain with the mistress.”
Mattin’s throat tightened. He tried to speak. He tried to breathe.
“Bloody Mare.” Brit’s hands took his shoulders, pushing him into the chair. A mug pressed against his lips. “Drink.” Tea, lukewarm, spilled into his mouth. He swallowed. Gasped. Coughed. The physical shock snapped him back to himself. He felt wetness on his face.
He stared around the room, hands reaching for… something.
Brit was in front of him, took his hands, rubbing warmth back into them. Mattin clung to the other man as if his life depended on it. Why did he feel so lost?
“It changes you,” Brit said, “You thought it would be like the stories—beatings and torture and cages. You’re tough. You can take it.”
Mattin shook his head. He wouldn’t change. He couldn’t… It was standing. That was all. Just standing.
“But it’s not like that, is it?”
“No.” Mattin whispered, “I thought… I thought…”
“You’d bargain your freedom but keep yourself?” Brit pulled a hand free and passed him a napkin to wipe his face. “The mistress demands all of us, boy. We become what she needs for her purpose.”
Mattin felt drained. Empty. He wanted to insist he was his own person, that he wouldn’t be shaped into someone else. But it wasn’t just standing. It was part of who he was. How much had Brit changed him in five days? How much would he be changed before Brit and the lady were satisfied?
“What is her purpose?” he rasped.
Hey! It’s my birthday!
The Bargain (S1, E11)