Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex
Mattin hadn’t expected to sleep, but he was roused the next morning by a knock on the door. He opened his eyes and saw only darkness. For a moment he didn’t remember where he was. Then memory returned, and he reached for the collar, both hoping and fearing that the prior night had been a dream.
The knock came again.
The door swung out, letting light into a small cubby of a room. It was barely large enough for the small pallet it held.
Mattin blinked against the light and saw a person silhouetted in the doorway. Too tall and thin to be anyone Mattin had met the night before.
“Fair-morn.” The voice was a light tenor and sounded too happy for first thing in the morning. “Bathwater should be heated, and Cook will have breakfast on by the time we’re done.”
Mattin shoved his feet in his boots and scrambled up. He’d slept in his clothes — by the time he’d reached the pallet he’d been too tired to keep his eyes open. That had added another layer of wrinkles on top of the wear of several days’ travel. The stranger noticed his dismay and said, “They’ll be livery for you at the bathroom. The Steward stays on top of things like that.”
“Oh.” Mattin tugged at the collar. It was bad enough to have the collar telling the whole world he belonged to one of the fae. He wasn’t ready for livery too.
But he wouldn’t have a choice in the matter, and clean clothes… well, were clean clothes. “Thank you.”
He stepped out of the cubby and finally got a good look at the man waiting for him. Tall, yes, and thin, but well-muscled, like a runner. His skin was dark, darker than almost any human Mattin had seen, and his hair black and tightly curled. He was, Mattin realized after a moment, one of the Mountain Folk. The strange humans who had held their high passes against the fae for nearly a millennium. When Mattin had been a child, one of the trade caravans of the Mountain Folk had traveled as far as White Oak and spent a month at the summer trade fair, selling odd goods from far places. The full story of how a child of the Mountains had come to serve the Countess was one Mattin would be years in learning.
“Come on,” the man said. “The front door’s there,” he pointed behind them, and Mattin recognized the hall he’d entered the night before. “That’s the door cubby you had last night. Usually, there’s one of us the pages there in case someone comes knocking in the middle of the night. Was supposed to be Toby last night, but she took sick, so you got a quiet spot to sleep. Even if the pallet hasn’t been restuffed in a mule’s age.”
As he spoke he led Mattin deeper into the building. “There’s a couple of barracks rooms most of us sleep in, you’ll get a spot there tonight. But I expect Brit didn’t want to throw a bunch of strangers at you right out the pass, hey?”
Mattin didn’t know what to say in response to this flow of words, but the man didn’t give Mattin a chance to say anything. He just kept talking. Since a great deal of what he said was useful, Mattin set himself to remember as much as he could.
He turned right into another room, the first place (other than the cubby) that wasn’t decorated in the blue-and-dark-wood-paneling. Instead, a simple rush mat covered the floor, and the walls were whitewashed. “These are the private quarters, our area. The Mistress keeps the public rooms in her colors, and these back areas are kept simple. We get to decorate our barracks how we like, though, and some folks have gotten pretty creative.”
It wasn’t until they reached a small room with a stone floor that he stopped and said, “Sorry, my name’s Jaffrey. The Steward told me you’re Mattin?”
The sudden change startled Mattin, but he managed to nod.
“Well, so you know, no one will know anything else. No one here will go telling tales about how you came here, hey? Or what brought you. We all have our own stories, and you choose who you share it with.
“But hey, if you do want to talk, most folks here will listen. We might understand more than you think.”
Mattin couldn’t help laughing at that. “Somehow I doubt it. But… thanks.”
Jaffrey shrugged. “You’ll do.” He gestured around the room. One wall was lined with hooks, each holding a rough towel. A few stacks of clothing sat on a small shelf at one end of the room. “Dirty stuff in the corner, laundry will do their thing and get it back to you. One of those on the shelf will be yours. Bath twice a week if you work the manor, daily if you work outside like I do. I’m in the stables. Mistress has decent horses here. Nothing I’d take into the mountains, but good for you lowlanders.” As he spoke, Jaffery stripped off his clothing, folded it neatly, and stacked it on the shelf.
“You’ll get two sets of livery a year, wear one/wash one hey?”
“Right,” Mattin said, trying not to stare at the green and blue fading bruises that covered Jaffrey’s back and legs. He wanted to ask but was afraid of the answers.
The bathing room was similar to the bathhouses Mattin was used to, just smaller. The wooden floor slanted towards a central drain, and benches lined the walls. High shelves held buckets, ladles, soap, and bundles of fresh herbs. In one corner, a copper boiler heated water for washing. The familiarity, as much as the herb-scented steam, had Mattin relaxing.
The bath wasn’t empty. Next to the boiler, a tanned older man scrubbed soap over his long arms and chest. In the corner, a young, blond-haired woman covered in soap suds was tipping a bucket over her head. She groaned as the warm water poured over her.
Mattin snatched his eyes away, ears growing warm. The bathhouses in White Oak had separate rooms for men and women…
The older man chuckled. “What’s your name, lad?” he asked. “Mattin… sir.”
“No ‘sirs’ in the bath, Mattin.” The man winked. “I’m Anral; the tease is Elose.”
The young woman—Elose—put her bucket down and stuck her tongue out at Anral. Elose took her pleasure — in all its forms– freely. Some, like Anral, made assumptions because of that.
Elose shook herself off and tossed her head so her hair fell down her back, making several areas of her body bounce. “It’s my body, you old lech. If it turns your brain to mush, that’s not my problem.”
Her words didn’t register with Mattin. Nor did her body any longer. With her hair away from her neck, he saw she wasn’t quite naked: she wore a collar. So did Anral. Without thinking, his hand tugged on the collar around his own neck. He had forgotten for a moment. How had he forgotten?
He didn’t notice the glance that passed between the other three. “Just how new are you Mattin?” Anral asked, “I don’t keep up with things in the manor as well as I should.”
Mattin flushed again under the man’s scrutiny. “I… I got here last night.”
Jaffrey stepped past Mattin with a theatrical sigh. “Anral, since when did you stop counting heads at the dinner table? Did you think you missed a face?”
Anral snorted, “I don’t miss anything. Not like someone who missed a stall last Godsday! You–”
Jaffrey gave Mattin a slight shove and Mattin took the hint. He grabbed a bucket off the wall and went to fill it at the boiler.
The warm water eased tension in his muscles — enough that he nearly took a second bucket. But that was greedy when others had to fill the boiler, so he turned to look for the soap.
A few minutes later, when he rinsed the soap from his hair (and eyes), he saw Elose standing nearby holding a small jar.
“The collar chafes some in the beginning,” she said. “Housekeeper makes this to help.” She held out the jar and (careful to keep his eyes on her face) he accepted it.
“Friends can help too if you let us.” She smiled. Her smile was radiant. She smiled with her whole body as if happiness filled her entire self.
Mattin found himself smiling—really smiling—in response. He also became aware of a growing hardness in his groin. He started counting off the towns he passed through on his journey. “I… Thanks?”
She laughed. “I need to get to work, but I’ll be around.” She walked out of the room, and Mattin hurried to finish rinsing. He prayed the other men wouldn’t notice his—
“She caught another one!” Anral grinned at him.
Embarrassed, Mattin turned away, hiding both his shaft and his flush.
He heard barely heard Jaffrey’s whispered “Sorry” over the other man’s laugh.
“Don’t worry Mattin, no man in this house—and precious few women—can keep their eyes off Elose.” Anral chuckled and stood up. “Well, back to work for me. I’ll see you around, Mattin.”
Thankfully he didn’t wait for Mattin to reply before leaving the room. Mattin dearly did not want to see that man again.
“Anral’s a decent overseer,” Jaffrey said after the door closed, “but has no sense of decency off the job. If you have any sense of embarrassment, pray you get assigned to the main house.”
“Overseer?” Mattin blanched.
“He’s the Marshal, in charge of everything outside the manor. I’m told most nobles have other fae as overseers, but the Mistress doesn’t allow any other fae here. Doesn’t trust them.”
“Bloody Mare!” Mattin started praying.
The Bargain (S1, E4)