Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex
As promised, the shelf had a stack of livery with a note saying it was for Mattin. It included a tunic, a pair of pants, and socks, all a dark blue and white, trimmed in yellow. Much like Jaffrey’s clothing, but fancier – Jaffrey didn’t have any trim. Mattin grimaced at it, and Jaffrey grinned. “Stablehands don’t need the fancy, we’d just make a mess of it. If the suit fits too badly, you can take it to Gerth, and he’ll fit you.”
Mattin climbed into the pants, which gave him an excuse to keep looking down. In the bath, it had been easy to let Elose and Anral, and the need to wash, distract him. To not see the bruises that covered Jaffrey’s body. With just the two of them in the small antechamber, it was… harder.
The pants were loose but wearable. Mattin kept his eyes on the floor and reached blindly for the tunic. “What if I end up in the stable?”
“Then Gerth’ll take the fancy off for you. This is probably what he has on hand.” Jaffrey hissed as he bent to pull his own pants on and rubbed at the bruises on his back.
With his eyes still on the floor, Mattin asked, “Are… are you alright?”
“Eh? Oh, I’m fine. Mistress played a bit rougher than usual last week, which is one reason I’m showing you around today. I get light work for a couple more days.” Mattin swallowed, “Rougher than usual?”
“Yeah. I’m not Joth – that man isn’t happy unless he’s stuck in bed for a day or two after she’s done with him. But she usually knows how to make the pain sing without laying me out, hey? Sometimes,” he sighed contentedly, “sometimes we both need something more.”
Shock had Mattin’s head snapping up. “Y-you like that…” Jaffrey blinked at him, then shook his head. “Right, I’m not used to dealing with lowlanders anymore.” He paused. “Well, not lowlanders who don’t serve the Mistress anyway.” Another pause. “Joth, Crait, and I are the Mistress’ toys. We’re the ones she plays with. It’s part of why I came here, hey?
“It’s usually the warriors who get the Mare’s Blessing. My clan didn’t know what to do with me.” As Jaffrey spoke, Mattin was examining his body with a frankness that was flat-out rude. But he needed to know, to see.
Jaffrey had no scars like Brit. Certainly, he carried none of the despair and horror of Marta’s once-fiance. Mattin had seen Losel once after Oeloff claimed him, but he would never forget… If not for the bruises…
Oblivious to his thoughts, Jaffrey continued, “Fae pleasures, I think you’d call it, though the fae call it… Are you alright?” Jaffrey put a hand out to steady Mattin as he swayed.
“I… you…” Mattin shook his head, trying to stop the room swimming around him. “How can you…?” “Eh?” Jaffrey smiled a bit, but there was sympathy in his eyes. “Sorry, it’s a bit to take in at first. I grew up in the trader clans, so I know a bit of what that’s like. Only the warriors are supposed to be touched by the Mare.
“Just… try not to worry about it too much. You’ve probably got enough to deal with, hey?” Mattin took a deep breath. Another. “I don’t understand. Fae kill people for their magic; she could kill you. Do you not care?” Jaffrey’s eye’s widened. He huffed, catching a laugh before it could escape. “No. Mattin, no. I’ve been here 10 years. I’ve been the Mistress’ toy that whole time, and the only scars I have are from the horses.
“Eh, Joth’s got a bit of a collection, but that’s because he likes it that way.
“That’s why I’m here, Mattin. Because Lady Jahlene isn’t like most of the nobles.” Jaffrey paused. “I don’t think most of the fae are like the nobles. But I haven’t met many.”
“There aren’t many fae in White Oak,” Mattin muttered. “Just Lord Oeloff and his people.” “White Oak! Mare and Stone, that’s where you’re from?” Jaffrey looked like he wanted to spit. “Even for fae nobles, Oeloff is bad. We – the Mountain traders – won’t go there anymore. Even before my clan bargained with Jahlene, White Oak was barred.” A bell rang out, and Jaffrey shook himself. “Black stone! We’re going to miss breakfast if we don’t hurry.” Mattin’s stomach gurgled at that. He made himself take another breath. “The lady isn’t like Oeloff. I know that.”
“Good.” Jaffrey hurried to throw on his clothes, wincing a few more times as he did so. “Let’s get breakfast and how you the place. We can talk more later if you want.”
Mattin laughed. “I think I’m good for now. As long as… you’re sure you’re safe.”
“Safer here than I was riding the roads, I’m sure of that!” Jaffrey clapped Mattin on the shoulder and guided him towards the dining hall. “Come on.”
Mattin’s appetite surprised him. Of course, the food helped. The lady’s cook was better than Mattin’s father had ever been, and there was a great deal of it. After the surprises so far, Mattin was happy to lose himself in fresh baked bread and jam, three bowls of porridge, two sausages, and a handful of sliced fruit and honey. Jaffrey said little but kept adding food to Mattin’s plate with an amused smile.
Jaffrey himself was satisfied with a bowl of syrup and a bit of porridge. When Mattin finally pushed his plate away and sat back with a sigh, Jaffrey grinned at him. “You eat like this often?”
Mattin shook his head. “Haven’t been eating well lately. And don’t think I’ve ever had this much food at once. Is this… every day?”
“That’d be nice! No, porridge and bread we always get as much as we want, but the rest… Cook usually puts out a nice spread when someone joins the manor. His way of saying ‘welcome, hey? Most days it’s just one – fruit or honey or jam. Syrup comes with the traders, which is why I’ve made a pig of myself.”
“Oh.” Mattin looked around the room. Over two dozen people half-filled the large hall. Most of them sat, as he and Jaffrey did, at a long table that ran the length of the room. A much shorter table at the head of the room, with chairs rather than benches. Jaffrey pointed out a few of the people higher up the table. — “That’s Lona there — she’s Housekeeper. You’ll want to stay on her good side.”
The woman Jaffrey indicated gave him a scathing look that he responded to with an impudent grin. But when she looked at Mattin, her gaze softened, and she nodded a greeting. Mattin nodded back, hoping that was the right thing to do. “You probably met Parlen; she’s never far from the Mistress. I don’t see Dolf; he’s captain of the guard. Only about half the guard is here most days. The rest are on patrol or…” he waved a hand back and forth, “… you know, elsewhere. Doing something.”
Now that Mattin was looking, he saw a few others along the table nod or wave. But other than that, he and Jaffrey were left alone. In fact, they sat at an empty section of table. The hall continued to fill, but no one took a space near them. Even when it meant crowding in another bench further along the table. “Are they avoiding me?”
“Sort of,” Jaffrey shrugged, “Lots of us have been new here, one time or another. We’ve got years to get to know each other, so you get some space while you settle in. Most folks don’t like meeting tens of strangers all at once.”
Put that way, Mattin didn’t mind being ‘avoided.’
The room reminded him of the inn on a good morning. The scent of fresh bread and sausages. People waking up, talking, joking. Everyone was in good spirits, and no one had the kind of scarring he’d seen on Brit last night. When Jaffrey scraped the last syrup from his bowl and stood up, Mattin found himself hopeful about the day.