The Bargain (S1, E5)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex

After breakfast, Jaffrey led Mattin to Brit’s office. The steward had a large space, and he needed every bit of it. Shelves stuffed with papers and files, a desk, several chairs, and some chests filled the room. The morning sun peeked through the south-facing windows, which gave Brit plenty of light to see by. The bright light also made the man a shadowy figure to anyone standing in front of him. It was intimidating, until he spoke.

“Sit down, boy. I don’t need a crick in my neck looking up at you.”

Mattin sat. Jaffrey remained standing by the door. “Anything I assign you to is temporary. When Parlen and the mistress finish their plotting, we may need to change things. For now, that’s not your problem. You do what I tell you, you stay out of trouble, and you try to get comfortable.”

He paused expectantly so Mattin nodded and said, “Yes, sir.”

“Now. I’m the steward, that means I run everything in the manor. Marshal Anral runs everything outside the manor. If we do our jobs right, Jahlene doesn’t even notice us except for regular reports, and can focus on running the county.

“Same will go for you. You’ll have a task or tasks and if you do them well, Anral and I won’t notice anything except that everything is going well. And if we don’t notice you, our mistress… well, she won’t forget you exist, but you will never need to see her except to pass in the hall sometimes.”

“Yes, sir!” Relief coursed through Mattin. He had planned to avoid the lady as much as possible. To be told that it was, essentially, his job to make sure she didn’t notice him, well… Everything about this day kept getting better.

“Cooking, cleaning, and horses…” Brit mused, then turned to Jaffrey. “Take him to the Stablemistress and Housekeeper. Tell them to put him through his paces and let me know if they can make use of him.”

“Yes, Brit. Should I take him to the kitchen too?”

The Steward grumbled. “Yes, see what that bastard thinks of him.”

***

The kitchen was Jaffrey’s first stop, to see ‘that bastard.’

Mattin had thought he knew what to expect — a kitchen was a kitchen, even if this one was three times the size of the kitchen at his father’s inn. He was mostly right, but he hadn’t expected the man bending down into the oven. He was as wide as any two men Mattin had ever met. Mattin had a vision of his getting stuck in the oven and the whole household gathering ‘round to pull him out.

Then the man stood up and all thoughts—foolish and otherwise—vanished from Mattin’s head.

He had pointed ears. Fae ears.

“Well, Jaffrey?” the male asked as he turned around, carrying a tray of rolls. The hot bread filled the kitchen with the scent of rosemary. “Escaped the stables for once?” The male’s eyes were not the slit pupil of the fae, but round and human.

“Showing the new one around, Cook. Steward says to try his paces and see if you like him.”

The male snorted and looked Mattin up and down. “I’m sure the Steward said just that. He set the tray on a wooden table and closed the oven. “Go get yourself a pastry then, and scat. I’ll see you after dinner to help with the dishes.”

Jaffrey grinned and grabbed a pastry out of a cupboard. Mattin, still staring at the cook, didn’t noticed when Jaffrey left the kitchen.

“Sit down, lad.” The cook gestured towards a bench by the table. Mattin sidled over and sat, never taking his eyes off of the male. A few other people moved about the kitchen — finishing that last of the breakfast cleaning and preparing for lunch. Mattin barely noticed them. The countess was supposed to be the only fae here, and —

“Never seen a halfling before, have you?” the male asked, “Well calm down, I don’t mince up little boys to make pies.”

The tone—amused and exasperated—startled Mattin into a laugh.

“That’s better. Now, I know Brit wasn’t happy about sending you down here. The steward and I have our issues, and we keep us apart as much as possible. So he probably didn’t think to warn you. But the kitchen is my realm and I decide who goes or stays.

“I also,” he said more softly, “have barely a touch of the glamour. I don’t need to feed it and even if I did would prefer to keep my stomach in any case. That’s how I became a cook.” He smiled and Mattin was surprised to find himself charmed.

This male — man? — half fae would have made a good innkeeper, able to charm the customers into another round or out the door as needed.

“Yes, sir.”

“Hmph. No sir, lad. Just Cook. Now, if you’re like every other new lad through here, you had no stomach for breakfast this morning.” Cook tossed him one of the fresh rolls. He caught it and nearly burnt his hand. “Eat and tell me what you know about kitchen work and pantlery.”

The bread was good, tangy and sweet. Mattin was still full from breakfast, but managed to find some extra room for the roll. The kitchen reminded him of home even more than the bathing room. Cook turned out to be friendly and understanding. Mattin found himself relaxing with the half-fae, and telling him far more than he intended to, from the ways he helped his father, Bren, in the kitchen to what brought him to seek out the Lady Jahlene. Thinking of Bren, he realized how much he must have hurt his father. How would he react? Would he—Mattin pushed the thoughts aside. He couldn’t think of it. He wouldn’t…

“Bad business, that.” Cook said, as Mattin slowly chewed last of the roll in his mouth. “You’re in for a rough time, lad. You have any trouble, you come to me. Or tell the steward. Don’t keep your mouth shut on it.”

Taken by surprise, Mattin choked on the bread. Cook walloped his back, dislodging the bread and nearly knocking Mattin over. “And no dying.”

Coughing and struggling to catch his breath, Mattin nodded weakly. Why was he supposed to come to the half-fae with his problems? Or the stewards? What did a slave’s problems matter and didn’t Brit sayd his job was to not be noticed?

Before he put words to his confusion—or worked up the boldness to say anything—Cook grabbed his hands, examining them front and back. He frowned at the scabs on Mattin’s palms. “You wash those before you work in this kitchen. And then we’ll bandage those cuts, as should have been done already.”

Once Mattin’s hands were clean and bandaged to the half-fae’s satisfaction, Cook sent Mattin into the root cellar to fetch vegetables for a stew. He guessed at which vegetables and how much—Cook refused to be specific. Two trips later, he had a large stack of turnips, carrots, radish and sweet onions on the table. Enough, he thought, for a stew that would feed the household. Or at least everyone he saw at breakfast.

Most of an hour, and many chopped vegetables later, Cook sent him on his way. “You did good lad. You’ll find Jaffrey lolling about with my Toerff, out the main door and go left.

“You know your way around a kitchen. Do you want to come back?”

“What?” Mattin blinked.

“Do you want to come back? I’ve work for you, but if you aren’t comfortable best you be elsewhere.”

Mattin stared a moment, hand again reachin up to touch the collar. Another expectation turned on it’s head — not even his father had asked what work he wanted to do!

But he had been comfortable in the kitchen, and had been charmed by the charming half fae.

“I think I would like that.”

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