Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex
Even from her office, Jahlene could taste Mattin, not just taste him, but taste him strongly enough to know where he was. The kitchen.
She didn’t know else was with him — Cook presumably, and his assistants. But all them blended together, the energy of thei emotions mixing with with everyone else in the manor and surrounding area. There were many, like Brit or Joth, that should pick out if she looked for them. People she was tied to in some way. But usually anyone not in the room with her was part of the blend. It was was a complex blend, made of contentment, pleasure, worry, stress, joy, and a spark of pleasure — Crait and his wife perhaps, taking advantage of the beating she’d given him yesterday.
But Mattin stood out from that, had throughout the night. It was a curious thing, and made her wish (again) that she could have had a proper fae upbringing and actually learned how her glamour worked.
On the other hand, she thought, somewhat tartly, if she had a ‘proper’ fae upbringing, she probably would have learned to enjoy the taste of fear and hate, to see her family as tools and not people she cared for.
Perhaps it was for the best, then, that she didn’t know, even if it left her confused and curious.
Pulling herself away from her thoughts, she set aside the piece of scrap paper she’d been doodling on and turned to Parlen, the only other person in the room with her. “Would you mind repeating that?”
“Of course, Mistress. The simplest option — and most likely to succeed — would be blackmail.”
There were two problems with that. First, blackmail really was simple. Parlen enjoyed politics, which was one of the reasons Jahlen relied on her. She never had simple suggestions. The other problem was that it wasn’t likely to succeed, at all.
“Unpack that Parlen.”
“Count Orloeff still wants to prove you unfit so he can claim Erida. That’s why he’s been sending spies into the county.”
Jahlene nodded and made an encouraging sound. Conversations with Parlen were like this — she’d skip ahead three stpes, then go back ten and repeat everything you already knew.
“I know we could never prove it, but I still think that Oeloss sent that Mare cursed horseshit a few years ago.”
The horseshit in question was another man who had shown up asking for Jahlene’s collar. Though he was human, he’d had a fae-like darkness in him, and harmed another of Jahlene’s people before she and Brit caught him and got rid of him. She hissed at the memory.
“Mattin is nothing like Ston was,” Jahlene said. “I would recognize that again.”
“Exactly. But Oeloff isn’t going to give up. he wants someone sending him information, possibly sabotaguing you for him.”
“Well,” Parlen patted her intricately braided hair and smiled. “Count Oeloff already met Mattin, and knows that Mattin’s sister is his slave. If you give him the chance, he’ll probably try to blackmail Mattin into giving him information in return for his sister’s safety.”
Jahlene laughed and shook her head. “Simple.”
“Exactly. All we need is to have a witness, someone who isn’t allied with either of you.
“You can either take the case before his Imperial Highness — that would be best politically, but it’s possible the Emperor would order the girl killed rather than let her go free. Or you can then blackmail Oeloff — make him give you political or trade concessions, andgive you the girl so you can be sure he can’t use her against you again.”
Only Parlen would describe this type of political maneuver as simple. “Blackmail the blackmailer. And if he doesn’t go for it?”
“That’s why we have a back up plan. I don’t any of them as much — too complicated and a bit risky.”
“We wouldn’t want to try anything complicated, would we?” Jahlene smiled. “Alright, so we need a witness and a chance for Oeloff to blackmail Mattin.”
“It would be best if Mattin comes with you to Winter Court.” Parlen said. “You could take him as your personal attendant and–”
“It’s the best option, Mistress, and you know Brit wouldn’t–”
“I said no!”
“–mind. It’s been nearly a decade–”
After they left the kitchen, Jaffrey to Mattin took meet the Housekeeper, Lona. Where Cook had put Mattin straight to work, Housekeeper asked him questions. Lots of questions.
Questions about how best to remove stains, about how to clean wood, about how many sheets would be needed for so many rooms, and had he ever polished silver.
When she finally let him go, Mattin was completely wrung out, and he hadn’t done anything but stand straight and talk.
Their next stop was the stables, where the Stablemistress was happy enough with Mattin’s work, and the kennels where the dogs took an instant dislike to them.
They had just finished at the kennels when the dinner bell rang. They washed quickly at the pump behind the stables. While they washed, Jaffrey said, “If Cook doesn’t grab you, I think Brit and Anral would put you in stables.”
Mattin smiled. “I’d like that.”
Jaffrey rubbed his head and chuckled. “Me too, kid.”
“I’m not a kid!” Mattin splashed water at Jaffrey who laughed and splashed him back.
“Hey I just call it like I see it. Kid.”
Whatever Mattin would have said was interrupted by the Stablemistress clearing her throat. “Both of you kids better stop playing and get up to dinner before I kick your asses back to stable to clean out a few more stalls.”
That threat was good to get them moving and they ran back to the manor laughing.
“You really think I could work in the stables?” Mattin asked once the laughter died down, trying not to sound wistful.
“Yeah. Old Litra’s going to be retiring in a few years and then we’ll be short handed.”
“Retiring?” Mattin stopped and grabbed Jaffrey’s arm, the collar on his neck suddenly tight. “He’s a slave, right? how old could he be?”
“Litra? He’s older than Brit, I know that. He was here under the old countess, Mare’s Blessing, he’s got to be at least 60. He doesn’t want to admit he’s getting old but he limps bad in the morning.”
“Sixty.” Mattin’s knees went week and he swayed. “There’s a slave here who’s sixty years old?”
“Whoa, are you okay? Look sit down a minute.” Jaffrey pushed him down to sit in a corner with his back against the wall. “I’m going to run and get Brit.”
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