The Bargain (S1, E8)

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

Mattin didn’t make it back to the kitchen for dinner that night. He didn’t make it for breakfast cleanup the next morning either. It had taken Jahlene three days to accept the inevitable, but accept it she did. For the first time in over two decades, Jahlene would have a personal assistant.

The news filled Mattin with dread. As her personal assistant, he would be by her side almost all the time, all his days spent — sometimes alone — with the fae noble who could do anything she wished with him. But the same determination that had seen him to Jahlene’s door rose up. He knew the lady was not like Oeloff, and he had sworn to do anything he needed to for his sister.

He said nothing while Jahlene, Brit, and Parlen argued training, schedules, and whether he could be ready to serve her in three months at the fae emperor’s Winter Court.

And instead of the kitchen, Mattin reported to Brit’s office.

Brit didn’t bother to greet him. Just directed him to stand next to the desk. Unsure of what was going on, Mattin tried to be patient. When he raised a hand to push a strand of hair out of his face, Brit snapped, “Hands clasped in front of you.”

“Wha—”

“Silence.”

Mattin swallowed his questions and stifled a growl. Brit was supposed to be training him for court. What kind of Mare’s damned training was it when the man wouldn’t tell him anything?

Several hours passed. Mattin remained standing. Hands folded, feet shoulder-width apart, weight balanced, chin up… As the sun rose higher, the scent of warm oil and leather filled the room, overwhelming the musty smell of all the paper Brit kept piled everywhere. The odor roiled his empty stomach, making the taste of bile linger in the back of his throat. Brit’s pen scritched in the silence.

Of all Mattin’s fears, death by boredom never crossed his mind. He couldn’t even read over Brit’s shoulder. And every time he got distracted—

“Chin up!”

Mattin raised his chin, gritted his teeth, and tried to ignore the growing soreness in his feet.

He kept time by watching the movement of the light from the windows. When the square of sunlight had moved halfway across the room, the bell for lunch rang. Mattin waited, stomach gnawing at his spine, for Brit to release him. Long minutes passed. The scritch-scritch of Brit’s pen was driving him crazy.

He must be having a tray sent, Mattin thought with horror. A groan slipped out at the thought of needing to stand and watch Brit eat.

“Silence.”

Mattin closed his eyes, willing himself to endure.

Time dragged by.

The light moved another foot across the wall.

No tray came.

“Go down to the kitchen. Get some food for yourself, and bring a tray back.”

Mattin jumped. After a moment, Brit’s words sunk in. “Yes, sir!” He started for the door, but Brit’s cough stopped him in his tracks. Grumbling silently, he turned and bowed to the older man. Then he left the room.

Opening the kitchen door, a waft of hot, moist air hit him with the hearty savor of a well-made stew. His stomach growled loud enough that Cook spun around. “There you are! So, you’ll be abandoning me already?”

Mattin shrugged uncomfortably. “New orders.”

“Oh, come in, lad, and sit down.” He plopped a bowl full of radishes, carrots, and peas in a thick broth on the table. “You’ll still see me. More often than you’d like. Now eat up.”

“Thank you,” Mattin said around a mouthful of stew. He swallowed and ignored how strange it felt to be sitting with food while the work of the kitchen went on around him. “Brit wants a tray for lunch.”

“What kind of tray?” Cook demanded.

“Ah…” Another few mouthfuls and Mattin no longer felt quite so hollow. “He didn’t say. Just lunch…”

“Hmph. Anyone important enough to have someone standing at their beck and call all day is important enough for the kitchen to make up a tray special. You worked an inn, lad. Day like this, a man’s been sitting for hours, scratching a pen with nothing to wet his throat. He’s looking forward to more hours of the same. What’s he want?”

That brusque question was all it took for Mattin to relax completely. Whatever else had changed, Cook still saw Mattin as one of his own. Which included impromptu quizzes at the drop of a hat.

Mattin thought back to the town clerks and others like them at the inn. Often with a book open on the table and quill in hand while they ate. “Mug of small beer or cider, meat pasty. Some fruit if it’s available, and tea for later.”

“Good lad.” Cook put together a tray as he spoke. “There’s fancier food for the nobles, but the idea is the same. Filling and fast.”

Mattin was near the bottom of his bowl when Cook set the finished platter beside him. “Out of time, lad. Learn to eat faster.”

Mattin grabbed a last bite turnip and stood up. “Thank you.” He picked up the tray in both hands.

“You have to get the door,” Toerff spoke up from the tub of dishes she’d been cleaning.

Mattin cursed. He’d carried trays since the trays were bigger than him—but the inn had no door between the kitchen and the common room. And when he’d helped serve meals here, the door had been propped open.

“Here.” Toerff took the tray from him and balanced it on one hand, using the other hand to steady it. She opened the door with her free hand, walked through backward, and brought the hand back up to steady the tray. Then she came back in, returned the tray to Mattin, and went back to the dishes. Mattin tried to copy her, praying he wouldn’t overbalance the tray. How many doors between here and Brit’s office?

“Did you clear his desk before you came down?” Cook asked.

“No…”

“Then you’ll have to hold it for him. If he’s having a working lunch, you’ll kneel on his left side. Hold the tray up at the same height as his desk. Go.”

Mattin went.

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