And we are back!
This isn’t going to be quite as wild a ride as last season, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park either.
(If you need a refresher, check out Season 1 and Season 2.)
Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, people handling emotions badly, rape (not explicit), torture (not explicit)
The morning after he destroyed everything, Mattin woke early. He still slept alone in the same closet Brit had set him up in his first night in the manor. Sometimes it made him feel isolated from the rest of Jahlene’s slaves, most of whom slept in dormitories. But this morning, it was a blessing. Between the very cold return the lady had given him yesterday and the repeated nightmares of failing Marta and the lady… he wasn’t up to facing anyone.
But he couldn’t stand to be alone with his thoughts either. After a few minutes, he dragged himself up and headed to the kitchen.
To his relief, Cook greeted him like any other day. But standing next to Cook was the last person Mattin expected to see. Jaffrey.
If Mattin’d been the slightest bit more awake, he might have turned and ran. Instead, he froze, knowing that the man could have nothing good to say to him.
But Jaffrey said nothing. He strode across the kitchen and grabbed Mattin’s shoulders, staring into his eyes. Mattin was forbidden to speak, but he couldn’t have spoken anyway. All the words died in his throat. He could only hope Jaffrey could see how sorry he was.
He nearly fell over when Jaffrey pulled him into a crushing embrace.
Stunned, Mattin nearly bit his tongue to stop himself from speaking. And after a moment, he returned the embrace. Lightly at first, ready to pull back at a moment’s notice. But as Jaffrey only held on, Mattin let himself go.
He didn’t cry much, only a few silent tears. But he couldn’t have held on tighter if he’d be clinging for life to the Bloody Mare’s mane.
After several minutes, Jaffrey stepped back and examined him again. “You’ll do. Mare’s Blessing, you scared me!”
Mattin opened his mouth. Closed it. Damn it, he couldn’t throw away his second chance, but his throat ached with the need to speak. He glanced at Cook, who pretended to be engrossed in a mug of tea.
“It’s okay,” Jaffrey said, “I know you can’t say anything. Stone blasted stupid thing.”
Relief made Mattin’s knees go weak for the second time in two days. He still wanted, desperately, to tell Jaffrey how sorry he was, but at least his friend knew he wasn’t silent by choice.
“You need to talk to Cook. I can’t help you, not while the mistress is being an Mare-tossed fool, but you can’t deal with this alone. I know.” Jaffrey’s intensity had Mattin nodding before he realized what he was agreeing to.
Jaffrey squeezed his shoulders again and was gone.
“Well,” Cook pushed his tea away and stood, “the dough is waiting. And we need to talk.”
Over the next hours, while loaves rose on breadboards and rolls baked in the oven, Cook dragged every bit out of Mattin. Not just Mattin’s outburst in the glamourhame but all his thoughts and fears since he chose to become Jahlene’s slave. Cook even managed to get Mattin to admit to things he hadn’t known he was feeling.
When the last of the day’s bread had been set to cool, Mattin felt like he had been wrung out and hung to dry. He had neither tears nor temper left—Cook pulled torrents of both from him and met them with equal indifference. Of course, anyone who fought Brit regularly wouldn’t be worried about Mattin’s temper.
“Alright, boy,” Cook said as they sipped tea and watched a large pot of porridge heat over the fire, “you need to start talking to people more. And you need to start listening to Brit.” He held up a hand before Mattin could say anything. “The man’s annoying as the day is long, but I know he’s talked about this. You need to let go of what you were and let yourself change. You’re so caught up in what you know is right and wrong, you can’t learn anything new.”
Cook slammed his hand into the table. A cloud of flour rose into the air. “That’s exactly what I mean. Did you even stop to think about what I said? Or did you just react, ‘but you’re wrong Cook,’ and never a thought in your head?”
Mattin flushed and looked away.
“So, you know what you know, and don’t confuse you with reality. And didn’t that get you to a wonderful place.” A sweep of his hand took in Mattin’s outburst and its results. Cook tossed back his tea and got up to pour himself another cup from the kettle next to the fire. He added a healthy shot of liquor from a flask hidden behind the pots.
“Damn it, Cook, you’re not helping.” Mattin stood and pushed away from the table.
“Who said I was trying to?” Cook offered the flask to Mattin, who wanted nothing to do with it. “No one can help you until you admit you need help. I’m trying to beat some sense into your head. Preferably before the steward gets frustrated enough with this mess to beat the brains out of mine!”
“I wasn’t aware you had any.”
Mattin jumped at the voice. He turned to see Brit standing in the doorway.
Cook raised his flask in salute. “Care for some uisqe, good Steward?”
“Don’t tempt me.” Brit turned to Mattin. “A messenger came from Portton, there’s a problem at the docks. The mistress needs you in her office.”
Mattin nodded and hurried from the room, secretly relieved to escape.
Cook watched him run out of the room and cursed. “Mare’s teeth, steward, you have the worst timing!” He returned the flask to its hiding place and took a drink of tea.
“I?” Brit snorted. “I didn’t set fire to the docks.” He paused a moment then asked, “How is he doing?”
“How do you think?” Cook started stirring the porridge, turning his back to Brit.
“I think it hasn’t occurred to him that Jahlene screwed up as badly as he did yesterday. I also think you are the one person the boy can still talk with who he trusts. And I think I need to be sure the boy is getting the help he needs.
“Because damn sure Jahlene isn’t capable of helping him.”
Cook turned and stared at the steward, “I do believe that is the longest speech I have ever heard you make.”
Brit glared at him.
Moving slowly, Cook sat down at the table again. “Why is Jahlene ‘not capable’ of helping him, Steward?”
For a long moment, he thought Brit wasn’t going to answer. Finally, Brit said, “Because Mattin isn’t the only one who’s so twisted up he isn’t thinking clearly.”
“Ah. I take it you are working to get her untwisted?”
Brit started pacing, taking long, slow strides around the kitchen. “I’m doing what I can, but her reaction is too close out. She doesn’t want to hurt him but she thinks she can protect them both by pushing him away. She needs time before she can get untwisted.”
“I see. And Mattin?”
Brit snorted. “The boy doesn’t care—or hasn’t noticed—that she glamoured him. What do you think?”
“Did she really?” Cook took another drink to hide his own reaction. “That hasn’t made the gossip.”
“Mare’s mercy, that is.”
Setting his mug on the table, Cook met Brit’s eyes and for once saw something other than anger. The fear and sorrow there cut him far deeper than the anger ever had. But with the ease of long practice, he suppressed the desire to soothe the other man. “What do you want me to do?”
Brit stopped and stared at Cook. “Are you offering to help?”
“Whatever you may think, I am not any kind of monster.” He growled in frustration. “And I like the boy.”
Brit rolled his eyes, “Keep talking with him. I’ll be picking Jaffrey and Crait’s brains for ideas on getting him untwisted. I don’t want him damaged by this mess. Maybe once he’s not giving off emotional flares, I’ll be able to get her to stop acting like a cat in a dog kennel.”
Cook nodded and looked away. “Tell me if you learn anything useful.”
“You do the same,” Brit shot over his shoulder as he headed out the kitchen door.