I’ll be honest: this chapter is almost pure self indulgence.
Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, people handling emotions badly, rape (not explicit), torture (not explicit), pony play, mind fuck (minor)
By the time they got to the courtyard, the two women were waiting for them. Jaffrey stood beside them with a light carriage and a mound of very odd-looking tack. Mattin knew Berta—she was the one who showed him how Jahlene liked her things laid out in the evening, and he’d spoken with her a few times over meals. Sare, he had seen at meals from time to time—Jaffrey had pointed her out once as having ‘an interest’ in Joth, but he’d never spoken with her.
Both stood, perfectly proper, doing their own version of being posts. But their eyes were bright and they stood with an eager tension—like racers waiting for the starting whistle.
Falthro examined the women, then turned to Jahlene.
The lady nodded to Jaffrey who bent down to the pile of tack and came up with something resembling a bridle. He approached Sare, clucking his tongue like he was soothing a restive horse. She stood, not responding until he slipped the bit in her mouth and fitted the bridle over her head.
“By Dannu!” Falthro whispered.
Sare transformed, though Mattin was never, then or later, fully able to describe or explain it. No longer a post, her weight shifted restlessly from foot to foot. She quivered and shook her head, for all the world like a nervous mare. From the way Falthro stared, Mattin guessed the change went deeper than Sare’s behavior.
Jaffrey rubbed her legs and arms and offered her a sugar cube. She nickered and lipped it from his hand, then stood while Jaffrey fitted the rest of her tack. He backed her between the shafts of the carriage and fitted her into a harness before shifting his attention to Berta.
In Berta, the transition was gradual. She opened her mouth for the bit, and Mattin caught her winking at Jaffrey. Her foot stomped, once. Then she was still, a post. But with each piece of tack her body language shifted a bit more. By the time Jaffrey was fitting her into the harness, she was blowing—pulling a trick as old as horses to keep Jaffrey from tightening the girth properly. When he’d dealt with her blowing and had her strapped in, she was all mare—and a restless one.
Jahlene climbed into the carriage and accepted the reins from Jaffrey. “Join me for a drive, my lord?”
After a moment Falthro climbed up beside her. Mattin stood beside the carriage and awaited any orders the lord would give. In the end, he gave no orders. Mattin watched as Jahlene sent the women—the mares—into a fast walk, and they drove down the road.
When they pulled up in the courtyard fifteen minutes later, Falthro was still staring at the mares. Mattin helped Jaffrey to unharness them, and then Jaffrey led them back to the stables.
When they were out of sight, Falthro turned to Jahlene and gave her a flourishing bow. “Countess n’Erida, I salute you. However did you manage that?”
Jahlene grinned. “Now Falthro, why should I tell you my secrets for free? My mares are a special pair. Even if I tell you what makes them so special, you wouldn’t be able to duplicate it.”
“Now that I cannot believe.” Falthro gestured widely. His eyes sparkled as brightly as the stones of the manor. “In all my years there has never been a traiglamour I have not been able to recreate. You challenge me, lady. Do you think I can let such a challenge stand?”
Jahlene laughed and offered Falthro her arm. They walked back towards the manor, Mattin trailing behind. “Falthro, your artistry is undeniable, but this… unless I am much mistaken, to recreate this taste, you would need to recreate my household.”
Falthro looked at her a long moment and sighed, some of the brightness flowing out of him. “You believe this. But that will not stop me from trying.”
“Then I will tell you this much: you cannot force it. A human either has the horse nature within them or they do not.”
Falthro said nothing further until they reached the formal dining room, and Jahlene sent for lunch.
After a meal spent dissecting the kitchen’s artistry (and Cook had outdone himself), Falthro turned to Jahlene with a grin. “You were correct, by the by. Your mares truly are a unique flavor, but not at all filling. Dare I hope you can offer more traditional fare?”
“Of course, Falthro.” She sent, again, for Elose and Jaffrey.
Mattin looked away. Falthro was examining them as if they were pieces of meat in a butcher’s shop. Mattin knew fae hospitality required Jahlene to offer the use of her glamourhame, but he’d hoped Berta and Sare would be enough to divert the lord.
Falthro chose Jaffrey and dismissed Elose. As Elose turned to go, the fae lord grabbed her about the throat and forced her to the floor. Mattin nearly jumped to help her but froze before it was too late. Jaffrey lunged for the fae lord, but Jahlene stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. Falthro released Elose almost as soon as he had grabbed her—the whole thing took seconds.
The fae lord walked up to Mattin and put a hand under his chin, forcing Mattin to meet his eyes. “That was close, little toy. I almost caught you. And may I say your anger and hatred are a delicious sauce. I haven’t tasted its like in a long time.”
Mattin wanted to tell the fae exactly what he thought, but instead managed to choke out, “It is my pleasure to serve you, Lord.”
Falthro grinned. “Preferably roasted with a side of greens, I’m sure.” He cocked his head to the side and winked, “Oh go ahead and give me an honest response, toy. I promise not to hold it against you.”
“I prefer my meat broiled… Lord.” Mattin cursed himself even as he spoke. But Falthro threw back his head and laughed.
“Oh, little toy, you are a delight. Very well Jahlene, I concede. You’ll have my help. And I don’t know which I will look forward to more, Trapping Oeloff or watching your bait squirm on its self-made hook.”
The fae lord turned his attention back to Jaffrey and Elose… probably enjoying the way he’d managed to turn the taste of victory sour in Mattin’s mouth.
Mattin forced himself to focus on the moment. Falthro was bending over Elose and whispering in her ear. Mattin couldn’t hear what he said or Elose’s reply. But a moment later, Jahlene dismissed him and Jaffrey, and escorted Falthro, with Elose, to the glamourhame.
Once they were gone, Mattin took a deep breath and strove to forget Lord Falthro’s games. The lord could play with Mattin all he wanted, Mattin had won this round.
He had won. He was on a long stride closer to saving Marta.
“Congratulations,” Jaffrey said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I knew you could do it.”
Mattin wanted to respond, to share his joy with his friend. But he would not risk everything now, of all times. So he only smiled in gratitude and left the room.
He thought of going to his cubby and being alone but decided to go to the kitchen instead. Cook was always glad of an extra pair of hands, and it would give him a chance to share the good news.