The scene with John really isn't working for me. I need Aelfwine to see his bruises and lay down the law with John, but something here feels too contrived or ... I don't know. Off. Something to fix in revisions, I guess.
Mildþryð waited until he was out of site, then began pacing the walkway. Dratted Nornes and their refusal to show what they were thinking. His control was a credit to his teachers. What should wouldn’t give for a proper Dragma expression. Bellowing, scowling, laughing, anything but that perpetual stone face. Though broken, shockingly, for one moment when she first began explaining.
It was not unheard of for defeated warriors to be offered service. Especially if they were known to be skilled or the victor was in desperate need of more swords.
She could only assume that he reacted so strongly becvause it was a woman asking for his oath.
Among the Anglish, the arrangement would be unusual but accepted. The Dragma, if her mother’s tales could be trusted, the idea of such an oath would be ludicrous – the difference in their ranks would mean her position would be assumed by all – including her husband!
But the Nornes, with their refusal to admit a woman could command…
She would not be able to treat him as an Anglish husband. Each day she would need to remind him of his subservience lest he forget that she ruled here.
Assuming he accepted. She would have thought even for a Norne it would be a simple decision, but with his life and the lives of all his men in the balance he wanted time to think about it!
If he accepted, she would need to be on her guard. He clearly inspired loyalty, she thought, carefully testing her bruising. If he was capable of giving it, then her gamble would truly pay off.
But if he was one to swear an oath and then break it for convenience… at best, the holding would be turn apart as her people battled his, leaving them all ripe for plucking by the conqueror. The worst… was not worth considering.
If he refused, she would try for the ransom. At least she might get something out of this fiasco. If the ransom was refused... Her jaw tightened. Then the walls would sport new decorations for as long as the bodies lasted.
By the Ships, what a waste that would be.
Ælfwine was surprised to find himself brought, not back to his cell, but to a well appointed room with a desk, several comfortable looking chairs, and another door leading… somewhere else.
“You’re not to leave these rooms until you give Lady Mildþryð your ansewr. But she ordered you’re to get anything with in reason you ask for while you’re here.”
“You know what the lady proposed?”
“Not the details of it, that’s between you twain. But we talked around it a might. I’m Armsmaster here and one of Lady Mildþryð’ main advisors since her father died.
“I hope you won’t take this wrong, Sir Knight, but I told her you were the best of a bad lot and she likely wouldn’t find better before your King lost patience with her.
“But understand this, Sir Knight. She is our Lady. If you wed her, and you’d be a fool not to, we’ll obey your lawful orders. But it’s her who has our loyalty, and you had best remember that.”
Ælfine nodded. “I thank you for your counsel. And your… support.
“I would appreciate a bath and a real meal. After that, if you consider it ‘reasonable’, I’d like a chance to speak with one or two of my men.”
“I’ll see to it.”
“My thanks, Armsmaster.”
He had forgotten to ask for a change of clothes, Ælfwine thought as he waited. The scent of his old cell still clung to his clothing making him feel unclean even after his bath.
The door opened, and the sight of John pushed everything else out of his mind.
“By the Dark! What happened to you?”
Both of john’s eyes were black and nearly swollen shut. He was bruised on every inch of exposed skin. From the stiff way he moved, there were more bruises beneath his clothes.
“You know how you keep warning me about losing my temper? Well, you were right.”
Dear Ancestors. “You put that bruise on Lady Mildþryð. Damn it, John, you’re lucky she didn’t have you hung.”
“She’s going to anyway, most likely. But speaking of being lucky, you seem to have fallen in the cream.”
Ælfwine took a deep breath and realized his decision was made. Whatever he might risk himself, he couldn’t throw away the lives on John and his friends, of the men who followed and depended on him.
“It seems we all have, John. And no one will be hung. It seems Lady Mildreth is tired of fighting off endless suitors. She has offered me her hand in marriage.”
“Ælfwine! Why didn’t you say so immediately!” He knelt down “My lord...”
“Wait, John. Here me out.” He sighed. “Yes. Yes, it’s wonderful.” Did he sound has false as he thought? “But as you might imagine, the lady is rather in the position to set terms.
“Some of that is… rights she wishes to retain for herself. A matter of… a… differences in marriage customs between ourselve and these Anglish, if I understand. But,” he waved that away, “Also other things.
“One of them that none of her people be displaced or demoted from their current positions. You and Damian and Harold will need to decide. This isn't what we planned for--you it won’t be commanding those we conquored in the field, but serving alongside and likely under those who bested it us.”
“You think we care about that?” John shook his head. “Very well, yes, it pinches a bit. But so what?
“Ælfwine, I was proud to serve your father along side you, but it was never your father that had my loyalty. Nothing would please me more than to see you take your proper rank--however it came to you--and to serve you as my lord.”
He bent his head and started again, “My lord, I am your man, heart and mind and blade. What do you wish of me?”
Ælfwine rested a hand on John's head, surprised and touched by the ancient oath he realized now he had never truly expected to hear.
“Rise Sir John, and go tell the others they will soon have a new lady.”
“Yes, my lord,” John stood and opened the door.
“And John? If you so much as raise a hand to my lady again I will string you up myself.”
John bowed, deeply. “I understand.”
After John left, escorted back to the barracks where the men were held, Ælfwine asked the guard at his door to request Lady Mildþryð speak with him.
For John’s sake, and all his men, he would kneel to Lady Mildþryð and wed her knowing he'd be all but cuckolding himself. Somehow he would endure the oath he must swear.
Wedding oath… as his wife, she would vow to obey him. Would that not supercede his oath to her? Relief filled him, tinged with shame. It was not an honorable thing he contemplated. But right now he would happily live with that slight dishonor.