“Then the whole boyfriend girlfriend thing?”
“Real, very real, voluntary and actually wanted. I need to see where I am and that entails trusting someone. I know she is watching me, will watch me, so I see no need to be subtle.”
“You are planning on pushing your boundaries and you want me to help you learn them?”
“Yes. I need an alliance if I’m ever to be free. I may as well start with you.”
“I work for her though.”
“So. I know that. I don’t think you’ll spy for her, but if you do, you do. You don’t act like a sadist and have resisted punitive punishments, that is the best I can hope for.”
“What do you hope for?”
“I don’t know yet, I have to know my boundaries before I can decide that.”
“We’ll talk about that later. We can start discussing when you are ready. For now you have a week of celebration to attend to.”
“We talk in the morning then since I always sleep in your bed now.” Brenhar agreed, “In the meantime I can also do the girlfriend thing in the shower if you would still like it.”
“I can’t directly interfere Land Mother Michelson.” The headmaster of Centerversity tells her in the mirror in his office, the day after her conference with Brenhar.
“I am talking about my daughter and my Heir Primus headmaster.”
“And you are talking about me invading a student’s dorm with no cause.”
“All I am asking headmaster is to check on her health and welfare. She was supposed to check in this morning and has not. We need to speak with her and she is ignoring her mirror.”
“Why? Do you fear for her health?”
“I would rather not say.”
“Then give me some excuse!” He pleaded referring to the rules that govern Centerversity as laid down and enforced by the Legents.
“This Charles or Third Heir Thomson may be torturing her.”
“I can assure you Land Mother Michelson that he is not. He is at this moment in the Third Heir Thomson’s dorm room still on bed rest. It is my belief that just she and her maids are in chambers with him and I know your Heir is not.”
“Heir Primus Michelson is not in the chambers he is using.”
“But I heard she was put in a boy’s chambers.”
“She was, but not his. She has been placed in a Thomson boy’s room, Lucas Alson, for the time being. He is seeing to her for now.”
“Oh.” She huffed frowning. She knew all this of course, but asking for confirmation would give too much away, better to verify by misaccusation and leave the school clear. Involving the school would involve public records, bad enough and a direct danger to Brenhar inheriting she has discovered; but could also drag the Legents in, a thing to be avoided at nearly any cost at nearly any time.
“She has in fact been released from humblement on parole.”
“Yes. She gave her word to abide during Charles’ healing and resubmit herself when he has healed. In the mean time Third Heir Thomson deemed it wise to allow your Heir Primus to manage her education on her own, due in no small part to her status as your Heir.”
“The Third Heir did?” She asked completely puzzled now. The layers of Lisa’s trails of gossip and misdirection having started working even on some who are supposed to be on the inside.
“Yes. Her exact words were that since you accepted any punishment he sees fit that does not ruin Brenhar’s reputation or prevent her from inheriting, there was no need for her interim pursuits to suffer. Since she will indeed be inheriting, whatever form of punishment he gives will by definition be taken with minimal complaint, so why make your Heir Primus suffer in the mean time?”
“It appears you have been out maneuvered. I don’t appreciate having the school caught up in the middle of whatever mess your houses or Familydoms have between them. The girl has already answered your questions and accusations before you even got around to making them.”
“Thank you headmaster, good day.” She said stepping away breaking the connection to show just her own reflection as she ponders.
“We’re in trouble?” House Mother Michelson asked.
“Yes, lots. This Third Heir of Thomson’s, Lisa, Lady Ericson now according to a note from one of our diplomatic people in Thomson, is up to something. She seems to be out maneuvering herself neatly, I have never seen a better pretext for a war between Familydoms, yet something doesn’t seem right.”
“She already knows the outcome of all this. This is nothing but a dog and pony show, she’s entertaining the masses.” The Land Mother answers with frustration.
“The same girl that pre answered our accusations of this morning with the Headmaster after the private talk we had yesterday with Brenhar is bothering to entertain the masses, she is busy entertaining the public and distracting even those involved.”
“We’re easily five, maybe seven steps ahead of where we think she is, we have her cornered.”
“I have this ugly feeling she’s actually that much or so ahead of us.
“Why? The masses?”
“No, the way she is doing the masses. Those two have hated each other from the day they met. Yet that girl is going massively out of her way to preserve Bren’s reputation and provide an excuse for everything. She is shielding Brenhar and this Charles both behind the shell of her reputation, providing a public excuse for Brenhar to be obedient even though Brenhar has no choice. Just as though she were not collared and were doing this in payment of her own accord, like she really had learned better and is making payment for the sins of her past. Lisa, Third Heir Thomson, is setting the stage for something, but I don’t know what, nothing makes sense. War is just too simple of an answer.”
“Is it possible she actually thinks the conflict between their Familydom and ours can be prevented?”
“No, no one who can understand to isolate the keeper boy they have keeping her on parole, to not have him be of one their ruling families, could miss that. She ensured that not only is he not a member of any of their upper families, he is a member of a servant house, as common as one can be and still know enough to play the part. Yet isolated from their true upper houses, exactly the person you would use for unofficial back channel communications to reduce tensions.”
“Granted she is isolating the keeper, and his moderate place is proper, but how did Bren treat him before this, before he was made the one she must obey or face punishment until this Charles heals?”
“She hasn’t. His name is Lucas, of the Alsons, and Brenhar has never Pinocchio’d him. I verified that after we spoke to her. I am disturbed and surprised at that given some of the other things that I have heard now that I have ordered all rumors about her, even speculation, reported to me.”
“How has he been treating her?”
“By all accounts as of last night, Bren was still acting as herself. The collar was not being used to limit her to a chambermaid or worse. Though apparently Brenhar is being as obedient as if he had, about time she began to learn the price of her mouth and attitude. I am not happy about word of her ways not reaching me before this.”
“Then instead of profiting from Bren falling, she plans to profit from Bren inheriting?” House Mother Michelson asked by way of deflection, the failing of communication being hers as well as others.
“How? Donalson or Dest either one will make our move inevitable, even if we aren’t coming apart ourselves. No one says it of course, but we all know it, even the Donalson and Dest people know this is a pointless dance and as good as admit it. They will attack when we weaken, diplomacy at this stage can only buy us time, it is too late to stop what is coming, it devolves to terms or war.”
“Could she be planning on calling in life debt to claim children?”
“No. She would not do anything to endanger children, even by accident. So much as a stray thought about custody conflicts at our level might involve the Legents directly. Her own Land or House mother would have her head for even thinking like that. The child, when Brenhar finally has one, assuming she ever settles down, will be safe and that means uncontested.”
“Then how does a strong us profit her?”
“She has no bread so she throws them a circus?” House Mother Michelson asks exasperated.
“I’m afraid so. Sit down with who you need to, find a way that Brenhar inheriting and us being strong is good for Thomson. I know we will never be able to stand off Donalson after he gets that damn alliance of his together so ignore that, there is another plan. The girl bears the ring of a Legent.”
“A year ago they pledged not to interfere. So either they lied?”
“Or were blind. Call in all the families and all the clans. Every councilor, every advisor, every strategist.”
“Especially, and every one. Let’s hope five hundred of us can out maneuver one lone girl; in time.”
“What did Lucas want earlier?” Charles asked Lisa when she returned to her dorm, where Charles is resting while healing, with lunch.
“He said he was playing double agent.” Lisa laughed, “Brenhar went for the ‘how bad are things’ option sooner than either of us thought. He asked for a day’s dispensation, her words, to test the limits of her assigned roles.”
“Is that why I keep feeling the collar trigger and feel you release it?”
“Yes. He is giving her a variety of roles at her request, then she pushes and when it trips I give it a few to a dozen or so hearts depending on how I’m feeling.”
“She keeps tripping it on purpose?”
“Yes. No she is not trying to build up a resistance, just plot her boundaries so she knows what she can and can’t do. I must warn you though, it may go on for days. After all, even among stubborn people she has a reputation for stubbornness.”
“She’s not, Lucas isn’t.”
“How is Nicole handling it?”
“Lucas ordered her to sleep.”
“He what?” Charles asked laughing so hard tears were coming to his eyes. “Got tired of her whining about her new position in life did he?”
“Exactly. Very obedient, but very verbal.” Lisa laughed back.
“Poor kid.” Charles chuckled, who he meant lost in ambiguity.
“Work for what?”
“Later. For now is there any part of the archives I should concentrate on?” Lisa asked.
“Just get there, the section on the immune system, I need to know why so many diseases are mentioned but we hardly ever get sick. Then if you don’t mind I’ll borrow you to peruse.”
“It’s that,” he starts in then pauses, “It’s that I’m not sure what I’m looking for, it’s a...”
“Just remember that if I need a bathroom break to withdraw and let me handle it.” She interrupts smiling.
“Thanks. And remember to reset the collar for Brenhar today while I’m out.” Lisa laughed and headed out.
“You got it.” Charles whispered to the closing door. He would like to visit the archives himself, but he had learned early on that the wards designed to dampen generic curiosity worked overtime on him.
“I am not ordering her to be a chamber maid again for no reason.” Lucas is telling Lisa on the last day of Harvest Hallow at ten bells.
“Taking her side?” Lisa asked.
“No side involved, it’s just not needed.”
“Then see if she will accept orders to do...” Lisa is saying Lucas buts her off.
“No.” he tells her firmly.
“I told you, it’s not needed. She’s been doing the dorm chores as herself for the last few days. I want to see of she will keep them up.”
“What if she decides to be her old self once classes start up?”
“She does not raise her shields in the dorm, I can humble her at will.”
“Did you test?”
“I didn’t need to.”
“Then do test.”
“She returns to chambermaid,” Lisa says firmly, “or she spends the middle day of the week as your personal sex toy that you shall play with and use at every opportunity for the day.”
“That’s just,” Lucas says with a shudder.
“I’ll ask her.”
“One way or the other. All week with chores first, or one day thinking of little but sex.”
“I’ll ask her.” Lucas repeats and walks out.
“Going well?” Charles asks walking in.
“Perfectly. He is fighting me and she is trying to recruit him.”
“So everything going according to plan?”
“So far, so good. Brenhar is losing resistance to Lucas. Her Land and House mothers are driving themselves insane trying to figure out how a strong Michelson could possibly profit Thomson. Since they aren’t large enough, they can’t stop Donalson and Dest together, especially with Kallows in the mix to offset their Magist advantage. If I could, it would be an enormous amount of fun to watch them try to figure it out.”
“I will do the mid week day as your sex toy if you don’t mind.” Brenhar tells Lucas that night.
“But I was ordered to, um.” He stammers.
“I know,” Brenhar replies softly, “I know and you will do so. In fact you will do so vigorously and be obvious about it.”
“Why do you insist?”
“Because Lisa will need the cover when it is time.”
“Cover? For what?”
“Her course is as obvious as it is impossible. Yet I have learned one thing about your Third Heir, Lucas my friend, and that thing is that even when she was a whiny little bitch she knew exactly how much she could bite off and still chew. She has grown and matured far more in mind than shows in the body she now hides behind. It is all a cover.”
“Yes. I know you report our conversations, to do otherwise would be the height of folly, yet though she tells you much, you see little as of yet.” Brenhar says with a shudder, “I am sorry for your part in this, you are caught in the grip of a thing from ages past.”
“What are you talking about? And why are you so maudlin all of a sudden?”
“I finally understand my part in this grand play. I thought myself a player, I fancied myself a queen in the game of life, I thought myself a master of my own fate. I know better now.”
“You ask that a lot, you really should learn to accept more or come to understand more.” Brenhar said gently, “She will have told you to be firm in your usage, to be sure I was used and used well.”
“Then do so. I will give you a hint though, beyond advice to stay with me when the time comes of course. Don’t worry, she will say it is up to you and she will mean it.” Brenhar said with sad eyes and a trace of tears, “The Legents, they did not choose her, they acknowledged her.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Brenhar told Lucas with a smile. “In fact let me make this easy for you since I will need you later. Come the mid days if you are loyal to her, use me. If you are loyal to me, use me. Either way the command is the same, use me and use me well, it is necessary. I have little hope of freeing myself and I would have a real friend use me instead of a stranger. Do not worry, I forgive you for what you must do.”
“Why the insistence? What is she planning?”
“I won’t spoil the surprise, I owe her that much for the opportunity.”
“You will understand.”
“Yes. You could order me, I know that, yet you are hesitant about your role so you won’t.” Brenhar said sadly, “Mirror, I would speak with my Land Mother.”
“One moment please.” It said and grosses of heartbeats pass as she and Lucas fill time with meaningless small talk and then the Land Mother appears.
“Yes Heir Primus?” The Michelson Land Mother said looking concerned.
“She will not begin today, you have moons I think.”
“Are you sure?”
“Thank you. Who is the young man with you?”
“This is Lucas.” Brenhar said and then winced at The Land Mother’s sharp hiss, “He is my boyfriend, we are something of an item.”
“Really?” She questioned sharply.
“Really.” Brenhar said with a grin.
“I had heard something about you changing dorms.”
“I retain my old dorm, this is more an extra place.”
“Yes. This is where Lucas and I get together. I’m afraid I had to drag Nicole along though, to help with chores you understand.”
“Yes. We needed something of a chambermaid.”
“Oh.” The Land Mother said watching an uncomfortable looking Lucas stay very still and quiet, “Will he be joining you here for solstice?”
“Yes Land Mother, I wanted to invite him and ask you at the same time, that way both parties know I have nothing to hide.”
“Interesting. I have no problem of course, it is just that certain people were hoping, expecting, that maybe arrangements hadn’t changed all that much.”
“I think we’re an item for the foreseeable future.”
“Interesting. Is he perhaps one of those involved in your parole?”
“Administering only. Previous to current events he and I had never been together even in the dance of wills and never crossed paths in any sort of battle.”
“I thought you should know.”
“Well Lucas, you should know you will be the center of attention, not many boys have been able to hold Brenhar’s attention for very long before this. She never has been very good at doing what she is told to do.”
“I am learning Land Mother. Lucas has been helping me learn the terms of my parole. Without his help I would still be lost.”
“Good to know. Will he be your guest or here with you?”
“All will be ready.”
“Thank you Land Mother, good day.”
“Good day.” She replied stepping away from the mirror and thus closing the connection.
“What?” Lucas asked.
“You ask that a lot. Now you can come oversee my parole and no one will think twice about you being in my chambers.”
“What is happening?”
“I’m going to ask you a favor.”
“Don’t ask. I have my suspicions and if I’m right I accept my punishment. However, it must be a complete surprise to everyone.” Brenhar replied with a genuine smile.
“Are you going to try to bribe me with sex again?” Lucas asked suspiciously.
“Would you rather a humble bout in bed or a very vigorous shower?” She asked smiling and shieldless, distracting him with promised sex.
From time to time during that and the following weeks Brenhar feels an urge to report to Charles and Lisa’s dorm. Each time she goes down on Charles and is laced with more Seed Magic. Each mid week Lucas, on orders, gives Brenhar a role as his sex toy. She always insists he do so and use her as much as he wants, ensuring that it is known she is used. She even insists that he should share if he can find an excuse, he never does, which suits Lisa’s plans just fine.
“This is Yen.” Lisa says the week after in her dorm, introducing the three fingers short of a fathom dark skinned girl with white looking features to Charles. Though she is mixed race, Charles can’t tell what would have given her light copper colored skin with red hair and green eyes. He is finally healed enough to appreciate the eleven stone of muscle in excellent condition with nearly self supporting C cups though.
“You’ve been practicing.” Charles observes as he notices that the girls face is not the blank of humblement, but the relaxation of sleep talking despite her having walked in behind Lisa.
“Yes I have.” Lisa says with pride, “She is ready for you anytime.”
“I can’t say I’m not looking forward to it this time.”
“I know and I’m sorry about Nicole. I needed what we learned from her to know where to look next.”
“Not a problem, it’s not like she’s hard to find or unavailable.”
“No, not at all.” Lisa laughs.
“Are you ready for this?”
“Yes.” She answers, “You know I’m not jealous of these experiments.”
“I had to use sex to recruit poor Lucas, so no excuses.”
“Fine, let’s get on with it.” He says picking up and rereading his list of orders for Yen again as Lisa guides her onto the bed, over Charles, ordering her to go down on him.
“Here goes.” Charles says, reaching out to humble the sleep talking girl. He reaches out again, just as Lisa had taught him. He finds himself once again in a white room with a sleep talking Yen sitting on a large chair. As before he mounts the chair, enters her orally, grasps her head and then reaches out to her again. Once more in a central chamber he stares at the now humbled figure beside him.
“Take me to these management rooms.” He orders Yen handing her a list of places and then follows along as she leads him to the nearest one. Just as before the hallways are full of large doors with fewer doors as they grow smaller and then finally the smallest.
“Remove the security from the door,” he commands and watches her obey.
“Set security according to this diagram.” He orders handing her another list, a much faster way doing the same thing he did in Nicole with a far lesser chance of a mistake. In a moment it is done.
“Now on to the next.” He orders and follows as she does each door in turn, changing the setting as ordered.
“Excellent.” Charles tells her a while later when they are done, “Now I have an assignment for you, do you understand?”
“Good. When you wake you will mount me and entice me to climax with you. When I do you will be further laced with my seed magic. I want you take a small, just a tiny bit of it, and isolate it in you. You will hold it in you and preserve it. Do nothing else with it, just keep it alive.”
“Good girl Yen.” Charles says and lets the room fade. Then he dismounts the large chair and lets that room fade as well.
“That was quick.” Lisa tells him as his eyes open.
“I knew a lot more about what I was doing; and how to ask for directions.”
“Wow, here I thought you were a real guy and you go ruin the illusion.” Lisa snickers.
“Just get on with it.” Charles laughs.
“Wake up now Yen.” Lisa says grinning.
“Wow.” Charles whispers as Yen rises up, loses her clothes on the bed over him and then lowers herself onto him. He tries to enjoy her moving, yet all he can think of, in spite of her riding him, is the experiment and the changes he knows he just made. Then his distraction proves too much and Lisa humbles him to force his response. A moment later, to his eyes, Yen is climbing off the bed.
“Hey!” He laughs, not mad or disturbed, just annoyed.
“I’ll make it up to you.” Lisa says grinning, “I promise.”
“Promises promises.” Charles laughs back. Some part of him resents being used like that, yet he also knows this is her task, her thing, the price he pays to get the price she pays, her. All of her for all of time to have and to hold, to keep for all his days. He prays she finishes one day, yet even if she doesn’t or she fails, at least he is no longer alone.
“I report as ordered.” Brenhar says entering Lisa’s dorm without knocking the night before the week of Winters Hallow feast.
“I see Lucas is still keeping you on a long leash.” Lisa quips humorously at the intrusion, “And you were supposed to come by at ninth bell, not eighth. Charles is not back yet.”
“I’m here now.”
“Everyone out.” Lisa orders and the half dozen other people in the room scatter.
“Something on your mind Heir Primus?” Lisa asks after the room empties.
“Something Third Heir.”
“Spit it out.”
“Is that an order?” Brenhar laughs.
“Ok Bren, we’ll never be friends, sit, say it.”
“Thanks.” Brenhar replies more grateful than she wants to admit as she takes the proffered seat in front of Lisa, “I came early because I have a question.”
“Can you really do it?”
“Don’t play games with me. I’m not quite as smart as you are, I know that. You gave me time to think though, time to research, time to take a close look at you. Time to watch from the inside as you have used Lucas to manipulate my body, my mind and my sense of self. You have somehow sculpted my personality as carefully as you did your own body. I do not know how, but you have prepared me for my new life, and I do not know whether to hate you or you thank you. I only know that I am not who I once was, and that I never shall be again. Curse you; and thank you.” Brenhar stated flatly.
“How did I slip up?”
“You didn’t. Lucas doesn’t suspect a thing, he has no idea. However I have been watching you make one of the most thorough mistakes imaginable. The very methodology of that mistake, the laying of the foundation for a war between our Familydoms by trying to take over our government belies the idea that it is a mistake. That can only mean it isn’t one.”
“We’ll never be friends.”
“Will it work?”
“I think so. All of our data says it will.”
“Data? I don’t know that word.”
“Sorry, everything we know so far.”
“You could be a virtual goddess.”
“I know.” Lisa admitted then smiled, “Since you figured out that much you should know another piece.”
“Look.” Lisa said holding up her left hand. On it Brenhar saw not the legent ring she expected, but a slightly larger one of the same matt blue metal. On the flat face was the UC logo, a lowered lip around the edge sported an octagram of raised letters. An F at the top, then two A’s, one on each side, two T’s, two E’s and a lone S at the bottom, fates.
“We, Charles and I, lost some sort of vote to tell us a bunch of stuff. However they gave us these, we both have one.”
“They think you will succeed?”
“No, they think I will fail.” Lisa admitted.
“Alone you will.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you are challenging the world, remolding it as much or more than you did yourself, you must have him as your partner to watch your back if you are to survive. You must engage him, bring him in.”
“Are you giving me survival advice? I thought you wanted me dead?”
“Yes. I do. I don’t like you, you have molded me into something, someone, new, but you are going to do what you will. I don’t want more of my Familydom killed than need be. You will kill fewer of us and yourselves if you have proper support.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.”
“Good, and the collar is mostly blended into me now. It spread out, thinning and looks like rough skin now, should be invisible in a couple of weeks.”
“You seem calm.”
“I am, I know my fate for now. So what is my next step?”
“You make amends with the head master for trouble to the school.”
“I take it I’m his for feast week, until school resumes.”
“Yes, we are going to assign you as his chamber maid.”
“Don’t bother, I’ll do it as myself.”
“Because it messes with your plans without breaking them and just in case you succeed I will need to be in his good graces.”
“You surprise me.”
“Good. So when do you and Charles begin with me?”
“When do you want to?”
“How about now?”
“Plan on spending the final night of the week here.”
“I will. Shall I go report to the head master now?” Brenhar asked.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I have only a few fears left to face, I would like to finish them while I can.”
“His wife may not be happy.”
“He has a grandchild in first year. If his wife objects, I’ll go report to the kid as punishment. I assume your control of me will prevent him from abusing humblement too much?”
“Yes, if he goes too far you will be compelled to return to Lucas. How did you know that though?” Lisa asks startled.
“You are careful, you wouldn’t leave something like that to chance. You take too good of care of your property to allow that. I know you bought me from Charles, I do not know what price you paid, but I know I am yours now, not his.”
“Thank you, you’re very you, and getting more so.”
“Thank you back.”
“Enemies till the end?” Brenhar asks with a rare genuine smile.
“Till the end.” Lisa agrees and sits there puzzled until Charles walks in later. He laughs when she explains what happened. He looks forward to the next weekend.
“I ended up with the grandson.” Brenhar tells them the next weekend at fourth bell back in Lisa’s quarters.
“Thought you might.” Lisa replied.
“You’re surprised I showed up early?”
“Yes.” Charles said, “Why?”
“I have learned that my fate is not in my own hands for now. I won’t get it back sitting around.”
“You seem calm.” Charles observed.
“I’ve had time to adjust to my collar. Did you know it hums?”
“Yes, hums.” Brenhar replied with a grin, “I can tell now when you are with one of your girls.”
“It didn’t start happening until it began embedding. It has also helped me get my mood swings under control.”
“Mood swings?” Charles asked.
“Yes. I used to get these terrible mood swings that drove me to do things, fun things, crazy things, dangerous things, any thing for a thrill, now I don’t. It’s actually kind of nice. When they start in I get kind of fuzzy, then it’s gone, and they are getting rarer now than they were.”
“No one ever mentioned those.” Lisa says.
“We don’t talk about them to outsiders, but they run in the family.” Brenhar replies hesitantly, “My Land and House mothers will be most curious about these collars. I would have had three more surviving female siblings if not for the mood swings, and two males though I care less about that. Not having to worry if I will lose myself to them anymore is calming, disturbing still to know I am mere property, yet very calming.”
“We’ll talk about that later if need be.” Lisa says gently, “Are you ready?”
“Then lie back and just relax.” Lisa says and does a now somewhat practiced induction to bring Brenhar into a talking sleep. On Twes and Thors days during the week and both weekend days each week Brenhar reports for Lisa to work her into a talking sleep in preparation. Midday each week Lucas reduces her to sex toy and plays. The rest of the time Brenhar teaches herself to not only accept Lucas’s touch, but to enjoy it and look forward to it. Little by little the routine becomes normal for her and Brenhar looks forward to the finish of this phase of her life.
“It is time.” Brenhar says seven days before she is due home for solstice celebration. She is talking to Charles and Lisa in the dorm she shares with Lucas who is out doing other things.
“Now that it is here I am having second thoughts.” Lisa admitted.
“I will not fight you with the future of my Familydom at stake.” Brenhar tells her.
“Later I will fight my hardest to destroy you. Can you really do this?”
“Everything indicates we can.” Charles tells her.
“Then can I ask a favor?”
“What kind of favor?” Lisa asks.
“Let me mount him as myself. I know you know how to touch minds with seed magic, I know you have been using it to change my people. I know you can take my mind, this collar stops me from hurting you, yet I notice it does stop me from fighting you, why?”
“How did you figure out those questions are related?”
“You need me as close to myself as you can get me, the new me that is. I am offering you the chance to keep me fully as me in exchange for the opportunity to fight you when it might do some good. I know you had intended for him to have me the way that is needed with me sleep talking with you, but both of our odds go up if I do this by choice. Now is not the time to fight you and now is not the time for you to have to prop me up to stay enough myself.”
“True.” Lisa agreed.
“You could have used the collar to reach into my mind, instead you reached into my body, leaving my mind for me to adapt. There are only so many battles you can fight at once, and only so many I can. Let us both remove an unnecessary one from our plates.”
“What do you ask?”
“Only what you intended. I want Lucas and I am yours. I will need cover as much as you do for the time being. I know of the white room, I have used it upon the humbled myself. I also know of the other room, the one no one knows how to reach anymore, yet you do.”
“What do you ask?” Lisa repeats curious now.
“I ask that you allow me to see that other white room as myself. I want to see myself, get to know myself, as myself. I have always been as good at lying to myself as I have been to others. I want, I need, to see myself as I really am. Before I begin, I must know myself. This is the only chance I will ever have to truly meet myself.”
“What do you offer?”
“I offer full and total cooperation. I know you will make changes in the inner room. I give my word not to fight or resist those changes. I ask only to meet myself. I invite you along Third Heir, to see that I am serious.”
“Charles?” Lisa asks.
“Well then.” Brenhar says smiling at Charles blushing. She laughs as she drops her clothes and then pushes Charles to the bed. Lisa is shocked the collar does not react when Brenhar throws him up on it, then leaps and lands over him, pinning him at first. She just stares as Brenhar opens his pants and starts him stiffening. What Charles feels being treated this aggressively is hard to say as Brenhar mounts him after a few strokes. He finishes stiffening already in her with a laugh and a smile. Placing his hands upon her breasts Brenhar turns to Lisa with a matching smile, “Coming Third Heir?”
“Yes.” Lisa snipes remembering the laugh and smile from moments before as she places a hand on a shoulder of each as Charles joins them.
“Welcome.” Brenhar says from her chair dressed in formal robes, a literal throne, “To my mind.”
“Interesting.” Lisa says seeing the normal chair as a throne.
“Come on then Charles.” Brenhar says standing up and removing the arms from her throne, “Sit.”
“What the?” He asks taking the seat when Lisa indicates to.
“It’s simple really.” Brenhar says dropping her robes to mount Charles who had found himself without clothes, “I try to only fight battles I know I can win. If I had used my head, if I had thought, I might have won, unlikely I admit, but I didn’t think.”
“So instead you hope that your cooperation will leave you more wiggle room in the future?”
“Exactly.” Brenhar says once again placing Charles hands on her breasts as she prepares to kiss him while grinning, “Are coming Third Heir? Or is that his job?”
“Are you trying to irritate me?” Lisa asks placing a hand on each of their shoulders, then Charles once again links them to journey inward.
“Not really.” The now completely nude Brenhar says in the white room with many corridors.
“Because I wanted you to know I know another of your steps.”
“For a strategic genius, you really are a tactical idiot.” Brenhar says kneeling in front of the nude Charles stroking him erect.
“What? What are you doing?” He asks.
“Anticipating.” Brenhar says bending over, “You may have unlimited time in the archives Lisa, so long in fact that none can stay to spy on you, unless they stay in shifts. Yet you forgot that those books are not disturbed for years at a time. I simply had someone go in and make a list of the books with doubly rather than singly disturbed dust trails on a day to day basis.”
“Damn! I never even thought of that.” Lisa exclaims.
“Don’t worry, I told no one, he was humbled and remembers nothing. I did however work in some visits to inspect things behind you. I had Lucas order me to, so the collar shielded me from the worst of it with the wards.”
“Very clever.” Lisa admits, “It won’t do you much good in here though.”
“I know, but as I said, I’m not fighting you until I can. In this case you need to let your boyfriend in on the surprise you have waiting for me.”
“Surprise?” Charles asks surprised and confused.
“Since you know about it, how about you tell him.”
“Your job, I’m just here to get screwed. Ironic isn’t it? That you have to let go in order to hold on.”
“Just take him.”
“Gladly.” Brenhar said with a smile kneeling on all fours as she raised her head and Charles’s erection vanished into it, swallowed whole.
“Brenhar of Michelson.” Lisa says formally pulling a collar out of her robes, “For the crime of murder you are hereby sentenced to a life debt. I hereby sentence you to mind binding until such a time as Charles, to whom I give you, is done with you and chooses to release you.” She says as she attaches it around Brenhar’s neck, snugging it until it is tight, then it blends into her neck and vanishes.
“I am bound.” Brenhar says formally as she stands.
“What the heck?” Charles asks puzzled.
“I told you he needs to be your partner Lisa.” Brenhar tells her flatly.
“How can you?” She gasps in shock at Brenhar’s attitude and that even collar bound she maintains it.
“I told you, I only fight battles I might win. I can’t do as you are doing, I can’t fight the whole of the world, I have to have hope.”
“What was that Lisa?” Charles asks.
“That is a mind collar.” Brenhar tells him curtly, “You have undoubtedly been changing the locks in my girls. With that collar you don’t need to change any locks. Since I am the ultimate authority here and the collar controls me, you can make any changes at all and they will never be foreign like the ones in Nicole or Yen. I am now in essence your slave. Humbled or not, sleep talking or not, want to or not, I now have to obey you. If I fight it, the collar bends my mind, even my very will, until I obey. If it bends me too often or too far, I shall stay bent and never be straight, or my self, ever again.”
“You’re smarter than I gave you credit for.” Lisa admits.
“I also know my limits. Can I keep Lucas?”
“Convenient tool or do you actually like him.”
“Both actually.” Brenhar replies as the collar glows for a brief moment.
“He never has to let you go you know.” Lisa tells her glancing at Charles.
“I know.” Brenhar grins, “But he will, we both know he will, and why.”
“Now what?” Charles asks trying to keep up.
“Now I go spend an enjoyable Winter Fort with my boyfriend and Lisa gets to clean the archives so nobody else can figure out what I have.”
“You really are a conniving bitch, you know that?” Lisa asked feeling irritable in a way that defied any words she could find.
“And you really need to actually take him on as a partner. He would have thought of the shelves. He would have laid false trails, covered his and your tracks.” Brenhar sniped back.
“How much have you figured out?” Lisa asked surprised at how little effect the collar is having.
“Not enough yet, but I have time. Now get us out of here. I have your boyfriend’s brains to screw out and you have to let me. It has to be real, you know that. You can order me, but your odds go up if I do it on my own, say because I want to.”
“I hate you.”
“I hate you back Lisa of Thomson, I always have. You were five years behind me and nearly outshone me anyway, despite being a book loving mousey little thing. Now Charles, how about I lie back so you can take me here first and get this game going.”
“Ok.” Charles replied, puzzled as Brenahr lay down with spread legs. The moment he was in her, he withdrew them back to the simple white room at Lisa’s signal. The feel of Brenhar on him on her own throne was barely there when Lisa signaled him and they left again, this time out of Brenhar’s mind and back to reality.
“Feel better now?” Brenhar asks, still on Charles.
“No.” Lisa admits.
“Now go away, I don’t like an audience.” Brenhar laughed leering at Charles with dreamy eyes.
“Gahh,” Lisa screamed in frustration, storming from the room in a rage. Charles could feel her retreating from the emotions carried along his seed magic in her, the echo of helplessness lost to Charles for the moment.
“Now, where were we?” Brenhar asks with a feral grin. Charles learns then what men have learned all across the ages, that an accepting female is one thing, a willing one is another and an eager one is something else yet again. Brenhar is very good with males, she has always made it a point to know them, her mother insisted she be. She has never wanted any male to be happy with her more than a fraction as much as she does Charles right now and it shows. Charles gets lost in the day as subtle Magics enhance the experience without overpowering or replacing the feeling of it. Though it began with him in her for one reason, he finds that there is much more to it than just sex. The reality of it all overwhelms him and he loses himself in the sensation of knowing that there is no where Brenhar could or would choose to be instead of right here, right now, doing this.
“If you don’t recruit him as a partner I will.” Brenhar says interrupting Lisa’s reverie in the eating hall half past ninth bell during supper.
“Why did you?”
“Why did I give him a taste of a real woman?”
“You know he’s...” Lisa starts to say and trails off. She feels something, yet words fail her.
“Partly it’s because he is fun.” Brenhar admits, “His seed magic in me just makes it all that much better. It’s also because you have to remember that all those pawns running around on your chess boards are people. The only reason you’re saving my Familydom is because you need it. I have my own plans, you know that. You can use his Seed Magic, he has given you free access, you can just order me to tell you what I have in mind. You won’t though, I know that because even you have to admit that I’m right, you’re a tactical idiot. You need me as a threat to remind you to stay on your toes and pay attention or you will get lost in the big picture.”
“How can you?” Lias asked starting to wonder if the inner collar were working at all.
“Because I’ve always known I would be House or Land Mother. My only sister with more than my natural stability died in childbirth. I have responsibilities. Worrying about you and my Familydom both would have been too much. You are just learning how much fate weighs. I have always lived with that weight on my shoulders, stone after stone added over the years as siblings have died, even the boys. Of six of us, both mothers managed three children this generation, I am the only survivor.”
“I didn’t realize.”
“Like I said, you need to remember that all those pawns on your chess boards are people. That is what Charles can do for you. I know he controls Sinda and Sandy in addition to you, it is obvious from the way they and you behave. Yet you still don’t understand why he went to such lengths to save her do you?”
“No.” Lisa admits, surprised by Brenhar’s attitude.
“You are a strange person in a strange place. One of the Legents, Arie, said it best years ago describing someone, I know not who anymore, but I was small girl and it was so odd sounding that it just stuck. You are in her words, neither fish nor fowl. You know of the true weight of those born to rule, yet you do not know it for yourself. You know of the freedom to be themselves of the common born, yet you do not know that freedom as your own either. As for me, I lost this round, I’ll fight you when I can, later, after I have saved my Familydom. The responsibilities of my birth out weigh all other things. By stepping into the role I limited myself to by my own attitude, by the corner I put myself in with my own actions, I put myself in your hands. I am property and Heir Primus both at the same time because of what I did, who I was. Now I have to live with the price, with what you have done to me and will be doing. I have a chance now, I can use what you and Charles can do to me as a rock, a steady thing I can depend on and build my new life upon.”
“That’s why you want Lucas? You need a rock?”
“Yes. I know you intended Lucas to keep an eye on me, I just want that eye a little closer than you had planned on. You need a spy, I need a shoal to drop my anchor on.”
“Bear in mind, you broke two people to maneuver me into place. I know you did something to their heads, their minds, Nicole and yen are no longer really themselves. I expect you to fix them as best you can, you have a responsibility to your victims, even them.” Brenhar lectured, surprising Lisa at the depth of her understanding and acceptance as well as her ability to adapt.
“Yeah, I know.” Lisa admits. Though she had known the cost of discovering what some of the ancient writing had meant, she had not anticipated the weight of that cost. What it was doing to the girls, how much it would destabilize them by disconnecting decision from implementation. The ever increasing erraticness of Nicole and Yen was drawing attention she, they, could not afford. The girls remained obedient to all orders, the things they were happy, sad or showed any depth of emotion about varied day by day. Lately they had started begging Charles, then Lucas when he refused, to use and abuse them. They struggled to feel on the outside the mixed up feelings resulting from having their thoughts morphed on the inside. When asked they had said they know what abuse is supposed to feel like, and it is one of the few things they feels like it is supposed to.
“Can I hide my life debt to you for my Familydom and its survival behind taking Lucas as my boyfriend, and maybe eventually more if he proves out?”
“You want him close, I need him closer. If my mothers even suspected ahead of time it would mean war in the House and maybe between our lands. If they suspect too quickly even after, it will destabilize us. So long as this play goes on, we can all pretend. I know that when I am done with what I am doing now and headed home for solstice you will reach out and make me slavishly obedient to Lucas while I am home. You don’t need to, but you will.”
“You’ve given this a lot of thought.”
“Like I said, I’ve lived with this weight all my life.” Brenhar said with a sigh, “Oddly, the different type of humbling you did helped me open my eyes, it forced me to look, to see. It gave me a chance to focus, it forced me to learn to... I hate this, I hate saying this, but thank you for that. The Brenhar I was is dead, long live Brenhar anew.”
“I’ll send Charles to your chambers tonight.” Lisa said softly with a tone like defeat.
“Thank you,” Brenhar said gently and with real warmth, “and I suggest we swap till morning. Take Lucas, tell him you just want a warm body. Humbled or not, he will be good for you.”
In her own chambers again at fourth bell the next morning, Lisa looks back at a night of surprising comfort. Lucas had been more support than she thought he might be. A very sated and satisfied Charles had joined her half a bell ago, Brenhar had obviously held nothing back, used every ounce of power she had to keep him going and now there is nothing left. Lisa lay listening to his heart beat as he snored gently in sheer exhaustion. Knowing it is time, she reaches out through the echoes of seed magic to find Brenhar. She is also dozing, but on the steam train with Lucas heading out toward her home. With a heavy heart Lisa follows that link and traces the path back to where she had been once before.
“Hello Mistress.” Brenhar says when Lisa appears in the room with corridors, “Time for my new rules while I’m gone?”
“You seem calm.”
“What choice do I have. I am collared within and without. I am forced to make the changes you or Charles say even if I do not want to.”
“Will you give me your word to obey Lucas as though he did control you while you are home.”
“Why do you ask?”
“I can bind you, I can make you anything I want, anything I desire. I can destroy you in reputation, body or mind, yet I do not want to destroy at all. You will fight me, I know this. Resistance to me will gather round you like moths to a flame. Do not ask Lucas to betray me and I will not ask Lucas to betray you.”
“What do you have in mind.”
“If you will accept Lucas, have him. Hold him close and draw him to you as a friend. If you will accept his control of your own free will, I will not bind you. To use you I need you strong. I can give him control of either collar for punishment, within or without.”
“Make it without and he shall never need the one within.”
“Done. I will have other tasks for you. Resistance or not, you will obey and do them. As long as I do not have to intrude here again, I shall not ask what you do with time your own.”
“I shall obey him, I shall be faithful. I am his to do with as he pleases.”
“I know you will try to recruit him, I am not afraid of that. But you can tell no one of the debt between us personally for the life of your Familydom.”
“I may not explain to my House and Land Mothers?”
“Could they understand the price you pay?”
“No, but thanks to the collars there is another way around that.”
“As long as it respects my rules you have free rein.”
“I also have one gift, actually I already gave it but no one knows.”
“What is that?”
“Now that I figured out how, while you wear the collar inside, you can not be humbled outside.”
“Other than Charles, and I, you are immune to being humbled. Magic can still hurt you, but your mind is inviolate.”
“My secret. Even Lucas can’t Humble you now, by force that is, you can choose to let him and only him, but you also can’t defend yourself against him, he has to discover this on his own though. He can also punish you freely with the collar now to induce you to change your mind about letting him if he wishes. Your body remains his playground, accepting his touch in any manner he desires at any time, actively offered to him each day with the anticipation he will partake. He enters you in some way everyday, if he pops in your mouth you will swallow and are permitted to take it into you and preserve it. The stronger the link built that way, the less likely you will ever be punished, though the more directly he will control your moods, arousal and urges. There is also nothing to prevent him using that link to make you a mere puppet responsive to his thoughts though.”
“Understood. I am his playground and I shall invite him over to play everyday. I am also permitted to use my obedience to you to make it easier to obey him, even before he has spoken his desires, that will actually help me. I can make my contrition count with my mothers twice this way, once for the choice I do not have, once for the choice I make to not need it. The humbling trick will be very handy as well. Charles is very giving of the control he allows of his seed magic by your hand.”
“He is asleep right now.”
“Good. I wanted him worn out.”
“You certainly got that done, but why?”
“So he gets to know it, so you will learn to do it to draw him closer. I used obeying your command to force you to take my advice.”
“We may be the best of enemies yet.”
“Perhaps.” Brenhar agrees with a rare but oh so very real smile.
“Heir Primus.” Land Mother Michelson greets Brenhar as they exit the train.
“Land Mother, House Mother.” Brenhar greets them back.
“Your guest can wait here until after the ceremony.” Land Mother Michelson says flatly, pointing at the inn attached to the train station.
“He is with me.” Brenhar stated just as flatly.
“Are you declaring?”
“No, it is not time; yet.” She replied with an odd look at Lucas then a stare back at her mothers.
“Then he waits.”
“Bren?” Lucas interrupts nervously eyeing the guards around them, the two on the train had been friendly enough, the dozen on the platform, polite or not, made him nervous.
“I’ll wait here. We both know why I came along.” He says wanting away from them all and the situation most of all.
“I know it wasn’t your idea Lucas, but if you are with me, you are with me. No matter the reason.”
“No matter the reason?” The Land Mother asks while other passengers try to ease around the congestion they are creating. Around them congestion firms as Brenhar’s armsmen from the train cordon her while the House and Land Mothers’ armsmen maintain an outer perimeter.
“Do you want to do this in public?” Brenhar asks coldly.
“Fine, in the carriage then.” She relents.
“Come on Lucas, I think you’ll like the carriage.”
“How does it move?” He asks seeing no horses although it looks just like a carriage back home or in Centerversity.
A doorman turns to Lucas as they board, “It works by trapping the heat of dying and decaying matter to boil water. Ironically being around Magists actually makes it work better. Without that it just gets warm, not hot.” Inside the two fathom wide four long carriage cabin Lucas sees a large wheel like you see in paintings of ships at sea, but tilted instead of straight up.
“It has a rudder?” Lucas asks.
“No, but it’s the same idea.” The wheelman answers checking gauges, “We are having all sorts of problems finding the things that work around you Magists.
“You aren’t a Magist?”
“Order take me, no.” He laughs, “Techist all the way. I have the greatest fun finding what works and what doesn’t. This is the fifth steering design alone I have tried in this thing.”
“Where are you from if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Dest. My family runs a smithy there. I got tired of competing with my brothers so I came here.”
“Brothers?” Lucas surprised since Magist families always have alternating children.
“Yeah, two older ones and my sister.”
“You are a fourth born?” Lucas asked ignoring Brenhar and company seating themselves since he was far too interested in seeing a fourth born Techist to care about things above his station.
“Is there really a reason for taking him?” The Land mother asks from their seats looking at Lucas in conversation with the wheelman while luggage was loaded outside.
“Besides being my boyfriend; he is also my keeper.”
“I am still on parole.”
“You still have that collar on?”
“I am released on word bond. I am to obey him in all things or face punishment.”
“I enticed him to my bed, he did not order me to his.”
“So you recruited your jailer?”
“How much trouble are we in?” The House Mother asks as the carriage gets moving since Lucas stays up front talking with the wheelman.
“How much of Charles’s seed magic do you sense in me?”
“There are things I can’t say.”
“Are our options any wider than yours?”
“No, and as with me, they are not the ones you think they are.”
“Are you scared?”
“Yes.” Brenhar answered honestly, needing her mothers to misread the situation for a while longer.
“We just received word this morning that the book of rings has new information for the first time in who knows how long. About new rings, not just updates about information on who owns which that is what we are accustomed to.” The House Mother announced to change an uncomfortable subject.
“I know.” Brenhar replied surprised the book was updated.
“You do? How?”
“Fates in an octagram around the UC.” She replies remembering the ring Lisa showed her.
“There are two.”
“I think Lucas is my friend, but I like to keep him close anyway.” Brenhar says deflecting the conversation before her Mothers can put inconvenient pieces together.
“Is he part of your price with the Third Heir?”
“Why not just say so?”
“I can’t, I have rules.” Brenhar replied, subtly pointing to her collar.
“Just tell us what is going on, we can deal with the fallout later.”
“Pull us into the apple copse and make a wide perimeter. I can show you part of it.” Brenhar said sadly.
“What’s up?” Lucas asks a while later. He and Brenhar, with the Land and House Mothers, are alone in an apple orchard, even their armsmen having been sent a distance away.
“Show them that you are my keeper.”
“But that is barbaric.”
“Do it young man.” The Land Mother orders firmly, wanting to know what Brenhar means.
“But she’s done nothing wrong.”
“Punish me.” Brenhar orders, slapping him.
“Why?” He demands.
“So they know.” She answers desperately.
“Fine,” he says resigned, “Bad girl.”
“Gahh.” Brenhar tries to scream as fire fills her veins. No words come out as no air can pass the constricted collar leaving her in voiceless pain. Multi colored spots fill her vision as it narrows to a tunnel on her way to passing out.
“Good girl.” She hears Lucas says what feels like bells later, but she knows is only hearts. She finds herself collapsed on the ground gasping with eyes watering and hears herself whimpering.
“Had enough?” Lucas asks disgusted, “I don’t want this job. I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to do this. I am here because my Third Heir ordered me. I can assign her any role I want. I am required to do that as well. I am under orders to keep her a chambermaid in her own rooms every night as my servant. I am not going to, but those are my orders.”
“Chaos.” The Mothers hiss together.
“Further, I may as well tell you something else since I don’t think she can. I am the life debt my Third Heir is calling in, until she graduates from school I am to punish her. I am to use her, to assign her roles and use her in them and I am sick of this. I never wanted to be involved in the first place. I was chosen because I didn’t know Brenhar. I had avoided her altogether because of the sick way she used and treated boys. Now it is my job to treat her that way. I have refused and my punishment was keeping her instead of being able to trade her off when Charles healed.”
“Is this true Brenhar?”
“Yes.” She answered, “He is my keeper, I obey him.”
“She still wears the collar and it responds to me though I do not control it.” Lucas tells them.
“He sees me as Heir Primus Michelson so I remain me. It is his grace that allows me to do my job here and that is why he must remain with me.”
“If she steps outside of the role I assign she is punished. What you saw was only the mid level, it gets worse as well.”
“Why can’t we see the collar then?”
“It is bonded to me, blended in.” Brenhar answered.
“High magic, how?”
“I do not know how. Lucas does not know how either.”
“He will need tutors then. We have many formal dinners and functions over Solstice and Winterfort. If he is to be your companion, your boyfriend for them, he needs to be able to do the part.” Land Mother Michelson pronounces.
“Lucas,” Brenhar says to him with a begging glance, “Can I show them one more thing?”
“Of course. I haven’t been given any orders about that.” He answers with hesitation.
“Land Mother,” Brenhar says turning to her with lowered shields, “Humble me.”
“DO it.” Brenhar orders.
“Alright.” She replies reaching out to humble the shieldless Brenhar then gasps, “What magic is this?”
“This is my world now Land Mother. Even Lucas who can order me, can’t humble me by force.”
“This affects some ceremonies.”
“I know, that’s why I wanted you told.”
“Brenhar, would you mind if I tried an experiment?” Lucas asked.
“What does what I think matter.”
“Are we back to that?”
“No,” Brenhar answered apologetically, “go ahead.”
“Brenhar, you are humble.” Lucas said as a firm order and Brenhar just stands there with a relaxed blank look on her face.
“Third Heir? She did this to you?” The House Mother asks with a gasp.
“Brenhar, you were asked a question, answer it.”
“Yes.” Brenhar replies with the tone deadness of a humbled.
“How?” The Land Mother whispers but he hears anyway.
“I gave her a role. I can assign any role I can define.” Lucas replies
“Is she humbled? Awake? Aware?”
“Yes. I am humbled.”
“Brenhar, you are yourself now.”
“Yes sir.” She replied blinking, her voice becoming her own again as she spoke, “That was weird.”
“Do you remember?” Lucas asked.
“Yes. I’m, I was, me, but I was stuck thinking and hence responding as one humbled would be, watching through my own eyes but unable to form the thought to act. Like I was before, but still connected instead, not isolated.”
“Will that do what you need for your ceremonies?” Lucas asked.
“Yes.” Brenhar answered before the others could.
“Then all we need is his continued cooperation.” The House Mother said grinning.
“No.” Brenhar tries to say in time, knowing it is already to late. It is a testament to Lucas’ skill that the shields of a fifth year last the second heart beat before he is humbled. The full throated primal scream of pain that threatens to burst Brenhar’s ears is, she knows in a distant way, her own. Then it is gone, taken by the collar and replaced with burning fire inside her. She had thought the previous agony she was accustomed to was the worst, now she learns that it is just a reminder of things best not remembered at all.
“Release her.” The House Mother orders Lucas.
“I can’t.” He replies blandly as any humbled.
“Why not?” She demands watching the whole of Brenhar’s neck swell as it turns a bright red that spreads outward.
“The collar is not mine.”
“How do I get it off her?”
“I don’t know.” Lucas responds truthfully as Brenhar begins twitching before tremors start in.
“I did not put it on her, I was not involved.”
“Make it stop hurting her.”
“You control it.”
“No, I do not.”
“How do I make it stop hurting her?”
“I do not know.”
“What is happening?” An older armsmen asks running up, drawn by Brenhar’s second, unannounced scream of pain, she had quietly warned them of the first aborted scream probable occurrence, but not this last, “Did he do this?”
“No.” Land Mother Michelson said, “It happened when he was humbled though.”
“I heard she was on parole earlier, that she is collar bound and he was called her keeper, is that correct?” He continued glancing with concern at Brenhar.
“Release him immediately if you want to save her.”
“It is an old spell.” The lead guardsmen says, “It is, was, used on those bound by law.”
“I’ve heard nothing about collars used like that.”
“It was during the Sync wars ma’am.” He replies alarmed by Brenhar on the ground twitching.
“It’s old then.”
“The spell is old. I wouldn’t have heard of it but you have had us doing so much research recently, looking at things the Third Heir of Thomson is researching that we ran across them in our oldest books.”
“What do we do?”
“First you unhumble the boy.” He reminded gently.
“Ok.” The House Mother agreed reluctantly releasing Lucas. They watched as he stumbled upon release, caught in the backlash of the collar releasing.
“That is the expected backlash. He takes care of the collared day to day.”
“How do we break it?”
“We don’t. Only the issuing authority can, safely that is.”
“It is unusual to see one so well bonded though. It looks well grown into her, according to the books that takes years. It only happened to those who required the longest paroles.”
“Please don’t do that again.” Brenhar pleads where she tries to raise herself from the ground, “Lucas is blameless. He is only doing as he is told himself. I accepted this. It is the only way I am not still humbled at school waiting for Charles to judge me or serving whatever I was sentenced to.”
“The boy Charles did this?” The guardsman asked surprised.
“He and the Third Heir of Thomson.”
“That explains that and other things.”
“Please Mothers.” Brenhar pleads interrupting them all, “The Third Heir came up with this idea, she is the only reason I am able to attend to my duties, the only reason I can remain Heir Primus, the only reason we are intact.”
“Again she attacks us by defending us.” The Land Mother noted aloud.
“Has he used his control of the collar to use you?” The House mother demanded.
“Only on orders.” Brenhar said quickly then stammered, “Even then he always did less than told. You must let this happen... you have no idea how...”
“How what?” The House Mother demanded cutting her off.
“Confirm me or not, Am I Heir Primus or not, Choose!” Brenhar said flatly while refusing any help to stand and then making her way to Lucas who still sat stunned from the force of The House mother’s attack.
“He stays with you I take it?”
“Yes. Lucas stays with me, he stays with me all the way.”
“Out with it.” The House Mother demands.
“No. You can’t humble me to force it and if you humble him you will kill me. Choose, confirm me or not, decide now.”
“We have no other Heir and you know it.”
“And why is that?” Brenhar demands flatly and silence is her answer.
“Law and tradition is clear, no outsiders in the grove.” The House Mother declares.
“Perhaps I was somehow unclear.” Brenhar harrumphed, “He is not an outsider, he is my boyfriend.”
“He is a Thomson not a Michelson.”
“It is getting cold out and it is nearly dark, we have little time.”
“Be it on your head Brenhar.” The House Mother declares.
“Come Lucas.” Brenhar says with a false smile heading back to the carriage.
“Welcome to Michelson Grove.” Brenhar says to Lucas pointing at the long valley full of trees of every sort in a oval spiral pattern leagues across centered in and matching the oval shape of the valley.
“This is our ancestral home. There are seven high passes like the one we just went through that lead here. We actually have an entire unit of our army who protect this place, the tree guard, who are also our personal guards. You’ll get to know more of them while we are home, they don’t go to school with me though, no armed retainers there after all.” Brenhar tells him, enjoying his look of wonder.
“These trees are all planted by the Land and House Mothers, the Heirs and selected daughters each Solstice.” Brenhar continues on. As a group they walk to a smaller copse of trees a short ways from the pass they entered through. Lucas is then witness to the Land Mother digging a hole with a shovel and no one helping her. She then squats over it and he thinks she is using it as a latrine then notices she is actually doing what women do each moon and dumping the result in the hole. He is puzzled when she accepts a small paper box from a man who isn’t one of her armsmen, then deposits it in the hole that she then refills. He is further puzzled to see the House mother go a careful five fathoms along an obvious line in the over all vaguely spiral pattern of the trees and do the same. Then Brenhar goes four fathoms and repeats the ceremony. This time though, Lucas is handed a paper box by the man who had handed the boxes to the Mothers before, then gestured onward. The Smile from Brenhar when he hands her the box is unexpected.
“Each tree in the grove is planted by us.” Brenhar tells Lucas later as they are leaving at dark, “The Mothers, the Heirs, selected others who are seen as potential Heirs. A tree for each of us. A tree for each child expected or under age to enter Centerversity. It did not used to be unusual for the four to plant three trees each, plus the others. One for us, one for our child not yet old enough for school, one for the next we carry on the way, though that has not happened in half a century. That is our tradition, each solstice we plant a tree, never the exact same type twice for each of us unless we have a child, then we can begin again if we wish. We fertilize it with our blood and droppings from the solstice.”
“Why on the solstices?”
“It’s just always been that way.”
“We have been doing this for centuries, since the Sync wars I believe, though it may have been longer if some of our oldest records are to be believed. The land was barren when we began according to legend and excavations have confirmed much of legend. They say we have brought every pail of dirt in, by cart and by hand. We have planted every tree and nurtured them ourselves. This is the domain of the tree guard, the Mothers, the Heirs and selected guests, no one else.”
“It definitely dates back to the Sync wars.” The Land Mother volunteers which earns her a glare from the House Mother. “Though some of the early dates are questionable. If we believe the earliest then we have been doing this over a thousand years, well over, which would predate the fall.”
“I can offer you a clue I was given. I am guessing that a tree rarely grows if a child does.”
“Yes.” The Land mother says motioning the House Mother silent.
“My Lady, the Third Heir...” Lucas begins.
“Just call her Lisa.” Brenhar interrupts with a grin, “She shared your bed willingly, that gives a certain amount of perks with names, in private at least.”
“From something that Lisa,” Lucas says starting in again, “told me the Legents told her. Since the April Fall, you only have an egg drop on the solstices.”
“That explains it.” The House mother exclaims staring at Lucas.
“What?” He asks.
“What she is saying is that explains one of our laws. The trees are a promise to the people, a pledge that we are able to lead and worth following. Each year you must have a child or a tree.” Brenhar says softly.
“Fail to have one or both.” The House mother starts in, “And you can lose your seat. Heirs and potential Heirs change order based on their record with the trees. With whether they grow and how well. When we had more that is. We are deciding which branches of the family to bring forward now that we only have one Heir.”
“Then that forest is your history.” Lucas observes with awe, the rest lost on him.
“We have always felt that walking in the orchard is walking with our ancestors. That tells us that it really is, we leave a little bit of ourselves behind each time.”
“Must be a peaceful place.” Lucas says gently. Thinking of the leagues across spiral pattern the trees grow in as they leave, and envisioning walking in it. The first glimmer of comprehension started then, though it would be moons before he, or anyone, even Lisa, realized it.
“Happy new year.” Charles laughs looking at Lisa. It is the dawn of the new year, the Winter Fort has mostly passed and the archive shelves are finally clean. Lisa along with Sinda, Sandy, Nicole, Yen, Terl and a dozen more students from Thomson, the latter Humbled with powers suppressed, have dusted and cleaned the complete deep archives erasing any trace of Lisa’s researches.
“Happy new year.” She laughs back.
“You had a wonderful idea gifting Nicole and Yen to the school cleaning staff for Winter Fort.”
“Someone may as well get some good out of them.”
“What did you do with the other one?”
“Sien, and I assigned her as the boy’s shared Chamber maid till school starts, have to give them some kind of a reward for their help cleaning my tracks after all. Spending each day humbled for tolerating the archives can’t be much fun. She’s doing each of them orally every day and sleeping with one of them, then spending the night with a different one each night. That way they all get her by the end of winterfort.”
“Seems cruel.” He observed, though he smiled.
“I found another possible recruit. Can I use her as a bribe like I did Nicole for distracting Lucas?”
“Sure. What could I need her for?”
“You know that my offer to let you into my head like we did to Brenhar stands right?”
“Yes. I fail to understand why you offered, but I know.”
“In this instance I would like to invite you in. Not for proof, but to share my vision.”
“Because Brenhar is a bitch, but she’s right. I should have covered my tracks better. I can do Strategic easily, I have trouble with tactical. I need tactical covered. Will you be my partner in my endeavors? Now that I begin to understand what a partner is.”
“Do you really want me?”
“How can you ask that?” She asked startled.
“Because it has been a trade with you from the beginning. From the moment you realized I was in your head as you put it, it has been about trade offs. You offered not just sex, not just your body, but you yourself for me allowing you to learn to do what you experienced as my toy to help you in this quest of yours. Only now do you ask if I even care what you are doing.”
“And that is why I need you. I see the big picture, yet I forget I also stand on the ground. I need you to help me remember that. I could explain it all, but it would take time.”
“And if I do this, then you can show me in an eighth bell.”
“What would take a week just to outline.”
“I might be in.” Charles said with a genuine smile, “Show me.”
“Brenhar are you ok?” Lucas asks. This is the third morning she has woken before third bell sick to emptying her stomach. In two days they are supposed to leave to return to school for the spring session, but not if she took ill.
“I’ll be fine.” She grimaced, “Just get me toast if you would please and some of that drink Charles favored, the caramel, vanilla bubbly one.”
“On it.” Lucas said throwing on a robe and heading to the kitchens, again.
“Thank you.” Brenhar says when he returns. A quick trip for this early, the kitchen staff must have expected him she thinks.
“They sent a warmed brandy as well.”
“No, I don’t think that would be appropriate.” She replied with a smile.
“I need to go see the healers.”
“Here,” Lucas says with a grin opening a closet, “I kept one of the chairs with wheels the doctors left next door for your second cousin after her fall from the tree.”
“Thank you, fourth cousin by the way.” Brenhar says gratefully as she seats herself. She knows what is coming, yet she dreads it as well. The healer called another healer. The healers called a doctor, the doctor called another doctor, Brenhar was tired of being poked, prodded and undergoing any manner of tests long before fifth bell.
“Now.” Brenhar says softly just as sixth bell, mid day, is rung. A gross of heart beats pass then it is rung again, six more. Then another gross of beats pass and it is rung a third time, then a final set of six. Then a dozen beats pass and one lone bell, softer, deeper, than the others is rung, just once.
“I take it that is the official announcement?” Lucas asks.
“That it is. It is another of our ancient traditions. When the state of the Heirs changes, the next mid day it is announced. Six bells for the Land Mother being well, fewer for her health. Six bells for the House mother, fewer for her health. Then finally six bells for the Heir Primus, that’s me. Then six for the Heir Secondus, none for right now. That off bell three times is a healthy child for whoever it follows. The single today is the announcement of me being the youngest self confirmed Heir Primus since the Sync Wars. There has been no one with child younger than I am since then, it is a great omen, a sign of strength, Michelson stands firm and strong now, united. Had I not this child, I stood little chance of being confirmed in my own right to House or Land Mother, now I am confirmed and if I survive delivery, none can challenge my right, just as she intended. Now we are strong, in our eyes and the eyes of our neighbors, the alliances we have to have are possible now, still unlikely, but possible now.” Brenhar says staring off in the distance thinking.
“If Lisa mirrors today or even soon and I miss her, pass a message for me will you?” Brenhar asks while setting a lone though ornate chess figure in the window, a pawn.
“Tell her pawn to queen’s seven, check.”