Sefton looked around the nursery. The wing was large enough for every child there and then some, the beds stacked bunk-style in four adjacent rooms, the cradles sitting near the incubators. He guessed at the ages between the children — maybe two years, not long enough that you’d ever be done changing diapers, even if the older kids helped out. He stared at the incubators again, and the chairs where the men would spend hours a day singing to their eggs.
He smiled weakly at a young child presenting him a board book. He had spent his teenage years helping teach the younger children, every moment when he wasn’t in school. It wouldn’t be all that strange to keep teaching children.
“Not now, Lorthie. Husband Feltian can read to you tomorrow. Today, he has to go be with Lady Taisiya.” Onter didn’t so much scold as he cajoled.
Lorthie bowed solemnly at Sefton. “‘Morrow,” she lisped. She was barely walking, but already sounded authoritative. He couldn’t help but grin at her in response.
“Tomorrow, yes, little miss. I look forward to it.” He bowed to her deeply, the way he would any Lady, and looked up to Onter. “Lead on,” he said, much more bravely than he felt.
“Here we go.” Onter steered Sefton with a hand on the small of his back again. “Look. She’ll tell you if you do something wrong, and she’ll tell you, she won’t just punish you and expect you to figure it out.”
Sefton nodded quietly. “Okay.”
“She isn’t going to expect any tricks or anything innovative out of you, and if you’ve been experimenting on the side, stay quiet about it. Ladies like their men to be pliable, biddable, and teachable in bed.”
Sefton bobbed his head again. His fathers had told him similar things: know what you’re doing, then keep it behind your teeth and let her tell you what to do.
It was one thing to have heard it. Now… now he had to act on it. He nodded one more time, even though Onter hadn’t said anything else.
The elder husband studied him. He wasn’t that much younger than Sefton’s father; he already had grey in his beard and at his temples. “Remember this. Answer to Feltian. Nothing else you’re likely to do will get you in much trouble today, but if you forget your name — she won’t like it. She’s a stickler for the new names, our Lady. And because she is, you have to be, too.”
Sefton — Feltian — nodded slowly. “Wh—” He closed his lips on the question, and could see Onter approved of that discretion.
“Ask questions after you’ve been here a week or two,” the older man suggested. “That sort of question, at least. Then you’ll know what questions to ask.”
Sefton nodded once more time. “Yes, sir. I… any other advice?”
“Don’t expect her to be rough, don’t get flinchy or nervous. She thinks of herself as a reasonable, right-thinking woman — I’m not saying she isn’t, don’t ever think any of us have said she isn’t — and if you act like she’s out of one of those bad plays, you know, The Cruel Older Wife, she’s going to get temperamental. Being nervous is fine. Try not to be scared.”
Sefton laughed shortly. “I can try not to act scared,” he offered.
“I guess that’ll have to do.” Onter’s voice softened. “She’s not a monster. More importantly — she wanted you. Go with that. And if all else fails, just close your eyes and bite your lip and think about whatever you have to to get you through.”
The older man’s voice had gotten a little rough at the end. Sefton stole a glance at his face but decided whatever Onter was thinking or remembering, it was none of his business. “Yes, sir,” he said instead of asking questions. “Now?”
“Yeah. You’re still clean, you’re still naked, and you’ve got your chains. This way.”
The exit from the men’s ward was a smaller door than the one he’d come in, with no ornamentation. Onter knocked on it three times, and they waited.
Sefton tried not to shift from foot to foot. The door wasn’t locked, was it? No woman would lock her children in, after all, and her men were with her children. They weren’t stuck…
He stomped down the thought the moment it reared its head. Yes, of course they were “stuck;” they were married. They were chained. They were husbands.
The door swung open. Lady Taisiya awaited, in a soft robe so unlike the clothing she had been wearing for their wedding, her hair brushed back. She was smiling. She was beautiful.
Sefton cleared his throat, but Onter spoke before he had to figure out something to say. “My Lady, your newest husband awaits you.”
Oh, no, not more ceremony. Sefton kept his head down and a small smile on his face to cover his growing nerves.
“Come, husband Feltian.” Lady Taisiya’s voice was formal. Sefton stepped forward over the threshold; there was no way he was disobeying that tone.
The lady — his wife, his wife, his lady — put her hands on his shoulders. “Thank you, First Husband. Rest well tonight.”
“Rest well, Lady Taisiya.” Onter’s voice wasn’t formal at all. It was thick and warm and affectionate. He slapped Sefton lightly on the back. “Enjoy this one.”
Taisiya’s chuckle surprised Sefton enough that he risked a glance at her face. She was smiling at Onter over Sefton’s shoulder, clearly amused. “I think I will. He’s a sweet one so far, isn’t he?”
Sefton’s cheeks were growing hot. Onter’s laugh made him even hotter, and there was no-where to hide.
“Oh, my Lady, I think you’ll find this one very sweet indeed. Be good, Feltian.”
Sefton didn’t know whether to be worried or relieved by the sound of the door closing, locking Onter back in husbands’ territory and leaving Sefton all alone with his new wife.
Chapter 6: http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1171106.html
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