Sefton stared at Lady Taisiya for a minute. He wasn’t sure what else to do, or what to say. You don’t belong to your mother anymore. He worked his throat, but nothing came out.
It was — “The romance novels,” he said, sputtered, really. “And the ballads. When he is off, fighting or about to die in war, or when he’s about to be picked up by slavers because he was unwise…”
“There’s more than a little truth in romance novels.” She caught up his chains in her hand and tugged on them, not enough to pull him to her, but enough to make him very aware of those chains. “You’re mine. You came into my house and into my bed — well, you will. In the Old Times, sometimes the junior spouse would take the senior spouse’s family name, as a way of showing that they were part of their family now and had left their parents’ home. We don’t use family names here — not like they did, an integral part of the person. So instead…”
“Feltian.” His voice was dry. He didn’t know how to explain how much it dismayed him; how much he thought it was a bad idea.
“Feltian, husband of Lady Taisiya. It helps the family, too, your mother and your sisters…”
“…what?” He blinked at her. “My sisters?”
“You won’t stay locked in the husbands’ wing forever. I don’t cloister my husbands, not in the old-fashioned style, at least.”
Renaming your husbands was so old-fashioned it was in the history books. Sefton managed not to say it. You’re mine.
“…but sisters often have a proprietary concern over their brothers, and they often forget that it’s not their job anymore.”
Sisters rescuing brothers their mothers had sold into bad marriages. Sisters standing up to abusive wives, or wives who treated their husbands like slaves. Those were staples of the romance novels, too, and the very oldest plays. Sefton ducked his head. “Yes, Taisiya.” There didn’t seem safe to say anything else.
Her lips touching his forehead caught him by surprise. “Sometimes, sisters think that their brother’s wife is giving them too much freedom, too much leeway.” It’s as if she read his mind. “Sometimes, husbands have been taught that they need to be obedient above all else.”
“Jaco seems a good object lesson in what happens when you’re not.”
Oh, shells, had he actually just said that?
…She was laughing.
“Jaco is a good object lesson in the perils of acquiring a husband sight unseen and one who is already in love with someone else, that’s all. He’s not so much disobedient as he is determined to find a way to be a ‘bad husband.’”
“Why?” Sefton couldn’t keep the horror out of his voice. “Shells, Lady, does he know what happens to bad husbands? What happens to the ones nobody wants anymore?”
Something changed in her face. She went serious suddenly, her whole body stilling. What had he — shells, he’d said shells, and then he’d topped it by calling her Lady. Brilliant move, and while he was complaining about Jaco being a bad husband.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he ducked his head down to his hands. “I’m sorry…”
“Feltian, Fell… no.” She grabbed his hands again and squeezed very gently. “Look at me, my husband. Come on, darling.”
Darling? Sefton peeked up at her cautiously.
She pulled his hands into her lap. “Feltian, I promise you, it’s all right. I’m not angry at you, not at all.”
“No? But I said… and you looked so upset.. and…”
“The problem is…” Her voice had gone quiet and still again, “people who tell young boys that they have to be absolutely perfect or their lady wife will leave them sitting in a ditch somewhere, penniless, with no mother to take them back and no sisters willing to acknowledge them. The problem is with women who assume that any problem, anything that leads to someone being a ‘bad husband,’ is entirely the husband’s fault.”
“So you…” Sefton worked around the idea in his head. “You don’t mind, um, Jaco being a bad husband? Or me slipping up and calling you ma’am, or me not liking being called Feltian?”
“Yes and no. If Jaco was actually a bad husband, instead of an angry young man trying to seem more ‘bad’ than he actually was, I would mind. If you continued to argue with me about your name, or if you called me things that weren’t as nice as ‘ma’am,’ I would mind. You’re trying your best to be a good husband the way you were raised, and I can’t fault you for that.”
She released his wrist to tap him lightly on the nose. “The trick, my darling, is going to be in getting you to be what I believe a good husband is, and not what your mother and sisters think it is.”
Sefton wrinkled his nose at the tap. It took him a moment after that to focus on what she was actually saying. “Wait. I mean… please, oh, shells, what… What do you mean? That you think being a good husband is, um, it’s something different than the manuals and the training and the…” His voice was getting louder. He breathed in an out twice, three times, focusing on the feel of it to keep him from doing something unwise. “Onter didn’t warn me about this,” he muttered.
“The problem is, Onter was raised quite similarly to the way I was raised. Which means that he had less difficulty adjusting than the rest of you. And he’s been with me long enough…”
“That he’s loyal to you,” Sefton filled in, “and he thinks your way is normal and reasonable, and everything else is wrong. Not that your way isn’t reasonable!” he tacked it on hurriedly, but she was still smiling. He was pretty sure it was a good sign when she was smiling. “It’s just…”
“Not what you grew up with, probably. So. Feltian. Are you ready to be trained all over again?”
Years of training. Years of learning everything just right, preparing to be the perfect husband to his wife. Had his mother known it was going to be different with Lady Taisiya? Had she cared?
She was waiting for an answer. Sefton turned a nod into a shallow bow. “Yes, Taisiya. Please, train me.”
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