Chapter 9 in my answer to the “guy has umpteen wives” trope
Find Chapter 1 here
Chapter 2 is here
Chapter 3 is here
Chapter 4 is here
Chapter 5 is here
Chapter 6 is here
Chapter 7 is here.
Chapter 8: here
“All right. We’ll start with what you know. Come over here.” She stood up and walked to the center of her room, where cushions were scattered over the floor in what romance novels told Sefton was the Western style. “Show me how you were trained to greet your wife upon seeing her for the first time in a day.”
Sefton fought back a blush. This was easy. He was going to do it wrong, she was going to tell him it was horrible, but the basics of it, that was simple. He walked over to her and dropped to his knees on a cushion, dropping his head and folding his hands in front of him. He’d been taught to take her hands, but the chains wouldn’t allow that from this position. “My lady wife,” he murmured – low voice, soft voice, asking attention, not demanding it – “I’m glad to see you.”
She ran her hands through his hair and hummed thoughtfully. Sefton wanted to look up at her, but, given the position, couldn’t really. “That’s sweet. I can imagine it getting old after a few months, but it’s sweet.”
“Does that mean…” Sefton worked around his dry throat. “Would you like me to do that?”
“Let’s save that for times when you haven’t seen me in a while. And, Feltian? Only if you really are glad to see me. No ironic, showy kneeling when you don’t mean it.”
“That’s Jaco’s job, then?”
…what was wrong with him?
She snorted at him. “That’s Jaco’s job, good enough. Or we could say – I have a husband who is sarcastic and angry all the time. I do not really want another one. Does that make sense?”
Sefton bowed his head. “Yes, ma’.. yes, my wife.”
“Now that’s an interesting one. All right. For every day, how do you feel about kisses?”
Did she mean… She’d already made him tell her about that! And… “Taisiya?” he offered, as respectfully as he could.
“Oh, you’re really a sweet darling. It’s a pity they’ve gotten you all wrapped up in nerves and proprietary.”
“Its, uh. It’s better than being a wild mudlark who only comes inside to eat and can’t be bothered to ever wash his feet?” he offered.
“That sounds like a quote, and also like a story.”
“I,” Sefton coughed and ducked his head further, turning it into a bit of a bow. “I didn’t want to come inside, when it was time for boys to come inside and learn how to be husbands.”
“Interesting. And when do you think that is?”
“I- I was twelve, ma’am, Taisiya, and my voice had just started to creak.”
“Very interesting. Do you think it helped?”
He risked looking up at her. Nothing here was going anything like it was supposed to. “I’m sorry…?”
“Coming inside, cleaning up, learning how to be a husband. You’re a husband now; did it help?”
He whimpered. “I… I did my duty. I did what I was supposed to.”
She sighed. “Oh, Feltian, what am I going to do with you?”
He flinched. This was not how his wedding night was supposed to be going. This wasn’t how anything was supposed to be going. He fell back on her wedding vows. “Cherish, contain, protect?” he offered quietly. “Direct and comfort, and, uh…” the next line in the vows had to do with offspring.
“They’re pretty dry vows, aren’t they? And so one-sided.”
“I don’t have anything to, anything to pledge,” he offered quietly. He’d thought about that, more than once. “Everything I have is given to you.”
“Your future.” she touched his cheek. “That’s what made Jaco so mad. His parents, his mother, she gave away his future. Your mother gave me yours. All that’s left is your will.”
He held up the chains on his wrists. “I gave you that, too.”
“Jaco is chained. Does it look to you like his will is mine?”
Sefton bit back his first response and considered it. “Yes. He could leave. The chains, even Jaco’s, they’re strong, but ten minutes with the right tools and they’d be open. His egglings — that would be hard for most men, but that’s a choice, too. We choose to be here.” He lifted his chin, realizing something his father had told him, and what it really meant. “I didn’t fight the chains. I accepted them. I didn’t run when my mother told me I would be married…. To someone her age,” he added, as gently as he could.
“But where would you go? To the raiders? To the sea? There aren’t that many places where an unchained man can find shelter and solace, much less employment.”
“I didn’t say it was a good choice,” Sefton admitted. “It’s always a choice, even, to agree to sacrifice everything to join one of the locked orders. Even — I mean, no.” He faltered, swallowed, and tried again. “Everyone can do that.”
“Even women,” Taisiya filled in. Her voice was contemplative. “It sounds as if you’ve given this some thought.”
“One of my other brothers, he ran away. We don’t talk about it, mostly we try to pretend it didn’t happen. We — they, my mother, I guess — got him back, but he was, well, he’d been with the bandits. She pulled some strings, quite a few strings, and got him a low-level position in the Academy. It shouldn’t have happened. It probably should have been my slot,” he added, much more quietly. “But Saltef needed it, and I — I didn’t need it, and I wasn’t sure I even wanted it.”
“No? Most men would be happy with a position in the Academy or the Military.”
“Most men don’t really think about it, I think. I wanted — well, I wanted the romance-novel.” He ducked his head and tried to hide his blush with his hair. “I wanted a Wife, you know?”
“I have some idea,” she admitted. “I’ve read some of the books. They’re not really intended for female audiences, but I knew I was going to be married. I knew I was going to have several husbands. My mother was affluent, I was her oldest daughter, and there was an open land in the family. It made sense that I was going to have to deal with several men, and that they’d probably be strangers to me.”
Sefton stared at her for a moment. “You read… romance books… so that you’d…” He considered that. “I’d never thought about the fact that women are sort of stuck, too. I mean…”
“We have a great deal of power. We get to wander out into the world, we make business decisions, and we do have a lot more say in who we marry than men do.” Taisiya nodded. “And yet… We’re still getting married. We’re still going to have as many egglings as we can, and hope that they survive.” Her voice caught, and she sighed. “I am not giving you a wedding night very worthy of a romance novel, I’m afraid. But… I didn’t want to start out in such a way as I couldn’t continue.”
Sefton nodded. He wasn’t sure what else to do. “You’re explaining things. Is this, um. Is this a thing that can continue?” He felt a little out-of-place, even asking.
She smiled. Hopefully, that was a good sign and she wasn’t just softening the blow before he was relegated to some basement kitchen for the next year for cheek. . “That is a good question, and one that I like.” She leaned in and kissed his forehead. “Yes. I like explaining things, actually. It makes me feel like I’m not just barking orders and expecting immediate responses like some military sergeant. “And telling you how I’d like things, I’ll continue that, too.” She hesitated, and Sefton was suddenly worried there would be a but that he wouldn’t like. “The things your family taught you, they’re not bad. I’ll try to remember how you’ve been taught – and I’m never going to punish you for trying your best to be a good husband, Feltian. You’re a good man, and your family did your best. It’s neither their fault nor yours that I’m a little… anomalous.”
“They probably thought,” he offered, very cautiously, “that with the changing of the names, and, uh, they thought that you cloister your husbands… so they probably believed you were very old-fashioned.”
She chuckled. “Very tactfully put. Those are very old-fashioned things, I agree. I don’t so much cloister my husbands as I allow them to hide here if they want it – which Onter definitely does. Jaco is still angry, so I keep him at home to keep him from starting a fight that would get us all in a mess. You… that will be up to you, I suppose. What kind of husband you want to be once the chains come off.”
“If they come off,” he muttered, and then shook his head hastily. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“Of course you meant it. And it’s fine. I don’t really expect you to be on perfect manners all the time.”
“But if I’m not…” He took a breath and then plowed ahead. “You, um. This name. So that I knew I was married. Perfect manners are like that.”
She took a moment, her lips moving. “I gave you the name as a reminder that you belong to me now.”
“And you like the manners for the same reason, to remind you that you’re a husband now?”
“Yeah, exactly… mistress. Ma’am. My lady wife.” One of them would stick, if he tried enough titles. “I don’t want to, well,I don’t wanna treat you like I’m just hanging out in the older boys’ dorm with my brothers or something, or at school. You’re special. You’re, well, the rest of my life. And I don’t want to screw that up. I’ve heard…” He fell silent.
“We’ve all heard the horror stories,” she assured him. “For the most part, that’s all they are, stories. Most women aren’t going to lock you in the basement or sell you to the raiders or set you to horrible manual labor for the rest of your life, no matter how badly you mess up. For one, we tend to know your mothers, and there’s a certain amount of understanding that we treat each other’s sons and brothers the way we’d want our own to be treated… within limits, of course.”
“Limits,” he offered cautiously. “Like taste. Or that you don’t expect Isham’s wife to be as interested in having someone talk back to her as you are?”
She chuckled. “Things like that. We’ve gotten very far afield. And it still is your wedding night. So, show me what comes next, in your books.”
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