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Lady Taisiya has just married her fourth husband, a respectable number of husbands to have for a woman of means.

But Sefton – now named Feltian – is going to learn more from his new wife and his co-husbands than how to properly serve his lady.

His world, after all, has some secrets.


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    Missing Poster

    This was a prompt on #4thewords – Write the missing person poster for your character so strangers could find them among the millions of others out there. Sefton is obviously not actually missing, but here’s his missing poster.

    Missing:

    Feltian of Stonwall

    (born Sefton of Marshborder)

    Fourth husband of Lady Taisiya of Stonewall.

    Last seen in the unwilling company of the bandit team calling themselves “Ladykillers.”

    Feltian is 2 meters tall, slight in build, with sand-colored hair and blue-green eyes and scales. His skin is pale with a speckled pattern below the scales and his scales run in the “short diamond” pattern, not reaching mid-back and stopping between his brows.

    Reward of 200 tala and seven golden shells. Feltian has an egg at home and must be returned quickly.

    Reward of 500 tala and 20 golden shells for any of the “Ladykillers” known to have laid hands on Feltian.

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    Lady Taisiya’s 4th Husband, Chapter 22: What we Want – a fantasy/romance story

    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
    Chapter 9: here

    Chapter 10: here

    Chapter 11 (R-Rated) here
    Chapter 12: here
    Chapter 13: here
    Chapter 14: here
    Chapter 15: here
    Chapter 16: here
    Chapter 17: here
    Chapter 18: here
    Chapter 19: here
    Chapter 20: here
    Chapter 21: here

    You can skip Chapter 11 without losing the plot.

    Sefton moved on to another part of the floor, and noticed as he did that there was blood spray on the walls.

    “Clean water,” he grunted, and used the excuse to go clean out the bucket, wash his rag, and fill the bucket with fresh water before he started working on the clay-covered wall. “What did you mean?” he asked, when Jaco was several slates away and he was using a tiny brush to get blood from the texture in the clay.

    “Which part? I mean, it’s obvious you’re the nurturing sort, you’re not gonna get mad about that, are you?”

    “No, of course not. I like kids. I’d think it was a selling point except I’m pretty sure my selling point was ‘hey, I have a son the right age too.’” He tried not to be bitter about it. Lots of people were married off for worse reasons than that. “I mean – being, what, bred for it?”

    “What did they teach you in school, kiddo?”

    “History, math, science. Arts, lots of arts, and a lot of homemaking, of course. I don’t think you’re senior enough to call me kiddo until you get your chains off and I haven’t,” he added grumpily.

    “Science and history, hunh? All right, I’ll admit, this is stuff I picked up from my sister’s books, and those were when she was preparing to do two years at the Academy. Not the sort of stuff they give to just anyone, I guess.”

    “Your sister let you read her books?” Sefton didn’t even try to hide his jealousy.

    “She brought me a couple, too. I’ll let you read them later, if you want. Might help with this discussion. So. We were brought here for a purpose, right?”

    “Yeah, everyone knows that.”

    “But the planet isn’t set up for the progenitors, the people that brought us here. So they made little changes.”

    “Okay. Still not surprising me.”

    “But all that tinkering didn’t just include the physical differences – we’re shorter than the progenitors but we can soak up energy from the sun differently than they do; we can breathe underwater, that sort of thing. They also wanted to make sure we did our job. So they built in behavior patterns, and then built in, ah, I think they’re called cultural conditions. The sort of thing that says that certain behaviors are encouraged or discouraged by the group as a whole.”

    “How do you build in old granthers and prissy young wives glaring at you?” Sefton frowned at the stain on the floor. He didn’t think it was a new one. But he was going to get it out anyway.

    “Well, I’m not sure, but I think they sent the first generation down with certain behaviors literally conditioned in. We don’t have the technology to do that, but some of the stuff I read says they did. So they built us to be good little – whatever we are.”

    “‘Whatever we are?’” Sefton frowned at Jaco. “What, you don’t know?”

    “Not really. I mean, I have guesses, so did my sister, but when you’re looking at it, so we’re built to survive here. We’re built to want to make communities and babies. But they didn’t build us to not want to fight, to not want to…” He trailed off, gesturing with both hands, making the chains rattle and jangle. “They just told us we can’t. So many things we’re told we can’t that we still want to do. So either the people who dropped us here weren’t as good as they thought they were, or there’s a reason for the want.”

    Sefton thought about it. He felt like there was something he was just missing, something right at the corner of his mind that was what he needed to know, but he couldn’t quite reach it. He sighed. “I don’t know. It seems like it sucks.”

    “Sometimes it does,” Jaco admitted. “You don’t feel that way?”

    Sefton concentrated on a stain for a few minutes. “I… I want to be married and have kids. I want to be a good husband. I mean, some of that,” he lowered his voice and moved closer to Jaco. “I mean,” he repeated. “I don’t want to get in trouble. I don’t want to be a bad husband.”

    “But sometimes you don’t like the things that doing those things mean?” Jaco’s voice was just as soft, and his forehead was furrowed. “I get that, ki- brother. I do. You want to know that the people that matter approve of you, and you don’t want all the shitty stuff that happens when you’re not doing things they approve of – I mean, even the guilt when you don’t get caught can be hard, right?”

    Sefton nodded. Jaco was being far more understanding than he’d expected from someone who was still in chains years into his marriage. It made him a little suspicious and a little confused. “I-”

    He couldn’t bring himself to say it. Even thinking it seemed disloyal.

    “You’ve got a really bad case.” Jaco patted his shoulder sympathetically. “Can’t be easy. But if I were going to guess, you probably were angry that your lover was sold into marriage-”

    “Special friend,” Sefton hissed. “You can’t call him… you can’t…”

    “It’s the right term, isn’t it? Besides, nobody but you or I is listening. Angry your special friend was taken away, angry you had to marry his mother, angry you didn’t have any choice in the matter. I mean, anyone would be angry.”

    Sefton stared at the floor and the cloth he was using to clean it. “A good husband wouldn’t be,” he tried quietly.

    “That’s nonsense and whale turds. Anyone would be angry. You don’t have any choice in your life. You had choice, you had Isham, and then that was all taken away.”

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    Lady Taisiya’s 4th Husband, Chapter 21: Hatched That Way – a fantasy/romance story

    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
    Chapter 9: here

    Chapter 10: here

    Chapter 11 (R-Rated) here
    Chapter 12: here
    Chapter 13: here
    Chapter 14: here
    Chapter 15: here
    Chapter 16: here
    Chapter 17: here
    Chapter 18: here
    Chapter 19: here

    Chapter 20: here

    You can skip Chapter 11 without losing the plot.

    It was a small thing, but it stuck with Sefton. He chewed on it alongside his breakfast, and pondered it while he did chores.

    The youngest husbands and the oldest kids had chores, that’s how it always was. Onter and Callum weren’t lazing around, of course – Onter was helping Lady Taisiya with something and Callum was teaching the young egglings, the ones too young for school. The older kids were off at classes today, so it was up to Jaco and Sefton to do basic cleaning on the house and, on top of that and in many cases before that, to clean up the messes from the bandits.

    “What do you think they’ll do about the nursery door?” Sefton scrubbed at the blood on the tiles. The bandit hadn’t even been wounded that badly, but he’d mad quite a mess of the floor.

    “The way the bandits just got in? Maybe nothing. I mean, you don’t want a nursery the wife can’t get into.”

    “Who would ever lock the nursery from the inside against their wife?” Sefton frowned at the door and then back at Jaco.

    Jaco snorted. “Kid, you’re not really that naive, are you?… you are, aren’t you? Look, some husbands don’t want to be married – let me finish. Some men don’t want to be married. Some men accept that that’s their lot in life and adjust. Some do more than adjust, they fall into it with both feet and are over their heads in no time. They end up loving their position, loving their wife, loving their brother-husbands; everything’s fine. They’re great. Some kind of suffer through – some of those take it out on the kids, some are decent fathers but just tolerable husbands. You see where I’m going, right?”

    Sefton nodded slowly. “Marriage isn’t for everybody, but almost everybody gets married.” His shell-father had told him that, just before Sefton’s wedding to Lady Taisiya.”

    “Exactly. So. Some of those people, they don’t suffer quietly. They don’t sort of tool around being miserable and they don’t adjust.”

    Like you? Sefton didn’t say it, because he knew that wasn’t the sort of “not adjusting” Jaco was talking about.

    “They get violent,” Jaco continued, “or they get rebellious – and I mean really rebellious, not the sort of half-assed rebellion I put up. And them? They’ll lock themselves in the nursery and hold the egglings hostage. I’ve heard of it happening. Even their own shell-kids.”

    Sefton sucked in air. He’d heard it before – fathers turning against the egglings, even against their shell-children, but it seemed more real coming from Jaco. “They wouldn’t…”

    “They would. And that’s why a wife always needs a way to get into her own nursery, junior.”

    “That’s awful.” Sefton shook his head. “Surely none of us…?”

    “No. Onter and Callum are good men. I’m a bad husband, but I’m not a bad father. You, I’ve got faith in you so far. you’re a nice good husband, aren’t you?’

    The praise both felt warm and stung. Sefton frowned. “I’m – well, yeah. I don’t want to be – well, I know what happens to bad husbands.”

    “Ah. So you’re a good husband because the option is to be bad, and being really bad – not like me, I assume?”

    “I’m not sure I could do what you do,” Sefton admitted. The floor under his rag was gleaming. The blood stain was long gone. He moved over another slate and started again. “But I don’t think she’d put you out for anything you do.”

    “You could become a bandit. Not you, I mean.” Jaco looked over at him. “Can’t see you stealing daughters. Can’t see you hurting egglings at all.”

    The thought made him sick. Sefton stared at the spot on the floor. “No.” He shouldn’t need to say more than that; he wasn’t even sure what he could say other than that. “No, I wouldn’t ever hurt egglings.”

    “Yeah. Like I said, I have faith in you. But really, even bad husbands have choices.”

    “But once you’re married – no,” Sefton shook his head. “Even before you’re married, making any of those choices means leaving everything. Once you’re married, there’s more chance you’re going to leave an eggling behind. I mean, some of these are your shell-children, right?”

    It wasn’t exactly a polite question, but it wasn’t like kids didn’t know who had hatched them, either. Jaco’s voice softened when he answered, too, so Sefton assumed he hadn’t given offense.

    “Three of them are mine by shell. And the one in the incubator, of course. You’ll have one of your own soon. She likes to make sure you’ve got something to focus on right from the beginning, you know.”

    “That makes sense.” Sefton nodded slowly. An egg… an egg of his own. When he’d been little, he and some of the others had played “tending the egg,” the way they’d played “hunting bandits” and “cooking dinner” and “fighting on the open seas.” He’d watched his fathers, and seen the tender face they got, looking a the eggs. He thought about the children already here. “I think I’ll like that.”

    “Takes a hell of a hard, broken man not to like his own egg,” Jaco opined. “Some of them, once it’s out of the shell, it’s different, but I’ve seen you with the kids already. They’re going to be just-hatched forever in your minds, aren’t they?”

    “I know they’re not infants,” Sefton protested, but he knew that wasn’t what Jaco meant. “…yeah. I’m going to be cuddling them and patting their backs when they’re ready to go off to their marriage vows.”

    “Yep.” Jaco nodded. “You’ve got it in spades.”

    “Got what?” Sefton looked up from his cleaning again. Jaco was focusing on the floor, but he was smirking broadly.

    “The father thing. The nurturing instinct. Some people don’t – like I said, the bastards who’d kill babies – on the other hand, some people have it in buckets. We’re supposed to, so you, my boy, are a product of very good genetic engineering. Me, on the other hand, I’m okay. But I’ll never be more than okay at it. It’s just the way I was hatched.”

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    Lady Taisiya’s 4th Husband, Chapter 20: Good Boy – a fantasy/romance story

    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
    Chapter 9: here

    🐣

    Chapter 10: here
    Chapter 11 (R-Rated) here
    Chapter 12: here
    Chapter 13: here
    Chapter 14: here
    Chapter 15: here
    Chapter 16: here
    Chapter 17: here
    Chapter 18: here
    Chapter 19: here

    You can skip Chapter 11 without losing the plot.

    Sefton lay on his back in Lady Tasiya’s bed, his wife curled against him and her head on his chest. His lady looked much smaller, he noticed, when she was sleeping, softer. She looked like the girls in the novels he’d read as a kid.

    The exhaustion was pricking at his eyes and muddling his mind, making his limbs heavy and his thoughts thick. Still, he stared up at the fresco on the ceiling, the figures shadowed and impossible to make out, and thought about being married.

    He held his wrists up so that he could look at the shackles, dropped his wrists to his stomach and sighed. He’d said yes, of course. It wasn’t like he’d had any choice — run off and join the bandits?

    The bandits. His hands clenched into fists. They’d just let themselves in. The whole point of this set-up was that the egglings were supposed to be safe.

    The egglings were safe, he reminded himself. You and Jaco kept them safe. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.

    He had been training in combat since he was able to hold a weapon. They all did, boys and girls, men and women. He lifted his hands up to look at the chains again. Men weren’t allowed to fight unless they were bound into the army or protecting their egglings.

    When men fight free, the world suffers. So said their nation’s charter, and their treaty with the three bordering nations. So said everyone — and yet over half the bandits were men.

    The world not being fair was a truism, like water being wet, like the sky being turquoise.

    He wanted to pace. When he was little, even when he was a teenager, he’d let himself out of the nursery and walked back and forth down the halls until he could go back to sleep. He’d figured out homework that way, and problems with his siblings, and the week before the wedding he’d been out there every night, pacing, trying to calm himself down, trying to tell himself it would be all right.

    Right now, he couldn’t pace – couldn’t go anywhere – because his wife was sleeping with her head on his chest. It was a nice feeling, quite different from anything else, even different from those times with Isham. Sefton sighed, his breath moving Taisiya’s hair, and tried to go back to sleep.

    When he woke, she was no longer pressed up against him. She wasn’t there at all. Sefton froze. What was he supposed to do, if his wife left him in bed alone? He knew this. There had to be a protocol. There was a protocol for everything. He just – right now- he couldn’t remember anything at all.

    “Hey, brother-husband.” Jaco’s cheerful voice came from just beyond the bed curtains. “Come on. Time for you to head back to husbands’ territory and help me with breakfast clean-up. And then we can sit down and eat a nice hearty breakfast.” A pair of pants landed on his face. “Get yourself clothed and let’s go. The quicker we’re done with everything, the more chance there is for a nap later in the day – and you’re going to need it, after yesterday.”

    Sefton slid on the pants, noting that his wrists were still not chained to his waist again, and followed Jaco mostly blindly back into husbands’ territory. It was good he was following someone, because he hadn’t been to the kitchen yet, and it was in a previously-unexplored part of the house.

    The sink was full of water already. Sefton dug his hands into the dishes without being asked – Jaco’s hands were chained down, even if Sefton’s wasn’t, and he knew from watching his youngest father that basic chores could become tricky like that.

    “She likes you.” Jaco sounded amused. Sefton couldn’t really fault him for that, and it was a lot better than angry or jealous.

    Sefton smirked at him, risking a joke. They’d fought together, after all. “I do what she tells me to.”

    “Oh, is that what I’m doing wrong? I knew it had to be something.” Jaco laughed. “Well, nothing wrong with being a good boy if you don’t have something to prove by being bad.”

    “I don’t have anything to prove. And I, um. I don’t have anyone I’m missing by being here.”

    “What, no special friends? No girl you were thinking of?” This time, Jaco’s question seemed to have an edge.

    Sefton decided honesty was his best option.

    “My closest good friend got married just a week before I did.”

    There was enough information there for Jaco to put it together if he wanted to. Then again, Sefton really didn’t lose anything by him knowing.

    “Oh, man.” Jaco winced sympathetically. “That’s not any fun. But at least you weren’t waiting mooning around long… wait. A week?”

    Well, it was out now. Sefton nodded very slowly.

    “A week. Oh, man, was your – your special friend was Isham?” Jaco shook his head. “Did your mother know?”

    “Of course she didn’t! Did you tell your mother about the boys you were playing with? I mean, some of them still act like it’s horrid, and the ones that don’t, they act like it’s nothing.” He’d watched a couple of his friends after they tried to tell their mothers. “Anything between two boys, it’s always going to be temporary.” He thought, guiltily, of how easily both Taisiya and Pherishhe had handled the information. That wasn’t the norm, though. His mother, she wouldn’t have been like that – would she have?

    “But if she knew, do you think she would’ve still married you to, well, to his mother? That’s got to be awkward.”

    More awkward was living with Isham’s fathers, but Sefton wasn’t about to mention that right now. “I think she had a deal she wanted to make, and I don’t think what I wanted really mattered. I mean, she knew that Lady Taisiya was a good woman and that she could afford another husband. I don’t think she really thought any more deeply about it.”

    Jaco shook his head. “It was hard enough for me, being separated. If it had been, if it’d been her mother, I don’t know. I might have actually managed to run away.”

    Sefton swallowed his momentary horror. “I’m not like that,” he managed. “It might not be what I wanted, but I’m going to do what’s asked of me.”

    “Ah, well.” Jaco wrinkled his nose. “We can’t all be good boys.”

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    Lady Taisiya and her First Husband Discuss – a continuation

    after Lady Taisiya’s FIRST Husband – a ficlet, to [personal profile] thnidu’s commissioned continuation.

    Taisiya couldn’t stay turned around for long, which was probably best for her pride and self-esteem. She turned back to face the horses before she’d come up with anything to say.

    Her husband repeated, very politely, “what do you want, Lady Taisiya?”

    The first thing that came to her mind this time was what should I want? That wasn’t, however, the sort of question one asked one’s husband.

    She cleared her throat. “I want… to be comfortable in my own home.”

    “Well then,” he answered, his voice gentle, “I shall attempt to provide you with that.”

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    Lady Taisiya’s FIRST Husband – a ficlet

    This is based off a bit from the beginning of Lady Taisiya’s Fourth Husband:

    “It’s all right to be nervous. I was nervous, the first time I wed. And the second,” she added wryly.

    Sefton peeked at her. “Nervous?” He had never heard of women being nervous at their weddings!

    “Oh, terrified. My first husband, he was much older than I was, and he had lost his entire family. I was barely older than you are now, and I was meant to be Honored Wife over a man who could have been my grandfather.” She wrinkled her nose, and then let the expression slide into a wistful smile. “We became friends, eventually. It was he who found my second husband.”

    Her husband had no family to stand up with him, and she, the Honored Wife, was meant to stand on her own.

    Her mother and her fathers, her sisters and their husbands, they all sat in the audience, because this was her First Marriage, and it was meant to be an important step out of her natal family.

    But Diafel walked himself down the aisle and bowed before her. “Lady Taisiya, I come to you.”

    The rest of the words were supposed to be spoken to his mother and father, but Diafel was long past his eggling days, and his parents had no sway over him – if, indeed, they still lived.

    “Diafel, I accept you. Come into my home and stand as First Husband over my lands.”

    The ceremony was short. Diafel was meant to steady her, not to join her with other families or to create an alliance. He was meant to educate her in manners her mother felt she hadn’t let been taught, not to grow her household.

    She brought him home in her carriage, driving herself. He said nothing, watching the scenery go by. She said nothing, uncertain what a girl like her said to an old man like him.

    His hair had gone grey! He had been married his first time when her mother was still an eggling! He was still strong and still handsome, yes, but he was old.

    “So.” He cleared his throat as they neared the home that would now be theirs. Hers. “It isn’t within protocol for me to speak first, and for that I apologize. But now that we’ve done what everyone else wants – the question is, what do we want? Which comes down to – what do you want, my Lady Wife?”

    Taisiya turned and stared at him, utterly without any idea what to say.

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    Third Husband – a ficlet of Jaco (Lady Taisiya’s Third Husband)

    Set early in Jaco’s marriage to Taisiya

    “Seriously.”

    Some part of Jaco wanted to cringe. His wife – his wife, the only wife he’d ever have – was glaring at him with exhausted exasperation.

    He took all of that desire to cringe and lifted his chin up defiantly. “The egglings are all safe. I waited until every one of the bandits was dead or bound and locked in the closet. I waited until I hear you and Onter give the all-clear.”

    “You took care of the egglings, good.” She didn’t sound like she thought it was good. She sounded like of course you did the bare basics required of you by decency.

    Jaco had to admit that was true.

    “I wasn’t going to leave them in danger,” he tried anyway. “I’m not a monster.”

    “And for that, I’m sure we’re both grateful.” She looked him up and down with a gaze that had no sympathy or affection at all.

    Jaco couldn’t help a small gulp. He shifted his feet a little further apart and tried to look her in the eye.

    Tried. He wasn’t quite able to manage that.

    If he was a monster, rather, if Taisiya thought he was a monster… he knew what happened to monsters.

    That was a line too far.

    “So. You waited until it was safe. You made sure the bandits were bound and locked away. And then…”

    He forced himself not to quail away. “And then I snuck out the back door, stealing a shirt of Onter’s and some pants of Callum’s on the way.”

    “And then you ran away.”

    “I did.” He had gotten an embarrassingly short way. He had shirt and pants, yes, but he had no shoes, and his feet were already going soft.

    “Again.”

    “Again.” This time he managed to meet her eyes.

    She sighed and grabbed onto a handful of his hair. He didn’t stop her.

    “Let’s put you in your room. I’ll deal with you in the morning.”

    She wouldn’t, of course. There was only so much dealing she could do.

    He was going to be a Bad Husband until she got rid of him. The trick was not being so bad that she thought he was a monster.

    He let her steer him by his hair with no argument. He’d pushed the limits enough for tonight.

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    Lady Taisiya’s 4th Husband, Chapter 19: Afterwards – a fantasy/romance story

    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
    Chapter 9: here

    Chapter 10: here
    Chapter 11 (R-Rated) here
    Chapter 12: here
    Chapter 13: here
    Chapter 14: here
    Chapter 15: here
    Chapter 16: here
    Chapter 17: here
    Chapter 18: here

    You can skip Chapter 11 without losing the plot.

    They got through several hands of Efferghine, making up new rules as they went, before Calum and Onter came back. “Everything’s all set now. The locksmith will come in the morning, and we’re going to install a few new safety measures. The captives are all locked up safely for the night. Good job, you two.” He patted Sefton’s back and nodded at Jaco. “You kept them all out of the nursery.”

    “That’s our job.” Jaco looked a little uncomfortable. “You set to watch or you need some back-up?”

    “I’m good for a couple hours, then Onter will wake up and come spell me. You get some sleep. And you, Feltian, back to our Lady’s rooms with you. She asked for you specifically.”

    Sefton ducked his head. “Thanks. I’ll head back there now, then?”

    “Yeah, don’t dawdle. She’s tired, too, and she’s going to want to get some sleep before tomorrow.”

    Well, that didn’t do anything at all for his nerves. Sefton bowed, just out of reflex, and headed through the halls of husbands’ territory towards his lady’s room.

    The halls were a mess. There were scorch marks on the walls and a few places where a bladed weapon had clearly landed in the framework — in one place, it had taken a long splash of blood with it.

    Sefton swallowed. He knew this happened, and yet it was one thing to know it and another to be the husband, the one whose responsibility it was to stop those attacks.

    Well, they’d done it, hadn’t they? He and Jaco had, and Callum and Onter and his lady…

    His lady. He hurried up his pace. That blood wasn’t hers, was it? Was it Onter’s? Oh, please let it all be the bandits’.

    He knocked rapidly on the door, not nearly the sedate, polite request for attention that a proper husband was supposed to do. Still, the door opened, to reveal a Taisiya in a robe, a blood splatter still across her face.

    “Feltian, good. You’re all right?”

    “Yes, my lady, yes, but you?” He reached out for her cheek, but let his hand drop halfway. “That is, you’re still in good health?”

    “It’s all right to show concern, Feltian.” She touched his cheek gently. “Come on, let’s wash up, and then we can get to bed. It’s been a long day for all of us.”

    He wanted to protest that he wasn’t tired, but when he opened his mouth, a yawn escaped. Mortified, he covered his mouth with his hand.

    Taisiya chuckled. “Come on, let’s stay awake long enough to clean up at least. I hear you did very well today.”

    “They got through the nursery door.” He was still indignant about that. “They walked right through.”

    “I know. And that’s horrifying. I’m very grateful to Jaco and you for defending the egglings so well.”

    They’re my children, too. He ducked his head and said nothing, because he didn’t know what he could say.

    “Come on.” She steered him into the bathroom. “How are you doing, do you think? With the egglings, with the other husbands?”

    “Jaco and I are getting along pretty well,” he admitted. He wasn’t sure if that would be a good thing or not, considering Jaco’s self-chosen role as the Bad Husband. “And I don’t think Calum or Onter have problems with me. I think Hothyan has decided that I’m not the enemy, and I’ve been getting along well with Pherisshe.”

    “Good, very good. I’m pleased you’re working to fit in. And if you can get along with Hothyan, maybe he can see that being married is not the end of the world.”

    Sefton cleared his throat. “I think he misses his brother, that’s all.”

    “I’m sure he does. It’s not easy, for those left in the house. I remember what it felt like.” She patted his head. “I was a child once too, Feltia. I do remember what it’s like, being lost, being worried, the first time being married.”

    But you’re in charge. He didn’t say it. No matter how tired he was, he knew it would be unwise. “Yes, Lady Taisiya.”

    She sat down on the edge of the tub and pushed the pump a few times, wetting a cloth. “I’m a person, my dear. I may be your wife, but I’m no less a person.” She sighed and looked away from him. “That door. If anything had happened to you or Jaco or the children…”

    Sefton’s pride was stung. “I wasn’t going to let anything happen to the egglings,” he complained. “And it’s my job to not let anything happen to them. That’s what I trained for.”

    She caught his chin in her hand, moving so fast he didn’t have a chance to react or even to decide if he should react. “It is my job to keep all of my husbands and all of my children safe. That is why you have chains. So that you are not running off to battle like some wild man from the colonial days.”

    Sefton flushed and averted his eyes. “I know this, my lady.” He cleared his throat uncomfortably. She was still holding his chin, which meant he ought to be looking at her. “I don’t want to, to run off to battle.” He would’ve been good in the army, but that hadn’t been a choice for him, any more than the Academy had. “It’s just that husbands, we’re supposed to protect the egglings. And I take that very seriously.”

    “Look at me, Feltian.”

    He really had no choice at that point. He didn’t want to end his first day married being punished. Sefton turned his gaze back to Taisiya, to find her looking straight in his eyes.

    “I am very pleased that you feel this way about the egglings. Most men, they need to have their own children in the nest before they feel that way. So I am glad that you already feel that responsibility. But is is still my job to make sure that you are all both safe and tame.”

    Tame was one of Sefton’s least favorite words, but he had plenty of practice keeping that off of his face. He couldn’t nod, so he said, quietly — she was so close! — “Yes, Lady Taisiya.”

    “It’s all right.” Her voice softened. “It’s not meant to be likable, sadly, but it’s meant to be tolerable.” Her free hand brushed across the shackle on his left wrist. “Like this. It’s a symbol. It’s hard to bear at first, but you’ll get used to it.”

    Sefton sighed. “I can tolerate it, Lady Taisiya. I can do that for you.”

    She smiled, but the expression looked more sad and tired than pleased with him. “I know, my darling Feltian. I already know that about you. But some day… Some day I hope you’ll understand that you’re tolerating it for yourself, as well.”

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    Lady Taisiya’s 4th Husband, Chapter 18: Boys and Girls – a fantasy/romance story

    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

    Chapter 9: here
    Chapter 10: here
    Chapter 11 (R-Rated) here
    Chapter 12: here
    Chapter 13: here
    Chapter 14: here
    Chapter 15: here
    Chapter 16: here
    Chapter 17: here

    You can skip Chapter 11 without losing the plot.

    Sefton knew at least twenty games that you could play with three people, but the one he chose had simple base rules, numerous complicate variations, and used the alternate cards that all decks had but most games didn’t utilize.

    It was not the best game to play when one was exhausted, worn out, and playing with new people, but it had some variations he thought Hothyan and Pherishhe would find interesting, and the complexities of it would keep him awake, hopefully.

    He was dealing the Fisherman and the Soldier to Pherishhe when Jaco came back.

    “What’s this? Nine-pocket?”

    “No, it’s called Efferghine. My middle-father taught it to me.”

    “Elephant’s-Ear,” Jaco translated. “Is your middle-father from Fesharon?”

    “He is. He was always… well. I like him.” Sefton shrugged uncomfortably. Father Gerilon, his Fesharoni father, had always had the most interesting ideas, and he’d been more willing than anyone else to talk out against The Way Things Were. It had made things tense sometimes, in the husband-quarters, but Sefton had still paid wide-eyed attention.

    Gerilon had been the only one to speak out against Sefton’s marriage to Taisiya. He had been outvoted by all the other fathers, and of course Sefton’s mother had the final say, but it had been nice that someone was in Sefton’s corner, looking out for what he wanted.

    Sefton found he’d ducked his head and curled his lip up in guilt. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Taisiya, he assured the back of his mind. It was just…

    “I know that look.” Jaco patted his shoulder heavily. “It’s fine.” He sat down and looked at Hothyan pointedly. “Sometimes you don’t want to get married. Lots of sons don’t. I didn’t. Everyone knows that. It’s nothing to do with your new wife. You don’t know her, might have never even seen her.”

    “Like Isham,” Hothyan muttered.

    “Exactly like Isham. And I know you’ve been thinking it too, eggling, when your turn is going to come. You’ve got your friendships and your special-friends and that lovely young lady a couple years older than you at school – of course I know it, Hoth, don’t look at me like that.”

    “I didn’t hear a thing,” Pherishhe put in. “Father Feltian, show me how this deal works again?”

    Sefton grinned at the girl and walked her through the deal again. It gave Hoth a minute to get his expression under control and Jaco a minute to consider whether he wanted to keep on teasing the boy or move on to something else. Sefton spoke slowly and carefully, and Pherishhe paid very close attention, and Jaco, in turn, decided, it seemed, to move on to something else.

    “What about you?” he asked Sefton, just as Sefton finished explaining the complicated dealing procedure to Pherishhe. “Any special-friends you left behind? Girls you had your eye on?”

    “What about you?” Sefton countered. “You’ve been here a while, sure, but did you leave anyone behind?”

    “There was someone,” Jaco admitted, looking unhappy to have been put on the spot. Well, it served him right. “I mean, I guess everyone has a friend or two.”

    Pherishhe looked back and forth between them and Hothyan. “I get the feeling you don’t mean like Meliodane and I.”

    “Well, that — no. Probably not.” Jaco’s cheeks colored and he ducked his head. Sefton watched, fascinated by the sudden change in demeanor. “I don’t know if girls really have that sort of, ah, that is.”

    “They do,” Sefton assured him, feeling a little bit unkind, “but not nearly as much, as far as I can tell, as boys do. At least, that’s what my sister told me. They know so many less other girls than we know boys, for one.”

    “But do they… ah.”

    “You had sisters, didn’t you?” Sefton peered at Jaco. A family line that had no girls at all was considered a little aberrant. Then again, a family line that had too many girls was almost as strange.

    “They were all younger. Too young for special friends, at least when I was at home.” Jaco glowered at Sefton.

    Sefton acknowledged — to himself — that he probably deserved the glare. He’d gotten nearly as uncomfortable when Taisiya asked him about his.

    Then again… but that was a different matter.

    “As far as I can tell, when they do, it’s much the same as it is with guys. But that’s their secret between girls, like the other is a secret between boys.”

    Pherisshe looked back and forth between them. Hothyan was staring pointedly at his cards.

    “So,” she asked, as if trying to answer a classroom question. “There are things that are secrets but everyone knows them?”

    “That’s pretty accurate. It’s.” Sefton shifted so he was looking at her straight-on. “So, when we grow up, men and women, we have different lives, right?”

    “HUsbands’ territory and wife’s territory.” Pherisshe nodded.

    “But when we’re kids, we all go to school, we all live in the nursery.”

    “But girls get treated differently,” Hothyan pointed out. “Better food, safer hiding places.”

    “They do,” Sefton agreed. “But we’re treated a lot more similarly as kids than we are as adults. I think you can agree with that?”

    Hothyan’s eyes fell to the chains on Sefton’s wrists. “Yeah. As adults there’s a lot more difference.”

    “So, I — um. What my shell-father would say is ‘your sister is your shell-mate, the same as your brother. You wife is from another shell, and you must always remember that.’” He held up his hand. “You have to think of a metaphorical shell here, because it’s very very rare that two people are actually shell-mates, and then they’re always boys. But the point stands. We have our shell-family and our second-house family, and they will always be different.”

    “But then you come here and you’ll be shell-father for babies and then aren’t they your shell-family?” Pherisshe frowned. “So you go from your shell-mates to your shell-children? And I would, too. Because women are always the shell-mother.”

    “That’s true.” Sefton was in way over his head here, and he couldn’t expect any rescue from Jaco when he’d thrown him in the deep end already. “It’s, well, it wasn’t my saying?” He shrugged uncomfortably. “I always took from it that my relationship with my second-home and the women there would always be different than the one I had with my sister or even my mother.”

    Pherisshe looked at him long enough that he thought he might start to sweat. Her expression was far too piercing and far too thoughtful. After a long time, a time in which Hothyan started shuffling the cards over and over again and Jaco started whistling, she nodded. “All right. I understand. Your brothers are almost your sisters. You don’t have to pretend anything with them. But once you’re grown up, then you have to fit the rules that you’re given, with everyone.”
    “Shell-family is about learning who you are?” Hothyan tried on. “And then Second-house is about being part of the greater whole.”
    “Hey.” Pherisshe grinned. “That makes a lot of sense. I don’t think — I think it’s silly we have to pretend, when we’re grown-up, that we don’t know how boys and girls work. But it makes sense.”

    “Good.” Hothyan was smiling at the praise. “I’m glad something does.”

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    Lady Taisiya’s 4th Husband, Chapter 17: Fathers and Rules – a fantasy/romance story

    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

    Chapter 9: here
    Chapter 10: here
    Chapter 11 (R-Rated) here
    Chapter 12: here
    Chapter 13: here
    Chapter 14: here
    Chapter 15: here
    Chapter S16: here

    You can skip Chapter 11 without losing the plot.

    Sefton found he was grinning and managed to dial it back just before Jaco came over, rubbing his wrists and jangling with close-linked chains again. “What about you?” Hothyan asked, gesturing at Sefton’s wrists.

    “The Lady Wife sent him back that way,” Jaco pointed out. “She can’t fault him for staying the way she left him.”

    “Remember that,” Sefton suggested to Pherishhe.

    “Remember to chain my husbands up?” She looked up at him crookedly.

    “No… well, yes. I’m sure your senior fathers have told you why there’s chains, right?”

    “They said, ‘there’s the very short story for egglings, the longer story for talking-children, the longer-still story for school children, and when I am ready for my own house and husbands they’ll tell me the longest story.”

    “Are you on the school children story already?” He hadn’t gauged her old enough for the public school.

    She shook her head. “Not for another year. But when my sister Kesharia went, I listened to all the stories. I’m precocious,” she informed him proudly.

    “I bet you are.” Sefton patted Pherishhe’s head affectionately. “So. Remember that you make the rules, and that your husbands follow them. That means if you tell them to do something, the fault is on you for telling them.”

    “Well, within limits,” Jaco put in. “There’s this thing that some people do – oh, you know it, Pherishhe, your brother Gamon does it. Where you follow the letter of the law, knowing full well what the spirit was meant to be.”

    “Oh, that thing.” She wrinkled her nose. “That’s just being silly. But that’s not what Father Feltian meant anyway, so now you’re doing it. He meant, if I take someone’s chains off, I can’t yell at them for being unchained. If I tell them to make me toast, then I shouldn’t be surprised when I get toast – and if I know he makes bad toast, I shouldn’t be surprised that my toast is burned.”

    “Maybe don’t use that one around your shell-father,” Jaco joked. “Calum makes awful toast,” he added in a stage-whisper to Sefton.

    “I’ll keep that in mind.” Sefton spared a smirk for Jaco before looking back to Pherishhe. “Exactly. It’s not bad to encourage your husbands to be better people, but don’t berate them for not having a skill you already know they don’t have, for instance.”

    She grinned mischievously at him. “You know a lot about being a husband for one who was married just today.”

    It really had been just today. Sefton was suddenly hit with exhaustion. He opened his mouth to give Pherishhe an answer, any sort of answer, but nothing came.

    Calum saved him. “Men are sons before they are husbands, shell-daughter. They learn from their fathers, just as you learn from your fathers – and they, and you, learn from their mothers.” When had he gotten back in the nursery? Had Sefton said anything he shouldn’t say in that time since Jaco got his chains on? Had Jaco gotten his chains on in time? Sefton forced his breathing even. He was far too sleepy for this. He was far too exhausted for anything.

    Calum’s hand landed on Sefton’s shoulder heavily. “How went the battle?”

    “They let themselves into the nursery.” Sefton found he was indignant about that. “Just as easy as you please. What’s the point of the vault door if they can just walk in?”

    “Well, it slows them down.” Calum was frowning. “And it stops casual invaders. But you’re right. They shouldn’t be able to get through it.” He thumped Sefton’s shoulder again. “You and Jaco held them off, though. Stopped them. Nobody got to the egglings. And you two are fine?”

    “Just a couple scratches.” He shrugged. “Mostly tired.”

    “Think you can last another twenty minutes? Onter and I have to finish clean-up, and then I can take over nursery duty.”

    “I can guard, Calum-father.” Hothyan stepped up. “I’m fresh, I didn’t fight. I can do it.”

    “I’m sure you can. Maybe you can sit up with Feltian and then with me? We could use the back-up today.”

    “I can-” Hothyan seemed to recognize a lost battle. “Yes, please. I’ll sit up with you, father Feltian. You can tell me stories.” Hothyan’s smirk was a little bitter, maybe, but there was a time in being a boy where you didn’t want to be a child anymore.

    “Or teach you card tricks,” Sefton offered. “My shell-father taught me some interesting ones, if you have a deck here…?”

    “Right over here.” He looked a little more interested in that, as Sefton had thought he would. Plus, card games were a great way to teach any number of skills stealthily – which is what he could tell Calum and Onter if they questioned him.

    Somehow, he didn’t think Jaco would have a problem with it.

    “I’m going to clean the weapons,” Jaco said, as if realizing Sefton was thinking of him. “Hold onto yourselves until I’ve got everything else done, you two. I don’t want to miss out on the fun.”

    “Good.” Calum nodded. “You two can guard. I’ll be back soon enough. Well done, all of you.”

    “Thank you.” It seemed thin. It always seemed thin, being praised for staying in the nursery, even if they had gotten into the fray a little bit this time. “And you.”

    Calum half-bowed and headed out, leaving Sefton bracketed by Pherishhe and Hothyan. “All right. Cards?” He aimed the question at Hothyan, but Pherishhe was the one that darted off for them.

    Hothyan shrugged. “She does that. She could be like Kesharia,” his voice dropped to a whisper, then picked back up again, “or some of the girls we hear about or see at school, but she’s very serious, and not at all full of herself. I like it. She doesn’t make me feel like I should be waiting on her.”

    “As long as she doesn’t feel like she should be waiting on you.” Sefton wrinkled his nose. “There are — well, I know it seems unfair sometimes, but there are good reasons.”

    “I know, I know.” Hothyan sighed loudly. “I know. But there’s nothing wrong with her getting the cards, is there?”

    “Of course there isn’t.” Pherishhe sat back down next to them with a thump. “They’re cards. I got them. Here, Father Feltian, what are we playing?”

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