Rensa was nervous. When her family had been alive she’d known all of her potential mothers-in-law, at least in passing. She didn’t know Yannic’s mother. She’d never been in a position to. Yannic was the result of some away-from-home cavorting by one of her male relatives with, with a woman of commercially-available virtue. It had happened from time to time and usually the child had been brought into the palace and raised with an Imperial education. Yannic’s mother hadn’t even enquired about surrendering him to his father’s family. From what he and Mirren had told her, he had been raised in a large, robust and earthy family of siblings, aunts and cousins.
She was about to meet Yannic’s mother for the first time and didn’t know what to expect. She hoped the woman would be an older version of Mirren. From the stories Yannic and Mirren told she sounded like an older version of Mirren, but she could be more like those fragile creatures whose persecutors her father had prosecuted-
The knock on the door made Rensa jump, she’ been so caught up in nervous thought. Mirren opened the door from the outside with, “She’s waiting in here, Aunty Tyrren. Please come in.” Mirren ushered an older woman into the room. Her hair was brown, improbably consistent and solid in shade. Her face was carefully made up to eliminate any appearance of wrinkles. Her make up and clothing were reminiscent of a style Rensa had seen in the area near the shop where her travel dresses had been made. This woman had both applied the makeup better than most and made a better choice of fabric type and colour for her garments. “Rensa,” Mirren did the introductions, “This is my Aunty Tyrren, Yannic’s mother. Aunt-“
“Don’t bother,” Tyrren waved her off, “Go talk to you mother while the two of us get to know each other.” She practically pushed Mirren out of the room and then she turned and advanced on Rensa. “So, you’re the girl my son has decided will be his second wife. Skinny, aren’t you?”
“Yes ma’am,” Rensa stood.
“For heavens’ sake,” she sighed, “Call me Tyrren. If you call me ma’am I’ll think there’s a magistrate in the room.”
“Yes Tyrren,” Rensa agreed quietly as the other woman circled her.
“You’re too skinny,” Tyrren pronounced, “But anyone who paid attention to the news would know why. Did your guards on that pilgrimage screw you?”
Rensa, taken back, “No.”
“Did you want them to?” Still circling.
Indignant, Rensa shot back, “No.”
“Did they want to?” Tyrren had stopped in front of her so she could see Rensa’s face.
“I believe one of them did.”
“Why didn’t he?”
“Yannic sent along a matron to chaperone me?”
“I see,” Tyreen nodded. “Has Yannic bedded you or have you bedded each other yet?”
“No,” Rensa looked at her questioningly. This wasn’t what she’d expected from her first conversation with her future mother-in-law.
“Why not?” Tyrren sat down and looked enquiringly at Rensa.
“It’s only just been a year since his wife died,” Rensa said, “And it’s not as if we’re in a story and fell in love-“
“Or lust,” his mother added and Rensa nodded in agreement. “So, why are you marrying him?”
“He can marry me, lock me up for life or execute me,” Rensa replied bleakly. “I don’t want to die. I’d rather not be locked up for the rest of my life in a few rooms with nothing to do and he seems as if he might be nice...”
“Economic and social realities can be harsh, but so can political ones?” Tyrren’s smile was not unfriendly. “I can see that marrying my son would be better than dying – as his mother I certainly hope that’s the case. Personally I found leasing my body out for an hourly rate the best of my options; my family background meant that anyone back home who’d employ me thought they’d get sex on demand as well as my labour. I’d rather just sell sex and be done with it.” She paused. “I don’t know whether the world changed or we just got better at navigating it, but by the time my daughters and nieces had to make those choices we were able to get them training and they weren’t stuck with the local employers.”
“I suppose you could say that Yannic and the Empire are employing me to have Imperial babies,” Rensa said hesitantly then added, “Particularly boys.”
“Oh?” Yannic’s mother was very interested, “Tell me more, dear, and I’ll tell you about his first wife’s family.”