tagRomanceThe Marriage Ch. 01

The Marriage Ch. 01

byDreamCloud©

Author's Note: The premise for this story was simple with only one scene interesting me. I was expecting a short story and ended up with a novel. It has been finished and I will post the chapters as soon as Tim413413 says they are clean. One of these days I will hand Tim a story and it will not return littered with corrections. As always, thank you, Sir Tim.

*****

I loved the way her breasts lay on her chest. I drew my finger along the bottom of one, the soft flesh yielding, but firmly rebounding. I continued under the other, and caught her smile out of the corner of my eye. I looked at her untidy brown curls splayed on the pillow. Her eyes were on mine, soft love had replaced the fiery passion of only moments ago. Dimples formed on her cheeks as her smile grew. The dim light from the dying embers in the hearth gave her a serenity that warmed me greatly. It was these moments I cherished, when our desires were sated and all that was left was a blanket of love.

"I will miss this, my Lord," Alia whispered. I flopped down onto my pillow, the mood broken by thoughts I wished would disappear. She rose on her elbow, her smile gone. "You must send me away."

"I do not wish to think upon it," I responded. Duty demanded that I did; my heart demanded that I did not. I looked back at Alia's angelic face. Her eyes were forlorn and her moist lips so inviting. A comedy of pain and pleasure, the cradle of my desire. "I will find a way." Her hand glided across my chest, igniting my soul and begging me to ignore my lineage. A life without her was unthinkable.

"There is no other way, my Lord," Alia insisted. I hated the honorific on her lips. She was merged to my life, not the chambermaid she played at during the day.

"Just tonight, can you call me Cayden?" I knew Alia's answer before I spoke. It was a futile request. She would never risk the practice. An inadvertent slip of the tongue outside the bedchamber would cause too much strife. She leaned into me, her lips touching mine. Lips that could melt away any worriment. How could I send her away? Gods! I must find a way.

"No, my Lord, I will not." Alia had kissed me first to soften the denial. I could have her imprisoned for denying the crown prince. I flirted with the idea, her in chains awaiting my pleasure. It passed quickly. I pulled her atop me and our tongues joined and passion grew again. "My Lord is not done with me," she quipped while reaching between my legs to stroke my fire anew.

"I will never be done," I said firmly. I was not sure Alia understood my love or my conviction. I was always worried she considered herself my play thing, just a dalliance until something better came along. "You are my heart, my love."

I smiled, remembering my awkward attempts at seducing her so many years ago. I had laid awake at night, unable to sleep or think of anything else. The foolish plans I had devised to make sure I found myself alone with her. Her constant rejections and the night she finally surrendered. I gave her my heart that night and she never gave it back. I wanted no one else. My birthright, however, demanded another.

Alia raised her hips and guided me into her. The warmth of heaven engulfed me, forcing the breath from my chest. She settled herself onto my hips and her eyes welled. I could see the love written on her face, in the forming tears. I reached up and tenderly wiped away the tear that was threatening to travel down her cheek. She collapsed onto me, burying her head into my shoulder to hide more tears. I wrapped my arms around her and felt the shuddering as she breathed.

"I love you too, Cayden," Alia whispered. My eyes welled at the name I thought she would never utter. I knew then she believed it would be the last time we would hold each other. I prayed it would not. We lay coupled, grieving for what was to change. I could not promise it would not change, my life not wholly my own. I kissed her ear and then her neck and we made love slowly, hoping beyond hope this would not be the end, but knowing it may be. I had to find a way.

*****

"Sire!" I heard an insistent pounding at the door. "His majesty comes, Sire!" My mind awakened quickly. I looked around the bed and Alia was already gone. I was both relieved and disappointed. Perhaps, if my father would find us, I could demand love over duty. I sighed and grabbed my robe, a huge ugly thing made to warm an elephant. I had no idea why I needed to look regal in my own chamber.

"I am awakened," I called. Lucius burst into the room with a harried look. "She is gone," I added quietly. His pace slowed and he nodded as he began to straighten the bed. Lucius, my steward, my friend and the one I trusted after Alia herself. He did not speak knowing what day it was. He knew my thoughts and respected my pain.

"Gods! Boy! The lead riders have already arrived," my father's booming voice echoed louder in my head. Of course he was dressed, the sun was peaking above the horizon and the king never wasted daylight. He was wearing a plain red tunic that reached to his knees, but would be impressive under the fancy doublet he would add later. I could tell his beard and hair had been recently trimmed. Some gray continued to fester under his chin, but he wore it with a distinguished grace. I hoped to emulate his bearing, someday. I saw his nose wrinkle and knew I should have woken earlier and aired the chamber. He saw nothing, but he knew what it was that he smelled.

"Bathe quickly," the king instructed cursedly, "you would do well not to insult your new bride." He paced closer, his eyes narrowed. "Your actions now represent a kingdom. Everything you do will be measured. I will present a future king, not a brooding child." I stood my ground as a future king should. My father's love rarely rose above duty. He expected the same from me. I took a deep breath. My mind raced through a series of childish responses and declarations of love. I settled on duty.

"The kingdom deserves no less," I responded, "I will endeavor to improve for its sake and yours." It was the truth, at least until I would see Alia again. I needed to place duty above my heart. Absorbing Father's ethos in words was easy. The deeds were where I was found wanting. My father placed his hand on my shoulder, and I saw his eyes change back to the ones I knew as a child. My words had convinced him. I wished they had convinced me.

"It is hard, what we ask of you. You are strong. I see it in how you carry yourself." The king dropped his arm and turned toward the hearth. Lucius was busy staying out of the way. "Know that I have pride in you. I was young once myself, though you may find it hard to believe." It had been a long time since my father had spoken to me in a non-kingly manner. He usually left that to Mother. I was touched and desired more. "Your life will change and only your bearing will make it seem...comfortable." He turned back toward me, his arms clasped behind his back. "I know what you must give up." He knew about Alia! My mind whirled at the thought. "I leave it to you to settle it, though I will not deny I wished it were done earlier." He moved closer, and, for the first time since I was a small child, whispered in my ear, "She will want for nothing; a king could do no less." He patted my shoulder again and walked out of the room.

"Thank you, Father," I said. The king nodded and continued walking. There was not going to be a solution that favored my heart. Only a solution that favored the kingdom. I looked at Lucius who was as surprised as I the king allowed him to remain present. If my father knew about Alia, then he knew Lucius was in my confidence. Maybe he was informing us both. I slumped onto the bed.

"It will be hard," I spoke openly to Lucius, "sending her away. I promised I would find another way." The truth was painful. I felt like I had failed Alia. I knew I was failing myself.

"She always knew, Sire."

"I did not."

"I will start your bath," Lucius said, never letting me ignore my duty. "Think on it, Sire. I will help how I can." I rose and squared my shoulders. There was nothing to be done about it. I was who I was, torn heart and all. I could contain the misery inside. I had to. There was no other choice. It would only be for a single lifetime. Such a short time in the scheme of all that had come before.

"A bath? Yes, thank you, Lucius," I said with bearing. I dropped to Alia's pillow once Lucius had left. I breathed deeply, her scent still imbedded. 'Forgive me, my love. I have failed us both.' I stood and headed toward the bathing chamber. The kingdom desired a clean prince. It shall have one. It shall have me any way it desired. It is only my desire that will remain unfulfilled. Such a small cost for peace and stability. I just wished it did not hurt so.

*****

It could not have been a nicer day to seal one's fate. The weather was tolerable for being so near winter. The sky was blue with large white clouds lumbering slowly across the heavens. A ceremonial guard was assembled in the main bailey, twenty men dressed in chainmail with red tunics emblazoned with a large gold lion. The same lion flapped in the wind on banners secured atop the six spires and two more atop the gatehouse. I wore a similar tunic, only with the lion smaller and over my left breast. My tunic was held tight by a belt made of gold rings, my badge of office as heir to the throne. I stood a step to my father's right and one step behind. Next to him, my mother was looking regal in a long white gown tied close with a red sash. Above her left breast lay a large brooch depicting the same lion that permeated the castle. Only my father was without a lion. He was the Lion.

The Bear rode through the gatehouse on a large black stallion, leading a party of ten mounted riders, one of which held the Bear's banner high - a black bear on a field of green blowing in the wind. My mother stepped forward before the large horse.

"Welcome to Southerson," she announced loudly, "we gladly share our house and hearth. Enter and be at ease." It was a formal greeting, usually spoken quietly to visitors with a smile. In this case it was shouted to the world so all would know what was transpiring. The joining of two houses by a shackle through my heart. The Bear dismounted with agility that defied his bulk and age. His smile was large when he took a knee in front of my mother.

"We most gladly accept." The Bear's voice carried to the point of echo. My mother seemed a little out of place, a king at her feet was unexpected. My father laughed at the gesture; he stepped forward and dropped to his knee.

"We kneel together or not at all," my father boomed. The two kings' arms clasped, hands over wrists and a cheer went up from the honor guard and was echoed in the Bear's party. This was the beginning of the alliance, Southerson and Douderson together, a force of two kingdoms that no one would assail. My heart pain shifted as I felt pride surge through me. This had to be done for the good of all. It must be inked in marriage, something that could not be undone. Both kings stood together as hostlers ran forward to tend the horses.

"King Toric Douderson, may I present my queen, Mary Dewayne Southerson." My father formally introduced my mother with a flourish.

"Well met, my Lady. Your beauty will always have my knee," the Bear stated openly which brought a pleasant flush to my mother's cheeks. He took my mother's hand and gently kissed her knuckles.

"You flatter me, my Lord," my mother commented. The rest of the Bear's party had dismounted, some following the hostlers, making sure of the horses. I watched, forgotten, though I was the linchpin behind the proceedings. Some day the niceties would be my responsibility so I learned what I had to.

"My dear King Kalin Southerson, may I present my queen, Tareen Wanours Douderson." The Bear stepped aside and allowed his wife to walk forward. Her long red hair shone brightly in the sun and was highlighted by her green riding dress. Though there was age in her face, only youthful grace showed in her movements.

"My Lady," my father flattered, "I had not expected such beauty attached to the arm of a bear." He bowed slightly as he kissed her knuckles. Queen Tareen did not blush, but her smile was genuine. The Bear chuckled and she traded kisses on the cheek with my mother before I was presented.

"I present my heir." My father stepped aside. "Prince Cayden Southerson, eighth in that line." I stepped forward sharply.

"Your majesties," I said clearly and bowed deeply as was their due. When I rose, King Toric had a large smile and his hand outstretched. I grasped his wrist, surprised at the greetings of equals he offered, and he grabbed mine.

"Well met, Prince." The king squeezed my arm hard and I returned the strength, a smile growing on my face. It was like meeting a friend, at least I would not suffer drab in-laws. He laughed as I struggled to return what I received while I grinned at the battle. He released my arm with a flourish. "The lad is strong and stubborn, Southerson," the king stated to my father, "I like him." My father slapped my shoulder in pride.

Queen Tareen approached me with blurry eyes. I suspected she had been awaiting this day for a while. She grasped my hands and kissed my cheek. "Well met, Prince. You bring honor to your family." I nodded and returned her smile.

"May I present my daughter," King Toric said proudly. I stood a little taller, dreading what was to come. I knew so little about her and had chosen to not know more. I had surmised her homeliness; she should have been married long ago. At twenty-six winters, this marriage must have been her fondest wish. Duty, I repeated to myself, as her figure appeared from behind the gray palfrey she must have been riding. "Princess Angelica Douderson." The king's pride was evident in his tone.

Ugly, she was not. She moved with her mother's grace, almost gliding toward me. The curls of her red hair had been blown wild by the ride. Her face was bright and her eyes a deep green. That is where I saw it. In those green eyes, buried deep behind a false smile. I was not her fondest wish. I suspect she saw the same in me. Angelica may please the eye, but she would never please my heart.

"I am honored, my Lady," I stated formally as I bowed low.

"As am I, my Lord." Angelica returned stiffly, holding out her hand. I took it in mine and gently kissed her knuckles and returned a stately smile that matched her own. My parents fawned over her as I slid back, both of them impressed with her beauty. It foretold handsome grandchildren. I looked back at the main keep, knowing somewhere Alia was watching, her heart torn asunder. It would have been better had Angelica been homely. It was a gilded cage my parents had wrought for me.

As was expected, I took Angelica's hand and led her into the keep proper, following our parents. We split off inside, the Doudersons to their suite of rooms to clean from their ride. My parents and I went into a meeting room to await my bride's return.

"She is lovely, Cayden," my mother said, smiling. I could see the relief in her eyes. She had been thinking the same as I and had expected something akin to a horse's ass. Alia would have looked lovelier in the green riding dress Angelica had worn. The thought made me smile. My mother interpreted it as agreement and hugged me close. I let her believe as she willed.

"There are worse ways to spend a life, Son," my father stated with a little manly chiding. Mother gave him a dirty look. Father just laughed. I nodded when Mother was not looking; it was what he expected. It could have been worse, he was right about that. It also could have been better. I let my parents believe I was happy. There was no other option open to me. At least I could allow them to believe I was pleased.

"I have confided in my sister," my mother stated quietly. My father moved closer. I knew by her tone, the same one she used when I was ill as a child, she did not believe my smile. "She will take Alia into her household; she will be well cared for there." My eyes swelled and I dropped my head. My mother's shoulder was there and she pulled me close. She had known.

"She will want for nothing," my father repeated his earlier command. I raised my head and quickly wiped my eyes. I shook out the cloud of pain and shoved it deep. The kingdom required a king. Sacrifice was a necessity.

"I thank you," I said clearly, looking directly at them both. "It will gladden me to know she is well."

My father nodded and placed his hand on my shoulder, "a king would do no less." He stated it proudly. I believe he was happy Alia was not some kind of play toy. It was a side of him I was not fully aware of. He had always seemed so hardened before. I had missed the man in the king.

"Is the whole house aware?" I asked. I forced my voice to model that of my future kingship. It was time.

"Only those who know your heart," my mother answered, "none that look down upon it."

"It is time to be a prince." I looked at my father as I spoke. I saw pride in his eyes. It would have to be enough. "I have a bride and the kingdom has an alliance. Our ancestors deserve no less." I felt taller. My parents were allowing me an honorable way to deal with the impossible. It would have to be enough. There was no other choice.

"We make hard choices," my father spoke to me as an equal, "for home and hearth. It is your choices that will make you a king. I see wisdom in you and I pray you see it in yourself." I put out my hand and we grasped wrists.

"I only possess the wisdom I have seen in you," I stated, "I pray it is a long time afore I have need of it." I saw my mother's eyes water as we stood before each other. Father and son, bonded as one. They knew my pain and tried to share it. I could ask no more. My mother placed her hands over ours.

"We will welcome Angelica into our home," she said clearly, "she will be loved as best we can. I pray that soon an heir of Cayden's blood will bond us all." Family first. The idea of a child, of me being a father, aged me twenty winters in my mind. There was no choice here, only duty and my parents' love that I had not felt strongly since I was a small child.

"I love you both," I stated firmly. I will always love Alia, it will just be from afar. She will know that love through the care of my aunt. It was the best of a hopeless choices. It was the choice a king must make. I was thankful my family was strong. A marriage to Angelica will make the family stronger.

The Doudersons joined us after they had freshened from their travels. Their retainers would join us later for the banquet. Now, it was just Angelica and her parents. Talk of the impending wedding was at the forefront. Neither Angelica nor I were interested in the details. My mother and Queen Tareen were the driving force. The two kings sat back and ruled gently during the few small disagreements. It was time to break away and truly meet who I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with.

"May I show you the gardens, my Lady?" I asked Angelica politely. My mother's eyes lit up. She had been hoping I would take the lead.

"I would enjoy that, my Lord," Angelica stately responded. I rose and held out my hand. She took it as she rose from her chair. I held my hand before me, as if in a formal review. She was accustomed to the gesture, her hand over mine as we walked formally out the door. When we were out of view, down the hall, she released my hand and her body noticeably relaxed as she clasped her hands behind her back. I stiffened at the sudden independence.

"This duty disagrees with you as much as it does me," Angelica said quietly. I nodded as I looked down the hall. This was not a conversation for the keep.

"The garden is this way." I gestured with my hand toward east. "We can talk plainly beyond earshot of others." I saw her cheeks blush as she realized the risk of her statement. I found I liked her off balance. It was wrong, but it appealed to me. She quickened her step as did I.

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