tagRomanceThe Marriage Ch. 04

The Marriage Ch. 04


Author's Note: Tim413413, as always, has my thanks. Stories write themselves, I have yet to teach them to edit themselves.


The kingdoms met again the next day, this time with Uri. Our dislike for each other was present in the room although it was tempered by the two kings. Uri was informed of our progress, and he had insight I did not expect. He had a tactical mind and bettered the plans. It was hard to accept his contributions, and separate them from my dislike. I did so, for the kingdom's sake.

Uri pulled me aside after we had finished. I assumed he meant to mend fences, something I was not opposed to do. The first statement convinced me it was not to be.

"You will bed my sister after the wedding?" Uri asked rudely. My ire rose, but I gritted my teeth. If we would come to blows, the alliance would weaken or dissolve.

"There will be an heir, if that is what you ask," I replied, thinking perhaps blows would not be a bad thing. Uri nodded his head as if he had not insulted me with his question.

"If you do it quickly, she will learn how it is with a man," Uri continued, "she will not continue in shame. Mylle can return with me so it does not happen again." His ignorance of his sister was shocking. That he thought I would be complicit was appalling. His mind was rigid on the subject.

"If the Bear calls, I will be there with all I can muster," I said evenly, though it was a struggle, "know that I will protect my wife, your sister, with my life. Beyond that, your concerns are not mine." I left him there, seething. Further talk would have not gone well.


As the wedding approached, I liked it less and less. It was not the wife I would gain rankling me, it was the ceremony. Angelica teamed up unendingly with the two queens. Be that a woman preferred a man or a woman seemed to not matter. They all seemed to be entranced by the ceremony, and grew it larger by the day. I had endless fittings for clothes I would wear only once. People were arriving from parts far away, filling my days with endless greetings and repetitive talk. Alia and Mylle were given wedding duties isolated from mine. Tedious boredom invaded, and with no one to share it with, I became sullen.

The day before the wedding was the lowest. The castle was like an anthill. People were going everywhere on unknown duties. It was all I could do to stay out of the way. My frustration hit its limit, and I stormed off to the stable in huff.

Storm seemed oblivious to it all. The stables were filled to overflowing, yet he was content with it all. I adorned his tackle myself; Cory and the other hostlers were already overtaxed. I rode off with no one missing me, the groom's part being a small one.

It felt good to feel the cold wind on my face. I had a sense of freedom as Storm happily kicked into a cantor. I momentarily thought of riding on, and never coming back. It was a nonsensical thought that put a grin on my face. I could never leave Alia, or Angelica for that matter. Mylle would panic over my loss. No, I would be at the wedding. I would just forget about it for now.

Storm and I ran past the fallow fields and through the forest along a wagon path. I allowed him a drink at the small creek that passed calmly through the trees, and then headed for the rolling grasslands beyond. Unshorn sheep, their coats thick and disorderly, were grazing on a hillside. The grass had long gone brown. It could not have been tasty if you eat that sort of thing. I rode through the flank of the flock and they scattered at bit. A shout from the top of the hill caught my attention.

A young man, of mayhap fifteen winters, had risen from the ground and called out to me. Actually, I believed he was yelling at me. I turned Storm up the hill, and confronted him.

"I will thank you Sir to not scatter my livelihood," the lad yelled as I approached. He was wearing homespun trousers and a shirt. The trousers looked to be held up by woven hemp. His doublet did not seem warm enough for the day, but he was sitting in the sun.

"My apologies, my young Master," I said, bowing my head, "it was wrong of me." I was trying to hold in a smile.

"Accepted," he said without hesitation, "and that will be my excitement for the day." He turned away from me and returned to sitting on a small boulder sticking out of the earth. His eyes lazily returned to his charges. He picked up some blades of grass he had been braiding earlier, and began weaving them again. I envied him.

I dismounted and wrapped Storm's lead around a bush that had lost its leaves to the season. The lad looked over questioningly, but made no movement of fear. He felt secure on his perch.

"It is a nice day, as winter goes," I offered.

"Aye," the lad returned, "and no storm on the horizon." I looked around and saw much of the kingdom from up here. The castle looked small and quiet which belied the activity going on inside.

"You chose a pleasant view," I said.

"If you have to watch sheep," the lad continued, "you might as well please the eye." He was older than I had first thought. Or mayhap acted older. I sat down on the ground next to him. He, surprisingly, thought nothing of it.

"This is a good life you have here." I smiled as I said it. It was calm, and the sheep mostly silent. It felt like we were the only two people in the world.

"Boring is the word I use, Sir," the lad replied. He pointed to the castle. "That is where I would rather be." I almost laughed, but covered it by clearing my throat.

"That is all closed inside stone walls," I argued, "you have wide open spaces and the sky. There is no one directing your day. How can a castle be better."

"I would have a right fine woman, Sir," he said brightly. He looked to me. "My cousin saw her, the princess. He saw her ride in, long red hair and an angel face. You have to be born there to have a woman like that."

"I am sure pretty women are everywhere," I continued, "you tell me there is not someone who sparks your fancy."

"Not like the princess," he said, like I was an idiot, "you and I will surely find our share, but women like that, all fancy and fit to dance with, are not for sheepherders. Anyway, she will be wed on the morrow."

"So, there is to be a wedding?" I feigned ignorance.

"Aye, the king has been buying up everything. Part of my flock will be on the table." He looked over to me with dreams in his eyes. "Can you imagine the feast, the dancing and all the fine clothes. They will be talking about it for years." I suddenly felt guilty for loathing the ceremony. I had not thought there would be those who envy it.

"I would rather think it would be tedious," I said.

"Sit out here for a few years, Sir," the lad shook his head, "you will think differently." I smiled at his reasoning.

"Are there not dances in town?" I asked.

"We have festivals, to be sure," the lad replied, "but not like at the castle. I hear it has rooms just for dancing." The lad seemed particularly enamored with the idea of dancing in a ballroom. "He has groups of musicians play, not just one man on a lute. I hear the ladies are all graceful, like flowers spinning." He shrugged his shoulders. "We have to dodge dung when we dance." I laughed.

"Besides red hair and a face like angel, what else do you know about the princess." I was egging him on, but I could not resist. I loved the way he viewed things. It was refreshing.

"I heard the prince took one look and fell in love." The lad was using his hands to emphasize his speech. "She is so sweet you can taste honey when she walks by. There are rumors the prince had to challenge suitors for her hand. She empowered him so greatly, they fell before him like chopping wheat."

"The prince sounds like he got lucky," I said holding back the humor.

"Luck and then some," the lad nodded, "you grow up there and they hand you luck."

"You take care of the sheep yourself?" I asked, changing the subject. I was a little bothered by the 'hand you luck' statement. It sounded too close to the truth when looked at it through a sheepherder's eyes.

"Most of the time," he answered, "I have a cousin, the one who saw the princess, who spares me now and then. Since my pa died, it is just me and Mom." He waved his hand over his flock. "This is my kingdom."

"You live near the village?" I asked. My mind was scheming now.

"Aye, we share a place next to the mill," he pointed toward the town as he spoke.

"You have a name?" I asked, my smile growing.

"Balen. Balen Herdsman," he answered, "and you, Sir?"

"Cayden," I answered and watched his eyes grow. He looked at Storm and then at my clothes. His eyes returned to my face, and his turned red. He dropped to a knee and bowed his head.

"Forgive me, your Highness, I unknowingly misspoke." His contrition was more than I could bear. I stood up.

"Balen, stand up," I said, and he did, "your honesty was refreshing. Do not spoil it now." He smiled when he realized I was not offended.

"Have your cousin watch your kingdom tomorrow," I said as I retrieved Storm.

"Sire?" Balen queried.

"I am sending a coach to pick up you and your mother in the morning," I said, watching his eyes once again grow, "you will both be my guests at the wedding."

"We do not have dress for that, Sire," Balen said, shaking his head.

"Let me worry about that," I said as I mounted Storm, "I am going to send a little of my luck your way." Balen's smile grew. I found it enjoyable.

"The princess is as pretty as you heard," I added, "and I will ask her to save a dance for you." Balen was practically glowing.

"We will be ready, my Lord." Balen called as I rode off. I had much to do and very little time to do it. I was the prince with all the luck, so I could make it happen.

I found Commander Kancraft as soon as I returned. I had him send a rider to verify Balen's house and organize a carriage with a fully liveried honor guard of six for the morn. Boris found the whole thing amusing, and promised the Herdsmans would be treated as royalty. He was even thankful for something to do not involving standing around looking impressive. I thanked him well.

I found Mylle adjusting flower arrangements along the aisle I would walk down on the morrow. I begged her help, and she was glad to give it. I explained I was planning to bring my two guests in the morn, and needed to have them clothed by the ceremony in the afternoon. She laughed at me, and we went together to secure a seamstress and alterable attire. We selected a room where my guests could be fitted, and Mylle promised to guide them through the ceremony and the dinner that followed. No one was looking, so I leaned in and kissed her cheek. Her cheeks turned a pretty shade of pink.

I went next to my mother. This would be the most difficult part. I found her in the kitchen finalizing the menu with the cooks. I could tell by her appearance she was frazzled by the daunting task she had undertaken.

"Mother, I need to add two guests at the main table," I said with a smile. She did not smile back. In fact, I could see her contemplating a rebuke that may make my ears bleed. Then she sighed.

"And who should I insult to make the room?" my mother asked. I had not thought that far ahead. It put a wrinkle in my plan.

"Mylle and I will move, your Highness." Alia had snuck up behind me. She winked at a me which I found very alluring. My mother's eyebrows lifted.

"Who are we adding?" my mother asked.

"A Balen Herdsman and his mother," I said with a grin.

"I do not recognize the name," my mother said, confused.

"A loyal sheepherder I met this morning," I responded cheerfully, "he desires above all to attend the ceremony, and I intend to make it happen." I was ready for the argument. I received laughter.

"It is your wedding," my mother chuckled, "I will seat them next to me. At least I can shield them from the court." There are moments when people change in your eyes. This was one of them. I gave my mother a kiss on the cheek and hugged her close.

"I thank you dearly, Mother," I said. She seemed happy for the affection, but waved me out of the kitchen.

"Mylle told me what you were up to," Alia whispered as we left, "I will help her in the morning." I wanted to kiss her desperately, right there with everyone watching. I decided to give her hand a subtle squeeze instead. Now, at least, someone who could really appreciate the wedding would be there. It all seemed a less useless display. I was starting to look forward to it.


I slept alone that night. Alia thought it inappropriate to join me on the night before the wedding. It seemed a strange thought given she would share my bed as we grew old. I gave in to her concern as a nod to the ceremony itself. I do not believe Angelica would have begrudged me for it either way. I found it hard to sleep. Missing Alia's warm embrace, the thoughts of the wedding kept my mind busy. I was awakened early, by Lucius, thinking I had just closed my eyes.

A bath had been drawn, and simple clothes laid out. I would change to formal garb as the time approached. I broke my fast quickly in the kitchen, neglecting the gathered guests in the main hall. They will have enough of me at the banquet. I moved to find Balen and his mother.

I found Balen in trousers that were too long, the seamstress was working hard to correct it. His back was to me, and he was stoically standing still as the seamstress was tugging and shifting him this way and that. Having suffered a week of if, I pitied his plight.

"How goes the fitting, madame seamstress?" I asked to break my silence.

"Well, my Lord," the seamstress said, never stopping her work. She was under a time constraint, and I was sure she thought me an unwanted interruption. I could see Balen starting to turn to greet me.

"Stay still, master Balen," I said with humor, "she will make you start over otherwise." There was ascent from the seamstress.

"Good morn, my Lord," Balen said over his shoulder. I could see the excitement in his eyes. It fed my own.

"Good morn," I returned, "is your mother well settled?" Balen gestured with this head to the adjoining room.

"Yes, my Lord," Balen said, "Lady Mylle has been most kind. My mother is most nervous, but the lady has allayed much of it."

"I shall be most happy to meet her today," I said.

"I must thank you, my Lord," Balen continued, "the carriage and guard made her so happy. It made her special, at least for the day. It is good to see it." This was working better than planned. The extravagance would not be wasted. My mood was much improved.

"I am glad of it," I admitted," I will leave the seamstress to her work." I started to leave, then remembered my mother's words. "You and your mother will be seated at the main table, next to the queen. I will meet you there." It was good to see his eyes widen. It was so little that I gave, and he returned so much more. Luck he called it. It was easy to hand it out, he was right about that.


The ceremony took an eternity just to begin. My mood was not shaken as I waited at the altar for my bride. I had found Balen in the crowd, his excited smile with his proud mother at his side. She looked well for a woman used to hard labors. Her smile, I was sure, removed much of those labors from her face. I gave Balen a private small nod, and his face brightened more. I was sure my smile looked most appropriate to others.

It was Balen who saw her first. His mouth opened as he looked down the aisle. I followed his eyes and I, too, was struck dumb. Angelica was simply stunning. Her long red hair dropped like curled waves down her back. Blood red flowers were weaved into her hair just above her right ear. Her dress was composed of layers of white silk, tight to her figure and trailing like clouds over the ground. Sheer wings of fabric laid almost invisible along her arms. The sleeves, and the gown itself, were held by small straps of fabric, sewn like white petals, over her mostly bare shoulders. The same white petals surrounded her waist, dipping lower in front, holding the cloud of silks secure. When she smiled, it was beyond mortal man's ability to resist.

I found Alia's eyes, guilty for my thoughts. Her smile was sly and knowing. She had seen the dress prior and knew Angelica's allure in it. I saw no jealously and I thanked the heavens for it. I returned my eyes gladly to my bride, where all expected them to be.

The ceremony was a dull blur of memorized words and vows, some we had to stretch the meaning of in our minds. It was necessary for our strange union. When we were pronounced joined, I kissed my enchanting bride. Angelica drew it out for all to see. Brother and sister is what we felt, but the happiness was strong. There was love there, mixed in with the duty and our true passions that were watching from the crowd. I felt her lips form a smile as we kissed, it forced mine and we broke before laughter would ensue. Her green eyes were alive and I saw a future in them.

"I do love you," I whispered, much below the cheers. It seemed necessary to say it. She was my wife and needed the truth spoken.

"And I, you" Angelica said cheerfully, before turning us to those who had gathered. As tradition demanded, we stood and greeted all individually, as husband and wife. Our parents first, then all others in some kind of rank order devised by my mother. It was a tedious affair bolstered by Uri not attending. His absence was disturbing as well as welcome.

Near the end of the line came Balen, and I no longer felt tasked. He was still as thrilled as when he first arrived. His mother looked frightened. I tried to calm her with a smile, but her eyes were darting this way and that. It was Angelica who did the softening.

"You must be master Balen Herdsman," Angelica said brightly, "I have heard much of you." I had no idea his face could brighten more. It was joyful to watch him bow low, and turn properly to his mother.

"May I present my mother, Abigal Herdsman," Balen said without a falter, though he was blushing greatly. Angelica stepped forward and took Abigal's hands in hers.

"Well met, madame Herdsman," Angelica said, then leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "Your son has been most beneficial to my husband. For that I thank you." Abigal smiled and some of the fear left her.

"I am most pleased to meet you, my Lady," Abigal gave a small curtsy. After a line of members of court and foreign dignitaries, this pleased me greatly. That Angelica paid special attention, spoke well of my wife. Angelica moved to Balen.

"My husband finds you most refreshing, young master," Angelica gave him her best smile, "I would hope you will dance with me this evening. I would know for myself why."

"It would be my honor, my Lady," Balen was trying to be serious, which belied his nature, as he bowed.

"Well met, master Balen," I said cheerfully, "is the day living up to your thoughts?" I had moved forward to greet him.

"Oh yes, my Lord." Balen leaned forward and whispered, "the princess is prettier than was in my mind." I laughed, completely unable to disagree. Angelica pretended not hear, but I saw it in her cheeks.

"Madame Abigal, it is wonderful to meet you," I said, taking her hand and lightly kissing the knuckles.

"Thank you for allowing us to come, my Lord," Abigal said with a small curtsy, "it was a beautiful ceremony."

"I hope you will find the banquet as pleasing," I added, "my mother intends to see to you herself." I could see the fear coming back so I leaned forward. "Seating is the queen's pervue," I whispered, "I believe she wishes fresh conversation, but do not let the court know. I think they believe themselves more entertaining than they are." Abigal smiled and calmed again.

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