tagRomanceThe Marriage Ch. 08

The Marriage Ch. 08

byDreamCloud©

Author's Note: One more chapter after this one. Sorry to leave you hanging if you are following along as I post. Thank you Tim413413. Many eyes would be bleeding if not for your editing skills.

*****

Uri arrived early the next morning. His beard was longer than the last time we saw him. It was trimmed and shaped to a rounded point at the end. The hair was coarse and moved with his chin as one as he spoke. It was a disconcerting image. More statue-like than real.

The formal greetings were held in the main bailey since the weather allowed. Our colors and the Bear's were present, troops shined and banners waved. It would have been preferable if we took knees to each other and renewed the alliance there and then. His short words of greeting made me think he would not be receptive. The whole ceremony looked to annoy him. I thought it best not to try, for if it failed it would have been worse than not happening at all. I could see some concerned faces from the representatives of court. They would have to wait.

"I do not see Mylle or the other," Uri said rudely when Angelica and I were finally alone with him. At least he waited until there was privacy. I would have preferred he not refer to Alia as the other.

"They felt it best not to annoy you, brother," Angelica said truthfully. She calmly sat down, trying not to heat the conversation. I took her lead and sat myself. Uri chose to remain standing.

"We must live to a higher standard," Uri looked at me, ignoring his sister, "shame has no part in it." I felt my face heating, and was about to remind him whose home he was in when Angelica interjected.

"Do you fear our military is weakened by it, or maybe our crops do not trade as well?" Angelica smiled as she spoke. "Uri, you see shame, and we see strength and happiness. Do not mistake our life for weakness." I was proud of her. Her voice was steady and had none of the anger brewing in my mind.

"Do you always let your woman speak for you?" Uri asked. I had no choice but to laugh. I was not going to tell him I usually was handled well by three of them.

"Did not your mother speak for your father at times?" I answered, knowing well she did. "My Queen knows you better than I, and it seems prudent to take her counsel. It is one of our strengths." I added the last to merge with Angelica's words. I saw my wife's eyes sparkle. We were equals.

"Hmmpf," Uri grunted his disapproval. "Does Hamund hide from me also?" I could sense he expected us to use his nephew against him. I knew how the two had bonded and I saw nothing wrong with it. It seemed strange that he might think it a tactic.

"Actually, he waits with impatience," I said cheerfully, "he wishes to spar with you. He has learned much at drill and desires your acknowledgment of it." I saw a smile form behind his beard, then quickly disappear. "He has not complained, and holds his own with the men. I have been most proud of him."

"And I," Angelica added proudly. Uri nodded. I could tell that Hamund would be the highlight of his visit.

"Liliana?" Uri asked, "she has shown no signs of being..." He stalled for a moment. My legs felt anxious to stand, but I held them down. "Like her mother?" He finished as diplomatically as his ignorance would allow. I had an answer he would not approve of. Angelica was quicker.

"She is ten winters, Uri," Angelica answered with a small irritation in her voice, "those things are not even a thought to her. You will not express them to her either." The last was a warning.

"You will not teach her your way?" Uri asked stupidly. This I would answer, for Angelica looked to boil.

"Uri, whatever you believe, know this," I said it clearly, "it is not something that is taught. You either are or are not."

"Hmmpf," Uri grunted again. I did not think he believed me. Angelica's shoulders relaxed some, and I was happy I stopped whatever was on her tongue. A thought entered my mind that forced me to ask a question I would have preferred not to.

"You do not speak of these things to Hamund?" I asked. Uri laughed. It caught me and Angelica off guard.

"You are not ashamed, but you will not tell your own son?" Uri retorted. I could not defend it, but yes, we do not tell our own son.

"In time he will know," Angelica responded. "This is not that time." It was a better answer than I had. I nodded in agreement.

"From your lips would be better, sister," Uri stated crossly, "half my court suspects. I am sure your court knows more. Your shame grows on us all." I stood, and Angelica spoke quickly to lower my fire.

"Hamund and Liliana are waiting to see you, brother," Angelica said looking at me. I could see her begging me to calm. I did, for her sake and mine. "Shall we let them wait longer?" I could see a spark in Uri's eyes.

"No," Uri answered quickly, "we should not." Uri looked at me and added, "They will not hear it from my lips." He then followed Angelica out the door. Our first meeting, King to King, was a failure. I was just thankful his attacks would be to me directly, and not through my children.

Angelica returned alone a few moments later. I was still stewing, in my mind, over the statements that we had traded. "He is with Hamund and seems pleased," she said as she sat in my lap. She could tell I needed some closeness. She was not wrong.

"I fear he means to seek a new alliance with the Swans," I said, deep in my own thoughts. "Do you think he will give us a demand we cannot agree to?" I set my chin on her shoulder, and tried to think of options. I was a king. I should have options, but I could think of none.

"He is stubborn." Angelica looked deep in thought. "There was a time when we were not seen without each other." She looked down to me, "Before he found us, Mylle and me. At the time, it was the loss of him that hurt most." She shook her head, "Now my heart has hardened, and I do not know if I could forgive him." She closed her eyes. "I think he would see me dead afore he admitted to the world what I am. Yes, I fear he is looking to break the alliance, and all ties to me."

"We must devise a new strategy, you and I," I said, "we will do what we can to keep all quiet for now. Let no one know how we think. My mother's family may be of help, albeit they are not what they once were."

"We cannot send our loves away," Angelica stated.

"That is the only option that is not open," I added. Angelica laid her head on mine, and we sat that way thinking. It was a wonderful thing to be able to suffer with another. The weight of the kingdom is halved when shared. Equals I had said. She had been a fool to accept.

Uri's visit was for two days. Except for a few meals, we saw little of each other, and it was noted in court. Hamund had gone riding with him and spoke well of the excursion. I prayed we were mistaken, and Uri would tolerate his imagined shame for the sake of his nephew. After all, in time, Hamund also would be a king.

I did not broach the subject of a public renewal of the alliance for fear it would become a public disillusionment. Uri made no offers and did not mention my strange family again. For that I was thankful, for it may have come to blows. Alliance to war in just a few words. Angelica and I thought it best to leave things be at that time. He did not deny the alliance. That had to be worth something, for as long as it lasted. We said our goodbyes, which took little time.

<<<<<>>>>>

"It is rumored that King Douderson is questioning the alliance, my King," Lucius said when I queried him about court talk. "They suspect it has something to do with..." I sighed when he paused.

"I want to know what they say, Lucius. I know it is their words, not yours." I looked at him and saw his discomfort.

"They think you have a harem, my King," Lucius looked to the floor. "They find you, and the queen who allows it to be...to be risking much for your pleasure." I smiled so he knew I was not offended.

"They will get it right, one day," I said thoughtfully. "Is it all who think this way?"

"No, well mayhap, my King," Lucius stumbled, "most would prefer to ignore it. The kingdom has been quite prosperous since the crown talks with the commoners. They see that as your doing, you and the queen." That was both a curse and blessing. A blessing that my own people may tolerate my family. A curse that the kingdom may look like a plump target if its security is in question.

"What do you think, Lucius?"

"It is not my place, my King."

"It is today," I said softly, "I wish your counsel. There are few that I trust who know all."

"I saw you when you thought you had lost Lady Alia," Lucius stated firmly. "The world cannot afford a king with so much hate, backed by a queen with equal rancor. It is best for all if Lady Mylle and Lady Alia remain where they are. I cannot fathom a solution to King Douderson. Mayhap an alliance with another." His candor was refreshing. He knew me better than most.

"You think no different than I," I smiled, "I thank you for the truth." I thought for a moment and looked back to him. "Are there those in court you suspect may undermine me?"

"None with any power, my King," Lucius answered quickly, "but I am not privy to all conversations. Many know well I have your ear. It is casual overhearing that I bring to you now. None of it sounded overly seditious."

"Good, there is hope in that," I replied and then smiled, "I was not looking for you to spy. I only need to know what is obvious to most."

"I would be a terrible spy, my King," Lucius chuckled. I laughed with him, thinking he had the truth of it. I wondered if there were others I could employ who might be better at it. Spying on one's own court sounded desperate so I let the thought pass untended.

<<<<<>>>>>

Six months passed with no word, good or bad, from Uri. We had gotten word that his meeting with the Swan was most successful. How that success manifested itself we did not know. Just that he was very well received, and King Targathian was most pleased. Angelica and I had little luck gathering a new alliance. Most wished to join Bear and Lion, meeting with Lion by itself was politically risky. There were also rumors of some discord with our alliance which made many wary. I suspect my 'harem' was also a consideration, though it was never mentioned openly. We wondered how Uri had managed negotiations with the Swan.

I had been drilling the garrison hard. I feared I would have to make ready for life without an alliance. The new wealth of the kingdom allowed some increase in arms, but it would take time to train and build housing for men and horse. The math said I could increase by one third in size without detriment to the coffers. Angelica and I both saw it a worthy expense, so I began the growth that would take over a year to complete. An alliance may be easier to acquire if I could bring more horse to the negotiations. Power had a way of attracting power.

<<<<<>>>>>

"It is true, my King. The Wolf moves in force," Sir Samuel said. His face was lathered from a hard ride. I could see his horse panting from the strain, its tongue hanging loosely out the side of its mouth. Samuel had been out for a week, ranging outside our borders with a six men in plain cloth. They had been sent to verify what we had heard; the Wolf had been massing.

"How many horse?" I asked. I feared the answer.

"Four hundred, my King," Samuel answered. I tried not to seem shocked. It was over thrice what we could field. Mayhap, in a year or so, we could field more. Hamund, who was at my side looked up at me. I maintained a look of confidence for him. I had to show him no fear, though I felt much.

"Has he turned to our lands?" I queried.

"No, my King. He parallels the border, though I fear he may turn when he passes the forest," Samuel surmised, "another will send word if it should happen." I took a deep breath. It may not be a move against us. The alliance was not officially broken. It would be a large risk the Wolf would be taking to assume it had been broken.

"Go, get cleaned up and we will meal together," I said with authority," I will hear your full report then." I added a smile to relax him, Hamund and those who had overheard. It was good to extrude confidence. It bolstered the men who, in turn, bolstered me.

"Thank you, my King," Samuel said while smiling. Not many were invited to the king's table and I knew he thought it a great honor. It was just a meal to me, and he looked hungry.

<<<<<>>>>>

"He has not turned, yet?" Angelica asked. I could see the concern in her eyes. The crown was a lot to shoulder.

"No," I answered.

"Do you fear summoning Uri afore we know for sure?" Angelica asked, then she shook her head to forestall my obvious answer, "I feel the same. No need to risk denial if the Wolf passes by."

"If he turns, we will have to risk a summons," I said, "we cannot face him on open field. His numbers are too large."

"If he turns, and Uri ignores our plea?" Angelica asked. I did not wish to say it, but I had told her we were equals.

"Our reign will end quickly, my love." I answered with little hope. Angelica gasped at my statement. I kept from her the obvious ramifications of such a defeat, though I thought she suspected. My life would be forfeit, that much was certain. If negotiations failed, my family may be at risk as well.

"There is not some tactic we can employ? It is our land, we know it better than he." Angelica grasped at straws.

"Aye, his losses will be great," I replied, "though sheer numbers will outweigh us in the in end. I cannot send men to die for no purpose. It is not in me." I looked at the hearth and watched the flames for a moment. "Even with Uri, his numbers are great. Without Uri, it is not possible."

"Then we pray he does not turn," Angelica said with a weak smile. I brought her to my arms and held her close. She could feel my worry as I felt hers. "We sleep together tonight. Our loves must know what is at risk." I nodded and kissed her cheek.

<<<<<>>>>>

Commander Kancraft and I were conferring when another rider arrived, four days after the first. Boris had informed me that rumors had spread through the men, and nervousness followed. One, a new recruit, had deserted three nights ago. One soldier would make no difference, but it did not help morale. Torrance was the lad's name, barely seventeen winters, a farmer by birth. I remembered him sparing with Hamund during a drill. I hoped Hamund would not hold the same fears.

"The Wolf has turned toward us, my King," the rider said. He waited for my response. I could see there was more in his eyes and he wished to not disclose it all at once.

"And?" I asked.

"We have lost track of a hundred horse, my King" the rider added, "they broke off in the night. We know not where." I knew where. They meant to cut us off.

"Commander, I need two riders for Douderson," I hastily ordered, "they will carry my missive to the king there. They will leave within the hour." I could see the surrounding men breathe a sigh of relief. I did not let on that Uri might well deny me. "If the Wolf wishes a war, then he shall have one. I would see him squashed between two kingdoms." There were grunts of approval and vows of valor at my words.

I moved off to gather the letter that Angelica and I had prepared. It was more of a plea than a request. It spoke of their father's will when the alliance had been formed. We hoped it would spark thoughts that forced him to action. We simply hoped.

<<<<<>>>>>

We were three days into the siege when King Uberson sent forward his negotiator under a white flag. The fields before the castle were lined with neat rows of men at camp. All out of our bow range, but ready should we come to field. We, inside, waited patiently for Uri's response. I would meet them on the field if Uri showed.

I chose to meet the ambassador in the throne room. Better to speak from the seat of power than let him be treated as an equal. Angelica sat next to me, which surprised the court. They had not seen a queen as equal as her. I only hoped she would be Queen 'til she was old and gray.

The ambassador bowed before me and then spoke. "My King has commanded that I bring you this, my Lord." He held forth an leather satchel I recognized. I felt my heart drop into my bowels. It was our letter to Uri. Angelica, for her part made no overt notice of it.

"And the riders who carried it?" I asked.

"One is our guest, my Lord," the ambassador smiled, "the other... well, he fought harder." I wished to strangle the man then and there. It was not his words, but the smile he displayed that I desired to end. Uri would not even be given the chance to deny us. I had waited too long to make the request. I would have to negotiate.

"Does your Lord have other words?" I inquired.

"Yes, my Lord," the ambassador's smile returned. I feared I would not like what came out of his mouth. "He will spare all if you would give him your head, and that of your Queen, and of your harem and of the foul spawn you have produced." I stood and drew my sword. I was correct in not liking his words. It was Angelica who grabbed my arm and stayed my hand.

"Have your Lord stare at our walls for five days," Angelica spoke without emotion, "let him watch his purse drain and feel the fear of my brother's impending arrival. We will speak again in that time. I will, however, demand that your tongue remain civil. Cleaning blood off the floor is a distasteful task." The ambassador held his smile, but I saw color leave his cheeks. It was not the beheading I desired, but it was somewhat satisfying.

The voices in the court rose as the ambassador left the room. Everyone was talking at once, and nothing coherent could be deciphered. Angelica turned to me as I sheathed my sword. "I will forfeit my life, but not the others. Hamund and Liliana must not be part of this." Her will was shattering in front of me and the court. A mother could only take so much. I used my eyes to remind her where we were and she calmed.

"Is the Bear coming, my King?" It was shouted from behind a group that had gathered near the far end of the room.

"I have no reason to suspect he will not," I called back.

"My brother will not leave us to this jackal," Angelica added. Neither of us believed what we were saying. It was time that we needed. Angelica had maneuvered five days for us to think. The Wolf could not breach our walls in that time, having brought no siege engines with him. He would come back with a better offer as the costs of his campaign mounted. Men do not campaign for free.

The court seemed to half believe us, not that much choice was offered. We retired quickly, nodding to those who supported us and smiling to those who questioned our rule. We exited and collapsed into each other's arms.

"They cannot have Hamund and Liliana," Angelica repeated.

"They shall not," I responded, "it was only the first exchange. There will be another. The Wolf can afford only so much of this, and then he will see reason. Mayhap, your brother will get word, and I will have a chance at that bastard's head after all."

"If he calls my children fowl spawn again, I shall let you do it here," Angelica spoke with the venom of an angry mother. I kissed her to share her hate. It was a vicious thing, and I strangely needed more of it.

"Uncle will come." Hamund stood off by the door. We did not hear him enter. I broke from his mother who reached out for him. Hamund went into his mother's arms, but looked directly at me.

"How much did you hear?" I asked.

"More than you would allow," Hamund answered, many years older than he looked.

"Nothing will happen to you, my love. We will not let it," Angelica said softly. I could see tears forming in her eyes. She did not want him worried about such things.

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