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 Fantasy The Settler Queen (Epicurean & Poldaran)

Discussion in 'Roleplay Execution' started by Epicurean, Jul 20, 2018.

  1. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    “In the year 314 of the Midnight Kingdom, sometime in Spring, hearts bled and tears were shed on the King’s Isle, for one of his most trusted vassals, the then-Count Bearnwil of Delran, decided to seditiously abandon his lands and went to the ruinous and barren Old Realm, where his surfeit of the vice the Forefathers called ‘hubris’ sought for him and his band of adventurers (among whom, we are sorry to record, some from the best families followed this fool’s errand) lands, status and riches. Through a strange fate, some of them gained what they had coveted, while most died of disease or through enemy hands, so that, when Bearnwil had claimed Kingship over this so-called ‘New Realm’, it was both farcical and cruel to those he had betrayed. Despite the pleas of the King, he did not recant his folly, and thus, in the year following the desertion, his lands in the Isles were declared forfeit, also because he rejected swearing fealty for them to the King.” – The Chronicle of the Midnight Isles begun by Malamar the Learned in the Reign of King Otho II.


    “In the year 314 after the Great Flight, which is the year before the Beginning of the New Realm, twenty days after Spring began, upon the Feast of Malehwâz, our Lord King, the Count Bearnwil of Delran, sailed forth from his port with six ships, laden with goods, but (which was of far more import!) also with the best folk of the Midnight Isles of all stations, lords, knights, learned, burghers, freeholders and villeins all. The Sea and Sky were most favorable to him, and thus he reached the shore of the Old Realm on the seventh day. He immediately disembarked all he had brought and began the great works of home and field we shall herein describe. Not only was he then beset with hardship in these works, but also his towns and villages, castles and lands and all the rights and titles resting on the same were taken away cruelly and through greed by the King of the Midnight Isles, who denied even King Bearnwil’s wife, the noble Edina, her inheritance, namely the County of Ghenarburg, with no compensation…” – The True and Righteous Account of Bearnwil’s Conquest and the New Realm

    ---

    Five young men entered the easternmost gate of Bannarth in the late afternoon, riding hard, their horses sweating and frothing, their long hair flowing under their fine leather riding caps. “By mighty Winter, you did that boar like I do my whores!” roared one, thrashing another’s shoulder hard enough that, had they not been laughing together, one might have taken for assault what was just comradery. “Our Prince stuck it like he’s going to stick that Islander girl!” a third added to another raucous round of laughter despite giving the same coarse joke a new form. The one whom the first had struck frowned despite a wide grin at that comment. The sun stood low; with yesterday’s offshore winds, everyone had been sure she would not arrive today. They had not heard from the ships bringing her since a fast messenger boat had arrived three days ago, bringing the news that the convoy had left the Islands for good. “If you do it right, though, my Prince, she will like it much better than the boar!” said another of the hunters, Londar by name. “Vigor is all, my friends, vigor is all!” chimed in the first. The Prince chuckled, but he was preoccupied; with his wedding imminent, he was more aware of the fact that all his friends’ talk of whoring was largely empty. Personally, he wasn’t inept at dealing with women, but he hadn’t ‘stuck’ his way through the New Realm, either. In fact, he was rather innocent. So far, he had been much more interested in the knightly arts than in the gifts of Feyna, the goddess so many young people in the city of Bannarth now worshipped.


    “If vigor is all, then that girl had better get ready for one fiery ride,” Londar laughed, clapping Prince Aonmar’s shoulder once more. Aonmar tolerated Londar in his circle of young knights more than that he had actually accepted him to it. His father was one of his own father’s original followers, a very rich and powerful man, so the Prince had to put up with the eponymic Duke’s son and his slightly fawning, awkward manner. “Shut up, Londar. You haven’t ridden anything,” said the first and loudest of the group, a short, barrel-chested knight who was a favorite of the Prince. “It would be for the best if we spoke of other things,” said the fifth of the group, a pale fellow with an especially long sword, quietly. “After all, the Princess Marlis will be Queen one day; it does not behoove to speak of her thus.”


    As usual, everyone listened to Borrim, the son of the Lord Herald and the one with the best knightly manners, as even Aonmar had to admit. He was slightly embarrassed that it had not occurred to him that his friends were toying with his future wife’s honor, even if had just been words. He would soon swear to defend that as well as her person by ‘word and sword’ as the formula went. Aonmar grimaced. The wedding didn’t fit his plans at all. He had fully expected to get his own border castle soon – where he wanted to teach the barbarians from the South or the Ephelar from the West a few nasty lessons. He knew both Vallan Kings, his father and the King of the Midnight Isles, had been planning this marriage for years, but it had been put off a few times. First, his bride had not been considered fully grown. Then a fever had closed the Isles to ships for a season. Finally, the Ephelar had started an attempt to win back some of the Western Marches, which had dragged on for over a year (it had ended just this winter). Now, it was finally to happen. Might as well get over it, Aonmar thought as they turned into the street leading up to the castle, rejuvenated ruins and new buildings lining their way along with the city-dwellers dodging the horses’ hooves.


    No sooner had they passed the Outer Gate than a thin, balding man in the robes of the learned came running towards him, gesturing wildly. “Where in the name of all that is holy have you been, my young Prince?!” he snapped accusingly. “Oh go catch a fever, Demold,” Aonmar growled back. He hated his tutor, but so far, the King had kept the man for his younger children. Aonmar remembered all the punishments he had received from this pathetic bookworm – but the only lesson he had learned from them was that Demold was a pretentious, useless, self-righteous whoreson. Not that Aonmar minded a good, honest thrashing on the tourney ground – but being chased around the chambers by a glorified scribe with a rod was just undignified. Well, I’d like to see him try that these days, Aonmar thought with an inward grunt. “Where! Were! You!” Demold repeated, never one to shy away from a spat with the Prince. Aonmar gritted his teeth, trying to contain his rage, and raised his hunting spear. “I was staking for Gold in the fucking river, you ink-sodden bastard,” he bellowed. Why did folk have to get on his nerves like that and spoil a perfectly good day of hunting with his knights? “What’s the damned problem with hunting, now? Some new-fangled god wants us to let the boar ruin the harvest? And why is it any of your damn business, scribe?

    Aonmar was just about to add to his tirade when Demold answered: “Their Majesties sent for you!” It sounded like that explained everything. “I got no message. What do they want?” “Your bride has unexpectedly arrived early and they wish you, my Prince, to… but it is to late for that, there they come,” the tutor said in such a gloating tone that Aonmar simply could not take it any longer. He jumped from his horse, paying no attention to the entourage approaching the Outer gate; Demold’s comment hadn’t even fully registered. Aonmar was now chest to chest with his old tutor. He would settle this business with Demold once and for all. All the needless thrashings, all the snide remarks, the gratuitous taking away of things he liked. “I am the Prince, you little piece of ditch scum!” he snarled right into Demold’s face. “The days where you could push me around because you taught me the letters are over!” The Prince was not of exceptional height, but with his broad shoulders and the lean, taut limbs befitting a young knight, he seemed to dwarf the learned man. Fair hair gained a red tinge in the slowly sinking sun as Aonmar drove Demold back by the sheer intensity of his outbreak.

    Demold didn’t react, and the Prince knew that was bad. He usually hated it when the rage rode him and tried his best to wrest control from it, but not after a day of much-needed freedom that had nevertheless been strenuous, and certainly not with this nasty cockroach of a self-styled teacher. The way Demold backed down confirmed all the Prince had known about him for years. Aonmar had been taught fighting from an early age. He thought he could smell the fear like a dog and he pounced on it. “You fatherless bastard! You think you can treat the future King of the Vallan like an apprentice scribe?” His voice grew louder and louder. He knew he wouldn’t stop without outside interference, and for once, he was glad for it. “I will tell you this, scribbler,” he yelled in the clear diction that was of the King’s Isle even though he had never lived there, “if you don’t learn to take a proper tone with me, by all Gods, I shall throw you into my dog kennel and watch the bear-baiters bite your tiny little balls clean off! If you so much as look at me the wrong way, I will thrash you with my belt until I can sell your stinking remains as swine-food! It won’t get me much silver, but it’ll be enough to buy that whore you call a wife! Go on! Raise your hand against me! Make this day the best I’ve had ever since I left your useless lessons behind! Do it, and I will break your scrawny little neck over my fucking knee and throw you down the cliff from my chambers! And if you so much as talk of the rod to my brother again, I will let him decide if we drown you like a rat or burn you like a pest-fly!” He could remember well the day when King and Queen had been away, and Demold had had nothing better to do than to use his privileges to amuse himself by beating Aonmar’s younger brother, named Bearnwil for their royal father, for some probably invented transgression. Their sister Adeline had called Aonmar to help, and the crown prince had found the tutor with a madly glowing expression on his face and his soft, friendly brother, then just eight, howling in pain and fear. Then, Aonmar had stopped him, too shocked and still too young to dare do anything more – when his father returned weeks later, the matter was considered long over. The Prince was getting even today; he was beside himself with a rage that had been built up over many, many years.

    Demold ran, because none of the guards or the Prince’s young knights made any gesture on his behalf. Aonmar screamed after him at the top of his lungs: “This is the last damned time! Set one fucking toe wrong and I will rip your throat out!” Aonmar turned away, shaking uncontrollably with rage, his hair matted with sweat from his fit of rage and the day’s hunting, his hunting cap askew, his face a pale, slightly unhinged mask of pure hatred.

    His heart almost stopped when he saw something in the corner of the eye. He had assumed, insofar he had thought of it at all, that Demold had spotted the royal procession with his mother, father and the Princess of the Midnight Isles from far away – but they were holding at the gate in petrified silence.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2018
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  2. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Princess Marlis stood in the port of Bannarth before the royal welcoming committee of the New Realm. The port was incredibly large; much larger than anything the Princess had seen before. Any parts that had once been destroyed had now been rebuilt, and the place was bustling even in this late hour of the day. She was genuinely surprised to see how civilized the city was. In the Midnight Kingdom, those who had settled back on the mainland were portrayed often as just short of barbarians. Yet, there was nothing barbaric about the port she now stood in, nor the committee that stood before her.

    Quickly, she scanned the small group of people. The King and Queen were obvious in their attire, along with a few other noblemen and a couple of pages and servants. There was no one who looked like a prince within the crowd, and Marlis breathed a sigh of relief. While she knew she was going to have to see and speak with her betrothed sooner rather than later, she was grateful that she was not faced with his Highness immediately upon arriving. She was nervous enough without needing to be confronted by a maniac upon her first arrival. It was bad enough she was expected to marry him in two days.

    “We are honored to welcome the Princess Marlis Dulcea Guthrum to the New Realm as our beloved future daughter,” the deep voice brought her attention to the fair-haired monarch before her. King Bearnwil’s address was formal, but made no mention of her father the King, using only her family name, a fact that she made note of. His accent was a little foreign sounding, but still perfectly clear to understand what was being said.

    Bearnwil, as he spoke, looked her up and down appraisingly, taking in the elaborate gown she wore and her more defining physical characteristics. Marlis could see others in the party doing the same. As though she would be the one unsatisfactory in this marriage, she thought sourly.

    Flushing, she inclined her head, rather than curtsying. Already, she sensed the tight-rope she was walking. Showing her future in-laws the proper amount of respect when back home on the Kings Island they were viewed as traitors to the crown was not going to be an easy task. “It is a privilege to be here with my father the King’s trusted friend.” She bit her tongue on the word once.

    King Bearnwil, to his credit, took her response with a chuckle; though she could see the eyes of Queen Edina narrow some. “Well, now, let’s get you back to the castle and get you settled in. I’m sure you’re glad to be off that swaying boat. No need for more ceremony, hm? Hemry,” Bearnwil called behind him, “Bring Her Highness and her maid some horses. The sun is starting to set, and I’m certain the Princess is tired after her long journey. The rest of her party may follow later.”

    Immediately, a thin lanky man came forward with horses, and a page came forward to help her mount. Marlis settled into the side saddle and waited for the rest of the party to mount up as her maid Sibley came alongside. As the party was readied, Marlis was ushered to position herself beside the Queen. Moments later, the King signaled, and the group rode through the cobbled streets of the port, between restored warehouses, inns, and taverns, soon coming into a more populated city area.

    The horse they had put Marlis on was a glorified pony that plodded alongside the Queen’s palfrey sedately. Marlis tried not to grimace in distaste at the choice. Perhaps once she had been here a while, she could command a better mount? Then again, from what she knew about her intended husband, she may not be capable of riding after their marriage night. In which case, her choice of mount would no longer matter.

    Marlis shuddered at the thought. The Prince had a reputation for violence and a volatile temper that made him explode at nearly anything, even a misconstrued comment. Lurid descriptions of his female conquests were whispered through the court back home on the King’s Isle and often included rape and disfigurement of those women unlucky enough to be his bed mates. Marlis still didn’t understand why her father had sent her to be married to a monster, rather than one of her brothers to marry Prince Aonmar’s sister Adeline. Surely, that would have been the safer choice?

    Yet, even after years of delay, here she was. A proverbial lamb to the slaughter.

    “I trust your journey was a good one, Princess? We didn’t expect you to arrive until tomorrow with the offshore winds.” The Queen’s voice startled Marlis out of her dark thoughts. Her speech held that same slight accent, though it was not as pronounced as that of the King.

    Marlis blanched. “The captain told me that we made exceptional time the first half of the voyage. I confess, I cannot judge the quality of the journey, as I become dreadfully sick on sea voyages. It was only this last day that I became somewhat accustomed to the rolling of the ship.”

    Queen Edina looked at her curiously. “A princess of the Isles that cannot tolerate sea travel. Perhaps it is for the best you have come to live with us here on the mainland.” Pausing a moment, she went on. “I apologize that Prince Aonmar was not here to greet you himself. As I said, we did not expect you until tomorrow, and he was out hunting boar with the other knights. The boar have become quite a pest to the fields. They grow much larger here than on the Isles, some are nearly as big as our horses, and incredibly vicious. They would sooner attack than run away. We sent for Aonmar, but I don’t believe Demold caught him in time.”

    Of course the Prince would be hunting a large, vicious animal. That only made sense. Swallowing her fear, Marlis replied. “I’m certain I will meet with him soon enough.”

    A large wall and gate house loomed ahead of the small party. Marlis hadn’t paid much attention to the town they had ridden through, being lost in her own thoughts. Ordinarily, she would have felt guilty for not paying attention to this new place she would have to call home, but she was too worried about the next few days to even think of her surroundings. They filed through the intimidating outer gate of the castle, Marlis drawing up beside both the Queen and King as they stopped just inside the gate.

    The scene they came upon within the courtyard was shocking. A young noble, of average height but obvious strength, had just jumped from his horse and was shouting at a smaller man, a scholar of some sort by his dress. The group of knights with the fair-haired man stood without moving to help the scholar nor to pull away what was obviously the Prince. Instead, the young men held their place and exchanged both grimaces and grins.

    Aonmar’s language was coarse, and his voice rose louder and louder as he warmed to his subject and his threats—nay, promises—became more savage. Marlis watched in horror, certain that at any moment he would further raise the spear he held to impale the smaller man. She licked her lips with a suddenly dry tongue as the scholar finally ran from the Prince in obvious fear for his life. Marlis couldn’t blame the poor man, she wanted to run as well. The thought that she would soon be married to the young bloodthirsty man before her sent a wave of sheer terror down her spine.

    The Princess could only stare ahead as Aonmar turned to look at the party that had just come through the gate. His wild blue eyes seemed to meet hers for an instant, the intensity of them seeming to challenge her, his words to the scholar promising nothing in the way of pleasant company to come.

    Marlis never saw his look of anger turn to one of shock. The journey had been arduous with her sickness, and the sheer terror of being in the presence of her savage betrothed was simply too much. Her ears roaring, she had the presence of mind to slide from her saddle before collapsing in a dead faint.
     
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  3. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    The King’s expression wavered for a moment between dry amusement and annoyance, then he gently nudged his horse onwards, past Aonmar, who felt his face go red with embarrassment. “You managed to stun the girl on first sight, son. I’ve truly never seen the likes,” he chuckled as he turned right towards the second gate.

    The Prince knew he did not scare easily. He had been in battle and acquitted himself much better than even he had dared hope. Still, the devastating glares his mother was flinging at him like a trebuchet might hurl stones at a besieged castle made him shrink from her gaze. He knew he resembled his mother more than his father – those bright blue eyes he could see in the silver mirror, the sleek, straight nose… for some reason, he thought of earlier days, when there had been whispers about his manhood because of his gentle features which only recently had turned manly enough that Aonmar liked his face.

    The Queen made sure that his bride was escorted to the assigned chambers; he had rolled his eyes at his mother when she had told him not to go near there before the wedding. As if he would ever be so indecent, let alone foolish.

    “How can you be so foolish?!” she hissed at him, shooing away his friends with an angry gesture. “The Islanders already think we are some sort of ruffians, and you have to let your temper loose on Demold like this? In front of her? Do you not have ears to listen?! Were you asleep when the last envoy returned and spoke about the reputation you have? Are you trying to turn the Princess against you already?” Aonmar knew too well that if he didn’t respond soon, she would work herself into even more of a rage. “Mother, I did not see you coming. The gatekeeper didn’t announce you…” “…because he was watching you abuse a servant! Tomorrow before breakfast, you shall be introduced. If you make fool of yourself again, by all Gods new and old…!” The Queen could not really threaten him with anything anymore, Aonmar knew, but the message was still quite clear – and unnecessary, really. Yet the Prince was too embarrassed to be angry with his mother.

    When his mother had stormed off to remount and leave for the inner gate as well, Aonmar grimaced with closed eyes. He did not remember a time when he had felt this stupid. His friends knew not to comment. With a pained groan, Aonmar crunched his hunting cap in his hand and walked back to his horse. He felt like he deserved to wade through the mud of the outer ward, but it wasn’t worth ruining a perfectly good pair of riding boots because of a Prince with a bag of dry apples for a brain.

    *

    That evening, long after dinner, Aonmar and his friends were sitting around a small table in a corner of the great hall, cups and jugs largely empty. The Princess had not appeared for dinner, but at least the Queen had reported she had recovered. Aonmar would have liked to hear some additional comment, perhaps that it had been more the wearying journey than the sight of him, but the Queen made no such effort to soften the blow. He had his temper from her, he knew, but he forgot grudges as quickly as his father did. Queen Edina, on the other hand… the Prince sighed and emptied the last of his wine. It made his head swirl already and he knew he had had too much, but at this point, there was nothing he could do about that.

    Aonmar’s head was swirling. “I’ve had too much of this swill,” he groaned. “But you always take it well, my Prince,” Borrim replied in a soothing tone that at the same time made Aonmar want to punch and embrace him. “Just make sure you treat Her Highness with the greatest courtesy tomorrow morning and everything will be well.” “Yah,” Aonmar mumbled groggily and rose. “Friends, I’m going to bed. I shall see you tomorrow afternoon, for those rituals in preparation…”

    As usual, Borrim followed Aonmar. On most days, before they both went to bed, they exchanged some private words. Borrim, Aonmar thought in his wine-addled mind, was simply smarter than other man. He knew more, he understood better, and he as a great knight. “All I can hope for now is that she doesn’t laugh at me,” Aonmar said without preamble and hated how much it sounded like a moan. They were wandering along the dark corridor to his chamber; the ones for his knights were at the end of the same one, but the others new not to disturb these quiet talks. Borrim was silent for a number of steps, then replied slowly: “I think not… I think not. Folk do not faint with mirth.” He paused, but Aonmar knew from experience that his friend would not leave him hanging with such an open-ended remark. Borrim was just weighing his words, as he ever did. “I think… she’s quite scared of you.”

    They had reached the Prince’s door. He had already moved into the large, comfortable rooms he would inhabit with his wife. Aonmar growled indignantly at Borrim’s words. “Ah… all wives fear their husbands,” he replied lamely as he stepped through the door. Even in his drunken state, Aonmar knew how stupid and useless this answer was – and he also knew how little truth it contained. He saw Borrim’s eyes twinkle in the almost complete darkness. He knew, Aonmar could see it. He knew that Aonmar quietly agreed with him. The uncomfortable lump which always accompanied any mention of the rumors about him made itself known. “Good night, my Lord Prince,” Borrim said simply, his manners as impeccable as always. “Good night, Borrim. Sleep well.”

    Aonmar undressed with some difficulty and slumped on his bed. Here, two days hence… but he was definitely too drunk for such thoughts.

    *

    The Prince awoke very early next day, the sky beyond the open window dawn white instead of day blue. That was the first warning; the second was the faint swirls of color in his vision. The third and most conclusive was the way the bright light seemed to burn his eyes, pierce his skull and set his brain on fire. Aonmar was never hung over – so he knew immediately what this must be. “Oh by Feyna’s flawless teats, not today,” he groaned. Then, however, he rolled out of bed, washed and dressed himself as quickly as he could and left for the hall. He needed food and tea as soon as possible if he was to make anything of this day. Aonmar did not know why he was afflicted with these days of nausea, splitting headaches and other ridiculous ailments. If, however, he could get a quick breakfast, he had a chance that he would not be prostrate for the whole day.

    Thus, as soon as he reached the High Table, he began eating pastries as if he had been starved for days and drank tea that was still far too hot, just so that the headaches would not completely take over. But it was a bad day and no tea could kill off the throbbing in the Prince’s head that befell him maybe twice each season.

    When the Lord Herald, Borrim’s father, entered the room a while later in his full formal garb, Aonmar’s jaw was already clenched, his neck muscles burning, his brows contorted in pain. All he longed for was the poppy draught he took on such days… and like this, he had to meet his bride for the first time. He rose and straightened his surcot, a tight one made of night-blue silk and adorned with silver trimmings. His hands were shaking slightly, another one of the shameful weaknesses of this sort of day.

    “His Majesty, our Lord the King Bearnwil; Her Majesty, our most gracious Lady the Queen Edina; and our most exalted guest, Her Highness the Princess Marlis of the Midnight Isles,” the Lord Herald announced. Even through the daze of his headache, Aonmar admired the way his bride was bearing herself as she entered behind his father, accompanied by his mother. He strode towards them as best he could, first bowing to the King, then to the Queen, then, with visible difficulty, to the Princess. Once more, he felt his cheeks flush with shame.

    “I… bid you good morrow, Your Highness,” he began, slurring his words slightly. He hated himself for this weakness. “I am most… gratified to at last be in Your Highness’s presence and… I… I should like to apologize for the way…” As sometimes happened in these states he had, he lost all direction in mid-sentence. “The… excuse me…” His voice, usually one of his nicer features (at least that was what he was told), was breaking now and a nerve above his right eye twitched heavily. “I am delighted and… your apologies, Highness…we shall later, perhaps…” He lost his thread completely at this point. Why?! He had never, ever had a problem with speaking before. Why did it have to be today that he had one of these damned episodes? Why not three weeks from now, why not two days earlier?

    His face contorted with pain and rage at his condition, he stumbled past the Princess because he felt a wave of nausea coming on. “Send for the physician,” he managed to tell the Herald as he left the hall, the pain almost blinding him. It was good that he had been raised mostly in the tradition of the Isles, not the new beliefs now spreading. That way, he could curse the Gods to his heart’s content for this miserable, unfair bad luck they were handing him with regards to his future wife.
     
  4. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Local Time:
    6:31 PM
    Marlis regained consciousness all at once, gasping and sitting up in alarm, only to find herself pushed down by the familiar hands of Sibley. The maid applied gentle pressure to the Princess’s shoulders, lowering her back down to the pillows of the bed she was in.

    “It’s alright, Highness,” the woman said softly. “We’ve just put you to bed after your spell. That’s all. Take a breath. We’ll get you some tea.” Another servant she had never seen before nodded to Sibley and left the room through the door opposite the bed Marlis lay in.

    Marlis could do nothing but blink and stare at her surroundings. The sleeping chamber she was currently in was not where she remembered being last. One of the wood paneled walls was covered in a tapestry, while another had a thin table against it. She found also that she had been undressed and lay only in her shift under a soft duvet that was just the right amount of heavy.

    She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The prince. Her first sight of him had been a culmination of her fears in action. She vaguely recalled sliding from her saddle, and then…

    Marlis flushed. She must have passed out. A great first impression of her own. Surely, Aonmar would think she was nothing but a weak plaything. A vivid image came to her of Prince Aonmar, wild and sweaty as he had looked inside the gate, savagely ravishing her only to leave her broken and bruised to hunt giant wild animals or murder other unsuspecting people. Marlis only had to be alive for the alliance to stay intact, right? It did not matter what condition she was in, so long as she might bear a child or two.

    The Princess was startled from her nightmarish thoughts by a hand on her arm. “Your tea, Ma’am. This should help.” Sibley and the other maid helped prop Marlis into a sitting position and one of them pressed a cup of hot tea into her hand. She drank, the warmth and herbs brewed into the tea forcing her tense muscles to relax.

    Halfway through her cup, she heard murmuring from the adjoining room. A moment later, Queen Edina herself swept into the room. Sibley and the other servant dropped into curtsies while Marlis tried desperately to straighten in the bed without spilling the tea she still held.

    “Your Majesty, I didn’t—“ Before Marlis could complete the sentence, Edina had waved her hand in a dismissive gesture.

    “No need for that. I trust you are well? Do we need to send for a physician?” The older woman’s tone was at once formal and leaden with concern.

    Marlis felt her cheeks burning in shame, while at the same time she felt confusion for the Queen’s obvious concern. “A physician won’t be necessary, Ma’am. I-I’m certain it was simply fatigue from the journey along with a case of nerves.”

    Edina nodded, as though this was as she expected, and the slight lines of worry around her blue eyes relaxed some. “I’m glad to hear it. I’ll have some dinner brought up to you tonight and will leave you to your rest. I’m certain a good night’s sleep will restore you.” The Queen hesitated, then added. “Prince Aonmar can have a temper at times to those who justly deserve it. I pray you give him a chance, despite the outburst you witnessed today. He is a righteous young man and very charming when he does not let his temper get the better of him. I’m certain he will give you a better impression on the morrow. With that, I leave you to your rest.”

    Queen Edina inclined her head to the now-speechless Princess and left the room. Marlis had little time to process what she had just heard, however, as both Sibley and the new maid began to fuss over her. A little later, the promised dinner tray had arrived, and Marlis ate what she could of the meal. After another cup of hot tea, this one with herbs to help her rest, the maids blew out the candles and left her to sleep.

    Marlis lay in the darkness for a time, her mind swirling. Aonmar had a temper for those who justly deserved it? The information did not mesh with what she knew of the man, and Sibley’s skeptical looks as the Queen spoke did not help ease Marlis’s mind. She didn’t ponder long on it, though. The journey to the continent had been arduous for her, as was the stress of meeting her future husband. She found herself drifting into an exhausted slumber without dreams, thinking fleetingly of how nice it was to be on a bed that was not swaying with the waves.



    The morning brought a fresh perspective to the Princess of the Midnight Kingdom. The night’s rest had restored both her energy and clear thinking, and she was woken fresh and ready to face the day. She was still worried about her marriage the next day, or rather, her marriage night, and the temperament of her future husband. However, the night seemed to sort her thoughts into a pattern to give the Queen’s words to her some credence. Perhaps they had simply walked in on the Prince giving words to someone who richly deserved them. Very… violent words. And threats. To a man smaller and obviously much weaker than he. It was best not to think on it so closely, she decided.

    Marlis was properly introduced to the second maid that morning, who went by the name Etta. The two women went to work dressing her in a pale blue over gown with a deep rounded cut at the neck and trailing sleeves. Sibley tightened the laces on each side of the gown while Etta checked that the silver embroidered edging was still intact and not damaged or missing any of the small white gems sewn onto it. Marlis took the thin belt with its ornate silver work and attached it around her hips while the other two tackled her long locks.

    Like most Midnight nobles and royalty, her hair was fair and pale. She had heard murmurs in the court growing up that it matched the color of the bitterroot plant she was named for. Marlis has always thought the comparison silly, as her hair was the same as her siblings’. Her brother Emrik alone had darker hair, his being more of a sandy brown color than the pale, almost white of the rest of the family. Soon enough, her hair was plaited to her head and she was ready.

    Here, Etta took over, guiding her out of the small suite of rooms she was currently residing in and through the castle, finally coming to an antechamber where the King and Queen already waited. Etta curtsied herself out as Marlis nodded her head demurely to the two monarchs.

    “Princess Marlis,” King Bearnwil acknowledged. “I trust you rested well?”

    “Yes, Your Majesty,” she responded. “Very well, thank you. Your accommodations for me are quite rich.” She meant it, too. The rooms she had been given were certainly as spacious as her own back home, and the wood paneling was certainly more comfortable than the painted plaster she was familiar with.

    Bearnwil shrugged the compliment away, but grinned at her nonetheless. “Come. Let us break our fast and we’ll see if Aonmar can give you a better presentation today.”

    The King strode forward, stopping long enough to introduce Marlis to the Lord Herald before allowing the guards to open the double doors and Lord Herald to announce them. Princess Marlis followed with the Queen, her bearing just as regal. Marlis was the daughter of the rightful King, after all, and had been trained as such since birth.

    Before they could get far into the room, Prince Aonmar was once more before them. He bowed to each of them, though he seemed to falter in his bow to her. His cheeks became flushed, his face taking on the appearance of what seemed to be a scowl. Surely the mere sight of her did not make him angry?

    Yet, that was exactly how it seemed as the Prince stumbled over his words to her, appearing to grow angrier and angrier, one of his eyelids even beginning to twitch. What he said made little sense, and finally he seemed to snap and swept past her, brushing her shoulder lightly as he went.

    Marlis stood in shock, all of the fears she had from the previous day rushing back. The Queen excused herself and left behind Aonmar, while the Princess was escorted to a seat near the King to eat breakfast. She ate some, dazed from the exchange. She tried to keep her expression as neutral as possible, but was having difficulty doing so. Would the man even be capable of exchanging vows with her tomorrow? Secretly, she hoped he wasn't, so that the marriage would have to be cancelled and she could go home to familiarity without any mad princes.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2018
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  5. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Prince Aonmar spent the most of the day in a deep sleep induced by the thick poppy syrup the court physician administered. He hated how the poppy made his head swirl, how it dulled his senses – but the relief from the hammering pain in his head was pure bliss.

    When he awoke in the afternoon, he felt much better, the nausea gone, the headache reduced to a dull feeling of pressure; a page was snoring quietly in the corner of his bedchamber. Aonmar grinned as he reached for his hose – but then he remembered he would have to dress differently. He guessed it was three hours until sundown, and that meant the cleansing rituals would soon begin. The only thing he put on was a simple, colorless cotte, like a nightshirt almost, but girded with a piece of rope he had had to make himself. No finery at all, no hat. His hair fell down to his shoulders unbound. All this he had been told to do by Mistress of the Rites, a relative of his father. He liked the old lady well enough, but this state of dress just wasn’t seemly. Well, the rites of the Isles were still better than the odd things some of the young inhabitants of the mainland had started – or re-started, if they were to be believed, from old books they had found in the ruins of Old Bannarth…

    Soon, the Mistress of the Rites, the Countess Ildiko, arrived with more pages. The one who had been sleeping in his chair was jolted awake and received a very stern glance from Ildiko. She greeted the Prince with a friendly nod (her old bones no longer permitted more formal greetings). “Good afternoon, dear aunt,” replied Aonmar, “you have come for the cleansing time, I assume?” Indeed, she was wearing her ceremonial shawl, made of splendid purple and white stripes. “Indeed, my Prince,” she replied in a clear, gentle voice which belied her age. “I see you are prepared – that is well! In my day, we thought it bad luck to be tardy for rituals…”

    As they walked through the castle corridors, Aonmar wondered what the cleansing entailed; the only grand ritual in which he had participated before was his elevation to knighthood – that had included a day-long fast and several tests of strength and courage. Most important ceremonies were traulich; not truly secret, but not to be spoken about casually, either. They were going downstairs, to the extensive dungeons and caves under the castle. Soon, a chill swept through the stone corridors whose raw walls were glittering in the oil lamp one of the pages carried. Aonmar was surprised when, after a while, he could see daylight ahead. As a child, he hadn’t been allowed down here and now that he went wherever he pleased, he hadn’t had much interest.

    “The first part of the cleansing is simple, and I think you will find it soothing after the… excitement of today,” Ildiko explained; Aonmar might have taken issue with the assumption that the day had taxed him. “Simply sit in the cave to the right there; it goes out to sea – be careful, we are quite a way above the waves here. Feel the breath of the Seas. Let the salt caress your skin and the sound of the waves calm your mind. Try not to steer its course; let your thoughts stray. They will go where they need to be of their own accord. Watch as the sky turns red and see the sun sink. We will fetch you for the baths when sundown is here.” The old lady smiled and put a hand on Aonmar’s shoulder. “I know it is not easy to just sit for the young and vigorous.” She reached into a pouch and gave him a small lump of a translucent color. “Some Sacred Herb; it will aid you in letting go of your surroundings for a while.”

    Aonmar nodded and kept quiet; he didn’t much like Sacred Herb. But there were worse things than sitting in a breeze, watching the sky and listening to the waves. However, as soon as the door had closed behind him, he found himself fidgeting, pacing to the sharp edge where the rock floor fell off to the sea and back to the door. He looked out to sea. A ship was coming in from the West, a triangular sail on her mast; that made her a Mbale ship; the Mbale came from the far West, traders in fine goods and renowned for their songs. Aonmar wondered what this ship brought. The price for the small dried fruit his sister liked had risen recently, perhaps the Mbale had some.

    The Prince spent some time leaning against the wall; he lost track of time, frowning when he realized that; he had the nasty feeling that this was not what he was supposed to do. He sighed and put the Sacred Herb in his mouth and started chewing it. The bitter juice ran down his throat. Soon, he felt the effects and sat down. The waves grew louder, the sky brighter. The embarrassment he felt because of the two botched encounters with the Princess was pushed to the back of his mind; so was the rest of his headache.

    When he had spat the chewed herb into the sea, he simply wanted to sit. He chuckled. That was what his venerable aunt had told him to do, wasn’t it? Yes. Sit and listen to the waves. He wondered how married life would be. Would they get along? Their fathers were banding together for protection, not because they wanted to be friends. In any case, he wanted to get along with his wife. Maybe they would grow to trust each other, to enjoy each other’s company perhaps. He got along with women, did he not? A self-deprecating chuckle. As long as he got his riding and his fencing. Why did he always have to do things? Would a woman understand? Paradoxically, Aonmar wished he’d had a few lovers before to answer a few basic questions about how such things went. Marlis, however… she must think he was raving mad. Stupid, probably. Well… his mother would explain. The Queen was good at such things and he knew his mother loved him, as he loved her. It was good to be loved. Might he love the Princess, and she him? He smiled as he imagined the sort of scene he had sometimes witnessed between his parents, in the morning, when he would hear them laugh in bed together. It would be easy to live that way…

    The Mistress of Rites found the Prince sitting on the ground, humming a simple tune. Aonmar turned his head away from the glorious red sundown. “I think I shall have to come here more often,” he said, almost regretting that it was now over. “Whereto next?” The old Countess smiled back at him: “To the bath, quite simply. Sometimes, cleansing is just cleansing. You will wish to be well-groomed for your bride, will you not?” Aonmar nodded. The idea that he might smell bad the next day (and night!) was rather horrifying. He needed to shave, too. The statues from the Old Realm were all without hair on their body, and had the people who made them not been the most any Vallan had ever been?

    While he bathed in the ancient rooms of the castle’s main building set aside for that purpose, he marveled at the pictures on the wall – mosaic, they were called, put together from tiny colored stones. The depictions were not new, but old, just repaired a little, and they were rather more frivolous than anything made nowadays, with no part of the body left out. Aonmar was still under the influence of the Sacred Herb and tried to imagine how the Princess might look nude. Would she be as immaculate as these mosaics? No; they were probably Goddesses, and he knew that the Gods of old had been more beautiful then any mortal. She was not tall, his bride, but from what he had seen, her body seemed soft, as if made up of elegant, sweeping curves…

    Aonmar took his time in the heated water, the steam bath and the cold basin. With one of the excellent razor a smith down in the city knew how to make he brought himself closer to the men on the walls, far taller than him, their every muscle bulging. He was not like that, he knew, but he was happy with how he looked – a little proud of it, too, because the taut muscles had taken pain and effort to acquire. Would Marlis go through the same ritual? Had she already don so? At least that would the heating of the baths tonight a little less wasteful. Some of the courtiers gossiped about life on the Isles. They had no bathhouses there, at least not like this, but Aonmar knew some of the stories must be exaggerations…

    Still feeling the Sacred Herb, he almost laughed when, after a lengthy stay in the baths and with his grooming, the Mistress sent him to bed, telling him not to spoil the cleansing with eating or drinking, but he wasn’t hungry in any case. He simply nibbled a small bit of cheese before going to bed – his excitement for the next day was rising…
     
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  6. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Breakfast grew brighter when Aonmar’s sister Adeline arrived. The younger woman took the seat next to Marlis and proceeded to fill the rest of the breakfast meal with chatter. Marlis soon found herself caught up in trying to keep up with what the woman said, rather than brood over the apparent savagery of her soon-to-be husband.

    Marlis had finished her breakfast some time ago and was despairing of extricating herself from the situation when Adeline stopped talking mid-sentence and turned to Marlis. “Shouldn’t you be preparing for tomorrow? You have a lot to do today.”

    The elder Princess was rendered speechless by this. While Marlis was sure that was true, it was also true that she didn’t know her way around the castle yet. Nor had she been briefed on the schedule for the day as she typically was back on the King’s Isle.

    Before Marlis was required to formulate a reply, Etta appeared at her elbow. “Your Highness, if you are finished eating, there is much to do.”

    “Yes, of course I’m finished, Etta,” Marlis stood while Adeline gave her a knowing smile.

    The bride’s day did turn out to be very busy. She was taken back to her suite and made to try on her wedding gown for what was certainly the hundredth time. How anything could have happened to it while locked in a trunk for the voyage, she did not know, but apparently this was necessary before the big day tomorrow.

    The gown—or gowns, rather—was made up of three pieces. A very fine white linen chemise as a base, which would surely only be seen by her husband on their wedding night, was completely covered by a deep red over gown. The red over gown was made of silk and heavily embroidered with grey pearls sewn into the patterns. Over that came a surcot, open at the sides. This, a white silk, was brocaded in silver, lined with white ermine fur and embroidered with thousands of tiny white pearls in intricate patterns. The whole affair was belted with an ornate belt made up of gold links with embedded rubies and yet more pearls.

    The finery was beautiful, to be sure. Finer than anything she had ever worn before. But it was also fearfully heavy, and she dreaded having to wear all of it throughout the next day. Though she dreaded that night even more.

    After she and the gown had been fussed over sufficiently, she was then subjected to Gayna. Lady Gayna had been her governess growing up on the isles. It had made sense to her illustrious parents to simply promote the woman as Marlis aged, rather than finding someone new to fill the role. Known simply as a Lady of the Court, Gayna had been sent along to the mainland with her to serve as her scheduler and advisor.

    Once more, they went over how Marlis was to be dressed for the cleansing ritual that afternoon. Then the wedding ceremony was described yet again and she was questioned closely to make certain she remembered her parts. After that, she received a lecture “at the direction of her esteemed father, King of the Midnight Isles” about a maiden’s proper place upon her wedding night, including a detailed description of how she should submit to her new husband and position herself upon the bed to grant him ease of access to her person. By the end of the recited lecture, each of the ladies in the room were blushing hotly and avoiding each other’s gazes.

    They broke for a midday meal, Princess Marlis finding her way to the great hall with little help this time. The meal passed without incident, though the Prince did not appear. Queen Edina made a passing remark that Aonmar had one of his headache spells and had taken a tincture to help. A headache spell? Marlis thought on this skeptically as she finished her meal.

    After the midday break to eat, it was back to various preparations, until finally it was time to ready herself for the cleansing ritual. Sibley helped her remove all of her clothing, putting a clean, undyed shift over her head. Then the two of them began working on her hair, taking it down from its plaits to hang loosely around her shoulders and down her back. She tied a simple rope around her waist, made by herself on the journey here. The strands of it had been given to her by her mother before she left. Marlis had been painstaking in weaving it together in an intricate braid. The task had served to keep her mind off of the mad man she would soon have to meet, and concentrate on something other than how sick the tossing of the ship made her.

    She had only just finished loosely tying the rope when an older woman, almost elderly, entered the room with another couple young maids behind her. Wearing a truly magnificent purple and white stripped shawl, Marlis was certain this could only be the Mistress of the Rites, an assumption that was almost immediately confirmed by the woman’s words.

    “Your Highness,” the elder woman inclined her head in greeting. “I am Countess Ildiko, and I serve as Mistress of the Rites. You may simply refer to me as Mistress, if you wish. Now, since I see that you are ready, you may follow me.”

    Marlis flushed in embarrassment at being asked to leave the suite, undressed as she was, but obediently followed out into the halls of the castle. Much to her relief, they met no one as they walked and Mistress Ildiko took her downward into the bowels of the castle, to halls and staircases that were unfinished, with no wall hangings or sconces. The only light was that of a lamp one of the maids carried ahead.

    The air down there was chilly, and Marlis wrapped her arms around herself to try to keep warm. She was used to at least two layers of clothing, and the thin fabric of the shift did little to keep the warmth in. After a while of walking the labyrinth corridors, Marlis began to hear running water. Soon after, the party of women rounded a bend and were momentarily blinded by the bright light of the outside.

    The opening appeared to be a small chamber, possibly a cave, where one wall opened to the air; a cliff side high above the ocean waves down below. To one side, a small spring bubbled up from the floor, flowing across it in a channel and cascading over the side.

    “Now,” Ildiko’s voice broke the soft sound of the burbling spring. “You are to stay in this cave until after sunset, when I will come get you for the second part of the ritual. Clear your mind and relax. Listen to the ocean below and let your lungs fill with the salt-tang air. Hear the nearness of the spring, from which life comes as it will soon come from you.”

    The elderly woman smiled at her as if in sympathy, then took her hand and put something in it. “Take this to help, I think you might need it, considering the circumstances.” The Princess looked down at the clear lump that had been placed in her hand, recognizing the Sacred Herb immediately for what it was.

    As the elder woman turned to leave, Marlis could not help herself from asking, “Why? What does it mean?”

    Mistress Ildiko turned back to the Princess, another smile on her face. “There are three such caves we have found in the castle that open to the cliff face. Only two of those are capable of holding a person. You are within one now, and the other will soon be occupied by your betrothed. Thus, you both cleanse your minds under the same sunset, as you prepare to become of one mind on the morrow.” Her explanation finished, she turned away and took the two maids away with her, leaving Princess Marlis alone to her thoughts, the spring, and the sea.

    Marlis wasted no time in taking the Sacred Herb. She grimaced at the bitter taste of it but was sure to chew it thoroughly before tossing the remains over the cliff face. Then she went to the spring and cupped some of the clear water into her hands to drink and wash the taste away.

    There were still hours before sunset, and Ildiko had told her she would be here until just after. She sat on the stone floor and sighed heavily. This was supposed to help prepare them to be of one mind? One mind with a mad man? Did that mean she had to gain his penchant for murderous rampages? The herb beginning to work, the image of herself like that made her giggle softly. For some reason, it didn’t seem like such a bad thing just now.

    She thought on her future husband. Not the gentle noble from one of the neighboring isles as she had once daydreamed of. Instead, this wild, mysterious man born from the traitorous nobles that had settled the mainland was to be her spouse. She stared into the clear water of the spring as she imagined herself with a man, strong yet gentle, caring for her in the way she saw some other couples at the court care for one another.

    If Prince Aonmar wasn’t gentle or caring, at least he was handsome. Only a little taller than her, he was obviously strong, broad shouldered and muscular so that it was evident even through the clothing he wore. Some noble women would find that enough in a mate, that he be fair of face and strong of body. Marlis wasn’t sure she could be content with that.

    Pulling her eyes from the spring, she moved closer to the edge of the chasm and sat near enough the edge to look down on the water below the castle. She let her mind wander and clear as she watched the sky gradually turn to red as the sun set on the horizon, breathing the clear air deeply. The chill spring breeze swirled through the cave on occasion, making her shiver and bringing goose bumps to her flesh, peaking her breasts under the thin shift. It was not disagreeably cold, and the Sacred Herb in her system made the shivers more pleasant than uncomfortable.

    The Mistress of the Rites came back to fetch her with the same two maids a little after sunset. The old Countess looked her over approvingly. “You seem more relaxed. Good. Now, for a true cleanse.” With that, she and the two maids led Marlis back up through the castle, finally bringing her to a large room.

    Marlis stopped just inside the doorway, trying to take in the room they had just brought her into. It almost seemed that there were three separate rooms here, each with a pool of water built into the floor. Large columns supported the ceiling in an arch above her head, and the walls within had large, sprawling artwork that looked unlike anything she had ever seen before.

    Mistress Ildiko turned to look at the young princess. “I will leave you here with Freyna and Aeschild. They will help you with the bath house and I will make certain Prince Aonmar does not cross paths with you when you leave. That would truly be a bad omen.”

    With the Mistress of Rites taking her leave, Marlis followed the direction of the two young women and washed herself thoroughly from head to toe. When she was done, she was left to soak in a pool with hot water. She floated on her back, staring at the pictures on the walls, rendered in hundreds of tiny colored stones. Ordinarily, she would have asked about them. What they were, who made them. But tonight, she simply considered the art.

    The figures across the walls were rendered in painstaking detail, all of them startlingly nude. She traced the figures with her eyes, not really thinking, just taking in the pictures for processing later. Worry and fear; these things would be around later, too. But for now, she was more than content to simply exist.

    Before too long, one of the maids called her out of the hot pool. The two of them helped her dry and tend her hair when Ildiko came back to fetch her to bed. She got into the plush bed after arriving back to her suite and quickly fell asleep. Her only thought before falling into slumber was simply to hope that the Prince did something to warrant calling off the wedding tomorrow.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2018
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  7. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Aonmar slept well enough, even though his mind had a lot to ponder – he had a number of different dreams, ranging from the best that the next day might bring to the worst. His splendid palfrey turned into a donkey on the way to the wedding; standing on the great square chosen for the ceremony, he suddenly found he was so short that he could barely reach the Princess’s belt; when it was time to swear his oath, he had another spell of weakness and could not say the words. In the more optimistic dreams, he received a long kiss and ardent embrace from the Princess, the crowd cheered them thunderously, and when they retired to their chamber (the one he was in now, his sleeping knew), Marlis smiled at him… but even in his dream, he knew it couldn’t be.

    Still, he awoke relaxed, to his own surprise. He would get it done. The clear, calm feeling in his head told him that he did not have to fear a second day of weakness, as sometimes happened. He stepped to a window, opened the shutters and looked out to see. The crash of the waves against the cliff was distant here, deep under the level of the palace atop Castle Height. When servants came with his clothes and finery, they found him smiling; he slowly grew into slight jitters and anticipated real excitement later, but he had always handled that well, hadn’t he? He thought of the Battle at Coghan Bridge, his first, and how he had shaken enough that the mail protecting the gap between cuirass and the cuisses jangled audibly. Despite that, he had rammed the steppe tribe’s foot assault back down their throats, securing his father’s right flank and ensuring victory.

    As if on cue, the man his father had made Aonmar’s banner-bearer that day (to advise him, no doubt), appeared in his chambers. Vodric Heldyn was a vassal of their house from the Isles days and had received numerous lands and titles as reward for his loyalty. His height was just as average as Aonmar’s own and he was deceptively thin, yet he was easily the best swordsman in the realm and a fine dancer to boot. “Look at you!” he said quietly in place of a formal greeting. “Seems yesterday that I taught you the first blows…” There were tears in the man’s eyes; Aonmar was touched by his affection but looked discreetly away. One did not acknowledge such sentimentality in other knights, lest it was read as an insult. “And even a shorter while that I pinned you in wrestling for the first time,” the Prince replied with a grin, receiving a friendly punch to the arm. “If I didn’t want you to look handsome for your bride, I would take you to the outer court right now and teach you a lesson,” Heldyn shot back with a wink. Aonmar knew that despite his age (Heldyn was approaching 50 years), that was still far from empty boasting, his dazzling quickness not yet gone. “I didn’t come to embarrass you, however,” the older man changed the subject, his voice growing cautious somehow. “Well, I suppose I will embarrass you, but not with my sentimentality. Your father asked me to make sure you knew what to do – tonight, I mean.”

    Aonmar felt his face burn. “Yes… well, I know about… the act. Not about the… art of love, as the poets call it…” Vodric smiled. “Now that I can’t teach you, my Lord Prince.” His face turned slightly self-ironic. “But speaking as a man whose wife still happily shares his bed after being married for about thirty years: Be gentle, watch how she wants to be touched, and your marriage bed will be a happy place. Especially the first time, patience is important. She will be nervous, mayhap frightened. Calm her, be reassuring. Show the respect she is due as your wife. You will be her lord, but she is not your plaything. You are too old for wooden playthings, after all, and human beings do not make good playthings…”

    The Prince felt absurdly reminded of the time Vodric had introduced him to his first destrier, the large, fierce war-horse he still rode into battle (when he did not fight on foot). At the same time, he was curious; so much was made of the marriage bed. He wanted to know all there was to know. The Princess was certainly beautiful; she would feel wonderful, he was sure. He nodded at Vodric’s words, avoiding his gaze. “I will all keep that in mind,” he replied as if the older man had given him advice on how to grip the sword. In fencing, Aonmar was long past such basic lessons. In dealing with his wife (in the bedchamber or elsewhere), it hit him, he was a complete beginner. He felt very young suddenly, not quite ready. But he had often felt thus, and always, things had gone well in the end.

    “Thank you, Vodric,” the Prince added. “Any time, my lord. If you need advice on your marriage and you might not wish to go to the King or Queen… you know I know how to keep silent.” Aonmar nodded emphatically. “I know that, Vodric!” His teacher in the knightly arts had covered up a few youthful misdeeds – but always at the price of lectures so stern and embarrassing that Aonmar had never done the same thing twice.

    The older knight’s hand descended on Aonmar’s shoulder. “You slept long; it will be mid-day soon. Folk are flocking to the temple square, nobles, commoners, everybody. You had better get ready.”

    *

    The Prince strode into the inner courtyard in his wedding robes. His undershirt was a bright sun-yellow, the cotte opal blue brocaded in silver thread and the surcot night-blue and brocaded with gold. He wore most of the jewels he possessed. His favorite piece was the belt, made of broad black leather and set with gold and precious stones. He could hardly ever wear it, however – for anything but the most festive events, it was far too splendorous.

    He wore sword and dagger both, symbols of knighthood more than weapons on this day. The royal armed household was out in force, knights and soldiers both. Anyone who dared attack the Royal Quarter of the city must be a fool or a madman, and both made poor fighters. His palfrey stood waiting for him, a pale gray in the court flooded with sunlight, but he walked past it to the other gray, its coat almost white. His bride was already in the saddle, her appearance so noble and proud, so strong and beautiful that he beamed up at her. “Good day, Your Highness! I regret that I fell ill yesterday; I am much better today, and glad to finally speak with you. I may be the last to do so, but I welcome you to the New Realm!”
     
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  8. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    The Princess’s morning had begun much earlier than that of the Prince. She had been woken a couple of candlemarks after dawn. Though her sleep had been deep and dreamless, upon waking she immediately felt a tendril of fear wrap itself around her spine. Today was the day. Her feelings must have been plain on her face, because Sibley smiled encouragingly and patted her shoulder.

    “It’ll be alright, Highness. I-I’m sure it won’t be that bad, now. The wedding is sure to be beautiful,” her maid said.

    Princess Marlis took a deep breath and smiled weakly. “Yes, of course. I’m certain the wedding will be marvelous.”

    Sibley smiled again and then pulled back the duvet. “Come on, now. Time to get ready.”

    Marlis changed from the shift she slept in to the fine linen chemise. In the outer room, she took a light breakfast. She didn’t feel much like eating, but the fast from the night before had left her hungry and she ate well. Then, it was time to dress. She dabbed some oil made of the small weeping white flowers that were common in the King’s Forest on the isle she had grown up on. Then, Etta and Sibley helped her put on the two over gowns, tying the laces of the first tightly.

    Lady Gayna arrived, subjecting Marlis to yet another review of the ceremony to come. However, this time the woman also helped the two maids to fix the Princess’s hair, which was plaited in an elaborate pattern with a red ribbon intertwined that matched over gown she wore. Three long plaits hung down her back loose. Rather than being adorned with hair pins and fine chains, upon it all a fine gold coronet was set; an obvious symbol of her royalty.

    Marlis paid little attention to Lady Gayna as her hair was set and finished. Instead, she worried on the problem of her impending husband. Marlis had a duty to her father, to her people to see this marriage through. The alliance was important, unifying both the Midnight Kingdom and the New Realm. There were a number of outside threats, which meant that the two realms could scarce afford to exist independently of one another. But if only the Marlis had a duty to her father, to her people to see this marriage through. The alliance was important, unifying both the Midnight Kingdom and the New Realm. There were a number of outside threats, which meant that the two realms could scarce afford to exist independently of one another. But if only there were a way of doing so without giving herself to that beast in a nobleman’s body?

    Her hair complete, she once again belted the gold-linked belt around her waist, while Sibley hung a heavy ruby necklace around her neck. Etta handed Marlis her matching pearl earrings, sitting heavily embroidered sollars in front of her to be slipped on after. Appropriately weighed down by all of her finery, it was already time to leave.

    In the inner courtyard, Princess Marlis was presented with a nearly white palfrey to mount. Still not what she would have chosen as a mount, but certainly better than the beast she had been saddled with upon her arrival. She went round to the head of the animal and stroked the muzzle, crooning to it softly. The horse whickered at her and nodded its head. With a smile, she came back to the saddle, needing a great amount of help to mount the side saddle with the weight of everything she wore.

    Settled on the palfrey, Princess Marlis took a deep breath and sat straight. On a horse of any sort, she was on familiar ground. She ran her fingers through the horse’s mane, which had been decorated with early spring flowers. Now, to wait until the wedding procession was ready to make its way to the temple. Presumably, the Prince would be joining her.

    As if summoned, Prince Aonmar appeared in the courtyard, dressed in all of his wedding finery, freshly shaven. Marlis could not deny that he made a striking figure. His average height did not take away any from his regal bearing. There was a strength about him that could not be denied, and he wore his wedding finery well. She made note of the sword and dagger he wore along with the jewels. Of course, he had to wear weapons even to their wedding, she thought to herself with distain, ignoring the inner voice that reminded her that they were only ceremonial.

    The Princess watched as he took in his surroundings and, instead of mounting his own horse, made his way straight for her. The Prince beamed up at her and gave her a greeting quite unlike that of the previous day. His words, perfectly understandable today, reminded her of the Queen’s mention of a headache spell.

    Marlis considered her words carefully before answering. “I am honored at your greeting, Your Highness. The tardiness of the hour is of no consequence. I am gratified that you are feeling better from your malady of the previous day, especially on this, the day of our marriage.”
     
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  9. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    The Princess’s words were proper and seemed friendly enough; yet there was some awkwardness between them. Aonmar decided to ignore it for now – it was probably natural. He nodded in reply and easily mounted his horse. The palfrey was not as long-legged as the hunting horses or destriers he was used too, so it was easy enough even in festive garb. He frowned for a heartbeat; it was probably good to continue the conversation. There were many ears around, after all. “I would have been very much dismayed if it had continued today, but I assure you that I’m at my best strength today,” he said, blushing slightly as he understood the implication a short bit too late. “I am glad to see you in good health as well; I was told the sea-voyage disagreed with you?”

    The escort of nobles, soldiers, servants and even some of the new (or old) priestly cast had formed now and they set out from the inner court, passing through the winding ward path and leaving the castle through the outer gate, where there first ill-fated encounter had taken place. Aonmar’s face reddened as they passed the place where he had finally had his reckoning with Demold. Pipers, drummers and fiddlers started up as they exited the outer gate. It was just a few dozen horse-lengths to the round plaza in front of the ancient building where the folk of the Old Realm had worshipped their gods, imagined as men and women just like themselves – an odd thought to Aonmar, even as such beliefs were gaining followers recently. Many of the immigrants his father’s rule had attracted believed in some sort of Gods and what was being re-discovered in the ruins was undoubtedly grand… but Aonmar still thought that even his the goddess Feyna, whose cult he attended sometimes, was more of a tale than a real being.
     
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  10. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Marlis refrained from showing her dismay at the Prince's comment about being at his best strength today. Royalty and nobility alike did not grow up in court circles and not learn to school their facial features when the need dictated. Instead, she kept her expression neutral, though couldn't help herself from blushing some at his mention of the sea voyage. "Sea voyages never agree with me, I'm afraid. I have never been on a ship that did not cause me illness, even as a child."

    The Princess directed her horse next to Prince Aonmar's as the escort formed and they left the inner courtyard. She didn't notice his flush, instead focusing on smiling to the commoners who lined the roadway once they had left the outer gate. The commoners here seemed well kept and happy, rather than poor and miserable as she had seen on at least one of the Midnight Isles. It spoke well of the self-proclaimed King of the New Realm, though Marlis still felt uncomfortable at admitting it. The music playing made the air feel festive, and the clear sky above mean that they would not have to worry about inclement weather for the ceremony. A good omen, some would say.

    The round plaza where the ceremony was to take place was close to the castle, and already she could see it. The raised circular area had been scrubbed clean ritualistically since dawn that day, or so the Princess was told. The two reined in just before the circle, while the rest of the party circled around as witnesses. The common folk had been roped off a ways back to make room for the nobility. Mistress Ildiko stood alone on the elevated, spotless circle, next to an altar of sorts. Marlis sat her horse, waiting patiently for someone to help her down.
     
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  11. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    “I have never travelled by ship before,” Aonmar commented, irked that this strand of conversation was over. “Yet, I can at least assure you that we shall not travel by sea much,” he informed her with a smile. He wasn’t quite sure where they would go – he still expected to be given his own lands soon, but for now, they would stay at Bannarth, which had the advantage of great comfort all other places his father possessed.

    They did not have to look for another topic of conversation because they arrived at the square. There were cleansing chants going back and forth between a few ceremonial helpers forming a choir and the assembled populace, and as he slid down from his horse, Aonmar allowed himself to take in a few of them. “He with rage in his heart – begone! She who scorneth – begone! He of calm spirit – come hither! She whom the sun burneth – begone! She whom the moons caress – come hither!”

    The crowd was entranced with the cleansing, but a ripple of attention went through it nonetheless as the royal procession came to a halt. The Prince stepped around Marlis’s horse, patting it so it wouldn’t stir, and offered her his help to dismount with a bright smile which was not even wholly feigned. He noticed an odd hesitation and some emotion on her face before she let him aid her. Fear, his eyes reported, but he must be wrong. Maybe he had simply seen anxiety and made too much of it. The expression was gone when her feet touched the ground.

    “I believe we should step on the platform, Your Highness,” he opined politely, offering his left arm. That put his sword in its scabbard between them, but he had made sure it was strapped to him tightly enough that it wouldn’t trip the Princess. It was required that he be on her right – taking up his protective role towards her for the first time: If an attack were to happen, this posture showed, he would be able to draw without hindrance. Protecting was in his very blood, Aonmar thought; even as a boy, he had found his pride in keeping the bullying among children around his father’s court in check. He smiled to himself – he had sometimes gone overboard with it. His temper was much more in check now, of course, after the hard years of knightly training. Except with Demold, his wounded pride reminded him, and the smile vanished quite suddenly.

    As they ascended the wooden steps, he saw small mounds of soil, polished stones and grain spread around the perimeter of the platform, the symbols of the things the ritual was to bestow on them – fruitfulness, lasting and wealth. Any demons in this place had certainly been cast out by the endless chanting and the secret magic performed by the Countess, wise in such things. The crowd cheered as Aonmar and Marlis came into their view. The Prince waved and smiled shortly, but he did not delude himself; they were cheering because every step took them closer to the barrels and barrels of wine and ale and the enormous quantity of meat the King was having handed out today. The chanting ceased, and the crowd soon fell silent. Countess Ildiko made sure that King and Queen were standing at the steps of the platform and that no one else was present within the circle she had drawn.

    “Your Majesties, Your Highnesses,” Ildiko’s aged yet powerful voice began, addressing only those immediately concerned by the ceremony, “in honor of the lore and custom of our forefathers, in honor of good and in defiance of evil, we are gathered in this hallowed place, which has served this purpose since time immemorial and will now once more, to unite and put the lightest and strongest of bonds on you, Prince Aonmar Adalmar Volric, heir to the New Realm and the County of Delran and Ghenarburg, son of our Lord King Bearnwil and our most gracious Lady Queen Edina,” (Aonmar flinched a little at the mention of his family’s holdings on the King’s Isle, which his bride’s father had taken away after his own father had established the New Realm), “and you, Princess Marlis Dulcea, daughter of Their Majesties, King Otho of the Midnight Isles, of which name he is the second, and Queen Della.”

    In a swift, fluid movement he had practiced every day since his childhood, Aonmar let go of the Princess’s arm and turned half towards her while he drew his sword, his every limb building the tension to strike of his own accord. He raised the blade above his head. He didn't know why, but it had to be done.
     
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  12. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    She should have expected that the Prince would be the one to help her from her horse. There were no groomsmen or pages with the escort from the castle. It was expected that the men and knights of the procession would help those who had need, whom were primarily of the weaker sex. The slight hesitation she felt was allayed, by both the expectation of the crowd around them, and the timeliness of the cleansing chant, "He of calm spirit - come hither!" Had she not been aware of Aonmar's reputation and witnessed his temper herself, she would have been impressed by the strength he showed in the simple gestures of helping her from her mount and offering her his arm. Despite her fear and nervousness, her arm in his was somehow comforting amidst the crowd and the heavy gowns she wore. He wouldn't dare accost her during their wedding ceremony, in front of the crowds and his own parents.

    The Princess also smiled and waved at the cheers of the crowd, then turned her attention to the Mistress of Rites. Marlis could not keep herself from wincing slightly at the mention of Delran and Ghenarburg counties. Nor could she keep herself from remembering her father's sour mention that he might bequeath the lands to the Porthwick's; historically the political rivals of Bearnwil. The thoughts were quickly dismissed, however, when the Prince disengaged from her and she heard the slide of steel sliding out of its sheath.

    Turning, Marlis's heart nearly stopped in her chest as she witnessed Aonmar raise his sword high in the air, poised as if to strike. Her green eyes widened, her mouth dry, and it took all that she had not to step away from him. As the tension in his arms built during her hesitation, she suddenly remembered that this was part of the ceremony. He was to raise his sword, and she to tap him on the chest three times in slow succession. It made no sense, this tapping on the groom's chest. No one she had asked could give her an answer other than the ritual had to be included.

    Steeling herself, Marlis stepped towards him. Tap. Tap. Tap. The gestures were large, as the crowd around them dictated, though the pacing was a little rushed. Prince Aonmar had already done well to resist his base instinct of bringing the sword down upon her, but she had no desire to test his reserve.

    As the Prince sheathed his sword once more, Countess Ildiko continued the ceremony. "Now, the exchanging of vows. Words of promise and duty that you both shall swear before those gathered here to witness."
     
  13. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    This time, the fear was undeniable. His bride was utterly afraid of Aonmar. The sinking feeling in his stomach disoriented him. In some way, things were completely wrong, completely out of order. He didn’t understand how this could be. He remembered the rumors from the Isles, that everyone and their mother were slandering the King and himself, but how could she believe these tales? Was that even the reason? Or was there something he had missed, something he didn’t know about? He swallowed and hesitated, blinked and cleared his throat. They had to get through the ceremony. Maybe afterwards, he could find some way to clear things up, ask his mother, whatever he could think of…

    The Prince managed to regain his composure just in time. He had been learning the words for weeks and his memory, thankfully, didn’t fail him. He turned half towards Marlis but avoided her gaze, looking past the uppermost part of her headdress. Aonmar took a deep breath and spoke loudly, his voice clear and resonating.

    “Upon my royal and knightly honor I swear this oath, which to uphold I shall not spare wealth nor thought nor the strength of my body: I choose you, Princess Marlis of the Midnight Isles, and none other as my wife; I shall give to you generously of all that I own, so that you shall never know want. I shall hold our children as our true and lawful heirs. I shall preserve what is given to you for dowry and add to it as our goods permit. When I ascend to the throne, you shall be made my Queen. I shall guard you by word and sword against dishonor and disgrace, defend you against all foes and regard your well-being as my own. I shall treat you with kindness and favor in all things and be your true and gentle lord from this hour until I depart this world.”

    Aonmar finished the words he had learned, the delivery somewhat flattened by his deep doubts about Marlis. For the first time, it occurred to him that the real centerpiece of the ritual was the rope they had both made, awaiting its part on the altar: If she feared and hated him, she simply wouldn’t let him do the things he had just sworn to do. He could see it quite vividly – did that mean he had just sworn an oath that he was destined to break, that would be completely meaningless? That thought constricted his throat; despite the sunny day and the gentle breeze from the sea and the festive atmosphere, the future, both immediate and distant, looked bleak to the Prince.
     
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  14. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    The Prince's voice was strong and clear. Were she in a better frame of mind and not been shocked with the thought that he had just tried to murder her, Marlis would likely have found the sound reassuring, especially his promises to be kind and gentle. She watched him as he said the words, wondering how much of them were simply empty promises to be dispensed with as soon as they were behind closed doors. As he finished, the Mistress nodded to Princess Marlis. Taking a breath, she tried her best to project her words so they could be heard as far as possible.

    "I choose you, Prince Aonmar of the New Realm, and none other, as my husband and lord. I shall be loyal and true, so that there will never be doubt that any progeny will belong to you. At such time that I become your Queen, and even before, I shall guard thee with my tongue, even as you guard me with your sword. I shall treat you with the respect you are always due. I shall minister all the wounds that may befall you, and keep you in sickness. By our marriage, your title and right as Heir to the New Realm shall be made solid and confirmed in the eyes of my father, King of the Midnight Isles and all Vallan. Upon my life and the honor of my father, I do so swear."

    "And so we all witness here today the oaths made in this sacred space, and will all do our best to support these two who must uphold them," Ildiko's strong voice once more took over the ceremony. There were nods all around the circle, from the King and Queen, to the gathered nobles and knights.

    "Within this circle are symbols of persistence, wealth, and fruitfulness," the old woman continued. "All of these things must be present for a marriage to stand the tests of time. But that is not enough to unite two people together. For, as all know, a successful marriage is made. Thus, we join the hands of their Highnessses in a ritual as old as time itself."

    Once again, there were nods throughout the crowd and even chuckles of agreement between many of the couples present. Prince and Princess stepped forward to the altar, each taking the rope that they had made, and joining hands, wrapped their respective rope around their joined hands. Marlis's hand trembled in his, but she still performed the ritual, as prescribed, entwining her rope with his around their joined hands and carefully tying the ends together.

    Mistress Ildiko moved over to place a hand over their intertwined hands, raising the other into the air. "May these hands be blessed this day. May they always hold each other. May they have the strength to hang on during the storms of stress and the dark of disillusionment. May they remain tender and gentle as they nurture each other. May they build a relationship founded in trust, and rich in caring. May these hands be healer, protector, shelter, and guide for each other."

    The Princess, her eyes downcast to look at their bound hands during this, now looked up to meet Aonmar's gaze. She could see some conflict in them now, as in his expression, though she wasn't sure why. Was he fighting with himself not to lash out at her for some reason? Had she done the ties wrong and angered him? Yet, this was the part of the ceremony where they were to kiss. Glancing away from him at the Queen and King standing nearby, she hesitantly took a step toward the Prince, turning her head up slightly to meet his lips.
     
  15. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    The kiss, though purely formal, sent a tingle down Aonmar’s spine – his bride was not repugnant to him. He had been told that was necessary, although the details of the reasoning had been avoided. It had to do with the carnal act, that much was obvious, but how…

    He yanked his thoughts away from that. With a wife who seemed to loathe him, that would be difficult indeed. The fantasies of the day before were wiped out. Aonmar doubted he would ever see a genuine smile from the Princess. The kiss concluded, he straightened up. If it was to be that way, he would see it through nonetheless. His hope for fruitfulness intensified, because that meant they wouldn’t have to see much of each other after a sufficient number of offspring – two boys and maybe a few daughters, depending on when the boys came. At the same time, the oath was nagging him, the bit about sharing and kindness, and so did her oath. Hadn’t he always been told that an oath to someone was not one-sided? How would they be able to fulfil and help fulfil their oaths if they barely got along? He knew himself well enough to be sure he wouldn’t seek her company if she didn’t like it…

    Such bleak thoughts went through his mind as he listened to the concluding words of his distant aunt Ildiko. Their beauty and gravity felt hollow. He put on a smile in response to the cheers erupting in the crowd, he kept on that smile for his parents, let them embrace him and his wife – the aloof Islander who feared him, and through that fear, despised him. His father had a few kind words in his booming voice about accepting Marlis into the family, still sounding like a King’s Isle knight after twenty years of absence. Aonmar boosted his wife into the saddle mindlessly, touching her as little as possible. He didn’t register much during their ride back to the castle, didn’t look much at his wife.

    When they entered the great hall, he had Marlis on his arm in mindless courtoisie. He was glad that he wasn’t expected to speak to the assembled guests, for he would have found it difficult to feign the happiness he was supposed to feel. He almost snorted as they took their central places at the high table, yielded by his parents for today. Happy. As if. His wife was afraid of him and she didn’t even know him. How could he be happy? As he exchanged a few empty pleasantries with Ildiko, thanking her for the rites, the answer occurred to him. The reason she hates you is her fear – of something you are not. So you must try to take her ignorance away. You have a few hours. Use them!

    Use what you have, not what you would like to have. That was what his father always told him when he taught him about how to win a campaign or to find peace with a rival. He didn’t have what he wanted, her respect, but he had time, he had his manners… and he really wasn’t as bad a person as Marlis thought. The first opportunity to make that plain came soon; the first course was served – succulent pheasant with honey. He shared a platter with his wife today (the custom was considered a little rustic for everyday use), and they would all be watching for how he divided their pieces. The best part of any roasted meat was the center and the ends. The piece was already cut; the servant had barely set it down when Aonmar took the fork to divide the pieces, moving the juicy center and the aromatic ends towards her. Pheasant wasn’t his favorite anyway. There were appreciative rumbles from the onlookers, but he ignored them. It wasn’t about them or what they thought a good omen for the marriage. Some of the ladies even crooned with delight – through the anxiety he felt, Aonmar thought that was overdoing it a little and was amused by the thought that they might now pester they husbands to be more like him.

    He managed to convert that slight amusement into a polite, if not quite friendly smile (he was far too nervous for that) for his wife. “Enjoy, my lady wife,” he said quietly. “The pheasant on the mainland is larger than that on the Isles, I’m told, but they are equally popular in both our lands.” They had to talk. That was the first step to everything.
     
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  16. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    The ceremony was over. The binding complete. Anyone who had witnessed it would say that all of the omens were favorable; theirs would surely be a blessed marriage. Marlis kept a radiant smile plastered to her face as they took the short ride back to the castle. She felt numb, somehow. It had really happened. She was married. Tonight she would really have to face Prince Aonmar behind closed doors, where there would be no witnesses to whatever atrocities he chose to perform on her.

    The ride back through the courtyard and walk into the castle was a blur. She didn't remember who helped her down from her horse, only that she had to take Aonmar's arm to walk with him to the high table. Did it matter at this point that he touched her? He would do much more later that evening. Her wedding finery seemed heavier than ever as she sat next to him, though she made a point to continue sitting straight. There were appearances to keep, after all. Always appearances.

    A single platter was set between them and the Prince divided the pheasant on it. Looking down at the platter, Marlis could see the even division in the amount of food, as well as his obvious portioning to her the best parts. At his quiet words, she looked up at him questioningly. He wore a tight smile and his expression was almost... encouraging? What was he about?

    "Thank you, my Lord. I am familiar with the pheasant from the Isles. It is... a comfort to see something familiar. So many things are different here," she admitted. She took a bite of the honeyed pheasant. It really was good, with a rich taste unlike those from her home. The bird had been cooked to perfection and was very tender. The Princess knew to only eat a few bites of the delicious bird, though; there would be more courses to this meal. How many? Five or seven? She could not seem to remember the detail.
     
  17. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    “Indeed?” Aonmar asked between his own few bites, his curiosity genuine. “I’ve never seen the Midnight Isles; perhaps you might name a few differences? If, indeed, you miss anything, I would be glad to have it seen to if it is possible. Many ships come to this port and bring many different wares.” He loved the harbor – not only for the riches it brought his house and people, but also for the strange, sometimes exotic scenes the foreign sailors created.

    The second course was quail, stuffed with herbs, onion and a finely cut root called Enghwa. “Be careful, my lady,” Aonmar cautioned his wife with another small smile. “There is Enghwa in this – it comes from ships sailing from the south, down along the eastern coast. It grows in a faraway land and is as common there as a carrot,” he explained. “I’m rather fond of it, nothing that grows here tastes quite like it.”
     
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  18. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Prince Aonmar's gesture to bring things from her homeland just to make her comfortable was a kindness that was not lost on Princess Marlis. She studied him, hesitating before answering. "The architecture and the richness stand out to me the most. I had never seen the like of your baths here," she blushed a little, realizing that bathing was probably not appropriate dinner conversation. Changing tracks, she added, "I have not been here long. I think right now the things I miss most are simply the company of my ladies and my daily rides."

    Heeding his words about the strange sounding vegetable in the next course, she nibbled it experimentally. The taste was exotic, but flavorful. "Oh, this is quite good. You said it was called Enghwa? I've never heard of it before." She took a full bite this time. Almost immediately, she realized her mistake. The nibble she had taken had not had a full piece of the stuff on it, whereas the bite she had just taken had a decent amount. Her tongue began to burn and she could feel her face growing rosy from the heat of it.

    Struggling not to choke on the stuff, she gripped her wine glass and took a long pull from it as she swallowed the spicy food. The wine tamed some of the fire in her mouth, and she took a piece of bread to help as well. Her cheeks flushed in embarrassment along with the flush the food had caused. Surely, everyone here would think she was a yokel Princess with no taste for fine exotic foods? This day was turning out to be worse and worse.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2018
  19. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Aonmar’s first reaction was alarm – which then became sympathy. He waved a page over to refill Marlis’s cup and bring more bread and touched her shoulder, ignoring his own quail for now. “I apologize! I should have warned you more clearly, my lady”, the Prince said with regret. Leaning in a little, he added in an undertone: “Be calm; I made a complete fool of myself when I first tasted Enghwa – I’m afraid I spit a piece of pie into the Countess of Amerdhyl’s lap…”

    He usually kept embarrassing things to himself, but he wanted his wife to be at ease more than anything he could remember. He barely noticed the attention they were getting from the rest of the table. Gaining ground in his endeavor to show his wife that all she had heard was slander was his only interest. His standing with the court could wait. “Shall I have some milk brought?” he asked discreetly, trying to avoid further embarrassment. Aonmar thought he was doing what he had sworn - doing his best to add to the Princess's well-being in any way he could imagine. He could only hope the truth would be stronger than the preconceptions she had.
     
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  20. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Marlis chuckled despite herself at Aonmar's confession. The image it brought forth was enough to distract her from the fire in her mouth. She took another drink from her refilled glass and took another piece of bread. "No, no," she replied quietly to his offer for milk. "I'll be fine, really. Thank you."

    She turned to look at him, finding herself surprised and confused by the concern she saw in his expression. Why was he being so nice to her? Why would he have told her of one of his own faux pas? What purpose did it serve other than to calm her and make her feel better about the situation? Was he luring her into a false sense of security? Attempting to get her to lower her guard for the night to come? But he was strong enough to not need to do anything of the sort. Marlis searched his eyes to see if she could find a shadow of deceit in them, but could only see concern and... was that worry?

    "I-I'm sure the next course will be better, my lord," she pulled her gaze from his, taking a bite of the bread she held. Marlis was grateful that the guests in the hall, while observing them closely, were not keen to interact with the newly weds, leaving the two to talk with each other rather than making small talk with others.
     

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