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This is set after a series of stories I wrote a few years ago for a fiction seminar. I think I use more than I should of the open chapter doing exposition; normally I do that through dialogue but it's so immediately after events that there's no reason to recap and I'm currently resisting adding a person who would be hearing the exposition--I think it would take things too much out of the other characters perspectives. So, here we go:

A Wedding Party

It was late afternoon on his wedding day and Pine’s head ached. He’d slept like the dead the night before, even with the wound along the inside of his arm. He’d been shot with an arrow during the battle the day before—the anticlimactic battle with King Beven for the rights to the kingdom of Windon, consolidating that land with his native Southdown. The former bastard knight found himself a king—and newly married.

Political alliances were useful things. By marrying Lara, he solidified his claim to the country and spared her life. He bore the girl no ill will, and the two had made a promise to be friends in as much as they could. They were stuck with each other for life so there was no point in being miserable about it. The idea was a good one—keeping it a reality might be more problematic. But he had his hopes.

The celebration was small, and thus he found himself in what passed for the Great Hall of Windon’s castle keep, surrounded by friends, countrymen, and nobility who previously would not have given the time of day if he asked. Tensions were palpable. He sat beside his new Queen at the head table, bored with being socially acceptable and making false merry when he would have much preferred being among his knights and setting things back into stability. Lands had to be rewarded to loyal followers, mercenaries compensated, people placed where they would best serve—there was so much to do! And here he was dressed as a Gather-day goose to be fed to the anxious hordes!

“What ails you, milord?” Lara said quietly as she poured him a cup of water mixed with fruits and their juices—he wouldn’t have any wine today beyond the ceremonial marriage cup. He needed all his wits about him this day.

“I’m feeling useless,” he admitted just as quietly. “This sitting in place when there’s so much to do—it doesn’t suit me.”

Lara nodded. “I can tell. Another hour more, I think… Then we can adjourn to our wedding chamber”—she flushed at that—“and once our duty has been done you can see to your work then. But for now, do please play the part of a happy newlywed.” She gave him an odd smile: too wan to be happy, too hopeful and sweet to be sad.

His heart clenched guiltily; the girl beside him was not served as he had been by the match. She was a good soul at heart, and he owed it to give her what joy he could. He took her hand and squeezed it softly. “You’ll find, my dear, that I am of a practical sort, but today I shall do my duty to you as well as to the realm.” He kissed her, and there was a cheer in the room—largely coming from his Silver Eagles, but also, he thought, from a few others as well. He waved over a serving page—one beribboned with the dark green of the Tesriks; already his people had assimilated themselves into the castle. He gave the child instructions to bring his knight Anca.

The man came soon enough, his eyes clear; Anca was working and not celebrating this day as many others. Pine instructed him to oversee the appointments for the Amleth Faradimen and the Tesriks, then bring the papers to his suite in the evening.

“Will milord be awake?” The knight teased.

“Yes, I will, you great fool.” Pine rolled his eyes. “As if you had any doubt. I’ll give them a look over and we can discuss it further in the morning. Have Peri and Thoris departed yet?” Anca assented; the two were heading back to the keep at Southdown and ready the smaller keep for when Pine returned. It was his homeland and where the Silver Eagles kept their base of operations; it would not do to have it fall in disrepair while most of its denizens remained at Windon for the time being. They would be sending letters when they arrived, then further reports as they became available. Communication between the two places would be easy enough; more so when they bettered the roads and perhaps made a way-house or two along the route—but that would be in the future, Pine reminded himself. Time enough, if he couldn’t wait himself. He brought himself quickly back to the present. “Take heed and tell me all you see as well. And do see to your man Derek in the celebrations, if you can.” He laughed to the knight blush at the mention of his lover.

Anca dismissed, he turned back to Lara. “See,” he said, “I’m behaving. Now watch me do nothing with the best of them.” He affected the blank, bored look of many of the nobles about them, placid in their exquisite finery, as colorful and pointless as kept peacocks. In contrast, Pine and his new wife were garbed in simple white, while his men wore the stern blue and silver of the Eagles. They were a marked contrast to the larger crowd’s motley.

Lara laughed, an honest sound. “It’s not their fault, Pine, not truly.”

“How not?” he asked. They gave neither aid nor comfort to neither Beven nor me and mine. Yet they come to celebrate our—wedding,” he finished with a lack of smoothness. He’d almost said “farce” though that wasn’t quite true. His marital intentions were honest enough.

“No one likes to be caught in the middle of a brawl, Pine,” Lara answered. “Friend and foe can be clobbered alike. And now peace is restored and the larder and wine cellars are open—make friends here today, if you can.” He raised an astonished eyebrow to her. “My mother and stepmother taught me to be beautiful. Life taught me to use my wits.”

“Touché, my lady. You are full of surprises.”

“Good ones?” Lara smiled, raising her glass in a toast.

“The best ones.” They clinked glasses.

~

Thus was their wedding celebration. Pine felt fiercely alone as night came on, and he missed his friend Peri, out on the road back home. He intensely envied her, and kept a grasp of his new bride’s hand. It was the two of them now, though he had his army. Lara wasn’t Peri, his knight, his friend, his love, black of hair and blue of eye, rough and as ready to fight as parley. Lara was a golden creature, seemingly fragile, and yet a spine of steel in her.

He had played a trick on Beven, kidnapping his daughter before the great battle. He had taken the opportunity to speak to Lara, to get to know her as well as he could in a few short hours. Loathe as he was to admit it, their lives had been in the balance that night: if he hadn’t seen her for the helpmeet she could be, he would have executed her; had he executed her, he would have like as killed himself—inside through guilt, outside should the battle have fallen foul.

These were the decisions of a king; an honor Pine had never aspired to nor truly wished. His whole life had been planned in service to his lord father Sceolan and to his legitimate half-brother Medraulan. When Medraulan died of a fall and the bleeding sickness, he knew Southdown would fall in time to either Windon or Greenhaven, and he likewise knew that must not happen. Southdown was a small keep, but strategic in keeping the southern lands safe from the raiders to the north. His father had seen to give peace to the land, and Pine was determined to keep it.

He felt the weight of the past years—years he himself had not totally been alive for, and yet the legacy of Sceolan was his to maintain. Make greater, if he could.

His thoughts broke off abruptly. Before the political, the personal. His wife. He did as she bid, circulating amongst the noble folk—folk he hated, folks who would by druthers not even speak his name without the lord’s honorific he himself disdained. He spoke, and made sweet pleasantries—how glad he was they came (ha), how much it meant to his bride (true), how he saw them all working together for a better future (ha again—he knew who would be working in the coming years and it wasn’t this soft lot). He picked out the small glances, the knowing looks as people got ready to escort them to the royal bedchamber.

“Be mindful of your duty,” said one wag dressed in scarlet. Pine didn’t like the look of him—his hair was a dark blonde with a greasy shine to it, his mouth cut sharp as a knife’s blade. “The kingdom needs its heirs, for whatever events may arise.

“Indeed,” Pine agreed innocuously, and resolved to keep an eye on the man. He had a hungry look to him that reminded Pine to watch his step in the castle. The battle—the war—may have technically ended, but politics never did. Politics of the sword or the chambers…

And so, back to his wife.

Night fell, and the laughing crowd became tumultuous as they escorted the wedded couple to the wedding bed, with bawdy cries and dubious “advice.”

“And mind the bed sheet!” cried one sodden fool as Pine locked the chamber doors in his face. The suddenly nervous groom held his ear to the door, listening to the crowds quiet and recede.

Lara had turned the bedcovers down and looked on uncertainly. “These matters seldom come up in normal friendships,” she said, her voice calm but more higher-pitched that normal. She held out her arms to him in something of a welcome and a plea. “How do we best precede?”

“With caution?” suggested Pine. He took her hands, icy cold with nerves. “I will be as kind as I can, sweetheart, do not fear.”

“Kind enough to not—not yet?” asked Lara. “I fear I am not ready, but I know we must, but I am scared…” She broke off, her face red and miserable with embarrassment, quite near tears.

“Kind enough,” he said, and kissed her brow gently. He turned and bent to reach under the bed, removing a box he had placed there himself hours before. Inside was a small bottle of dark red fluid. “Pig’s blood,” he explained, “and a bit of wine to keep it from drying. Minding the bed sheet, as it were.”

He placed the bottle in her hands. “I won’t give you a time, but sooner or later we must fulfill the act. Tongues will wag enough as it is if you’re not sick in a month’s time.”

Lara nodded. “I thank you, even so. I am ready to go to bed—er, to sleep. And you?”

Pine thought of Anca, and all the other matters he must attend to soon enough. “We both need to rest. Here, lie down with me.” He hooked his arm about hers and lay her down, cupping her body to his. “Sleep well, my Queen, and we will talk when our minds are clear. Later.”

She murmured an agreement, and soon, the two were asleep.

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