Author: Witch Fu
Midway through the night, with its ambling crowds and tactile ambitions, Willow stood listlessly. There had never been a moment when she had been alone. Many of the nobles had spoken with her, or rather, to her throughout the evening. Her friend, as he had seemed to make himself, had disappeared quite completely after his introduction to Xander.
The prince had only been introduced to two ladies of court, being that all others were not engaged by gentlemen seeking counsel with the prince. Even those ladies were, by any manner of propriety, encouraged not to make themselves acquainted with the prince unless specified by family. However, this was a night of last chances and combating allies. Of the two, Lady Precillis had proven the only one of resident mind. She did not speak but to say, "Tis a fine evening, my lord, if I do say so." Did not move but to attend to her escort; Did not impress upon Willow the idea that a personality lay beneath the layers of material and lace, beyond the borders of her etiquette and well-practiced manner.
Entertaining or not, Willow had been enlightened. Every moment spent with these new people opened to her the world of psychology that no book had managed to make so bitingly clear. Her time here had been simultaneously the longest and most engaging she had yet experienced.
Again, with a glance, the prince detected an impermeably dense crowd at the foot of her quarry. Although, from most understandable curiosity, Willow had tried to subtly investigate the young french princess, there was a never-ending group of fawning young ladies surrounding her. Mirroring her own troupe of attending and eager young gentlemen.
The announcement grew near. As it did, the peoples of the crowd grew restless, fanning with vigor, bursting laughter, fitful conversing: They all knew what was about to happen.
Willow knew as much, but strangely, as little as the rest of the spectators did. She had not been informed of the proceedings, had not been given outline of any aspect of the ball but to her own charade. On so seeing a vaguely familiar man in a trumpeter's suit, Willow stood ready to receive the verdict on her future, prepared only as well as the strangers at her elbows.
The trumpeter ascended the stairs slowly, savoring every moment of his short-lived importance. There was no need for attention when the instrument within his hands bellowed its ornament announce.
All eyes flew to his cry, gone were the smirks of financially stable noblemen. Gone, the self-assured king and princess of every attending kingdom, replaced with somber and pale-quiet troupe. A silence became all.
Willow swallowed - hard. For every prediction, however certain, there was always outside chances for miscalculation. Who would be her queen? The prince found herself leveling her gaze with every one of the most plausible candidates. All had the look of dogs awaiting scraps, with faux-confident indifference; All with attention affixed to the messenger's side, where the king himself stood proudly, an undeniable smile relaxing on his face.
Slowly making it through the throngs of possible wives Willow's eyes fell, at last, to the Lady Tara. She could not help but start aback at what her eyes found there: Princess Tara's own eyes laying calmly on her spectator. Her father's speech commenced, but only vaguely was it registered by the born princess of surrounding Northern England. Would the girl staring at her now be her bride? Was this the collected, the elegant and, for the first time Willow realized, beautiful mate for her leadership? There she stood with the serenity of a flower amidst the tension of a lifetime's telling, seeming to emit an impossibly honest indifference to the situation.
Guilt clenched Willow in her heart. What was she forcing upon a random person of her father's choice? The life of an estranged marriage, with occasional and dutiful copulation, orderly and impersonal celebrations, meaningless charades and by far the most deceived of all about Willow's own secret? Even with the knowledge that this would happen with or without her, she despised being a part of it. Especially as she stood in that room, looking at the brave figure of a fourteen-year-old girl reduced to selling-goods.
Tara heeded her surroundings with little attention spared. The prince was looking at her, but why? She had noticed that his had been the only face that she had not seen on this night. When it became open to viewing at the announcements distraction, Tara had followed her curiosity. She was the most likely, and ironically the only princess that could be left having a reason not, to be chosen. She was not the prettiest, nor the most outstanding, and yet the prince's gaze remained. What would he be like? Tara briefly closed her eyes to solidify her thoughts. Do not, by all the gods, be of the same disposition as my father.
There was no cheer when the words were finally executed. No rousing of applause, no joy. These were not the tidings of happy event.
Several of the guests, with outward disgust, made certain to announce their emotion. Many parted, saying their adieus with a palpable disappointment. Willow knew that she must leave before the bulk of her attendance. With finality, and decisive relief, the prince exited the ball. That ordeal had been worlds simpler to accomplish than her entry. It was over.
I'm exhausted. Willow thought. This night's rest will surely come swiftly and on long-journeyed wings. Gowning for sleep, Willow crawled into her bed and shut her eyes. Heaving a deciding sigh, she found herself surprised. She could not sleep.
Nigh but moments from Willow's own chambers, the Lady Tara sat, dangling her feet absently from the edge of her bed. She had left sooner than any of the attending guests. She did not know if they intended to stay the night over, or if their emotion was too strong to stay one moment longer. It little mattered. Now was the time for rest. She would need it for the journey that lay just behind tomorrow's sun.
The ceremony took a greater part of the day. Held in Latin and with guest from every kingdom imaginable, the occurrence was as alien to the bride and groom as was the limit. Both were versed in Latin and foreign affairs, but the combination of those factors and the awareness of their positions took precedence over their assumed battle-ready training.
Willow, for one, was breathing steadily, but with a pulse a mediaeval doctor would have pronounced "the last moments of life". This was the biggest part of herself that she could give to her father, to her kingdom and the people's in it. For them, all of this was bearable. That may help me keep to my feet, this day.
Tara's own state was no better. What was supposed to happen, would do so regardless of the inhibitions of those involved. As Tara looked to her future husband, standing beside her with the stern appearance of discipline, she knew that what she had expected from this marriage was coming to pass. A reality of anticipated disquiet.
At no point during the ceremony did either, Prince or Princess, feel the exact moment of union. Blessings, the Lord's Will, and expectations spouted from the droning priest's moistened lips. With no revel or even an outward sign of interest, the plump man of the cloth joined the two kingdoms, two lands, and two numb teenagers.
When all words were intoned, a chorus of tenor voices broke into staunch song. It's sound permeated every corner of the church. An overcompensation was made for lack of emotion in the area of volume. It was inescapable.
Willow flinched. She was certain that every person in attendance had heard her more than audible gulp. This was the part where she was required to give the blushing princess her kiss, to seal all.
In the house of God, and before the eyes of every guest, kings and queens, and priests alike, Willow bent and kissed her queen.
Expecting to take on the action as a sacrifice for her station, Willow was more than a little surprised at how much she, well, enjoyed the simple affection.
Revulsion. Discomfort, at the very least, and a supreme desire to part within the soonest amount of time. For Tara, the kiss itself had lasted no longer than a moment, but she had not expected the golden lighting, the gentle and shy touch, or the goose-fleshing sensation that engulfed her for the unanticipated moment.
At the instant of parting, the chorus broke forth anew, with added fervor and pitch in celebration of this, the most blasphemous of occasions.
Rushed in opposing directions, down the isle and back to separate rooms for changing, the two were disrobed. Willow was left to her specific dressing intimacies.
Tara's maid now kneeled at her side. The years spent together had softened Tara and Janette to one another. They spoke amiably, though not with the companionship that once held Tara to Marie. Busy with the preparations of Tara's garb, the Madame was well distracted from the look that manned Tara's features. With a glance, however, it was not too difficult for Janette to see terror in her young charge.
When the Madame stepped from hearing distance, Janette made a move to secret a bit of advice to Tara, feeling slightly sorry for her. Tara caught the gesture and bent to take heed. "Princess," she began, insisting in the title from the moment of her institution. "I have heard news of an unusual manner in regards to your husband."
My husband. Tara blushed feverishly. I'm married.
Janette's voice disrupted Tara's discomfort. "In descriptions of his manner, my lady, he is without fault to be sure. However, I have been informed of disquieting activities that he is known to partake in."
Tara waited. Janette did not act as though she intended to finish her suggestions. Being sure to locate her worrisome mistress, Tara bent to Janette once more. "Do tell me, Janette, what strange moments will I be dreading?"
The girl looked up, faux-shocked, "You haven't heard?" Yes, she felt a certain amount of pity for the princess, but she was after all one of the privileged. This toying could do nothing more than to exercise what little control she had. Finally, she continued, "He is known to crave solitude, to refuse companies and to read with a vigor that should be reserved for stag-hunting and gentlemen's lounging. I need not tell you of his most obvious lack of experience in the ways of men. It is even rumored," she lowered her tone further, conspiracy dripping from her scandalously smirked cheeks, "that he has never known a woman."
Tara's blush furthered. Her madame had found her way back, and was speaking of a carriage arrangement that Tara knew nothing of. Mme Flockton glanced only passing at the young girl's crimson. This was going to be trying night for her, after all, a blush was hardly unexpected.
Willow was waiting. She hadn't been informed on what exactly, but she had a good idea. After redressing, and being made to look well-polished, she had been led to a smaller room that adjoined the great dining hall.
The wedding had taken place in the afternoon of this day. Willow remembered with an odd maturity the sun's rays as they streamed in through the stained and globular glass of the church. With the proceedings she remembered little, but for a reason that eluded her, the windows stayed in her mind. That, and the look on the young princess's face just after their joining kiss.
Princess Tara, she knew, had to have been scared. As she drew back from the kiss, however, her face looked nothing like the image of fear. Instead, a look of complete interest and surprise lay on her features. Even a slight wrinkle was visible at the mid-brow.
Perhaps, she had kissed many others and was more than a little shocked at Willow's own lack of experience, revealed in the action. Unconsciously, she had begun to wring her hands. Of course, she was an attractive heir to a very powerful throne. They would not want her to go to her husband unprepared. And yet, unspoiled. Games of politics made Willow frustrated. Couldn't everyone just say what was true and right? If it were truly right wouldn't it be impossible to distract from success?
Her most juxtaposed subjects by far were her religion and politics classes. Now, to be honest with herself, she knew that her education in any of her subjects was not complete. Not only was she female, and therefore inferior in any intellectual assignment, but she would now be the leader of a kingdom some day. Her father, or an otherwise appointed male would always rule while she held the title of Prince and King. To educate a puppet only took actions and memorization.
In religion, she had learned about god and obedience; about ordination, self-sacrifice (though not in the case of royals), and rules. She learned that hers was a family ordained to rule the people of her country with justice and wisdom, but ordained by a god from whom no one escaped atonement.
Politics crafted a distinctly different picture with god and country slightly left behind in the glory of King and Wealth. It was not acceptable for a King to project an image of anything other than godly and selfless. Yet, she herself had been chastised in certain circles, and felt an amount of shame, for her chaste stature. The love of others was a key element to the religion taught to her, but was mentioned not more than a few times. Love, even as people starved and her fellow royals pushed more and continuously more peasants from their homes.
The more she learned of the two subjects, there was more to be contradicted. When she asked after what was to be done in a situation where there was no option without a contradiction of one for the other, she would be told that only god was the judge of such things. Also, that what must be done for the sake of the people was always the priority. That without the royals, there would be no intelligence to commandeer the country with any influence of god, and so the interested of the nobles simply had to be taken into account. She would then be told that ruling a country was a difficult task, with condescending smiles and tones.
At any rate, Willow was fairly certain that she was being set up to enter the great dining hall in all of her newly-wed glory to a full table of guests interested in her eventful day only as it related to themselves. She didn't expect the Princess to be walking down the hall towards her in a simple and beautiful dress. Head lowered, she walked as though she had been strictly ordered and specifically warned. Willow noticed unmistakably the girls presence was the most unassuming that she had even experienced. When she stopped in front of Willow, the Prince froze.
This wasn't supposed to happen! Willow frantically fought against her fear. No one else had doubts about her masculinity. It seems different in the context of the person who believes she will be bedding you latter this night. She let the silence drift longer, hoping the young princess would be the first to address.
Tara did not look up as she approached the Prince, nor after she had stopped and waited for his greeting. When it didn't come, she thought of his distaste for company, especially that of women. Taking a breath, Tara decided to be the first to speak. "Your Highness," a perfect curtsey, "I was sent to enter the hall with you, as your Princess and wife."
Willow remained speechless. My wife. The sound was a confusing pleasure. I am her husband. More confusion. Deciding not to prod the psyche of her devilishly sneaky identity, Willow began her own address. Bowing regally, She thinks me a laughing matter. She must see right through me. "It would be my honor to escort you as your Prince and husband." Crooking her left arm, Willow looked to her companion. Her head remained bowed. Will I ever get to look at her visage for longer than a moment?
He is MY husband? MY Prince? For the first time in her life, a glimmer of freedom touched her mind, only run back to the shadows.