“You played me false, old man.”
Wylar glared at the man beside him. “When you roped me into this fiasco of a contract, you promised me he would be a good companion, someone who I would wish to spend my days with. This boy isn’t strong enough to hold even a bow, let alone a sword. Explain to me why I would ever want to spend even an hour in his company.”
Ardid smiled, his tone placating. “Look at him. He is more than pleasing to the eye.”
“I have no need of a pretty bauble!” Wylar hissed. “I have need of a worthy and capable companion! What am I supposed to do with that?”
Both men looked at the boy being presented at that moment. Short of stature, thin of build, skin as smooth as a child’s, eyes as green as rose leaves, and hair the color of new wood that lay in a well choreographed mess upon his head and shoulders. No, no one would mistake Penslee of Gydin a man of battle. He was clearly a true disciple of Sorrel, patron God of Gydin.
Penslee was costumed in the bridal clothes of his land, which was clearly meant to call attention to the activities after the ceremony and not the solemnity of the vows to be spoken and signed. He smiled brightly at his father and brothers at his side who wore more clothing than he, but still seemed nearly indecent.
“He may not strengthen your army, but is more than pleasing to sheath your sword,” Ardid said with a leer. His hand shot out and grabbed Wylar as the younger man began to turn away in disgust. “Fine, fine. He is useless.” Ardid leaned in close. “Except for the very lucrative business his father intends to send your way. Gydin’s fields and mines will be open to you, battle-free and tax-free. Obviously, this is the reward of the contract. And without children from this marriage, they will hold no claim on your own lands and riches.”
“And this is why I say it is too good to be true and that you have played me false.” Wylar glared at Ardid, their identical dark blue eyes meeting and battling. “Why would a king do such a thing for his fourth child? Sorrel has protected them all this time from raiders. Why would he open his borders for a marriage contract with me.” Finally, Wylar caught the barest flicker in the older man’s eyes at the name spoken. Wylar’s lips tightened and the muscles under Ardid’s grip bunched. “Sorrel! This isn’t between the King of Gydin and me! It’s between you and Sorrel!”
Ardid took a deep breath, letting it out with a smile. “He called in a debt.”
“The origin of this contract is not as important as the fruit of it! Sorrel has never made any sense to me, but if he wishes to join our two countries using you, then so be it. You think you are the only person of power locked into marriage with someone he dislikes?” Ardid laughed. “I value your pride but not your arrogance.”
“The point, old man, is that I do not need the fields or mines of Gydin!” Wylar hissed.
“But you will be the richer and more influential for it!” Ardid cast a look at the wedding party across the hall as they waited for the groom to step forward. The people in the room were beginning to become nervous as Wylar continued to argue. Ardid decided to end it. “Stop sniveling like a petulant child and do your duty to me! This is a lucrative, if unexpected, boon to us.”
Wylar’s face became infused with frustrated anger. He turned to go when Ardid held him back a moment more. “Sorrel’s conditions also specified that you were to treat the boy nicely.”
“Too far!” Wylar hissed. “This goes too far! Now you two will dictate what happens in my own home? I shall end this immediately!”
“No one can dictate that. All Sorrel asked for was that you do not hurt him or cause his life to be a misery. No one says you must pamper or please him.”
With one last look of anger, Wylar pulled away and strode across the hall. He made sure his face was blank and held nothing of his thoughts when he finally stood in front of the boy.
Penslee smiled, a blissful smile, up at Wylar who stood nearly half a foot taller and was twice as broad. Seeing their differences so close, Wylar struggled to not show his distaste when he spoke.
“Greetings, Penslee, Prince of Gydin.”
“Many welcomes of the day, Wylar, King of Ardiddak.” The boy’s voice was not as high as he had expected. Wylar gave thanks for the small mercy. A screechy voice or one so faint and breathy that he would need to struggle always to hear it would have been too much. Instead, Penslee had a smooth and calm voice. Not nearly as deep as Wylar’s or any of the Arididdians’ who had broad chests and deep lungs. It was, indeed, a very small mercy.
“Many welcomes of the day, your majesty,” Sek, King of Gydin boomed out with a smile that rivaled his son’s. “Sorrel bless you and keep you. We are very happy you are here this fine and lovely day!”
“Greetings, your majesty,” Wylar returned. He attempted to respond with something more, something that was expected with such a warm welcome, but he could not do it.
A small line appeared between the boy’s brow. “Are you well, your majesty?”
“I am,” Wylar said shortly.
The boy smiled ruefully. “You made me nervous when you did not appear. I thought perhaps you had decided against this union.”
Wylar used every fiber of his being to not speak the truth. “I had a few last instructions to pass before giving myself to your attention for the day.”
The boy’s smile brightened once again as his father boomed out a laugh. “And attention you will have! My son has been quite anxious for this day and for your arrival!”
Refusing to roll his eyes at the realization that he would need to pry the boy off him later, Wylar nodded. “Then we should allay his anxieties.”
“Of course, of course.” Sek stepped up onto the dais behind him and raised his voice for the hall to hear. “Many welcomes of the day to you all as we stand here today on this Sorrel blessed day. I am very happy to announce that my fourth child, Penslee, will be married to Wylar, King of Ardiddak!”
The invited guests and servants cheered raucously. They did not show the proper awareness of the solemnity of the act that Wylar would expect. Leave it to Sorrel followers to not understand the somber reflection they should have in attendance to a wedding.
A celebrant of Sorrel stepped forward on the dais and began the invocation and the spoken vows. Wylar listened to the brief praise of the God Sorrel before the celebrant turned to the boy expectantly.
“I promise to love and cherish you, Wylar, until the end of my days on the land.” The boy’s voice was strong as he spoke the vows. He was a picture of pure happiness. “I vow to always listen with my heart, to speak with my heart, and to forgive with my heart. I promise to always hear your feelings as well as your words. I vow to always make you happy, to always make you smile, to always make you laugh, and to always make sure you look on me with love.”
He would find Ardid, Wylar promised as he bent down to accept the bronze necklace from the boy. He would find him and bind him and torture him for this humiliating act. When it came his turn to speak, Wylar revolted.
“I wish to speak the Ardiddian vows, if I may?” he said smoothly. The celebrant looked to the king who looked to the boy. The boy smiled and nodded. At least he seemed obedient. Another small mercy.
“I vow to protect you. I vow to fight for you. I vow to keep you fed and warm. This I promise on this day.” Wylar spoke strongly. He did not want this, but a vow was a vow and he would uphold it.
The celebrant seemed uncomfortable at Wylar’s brief speech. Again he looked at the king who stepped forward a bit.
“No words of the heart, your majesty?” he asked in a whisper.
“My vows come straight from my heart,” Wylar answered.
The boy, continually smiling, said, “Then that is all I could wish.”
Sek nodded, satisfied that his son was happy, and gestured for the celebrant to continue. Before he could, the boy spoke.
“I also vow to protect you, to fight for you, and to keep you fed and warm. This I promise, as well, on this day,” he said with solemnity.
It made the entire wedding real to Wylar, to hear the vows of his land spoken back to him. He wasn’t sure if that made it better or worse. When the boy’s smile bloomed again, he decided it made it worse.
“May Sorrel bless your union with love and light.” At the final invocation, the hall cheered once again. Wylar turned to leave when the boy’s hand on his chest made him pause. He turned back with a frown and got a kiss stolen from him. It was quick, brief, a brush of mouth against mouth.
“It is Gydian custom to begin our life together with a kiss,” the boy said as he stepped back. He smiled and clasped his hand to Wylar’s, leading them down the few steps they stood on and to the tables laden with food.