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Marches – Chapter 08

Author’s Notes: So, this chapter builds up to the wedding. It introduces more family who may or may not become important later on. It feels a bit sudden and abrupt to me now, but I think part of that is good. Weddings often have people showing up in big numbers, and it is overwhelming. I should concentrate on that a bit more, I think. On that note, I’m re-writing the whole story, so it is hard to see exactly what will stick around. I plan on concentrating on the wedding much more, and parts of this will likely survive. Most likely, I’ll expand on aspects and cut others. Overall, I’d like the wedding to take up more of the story in the next iteration, and parts of this deserve to live on in that version.

Arrivals

When she came in from the snow, that night she found herself more welcomed than expected. She had barely made it back into the manor before she was surrounded by the people she had just left. From a quick embrace from Romi and Cyne to a lecture from Bastien to Ervig showing up a few minutes late with a small search party, everyone had been worried. So, she asked to have paper and ink brought to her, and that night she penned letters to her family. Tienette had only watched for a time, and as the letters were written, the two talked about the decision. She assured the woman that it wasn’t the knife that sealed her decision. She had decided she would go through with it long before – but his actions had made her realize that she felt safer in Milae than she ever had on the Coast. It was decided while working on those letters that the wedding would be on the first full moon of Spring, as was common for the followers of Lune.

She hadn’t been able to pen the letter to her father, though. So, Tienette wrote a letter for him, and the basilisk was as cruel in the letter as her reputation suggested, though she didn’t let Mirabelle read the crueler rebukes of his behavior. She even decided that it would be the messenger that carried his gift who would return her letter to him.

The next morning, the date was announced to the villagers by Ervig and his men, and just like that the village was a buzz. This was something that astonished Mirabelle. In her home, weddings were small affairs, with family and priests. The Astier had invited every single member of their hold, and riders rode out on that first day to all nearby holds as well. The event was a celebration, not just for the nobles, but for the entire hold. It gave the people of the village something to work towards through the winter, and it made it even more challenging for Mirabelle to travel the town – as she often spent time getting well wishes from the townsfolk, and that would inevitably lead to a small crowd of others joining in.

Work in earnest began during the darkest part of winter after the Solstice festivals ended. Tienette and Cyne brought in tailors and got to work on a formal wedding dress for her, and jewelers followed getting her feeling on countless styles of jewels to adorn her. It was overwhelming in a lot of ways and took much more time than she would have expected but it passed the winter quickly. Before she had realized it, the weather began to warm, and the days began to feel longer again.

As spring seemed to be in reach, a messenger arrived with a letter from her sister Roheis. She had happily agreed to come to the village and spend the weeks leading up to the marriage with her sister. She had sent the messenger ahead of her, but it was only a day or two later that a militiaman showed up at the door of the manor, explaining that banners and a small cadre of mounted soldiers had been seen coming down the road.

He described the banner as a blue shield with a gold bend, with a centered white alerion above three crossed spearheads. It was one she recognized immediately.

“Alerion?” Cyne asked as an excited Mirabelle waved for Coralie to bring her a coat and boots.

“It’s a beakless bird, footless bird.” Tienette explained with a slight smile, “Forever cursed to fly, with no hope of rest.”

“Oh,” Cyne spoke with a little bit of disappointment in her voice.

“It isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s a symbol of the Girardine family, a sign of their eternal vigil over the walls of the Tirmont.” Mirabelle spoke from nearby as Coralie helped her wrap a coat around her form and worked to prepare her boots for her.

“Tirmont being the fortress on the border of Ava proper and the Banner lords territories.” Tienette added quietly, “And the sight of a hundred battles. A few fought against Vouivre.”

“So, they were our enemy.”

“Yes, but that was a long time ago. The last skirmish between us was before you were born.” Tienette corrected her daughter thoughtfully.

“Before Sarus was born?” Cyne asked quickly.

“No. We clashed swords against them about fifteen years ago, but it was not a pitched battle. Only a few hundred men.” Tienette admitted with a sigh.

“Any of ours?”

“No, your father wouldn’t commit troops if he didn’t know he could win.”

Mirabelle shook her head and moved finally finished lacing up her boots. Coralie through a quick cloak around her shoulders and stepped up behind her mistress. Bastien busied himself attaching his sword to his belt, but seemed ready to join them as they left. The Lady d’Argent gave a little nod. “I’m going out to meet them.”

“I’d like to come.” Tienette admitted, “But I need to find my face.” She gave a little smile and shook her head. “You go ahead.”

“May I?” Cyne asked. The girl was still young and hadn’t yet received her mask for the masquerade, but in truth, she was only a few years younger than Mirabelle.

Her mother nodded towards Mirabelle, who gave a quick nod without speaking. So, Cyne fell in line with them.

“I’ll watch over her, my lady,” Bastien added quickly. “No need to call in extra guards. I’m sure the Marquis de Tirmont will have more than enough men to keep her safe.”

“Very well,” Tienette spoke softly. “I will meet with you all soon. Enjoy the reunion.”

The small group headed out of the manor and to the streets. Aside from lingering snow in a few shady spots, it did look as if it would soon be spring. Mirabelle almost jogged towards the edge of the village, with the others just trying to keep up with her. When they arrived at those Willow Gates, she found that Ervig and his men had already arrived.

The Captain of the Guard turned towards her and gave a nod, “I see my man found you, my lady.” Ervig added with a quick bow to her. “Oh,” He stammered as he saw Cyne with her, “And I did not expect to see you as well my lady Astier.”

“He did,” Mirabelle answered back, as Cyne gave a soft bow towards the man. D’Argent stepped through the militia to the forefront, crossing to the very front of the village. Cyne joined her, but Bastien and Coralie stood with the militia.

Ervig stepped forward. “Scouts caught their banner about an hour ago. They’re in no rush, but I don’t believe Marquis de Tirmont spared much expense on this trip. It makes my men feel a bit underequipped.”

“Perhaps once I’m your Marquise officially, I can open up trade with them.” She glanced back at the militia, who were dressed in ramshackle chain mail and boiled leather plates, and armed with simple iron spears, daggers, and hunting bows in some cases. They were not professional soldiers, but rather the conscripted or volunteer peasants of the village. She wondered if they were an efficient fighting force in the least, knowing they had none of the training of someone like Bastien. They didn’t speak much more for a time though, just watching the banners grow closer.

Finally, when they were well in view, it took Mirabelle’s breath away. She saw her sister for the first time in nearly a year. Roheis and her Husband were both in ceremonial armor. Shining plates of steel atop blue lamellar. On their hips, long swords and daggers of exquisite craftsmanship stored it well-maintained leather scabbards. His steel spear rose above them both, a personal banderol attached just below the blade and fluttering in the wind. On her horse, she also had a new, fine longbow attached to the saddle – but it was her guard that carried her banderol, the white stag replacing the alerion in the Tirmont arms.

Behind them were arrayed, forty knights or servants. The knights wore fine, shining plate. Each was armed with fine blades and wore long blue capes. Their horses likewise were all masterfully outfitted, with each wearing banded plates of mail over soft leather barding. Even the servants wore armor, though it was mostly shined chain atop leather. It was a display to be sure.

As they got close enough to see Mirabelle, Roheis lost her patience and spurred her horse forward.  It was only a minute before she reached the line, and she quickly swung her leg over her horse’s saddle and dismounted, and then she rushed around to her sister. She locked her in a tight embrace, which while Mirabelle returned, it was clearly one-sided. “You look well, little Belle,”

“Roheis, you look…” Mirabelle finally broke the embrace and pushed away just a bit. “Knightly.”

“I am knightly. It turns out the people of Tirmont need a Marquise who can stand by her husband in a fight. And I always wanted to learn the bow.” She glanced to the side and smiled. “Sir Bastien, Dame Coralie.”

Both gave small bows to her, and to her husband as he caught up to her.

“It is good to see you again, Lady Mirabelle,” Ghislain spoke loudly, his voice carrying over the militia as he sat atop his horse a moment. He let the horse settle. “And to all of you, I am Ghislain Girardine, Marquis de Tirmont.” He announced before he dismounted as well and walked towards the sisters d’Argent.

“And you, Marquis.”

“Please, my lady. To you, I am just Ghislain.” He spoke with a smile.

“Belle, you’re being rude.” Roheis pressed her, physically pushing on her shoulder as she nodded back to the others. “Introduce us.”

“Oh,” Mirabelle turned and found Cyne first. She motioned to her, “This is Lady Cynewise Astier, daughter of Marquis Valamir Astier and Marquise Tienette Astier. Du Nid de Vouivre.” She added.

“Ah, I had heard Lord Sarus had a sister,” Ghislain spoke with a low bow to her. “It is an honor to meet you my lady Cynewise.”

“Cyne is fine.” The young girl added nervously but returned the bow.

“And this,” She motioned to Ervig, “Is Captain Ervig de Milae, who was steward of the village until my arrival, and still acts as Captain of her Guard and leader of the military forces of the city. He also still acts as Steward but likes to claim I am in charge.”

“Belle – don’t editorialize.” Roheis corrected. “You know this is a Wyvern wedding. You will have to introduce every family member and every guest that has not met when they approach you.”

Ghislain shook his head and gave his wife a pat on the back. “Forgive her, Captain Ervig. She is worried her little sister is not prepared for the ceremony.”

“No forgiveness needed, my Lord Tirmont. We hope we have helped prepare her as well.” Ervig spoke with a bow. “To that point, the people of Milae have been blessed to have Lady d’Argent with use. It is an honor to get to greet her family.”

From there, the sisters and their entourage would enter the village. They chatted on all sorts of the minutia of their day to day lives, catching up on mostly small events. IT was nice to catch up. For the past year, both had been settling into new lifestyles, so they had more than enough to talk about for weeks. Tienette greeted them when they returned, speaking on behalf of the family from behind her basilisk mask. She promised that her husband would return soon after but was away collecting his brothers.

Of course, once they were back to the manor they rested for a couple of days, and then again began work on the wedding. Most importantly, perhaps, she had a supportive family member there – but she wished more would come. A few days after they arrived, Romi had ventured into town and was introduced to them, though she had trouble even speaking to Ghislain without turning into a stuttering mess of a girl, with cheeks as red as any flower. But she was an important piece of the puzzle in preparing Mirabelle for the ceremony.

Vouivre weddings were complex. They were parties, with every noble far and wide invited alongside many of the villagers under the care of the families being joined. It was expected that during the wedding, the guests would be greeted by both the Bride and Groom, as their first act as a married couple. Knowing the men and women that were in attendance was paramount, and generally, each offered a gift. So, poor Mirabelle had to learn the names and banners of any that might attend, as well as anything that could help her remember.

“This is impossible.” Mirabelle lamented after she.

“Each guest is going to be wearing their masks. As it is considered a court event, the masquerade must be upheld. But, the Vouivre believes that the bride and groom must prove they can see beyond that. Correctly addressing each guest in attendance will show that you are a true Vouivre bride and can hold your own in their courts.” Roheis rattled off the words as if she had said them more than enough over the past few days. “Every bride does it here.”

“But not every bride is a d’Argent. People are coming from all over the Kingdom.” Mirabelle groaned and laid her head on the table around which they sat.

Roheis sighed and nodded. “We have to keep going. The Vouivre and Ava you have down, and it won’t be a problem.”

“And you’re doing okay with Rane,” Romi said with a little smile.

“You are not doing well with the Banner Lords or Danelan though,” Cynewise added from nearby, flipping through a large tome that listed the banners of the kingdoms.

“Not helping.” Romi scolded quickly.

“We need to know where to concentrate.”

“Girls.” Mirabelle shook her head. “All of you are helping, and none of you are helping so let’s just do the next one.” She said as she sat up and stretched.

“Okay.” Roheis waved at Cyne, who raised the book up and pointed to one of the banners. Her eyes narrowed. “Green shield, black bars.  With a slain manticore in the top right-hand corner. Steel colored manticore, red blade stabbed into it.” She sat back. “That’s a little violent.”

“Wait, manticore. That’s Dunelan. So,” Mirabelle took a breath, “The sword means they kill Danelans. Black bars, green shield…” She shook her head for a moment, “Marquise,” Her face distorted a bit, as she closed one eye and seemed to think, “Marquise Maccul de Rigani?”

“You can’t just guess an entire province for a Marquise, Belle.” Roheis sighed.

“I don’t know where Maccul is from, Ile de Morr?”

“Yes! Ile de Morr…”

“Marquise Maccul de l’ile de Morr a Rigani,” Mirabelle raised an eye as if she was done, but held on to the last vowel since she wasn’t sure.

Romi leaned over towards her after a minute and pushed, “The…”

“The…” Mirabelle softly waved a hand, “Hint?”

“No hint. You know this.”

“My lady, they did visit the temple once when you were young.” Bastien spoke up, “You were smitten with their mounts.”

“Bastien!” Roheis raised her hands and barked at him, “How is that not a hint?”

“Marquise de l’Ile de Morr a Rigani, chevalier commandant de l’ordre du pegase!” Mirabelle said with a clap of her hands.

“You are pushing her hard, she needed a hint.” Bastien defended himself, from Roheis who was giving him a disappointed look.

“She could have gotten there,” Roheis spoke softly.

“Wait, you got to see a Pegasus?” Cyne asked quickly.

“Pegasi,” Mirabelle clapped and squirmed happily at the answer and question. “She rode in with twenty knights of the order after some battle, seeking healing and,”

“My lady, just skip to the best part,” Bastien said quickly with a wave of his hand.

“One bit Roheis.”

“You brat!” Roheis kicked at her sister under the table.

“No.” Bastien shook his head and ran a hand across his forehead.

“They let them ride the creatures,” Coralie added from nearby. “When I was brought on, it was all lady Mirabelle would talk about.”

She hadn’t quite finished the sentence when the manor door was pushed open quickly and Ghislain rushed in, warranting a small startled noise from Romi. The group turned to look at him, as he seemed in a bit of a rush. “My ladies, pardon the intrusion.” He gave a bow, “Lady Mirabelle. There are other arrivals. Lady Tienette asks…”

“What banner, Ghis?” Roheis asked.

He looked confused, “It’s the banner…”

“No, describe it.” She interrupted her husband

That only seemed to deepen the confusion on the man’s face. “A gray shield with red orle and a black wyvern holding a knot of willow branches.”

“I know that one,” Mirabelle spoke with a large smirk.

“Me too.” Cynewise teased closing the book and standing up. She seemed a little excited to see her family again.

“Is Sarus with them?” Mirabelle asked quietly.

“No, my Lady. He was sent on to their home, with a couple of the younger children. The rest of the family has come to meet you.” Ghislain nodded. “They should be here in a few minutes.”

“Then we should get ready. We’ll continue this later.” Roheis said softly.

The girls all stood and moved to change into more courtly attire. Then Mirabelle’s eyes turned towards Romi, who stood nervously in her hunter’s cloak. She knew she didn’t have anything more to wear. She glanced at her friend. “Romi, would you like to join us?” She asked quietly.

“I’m unprepared, my lady. I can just take my leave.” She responded quietly, with her head held low.

“Nonsense.” Lady d’Argent said with a smile. “You can borrow one of my dresses if you like.”

It only took a few minutes to change into their attire, with Mirabelle and Roheis in more exquisite wear than the others thanks to their father’s station – and Romi awkwardly pulling at the fancy clothes draped on her, clearly out of her comfort area. Cyne’s dark-colored dress was a stark contrast against the royal blues in the other two women’s choices. Cyne gave a little bow to the others, and she took her leave to join her family before they were formally introduced.

More importantly, given it was a court event, in a way, they all donned their masks. Mirabelle had not worn her mask around the Astier ever, but this was a sort of official event. Coralie handed it over to her – a simple silver cloth mask with steel wire hardening it to hold its most important aspect, the two small stag antlers that rose from the sides. She took a breath and slipped the mask on. She glanced over to her sister, who wore an almost identical mask. Then she glanced at Romi, who had a full-face mask styled after the face of a fox.

After a moment, the door opened again in the main room where they waited, and Ghislain joined them. His mask was more militaristic, befitting his role, with a horsehair flare rolling back across his natural hair, dyed white now in honor of his wife. He gave a smile, “Ladies, are you ready to receive guests?” He asked quickly.

“Yes,” Roheis stated bluntly, pushing Mirabelle to the forefront. She gave her a nudge. “You can do this, consider it a dry run.”

Ghislain stepped back out, and his muffled speech followed. Then the doors opened again, with Marquise Tienette stepping through first, followed by her husband, then three men she didn’t recognize, and another woman. Cyne stepped back in with her family, sticking close to her mother and father.

Mirabelle felt her mind race. She didn’t know who these people were, but they came under the Astier banner. She took a breath and gave a bow, “Marquis and Marquise Astier, welcome back.” She said with a long low bow. She raised back up slowly, giving herself time to look across the other men and women in attendance. Then she smiled. “It is an honor to get to meet more of your family finally. If you will, allow me to introduce my sister,” She waved a hand to her, “Marquise Roheis Girardine de Tirmont.” Her hand then moved over to Romi, “And my closest friend, Lady Romi Cedolin du Rane.”

Romi blushed at the words.

“Lady Cedolin?” One of the men’s voices broke the silence. Mirabelle had expected Valamir to speak, but he hadn’t. Instead, this man spoke. He was an overweight man, a rolling double chin, and the look of sweat on his marred skin. He stood a few inches shorter than Valamir but stepped forward as he spoke. His mask was red wyvern feathers but laced with gold threads. “There is no Lady Cedolin, only Romi Batard.”

“With all due respect,” Mirabelle spoke harshly, raising up and standing defiant, “Lord Vithimiris Astier. I recognize her rightful parentage. You will do the same in my presence.”

There was an uncomfortable pause for a moment in the room. The man stared at her for a moment, a scowl of anger on his lips as he watched her eyes. She didn’t turn away from him, staring. The pause was long enough that she thought to demand an answer, but before she could his scowl disappeared, and his mouth opened to release a belly laugh. “Well done!” He reached up and pulled off his mask and tossed it aside. He opened his arms wide and stepped away from his family and towards her. His demeanor completely changed. Without his mask, his eyes were bright, wide. His smile was as big as any she’d ever seen. The laugh-lines on his eyes and with flushed cheeks were simply disarming. “I am sorry, Lady Romi,” He said walking towards the girl and clapping his hands together. “I want you to know that I believe your claim, and always have. Your cousin should be ashamed. And he is a fool to cast aside such a talented woman.”

Romi didn’t know how to respond. She was bright red, a nervous fire in her cheeks. She may have mouthed something quickly, but her voice simply did not fall on anyone’s ears.

“Vithimir, you couldn’t last even until at least one more?” Valamir shook his head. “Why do I let you stay in Ereleiva?”

“Hush, brother. You knew to let me go first was a poor plan.” Vithimiris laughed and looked towards Mirabelle, who was a bit confused. Her eyes showed it. It was much less so than Roheis’, though. She turned to Vithimir who opened his arms to her again. “Welcome to the family. Come come. Give your uncle Vithimir a hug.” He motioned to her.

Though confused, Mirabelle relented and offered an embrace. Before she knew it, she was in a crushing hug.

“We are excited to have you.” He finally released her and slipped around her with one last pat on her shoulders. “Now, Marquise Roheis, the lady who tamed Ghislain.” He spoke as he moved on to his next prey.

Mirabelle had hardly gotten her breath back when the next two approached her. She gave a smile, still sort of collecting herself.

“Forgive him, my lady.” This man was more like Valamir. He was tall, a bit scruffy, with long unkempt hair held back by a ceramic and carved marked mask, sealed with red and stylized to match the others’ feathers.

She nodded at him and responded. “Lord Arimir…” She said with a smile, “There is nothing to forgive.”

“Damn right there isn’t.” Vithimiris broke from his conversation to interject, before falling back into a conversation with Roheis and Ghislain.

“And that would mean that you,” She nodded back to one of the women, also in a ceramic mask, “Are Lady Sunilda.”

“Correct,” The lady said quietly, stepping out from the crowd. She was a petite woman, with short-cropped black hair, and at that moment was clearly pregnant. “You’ll forgive me for not being more involved.”

“Have you enjoyed your stay in Milae so far?” Arimir asked her with a slight bow. “I hope we were able to get the manor to your liking before your arrival.”

“Everything has been wonderful, thank you.” Mirabelle nodded.

“Sunilda and I will be at the top of the hill mostly until the wedding. I hope you understand.”

“I do.”

“After your wedding, we want to get to know you better, though.” He smiled and pulled a small trinket from his jacket. “For you. We were in Cote d’Argent about six months ago. I wanted to make sure to get you something from home.” He offered it over to her.

She smiled and took the small box when offered, bringing it to her. “I’m honored. You didn’t need to.”

“I like to bring my nieces and nephews things from my travels.” He gave a smile and stepped back.

Then the final person stepped forward. He didn’t say anything, though. Mirabelle knew she was out of easy marks. There were only three Astier brothers now. He was an older man, wrinkled skin on the back of his hands and neck giving that away – but he wore a blank mask, just a thin gray cloth. The cloak he wore was as noble as any in attendance but was clearly just a traveling cloak. He was being careful to not show anything under the cloak either. She wasn’t sure who this was. Then she saw it though. Beads peaked out from his cloak, a necklace. She recognized them. Her father wore the same things. “I’m sorry, your reverence. I’ll admit I can’t see your face…”

“Ah, yes…” He said softly, raising a hand to pull off the mask. The voice, though, she recognized, and before he could even reach to the mask the young woman had broken any semblance of courtly ideas and rushed over to him with a tight hug. Roheis likewise had dropped what she had done and rushed over.

“Pepere! I didn’t expect you.” Mirabelle said quickly

“Lady Tienette invited me,” The old man laughed a bit, before wrapping his arms around her for a second, and then offering one over to Roheis, “It is good to see you both well.”

“It is a long trip, you didn’t need to come all of this way for me.” The Lady d’Argent protested with a tighter hug.

“It was a hard trip, yes. But you are worth a thousand.” He was a small man, and age had stolen much of his form and replaced it with a thin wrinkled man, and yet he commanded the room when he spoke. Perhaps it was just the scene, but all eyes were on him. He gave a small nod to his granddaughters and sighed. He gave a quick kiss to the woman’s forehead. “I hear you might need someone to walk with you that day as well. And nothing would make me happier.”

“Of course.” She gave a quick nod, before finally pulling back a bit, and waving to Romi. “Romi, this is Duc Leufroy d’Argent.”

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