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Marches – Chapter 09

Author’s Notes – So, nine chapters in and we finally reach the wedding. This is a key chapter, the final crossing of a threshhold and losing her connection to her old family, forever tied to this new family. While modern concepts of marriage can’t help but seep in a bit, this is designed as a medieval style of political marriage. She can’t risk getting a divorce without a good reason, or it endangers her homeland – but does she even care about her homeland anymore? Should she? All in all, this is an important chapter, and one I feel that I glossed over too much in this original draft. In the new version, I plan on holding here a bit long to explore those questions more.

The Wedding of Sarus Astier and Mirabelle d’Argent

Those days passed quickly. Like a summer storm coming onshore, she felt it so distant until it had arrived. Then she felt as though a weight had fallen on her chest. She couldn’t explain it, but nerves had almost completely overwhelmed her. About a week before the actual event, the Astier all left Milae. Every single one of them, and all their guards. Then it was just her and her family. Romi came to Milae a couple of days before the event to stay with her as well.

When the day finally came, she felt herself shaking. The entire day her hands trembled and she felt a weird mix of fear and anxiety. This wasn’t a man she loved, it was a man she had met only once and that was a secret. Now, she was to be bound to him. It would be expected of her to have his children. It was something she had rarely imagined. He seemed kind enough, but the stories of him were of a man who would find his goal and set upon it. She had chased off the thoughts of that possibility, that she was just a goal, so many times. She had agreed to this, but she was not prepared.

That morning, before the sun had even begun to peek over the horizon, she was joined by her sister, Romi, and a small legion of handmaidens led by Coralie. She was given a warm, perfumed bath. A priestess of Lune arrived during and after her bath, she was anointed and blessed for the coming nuptials. They worked on her hair and it was brought into a meticulously maintained style adorned with fresh flowers. Then for what felt like hours she was pulled into the elaborate wedding gown that had been made for her. It was a flowing gown, designed to exacting specifications by the tailors of the village, with outerwear brought from Ava. A silver-lined corset was tight around her, and her gown trailed for meters behind her. A blue capelet was draped over her shoulders. She was given a few bracelets brought by the families, her d’Argent signet ring was worn on her right hand, and what must have been a full pound of necklaces and pendants draped from her neck. She barely felt like herself with everything on like this. A silver circlet with the symbol of Lune centered on her forehead was slipped on. The veil was last. The blue silken fabric was attached to the circlet in the rear and draped forward across her face. Once all that was set her handmaidens moved off to help her sister and Romi change.

Then she was left alone. For the first time in her life, perhaps, there was no one with her. Even Coralie had left to help the others. Bastien was outside, within range of her voice to be sure. Just her. She looked at the small silver mirror that had been given to her, staring back at the woman’s reflection there. She rarely even imagined this day, let alone like this, or that she would actually be going through with it.

After a few moments though, the priestess returned. She closed the door behind her softly and moved to join the lady. She stood quietly for a moment, before finally speaking. “My lady, are you ready? The sun will soon be rising.”

“Everyone else is ready?” Mirabelle asked.

“Yes, Lady Cedolin and Marquise Girardine are awaiting you just outside. Sir Bastien and Marquis Girardine have your honor guard ready to move out, and the carriage is prepared for you.”

“I suppose we’re ready then.”

“Is there something wrong, my lady?” The priestess spoke softly.

“No. Just nervous,” Mirabelle spoke quietly. “Actually.” She admitted, “Has there been any word from mother or father?”

The priestess gave a small sigh and shook her head. “No, my lady.” She bowed. “Your father is…”

“Don’t you dare make an excuse for him.”

The priestess stopped and just gave a nod. There was a pause, “I meant no disrespect, my lady.”

“I am one of the Fille de Lune. The Grand Magister of Lune isn’t going to come to my wedding.” Mirabelle spoke as she stared into the mirror. She set it aside with a long sigh.

“You are a Fille de Lune. Lune chose to bless you, my lady. I am sorry your father won’t be here.” The priestess gave a quiet bow to her.

“Speak no more of it,” Mirabelle spoke as she rose, and headed out of the room without another word. The priestess followed behind closely but made no attempt to speak to her again.  She walked through the manor, angry at the conversation and terrified of the steps she would make today at first, but it wasn’t something she could keep up. As she walked the servants of the home bowed and wished her well.

When she stepped out of the manor, she lost her breath. She barely noticed the cold because of the sight. A carriage covered with thousands of flowers sat waiting for her. The Knights of Tirmont sat atop their armored horses in bright ceremonial armor and capes prepared to escort her. There was Bastien too, standing at the carriage door in freshly polished armor. The old templar’s lip couldn’t hold back a smile.

“My lady.” He said with a bow, and a smile he couldn’t hold back, “I know this old templar has done nothing to deserve the honor,” He spoke as handmaidens rushed to pick up the trail of her dress before she reached the road. “but please allow me to escort you to your wedding. Your grandfather awaits you there.” She just smiled and nodded, and then moved to the carriage. He helped her up and then joined her in the carriage, where Romi and Roheis awaited her.

There was a sound then, a shout from the honor guard, and then they were moving. The village was a little way from the top of the hill and the Chateau de Astier. She sat for almost an hour, chatting quietly with her sister and friend, but nothing slowed her nerves it seemed. Shortly after dawn finally broke, there was another shout, and they stopped. She took a breath and knew what that meant. They were at the Chateau.

She felt her heart skip a beat or two, her pulse starting to race. She heard a voice. “My lady?” She glanced around, and then looked to the door. Bastien leaned over and opened it, and one of the knights sat nearby. “We are ready, on your order.” He spoke as his horse adjusted under him. “The rest of the way is prepared for you.”

She nodded. “I am ready.” Her voice cracked as she spoke.

“As you wish.” The knight replied, “Honor guard, dismount.” He barked up at the other knights.

She waited, listening to the sounds of the knights dismounting and taking up position around her carriage. They waited for her. She must have hesitated because she felt a hand on her hers. “We’re with you, my lady,” Bastien spoke with a squeeze of her hand.

She nodded and stood. Then, Bastien stepped out of the carriage to help her down. As she stepped down and out of the carriage, she felt a tug on her dress as the handmaidens worked to lift it for her and keep the trail off the ground. She paused to let them work and at that moment she looked at the ground first. The frost still hung on the ground, but she did not stand on dirt. The path had been laid for her – a path of flowers and branches of trees, and just ahead of the carriage a long cloth runner leading to the Chateau. This was a home she had not seen before. For the first time, with the sun rising behind the mountains, she saw it.

Atop the hill overlooking Milae was a small castle. Lining the road to its gate was a grove of willows, not unlike the village it oversaw. The gate itself was of great red timber, capped with iron. The stone walls stretched around the grounds, and she could hear the river running through the castle from here, trickling down the rocks and feeding into the greater rivers in the region. She could see the peak of the old temple over the walls as well. This was no temple of Lune, but a temple of Erthus, another goddess. The goddess of the forest, so it made sense there was a temple to her here, though she thought it strange the altar was in the castle walls.

She took a breath and her eyes lowered to the people. The road was lined with citizens of Milae and the other villages and hamlets in the province, and just beyond the walls were all the nobles seated and waiting. For her.

That was a terrifying thought.

She felt Bastien brush a hand on her back. “My lady, after you.”

She nodded and began to walk forward. The road was not long, but she took her time. As she passed the carriage, a cheer went up from the crowd. It startled her a bit and she saw the nobles begin to stand. She walked a few more paces before the Knights suddenly stopped and a small group of men approached from one side of the line.  They were ready to defend her it seemed.

“Knights of Tirmont,” Ervig called out to them, dressed as fine as she had ever seen him – with clean mail and a long black cape. His men, however, still looked as ramshackle as ever. “The men of Milae ask that we be granted the honor of escorting our Lady d’Argent alongside you.”

The Knights did not respond at first. So, Mirabelle nudged Bastien. “Knights, her lady would bid you accept.” He responded at the nudge.

“Then we shall. The Knights of Tirmont are honored to stand alongside the Men of Milae.” The Knight closest to them called back.

Ervig waved his men forward, and they moved to join the Knights. The dichotomy of the two was undeniable. The fine armors shined against the patchwork leathers worn by the men of Milae, but they stood no less proud than the knights of the honor guard. Then once again they moved forward. The people continued their cheers. The weight kept growing on her shoulders.

There in the gate was her grandfather though. The old man wore his noblest of clothes and an old tarnished longsword at his hip. He couldn’t help but smile when she walked up towards him, his eyes welled with tears. He stepped forward.

“Sir Bastien, Knights of Tirmont, and men of Milae. Thank you for the protection of my granddaughter.” He spoke softly as he stepped forward. “Please, allow me to take you the rest of the way, little one.”

“Of course.” She replied.

“Your grace,” Sir Bastien spoke with a nod. “She is in your care.” He took a clenched fist and hit his chest.

Mirabelle stepped forward, and her grandfather offered an arm to her. She linked her arm in his and they walked through the gates. There were the nobles, banners from so many houses lined the inside of the walls. Her eyes widened at one though. It was a gold shield with a black cross potent center and a blue rose above the potent, with a silver crown above the shield itself. She felt herself take a sudden, gasping breath – but didn’t even have time to panic before her arm was panted.

“Don’t worry about the charges, Mirabelle,” He said quietly, and gave her arm a little squeeze.

She nodded, and they kept walking forward, between the standing nobility on all sides of her. Her eyes finally rested on the front of the event, where two men stood. The priest of Lune, and her betrothed. He was dressed in reds, mostly, but wore a warm furred cloak – and he had his sword at his hip. She felt herself smile at him, but she knew no one would see that. She took a breath as she felt her grandfather stop. This was it.

“This is Lord Sarus Astier,” The priest called down to them. “Son of Marquis Valamir Astier.”

“This is Lady Mirabelle d’Argent, granddaughter of Duc Leufroy d’Argent.” Her grandfather responded.

The priest gave a nod, and for a split second, she saw a displeased look on his face. “And you give her this day of her wedding?”

“She is Fille de Lune. By the grace of Lune, I have had the honor to escort her.” He turned to her, “Today, she makes her choice alone. And I will support it.”

“My lady, d’Argent.” The priest took a deep breath. “Do you willingly come this day?”

She swallowed, and for a moment considered saying no. The whole thing was arranged, for political gain. Her family would be dishonored if she refused, and she knew that going in. But today, today she felt sure that this was the right path for her. She gave a squeeze to her grandfather’s arm. “Yes. I come willingly.”

“Then please, join your betrothed.”

She nodded and stepped forward, but her progress was stopped. Her grandfather pulled her back to steal a quick hug from her. She moved forward and stood next to Sarus for a moment. Her eyes drifted down to the ground below her, but more specifically her hands. She heard the priest start to speak.

“Your Majesty, your graces, lords, ladies, men, and women – you come here today for the joining of two souls this day, the first of spring under Lune’s new moon. This is a time for new beginnings, rebirth, and we are blessed to have such a day to behold a union such as this. Two great families, the Astier and d’Argent will be joined, for the betterment of both and for the Republic itself moving forward. Our blessed daughter of the moon joins here today her life to the heart of wyverns.” The priest’s voice boomed over them. She stopped listening though, just watching her hands. They were still shaking. She was shaking.

Maybe the cold had finally gotten to her, or maybe it was just the nerves she couldn’t shake. The fear that this was the wrong path, that she had made a poor choice, that her life was over. All these things raced through her mind. The idealist and romantic in her feared that this was not a man she could love, that she would be alone, relegated to live her life out raising children of a man she barely knew in a small village. That fear of course was echoed by her desire to have that romantic love of the stories she read as a child, that beautiful knowing. It didn’t matter. She would cross that bridge when it arrived. Now, now she just wished her hands would stop shaking.

Her thoughts had plagued her long enough that she was distracted when she suddenly realized the priest had stopped talking. But it had been sudden as if he had been interrupted. Her eyes rose and she glanced to Sarus for a split second before she felt a weight on her shoulders, and fur on the back of her neck. His cloak draped across her shoulders, and she felt the warmth of the cloth, of him, again. She just stared at him.

“Sorry, your reverence,” Sarus spoke with a little wave of his hand. “My apologies for the interruption.”

“Not at all,” The man spoke with a shake of his head. “My lady, it is a cold morning. Is that better?” The priest asked quietly.

She just nodded. Then the priest went back to his speech. She was bewildered. She knew wedding protocols. The bride and groom were not to speak or see each other until the day of. They were not to speak to the priest until the ceremony was over, except when addressed as part of the ceremony. They were not to touch one another until the ceremony was over. Instead, on this cold spring morning, he removed his cloak in front of the Princess of their kingdom, and draped it over her shoulders, interrupting the wedding, and then had the nerve to speak directly to the priest without being addressed. It was all improper. On top of that, now he stood in the cold without a cloak.

She turned her head to him and just stared for a moment. When he caught her, he looked at her and gave a warm smile. Then mouthed the word “warmer?” to her. She nodded, and then quickly turned away. He clearly wasn’t ignorant of the traditions, he just didn’t care. She felt suddenly flustered.

“My Lord and Lady. As is only proper, I now turn to you. Under the morning sky, on your first new day sharing this path together, I ask that you turn to one another.” They did as he spoke. Again, she was staring at him from under that thin veil. He was odd to her. Even on just this second meeting though, he was not feeling as much a stranger. “Please, reach out to one another, and join your right hands.”

They did. Her hand slipped into his and their fingers intertwined. His hands were cold, but then he squeezed her hand. She couldn’t help but squeeze back.

“Your paths are joined today. May your hearts and souls follow in these coming days. When you struggle, may the other give you strength. When you succeed, may the other be the first to share in your triumphs. May you bring your families honor. May your bond be never broken.” The priest spoke putting his hand over theirs. “In all things, look to each other. As the moon starts anew, so to shall you, and may your love grow to be as steady and reliable as her rise each night.” He nodded at them. “Before Lune, before Ethrus, before the assembled, but most importantly before one another, do you vow to be husband and wife, to forsake the old and usher in the new together, and to each other stand and strive to with all your being to fulfill your duties to one another?”

She paused for a moment. She didn’t know what to do, exactly. This was it. Two words. She felt him squeeze her hand again, and she swallowed. “I vow.” She said quietly.

“I vow,” Sarus replied after her.

“Then it is my honor to announce you,” The priest spoke, motioning for them to turn while keeping their hands together. They did, switching sides before the altar and standing ostensibly on the side of their spouse’s family. The priest stepped up behind them. “Majesty, your graces, lords, ladies, gentlemen, and gentlewomen. It is with all the blessings of Lune, I present to you not Lord Sarus Astier, and Lady Mirabelle d’Argent, but Lord and Lady Astier d’Argent.”

She felt a wave of relief. That was it. The act was done. They were husband and wife.

“Now, the Lord and Lady will retire for the morning. Marquis and Marquise Astier invite you to enjoy the bounty of Veillée de la Vouivre. The young Lord and Lady will return to greet you all during the noon meal.”

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