“I implore you, your grace, please reconsider,” pleaded the old man walking next to him. He was the future former right hand of the King, Joury.
“I’ve considered enough,” the King responded. He was getting tired of everyone trying to talk him out of this. “The decision has been made, let it lie.”
Something in his voice must have taken Joury by surprise, as he stepped aside a little. “Yes, your grace. I only want what’s best for the kingdom. I hope I have not offended you with my candor.”
“There is no offense.” The King put his hand on the old man’s shoulder. “But your breath would be better saved for other matters. We will be wed, no matter what the kingdom wants.”
“Of course, your grace. I am sorry for overstepping my bounds.”
The King chuckled. “You have not overstepped Joury. If anyone should speak to me like that, it should be you.” He turned to his adviser. “Now, my wedding is on the morrow and I need to prepare. I suggest you do the same.”
“Yes, your grace.” Joury gave a little bow and left.
The King continued on, heading for his chambers. Only two doors down, however, his master-at-arms, Rodrick, caught up to him. The King briefly embraced him.
“Are you ready for my wedding, Rodrick?” the King asked.
“We should be, your grace,” Rodrick responded, fixing the King with a tense glare. “The army has been increased by almost two-thousand. The smiths are working day and night to equip them all.”
The King frowned at him. “You still think the Irenals will attack?”
Rodrick averted his eyes, the King was not unaware. “I don’t know what to expect, your grace, but I believe it is better for us to be ready for whatever happens.”
“That is good, Rodrick, but do make sure you are presentable for my wedding.”
He straightened. “Of course, your grace,” he said as he turned off to the castle blacksmith.
In the recent weeks, the opposition to his wedding had grown to a fever-pitch. It was beginning to wear on him. It was of no consequence though. They would be married soon and all opposition would be quelled. He looked forward to that very much. Still, he worried that his advisers may be right. They had not been on friendly terms with Irenal as of late and his beloved was from Kantoy, Irenal’s sworn enemy. Their marriage could break what fragile piece they had. Irenal had many allies, which would mean they would almost certainly have to call on Kantoy and the rest. It could put the whole world at war. He knew this. Rodrick and his generals had been telling him this for weeks. He couldn’t imagine his life without her, however. They would just have to take the chance.
Still, there was something in Rodrick’s behavior today that made him uneasy. As if he knew something he was hesitant to tell. Something, perhaps, worse than what he was warning about. But what could be worse than a world war? Was that even possible?
It wasn’t. He shrugged it off. Rodrick was just worrying too much. He decided to give him a vacation after this all blew over.
“There you are, my love.” She was already waiting for him when he walked through the doors of his chambers. His beloved, Deliah. She lay on his, soon to be their, bed. His worries instantly melted away. Things would be okay.
“I’m sorry, my love. I have been busy preparing for tomorrow, and many people have needed my attention.” He sat down on the bed.
She crawled up to him and whispered in his ear. “I need your attention.” He didn’t respond. “You’re not still worrying about this ‘war’ thing, are you?”
He let himself sink into her embrace. “All my advisers are worrying about. I have no right not to.”
“Let them worry, that’s their job.” She kissed his neck. “We have each other. Let the future happen as it will, we can take it together.”
He sighed. “You’re right. No need to worry about what could happen, only about our wedding tomorrow.”
He could feel her smile behind him. “Exactly. Now, lay down and let me help you relax.”
The air was thick with excitement and music. The King beamed as he stood on the huge stage in front of what seemed like the whole kingdom, waiting for his bride. Joury was beside him, resplendent in his very best, beard neatly trimmed for once. He looked to the crowd and saw Rodrick in the gleaming gold-and-silver armour that denoted him master-at-arms. He was disappointed to see that he wasn’t in dress clothes, but at least he wasn’t in his battle armour. He stared up at the stage, grim-faced, but never made eye contact with the King.
The music swelled and finally it was time for his beloved to come down the aisle. Her hair was piled high with a hundred pearl-topped pins holding it in place. The dress was the most elegant to ever grace the kingdom. It should be, the royal tailors had spent almost three-hundred hours on the delicate lacework that started at the top of the bodice and continued to the tip of the twenty-foot train. He felt a small pang of guilt as he realized that he much preferred her in her plain clothes rather than the ornate, royal, wedding dress. Even the most ornate dress couldn’t cover up her eyes, though, and they were as radiant as always. She saw him and smiled, and, even though they were outside and the sun was shining bright, it seemed to light up the entire courtyard. She made her way up to the stage, followed by her ladies-in-waiting. When she made it onstage, they locked eyes and he wished they could get this day over and be alone again.
There was no such luck as the priest began, just then, to address the crowd. The King was not listening as he was too busy staring into the eyes of his beloved. Finally, after far too long, they made it to the vows.
“Do you, Richard Hartmane II, take this woman to be your wife before gods and men?” The priest recited his part perfectly.
The King opened his mouth to respond, but couldn’t. His head was swimming and he was suddenly dizzy. His vision blurred and shifted. Before he had to take a knee to keep his balance, he could’ve sworn he saw his beloved’s radiant eyes go black, her beautiful smile full of jagged teeth. He fell to his knees and looked up.
She was already reaching for him. Her radiant, not black, eyes were full of concern. “What’s wrong, my love?” she asked, her lips parting to show the perfect teeth of a future queen.
He shook his head. “Nothing my dear. I just let the emotion of the day get to me.”
She took him by the hand. “Well, don’t scare me like that again.” She smiled and he almost fell again, she was so beautiful.
He smiled back. “I won’t, I promise.”
After a long day of celebration, they were finally returning to his, no, their, chambers to consummate their marriage. She was more than a little drunk, and he was feeling the effects quite heavily himself.
He stopped at the doors and turned to her. “This is the first time we will cross this threshold as husband and wife.”
She gave him a drunken smile and pushed him through the doors. “Oh, stop being so dramatic. Just get in there. This corset is killing me!”
He chuckled and stepped toward the bed. He thought about what their life will look like together, and, not for the first time, about if this was the right thing to do. What if everyone was right and this did start a war? How many people had to die just for his love?
Behind him, she was hastily undressing. “How do they expect anybody to consummate a marriage after all that? I’m exhausted.” He sat on the bed without responding. She turned to him. “Don’t worry, I won’t put it off tonight.”
“It’s not that,” he responded.
“You need to stop worrying so much,” she said, coming up from behind and hugging him around the neck. The feel of her skin on his made him feel better. “I’ll take your mind off things tonight,” she whispered to him while loosening his undershirt. He let her do it and pulled his head back for a deep kiss.
He gasped as his breath was sucked out of him. His vision shifted again, dark around the edges. Her eyes had gone black again and when she pulled back from the kiss, her smile was full of jagged teeth. He pulled back farther and shook his head to get rid of that image. It stuck this time. He stared into her black eyes as he struggled to breathe.
“Del- iah,” he managed to gasp out.
Her smiled widened beyond what it should’ve been able to. There were even more teeth, somehow. “I told you not to worry so much.” She shrugged, more of a liquid movement than the simple rising of a shoulder. “Now you won’t have to worry again.”
The darkness around the edges was creeping in, threatening to engulf his entire vision. He tried to yell out, but he couldn’t draw enough breath to manage it.
He lay down on the bed and let the darkness take him. At least he was near his beloved.
Deliah stood in front of the King’s Council. She wore a black veil and simple black dress and a somber expression to compliment them. The Council were dressed similarly.
Joury spoke first. “My queen,” he said, voice thick with tears. “Why would you call us so soon after your husband’s funeral? Shouldn’t we all have time to grieve?”
She wiped and errant tear from her eye. “Yes, normally we would wait for grieving, but my husband was poisoned. I would prefer if nobody else present join him.” There was a murmur of agreement. “Besides, I was just informed that the investigators know who is responsible.”
Rodrick stood. “Who is responsible for this, my Queen? We need to bring him to justice.”
“My thoughts exactly, sir.” She pulled up her veil to look the entire council in the eyes. “It was an assassin sent from Irenal. We must go to war!”