Everyone cries at weddings, do they not?
Theras would have thought he was being dressed for his funeral, the amount of fuss his mother was producing. It wasn't the crying he minded as much as the constant laments of 'my little boy', and 'you look so grown up!'. Of course he looked grown up. He was eighteen.
He was a man on his wedding day. If he didn't look like one by now, what was the point of all this? Aside from political allegiance, of course.
Theras had never been under the illusion that he would grow up and marry for love. He had seen his older brother, Keyen, marry a girl- no, a princess- from The Sheltered Isles when Theras was just ten. He didn't remember much of the ceremony, but he did remember the cake. All five tiers of it, vanilla sponge and thick jam and cream that was so sweet it made him light-headed.
"The bride has arrived," a page announced, breaking Theras' cake-filled thoughts. "She is being taken to the final dressing room."
There were more squeals and tears at this, and Theras was all-but yanked off his dressing stool, to be congratulated and touched and badgered about whether or not he was nervous.
"I'm looking forward to it," had been the prince's go-to response during the engagement, but now the day was here, no one actually seemed interested in whether he was nervous or not, and why should they be? The prince was dressed, and the princess had gone for her final dressing- a complex painting of her face that would obscure her features even beneath a veil (people claimed this was to staunch lechery, but Theras suspected it was more to do with hiding the bride's looks from princes who had been duped with altered portraits. Once the wedding night was done, there was no divorce to be had- it was unheard of in Pleland), and there was no turning back now.
"Congratulations, my lord," a senior advisor grabbed hold of Theras' hand. "Well done, well done."
"Let's hold off on the congratulations until I actually have a wife," Theras tried to free his hand. "Either one of us could yet flee for the hills."
"Ha! She'd be a fool indeed," the advisor let go, and smoothed down his clothes over his padded chest. "She might hold the title of princess, but there's royalty and then there's royalty, isn’t there?"
Theras knew exactly what this old man meant, but chose to look bewildered. "Pardon me?"
"Well," he blustered. "These people down at The Break, they're not exactly pedigree. More a dynasty that's in danger of dying out. No wonder they courted your parents."
"I was under the impression that Port Iris was enjoying a splendid economy," Theras countered.
"Economy, yes, but when it's the people making the money, where does that leave the rule of royalty, eh? There's talk of starting a commoners' parliament." The old man looked as if he'd offended himself. "And their monarchy seems content to sit back and allow it to happen."
Theras raised his eyebrows. "If I didn't know you better, I'd say you were insulting my future mother and father-in-law," he said carefully. "I must be mistaken, though?"
The advisor went white. "Oh, my prince, forgive me, you know how passionate I am when it comes to politics-"
"And perhaps politics aren't a suitable conversation for a prince on his wedding day," Theras sighed. "Excuse me, sir," and he brushed past the reddening old man, and went over to his mother. Desperate times, indeed. "Mother."
The royal consort, second-highest of her rank, immediately turned to him, ignoring her friends, and greeting her only son with a beaming smile. "Oh, Theras..." she sniffed dramatically. "You look beautiful."
"Handsome," one of her sister-consorts corrected.
"No," she insisted, "he is beautiful. I have always said so." She touched at the silk flower in his button-hole. "The blue suits you."
"Thank you," Theras let her fuss over him a little more. As irritating as the fuss was, she was about to effectively give him away. She had always had to share him, with the Queen, but this was different. After today, she would have to bow to him. "How are you feeling, Mother?"
"How does any mother of the groom feel on his big day?" she laughed. "Somewhere between thrilled, and terrified for you. And a little nervous for her," she added.
"For Princess Alexi?"
"Yes," his mother smiled. "I may not have ever married, but I do know what it is like to await a stranger in bed."
"Oh, don't be coy," she rolled her eyes. "I never have been. There are more things in this life to be shy about than what happens beneath blankets. And be thankful it does, or else you would not be here!"
"Well, none of us would be."
"Quite," she beamed. "Just be gentle with her, won't you?"
"I'm not a barbarian, Mother."
"I know that, but..." she leant in, lowering her voice, "a refusal to say 'no', is still a refusal, Theras. There is no dishonour in waiting."
"Except the dishonour of the white sheet," he murmured back.
"As if no one has ever faked that," she said back. "Why do you think a bride is bathed the next morning? It is to check her hands and arms for wounds."
Theras blinked as his mother backed away. He suddenly felt rather faint.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if you would please make you way to the chapel," a page called over the hubbub. "The ceremony is to begin shortly."
Guests began to file out, some passing Theras with murmurs of luck and well-wishes. Theras' mother waited until last to leave, holding her son's hand firmly, for the last time.
"I will see you afterward, my love," she said, brushing her dark hair back. "Try to enjoy it, if you can."
"I... will," Theras said, regretting not saying more as his mother followed the other royal consorts out of the room and away.
Which meant Theras was alone.
Well, almost alone.
"You ready, little brother?" Keyen stood from the sofa he'd been lounging on, a glass of something still in his hand. "You ready to fully join the royal household?" he drawled it out as his mother liked to do. Keyen's mother was the Queen, and where Theras favoured the King in looks, Keyen was the image of his mother with strawberry-blonde hair, and a slightly pinched look that he tried to soften with a beard.
"To have you as my brother properly? Give it a rest," Theras sighed. "That's the real downside of this whole thing."
"And the upside comes later tonight," Key put his glass down. "Providing you don’t get a crier. That's the thing about princesses, you're almost certain they've not been broken in. Yuli was a crier. For the first few hours, at least."
"I don't really want to know," Theras pulled a face at the mental image of his brother and sister-in-law in congress. "And you won't be getting any details from me, so cancel those plans now."
"You're such a spoilsport," Key looked in the mirror, smoothing his beard down. "Anyway, if you don't like her, you can get a consort after the first year."
Like our father did, Theras almost said, but thought better of it. Keyen was the Queen's only natural child, but her husband had ten children altogether that she was forced to count herself as 'mother' to. And ten was regarded as showing great self-restraint. The King himself was the eldest of thirty, most of whom were children of consorts. Consort-offspring were regarded as princes and princesses, until they turned twenty. Whereupon, if they did not have another tie to royalty (through marriage, as Theras would be), they would lose that title and become simply a high-ranking lord or lady, with the whisper of bastard at their back.
Theras' mother, Acrya, the King's first, and highest-ranking, consort, was not merely a mistress. She had used her time at court to make enough allegiances to ensure her son would remain a prince- not a bastard lord. When the Royal family at Port Iris had a yet another baby girl, two years after Theras was born, Acrya sent the baby girl gifts and well-wishes, and a marriage proposal.
The family accepted straight away. Even the bastard son of a king was good enough for a third daughter.
A bell sounded in the distance.
"That's our cue," Keyen said, draining his glass. "Come on, let's get this over with. The sooner you're married, the sooner we can eat."
"You're going to make a brilliant king," Theras sighed, following his brother. "Policy built on the availability of food and drink."
"Absolutely," Keyen laughed. "Forget gifts of gold and jewels, I'll appoint my lords based upon who's the first to bring a hog roast to the council meeting."
"Thanks for the tip."
"Hey," Keyen stopped on the stair, putting a hand on Theras' arm. "You know you'll be beside me regardless, don't you?"
"As if your people will take kindly to what they see as the the son of the King's whore sitting on the council."
Keyen's eyes flashed. "I would merrily take a sword to anyone who spoke so ill of either you or Lady Acrya."
"Now that is Kingly," Theras grinned.
"I'm being serious, Theras. You're my brother by blood- our father's blood. And after today, you're a prince until the day you die. It will take more than peasant gossip for me to deny how much I love you."
Theras let himself be yanked into an embrace, not hesitating to hug back. "You're an ass, you know that?"
"I do, that's why I need you," Keyen released him. "Someone has to be the sensible one, Theras."
The ceremony was all-too brief.
Theras watched his bride be led into the room by her parents- the King and Queen of The Break. They were dressed in their ceremonial clothes, that stood out amongst the suits and dresses of the court, but Theras thought they were spectacular- flowing robes of red and gold and jewels that draped over their bodies like sheets tied in complicated knots.
They steered their white-dressed daughter into place, each kissing her on the cheek through her veil, before taking their seats on the dais, watching beside the King and Queen of Pleland, and Theras' mother.
The Ordained One stood ahead of the prince and princess, and began to speak in the language known only to his order, and to royalty.
Theras regretted not paying more attention in lessons, catching only snatches of meaning – wedding, forever, children, and so on- but the Ordained One clearly held no ill will about it, as he paused at the moment of vowing, and Theras and his bride turned to face one another.
Theras reached, and lifted the lace veil up and over his bride's head.
Princess Alexi kept her eyes cast down, her hands knotted together, possibly to hide a tremble. Her hair was dark blonde, like her mother's, but her face was a mystery, painted in swirls of white and black that obscured her appearance. Her eyes flicked up, and Theras could see they were green. They looked like kind eyes, at least. He smiled at her, and was almost sure her black-painted lips moved in response.
There was more chanting from the Ordained One, but Theras wasn't listening. He was watching his bride's face, noticing how the patterns on her skin were not random- they were deliberate, and complex. They drew attention to her cheekbones, and to her eyes, which must have been her best features. She had a choker-style necklace on her throat, and droplets of crystal lay on her collarbones and dripped down to the barely-visible cleft between her breasts.
"As the Ordained One, sworn to serve the Royal Family, of Pleland," the man beside them suddenly yelled, making Theras jump, "it is both my duty and my pleasure to declare Prince Theras of Pleland, and Princess Alexi of The Break now bound in marriage for all time."
There was a great rise of applause and laugher and cheering as Theras took Alexi's hand. There was no kissing- the makeup made sure of that. Kissing was reserved for the wedding night.
The couple were instead shown into yet another room, where they were seated at table, and the festivities began around them.
Alexi was helped into her chair, and she let out a sigh of relief as she settled down.
Theras smiled as people filed into the room, taking their places on the huge tables spanning the hall. "Nice to meet you, Princess," he said softly. "I'm Theras."
"Alexi," she said back, glancing at him with a tiny smile.