In a certain continent, in a certain empire, in a certain city-state there was a church, a temple really. One dedicated to the goddess Hildred who was said to govern duty and family for the people of that particular region.
In this hallowed hall before a great stained glass relief of the goddess herself a marriage was taking place.
A man and woman stood before a priest. The man dressed in a suit of black. The woman dressed in a gown of lacey white.
The priest droned on for nearly three hours time, speaking of duty and family and his goddess. Speaking of the journey that this man and woman would be going down as they left their family homes and joined as one to create a new family, a new home and eventually a new life together.
No one paid much attention to the priest prattle. Not the groom who simply stared into the distance, his gaze glassy and somewhat vacant. A loose somewhat indolent smile on his face. A thin line of drool dripping from the corner of his mouth.
Not the bride who stared down at her feet. Biting her bottom lip. Her eyes hard and dry as if she had been on the verge of crying tears of anger but a harsh wind had blown all her tears away.
The atmosphere in the temple was gloomy.
Besides the couple not seeming all that ecstatic about what was taking place, the two family’s who come together to be joined didn’t seem to be taking much interest either. The youths all fidgeted in their Sunday finest, sneaking looks at their phones, and the various electronics they’d been able to sneak within them when their parents weren’t watching.
The adults all watched clock, occasionally shifting in their seats uncomfortably, as if “they” were the ones who’d been forced to stand all this time.
As for the seniors, the mixture of senile and sly, venerated elders, they amiably chatted amongst themselves. Or napped. A lot of them simply taking the occasion as a change to get out of the house and see old friends.
At some point a few people had just gotten impatient, getting up to go to the bathroom and then simply never coming back. For the younger half of these people there would be punishment and scolding coming but the adults present in this place that noted these absences would feel a bit of envy. Wishing they could leave as well.
Two families had indeed come together joined for a purpose. Coming to witness the joinder of the young couple in front of them, but the reasoning wasn’t love, and this was no celebration of anything quite so fanciful.
What this was, was a business deal, and an inconvenience for most who were attending. What this was, was two groups of people with too much “positive” reputation for open hard-heartedness, getting rid of their families’ trash and trying to get some small benefits while they were doing so.
The Caldwells, the groom’s family had traded a small restaurant chain and a single medium grade level twenty magic artifact to the bride’s family to make this wedding happen.
This was the price they paid to get rid of their mentally handicapped eldest son without it being seen as them throwing him out into the street. Institutions of mental health were expensive so they couldn’t just throw him into one of those for the rest of his life and hope that the world forgot about him.
Besides the fact that institutionalizing the boy would have publicized the already well known secret that the boy was a waste.
Doing so sustainably would have meant having to arrange for the boy’s demise. Which would have been even riskier for the family’s reputation. Possibly marring their righteous name.
In return for the restaurant chain and the magic artifact the bride’s family, the Andrases, paid for the wedding. Providing a dowry of the 1.2 million, just large enough to pay for the possible blood price in case anything went wrong.
They also provided the bride. A young woman whose meteoric rise within the family, the city and the Leveller sect that that two families were part of, was halted by scandal. Bringing shame and the ire of a genuine noble house onto the family.
This was her punishment for acting against the family. In a few months if she changed her recalcitrant ways it was possible the boy would just “die in his sleep” and she’d be allowed back into the fold. If not then she could just go and bear the idiot’s children and do good by the family that way, staying far out of public sight.
The priest finally ran out of words to say and there was silence. Heavy, oppressive silence. Only occasionally broken up by coughs and sneezes.
“You may kiss the bride…” said the old man.
“You. may kiss the bride…” he repeated.
“Give her a kiss, Desi…come on just like we showed you. We don’t have all day dammit!” shouted a gruff voice in the pews. The father of Groom, one Matias Caldwell.
Eventually, the dull eyed young boy leaned over and gave depressed looking bride a moist, inexpert peck on the lips.
Satisfied that all the particulars were taking care of the priest closed his holy tome and clapped his hands together and announced that the ceremony was over.
“Now before our great Lady Hildred who watches over the hearth and blade, I now pronounce you man and wife.”
There was applause if half hearted. Then came the reception which was actually not that terrible. The catering was decent, and the alcohol was fairly high class. High enough a class that when all this was over enough adults were good and soused and merry as they watched the groom and bride clamber into a limousine with crystals tied to the back bumper and a just married sign in the back window. Merrily throwing rice, even if they didn’t particularly about the blessedness of the union.
The bride and groom drove off from the church and immediately were sent to the train station where a small group of servant staff waited with luggage. The couple were helped to undress and redress and quickly boarded the train.
This train would take them to the nearest neighboring country, Ashok where in theory the new couple would start a new life together. Eventually forming a new branch family and new foothold for the Caldwells and Andrases, in Ashok.
At least that was theory…
A few minutes later, the bride, one Henrietta Eloise Andras would sit in the train watching the city in which she’d lived most of her life. Feeling miserable, but somehow determined. The spite that had kept her eyes dry running low, now that she had no one to perform for.
Then as just as she was about to break down. The trembling in her shoulders building up into some silent sobbing, she heard a voice.
A soft, low voice that shattered the quiet of the moment.
“Mnm….Bloody hell, I thought that was never going to end.”
She looked up and saw her groom, her husband looking at her, his eyes bright, alert, focused. He looked at her, with the faintest grin on his face. An expression wry chagrin.
“Hi…I’m pretty sure it’s “way” too late to be saying this, but since we really haven’t actually met yet, I’ll say it anyway…Hi, my name’s Desmond. Nice to make your acquaintance.”