It should go without saying that there was no actual honeymoon. The wedding itself was expensive enough, and there was no reason that the two families would spend money to let their two wastes bandy about on a sightseeing trip.
After all, that would have been almost counter to the point of the whole marriage. For one family it was a way of relatively inexpensively casting out a legal and financial liability. For the other family it was a punishment and exile. The wedding was just for the purpose of getting those two out of the way and out of public view.
If there was anything that could be called even the littlest bit honeymoon-like after the wedding, it was the one month period after the couple’s train ride to Ashok. Cyrillus’ nearest neighbor, close enough that it wasn’t too expensive for the families to set up the move. Far enough that even if things went awry and the two proved to be beyond redemption, there’d be little to no splashback on the main families in Cyrillus.
They were given one month to get themselves to get oriented in their new lives. One month to get used to the rickety old house that their families had bought for them as a final wedding gift. One month to make some connections with some of the names, phone numbers and emails they’d been given as a bit of familial kindness. One month to furnish the house and set up all the necessary services. One month to settle the paperwork involved in finalize the immigration process.
For the bride she had one month to change her mind and do what her family wanted to allow her out of her wretched situation. One month in which it’d be possible to take all that had happened back.
For the groom it would be one month of nothing in particular as a caretaker had been sent along with them on their trip. And as everyone knew the unfortunate and loathsomely disappointing young man was near catatonic.
Cognitively impaired to the point that besides following simple instructions, breathing and hopefully breeding, there was nothing else he was good for.
All in all it was a one month prologue to a very dreary story. A single four to five week span in which the couple, or at least the bride could sit and contemplate the rest of their lives together.
That month was spent relatively lazily. Henri, the bride, now bearing the name Henrietta Caldwell-Andras, more or less took charge for everything. She made all the phonecalls and emails that needed to be made. She did all the paper. She was the one who set up the house and got them settled. Finishing her tasks with one final call to the cable company to make sure their internet was in order.
Afterwards she shut herself up in her room, turtling-up in much the same way she’d used to do, when she was a child. An awkward slightly asocial adolescent with a mother who stubbornly believed that all she needed to do was come out of her shell.
Completing everything with the same perfectionism and efficiency that she always showed, the whole setup was done by the end of their first week. Henri would spend the next three weeks in her bedroom.
Sometimes just sitting on the floor in front of her television, playing console games. Sometimes on her desktop pc playing pc games.
Other times on her laptop browsing forums, comics and videos, eschewing her usual social media haunts for fear of any of her former friends messaging her. Either sending snide comments or sending seeming sympathetic missives that were really just a way of phishing for information on her current status.
She spent most of that three week period just trying to distract herself. Trying not to think about how she’d gone from being father’s little girl, to being “that wretched little wench” who’d ruined everything. Trying not to spend another handful of hours second guessing herself, wondering if she really wasn’t the one in the wrong after all.
She was “pretty” sure she was in the right. Common sense and simple decency said she was in the right.
In any movie with a plot line where a rich so-and-so from a powerful family, invited a co-workers and friends over to his place only to try and take advantages with the help of a few of his friends, would probably have been considered well ended if the so-and-so and his friends ended up in a jail hospital. Their skulls cracked, and their reputations ruined.
In real life though, things weren’t so simple. Powerful families when sufficiently powerful could push back against even the worst of charges. If they had enough connections, they could prepare enough false testimonies to make up into down and black into white.
There was a brief period during the very worst of the ordeal when there talk about the Anderson House possibly making charges against. Suing her and her family for aggravated assault and defamation.
There was an actual point where the police called her in and made her explain her actions asking questions about where she’d been on any substances or whether she knew about illegality of using offensive magic without proper cause.
The only good thing was that it was over almost as soon as it began. It was a very brutal, very ugly, very brief conflict between a shih tzu and a dire wolf. The Anderson family steam rolled the case, but for whatever reason they chose not to push things further than that. Simply content to have their son’s good name restored.
Almost overnight she became the liar, the girl who cried wolf, the crazy bitch who assaulted the future head of one of the country’s biggest corporations and a future lord of Cyrillus Royal Senate and somehow got away with it.
Somehow she ended up on trial.
The media dedicated three entire weeks to just tearing her apart, which would be one of the many times she’d be thankful that she’d lived most of her life shut-in and had little to no dirt to dig. The friends she thought she was saving distanced themselves. She got fired from her job. Demoted from her position within the Moon-Fire Mages Sect.
Her family’s position on things hurt the worst and despite being the most neutral. At first they’d been on her side. At first there were people saying she’d been brave. Praising her for doing the right thing. Praising for saving her friends.
Then the pressure started coming. Then business started closing down. Then Deals started getting broken. Then the family’s most vital contracts and covenants started getting cancelled.
It was around then that a few of her cousins started to question whether she was sure that she saw what she thought she saw.
There were the rumors that the Anderson’s rumors about her just being a crazed, jealous fangirl, who pushed things just a bit too far, were true.
Those seniors who knew better would just see her and shake their heads. Asking what she’d thought she was doing exactly by accepting some playboy’s invitation. Questioning why she’d gotten involved instead of just getting out of there, or why she’d made things become so complicated.
Before she knew it, She’d gone from being her family’s young ace, the hope of their future, to being the brat that nearly ruined them. Then came the day where her mother and father made her rescind her testimony, taking back her case, so that the Anderson’s would take back theirs.
She did it, but it killed her to do so, but she still did it, because by then her’s was the only voice still saying the Cerwyn Anderson and his friends had been trying to rape them. The other girls had either pulled out and moved out of the city-state or been bullied into changing their testimonies as well.
Henri changed her testimony because she had to, she changed her testimony because the Anderson’s had enough connections and pull that the mere hint of their displeasure was enough to quietly crush her family to death. The three months during the very worst of the trial, the family lost enough stock and position, that they were on the brink of being dissolved.
So she did what she had to. And then had to go even a little further by issuing a formal apology to the Anderson family. Afterwards she turtled up and went into her room as she usually did whenever she wasn’t sure what to do with herself. Disillusioned with the world beyond her bedroom door.
Her parents were wrong about everything and all things that they’d said to her and her siblings were apparently all lies. People weren’t just basically decent. Making friends wasn’t a rewarding experience. Right and wrong weren’t important to anyone. The truth did not set people free And Heroes didn’t exist beyond comic books.
The funk she fell into was bad enough that she considered talking to someone about it. She didn’t though because that would have meant leaving her house and up till a few months ago there were still a few camera men lurking around just to take a photo of her. She considered suicide but decided against it, because it meant letting “them” and she was entirely sure who “them” was, either her parents, the media, her so-called friends or Cerwyn win.
Months went by. Things quieted down. For once she thanked all the gods for her being born in a world of monsters, and chaotic magical super calamities, because eventually the world forgot all about her and the stupid case. She eventually calmed down from the worst of that period. She eventually managed to leave her room again.
She figured she was over the worst of it. Her family was still being pretty cold, but she was, at least as far she knew, the same girl she’d been when they’d been hyping her up.
She knew the same spells. She had the same talent. She was…possibly a little weaker than before from all that time holed up in her room, but that wasn’t anything a little training couldn’t change.
She figured soon everything would go back to normal. Then one day, “he” showed. Cerwyn Anderson, built like a bear, handsome like he was made for tv. He showed up at the office she was working at.
She hid feeling like a cockroach. Feeling that same, falling the down stairs sensation she’d felt while everything had been going down. Wondering what kind of world she was living in when scum got to stand tall and the people who tried to stop, people who fought back instead of just being victims, had to duck low. Slinking into the shadows with their tails between their legs.
Of course, her luck being her luck, he spotted her. He came up to her, smiled that big aw-shucks smile of his. Perfected from over a thousand years back when the Andersons were still farm folk. He chatted her up as the last year had never happened. He had the gall to ask about a few of the girl’s who’d been part of the case who’d simply disappeared. Vanishing before the trial.
Henri took it stride. She too was part of the elite after all, and she now knew how the game was played. She smiled. Made small talk, even shook the bastards hand and pretended like everything was all water under the bridge.
A few weeks later a letter came, addressed to her, but sent to her parents. It was a proposal. One laced with nauseating prose that went on and on about her forthrightness, her honesty, her integrity and dedication to the truth. Just a lot of twisting knife. The note dancing around their history without ever once directly bringing it up.
Apparently Cerwyn Anderson of the Jewel City Andersons wanted to very much have her hand in marriage. Not as a wife of course, considering their history and her status. No, he wanted her as a “partner” the current age’s equivalent to a legal mistress or concubine from back in the day.
She took it as a joke, a mean final fuck-you from the winners of that whole incident. Her parents and the family elders however, thought otherwise. The family was still recovering, and in the same way that Anderson’s had nearly crushed them without directly acting, having an Anderson-Andras in the family could have not only helped aided their recovery but brought them to new heights.
There were many voices including that of her father and mother, who thought that she should do it. If only as a way of apologizing for all the trouble and dishonor she’d brought to both of their families.
This was her sticking point, the line she wouldn’t cross. She didn’t know it, till she knew it but once she did there wasn’t anything she or anyone else could do. They said she should accept the proposal. She said no. They said she should do it for the family she still said no. They said they would have her do it even if they had to trundle her up and toss her into the Anderson compound by force. She threatened to kill Cerwyn and then kill herself if they tried anything of the sort.
Henri was resistant to mind-alteration spells, that’s what got them all in this trouble in the first place. And she’d been stronger than Cerwyn by at least fifteen levels.
If it came to it, she really would kill the man before she let him touch her and then she’d kill herself, or maybe run, but since she didn’t really have anywhere to go, there was a very bleak part of her that was pretty sure she’d kill herself. Either way, she knew that’d she’d definitely kill the city’s golden boy and leave her family and the Andersons to sort things out if they pushed her into accepting the man’s proposal.
Her father still wanted to push things, but her mother knew, she KNEW. Before they made her lie the girl was never a liar, thus if she said the boy would die, then she’d definitely do it, or at least die trying.
That was straw that finally broke the camel’s back. The family and her parents thought she was being selfish. She thought so too, but that wasn’t ever going to be enough to change her mind. There were numerous threats and ultimatums and eventually it came down to the old fashioned, “you’re over twenty-one, what are you waiting for argument?”.
As if they were still living in ye olden times when sixteen years old and pregnant wasn’t a hot button issue being talked about on the news.
She’d rebutted with an “anyone but him” as in if the family really thought she should marry, she’d marry, but Cerwyn Anderson would be very last man in world she’d ever agree to as a spouse.
This time she was bluffing, but they pressed her bluff by bringing in the Caldwell boy. Drooling and mute. Mussing himself. Incapable of doing anything without that caretaker of his to help him.
This was her choice, this was what it ultimately came down to. Marry the attempted rapist who nearly ruined her life, or marry a literal drooling imbecile.
She made her choice. She walked down the aisle and was now waiting out the month’s time that remained before that choice could no longer be taken back. Distracting herself from the implications of her decision in any way she could.
Besides not thinking about the past she was also trying not to think to hard about her future. It had been bad enough when she had to consider her future life being caretaker for her mentally impaired husband.
It had been bad enough knowing that she’d never be able to step within her childhood home again. Or talk to the few good friends that she’d somehow, miraculously managed to keep after everything went down.
She still didn’t think she’d been in the wrong. She didn’t really regret what she did, but that didn’t change the fact that people were hurting. Especially those people who had been relying on her family for their survival.
It had been bad enough knowing that eventually she’d had have to wrestle with the issue of having children with the man who slept in the room across from hers.
She’d been doing a fair bit of soul searching and moral questioning on the morality of being intimate with someone with the mental capacity of a toddler. Wondering where that stood in the range of wrong and right.
Wondering if it was at all possible to discreetly find a doctor to retrieve the necessary “material” for her, so she wouldn’t be the one doing herself. Still, even then, she had a hunch that the key morality issue wouldn’t be much fixed.
In which case, what did she do then? The whole point of this marriage, besides just being a punishment was that she was supposed to somehow “redeem” herself by making the family a bunch of few young talents. Starting up a new branch of the family. And while she wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about the prospect, she knew that eventually her family would start asking when the babies were coming.
One line of thought had her looking at the prices for suborbital flights to the nearest neighboring continent. Measuring how long she’d have to save to be able to start a new life elsewhere on her own. The other line of thought was looking into the price of high potential seed, from magically talented donors.
To leave her family would mean stepping into a world that filled with pitfalls and hungry beasts. Without either funds or status she’d soon find herself out in the “Winding”, the wonderland wastes and out there were literal monsters both in human and inhuman form.
While Henri was talented enough that she wouldn’t be completely helpless, the Agarthan wonderland was like a sea, a her own, all her current power would count for, was making her, just a slightly bigger fish. A slightly bigger target for the myriad predators of the leveller deep.
To stay with her family meant towing the line, doing as they expected it meant eventually producing a bunch of extraordinarily magic-potent offspring. Who in theory would eventually make up for her “gaffe” through service to the family’s cause. And despite what she said, despite having thought she’d made her mind up about it all, she was still very hesitant.
After all if she wasn’t sure that “she” still wanted to be part of her family, how would she be eager to bare and raise more members for it…
Inside her head was a never ending argument. Both options were almost entirely too expensive to be realistic at the moment. Costly in both boldness and resources.
Of course there was also the option…the one she’d been going by all along, the option of biding her time, dragging her feet on the things she didn’t want to do and wasn’t sure and going along with the thing she could tolerate or weren’t all that bad.
This was the option she could see herself hanging onto till she really had her back up against a wall.
These were the issues that had been going through her mind both before the wedding and on the drive over to the train station.
They sat nested next to her anxieties over her new workplace. Her fears that the news of what had been happened in Cyrillus would have spread to Ashok. There was a more mundane concern over what her new job would be and whether she’d be good at it.
There were some fairly conflicted feelings over whether she was going to actually put her blood sweat and tears into the process of building up some business and territory for the Andras and Caldwell families in Ashok, or whether she’d just sort of coast along till finally they stopped sending her allowances and they kicked her out of the house for being the selfish brat that they thought she was.
On the one hand she was pretty sure she at least kind of hated her family right now. On the other had she felt guilty because while they were still technically a clan of elites, her actions had made it, so that they were only barely so. With much of the family still going through financial and social hardship because of all that happened.
If they still counted as rich, it was because they were in enough debt to be able to fake it.
There were all these decisions she had to make, all the thoughts going through her head. She already had enough on her plate when she thought she was going into this on her own. Then the man spoke. Staring straight at her as if he were looking through her and introducing himself.
Revealing that no, he wasn’t the waste that his family had thought he was. Revealing that for various reasons he’d been hiding that he was perfectly normal, perhaps even better than normal as far as his mental capacities went.
Railroading various thoughts and plans she’d been building up by adding a second player into the mix. Now Henri didn’t know what to think. Thus she didn’t think at all, she just focused on what was going on in the screen in front of her, and tried to keep her combo count up.