Wilhelm Ludwig von Lederstein was not particularly enthused about meeting his bride-to-be, but he knew it was his duty as the heir to the Gavelon throne to solidify an alliance between their nations through marriage. His servant finished dressing him, fastening his cloak over his freshly shined chainmail. Wilhelm placed a hand on the hilt of his sword, which appeared too decorative to be practical, but the blade was finely forged and as sharp as it was polished. The carriage ride would be long and cramped, even in the royal carriage’s unusually large and cushioned interior, but he took more comfort in the weight of his armor and weapon than the company of his father, King Penrod.
“Ah, you are ready,” Penrod entered the room without a knock or announcing himself. “Once that princess gets a look at you, they will be begging us to marry you off immediately,” he said with amusement.
“There is still much to do before the wedding, father.” Wilhelm knew better than to speak against his father, especially right before spending a few days sitting across from one another in a carriage, but he was in no hurry to have the wedding.
“Of course. That is why we are meeting in Lelonia. Nikolai has already seen what we can offer his kingdom, we must now see the land we will acquire before the union can take place. Come now. The carriage awaits us.”
Penrod did not wait for any response from Wilhelm as he was not interested in asking if he was prepared to depart. The words were a command, as everyone in the room well knew, no matter how casually they were spoken,
Wilhelm lingered a moment longer in the middle of his chamber. He would have time to prepare for the meeting on their journey. Three days time, should there be no delays, to sit in a carriage and run through all the possibilities of what Lelonia would be like, what his betrothed would be like. He was not yet prepared to begin exploring those possibilities, and less prepared to discover the reality. His eyes met Aldrik’s across the room.
Aldrik stood dutifully by the door, passing encouragement to Wilhelm in silence. Wilhelm knew there was little he could do to avoid this fate, should his father deem the alliance a worthy one, he would be married by summer. Wilhelm could only be thankful Aldrik was permitted to accompany him, a loyal and trusted advisor to the prince, Wilhelm valued his opinion more than anyone else’s and knew that while Aldrik would never lie to him outright, he would find some way to turn this situation into a more tolerable one should the princess herself be intolerable.
Wilhelm willed himself to move, exiting the room, Aldrik following close behind. Aldrik knew to keep his silence while they navigated the castle to the courtyard where the carriage was already loaded with their belongings. Any words spoken may have broken Wilhelm’s focus and stalled him longer. Penrod waited with Queen Frieda beside the carriage for their son and, when he and Aldrik arrived, together they climbed into the carriage with Ehren, Wilhelm’s uncle and Penrod and Frieda’s closest advisor. Mounted guards riding ahead and behind the carriage, the door was secured and their journey began.
The ride was uneventful. Penrod and Ehren exchanged some plans and expectations shortly after they set off, then occasionally spoke about trivial national matters. Frieda chattered on with judgmental court gossip and her own opinions and expectations of the alliance. Wilhelm kept quiet, as his opinion was never invited and he knew whatever he contributed would be poorly received should he venture to inject himself into their idle chat. Aldrik spoke no more than a “yes, sire” or “no, madam” when he was addressed to agree with the monarchs. A meaningless show of courtesy to involve Aldrik in the discussion. His opinion was not welcome short of agreement. His company was only truly appreciated by Wilhelm and the fact that he was permitted to accompany them to Lelonia was only a result of Wilhelm’s persistence after the king allowed him to select one servant to take along. Aldrik was allowed as more of show of Wilhelm’s assumed circle of advisors for the Lelonian court more than he was truly wanted as company by the king and queen.
Wilhelm knew keeping Aldrik so close did little for him beyond comfort. He had known Aldrik all his life and his opinions and suggestions weighed on him in all matters. He knew Aldrik to be composed in all situations and fair in his opinions. He never spoke out of line, never flinched at a scolding, and could artfully craft his words to state exactly what he meant, even in disagreeing with his superiors, without sounding rude or disagreeable at all. Wilhelm used Aldrik as an example to himself whenever his own temper rose to the boiling point, whenever he knew it was more beneficial to hold his tongue than to speak up. He was an opinionated prince in a position where his opinion meant little and he looked forward to the day when his word would be law, but not so much that he wished to rush this alliance.
Aldrik’s influence was especially beneficial when they neared the border of Yaeland and Lelonia. After two days together, Wilhelm wished for nothing more than for the trip to end so he could gain some distance from his family. At least in the castle they could retire to their own chambers for the evening and their duties would keep them occupied beyond drawn out conversations. They had an opportunity to pass through Yaeland since they were permitted to ride through with a limited number of guards. This was a small attempt at creating the illusion of peace between Yaeland and Gavelon. The tension was high, but they did well to let on as if neither of them were planning to act on any of the underlying threats their respective armies had the potential to raise. As their final day began and Lelonia was close, the union became the center of discussion once again and Wilhelm, growing ever more irritated, did his best to keep his composure. His best, unfortunately, did not prove to be sufficient.
“This alliance will greatly benefit our kingdom,” Penrod said
“Yes, father, I know,” Wilhelm said, rolling his eyes and regretting it immediately.
“I am not convinced you understand how much of an advantage this will give us in acquiring Yaeland. With the addition of Lelonia, we will have land surrounding two-thirds of Yaeland’s borders.”
“Yes, and then we can attack from all sides. Since their army is too small to defend their entire border from our combined armies and navy fleet, it will aid in our attack tremendously,” Ehren added.
Wilhelm said nothing. He knew all this. He was present for every meeting. He knew their military strategy. Their numbers. Their plan. It was, he could not deny, a good plan. He only wished there was some other way to set the plan in motion.
“It is not the alliance that you protest,” Frieda said, “but the nature of the alliance.” She eyed him curiously, knowing she had figured out the true cause of his irritation.
“The marriage?” Penrod said.
Wilhelm shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He could feel everyone’s eyes on him. his mother’s amusement, his father’s confusion, his uncle’s disdain. Aldrik did well to keep a straight face, though he had the advantage of already knowing these concerns.
“An arranged marriage may not be so bad as you believe it to be. You may find love there,” Frieda said.
“I am not concerned with love,” Wilhelm said. “Our armies are greater than anyone’s. Surely we can take Yaeland on our own.”
“Of course we could, we are unmatched,” Ehren said.
“When I married your father, it was not by our choosing. Our parents arranged it when we were young,” Frieda said.
“It was our duty to unite Gavelon and Browana, just as it is your duty to unite us with Lelonia,” Penrod said.
Wilhelm knew his family history. He learned it with his nation’s history as the two were the same. His mother was heir to Browana, his father heir to Gavelon. The two were arranged to marry to unite the two nations. His mother’s younger sister was arranged to marry the heir of the Fae Isles around the same time, creating ties between the three kingdoms. With their combined forces, they easily took Aspara in the south and quickly set their sights on Yaeland to the east. Their plan was to unite with Lelonia through marriage and attack Yaeland from both sides, if only to divide Yaeland’s troops. Wilhelm knew it was a sound strategy. That did not make him thrilled about the marriage.
The conversation, to Wilhelm’s relief, ended after that. It seemed everyone else was as tired of discussing the same topic as he was. Outside of the carriage, the change in scenery was subtle but noticeable as the carriage was pulled along the uneven dirt roads. The trees were brighter, the air smelled crisp and fresh, the houses and shops were built of wood rather than stone. The castle stood tall and impressive, but the architecture contrasted that of the Gavelon castle Wilhelm had lived in all his life. His own home was sturdy looking, densely built and squared off, despite all of the winding corridors and passages concealed within. This castle was curved and slender, a gentle looking thing, with spires of varying heights, looking to be mostly made of towers. The stone was pale and untouched by the nature that encircled it. His own castle was darkened in its age and stained by the elements. This castle looked as if it had only just been constructed and thoroughly cleaned from the inside out. The stone held a slight glimmer as the light reflected off of the immaculate walls. The impressiveness was amplified by the contrast to the other buildings nearby, discreet and natural looking, the other buildings all but blended into nature. If nothing else came from this visit, Wilhelm could not deny how impressive and beautiful this castle was and he was eager to stay there and explore its interior.
The carriage came to a stop as Frieda commented on the unusual and magnificent design. The door to the carriage was opened and flanked with servants to assist them out while more servants simultaneously began unloading their belongings and marching them into the castle rooms which were already prepared for them ahead of their arrival. The royal family stood in wait, King Nikolai smiling brightly. The man was large around the middle, he did not appear to put in the rigorous training King Penrod and Prince Wilhelm endured regularly. His appearance gave no demand of respect, nor did it intimidate. He looked at them joyously, like an old friend who has missed them dearly. Queen Valya stood at his side, a small woman dressed in clothing as ornate and colorful as her husband’s. They seemed comfortable in their finery, not restricted or weighed down with chainmail. The king wore no sword at his hip. The queen wore only gentle kindness. The princess stood beside them, slightly further back than her parents. This was the first time Wilhelm had ever met the royal family, and the first encounter with his intended bride.