Marcus had come home to his family's home at the insistence of his brother. Apparently his brother had received word that his betrothed was going to be coming to meet him soon and he wanted him ready and willing to receive her. Marcus had made a bit of a fuss about not wanting to meet her and so his brother had decided that meant he was disobeying his Lord. There had been a little bit of showboating before Marcus had allowed himself to be 'arrested' rather than fight his family's loyal guards.
His bloody brother knew he wouldn't raise his blade to them.
So his weapons and armour had been taken, leaving Marcus devoid of his armour for what felt like the first time in forever. His skin was paler than his brother's because of the amount of time he spent in his armour and Marcus honestly felt naked without it. To him it felt wrong to be so undefended, to be stripped as a Knight to be merely the man beneath the metal and the Purpose... though he would admit that it did allow him the chance to groom himself properly.
His hair and beard trimmed properly for the first time in several months, he had prepared himself to received nobility and waited at the command of his brother... and waited a bit longer. In the end it seemed that his brother had been a little bit overzealous in bringing Marcus to heel early so he had time to kill. Hence why he was in the training yard with his armour back on and a blunted training sword in his hand as he danced around Leon.
"Come along Leon!" he cried out happily, "We've not trained in two weeks - don't tell me you've gotten used to the soft feeling of silk and warm beds already?!"
Leon laughed with him but the younger man was slightly more breathless. Although his squire had FAR more energy than he did, Marcus was able to have him running too and fro to tire him out during their bout. As their blades crossed again, a servant appeared at the edge of the yard.
"Your betrothed has arrived, my Lord."
... and his brother was in the local town dealing with merchant disputes which meant there was no one to stand against his order. He grinned.
"Bring her to the yard then." he declared, twirling his sword, "We're almost finished here."
Alegna was not pleased. She had been escorted, and threatened to be stripped of rank if she didn't go to meet the man she had been searching for the last four years. And Aurelion still hadn't told her his name, just that, maddeningly, he was a noble from Perseus, and that he was another Knight. Unlike her, he was far more willing to bend and allow her to wed rather than allow her to fight for her own hand.
She had still partially defied him, though, and dressed in cuirass, pouldrons, and vambraces. Ralegna still sat upon her hip, and she rode Dorian. There had been a carriage prepared, but she spurned it. Let her appear as she was, though she felt naked without her helm, cuisses or greaves. But let them judge her as she stood; she'd rather stand before them unashamedly prepared to fight than not.
Abram carried her lance, and behind them a carriage rolled filled with her dowry.
That word filled her with bitterness. Not only was she meant to be strutted down like a pig to market, but she had to have precious items from her House given for her hand as well, things that for all she knew were commonplace for this house.
When she arrived and saw the color banners, her face paled. She glanced to Abram, whose face was resolutely turned to the side, avoiding her eyes. Her men-at-arms escort, as well, were suspiciously remiss in meeting her gaze. She scowled, and spurred Dorian onwards.
There was the announcement of her arrival, and then she was permitted inside. She grudgingly allowed herself to admire... but she would not allow herself to be cowed. She could not deny feeling an edge of anxiety, but when she was informed her betrothed was waiting for her within the yard... she smiled bitterly.
She was led, but when she strode through, her eyes landed on a familiar figure.
"Marcus Voltaire, of Perseus?" she called out, her focus narrowed to one form, one voice. He said he didn't know who his betrothed was... well, he would know now.
She would wait to draw her sword, let him see her first.
Marcus went back to training with Leon and didn't pay much mind to the servant when he left or even when he returned. Honestly he only noticed that someone was there when he disarmed a suddenly distracted Leon. He shook his head at his squire.
"Leon - nothing should pull your attention from combat. What could possibly be more important than life and death?" he scolded his squire lightly before turning and spotting Alegna and her squire Abram, "... ah. That would do it."
Suddenly he felt tired.
Truly the gods loved their tricks and this one seemed to have been a fine jape at both his expense and Alegna's as well! He deflated slightly and set the training sword away upon the rack of other training weapons.
"Indeed, Marcus Voltaire of Perseus... 'Some noble of Perseus' at your service it would seem." he agreed with a small smile underneath his helmet, "Alegna, I truly did not know your were my betrothed but I want you to know I wouldn't have changed anything about our prior meetings had I known either."
He coughed a little awkwardly.
"Brother was always so much better at playing the part of the Noble... um... shall we step inside? Guess rites must be observed after all."
She was all set for battling the man who was to be her husband, but seeing that it was him of all people... not his brother, or anyone else, and she felt uncertain. Her cheeks colored, but she still stood tall, one hand on the pommel of her sword. She took a deep breath then, and dipped her head slightly. "I..."
He was honorable. She knew that, remembered it well in the small town of Antwell when they both rescued what few survivors remained after the Surge. But she wanted to prove herself worthy... yet for once, she hesitated.
"Do you mind it?"
She asked bluntly, staring at his helm. She wanted to see the face of the man that would be her husband; she hated that her own face was left bare, open to expression. But his body language spoke much; like her, he wasn't good at playing the courtly noble, pandering to tradition. She wanted her answers before anything went forward.
She wanted to be worthy as well.
"Do you mind that it's me?" she asked him honestly, face set. "I would still challenge you, but... I'm not sure anymore." Stark honesty was better than any sweet words; she wasn't so starry-eyed to believe he loved her or anything of the sort, this was more like business, but...
She still wanted to see the man that their fathers wanted her to be with, to be sure of her decision.
Finding out that his betrothed was actually someone he knew and not only that but someone he had some measure of respect for already? It was definitely not what he expected but it was a pleasant change of direction from what he had expected. What he had expected was some shrinking violet of a woman who would be afraid of him or a frightful shrew who would detest how much time he spent away from the noble intrigues.
She seemed to be just as confused and slightly blown over by the revelation as he was but that was probably for the best; he was happy that he wasn't the only one to find this change welcome. No doubt she had expected someone like his brother, someone wrapped up in plots within schemes within vague ideas.
Thankfully for her, his brother was already married to a local Noble's daughter to increase the loyalty of the locals... or some such political reasoning, he hadn't been paying attention to his brother's marriage except as a cautionary tale. His brother and his sister-in-law hated each other after all and regularly slept with other people.
Did he mind it?
"... I had feared my betrothed would be someone unknown to me, someone who would detest what it is that I spend most of my time on. Grow to hate who I am as a person."
He was silent for a moment before he decided he needed to deal with this and the best way to deal with personal matters like this was alone. Marcus raised a hand.
"Please leave us."
The first part was polite but the steel in his words brokered no discussion. Even their squires would leave because he would not continue while they were not alone. Once they were fully alone he sighed a little bit.
"Privacy and our own choice has never come into this betrothal before today; you'll forgive me if I enforce a slice of the first." he smiled a little bit before reaching up, "Sorry for the helmet hair."
Pulling up, he removed his helmet and smiled, slightly self-consciously.
"Everything you feared, right?"
Abram paused, glancing between the two of them, then towards the departing Leon. "My Lady?" he asked, glancing to Alegna, and she merely nodded. He glanced at Marcus a moment longer... then bowed slightly, moving off. No doubt to catch up to Marcus' own friendly squire, or to tend to Dorian. She glanced back to Marcus, and gave a faint smile. "Thank you; I did not like feeling like I was on stage..." she paused when he began reaching up.
For a moment, she considered stopping him.
But when she rested her gaze on his face... she slowly smiled. A slight laugh huffed from her lips, and she stepped closer, tilting her head slightly. "Worse, I'm afraid," she answered, but there seemed a glint in her eyes.
"You're actually attractive."
The words slipped out of her mouth, and she colored again, clearing her throat. "I mean... I don't know what I mean, actually," and the tense, hard line of her shoulders eased somewhat. But her eyes met his squarely, and she was surprised to find them a clear blue. She never considered that before. If this was the face she would wake to...
I don't think I would mind it. And she was somewhat startled at this thought. "Will I do?" she asked, tilting her head. He hadn't answered the question, but she wanted to know, reading his expression. There would be more questions, but they would have to wait.
Well they had something else in common it seemed; a desire to not have their private lives aired before everyone they knew. Odd how that was somehow seen as something odd by their society but that was just the world they lived in he supposed.
And now he had his helmet off.
It felt a bit strange to be without it even though he had taken it off fairly recently, it always felt like leaving home whenever he removed it. Rubbing at his hair slightly with one hand to try and tame it, he tucked his helmet under his other arm.
"Aside from the hair, right?" he joked back with slightly reddened cheeks, "But um... thanks for the compliment. As you can imagine I don't get them very often; unless someone really likes heavy armour I suppose."
Which had happened more than a few times actually.
He coughing a little bit and his cheeks reddened slightly more. What was happening to him? He could charge down monsters or men but he turned into a blushing maid around a woman he had had no issues with prior to this? Was finding out they were to be married really such a big game changer?
Well... yes of course it fucking was but that was still no excuse to become a scared little child and blush and flush at everything.
"Better than I likely deserve." he assured her with a small smile, "Plus there's just something about a woman in armour..."
She tilted her head again as though to survey the hair... and though her lips twitched, at first she seemed like she would say something, but then she simply shook her head, a faint smile still lingering on her lips. "Well, the hair.. I'm sure it's redeemable," she spoke, but again there was a spark of that humor.
Wait, what in the name of the Gods was she doing? She was all prepared to demand her honor in single combat, yet by simply seeing his face and knowing who her suitor was she was suddenly unsure if she even wanted to. Partially because they seemed, by most intents and purposes, evenly matched. But a small part of her considered... he might actually win. And she wasn't certain if she liked that knowledge or not.
She turned a deep rose at his comment of a woman in armor, arms crossing. "Oh really?" Her brows raised subtly, and at first she was about to comment, I'll keep that in mind for later... but the words stopped before she could give them voice, and she cleared her throat once more, then took a deep breath.
"So long as I'm not bound within castle walls... It's an honor." She bobbed her head slightly, still a faint flush clinging to her cheeks. She realized there was some color to him as well; courtly manners weren't a strong suit of hers, she wasn't adept at speaking empty compliments. But was he... blushing? "In fact, I would like to continue to serve my people, alongside your quest... in hopes that, perhaps, we may know each other better."
It was easier to stay within her comfort zone of knighthood, gallantry and chivalry; truth be told, she hadn't the faintest idea of what it meant to be a wife.
Well, that wasn't true, she had some idea. But the ceremony of it, the pageantry and politics of it, seemed out of both their reach. She offered her hand to him, standing as tall as she could, meeting his gaze squarely.
Marcus desperately wished that he had thought to just cut his hair down as short as it would go. It really would help with the helmet hair but he would admit that at least some of the reason why he kept the hair was because it made wearing his helmet almost all of the time somewhat possible for the extra padding it gave him.
Then they got to the meat of the issue.
When they were married the two of them were expected to act as though they were married. They would be expected to act with the best intentions to protect and better their families and one way families preferred to be bettered was by the addition of children. Yes it might seem vulgar but the families would expect them to breed. As strange (but not unwelcome) a thought as that was, he tried to focus on the situation right now rather than as it would become.
Marcus smiled a little bit because he knew exactly how he was going to respond to any and all concerns that she had about the marriage; he was going to be honest with her. If she liked what he had to say or not, he would not have it ever be said that he misled or lied to her.
"You can rest assured that I would hardly expect you to sit at home all the time." he assured her with a wider smile, "We shall be far too busy with our Order, charging and scouting into enemy-held lands! I doubt we'll have the time to nest down, nor do I believe either of us wishes that."
His smiled weakened slightly.
"I do not know when our families expect us to marry exactly but I know they expect it to be relatively soon. But..." he frowned a little bit before making a decision and smiling again, "I give you my oath that we shall progress at a rate you are comfortable with."
She felt almost absurdly relieved he wouldn't expect her to play the role of a noblewoman; if he had, she would have challenged him then and there, regardless. And though there was a small part of her that wouldn't have minded having children someday, but she always imagined that thought years from now, a hazy thought. A son or daughter to teach the old code to, but... now, her promised was someone who didn't oppose her desires for her people.
She smiled back, but it grew when he mentioned their order. She was grateful, at least, that he wasn't keen on settling her down. She exhaled, fingers lacing together. An old habit, to keep her hands from shaking whenever she was nervous. Perhaps he could ride with her, to the banner of Noria... but no, she wouldn't use him as a political pawn. He seemed a good man, anxious to do right by his own brand of honor, she wouldn't abuse that.
"...I don't mind being wed," she answered quietly, eyes lowered. "Not that I now know the man who I am promised to. But I think... at the pace we are comfortable with. I do not expect anything of you..." she took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders once more. "But I ask to work together, as equals. I find you worthy."
She tilted her head then, the smile still lingering faintly. "I hope, in earnest, to have more to offer... but in the meantime, all I can truly offer is my sword, and word of honor. I want to do the right thing.... and I'll take that oath." She knew she could be too serious sometimes, but she didn't have the luxury of joy often in her life. This wasn't necessarily joyful, but.. there was anticipation. For once, she was grateful that the gods seemed to favor her with a man with true integrity. "I don't want you to feel obligated to me; if you don't desire this, I won't curtail you. You have the freedom of your own battles chosen, I hope you know." She smiled faintly once more, the stiff clench of her hands relaxing. If he had any concerns... she hoped he would say them. Too often she'd seen betrothed couples turning on each other, or worse, becoming cold and indifferent.
This felt different. She couldn't exactly say why, but it felt... different.
It seemed to Marcus that they had come to an agreement that had the two of them seemingly happy and would satisfy both of their family's without either losing honour, reputation or anything else. All they needed to do was accept that they were to marry someday and work towards that day. No one said that they had to get married straight away after all.
That would be dumb.
Reaching out with his right hand, his dominant arm, he grasped her right arm by the forearm and allowed her to do the same in return to him as he gripped her in a comrade-like grip.
"Then our oaths are made and by our honour we are bound by our choice as well as the whims of our families." he agreed, releasing her arm with a smile, "As much as I would enjoy a spar with you, Alegna, I wasn't looking forward to having to defend my life should you find me wanting."
They both knew that duels weren't always to the death but she likely knew that he was not made to yield. Even if she got the better of him, he would have continued until an ending far more permanent than a yielded victory.
He smiled a little bit and gestured over to a bench that he sat at during the breaks in his training. Once sat he spoke again.
"I hope you don't mind me saying but Noria... is your war." he spoke quietly, "I would gladly ride to war with you upon your request, Alegna but it would be as a favour to you and for that reason alone. Through sheer distance I feel no personal connection to the war, I'm sorry. If given the choice I'm afraid my path would take me to Kriege to study the land before any military actions."
Marcus tilted his head to the side slightly as he was fond of doing when wearing his helmet.
"The reason I tell you this is because I know you wish to return to Noria to continue the war and I want you to know that I understand." he told her with a smile before grimacing slightly, "And if your family insisted on a dowry... tell them your sword in my crusade is more than enough and take the trinkets to your Lord Silas."
She smiled when he offered his arm; she took it with her own dominant left-hand grip, and for the first time in a long time, felt keen relief. And laughed a little when he commented on sparring. Truth be told, she would have, and she had the feeling that he would have equally given no quarter, just as keenly as she would have not either. The path of honor was a narrow one, and it was too easy to falter.
She followed him to the bench, sitting to his right more out of habit than anything else. She simply listened... and for a moment, her eyes widened. And then, a full, warm smile touched her lips, and she leaned in, her voice calm. "I'd never ask you to fight for Noria," she answered honestly, the smile dimming to a serious mask. "I made the pledge to serve with my sword and my life; I don't expect you to ride with me to these battles, for some of them will not be... honorable. I hope you will still respect me when it's over." Her eyes dropped, and for a while she simply glanced down at her hands, her voice serious. "I would never ask you to ride with me as a favor, but... I hope when it is over, to ride with you in your crusade as an equal. I don't know if I'll survive this war," she answered honestly, looking back up at him, "but I would never want you to fight in a cause you didn't hold personal honor in. I respect you too much for that."
At the mention of a dowry, however... she smiled, and for the first time, some real hope glinted in her eyes. "Truly? That..." she coughed slightly, then chuckled. "I'm afraid they brought it with me; my brother was anxious to secure an alliance sooner rather than later. With things as uncertain to tide as they are..." she let the sentence trail, but then she sighed.
"I accept to... being this way. Once this war is over, I would ride with you for wherever this crusade would take us... so long as I answer the call, should my Lord need me. I do not ask you to answer that same call, yours is your own to heed."
She glanced towards the walls around them, then sighed. "In truth... I am relieved. I had expected a cage... now I'm not certain what to expect. But it is heartening to know that I'm... not alone."
It seemed that the two of them truly had come to an accord and he appreciated that. Though she seemed to be a little bit hard on herself. Sighing a little bit as they sat there on the bench, he patted her good-naturedly on the back.
"Glad to see I can still teach you a thing or two!" he joked before adding the lesson he wished she would learn before it came to bite her, "War is a harsh thing, Alegna and sometimes it isn't honourable. All you can do is strive to do as little harm to innocents as you can possibly do but sometimes you need to view things in the long term."
He ran a hand through his hair.
"Is it worth using underhanded tactics to work if it means removing a despot? It is up for you to decide that and no one will think any less of you for whatever you decide so long as it aligns with your sense of honour." he smiled sadly, "As much as we might like to never have to choose evil, sometimes we must choose the lesser of two. And speaking slightly selfishly... I hope that whatever you decide priorities your survival above clean victory. I would enjoy having you back."
Ugh he trusted her to be a warrior of renown and skill... why did that last bit come out like he was being creepy and possessive? Speaking to women had never been a strong suit, especially since he was, well, 'inexperienced' in matters of the flesh.
He smiled wider.
"No cage - just someone to charge alongside. That alright with you?" he smirked suddenly, "If you can keep up of course."
Her voice was calm, but her face suddenly grew cold, distant. It was an immediate toss back into memories; a distant pain clear in her eyes. "I know what happens to men when they die; I don't pretend to have glory or honor on my side, but I hope... I hope to be able to not let the weight of it to be a stain on the future." She glanced back... and her face softened a little, exhaling. "I want to still be respected when it's over... or at least not being viewed as a monster. It won't be poetic. But I wanted to make sure that you would still see me as a worthy companion when it is over."
She heard his confession, and blinked a few times... and then she smiled suddenly, head bowing once in a nod. "Then I'll do my best to come back.. I would enjoy that." For some reason, hearing that... it gave her some small measure of hope. And another unfamiliar feeling in her chest... something she had never felt before. Her hand reached up, lightly touching the medallion of Dullias on her chest... and she wondered, for once, if leaving so soon would be wise.
She then caught his comment... and smirked back suddenly, hazel eyes sparkling. "Not to downturn Floppsy, Ser Voltaire, but I am certain Dorian could keep stride with yours. It would be an honor to share glory with you." The smirk softened, and then she sighed, slowly standing.
"I do not fear being wedded. I was afraid... that anything involving my people would be cut short." She turned back to him, her smile growing faint, but still lingering on her lips. "But knowing I can still do what I need to... it means the world to me. And I hope the day is soon when we may ride this crusade together." She glanced about then, noting faces passing in the narrow windows, and voices low around the corner.
"How much do you want to bet we weren't actually given privacy?" she sighed, glancing away. She then glanced at the blunted training swords... and gave a subtle smile.
"Care for a spar then, in place of single combat then? I must do something, or my honor would never bear it." Though her face was one of seriousness...
That she knew about war was something that he would not wish upon her or anyone else. The realities of war were often the most horrifying thing that people could face in their lifetimes. While it was somewhat reassuring that she knew what to expect, it was never good to see someone be forced to confront the horrible side of life.
He did her the service of not looking away from her as she spoke of it however. Marcus did not avert his eyes as she spoke about her fears and her doubts going into that whirlwind of emotions and dishonour. Though he didn't say it, he was sure that she would hold herself well and conduct herself even better throughout the warfare she engaged in.
For some reason... he had that faith in her.
It was strange just how much considering the relatively short time in which they had known each other but her actions spoke louder than words and her actions had been those of a true champion of chivalry and duty. He respected her more than he expected he would ever respect his betrothed.
He chuckled a little bit but he didn't push the idea that his horse would beat hers; there would be a day that proved him right he was sure! No need to be a boar about it until his lovely Floppsy brought him victory, right?
"Oh I'm sure they didn't go more than a few meters." he agreed before smirking ever so slightly, "I would be delighted. Are we going until first blood or first to three hits?"