The ballroom is a beautiful, vaulted thing. Thorvald Leifsson stands in it uneasily. He feels severely out of place among the crush and chatter of nobility, and is unsure if he feels more like a hawk or a turkey among a pack of peacocks. His own clothing- dress armor made of furs and well-tooled leather- is fine enough in his own lands. But here, next to this rainbow spread of bright silk and gold thread, it seems rough and cheap.
“Oh, you know what I mean. We all thought it would stop with one or the other of us cut down to a man- you people are tenacious, that way. Very driven.” It’s true enough. Stubbornness is a common trait among Thorvald’s people, and in none more so than the alpha. Thorvald sometimes thinks that there’s a point where stubbornness becomes foolishness, but he’s never been in any position to argue it. He nods cautiously. “I’d rather stop the loss of life than fight for mere pride.” The man squints at Thorvald. Maybe it’s just due to the surprise of hearing an opinion like that come out of his mouth instead of something about honor and glory. “Well spoken. But you were at Narrows Peak, weren’t you? Quite a drubbing we got, there! That amount of strategy came as quite the surprise to the capital!” “A surprise?” Thorvald remembers Narrows Peak. He doubts he could forget it if he tried. A drubbing isn’t exactly the word he’d use, either- they’d won, yes, but it hadn’t been easy, and there was something careless and frivolous in that world, like those who’d been lost were no more than game pieces.
After a moment’s hesitation, Thorvald sits as well. “I doubt they’ll notice my absence.” “Are you joking? They’re here to see you more than me. Think of it! The prince’s betrothed, a real live wolf-man! Will he maul a guest? Turn four-legged on the ballroom floor? Does he have a dog’s head or fangs or big fluffy ears? They couldn’t possibly miss it.” The way the prince’s smile is odd and mocking as he says it- not of Thorvald, but maybe of the crowd below- takes the sting out of it, but maybe that’s true. The thought makes Thorvald grit his teeth. The wolf man in court indeed. What a spectacle he must make. This whole thing is a sideshow, and he’s just glad that when he walks on two legs, he’s very close to human. “Why not just send me back?” The prince seems genuinely surprised. “What?” The outburst, now that it’s out of him, can’t be stopped. “Why this show? This game? I’m no peace offering, no proper wife. I’m an insult and a taunt and an invitation to breaking the peace all in one, you must know that. There’s no point in… This,” Thorvald indicates the ball below with an agitated sweep of his hand, “when you know as well as I do that you’ll ship me back. The whole point is that I’m completely, completely unsuitable!” Throughout his entire outburst, the prince has just been looking at him, and Thorvald feels his face flush with the shame of losing it here and now. He’d been doing so well, too. Maybe they’ll just execute him here, he thinks in a flash of despair, and save his alpha the trouble.
seriously? Is that even legal? My alpha’s entire goal is to make a mockery of this and of you, you have to realize that. There will be no heirs, no point-” “Thorvald. Calm down. Of course I know.” The prince is looking directly at him now. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve prepared for this. The treaty is not being broken.” He sits back a little farther into the cushions. “It’s a political marriage. It’s only there to seal a deal in bond instead of in blood, it doesn’t actually have to be consummated. Heirs don’t matter. I have siblings, you know, and I’m not even first in line for the throne.” The prince chances a glance at the ballroom floor and sighs. He stands, brushes out a nonexistent wrinkle in his cloak, and turns to go. “We’ve been up here long enough. They’ll be looking for the both of us,” says prince Stephen, and just like that his cheerful smile is back in place like a mask, and he looks as vacant as the rest of the courtiers. Thorvald wonders how long it took him to perfect that, and how much it benefits him to be seen as harmless. He offers Thorvald his arm. “Shall we play the happy couple?” After a moment’s hesitation, Thorvald accepts.
inside is clean and cool, and he doesn’t bother with a glass. Instead he ends up slumped on the floor in a shaft of terrible golden sunlight, sipping water from the jug and generally feeling sorry for himself as his headache gradually ebbs.
tablecloth (is that acceptable, now?) and his chin on his clasped hands. “Everything. As you said last night, this wedding is intended to be a sham, but I’ll see that it works. However, now that I’ve not rejected you outright, well, outside forces will intervene. Not everyone wants this war to be over.” Thorvald should have seen this coming.