Chapter 1 (In my book of looove...)
"Sooo, um...how about it, Cheria? W-want to get married?"
Cheria's eyes widened and her hands moved to cover her mouth, failing to mask the hot flush that spread across her cheeks.
As Asbel stood with the ring in his hand, he felt as though a hurricane was going to town on his stomach. Why, he asked himself, could he get eaten alive and navigate the digestive system of a Rokagong and still not feel as terrified as he felt now.
He had even done mental warm ups, where he constantly repeated- "I'm just a boy, about to stand in front of a girl. I'm just a boy, about to stand in front of a girl. I'm just a boy, about to stand in front of a girl."
The girl whom he was now stood in front of trembled in such a way that Asbel was convinced that an earthquake with an ironic sense of timing (and a twisted sense of humour) had stuck and that the meadow on the cliff, where they now stood would crumble into the sea.
Cheria's brown eyes began to fill with tears. Her hands left her mouth showing her pink lips curling into a smile as her hands clasps Asbel's
"I've always dreamed of you asking me this..." she sobbed
"Does that mean..."
"Yes." she said as she wiped away a tear of joy. "The answer is yes."
Asbel folded Cheria into his arms and held her tight. He had been so worried about her saying no that he dared not cough in case it ignited the gases that seemed to be swirling in his stomach.
Holding hands, they returned to the manor and told everyone about their engagement. Many hugs and handshakes (and inappropriate boys cheers towards Asbel) later, Asbel and Cheria were in the office making preparations. Once the date and venue were agreed upon, it was time to start writing out invitations.
Asbel looked at the page-
Please come watch us tie the knot.
"No, that's too informal." Asbel grumbled as he picked up the eraser and rubbed the words out and tried again.
You are cordially invited to join Lord Asbel Lhant and Miss Cheria Barnes in the joining of holy matrimony and join with us in our joyous celebrations...
"No that's too wordy. It sounds like one of Hubert's military reports."
"Don't tell you've got writer's block, Asbel."
"Hey, it's not as easy as it looks. You know how bad I am at putting my feelings into words. I guess we could just send them generic invitations, but..."
"No, I understand. They're our closest friends and they deserve something a little more personal. They deserve at least a good accompanying letter."
"How about for Captain Malik's we write, 'Yes,we're getting married. Happy now?'"
His face was so straight, with that mischievous grin, taking Cheria back to the days of their childhood.. Despite her best efforts, Cheria couldn't resist laughing along with him as they shared the mutual memory of Malik's relentless attempts to play matchmaker between them.
After a knock at the door, the ever reliable Fredrick came in with a tray.
"More coffee, Lord Asbel? Cheria?"
"Yes please. Thank you, Fredrick. By the way, are you okay now? Have you recovered from earlier?"
"Yes, thank you m'lord. I apologise for that display earlier. I was simply overcome at by the good news."
Cheria stood up and gave her grandfather a gentle hug.
"It's alright, Grandpa. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Yeah," Asbel joined in, with a reassuring smile "I probably would have reacted the same way, if I were in your positions."
"Thank you both for being so understanding. I promise, Lord Asbel, that I will do my best to avoid falling weeping into your arms again at the ceremony."
Fredrick picked up the coffee pot and offered to pour.
"It's okay, Grandpa. Just leave the tray and I'll serve."
"As you wish. By the way, Lord Asbel, Lady Kerri inquires as to the possibility of you changing your mind about the catering for your wedding?"
Asbel gave a deep sigh.
"No, Fredrick. As I told my mother earlier, we're going with Cheria's idea of a buffet so our guests can mingle."
"Very good m'lord."
Then there was another knock at the door and Sophie can to join them.
"Grandma wants to know if she's still grounded."
"Yes, Sophie, I'm afraid Grandma's still on a time out."
"Wait, you grounded your mother?" Cheria spluttered.
"Well...kinda...I just asked the guards to keep her in her room until we were done..."
"You are so...un-believable!"
"Oh come on! You were getting just as tired of her trying to take over the wedding plans as I was! Trying to pick the venue for us, the musicians, the caterers, she even tried to decide what song our first dance should be to!"
"But grounding her? She's not a child, you know!"
"Could have fooled me..." Asbel muttered.
Fredrick gave an awkward, but professionally done cough to attract his Lordship's attention.
"By your leave, I shall return to my duties."
"Okay, thank you Fredrick."
Fredrick left the three of them to continue planning the wedding.
"Sophie, maybe you can help us. We're trying to decide what to put on the invitations."
"Who are you inviting?"
"The extended Rokagong family." said Cheria with a cute smile. It made Sophie happy that Pascal and Malik (big sister and grandpa of the Rokagong family) would be in attendance, as well as extended family members (uncle) Hubert and (honorary big brother) Richard.
"Pascal will probably want to bring her sister along." said Sophie
"That's a good point. Okay, we'll address an invitation to Pascal plus guest. And while we're sending messengers to the Amarcian Enclave, we can send an invitation to Poisson too. Also, Malik plus guest and Hubert..."
"Um...I don't know how to say this..." said Cheria "But who do you think Hubert would have as his guest?"
"Don't worry, Cheria." said Asbel "It won't be Raymond. That restraining order is still in effect after all."
"That's good." Cheria sighed in relief. She wasn't a mean spirited person, nor was she the sort of person to hold a grudge, but the fact that Raymond kidnapped her to blackmail Asbel into handing over a confidential letter to the president of Strata, followed relentless declarations of love to the very woman he had taken hostage and making death threats towards her boyfriend didn't really make him the sort of acquaintance you'd want on the wedding's guest list. She empathised that Raymond needed serious help, but he simply wasn't a safe person to be around. There were rumours that he had even been committed. A part of her hope the rumour was true, so that Raymond could get the help that he needed.
Fredrick returned holding a piece of paper.
"Lady Kerri requests that you have a look at this leaflet."
Cheria took hold of the leaflet.
"Batical? Tourism for The Capital of Light?"
"I am given to believe she wishes to suggest this place as a possibility for your honeymoon destination."
Asbel felt a sudden urge to massage his temples.
"What's a honeymoon?" Sophie asked. Asbel scratched the back of his head nervously while Cheria blushed bright red as they both struggled to find the words. They both loved Sophie as much as any parents love their child, but it was always awkward having to explain the more intimate parts of human behaviour to her.
"W-well it's...um..kind of..."
"It's kind of a cool down period!" said Asbel.
"Y-Yes!" said Cheria "It's a time when newly-weds need to spend alone for a few days to..um...cool down...from the wedding."
"So I can't come with you?" Sophie said with sad eyes.
"Don't worry, it'll only for a couple of days." said Asbel "I'm sure Pascal would love to hang out with you during that time."
"Besides, you can come and joins us in a few days." Cheria added. "Once we've had our cool down period, we can make it as family vacation."
Sophie seemed satisfied by this and Asbel turned to Fredrick.
"Please tell my mother that we've already got a place in mind for our honeymoon. We're planning on a cabin by the lake."
"Very good, sir." the butler replied, leaving the room.
"So anyway, Asbel, have you decided who's going to be the best man yet?"Cheria asked him.
"No." he sighed "I still can't decide between Hubert, Malik or Richard." Quite the sadistic choice. One was a dear friend with whom he had shared a friendship pack, unbreakable even by temporary desires of world domination. One was Asbel's mentor from his days at the Barona Knight Academy and the closest thing he had to a father figure. The other was Asbel's own brother, who, despite past animosity (and the fact that he was a pompous, stuck-up killjoy) still came back to support his family. All of whom had been very supportive of Asbel and Cheria coming together as a couple.
Choosing a wife- easy as pie when you could finally be honest with the girl of your dreams.
Choosing the best man- difficulty that bordered on sadistic. It was right up there with that last mission to Fodra (albeit a lot less frustrating).
"You're going to have to choose, Asbel." said Cheria.
"I know." he said in his gravelly but gentle voice "But its so hard. Whoever I pick, I risk hurting the other two's feelings. Hey, maybe they could all do it and split the best man duties!"
"Remember what the boy from Isalia said." Sophie added. "If you chase two rabbits, you won't catch either of them."
"That's right." Cheria continued. "If you try to please everyone then you'll end up pleasing no one. Especially yourself."
Asbel gave another deep sigh. "Well, there's still some time before the wedding to decide. Right now I need to focus on what to put on the invitations."
"If you're having trouble, why not just let Grandma help?"
"Well, you see," said Asbel, who was finding difficulty in explaining "She was putting down a lot of our ideas for the wedding and acting as though she got the last word on everything. She even went on a ten minute tangent on what shade of black or gray my tie should be. It turns out there's at least fifty to choose from. If I let her plan everything, it'll end up as her dream wedding instead of ours."
"Couldn't you just tell her that?"
All went silent. Upon further reflection, he could have worded his feelings better than telling his mother that "Cheria is not marrying you. She is marrying me. You have no say in any of this." in a very deadpan tone of voice.
"You're right. Anyway, it's getting late. I'm going to go and make peace with mom. Cheria, could you come to my bed chamber before you go to bed?"
Cheria agreed. Asbel wished Sophie goodnight and went upstairs to his mother's chamber.
"What brings you here?"
"Listen Mom, I'm sorry that I was harsh with you. Its just that you were getting so carried away with your ideas. Like hiring Barona cathedral for the venue?"
"But it's such a beautiful building, it would be so wonderful to get married there."
"If by wonderful you mean expensive." Asbel signed.
"I was just trying to help."
"I do appreciate it Mom, but you need to take it easy with all the suggestions. Cheria and I have a lot of our own ideas for the wedding."
"Very well. However, judging by the look on your face, you seem to need some advice."
"Well, yes. I'm having trouble writing out invitations. I know who I want to invite, I just can't think of what to write."
Kerri gave an amused chortle. "That takes me back. Your father had the exact same problem when we first got engaged. He didn't have the faintest idea of what to put on the invitations. In fact, he didn't know where to have the ceremony, what music to play, who to ask for the catering...I ended up doing most of the planning for our wedding."
Asbel felt an urge to snigger. It sounded so in-character for his late father and explained why his mother was being so over zealous with her suggestions.
"I could help with at least writing a template for the invitations if you'd like." she asked.
"You know, I think that would be a great idea." Asbel said "I've always been bad at putting things into words. Thank you so much."
Before leaving, she embraced her son.
"I want you to know, I am proud of you."
Afterwards, Asbel and Cheria sat at a table in Asbel's bed chamber. As they had missed dinner through being so busy planning the wedding, they were having tea and sandwiches before bed.
"It still feels unreal. We're finally getting married." said Cheria between sipping her tea. She liked it milky, but with less sugar than Asbel usually had. Her eyes turned to the silver ring adorning a finger on her left hand and a feeling of warmth filled her cheeks.
"When you pulled the ring out, I thought I was dreaming."
"You looked like you were about to cry. I...I was worried that you were going to say no..." A faint blush spread across Asbel's face. "When we were kids and I ran away to join the knight academy, we didn't part on good terms. I was frightened that if I said something wrong, it would drive you away from me again. I knew what I wanted to say but I was so frightened the words wouldn't come out right."
Cheria took hold of his hand. It was a soft, gentle hold.
"I know what you mean. When we were travelling with everyone, there were so many times that I wanted to tell you how I felt. I wanted to shout it from the top of the windmill. But for some reason, I just couldn't get the words out of my mouth."
"Well, we both managed to get the words out in the end. I think everything will be fine as long as we're completely honest with each other."
"Well if we're being honest..." a mischievous grim covered Cheria's pretty face as her eyes went down to Asbel's stomach "I have been meaning to tell you about your eating habits as of late..."
"You're kind of getting a belly."
"Belly?! I'm not fat! I'm...I'm cuddly!"
"Cuddly may be cute but it might not be that useful if you have to fight any more wars. Still, I guess there's things I can do to help you behind the scenes..."
"You little sneak! I knew your curry had less meat and more vegetables lately."
"Oh come on!" Cheria laughed "It's only cause I love you that I want you to take better care of yourself."
Asbel may have been an excellent swordsman and a natural leader, but when it came to food, particularly food prepared in their household, Cheria was invincible.
"You win, Cheria."
He walked her to the door and made sure nobody was looking. As the coast was clear, he cupped Cheria's face in one hand and rested his forehead against hers.
"I love you so much, Cheria. You bring out the best in me." he gently kissed her on the lips. When he pulled away, Cheria wore that wonderful smile that could make almost anyone fall in love all over again.