Of Love and Loss: Chapter Two: Chapel Bells and Rumors
"I've heard she's actually a princess, which makes sense as to why she'd marry him."
"Yes, but a princess from where?"
"Oh lord, not Mavolia again!"
The Brown Dragon Tavern was the best place to gossip as much as you liked, and tonight it was frequented by Mr. Tony – the town merchant - Mr. Andrew – the Inn Keeper – and the dwarf Doffer – a local blacksmith.
The first statement had been made by Mr. Andrew, the second by Doffer, and the third by Mr. Tony. It was at that time that Mr. Folks, the owner of The Brown Dragon, sat down with them, his own mug of beer in his hands.
"You're all idiots, and you're all wrong," he replied, taking a deep drink of the amber liquid. "She ain't no princess."
"Is she a Mavole, though?" asked a worried Mr. Tony.
"No, of course not!" said Mr. Andrew. "Just look at her; She looks completely normal. Not a drop of that terrible blood in her. Unlike that husband of hers....."
"Now, we mustn't blame Dark Lord for his ancestry," said Doffer gruffly, taking a long swig of ale. "He can't help being half Mavole any more than I can help being all dwarf. Or you all human, Mr. Folks," he grunted, nodding respectfully.
Mr. Folks agreed and nodded his head, but then leaned in to share some juicy tidbit. "What I been told is he bewitched her so as he could get his hand on that key to the Sanctuary of Mana."
Mr. Tony heartily disagreed. "Naw, he couldn't use a lick of spirit magic to save his life. Not even that Shade feller. Not like his elder brother....."
"I've heard he lives in Jadd now," said Mr. Andrews.
"Who does?" asked Doffer, having completely forgotten what they had been discussing as he drank his ale.
"They're talking 'bout that Mr. Devius fellow. Now, come on! That's old news! Everyone knows that that Devius man lives in Jadd now! That's not what I'm interested in! Is that what you's interested in, Mr. Tony?"
"No sir, I'm more interested in Dark Lord's new bride."
Mr. Andrew raised his mug in consent. "As are we all."
"Anywho," continued Doffer. "He didn't bewitch her nothing! She married him 'cause he's the most powerful man anywhere and 'cause he's rich."
"Naw, that 'tain't right. You know what I heard from Mr. Lorry down the lane?" Everyone leaned in to catch whatever nonsense that Mr. Lorry had spewed. "I heard that Dark Lord was battling some war wit somebody, and-"
"With who?" interrupted Mr. Tony.
"I don't know! Don't matter none! Anyways, as I was saying-"
But now Mr. Andrew was interested in the subject. "Was it with them Mavoles, Mr. Folks?" he asked.
Now Mr. Folks paused and scratched his head, giving it careful thought. "Nope, nope. T'wasn't them Mavoles. I think it was with some monsters."
"Monsters?" said Doffer gruffly and disbelieving. "Why would the supreme ruler of Granz Realm belittle himself with fighting some monster?"
"It wasn't just some monster!" answered Mr. Folks angrily. "T'was a biggen! One of them big, big ol' fellas they got by the mountains and such. Very big, very dangerous."
"But why was he fighting it?" pressed Mr. Tony.
"Well, he's got to get some practice in, don't he now? And he's much stronger than any of us, so he's got to train on them big monsters. Not one of those bitsy little Rabites they got running around all o'er the place. No sir. He needs to fight the biggest and the baddest monsters around, don't he now?"
"Yes, sir," agreed Mr. Andrews warmly. "Not them little things for Dark Lord."
"Anywho, like I was saying before," continued the owner of The Brown Dragon. "This big ol' monster was posing trouble for some village and none of the Realm Solders could take it out."
Here Doffer whistled. "It was that big, was it Mr. Folks?"
"'Course it was that big! Didn't I say it was that big!" he shouted. "Anyway, no one could kill it. Not nobody. So Dark Lord his self has to come out there and slay it. And after he killed it, he met the daughter of the chief of the village, and she was just the most beautiful thing he ever saw. Knocked him out, she did. And so, as payment for his wasted time, he demanded that the girl come back wit him. And all the villagers say 'No, no, don't take-'..... Now, Tony, what is that girl's name again?"
Mr. Tony scratched his chin and drank his beer, thinking. "It's Kana, Mr. Folks. Lady Kana, it is."
"So they is shouting 'No, no, don't take Lady Kana away!' But Dark Lord don't care. He wants her so he takes her away and marries her."
"Naw, that's all rubbish," said Mr. Andrews. "Girl looks too happy to be somebody that was forced to marry."
"Well maybe she's just a good actress," insisted Doffer.
"Naw," agreed Mr. Folks. "That's what I told Mr. Lorry; that it t'was all rubbish and nonsense and he ought not believe everything he hears."
"Well, I heard that she's the daughter of one of them Gemma Knights," put in Mr. Tony, drinking some more ale.
"No, it's not a Gemma Knight, it's that Mana Goddess is who she's the daughter of."
"Now, Mr. Andrew, you know there's no such thing as that Mana Goddess superstition!" scolded Doffer.
"You're just confused," agreed Mr. Folks. "It's not that she's the daughter of the Mana Goddess. It's that she's a Mana Clan girl."
Mr. Tony scoffed at that. "Dark Lord hates the Mana Clan. What would he be wanting to marry into it for?"
"Well, the Mana Clan's right powerful, isn't it?" asked Mr. Andrews. "Maybe he changed his mind and wants Mana power after all."
"Naw, then he'd be no better than that Vandole cad."
Mr. Folks looked scandalized. "Dark Lord? Like Vandole? Never!"
They all agreed to that.
"Here's to Dark Lord and his new wife!" toasted Mr. Tony.
"To Dark Lord!" the party shouted.
"And here's to Granz Realm!" agreed Mr. Andrews.
"To Granz Realm!" they shouted once more, the mugs clanging against each other and spilling some of their contents as the men continued to gossip happily and drink their fill.
Of course, nothing, save the fact that the girl was human, the daughter of a Gemma Knight and the Mana Goddess, and of the Mana Clan, was true at all about any of the things that Mr. Folks and his guests discussed. But neither Dark Lord, nor the subject they so earnestly discussed – his new wife – were aware of any of this, though doubtless Stroud figured that a chain of gossip would start. Almost no one knew the truth. The only people aware of what really happened behind the "Blessed event," were Marely and Julius; Marely looked on it as a joyous occasion. Julius looked about ready to be sick.
"You can't be serious," he told his superior partner. "The Mana girl? You hate the Mana clan."
"You've said it yourself. Times change, and so have I."
Julius now entered tender ground. "And what about what the Mana Clan did to your mother?" He knew he could cross this boundary because he'd done it countless times before. The two constantly pushed each other around, and it was obvious that Julius wanted Mana power.
Now Stroud's eyes widened, his jaw clenched, and he went absolutely stiff. "Touché, Julius," he answered quietly. "I cannot blame Kana for something she took no part in."
"The Mana Clan abandoned your mother to a cruel and terrible fate, and as soon as you get married to that girl, you'll be married into the Mana Clan; to the very people that destroyed your mother and ruined your family."
"Shut up!" he shouted, looking about ready to toss something at his partner. Julius spoke no more for now. "The bottom line is that I lover her, and-"
"She's bewitched you, Dark Lord, don't you-"
"-And I will be getting married!" he shouted over the red haired man's protests. "Subsequently, and against Kana's will, you might be happy to know, you are invited to the wedding."
Julius crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, scowling. "You've gone soft," he accused.
Stroud took a deep breath and answered "Correct. I've gone soft and happy and I will be getting married to the woman that made it so. I'm going to have heirs. I'm going to have a family. It's not going to break apart like before; I will make sure of that. The Realm had a future, and it will have a long and successful monarchy. I would think you could at least be happy for me. If not happy for me, at least be happy for yourself. After all, Julius, didn't you want to integrate Mana Power into Granz Realm?"
"Not by marrying into it."
"This way costs less lives."
"Lives have always been a sacrifice. They will continue to be a sacrifice. You've always been willing to make that sacrifice, remember? Or does your soft constitution make you forget so easily?"
"Julius," Dark Lord growled.
"Don't you remember, Dark Lord, the day we burned the Mana Clan village? The day we murdered Consul Herman and his wife? The day-"
"I see. So you had forgotten. Don't think your blushing bride will so easily. After all, that was what she hated you for, isn't it? For killing her mother, for destroying her family-"
"I said enough, Julius!"
"I don't think it is, Dark Lord. I think that you'll find Mana and Granz don't mix well."
"Neither do mortal and Mavole, yet here I am."
Julius stared at him a moment before continuing. "And what exactly can this girl do for Granz Realm."
"She's unmatched in Spirit Magic."
"Correction: I am unmatched in Spirit Magic, that's why you hired me. She is only second place. You have me to work your hocus pocus."
"No offense, but she's better company."
Julius merely laughed. "Allowed."
"Besides, if Granz Realm realizes that someone from the Mana Clan is working with me, it will make Mana followers come out of hiding, and that could be useful. You forget: We are no longer enemies with Mana Power. We simply clear out what lies in the way."
"I have not forgotten."
"Having Mana Power at our disposal would be useful."
Julius' eyes glinted and he leaned forward in his chair. "Then why not just take Mana Power, Dark Lord?"
Stroud set his jaw. "Because I am not another Vandole, and the Realm does not survive by Mana Power, but by it's own hard work. Mana Power will be useful because it will spread good will, which means I don't have to worry about insurrection."
"Then why not just put all insurrection down with Mana Power?"
"I've already told you I'm not going to do that! That will only strike fear!"
"Fear is a useful tool."
"I will not use it!" he shouted, seething. "We have argued long enough, and I will go back to the start: I am getting married in six moths. I'll mail you an invitation. And you had better be there."
And Julius had been there. He had felt like gagging, but he'd been there, along with everybody else: Count Lee, Isabella, Marely, everyone. But one thing was certain: More of Dark Lord's allies were there than Kana's. That was because most of her's were either dead or disappeared, not to be traced.
Kana had felt like crying when she reminded herself that Sir Bogard would not be there. He was like a father to her. She'd lived with him and been raised with him since she was eight years old until she was eighteen. She'd spent more of her life with Bogard than with the people of her village that she had loved so much. Kana had not forgotten him, or Willy, Lester, Caseem, Rex.....
Rex. Oh Goddess, help her, but she missed him so badly. There had been a time when she thought she was in love with him, and maybe she had been. Then was what she was doing now right?
"Yes, because I love Stroud. More than anyone I've ever loved before. Even more than Rex. More than anyone," she thought to herself. But she managed to get herself under control before she walked down the isle, and was, of course, a beautiful, breathtaking bride for the handsome, imposing husband that awaited her.
It did not take long, once the ceremony and reception were over for Dark Lord to avert Kana's attention away from her grief and onto more important matters; like being with him.
Even for all the sadness she had felt, Kana felt absolute joy wrapped in her love's embrace, and snuggled close to him all through the night. They had not slept with each other since that first night, so everything about each other was new and exciting again.
"I was surprised Julius came to the wedding," Kana admitted later.
Stroud raised an eyebrow. "I wasn't."
"Are you such good friends with him, then?"
Dark Lord, who had been writing a letter, paused. "I suppose so."
"Because.... Because, I don't know! I never really had much of anyone to talk to after Gurnda left. Then he came and we just sort of.... Clicked. It is like you and Rex. We complimented each other. We work well together."
Kana looked dejected. "I wish you wouldn't talk about Rex. It still hurts to know he isn't coming back."
Stroud put down his quill and swept his wife into his arms, sitting on the bed with her. "No more talk of that. We will change the subject. As your husband, it is my job to make you happy," he said, kissing her along her jaw bone and neck, and she smiled happily. "As ruler of Granz Realm, it is my duty to make sure that my subjects are treated fairly and that they are happy. So, subject, are you happy?"
"Quite," she sighed, laying down against him sleepily, yawning slightly.
"I suppose you are co-ruler of Granz Realm now too."
"That won't make Julius happy."
"Hang Julius, I thought we were off the subject! Let us dwell no more on that."
And they didn't. They dwelled on something else entirely.
Stroud picked up the quill that would be used to write on the "Historic Document." It was the document that would ban Heretic Hunters from use inside the Realm. The only reason Stroud hadn't signed it already was because Julius – who was being the witness – put his hand down on the paper and said "Dark Lord, stop, I wish you wouldn't do this."
Sighing gruffly, Stroud leaned back in his chair. "All right, Julius, one last chance. Why shouldn't I get rid of the Heretic Hunters."
Julius hadn't actually thought of a reason. He simply knew that abolishing Heretic Hunters was the first step to his never getting Mana Power and meeting the Goddess. So, he had to make sure the Heretic Hunters stuck around.
"They're good for morale across the Realm," he thought up quickly.
Dark Lord raised an eyebrow. "Okay..... Let's go with that argument. How is terrorizing a nation raising morale?"
"You've trained them to think that the Goddess is evil. They'll become confused if you suddenly change your mind."
Stroud simply watched the red haired man, and said nothing, thinking. "An excellent point," he allowed. "I shall rectify my wrong intentions." Julius looked extremely relieved. "I will lower the Heretic Hunters a little at a time and make long, possibly boring public speeches at the monster arena slowly shifting in to my new intentions. Sound good?"
Julius clenched his teeth. "No."
"But don't you think the nation will not be confused."
"No, they won't be confused, My Lord," he agreed sullenly.
"Good. Then problem solved, right?"
Julius muttered something.
"Yes, My Lord," he agreed unhappily, and Stroud almost burst out laughing because he saw Julius wince as he made a quick change to the document and signed it.
To Be Continued.....