The Wedding's End
It was a lovely winter evening. Shinou's Temple was aglow with the warmth of one hundred flickering candles, as was the custom for royal weddings at night. Cream, peach, black, and dark blue ribbons decorated the altar with flowing tapestries depicting Shinou's great military achievements—including the construction of Blood Pledge Castle and the temple where guests were now seated. A carpet of black crushed velvet covered the isle leading to the altar where Ulrike stood on a dais with Murata, The Great Sage, by her side.
Yuuri stood rooted to the spot, dressed in formal wear that was brought in especially for the grand occasion. He wore clothes that seemed strange to the Mazoku guests who had been expecting something more in the lines of "traditional" for their king. However, Yuuri's mother thought differently and brought the suit of clothes in a sealed plastic bag from Earth. Yuuri glanced at her on the front row along with his brother (scowling openly) and his father for support. Yuuri was wearing a peak lapel black wool tuxedo with center-vented tailcoat. Instead of the usual black bow tie, his mother chose a dark blue one that matched Wolfram's usual blue uniform. She thought it was only proper. But Günter, upon seeing it, seemed confused with the "tail" draping in the back. It was only after Jennifer explained that the coat was designed that way to make it easier for riding horseback that Günter fell in love with it as well as his monarch all over again.
A single harpist stood in the corner plucking with precision. Each string vibrated, catching Yuuri's attention. He really wanted to focus on something other than what he was going through right now. Then, his heart jumped when the small, elderly Mazoku woman stopped abruptly and played a differfent tune.
This is it!
Yuuri could feel his face flush. And he hoped that his family and the nobles didn't notice how he was behaving.
The double black glanced over to see that both Conrad and Gwendal were at his side as his groomsmen. Traditionally, their job was to sit next to their mother and lend her support in this moment where they were to literally hand their youngest over to the king. "To make him Yuuri Heika's problem," as Gwendal said smugly before the ceremony began, the trio getting dressed in one of the rooms provided by the shrine maidens. But, Yuuri had asked specifically for Conrad and Gwendal to stand by him—which aggravated Shori's brother complex—because of his least creative excuse of "nerves." (Well, that and the fact that Shori had been badgering him for the last month about why he had to get married "right now.")
The double black gave an almost terrified glance to Conrad. Any moment now, the heavy wooden doors would open and Wolfram, with his train of attendants from his elite guard, would walk through it. Günter explained to him that he should expect to see his fiancé wearing white—a symbol that Wolfram's old life was gone and a new life would begin again from this day forward. And at the reception, the blond would emerge wearing a black silk vest to show his new position in the kingdom. (A woman would have been given a black silk shawl.)
Old and new. His life changing in this moment. Yuuri had to restrain himself because he wanted to put a hand behind his head and laugh nervously. This seemed so unreal.
With a deep groan, the wooden doors opened and out stepped Greta. Yuuri felt some relief in seeing her first and dressed so prettily in her new gown—a peach colored, floor length empire design with a white rose, practically a bud, behind her right ear. Günter had explained that this "bud" was a sign that the king did not see his daughter as old enough to court and that it seemed reasonable enough because her Coming of Age party was not for some time.
Greta dropped glittered ivy leaves onto the carpet as she walked. She smiled—assuring all was well. He, in turn, beamed pure joy.
The music continued. It was both sad and sweet. Briefly, Yuuri wondered why Wolfram had chosen such a tune to announce his entrance. But, maybe, there was something traditional about that which escaped his memory. Yuuri fingered, briefly, the thin crown upon his head. A wedding crown was always of the king's choosing. And Yuuri had decided upon one that was simple, slender, and with cherry blossoms etched into the gold. (Though, of all the crowns Lady Cheri had shown him, it seemed strange that she would have one exactly to his tastes. He suspected that she'd been planning part of this wedding for years.)
Eight soldiers in dark blue dress military uniforms entered single file with glowing fireballs in their hands. These rotated slowly but the very centers were sparked with deep blue, matching the uniforms to perfection. As they neared the altar, Wolfram's attendants separated two by two—some going to Yuuri's side of the temple and others to Wolfram's.
The double black fidgeted. This was it—the beginning. He could feel his heart thumping in his chest and he prayed that he wouldn't black out. The prayer repeated in his head again and again until he saw the lone figure in the doorway.
Catching all of the shifting candlelight in the room, a blond angel's hair sparkled. Wolfram stood before them wearing a white silk tunic with a raised, stiff collar. Hand made lace was at the throat and long sleeves with five pearl buttons positioned down the front. The trousers were of similar color and straight legged and, maybe, cut just a little bit too tight in places that Yuuri didn't want to think about. Worse yet, in places Yuuri didn't want other people to think about. But, it was the white cape that made him regal. Wolfram's pearl-studded cape fastened around his shoulders and cascaded down his back, seemingly to float over the floor.
Wolfram held a modest bouquet of red roses that were taken from the royal rose garden that morning and tied with silk ribbons in white and black.
Yuuri grinned sheepishly as emerald eyes glanced at him. Yuuri's smile faded quickly enough, though, when he saw Wolfram continue—sweeping his eyes around the room. And, for the first time that evening, it occurred to him that the blond didn't want to be there.
Wolfram readjusted his features into an expression of great pride that people had naturally come to associate with the blond bishonen. He lifted his chin and pulled in a breath. He glanced at his mother, who smiled back—bursting with pride in her shockingly red dress.
Wolfram seemed fine.
But Yuuri knew better.
This felt weird. No, worse than "weird." It felt wrong somehow.
Yuuri rubbed his chin, trying to figure it out. For years, this was all that Wolfram had talked about. And he was so adamant about being in on all of the planning. The double black gave a sidelong view to Conrad and Gwendal. In fact, a really big interest. And I'm not entirely sure how I managed to get roped into doing this now, but… He turned to look at Wolfram again as the guests bowed to the handsome young man. It was something about losing Wolfram…his military career… and making him go back in disgrace to his Uncle Waltorana's castle if we didn't do this.
The blond angel approached.
It was hard not to lose his heart to the sight of Wolfram von Bielefeld walking in his direction—muted shimmers peeking out from behind the lace at his collar. How that was even possible, Yuuri didn't know. But he had never seen Wolfram looking so radiant, so fetching—far better than any woman could ever hope to be.
A dream painted in watercolors on a pearl…
Green eyes cut in Yuuri's direction. "You look good," Wolfram said flatly, barely moving his lips as he stopped by Yuuri's side. "I've never seen clothes like that before. But, good. You're handsome."
Yuuri felt his face flush at that. "T-Thanks," he returned with a slight chuckle, readjusting his crown. "You look…um…" Words escaped him.
"I appreciate it," Wolfram interrupted as almost a sigh under his breath.
There it was again. That feeling.
He took Wolfram's hand as Ulrike recited the opening greeting. It was probably something inconsequential anyway compared to how his fiancé was feeling. Nerves, maybe?
"Wolf?" Yuuri whispered.
"Hm?" The blond tried not to move his head to give the guests any indication that they were speaking.
Green eyes cut to him. "We have to stand here for the next hour and a half. Let's just get through this and we'll talk."
"Oh…okay," the double black said, both disappointed and, oddly, glad at the same time.
Wolfram bowed his head a little. "I know you want to call this off, but just tolerate it and all will become clear."
Yuuri blinked at that. What was Wolfram saying?
The blond turned, took three strides, and handed his bouquet to his mother. Then, he returned to Yuuri's side.
"Your Majesty, your vows?" Ulrike said, smiling sweetly.
Yuuri nodded. Yes, he had to say this part, didn't he? He tugged at the collar rubbing his Adam's apple. Yuuri glanced at Wolfram who had a "Get on with it, wimp" vibe in his eyes. "Okay… As the 27th Maou of Shin Makoku, I, Shibuya Yuri, accept Lord Wolfram von Bielefeld as my Prince Consort. I choose him above all others to remain by my side until we are parted by death." It was simple, short, and to the point. The best part was that Wolfram couldn't object because it was modeled after Lady Cheri's wedding vows to Gwendal's father.
Wolfram turned to Yuuri and got down on one knee as a thin crown, the same style as Yuuri's but made of silver instead of gold, was placed on his head by Gwendal. "I accept the honor." Wolfram's words were quiet, ghostly. Most likely, nobody beyond the first two rows heard a word of it.
A small bell tinkled sweetly to symbolize a spiritual bond being formed.
Wolfram stood up again and faced Ulrike and Murata.
Up until that moment, Murata's glasses held a sheen that made it impossible to see past. But, now, it was clear to Yuuri that Murata and Wolfram seemed to be speaking to each other without words. But, for the life of him, he couldn't understand why.
"May I have the rings?" Ulrike asked and Greta got up from her seat on Yuuri's side of the temple. On a ceremonial lacquer tray, she presented two bands—one silver and one gold. Once again, Yuuri had selected something simple with no adornment. But, it had been a difficult decision because he worried that Wolfram would have chosen a more elaborate set of bands.
Ulrike took a ring in each hand and raised the pair toward the ceiling. Immediately, the room burst with a silvery brightness and rainbowed spots of light appeared on the walls. The guests gasped at the wonderful blessing that Shinou had given them. Surely, this was a couple who belonged together.
Yuuri, too, was impressed and he turned to share the moment with Wolfram. Maybe, he could whisper a question. Maybe, this happened at all royal weddings. It would be great if Shinou could do this for Greta someday in the future—far, far in the future. But, Wolfram only glanced at it all with a strange expression that was something akin to being mildly impressed and solemn.
"Hands, please?" Ulrike said sweetly.
Wolfram and Yuuri placed their open palms before Ulrike and she put the appropriate ring in each hand.
"I go first," Wolfram murmured in an undertone.
Yuuri tried not to stare, but he couldn't help but study Wolfram's face. It held a childlike concentration—picking the appropriate finger and needing to do this one thing right the first time. Yuuri dearly wanted to laugh at it and, at the same time, hug Wolfram for trying to do his best.
"My turn," Yuuri said, easily selecting the appropriate slim, pale finger to place the ring on. With a little "victory" jig in his heart, he looked up into Wolfram's face only to see that his eyes and thoughts were elsewhere—staring over his shoulder at the guests assembled.
"Wolfram?" Yuuri whispered. The blond had missed it. This moment had been important. It had been. It simply had to be because he knew the bishonen so well and, now, this moment was gone forever. Why?
Wolfram turned his face back and eyed the ring owlishly. "They have to play two more songs for us and one for Shinou Heika after this next part."
Onyx eyes blinked. "Next?"
"Arms forward, please," Murata said while gathering up three ribbons—one white, one black, and one yellow gold.
Wolfram stretched his arm out and Yuuri copied the motion. He had a vague memory of Günter saying "ribbons," but had started to zone out at that moment, dreaming about lunch instead.
Murata stepped way from the altar, approached the couple, and rested Yuuri's palm on top of Wolfram's.
"As the sage, it is my honor to bind the lives of a king—and personal friend," he winked, "with the person he truly deserves." Murata looked to the crowd assembled. "But I thought this all along. You see, the journey to 'love' is difficult and complicated. It's that part of ourselves that understands and acknowledges that lives are not meant to be lived alone. Naturally, we seek out our other half, our 'split-apart,' the one who waits for us to grow into the person truly worthy when the time is right. And somehow, when love comes, we wake to realize that this other person has woven themselves into our lives and our hearts." And, with that, he draped the black ribbon down onto their wrists.
Murata turned his face up the guests again. "There is a difference between 'loving' someone and 'being in love with' someone. And 'benevolence' accompanies such devotion in both word and deed. Sometimes, sacrifices must be made in order to achieve these things. In order to achieve the greater good… But, that is the nature of love…of honor…and of duty. And that is the demand placed upon those honored with the title of 'consort'."
Yuuri swallowed thickly as the white ribbon fell across their wrists. He closed his eyes for a second and just told himself that his arm was tired. That was it. That was all.
"The yellow," Murata went on, "as all assembled knows, is a symbol of wealth. But it is also a symbol of courage."
The sage draped the ribbon, gathered the bunch up, and tied them loosely in a knot.
The harp player began again the moment Murata put his hand on top and lowered Yuuri and Wolfram's arms. "All that's left is the kiss," Murata murmured as he went back to his place by Ulrike.
"Uh…uah…umn," Yuuri uttered incoherently. He pretended to clear his throat.
Wolfram rolled his eyes. If he could have taken his hand back, he would have. But Yuuri was still holding his hand and the ribbons bound them together. Any motion at this point would have caused a scene that Günter would have loved to document for generations in the future to study.
One harped song blended into the next with, this time, a timid little strawberry-haired girl singing sweetly. Yuuri tried to focus on that. Yes, a lovely voice, he told himself. She seemed to be half Mazoku and that made him feel good. He wanted to show that he believed in the equality of people. Bigotry, in any form, was not acceptable.
He turned to Wolfram again when "Shinou's Song" began. But the blond held an expression that he could not read. There was not a blush on his face and his hand felt cold. Yuuri lowered his eyes to the black velvet carpet as Murata said something that he wasn't paying particular attention to.
Yuuri's hand got a hard squeeze and he almost yelped at it. Green eyes glared at him.
Holy cow! What did I do this time? All I did was stand here and…!
"Kiss me," Wolfram gritted out. In the span of a few short seconds, his handsome face had taken on a look of mortification. He took a few hard breaths, too.
"Eh?" Yuuri leaned in but didn't do it. He needed to hear that again because, clearly, his ears were telling lies to him.
Someone in the background, who sounded suspiciously like Lady Cheri, giggled.
"You have to kiss me," Wolfram hissed under his breath. "You have to do it to show you accept me. If not, it's all ruined."
Yuuri noted with growing alarm that the emerald eyes conveyed desperation, as though everything hinged on this one kiss. Then, instead of simply taking his lips, as Yuuri suspected he might, the blond turned his face away abruptly and anger burned through him. The double black could swear that his ribbon-tied hand was hot because the slim fingers were digging into his palm painfully with a sudden, intense burn.
Onyx eyes grew impossibly wide.
A hand against the shoulder of his tux, pushing and digging in hard.
His body fell backwards and terrified shouts from the guests followed. The din grew louder as Conrad ran down the isle, elbows pumping. Fireballs were launched at the far left corner of the hall. Cursing loudly words that should never be uttered at a wedding, Gwendal set up a barrier around Yuuri and Wolfram while Conrad unsheathed his sword and aimed it at the throat a guest who was still poised with a small, silver dagger tipped in green fluid, arm back and about to throw.
"Drop it," Conrad ordered in a tone he hadn't used since the last war.
"And you, too" one of Wolfram's men growled with his sword pointed at an usher in the far left corner of the room. This middle aged stranger held a similar dagger that he had been trying to pass to a noble woman who had, seemingly, arrived late for the ceremony.
Gwendal approached her with sword drawn. "You know what to do," he ordered to Wolfram's man and then, quickly, he scanned the rest of the dearly beloved to see if any other conspirators were among them.
The lemon haired lady threw a defiant glare at Gwendal as she was dragged away by her wrists with the two others for the palace dungeon. Their questioning would begin almost immediately.
"Exactly what is going on here?" Waltorana von Bielefeld demanded, getting up from his seat next to Lady Cheri only to see that his dear nephew was still on the carpet with his body shielding their maou.
Heart still beating hard, the blond sat up—not realizing he was straddling Yuuri in front of the whole nobility—and shook his head to clear it. He wiped his mouth on the back of his silk sleeve. During the fall, he had kissed Yuuri—which was more of a bump than a kiss. But it had happened and, most assuredly, it had been done against the double black's will. Wolfram crushed the memory into a ball and, mentally, set it on fire. He didn't need it.
Thank Shinou this is over.
Slim fingers found the ribbons and tore them away from his wrist. "We have something to explain to you all," Wolfram declared, getting off the young king beneath him.
"Something to tell us? Humph! It seems as though being on top of His Highness is nothing new," someone gossiped behind Lady Cheri. Overhearing, she smiled at that from where she sat.
Wolfram straightened the wrinkles out of his clothes as he spoke. "We had suspected for quite awhile that a small band of assassins loyal to Big Cimaron had been targeting our maou." Wolfram pointed to Yuuri who was still sitting awkwardly on the floor, as confused as the rest of the room.
"We chose this method to draw them out," Gwendal added, "but could tell no one for fear that word would get to them."
Mutterings and harsh whispers began to rise in the room like a tide. The wives and servants of the nobility were the worst of them—pretending to be speaking quietly when, in fact, that was the last thing they were doing. "How terrible!" and "We were in danger this whole time" floated to Wolfram's ears.
Gallantly, the blond offered Yuuri a hand up and immediately released it once the double black was on his feet again. He stepped forward as his uncle approached him with a loud, booming voice. "So, you would risk us all with this little charade? Or did such interests not concern you?" He made a grand, sweeping motion to the room—which played well among the nobles and their families. Someone in the back clapped.
But, Wolfram would have none of it. He'd done enough—played his part to perfection—and he wasn't in the mood.
"Explain to me, uncle, just who you think you are?"
The heated words earned gasps of astonishment and the room immediately quieted down with Wolfram's glare that swept the room.
The fact that von Bielefelds argued was nothing new. It was in their natures as fire wielders. But, to do so out in the open and in Shinou's temple—a near god that Wolfram resembled so closely that it was, at times, disconcerting—bordered on blasphemy.
"Who, in this room is more important…more powerful than the Maou?" He gestured to Yuuri but, then, upstaged him—walking in a trudge towards his flamboyant uncle. "Let me tell you, then, if you've forgotten. That man is your king! And you will fight for him…and die for him…if you have to!" His voice was reaching a crescendo. And he didn't care who heard him. All of those years of throwing tantrums were about to pay off. "His life was in danger and I stood right beside him! I was prepared to take the blow for him and die in his place…a hundred times over, if need be!" He rounded on the older man, forcing his father's brother to visibly take a step backwards. "And any Mazoku man or woman here…who would not do the same…cannot call himself or herself… a noble!"
"Would anyone disagree with my brother's statement?" Gwendal asked in a much more subdued tone. He could tell that Yuuri was about to open his mouth with a wimpy suggestion but flashed an angry "shut up" stare and the double black clamped his mouth shut.
"Of course not," Waltorana conceded in a flustered way but folded his arms against his chest to show that he was still not satisfied.
"Then, we are all in agreement!" Lady Cheri chirped, standing up and placing a friendly hand on Waltorana's shoulder. "And, that means that we all need food and drinks in The Grand Ballroom." She waved happily to one of the ushers. "Please show everyone the way to the reception."
With a brief nod, the mousy brown haired Mazoku in his rich, fine clothes opened the door and made a grand bow.
Somewhat subdued now that the drama was over, the nobles and other guests filed out—mingling with each other and cheering up slightly at the thought of refreshments.
"Mother," Wolfram said, making her pause. Her eyes, to anyone else, would seem to hold the usual bright and happy glow. But, Wolfram guessed that this day was nothing that she's hoped for. Once again, the blond Mazoku felt that he'd failed. Didn't every mother dream of seeing her son's wedding? She did. He knew she did.
With ease, he passed his fingers over the pearl studded clasps at his shoulders and released the white cape. "This is yours, I believe. Thank you for loaning me Grandfather's cape. I appreciate it." With care, he passed the precious cape from his arms to his mother's—as though handing her a small child.
"Thank you." She kissed his cheek instead of crushing his face into her chest—the usual greeting or parting gesture. But, she did hand him the bouquet of flowers back as a parting gesture.
"I'm sorry," Wolfram whispered to himself, the hand with the flowers dangling low. What a nightmare this was.
The blond turned to see the remaining group standing behind him. Wolfram told himself that if he could just get through the next five minutes, he'd allow himself to vent his feelings—some way, somehow—alone, in private.
Ulrike bowed slightly and followed the group out. That left Conrad, Gwendal, Murata, Shori, Yuuri, and Yuuri's parents. Jennifer gave Wolfram a pleased expression. The white night had saved her little Yuu-chan. Yuuri's mother clasped her hands to her chest. But this gave no comfort to Wolfram. Instead, his lips formed a straight line.
"Interesting way to get married, huh?" Murata said, stepping to Wolfram's side to inspect the ring more closely.
"What are you saying?" Wolfram growled defensively.
The sage's glasses flashed and Yuuri could feel himself getting queasy at it because there was trouble ahead. He just knew it.
"Well," the sage pointed to the ring on Wolfram's left hand, "this was a wedding and you did get married."
Wolfram's emerald eyes grew wide and he shook his head in disbelief. "No! Back in the beginning, we all agreed that this was just a trick to get the assassins to make their move." He pointed to Yuuri with an index finger. "Nobody would really be getting married. It was staged! A fake!"
Murata laughed nervously. "I'm sorry to say this, but…it's all quite legal. Right before entering this room, you signed the forms as did Shibuya."
"That woman with the yellow hair was loitering in the hallway. How could I not?!" Wolfram raked his fingers through his blond hair.
"And…" Murata was enjoying this part immensely "…You exchanged rings, were tied with ribbons…kissed." He just had to emphasize the accidental lip lock that happened once the couple fell to the floor.
"No," Wolfram breathed, doubling over slightly with his hand over his heart. It was beating so hard. "No…no…no!"
"Wolf…ram?" Yuuri said in a worried tone, moving over to place a hand on the blond's lower back.
Hard emerald eyes shot to him. "How can you say that, Yuuri?" Wolfram sounded almost bloodthirsty.
He blinked back. "Well…I…uh…"
"This wedding was a mistake!" Wolfram's right hand was lowered at his side, fisting the flowers to the point that a thorn pricked his thumb. "Our engagement was a mistake!" He turned to look Yuuri directly in the face. "WE ARE A MISTAKE!"
Wolfram was breathing hard by the time his own words hit him. Worst of all, he was absolutely right. Looking up and to the right, the blond bishonen could see Shori's face. This soon-to-be King of Earth was in total agreement with his words. Without scanning the faces of those around him, Wolfram knew that they probably held the same opinions.
The fool in this situation was the idiot standing with a bouquet of wedding flowers.
They probably pitied him.
"Wolfram, I…" Yuuri tried but the blond stepped away. He held the bouquet up in the air in the hopes that Shinou, that sorry bastard who shared his face, would see. With a devilish forced-smirk and eyes pricking with tears, he set the flames to it—the black and white ribbons flew up and burned in a heartbeat and the baby's breath around the edge of the flowers took flame after that. The red roses, still fresh, smoldered for awhile before the petals turned black and curled inwards on themselves.
Wolfram tossed the remains to the floor and stomped out the flames with a foot.
"I won't accept it. We are not married!"
His face looked angry, wild, dangerous—only a thin layer of control brushed across his features.
Ruined. Everything was ruined. He'd waited so long for Yuuri to come to him. To want him. He would have waited his whole life for the double black to have accepted their relationship and accepted their lives together. It wasn't sex that Wolfram wanted so badly. It was intimacy—for Yuuri to share that small, precious part of himself, his soul, that no one else could ever touch. To share that. To share life. Wolfram knew better than anyone, as a soldier, that life had the illusion of permanence—of stability. But, it wasn't really like that. "Life," often, was fragile and "hope" was a thread.
"I think you should all go to the reception and hold the hand of the noble class," Wolfram said with anger still burning in his eyes. "…See this play to the final curtain, why don't you…?" He turned abruptly and stormed his way to the door.
"Wolfram? Where are you going?" Gwendall called to his back. He couldn't believe that his brother was being so childish when the situation called for calm and levelheaded thinking. Of course both Wolfram and Yuuri had to appear at their own reception. What excuse could they give otherwise?
With heavy steps, the blond kept walking in the direction of the open door. "Me?" he returned. "I'll go back to the castle, too, and get…blissfully, blissfully drunk. Goodnight, all."