Well folks, this is it. The culmination of this fic. This fanfic has taken countless hours of research and has been a real labour of love (no, really, I'm not kidding). It represents three months, over three hundred cups of tea, a tattoo on my back and my enrolment in university. This chapter alone has taken seven hours of research and requires no fewer than twenty-eight citations (none of which are websites) and was fuelled by about seven cups of tea. I have researched titles, crowns, climates, dragons, spells, tribes, swords, clothes, beldams, nagas, speech patterns, regional accents, appropriate jewellery and customs to name but a few.
I would like to thank my mom and dad, who helped me research this (and who will never, ever read it)and who just happen to have volumes on the history of weaponry and the treasures of Great Britain in the living room, my sister, who got so bored with me rattling on about it that she started humming whenever I opened my mouth. My lovely girlfriend for advice on writer's block. Woodbyne, for letting me ramble and insisting that I write and posting when I capped my internet – as I have done now. To every single person who read or reviewed this story, you give me the support to keep writing. And last, but certainly not least, Anon007, without whom this story would never have existed in the first place. This was not what I expected when I told her I took requests. I regret nothing. I hope I haven't disappointed.
"I do hate parties," Alfred moaned as Amelia rifled through his wardrobe – she had insisted on making sure that he was presentable. He hadn't objected because he knew full well that in his present state, he was as likely to make an effort as he was to get struck by lightning on this clear summer's day.
"Suck it up, Al, we haven't had this many royals floating about the palace since ever, so you might as well enjoy it," the princess said, throwing a pair of hose at him. They matched the shirt she'd thrown in his direction a few minutes earlier, not quite white, more of a cream colour. They were nice, all in all, but Alfred didn't really care.
"We're only missing the one that counts," he mumbled, fingers drawing idle patterns on the bed sheets.
"For goodness sake, Alfred, your 'Oh, Woe is me, myself and I' attitude is getting seriously old," she sniffed, pulling a red doublet out of the wardrobe, "How about this one?"
Looking up, the prince wrinkled his nose. Red and gold were the colours of their court, but for some reason the red, at least, had never looked as good on him as it did on Amelia, and certainly not in a full doublet. There was so much more to be said for dresses.
"Yeah, somehow I didn't think so," A sly smile lifted the corners of her mouth, "Oh my God, Al, I know just the thing!" turning her back to him, the princess once more began to root through his clothes, half falling into the carved wooden container, her petticoats visible as she tipped slowly over.
As if by magic, she righted herself and turned around, a grin on her face and a pale blue doublet in her hands. It wasn't something Alfred had seen amongst his clothes before, and he suspected that she might have made it especially for the party.
"How did you know that was my favourite colour?" he asked teasingly, eyes running appraisingly over the gold trim and the faint, slightly darker pattern of vines that decorated the sleeves.
"Because you won't shut up about it," Amelia answered cheerily, flinging the garment at him, only to have a waistcoat appear in her hands almost immediately. This one was the same cream as the shirt, but it was covered in the same pattern of vines as the sleeves of the doublet, only this time in gold. This too, she lobbed at his face before wriggling in her skirts and heading for the door,
"Uncle Ali's going to come in in a minute and help you dress," she said, patting her brother's head as she passed, "I've left your ornaments out, too, don't forget your sword. I have to change out of this stupid hoop skirt. That's one good thing I can say for occasions like this. Dad gets all traditional." Amelia giggled, and was gone.
Sitting up, Alfred sighed and stood. Sometimes he did wonder why it was that he couldn't get dressed himself – it would be quicker, for one thing – but Arthur had given him such a talking to about the honours of dressing royalty that he hadn't raised the subject again.
Thankfully, most of the servants were busy today, so it was only his manservant, Toris, Uncle Ali and a few others who weren't needed elsewhere.
Alfred kept his eyes to the ceiling, as co-operative as he possibly could be, as he was stripped down and redressed. Up until six months prior, he had felt no shame in this morning ritual. But now he couldn't help but think of Matthew, and wondered vaguely if he was betraying his beloved Gaul.
"Och, lad ye be lookin' bonny an' braw," Alistair smiled fondly, straightening the shoulders of Alfred's doublet as the servants filed silently out of the room.
"Ah see nae reason fir me tae be fancied up like a fair-day nag," the prince grumbled as a heavy gold collar was settled about his shoulders.
"Dinnae fash yerself, laddie," the Highlander shrugged, "Sometimes ye just hae tae follow yer gaes and see where it takes ye."
"Follow my gaes?" the blond asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Aye, yer gaes… yer fate, Ah guess," Alistair's expression was still nonchalant and Alfred's frown deepened.
"Uncle Alistair," he said with uncharacteristic severity, "Why would I have to follow my fate at a party?
"Nae reason a'tawl, laddie," the redhead said blithely, fastening the young Celt's belt and straightening the scabbard of his sword, "Ah was just gabbing, ye ken?"
Next was Alfred's coronet, a heavy gold band, about an inch wide that never failed to exacerbate the fact that his hair stood up in places that it shouldn't. Amelia was much luckier with hers. After that it was arm bands; beaten and etched, they were pushed up over the sleeves of his doublet to just above his bicep on both sides.
"An that 'un's mine, ye ken? Dinnae lose it, Ah want it back," Alistair stood back to admire his good work.
"This is a ball," Alfred was staring into space, "Dad's trying to find some princess for me to marry so that I can't be with Mattie. Uncle Ali, he can't do this! I won't, I won't I won't!"
"I said dinnae fash yerself," the Highlander repeated, two hands landing heavily on the prince's shoulders, his face stern beneath his ceremonial swirls of blue wode, "Ah wouldnae put it past yer Pa tae do sommat like that. But I ken he kens what he's doin. Ah trust him, an sae should ye."
"Yeah, I'm not so sure about that," the Celtic prince muttered, looking shiftily around the room, feeling more weighed down by his finery than he ever had in armour.
"Lessee," Alistair muttered, more to himself that Alfred, "Auld, new, borrowed, blue, ah!" rummaging in a deer-pelt pouch, he pulled put a silver coin and flipped it into one of the prince's shoes. He then produced a tiny, red silk square and tossed it into the other one, "That aught tae do the trick."
"What the hell?" the blond was getting more and more confused by the minute, but despite his further inquiries, the Highlander ignored him, simply putting the finish touches on him and steering the prince out of his chambers and through the palace.
"You really are quite a looker," the same girl as before lead Matthew through the crowded hall and up to a raised dais at the far end, "But you should smile more."
The Gaul tugged nervously at the dark blue sleeve of his doublet, internally thanking the smith back at his home castle who had tightened the silver coronet he was wearing; it had always been a bit too big, "Much thanks to you, milady, tis most gracious of you to offer such compliments, and I shall make note of your suggestion at once," he intoned, largely distracted by where she was leading him, "Had my father informed me that he was to be a groomsman, I should not have so readily agreed to his request."
"Maybe so, maybe not," the girl said ambiguously, moving to the other side of the alter and pulling a tiara from a standing floral arrangement, frowning his puzzlement, Matthew turned his face back to the other end of the hall, where the doors were closing and all the guests were settling down. As his eyes roamed, they alighted on familiar faces. Why, at least half of the Gaulish court had to be there…
"Ah, Matthieu, you were but a hair from late, mon fils!" a quietly excited voice whispered in his ear. Francis stood beside him in full royal regalia.
"Papa?" the confused prince asked, "Prithee what madness unfolds? I am escorted here by a princess to replace you, only to find you by my side and-" Matthew's eyebrows shot up as he noticed the man standing just beyond his father.
"Père, what is the meaning of-?"
And then the doors opened.
"He's awl yers, Arthur," Alistair sighed, giving Alfred a little push towards his father and walking off.
"Dad, what's the meaning of all this?" Arthur, too was done up to the nines in royal finery, this time in the Celtic colours of red and gold. His own crown was heavy, Alfred knew from his time spent playing with it as a child, but the green-eyed man wore it with sombre sovereignty.
"Nothing to worry about, Alfred," the king smiled, his lips pursed as though he were biting something back, and from the look on his face, it might have been tears, "You know I love you, son, don't you. I know that it might not seem like it at times. Being a single parent is difficult. But I love you, and I only want what's best for you."
"That's really not helping. I'm actually a little bit afraid now," the prince leant away some, but Arthur pulled him back, fussing over his collar and his hair.
"Don't be. This is a day to be happy," carefully he opened a dark wood box that had been sitting on a low, carved table. Out of it, he produced a thick rope of plaited gold; it was twisted into a circle, almost but not quite fully closed. Under closer inspection, the ends of the rope were made of many tiny, spidery gold suns, their fiery rays melding into the rope. Reverentially, Arthur raised the torque and settled it around his son's neck, "Usually, there would be a little more ceremony, but we find ourselves to be short of time."
"Dad? I love you, too, but can you please tell me what's- "
And then the doors opened.
Alfred hissed in surprise. He drew himself back and hissed.
After a moment of realising that everyone in the hall was staring at him, he calmed down enough to take a look at his surroundings. This was a wedding. He was dressed up to the nines for a wedding in which he appeared to be the bride.
He was a split second from turning to his father, throwing the torque in his face and storming out when he saw who was standing at the altar.
"Mattie," he breathed, his whole face lighting up. Ecstatic, he turned to his father, who was smiling fondly and holding out his arm, "Dad…"
"Let's go Alfred. Don't keep him waiting," Arthur still looked like he was choking back emotion.
"Thank you. Dad, thank you so much," it was all Alfred could do to stop his smile wobbling.
Minstrels in the gallery above them began to play and sing, a slow, sombre tune. Taking the King's arm, the prince began the walk up the aisle. His legs felt completely boneless and if it hadn't been for Arthur beside him, he might have fallen over. Arthur felt the exact same way.
Once they reached the dais, the music stopped, and with a visible reluctance, the King of Albion left his son to stand at the head of the hall. He cleared his throat, and all eyes turned to him. If anything could be said for Arthur Kirkland, it was that he had a remarkable authorative presence.
"Friends, welcome. We are here today to celebrate the union of two men. Two kingdoms. Two souls who have found each other. On this day we have gathered to witness their bond under the most sacrosanct of vows; that of matrimony. On this day, the Crown Prince of Gaul wishes to be bound in wedlock, who will stand for him?" It was a ritual as old as time, and one that Alfred had witnessed time and time again, but he couldn't help but feel that he was dreaming. It was too good to be true. Matthew couldn't possibly be standing across from him, holding his hand, smiling so wide his cheeks must ache.
"Will stand for my Lord," A familiar voice rang from beside Matthew. Alfred couldn't be bothered to check, but it sounded like Gilbert.
"And who are you to stand for him?" Arthur challenged.
"I am Gilbert Beilschmidt, General of the Gaulish Sovereign Army and best man of my Lord," the Visigoth's voice rang loud and clear through the hall.
"My Lord is heir to the Kingdom of Gaul, whose lands extend far across the seas. He has much land and riches to offer; a life of comfort and security. He is skilled with both sword and glave and is well equipped to defend his intended. He has both honour and glory, a valiant fighter he has thrice lead an army to battle and thrice lead it to victory. I say let him be wed if he should wish it so. He will a fine husband make." Gilbert sounded like he was gloating, but that might just have been his usual tone of voice.
Arthur nodded and continued, "On this day the Prince of Albion wishes to be bound in wedlock. Who will stand for him?"
"I shall speak for my brother," a woman's voice rang out from behind Alfred, and he would have been tempted to swivel and gawp at Amelia had he been able to tear his eyes away from Matthew.
"And who are you to stand for him?"
"I am Crown Princess Amelia of Albion, sister to the Prince and next in line to the throne," she was never going to get sick of throwing that line around. Ever. Not until she was crowned Queen.
"Then speak," for a moment, Arthur's voice wavered, but was quickly righted.
"My brother, too has lands to offer; the Duchy of Montana and the Fiefdom of York. He is greatly skilled with swords and lances. He has the gift of tongues and is peerless in his needlework. He has fought in a score of battles and emerged victorious in all. He has a gift for healing and for defeating beasts of lore. I say let him be wed if that is what he wishes; he will make a fine consort," Amelia, too, sounded more smug than she had any right to.
"Then is there any present who would object to the joining of these two hearts?" For all his own obvious reluctance to the whole ordeal, the King of Albion was subconsciously daring anyone in the hall to say anything that might so much as delay the wedding by a minute.
The silence that filled the huge room was profound. No one moved. No one blinked, just in case blinking might be seen as an objection.
"Then do you, Matthew, Crown Prince of Gaul take Alfred as your Prince Consort?" again, Arthur's voice challenged the Gaul to say anything that wasn't yes, "In sickness and in health, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, so long as you both shall live?"
"I do," Matthew whispered fervently, his fingers squeezing tightly around Alfred's, indigo eyes never leaving sky blue, "Until death do us part and the next life reunites us. For as long as my soul shall be, I do."
"And do you, Alfred, Prince of Albion, take Matthew as your husband?" This time the king spoke with an undercurrent of 'you can say no if you want to', "In sickness and in health, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, so long as you both shall live?"
"I do, oh Mattie, I do. Forever and ever, I on my soul I do swear it!" Alfred's proclamation of love was much louder than Matthew's but neither seemed to notice or care. The Celtic king handed them a silver chalice of wine and a rosemary wand, and the Gaulish prince looked more than a little confused before Alfred dipped the plant into the drink. He took Matthew's hand and put it to the stem of the cup while he drank, keeping g his hand there when the other prince drank. Arthur relieved them of their goblet.
Reluctantly letting go of the Gaul's hand, Alfred mashed his lips together to stop himself snickering and carefully paced around his bridegroom seven times. It was the dumbest marriage ritual his father had ever told him about, and he had always scoffed at it, but he saw no reason why a little extra protection couldn't be afforded.
"Then as High King of Albion, I hereby pronounce you wed, and let no man tear this sacred bond asunder," he scrunched up his eyes, "You may kiss the Prince."
Matthew's pale hand caressed Alfred's tan cheek and another moment of silence passed between them before Alfred threw his arms around the Gaul's neck and kissed him full on the lips. Their mouths laughed, their noses bumped and the hall exploded into whoops and cheers.
The wedding party was in full swing. Food and drink eased conversation between the Gauls and the Celts and aside from a few creative interpretations; they seemed to be getting along quiet well. The dance floor was closely packed with people twirling in a complicated reel.
Alfred and Matthew were tucked into a corner, laughing and kissing, and seeming to be trying to teach each other dances from their respective Kingdoms, the fact that they had their arms around each other's waists making it difficult. Alistair popped up beside them and demonstrated a Highland jig. They tried to imitate him, only to trip over each other's feet and fall about laughing.
Arthur sipped on a goblet of wine, watching the scene unfold with a mixture of fondness and sadness. He had known that he would have to lose his children, but he had hoped that it wouldn't be so soon.
"Miserly though it may be of me, I do envy my son," Francis sighed. When he had appeared there, Arthur wasn't sure, and whether he was miffed at having his solitude he wasn't sure either. Perhaps if it hadn't been the Gaul, he might have been.
"Oh? You would begrudge your own child on his wedding day?" the other king said, taking another sip and sighing.
"He has the heart and hand of the one he loves, whereas I have only memories and idle fantasy. Those shall fade eventually," Francis' tone was so melancholy, longing for his lost love that Arthur was quite surprised that it wasn't sympathy that rocketed, red-hot and burning, through him. It was envy. Envy for a dead woman, which was completely irrational.
"I'm sure your Madeline would want you to find another love," the green-eyed King did his best to sound sympathetic.
"And so she would. And she would have loved to be here on her Matthieu's wedding day. He has her eyes. But her blessing amounts to nothing much when the man I love will not reciprocate my affections," the other man sighed, and Arthur wished the man who made Francis so forlorn was standing there, so that he could run him through.
"And who is it that spurns your attentions?"
"The father of the Prince Consort," Francis said, quaffing his own wine and pointedly looking anywhere but at Arthur.
The Celt blinked, and scowled. Looking around, he grabbed a decorative ribbon off the wall and seized the other King's hand.
"That won't do," Arthur grumbled, wrapping the ribbon about their hands while Francis looked on in mute bemusement. When he had a satisfactory knot, the Celt looked around for one of the floral arrangements, using his free hand to snag some of the uglier members of the botanical world and throw them to the floor in front of them.
"Yarrow… broom…marjoram… That should do it. When I say three, we jump over this, alright? One, two," Francis wouldn't have believed that Arthur looked nervous if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes, "Three." Feeling rather stupid, the Gaul jumped over the pile of foliage with the Celt.
"Prithee, cher, what was the purpose of tha-?" his words were cut short when Arthur kissed him.
"We're married now," the High King said as he pulled away, his face getting redder and redder with every word, "If you want to be. It only works if you want to be married. Not our Kingdoms or anything, mind you, just us."
"And this is an official?" Francis asked, sceptically eyeing the mess of leaves and flowers they had leapt across.
"I am the bloody High King of Albion, I am wearing this sodding crown and I have pronounced us married," Arthur said, the twitch of his lips betraying his otherwise stern face, "How much more official do you need it to be?"
"Such romance, Arthur," the Gaul smiled, leaning in to kiss the other king properly.
"When I had set out to find myself a bride, I had not anticipated this," Matthew murmured, his face pressed close to Alfred's as they held each other close, watching their wedding party dissipate.
"Me neither. Did you know that they were planning this?" the other blond asked, feeling happier than he had done in months.
"I had not an inkling of the plot. Though I must say, it was rather well carried out," he smiled, kissing Alfred's cheek, his nose, his forehead, any skin he could reach.
"It was. After all that time searching for a queen, I hope you're not disappointed in your new consort?" Alfred chuckled as he rubbed their noses together.
"I could find no disappointment in the love of my Prince Bride," Matthew said, kissing his consort square on the lips. Since the invention of kissing, there have been six kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. And this one left them all behind.
And they all lived happily ever after.