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Lokkir Hrodvar Vardaskr
First Prince of Hudvalr



For a day that was supposed to be one of rampant celebration and wanton jubilation, a day that was supposed to be one of the happiest of Lokkir's life, had been anything but. A momentous occasion to be sure, but to call it anything more would have been unjust.

The first problem had arisen early in the morning when the Glorious Brotherhood of Dragons of Paragon Askr in Hudvalr (or the Royal Dragonknights to those who spoke with any amount of common sense) had loudly announced the royal presence of the house Vardaskr to the entire town of Caenfleur, as they were often wont to do. Lokkir had advised not bringing along the Foppish Fraternity of Dragons of course, but seeing as how today was supposed to be the first official public gathering from both nations, his father, the king, had all but demanded so as a show of force. To be fair, it was supposed to be more as a reminder to those who still opposed the peace in the Kingdom of Hudvalr just who was still the highest authority in the land.

Regardless of whatever reason it may be however, the resulting panic that spread throughout Caenfleur should have surprised no one. Dragons were a rare sight in Hudvalr, rarer still if one did not live near the Royal Palace. In fact, the dragons who chose to ally with Hudvalr often only ever allowed the royal family to ride them (with very rare exceptions), so despite the name even the Pompous Party of Dragons could be seen more often riding with a company of wyverns than true, actual dragons. Thus the only ones who were actually used to a dragon's presence were either already riding in with them, or were more used to the death and destruction that were left in their wake. Considering the Treesong War had only just ended a scant eight months ago and the infamous Burning of Etanclif only two months prior to that, it was understandable then why the city below seemed to freeze before erupting like a drowning anthill with the sudden appearance of not just one, but three dragons alongside a veritable devastation of wyverns.

Luckily, important figures from both kingdoms had been slowly trickling in throughout the month, and with them usually were their own personal guards, many of whom being well-storied veterans of the recent conflict. Thus with the security put in place earlier in anticipation for the wedding and the help provided and led by the nobles already in the city, the situation was put under control before it further spiraled, which was further mollified by an earlier start to the donations of food and drink by the more altruistic merchants than was scheduled.

That still led to the streets being congested much earlier than expected, but in a different way. Of course, riding on a dragon allowed at least the royal family and their personal guard to avoid all of the traffic, but most of their retainers had to be left behind, as they had no choice but to go around the city and towards the manor that lay on its far outskirts.

And then no sooner had Lokkir's feet touched the ground was he whisked off deep inside the bowels of his new home in preparation for the rest of the day. Hair had to be done, bindings had to be set properly, clothes had to be organized, and an innumerable host of other issues had to be taken care of before the ceremonies could even start. Lokkir was thankful that at least the traditional Hudvalr wedding attire was loose and allowed for some breathing room, unlike all the tight clothing with all its belts and cinches that was steadily becoming the regular fashion lately. An influence from their new allies, and a reaction for all the fighting men who could fight no more perhaps, Lokkir mused, as his body was pulled this way and that.

The only respite he received was when he was thankfully allowed to at least put on his own undergarments. The only person who was in the room with him, and the only one of his sisters that dared speak to him despite their father's strict orders, was Alfi. She was the youngest of his elder sisters, being only a year older than him, though out of all their siblings she was the tallest. They stood silent for some time as she helped Lokkir tie everything into place until she asked the question that he had been anticipating the entire time: "So what are you going to tell her little Loki," she said flawlessly in the language of their new allies.

"I don't know yet, little Alfi. I shall move-, I will venture-, ... I'll decide when I reach that point," he replied in a much more accented tongue. She breathed a little huff, gave one last pull, and then turned him around to look at him with a critical eye. He could never meet her gaze whenever she did that.

And then she pulled him into a tight hug. "You'll always be family," she whispered in their native Hudvalri. Lokkir could only autonomously nod and give her a weak embrace in response before she pulled them away from each other. She gave him an affectionate tousle of his head that he swatted away with much less of his usual annoyance before she left.

After that, the nonstop preparations began once more.

Of course behind all this, the meetings between the two nations continued behind closed doors, the negotiations between them still nowhere to be finished. The king sometimes came in to check in on Lokkir and sometimes he'd be happy, other times he looked furious, but he always had a drink in hand. No different than the people already celebrating, Lokkir supposed.

Finally, at the zenith of the afternoon, with the sun burning high above them did the ceremonies begin. It had been decided that the two nations would hold two ceremonies so that each nation could observe their own customs, with each nation wearing their own traditional garb. The purpose was to promote cultural sharing between the two nations was the official reason, but really it was probably more because neither side really wanted to learn the other's traditions, with the only people expected to know being the bride and the groom, although the fact that it also allowed for double the reason to drink was probably a bigger contributor.

Lokkir for his part was dressed in a multicolored robe reaching down to his feet of layered reds, purples, yellows, and greens that represented his family history. Overlaid that was a loose black jacket, his hair similarly dyed to show purity and singular devotion. A single braid along his shaved scalp tied off with an aetheric ash bead served as one further reminder of his royal lineage. The ceremony itself mostly consisted of a recitation of vows and oaths, the tying of the knot, an aetheric light show to show the proof of the gods' favor, and ending off with a kiss. There was also the gift of the shawl, made with aether thread and dyed similarly to his robe and given to the bride to show that she was a part of his family now. All the guests had to do for the most part was to stand quietly, dress nicely (with most of the Hudvalr guests dressed in their furs), perhaps aid in the aetheric light show a bit, and then drink heavily afterward.

There was a brief respite allowed between the two ceremonies to allow for all the guests to relax and breathe before the next one started, though Lokkir remembered very little of what went on during the second ceremony.

What was memorable however was the after party. There was of course much fighting to be had with feats of strength and magic being a popular pastime for the Hudvalr, wrestling both with physical bodies and animated dolls being one of the most favored. There was also a number of fights to be had between the two nations that promised to be much less amicable, but luckily all of them were prevented before they could become an international incident. Between playing host and mediator and all the drinks that lay in between, it was a wonder that Lokkir and his new bride stayed on their feet as long as they did before everything started to slow down and everybody started retiring into the manor, the new couple not excluded.

However, there was still one last thing that Lokkir had to do with his bride before they could get their much-deserved rest. The king of Hudvalr likely wouldn't let him sleep otherwise unless he gave a satisfactory performance anyway, and Lokkir knew his little wyrmlings would be listening.

Still, it was something that he didn't look forward to, and it seemed his newfound bride was of like mind as they slowly padded their way through the manor. He took this time to try and appreciate the new manor in which they'd be living in, but the more he examined it the more uncomfortable he felt. The manor itself was large and spacious enough, true, but everything about the architecture just seemed to be... wrong. There were parts were he recognized and seemed almost familiar to him: the large sweeping hallways and doorways, the open space with the small intricate detailings, the spirit motifs and the stories carved into the wood. But then there were some parts that almost looked like if someone had reached into Lokkir's memory of what a building should look like and then tweaked it just a tiny bit to where it was still recognizable, but clearly not Hudvalr. There were some parts of the manor that seemed completely alien to Lokkir entirely.

What he disliked most of all however, was the energy that flowed through the building. It hummed yes, positively thrumming with power, that much was evident by how it lit and spread warmth throughout, but that was it. There was no life to it, no soul, no history to tell like the aether he wielded, that he practically swam in back in Hudvalr. The energy was like a homunculus, a pale imitation of the real object that could only follow strict orders and nothing outside of those.

The feeling stayed with him up all the way until the new couple reached the room, upon which it was replaced with an entirely different uncomfortable feeling. As Lokkir opened the door to let his new bride in, his sister's words flashed again inside his head as he walked in after his bride and closed the door, letting it slowly click into place. Taking a deep breath and only hesitating for just a moment more, in her native tongue he said "Before we do anything, I need to show you something. Don't say anything until I'm finished." And then almost as an afterthought, he added, "Please."

And then slowly, nervously, he began to strip off his clothing. One by one, the pieces began to fall down onto the floor until all that was left was his underwear, and the cloth that had covered his chest and held in his shame. Then that too, came off.

With arms wrapped tightly around his breasts as if still trying to hide them, and a gaze that would look at anywhere but his bride, it was then he realized just how cold it was inside their room.
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Aeris’ eyes narrowed, and a scowl formed on her lips. From a window, high up in the mansion that was now to be her home, she watched a parade of dragons make their way towards the building. It was a grotesque display of arrogance and power. Aeris pointed two mechanical fingers, mimicking a gun, at the unsuspecting figures below, and closed one eye as if to take aim.

Bang. She muttered under her breath. It was fortunate that she was alone in the room and that the people sat astride the great, scaly beasts could not see her from this distance. It was hardly an appropriate action, to mime a sniping, for a bride to take against her future husband. Or for the Qaeltine Princess to take against the Kingdom’s new, supposed allies.

Her brother, the holy priest, would have berated her, saying that the state of the country was too fragile for such childish aggressions. The peace treaty was balanced on a knife edge, and any slight might be enough to tip the two Kingdoms back in to bloody war.

But Xeriph had always been a better diplomat than either Aeris or their other brother, her twin, Aerin. Aeris had always felt he was wasted as the youngest child, rather than the one who would, in time, take the helm of the country. Aeris knew Qaeltine would flourish under Xeriph’s rule; he would secure peace and prosperous trade. He was the King Who Was Never Meant to Be.

Instead, the duty fell to Aeris. Even if she and Aerin had both abdicated, paving the way for Xeriph, he could not, and would not, take the throne. Xeriph was married to the Gods and he would claim he had no role in bringing Qaeltine into a golden age. It was not his fate or destiny, he was state, as if the future were a simple matter of fact and not lined with cut throat politics and warfare.

Aeris put a hand, her organic one, to her forehead with a sigh. She was a natural born leader when it came to the battlefield; less so in the courts. Aeris had yelled and screamed and cried, acting most unladylike when she had been informed of the role she was to play in the peace between Qaeltine and Hudvalr. She had begged her mother, the ruling Queen, to find another solution, but Kelis had been adamant. Kelis was a loving mother, if somewhat absent in the advent of her taking the throne, but her duty to the Kingdom had always come before all else, including her children.

Aeris did not believe the marriage would secure anything but unhappiness for herself. She was sure the civilians of both Kingdoms would see it as little more than pomp and ceremony, a flimsy union built on desperation and falsehoods. Even if, somehow, this marriage was the key to long lasting peace between the Kingdoms, she was the wrong person for it. Unfortunately, she was the only one; Aerin was already married to another noble, Xeriph to the Gods and Kelis, widowed many years ago, refused to take another husband, claiming it would disrupt the already delicate power dynamics in play.

There was a gentle knock at the door, jolting Aeris from her thoughts. She looked up, uttering a frustrated,

“Come in.”

The door open and Aerin stepped in. Her twin, her best friend, her comrade. Her Demon Knight. Aeris stepped up and the pair embraced.

“Ah, Aeris, you look…” Aerin faltered for words, a grin playing on his lips. Aeris gave a huff of annoyance.

“Ridiculous. I look ridiculous, Aerin,” she shot back, eliciting a laugh from the other. There were to be two wedding ceremonies held today, one of Hudvalr and the other Qaeltine. Aeris was dressed in a long, flowing robe in jewel tones; the traditional wedding garb of the opposing nation. It was too loose, offering no support, and Aeris felt she was drowning in the fabric every time she made to move.

“Maybe, sister dear, but you also look beautiful,” Aerin leant forward to place a gentle kiss on his twin’s forehead. “What you are doing today? I know it is not easy for you; but it is a great thing.” Aeris folded her arms, looking away.

“Time will tell,” she responded flatly. Aerin offered her a sympathetic smile.

“Come on now. I have been told to fetch you for some of the preparations,” he paused, a mischievous glint in his eye, “if nothing else, there will be plenty to drink.”

Aeris laughed then, for what felt like the first time since this marriage had been arranged. Taking Aerin’s arm, she allowed herself to be led from the room and towards what was the mark the beginning of the rest of her life.

★·.·´¯`·.·★


The rest of the day passed in a busy blur. Aeris spoken with so many people, some she knew and others she had never seen before, that she felt her throat might give out before the day was done. She was pushed from place to place with barely a moment to breath. The only constant was Aerin who, as promised, ensured there was a steady supply of drink for her.

The first ceremony, the Hudvalr one, was the first time Aeris met her husband. Lokkir, was his name and Aeris noted with some interest the prosthetic eye, which bore the clear hallmarks of Qaeltine design. The ceremony itself was simple enough, although Aeris faltered over the vows spoken in a non-native tongue. She disliked the gaudy display that followed, with its dazzling array of aetheric lights.

It reminded Aeris far too much of the displays of arcane power she had encountered in the field.

Aeris was relieved, however, when it came time to prepare for the second ceremony and change into Qaeltine attire. Even though she had never worn these particular garments on, they felt familiar and gave her comfort as she slipped them on. The clothing could not be more different from the relaxed design of what she wore for the Hudvalr ceremony. The dress she wore was a cornflower blue, accented with black, metal clasps; the waist was cinched tight and the front of the skirt was buckled high to reveal long legs clad in dark leather boots. Her hair was braided up with jewelled pins, and she wore a hate, the same shade as her dress, to which was attached a short veil that covered her face.

A Qaeltine ceremony was more elaborate that what Aeris had experienced from the one from Hudvalr. Normally it would have been held in a holy building, but with Caenfleur still being rebuilt, the ceremony was held in the newly-weds’ mansion instead, with Xeriph presiding over events. The guests would gather around, being expected to shout words of encouragement or sing praises to the Gods while the new couple took part in what Aeris felt was bizarre set of rituals. They would speak their vows, their promises to one another, and sign these with green ink. The parchment would then be burnt and the ashes mixed with blood taken from a shallow cut made to the palm of their non-dominant hand. This mixture was then used to draw an ancient symbol of prosperity on the foreheads of the wedding couple. The couple were then to raise a chalice filled with wine, and help the other drink from it, before this was then passed around to all those gathered to sip from. Finally, there was a dance, of sorts, where the bride would dance with the guests who were there for her husband, and he with hers.

Aeris did not pretend to understand the symbolism of it all, although she was sure Xeriph could provide her an hour-long lecture had she been so inclined. It was a ridiculous waste of time as far as she could tell, but the Qaeltine guests appeared to appreciate it.

With the ceremonies finished, all that remained was the so called after-party, or what Aeris believed to be little more than an excuse for the many people gathered there to get blind drunk. Had she not been the bride, had she been standing with them rather than before them, Aeris would have drank them all under the table. Despite Aerin regularly appearing to place a flute of something strong in her hands, Aeris did not have the luxury of drowning her hatred for the day in her drink. With what she knew was to come at the end of the day, Aeris felt the pang of sobriety ever more keenly.

★·.·´¯`·.·★


In a time that was far too soon for Aeris’ comfort, the frivolities, much like the day, drew to an end. Unfortunately, for Aeris there was still one final task to be taken care of for her wedding day to be considered complete.

Aeris walked with her new husband through the corridors, the silence between them awkward but not entirely unpleasant. Lokkir seemed to distract themselves with the architecture of the manor, but Aeris found herself too lost in her own discomfort to pay attention to anything outside of her mind.

It was not that Aeris had never lay with a man before, a fact that would incense her mother if she knew. It was not fear of a first time, but fear of a stranger; of someone who, less than a year ago, she would have slaughtered on the spot without a second thought. Although the peace treaty had come in to place eight months ago, Aeris still felt an emotional whip-lash at how she was supposed to treat and feel about her husband, still struggling to replace ‘enemy’ with ‘lover’. Aeris wondered if she ever would be able to see Lokkir as anything but a rival; she hoped she would, if not only for the peace of the Kingdoms, but for her own sanity.

Eight months, however, was not enough time to shed a hundred years of antagonism towards the Hudvalri.

Aeris was the first to step into their bedroom, Lokkir closing the door behind them, giving them the first sense of privacy since the day’s proceedings had begun. Aeris gave a gentle sigh; partly relieved to no longer be the centre of attention, but also in part as she mentally prepared for what was still yet to come.

Lokkir, however, surprised her. Before Aeris could speak, Lokkir, in her language rather than his own, asked her to remain quiet, until he had finished showing her something. Aeris quirked an eyebrow is curiosity. Normally her first instinct would have been to prepare to fight, to defend herself against an untrustworthy foe, but there was a nervousness about Lokkir than was unexpected and genuine.

Aeris sat down on the foot of the bed, removing her hat as Lokkir began to disrobe. A faint blush crept across Aeris’ cheeks, although she could not tell if the embarrassment was her own, or for witnessing Lokkir’s obvious discomfort.

“Oh! I…” Aeris began, eyes wide as Lokkir dropped his chest bindings. Aeris was not usually one to be lost for words, but right now she was.

Then she laughed.

She did not mean to, she knew it was cruel, but she was not laughing at her husband; it was simply how her body decided to respond to the shock and disbelief. She covered her mouth with both hands, as if trying to stifle her confusion, before settling a steely glare on Lokkir.

“What is the meaning of this?” She asked, unable to control herself or the enmity that was steadily bubbling inside, “is this some sort of Hudvalri deception, mocking the Kingdom of Qaeltine and the peace we have so desperately sought to secure?” Aeris stood then, stepping closer to Lokkir. His pain seemed genuine, but she could not fathom why a woman now stood before her, if not some cruel insult against Qaeltine. Why had Hudvalr sent me a wife in the guise of a husband? If you were unhappy with peace, there were much less deceitful ways of continuing the war.”
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Shock. Horror. Disgust. These were all the things he had prepared for. Expected, even. Not this mocking, grating laughter.

Wanting to be laid bare no longer, Lokkir quickly threw on the jacket he had so recently discarded to hide what arms could not. His eyes, however, were transfixed on the gleaming brass of Aeris' hand as her voice rang in his ears. The ringing steadily became louder and louder, her words becoming drowned screams as his world was reduced to her shifting metal digits. Unbidden images of metal men slithered their way into his mind, metal men whose bodies were more iron than flesh, whose voices rang like clashing steel, and who all died like grinding rust. The room fell apart, restructuring into a burning plain as his chest tightened and tightened further. One hand held a nonexistent blade, but in the other, his fingers danced in a frantic pattern, the atmosphere cut with a sharp, metallic scent.

The ringing was deafening at this point, the air suffocating. Everything was suffocating. Duty. Responsibility. Hudvalr. Family. He had given up everything for family. Ever since he was born, his life was never his own. Every word he spoke, every step he took, every scar he received, even the person he was supposed to spend the rest of his life with, all of it was in service to family. After everything he had, after the marathon that he had practically run today, only to be met with this!?

'After the day that you both went through,' a small voice reminded him. Immediately, the world snapped back into reality and he realized his right hand was sparking violently. Part of the jacket was smoldering and burning, prevented from being an inferno by unconscious aetheric protections he had put into place. Lokkir quickly dissipated the arcing energy, but still, the anger burned within. It was a comfort though, something he could latch on to keep him in the now. He can't imagine what he must have looked like to Aeris in that moment, however. It seemed to have stretched forever, even though it likely only had lasted a second. Still, this was not the first impression he had wanted to give, nor the lasting one he would have liked her to keep.

Abruptly Lokkir composed himself and strode into the middle of the room, mismatched eyes staring straight into Aeris', his left hand raised briefly to his lips. "As your new husband, dear wife, I have no idea what you mean. However, it would do well for you to be quiet and silent," he began, his voice straining to remain under control, his free hand weaving together more subtle motions, his words flowing between Hudvalri, Qaeltine, and Dracan. He continued in this manner for some time, spinning a spell that would offer them far more privacy than brass, stone, and wood could provide. It was clumsy and far from his best work in hiding the intentions in what he was weaving. In all honesty, his father would have been supremely disappointed and Sigrdrifa would have laughed him off, but he had an obvious enough reason to wish for secrecy that his actual intent could hide behind. They would have to finish their discussion quickly however before more inquisitive and gossip-hungry creatures penetrated the barrier.

When he was done, Lokkir let himself relax a minute amount before locking eyes with Aeris once more, frustration shaking him to his core. "I have afforded us some small measure of actual privacy. Now dear wife, before this you believed me a man yes? So too does the rest of the world, and it shall continue to do so, must continue to do so if this alliance is to survive."

Like an animal in a cage, he began pacing in his small imagined confines wrapped in chain after chain after chain. Emotions he long learned to suppress, locks he had long ago learned to place were starting to become undone. "Do you think I enjoy being this," he turned to her, gesturing to all of his body, "that I enjoy playing this charade? Living in a body that my mind does not accept as my own?" Lokkir felt his voice rise, the anger roiling and bubbling just beneath the surface. Duty. Responsibility. Family.

And then all the day's exhaustion had finally caught up to him. Lokkir allowed himself to drop down onto the bedside, consciously keeping himself away from Aeris' right side, his eyes unfocused and glazed as they rested in his hands. His right socket itched terribly. "The king required a son, so I became a son. He was desperate for an heir, and there was still no end in sight to the war. If I remember correctly, you and I were actually born during the worse years of it," he laughed bitterly. His gaze drifted up to Aeris' eyes, trying to see what lay beyond them. "Believe you me, we want... I want this peace as much as you. We had tried every other avenue to secure this alliance, but you know as well as I that nothing is more binding than blood, and that none but we of the royal families could make that covenant. Of course, all will come to naught if we cannot produce an heir."
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The sparking at Lokkir’s hand caused Aeris to leap to her feet, her worst fears confirmed; the wedding was a farce, designed to embarrass Qaeltine; and now the Crown Princess, the heir to the throne, was locked alone in a room with a Hudvalri perjurer whose fingers were crackling with arcane energy.

A mockery and a murder

Aeris’ hand went to the dagger concealed beneath the voluptuous folds of her dress, bringing it into a defensive stance. Before she could strike, Lokkir’s light was extinguished and his demeanour seemed to change. Aeris’ fingers shifted on the handle of the blade, not letting it go, but she allowed her defence to drop, if only a little. Her muscles were still tense, adrenaline still surged through her veins and she did not trust the flow of his fingers. But she hesitated, enough to hear her husband out.

As Lokkir spoke, Aeris’ eyebrows knit together is confusion and disbelief. After the revelation and the albeit brief, startling aetheric display, the princess found herself on edge and unable to have faith in his words. She took a deep breath through her nose.

She had too trust him.

Aeris could not tell if the decision was foolish, one that might lead to the dissolution of peace between the Kingdoms, but she risked much the same if she refused to believe him, too. Aeris was as war weary as all the people of Qaeltine and Hudvalr combined; as difficult as it was to do, she wanted to trust Lokkir. She wanted peace for the Kingdoms, but just as much, she wanted peace for herself.

Aeris doubted she would ever love the man, but she sincerely hoped she could at least live with him.

“So,” the princess began slowly, still trying to make sense of Lokkir, of who he was, of what he was, “you are… My husband? This is… You are not here to make a fool of me? Of Qaeltine?” The doubt was evident in her tone, but she was trying to understand. Aeris shook her head, unsure of her next steps. She had known the evening would be uncomfortable, but she had not expected this, she had not expected the politics to continue into their bedroom.

Aeris looked down at the dagger in her hand and then looked at her husband. In a fluid movement, she flipped the weapon, so that the blade was held between her fingers; she offered the handle to Lokkir.

“Here,” Aeris mumbled, unable to meet Lokkir’s eyes. By surrendering her blade she was opening herself to harm; as a decorated soldier, Aeris was never truly defenceless, but this was as close as she would get. She was making herself vulnerable in an attempt to show Lokkir that she was listening, that the peace was important to her too. Without a weapon, Lokkir and his ability to twist and bind the aether was at the advantage, and Aeris knew that he would know this also. Aeris was tired; both from the day, but also from fighting. She wanted to rest, to sleep.

Aeris chewed her bottom lip, considering something. She nodded, more to herself than to her husband, her mind set on her idea, and sat back on the edge of the bed, fingers fumbling with the laces and buckles of her boots. Soon, she was pulling them off and throwing them to the corner of the room discarded, starting on the next clasp, the next lace, of her bodice. Slipping out of her wedding dress, she discarded that too, standing before Lokkir in nothing more than her undergarments. Her body was marred with scars from fighting; deep cuts and burns and scars that were still healing. So scantily clad, her right arm was completely displayed; the skin seemed raw where her stump slipped into the prosthetic, brass bolts screwed into the flesh, the raw connection between technology and biology.

“It… It seemed only fair,” Aeris said with a noncommittal shrug, as if she were stripping down in front of her comrades and not an effective stranger. “So,” she continued, removing the last articles of clothing and climbing onto the centre of the large, double bed, “please, Lokkir. I… Explain this to me. Help me understand. You… Peace seems as important to you as it does to me. I fear there may be times when we are the only allied force in this peace treaty. I-I want to work with you, not against you.” Aeris dug the fingers of her organic hand into the soft sheets of the bed, rubbing the fabric between her knuckles, taking small comfort in the silky feeling. “I feel that you want the same, but… It does appear that we do have a problem. How do your propose we solve the issue of an heir?”
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Lokkir watched Aeris try and grapple with all the information that had suddenly been thrust onto her. She was at least trying to understand the situation she had been forcefully placed in rather than outright rejecting it, and for that at least he was thankful for. It was a far cry from the earlier outburst she had displayed earlier, though he had no right to criticize her. Then again, like him, it wasn’t like she had much choice in the matter of his sex or this marriage.

Still, he gave her the time she needed to process, to air her questions and opinions, to allow her to do whatever actions she may have needed to steady the ground under her. Her dagger was taken with grace before being gently placed by her bedside table, and her disrobing was watched with no comment. The gesture was appreciated on both accounts, these acts of vulnerability and equality, of a hand, held out in kindness. They would also not wont for effect, for indeed it did go a long way in calming himself down and affirming Aeris’ desire for peace in his mind.

Even so, he couldn’t help his eyes from dancing between staring at Aeris’ prosthetic and at anything else to distract him from it. It was rude, and eventually, he would have to get used to it, this he knew, but he still couldn’t help his skin from crawling every time he looked upon it. At least his own prosthetic eye was not something he could ever visibly observe, and something easily missed in passing views of his reflection.

To help distract himself, Lokkir pored over the painting of scars that marred Aeris’ body. No doubt each told a story, of struggles hard fought and deaths narrowly avoided. To be honest, he was surprised that she had so many and was still standing freely. There had been no indication during the day’s proceedings where she seemed troubled by them. A testament to modern Qaeltine medicine, he mused. And to have a soldier so marred yet still wanting to sue for peace. Or perhaps it was because of it? He himself had little to show for his years of fighting, aside from the one received from his own flesh and blood. Being of an aerial unit, battlefields were naught but a canvas for him to destroy and any scars borne from engaging and boarding a Qaeltine airship were mostly ones a soldier did not ride back from.

Lokkir couldn’t help himself from getting lost in his thoughts and only found himself back in the present when he heard his name called. A habit he would have to break in this new age of diplomacy and his name a sound he would have to get used to. It wasn’t so much that he was uncomfortable with it, but more so to do with the fact that it was still a commonly held belief in Hudvalr that names held power, a power reserved only for those closest to a person’s soul. But then again, they were now husband and wife, were they not?

Ah, but there was his mind wandering again. Perhaps it was just exhaustion that made it so hard for him to focus so. Or perhaps it was because these were all worries he himself had tired of giving thought to already? Whatever the reason, he was being rude, and that was a grievous offense to have against his new bride and so he turned his full attention to bear against Aeris to properly listen to what she said.

”First,” Lokkir began, ”I am your husband, as was sworn by the spirits, your gods, and me. Twice, if I remember correctly,” giving a wan smile. ”Whether you’d like to think of me as such or as… otherwise - is your choice, but I would at least ask that you help me maintain the illusion that I am a male. The only people who know of my condition are naturally the king and the queen, the third princess, my footman, and now you, so you understand the importance of this” And as he so often unconsciously did, he pulled the jacket around him tighter and attempted to deepen his voice before continuing.

”And you are right. There are enemies on all sides that greatly wish to see this alliance crumble. I already know of several Qaeltine families that oppose us, meaning you must know of many more besides. It is much the same in Hudvalr, with my eldest sister being the quietest, but most venomous among them. That is why though circumstances deemed that we were the only ones that were able to be wed, I can at least choose to honor our pact and to strive for an honest peace with every strand of my being together with you. I have no wish to make a mockery of this marriage nor of you or Qaeltine anymore than you would of me or Hudvalr, I would wager. That being said, however…” And it was at this point that he could no longer hold her gaze.

”The king, my king, demanded that our first born child still hold Hudvalr blood. He volunteered himself to be the sire, but I would trust that snake as far as I could throw him,” he spat. Surprised at the sudden vitriol, he cleared his throat and attempted to look at Aeris once more only to still feel shame continuing to flood his body, and instead chose to rise from the bed and pace about the room once more, though this time his steps were slow and deliberate.

”So I rejected that notion and instead proposed that at the very least you should be able to choose the man you were to lay with because if I was to trust you with my condition, then I must trust you in all aspects. The king still insisted that the man is of Hudvalr, and on this point, I, unfortunately, must agree with him. Still, it is your choice, and many of the nobles from Hudvalr will be staying for at least the next few days before departing. If there were any that had caught your eye earlier today, let me know and I will be able to make the proper arrangements. Be rest assured that everything will be done with the utmost secrecy.” Of course, Lokkir purposefully didn’t mention how it would be done so. After all, sorceries on the mind was one of the most severe crimes in Hudvalr, punishable by death. Naturally, that meant that it was one of the royal family’s most powerful tools and one of their most well-kept secrets. There was another reason all their dragons were brought here, after all.

Lokkir let a pregnant pause sit between them to allow Aeris time to process everything she had just heard before continuing. "I understand that it is a heavy choice and I would not begrudge you if you took some time to think on the prospect, though I doubt patience from either side will last long. At least in Hudvalr, most will likely only be able to wait until the end of the year before talk gets too suspicious. After our first child, however, whether they be boy or girl, you are free to choose whatever man or woman you’d like to lay with after. There have been elements in Hudvalr that are pushing for heirs to be chosen or be the firstborn regardless of gender, though support of the former is more popular than the latter, and seeing as Qaeltine currently has a queen regent I see little issue there. The king will be adamant that our child be male of course, but by the time they're born, we will hopefully have built enough of a power base that he cannot so easily oppose us, and that by the time our child comes of age the reforms will have already been taking place. I’m also not so foolish as to believe that I would be able to satisfy your every urge, nor do I truly believe myself able."

"Of course. Of course, there is… well, there is another, ah,” he fumbled, pausing to take a breath to steady himself before the words out of his mouth.

”There is another option that I had not given voice to anyone but you as of this moment, and that is that I could bear our child.” He stopped for just moment, allowing himself to digest the words he had just uttered. He soon, however, forced himself to barrel through the rest now that the idea had been given shape outside of his thoughts and knew that if he had hesitated even a moment longer his tongue would be forever lost to him.

”I would prefer it to be either of your brothers and only if you can swear that they too can keep this secret," his words and pace quickening with every step. "It would also be much more difficult to hide my pregnancy. I would prefer this to be our very last option, but if the thought of laying with another man truly displeases you so, or if you take too long to deliberate, I am willing to do whatever needs to be done to ensure the security of this alliance.”
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Aeris listened quietly and as intently as she could muster. It was not that Lokkir’s words bored her, but she was both physically and emotionally exhausted by the day. Aeris had never particularly been one for politics, enduring only as much as was necessary for her position, and she had little desire to engage in such talks now when all she wanted to do was curl up under the sheets and sleep until the sun was high.

However, Aeris understood the importance of what Lokkir was telling her and that, in this matter, time was of the essence. Unfortunately, some things needed to be spoken about, right here, right now. It was just one more duty that befell being heir apparent.

Aeris shifted her position on the bed. The air in the room was crisp and she could feel the prickle of a chill on her skin, gooseflesh and hairs standing on end. It was a kind of comforting, however, and Aeris made no move to pull the sheets around her to block out the cool.

As Lokkir spoke, Aeris could not help but notice how his gaze flickered to her prosthetic. She felt indignity bubble in her chest, unbidden. Aeris felt no shame in her loss of limbs, of the scars that criss-crossed across her body, but the way in which Lokkir looked at her arm, or rather, in the way in which he tried not to look at it, suggested it made him uncomfortable, that he felt it was something she ought to be ashamed of. Aeris bit the inside of her cheek, quelling the feeling inside; it was hypocritical of her to feel ire at Lokkir when her outburst at his body had been so much more aggressive.

“There are certainly enemies in the Qaeltine Kingdom; those who oppose Hudvalr and those who oppose the Volinix family for their supposed weakness in agreeing to peace rather than outright destruction,” the princess sighed wearily. Although the war was over, there were still many battles to be fought, those with words and politics than swords and flame. At least out on the field, Aeris knew she was competent; she knew how to secure a victory, whatever the cost in blood. Here, in the shadows of the courts, Aeris felt far more vulnerable and out of her depth than she ever had during even the grimmest of sieges.

“At some point, when my brain is more willing to process new information, you will have to list the members of the Hudvalr court who I need to be cautious of, and I shall do the same for you of those in Qaeltine. Although, fortunately for us both, my immediate family are all in agreement with entering peace, and with this union,” she paused then, a slight smile quirking at the corner of lips as she thought of Aerin, “at least diplomatically, if not personally.” Aerin wanted peace for the kingdoms as much as his twin and, begrudgingly, accepted her fate in this marriage; Aerin just wanted Aeris to be happy and, however unlikely, to have been able to marry for love.

Aerin was lucky; although his wife had been chosen for him, arranged for reasons much as Lokkir had for Aeris, the pair had grown exceptionally close. Their relationship was peaceful, caring and, somehow, they had managed to find a devotion for one another. In these circles, however, Aerin’s marriage was the exception and far from the rule.

As Lokkir continued to speak of the future heir, of their future child, Aeris could not help but become contemplative. Subconsciously, she ran her fingers across her stomach, feeling the gelid edges of metal against her skin. Aeris had never given much serious thought to motherhood, although she had always known that, being heir, it was going to be an inevitability. Yet, it was not something she could honestly say she was looking forward too, less so now given the covertness that would shroud her pregnancy.

Then Lokkir made another offer, one that was clearly distressing and uncomfortable on his behalf. Aeris swallowed, unable to meet her husband’s eye. Regretfully, the first thought that had come to her mind was that yes, let someone else do it. It was unfair though, and she knew it. Pregnancy would be traumatic for them both, but more so no doubt for Lokkir. There was a certain irony, too, that the very thing she had accused Lokkir of using to mock Qaeltine, his biological sex, was the ame thing that gave her the option of avoiding motherhood.

Lokkir was right, however; it should be a last resort. Had Lokkir been biologically male, as Aeris and everyone had been led to believe, then there would be no alternative to Aeris carrying his child. It made no difference, then, if the child she carried was not technically his; her role in continuing both bloodlines was to remain the same.

“I must confess that I did not spend much time admiring the Hudvalri men today; I was otherwise preoccupied,” she said with a wry grin, “besides, it would be despicable form for me to be making eyes at other men during my own wedding.” She laughed then, in part at the absurdity of the entire situation, at how she had known this morning that her life would be changed by the end of the day, but had never envisioned it would be changed like this, dancing with mysteries and state secrets. “I assume that the Hudvalri, much like the Qaeltine courtiers, will be staying for the festivities in the coming days? I shall endeavour to…” Aeris hesitated, trying to find the find words, but fell short of anything both polite and appropriate. She shrugged, gesturing with her hands in discomfiture, “to fuck about. Wildly and with great fervour, in the name of Qaeltine and Hudvalr.” Aeris gave a short, exasperated laugh, placing one hand to her face and rubbing at her eyes; she was trying to make light of a situation she still did not fully comprehend. This entire day felt much like a dream and that tomorrow morning she would wake up once more in a sodden trench, screams echoing through the air blood splattering the ground.

Truthfully, Aeris could not say which reality she hoped to wake up to.

After a reprise, gathering her thoughts, Aeris continued,

“As for you carrying our child,” the words felt foreign on her tongue, discussing starting a family with a man she had met only hours before, “it is… Not something I would wish to burden you with. However, should it come to that, I can guarantee that both of my brothers would honour your discretion.” Aerin did not trust the Hudvalri as far as he could throw them, but he did trust his sister; if she asked him for this favour, he would do it and never speak a word. Xeriph, conversely, was always a man of his word and knew the importance of protecting secrets, regardless of whether they were Qaeltine, Hudvalri, royalty or commoner. There were things that Xeriph knew that even threats of death would not convince him to let them slip from his lips. “My mother… Not so much. She would react much the same way as I did, although in a far greater magnitude.” Aeris looked away then, ashamed of her earlier response, drawing her knees up to her chest, wrapping her good arm about them, “I am sorry for that.”

Although Aeris had been antagonistic, Kelis would have acted with far more hostility. While she might not use the knowledge to outright engineer a second war, she would certainly use it to renegotiate the peace treaty so that Qaeltine was favoured in the outcome. Kelis was ruthless in the courts and had no qualms in using Hudvalri secrets against them. Of course, if her blackmail failed, then it would place the two kingdoms in an extremely volatile situation once more.

No, it was best if Kelis never caught wind of this.

“Aerin… He would be the more willing of my two brothers to aid us, if necessary. The only issue is that he would not wish to lay with anyone other than his wife; I cannot fault him for that, their marriage is harmonious, and I would never wish to risk damaging that for him. However, there are… Ways around that. Qaeltine medicine has developed ways in which to artificially create pregnancy, of sorts. They would be able to take his seed and plant it within you, without the pair of you ever needing physical contact let alone physical intimacy.” Aeris frowned in thought, adding, “although Xeriph bears a greater resemblance to me; he might be the better choice if we wanted to avoid accusations of a bastard child.”

Aeris cleared her throat then, patting the sheets next to her.

“No matter, Lokkir. I will do what I can and, if I cannot, we shall discuss the alternatives if and when they arise. For now, sit. It would be nice to get to know you, my husband, rather than simply the Prince of Hudvalr.” Aeris glanced down at her prosthetic, running organic fingers across the join of flesh and metal, “I, ah… I noticed this makes you uncomfortable. I can remove it for the time being, if you would prefer.”
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Lokkir nodded along with his wife's words, laughing when she laughed, silent when he needed to be silent, slowly taking and measuring her every word. As he took her offer to sit beside her, however, he placed his feet widely apart, elbows resting on his knees, hands cradling his head. A long breath snaked its way out from his lips, fingers adjusting so that they now held his head upright and covered his mouth. Mismatched eyes looked at his wife who he knew was sincerely trying her best to make this alliance work and nodded. "It... your arm. It does make me uncomfortable. My own battle wounds you could say," he said, words he attempted to lighten with an empty laugh.

As much as one side of him yearned to continue talking about the grander fate of nations, anxieties gnawing at him to wring every bit of knowledge and information he could from someone who not long ago could have been described as a hated enemy, duty beckoning him to craft every plan and contingency to ensure the best future not for Qaeltine or this continued union, but for Hudvalr and Hudvalr alone - he too was tired.

He too wanted to only indulge in the simple curiosity of who this stranger was sitting beside him, a stranger who he was bound to for life.

But there was something she needed to know first. "To be honest with you Aeris," he began, pausing as he allowed her name to awkwardly flow from one letter to the next, the Qaeltine language still too smooth and soft for his tongue. "The strides your nation makes to preserve your bodies disgusts me," his eyes searching deep into her own for any sort of reaction, all too painfully aware of how his right socket throbbed in phantom pain. "It is not an uncommon view in Hudvalr, admittedly. But then often the only ones who see the depravity of your 'modern medicine' are people like you and me."

Lokkir's gaze shifted down into hands that were now placed in his lap, though his focus was already gone from this room. "In battle, one is forced to ignore the humanity of your enemy, to think of them as nothing more than another target, to ignore the thought that those you fight have their own families, their own aspirations, their own fears, all so that you and those who stand beside you can still hold on to theirs."

"For me it was easy. I led my own aerial unit, raining spells down on those who often looked no more than ants. I never had to come face-to-face with you and your own until I had to fight directly with your airships."

Lokkir took in a shaky breath to steady himself. "The first time I had to board one, there was no life on that ship. No humanity to be found. Only husks of metal and flesh shaped like men. And that terrified me. How could I relate to something that should have died from wounds that would kill any mortal man? How could I make peace with something that knew only how to rend and kill, something that showed no remorse when they ripped my men apart limb from limb?" Each word become more pained than the last, one hand rising to cover his right eye.

And then suddenly he burst into harsh laughter, trying to cut the tension he had made in the air. "I apologize. I'm sure you didn't expect tonight to have been so heavy, and I'm sure you were hoping I would maybe tell you what my favorite color was rather than a melodramatic tale of woe. But I know I hate it whenever people look at me with disgust and fear when I don't know why so... now you know."
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Aeris opened her mouth as if to speak, hesitated and then thought better of it. She raised her left hand, her good hand, to the place where metal met skin on her right arm and, slowly and with great care, she began to twist the bolts and catches that held the prosthetic in place. Her face contorted slightly as she fiddled with the cool steel; it was not painful, at least not in the agonising, vomit inducing way it had been when she lost the limb, but it was uncomfortable.

It took a few moments, but Aeris was able to loosen everything sufficiently that she was able to detach the metal arm. The stump was uneven, but the scarring, where surgeons had expertly sewn the wound closed, was smooth and neat. There were small pits in the skin, medicine made, which acted as permanent fixings for the prosthetic; some to hold it in place, some to attach the machinery to what remained of nerves and ligaments, which allowed Aeris the full movement and control she had.

The skin was inflamed and sore looking; even after all these years, her arm had not developed callouses to protect her from the friction of the prosthetic. Still, it was better than the alternative, of having only one working upper limb.

The princess leant over the side of the bed, exposing her bare back to her new husband, the bones of her vertebrae showing as she moved. Aeris tucked the now lifeless limb under the bed and out of the way, before pulling herself back upright and shifting in to a more comfortable position. Absent mindedly, she stroked the stump, never once actually looking at it.

“There,” she said in a matter of fact tone, “that is one less thing to come between us.” She bit her tongue, thoughtfully, picking her next words with care, “death is something Qaeltine has always been averse to; we do not celebrate a life when someone passes, we do not see a beauty in it, or recognise it as being part of a bigger thing. Death is loathsome, bringing with it pain for those left alive, and nothing but rot and decay for the deceased,” Aeris paused for a moment, then, “well. Qaeltine was opposed to death, I suppose. The recent warfare has… Made us numb and indifferent, as I am sure if has for many of the Hudvalri.”

Aeris lay back on the bed, tucking her arm behind her head and stretching long legs out, with a click of her joints.

“Thus, we sought everything we could to prevent death. For the most part, our medicine was met with praise, as we extended the lives of our people and gave them opportunities that they had previously been denied, such as children for the infertile or limbs for the, ah,” Aeris cast her amber gaze upon Lokkir, “for the likes of me. The amputees.” Aeris swallowed, before continuing, “that is not to say our medicine has not seen its share of controversy. Not everyone agrees with what our doctors do, claiming it is unnatural. Your… Dislike of Qaeltine’s advancements in this area is not new to our people. You will not be the first person to be opposed to it, nor will you be the last.”

Aeris shrugged then, as best as she was able with the one arm beneath her head.

“I was fairly indifferent to it until I became a soldier. Until I lost my arm and Aerin his leg.” The princess took a deep breath before continuing, “it was agony. Not just the initial blow, but everything that followed. We do not have magic, as you know, and by having my arm literally ripped from me… One moment I was able and independent, the next I was crippled.” Aeris spoke the word as if it was poison on her tongue, foul and bitter. “I did not just lose flesh and bone that day. Without the feats that Qaeltine is capable of, I would never have regained any of what was lost to me then. Nor would Aerin, or any of our comrades.”

Aeris closed her eyes, silent.

“Ironic, is it not? As you say, we are forced to refute the humanity of our enemies. I fought in the cavalry; unlike you, I was face to face with the enemy, with those I killed, yet, without doubt, I saw none of them as people. Just the phantom ‘enemy’. Still, it is than lack of humanity that the Hudvalri placed on me that led to the loss of my arm. Then, in replacing it with metal, you and yours find it easier to see me an inhuman. As a monster or a machine. So then I am easier to maim. Then I repair myself. Then you maim me again, and so it goes. It is a vicious circle.” Aeris opened her eyes, propping herself up on her elbow to look Lokkir in the eyes.

“I… I do not blame you, you know. You or Hudvalri. For this, I mean,” she gestured with a nod of her head to what remained of her right arm. “It would be easy to but… It would be hypocritical. I have no doubt in my mind I have done the same, and worse, to your people for the same reasons. To condemn the person who hurt me, I would have to condemn myself also. And that is more difficult to live with.”

Aeris dropped back down onto the bed with a laugh, devoid of any real joy. She raised her hand to cover her eyes, lips still smirking.
“War, what is it good for?” Aeris lowered her hand, staring at the ceiling above her, with its painted runes and electric lights.

“Jade, by the way. My favourite colour is jade.”
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Lokkir looked at his wife for a long while and blinked once, then twice, then-

"Pfft."

A giggle escaped his lips, bubbling and bouncing like a babbling brook as it bounded abound in their shared room, melting away the grim atmosphere that he had shrouded around himself. Eventually his little laughing fit subsided and he turned to face Aeris once more, this time with a small, but genuine smile on his face.

"Amber. Mine is amber."

- t h e n e x t m o r n i n g -

The rest of the night passed with little fanfare, unless one counted aimless small talk between a Hudvalri prince(ss) and a Qaeltine princess counted as something momentous which in some cases, it might have been. But between the newly appointed husband and wife the only momentous thing about the whole affair was agreeing how dreadfully tiring the whole day was. Thus it was to the surprise of absolutely no one when sleep quickly descended upon the pair.

It was unfortunate then how brief Lokkir's rest was when he opened his eyes and saw that the world was still dark. Even looking at the blinds that covered their windows saw no sun peeking playfully behind cover. By some strange occurance however, the grumpy grouch realized he had found himself laying on the floor once again. The grouch sighed and placed a hand onto the too-soft bed and pulled himself up, letting the quilted Qaeltine blankets fall down around him as he came face to face with a quietly ticking machine on his bedstand. If Lokkir remembered correctly, the tick-tocking device before him was a time teller of sorts, a clock that depended on no sun or stars to divine the movements of the heavens.

In front of a Hudvalri who had never learned to read such instruments however, it was just a quaint hunk of metal, his eyes squinting at the clock's shifting face which only threatened to give him a headache. Deciding on the more sensible solution of peering behind the blinds, he saw that it was only at most, very early morning.

Despite usually being one who delights in awakening with the dawn, he inadvertantly found himself grumbling and grousing as he shuffled back towards the comfortable mountain of quilts that he had shed earlier and sank deep into its warmth. Sleep did not find its way back to him however and he eventually extricated himself from his cocoon with a sigh. Having nothing better to do, he sought to find his wife which wasn't a huge endeavor, even if they hadn't slept particularly close together the night before. It was still, after all, a single room.

Lokkir found Aeris still peacefully asleep. Resolving to let sleeping beauties lie, he slowly turned around, but stopped when his eyes caught the sight of her right stump. A small wave of guilt washed over him as he remembered their talk last night and it continued to follow him as he quietly gathered up a few things before making a small nest blankets at the foot of their bed.

At some point, a familiar niggling feeling prodded at the back of his mind as Vedr sought access to his thoughts. Instinctually allowed his bondmate in, letting their thoughts flow and meld together. Lokkir's face was serene as Vedr's cool presence washed through, though it quickly turned to one of confusion then absolute disgust as Lokkir forcibly shoved the dragon's consciousness out of his own. The distintive smell of ozone briefly crackled as Lokkir's hand sparked once more, this time much less violently than the display showed last night. As the disgruntled prince shook away the electricity that sped across his hand like an errant bug, Lokkir could have sworn that he heard a sparkling snicker as the lightning dissipated.

Settling back into a meditative state among his quilts, Lokkir waited for Aeris to wake. When she did, he allowed her some time to properly rouse before clearing his throat to catch her attention and presenting her with a long and wide piece of cloth.

"Morning. I was wondering if you could help me with my bindings today. You know, just because you're likely to be the one helping me with it from now on. After all I can't have just anyone touching me so carefree anymore since I'm a married man now and all," he laughed.

"It is... it's um, likely a bit difficult with one hand though so, you can - if you could use both hands it would likely make things a touch easier."
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Aeris’ sleep that night was deep but not restful. More than once she saw flashes of fire and blood. She dreamt she saw her father, watched him butchered and slaughtered at the hands of the Hudvalri. Aeris reached for him with both hands, flesh and bone, only to have them torn from her by a beast with wings and fangs and scales and an oppressive scent of death.

Though the nightmares had not been real, the anger and sorrow that beat in her chest upon waking were. She grumbled in a half sleep, pulling the blankets closer, as if she might be able to disappear into their warmth, never rising again. Aeris raised a hand to her face, to brush away the errant strands of hair that had fallen there during slumber. Searing panic shot through her, enough to dispel the last, groggy remnants of sleep; though she moved her arm, she felt nothing on her face where her hand should be.

The fear dissipated quickly, as realisation and remembrance flooded her thoughts. It had been years since she had lost the limb, but even now, when she had long since come to terms with it, it still managed to surprise her. The feeling of dread, the sick feeling at the pit of her stomach, while the moments she felt it lessened over time, the intensity never wavered.

Aeris raised her hand, her left one, to her face and found her cheeks damp. She had been crying, she realised, though over what she could no longer recall, as the frightful dreams became hazier and hazier with every waking second.

Aeris propped herself up on her elbow, amber eyes peering into the dusky gloom of the unfamiliar room, her dark hair tousled and the bridal makeup that had been so carefully applied was smeared and tear stained.

So yesterday had happened. For better or for worse, she was now a married woman and the houses of Hudvalr and Qaeltine were united, at least on paper if not in spirit.

There was the sound of someone clearing their throat and Aeris craned her neck, finding Lokkir at the foot of the bed, in what appeared to be a decidedly more chipper mood than she.

Lokkir; her enemy, her husband.

"Mm?" He had spoken to her, but it took a moment for the words to sink in. "Oh, your bindings. Of course," Aeris smiled as she spoke. There was something oddly comforting about knowing her husband, like she, could not let the world see his body. For him, it was his chest, for her the remnants of her arm. Few people had seen Aeris sans metal arm, and those who had were related by either the blood in their veins or the blood they shed together on the battlefield.

To others, they might appear defective, wrong or grotesque, but at least with each other they knew this to be false. Idly, Aeris wondered if Lokkir's body brought him as much mental anguish as the stump on her right still could.

Aeris rolled onto her side, scrambling for the prosthetic she had discarded the night before. With the cool metal in her grip, she sat up, legs crossed on the bed, attaching the limb with care and dexterity. It took only a few moments before there was a soft whirr as she stretched the false fingers, nerves and wires once more connected. She pushed herself off of the bed and padded towards Lokkir, not attempting to hide her nakedness. She had nothing to fear from him, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Aeris took the binding.

"This may be cold," she warned; it was surprising how many people reacted with shock at the lack of warmth in her right hand. It was silly, really. Aeris took the cloth and examined it, before indicating with her good hand for Lokkir to turn around. She wrapped the cloth around his chest, pulling as tight as she dare; while historically she may have wanted to suffocate him, she did not now. "There. Is that okay?" She asked securing the fabric in place.

"Lokkir," she began, picking her words carefully, stepping away from the other, "does it hurt? Your body, I mean. Not being the body you want." Her left hand gingerly stroked the cold, dark fastenings of her arm, tracing the sharp lines with her fingers. "Not being the body you expect to see in the mirror."
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Despite Lokkir being the one to prompt Aeris into reattaching her prosthetic arm, it was a different matter actually seeing the arm reconnect to senses and nerves that by all rights should belong only to the realm of flesh and blood. At the very least it was a quick procedure, but the soft whirring and initial uncanny motions unnerved him all the same.

He obediently turned around when Aeris motioned for him to do so, doing his best not to flinch (and failing) when her cold arm touched his warm skin. However, like dipping into a cold bath, he got used to the sensation faster than he anticipated as his mind began to wander and idly wonder whether her metal arm could feel him. In truth the world of Qaeltine medicine was a subject that he had not delved too deep into, partly because of a lack of reliable information up until the recent alliance and partly because their teachings were still considered heretical, but perhaps that way of thought could be changed. He still barely understood the full functionality of his own prosthetic eye. Another item to add to his ever-growing list, but like with many things he could at least start by changing his own views.

Then with a final tug and a quick knot and a tuck, Aeris finished binding his chest. Lokkir looked down and patted it down, satisfied at how his modest breasts were once again reduced to nothing more than barely noticeable lumps. He took an experimental breath, one which he let out in slow relief in the fact that he could still breathe properly. Still, this was the first time anyone beside him, Alfi, or Eyvind. Unfortunately Eyvind had an "unfortunate accident" while he had been sidetracked by an errand Sanngrid had given him, which left Lokkir bereft of a personal valet until he recovered, which meant that for the last two months Lokkir had to bind and clothe mostly by himself. Alfi would help once in a while, but the king was strict and his orders were absolute.

"It is good for the most part," Lokkir replied as he was fiddling with the binding still. "It could be tightened a bit more if you were inclined to do so, but 'tis nothing a bit of extra clothing won't help hide."

Once he was finally satisfied, Lokkir started picking up the clothes discarded from the night before, but stopped and gave Aeris his full attention when it sounded like she wanted to discuss something serious. He didn't reply right away when he finished, instead choosing to slowly regather all their garment strewn on the floor, making sure that she had fully gotten across what she wanted to ask and so he could gather his own thoughts.

In truth, the subject was one he already had to constantly think about ever since the learned of the concept of gender and the fact that he was supposed to be different from his sisters and was supposed to be more like the king despite physically being the opposite. It was never something he had to really put into words before, however.

"Yes," he started, "and no." He straightened out, holding a small mountain of fabric that was all carefully draped over one arm. "I've never really had a choice in deciding what my body would be. I was born a girl, but raised a man because I had to for my line to continue. There are times where I hated that. That I hated how little control I really had over my life. How my fate was all decided before I was even conceived of in this world."

Lokkir placed all the garments on a nearby surface to the doorway into the dressing room. He smoothed out any of the wrinkles as best he could before sitting down in a nearby chair, his feet placed unconsciously wide apart. "Yet at the same time, this life is all I've ever known. Certainly there are days where I wish I was a man, but only because then I would no longer have to continue playing this charade and could live a normal life. Or at least, a life where I wouldn't have to lie to the face of everyone I have or will ever meet. There are days where, yes, I wake and am surprised to see breasts on a person that is supposed to be a man, only until I remember the reality of how I am just a person playing the role of man in a way that has been arbitrarily codified and defined by my culture."

"But then even when I play the role of woman, and I have on a scant few occasions, I've felt no strong pull or desire to do so afterwards. It was simply another mask I donned."

"When I mentioned last night about how my mind did not accept mine own body, I suppose I meant it in a way where I have no idea what my 'real body' should be. Should it be that of a man because that is what is expected of me, or should it remain that of a woman because it is what the gods and my parents had seen fit to birth me with?"
He shrugged. "I do not know."

"Regardless, this is the life I now lead no matter how much introspection and philosophizing I may do. Much like how you must live with an arm of machinery and metal, I must live as a born woman playing a man."
Lokkir turned toward Aeris and only now realized just how much he had been talking. All of his siblings had a habit of pointing out how frequently he let his tongue wander on even the smallest of subjects. A bright red blush colored his face as he cleared his throat and turned away, closing his legs when the cold morning air started nipping at his legs and loins. Still, his curiosity must be sated. "Anyway, is there any particular reason why you wished to start the morning on so heavy a topic?"
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