Cloudhawk teleported back to the inn. A short time later, members of the Nilam family were knocking on his door.
“Young Master, the Argyris family is very large and influential in the capitol. You musn’t cause a scene. It’s vital we make a good first impression. This isn’t our home and opposing families are everywhere. The slightest provocation...” He pleaded.
Cloudhawk dismissed with a wave and a smirk.
His answer was a sigh from the steward. He prayed there’d be no trouble because the wedding wasn’t what concerned him. It was the relationship between their two families. The most frantic worry was that Lance couldn’t change his character. Their family couldn’t afford to pay off the populace of the capitol.
They were received by the Argyris family later that day.
It was no wonder they were one of the city’s grandest residents. Their welcoming party could be called luxurious, headed by a procession of one hundred lily-white griffins. Following were nearly one thousand more representatives; dancers, singers and troops. The dramatic display had started to gather a crowd.
Seated upon one of the beasts Cloudhawk was brought to the Argyris family mansion. There he was greeted by the family patriarch.
Extended noble families were complex. Leadership was striated into the patriarch, the elder, heads of families, stewards, butlers and more. Patriarch and Elder sounded very similar, and often they were held by individuals, the affairs they saw to were very different.
The Patriarch was often away, seeing to the family’s industries, manage trade, and arranging policy. The Elder, on the other hand, saw to the workings of the family itself. Whoever it was had to be among their most powerful and capable members.
Elders remained with the family. They were responsible for keeping it running. In the absence of a patriarch they made the decisions. This wedding had all been arranged by the Argyris family’s Elder.
Fulmulta had four great houses, and the Argyris family was among them. It was guided by the young and famously capable Bruno Argyris. Not long ago their polish had begun to wane, while in Byzantium the Nilams were on the rise. Byzantium was the distribution hub of the realm, a portal to many things.
It was a fine alliance, one where both sides came out on top.
The Elder – Noah Argyris – first made the suggestion a year ago. He showed how suitable the young man was to marry the patriarch’s youngest, Idonea. She was the only member left unmarried. However, while there had been a lot of talk about it the patriarch did not give his blessing. Thus it dragged on.
Several months later, Master Bruno left for Skycloud.
In that time there had been no word from their patriarch. The suspicion that he had died was gaining ground. No joy came from it because they were not just losing a patriarch, but a local legend. Without him their family’s voice became a whisper. Marriage was a quick solution to an urgent problem.
Noah put forth his plan before the heads of families once again. This time it was accepted without issue. In his capacity as acting Patriarch, Noah accepted the proposal. Idonea was bound to comply.
“Welcome, Young Master Lance Nilam, to the capitol.”
Noah’s long wight hair flowed in the breeze of the griffin’s wings. His right hand rested on the head of a cane, which he used only a little to help with bow.
To play his role, Cloudhawk adopted a magnanimous bearing. In a voice dripping with scorn, he muttered, “This is the family mansion? A little run down, isn’t it? Nothing like the home I came from.”
All at once the entire Nilam procession winced.
Stroking his beard, Noah answered with a chuckle. He knew a bit about this Young Master, so the crude words were not shocking. These theatrics weren’t important, so long as their family won support. Nothing about Lance or his personality was any concern of the Elder’s.
A steward cleared his throat to dispel the tension. “May we ask where Miss Idonea may be?”
Noah couldn’t stop his brows from furrowing every so slightly. Idonea had been causing him no small measure of heartache about this. She even ran away in the night! Luckily someone snatched her up by morning, avoiding an embarrassing situation.
“Idonea is getting ready. She will be with us shortly.”
No sooner did he make the promise than a small group came in from a nearby yard. They were all clustered around the young Argyris miss. A petulant look was on her face and had been there since she swore to fight this to the end. It was fully in her mind to smash this sissy boy’s nose in first thing. At least he’d know she wasn’t going to be an obedient wife. Maybe if he understood what he was getting into, he’d call off the wedding.
“Which one is Lance! Pull him out here immediately! I want to see if you’ve sprouted three heads and six arms, because that’s the only way you’d have the courage to -… huh? What are you doing here!”
Idonea had recognized him in the middle of her tirade. Same blond hair, blue eyes and coquettish smile. It was him, the same man who saved her.
Irritation had crept into the Elder’s voice. “Idonea! What possessed you to be so rude!”
A wry and pained smile touched the Nilam family steward’s face. This young miss seemed as unfettered as the Young Master. Things were sure to get interesting.
“This Is Young Master Lance.”
When he said the words it was like Idonea had been stung by a scorpion. Fear, confusion, shock and anger flooded her mind when she realized it. She’d been tricked!
“You’re Lance?!” She screeched. “You lied to me!”
Noah was surprised by the outburst. “You know each other?”
“So you’re Miss Idonea. I didn’t recognize you.” The Young Master smirked sheepishly. He looked her up and down for a moment before turning back to the Elder. “We met not long ago. Would it be alright if she and I got a few minutes alone?”
Cloudhawk and Idonea walked out across the manor property shoulder to shoulder in awkward silence.
She was furious. The feeling like she was a complete idiot hounded her. Somehow she fell for his trick – that fog had to have come from him. Her goal now was to get far away from him.
“Don’t even bother talking to me. I will never marry you!” Lance wasn’t the sort of man she was expected, but Idonea wasn’t going to marry anyone!
Cloudhawk looked out over a serene lake surface. “Do you remember what I said last night? I’m on your side.”
She paused. What did he mean? It dawned on her that maybe he had something worse planned instead of marriage.
“Unfortunately there’s no way to break the engagement. The wedding isn’t important anyway – just business between two families. Neither of them are willing to risk this farce.”
“So what can we do?”
“Pretend to be married.”
“Phah!” Idonea sniffed at the idea. “Why should I trust you?”
“Only for a little while, and only for appearances. In exchange you’ll be given more space and freedom.” Cloudhawk picked up a stone and threw it into the lake. An explosion of ripples formed and he turned back to Idonea. “What do you want to do right now?”
“I want… to see my father.”
“Right answer. He’s over at Skycloud so if you want to see him again, that’s where you need to go. Only you don’t have the capability to make that journey yourself. That leaves you with only one path.”
“You mean the Crusade?!”
The Crusade were the name of the newly forged army and its purpose. It was filled with soldiers from many Elysian lands, only the most elite warriors and demonhunters. When they were selected, they were sent by special airships to Sky Fortress to join the main force.
It was very difficult for ordinary people to be chosen, but that was not the case with the Argyris family.
“Right again. It’s the only way. We agree to get married, then join the Crusades. You can avoid the complications of marriage and make your way to Skycloud to find your father. What do you think?”
“But why are you trying to help?” His idea made sense. When she joined the army there was a period of at least six months where she couldn’t go home. It was the best way to escape her situation.
“I said I am on your side. I’m also interested in joining the Crusade myself.”
Was this really the same Lance Nilam from Byzantium? It seemed a lot of the rumors about him weren’t necessarily accurate.
Idonea answered. “They say there’s a demon leader of the wastes near Skycloud, trying to destroy the world. Strong, frightening. He even corrupted the Cloud God and now the betrayer joins his side. You aren’t even a little scared? Anyway the battlefield is in chaos. There are said to be tens of thousands of heathen troops.”
“You say scary, I say exciting.”
“You sure are a strange one.”
“So what do you think of my proposal?”
Idonea thought it over for a little while. The two of them, joining the Crusade… it was an effective means to get away from their families and their meddling. She didn’t think it would be hard to do, either.
They were both demonhunters, after all. Her family was large so some were up there at Sky Fortress already. If they wanted in, she had the means.
1. Argyris was the name chosen for the family, last name 银 or silver. The Elder’s first name is 虹 or rainbow. I chose Noah for a couple reasons. First, as elder he is trying to guide his family from destruction (animals from the flood). Second, the rainbow was sent by god to biblical Noah as a promise that his family would never again face a flood, strengthening this man’s savior image.