Tuesday, June 23, 2015

World of Dusk: The Wedding

World of Dusk:
“The Wedding”

Anthony Greer

© 2015, Anthony Greer. AG Creative Publications

All rights reserved.
No portion of this book may be used without sole permission of the copyright holder except in use of a review.

To read book one in the series: “The Raven of Dusk: Transcendence” click here 

World of Dusk: The Wedding

It had been nearly thirty years since Abraham Donnick was the reigning King of Cardeau, his wing was still the largest in the palace. Koston, Abraham’s grandson, stood in the threshold of the long hall plastered with portraits of whom so many declared to be the finest man that ever lived. As if making Cardeau one of the most prosperous of the twelve city-states in Noreis wasn’t enough, Abraham then went on to become the Monarch Superior and brought the whole globe peace. Even after his recent retirement, his mark on Noreis remained—and that very mark resided strongest in Koston.

Even as a child, Koston was told how much he looked like his grandfather. He spent his whole life growing up beside portraits of Abraham and seeing papers and magazines show sketches of him and Noreis’ greatest ruler in three hundred years. It was no wonder that the entire world loved Koston. They tried to love Koston’s father, too, but the love they bestowed upon the man a generation between Koston and Abraham was partially what brought him to an early grave. Fame and fortune wasn’t for everyone. The pedestal he was placed on made him feel like he was walking on stilts, the higher and higher it raised, the harder he found it was to keep his footing.

Abraham’s wing was covered in silver and cyan: the colors of Cardeau. His portraits shone with golden frames, and Koston felt more like he was entering a museum than he was stepping into the quarters that his grandfather once resided in. When he looked at the pictures of Abraham at twenty, Koston’s own age, not even he could deny their resemblance. They bore the same penetrating eyes and wavy light brown hair. His nose had the same slight hook and his lips were thin but gave birth to dimples when he smiled. He and Abraham were alike in every single way but one: on Abraham’s wedding day, he most likely wasn’t thinking of a male knight he met a few days prior.

Koston buried the thoughts deep in his mind. The world didn’t need to know his sexual cravings—least of all his future wife. Jessa was getting ready elsewhere in the palace, most likely getting dressed in a gown that matched the world’s perception of their fairy tale romance. And heavens, what a story it was: she worked as a waitress and came from a lower class family, while he was a Donnick at the fork in the road, swaying back and forth between the paths laid out before him. If he followed his grandfather’s footsteps, he would claim the love and respect of the world and be cherished for the rest of his days. If he became like his father, he would bury himself in the shadows of a greater man, drugs, alcohol, and finally choke on the wealth he grew up with. It was Jessa’s friendship that brought him down the right path. The relationship was misconstrued by the media—and by Jessa most of all, but this was the price to pay for the love he was given. He needed to give Jessa the life she deserved for saving his. To tell the world his truth would bring her and Abraham shame. Both of them had already dealt with enough shame in their life.

Bury your thoughts, Koston. You are a Donnick, and you are to make Jessa a Donnick, too. You cannot think of him, or of any other man. You are a Donnick… You are a Donnick…

“I thought I’d find you here,” a familiar voice called from the entrance of Abraham’s grand wing.
Kallisto entered the room in her cyan dress while her platinum dress draped over her shoulders. She looked like the sky and the clouds all at once and, as she approached him, she was nearly taller than his six feet. She was walking on her own set of stilts that day!

“Aren’t you part of Jessa’s wedding party?” Koston asked her. His voice grew a little shaky, and he couldn’t help but wonder why Kallisto had come to join him.

“There is far too much estrogen in that room. I am sure that your bride-to-be is plenty busy with her other hens.”

Koston assumed that, what Kallisto meant to say, was that she remained jealous that Jessa had chosen another to be her maid of honor. It would have been fitting for his future wife to have considered Kallisto, a senator, for the role. They’d been neighbors and friends for more than half their lives. Jessa selected her sister, to whom she barely spoke, instead.

“And how are the hens?” Koston asked, finding himself amused by his guest.

“Oh, they’re clucking away. It’s quite obnoxious, actually. I can’t believe that I was in Jessa’s shoes just a year before—and now I know why Smithe and I eloped.” Kallisto sighed, gazing down the long hall that eventually led to a master bedroom with a balcony view of the entire city-state. There was no doubt that the streets were filling up with people all dressed in Cardeau’s colors, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ceremony that was to be performed at the gates of the palace.

Anytime Koston thought about calling it off, he reminded himself of how excited the people were for the wedding in which all of the city-state was invited to attend. Hell, half of the monarchs in Noreis would be there—and he wasn’t even a royal himself! He had no desire to follow Abraham’s footsteps into the realm of politics. Most of his life remained unplanned… everything but this wedding.

“Koston,” Kallisto lingered, as if she had much more to say, but was debating whether or not her words were wise.

He shot her what must have been one of the most curious of stares and knew he gave away that he had an inkling about what was on her mind, even if he didn’t know it before. If she were to ask him what he feared she would, then he already gave her the answer.

Kallisto merely nodded. Their whole conversation was complete before either of said another word.
“It is going to be a beautiful wedding,” he forced a smile and looked at his reflection in a portrait of Abraham Donnick just a few years older than he.

Kallisto nodded. “They will talk about this for years to come. Jessa was telling me that a ghost writer is compiling both of your stories. Your love story is going to be a book.”

He nodded quickly and kept the sorrow from his eyes. “I am going to make her very happy, Kallisto. I love her dearly, and she is to be my wife. That is what you wish for her, is it not? I can make that happen.”

“Because you’re a Donnick?”

Koston was confused whether that was a statement or a question.

Kallisto crossed her arms and stared him down much like an older sister would. “And this is what you want?”

“Yes,” he said all-too-quickly. “Yes, more than anything.”

“And tonight?”

His heart started to pound against his chest. Kallisto’s eyes looked as though they had x-ray vision, but he couldn’t let her see him. He pondered an appropriate answer and smiled the same sweet smile he often gave so many others. “We will feast, and drink, and have a grand party.”

Her stare didn’t let up. “And… after?”

“Af… after?” He couldn’t hide his blush. “Well, I imagine we’ll all be tired. We’ve got a trip to the Ivalian Islands in the morning, so—”

“So you’re not at all nervous about your wedding night?”

“I…” he took a deep breath and buried his frustration. As he did, he couldn’t help but think of a knight from Barencos that he saw a week ago. Just one elongated stare gave him four days’ worth of fantasies.

“Jessa is still a virgin, is she not?” Kallisto eyes were are blue as the frosty feeling she was emitting. “She told me yesterday that you two have yet to consummate your love.”

Koston went to shrug, but it looked more like his shoulders jerked uncontrollably for a couple of seconds. “You said it yourself. It’s a fairy tale romance.”

“On her end, yes.”

Like with most of the conversation thus far, Koston had to choose his words carefully. He cocked his head and took a long moment before replying. “Senator, if you disapprove of my marrying your dear friend, I can assure you that I will make her very happy.”

Kallisto shot him an elongated stare. As careful as Koston had been, she was just as cautious now. “I could never disapprove of someone of your stature—”

“Is that sarcasm?”

“No, it’s fact. The wing that we’re speaking in belonged to the most loved and respected human being of our lifetime. You’ve inherited that by carrying the Donnick genes. If I disapproved of your betrothal, I would lose my seat in the Senate faster than either of you could say ‘I do.’ It’s partly why I could never say more than I already have, and I’ve already said more than I ever should.”

“Then…” Koston’s lips as he grew frustrated with the woman that came to address him. “Then why say anything at all? Why did you even come here? You’re Jessa’s friend, not mine.”

“Don’t be rash. I am your friend, too.”

“You’re disapproving of our marriage and of her happiness. You’re telling me this just hours before we’re to be wed. I’m afraid I don’t understand your actions here, and if you cannot convey them properly and sort this out, I’m going to have to ask you to leave me be.”

“I’m not here to ask you about her happiness, I’m here to question yours.”

Koston scoffed and cast his eyes on the wall of Abraham’s portraits. They were much nicer to look at that the woman who came to confront him.

“I know, Koston.” In the reflection he saw that she pondered stepping forward. She remained wise and didn’t. “I know where your feelings truly reside. Yes, you love her. That much is obvious, but… I am worried that you’re using that love to shield yourself from the one thing that will keep you from being like your grandfather.”

I am Koston Donnick. He told himself. I will be the man that the people wish for me to be; a man that can honor my grandfather’s wishes, and a man who can prove that the tragedy that befell my father will be nothing more than a sorrowful page in our family history. Jessa wants to marry me, and she has earned that right. The people want me to marry her, and I owe it to them to give them what they want. I am a Donnick. With that title, fame, and prosperity comes a list of duties. I chose this path long ago, and if it’s the path I am to go down, than this is one of those duties.

“You Donnicks are easy to read,” Kallisto said, speaking to him through the reflection of his grandfather’s portrait. “If Jessa wasn’t so blinded by her love for you, she would see it, too. If the people weren’t so blinded by that same love, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation. You would’ve given yourself away the first time you stared at another man, or hugged one for a second too long. And eventually,” she sighed. “Eventually, you’re going to crave something more than just a hug. You’re going to lust for something more, and the deeper you bury this part of yourself, the harder it’s going to be in control. By marrying Jessa you’re giving her everything that any woman would ever want on paper, but in your bedroom, you’ll both be craving the same thing.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I’m telling you that you don’t have to be honorable,” Kallisto said. He still wouldn’t face her, so she talked through the reflection. “People marry for many reasons, but usually it’s for the same reason. She loves you now, but if she learns that you’ve been lying to her… she will not by blinded by your ruse forever.”

If Senator Kallisto didn’t already have her suspicions, Koston was giving it away with his eyes as they filled with melancholy and despair. He stared again at his grandfather’s image and felt ashamed to look so much like him. He recalled the time his father threw a half-empty bottle at it and turned to the-then fifteen-year-old Koston with brew on his breath and a glaze in his eyes. “We’ll never be like him,” Koston was told. “He stands so tall that his shadow swallows us whole. His fame will be both of our deaths!”

And father was half right. He died the next year and, although he didn’t show it, those that were close enough to Abraham knew that it was the grief he felt for losing his son that brought him into an early retirement. Most Monarch Superiors wore the white crown until they died.

“I can do this,” Koston said aloud, though unintentional. “I can do this for her. The people need to know that the Donnick family is alive and thriving. My grandfather lit our torch, and it is I that must keep it burning.”

Kallisto sounded far from consoled. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a statement smothered in more hubris than that one. So, since you’re deciding to take on a beard as opposed to a genuine love interest, you will have two options, and only two, from the moment those words escape your lips down there: you can either keep this marriage a short one, and later call it a miscommunication between two close friends and keep the fairy tale going by allowing your relationship to form the natural friendship it was always supposed to have, or you give her a child so that, when you do succumb to a man you find to be too desirable, she will still have a Donnick of her own to love.”

Koston took his glance off of Abraham’s image and walked across the tiled floor to the senator. She didn’t cower as he looked at her like he smelled burning garbage beneath his nose. He almost respected that she was one of the few that wouldn’t rescind her words in the presence of his frustration, but he couldn’t respect her outlook on his and Jessa’s future.

“Someday you’ll look back at this moment and you will either be grateful that you heeded my advice, or regret that you couldn’t see passed your own arrogance to know that I am the one person in this entire city-state that is being honest with you.”

The young Donnick shook his head. “You should go back to Jessa’s dressing room. My future wife is probably wondering where her favorite bridesmaid is.”

Hela kissed Koston’s coat-of-arms sewn into the fabric of his gilded suit. He resembled a phoenix as he emerged from Cardeau Palace’s double-doors, feeling as though Noreis’ star covered him in bright burning flames and allowed him to walk down the rolled up silver carpet all the way to the main stage constructed by the palace gates.

The fanfare was so loud that he could barely hear the string instruments harmoniously play the wedding march. With the stage ahead of him, he could only see the heads of the people as they jumped up and down on the clean paved Cardeau streets. Serenity Seekers, palace guards, and multiple citizens took to the rooftops and shot cyan and silver confetti out of miniature cannons strategically placed all throughout the city. Doves and blue birds flew in spirals around the stage and over the people, as air shuttles flew above them with tapestries embedded with the emblem of Cardeau (a large kite with a string of smaller diamonds and the words “Freedom, Respect, Equality, Excellence) tied to their rails. Posters of Koston and Jessa were plastered on the sides of buildings on Abraham Boulevard, while telescreens that usually showed the news or various advertisements revealed a series of images and videos of the two in candid moments, or scenes that were staged for the purpose of showing them on this day.

Jessa’s hand tightened around Koston’s forearm. He was so caught up in the moment that he nearly forgot that he was walking next to the woman that he was to spend the rest of his days with.
If this was to be Cardeau’s fairy tale wedding, Jessa’s bridesmaids and wedding planning team certainly played their part! Her make-up emphasized her large emerald doe-eyes and her soft brown hair was pushed back in a large thin veil that covered most of her bare back, while two braids grazed her left and right cheeks as she walked. Her dress looked at thought it was made entirely of sewn white features that covered her breasts and torso, but stopped just above the knee and formed and large train that made Koston wonder if she would take flight if she were to raise her arms and flap them.

The color of purity was a fitting look on her: his fairy tale bride. Her skin was as soft as a baby’s and glowed in Hela’s light, while specs of glitter on her collarbone and arms shimmered white and silver. She looked nothing like the soot-covered young woman who helped him to his feet after a night of crazy partying left him drunk beside an alley garbage can. She was his angel then, and she was his angel now. He knew that she felt the same way and, as they climbed the stairs to the stage, and the lights blinded them, and the cheers made them deaf, he knew that everything would be okay. 

Monarchs and government officials from more than half of the world rose to their feet and stood over their comfortable seats on the shimmering silver and blue stage. At the front of it was a minister bearing the finest linens with a holy text in hand, waiting for the pair of young lovers to approach him. The bridesmaids and groomsmen all stood to the sides, and Koston did his best to ignore the fact that Kallisto was the only one who was not smiling.

Koston and Jessa took their places before the minister, who had to wait nearly a full three minutes as the roaring crowd kept cheering. The first time the crowd began to simmer, someone yelled, “We love you, Koston!” and then the fanfare continued. The second time, a woman belted out, “We love you, Jessa!” and started it all over again.

The cheering only ceased when Koston raised his hand to call for their attention. As he did, he looked into the crowd and saw a man in the fourth row with just the right amount of scruff, wearing a fitted blue dress shirt that emphasized his biceps and chest. For a moment, Koston had nearly forgotten all about his wedding. When the man winked at him, Koston quickly looked away and returned his attention to his future wife and only his future wife.

The minister opened his book, and the ceremony began.

Koston heard the tears of a woman before he entered his quarters and was suddenly grateful that he hadn’t worn his knight armor back to their home in the palace. He would have been heard the moment he stepped foot in the corridor.

“Jessa,” another woman’s voice said from inside. “Jessa it’s okay to cry, but what’s bothering you?”

Kallisto. He knew immediately. He would’ve been fooled by her voice of genuine concern if he wasn’t so used to hearing it.

“Everything,” was his wife’s answer. “Everything and nothing… I can’t even explain it. It just feels like something’s missing or off and… I don’t know what.”

He heard the long, long silence on Kallisto’s end. Even without seeing her, he knew that she was tempted to say something. He wondered if she’d brave the words.

“Has… has he been mean to you?”

“Gods, no!” Jessa exclaimed as if Kallisto had just asked her if she’d seen Koston commit murder. "He’s a wonderful man. He goes out of his way to make me smile. Whenever I’m sad he brings me the most beautiful flowers from the east garden, or he’ll take me to the finest restaurants—and you remember that surprise cruise around the Pecorwin continent. That was all just to make me feel better about being let go. We’re still so happy it’s… it’s wonderful.”

There was a pause.

“I don’t understand why you called on me, then,” Kallisto replied. “Not that—please, take no offense, you can ask for me whenever and as long as I’m not on the campaign trail I’m here for you.”

“I know, I know! That’s why I was so hesitant to go to you, of all people, being that you’re trying to become Queen, but of my friends, I feel like you’re the only one that knows Koston as well as you know me.”

“Maybe, but I cannot speak for him.”

“But you two do talk,” Jessa replied. “Is… is he happy?”

Kallisto didn’t say anything right away. With each second that went by between Jessa asking her question and the answer, Koston felt his heartbeat grow louder and louder. A second or two later, and the women would’ve heard it through the other side of the door.

“He seems just as happy as I’ve seen him in the last couple of years,” Kallisto replied. “And certainly as happy as he was on your wedding day.”

Jessa’s response was little more than a long, drawn out sigh. “It’s me, then. Something is wrong with me.”

His wife began to cry again, and for the next couple of moments, all Koston was able to hear was Kallisto consoling her with a “there, there” and probably a warm hug that was otherwise unbecoming of her.

Entering their quarters at this point only seemed like a bad idea. He turned and left before either of the women could’ve noticed that he was ever there at all.

The other man moaned so loud that the creatures in the nocturnal exhibit started howling in reply. He then fell from all fours to the ground as Koston dropped on top of him after climaxing, engrossing himself in the other man’s sweat while the glass cased animals made noises that emulated their own.
The zoo trainer laughed as the imp behemoths and the howlers from the exhibits outside joined the chorus, wondering what all of the commotion was about. He then rolled over and met Koston with a gentle kiss—the same one that led to Koston following him into the nocturnal area.

“When you offered to help take things down after your fundraiser, I didn’t think you meant me,” he said with another laugh.

Koston smiled in reply, but as his sexual desires left him, his mind went to a million places all at once. He was able to feel the electricity between the two as soon as they’d met when Koston first arrived to oversee set up for the Donnick Charity Fundraiser. Their eyes had locked for a moment too long on several occasions, and he’d made an effort to find any excuse necessary to talk with him, even though there were three monarchs in attendance, and half of the government officials in Cardeau. When Jessa said that she wasn’t feeling well and wished to return early, his first thoughts were those of glee. She was one more variable that he didn’t have to consider. When the zoo trainer (he didn’t even know his name) told the rest of his crew that he could destruct the tables and chairs himself, he took what he hoped was a hint and went with it. They were alone for no more than five minutes before their eyes locked, and then their lips… They’d barely made it into an area without security cameras before their clothes were thrown off of one another.

But now Koston had to think about it. He’d just gone out of his way to be unfaithful to his wife so that he could finally fill his urges with another man. This wasn’t a sudden spark that ignited before he could control himself; this was premeditated. Koston spent the entire night trying to find a way to get this man alone, and he had to make great strides to do so. Not once did he think of what would happen after. How could he ever face his loving wife? How could be remain a proud man in the presence of so many that loved and admired him blindly?

He held onto the man for a little while longer. The cold cement felt good on their bare backs, and the commotion from the animals died down until the loudest sound in the Cardeau City Zoo was of the two of them breathing. Koston matched the man’s exhales and inhales in an attempt to breathe in unison. It made him feel better connected to this stranger, even if they were to never see each other again.

“I should go,” Koston said a few minutes later.

The man nodded, understanding, and the two helped each other back to their feet.

Koston spent the next couple of moments trying to find his clothes in the dark. His guilt only continued to grow. The man tried to make small talk as they walked to the zoo’s exit, but Koston felt that even uttering another word to this man would shame himself greater. He wore a silver and blue outfit custom made for him just for that evening, but even while wearing a suit that cost more than most of Cardeau’s citizens entire wardrobe, he’d never felt cheaper. As he crossed the gate, he didn’t bother to give the man so much as another look. Their moment was over, and he wished to never think of it again.

The thought was firmly buried in the back of his mind on his way back to the palace. There was something strangely peaceful about walking down the large tiled floors in the middle of the night, long after most of the staff had gone to sleep. He felt as though he was seeing the palace for the first time, not used to seeing how large it was in the absence of others. Each hall grew larger than the one before it. The tapestries brightened in the many shimmering lights of the grand chandeliers, and the floor to ceiling windows on some walls revealed the rest of Cardeau to be mostly asleep, with dancing blue flames atop street poles to act as nightlights in the city’s slumber.

He wasn’t surprised to see that most of the lights in the knight’s corridors were out. Those that weren’t asleep by now were working the graveyard shift: patrolling the empty halls and guarding Queen Kallisto’s door. He raised an eyebrow when he noticed that the lights weren’t off in his home, however. What was Jessa doing up in the middle of the night?

Does she know…?

Koston braced himself for whatever he was about to walk in to, and blanched as he opened the door to his home.

“Koston! You’re home!” Jessa exclaimed with glee. She sprung off of their couch, where she and the newly-elected Queen were sitting.

Jessa’s arms were wrapped around him before he knew what was going on. She wasn’t angry with him, so there was that. Still, something didn’t feel right. Kallisto’s elongated stare seemed to prove his theory.

“Koston, I’ve the most wonderful news,” Jessa said.

“You’re feeling better, I see,” he replied, trying to keep the conversation light.

“I’m much better now,” she grinned ear to ear. “Koston, it’s finally happened. I’m pregnant!”

Kallisto crossed her arms and leaned into their couch. Her eyes looked like they could burn through his at any moment, but if they did, Koston wasn’t sure if he’d even feel it. His body went numb the second Jessa said those words, and all he could think of was the conversation he and his queen had just moments before their wedding.

“You’ve… you’ve given me everything that I’ve ever wanted,” Jessa said sweetly, on the verge of tears. “You are the most amazing man there is.”

“Well, he is a Donnick,” Kallisto said flatly.

Koston heard neither Jessa’s praise nor Kallisto’s scathing remark. Even though they were in the room with him, he felt a million miles away.

To read book one in the series: “The Raven of Dusk: Transcendence” click here

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