My name is Astrea Conwenna. I was born in the Kingdom of Glæma, on the 190th year of the actual house reign, the house of Scevola. My father is the Duke of Conwenna, which you’d think it is something good at least. The dukes are only second to the royal family, theoretically, having many lands, money and power. Albeit the beautiful title, the duke is only regarded as so in name. For many generations the house of Conwenna has been regarded as a house of idiots. Once it was filled with powerful warriors, great economists and wise statesman. But that was once upon a fairy tale. My grandfather made many terrible investments and lost a great part of our land and money. He literally sold a goldmine in exchange for a horse. My father married my mother, a wise woman but of low status, which was the only good decision he made all his life, but cheated on her so many times and had so many extramarital children that I suspect many of those were just con-artists. His greatest saying is: “no gold in this world can compare with a beautiful woman and a tasty wine”. You can guess where the rest of the family money went.
Luckily, as the third legitimate daughter, and the seventh children overall, I was raised by my aunt, my mother’s sister, Arya Shalhevet. Never married, she was exiled from her own family and took refuge with her youngest sister, my mother. Some say she pretended to be a man and joined the army, but was discovered and her father plead for her life; other say she fell in love with a woman and tried to elope, but was caught. Nevertheless, she was always had a strong aura and faced everyone without fear. Everything I’ve ever learnt, I owe it to her. I may have my mother eyes and my father’s nose, but my life was molded by aunt Shalhevet. And I was pretty determined to have a future like hers: never get married and spend the rest of my life training and studying with auntie. However, my plans were ruined by my idiotic father.
At that point in my life, twenty-two years old and not living in the main house, I thought my father for sure forgot my existence. And that thought was filled with joy: if the main family forgot my existence, I wouldn’t have to act like a noble lady; no need to go to tea parties or to be courted by spoiled brats. However, the king was in search of a suitable wife for his third son and daddy remembered his disposable daughter who had just the right age and no fiancé. And so, in a beautiful morning as auntie and I trained sword in the backyard, a letter arrived. An unrefusable invitation for tea in the royal palace.
“Do I really have to go? Can’t I just pretend to be sick?”, I asked auntie, fake tears dropping.
“Sorry, girl, but if you pretend to be sick, they will just set another date”. Auntie said laughing at my crying face.
“Can’t I run away? I will get some man’s clothes just like auntie!”
“And how did that end for me?”, she said, disappointed.
“But auntie trained me well, I can do it!”
“Just go child. This isn’t even an engagement party yet. You’re just meeting”.
“That’s right!”, I smiled, “He can still hate me!”
“You better behave, or I’ll be mad too”.
“Just leave it to me, I can definitely do it!”
“Do what?” She asked, but I didn’t answer. I had to finish my planning.
Although aunt Shalhevet recommended me to behave, my freedom and future were more important. I never paid much attention to the court and its members, so I had to seek the help of my closest – and only – friend, Countess Sybil Kovač. Better than any official, she knew everything about everyone.
“Sister!”, I exclaimed as I saw her arriving in the next day. The palace event was in less than a week, I needed as much information as possible.
“Sister!”. She ran and hugged me. A manipulative lady and a great strategist, a master in etiquette and a Machiavellian schemer. How could I ask for a better best friend? “I came for a game. What do you have for me?” She was also addicted to gaming and would do anything for a new game.
“Auntie’s friend brought this from the countries down the line, I thought you would enjoy it”. The countries below the Equatorian line were far and would hardly communicate, much less stablish commerce with our Kingdom. My friend was really satisfied with her acquisition. Her eyes shined as I opened the bag and black and white pieces fell.
“What’s this name called?”
“Sounds interesting”, she smiled and looked at me. “What is the payment this time?”
“My father wants me to get married”.
“You? Married?”, she laughed, while trying to keep her lady-like composure. “That’s preposterous”.
“I agree, but I still have to go have tea with his family”.
“I would like to be a fly to watch you acting lady-like in front of the in-laws. But who is the groom?”
“The third prince”. As I said that, her eyes widened. That meant gossip.
“I see”. She gave me a big smile. “If I knew it was this kind of information, I would have given a promotion”
“You don’t want the game?”.
“That’s not it!”, she said grabbing the pieces. “It’s just that this kind of information didn’t even need me to deliver. You see, everyone is aware of the third prince gossip. Specially after he was refused by so many brides.”.
“Is that so? Is he that much of a scumbag?”
“On the opposite. He is regard as an ethical and good man. It’s a pity that he can’t perform”.
“Yeah.” She gave me a sad face that she used every time she told a tragic history. “If you paid a little bit of attention to the court you wouldn’t had to ask me. Have you heard of the Tiger General?”
“Of course. I studied his techniques with auntie. He was the youngest general to ascend to his position, with magic that could rival the mythical Black Dragon Knight and whose sword is now in the Royal Museum. It’s a pity he had to end his career so young. If he was still active, our country would be unstoppable in war”. As I said this, she smiled at me without saying a thing. I looked at her for a while, trying to understand why she brought that up, when it hit me. “The third prince is the Tiger General? How did I not know that?”
“You always ignore everything related to the court and the royal palace. And every time you go out your only interest is books and armor”. That was a well-deserved slap on my face. They could have the same name, and I wouldn’t make the relation. Maybe this marriage was not as bad as I imagined.
“If he is the Tiger General, why was he constantly refused by his brides?” As a legendary general, even if he was not active anymore, he should have lots of women going for him.
“It’s all because of his accident. After he lost the movement on his legs, many suspect that he’ll be unable to produce an heir. The royal family puts a lot of pressure in the production of as many heirs as possible. Specially in this generation”.
“The rumor is that a renown prophet came to visit the first King when he rose to power. He said that a child would be born in the tenth generation to bring harmony and prosperity to the Kingdom. They regard those words as the ultimate truth. Because of that, it is believed that they want to get the prince married only to get rid of him. Of course, they have offered some money in exchange of it, but most noble families considered the money to be nothing more than crumbs. And the girls say that they don’t want to marry a brute cripple, abandoned by his own family”.
“Those girls are the reason I don’t want anything to do with nobility”.
“Well, now that you know who is your husband-to-be, will you marry him?” And the gossiper was back.
“Nah… He can be a great general, but a terrible husband. And I don’t want a husband, even if he is a god”.
“Hypocrite”. She snorted.
Two days later, my father sent someone to take me back to the main house to prepare me for the meeting. My mom waited for me on the door. I tried to argue with her that I didn’t want to marry, but she said that she already tried to discuss it with father, but he didn’t listen to her. Mother visited me frequently and invited me to talk about the most diverse themes. She said that sending me to live with auntie was the best decision, keeping me away from all the foolishness in the Conwenna Mansion. I stayed the next days in the house, preparing myself for the great encounter. As I walked through the place, I heard father saying that he finally found a use for me. That, although it’s cheap money, it’s good enough for a girl like me. I have no idea what he means by that, but knowing how many kids he has, he could just sell one by one to a rich family. Maybe that was his plan. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Father didn’t listen to mom; he would never listen to me.
In the carriage, father wouldn’t even look at me – nothing different from the habitual. My oldest brother was treated well by father, since he was the heir; my older sister got married as soon as possible to leave the house; and I was sent to live with aunt Shalhevet. Father liked making children, but not taking care of them. If he could, he’d never see us. But this was about money. And with the family in decadence, selling a forgotten daughter to the royal family was a great idea.
When we arrived, father hugged me and pretended to be the sweetest and loveliest father. Unfortunately, he is a terrible actor and his intentions were clear: squeeze as much money as possible from the royal family. Despicable. The royals waited for us at the hall. That was only their summer mansion, and it still was five times bigger than ours. According to Sybil, the royals were known for their cold holier-than-thou attitude. The description was accurate. The prince was not even present in the hall, only the parents. The arrogance was visible in their eyes, even though their smiles were gentle. We saluted them with a reverence, and brought gifts. Did I already say how much I hate those solemnities? Cause I do. And when they invited us for tea – why do noble ladies have to always drink exceptionally sweet tea? – the prince still wasn’t there. Were them hiding him?
“Duke Conwenna, we are honored with your presence. We are sure that miss Conwenna will be a perfect match for our son”.
“Your highness, Astrea is our beloved daughter”. Father started. “She has been training since young, being educated by a famous lady. She is knowledgeable in many areas; she is not average”.
“And our son is not average either. He was renown, a military prodigy, a legendary general. He may have lost his position, but all of his laurels stay”. The king answered quickly. The queen stayed by his side, looking pretty.
“Those are all in the past, your highness. As you said, he was renown. Now, he is disabled. He will never be able to conceive an heir. To deprive a woman of being a mother is a nightmare, no matter how you see it”.
If the women said something, it would be about how ludicrous that talk was. I was also advised to keep my mouth shut. Of course, they used more polite words, but that’s what they meant when they said act like a lady.
“That’s why we issued a compensation. Since the husband won’t be able to fulfill his marital duties, we offered a fitting compensation to the family”.
“We don’t believe it is really a fitting compensation”.
“And what would be a fitting compensation?”
Observe that these people are negotiating my future, in monetary terms, and not even a cent will go for me. Parents are the best, aren’t they? After they came to an agreement about how much my life is worth – a pretty low value, if I may say so – they sent us, “the women”, to another room while they discussed the details. Translation: they are going to drink some. Mother and the Queen sat together to plan my wedding. They barely know each other and have nothing in common, and the wedding was rushed, so that no one will have the chance to give up or run away. After hearing about invitations, dresses, cakes and napkins for too long, I excused myself and went to the toilet. And used the fact that I had no idea where the toilet was to walk around and explore every inch of that mansion. It was a fun walk until I listened to some voices coming from an office. Guess who was there? If you are thinking about those two good-for-nothing fathers, you got it right. And they became even more useless and chatty after some bottles of wine.
“In the end we both got rid of those useless children.”
“What an awesome deal!”
“You know, I never thought much about that child. I believed he would never do anything worth of recognition; for a while, he almost made me think I was wrong. But in the end, he turned out to be just a cripple”. The King laughed. Such a heinous man.
“At least your son did something good. That stupid girl is worthy less than a horse”.
“I know, I paid for her!”
“Now that the deal is settled, I can tell you: that girl could never be a lady, much less a wife or mother. She never learned anything remarkable. That brainless sister-in-law only taught her pointless s***. If she at least had one redeeming quality, I would have asked for more”.
“At least those bastards won’t procreate”
“I thought the royal family wanted to have as many descendants as possible”.
“Not from that one. And after he lost his legs, we are pretty sure that he won’t be able to perform, anyway”.
“Less idiots in this world”.
As I listened close to the door, I heard a voice coming from behind.
“If things worked like that, those two are the ones who shouldn’t procreate”.
I looked behind me and there was a man in wheelchair that, undoubtedly, was my fiancé.
“Then we wouldn’t have been born”.
“You must be the duchess. Nice to meet you. Sorry for not getting up, I just can’t”.
The talk, or the badmouthing, was going on inside.
“Would you like to go to another room to talk?”, he asked.
“Gladly, your majesty”.
He led me to a room not far from where we were. It was much smaller than the ones I’ve been to, and it was decorated differently. It was probably part of the third prince’s wing. As we arrived, he directed me to a chair and got direct to the point.
“Do you want to get married? Are you really willingly marrying me?”
“Oh… So that’s the kind of conversation you wanted. I don’t have much of a choice in the matter. If it was for me, I’d never get married. Not only to you, but to any man”.
“You prefer ladies?”
“Nah, I was never interested in marriage or romance”.
“What interests you?”
“I don’t know… A little bit of everything. My aunt trained me a lot at home. I even learnt the thousand swords technique”.
“You did?”, there was some surprise in his eyes. It was his technique, and it was in the Master level.
“I’m still learning it… My aunt raised me, and she loves to teach me as many different things as possible. We studied your battles together many times. They were great material for the sword and magic classes. Strategy wise, they were some of the most rewarding readings”.
“You studied magic and sword?”
“Auntie really likes armory and arsenal. She took me camping with her friends many times”.
“That sounds really interesting. To think a lady would be studying my battles”.
“I don’t like being called a lady. I never took part on the court. I’d rather travel with auntie”.
“Where did you go?”
“Many places. Abdah, Adebayo, Ihejirika, Otieno, Khan, Shah, Leif, Sigurður…”
“Are you just listing kingdom’s names?” He laughed.
“No! I really went there”.
“You traveled a lot!” He laughed again.
“You should have traveled a lot too. You were always campaigning”.
“Not really. As a general, I only went to the battlefield. As a prince I only went to classes. And as a cripple, I just went to the trash”. He laughed again. It was horrible to see someone I admired bathing in self-loath.
“I can’t think of you as trash. Even without your military prowess, you are still one of the best strategists the country has seen in centuries; and your magic is rated as one of the most intricate and well developed. The only trash in this house is those man in that room”.
“That I can agree”. He smiled. I really liked to see him smile. I read a lot about Ewan Scevola, the general. But Ewan Scevola, the prince and the man were great people. He was easy to talk, and was definitely handsome.
“Can I ask you something personal?”
“We will be husband and wife; I won’t be able to hide much from you”.
“Even so, this is a little bit intimate”.
“Okay”, he looked at me suspiciously.
“After your accident, they sent you to a doctor for… you know…”
“To see if I’m impotent?”
“Yeah. Because according to my intel, the impact was in your spine. Without immediate care, the wound couldn’t be healed, even with magic. But the”, I stopped, afraid of saying the word. I grew up with ruffians, aka my aunties friends, that had no manners and would say everything even to a child. However, this was a different environment. The prince looked at me expectantly. “Reproductive organ is part of a different system”.
“You could have said p****. I don’t mind”. He laughed. I’m pretty sure my face turned red.
“It’s strange to say that here. I’m used to doing it in other situations, but in the royal’s mansion? Anyway. They are different and independent parts of the body”.
“You’re a good in anatomy. But, as you may have seen, my father is a stupid man. In his mind, a man in a wheelchair is incapable”.
“That’s stupid. I can think of ways of doing it in a wheelchair”. I said, distracted. Auntie Shalhevet taught me about sex using a copy of the Kama Sutra; who would have imagined how strange that was to the regular person. The prince went tomato red. I must admit, seeing a legendary general blush was really cute. “I apologize for my comment”.
“No need to do so. You just surprised me”. He said, hiding his face. He really was cute, I thought. Maybe I could really marry a man like that. We share common interests; he seems pretty respectful; and he is cute and hot. Those are rare. At that moment, a playful idea came to mind.
“Your highness, how much do you think your dad will drink?”
“Because I decided to marry you, if you would take me”.