Work Has A Way of Isolating You; Being with the People You Love Has A Way of Reminding You You’re Not Alone
“I will be personally overseeing the wedding’s security,” said the knight commander, hands folded on his desk. “With Sir Devin working out the specifics. Given that the whole royal family will be present for the duration of the event, you will all be put under his command. The castle guard will comprise most of the security, and the city guard will be stationed outside the First Church to ensure order. Sir Elaine, you will liaise with the captains of those two forces to ensure continuity of protection.”
Elaine nodded, and Edwin was profoundly grateful he hadn’t been stuck with that job. “Yes, sir.”
“Given the security issues at the last several royal events, we’ll be searching all guests—no matter who they are—for weapons before they’re allowed into the cathedral and again before they can be allowed into the palace afterwards. Sir Edwin will be in command of that operation, and Sir Elaine can negotiate with the captains of both guards to have them spare some people to help speed the searching along.”
Oh. Edwin nodded. “Yes, sir.” He didn’t need to look around the room to know that was the crappiest job on the security detail. The royal wedding was a huge deal and over a thousand people were attending. The city guard didn’t play well with the order and wouldn’t like being under a knight’s command. If there were delays getting people inside—which there would be—they’d be Edwin’s fault.
If there was any kind of security breach like there always was, it would be Edwin’s fault. There were easily four hundred people doing security for the wedding, but anything that went wrong would be Edwin’s fault.
The knight commander nodded as if he wasn’t throwing Edwin in front of a pack of wolves intentionally. “Many of the knights under your usual command are attending the wedding as the princess’s guests,” he went on blandly. “But Sir Devin will no doubt find positions for the rest of them.”
No doubt he would. Edwin just nodded again, because it wasn’t like he could say the knight commander was using an inevitable problem at the wedding as an excuse to take his command away from him. “Understood, sir. I’d like to ask Sir Devin to keep in mind that very few people in the order can communicate with Prince Grey Rain effectively, in the likely event that he gets bored during the party afterwards and wanders away.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, lad,” said Devin, slightly stiff.
“Sir Devin doesn’t need to be told how to do his job,” said the knight commander, stern. “Sir Pascal, the food will all be tested by the castle’s testers, but I want to arrange a second set of testers, just in case…”
Edwin paid attention to the rest of the meeting, but none of the rest of the instructions were about him. He was trying to decide if he should warn Gavin in advance that Grey Rain and Greg’s usual bodyguards were likely to be reassigned to something pointless. Devin wasn’t an asshole, but Edwin didn’t need to ask to know he’d inevitably side with the knight commander in any conflict.
Edwin didn’t care that much that he’d been given the worst job on the security detail, but it pissed him off that Anthony and Robert were getting screwed over in the deal. At least Warren, Ash and Evan were getting to go to the wedding as guests, since Gabrielle had insisted on having them there. There was nothing Edwin could do about the rest of it, though.
When the meeting was over, the knight commander dismissed them, and they all saluted and left. “Sir Edwin, one more thing,” said the knight commander, before Edwin could go.
“Yes, sir?” Edwin asked, turning around and standing in front of the desk. It wasn’t a big desk, but it made Edwin feel small.
“I would like you to speak with the prince about his portals,” said the knight commander, looking right at him. “I want them all closed for the week leading up to the wedding. They pose a security risk.”
“Agreed,” Edwin said, because the knight commander wasn’t wrong. “I’ll talk to him.” He’d also have to talk to Robby and his parents, because it would mean Robby would have to stay at the school for that week.
“Good. As part of the security detail, we cannot have you inaccessible during that week, and your keep is an hour from the city. You will remain at the fortress during that time in case we need you.”
And Edwin would also be talking to Rudy to make sure he was across the country when the portals closed. Maybe even out of the country. They could stow him on Pax’s ship. “Understood. Is there anything else, sir?”
“No. I’m glad to see that our previous disagreement hasn’t affected your professionalism, Sir Edwin.”
Edwin could not wait until this man retired. “I don’t recall that we had a disagreement, sir.”
“Indeed. You’re dismissed, Edwin.”
“Thank you, sir,” Edwin said, and he left, taking deep breaths once he was out in the hallway. He’d been hoping that maybe Richard’s professionalism would rear its head on the rare occasions they had to talk to each other, but the knight commander was making it pretty clear that as long as he was in charge, he was going to punish Edwin.
And why shouldn’t he? He had all the power. He knew Edwin was defying him and just because he couldn’t kick Edwin out of the order didn’t mean he couldn’t do anything. He was going to make sure nothing ever changed, even if Edwin managed to get his stupid plan off the ground. All that would accomplish would be to get everyone else punished too. The knight commander was already punishing Anthony and Robert and neither of them had even done anything except for get assigned to work with Edwin’s sorry ass.
Crap. Edwin could feel himself starting to spiral backwards, and he knew that was wrong, he really did. But the problem with knowing that was that it didn’t help when it just made so much sense to think about how he was never going to accomplish anything and he was stupid for ever assuming he would. It was just the smart thing to think.
Edwin walked through the portal into Stag Keep, surprised to find the great hall’s doors shut. Nikolai was standing there, fiddling with his fingers. “What’s going on?” he asked, gesturing at the doors.
“Sir Erik asked if we could close them until you got back,” Nikolai said, putting his hands behind his back.
“Okay…” Edwin looked around. “I’m back now.”
“Right. Can you change into your armour, please?”
“I’m wearing…” Edwin saw that Nikolai was looking to the corner of the anteroom, where the fancy armour Erik had gotten him for his promotion was standing. “Why…nevermind. Listen, I’m not super in the mood for this? Like if Erik wants to be horny that’s fine, but I’m just going to ask him to stow the role play until tomorrow, I think.”
Nikolai moved in front of the door. “Please, sir? It’s…look, he asked me not to tell you anything but he’s been working really hard on this and we’ve been helping and I know you’re not feeling well but I really think this’ll make you feel better.”
Edwin looked at his big eyes and sighed. “Fine,” he said. If it was important to Erik, it was important to him too. He could wait a few more hours before he had a rest. “Help me change into this, okay?”
Nikolai nodded and between the two of them, they got Edwin changed into his formal armour. He’d worn it a few times, but it felt so fancy and expensive it was silly to wear it just to guard a door. He’d have to wear it to the wedding so he could look nice while he patted people down for knives.
It was hard not to feel kind of special in it, though, and Edwin couldn’t help but smile a little when the last piece was strapped into place. “Thanks,” he said. “Now can I go into my own house?”
“Not yet,” Nikolai said, shaking his head. “Stay here for just a second.” He went over into the great hall, only cracking the door open to slide through before slamming it shut again.
Edwin sighed, kicking at some nonexistent dirt on the spotless floor. He was being stupid. He should have known it was pointless to try and stand up to the knight commander, and he should stop pouting about it and making the people who loved him feel bad for him.
Didn’t mean he was going to stop trying, though. Rudy deserved it, and so did everyone else.
The door opened again and Robby came out, dressed in his fanciest clothes. “Hey,” he said. “Sorry this is taking so long.”
“It’s fine,” Edwin said. “What is this?”
“It’s called a secret,” Robby told him, finger to his lips. “It’s like a Techen’s Stand cultural practice where you don’t tell someone what’s behind a door.”
Edwin reached out and pinched Robby’s nose. “That sounds like a stupid cultural practice.”
“Ow, ow, let go!” Robby flapped his arms a little, batting at Edwin until Edwin let him go. “You’re going to like it, dummy.”
“Okay, okay.” Edwin shook his head. “Fine. How’s school?”
“Good. Riding horses is hard when they’re not tied to posts. But it’s fine.” Robby smiled. “Nobody’s being mean to me.”
Yet, Edwin thought. Did he trust the teachers at the school to teach Robby properly if the knight commander told them not to? Robby had wanted to be a knight for years, it wasn’t fair to ruin it for him. “You may have to stay there for a week in the next little while. We’re going to be closing the portals before the wedding as a security thing.”
“Okay.” Robby shrugged. “I can do that.”
“Cool. I’ll be staying in the fortress.”
“Okay. Are you okay? You seem upset.”
“I’m okay,” Edwin promised. “Just really busy and my brothers are keeping secrets from me.”
There was a quiet knock at the door and Robby smiled. “No more secrets,” he said. He pulled Edwin towards the door, which was opened from the inside.
Edwin’s great hall was decorated with streamers and flowers. The tables had all been moved out of the centre of the room, and the big table covered in a white tablecloth with more decorations. Erik was standing there at the front of the room, dressed in his best armour. Owen and Gavin were there too, and Denver and Louis, and standing all around the room was…everyone.
All of Edwin’s friends were there, all the squires, even Ty with Percy. Erik’s friends too, Wyatt and a bunch of other guys. Millicent and her parents were there, and so was Alse, Denver and Louis’s merboy husband. Grey Rain and Greg were there with Eddie and a few of Gavin’s other servants, and all the knights Edwin worked with, even Elaine, were here.
Somebody was playing music, horns that sounded gentle, and Robby made Edwin walk up to the head of the room. “What the hell is all this?” Edwin asked quietly.
“Oh, come on,” Robby said, beaming. “You’re not dumb, Edwin.”
“It’s a wedding, silly,” Erik said, when Edwin was close enough. “Our wedding.”
“You…” Edwin was so overwhelmed. “You planned our wedding without telling me?”
“Sure.” Erik smiled, got Edwin to stand in front of him. “Because I knew if I asked you when you wanted to have it you’d have said after the royal wedding, and after Rudy’s trial, and after the stuff with the knight commander, and after and after and after and I love how dedicated you are, Ed. But I’d like to get married while we’re still alive.”
Edwin’s face was flushed with heat, mostly because he knew Erik was right but also because Erik had gone to so much trouble for him. “You brought everyone here.”
“Yeah. I mean, most people I just asked to come and they did,” Erik said, taking Edwin’s hands. “You’ll have to thank Louis later for going to get Ty, but I knew you’d want him here.”
Edwin nodded, swallowing. He was going to start crying, fuck. “Yeah. Okay, yeah. Let’s get married.”
Edwin was a bit surprised when Ned came up to the front of the room, smiling awkwardly. “Erik said you wouldn’t mind not having a Catechism wedding?” he said, and he said it as a question.
“Uh…no, I guess not,” Edwin said, wondering why Erik hadn’t just found a priest. But it didn’t matter. Married was married.
Ned nodded, holding out his hands. “Don’t worry, I’ve done this lots of times.” He took a breath. “The world is chaos and noise, and every soul is mixed into the tumult. Sometimes, a soul is lucky enough to find another soul that can calm the storm. These two souls have found each other and wish to be joined together. Sir Erik, is it your soul’s desire to be bound in perpetuity to Sir Edwin, so that you two can weather the chaos together?”
Erik nodded, looking at Edwin. “Yes, it is.”
“Sir Edwin,” said Ned. “Is it your soul’s desire to be bound in perpetuity to Sir Erik, so that you two may seek silence together?”
“Yes,” Edwin said, the words striking him. He’d never thought of the world that way, but it made so much sense. “Yes, it is.” It really, really was.
“In that case, a binding is required.”
On cue, Robby came forward with a heavy ribbon, not the light kind used in normal weddings. Erik shifted their hands so that Edwin’s were on top, and Robby wrapped the ribbon around, smiling at Edwin. “Thank you,” Edwin whispered.
Robby grinned. “We’re doing this again when I’m old enough,” he whispered back, taking a step away. A lot of the ribbon was still trailing down to the floor.
“Bodies cannot be bound together, for they are temporary,” Ned said. Edwin had never heard his voice so clear. “But souls are eternal, and through our bodies they can be joined. This takes a lifetime, but it starts with one earnest desire. Sir Edwin, Sir Erik, through your bodies I ask you to begin the process of binding your souls.” When they both looked at him, Ned cleared his throat. “You kiss, at this part.”
“Oh,” Edwin said, and he moved forward, squeezing Erik’s hand, kissing him, and Erik leaned in and kissed back, and the music that had disappeared came back loudly as everyone cheered for them and it was exactly what Edwin had always wanted his wedding to be like. “I love you,” he whispered to Erik.
“I love you too,” Erik promised, resting his forehead against Edwin’s. “We’re not done yet.”
Erik shook his head, and looked at Ned, who nodded and took another breath. “Sir Edwin, you understand that in the face of chaos and noise, there is profound strength in numbers. Your soul is lucky enough to have found not one partner but several. If it is your desire, your soul can be bound to others as well.”
“What…” Edwin looked around, realized how close Gavin and Owen were standing, and Louis and Denver. “What? I can?”
“Come on,” Erik said, smiling warmly. “I could have gotten a Catechism priest, but they only let you get married once.”
“But, you…” Edwin had never even talked about getting married to anyone but Erik. He’d never even…
“I want your soul to be bound to all the other souls that love you, Edwin.”
“And that’s what we want too,” Owen told him, voice soft.
“If you do,” Denver agreed. “Being married is awesome, Edwin, and I’d really like to do it with you.”
“It’s okay if you don’t want to.” Gavin smiled at him. “But I’d be very happy if you did.”
Tears were running down Edwin’s face, and he nodded. “Me too,” he said.
“Good,” said Louis, tail around Edwin’s ankle. “Because you already belong to me, so we may as well have a way to show it.”
Ned gestured, and all four of them came over, putting their hands over Edwin’s. Robby had to squeeze in to wrap the ribbon around them and it was a huge, unwieldy mess. “Uh. I think I’m going to have to hold this in place,” Robby whispered, hand on Edwin’s as well.
“That’s okay,” said Ned, and Edwin had a feeling he understood what Robby was doing just as well as Edwin himself did. The end of the ribbon was draped over his hand. “All of you. Prince Gavin, Sir Owen, King Denver, King Louis. Robby.” He said that last one in a less carrying voice. “Is it your souls’ desire to be bound to the soul of Sir Edwin?”
Edwin had never heard five people agree to something so fast. He was surrounded by them, and all he could feel was their body heat. “Sir Erik. Do you consent to sharing your soul’s partner?”
“With as many people as he wants,” Erik promised, and Edwin knew he meant that.
“Sir Edwin? Is it your soul’s…”
“Yes it is,” Edwin said, nodding. He was still crying. He was so hot. But it wasn’t body heat he was feeling. “It is.”
“In that case, I ask you to begin binding your soul to the others.”
Edwin kissed Owen because he was closest, then Gavin, then Louis and then Denver and finally Robby, not caring because it didn’t matter anymore if someone got annoyed. He’d done it and now their souls were bound together and it was just some ritual from a religion that didn’t even exist anymore but Edwin didn’t care because he felt it, he felt all their souls touching his, binding to his.
It wasn’t heat that surrounded Edwin. It was love. All the love these people had for him, them and everyone else in the room, everyone here. They all loved him.
And he loved all of them too, and he would give his entire soul for all of them.
“As bonded souls,” Ned was saying, “it is your duty to love and cherish one another, to protect and defend one another, to serve and aid one another, for as long as your bodies shall live. I task all of you with the work of making each other happy, and keeping each other steady in the world of chaos and noise. Your souls are strong and you are strong, and together you are invincible. And thus I declare you married.”
There was cheering in the room, so much cheering, because it wasn’t just the six of them. Everyone in this room loved him. And they all made Edwin stronger. They all made each other stronger.
And so later, at the party, maybe after a few cups of wine, Edwin told them, all of them, all the people who loved him and who he loved, what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it. Because together, all of them would bring some quiet to the chaos.
But together, all of them would bring some noise to the order, too.