Breaking the endless blue of the Waters finally were the red sand shores of Noruz. Arre was glad for the sight of them, though she wouldn’t show her father. He’d never planned to allow her to leave the service of Ista, but circumstances her forced his hand. The death of his eldest daughter had not been so much a tragedy as a setback for the Grand Cleric. But in his knowledge, Ista had given him two daughters and though Arre was unpolished in the ways of the outside world, she would serve just as well in solidifying the power and influence of her family.
“Make yourself ready, child.” Her father’s voice called. Arre had become mesmerised by the soft lapping of waves against the ship as the red shoreline grew on the horizon. She tore herself away from the helm of the ship and rushed below deck, to the room which had been prepared for her day-long voyage. Looking in the mirror, Arre did not see what needed to be made more ready, for her maidservants had already helped her into her white and blue gown, washed and painted her face with a powder to make her skin appear more clear, and another to make her cheeks more rosy, braided her hair and polished her shoes. Still, she stared at herself in the mirror; fidgeting with her necklace until she was sure her father would be satisfied she had made some effort. She practiced her greetings.
“Good afternoon, majesty.” Her voice shook and cracked. Would the Regent-Commander wish to be called that? Arre tried again. “Good morning, ma’am.” No! That sounded old and unflattering. And what of the Crown Prince himself? Arre had only met him once before, months earlier at a ball held for the announcement of their betrothal and he hadn’t had much to say to her. She’d tried to converse on the only topics she knew anything about: beauty and religion. He’d been interested in neither. Since then she had been reading works on history and society, trying to find common ground. Her father had gotten her a tutor, to teach her how to behave as a member of high society. All Arre had understood from her was that high society was fickle and that nobody was who they presented themselves to be.
What could be the point of such an existence?
Still, the challenges of this new life would be exciting, a change of pace from the dullness of self-beautification and worship. Maybe she would even learn to enjoy it. And maybe the Crown Prince would turn out to be a much more pleasant individual to spend time with than he had been at their first meeting.
Arre felt the ship slow and heard the other members of her procession begin to hurry to the deck. They must be arriving. She put away her powders, dabbed perfume on her wrists and neck and then made her way back up to the top deck. The shoreline was now so close she could see the people standing there, singing and cheering for her arrival. Or was it for the Grand Cleric? It didn’t matter. Arre smiled and waved as she walked up and took her place next to her father at the front of the procession. The ship came softly to a halt and a ramp was let down onto the dry sands.
The Grand Cleric took his daughter’s hand in his own and stepped forward. Arre followed suit and the two walked slowly to meet the waiting delegation from the Noruzian court. People cheered and tried to get close but were held back by the wall of Lathalian guards on either side of the two families. The Grand Cleric smiled broadly and said a courteous greeting to the Regent-Commander, who returned the courtesy. He then turned to the Crown Prince and gave a shallow bow of acknowledgement, which was returned. When it came Arre’s turn to speak she fumbled for words and finally, at a loss for what to do, slipped her hand free of her father and gave the Regent-Commander a hug.
It was unorthodox and unexpected but the Regent-Commander returned the gesture. She smiled and gave a small chuckle. This was not at all the ogre of a girl her son had been describing to her. She could see now that Arre was simply new to this world, and who could expect anything else? The girl had been an apprentice on The Island Temple all her life.
Kolen stared in shock at his soon-to-be-wife as she hugged his mother. What kind of behaviour was that? And when she came to stand in front of him, he wasn’t sure what to do. Should he embrace her? Shake her hand? The two stared at each other for a time, until finally the Grand Cleric broke the silence.
“Come!” he said in a booming and joyous voice. “Let us feast and celebrate the joining of our families. Ista be praised!” He extended his arm to the Regent-Commander and she promptly wrapped her arm around his. The two turned and began to walk slowly towards the palace, waving at on-lookers as they went.
Kolen and Arre stood a moment longer.
“W-we-Well,” Arre said in a small voice. “Shall we follow suit?” She attempted a smile but felt her muscles fall short on a grimace. Kolen fought the urge to frown and extended his arm, which she took. He mustered a smile and led his bride up the path towards the palace. Neither he nor Arre attempted to make conversation on the walk, nor did they even look at each other. Arre’s excitement for this new life was very quickly dissipating and she wondered if she’d be able to fit herself into this life. For his part, Kolen wrote off this meeting as simply the beginning he’d expected to a marriage which would be little more than a political convenience.