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The Exchange by GoddessofBirth
Category: Teen Wolf (TV)
Genre: Alternate Universe - Regency, Alternate Universe - Royalty, Arranged
Marriage, Betrayal, Bisexuality, Due to the fact they are in an arranged marriage
at a time when consummation was a thing, Explicit Sexual Content, F/F, Gerard
is as always a raging misogynist, Gore, Historical Inaccuracy, Homophobic
Slurs, Internalized Homophobia, M/M, Marriage of Convenience, Mentions of
Rape, Mildly Dubious Consent, Minor Character Death, Misunderstandings, Past
Abuse, Past Chris Argent/Victoria Argent - Freeform, Period Typical
Homophobia, Protective Siblings, Supernatural Elements, violent imagery
Characters: Alan Deaton, Allison Argent, Chris Argent, Deucalion (Teen Wolf),
Gerard Argent, Jennifer Blake, Kali (Teen Wolf), Peter Hale, Scott McCall,
Sheriff Stilinski, Vernon Boyd
Relationships: Chris Argent/Peter Hale, Jennifer Blake/Kali
Packaged: 2016-12-26 01:22:21
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Prince Argent sends to the Hales to fulfill an ancient marriage treaty.
Perhaps he should have worded the request more carefully.
Written for the 2014 Petopher Secret Santa Exchange from the prompt
REGENCY AU WHERE CHRIS IS THE PRINCE AND THE HALES
SEND PETER INSTEAD OF TALI A. I hope you like it!
You didn't say what he requested Talia for, so I went for the whole arranged
marriage trope. Because I love the arranged marriage trope and have been
wanting to do a Petopher one for awhile.
A few notes: 1) I had to create a country for Chris to rule. So there's that.
And, well, I figured Peter may as well come from a fictional country as
well. Chris' country is fairly isolated, so while they are aware of the
fashions and conventions of the Regency, they don't necessarily follow
2) Plastic sheeting wasn't actually invented until the mid-1800s, but for the
purpose of this story we're gonna pretend it was a few decades earlier.
3) Edward Jenner was a real person and the details of his inoculation
attempts are true. The rest of the medical stuff is just made up. I am not a
doctor. I don't even play one on TV.
4) By rights, Chris and Peter should be wearing pantaloons in almost every
scene. However, I cannot even write the word pantaloons without giggling,
because I am actually a twelve year old, so we are just going with breeches
in exchange. But I do know the difference.
5) Don't think about the geography too much. Just...don't.
6) Chris is around 35 in this story. Peter is 25. At that age, I picture him as a
mix between Ian and Fjordbak, with his features beginning to settle more
into Ian's. Your mileage may vary. The important thing is that everyone is
very, very of age.
“Allison.” The prince called his young daughter's attention back to him as he
placed the last pin in her hair, securing the intricate knot together. It was a task
his father had never stopped criticizing him for undertaking; a task far beneath
his station and, in his father’s eyes, his sex. A task rightfully meant for Allison's
chambermaid. But it was a task that allowed Chris a few precious extra moments
with his daughter, before the duties of the kingdom pulled him away for hours -
sometimes days - at a time, so it was a task he had absconded with early on, and
a skill he had honed as ruthlessly and efficiently as any with blade or pistol.
After ten years, none could tell whether it was his hand, or Jill's, that had been at
her hair that day.
Prince Christopher Argent: Guardian of the Kingdom, Slayer of the Undead,
Hairdresser Extraordinaire. He allowed himself a small, compressed smile at
that, before placing a kiss on the top of his twelve year old daughter's head and
“Please remember what I've asked of you. The Lady Talia comes from a highly
influential family in Genovia. This treaty has been in place for hundreds of years
and our honoring of it is essential in the survival of both our countries. The tide
must be kept at bay.” He had never sheltered his daughter in the manner of some
parents; like those in England or France or other countries who had the luxury of
living in ignorance. She would be head of state one day; better to start now than
some ephemeral point in the future. It was what his parents had done with him
and what their parents had done with them and so on and so forth unto the very
founding of their tiny mountain country. It was the nature of the burden they
“I need you to give her the respect she is due.” Allison's glare in the mirror was
unconvinced, and he tried a different tact, even though it was one that made his
heart clench as if he were betraying Victoria. “Besides, it will be nice to have a
mother, don't you think? Someone a little better at picking out dresses than I.”
He gave a tendril of her hair a playful tug. “I think we about drove Miss
Elizabeth mad her last trip over.”
When Allison spoke, he was unprepared for the vitriol in her voice. “I don't need
a mother. I never had one before and I don't need one now.”
He froze. “What is this nonsense?” You had a moth -”
“Yes, father, I know. And she was tall and fierce and beautiful and brave, and she
died saving a score of our people, including me. How would I ever forget, since
you remind me of her perfection every day?”
Victoria, perfect? God’s blood, she would give him a tongue lashing had she
ever heard him describe her as such. Possibly challenged him to a duel to teach
him a lesson. No, she had not been perfect, but she had been perfect for him. He
thought their youthful marriage had probably been the last time he had truly
defied his father's orders. Gerard had certainly not wept when she had been slain
just a few short months after Allison's birth.
He leaned his hip against the dresser and spoke carefully, searching for the right
words. “Your mother was fierce and brave and beautiful. And clever and bold
and sharp-witted. And she saved all of our lives when she held off the Undead.
But she was also harsh and unbending and undiplomatic. With a quick and
wicked temper. She was flawed and human and I am sorry if I ever gave you the
impression otherwise. But I loved her, and I miss her. It will do us good to no
longer be alone.
“But, Father - why ? You are not alone.” In all her childish wisdom she said
earnestly, “You have me. And I have you. And Jill and Mistress Morrell when
you are at the battle. Besides, I know you didn't wish for this. I heard the
discussions with Grandfather.”
Ah, his little sneak. But wide ears were not necessarily a bad thing for the future
Queen to possess. “Because he wills it so. And what do we obey, little one,
above all things?”
She sighed. “Family and Crown. Grandmother never would have forced you! If I
were old enough - !”
“But you are not, are you? And until you are, your grandfather rules.”
“But he's gone ! He might not even come back! He was probably eaten!”
“Until there is a body —”
She crossed her arms petulantly, and he wouldn't have been surprised if she had
stomped one delicately slippered foot. “I don't want anyone new!”
He pulled her into his arms. “I know, my little arrow. But this will be for the
best. For us, and for our people. Talia is sensible and wise and strong. She knows
the rapier as well, which is unusual for women from the Continent. She can help
you supplement Captain Stilinski's lessons.”
His daughter was not happy, but he was confident she obey when it came time.
She would not shame him or their family by acting the brat.
“Why don't you change into your boots? You should have plenty of time to visit
with Wolfsbane before the caravan arrives.”
The possibility of spending the better part of the afternoon with her beloved
stallion did the trick of at last returning a smile to her face. “Yes, why don't I?”
She rose to her toes and placed a kiss on his cheek before darting across the
room and through the door that led to her dressing room. He didn't worry so
much on her when she was at the stables. Mr. McCall and his son would ensure
her safety, and even at her young age, she was almost at a point where she did
not need a guard at all. His late wife would be proud of her. And he thought she
would approve of Talia. If time and distance weren't against them, he would
wager she and Victoria would have been bosom companions.
He set Allison's dressing table to order and quietly left the room.
Deaton was in the armory when Chris entered, and gave a perfunctory bow of
his head. “Your highness.” Chris had yet to figure out how his closest friend still
seemed to be looking down his nose at him even when performing necessary
oblations, but there had never been any sense of ruler and subject between them,
even when they were small. Which is likely why Chris trusted Deaton's advice
more than any official court adviser.
The man in question raised an eyebrow when Chris sat down across the long
workbench from him and picked up a steel crossbow bolt. There was much
promise in the exploding arrowheads he and Deaton had been experimenting
with. The trick was in ensuring they detonated upon contact, but were not so
sensitive as to detonate at a simple jostle from the user's quiver. The exact
balance was still eluding them.
“Your highness. I would have thought you would have been busy primping for
the Duchess' arrival.”
Chris snorted. “Lob off, Alan. While I will court the Duchess with every bit of
care and time required for appearances to be met, I doubt she is any more
deluded than I at exactly what this is: A match her family is duty bound to agree
to by a long outdated treaty. She is nothing more than her country's sacrificial
lamb.” His mother had been in the process of renegotiating the treaties with the
Continent families at the time of her death, and while he understood the
importance that particular article served in the revitalization of the bloodlines of
their isolated country, he hoped Allison would pick up the battle of reform the
late Queen had been waging.
“Such bloodthirsty imagery, Prince.”
“Bloody symbolism for a bloody place. If she looks to find the Beau Monde
here, she will be sorely disappointed.” There was grace and dignity aplenty in
Befastia, but nowhere to the degree of the courts of the Continent. In a land
where man and woman alike were expected to fight as well as dance, such
mincing pleasantries were easily pushed aside. He suspected the matriarchal
nature of their leadership was also responsible for much of their shedding of
“Which, if I recall, is why we chose to send the bride missive to Genovia when
the King demanded a match. They are closer to our sensibilities than the other
continent families. Certainly much closer than the English. I do not think the
Duchess will be so easily horrified.”
“No, she will not.” While he had not spoken to the duchess since his tour three
years ago, they had gotten along rather well in ideas of politics and society. He
considered her a friend, as much as he could consider anyone outside of Befastia
“It is strange, though.” Alan's voice turned thoughtful. “That they would have
waited so late in the season to come. A few more days and the snows will have
sealed the continent pass for the year. I would have expected them to come
months ago, when we first received word of their receipt.”
It was an oddity, although he assumed much preparation had been necessary to
uproot a life and prepare a proper sendoff. And that was not accounting for any
dowry arrangements. But there had been some worry among the palace staff
when the word of the late departure had arrived. Chris himself had considered
sending a party to meet and speed them, and had only just been appeased at the
mnner who appeared two days ago with news of their eminent arrival.
“Perhaps the politics of the last year delayed them. The Hales likely would have
been much wanted by the crown in re-consolidating their hold after that
unpleasantness.” Although Genovia was trying to suppress the seriousness of it,
Chris' diplomats reported the royal family had come dangerously close to being
overthrown in an unexpected internal coup. He privately had some sympathy for
the rebels; Genovia had become dangerously stuck in the past, despite the
attempts of many of the noble families to move it forward. There was little
representation for the lower nobility and none whatsoever for the commoners,
and the current king did not demonstrate the appropriate noblesse oblige to
compensate for the virtual silencing of the masses. He knew the Hales shared his
concern. He and Talia had dwelt much upon the subject on his last visit to
“No matter,” Deaton concluded. “I suppose the Duchess will be able to tell you
the reasoning herself. Still, Chris Deaton finally dropped the honorific he
hadn't been required to use in private for years and carefully set the explosive he
was working with on the table. it concerns me that there has been so little
communication from such a supposed strong ally. Just the formal acceptance,
which was barely ten words, and then the message of their departure. No
attempts to negotiate the terms of the contract or the amount of supplies we
demanded for the coming year. It is almost unheard of.”
Chris nodded his acknowledgment. “It worries me as well. But the Hales have
never dealt us false, not in all the history of the treaty. We've given them no
reason to begin now. Besides, Genovia would be the first in the path of Lucien's
horde if the Argents withdrew their protection. They would not wager the fate of
their country so rashly.”
Chris bowed his head in agreement, fingering the dagger that never left his side.
The late evening sun had begun casting a motley of shadows across the
courtyard when the last runner arrived, reporting the location of the arriving
caravan a mere half hour out. The crunch of snow beneath Chris' booted feet was
nearly drowned out by the excited whisperings of the court as they arranged
themselves along the circumference of the enclosed space and along the
beginnings of the wide, cobbled drive that led away from the palace and toward
the villages surrounding it. The servants and chambermaids that weren't of
sufficient rank to claim a place outside could be seen with their faces pressed
against the glass of the windows, hoping to be among the first to catch a glimpse
of their new princess.
A chance of new information to gossip on was not the only reason the palace
was in a tizzy of anticipation. The wedding party would also bring with it
supplies and foods that grew scarce during the long months of winter ahead. The
air today was brisk, but not yet frigid, but Chris knew his country like a barmaid
knew her clientele, and within two weeks, the weather would turn bitter cold and
wet, and the brief warmth of his country would be over for another eight months.
Most of the staples the Hales brought with them would not stay at the palace, but
would be taken out and distributed to the surrounding towns, helping to mitigate
any shortages in the ever varying harvest. Aside from the food, there would be a
new platoon of troops. For their sake it would have been better had Talia arrived
earlier. There would have been at least some training before they had to be sent
to the pass. But what came would come and none could change it.
Allison was nowhere to be seen, and Chris was disinclined to force her out. It
would be better for she and Talia to have their first meeting away from the
curious eyes of the court.
Chris stepped out from the doorway, nodding to the heads of the eight noble
families, who had made the journey from their estates to witness Talia's arrival
and carry their agreed upon allotments back to the towns under their care. They
would make the journey again two months hence, at the end of the prescribed
courting period, in order to attend the nuptials.
He pressed his lips together to keep from grinning as Stiles, Captain Stilinski's
son - who by rights should be inside the palace - slipped between the skirts of
the Ladies Blake, darted out a hand and stole a chocolate off one of the wide
platters held by a member of the front house staff, and then darted away again
before he could be caught. The scamp was a favorite friend of Mr. McCall's son
Scott, and becoming more accomplished as a pickpocket by the day. Chris
suspected an apprenticeship under Deaton was in his not so distant future.
A horn sounded, and then another, and as the crowd stilled, the crunch of wheels
on snow could be heard coming closer. Chris straightened his stance, locking his
hands firmly across the small of his back as he unconsciously fell into the
posture that had been trained into him from the earliest days of his youth. Deaton
came to stand just behind and to the side of him - the only person that was there
due to Chris' preference rather than position - and the Lords and Ladies fell into
their own prescribed positions at his back.
Only the carriage carrying Talia, her handmaid, and her chaperone would
actually enter the courtyard. The wagons of supplies, the entourage, and the
troops would have been met further down the boulevard and guided to the
appropriate places on the palace grounds. Talia's personal servants would already
be in the palace, preparing her rooms to any specifications that the Argent's own
staff had not anticipated.
This part - the arrival - was purely for pomp and circumstance, for the
ceremonial presentation of the bride to be to the noble houses. Chris hated it.
Always felt that in these events he was a show horse being paraded about the
park. But duty was duty.
The murmuring of the crowd outside the gate rose to a small roar and then,
finally, a heavy travel carriage appeared, pulled by a team of eight stock horses,
obviously chosen for the breadth of their chests and the strength of their legs
rather than appearances. A wise move on the Hale's part. The delicate bloodlines
favored by most of the continent would not have survived the journey.
Chris could almost taste the anticipation in the courtyard, everyone's collective
breath held as the carriage drew to a stop. Mr. Finstock snapped his fingers and
three of the kitchen staff scurried forward, heavy trays bearing warmed,
moistened hand towels, an array of chocolates, and several goblets of mulled
wine held in their hands. The last one hundred miles of the journey to the
continent pass would have been rough ones, over purposely ill kept roads and no
inns to speak of. The Argent's country was kept isolated for very real reasons,
but their new arrivals would no doubt appreciate being able to refresh their
hands and faces and warm their bellies upon arrival.
The driver climbed down from his perch, face barely visible from the hat and
muff wrapped tightly about it. He pulled down the steps of the carriage, opened
the door, and stepped back. Chris' eyebrows pulled together as the man shoved
gloved hands into his pockets. Even without seeing his face, something about his
posture spoke of nervous apprehension. Chris flicked his gaze to where Captain
Stilinski stood. His armor was purely ceremonial, but none of them were stupid
enough to rely only on armor anyway, and Chris was pleased to see he had
caught the discordant note as well and was subtly gesturing to the small cadre of
soldiers with him. The captain of his personal guard had lived through too many
battles to be caught unawares.
The first out of the carriage would be Talia's chaperone, likely her aging aunt
Meridith, whom Chris had met once as a teenager, and who had smacked his
hand with her cane when she had caught him in the kitchen playing poker with
the servants. Which was why Chris' confusion and suspicion increase when it
was a man who descended, maybe a decade Chris' senior. He bowed deeply, then
rose, and ignored all the offered trays.
“Your royal majesty. We are grateful for your welcome and for the end of our
journey. The Hales are proud to once again have the opportunity to fulfill the
terms of the treaty.” He spoke calmly, with an air of regal ease, but left no space
for Chris to interrupt. “I am Lord Deucalion, the Duke's cousin. I was fortunate
enough to have kept close acquaintance with your father, although business in
India kept me from meeting you on your last visit. The Duke sends his regrets at
your father's disappearance and hopes for his quick return.”
Chris took a step forward, careful to keep his face smooth of any expression but
welcome. “His well wishes are much appreciated. We, too, mourn the absence of
the Kind. However —”
“However,” Lord Deucalion interrupted smoothly, drawing a gasp from the
serving maid holding the chocolates, “—you no doubt are eager to move to the
matter at hand.” He stepped to the side, nodding to the shadows inside the
“Your royal majesty, may I present Lord Peter Hale.” A collective gasp went up
as first one breeches and boot clad leg appeared, and then another, and then an
entire gentleman appeared from the carriage. He ignored Deucalion's hand and
descended fluidly. As soon as his feet hit the ground, he bowed just as deeply as
Deucalion had, but not before Chris caught the tiniest of smirks twist across his
Peter Hale. Talia's younger brother by some seven or eight years, which would
put him somewhere around his twenty-fifth year now. He had been touring the
continent when Chris had visited Genovia last, and his only other memory of the
man had been when he had accompanied Gerard on a visit of state to Genovia as
a teenager, where he vaguely remembered an impetuous child being called on
the carpet for sneaking into a ball well after hours.
Chris stared, dumbstruck, as Lord Hale straightened. His dark hair was pulled
back into a neat queue, and sharp, crystal blue eyes met his squarely without
flinching. He was strong featured, reminiscent of his mother and Talia more than
his father, and despite the long journey, his cravat was impeccably knotted. All
of this the prince noted with one look, but none of it answered the question on
the tip of everyone's tongue.
“Where,” Chris asked precisely, dumbfounded shock giving way to a quietly
banked angry, “is Lady Talia? What, pray tell, is your purpose here?” The
disrespect and mockery in this action was so great that if his father had been
here, their treaty with Genovia would have been declared null at this instant.
Chris preferred to weigh his decisions more closely.
Deucalion moved to speak but was stopped by Peter's hand on his arm. “Your
majesty.” Lord Hale's voice was smooth and rich. “I am pleased to finally meet
you. I have heard much about you from my sister and look forward to deepening
our acquaintance.” Every word was properly placed, properly respectful, but
there was something snapping in the blue of his eyes that told Chris there was far
more under the surface than those bare phrases.
“My dear sister is in Genovia, of course. She and her husband have settled quite
nicely into his estate, I believe. As to your second question, I'm afraid I don't
understand.” A sly glint entered Peter's carefully widened eyes, belying the
pretense of his words. “Why else would I be here but to answer the summons,
your majesty? I'm here to fulfill the betrothal.”
“Is this in jest?” Chris could hear his voice in his own ears. Cold, but so very,
very calm. He tried extremely hard to never lose his temper in front of his
people. The very last thing he wanted was for them to fear him in the way they
had come to fear his father.
It was so quiet in the courtyard that every intake of breath in the party
surrounding him could be easily heard. As well as the metallic slide of a short
sword sliding partway from its sheath. Lady Jennifer, he imagined, and he held
up one cautioning finger from the hands still tucked tightly at the small of his
Deucalion was leaned into Peter's ear, whispering furiously, but Peter shrugged
him off and raised his chin. “My father does not indulge in humorous displays.
We have done as the House of Argent demanded; you have no grounds for
“No grounds for—” Chris could feel the fury building in his chest. Did this boy
have any idea the calamity they would face if— “I sent for a bride.”
“No.” The smirk hidden at the corner of Peter's mouth ghosted across the whole
of his lips. “You sent for—”
“Your highness.” Deaton's voice was a soothing calm at his elbow. “Perhaps we
could take this discussion inside. The air is growing quite chilly.”
Deucalion was quick to add his voice to Deaton's. “Yes. Perhaps a warmer room
would be best.”
The prince was suddenly returned to awareness of just how many eyes were
upon them, watching this little drama play out. “Of course.” He gave a small
nod. “It was thoughtless of me to leave our honored guests in the night air.
Forgive me.” By all rights the coming confrontation should take place in the
formal audience chambers, with the nobles gathered to watch. But as angry as he
might be at the betrayal of the Hales, he was not so cruel as to publicly humiliate
them. Peter Hale likely had as little choice in his sending as Chris had had in
sending the request, and Chris was the last person to justify punishing the
offspring for the parents’ transgressions.
He bowed stiffly to the Lords Hale. “The servants will show you to the drawing
room. I will join you momentarily.” He spun on his heel to face the Houses. “My
lords and ladies, please allow Mr. Finstock to show you to the dining room.
After you have dined, the stores should be ready for your inspection.”
He cut Kali off before she could get started. “We will speak more later.” He did
not wait for further commentary - and there would be plenty of commentary; the
house of nobles had their fair share of sway and more than their fair share of
opinions, and he rarely stifled their voices - but cut a path straight through them
and into the sweeping entry way of the palace. He was immediately enveloped in
warmth, making him aware for the first time how cold the weather had grown in
those few short moments.
Technically he supposed it was far more a castle than a palace, built centuries
ago when his ancestors first settled the area, and designed to withstand long,
harsh winters and repel the attacks of any enemy, dead or alive. The inside was
far more richly appointed and modern than the outside suggested, but it would
never hold a candle in terms of size or grandeur to most of the abodes of royalty
in the warmer, more placid countries. But it was home, and Chris loved it with a
fierceness that defied all reason.
No matter how he hated his father's edict, he had found himself, in unguarded
moments, looking forward to again having someone who might grow to
appreciate the stark beauty of his homeland as he did. That hope was now
soured, but he had to figure out how to deal with the fallout. And figure out
exactly what game the patriarch of the Hale family was at. The Argents had
never once failed at holding up their end of the ancient treaty. Had given untold
amounts of blood and lives to protect the lower countries from the tide of the
Undead. And while occasionally one of the treaty families would balk at paying
their yearly tribute, never once had the issue been unable to be resolved. And
never once had the family been the Hales.
He slipped through a door, unobtrusively cut into the wall behind a tapestry, and
climbed the private stairs to the royal family's chambers. He allowed himself a
moment in his rooms, to splash water on his face as he attempted to untangle
what had just occurred, then traveled down the hall to Allison's. As suspected,
she was there, flopped face first and extremely undignified across her bed. He
sat on the edge beside her.
“I missed you at the welcoming.”
“I watched from my window.” Her voice was muffled by the bed sheet. “He's a
man, father. I thought Lady Talia was coming.”
“That was my expectation as well. I would like you to remain in your rooms
until this is sorted out. Jill will bring you dinner.”
“Are you going to send soldiers? Raze the Hale estate to the ground? Let the
Undead eat their babies?”
He rolled his eyes. “I told you to stop reading that ridiculous book. I should have
Scott whipped for bringing it to you.”
She rolled over, her eyes wide. “You wouldn't, father!”
“Of course I wouldn't. Mr. McCall might quit if I did. And Mrs. McCall would
surely quit then. And where would we be without our esteemed horse master and
our invaluable surgeon? Why, the kingdom would fall within hours, don't you
She giggled. “You're ridiculous, father.” Then she sobered. “But you have to do
something. Otherwise we'll appear weak. And the other families will take it as a
sign they can withdraw as well.”
He sighed. “You will make a fierce queen one day. Promise me you'll stay here
in your rooms as I asked.”
“Thank you. I suppose I've kept them waiting long enough.” He kissed her
forehead and stood. “I'll come back to tuck you in.”
“Too old!” She shot back, and his heart wept just a bit at the continual signs she
was growing beyond the child he had carried on his shoulders.
“Yes, your highness,” he said lightly, and then left her to her thoughts.
When he entered the drawing room, Peter and Deucalion broke off their
whispered conversation and rose to their feet, Deucalion looking appropriately
respectful, and Peter, utterly defiant. It was an incredible and foolish mark of
bravery for a man in as shaky a position as he. By rights, Chris could choose to
execute them both and face very few repercussions. It was extreme, but he was
royalty, and royalty was known to take extreme measures. The Lord Hale should
be grateful Gerard was not in the room.
Chris poured himself a tumbler of scotch and sat down in a large, richly
appointed chair. He did not invite the others to do the same. He sipped the scotch
for several long moments, surveying the two over the rim. Usually after a
moment or two under his stare, the uncomfortable silence growing longer and
longer, men would begin to fidget. These did not. Impressive.
Finally he set the glass down on the polished table beside him and steepled his
fingers together under his chin. “Speak,” he commanded.
Deucalion cleared his throat. “As Lord Hale stated, we have come in good faith.”
“The Duke was to send me a wife.”
“Your missive stated you were invoking article twelve of the treaty, did it not?”
Chris inclined his head, watching Peter more than Deucalion. His eyes were
narrowed and his lips were pursed and Chris was distracted for a ridiculous
moment by the fact that the color of his coat had been chosen to exactly match
the blue of his eyes.
“You know it did.”
“Then you have to be aware the article itself simply states that any member
family agrees that, should a member of the house of Argent request a marriage
pact, the family asked would forthwith fulfill the request with an appropriate
match. The specific sex of that match is never specified.” He finished evenly,
with a raised eyebrow.
“And that was to take into account the fact the request may be made on the
behalf of a son or daughter of our line. Do not deal in double talk, my lord.”
“Then perhaps,” Deucalion said quietly, “you should have been more specific in
“The Duke knew I intended Talia. What other match could I possibly make?”
“My nephew -”
“Is standing right here and does not appreciate being talked over.” Deucalion
frowned at the impertinence of his nephew, but Peter dismissed him with a wave
of his hand.
“What my father knew, was the peculiarities of your country's marriage laws, no
matter how much you've hidden them. So stop pretending anything has been
broken, just because he was smarter than you. You have your troops, you have
your supplies, you have your fiance. The treaty has been filled to the letter. Your
highness.” The honorific is thrown in as a clear after thought, but Chris was too
busy reeling from Peter's revelation to be offended. Outwardly, he knew his face
was the perfect picture of control, but internally his mind was racing.
There was much discussion by the country’s scholars as to why
certain...proclivities...seemed more pronounced here than in other places. Some
argued it was due to the fact that soldiers often lived in close quarters together
for months at a time, that when the only person to rely upon for survival was one
of the same sex, it was inevitable that attachments should grow in unnatural
directions. Some debated dispassionately for biology. Some believed it was a
kind of sickness spread by the Undead, a subversive way to destroy humanity
His mother had not given two fiddlesticks about the cause; she had only cared
that people who were routinely dying for their country were being denied the
right of carrying on a life with the ones they loved. Her last act before her death
had been the rallying of both houses in the passage of a new law, one that gave
any consenting adult the right to marry any other consenting adult.
But it had never, never been intended to apply to the nobility, the Ladies Blake
notwithstanding. Blood lines must be maintained, regardless of personal desires.
Everyone understood that. And the knowledge of the law had certainly never
been intended to travel beyond the borders of their nation. As isolated as they
were, it shouldn't have been an issue. It was why it hadn't even crossed his mind
when he'd sent his missive to the Duke.
The chill in his voice was enough to cool even the roaring flames of the room's
fireplace. “This is why he waited so late in the season to send you, isn't it? He
knew if I sent you back now, with winter at our heels, it would be the same as
condemning you to death. Would be condemning any of our soldiers to death as
well. He bought himself a reprieve, a time to prepare for any retributions. And
the ability to claim innocence of any breach of the letter, no matter the breach of
“And yet,” he finished thoughtfully, studying Peter with narrow eyes, “it's odd
he seems so willing to sacrifice you to our whims.”
There was a subtle flaring behind Peter's eyes, a small tick in his jaw, but then he
drew himself up and the cool formality all nobility learned from birth fell over
his features. “I am sorry you believed my parents would ever send my sister to a
place they might never see her again. She is far too important to them.”
And you are not ? While he did not know them well, he had always found the
Duke and Duchess to be good, fair-minded people. He could not understand this
side of them, that would willfully engage in trickery, would willfully sell one
child for another.
A decision must be made. Either he must reject the match and send Peter back in
shame, must spread loud and clear the message that the Hales were in disgrace
and that the Argents were still no family to be trifled with, or he must accept a
marriage he had never wanted, with a partner he neither knew nor trusted. The
answer was very clear when he considered what the King's perspective would
be. Peter and his uncle would be thrown in irons until the pass cleared, and then
taken back at the point of the sword. The Hale's would be publicly shamed, and
the families of the treaty would turn their backs on them to a one.
Chris threw back the rest of his drink and stood, his face hard and implacable.
“Very well.” His voice fell into the easy cadence of ritual intonation. “The House
of Argent accepts the marriage match presented by the House of Hale. May the
blood of our houses mingle, may the fates of our families entwine. The treaty
still stands in faith.”
Peter stilled, and the color dropped from his face as he darted a look at
Deucalion, who kept a more closed countenance. “What?”
“As you pointed out, all terms of the missive have been filled. I would not have
it be said that the Argents do not keep the faith, no matter how poorly your
family might have kept theirs.”
“You cannot want this!” Peter hissed, the cloth of his jacket stretching tautly
over bunched muscles as he clenched his fist. “I know you were married to a
“His lordship is correct,” Chris said blandly. “My late wife was most assuredly
“I cannot give you heirs. This would negate the entire intent of the treaty!” Peter
spoke intently, as if he somehow thought Chris did not already know everything
he was saying.
“I have an heir. I need no other.” Despite his anger at the Duke's maneuvering, a
small, dark part of him delighted in the fact that every single one of Gerard's
designs had been dashed in one. His father would be apoplectic.
“This is ridiculous !” Deucalion shot a hand out to Peter's shoulder and the other
man fell mute, staring at Chris with clenched jaw.
Chris studied him carefully, from the bottom of his booted feet, to the top of his
perfectly coiffed hair, as realization came. “You didn't think I would accept the
“No one in their right mind would accept this!”
“You hoped I would not accept this match.”
In that moment, the foppish, non-threatening air that had surrounded Lord Hale
as a cloak slipped away, and something dark and weary and spiteful took its
place. “Oh course I hoped you would reject it. What civilized human being
would want to be stuck in this godforsaken country whose citizens are still little
more than barbarians. It does not matter what you choose to call yourself. It will
never change what you are. I can assure you I would rather have chanced the
Chris' voice was frigid, the fury he had kept tightly reined all evening doing its
best to break its bonds. “I think it is good we finally understand each other. And
since we can both agree this marriage is nothing but a farce, there is no need to
carry through with any sham of a courtship, is there? No need to have the heads
of house make a return trip when their townships will need them most.”
Peter stared at him, stony eyed, the lush of his top lip quivering like he was
doing his best to keep it from curling up to a snarl.
“There was to be a dinner dance tomorrow night, in order to fete your sister. The
timing will serve just as well for our wedding.”
“Sire,” Deucalion said low. “There are formalities to arrange...a
wardrobe...surely you cannot expect him to appear with so little —”
Chris cut him off with a sharp motion of his hand. “I think I have been
accommodating enough for one day. As my dear betrothed said, we are little
more than barbarians.”
He bowed, short and shallow. “Now, if you will excuse me. Your rooms have
been prepared and the housekeeper has arranged for an assortment of foods to be
brought to them. I'm sure you will appreciate the opportunity for rest and
refreshment. I will see you on the marrow, to make the final arrangements.”
He turned and walked from the room, not looking at his betrothed again.
He found himself in the stables, the light of the lanterns casting shadows over
the stalls as he carefully curried his stallion. Allison had gotten her love of the
place honestly. The steady motion calmed him, enough that he was already
ashamed of his earlier outburst. It was unworthy of him, and not the way he had
intended to set the tone for his future marriage. And honestly, what could he
have expected from Peter? Joy at being sacrificed by his family to an unnatural
marriage to another man? Anticipation for a life in a cold, hard place so very
foreign from the warm, cultured climes of the continent? A life with a man ten
years his senior and a people and war he did not know?
In the end they were just two men trapped under the weight of their families and
it was no good tearing at each other in resentment of that. They would have to
find some peace, if they were to manage even a semblance of a life together. For
Allison, if for nothing else. He would not have her grow up under the same pall
he had. Until that was possible, perhaps the best peace possible would be to give
Peter space. He had not intended to take the guard out this year, had planned to
spend those weeks courting Talia, but under these new circumstances— Perhaps
he should reconsider.
There was a rustle of hay behind him and he turned around to find Mr. McCall
regarding him quietly.
“Pardon me, sire.” He held up the saddle in his hands. “I was just putting the
tack away. Greenberg was exhausted, so I sent him home.”
He waved the apology away. “Please, carry on, Mr. McCall. I gave no warning I
was coming.” He waited until Mr. McCall went to the tack room and returned,
but before he could leave, Chris spoke.
“I suppose the gossip has made its way here already.”
Mr. McCall inclined his head. “Yes. It has.”
“And what does it say? Please, speak freely, Rafe.”
He pressed his lips together for a moment before he spoke. “They say the young
lord is handsome. They say he brings the air of the continent with him. They say
the way he looks at our country is an insult. They say that if your father were
here he would use him as bait for the horde.”
Chris ignores the last bit. “And what else do they say?”
“They say that despite the insult, they think you will honor the match. Because
you are the Prince Argent, and you could do no less.” He paused. “Did they
He smiled small, just a thin upturn of lips. “They did.”
“Ah. Well then. I'll pass it along that perhaps the staff should stop gossiping
about their new prince.”
“I wish Finstock luck with that.” The hordes would come in winter, the Lady
Jennifer would win a duel by spring, and palace servants would gossip. These
three things were unalterable truths.
“Melissa went to check on the cook's son's injury. She said there was quite a
shouting match coming from the Lord Hale's quarters.”
“Hmm. How is Ryan?”
“Healing well. The infection is finally gone. He won't have to lose the leg.”
“Thank God,” Chris murmured.
Rafe made a wry face and Chris coughed a laugh in response. “You're right. God
had less to do with it than your wife's skills.” God had proved himself an
absentee deity in their country centuries ago, and while they had their church and
they had their priests, it was always taken side by side with a heavy dose of
“Indeed. Now, if I may take my leave, lord? Deaton has requested a meeting.”
It was not unusual for people in his service to wear more than one hat.
“Of course. But Mr. McCall? I will need Bolt ready to ride with the troops day
“But we thought -”
“Plans have changed.”
Rafe bowed as he stepped back. “I will have Greenberg ready his battle gear first
Chris returned his attention to Bolt, stroking his head and murmuring nonsense
to him as he fed him an apple. Allison would be furious with him when she
found out he would no longer be staying. He would have to find some way to
soothe her anger.
There was another noise behind him, and he turned, thinking Rafe had returned.
But standing at the door of the stall was a man wearing the livery of the Hales,
his carriage giving him away as a soldier. He was young, probably only a few
years older than Allison herself. He bowed deeply and waited until Chris told
him to rise.
“Your majesty.” His voice was startling deep for a boy so young. “Please forgive
my intrusion. I'm Sergeant Boyd, one of the recruits sent from the Duke.”
“And yet you still dress as a Hale.”
“Again, forgive me, sire. A uniform will have to be sewn. There was nothing that
would fit.” He gestured vaguely to the wideness of his chest.
“Ah. I see. Well, the seamstresses will have you turned out in no time.”
The Sergeant nodded stiffly and then, after a brief pause, asked urgently, “Are
the rumors true? Did you accept the match?”
Chris raised a brow at Boyd's forwardness, but in the end, chose to answer. The
men must be unsettled, waiting to know their Lord's fate. “Yes, the wedding will
A whooshing breath escaped Boyd's mouth and some unknown tension seemed
to fall from his shoulders. He reached into his jacket and withdrew a thick,
cream colored envelope.
“Lady Talia asked me to deliver you this letter, should you accept her brother.”
As Chris stood bemused over this revelation, the sergeant crossed the distance
between them and put the envelope into his hands. Then he bowed low and
withdrew back into the night.
Chris turned the letter over and again in his hands for a long moment before
sliding one finger under the flap and breaking the wax seal. He unfolded the rich
stationary that fell out, revealing the bold, curving strokes of Talia's handwriting.
Forgive me for being unable to give you this message in person. I know you
expected me to be in your presence in this moment. And I know that if your
father were there, Peter's match would have been rejected forthwith. But he is
not there, and you are of a more temperate and compassionate nature than he. I
have held confident that you would hold true to the faith, even if my parents do
not seem to have held to theirs. If you are reading this letter, then my confidence
has been born out.
My father is too proud to ever admit to anything other than this being entirely his
design, would rather be thought to be designing rather than desperate, but
owing to the ties of our friendship, and the love I bear my brother, I would that
you understand the truth, if only so that you may find it in your heart to not
judge Peter too harshly.
Please know that if your missive had arrived a mere two months earlier, I would
be your betrothed, rather than Peter. But I know Deaton will have had word of
the political unrest that swept our beloved country last year, and how our
monarchy was very nearly unseated and brought to civil war. Our monarchy is
on shaky ground, as are all the nobility, and due to our position at the king's ear,
our family’s counsel and choices are integral to our people's future. As my
father's health has weakened, my mother and I have taken on more and more of
the day to day responsibilities of the Duchy, and as such, my father feels if I were
to leave, the consequences for our country would be dire.
While I know such arrangements would not be unusual for your fair country,
where women are valued just as much, if not more, than the male of the species,
you have to be wondering why it is I, and not Peter, that would be elected to lead
in Genovia. I can only say that for reasons I have never fully understood, the
natural love of a parent for their child has never been extended by my parents to
their youngest child. You will understand, having met my parents, and seeing
how they dote upon and indulge me, how it pains me to admit their failing for
Peter, but it is something I cannot deny. I have done my best, from the time I was
able to comprehend the differences in our states, to shield him from this, but I
fear he knows well that the coffers he draws freely upon are but a poor substitute
for their lack.
My father was well aware of what a refusal of your missive would mean, but was
likewise aware of the consequence for our own country should he acquiesce. You
can imagine his quandary, torn between loyalties. It is here that I must risk our
friendship and admit that it was I that told him the peculiar law your mother had
enacted, that it was I who concocted the idea to send Peter in my stead. But I
beg of you to believe me when I say I never would have done it if I had not
thought it would lead to greater happiness on both your parts.
Peter has lived too long under my shadow; his efforts to outgrow it have led him
down dangerous and rash paths. He is a good man. Brilliant, innovative, and
incredibly protective to those few he deems worthy of admittance to his closely
guarded soul. He is a good man, but his goodness has been stifled here in
Genovia. He needs room to grow, a place where he is not constantly found
lacking through no fault of his own.
And you, my dear Chris (I hope you will forgive the familiarity; you once gave
me the liberty and I hope I still retain it), you need so much for someone to
balance that rigid self control and self flagellation you have shackled yourself in.
You and I, we are too much alike; I fear we would have become solemn and
somber statues in our old age. Peter will challenge you, and if given your faith,
will protect with his life those things you hold dear. And, if you will forgive me
for speaking frankly, our talks have led me to believe that you would not find the
fact that he is a man entirely repugnant.
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