The deepening sunset spilled a red glow across the proceedings. Towering oaks on all sides cast patterns of dappled crimson and shadow onto the white stone patio, swept clear of fallen leaves for this occasion. It was one of the largest outdoor spaces to be had, the precisely-fitted flagstones stretching for fifty paces in any direction from the center. Long rows of stone benches surrounded the low dais at their center, so the audience would be at every side of them. Behind, to the front, at their sides. No tiny mis-step could be hidden by fumbling with one's back turned, there would always be witnesses.
Galryn took this as a personal affront, suspecting that sort of arrangement to be precisely calculated against him. His family knew he was no one for proper form and courtesies, and there had been no time for a rehearsal, damn them all. He straightened his tight-fitting black clothes, which approached the best his family could afford. No use spending the dowry already, was there? He'd tried to convince them to let him wear his finest mail, but they were set on having him appear as a courtier rather than a knight. So be it. The wool and cotton felt to thin and flimsy to his mind, but if that was his greatest challenge for the day he would count himself lucky. He flexed muscular arms inside the unfamiliar garment, and scowled. His preening sister pushed a few last locks of long, straight black hair behind his ears, and informed him it was time for him to approach.
There had been quite a lot of people telling him what to do, lately. He wasn't used to that. When he was born, he was a third son, estimated to be approximately as useless as matches to a fish. So, he'd been given comfortable quarters, tutors, a horse to ride, weapons and armor, and the quiet assurance that he'd be kicked out of his family estate some day and he'd damned well better make the best of it. And that was a fine thing, and he had adjusted. He excelled at the sword, the lance, the bow, the horse, he wore armor, he was strong and tough and knew woodcraft and how to lead small groups of men. He'd been quite prepared to make his fortune in the world with what life had given him, and no complaints.
Which had changed rather drastically when he returned from his latest journey, a small bag of stolen gems and a few more scars assuring him he could live the life when needed. Oh, but they'd been pleased to see him for once. Unnaturally so. His sisters had run down to the courtyard, embracing him and kissing him on the cheek despite the smell of horse and sweat. His brothers had clapped him on the back and welcomed him home, both the elders who viewed him as a threat and the younger who saw him as a stepping-stone. His parents had smiles and thoughtful gifts. A new long-bladed sword, a steel-rimmed shield of ironwood. And a feast! And then the announcement.
He stepped out from behind the curtain, standing tall, to look at the reason why. Sharp black eyes sought her out, standing on the dais. She would be beautiful, he was sure. And fine, and high-born, and wealthy. That was the part that mattered. After a lifetime of being resigned to making his own fortune, he was in the course of three days turned to the purpose of making his family's. But nevermind, he would do his duty. He bowed to the flower-girls, clicking together the heels of his shiny black boots, and strode up the space between the benches. His family all looked so pleased. And well they should be, Galryn supposed.