Just as Ergus was about to leave, Vela stood in the doorway with a stern look on her face.
“Anla, my lil star, go find Netus, for this talk is too old for ye.” She pouted, but complied to her grandmothers wish and left, quickly glancing at Ergus. His heart rate fastened in fear that he may have gotten in trouble, however he couldn’t think of anything he had done wrong. But why else would his grandmother show him such a serious face? “Ergus, me boy, I’ve got a serious matter to discuss with ye. I wish ye to know that ye been a better son than my own. Ya see, me ‘nd Gleno have made a deal. Gleno fears his daughter is takin’ far too long to find a man to suit her taste, she had come of age many moons ago. Ye shall marry Aquela, for ye ain’t old and ye still have a kind heart.”
Ergus stood still for a few moments, dumbfounded. When the reality finally hit, his cheeks turned bright red just from the thought of lying with such a beautiful woman. But soon he turned to frustration and anger.
“That’s not your decision! How could you make such a deal without my knowledge?!” He flared up, hands shaking from anger. Ergus was never a violent boy, however he never had felt a need to punch something more than at this moment.
“Aquela’s a fine young woman, she’ll bear ye many kids. Ye doin’ this for whatever is left of this family, for yer lousy father couldn’t do it. Ye don’t want Anla starvin’, do ya?”
“She’s not someone I-I love! I don’t even know what she’s like! I can’t believe you used to me to get food, how can you even call yourself better than my father?!” To think he’d get betrayed by his own family into marriage, as soon as he hit eighteen. Such a thought felt like a stab to the heart.
“And who do ye love, huh, boy?” She raised her brows. When he didn’t answer, she scoffed. “Don’t worry, me boy, me and ya grandfather weren’t lovers either, but me mum was in debt and he was a good baker. It took years to get used to, but everythin’ went fine, I bore him a fine son! Although, it’s great that my husband never got ta witness his downfall.” Vela frowned.
“That wasn’t something you should’ve decided for me. You’re not my mother.” Ergus spat these words out. It was cruel to say, for she took care of him most of his life. Vela quickly smacked him.
“Stop ye whining. I’m ye guardian. Since ye got no mum or no rotten dad, ye will get the seer’s blessin’, now ain’t that special?”
“The seer?” He almost choked, eyes widening at his grandma, almost instantly forgetting about the stinging pain in his cheek. Why would the seer involve herself in such affairs? Rarely she leaves her makeshift temple, unless she bore important news. She dabbles in the affairs of marriage much less.
“Aye.” Vela nodded proudly. “Now ye will meet Aquela before noon or ye will be sleepin’ outside. Ye hear me, boy? And not a word to Anla!”
Ergus glared at her, but didn’t say a word. Once his grandmother makes up her mind, she doesn’t budge. The only way to stop this, was if Aquela herself refused. However Ergus has only seen her from afar, he didn’t know what kind of person she was, his best hope is that she doesn’t even know whats awaiting her this noon.
He never truly thought about her much, but she would indeed catch a merchants eyes. She had large hips and and a round bust. Her hair was the color of caramel, her eyes as blue as the sky. Most would accept such a deal in a heartbeat, however she was over twenty years old and Ergus turned eighteen only days ago, which made it seem to him like she was far too mature.
Ergus knew how much marriages meant to the village, how much new families slowly grow it out, even if its between neighbors. Therefore he didn’t blame his grandmother, yet he couldn’t help but feel angry that this was done without his consent. Perhaps he could expect the same rebellion from Aquela, if she is truly as picky with men as she sounds?
“Why keep this a secret from Anla? It involves her well-being too.”
“Oi, that lil blabber would be quick ta tell every youngin’ around. No need for excitement, not yet, not until that lady accepts a lad like ye.”
With a crooked smile, as if Vela sensed that Ergus will no longer argue on this matter, she turned and left him alone.
As soon as Vela left, he punched the wall to rid of all his anger. At such a moment, he wished he had a fatherly figure to confide in. What would his father tell him at such a moment? Perhaps it’s truly for the best to have an arranged marriage, instead of waiting to discover love? Would it be the right choice to follow the path that his grandmother carved him?
Ergus looked into the mirror and looked at himself. Would Aquela want him? He stared into his curly blond hair, at the sad stubble around his chin. Surely the woman had standards if she refused so many merchants, surely she wouldn’t pick a farm boy like himself. Perhaps he has time to find a lover? Perhaps it’s still worth to fight?
He flexed his muscles. The farm had toned his body well. The darker skin accented all the little scars he ever got from his small adventures or from work.
Ergus sighed in defeat. He would find no lover in this hamlet, everyone knew him and he knew everyone. A single affair would follow him for years. His grandmother was right, the opportunity was too good to pass up and if it meant that Anla would be fed, he had no right to refuse it or try to ruin the date that awaited him. Too much was on the line.
The sun was setting. Ergus was sitting on a sand dune facing his small village. It was starting to get chilly, soon enough he will have to go back to his hut where he shall be questioned by his grandmother, yet he still hasn’t seen Aquela yet. Has she forgotten? Or maybe refused to show? Still, it was rude not to inform him of the made decision. Annoyed, he slowly climbed down the dune and made way home.
“Don’t go yet!” A voice called out to him. “We haven’t even had time to talk!” Ergus swiftly turned to see Aquela walking towards him.
“You should’ve come time ago... If you haven’t noticed, it’s getting fairly cold.” He muttered as she stood in front of him.
“Well you should appreciate that I went out of my way to dress up for you, Ergus, so don’t show me any attitude!”
After hearing such words he looked at her much closer. It’s true; she wore fancier clothes than usual. Aquela had a blue linen dress on that accentuated her chest, white slippers and a pearl necklace. Her caramel hair was intricately braided, even the few looser hairs made her look graceful.
“You look beautiful, however it’s still not an excuse to make me wait so long for you.” Aquela rolled her eyes. “So... you know?” Ergus cautiously asked.
“I do. Frankly, I’m not impressed. This isn’t how I wish to live my life; I want to see the world.” Aquela sighed.
“But the merchants?..”
“Have you ever even looked at one closely?” She sneered. “Disgusting and old. There’s no way I’ll vow to marry someone like that. I wish to live in one of the big cities! Sure, I may trick one of them, but I’ll be lost without anyone to take care of me, at least for the first year. Oh, but the dresses! The men that live in such cities...” Aquela let out a dreamy sigh, but soon came back to her senses. “With what I own, compared to everyone in the big cities, I look like a beggar. I’d wound up in the streets as a leech.” She frowned.
“Then what do you propose we do? I need - no, my family needs food only you can provide, but if you agree, I can’t promise you the world...”
“What is it that your father does? He’s an explorer, right? I can do the same, I’ll leave once the life of us settles down.”
“What he does...He left us selfishly. But the marriage, you’re not against it?” Ergus couldn’t believe his ears. Would he really marry one of the most beautiful women in this small place?
“Oh no, if you understand my needs and don’t go against them, I’ll comply. To be honest, I’m glad my father picked you. Sure, you’re young, but you’re cute and the experience you have will be helpful in the future.” Ergus’ heart fluttered when Aquela called him cute.
“What about our first night?” Ergus couldn’t keep from blushing. At this moment he was glad the sun was setting, so it wasn’t as visible.
“I will not lie with you or bear you any children. Perhaps I’ll make one when I’m richer, but this is my plan. If anyone asks, just say you’re incompetent or something. You may lie with anyone you wish to, I don’t really care.” Ergus couldn't help but feel hurt by her words. He’ll have the most beautiful woman as his in name, but he’ll never get to touch her. If anything, he was just a stepping stone to her. And when Aquela leaves, not only will he be humiliated, but scorned by everyone for not being able to handle his wife.
“I see...” He couldn’t hide the disappointment.
“I’m sorry you’re not getting more out of this.” Her smile seemed genuine. “Please, do not speak of my plans to anyone else.”
“No, I understand your reasoning, Aquela. I’m doing this for my family in the first place. I guess this just wasn’t what I expected...”
A few silent minutes passed, both of them watching the sunset until the sand dune hid it completely.
“I’m sure you fear being treated as a joke after I leave. It’s not like I don’t understand how much I mean to our community or how much marriages do. But this life isn’t for me, Ergus, and I won’t make you pay for my sins in the eyes of the village. Before I leave, I’ll make it right for you.”
Hearing such words agitated Ergus further. Does she find him so weak? Is that the hidden reason for everything that will unfold in the future?
“If you’re saying this to lessen your guilt, don’t bother. I can handle it.” He grumbled.
“I just want to do the right thing, Ergus. My heart doesn't belong here or with you.” Aquela whispered. "I wish you a good night, Ergus."
Ergus watched her walk away for a few minutes. He didn't care about her swinging hips, he was too lost in thought. Feeling defeated, he slowly made way back home. Just what are all these new challenges coming at him in one day? Do such responsibilities fall on everyone the moment they come of age? The pressure from family, the sensibility you must have to deal with your newfound fiancée. He let out an exasperated sigh. At least the day was finally ending...
As Ergus set foot into his hut, Anla was already sleeping and his grandmother meditating whilst waiting for him.
"I'm back," he mumbled. Vela opened her eyes and quickly went to the oven to take something out.
"Here," she said. "I made this for ye, in case ye were rejected or accepted." Vela handed him a loaf of bread. Still warm, it reminded him of his childhood, even if he passed it not so long ago.
"You did?" He quickly took a bite and smiled. "It's so good! Your cooking truly is the best, gran."
Hearing such praise made her smile too, even the wrinkles on her face didn't seem so deep anymore. She patiently waited for him to finish and handed a cup of milk. After Ergus gulped it down, his good mood withered away.
"Aquela agreed to us, we'll definitely last solvitus."
"That's me boy! Oh, the children ye'll have!" Vela laughed and gave him a few pats on the back. But seeing how his mood didn't change, she quickly sobered down. "What's eatin' ye away?"
"She...She doesn't want to lie with me, gran," Ergus muttered feeling embarrassed.
"Look at me, boy," Vela's voice stern. He couldn't help but comply to her grandmother, slowly raising his eyes, suddenly feeling uncomfortable next to her. "What's truly eatin' ye? Yer face is doubtful, scared and it's not 'cus of marriage. I said that to my own husband, but I learned to love 'im. Aquela will too."
"It's..." Ergus thought about his words for a second. For someone who just arranged a marriage against his will, how could he confide in her now? "You won't understand. I'm going to bed, goodnight, gran."
He slowly stood up and moved to his bed, avoiding his grandmothers gaze. Tomorrow he shall meet the seer, ask her of his future. Ask her if his choices are right.
"I'm sorry for what I said earlier today, gran." Ergus said before closing his eyes and falling into a deep sleep. The pain still wasn't gone, but he knew her intentions were good.