Our carriage was stopped at the sentry post of the military compound.
Accompanying me as my three official followers were my three beautiful and talented wives. What can I say? I’m a really lucky man.
Or, at least that was what I had been thinking when I said ‘yes’ to the Legate when he asked whether I was interested in participating.
Now, after reality had taught me a harsh lesson, I was here, with a little less enthusiasm and a lot more duty burdening my shoulders.
Five months had passed since the Swayamvar had been announced and it was finally time to leave on this grand adventure.
But, before that it was time for Ceres to meet the parents.
Getting down from the carriage, I thanked the coachman, who was actually a member of the branch lineage of our clan, and stretched my muscles sore from hours of sitting in a stuffy carriage.
Turning to the carriage, I saw Deimos and Ceres discussing something together even as Phobos made her way to the command post of the sentry base and reported our identities and purpose.
Ceres and Deimos had made great strides in their relationship ever since she and Phobos had connived to give me a severe case of blue-balls. Oh, the woes of being a considerate husband.
I should have just knocked. To hell with any consideration whether I would be interrupting them.
Anyway, ignorant as I was about what had upset Deimos that badly at Gerard’s farewell banquet and what had happened between her and Phobos to help her recover, I was just glad to see all my wives getting along and smiling.
Thinking of what was to come today, my mood grew sombre.
I had kept in contact with father and mother through letters and occasionally through communication crystals. So, they were well aware of my marriage to the Duchess’ daughter. Mother in particular was quite eager to meet the new member of her family.
Considering the lack of security in the post and the need for a supervisor cum operator to be present during comm crystal conversations, I hadn’t been able to inform them of the dubious circumstances of my marriage with Ceres.
Today would be a day of unpleasant revelations. I withdrew my foot from my slip-on shoe and studied the mark that bound me to Ceres. It was quite dark. Time was an amazing thing.
I just hoped the day ended well for all of us.
Phobos called us over and Ceres, Deimos and I bid goodbye to the coachman one last time, trading his wishes for our success, before walking over to join her.
Following after a cadet who had been assigned to guide us, we made our way deeper into the military camp.
Rather, it would be more appropriate to call it a military city.
It was abuzz with activity with storefronts selling all manner of commodities, from grain to gems.
Once, we even passed by an area where the structures were festooned with colourful streamers and even in broad daylight, all manner of painted women solicited customers.
I found it quite ridiculous that Phobos even bothered to block my line of sight by nonchalantly positioning herself by my side. With three voracious women to satisfy, I was quite overworked in that aspect, thank you very much.
Sometimes, the spirit was willing, yet my flesh called for mercy.
Then again – maybe it wasn’t my line of sight Phobos was blocking. Maybe it was theirs. She was one possessive feline.
Crossing the outskirts, the crowded, unplanned nature of the constructions gave way to more meticulously planned architecture.
Right angles dominated the centre of the city. Every street and every house seemingly a copy of the next.
This was the heart of the military border-post of Firang.
It was the last city before the dominion of the Regiis empire stopped and the Heavenly Wolf Mercenary Territory of Huaxia began.
The border in this case was more physical than a mere line on a map as the foothills of the Himalayas cut across the land and cleanly demarcated the respective bounds of the territories.
The purpose of this city was to monitor the border as well as allow trade across borders.
Our breath fogged as we made our way down the labyrinthine roads towards where father and mother were staying, at the very centre of the city.
Summer had long given way to winter and compounded by the high altitude of the city, the temperatures were much lower than I was – turning around, I saw Phobos draw her woollen jacket closer – than we were used to.
Finally, reaching a house indistinguishable from the rest, the cadet gave us a formal salute and walked away without another word.
Quite the serious type, that one.
It was an overcast day. The noon sun was hidden by a cottony layer of cloud, painting the sunlight a dreary grey. I felt depressed.
I sighed. What would happen would happen and a few more minutes of procrastinating would only chill us further.
I preferred my drama to be served warm and the cosy orange light streaming from a window spoke of a roaring fireplace.
Stepping forward, I raised my hand to rap on the door when the door automatically swung inward, revealing the figure of my father standing on the other side with mother by his side.
“Come in and tell your mother what you have been hiding from her.” said my mother as she impatiently tapped her foot on the floor.
I froze with my arm raised in the position to knock on the door.
“Don’t look so shocked. I’m your mother. Reading your face was a skill I mastered when you were still in your crib. One look at your face and I could tell whether you had soiled yourself or wanted to be nursed. You think yourself grown enough to hide things from me? You’re sorely mistaken.
“That and the fact that you have been hesitating in front of our door for the past five minutes. Now, come on in before you all freeze out there and tell us what mischief you’ve been up to.”