It’s been a jack-in-the-box ever since I became a man. Dormant, but hiding inside its refuge, always threatening to make an appearance at any time. Each day has represented a crank of the handle controlling its release.
Today, it escaped.
It’s time for me to fulfill my obligation to my new brotherhood. It’s the burden that comes with being in a leadership role.
I must take a wife.
A wife I don’t know. A wife born into a position at the top of a hierarchy. A wife who will forge a strong alliance between The Order and The Fellowship.
A wife I don’t want.
I am Kieran Hendry. Eldest son of Lennox Hendry and Arabella Grieves Hendry, the new leaders of The Order. Many would kill to be in their position. Literally. But that isn’t how the brotherhood works. We are born into the role. Like royalty.
My mother has been called home to preside over the brotherhood that her father and brother once led. My dad will act on her behalf until I’m ready to take my place as the leader of these people. My first act as their future leader will be to enter into a marriage treaty with a Fellowship woman. Bring peace between The Order and their enemy, The Fellowship.
I’ve been conditioned to accept an arranged marriage as my fate for as long as I can remember. Doesn’t make it any easier though.
I always thought I’d marry from within The Syndicate, the brotherhood in which I was raised. I expected to forge a union with a woman I’d known my entire life, whose position within my brotherhood would strengthen my claim to leadership in the event of my paternal uncle’s and cousins’ deaths. A woman with virtue and purity who’d saved herself for her husband. Who the hell knows what I’ll be getting with a woman from The Fellowship?
The Fellowship killed my maternal uncle and the brothers want retribution. They demand blood. A lot of it. But vengeance isn’t our way. Revenge and death only yield rotting corpses. That isn’t profitable: a dead man can’t make money for us. Alliances. Those yield gain. Profit is always our focus.
My father pours two whiskies and brings one to me. “I know you need this; I still haven’t forgotten what it felt like to hear my father tell me that I was going to marry a woman from The Order as part of a marriage treaty alliance.”
I need more than one whisky. “I don’t want a wife.”
“I don’t have to tell you that what you want doesn’t matter. You’re a Grieves and a Hendry. Future leader of The Order. Being at the helm of this organization means you don’t get a choice. It’s your duty to strengthen your brotherhood with an advantageous marriage. You will marry a woman from The Fellowship.”
This marriage isn’t something I can refuse. “Do I at least get to choose which woman I’ll marry?”
“You have three choices.” Well, at least there’s that. “The most desirable is Abram Breckenridge’s older daughter, Evanna. The next would be his younger daughter, Westlyn. Last choice is Sinclair’s sister-in-law. Not a Breckenridge, or even a member of The Fellowship yet, but she will be soon.”
“Why is the sister-in-law a consideration?”
“She’s the sister of Bleu Breckenridge. Sinclair will do whatever it takes to maintain Ellison’s safety because he wants to keep his wife happy.”
An American who wasn’t raised in a brotherhood. “She’ll be weak.”
“Agreed. Hence the reason she’s your third choice. You’ll only marry her if the other choices don’t work out.”
I’ve heard of Abram Breckenridge. None of it good. “What do you know about Abram’s daughters?”
“Not a lot yet, but I’ve placed both under surveillance. We’ll learn as much as we can before you choose.”
It won’t matter that The Order is under new leadership. “The Fellowship isn’t going to willingly agree to an alliance with us, and Thane Breckenridge isn’t going to hand over one of his nieces as a treaty bride.”
“That’s why we’re going to force his hand by taking the bride of your choosing. He’ll have no choice but to consider our proposition.” My father pauses a moment. “And as a symbol of our good intention, I’m going to offer Shaw in marriage to his younger son or nephew.”
Shaw is only eighteen. Still a child. And so headstrong. She has dreams and plans and ideas about the way she wants her life to go. My sister won’t take well to being told she must marry anyone, treaty for the well-being of the brotherhood or not. “Won’t my marriage suffice so Shaw doesn’t have to marry?”
“Not with The Fellowship. There’s too much bad blood between them and The Order. We have to propose an equal offering, or they’ll never consider it.”
“When is this going to happen?”
“As soon as you decide which woman you want.”
I don’t want any of them.
“I’ll have a full report from the surveillance by the end of the week.”
“Then I guess I’m claiming a wife this weekend.” Which means I’m getting laid. I’m not pissed off about that.
“You’ll need to bind your union to her as soon as possible.” Bind my union. He means impregnate her. “Once your bairn is inside her, the claiming can’t be undone by anyone.”
A bairn. I don’t want that either.
I was born nine months after my parents married. My father didn’t waste any time binding his union with my mother. We’ve never discussed it, but I’m guessing he was persuaded to do so by his father just as he’s doing with me now. “How did you feel when Grandfather told you that you were going to marry Mother?”
“I wasn’t happy, but I knew taking Arabella as my wife was my duty to the brotherhood. Your mother and I both understood, and we made the most out of it.”
Maybe theirs hasn’t been a fairy tale romance, but my parents love and respect each other. And they share a common goal: they want the best for The Syndicate and The Order. That includes making this alliance with The Fellowship.
I’m the future leader of The Order. It’s my job to ensure the prosperity of my brotherhood and those we’re in alliance with. If that means taking a Fellowship woman as a wife and putting my child inside her then that’s what I’ll do.
Even if it’s the last thing on earth that I want.