Claire glanced up from her book as the door to her lounge opened, and immediately smiled as she saw who was strolling in. “Oh Julius! You-…Uh, what happened? You look…sweaty.”
“Hm? Oh, uh, right, that.” Julius shrugged, brushing a hand through his blond hair, matted slightly with sweat. “Eh…it’s partially something I’ll talk about in a sec, and partially because my students decided to ambush me on my way up here.”
“…Any particular reason why?”
“Not sure, though they almost got me. Shame Bacol wasn’t as good an actor as they thought he would be.”
“Hn. Am I going to have to expect them to do stuff like that again whenever they visit?”
“Maybe? They might try to show off if they get stronger, but I can take care of them.”
“Heh, well, sounds like you’re certainly used to them acting like this. Almost makes me wonder how my life would be if my generals acted like them…”
“I imagine they were still a handful from what I’ve seen…”
Claire giggled, because honestly, he wasn’t wrong. “True, but none of them have ambushed me-…No, Kiyo has, but she’s a special case.”
“Yeah, she’s something. Mind if I join you?”
Claire smirked, before setting her book down and spreading her arms. She was laying back on one of her comfy couches, which, if she was right, should be perfect for cuddling. “I don’t mind at all~.”
“…Hm. Well alright, if you’re good with it.” And Julius walked right on over and laid on top of her, returning her offered hug and pressing his face into her chest-
“What?” He grinned up at her, apparently deciding to take advantage of their height difference. “I thought you were offering~?”
“…S-So I was.” She took a slight breath, trying to get her blush under control. “So, I trust you have been doing well?”
“Yeah, still gonna take a bit for the pain to wear off, but otherwise doing okay. Course, I have a feeling I’m going to get an earful from Margrave whenever she visits. Definitely didn’t seem like she was done when we last saw her.”
“Heh. If nothing else, that’s just a clear sign that she cares about her little brother so much~.”
“Feh. Moving on, I wanted to ask you something.”
“Well, I wanted to ask what was next.”
“Next, as in?
“As in, now that a truce is underway for now, what do we do now? I know your generals are at least okay with me, but I have the feeling that not everyone is of the same mind.” Sighing, Julius scratched his head. “My status aside, I imagine not everyone is happy the takeover just kinda ended.”
“Hmph. I can’t believe they think so little of me to believe that everything would just end like that.”
“Simple, the fighting may be done, but my plans aren’t.” Grinning, Claire stared down at him. Up at him? Both, somehow. “Thanks to you, I now have someone working in Rosiava with me. That delightful Bulinto woman was more than happy to negotiate, and I’m positive we’ll be looking at quite the fruitful relationship in the future. Now sure, we may have to share some secrets, but with Sieda’s help, they’ll soon come to rely on us~ And, despite my own issues with her, the fact that I have an in with the new queen of Naloriva means I have yet more influence in the Light Lands.
“Furthermore, since the king of Tramontava is close friends with her, that’s yet another step closer for me once, especially as he did seem to want to open trading with me. A trio of trading partners make for quite the stable triangle. Orin, of course, is essentially an ally already, and since you seemingly have a close relationship with many of the potential future rulers of Luceneva, all that leaves is the furthermost countries for me to convince to see the benefits~.”
“…Huh. So…what, the takeover is still planned?”
“In a sense. I’m flexible enough to change some plans, and you especially know how flexible I can be-” Her tone took on a teasing note and Julius couldn’t help how his face heated up. “-so I’m happy to work with this idea of working through positives rather than negatives. Sweet honey will work better than bitter poison, even if it does mean I’ll likely see some pushback from the more ‘bitter’ aspects of the Dark Lands. Actually, thinking about it, this period of peace is probably a good thing. I can work to secure my rule even more tightly here while still increasing my influence with the west.
She grinned, suddenly hugging them. “And it’s all thanks to you, my love~.”
Yup, definitely blushing. Julius took a breath to try to steady himself, tried to ignore certain reaction he was having, and spoke up before Claire could comment on them, “S-So…uh…th-that’s all really good, and I’m glad, but also, um…r-right, better just say this straightforward, okay, do you want to marry me?”
Claire blinked. “Huh?”
“J-Just, it’s…I’m not saying I don’t, and I’m not saying I’m having any kind of second thoughts. What I am saying is that, w-well, my first proposal was kind of…spur of the moment, because…w-well, I saw you, and you were the most beautiful person I ever met and my heart just started racing so I kinda blurted it out. A-And I, uh…I think, for the sake of…stuff, propriety, things…I-I should do that over? Kinda? Um, point is…”
He reached back to his pocket, trying to ignore how fast his heart was racing, and pulled out a pair of rings. One gold, and one platinum. He heard there was some kind of symbolism to that from Sieda when he was forging them, but he didn’t really ask for details. “…W-Would you, Claire Valondrac, please marry me?”
“…O-Oh.” She stared at him, her face a bright red, before she suddenly giggled and hugged him tight and–…
So they were kissing. And she felt so warm.
After however long, she pulled back, grinning and giggling. “Y-Yes, o-of course. Heh, w-wow, um…do you, uh, know what platinum and gold rings mean?”
Her grin got wider. “The gold is for Mordant, the goddess of debts. It promises to bind the two seeking marriage together through contract and oath, ensuring their union is bound by their word. And the platinum is for Bleak, the goddess of time. It’s a more personal type of marriage, where the two simply promise to be together throughout all of time, no matter their distance or circumstances. They’re two different ways of binding people together, one through oath and one through faith. Combining the two is as good as declaring your eternal love for your partner~.”
“…o-oh. U-Um…g-good. Th-That’s good. That’s definitely what I was going for, so, good.”
She giggled again. “So, which one’s for you and which one’s for me?”
“…Ah, w-well, um…I though the gold would go good for you, since, y’know…eyes?”
Claire blinked her golden eyes, then snorted. “So then my silver-eyed lover will get the platinum then~?”
“…w-well, they’re not really silver, I mean, it’s just–”
She pressed a kiss to his forehead. “You’re cute~.”
“Mm, agree to disagree. Oh, though I suppose now I really will need to get started on those wedding plans…damn, there’s going to be so many people I’ll need to invite or else they’ll wind up feeling snubbed…”
“…oh yeah, empire stuff. Right. Jeez, I was just thinking I needed to invite my students and my sisters…probably my old friends too, but definitely Ellen and Graves because they would absolutely destroy me if they found out I got married without telling them…”
She snorted again, giggling. “True, true. Well, we’ll need to make a guest list, maybe start planning a venue…Castle Valondrac could probably host everything, though…hm, if we’re inviting lightlanders, which we are, it might be good to move it closer? Though this is my capital and that should mean it’ll work fine…though, would the weather hold up alright? It gets awfully rainy for most of the year here, and if the river starts rising…”
Julius just watched his fiancé mumble to herself. He was paying attention, but just…watching her talk, feeling her up against him, knowing she was his and he was hers…He couldn’t quite stop himself from kissing her again.
She stiffened for just a moment, then leaned into it, hugging him close and kissing him back.
They went a bit further than that, celebrating their official engagement right then and there. It was the passion of the moment, and the knowledge that Julius really had found the love of his life.
Later, the two lay together, their hands intertwined. The only things they wore were two rings, one on each hand, promising to be together, always.