Everyone knew that Wilke was just a trophy husband. Everyone, that is, apart from Wilke.
In a kingdom far far away, the aforementioned untitled Wilke became betrothed to Prince Hall, and henceforth eye candy to the whole kingdom overnight. Taller, shyer, and obviously the more beautiful partner of the two, he followed his Prince around besotted and quiet, apparently oblivious to the fact that his self-conscious beauty was the only reason for his new position.
Some simply admired him. Others were jealous of him. And a few pitied him, to be loved only for his looks and showed off like a possession to the crowds wherever the prince went.
One man in particular watched him - Lord Reyn. He, like the prince, had married an untitled man below his station - a younger man named Hamei, whom he adored. However, without the prince's command or position his own disadvantageous match had been met with scorn everywhere he had turned. He was angered by the ease of Prince Hall and Wilke's relationship in comparison, how his life had been made more difficult since his relationship where theirs just seemed to have become easier, if anything. No one dared to openly question the prince on his choice in marriage. And he had married even more below his station than Reyn! It peaked both his annoyance and his pity of Wilke to see how the man was used solely for his appearance. The prince, as far as he could tell, never talked to him or appeared affectionate towards him in public, nor did he seem affectionate even in the more private balls that Lord Reyn had attended at the palace. Their relationship appeared both more incongruous politically and one-sided, and yet they had it easier publically than Reyn and Hamei!
At the Autumn Feast Celebration at the palace, therefore, Reyn watched them both with mixed feelings. It was all merely polite smiles and introductions on the prince's part. Did he ever talk to his own husband for more than a fleeting moment? His feelings turned towards pity as he saw how Wilke watched the prince from admiration at every turn, apparently blind to the prince's indifference.
For the first half an hour the stunning Wilke had the eyes if not the conversation of the room, but finally Reyn caught him slipping outside onto a balcony. He followed him, leaving Hamei behind.
Wilke turned around. "Yes?"
A man without title, at a higher position than him just because of beauty. Wealthier. More accepted. Perhaps the extra acceptance was linked in with the beauty as well. The elegant effect of the moonlight shining on his smooth skin made Reyn grit his teeth. He felt provoked to bite back in the one way he could.
"You do realise that Prince Hall doesn't love you?"
Wilke blinked, looking completely shocked. "Pardon?"
Reyn explained what he thought, how he saw how the prince treated him. Wilke appeared affronted, as if he didn't know how to answer. Then on reflex he defended himself, saying that Prince Hall was just very busy, that was all. That he didn't think Prince Hall had only married him for his looks. Reyn challenged his reasoning, pushing back with his own observations and those of all those he had spoken to on the subject. And then finally, looking lost, Wilke said,
"How should he treat me, then?"
And there was something so innocent in those beautiful eyes that for a moment Reyn was thrown. He had heard the same question posed once by his own Hamei, so long ago when he had been trapped in an overbearing relationship with a merchant. His sudden pity combined suddenly with a strange, slightly bitter determination for a sort of justice, though he wasn't sure for what or for who. And so he said,
"I'll show you." He would show that naive, pretty face that despite everything he was still missing out.
Every day for the next two weeks he faux-wooed Wilke in secret to demonstrate to the ignorant man what he was missing. He sent flowers and arranged to show Wilke around his estate. He wrote him affectionate love letters as 'examples' of romantic treatment - never leaving the letters with Wilke, of course. He hired a songwriter to dedicate a song to Wilke. He showed interest in Wilke's interests and asked him about his life and feelings and made sure to appear fascinated by his every word. Many of Wilke's admirers might have done similar things, but not all together. Not so attentively, and certainly not whilst deliberately making him aware of the prince's lack by comparison. By the end of the two weeks Wilke seemed both entranced and distressed.
"You are right!" he cried that evening, "Prince Hall doesn't love me!"
"I am sorry," Reyn said.
Eyes shining Wilke clasped Reyn's hands suddenly. "But you do! Take me, let me leave him for you!"
Reyn stared in shock. "I cannot - I am married!" he stammered. "I just… But you deserved to know that the Prince does not see you as you think he does!" Seeing the distress in Wilke's eyes his sense of victory in forcing Wilke to see the truth felt hollow. He had been holding his loving relationship with Hamei as a single win over Wilke and the prince, something to get back at them with for everywhere they got off scot free whilst society still scorned his own match. To make up for his own feelings of anger and bitterness at the subsequent loss of connections and even some of his wealth. But seeing Wilke now…he felt oddly empty.
"You…are married?" Wilke's face was white.
Reyn watched him. How naive could Wilke be? How little of connections did he know? But then, he had never had any position before marrying the prince, had he? He'd never needed to know.
Wilke left him in tears.
The whole of the next week Wilke was inconsolable. Prince Hall watched him in confusion and distress. Nothing he said would make Wilke happy. He tried to ask Wilke what was wrong and for a few days Wilke wouldn't even tell him. Then Wilke complained of how little time they spent together, how little attention Hall paid him, and how distant he seemed in public. Hall gave him all the reasons that he could, but Wilke would listen to none of them. He cried a lot in his room but wouldn't let anyone in after a time. He stopped smiling and became more distant at the next few public appearances they made. Rumours began.
And Prince Hall was distraught. He saw Wilke's pain and he was in agony. It felt as though every moment it was on his mind each heartbeat bruised him, left him raw and hot and wrong inside.
Because the kingdom was wrong. Lord Reyn had been wrong.
Prince Hall had married for love.
The only one that had believed this, that had needed to believe this, was Wilke. And now he didn't. Now he was refusing to.
Prince Hall tried to call off some of the duties that kept him away from Wilke, but each political task clawed mercilessly for his attention, pulling him away against his will. His father was trying to prepare him to rule for when it was time. He didn't know what to do, how to win his husband back. No one would understand when he tried to take time away to spend more time with Wilke - they told him he was being silly, that it was a phase that would pass.
Prince Hall was naive. He didn't know how to woo, how to show Wilke he loved him. Each day Wilke grew more miserable and he didn't know how to fix it. He had naively assumed they would just love each other and be happy together forever. Naive like Wilke.
Now he couldn't compliment or boast of Wilke's looks, because now Wilke thought it reflected on his theory of their only marrying for beauty. When he tried to be more attentive to Wilke in public, something that he had withheld on before because he wanted to spare Wilke from too much gossip and attention and keep their special moments private, Wilke pushed him away. Even when Hall outright declared his love again and again, Wilke ignored him, claiming it was just a last minute attempt to stop Wilke from leaving him 'trophy-less'.
The seed of doubt had ravaged Wilke's mind like an infection.
People had been kind about their marriage even though it gave no advantage to the kingdom and the prince had broken society's rules. They forgave him because of the gentle love on Wilke's face, Wilke's beauty and humble manner, the way he often went out in disguise to help the poor, who quietly kept his secret as thanks so the upperclass society wouldn't scold him for mixing with commoners. But now misery marred Wilke's beauty. The love had gone from his eyes. He stayed around the palace, too miserable to even help himself let alone go out and help others. Opinions rapidly fell, rumours spread even further, objections crept louder and gained weight.
Then one night after yet one more week had passed Wilke finally donned his commoner's disguise and disappeared out of the palace. No one really made any comment. The previous weeks he had barely been seen anyway, so people just assumed he was hiding out in the palace, and those in the palace assumed he had simply gone travelling. He wasn't really important in court.
Meanwhile Prince Hall was trapped helplessly by the need to maintain his public appearance and his princely duties, trivialities like checking up on a Lord that had been quiet recently, when all he wanted to do was chase after the man he loved and try to bring him back. He had to keep the pain silent, and the pain became the silence. Every night he lay alone, it consumed him.
There were murmurs, people feasting off the gossip. Enjoying the amusing benefits of the drama in ignorance. Wilke must have finally realised he was the trophy husband, they joked. The words bit through Hall's skin like blades.
Everyone knew that Wilke was just a trophy husband. Everyone apart from his husband.
A/N: And that was where it ended...before. This used to be a tumblr only snippet, but then the lovely ImmanenceEnsured (who writes such beautiful stories herself) asked me persuasively if I might pick up the pieces I had made here and put them back together in something resembling a happy ending. So here it is on FictionPress and there'll be a alternate/extension/ending thing next chapter which will - hopefully - publish tomorrow.
The world and class/title/ranking system here is in no way perfectly identical to any real life system that I know, a vague notion of things plus generally used fairytale titles (they always have princes) have been fabricated upon and altered to suit my own whim.
Tell me your thoughts?