Chapter 2

A Love Found! Icgord's Most Difficult Choice

Aumned and Liana, two side of the same coin. One of brutality and the other of civility. At one time their blades clashed, and now they lay in the same bed, eat at the same table, and perform economic transactions and lawful duties of the capital. Whether it be initiating trades with far off villages and towns or tending to violent matters on their home turf, they need only to ensure the survival of their people and son. In case of an attack on the capital, both had an underground passageway leading outside of town, ensuring their escape and survival while their guardsmen fended off the invaders. But above all else, their future came first in the form of their son.

Lucky for them, Niana's workplace was but a five-minute walk from home. A short walk for sure, but along the way he noticed a few wandering eyes. Being led by guards would do that to a person. A straight shot to the stairs ascending to the palace's front doors and they were ready. The place looked pretty big from the outside but lacked a castle like structure; instead opting out for a marble-based foundation, with four columns stood tall at its front, while four windows lined the wall and two wooden doors acting as the entrance. Walking inside lead to a sight many men wished they could see and experience: two rows of ten maids stood in wait for his arrival; each dressed in a traditional maid's outfit, poofy shoulders and all. Much like the guards, half were Magica and half were Orc.

"Good afternoon, Master Icgord. May we get you something to eat or drink?" one politely asked.

"No thanks. Not really in the mood." he replied, his words filled with frustration.

"Then, perhaps a hot bath?" another proposed.

"Pass."

"Then what about-"

"Nothing's needed here, ladies, thank you." he assured them, while continuing forward.

"As you wish." they said in unison.

The interior had a very royal feel to it, with paintings of previous kings and queens from their respected cultures. A few potted plants sat on small tables at the four corners of the main hall, while a vertical staircase led up to its second story. A living room off to his left, with a single large, four-person couch and four chairs, two on each side, a fur carpet which laid in front of the fireplace, and a glass table that rested in front of the couch. The dining room was to his right, with three 30-foot-long tables stretching across, giving all guards and maids a proper place to eat, as well as their masters. Nothing else stuck it, it looked plain in comparison. The upstairs were composed of five bedrooms and two baths, one for his parents and himself.

"I can only imagine what they want to waste my time with today." he thought to himself while ascending the stairs leading to the second story and his parent's workspace. "Maybe I should tell them off, but then mom will get angry. Why can't this be simple…"

Couldn't live with or without them, but sometimes their tendency to butt in on his personal life could really get under his skin. With a deep breath, he pushed open the double doors and entered the well decorated room. A single, large, fancy, wooden desk sat across from him, while two large paintings of its owners hung on the wall behind it. Bookshelves covered the walls, each filled with tomes on their world's history, economics, politics, stuff his pops would need. Much like the rest of the house, the sun's rays provided a natural source of light, with some lanterns scattered about for when night approached. And sitting at the desk was the king himself, with his wife standing at his left side.

"Ah, my son returns to us after him morning of battle. Tell me, how'd it go?" he asked, sounding very curious in doing so. "Did your take a piece for a trophy and was it an eye?"

"Ummm…no?" he replied, puzzled by the strange question.

"Now's not the time. Come, sit and talk with us." his mother asked of him, motioning to one of the two chairs.

"Here we go…" he thought, while walking over.

Like many kids, he too shared traits with his parents. With his father's black hair and grey skin tone, and his mother's orange eyes and Magica abilities, he's been bred to be a perfect blend between the two, whether for better or worse. But while his mother wore more regal outfit consisting of a white jacket and pants, with a gold trimming around edges, and her neatly trimmed white, short hair, his father took a more casual appearance. A plain dark green collared jacket, black pants, and boots, that's all he needed. Their hair styles couldn't have been more different either, with his being long and wild and hers, short and nearly combed. Guess where he'd gotten his hairstyle from.

"It's been nearly twenty years since you've reached the age of maturity, and yet, haven't found a wife. Why is that?" she asked straight out.

"Now, Liana, this is none of our business." her husband mentioned.

"Great. Let's here this." she sighed, having no such patience for his nonsense

"I do agree that he must marry, however, it's his choice as to who he weds" He explained in the most formal voice he could muster. "As part of our culture, young Orcs must find their own way."

"See, he gets it." her son said in reaction to his father's statement.

"And I get that, but you're forgetting about the aspect of time. If something happens to us, there must be another Orc and Magica present, as stated in the treaty itself, or within five days it'll be null." she said in return. "I suggest we gather up a select few women and have one picked for his hand."

Such an insane statement caused their son to suddenly jump up from his seat in a panic. What was she talking about? A woman he wouldn't know? No way. Nuh uh. Not happening. Not under his watch.

"Whoa! Hold on. I see what you're saying, but you can't just throw me away to some stranger." Icgord interjected. "For all we know she could be a total gold digger or a bitch, or both."

"I agree. Forced marriages hardly every worked out in the past and only caused conflict between the two. Remember the Elven wedding a few years back?" Aumned reminded her. "They couldn't stand each other, and she ran away because of it. Now, would you rather risk your own son's presence, or allow him to find his own way?"

As much as it pained her to admit it, they had a point. Though their marriage may not have been the most traditional, they, at the very least, had mutual respect towards one another. Even after a fight they'd find time to make up. Still, the treaty's contents couldn't be ignored; it needed to happen.

"Are there any women out there that would interest you?" she asked of him.

"Huh…?" he questioned, surprised by the response.

"I take that as a no?"

Wait, no-no, I do. She's beautiful and strong and knows her way around a fight. She smells like strawberries and really likes training her body." he told her in a hurry. It only got his heart pumping more, as his attention turned to good old dad. "And dad, her breasts are huge."

"You don't say…" he said, chuckling as the image swarmed his mind.

"Good grief…" she sighed, shaking her head in disapproval.

"Your small ones are great too." He assured her while teasing her with a smirk.

Such statements only made her eyes roll. Such lewdness wasn't allowed in her presence. On the other hand, it sounded as if he had a decent idea for whom would take the title of being his wife.

"Very well. I'll offer you a deal. I'll give you seven days to confess and bring her back here. If you can do that, we won't bother you about it any longer, but if not, we'll acquire those suitors spoken of earlier. Do we have a deal?" she offered.

"Seven days, that's not a lot of time. But, if it's what I must to, fine." he said, before standing tall and proud. "Come that time you'll have yourself a daughter in law."

And with that said, he rushed from the building as fast as his legs could carry him. It wouldn't be easy, but if he were to be free of their meddling, it couldn't be avoided. For the first time in his life he'd have to confess his own feeling to a woman. No pressure. He'd taken down a beast of great stature only that morning, what was talking to a girl?

"You really think he'd gonna do it?" she wondered.

"Knowing him, probably not, but it'll be interesting to see."

"And you're not going to help him?" she asked with a raised brow.

"Own path." he sang.

Indeed. Much like when he began work as an adventurer, he alone could change the course of his life. But confessing his feeling to a woman, and one he knew personally? What if she said 'no' or thought of him as an asshole after what happened a few years back. Such a simple task, yet it felt near impossible. It was at times like this when he wished life were simple. For the next 4 hours he wandered the streets, taking in the sights and sounds of the townspeople. A couple fights broke out here and there, but the guardsmen took care of them post-haste. Being someone of importance, of course he'd draw some attention, though most kept to themselves.

The sun was already descending, and the thought had yet to leave his mind. It wasn't until he caught Gronk chowing outside a small tavern south-west of home that some relief fell over him. Finally, a friend he could talk to without getting too personal. Of course, he had no problem hearing his own friend out.

"Ohhh. They're that serious about this whole thing?" he questioned, while taking the last bite of his smoked pork.

"Yep, and it is really, really bad. I mean, I get what they're saying, but trying to force this stuff on me is such bullshit." he said, while leaning back in the wooden chair, feet propped up on the table. "It's like, just let me handle this at my own pace."

"I understand. You're not all about that pressure. Who's this girl you promised anyways?"

"Here's a hint: you know her and she's sexy."

"Ahhh…Vatunia?"

"Wha-No! Niana. Come on, you know I'm not into Elves like you."

"Hey, they're pretty nice in their own right." he corrected. "But, okay, just tell her, then."

"Easy for you to say. It's even worse since she she was..." he began to say, only to stop midway. "Forget about it. I really love her, I really do, but it may end up backfiring on me."

"Right. But just think, if she accepts you could finally have a family of your own. A son to teach and train and a wife to love and bang. Sounds pretty good." he pointed out as if reciting poetry.

"…What the heck." Icgord said, snickering in response to his statement.

"What?"

"To love and to bang? What was that?" he said, attempting to hold it in.

"It's true though. Not any man could handle a woman like that. You guys would be having some really crazy sex for eternity. What's not to love?"

"Oh...nothing. You're right though, I do want those things." he said, having calmed down from the accidental joke "Alright. I'll walk around and think about it some more. Thanks for the chat, I really needed it."

"No problem, brother. Just keep your head high and think positively."

"Right. See you later."

See ya."

"…Love and bang." he snickered while walking away.

Eventually, the sun fell, making room for the moon's beautiful light that kept the streets a lit, along with the many lanterns lining the streets. And as he stood outside the home east of his own, the pace of his heart only climbed. A dear friend he cared about deeply lived just beyond this wooden door. The lantern was still on, meaning she was still up. Seven hours of aimlessly walking around had resulted in this. Gulping down any remaining second thoughts, he gave the door a gentle knock.

"This is it. Time to prove I'm a man." he thought to himself, while his stomach fluttered with butterflies.

No turning back now, the door had begun to open. Standing straight, he watched as the familiar figure Niana filled the doorway; apparently having traded in her work uniform for a purple night-time bra and panties. Pretty gutsy, but an outfit he had no problem seeing.

"Icgord? Your out awfully late. I thought you would have been asleep by now." she said, surprised by his sudden visit. "Did something happen with your parents?"

"Not at all…Well, maybe something. Mind if we talk about it?" he asked of her.

"Sure! Come on in and relax." she pressed, while stepping aside for him.

"Appreciated."

Walking in, would give anyone a good look at her brick home. Though, not as big as others, plenty space remained for them to walk around comfortably. With only one story, everything remained close by. Her kitchen, which had a single, round table, five cupboards for glasses and plates, and a furnace for cooking. Across from it sat a couch and a wooden table with a small vase of flowers. And finally, the only bedroom in the house, the same one she and her son shared. Sure, she made pretty good money, but why spend it all on a huge house when there were only two of them?

"So, what have they done this time." she asked, as if annoyed with them as well.

"Alright, so here me out on this. It's really weird, but it's so dumb."

How could one explain a situation like his and not feel anxious? Yet, he divulged the entirety of the deal. Nothing went unsaid and come the time he finished a look of absolute disgust was on full display across her face.

"What?! You've gotta be joking with this." she exclaimed out of anger and worry.

"Afraid not. If I don't bring home a girl in 7 days, that's it. I'll be married off to some random citizen I know nothing about. Sounds fun, huh?"

"More like completely idiotic. They're insane if they think that'll make you happy." she said in frustration, before looking at him in the eyes. "It wouldn't, would it?"

"Not at all. It sucks, but I'm pinned here. Either way, I'm getting married soon."

"Well, did you have someone in mind?" she curiously asked.

Oh boy, the question he feared had arrived. Thinking deep, he tried his best to muster up the courage. Say it, that's all he had to do. The thumping of his heart radiated throughout his entire chest, while the palms of his hands grew sweaty. But in the end, he hadn't the courage and chose a different answer.

"Kind of, but I'm not entirely sure. It's complicated, but I'll keep you in the loop, alright?" he assured her.

"Oh…yeah, thanks." she replied, her tone reflecting her own disappointment.

An award silence fell over them before he stood up. The time had come to take his leave for the night; there was someplace else he needed to be. A friend to check up on.

"Guess I'll be going. See you tomorrow?" he asked, finding himself depressed with his own choice.

"Yeah. Like always." she said with a sweet smile, before rising back up to see him out.

But, as they walked over something overcame him. A feeling of compassion took control, as he wrapped his arms around her to pull her close against his chest, as his hands locked around her upper arms. A full embrace, as their bodies connected.

"Niana, no matter what happen I'll always be here for you. You're one of the most precious people in my life and don't you forget it. You and Ty both."

"Icgord, what are you-"

"I mean it. Anything you need and I'm there. No matter the time of day." he said in a nice, gentle tone, before releasing her.

So gentle, so calm, he knew how to warm her heart and make an exit. As he left though, a familiar feeling of regret buried itself deep within her mind.

"I'm such an idiot." she told herself, face buried in her right hand.

However, he wouldn't be her only visitor. For the moment she uttered those words, another, more stern feminine voice spoke out in agreement.

"Yes, you are, both of you."

"Huh? Who's there?" she cautiously asked, before spinning around to check herself.

There stood a woman with short, bright red hair, green eyes, and pointed ears. An Elven for sure, as if the ears and attire hadn't given it away. Like most of her kind, a dark green tunic and white pants, the pants of which looked a bit too tight, adorned her slim form. Shoes weren't a factor in their race due to the tough soles of their feet. Her figure wasn't near as voluptuous as her own, but she certainly kept herself in tip-top shape, giving her a rather nice rear.

"Vatunia? When did you get here?" she asked after being taken by a surprise.

"Since the beginning and over there." she answered, pointing to the far-left pitch-black corner of the living room, next to the bedroom. "That's beside the point. My question is, what's going on with you two?"

"What do you mean?" she asked, wondering if she'd overheard their conversation.

"I'm talking about the two indecisive morons who were just sitting at the table. I'm not stupid, Niana, I can hear your feelings through your words and they're loud and clear." she explained, arms crossed in a disappointed manner.

"I don't know what you're talking about." she rebutted with, turning her back on her.

"Is that so? Fine, then I'll be the one to marry him, then."

In that moment, Niana's eyes widen with worry, as she quickly spun around in reaction to the threat. Was she being serious or just pulling at strings and hoping for the answer she wanted. With Vatunia, it was hard to tell sometimes.

"You wouldn't dare…" she said with a threatening glare.

"Try me."

Perhaps not. This was the same Elf who'd sat in a tree for three straight days, eating nothing but berries from a jar, waiting for a specific animal to show up. Determined didn't even begin to describe her. Even her glare made it obvious, she wasn't messing around.

"Alright then, tell me, what's so indecisive about us?"

"Well, let's see. You're both clearly in love with each other, but can't muster the courage to say it."

"Then you have no concept of how hard it is to do so." she said in return.

"Niana, you're both 39, there is no excuse." she pointed out. "What's holding you back? …Is it Jake?"

As much as she hated others butting in to her personal life, perhaps relieving herself of some mental baggage would help a bit. She may have been harsh, but she could give some decent advice. Best to throw her line in and see what she could catch.

"…Yeah. It's just…It's kind of…"

"Take your time." she suggested in a softer tone.

"Back when we were kids, I actually had feelings for the both of them, though I didn't make it clear at the time. But Icgord, he was the one, I could feel it. His confident attitude and willingness to study and train, even if it blew up in his face, and his kindness. It was all I wanted in a future husband."

"So, why'd you go with Jake?"

"Nine years ago, he suddenly sprang the question on me, in the middle of a crowded tavern. I was nervous and scared. I didn't want to make him sad or anger the people around us, so I accepted."

"And you two weren't going out?"

"No, but I was still happy regardless. I finally had my own family, but this lingering sense of guilt and regret kept coming back. And after happened two years ago, they've only grown stronger."

"You mean the murder."

"That son of a bitch shouldn't have been thrown in the dungeon after taking him from us…"

It all made sense. The way Jake had sprung the proposal on her combined with her existing feelings for the prince, it culminated in a mixture of regret and guilt due to her choice, and thus thought herself not worthy of his affection. But, was it the whole truth?

"Is that all?" she asked, raising a brow in doubt.

"Kind of. I'm kind of afraid that afterwards he'll think I'm only using him as a backup husband." She answered, before looking up at her. "Plus, wouldn't it be awkward marrying your dead friend's wife?"

Backup husbands were men sought out by desperate women who'd previously been married and sought only to cleanse their loneliness without having any feelings for him. In other words, a piece of trash by their standards.

"Are your feelings true? Do you really love him with all your heart?"

"Of course." she sincerely answered.

"Then cut the crap and get to it. If your feelings are real, make them known when the time comes., the same goes for him as well. He needs to stop feeling so nervous and come out with it" she proposed, only to remember a certain detail from their talk. "Actually, there may be an opportunity coming very soon."

"Because of the deal." she remembered

"Seven days remain, and I doubt that numskull would want a stranger laying in bed with him. Yes, it's perfect. He's trapped, and the only logical way out would be to pick you."

"So, you mean…"

"Come the end of the week, he'll have to confess. All you've got to do is throw away those feelings of guilt, regret and…awkwardness. The time is upon you, Niana." she said with great confidence, while shaking her by her shoulders. "Can you do it?"

"I think so." she uttered softly.

"No 'I think', it's 'I can, and I will'. If you truly want him in your life, then seize it. Grab hold of this chance and never let go. Or else I'll jump in."

"Right. Should I wait or go after him myself?"

"Wait a couple day and if he doesn't make a move, you go in for the kill." she asserted aggressively.

"Okay. I can…I can do this." she said with a somewhat confident expression.

"Good. For the record though, those are some really petty reasons." she bluntly stated.

"Shut up." she replied, casting a smirk at her critic.

Looking over at her bedroom, knowing her son was sound asleep, it made her think. He'd need a father to help guide him through life. Though her petty problems remained, perhaps moving on was the best option. Regardless of how it sounded.