I am tired, so very tired. Of all the secrecy, the pacing in my room, of having the wrong words forced from my tongue. Why? Why did he do this? I wonder, rubbing at the golden band around my ring finger. I would never have imagined being married would be so lonely.
I never imagined being married to him would be so lonely. So difficult. I wonder if I should have expected it, given the circumstances.
I stop. Biting my lip, I turn to the door, that single wall of flimsy wood that separates me from him. It’s such a strange feeling; to hate something designed to protect, to keep out the predators coming for your blood. I wonder which one of us is the predator.
Between one blink and the next, I’m throwing open that door and marching into the one room I should never have been barred from. He’s hunched over his desk, a familiar sight. Head down, fists knuckle-white against the grain of the wood. Around him, I see the edges of so many scattered papers. Plans perhaps, he’s always planning, always been so easily ensnared in the loops of his own thoughts. Not that it matters, I don’t get to be in the room where they come to life. I haven’t been in a long time. Except, except now I have to be. He has to hear me.
“Is this what you call a marriage? A life?” I ask, limbs taunt, my normally soft voice so loud in the silence. He doesn’t even twitch. “Pacing and pondering in our separate rooms? Left to drown in our thoughts? Hiding away and clinging to this elaborate ruse you devised?” Silence. “Can you not speak to me as an equal? For once can’t you pretend that –“
“Don’t you understand what’s at stake?” He cuts me off, rising and spinning around to face me, dark eyes burning. “I did what I had to do. What was I supposed to do?”
“You had choices.” I growl, stalking forward. He opens his mouth but for once, for once I don’t let him speak. I don’t care that he’s more than a head taller with twice the muscle mass; he doesn’t get to feed me dialogue, he doesn’t get to silence me, not anymore.
“You had so many choices. The fact that this is the course of action you choose –“
“You agreed to it.” He barks, baring teeth.
“You think I don’t remember that.” I hiss, fists trembling at my sides. “I know what I said before, but,” I pause, eyes prickling with heat. “I thought I knew what I was getting into. I thought I knew what you had meant when you said that an alliance forged by marriage was the best course of action.” I glare up into dark eyes. Those eyes I had thought —
“I was wrong.” I say. “The only thing this elaborate ruse was useful for was to forge a fragile peace together and —“
“It worked, didn’t it?” He argues, turning back to his desk and all those stupid papers. “We couldn’t be sure the alliance would have held otherwise. Wasn’t it worth it to have peace? Are you saying all these years were a waste? Why trouble yourself with second-guesses now?”
“What about the cost?” I rasp, blinking furiously at his back. My shoulders drop. I am tired, so very tired of lying. “At what point is a fake marriage still worth holding on to?” I ask quietly, rubbing again at that band of gold. “We have peace. We have a home for your people and mine that could will be damaged by the loss of one thread out of thousands. Even if it was the very first thread.” The floor creaks. I don’t look up.
“What?” He breathes. “What are you –?”
“I thought,” I say, cutting him off. “I thought, when you suggested this plan, that maybe, perhaps, there had been more to it than your usual cold logic.” I swallow, he says nothing. “When I agreed to marry you, I knew what we were hoping to accomplish. Such a binding of our people would be the first major step towards peace. We had so much to talk about. You talked to me so much back then.” I chuckle. “We used to stand together in everything, do you remember? You used to ask for my input. What happened to that?”
“Daphne,” He breathes, his shadow falling over me. But when was the last time it didn’t cover me? Didn’t hide me away or shut my mouth? When was the last time I walked side by side with him, as true equals? When was the last time we planned together? When was the last time he looked at me and I thought; Yes, this man loves me.
“I thought you felt the same.” I breathe, blinking away the wetness as I look back up. “I thought we we partners in this, but when I realized you didn’t feel the same,” I pause. “I stayed for the alliance, for the sake of peace I played my role. Waiting and hoping that one day you might look at me again like I was your partner. Like I was someone you trusted… someone you could love.”
“I’m done.” I say, twisting the ring from my finger. “I’m just, done waiting for a shadow of a man who no longer exists.” Grabbing his hand I push my ring into his palm and close his stiff fingers around it. “I’m done waiting for you to see my worth.”
“Daphne –” He starts, reaching for me, but I step back. Finally out of reach, creating my own narrative. My chest aches, I smile anyway. Love is such a fickle thing, and how could I not be kind when he looks so at a loss.
“I wish you luck.” I say, placing my hand on the door. “I’ll still help with keeping the alliance alive, but I will not be a part of a fake marriage. I will not stand here and continue to love a man who does not love me.” He stares, dark eyes wet, mouth moving soundlessly, but he does not call me a liar. I nod.
“I wish you the best, and hope one day you find a partner worthy of you.” I turn, closing the door behind me. I breathe, I walk away. He does not chase after me.