"There was a time when lovers believed in magic here in Trimund,
m'lady." The stout seamstress, Anya, shook out my wedding gown's heavy opalescent skirt where we worked to prepare for the evening ceremony in my enormous bedchamber. Anya met my gaze and arched her silvered brows. "Those days are long since past. You will marry Lord Bordock and forget his squire."
If the motherly Anya thought she would admonish me, she was wrong. "Servants know what they are permitted to know. Perhaps you assume you may speak freely."
Anya rolled her brown eyes and turned back to the wedding gown's traditional pearl-encrusted silk. "Lainy, I know you are angry. I know you long for the heart you cannot have. Take the Dragon's Blood tonight. Let your heart soar with the lord. You do your father's kingdom a great favor in this joining."
Dragon's Blood forged alliances in the heat of passion. Wove a spell claimed to unite kingdoms for all time. No war. No hunger. More like no romance. A myth. A vow of superstition. What was life without love? Starvation.
The heavy gown tethered me to the box I stood upon. I was the model statuary for a noble's court, my servants at my hem. If only Anya would speak of my heart to Father. Desperate time called for extreme tactics. Now to test the water for an outlet. "Lord Bordock will be displeased when he takes his prize."
Anya slowly unfolded to stare conspiratorially into my eyes, her silver hair wound into a braided knot upon her head.
The seamstress so looked like Mother before the plague took her. Perhaps Anya would intervene for my sanity. "Your suspicions are true. I am no virgin."
Anya swayed, stepping sideways, catching herself against the iridescent green wall with a plump pink hand. She kneaded her brow without losing her admonishing stare. "The squire?"
Dearest Trawn couldn't suffer for the lie. "No."
"Lainy," Anya gasped. "To lie at this moment is dangerous."
A door thumped.
Anya whirled to the empty bedchamber's silver bedstead draped in pinks, the hearth's dancing flames, a black dressing table, and silver sheers fluttering in the blustery winds. "Sacred Gods and all that is good, right, and gracious, please let the wind blow doors shut this day."
"Oh for the wind to blow strong enough to blow me away."
Hours passed with the wind gusting to a howl as if lamenting over my being forced to wed. Yet, it failed to mute the festivity's music and dragon's groan on the castle grounds below. Blessed nature summoned me down from my view of the molten sunset to the castle's mercurial pool. I could go. I could hurl myself into the glistening green water and let the pearls pull me down to meet my end. Would that not equate to a coward's demise? Lainy, daughter of Lord Wahldrow, he who was second to no other than the High King of all Purganthia, was no coward.
A door creaked across the room.
Time to meet my future. I turned.
Father waved me toward the hallway. "You would keep the peasants waiting to gaze upon the beauty of your gown, Lainy?"
More like to gaze upon the slitting of the dragon's throat.
My skirt whispered as I strode to take Father's elbow. His red jacket studded with green embroidery foretold of the ceremony to come. The creature would die in a ridiculous ritual of unwanted marriage. All things led to a singular moment, the dismal sip of Dragon's Blood. The instant I knew truth when nothing burned in my veins. No passion. No lust. No love.
The tap of Father's black boots drummed a deadly march. He led me down the torchlit passages lined with paintings of smiling relatives toward where a brilliance at the top of the stairs shifted with dancing shadows. More than firelight warned I could not turn back. The ghosts of the people and their loud music spoke of happiness among the country folk downstairs.
Father paused at the uppermost step and turned me to survey the reeling crowd at the base of the curving staircase. The enormous castle doors were propped open, allowing a long view of the courtyard lit with countless bonfires. Everyone spun to gape up at me, even the dragon where he was chained to the courtyard.
But to trade my blood for the beast's freedom.
"You do us the greatest honor tonight, daughter. I have found you the perfect match. For you, Lainy, I gift you Lord Bordock. A long life. The love of a noble."
Father's soft words were only meant for my ears. So caring. Doting. Yet, he had erred in his choice. How could a loyal daughter refuse the request of a superstitious father?
He nudged me forward. "Let the marriage begin," he yelled.
The guests bustled once again.
The few summer days spent at Bordock's castle haunted me as I descended toward Lord Bordock in full wedding costume. He was no Trawn. Trawn had befriended me with tales of honor while Father and Bordock hunted. Friendship always glinted in Trawn's green eyes. A gentleman he had been, carefully taking my hand when the walk through the high mountain meadows grew bumpy with stones. And when Father was out of sight, Trawn allowed me to run his mount through the meadows. Not even Bordock permitted my mare to trot. A squire to love? Yes. A noble's servant.
The lord's growing form mushroomed beside the manacled beast. Bordock wore the angular hunter's mask of Morsnith, slightly altered with long shimmering green feathers. But the tradition of choosing plumage from the groom's kingdom didn't detract from the ceremony. Nobles were being wed, which required a hunter's leather outfit, a sword, dragon, and mask. And a lady in the most expensive gown a father could afford. A lord was forced to carry his own in the hunt and combat. To prove he deserved his rank. Bordock's muscles straining against the leather over his arms and legs heralded his power. The dragon he captured to kill at his wedding proved his prowess.
Wind fingered the feathers in Bordock's mask.
The war drum pounded out the first thump of the wedding.
Father's presence shrank away from my arm.
To turn back would insult Father and Bordock. That would be a monumental mistake. I stepped toward the groom and dragon.
My heart lurched with an ominous rhythm as I walked a line to a sacrificial slab perfumed with sulfurous dragon's odor that escaped from the holes in the animal's iron muzzle.
The beast's orange eye focused on my approach.
Fearlessly, it hunched down upon the stone courtyard, waiting, possibly studying the scene for a means of escape. I claimed a foothold next to the creature's calculating gaze. This was the bride's position. A place of honor next to olive scales.
The drumbeat quickened.
Poor dragon. He knew nothing of his future. At least he was spared my agony.
The world fell into silence. Or, I no longer listened. What would become of my life?
The crowd seemed to disappear. Firelight flashed against Bordock's familial sword. The beast shrieked. Blood-red rain showered my wedding gown. The priest shoved a basin into my view to catch the blood.
A new beginning? Or my end? Did old wives' tales hold any truth? Would the aphrodisiac supply a fabled passionate future?
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Skhye's other tales:
HE OF THE FIERY SWORD available in print online at amazon and barnes&noble
SACRIFICIAL HEARTS available at www.thewildrosepress.com
ANCIENT MUSINGS available at www.thewildrosepress.com