The day is upon me. My face is painted to rosy perfection and a silver circlet rests on my forehead. Physically, I am almost ready. Inwardly, I don’t know if I will ever be.
“You don’t have to do this,” Keiry says as she finishes my hair.
“I know,” I answer. “But I want to.”
“There.” She places the final pin. “What do you think?”
The white dress that Markius bought for me last spring forms to my body so well, it could be made of water. As a wedding present, he bought me the circlet and a silk cape to wear with it. Keiry’s dress was also a gift from him, to thank her for attending the ceremony.
“I love it,” I tell her. “I really do.”
“But do you love him? You barely know him.”
What does knowing have to do with anything? I only knew Lothar a few days before I wanted to be his forever. But that’s all gone now.
“He’s a good man,” I say. “And he loves me. That’s all I need.”
“Corynne?” That voice. A voice that I hear in my dreams still too often. But it couldn’t be. I must have mistaken it only because I was just thinking of…
The reflection in the mirror is unmistakable, though.
“What are you doing here?” Keiry snarls.
“Is that any way to speak to your king?”
It was his voice. He’s here. I can’t… I don’t…
Keiry spins around and confronts him. “You are no king of mine. How dare you come here after all the pain you've caused? On her wedding day!”
He’s here. He’s here and my best friend is yelling at him and I’m getting married and he’s here what is happening I don’t even…
“Please, I only wish to talk to her. Then I promise I’ll leave.”
“So you can hurt her more than you already have?” Keiry says. “No. Leave now.”
“Keiry.” I clear my throat but my voice is still so small. “Go ahead. I’ll talk to him.”
“Fine. But if you need anything, just scream. I’ll be waiting outside.”
She walks out of my dressing tent, leaving Lothar and I alone together. How long has it been since I was alone with him? Lifetimes ago.
“What are you doing here?” I ask. “How did you find me?”
“I’m the king; it’s my business to know what my subjects are doing.”
I frown at the stiff formality in his voice.
He folds his hands and says more softly, “I came here to apologize.”
“Corynne, I know that I wronged you. I’ve wanted to say this to you for some time, but I was too much of a coward to face you. When I learned you were getting married, I decided I would say it now so you can fully move on. I’m sorry for hurting you, sorrier than you could know.”
As I listen, I gaze into the emeralds of his eyes and realize how easy it would be to get lost there. Far too easy to wish to stay there forever and to want him. To beg him to leave Ivaine and I would leave Markius and we could run away together.
But I won’t. I can’t. What’s done is done.
My trance is broken when he brushes his hand against my face, leaving a burning place beneath it. I feel frozen.
“I just want you to have a beautiful life.”
I was going to, I long to say. But you ruined that when you married her.
Instead, I say, “Go home to your wife, Lothar.”
Then I wrap my fingers around his wrist and break his hand away from my face.
“Very well,” he says. “Goodbye, Corynne.”
As I watch him turn and depart from me, my heart wrenches. All of the old feelings come rushing back, although I thought I had laid them to rest. An invisible hand reaches around my throat and chokes me. I don’t know how to feel or what to think. The conflicting emotions just swirl together, forming pressure behind my blurring eyes.
“Corynne,” Keiry snaps me back to the present. “Are you all right?”
I nod and blink hard.
Slowly, I walk out of the tent to the place where Markius waits for me. Keiry goes quickly ahead and takes her seat.
He stands beneath a white awning in the meadow he chose for this occasion. The flowers are in full bloom and the weather is glorious. The guests are waiting and so is he.
As I descend to him, he looks at me with a sublime joy and awe that warms and chills me at the same time. It is the same way that…someone else…used to look at me. I force those thoughts from my mind as I walk toward my destiny.
Because Markius has no living family members, his friends from the tavern fill the seats. Keiry is my only guest. None of the other witches would have dared come to such an occasion. If my mother were alive, I doubt she would have either.
As I step closer to my future groom, I strain to control my breathing and convince myself that I want this.
I do want this. I promise I do.
An old man approaches. He will be the one to marry us. I know that he is someone important, but I do not know who he is. Only that Markius drinks with him too.
“Here we are,” Markius grins at me.
“Are you ready to take the oath?” the old man asks.
“We are, my lord,” Markius answers for both of us.
“Do you swear the eternal oath of love and servitude that, on the cost of your souls, will bind you to each other for the remains of this lifetime and for the lifetime hereafter?”
I swallow and gaze upon Markius’s face, basking in the love for me that I find there. It’s all I need, I tell myself again. All I’ll ever need. “I swear it.”
Clearly pleased that I spoke first, Markius says, “As do I.”
After the forever-binding vow has been made, we feast. An impressive spread sits before us. “Markius, I didn’t know you cooked,” one of his friends teases.
“I don’t.” Markius laughs. “Today we dine on the best meal that money can buy.”
And of course, the best wine.
After having their fill of food and spirits, the guests dance boisterously around a fire. They take turns swinging Keiry around like a rag doll. I expect the same indignant ferocity from her that I saw earlier today, but she is a good sport in spite of their roughness.
But when she sits down by the fire to catch her breath, I can see the look in her eyes. She seems forlorn and lost. Thinking of someone from the past perhaps…
“Is something wrong, love?”
I exhale sharply, startled by Markius’s interruption of my thoughts.
“No, nothing,” I say. “I’m just tired.”
He pulls me to him and buries his face in my hair, then breathes in deeply. The roughness of his hand, his masculine smell, and his warm breath on the most sensitive part of my neck cause my body to react, awakening a sleeping part of me.
“I can see how this would be an exhausting day for you, but it is not over. Do you know what I want to do with you?”
I can only imagine.
“Dance with me,” he says.
I smile in surprise and my cheeks flush, betraying what I was thinking of.
He takes my hand and twirls me around to the music.
“Are you happy, my dear?”
“I’m the happiest I’ve been in a while,” I answer.
“I am glad to hear it. But I doubt you are happier than you make me.”
No, probably not. But that is all right.
We dance until dusk, when the guests leave.
And then there is only one thing left to do. The thing that will seal our oaths and bind us to each other for eternity.
I undress and lie down on the bed inside the tent that has been prepared for us. I can remember another time when he and I were in a tent, only what was supposed to be happening then will happen now.
I cannot believe it, but I actually feel nervous.
Markius joins me on the bed and puts his hands on me. “You are so beautiful.”
I am trembling. I knew we would do this when I agreed to marry him, but it still feels wrong to me. I’d sworn that I would never lie with any man except Lothar. I suppose now we’re both liars.
Markius feels very different than Lothar did. His body is heavier and much hairier. He is a more forceful lover and his pace is quick and rhythmic, like a pounding heartbeat. I don’t mind it though. I don’t mind at all.
When he finishes, I gasp and cry out to the Goddess from the depths of my soul. Please. Please give me a daughter.