Angel and IronThis is a day of celebrations. It is my birthday, and it is my wedding day. I rejoice in neither.
They tell me that now I’m fifteen, I am old enough to marry. They are wrong. They also tell me our two kingdoms must unite. I am to be his second wife. His first wife died in childbirth. I have never met him.
My handmaiden fits a veil of netted, snow-white silk atop my head, securing it in place with a silver crown. I enter the great hall with my face covered. He waits for me, standing before the priest.
I walk slowly, keeping my head high and shoulders straight. I clasp my hands in front of me to hide the trembling. He is twice my age. A great warrior. Perhaps if he were not so great, I would not be here now, marrying this man to spare my people war.
I take my place beside him. He turns to me, lifting my veil with a flourish, sending it high over my head. It floats down my back silently, like the fall of angel wings. His eyes are the color of raw iron, partly brown and partly grey. They catch and hold my gaze, digging deep as the mines from whence the iron came. I don’t want this man to know me. I look away.
The priest says his part. A gold band slips onto my finger. My husband leans down to kiss me. I close my eyes, lift my mouth, and brace myself. His lips touch my cheek. He laughs so softly, it is nothing more than a breath on my skin.
A cheer rises from the crowd. He grasps my hand and lifts it. His skin is rough and worn. We dine together, at the head of the table. He keeps my goblet filled. When the music starts, he leads me onto the floor. I curtsey to him, then we move to the song of the harp, performing the steps of the wedding dance.
“You’re beautiful,” he says.
You are very old. I don’t say it. “Thank you, my lord.”
His iron eyes are on me, watching. Perhaps this is how he became such a fine warrior—observing with patience the movements of others. I feel him stripping away my barriers, exposing my weakness without saying a word.
I turn, moving with the music in a circle around him.
“You are unhappy?” he asks.
“No, my lord.” I try to smile, but I’ve forgotten how.
“I can see that you are. Why should you not be? No girl wants a stranger for a husband.”
No, indeed. But if I let the words out, I fear the tears will follow. I stare at his boots.
“Maerwyn.” He says my name. “Come with me.” He takes my hand and leads me from the great hall, towing me up the narrow, stone steps. Up and up to the top of the keep. Then out into the fading light.
To the east, the mountains. And beyond them, my home. To the west, an endless ocean. The sun is setting and the horizon is on fire, as if the sea itself is burning.
“This is my favorite place,” he says, leaning on the battlements.
The breeze lifts my veil. I want to raise my arms and fly across the water, gliding away with the gulls toward the flames in the west. “It’s beautiful.”
“Maybe someday, you will come to love it here as much as I do.”
I look up, studying the brown and the grey of his eyes.
He smiles at me. Perhaps he’s not so very old. He’s strong, and still handsome.
“Yes, my lord.”
I try again, and feel something pull at the corners of my mouth. My memory has returned. I’ve managed a smile.
© 2011 Julie Daines