He watched the ceremony from the shadows.
The day was bright and garish, ugly in its starkness as sunlight flooded the clearing where the festivities were to take place. The people were decked in fresh blossoms and colorful garb, vines streaming through the braided hair of the women and crowns of ivy set upon the heads of the men. Some of the villagers had already taken to toasting – some were already drunk.
None of them were drunk enough.
There was an atmosphere of frantic despair underlying the false cheer, a mordant cast to the forced grins, an edge of hysteria to the blaring laughter. It was all a pretense, a pretense they had no choice but to take part in.
This was a joyous day, their mouths said, while their eyes…their eyes spat upon the lie.
No one saw him. He was concealed in the dark bower of the trees – safe, hidden, unseen, as the woods was ever a place of darkness and secrets. That was why he stood here now. He was a secret that could never be revealed. A secret she…
So beautiful. His breath caught in his throat as he watched her step from the carriage that had pulled up. A white carriage, gilded with gold. And she wore a white dress, threaded with gold. The glimmering material streamed like liquid around her lithe limbs, cupping, holding, caressing…as he had, once…
Her shining golden hair tumbled across her shoulders, a virgin’s crowning glory…
A virgin’s no longer.
The sunbeams illuminated her features with painful clarity through the gauzy white veil. Her perfect lips, lips that -
Her smooth, fair cheeks, today so pale when last night they had been flushed with -
Don’t remember, he commanded himself – in vain.
Her startling green eyes, luminous in candle-glow but now…
Shimmering with unshed tears.
Someone thrust a bouquet into her hands; her fingers convulsed around it and crushed the blossoms. They fluttered to the ground before her and she trampled them into the soft, mossy earth. Her movements were jerky, graceless, her resistance dead. The veil stuck to her damp cheeks as the first silent tears sluiced down her cheeks.
Teardrops like diamonds sparkled beneath the veil. Making her ever more exquisite, heartbreakingly lovely, an ethereal beauty – he wanted to brush his thumb across her soft, supple skin and wipe away her sorrow, to lower his lips to hers, to…
Promise the impossible.
The inebriated villagers lurched drunkenly into two lines and she walked woodenly down the lane they formed. The musicians struck up a lively tune without spirit, their hands reluctant, dragging, rebelling, wanting to express their sorrow but forced to play this farcical, discordant strain that jangled and rattled everyone’s teeth.
More wine, more wine, sloshing over, spilling.
Glazed wits, dulled hands.
Tawdry grins under grieving eyes.
And she in their midst walked steadily toward the man waiting for her. Steadily -
Steady, even steps.
One after the other.
Unwavering…but at what price?
He had seen her tears – the tears of she who never cried. Even her heart was weeping – he could feel it in his core; and her soul…her soul was breaking – that he could feel, too: a rending; tattered fabric that was no longer whole, but become worthless, never able to warm again.
It was her will that kept her firm, her will that kept her feet from faltering, her will that kept her moving forward, onward – ever onward, never stopping – she could never stop – as she walked toward…him.
It was her will that might keep her alive after -
Her intended stood tall, straight and unmoving, his black eyes watching her approach. Watching, waiting, craving domination.
The watcher in the woods knew she hated those eyes, knew she hated that man.
The king. Cruel and powerful…and insane.
A man who would never let her go.
The watcher knew, she knew, even the peasants knew they could not let his madness continue…could not let his line continue to reign…and yet he curbed every uprising, leaving his own people – men, women and children – tortured and dying.
And so this had been their plan, their last hope of keeping the madness infecting his line from continuing.
This was why she went to him now, to the fanatical monarch, to the man who would possess her in the eyes of the kingdom…the man who would possess her for the rest of his life.
Even though she loved someone else.
She loved him.
And she knew he was here. She knew, and yet she did not look at him.
She was too strong for that.
She loved him too much…loved their unborn child too much.
And so she must be silent, for this was their secret, the secret that could never be revealed. Could never emerge from the shadows.
His part was done and now he must turn away, must leave…her.
But he could not move.
…And yet he could not save her.
The secret must be kept. At any price.
Even at this one.
But those tears…
Would stay with him forever.
The Price of a Secret
Sonya Lano |
He watched the ceremony from the shadows.