The Girl-Bride

Wide, innocent eyes gazed out into the distance, seeming not to see the trees, or the clouds, or even the sunrise, but through them into something infinitely more profound and wonderful. That was the way it often was with Laurentia, and perhaps that would always be the way.

She brushed a curl of silvery-blond hair away from her pale face. Her mother had told her she looked like a marble statue – at least until she died. Then her aunt had continued it, adding on the remark that she was as cold as ice, to boot.

Perhaps that was the case. At any rate, Laurentia had never said anything in protest, finding idle chatter a waste of time that could be used to contemplate the mysteries of life.

Her aunt's voice sounded in the corridor, breaking her concentration. Laurentia felt a twist of anger deep within her, knowing also that her heart rate hastened. Sighing, she isolated the emotion and locked it away, imagining her mind to be a great, frozen spiral. The chiming of the family grandfather clock helped.

The clock was chiming? Then it was time for morning Appearances. The prince had announced his desire to choose a bride and girls from noble families were flocking to the palace, seeking his favour. She was her family's entry into the contest.

It could not be denied that Laurentia was pretty, in a dangerous, out-of-this-world manner. The trouble was that her heart and mind always seemed to be somewhere else, and that repelled attention. Her aunt had always said that her eyes would have been beautiful, had they only had some life in them.

Laurentia's eyes were blue. Not the shallow, common blue one saw everywhere, but the blue of oceans sailed thousands of years ago, the ever-changing blue of the skies, the very deeps of the great lakes. Her eyes were still a child's eyes, but there was something in them which told of tragedies survived, families broken, relationships caught up in flames. Yet there was also loving, caring, trusting – everything that spoke of a life well-lived. Somehow, the fragments of a thousand souls had gathered into her being, reliving themselves.

The door of her room opened and her aunt entered. Laurentia rose slowly, nodding by way of greeting.

"Laurie, today you are to wear this."

What was it? Laurentia thought, subtly irritated. Her aunt was a master in the properly artful craft of creating beautiful dresses, extremely charming in their own right, but also extremely uncomfortable for her usual trial model, her solemn niece. Why couldn't she spend her time making them easy to wear? What concoction would it be now?

She saw purple. Purple? Purple was expensive – beyond expensive, in fact. Only royalty wore it.

"The prince has chosen you," her aunt hastened to explain. She soon grew worried, for, if Laurentia could pale, she would have.

As it were, the words had torn her composure and rent it to shreds. Why would the prince have chosen her? Her! She had seen him look at her and knew quite plainly that he did not love her. Neither did she love him. Would it be that he felt it his responsibility as a future ruler to procure a wife who would produce suitable offspring? If so, perhaps she would have been a choice. It certainly could not be denied that her mind was very keen and her features very fine.

But to have such a life! Laurentia had seen enough of such women around court. Her own mother had been one of them, tired out too quickly by too many babies, too fast. They were too weak and tired to care if their husbands slept with the meanest farmer's wife.

Forcing a smile, she clasped her aunt in an embrace. The good woman felt a slight dampness on her gown and smiled, thinking they were tears of joy. Laurentia knew otherwise.

Her cousins buzzed about her as they helped her prepare for the Appearances, saying how proud they were, how jealous they were of her and things of the sort. Outwardly, Laurentia was emotionless.

At the Appearances, Laurentia was not wearing the purple dress. As her aunt had explained once she had calmed down, it was to be her wedding dress. For now, she was wearing black, with a sash around her slim waist to give her the figure she did not have. Her aunt knew the art of beauty well and was determined to use it all on her darling royal niece. The dress was supposed to be her farewell to her family. Laurentia thought of it as requiem for her soul.

She stood in her place before the prince, looking on steadfastly as he bypassed the girls standing to her right, hope shining in their eyes. He paused at her and looked her over for the last time, before handing her a white rose, the sign of the royal favour. Laurentia did not have to ask why he did not attempt to put it in her hair. The answer was plain in his eyes: It was responsibility; he did not care for her.

She took it, noting his startled expression when his fingers brushed hers. He drew away quickly, for her skin was cold as ice and his warmth had found no welcome. Offering a shy smile, Laurentia accepted her responsibility as she had accepted the rose, stoic and without hesitation, ignoring the part of her that wanted to cast the rose at his feet.

The wedding was to take place a week later. Laurentia learned that the prince was not arrogant in the least. She also learned all his insecurities and fears, though he did not know them himself, through the gift of insight that the good fairies had blessed her with. The prince soon learned to find her silence comforting.

Soon enough it was the night of the wedding. The prince was very proud of – and by this time very fond of – his fragile, straight-faced, but sweet-lipped girl-bride. Laurentia, however, did not share similar sentiments. To her, it was still duty, the abhorrent word ringing in her mind every waking hour of the day. The prince saw it just as he kissed her cold skin and let it break his heart.

He refrained from spending time in her company, preferring to amuse himself elsewhere for fear that he would see that icy glimmer in her eyes again. He grew pale and wan, and soon the fears that had broken his soul went on to break his body as well. The kingdom was in chaos over the royal marriage, some saying the bride was a witch, others saying it was the prince's fault for not treating her well enough.

Laurentia would not complain. She was silent even when she heard of his escapades with the women of the court, instead choosing to bury herself in the affairs of the country. As the king later put it, she may not have been a good wife but she had been a capital princess.

Inside, though, she was hurting as she saw her husband slipping away from her. She did not love him in the way most wives loved their husbands, that much could not have been disputed, but she had learnt to care for him in a peculiar way, much like a mother would have loved her child.

The day came when he died. Laurentia dismissed the servants and sat by his bed, gazing at him half-sorrowfully, half-reproachfully. She asked if he was going to leave her all alone in the strange place that was the palace. He was too weak to reply, but the look he gave her ravaged what remained of her heart.

She had killed him.

That was what she thought when she kissed him of her own accord for the first time, noting that his skin was now as cold as hers and laughing bitterly over the fact. It was observed at his funeral that his girl-bride did not cry, but all who saw her understood her grief to be that which was beyond tears and so she was not blamed for it.

She slipped away from life after that, crossing the threshold in a gradual manner, vanishing from the palace in such a way that few people even noticed. People wondered for ever afterwards why there had never been a funeral, not knowing that Laurentia had been happy, and that she had told the king so in a note she had written.

For, as the life drained from her body and shrouded her in the blissful cold of death, she knew that she would have a chance to meet her prince again in some higher realm, and this time make good what she had done wrong.

For what is the end of a life, but the beginning of another?