Today it was not raining, which was helpful, seeing as today was a wedding day. In fact, today was beautiful. The sky was clear for miles and miles, the sky deepening into azure, the way skies often do in late June. The weather was balmy - warm enough for a short-sleeved gown and a parasol. Beside the church, wild flowers bloomed in purples and pinks. London looked clean and fresh, the way it often did after a good storm. The world smelled earthy and new, everything was just beginning. The feeling made elation rise in my stomach. Today was a good day. Today was a day full of wonderful possibilities. The bells of the church chimed, signaling that the wedding was about to begin. With a start, i rushed into the church, realizing with a jolt that I must be very, very late.
Fortunately, there were people still milling about and chatting in church. Some sat in pews, other stood in the aisle, discussing the wedding, saying what a smart match it was, how much they wished happiness for the couple. Ahead, I saw the groom standing at the altar, smiling as if there was no day but this day. He looked so handsome in his perfectly tailored suit, holding his top hat in his hands. Still, I could see behind the ruse of the smile to the nervousness that lay underneath. I gave him a nod, dear Lord, I was nervous! Picking up my step, I quickly walked (for ladies did not run) into a small room that was off to the side. Ladies, who before had had worry etched onto their faces, now looked relieved. i was finally here. I laughed and made my way up to where a large full-length looking glass stood, proud against the wall. I took a peek at myself and frowned for just a moment.
"I look like an absolute fright." The words were fear stricken. "I look awful! He is never going to want to marry me now."
Then my frown melted and I raised an eyebrow at the tall, beautiful woman standing in front of the mirror, wearing a white gown with a pink - pink! - sash. In her upswept coiffure, statice was wound in her deep, auburn hair. I grinned at Wren, the bride. "You look perfect and if you don't start soon, people are going to begin to wonder if you've gotten cold feet."
"I haven't, let me assure you at how warm my feet are. Hot, actually. Sweating, I do believe!" Behind me, one of the maids cringed at the word sweat and I sent her a glare. "Please, Faerie, help me. You were so calm on your wedding day. How did you manage it? I feel as if I am coming apart at the seams." Taking a glance at my left ring finger to see the lovely rings that sat there, I smiled once more. My wedding had been two weeks prior on a day similar to this one. Wren, however, had it all wrong. I'd been abut to fall apart. She, Victoria and Olive - now Lady Cornwallis - been the only things keeping me calm. Their soothing voices had forced me out to the aisle, where Alphonse had stood. I'd had similar anxieties as Wren did now - what if he'd decided he did not want to marry me at all? What if he realized he really did not love me? What if he didn't want to travel? It had all been my nerves, of course. The wedding had gone by smoothly and the wedding night…better than I'd dreamed.
"I suppose I just thought that after killing heartless monsters, getting married wouldn't be so hard." My tone was jesting, but Wren grimaced. "Besides! How many women have you intimidated? You've scared me on numerous occasions. It's silly for you to be nervous now. Wren Morgenstern does not get nervous."
"Wren Morgenstern may not get nervous, but the future Viscountess of Farnsworth does." The bells chimed once more. "Oh Lord that's the bells again. You'd better go." Wren's face was painted with worry. I took her by the shoulders and kissed both her cheeks.
"You look beautiful. And he looks perfect. I will see you when you are Lady Farnsworth." My words were a murmur against her ear. When I pulled back, she had a tear at the edge of her eye. I pulled off a glove and took my handkerchief out of my reticule. I wiped it off, smiled at her and took off out of the room. Now everyone was beginning to sit down. I made my way up the aisle to the first pew. At the alter, I gave Jules a grin, thanking all the stars in the sky that it was Wren, not I, who was getting married to Jules today. Jules nodded to me once and I sat down. An arm entwined around mine and I looked to my left to see my husband looking a bit agitated.
"I'm nervous," Alphonse confessed.
"Me as well."
"Not as nervous as I was on our wedding, mind you, however." Alphonse shrugged and I smiled and leaned into him. Somewhere behind me, I heard a murmur of an elderly voice. 'It was a bit of scandal, one day Lady Blackpool was engaged to Lord Farnsworth and a week later, Miss Morgenstern announced her engagement to him! And then two days after that, Lord and Lady Blackpool announced their engagement...' I smirked. Let them talk, they wouldn't dare cut a Countess at a ball or a dinner. Turning my head I saw Victoria sitting a few rows behind me and smiled to her. Her mother had deemed her worthy of not wearing those hideous black mourning dresses in honor of her late fiance, Edmund Smythe and for that I was glad. In black, she'd looked so sallow and sick. Now she wore a cream colored walking dress and her cheeks were pleasantly flushed. She looked the picture of loveliness. The season was over for this year but next year I knew she'd make a glorious match.
From the organ, a deep chord struck. We all stood to see Wren marching down the aisle, her elbow entwined with her brother's. I looked to my own brother, who sat to my right. I'd introduced him after the ordeal as my brother who I'd believed to have died at Waterloo. The story was that he was not an officer, but had been at the scene of the battle as a merchant who was delivering medical supplies, and who'd I'd believed had gotten killed in crossfire. It was Jason who had signed my marriage liscence for we passed his age of as twenty-two, even though he was barely twenty. It was Jason who had walked me down the aisle when I'd been married. And it was Jason, his hair cut short to his ears and dressed immpeccably, who smiled at me, now the owner of Deathcreeke and the Wainwright's town house.
The wedding went so smoothly, I forgot that Wren had almost broken down with nerves before hand. She smiled radiantly, said all the right words and when it came time for Jules to kiss his bride, he did so, right on the lips. The church gasped in feigned scandal but I knew they approved of the match. Love matches were rare these days and all of society rolled their eyes about them on the outside but cheered for them internally. We clapped them out of the church and followed them to where the sun beat down and shone on the happy faces of Lord and Lady Farnsworth.
As it was such a nice day, the wedding banquet was moved outside to Hyde Park, where we picnicked in the grass. Wren and Jules were not leaving on a tour of Italy, Greece and France for another day, so they joined us as well.
I embraced the bride in a congratulatory hug as soon as I was able. She couldn't contain a grin. "Oh Lord I thought I knew what happiness was but until this day, I had no idea! How good it is to not have to wonder or worry or cry anymore. How good it is to know that tomorrow I will wake up beside the man I love." She paused then. "Of course, I will always be looking out for Charles, but I have a feeling we shant be seeing too much more of him."
I shook my head. "I saw the fear in his eyes as he realized exactly what and who Jason was. He will not bother us, I can tell you that for sure."
Wren raised her head to look at all the picnickers who were lounging on blankets, eating strawberries dipped in sugar and drinking champagne. "Sometimes, though, Jules has this look in his eye as if he is so far away from me that I cannot reach him. Almost as if he were in Death himself." We were quiet for that moment, and I thought of Jules's strangled sob. When I closed my eyes, I saw Lily dying in Alphonse's arms, saw my bloody hands and arms, trying my best to keep her alive. I could still remember the way it felt when she died, as if there had been a candle burning near me and it had gone dimmer and dimmer until it had snuffed out. I was not left so cold, but cold enough to feel it. I opened my eyes and thought of how sometimes Alphonse's eyes were far away as well. Lily had betrayed him, had betrayed both of us, but in the end, she'd proved that she was not so far gone as her husband. She'd died nobly. Still, the loss of her was deep.
"I know," I murmured to Wren.
It was then that Victoria bounded up to us. She flashed a disquieted look at Wren - she'd been invited to the wedding and she'd known Wren for so long, still, they'd never been close - and finally offered an embrace. Wren accepted and smiled, her cheeks burning with pleasure. "I must congratulate you, Lady Farnsworth. I wish you all the happiness in the world." I saw something flicker in Victoria's eyes as she pulled away, something I knew Wren, in all her happiness, had not caught.
"Wren, I hope you don't mind if I steal Victoria for a moment."
"No, of course not," Wren replied. She then sighed. "I must go and speak to all the other idiots who came to my wedding." She grinned at us. "I mean guests." She curtsied to us and we curtsied back and as she turned away, I looped Victoria's elbow with my own.
"Are you all right?" I questioned, my voice low.
Victoria nodded and attempted a feeble smile. "I am, I promise I am. It is just sad. You are now Mrs. Alphonse Renshaw, Olive is Mrs. Roger Cornwallis and Wren is Mrs. Jules Haverford. It is saddening to be the only one of friends, although I cannot say Wren and I are so close, that is not married. I do not know, I suppose I am just being petty and childish. You know that I am happy for you three. It is just difficult to see you moving on with your life while I stand back and watch you go."
"Well, there is always next season-"
"Oh, I know, I know." She still sounded despondent. "I'm just afraid my father will force me into another engagement with a man who is three times my age. Is it so bad to want my own adventure? To want to fall in love the way you, Olive and Wren did? You three made love matches. What if I am not so lucky?" she asked. I gave her a look, but at that moment, I felt a hand on my back. I turned, bringing Victoria with me to see Jason standing there. His eyes were first on me, but then they moved to Victoria. He looked surprised in an instant, and then his cheeks flushed.
"Victoria, I forgot! You haven't been introduced to my brother, Jason Brighton. Jason, this is Miss Victoria Landry. Victoria, Jason recently purchased Deathcreeke Manor." When I looked at my friend, she was staring at Jason, wide eyed and open mouthed. I grinned as she finally remembered to curtsy. Jason bowed low over her.
"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Landry." His voice was grave and I held back a giggle.
"Y-you as well," Victoria answered, her tone breathy.
We stood for a moment and I watched Victoria and Jason stare at each other. I wished to pull her aside and ask her just what had she been meaning about not finding someone, but decided to hold my tongue. Instead, I smiled. "Victoria, I think I see my husband looking a little lonely with his champagne. You don't mind if I leave you to Jason? I am sure you'll find lots of things to talk about." I looked to my brother. "Interestingly enough, Jason, Victoria was just telling me how she loves a little adventure in her life. You're adventurous, wouldn't you say?" I asked.
Jason gaped like a fish for a moment but took Victoria's elbow. As they walked away, I heard Jason begin to tell Victoria of his travels. As I went to my husband, I smiled, thinking of their future. I wondered if he'd ever tell her what he was. I knew she wouldn't mind, Victoria was the type of society miss who accepted anything that was thrown at her, polished it up and set in on her mantle. She was strength in a dress, smiling as she served tea and battled with her tongue against the harshest matron's. She would make a glorious match. Be it with Jason, who seemed already smitten with her, or someone else. I knew I did not need to worry about her. The day shone on, brighter than ever, as I sat down next to Alphonse. He took my hand. "To what do I owe this pleasure?" he asked, kissing my palm.
"I just wanted to ask you if everything was ready."
Alphonse nodded. "We are all set." It was then that our patch of sun was shadowed. I looked up to see Prince standing, hands holding his top hat.
"Alphonse, do you mind if I borrow Faerie for a moment? I just wish to speak with her briefly." He held a hand down to me, one I took with appreciation. Prince helped me up and Alphonse expressed how he did not mind if I was borred by Prince, so long as he returned me. Prince and I wandered away the blanket, to a shady spot under a tree. "I haven't been able to speak with you for awhile in private. I still need to thank you." I flashed him a puzzled look. "For what you did back that night when Charles escaped." I opened my mouth to protest, as I really had done nothing, it was Jason who'd killed Mrs. Haverford, it was Jason who had upset the homunculi, it was Jason who had scared Charles off. "No, don't, please. You were so brave that night. After...you were so calm and so courageous. I've never seen anything like it. You directed us to help bring Lily and Jules's mother's body up to the surface. You were the one who thought of the story of the fatal carriage accident, you were the one who kept Alphonse and Jules calm after their mothers had been killed. And the way you made Lily hang on until she could say goodbye to her son...you were truly brave that night, Faerie, and for that I thank you."
I shook my head. "I would take all that bravery back for it to have never happened. I just wish Charles was sane and Lily and Mrs. Haverford had not betrayed us and everything had been okay..."
"Maybe, maybe life would have been better that way. Maybe it would have been worse. Everything happens for a reason Faerie, you of all should understand that. If Charles was sane, would you have ever gone to Deathcreeke in the first place? Would you have met Alphonse?" he asked. I was quiet. The answer was obvious. No, no I would not have met Alphonse or Prince or Wren or any of the Morgensterns. I would not even have met Olive or Victoria or maybe even Jules. It was strange, as I looked back on everything now, the wheel of my life had been set in motion the moment Charles had expressed an interest in taking me to Deathcreeke. The moment my mother had died.
I laughed. "I suppose you're right." We started back towards the party, walking slowly. "I'm sorry, though. I never got to really apologize. I told you to go off and have your own adventure, fall in love...and then you were taken away from us by Death. Someday you will find love, though, I promise."
Prince smiled. Not at me, though, at something in the distance. I followed his gaze. He was looking at Guillame de Sidonie, who grinned when he saw Prince. I flushed as Prince turned his face down to me. "I think someday is closer than we think." We laughed at that. "What about you, Faerie? What will you do now, now that you have your happy ending?"
We stopped walking as we hit the sun. "First we are going to Ireland. I must tell the Seelie court that I do not wish to be Faerie Queen. Jason has told me I must do it myself, so I will go and find them. He said that if I renounce my position, there is nothing they can do. So I will do that."
"You don't wish to be Faerie Queen?" Prince was genuinely surprised.
I shook my head, laughing under my breath. "Secrets, curses, magic, faeries, alchemy...it all storybook nonsense. I want to live here, I want to live in reality with my husband. I want to find an adventure that has nothing to do with otherworldy things." I shrugged, not caring if it was unlady-like. "Jason will come with us, though, to help us find the fae in the woods. Then he will come back and assume his place in society. It is what he has always wanted. And I suppose he is already finding that person he wishes to spend the rest of his human life with, but I do not wish to jinx that," I explained. "And after? After we are finished in Ireland? Alphonse and I are thinking of going to India. And after that...well I suppose we'll just have to see where the wind takes us."
"I shall miss you." Prince's voice was earnest.
"And I, you. But we shall return, someday soon, to visit all of you."
"Then I suppose this is goodbye?" he asked.
"I suppose it is."
Prince kissed my cheek and smiled. He then walked away and my eyes followed him as he went to Guillame. I watched as they spoke in quiet voices. They did not look like they were up to something. And then I saw as they began to walk away. They started at an appropriate distance from each other, but then I saw Guillame reach out for Princes hand. They only touched for a moment, but in that moment, I saw something truer and more magical than any faerie mirror or Philosopher's Stone.
I turned away, then, and laughed. Oh Lord, how sad and beautiful life was! My feet took me towards Alphonse and the sun shone on my back. A tear escaped my eye and I rubbed it away. And somehow I knew, knew that all along I'd been wrong. Flirting, laughing behind fans, making a match with a boy you did not love - that was not being a lady. Defending the ones you loved until death, loving them in spite of all they did, knowing that they'd given up that part of themself that was hatred to embrace love, watching your friends smile and laugh and dance and live...keeping knives hidden in a clean silver gown...that was being a lady. That was the true path of a lady. And I walked it. On and on, with my back straight, my head high, ready to meet anything but feeling only warmth on my skin.
My future lay before me, dark yet sweet with the promise of adventure and laughter and love. And from some hidden place, a perfumed breeze ridled my skin and whisper familiar laughter in my ear. I stopped to let it sweep me up, twirl me around. And just as quickly as it had come, it was gone.
"Thank you," I whispered to my mother. In the sky I heard another laugh.
I walked on.