One of Thousands
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Kirkwall/The Free Marches
Current Game: Dragon Age II
Chapter Six: Queen's Gambit Accepted
“That's impossible,” I said, my stomach lurching. “I made them all impossible on purpose!”
“So you may have, but I've found a way to outwit you.” He turned around to the crowd and clapped his hands once. “My good servant lads! Venture outside to the chapel courtyard, where you've brought and set aside certain gifts of mine. Capucine? Caroline? You, too.”
“This is utter folly! The only gifts you were supposed to bring were for Elise and Daniel!”
“Naturellement, but in this case, someone else deserves wedding presents. I will marry you today, my queen, because I have accepted your gambit. I've scurried around for the past three days, trying to find or else create what you've demanded I give you. First, the ring!”
As the congregation murmured loudly and wondered what in Dieu's holy name was going on, Jean, one of our farmhands, entered the chapel. He cupped something in his hands.
Auldric took it. “Three days past you said, mademoiselle, that you wanted me to capture the sun at sunset and fashion a ring out of it to commemorate our engagement. Behold!” He opened his hand and showed me an exquisite band, fitted with a brilliant golden-orange gem. In the glowing candlelight of the chapel, it burned like fire—indeed, like the fire of the sun itself! “This ring bears an imperial topaz—the rarest and loveliest of its kind. I sent for the gem procurer, who made me surrender five whole gold nuggets to him: four for his pay, and one out of which to fashion the band! Thus, I present my first gift to you.” He slipped it onto the third finger of my left hand, and I couldn't resist him. I was weak, shocked, and appalled! How could he do this? My knees were shaking violently. I couldn't even breathe...
He turned to the crowd once more and announced, “Next, the veil. Claude, fetch it!”
Claude, another one of our farmhands, bowed to Auldric and went to obey his command. As for me, I tried to summon the strength to tear the ring off of my finger, but I couldn't do it. When Claude returned, he was carrying a silken veil with an unusual, sparkling luster:
“You also told me that you wished for a magnificent veil. I have it right here, ma cherie. I sent for Capucine, who first refused me, and then relented once I promised her five large nuggets of gold just for sewing it. I'm sorry, but your serving maid has betrayed you!”
My jaw fell slack. Capucine bowed her head, not daring to look up at me. Her dark hair fell down over her face, covering her eyes, and I'm ashamed to say that tears sprang to mine.
“Would you care to tell us, Capucine, from where the silk in this veil gets its shimmer?”
She did not speak, and only let her body heave with great, wracking sobs. Surely this is not the real reason why people often cry at weddings! I was having trouble restraining my own urge to wail. Auldric continued, “Non? Then I will. I spoke to our village's humble gem procurer once more. Sometimes, when he cuts his diamonds, they crumble into dust and are therefore worthless to him. I asked for this dust, and he said that I was a madman! Nevertheless, he let me have a pouch of it for free, and that is what Capucine mixed with water and soaked your veil in for a full twelve hours once she had it sewn. Capucine told me that she told you the silken garment she had been fashioning when you spied on her was a dressing gown for your sister on her wedding night, but as you can see, that's not true. You asked for the stars, darling, and the specks of diamond dust in your veil are just as numerous and twinkling! Would you refuse my hand in marriage after this, ma fille?”
At this moment, all I could do was scream at Capucine: “Vous, traitre!” You traitor!
“I'm so sorry, mademoiselle,” she cried in front of everyone. “For Dieu's sake, forgive me!”
Before I could respond, Auldric called out, “Last but not least, the wedding dress! Capucine? Caroline? Get yourselves to the courtyard and bring that donkey-skin monstrosity. Allons!”
Our two maids fled, and when they returned, they were carrying a long, heavy garment...
“For the third condition upon which you'd become my bride, you commanded a wedding dress to be sewn only out of donkey skins, because you've said you'd feel like a complete ass marrying me!” The crowd roared with guffaws as soon as they heard this, and even though many of the people in it were members of my extended family, I suddenly hated them. All of them. They were going to witness my humiliation, and my wedding to a man I despised! All because I'd been so stupid, so proud...Suddenly, I realized that it was not the poor people laughing whom I hated. It was myself, for making such a foolish mistake.
I gazed at Auldric through a blurry haze of tears. “You've skinned all of your donkeys?”
“Oui. Why would I need them anymore, even without Goldie? I'm a rich man these days.”
I gasped. “You killed Goldie, too? That's absurd! She's the...she's the source of...your good fortune! How could you do such a thing? You're lying to me, Auldric le Fou, and you know it! If you're indeed telling the truth, then I wish to see her own pelt in my gown!” Auldric then pointed out the dress's white-flecked bodice, and I nearly collapsed. It was true. Absolutely no other of my stepfather's animals had hide like that, and he made sure that I'd be looking at it throughout our entire wedding! I stroked the bodice of my gown, my fingers quivering.
“You didn't. You couldn't. Now you will be poor, and if I marry you, we'll both be poor!”
“Nonsense, girl. You see, I've been counting and hoarding gold in these years since I first found out—well, that I'd be wealthy in due time. There is enough to last us for the rest of our days, if we spend it wisely. Remy, I may have been your stepfather once, while your mother was still alive, but no more. I am no longer her husband. God may frown upon our union, but in this case, I desire you more than I desire His praise in the heavenly realm.” The crowd gasped. Saying such a thing was close to committing outright blasphemy! “You light my soul on fire, and if I have to roast in Hell for wanting you, then so be it. You are haughty and pert, darling girl, and I intend to humble your proud spirit! What better way to do that than taking you as my wife? You have indeed met your match, and I have met the demands which you yourself had deemed impossible! Thus I ask you: will you marry me?”
I shut my eyes so tightly that it hurt, and then shook my head. “Non...non, non, non...”
“It's much too late to say no, dear. I have fulfilled all of your conditions.” He smiled at me once I opened my eyes again. “What is your answer to that? Are you still la gagnante?”
Elise suddenly spoke up, her face flushed red with anger and sorrow. “Stepfather! How dare you dishonor my sister upon my wedding day! This was meant to be a joyous occasion for all of us, and you've completely ruined it. What have you to say for yourself, you fool?!”
“I'm not sorry,” said Auldric, “if that's what you want to hear. The fault lies not with me! I intended for this day to be a happy one as well, and yet your sister is determined not to make it so. As for you, Remy, have you no sense of honor? You yourself named a very dear price for your marriage bed, and I've paid it. My conscience is perfectly clear. Is yours?”
“You're disgusting! How can you speak of a clear conscience? You tried to seduce me not too long ago, stroking my hair as a husband would when you knew you were no such thing! Do your lust and greed know no bounds? I won't wed you, because I don't love you!”
Auldric scowled, appalled. “Love? What does love have to do with marriage? It is certainly good that you, Elise and Daniel, have a very great deal of affection for one another,” he continued, paying a fleeting glance of homage toward the newly-married couple, “but nowhere in the Scriptures does it say a husband must love his bride before marrying her. It only says that a man leaves his mother and father, cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. Who knows? You may come to love me in time, as I have come to love you.”
Sudden peals of laughter rang out from my throat, along with a sudden thunder-crack.
“Oh, dear,” someone in the pews murmured. “I do believe that it's going to pour after all.”
Auldric snorted. “What? What do you find so ridiculous in what I said, or who I am?”
“You surely don't believe that, Stepfather. If you do, you're a bigger idiot than I thought.”
“Let us resolve this peaceably, like Christian folk,” said the priest, “before God is angered.”
I turned to Auldric and wiped away my tears. “Very well. Since you have given me what I said I wanted, and nothing less, then I'll marry you if only to make your life miserable.”
Auldric clapped his hands. “Excellent! I will be a fine husband, and you will be a fine wife in turn! Sit back down, everyone. There will be no feasting yet—there are second nuptials!”
“I have only one last request,” I said. “I wish to wear the gifts that you procured for me.”
He frowned. “Oh, get on with you, then. Go and dress, with Elise's help. However, if you're not back at this altar in twenty minutes, Remy, I shall come after you. Make no mistake!”
I turned to my sister, and she took my hand. We dashed to the outskirts of the chapel courtyard, where there were private porches and sun rooms. Elise hissed at me quickly:
“What do you think you're doing?! You said you wouldn't be his wife! Is this another plan?”
“It's a bluff. I'm going to refuse him at the altar, and humiliate him in front of everyone.”
“Truly? It didn't work the last time you tried to make a fool of him, and it won't this time!”
I bit my lower lip. “Sister, I'm sorry for all of this. My pride, my foolishness, my ruined scheme...Your wedding day is in tatters, all because of me.” I knelt down slowly, holding on to Elise for balance. “All the same, I need your help. Desperately, in fact. If I marry Auldric, I'm the one who will be miserable, not he. What shall I do? I can't go through with this!”
My sister gently turned my face upward so that I could look her straight in the eye. “I know,” she said, “and it would break my heart if you did, even though I'm already wedded to Daniel. I've found my God-given happiness, and so why shouldn't you try and find yours? Listen carefully, now,” she said as she helped me into the long gown of skins and the diamond-dusted veil. “I want you to sneak around to the front of the chapel, and get into the waiting carriage that's intended to take Daniel and me away on our lune de miel. Run!”
I gasped. “What? That's such a sacrifice! I can't let you do this, Elise. Where will you go?”
“A better question would be: where will you go? Daniel will understand. His second choice for the month of our wedded bliss was the lake in this area, clear as crystal and blue as the midday sky! There are many inns there of fine quality, and in the meantime, you will be safe. The coachman is honorable—we have hired him for many of our family's travels, even when poor Father still walked this Earth. Give him your engagement ring and veil from Auldric as payment. Ride as far as you can, as long as you can, in the opposite direction from where we meant to go. Flee, with your only possession being this donkey-skin dress.”
I was shaking all over. After a good, long while, I asked, “Ma soeur...are you certain?”
“I've never been so certain of anything in my entire life, except for my love for Daniel.”
“What if Auldric punishes you instead of me for absconding and leaving him behind, alone?”
“He cannot. I belong to my husband now, not my stepfather. The fool has no hold over me.”
“Very well, then.” I sniffled loudly, with snot trickling down my upper lip. I suspected that my eyes were red and swollen, and my chest heaved with the intensity of suppressed sobs. “Notre Dieu Himself knows when we shall see one another again,” I told Elise, hugging her.
“If it is His will, then we shall,” my sister replied, giving me a kiss on the cheek. “Dirige!”
As I fled, the last words I heard her call out to me were: “Toujours, la gagnante—!”
The winner, indeed! I did as Elise had instructed and scrambled into the carriage that stood ever so patiently, waiting for the bride and groom, and gave my engagement ring to the startled coachman. “Take me to the West, please, as far and as fast as possible. I beg you.”
“Elise and Daniel are both well. My sister herself suggested that I do this. Please, hurry!”
The coachman put the ring into the pocket of his breeches, shouted “Hyah!”, and braced himself as his three horses gave a sudden lurch. I almost fell off of my seat in the carriage as it rushed forward, hurling itself headlong into the great thunderstorm that began with a vengeance. Vengeance...That, above all else—even his carnal yearnings—was the real reason Auldric had wanted to wed me. Since I had dishonored his name by refusing to take it when he married Mother, he had been determined to make me do so in another way. He had wanted to break me, and break me he would have if I would have gone to the altar. As my husband, he would demand my immediate and unquestioning obedience, and what else could I give him in return if I didn't want a beating? That was a fate worse than death.
I lowered my head into my shaking hands and bawled afresh, as the carriage sped west through the driving storm. So far, it had been the happiest and the saddest day of my life.