The theme for this particular flash fiction contest was “the bride,” as befitting the month of June in which it took place. Although I tried to keep it from being too overt, my personal situation at the time couldn’t help but seep in a little bit. I’m not sure the present tense or the reveal are entirely successful — they played better in my head than on the page — but I like the imagery, and there’s some hope in the sadness.
She stands in the chapel, a vision in white. Matthas can only stare in disbelief. This woman, this radiant, dazzling, brilliant woman, actually consenting to be his wife! What rough beast was ever so blessed? There had been times, early in their courtship, when he’d feared to blink, lest she prove some trick of the light, some illusion sent to mock him. But always she was there when he opened his eyes, and always it was like seeing her anew.
He sees her now, the paleness of her skin nearly one with the whiteness of her gown. Her fiery red hair has been pulled up into a tight bun, concealed by an ivory snood; as per custom, he will reveal her hair once the First Brother completes the Rite of Union, and the burst of crimson will be almost blinding. It will be all he can do not to take a handful of her locks and pull them to him, to breathe in the scent of honey, and of the allestril blossoms she will have woven into her tresses. His father might offer an approving grin, but his mother would never let him live down the impropriety. Besides, there’d be time enough. Wouldn’t there?
“Oh Assandra,” he sighs. Her very name is like music, and he wants to sing every time he says it. He remembers the first time he heard her speak it, at the ball to honor the alliance between Valrova and the dwarves of Keredwyll. He’d seen her dancing with the dwarf prince Fembrek, as graceful as the prince was clumsy, yet never hinting that he was anything less than a perfect partner. Matthas had presented himself for the next dance, and begged her name. The word poured forth from her lips like sparkling wine, rolling over her ruby lips, intoxicating his ears and his heart. They’d danced and danced, far beyond what mere courtesy would have called for, and had only parted their touch when the musicians had played their last note.
He longs to dance with her now, to take her in his arms and whirl her about, this time not as an infatuation across a crowded hall, but as his bride. He wants to slip his arm about her slender waist, take her hand in his other, and glide and swoop and dive, moving to a music only they share. But that is for after the Rite, he reminds himself. After…
His thoughts are interrupted by the sound of the chapel doors swinging open. The armored bulk of Bendren, captain of the Prince Guard, strides in.
“My lord, the horses are ready. It’s time.”
Matthas nods. “Is everyone assembled?”
“Yes, my lord, everyone.” The captain frowns, his mustaches drooping. “Even the thief.”
“We need him, Bendren,” he says, wrapping his cloak about him and fastening the clasp. “Magremmus says it’s to be the elves first, then?”
“Yes,” Bendren says. “Their wizards have battled Zatharon in the past. They know his foul magics well.”
Matthas looks into Assandra’s eyes, his heart heavy. “As now do we,” he says quietly. Without thinking, he reaches up to brush away the tear rolling down her cheek, only to find it as set in stone as the rest of her face. Her eyes are still wide with fear, and her mouth still frozen in her last cry of despair: his name. It echoes in his mind, along with the cackling laugh of the black-robed wizard as he vanished, his dark sorcery complete. Assandra now stands as still as the statues of the martyrs that line the walls of the chapel, her white skin now their marble. As her hands had been holding the traditional wedding branch, Matthas can’t even take her hand one last time before he departs. Instead, he places a gentle kiss on her cold, hard cheek.
“Soon, my love.”
Matthas turns and leaves the chapel, Bendren close behind. In his mind, instead of the long road ahead, the many dangers they will face, is the image of Assandra, in her shimmering dress, with her dazzling smile. He fixes her there, as she now stands fixed in the chapel, so that during the days of peril ahead, she will be with him, as beautiful as on her wedding day.