No Man Can Tame (Page 10)
“Of course. We have the dress ready and everything.” Aless pulled aside her hair and bared the lacing down her back. Bianca’s quick fingers began undoing all of Gabriella’s hard work.
“I didn’t mean the wardrobe change.” Bianca pulled the last of the laces, and Aless slid the gown off her shoulders, stepped out of it, and threw open the trunk.
Smiling, she took out the gown and handed it to Bianca, who helped her pull it over her head without disheveling her hair.
“I told you I’m doing this for you.” Aless slipped her arms over the bust line, and Bianca began lacing the back and then rearranged the tulle netting carefully. The bodice fit like a glove, and the skirts flared out in dramatic fashion, with a ten-foot train worthy of a princess.
“But this statement of yours,” Bianca said carefully, “won’t this sabotage your marriage?”
Being thrown together like two horses in a pen would have already sabotaged this marriage. She sighed. “Yesterday, when Gabriella told him about the Vow of Silence, he seemed… enraged.”
Bianca’s hands paused in their work, and her footsteps retreated. “Enraged? As if he would get violent?”
“Not exactly.” She held up her hair again. His reaction had seemed almost—almost protective of her. “At least not toward me.”
Bianca settled the black raven-feather funereal cloak about her shoulders and arranged the twelve-foot train over the gown while Aless let her hair fall free, and clasped the front of the cloak.
“He had this expression of fury, and he hissed… It was as if the very notion of me being sworn to silence offended him.” A good sign. She turned to Bianca, who settled the white-lace wedding gown into the trunk.
“The dark-elves’ royal line is matriarchal, right?” Bianca closed the trunk. “It is their women who hold power. Maybe he agrees that others shouldn’t dictate the course of your life—nor silence your voice when it comes to your future.”
Yes, dark-elf women didn’t “meddle” in politics—they ruled. “Maybe.”
“Well, the entire nobiltà will hear your voice today.”
Be brave, Mamma had said. She would. And ensure her voice was heard.
The familiar, overbearing notes of the pipe organ invaded through the walls and door; she stepped into her black jeweled slippers, checked her diamond earrings, then gathered her pearly-white wedding cloak.
“It’s time.” Bianca hitched up her periwinkle silk-taffeta gown, then opened the door.
Veron would be waiting beyond the corridor and outside the entrance to the nave of L’Abbazia Reale.
The pipe organ summoned her there, and she went as bid. The way from the side chamber to the entrance was quiet, only her heeled steps and Bianca’s fighting the silence as they passed the purple-clad Royal Guard at their posts.
No one waited outside the massive entry doors.
Was he coming? No doubt he was as eager for this marriage as she was.
But she took up her position, and Bianca fanned out her train behind her.
A rhythmic clopping on marble echoed from the opposite corridor.
Her head swiveled to face the sound.
The massive ebony destrier filled the corridor, muscles rippling, copious mane and tail flowing as it trotted closer.
Inside the abbazia.
Royal guards circled the enormous horse, hissing clipped words to one another, while a stoic Veron sat astride the beast, all six and a half feet of him clad in fine black-leather armor.
A bow hung across his chest.
A saddle quiver full of arrows.
A long sword and a scroll strapped at his side.
A round shield on his black-cloaked back.
Knives sheathed in his knee-high riding boots, in a baldric, and on his gauntleted wrists.
Her mouth fell open. He looked armed for war.
“Your Highness”—a royal guard stammered— “horses… are not allowed inside L’Abbazia Reale.”
His gaze locked on hers, Veron dismounted nimbly and handed the reins to the guard, then gave the beast a pat before approaching her.
No part of her would move. Not her gaping mouth, not her feet, not her hands. To stare was her only ability.
He wore no face mask nor hood today, his blue skin bared for all to see. His ghostly white hair was adorned with braids that met, intertwined, and hit to mid-back. With the Rift so recent, most of the people here today would have never seen a dark-elf, much less an unmasked one.
Was he… was he making a statement, too? Going through with this, just as she was, but not silently either?
With a confident, regal gait, he strode to her, then lowered to a knee, bowed his head, and looked up into her eyes.
“Alessandra Ermacora, princess of Silen, I, Veron of Nozva Rozkveta, offer you power”—he rested a hand on his sword pommel—“survival, skill, defense, wisdom, and partnership”—then on his bow, his knives, his shield, the scroll strapped to his belt, and he took her hand—“to harness for your ends or ours, as we walk our lives together from this day forward for as long as the Deep allows.”
His yellow irises stayed locked with hers, making her heart pound, and a breath escaped her open mouth as she remembered to breathe.
“This is my people’s tradition,” he said quietly and stood. “We call being wed ‘making the Offering.’ We give ourselves to one another, offering all we can do and all that we are.”
Did… did he expect her to respond in kind?
She swallowed, her gaze wandering the many offerings he’d brought. “Veron, prince of Nightbloom, I…”
She blinked. What was she offering him? Could she truly offer anything, when her heart hadn’t even been in this? When, more than anything, she wanted to follow in Mamma’s footsteps? “I…”
A huff came from behind him; his companion from the day before. The sharp-eyed female guard. She wore fine leathers today, too, and no face mask nor hood to cover her midnight-blue skin and short, spiky white hair.
The footmen opened the doors, and the pipe organ’s volume was almost deafening as it blasted forth.
Veron offered her his arm, and remembering to close her mouth, she took it. They entered L’Abbazia Reale’s nave on the long, crimson runner leading to the front, compressed into its lengthy, narrow path. A susurrus mounted as they entered, wide-eyed guests eyeing Veron as if he were Nox himself, come to claim their souls and drag them to the Lone.
Light poured in from the unattainably high windows, crowning the massive statue of Terra that held court at the front, overwhelming and breathtaking. Imposing. Demanding quiet obedience.
Not today. From either of them. With her dressed in a blood-red gown and a funereal cloak and Veron in black leather armor and weapons, all of Silen would believe that while they swore vows, neither of them did so without objection.
But Veron, by his words, had done this from a cultural perspective. Had Papà not mentioned human wedding customs? Assumed that the dark-elves did the same?
Despite his sincerity, Silen would see a different symbolism in his attire today. Unintended, certainly, but the people wouldn’t know that.
As they proceeded to the time of the pipe organ, she pulled the clasp on her wedding cloak and let it fall from her shoulders, revealing her raven-feathered statement.
Gasps rippled from the nobiltà crammed into the pews. Veron’s arm contracted slightly, just a soft creak from the leather armoring his bicep. But no more. They did not stop.
No reaction from the royal box up in the right balcony, removed from the abbazia proper and separate. No shouted orders. No Royal Guard closing in.
The music continued, and so did they.
Padre Graziano, the former High Priest of Monas Bellan, awaited at the front, towering on a dais just below the massive statue of Terra looking down at them all. His wide eyes speared her blood-red gown, the shock wrinkling his lined face even more than old age already had.
Good. This was a royal wedding. News would spread far and wide, the nobiltà and the paesani would talk, object, and this would have to stop. At least for the next generation.
When she reached the front, she knelt, as did Veron. While Padre Graziano shook his face to alertness, Veron’s gaze meandered toward her.
“Willing?” he whispered, so low she wondered if he’d spoken at all.
It was a simple question, but the answer wasn’t so simple. To spare her sister a walk through fire, she would walk it herself. But was that willing? Veron seemed kind, reasonable, and if she had to marry a strange dark-elf, there could have been far worse men. But if she had to, was that “willing”?
Padre Graziano cleared his throat. “Please join hands.”
Veron held out his palm, and she placed her hand on his.
Padre Graziano wound a golden ribbon about their hands. “As your hands are joined, so are your lives, as you support one another, protect one another, strengthen one another.”
He then offered the vow to Veron and bid him repeat.
Veron turned to her, his pale eyebrows drawn as he assessed her. “I, Veron of Nightbloom,” he said hesitantly, “promise you, Alessandra of Silen, that from this day forward, I will be your husband, your ally, and your friend.” His uncertain look lingered as Padre Graziano offered her vows.
“I, Alessandra of Silen, promise you, Veron of Nightbloom, that from this day forward, I will be your wife, your ally, and your friend.”