If you’re seeing this, there is a big chance you follow me over on Instagram and have seen my WIP Wednesday posts. If you follow me over there, if you have interacted with my WIP Wednesday posts and stories, if you’ve been one of those encouraging souls that have made me feel confident enough to share this in celebration of reaching 5K followers, and if you were one of the ones who helped in the editing process, thank you so much! I literally am blown away by the feedback I’ve received for what I’ve put out into the world so far. So, as promised and without further ado, here is the edited first chapter of my untitled novel. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
(Art Commissioned by Cameron McCafferty.)
This was not how I had imagined I would feel on the morning of my wedding day. Fear and sorrow were waging a war for control within my gut and I was left feeling numb and helpless. Dread had taken root inside of my chest and no matter how hard I tried to keep it at bay, it only came back with a vengeance. This battle was one I had officially lost. After we said our vows, there would be no turning back.
The silence that clung thickly to the air around me didn’t help as I nervously picked at the skin around my nails while my chambermaids, Margot and Louisa, tugged and plaited my hair until it resembled a crown of gold atop my head. The vision of the icon my mother hoped I would be.
“You’ll make a beautiful bride,” Margot uttered quietly, a hopeful gleam behind her gaze as she waited for my face to light with joy. “Don’t you think Louisa?”
“Of course she will.” Lousia forced out after a subtle hesitation, but I noticed she didn’t look at my face. And I couldn’t blame her. I knew by Margot’s defeated expression that the light she’d hoped to find was nowhere to be found. I surely looked as hopeless as I felt.
The hours I had hoped would draw out into eternity seemed to slip away within a few moments. As if each time I took a breath, it somehow only made the time move faster. I shifted my focus to sending silent prayers up to God, begging for time to slow or simply stop so that I wouldn’t have to continue down this path. But why would God hear me now after all the pleas before went unanswered?
I felt like I was in mourning, grieving the life I knew I would never have. My white wedding dress hanging in the corner of my room seemed to mock me from a distance each time my gaze snagged against it. Layers upon layers of frilly, white tulle. How ironic that this light, thin fabric was the anchor meant to keep me from taking off down the aisle, to keep me on the path I was being forced down. Adorned with an abundance of golden-hued jewels and over the top floral appliques, cut modestly so that it was something fitting for the daughter of the high-bishop. A dove of the church sent to marry the son of arms.
I forced my gaze away, thinking that somehow, by keeping it out of my sight, it would all just vanish and this would simply turn out to be a nightmare I’d eventually wake from. But there would be no escaping my fate. The divine blessings that the Court believed they had from God only solidified a plan that they had already proposed within moments of my first breath. They had calculated every step in the process, waited just long enough so that the people equally yearned for this union.
They saw me as a gift. Something that would help pull together the two separate entities that made governing Grennet possible so that we might become unstoppable against whatever the future might hold. The first daughter born from a high-bishop had come, at last, a savior in their eyes that would bare the children they believed Grennet needed in order to thrive. But I didn’t feel like a savior. I felt like a girl being forced into an unwanted marriage to a stranger. A girl that would constantly have their expectations weighing down her shoulders. A girl who would lose every part of herself in the end.
Maybe that was what they had hoped for. A dutiful wife who would submit herself wholly to the will of her husband and ultimately to the will of the Court.
I would wed Lowell Rawlings in just a few hours. The General’s son seemed kind enough, and as my mother had put it, I could have been worse off. He was revered as strong and loyal. I knew he was handsome from our prior encounters, and the few times we’d spoken to one another he had tried to make me comfortable, aiming to become my friend before anything else. And perhaps over time, we could grow to love one another, to live happily together. But this wasn’t the life I had envisioned for myself.
I wanted an adventure. I wanted to be more than the archbishop’s daughter and more than the general’s wife, to make a name for myself that wasn’t tied to the wishes of others. I wanted to escape the city that I had once seen as my home but now viewed as a cage. To trade in the stone walls for rolling hills or never-ending forests. I wanted the chance to be seen as my own person. Someone who had the ability to make decisions for themselves away from the pressures tied to being who they were.
I turn my attention to the loose floorboard beneath my bed, the safe space where I’d kept the books I knew my family wouldn’t approve of; the ones where women were allowed to have their own voices, where they were seen as equals and not inferior, where true love not only existed but flourished. A world so unlike the one I had been born into. A world I had always wished I could escape to.
Because mine was a life without choices. The kind where I was told who I should be and how I should act, what I could and could not say, what I could and could not wear and now – who I was to marry. The knot that had formed in my stomach tightened itself and a new queasiness left me feeling light-headed. The desire to turn and run grew more present with each passing second.
“Would you like to look at yourself, my Lady?” Margot tried once again to lift my spirits, meeting my gaze with a smile as her hands fell away from my hair. But all I could feel was a dark cloud looming over me as I thought about the image I would see reflected back at me.
“No,” My throat instantly dried and it became hard to swallow. “I’m sure you two have done what mother has asked of you.” I willed my voice to come across stronger than I felt, keeping my hands held together in my lap as they began to shake.
“Yes, my Lady.” She hesitated beside me for a moment. “Would you like for Louisa and I to help you with your dress?”
My gaze shifted towards the gaudy gown and my body went frigid.
“No.” The word came out sharper than I intended but I didn’t apologize, and I didn’t bother trying to pretend that everything was fine. I didn’t wish to explain myself.
“Very well.” She curtsied while avoiding my eyes and made her way beside Louisa near the door, both allowing me to fall into complete silence.
The thought of stepping into my gown left me feeling heavy as if my limbs had willed themselves to stop working. I couldn’t put forth the effort to try to make my legs carry me across my room. I wasn’t going to force a smile when I could barely get my body to steady its breath.
Somewhere in the passing moments when I’d been so focused on my dread, my chambermaids had excused themselves. Their absence had gone unnoticed until a sharp tapping sound came from the other side of my door, shaking me from my daze. I opened my mouth to speak, but my mother had already let herself in.
“Solaine, you’re to be married in just under an hour and you’ve still not dressed.” Her disapproving tone had frequented most of our conversations as of late and eventually, I’d stopped apologizing. “Margot said you did not wish for them to stay and help you. So I suppose I will have to.”
Her frustration was not lost on me. I could see it in the deep-set lines that gathered together between her brows and how her breathing grew sharper as he entered the room. She hurried over to the gown, paying little attention to me and taking an extended moment to examine the handiwork of the seamstresses who had brought her vision to life. I kept quiet, only forcing myself to rise from the chair I had been seated in when she turned back towards me, dress in hand.
“I can stay only long enough to get you into the dress and then I must be off. This would’ve been much simpler if only you’d allowed Margot and Louisa to do this.” The sound of the fabric brushing up against the wood floor as she carried it towards me left me feeling nauseous. She held the dress out in front of me. The shake in my hands wouldn’t steady and it took three deep breaths for me to muster up the nerve to step into it.
Nothing about the dress itself had changed since I had last put it on. But somehow it felt different. The weight of it seemed heavier on my shoulders, the fabric itched as it rubbed up against my skin, the bright white unflattering against my complexion as if it had drained the life from inside of me.
After my mother fastened the many clasps, she stepped back to quietly assess. Her gaze left me feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable, left me wanting to curl in on myself and simply disappear into nothingness. She seemed pleased with what she saw as a smile slowly brightened her eyes and she ushered me towards the mirror.
If I thought it was difficult to feel my mother staring at me, it was even harder to look at myself.
No ounce of me could be found within the fabric or design of my wedding dress. Every inch of it screamed the vision my mother had hoped for. I looked like the paintings of virgin brides in the religious texts, but instead of finding tears of joy behind my eyes as you did within theirs, I saw dread.
I hated this dress. I hated this day. And a small part of me even hated my mother for looking at me as if I somehow looked beautiful in this thing.
We stood in uncomfortable silence as she held her hand upon my back as if urging me to stare longer at the sight reflected back at me. She had to see that this was going to be impossible for me, that this was going to change me into something so unlike myself. But maybe that’s what she’d hoped for all along.
“Your brother will be up to get you shortly, make sure to make any final adjustments before you head over.” My mother’s voice cut through the silence and her hand fell from my back, her posture straightening as she took a step away from me. “I shall speak to you after the ceremony.” The click of her heels against the wooden floor echoed until the door closed behind her and I was once again surrounded by complete silence.
Today wouldn’t be easy for me. I knew the walk down the aisle to my soon-to-be husband would be impossible, even with my brother’s physical support beside me. I couldn’t keep up this pretense that I was overjoyed to give up everything I wanted simply because it played well into their plans. I couldn’t handle the gaze of all of Grennet as I stepped towards what they would call my blessed future. Lowell didn’t deserve to see the fear on my face. He had been forced into this just as I had. And I deserved more than being a pawn they simply used to give them an edge.
But instead of doing anything about it, all I could do was stare at my god awful reflection as the tears silently began to run down my face.
Such is the ways of women. That’s what they told me when I had first approached the Court in an attempt to sway their decision. Your hesitation is only the darkness taking hold of your fragile heart, you must cast it out. Think of the people Solaine. They had placed a burden on my shoulders that I hadn’t wanted to carry.
“Solaine?” Renault’s voice carried into my room, forcing me to quickly wipe away the tears. “It’s almost time, are you ready?”
It felt like a loaded question. Of course I wasn’t ready. I would never be ready to face this. Nothing about this felt right. I drew in a quiet breath as I took another glance at myself in the mirror.
“Almost. I’ll meet you downstairs.” My hands began to pull at the layers of fabric as I waited quietly for the heavy footfalls of his boots against the floor to recede into silence. With each touch of my fingers, the skirt seemed to double in size. The size of the skirt was the only advantageous aspect of the gown because perhaps it would act as a distraction, pulling Grennet’s attention from the devastation that would surely be apparent on my face.
I forced myself to look in the mirror one last time, sweeping the palm of my hand up under my eyes to dry the remaining tears, before stepping out of view of my reflection and back towards my writing desk to slip into the shoes that had also been picked by my mother.
A shadow spread out across the floor, shifting quicker than that of a cloud. I turned towards the light, expecting a bird seeking a place to rest, but was instead greeted with the face of a woman. A burst of dust flew from her hands and carried towards me, leaving me gasping for breath until I was surrounded by darkness.