The Bride of the Immortal

BOOK: The Bride of the Immortal
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The Bride of the Immortal

by Auriane Bell

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2013 by Auriane Bell

 

Get in contact with the author: [email protected]

 

 

Thanks to the beta readers. You’re awesome.

 

 

“Shoo, shoo, make way! Oh, do not stand around here when you should be lining up in the hall!”

Mrs Enderby manoeuvred her corpulent body through the corridors, wildly gesturing and giving unwanted instructions to the young candidates. Two of the girls, who had not paid any heed to her words, were swallowed by a wave of the head teacher’s scolding and upon surfacing from the sea of complaints, hurriedly fled into the direction of the staircase.


Walk
there without any detours like good little ladies and stop talking for Christ’s sake!” Mrs Enderby yelled after them, already eyeing her next target.

“Catherine, dear, go change your clothes. I know there is no time to lose but you look so dreadfully silly in this pompous dress of yours that you might as well not participate in the event.”

Mrs Enderby’s sweet yet at the same time alarming voice was ringing in Mairin’s ears. Watching the reprimanded girl burst into tears she was more desperate than ever to find shelter from the nearing tidal wave. As if someone had answered her prayers, the door to her right opened and hinting at the female cataclysm that was closing in on her, Mairin tried to slip past the girl, who had appeared in an artwork of pink and white frills.

“This room is off limits for peasants like you,” the inhabitant of the room stated dryly and pushed Mairin back into the corridor, where she was promptly discovered by the school’s predator.

“Oh!” Mrs Enderby exclaimed as if she were in great pain. “Oh! Oh!”

With an overwhelmingly theatrical motion she raised the back of her hand to her forehead. “You look terribly poor, my dear,” she remarked and using the same hand that had shielded her from Mairin’s obviously shocking appearance, she dismissed her like an unwanted housefly. “Oh, out of my sight!”

Mairin unbelievingly stared at the head teacher, too perplexed to react before she was moved aside, pressed against the wall and left behind, gasping for breath.

More of the exclusively dressed candidates had appeared in the door next to the conceited girl with the frilly dress, silently giggling.

“Serves her right,” one of them whispered, gloating over Mairin’s misfortune. “She’s been here for a fortnight and still doesn’t know her place.”

Feigning indifference and trying to save face, Mairin defiantly lifted her chin and continued to proceed to the hall, carefully avoiding the rushing girls and maids, the mothers and teachers.

She wasn’t entirely certain how she had ended up in this mess. Above all,
he
was most likely to blame. His rumoured
presence in town was luring everyone who was lucky enough to have a young daughter to the gathering places. This was one of them – Sunflower Garden, a boarding school for girls. According to Mrs Enderby’s announcements, one of
his
servants was already on his way to the educational establishment to examine the young candidates. None of them had seen more than seventeen summers; Mairin herself was only eleven and probably one of the youngest among them.

Though she had merely been here for a short while, it already seemed to her that it had been an eternity ago that her sister had taken her to this hateful place to abandon her with the only two dresses she possessed.

“Don’t expect me to pick you up,” Renga had warned her with a grim look on her face, making clear that there was no room for failure.

Mairin dejectedly shook her head, ignoring the nosy glances it earned her. Despite her resolve to be brave, she couldn’t rid herself of the nagging fear for her existence. Their late parents had left her and her siblings behind without the means to support themselves and she knew that she had no choice but to try to achieve the impossible by becoming
his
bride if she wanted to save what was left of their family. Carrying that burdensome thought in mind, Mairin stepped into the grand hall.

It was difficult not to lose heart at the sight of the many pretty girls who had arrived before her. The longer she admired the adorable creatures, the more she became convinced that nobody, who was in their right mind, would choose her over the other girls. Arduously suppressing the bitter feeling of defeat resulting from that knowledge, Mairin marvelled at the exquisite dresses and refined hairstyles that were more than adequate to allow the girls the part of the heroine in any of the wonderful fairy tales she had been told by her mother. Mairin’s own appearance, however, left a lot to be desired. The brown wavy hair pointed into every direction except the one she had chosen earlier in front of the mirror of the dressing table that was to be shared by the eight girls in her room, and her Sunday dress looked shabby in comparison to the radiant garments of her competitors.

Nervously Mairin moved a curl out of her face and joined the candidates. The majority of them was chatting in little groups of four or five, while the remaining ones were near the decorated windows, scrambling to catch a glimpse of the carriage upon its arrival.

More and more girls were pouring into the hall now, most of them trying to get into the front rows, pushing and shoving her around whenever they decided that she was in their way.

“Just look at them, Becky!” Mairin overheard one of the maids say. “I really don’t understand what he wants with them. Almost makes me worry, you know?”

Her colleague agreed. “They’re far too young to give them into the care of that person! Nobody knows much about him – and anyway, if he’s looking for a companion he’d be better off, choosing one of us, eh?”

The conversation resulted in giggling and teasing and not in the mood to listen in on more of the silly chit-chat, Mairin continued her perilous way through the crowd. As pointless as the maids’ idle talk had been, at least concerning one thing the young women had been right: nobody knew much about
him
. Even his name was a mystery and Mairin sincerely hoped that the reason for calling the stranger, who had supposedly lived for generations,
the immortal
, had simply been to facilitate spreading gossip. After all, he was talked about on a daily basis and there were more theories about his ancestry than spare buttons in her mother’s sewing basket.

Amidst the multitude of existing rumours, Mairin favoured the belief that from generation to generation the unusual nickname had simply been bestowed from one child of the family upon the next. If that were the case, at least none of the girls present would have to become the wife of a peculiar, disgusting old man.

Mairin shivered just at the thought of being forced to marry someone who could easily be her great-grandfather. On that score it was more than unfortunate that the inhabitants of
Traumstadt
had been content with spreading – for the most part certainly false – information about the man’s background instead of pursuing the truth. Their behaviour made it appallingly apparent what really mattered to them: the fact that the
immortal
, a man rich beyond imagination, was willing to share some of his wealth with the family of the
undoubtedly
lucky girl he would choose to become his bride.

Eventually both girls and servants had positioned themselves as instructed and Mairin caught herself cringing as she spotted Mrs Enderby. Impatient as ever, the head teacher requested some worried mothers to follow her orders to occupy the seats in the back of the hall. When she finally seemed satisfied with the arrangements, she sighed dramatically, showing just how much she had to endure to serve her fosterlings, and moved to the part of the hall that had been prepared for the important guest – a small area, neither candidates nor parents had been allowed to tread on. There, in front of a waist-high pedestal, Mrs Enderby tried to gain everyone’s attention by waving about her arms and raising her voice.

“Silence! Silence!” she cried out repeatedly.

A few seconds and agitated shouts later the noise had finally died down. No moment too soon as the already faintly audible sound of hoof beats on the pavement proved: the carriage was arriving.

To Mairin it seemed that everyone had to be holding their breaths, like her, imagining the creaking of the heavy doors of the front gate being opened. For two weeks she had been awaiting this moment and now that it was there, she desperately wished it away.

Agog Mairin directed her gaze towards the guarded entrance and was sorely disappointed to find her view blocked by a monstrosity of towered curls. Biting her lip she started to count the passing seconds.

Ten… twenty… thirty… where had she left off? Nervously she buried her hands in the fabric of her dress. Mairin was almost certain that enough time had to have passed for the immortal’s servant to exit the carriage – perhaps he was even already crossing the foyer, while the driver was taking away the vehicle.

The pressure to succeed and to be chosen even though she didn’t want to become anyone’s bride yet, added a trace of panic to the overwhelming feeling of excitement. Anxiously Mairin grabbed the small pendant that was attached to the fine silver chain around her neck and boldly slipped past the girl in front of her. From this angle she was at least partially able to see the butler, who opened the door to the celebration hall. With great dignity the man stepped aside to make room for the important guest and the headmistress of Sunflower Garden.

 “.. and here are the girls. You must understand that we are truly feeling blessed by your visit. Please take a good look at the little angels and if you find one to your liking you have to let us know at once.”

With these words the headmistress led the person, who would possibly decide the fate of one of the gathered girls, up the pedestal and to the chair that had been prepared for him. Standing on a red carpet in a place Mrs Enderby had not dared to enter and with the two servants keeping watch at its sides, the seat had a distinct resemblance to a throne.

Mairin felt a jolt of pain in her side – the reward for advancing a row without getting permission – and not wanting to risk being given another dig with the elbow she moved away from the displeased girl. Past the heads and headdresses in front of her, she could hardly see what was happening. Her only comfort was the thought that the visitor was merely someone else’s servant – even if he was seated like a king.

“Oh, look at him.”

A tall, auburn haired beauty, who was fidgeting with excitement, tugged at the sleeve of Mairin’s dress to gain her the attention. Apparently she had a better view of the scene.

“If the immortal doesn’t want me I’ll just stick to his handsome servant.”

Clueless about the girl’s intentions, Mairin inclined her head to one side and questioningly raised an eyebrow.

“Do you want to go into service?” she inquired, deliberately whispering, expecting the girl to follow her example and lower her voice.

Instead, the competitor stared at her with big unbelieving eyes and snorted. “What? Are you serious?” She shook her head, dismissing her comment and turned away. “What a ninny,” Mairin heard her murmur.

Feeling like the fool she had been insulted as, she decided to catch at least a glimpse of the important guest, even if it earned her a bruise or two and standing on tiptoes, sometimes leaning to her left, sometimes to her right, she could bit by bit make out more of the mysterious servant.

The young man was wearing an elegant black suit of simple design, a design that didn’t resemble anything she had ever seen before. Every part of his garments was clearly made of the finest materials, letting her assume that he was indeed held in high regard by the immortal. Yet more particular than his outfit was his hair, that, unlike other servants she knew, he failed to keep short. The tied back strands were of an extraordinary shade of red, darker than a ruby but just as breath-taking to look at.

BOOK: The Bride of the Immortal
7.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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