Author's Note: I actually hated this chapter when I wrote it, but now I don't think I could possibly love it more. And you know what this means: we've finally reached the big one-zero! About four chapters are left, and then the exciting conclusion! In any case, I hope you enjoy this chapter as much as I do!
Three days passed by all too quickly, in which Drenne spent her idle hours conjuring escape plans. Dozens rose to her mind, thought out to the most minute detail and vanquished near their completion. Quartets of guards stalked the halls now, with at least seven guarding her door at any given time. She knew that on the day of their wedding there would be twice the number of imperials to the number of guests.
"You look lovely," doted the seamstress, admonishing a few final tucks and fluffs to Drenne's dress. It was an elegant affair, dotted with the finest diamonds and pearls, and decked tastefully in lace. No doubt Rinae wanted everyone to know just how wealthy he was about to become.
"I'd be more comfortable in a potato sack," she grumbled, adjusting the bodice at her breasts and barely able to breathe.
The small woman chuckled, running hands over the silk and smoothing out any wrinkles or folds. "My, but you must be so excited."
"Words can't express," Drenne drawled, growing increasingly more annoyed by the woman's withered hands nitpicking about her body.
The seamstress's light fingers traveled up to her hair, fixing errant strands. It had been arranged into a bun, severe but elegant, that Drenne absolutely loathed. She had to admit that she felt somewhat naked when she couldn't feel her hair on her shoulders.
Finally the woman clapped her hands in approval, giving Drenne a last once over and smiling. "Such a lovely bride," she gushed. "Lord Rinae certainly is a lucky man, my dear."
With a roll of her eyes, Drenne stepped unceremoniously off the podium. "Bouquet," she said curtly, too irate to be mindful.
Glaring disapprovingly at Drenne's poor manners, the woman handed her a batch of lilies, irises, and some other flower she didn't recognize. "Are you ready? I know it seems stressful, but today will be the most wonderful day of your life."
Drenne raised her eyebrows skeptically. "You're wrong."
"Oh?" inquired the woman, curious. "Then what will be?"
Glancing morosely at her reflection, Drenne sighed. "The funeral."
The pompous sound of an organ cascaded over the rows of people, accompanied by harps, lutes and panpipes. The traditional wedding march played as Drenne walked out, sickened to her stomach by the cliché tune. What disgusted her more, however, was the wedding itself.
Rinae elected for their matrimony to take place in the most lavish, luxurious church he could possibly find. Luckily, Mirane's largest was in its capital city. The building was enormous, with a ceiling that loomed at least one hundred and fifty feet above Drenne's head. Sconces lined the alcoves, and greatly carved marble pillars stretched from the floor like ancient trees. Tapestries and paintings hung from the walls, accompanied by pristine stained glass depictions of deities made famous my psalms. An impossibly long aisle stretched between the dozens of crystal white benches, and at the very end rested a pedestal where the appointed Kiltias stood.
Ignoring the guests in the pews and the handfuls of guards lining the walls, Drenne's eyes ran over the people at the altar. Standing victoriously in the center was Rinae, grin widely spread and wearing only the finest armor gil could buy. Strapped around his waist was the cursed dagger, gleaming brilliantly. Around him stood dozens of imperials, hands slack at their sides. The hilts of their swords jutted out, while others sported un-drawn bows and arrows. Despite half of them looking at her, she noticed the others were all staring at someone rather different.
Standing in the place reserved for the best man was Balthier. He looked much less gaunt that when she had last seen him, and even managed to force a smile when her eyes met his own. Even though his garb was less elegant than Rinae's, she had to admit that he looked infinitely more handsome. She also noted that he wore no armor, and knew it was to make him easier to kill if she tried to escape. It was quite apparent that Rinae was taking no chances, since the heaviest concentration of guards surrounded Balthier.
A deep dread settling in the pit of her stomach, Drenne regretfully approached the altar. Stepping up in her shoes (heeled, much to her discomfort and chagrin), she obediently met the eyes of Rinae. Despite forcing a smile for appearance's sake, her gaze oozed an engulfing hatred.
"Dearly beloved," began that Kiltias, "we gather here in the grace of the Father to join these two children in the bonds of sacred matrimony."
Though the elderly man droned on, Drenne found herself completely unable to listen. Her knuckles were white, clutching her bouquet so tightly that her nails dug into the stems, dew dripping down her fingers and onto her dress. Incapable to even peek at Rinae for fear of lunging at him, she stole glances at Balthier. In spite of their situation, he regarded her warmly, some intense sympathy and hope communicated between the both of them.
"Now, may we bask in the glow of this holy ceremony and recite the vows," the Kiltias continued, giving a short nod to Rinae.
"Drenne JacPride," came Rinae's voice, secreting an unfamiliar warmth. Reluctantly her eyes met his, looking more through them than at them. "For many years, you have scorned my love. For many years I have begged and pleaded for your approval, meeting only your contempt. But as I stand here, in the eyes of this gathering and of my dear friends, I am finally accepted into your graces."
She listened to him go on, spouting lies with such conviction that even the Kiltias had to wipe his eyes. Again, she looked to Balthier, and for only a moment glanced past him at the guards. She heard the resounding clink of steel, and momentarily wondered why they suddenly grew so restless.
"It is in the wake of Lord Mirane's beautiful vow of love," continued the Kiltias, drawing Drenne's attention forcefully, "the we stand here to unite these two in the bond most eternal."
Silence descended upon the church, accompanied by a grave weight weighing down on Drenne's heart. Suddenly, the reality of the situation came full force. On every side they were surrounded by soldiers and weaponry, not to mention the insistent eyes of one hundred hopeful guests. Glancing back, Balthier's smile finally faded, and for one of the first times in her life, Drenne felt her eyes sting with tears.
The Kiltias turned to Rinae. "Lord Rinae Dimarcus, do you take this woman in holy matrimony? Do you promise to do unto her with the most affection, devotion and protection your heart can conjure? Do you swear upon the eyes of these holy relics, and this congregation, to have and hold her in times of sickness and health, of poverty and wealth, of happiness and sorrow? Do you take this woman as your lawfully wedded wife, and promise her a lifetime of joy and protection?"
Rinae looked at her with eyes to intense that she didn't dare glance away. "I do," he said, his words echoing through her mind with such impact that her knees quaked.
"Lady Drenne JacPride," the Kiltias said, motioning to her. She returned his glance with a lump in her throat, blinking to fight back tears, "do you take this man in holy matrimony? Do you promise to do unto him the most affection, devotion and adoration your heart can conjure? Do you swear upon the eyes of these holy relics, and this congregation, to have and hold him in times of sickness and health, of poverty of wealth, of happiness and sorrow? Do you take this man as your lawfully wedded husband, and promise him a lifetime of joy and devotion?"
Drenne's mouth suddenly became dry as her eyes traveled from the Kiltias to Rinae. His, masked by warmth, urged her venomously to agree. She opened her mouth a moment but found no words, and looked to Balthier for aid. His eyes bore into hers, so intent and serious that her mind scrambled for escape. Again, the clink of steel rang in her ears, grating on her senses. She glanced at the people in the pews and then at the guards. They all stood ramrod straight, though there was one difference: their hands were poised over their swords, and the ones waiting in the upper levels all had their bows drawn and arrows aimed – at Balthier.
Only then did the realization dawn upon her. These people on the benches were too familiar for comfort. They weren't friends of Rinae's. They weren't lords and ladies. They were all servants, cooks or otherwise minions – each and every one of them. As she was unable to even croak, she realized with such suddenness that the moment she agreed to marry him, arrows would fly into Balthier. The image of him lying dead at her feet, blood seeping into her wedding dress, a sword speared through his neck, made her gag.
"My lady?" insisted the Kiltias, whom she now knew to be a paid underling of Rinae.
She looked up, struggling to find her composure and to appear inconspicuous. "I…"
"Yes?" insisted Rinae, voice toxic.
Drenne forced a smile, casting Balthier a meaningful glance and, with the greatest stealth she could muster, motioned to the pew.
"Rinae," she began, oozing sincerity into her voice. "All my life I had known I would be with you in a church."
"Drenne?" he asked venomously.
"Please," she begged the Kiltias, "I haven't said my vows."
The Kiltias smiled and nodded, despite Rinae's visual protests.
"All my life, I have secretly awaited the day when I would stand amongst the pews and look at your serene face," she continued and laughed lightly. "Of course, this wasn't quite how I'd imagined it."
"Really?" he asked, teeth gritted.
Drenne nodded, watching Balthier out of the corner of her eye. "Yes, but before I tell you, might I have one more kiss?"
"We aren't wed yet," he insisted, hands balled into fists.
Drenne smiled serenely. "Please, until now I've lived my life without your love. Allow me to kiss you one more time, so that when I kiss you as your wife I may be all the more grateful."
Rinae was about to protest when the Kiltias cut in, infinitely pleased. "Of course, my dear! Such an act of devotion in the eyes of the Father I have never seen!"
She granted the elderly man a soft nod and moved forward. With one hand she trailed delicate fingertips over Rinae's jaw, pulling his head down gently. Tipping herself up on her heels, she pressed a soft kiss to his lips. Feeling the slight flutter of his eyes closing, she whispered into his lips, "In my fantasy, I picture myself in black, not white, and you are lying dead on the altar."
In one quick motion, she had a hand around his neck while her other clamored for the dagger at his waist. Casting a glance to the side, she saw Balthier dive for the pew. As the sound of arrows whizzing and swords sliding out of their sheathes resounded in the huge cathedral, Drenne wrapped her fingers around the dagger. Within moments her vision grew red as she plunged it into Rinae's heart, before falling to the floor with three arrows embedded in her back. The last thing she saw was Rinae's body hit the cold stone, the dagger melting inside him as sunlight flooded the church.