Chapter 1

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Behind every great man, is an even greater woman.
- Unknown

Chapter 1

The wedding was a fantastic blur of expensive clothes and impressive halls, a giant pipe organ that blasted the theme to my supreme, organized torture. I was not there.
I was somewhere far, far away, drifting over the green marshes of my homeland, while my body walked numbly down the aisle as powerful, mind-beating music hummed through the floor. Faces, smiling politely, proudly, jealously out at me; they were all blank in my mind. Voices, whispers of encouragement, they were all lost on me. Hollie Barnersworth wasn't there.
A dress walked behind me, taking up too much space. My body was clothed in hundreds of yards of heavy silk chains that cost more than I was worth. I didn't stumble, never faltered. Simply walked, one foot in front of the other, staring straight ahead as the grating pounding of the organ blotted out everything else, numbed my brain like ice water, absorbed all my thoughts. I did not exist, from this moment on.
I felt my mother's hand, gentle on my back, prodding me forward. She knew she had forced me to do this, and I would let her live with that guilt. I was being dragged up the aisle in tattered rags, in my mind, as she held a knife to my back and murmured threats through gritted teeth. This was no holy ceremony. It was condemnation to a fate worse than death.
I mounted the podium. My body did. I was not there, but drifting aimlessly across the green moorlands, floating on the wind. I stared blankly at my fiancé, proclaiming husband. I observed the elaborate fur lining of his cape, examining every textured hair in detail. Everything else blurred and became nonexistent. I did not trouble myself with meeting his eyes, or looking at his face, because from now on it would be the face that would haunt my dreams for the remainder of my life. Sounds warbled together and dimly throbbed in my ears, but I let myself drift. I let the world fade, because I no longer wanted to be alive.
There was a ring. I only knew because I felt my hand be grabbed and a cool circlet of metal be forced onto my finger. I did not bother to look down. It did not matter. It was only a mark to show the world what pain I was in, nothing more.
The organ music, that constant drone that drove everything away, suddenly stopped, and a torturous silence suffocated me. The words of the high priest cut through my wall of protection like a knife, clear and loud.
"Do you, Hollie Barnersworth, take this man as your lawfully wedded husband?"
I almost snorted. Every fiber of my being wanted me to scream, "NO!". But my gaze drifted to my mother standing but a mere few feet away... her eyes glaring into mine, drilling into my soul. All we had been through to get this position, this offer, she seemed to be shouting. After handing over my dowry to the prince... all the centuries of the Barnersworth family resting upon my shoulders.... Warning me I couldn't hope for a better offer, to unite the two most powerful families in the kingdom and bring a new era of peace and prosperity... What more could I hope for?
My world narrowed down, and I stared at the priest's face, his foolish haircut and elaborate robes. I wanted to beg, to plead. Take me away, take me away! I took a deep breath and nodded. My voice wavered as I spoke.
"I do."
"And do you, Connor, prince of Clockman, take this girl-woman-" The priest actually stumbled over his words. "-as your wife?"
A pause, eating at the air, sucking away my life bit by bit.
"I do."
"Then, by the power invested in me," The priest spoke, his voice carrying through the hall. I was nothing but an empty body, a skeleton. Hollie Barnersworth was about to become property, nothing more than a tool to the husband I didn't even know. Me and all my freedom would cease to exist, and leave on this earth nothing more than a vague shadow.
"I pronounce you man and wife."
A cold metal cup was forced into my hand. My trembling fingers failed to hold it. The cup tumbled through the air. The holy water erupted onto the stone podium, and the cup clattered to the ground, clanking in slow-motion, ringing, ticking, counting my heartbeats.
I crumpled to the ground, staring up the the lavish chandelier glowing dimly above as darkness edged around my eyes, blotting out the cries and screams from everywhere.
Nothing more.

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