Chapter 67
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For some reason, Brand had forgotten to bring his best clothes. Maybe some part of him had never really believed this wedding would happen. But it was happening, so he made an effort to look presentable. His cloak looked regal, anyway. It was black, with silver embroidery, and a fur collar. He wore his silver medallion over it, which pulsed with magic.

The bridal party—which was made up of Gertrude, Nel, and Gretchen—gathered in front of the church. Brand reflected that, though the party was small, it was sort of… sort of his family. A messed-up family, but as close to one as he had. Everyone was milling around in their cloaks and gloves. Nel and Gretchen had found white snowdrop flowers and were wearing them in their hair.

“Where’s Seri?” Brand asked them.

“She’s just around the corner,” Nel said.

Brand peeked around the corner of the church, and sure enough, there stood Seri, hiding between the pillars. She had on her cloak and veil, and she was clutching a bouquet of fern leaves and snowdrops.

“Nervous?” Brand asked.

“There’s just so many strangers,” she said.

“Are you scared of strangers?”

“I didn’t used to be.”

He walked over and leaned against the building, beside her.

“Brand,” Seri said, “can you show me your illusions?”

“You want to see them?”

“Just one. The one you made of me.”

Brand put up his hand and showed her the illusion.

It was Seri in her red velvet dress, sitting at the chess table and slowly chewing on her lip as she considered her next move. Looking at it now, Brand felt a little embarrassed. He hoped she didn’t see the blatant lust he’d felt for her while he’d crafted the illusion. He saw it, reflected in his art.

Seri studied the illusion. “I was sort of pretty, wasn’t I?”

“You were beautiful,” he said, before quickly adding, “You still are.”

She shook her head. “No, I’m not. I don’t even look human.” She paused. “I don’t suppose you could do… what you used to do before… how you used to wear illusions…?”

“You want me to change my appearance?” Brand asked.

“No,” she said. “I want you to change mine. I want to look like myself on my wedding day.”

Brand felt a pang. It was such a simple thing to want. She shouldn’t even have to want it. She ought to have been radiant on her wedding day, glowing with happiness. He felt he’d taken this from her, too.

“I can’t do that,” Brand said. “I can put the projection on you, but I can’t make it match your movements. Wearing the illusions like a skin… it only works for the one who casts it.”

Seri looked down. “It was just a thought.”

They said no more to each other. Presently, Gertrude came up, and let them know that the wedding was about to begin.

It was a nice ceremony, considering it had been thrown together in the last few hours. Someone had decorated the front pews with evergreen shrubs, and hundreds of candles burned brightly. An organ blared, and a choir sang. Seri took off her cloak before stepping into church. She walked down the aisle in her red velvet dress.

At the altar, the minister instructed Brand to take Seri by the hand. Seri had been using the bouquet to hide her hands, and when he moved the bunch of ferns away, she flinched. Her hand was covered in scales, and her nails had turned black and had start to curve, like claws. It didn’t matter, though. She was still Seri, and he still loved her. Brand took her hand into his own.

He wished he had treated her better. That was his biggest regret. That he had knocked at her gate instead of flying over it; that he’d spoken gently to her instead of yelling at her; that he had lifted the curse when she first asked him… or better yet, had not cursed her at all. If he had done that, maybe he wouldn’t feel so sad and guilty now. Maybe she would have been happy, too.

After endless benedictions, they said their vows, and it was nearly done. Now, he had only to kiss her. As he stepped forward to raise her veil, Brand noticed, at last, that Seri was wearing her necklace—the ruby pendant he gave her. He hadn’t known she still had it—he thought maybe she’d thrown it away. He was touched that she wore it now… but also, for some reason, deeply sad.

He looked up, into her eyes, which were no longer her eyes, but yellow and slitted. Seri couldn’t quite meet his gaze. He remembered, when she first arrived, how unafraid she was to stare him in the eye. She’d been so strong and so spirited then, and he’d just crushed her.

He had to do better.

Brand kissed her lightly on the cheek, and as he did, he felt the curse begin to dissolve. Seri seemed to sense it, too. She put a hand to her face, and then to her stomach.

“It’s lifting,” she said.

He nodded. “You’ll be back to your old self before long.”

There was no feast after the ceremony, just a light supper. And that was it. They were to sleep in separate rooms. Not exactly how Brand had envisioned his wedding night.

“What are you going to do with your bouquet?” Nel asked Seri.

“I was thinking of putting it on a grave I found.”

“Do you want me to escort you?” Brand asked.

“You want to come?” Seri asked.

“It seems like the sort of thing a husband should do.”

They went, after dinner. Seri even took Brand’s arm—albeit with some hesitation. Walking together in the cold air, with the moonlight casting a silver glow on the white frosted ground—it felt nice. Romantic, even. For a moment, Brand almost fooled himself into thinking that they were a real couple.

“Are you looking for a specific grave?” he asked.

“Yes. It has my mother’s name on it.”

“What was her name?”

“It’s…” Seri hesitated. “Actually, I’m no longer sure. She must have changed it after….” She glanced at Brand and looked away. “But I knew her as Marlis. That’s the name I’m searching for.”

It took a little while to find. Seri could hardly see with her veil covering her eyes, and Brand had to squint to read the crumbling stone in the dim light. Finally, though, they found the marker. Seri lowered herself and placed the bouquet near the monument.

“Hello, Mother,” she said quietly. “I know this isn’t your grave, but I know you’re here, with me, now. I hope you don’t mind sharing the flowers with this Marlis. One day I’ll return home, and when I do, I’ll bring you a big bouquet of lilies.”

Lilies. The flowers he’d first bought her. The flowers she’d had been cutting when he’d abducted her. They were for her mother. Brand felt the air drain from his lungs and a lump form in his throat. He swallowed.

“Are you ready to go back?” he asked softly.

“I’m ready,” she said, standing up.

He offered her his arm—out of habit—and she took it—again, out of habit. They walked together and did not speak. Black gauze wreathed Seri’s head and face; her eyes were hidden from him. Brand’s heart thudded painfully in his chest. Seri was his wife, now, but she was not truly his—no more than she had been that first day he’d flown over the wall and saw her: a pretty girl in a red wool dress, gathering lilies, alone, near the side of the water.

* * *

End of Book 1

This is the end of the first book of Girls and Monsters, but it is not the end of the story. Now that Brand and Seri are forced into a marriage, I want to explore their relationship, how they come together, and how deal with their pain and trauma. Also, I’ve mentioned that Brand has enemies. They are going to have more of a presence in the second book. I’m also going to try to expand the magic, the world-building, and the action.

I can say this with some confidence, because I’ve already started Book 2. I have about 300 pages written, and I know the general plot. Unfortunately, the writing is very messy, with missing scenes and contradictions and extraneous material that needs to be cut or edited down. I want to be able to finish Book 2 before I begin posting, which will probably take at least a year. On the bright side, when I do post for Book 2, I’ll have the whole thing ready to go.

Thank you for reading and for your support. When I started writing Girls and Monsters, I was really just writing for myself, for fun, and I didn’t even know if I would show it to anyone. Some of the content was a little risqué for me, personally. But I kept on writing, and I started sharing chapters with my friends, and they seemed to like it. Once I had completed the story, I found enough value and amusement in it that I decided to put it out there, for you to read.

If you like my writing style, you might want to check out my other books, which are mentioned on my bio and website and are for sale on Amazon. Any reviews (especially good ones!) or donations would also be appreciated. Thanks again!