Wren stares hard at the door in front of her. The butterflies in her stomach are threatening to overwhelm her. The rapid hummingbird flutter of the golden wings on her back isn't helping either. She takes a deep breath. Then another. She can do this. She can. She's the Princess of the Braeburn Clan, a powerful fae in her own right, a killer drummer. She's got this. She takes a deeper breath and feels the corset bodice of her dress contain it. She stifles the urge to scream. This wedding dress is going to be the death of her, if she doesn't rip it to shreds first.
The door unlocks, loud and unwelcome. The hinges creak, louder and even more ominous as her father steps through. He looks her up and down, then smiles.
"You look beautiful, love. Just like your mother did." He offers her his arm and she takes it, scowling up at him. The words Wren wants to say are practically tripping off her tongue, sticking behind her teeth.
"I really am sorry about this." He says for the umpteenth time. In the week since Wren arrived home the two of them have had this conversation a lot. Usually at the top of their lungs.
Wren has learned over the years that silence is easier. She thinks she might have learned it from Matt and Shy actually. The butterflies get worse again as she thinks of Shy. Of his piercings, his deft hands and his kind eyes. Wren forces her focus back on to the stairs. The spiral staircase of her tower has always been a little treacherous. She's hit with a sudden mental image of Shy measuring each step, then working out what it would take to make them even. With mathematical precision. Wren loves watching Shy work with complex equations, his face gets so expressive. The warmth of that thought makes the butterflies fade and stills the flitting of her wings. For the first time today, Wren feels calm. Centred. She uses that inner peace to get the rest of the way down the stairs and along the corridor. She forcefully ignores the part of her that insists she loves Shy.
The calm leaves Wren abruptly as she stops in front of the door to the feasting hall. Suddenly she can feel the magnitude of what she is about to do. The weight of history pressing down on her, freezing her in place. She is stock still as her gown is fluffed, smoothed and primped. Her hair and make up are examined, touched up. The ornaments and jewels she wears are adjusted to show their best. She stays stock still. Frozen all the while. Remembering.
There is a story everyone in the clan knows by heart. Of how there was a war, centuries ago. A clan war, among the fae. One of the clans got powerful, more magical than the rest. Power has always been a double edged sword and magical power even more so. This clan wanted more, demanded more. Their leader wanted an empire, wanted to mimic the humans he so admired. He had the power of his clan but he wanted the power of all the other clans too. He went to war, swallowing up clans as they were defeated and adding their powers to his own. Soon he was too much of a threat to be ignored. So all of the clans went to war with him. In their own separate ways. The war raged for years, the independent clans losing one by one. Alliances were tried but fell apart almost as quickly as they were formed.
Until two warriors collided on the battlefield in the mistaken belief that each other was the enemy. Their fight proved bloody and hard, neither giving any quarter, both delivering serious blows, until they were pulled apart. Later they were both summoned by their leaders, then shocked to learn they were on the same side. The tale goes that after more fighting and much wine, the two of them proposed an alliance of their clans and themselves. They bound the union on the magic of both their clans, tying each generation into a promise to wed two of their number to maintain the union. The strength of their bond turned the tide of the war. The depth of their love echoes through the generations.
As Wren's attention comes back to the present she feels the weighted press of a metal bracelet at her wrist. Feels the texture of the links under her thumb. The memory of watching Shy making it calms her, just as watching him work always calms her. Wren tucks the memories away again, wishing that her band could be here, supporting her. Impossible as that is. They don't even know she's fae. They have no idea that she's about to get married. To someone she has never met and does not love. For the sake of her clan, for their magic and a promise two lovers made under the starlight centuries ago.
The doors open. Wren takes a deep breath, then a slow step forward. She tries to focus on little details with every step. The scent of the flowers in her bouquet. Members of her clan. The rustling silk of her dress. People from his clan. The pinch of her shoes. The height of the groom. One look proves to her that they have never met. It is unusual in these modern times that the pair fulfilling the obligation have never even had a conversation. Wren admits it is mostly her fault as she takes yet another step. The feasting hall has never seemed this long before.
It has been over five years since Wren left with no plans beyond escaping her old life and accidentally found herself joining a band. She almost smiles at the irony of using Radio Silence to enforce and maintain radio silence with both her family and her betrothed. Another step and the best man comes into view, somewhat shorter than the groom. Although they have the same dark hair and silver wings. Wren is nearly at the front of the hall now, steadfastly ignoring the little voice that's getting louder, telling her to run. Another step and the best man turns to face her. Wren's eyes catch on the spiral piercing above his right eye. It can't be Shy. Her steps almost falter. She meets his eyes briefly, then looks away when recognition hits. The final few steps up to the dais are a blur for Wren. Perhaps she's imagining things. Maybe this is what going mad feels like.
She hands off her bouquet and accepts a kiss on the cheek from her father. Then Wren turns to face the groom...and his best man. Off to her left an Elder starts speaking, welcoming people and recounting the story of the original heroes turned lovers. It's not a religious ceremony by any means but the passage of time has given the ritual a certain shape. Wren isn't really paying attention, she can't help comparing the two men in front of her. They are very different on first glance but she notices it in the shape of their noses, the colour of their eyes. They are brothers.
She is supposed to marry Shy's brother! The voice in the back of her head is urging harder now, practically demanding that she run. She can feel Shy's eyes on her, feel them focus on the band of metal at her wrist. The bracelet that he made. That he gave to her with stammers and blushes. His surprise feels as palpable as hers. Wren had no idea Shy was fae at all. Not even a hint. His initial shock shows clearly that he never knew about her either. The panicked voice is shouting now, almost drowning out all other thoughts and the words of the Elder.
Wren's eyes lock with Shy's just as the Elder finishes his speech.
"If anyone knows a reason they should not be joined, let them speak now."
"I do." Wren and Shy say in unison, not taking their eyes off of each other. The words echo for a moment in the stunned silence before Wren gives in to the voice and runs.