When Prunella agreed to make him the happiest of men, and for reasons (and with feelings) congruent with his own, Zacharias thought the difficult part was over, and that he would be allowed to retreat to his studies and his garden without interruption or delay. He had not expected Prunella to insist on including him in the wedding planning, nor had he expected Lady Wythe to support her in this endeavor.
"I thought my role on that most auspicious of days would be to stand at your side and bask in your beauty," he said when Prunella first asked him if he thought roses or lilies more pleasing for the centerpiece at their wedding breakfast. He thought it was a neat little answer, considering he was still buttering his toast and hadn't yet had any tea.
Lady Wythe looked askance at him, her eyebrow cocked inquisitively, but said only, "It's too early to pick out flowers, Prunella. First, we must have new gowns made up." She put a hand to her chin thoughtfully. "Actually, my dears, first the banns must be read, and a time at St. George's reserved. We shall call on the Archbishop this afternoon."
While Zacharias understood that because of her position, the Sorceress Royal should indeed be wed at London's most fashionable cathedral, in front of God, the ton, and everyone, he had always wished for a quiet, private ceremony himself. "I could procure a special license," he proffered, though he knew it was a vain hope in the face of Prunella's social ambitions. "We could elope."
Lady Wythe was not, in Zacharias' experience, much given to dramatics, but he could hear the import of the phrase as she said, "Given Recent Events, your wedding will be a nine days' wonder. We mustn't give the gossips any more to blather on about."
"I should quite like to be the talk of the ton," Prunella responded, predictably enough.
"You needn't worry about that," Lady Wythe said. "I believe your adventures these past few weeks have guaranteed it."
Prunella preened and Zacharias hid a smile behind his tea cup. He took a sip of that bracing brew and then a bite of toast.
"I shall put myself at your disposal," he said gallantly, after he was done chewing, though inside he quailed at the thought of trailing his affianced to the modiste or the milliner and wasting time that could be better spent in research. "I'm sure I will be of no use, however, since you are equally lovely to me regardless of your frocks and furbelows."
Prunella's preening softened and her eyes lit with emotion that made his heart ache in his chest. He truly was the luckiest of men, even if his bride did require his presence at her dress fittings.
When he was done with his breakfast, he pressed a kiss to Lady Wythe's cheek and another to Prunella's (which was perhaps more forward than was proper, but they had interrupted him in his apartments at breakfast; at any rate, he was sure Prunella would tell propriety to go to the devil if given the chance, and after all, the rules must be eased while en famille).
"And now, I must do some work. And I believe Prunella has a meeting at the Society in an hour."
They took their leave, but Zacharias had a sinking feeling this had been but the first of what promised to be many wedding-related discussions (and disruptions) in the coming weeks.
The happiest man alive, he reminded himself with a rueful smile before he settled in at his desk to work.
The wedding planning proceeded apace, and after that first morning, Zacharias felt fortunate to be left out of much of it. He should have realized that he was only being lulled into complacency by the fact that Prunella's preoccupation with her new gown had transmogrified into the purchase and accumulation of a trousseau. (Thankfully, he was not asked to be present after the first trip to the dressmaker.) He was pleased to be able to pay for any pretty frippery she desired, no matter that to him she would be just as attractive in sackcloth, and he had told Lady Wythe in no uncertain terms to forward the modiste's bills to him, though he had yet to see them (and he felt certain that she would protest his assuming the cost, though he was well able to afford it).
He had asked Damerell to stand up with him, and where Damerell went, Rollo was sure to follow, so the groomsmen were settled. He knew Prunella had written to Henrietta Stapleton to ask her to be a bridesmaid, and he'd backed quietly out of Lady Wythe's sitting room when he discovered Sophia Kendle attempting a rapprochement with Prunella in order to be included in the wedding party. He would have liked Prunella to have more friends, so he sought to put in a good word for Mrs. Kendle later that day at tea.
"Surely if she is willing to let bygones be bygones, you should do the same," he said. "I know you were growing close before events...transpired."
"I must admit," she said, with a pout, "I was impressed with her cheek in coming here after the way she's treated me since I gave her husband his step." The pout stretched into a mischievous grin. "So of course I accepted her apologies and asked her to be a bridesmaid. She was in alt over it."
"I'm sure," Zacharias replied, returning her smile.
"And it will require him to be polite to me in company," Prunella finished triumphantly. "I shall enjoy that exceedingly."
Zacharias shook his head, but his fiancée looked so pleased with herself that he forbore pointing out her lack of charity. On some deep level, he sympathized with her desire, though he would never be so improper as to admit it aloud.
Zacharias was able to avoid sitting idly at the modiste's while Prunella had her dresses fitted, but he couldn't elude shopping altogether: he had a new bottle-green morning coat made up, and fawn trousers to go with it (the one item he'd not given into Prunella on; he might have to wear breeches to Almack's but he wasn't wearing them to his own wedding), and when he left his tailor, he stopped in at Rundell and Bridge. A clerk appeared at his side as if by magic, and Zacharias spent a bemused moment attempting to discern what spell he'd used before realizing it was merely excessively attentive customer service.
"How may we help you today, sir?" the clerk asked.
"I need a bridal gift for my fiancée," he said. "A necklace, or perhaps a bracelet. And a wedding ring, as well."
He spent the next half hour surveying a dizzying array of jewelry, all of which glinted or sparkled or shone in the early afternoon light, and left with a pendant and bracelet set and the promise of a ring to be picked up a few days prior to the wedding.
His head was filled with new equations for Althorp's invisibility cantrip based on the way light had bent through variously cut gemstones. He was thus completely unprepared for the argument in which Lady Wythe and Prunella were engaged when he entered the house.
Prunella rushed to him as soon as he'd laid his hat and gloves aside and twined her arm through his, leading him to the settee, talking all the while.
"I'm not allowed to arrive at the church on a cloud, nor on Tjandra, and now Lady Wythe tells me that it isn't done to have Youko pull my carriage. It is past all bearing!"
"Your gown would be soaked by a cloud," Lady Wythe said with the exaggerated patience of one who had repeated herself frequently. "The entire thing would be ruined, and you do look a treat in it. And you would catch your death of cold, as well."
"Those do seem to be reasonable objections," Zacharias said, giving Prunella a cajoling smile.
Prunella huffed, refusing to be cajoled.
"Have you asked Youko and Tjandra if they would mind pulling your wedding barouche?" he asked.
Lady Wythe's lips parted, as if she were going to argue; Zacharias shook his head almost imperceptibly and she subsided, lips pressed together tightly.
"No," said Prunella, "but I'm sure they would say yes."
"Well, then," he said, "you shall ask them, and if they say yes, they shall draw your carriage." He smiled at Lady Wythe. "It is only fitting for the Sorceress Royal and the daughter of the Grand Sorceress of Seringapatam to have magical steeds accompany her."
Prunella rushed up to her room, undoubtedly to seek out her familiars.
"You indulge her terribly," Lady Wythe said, but she was no longer frowning at him. "You shouldn't let her run roughshod over you, Zacharias."
"I thought it was a neat compromise," he answered, taken aback by even this mild censure. "I have no wish to stifle her high spirits, ma'am." Not only was such a thing not desirable to him, it seemed impossible, given Prunella's power and personality. "And did you not once tell me I should begin as I mean to go on?"
"Hoist by my own petard, I see," Lady Wythe said wryly. "No, but it is good advice. I see that you shall rub along tolerably well once you're wed."
"I hope we do a good deal better than that," he replied.
Prunella returned then, glowing triumphantly. "Tjandra and Youko have agreed! I shall have the finest wedding carriage in all of England."
And it wouldn't hurt, Zacharias thought, to remind the rest of the world of how powerful a sorceress Prunella actually was.
There were half a dozen more small crises (the cake! the harpist! the seating arrangements! et cetera) that Zacharias only heard about secondhand from both Lady Wythe and Prunella and while the information was generally the same, their presentations of the material were wildly different. Yet for all that, they got along splendidly, which pleased him immensely. It wouldn't do to have his stepmother and his wife at odds, even if Lady Wythe did seem to be showing an inclination towards accepting Mr. Barbary's suit, which meant that there might soon be another wedding to plan. Zacharias fervently hoped to be left out of that process entirely.
As the eventful date drew nigh, he focused his energies on their wedding journey; he had made arrangements for them to stay at his country cottage for a month. Damerell and Rollo had winked and nudged and made terrible double entendres that he pretended not to understand and tried not to think too much about when alone in his bed at night. Prunella was lovely and soft and warm and she always smelled faintly of magic, a fragrance he couldn't describe but which was as familiar and necessary to him as breathing.
The day of the wedding dawned cool and bright, the late spring rain they'd been experiencing over the past week clearing without magical interference (at least that Zacharias was aware of), and the sun casting a gentle yellow light on everything. Zacharias felt an unsurprising impatience to have the deed done so they could repair to the country and spend their time in pursuits both marital and magical.
He arrived at St. George's on foot, alone, in his fine new clothes. Damerell and Rollo turned up shortly after, and Rollo offered him a flask.
"Best cognac money can buy," he said, but Zacharias shook his head.
"No, thank you. I'm not nervous, Rollo. I'm excited." And he could imagine Prunella's response if she tasted brandy on his breath for their first kiss as husband and wife.
"Ah, young love," Damerell said, with only a hint of mockery.
"You've been good friends," Zacharias began.
Damerell waved him off and Rollo blustered, "Here now, Wythe, you're not going into battle." He paused, as if considering that. "Well, she's a dangerous chit, no doubt, but she likes you, and you like her. It might not be a comfortable match but it's a friendly one."
"Indubitably," Damerell said drolly.
"It's a love match," Zacharias admitted. He had told Prunella as much when he'd offered for her, but he hadn't told anyone else. He hadn't thought he needed to, frankly. His feelings were so enormous that he believed they could be seen from China. (He hadn't asked Mr. Hsiang to test this hypothesis, however.)
"There you go," Rollo said. "You'll do fine."
The church soon grew full, and Rollo and Damerell ushered them to their seats with good cheer. There had been some confusion about whether members of the Thaumaturgical Society should be seated on the bride's side or the groom's, but Rollo and Damerell divvied them up as equally as possible so both sides of the aisle were well-stocked with guests, both magical and mortal.
Zacharias was checking his jacket pocket once again to make sure the ring was still there when there was a great commotion out in front of the cathedral. Zacharias didn't have to see it to imagine it: Prunella arriving in her carriage, a landau rather than a barouche, with the hood drawn back so passersby could see her riding in all her wedding finery, drawn by a simurgh and a unicorn. Lady Wythe was likely sitting next to her, eyes already bright with tears.
Afterward, Zacharias could never remember the ceremony. He could see Prunella facing him in her cream silk gown with the gold net overskirt, and he could smell the crown of white roses in her dark hair, but the only moment he recalled was the joyous look on her face when she said, "I do," and he slid the ring--gold, with a square-cut ruby surrounded by diamond bagatelles--onto her finger. The ensuing kiss left them both breathless and Zacharias felt a twinge of annoyance that they had to yet entertain guests at the wedding breakfast rather than taking off at once for the country.
The wedding breakfast was in full swing when the doors to the ballroom were flung open and Mak Genggang appeared. She was attired in a stunning gown of amber bedecked with glittering crystals and sequins, and a cinnamon colored scarf covered her grey hair.
His new wife, entirely unconscious of her dignity, rushed across the floor to greet her with a shriek and a hug. "You made it!"
"I wouldn't have missed it," Mak Genggang replied, pressing something into Prunella's hand. Zacharias hoped it was nothing dangerous or illegal. "The sultana was unable to get away--being a new mother is difficult, but being a lamia mother to a vampire baby is highly dangerous!"
Zacharias looked to Lady Wythe, who murmured, "She's much too dangerous to snub. And she's fond of Prunella in her way."
"I see," Zacharias managed, and then Prunella brought Mak Genggang to him; they both had an expectant air about them. Zacharias rose from his seat and bowed courteously. "A pleasure to see you again, ma'am. Your presence graces our happy day."
Mak Genggang smiled, showing a lot of teeth. "I didn't realize he had such a silver tongue, Prunella. Let's hope he knows how to use it."
Zacharias coughed to cover up his embarrassment and Prunella's laugh rang like bells through the room.
"We will be happy," Prunella declared as if she'd never had a moment of doubt.
Zacharias, overcome, took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. She beamed at him in response.
Mak Genggang looked vaguely amused and nodded. "I believe so." She scanned the room with sharp eyes. "Now I must eat. I hope the company will not be boring."
"I'm sure it won't," Zacharias said, but she was already making her way towards an empty seat on the other side of Lady Wythe. He turned to his new bride. "I hope our marriage won't be boring either."
"How could it be?" Prunella asked with a wicked grin that outshone even the gems he had put on her finger. "You are married to me!"