The Cursed Kingdom

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TWENTY-FIVE

~ SET IN STONE ~

There must've been something in the road, such as a stone or a thick branch that could have fallen during the storm the night before, because suddenly the peace of the carriage ride that had been putting me to sleep was disturbed by the vehicle violently jerking upwards.

A small, surprised sound arose from my chest as my bum slammed back down onto the seat, which I perceived to always be soft and comfortable but apparently was completely useless in providing efficient cushioning for that sort of ordeal. My whole spine felt as if it'd been pushed up into my skull and a dull ache sparked along my tailbone, causing me to wince.

"Sorry!" the driver called from the front, the second time he'd done so since we departed from the palace over half an hour ago.

I held no frustration towards him though since I was well aware he had no control over the conditions of the roads. By the way Henrik appeared, leaned back in his seat and relaxed as if the carriage flying in the air for a split second never happened, I could tell he thought the same. Honestly, it was quite embarrassing how calm he was compared to myself nearly having a heart attack and shrieking like a four year old girl who'd just spotted a spider.

From what I could tell from the restricted view from the small window, this road was much bumpier and narrower than the one from our last excursion and it didn't seem like much of a road at all. It looked ancient, with cracks everywhere and a lighter, worn out hue and the vegetation around it looking overgrown as if no one had trimmed it for months.

As I cranked my neck to look upwards towards the trees, I noticed little buds already appearing on some of the trees' branches and I couldn't wait until they finally turned into vibrant green leaves.

The distinct sound of a page being flipped over turned my attention over to Henrik, who still reeked of coffee from his breakfast that morning. He always limited himself to drinking it once a week, claiming he loved the taste but hated the effects of the caffeine, and I was glad for it because the drink's pungent scent was strong enough to stain his clothes and hair and I would've hated for our bed to smell of it too. It's not like it was a bad scent but I much preferred Henrik's natural one mixed with the small hint of cologne he dabbed on every morning.

I'd been desperately trying to get him to like tea more, starting with a few simple earl grey blends, and he'd drink it all if I gave it to him but I knew it didn't satisfy him nearly as much as coffee did. However, he and I both knew I was too stubborn to give up that easily and it'd become a new mission of mine to make him fancy tea one day and see him savor it as much as I did.

Henrik hummed at something and narrowed his eyes, seeming to be confused by whatever it was that he was reading from the oversized binder in his lap. By the angle he was propping it at, I couldn't see what was written inside and he only moved it back more when he saw me trying to lift my head to catch a glimpse.

I glowered at him and lowered myself back into the seat until I was comfortable. He'd been staring at it all morning, flipping its pages as softly as he could as if they were made from butterfly wings but at the same time clutching it firmly like it held the map to a hidden fortune.

"You do realize that it typically takes months for a couple to plan their wedding, right?" I asked teasingly, desperate to start a conversation in the midst of the silence that'd been dragged out for far too long, and lifted a brow. It was something I did a lot more often ever since I began spending more time with Henrik, the action slowly becoming as habitual as my fiddling fingers.

Henrik looked up at me over the rims of his glasses, a smirk forming on his lips. "Well, then I suppose this proves my fantastic ability at getting things done quicker than any male ever could," Henrik said, shutting his precious binder so quick that the pages smacked together and I nearly jumped from the sudden sharp noise.

When closed, the black binder was as thick as his forearm and its unorganized appearance, with corners of papers sticking out in different places, gave me a headache but throughout the small journey, he seemed to have no trouble finding whatever he needed. Henrik quickly disposed of his glasses into his chest pocket and gave a sigh through his nose, looking at me in a way I couldn't assess.

I hummed, overdramatizing the purse of my lips and the narrowing of my eyes. "Or you're just horribly impatient," I replied simply, leaning back with my arms crossed across my chest.

Because I made the wise decision to wear trousers that day, I was allowed the opportunity to sit in a way my mother would've smacked me over the head for, my legs spread out and my posture horrendous. Henrik didn't seem to mind. In fact, he seemed to like that I had one leg sandwiched between his with the other on the outside with both of our feet touching, especially since it gave him more freedom to move about. I felt comfortable. I think we both did.

Henrik chuckled and leaned over to take my left hand in his grasp, bringing it up to place a chaste kiss on my engagement ring. Touching my hands, whether it be with his own or his lips, seemed to be his new favorite activity. I teased him once that he only wanted to mate with me because of them and he had given me one of his rare eye rolls before going back to his dinner, muttering under his breath.

"That, my female, is also a valid point," he stated. He didn't let go of my hand, instead held it loosely as he rested both his elbows on his knees. His dress shirt sleeves were rolled up and revealed the parallel scars along his wrists paired with a few others scattered here and there that I enjoyed idly tracing when we both went to bed for the night, equivalent to when I person counts in their head to fall asleep quicker. "I do hope you like it," Henrik said after a few beats of silence, his tone suddenly growing serious. His unfocused eyes looked slightly off to the side, almost seeming to look behind me as his thoughts drifted to somewhere outside of the carriage. "I understand, however, if you don't."

Henrik had vaguely mentioned to me the day after our engagement that he thought he had already found a location he believed to be perfect to host a wedding in. Now, a little over a week later with me asking me for more details and him denying me the privilege, we were finally heading there in person so that I could approve it.

Callie had let it slip, after she and Ingrid finished giving their congratulations about our engagement, that Henrik had been doing research on human courtship and weddings ever since the moment we made our agreement. He at one point even had Ingrid and Jerium explain to him what the difference was between an engagement ring and a wedding band.

Apparently that ridiculously massive binder held all his months of research on weddings and not even Callie had been able to look inside it, Henrik nearly biting her hand off when she tried to—at least, that's what she'd told me. But, although Henrik had pissed on me and never went a day without growling like a dog, the thought of him trying to bite one of his cousin's limbs seemed like an exaggeration. It made Ingrid and I laugh nonetheless.

"Henrik, I used to sleep on hay. It's not that difficult to please me, I assure you," I said in a soft voice, my mind thinking back to how uncomfortable my sleeping arrangements had been as a child. It'd been so normal for me back then, as normal as breathing, that I'd never given it a thought until Henrik introduced me to a real mattress with silk sheets. Now, as selfish as it sounded, I couldn't picture myself ever being able to fall asleep in such a state ever again—shivering, my back aching, and my stomach so empty that it hurt—and felt empathy for those who still had to endure such misfortune.

As much as I admired him, I knew people like Henrik, a king forever surrounded by luxury, would never understand what people like me underwent. So I swore to myself that whenever I made it back to the Humanlands, I would do everything in my power to ensure that word got to the Human King, even if I had to do it myself. It was a crazy idea, I knew. But my stubbornness wouldn't allow me to let it go. Not without a hint of fight at least.

Henrik brought my hand up to his lips, this time to kiss my pulse, and chuckled, his hot breath fanning against the sensitive skin and causing goosebumps to rise on my arms. "And that is exactly why I enjoy giving you things," he told me and gently encouraged me to move my hand closer to him, my sitting position now reflecting his and our heads only a few inches apart, so he could trace the lines on my palm, another action he seemed to be unable to stop doing. He was especially fascinated by the line that ran vertically down the center of my palm. "I hope to pamper you until you become so used to it that you don't thank me and instead expect it from me."

I furrowed my eyebrows, looking up at him through my eyelashes to see he was completely entranced by my hand. "That's an odd thing to desire," I said with a breathy, forced laugh, which was my solution for not knowing how to respond.

"But why shouldn't you expect it from me?" he asked, tilting his head. He stopped his tracing to look up at me. "I'm your mate. Thanking me for treating you well and giving you things is like thanking a lightbulb for giving light or... or a book for having words. It's my purpose. If I didn't do it, what would I be?"

I shook my head, scoffing to myself, my head not being able to process his words. "You would be a king," I reminded him, watching him smile as if he had forgotten. When he grinned like that, so lazily and boyish, he looked like a normal handsome twenty year old, not a king who'd ruled for over two centuries or been subjected to so many scars both physically and mentally. "Henrik," I scolded, my heart feeling heavy, "your first purpose should always be taking care of your people. I can come second on your list but only because I know you'd fight with me if I tried to be any lower."

Slowly but surely, I felt guilt creep it's slimy and heavy body into my abdomen as I sat in that carriage, surrounded by gold, and wearing my new fashionable clothes and jewelry. And there he was across from me, so completely trusting, which I knew couldn't have been easy for him, and I still my thoughts drifted towards my escape at least once a day, longing to taste human delicacies and see the place I'd grown up. It was like a punch to the gut to feel like I was using him and I prayed to all divine things above to make my heart and my mind come to an agreement of what they wanted.

Henrik's smile broadened leisurely, almost as if he didn't mean to but his muscles couldn't help themselves in completing the act, equivalent to how a leg jolts when a doctor taps the knee with a rubber mallet. "And that's why you will make a fantastic queen," he said proudly. "You're selfless."

I looked down, my throat feeling like it was full of drying cement. Suddenly the engagement ring that was so light felt like it was weighing my whole body down and threatening to break the floor underneath me. Although the idea of marrying Henrik no longer made me anxious, after weeks of pondering I still couldn't grasp the thought of me, a weak peasant girl from the North, becoming a monarch of one of the most feared kingdoms in Trellomar. I would've considered myself crazy if I could grasp it.

Being queen, I knew, wouldn't be like in the tales where all they did was wear a new dress and set of jewelry everyday. No. Being the Queen of the Cursed Kingdom meant I would be the protector and caregiver of an entire nation of beings who could tear me apart in an instant and yet still depended on me to do good by them. It meant that if I failed or did something wrong, entire families would fail along with me—children, even. And that terrified me, my mind drifting off to people like Destry or the young servant girl with vitiligo. The thought of just them, both so innocent and young, suffering because of my wrongdoings made my heart clench.

Me? A queen? Had anyone told me this when I was younger, I would've laughed until my lungs burst. The image of me wearing a crown and standing in front of a group of people—leading a group of people—seemed absolutely ridiculous. After all, who would ever listen to me? No one, the voice in my head answered and I knew she was right. No one would ever bow to me.

I felt the carriage begin to come to a halt, the soft rumbling of the wheels slowly ceasing, and I still kept facing forward in a sort of daze, my vision becoming blurry because it'd been such a long time since I'd blinked. But I just could not get that thought out of my head—Queen. The word had never seemed so powerful to me before, so beautiful and ugly all at the same time, a title too complex for someone like me and surely I wasn't the only one who—

"Raena."

I looked over, startled when I saw the opened doorway and the male standing inside it, the sun behind him causing a shadow to rest on his face and make him almost look like one himself. I'd been so consumed with thought, I hadn't even felt the vehicle's usual rocking movement when Henrik had stepped out.

Perhaps quirking his left eyebrow wasn't the only habit that he'd rubbed off onto me, but also his horrible tendency to get lost in his thoughts. There were times when I'd have a whole conversation with him and he'd be sitting there, giving me the impression he was listening, until I asked a question and he looked surprised I was even in the room. It was quite irksome, actually, but when I think back on it, I laugh.

I was quick to brush off my surprise, blinking a couple times until the stinging dryness left my eyes, and took his hand so he could assist me down onto solid ground.

The bald driver nodded at me and softly shut the door before rounding back around to the front. I could hear him say some words of endearment to the horse and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him pull something out of his pocket and feed it to the creature, whose crunching was loud even in my human ears. It was so sweet that I scolded myself for having yet to learn the driver's name, demanding I learn it before the end of the day.

Hands clasped behind his stiff back, shoulders rolled so far back I knew was comfortable, and head held high, Henrik appeared almost half a foot taller than his typical three heads above me. He stood directly in front of me, his tall frame towering over and around me so I could only see the tallest, triangular point of the building that I knew stood right behind him. The nine day's worth of pent up suspense was killing me, so I tried to peek around him and gave him a look that communicated my impatience when he swiftly stepped his body to the side to block my view with a knowing smirk.

"Hey," I hissed at his childish antics and tried again only to be met with the same outcome.

"I meant it when I said you aren't obligated to like it," Henrik repeated, taking my hands in his to keep me from moving. I huffed, trying to suppress my grin when I knew he was trying to be serious. But I couldn't help but find his worry amusing. He was a king who'd denied a goddess and waged hundred of wars and there he was looking as if he was an ant and I, a mere human, was the shoe looming above him. "Just one word and we can find another arrangement."

I nodded and, with that, he finally stepped aside, allowing me to see what stood above him and I gasped, my eyes trailing over the massive structure. The whole building—no, temple—was made of white stone that'd been fashioned into perfect rectangles that were stacked on top of one another between layers of mortar, something I knew must've taken years to accomplish. Made up of eight circular pillars, a colonnade stood at the front and beyond that were arching doorways and two levels of windows. The architecture as a whole looked absolutely ancient, like something I'd seen sketched in one of my history books from school. Surrounding it on all sides were neatly trimmed bushes with fresh soil at their bases, meaning they must've been planted recently.

"It was the closest human temple I could find in the kingdom," Henrik explained, his voice sounding calm and collected. Perhaps it was the mate bond or because I'd gotten to know him so much better over the few months, but I had the undeniable inkling that his calm exterior was the mask of a sheepish male. The image of him on his knees filled my mind again, the way the pink flush appeared on his cheeks and how it only seemed to brighten when I agreed to marry him. It certainly made it hard to think of him as the Cursed King, the feared monster that had slaughtered entire armies with his bare teeth and claws. I didn't want to anyway. "It was built a couple centuries ago around when the Human Kingdom first invaded our lands and was abandoned after the war. I began rebuilding it after you and I came to our little agreement." I was speechless, my eyes glued to the structure. "C'mon, let's head inside."

He wrapped his arm around my lower back and began leading us towards the gigantic structure, my body naturally leaning into his comforting body heat. I marveled the steps as we ascended them, which seemed to be made from the same material as the rest of the building. My neck hurt from looking up so much by the time we made it underneath the portico, my eyes scanning the detailed designs carved into the stone above.

The two guards at the entrance bowed and pushed open the large double doors for us, revealing the inside. I couldn't believe my eyes. Matching its outside, it had a white ceiling, walls, and floors that complemented the marble statues of half naked gods and goddesses standing between the columns that held up the ceiling.

All of the sixteen four feet tall statues stood on short emerald pillars and seemed to glow from the daylight sleeping through the windows behind them. They all held their chins up and faced the pews, a sign of their power and also a way to symbolize how they were watching over everyone in this place of worship. There were hints of which god and goddess was which on every single one.

Rhyne, the god of the seas, held a trident in one hand and a conch shell in the other.

Heila, the goddess of healing, medicine, and the mother of all Healers, had a dove perched on her shoulder and a bowl in her outstretched hands, as if she was silently offering to whoever needed it.

The god of magic and Mages, Mirro, was depicted with a snake wrapped around the staff—or some people called it a wand—in his hand while his other arm was completely hidden behind a cloak, supposedly representing the unknown.

Even for a person not greatly rooted by religion, I could easily identify all of them until finally my eyes looked directly to my right and paused, noticing the goddess that wore a tiara-like headpiece with a crescent moon shape in the center, a thorn-riddled rose in one hand, and her other holding up the number three with her palm facing towards me. Lucine, the Moon Goddess.

I was surprised Henrik had allowed his workers to give her statue any attention at all and I probably would've preferred it if they hadn't. Her white eyes made an unwelcome shudder run down my spine and I knew it was just my paranoid mind, but I could've sworn I saw her blink.

I turned my attention to the front of the temple and to the altar where behind it stood a statue of Zuerstelle herself, the mother of the universes and all the gods and goddesses. She was shown wearing a veil over her head and covering half her face so only her white, stone eyes were visible. Her arms stretched out wide, the rest of her was clad in a flowing gown.

She'd been nicknamed Zuerstelle by a monk in a time before numbers existed, her real name having been lost long before then. Legend had it that if any physical creature, whether mortal or immortal, spoke her real name, they would disintegrate into ashes just from the holiness of it leaving their tongues. It was deemed as a sin to even try replicating her, hence why her statue and face were covered.

"Woah..." I breathed out without meaning to say anything at all, not being able to tear my eyes away from Zuerstelle. I could remember the old statue from the temple I'd gone to as a child, with cracks and smudges all over its cheaply stained glass. A fear and belief of mine growing up had been that the great goddess herself was trapped in the two foot tall statue and I was terrified to worship in front of it, scared its chipped blue eyes could see every single wrongdoing I'd ever done.

"Exactly my thought!" Echoed a familiar voice from the corner, surprising me and causing a smile to appear on my face. Callie walked out and around from a pillar and pointed upward at the wall behind Zuerstelle, where long metallic rods appeared to be attached to it. "Look! It even has a pipe organ!"

By the time she was done speaking, two males had walked out from the same dark corner beside the alar that she had come from. Jerium looked just as awed by the place as me, staring up at the cravings on the ceiling, and the male I'd never seen before shook his head subtly down at the floor that was so shiny I could see my reflection in it.

"What do you think of it?" Henrik asked, his eyes looking around and scanning the structure's interior. He gave a single pleased nod, his lips pursed in deep thought as if he wouldn't let himself begin to think anything positive about the place until I shared my opinion. His determination to remain impassive I thought was ridiculous. Even a blind person would've been awed by the temple's majesty.

"It's gorgeous," I told him, my whole heart swelling to a point where I was sure it was considered unhealthy.

"Good. We'll have our wedding here then." He smiled, his eyes brightening as he finally let himself enjoy the moment. The sight had the butterflies in my stomach fluttering and I leaned in closer to him, practically now hugging his arm which flexed under my grasp. He leaned down and said softly, "I have someone I want you to meet." He was so close I could feel his lips brushing against my temple, which had me shivering and my face growing hot all at once.

Henrik, my arm still threaded through his, slowly led me down the aisle, my free hand skimming over the curved armrests of the polished wooden pews. Everything about this place was perfect. It even smelled nice, a sort of sweetness that reminded me of a mix of incense and an elderly lady's perfume.

As we made it closer to the front, my eyes trailed over the giant statue of Zuerstelle once more, admiring the details of her nails and the lines on her fingers. Then they cast downwards and towards the male I'd seen with Jerium and Callie but this time he was alone, the duo having walked away to admire the temple themselves and all it had to offer.

"Raena, this is Baron Dario. Dario, this your future queen, Raena," Henrik introduced us.

The male, who was perhaps the oldest looking Lycan I'd ever seen, gave a silent nod. His skin was practically grey and his eyes were such a white yellow they almost looked beige. It was a strange sight to see and I wondered just how old this male must've been for his magic to be running out to where he was physically aging. Either that, or the magic in his bloodline must've been very little to none in comparison to his Lycan peers.

"Dario is in charge of planning our wedding as he has planned all the ceremonies for every king and queen for the past few centuries. I've instructed him to come today to confirm we have everything in order for the wedding to be next week. Isn't that right, Dario?" Henrik handed him the binder, watching their hands carefully throughout the exchange.

Next week. Those two words nearly had me fainting but instead I just nodded, thinned lipped and as weak as ever.

Dario nodded. "Nine centuries, twenty-seven winters, and one moon to be exact," he said, his words sounding as heavy and dragged out as the bags under his eyes. Dario, with his quite shaky fingers, opened the book he'd been holding, revealing pages upon pages of scribbled notes in stick-like penmanship that I knew couldn't have been Henrik's. He hummed down at it indifferently, licked his thumb, and then flipped the page to where I could clearly see Henrik's more pleasant penmanship covering it from corner to corner. "So-uh, Madam, would you mind going over exactly what is required in a-uh wedding?" Dario asked, not even looking at me but staring at a word that seemed to have him perplexed.

Henrik lifted his head and nodded encouragingly, making my face heat up since my initial reaction was to decline. By the size of that binder, I was sure they were making the whole process a lot more complicated than it needed to be already.

"Okay..." I trailed off awkwardly once I realized I was outnumbered, looking around. "Well, I'd be wearing a white dress and—"

"Your outfits have already been confirmed. I'm talking about the ceremony itself," Dario said, his words clipped short, as if it was the clearest thing in the world apart from glass.

I licked my lips, feeling my apprehension morph into annoyance at his rude behavior. Henrik, I knew, sensed this. His tense body screamed that it was ready to do whatever it took to make sure my discomfort came to an end.

"Ok, first, I walk down the aisle and there's music playing."

"What kind of music?" the baron asked.

I thought back to it, mulling over imitating the traditional wedding march theme with my mouth but realized the embarrassment that'd come with it wasn't worth it. "I mean, I don't think it matters. Just as long as it's soft and simple—something I can walk to the rhythm of." I could hear Callie giggle at something Jerium said from behind me and I longed to be enjoying this remarkable masterpiece of architecture with them instead of Dario. "And I have a bouquet of white flowers." Dario crossed something off in the binder and Henrik peered over his shoulder, his nose wrinkling at whatever he saw. "And then I make it down the aisle, the music playing, my veil would be lifted...."

As I listed off everything I possibly could think happened at a wedding, I pictured myself doing them, white dress and all, with perfect hair and makeup. In my head, the pews were filled with familiar faces but the ones further away on the second floor were blurry in my mind but still comforting nonetheless, knowing they were there for me. I was smiling and the happiest I'd ever been, sneaking glances and maybe even a couple waves at Tylem, Taylium, Oriana, and my mother who sat in the front row and perhaps would be even happier than me.

The unrealistic vision had me snap back to reality, realising so quickly with a sickening feeling in my gut that neither my friends nor my mother would attend my wedding and they were far from happy. They were dead.

I looked over and was surprised to see Henrik looking at me with a smile. I didn't know whether to be sad or happy and longed greatly for us to be back in the comfort of the palace where we could play backgammon or say or do whatever we wished.

"Well, it seems like the basics are in check," Dario sighed, eyeing his and Henrik's notes with a judgmental glare that had the king's body stiffening as if he'd just remembered the male was there at all. "Now all we need is for that priestess to arrive." There was an awkward pause and then an even more awkward clear of Dario's throat. "So as you know, we plan to incorporate your crowning in your-uh wedding because it's most economical." I couldn't have agreed more with that decision, seeing no point in wasting everyone's time with planning two separate ceremonies when the option of combining them was available. "Which is quite interesting," he began shuffling some more through Henrik's binder, his drawling voice sounding far from interested, "considering that traditionally the crowning of the outside individual take place at the palace and after the mate bond is consummated—"

Henrik growled, the whole room going silent as the infamous sound filled the place of worship and echoed off its walls. My stomach dropped as I stared at his elongated canines and clawed hands, which seemed so brutal to have been holding my hands mere minutes ago. "Is there an issue, Dario?" he sneered, his voice unrecognizable and eyes glowing as he took a step forward, staring down the male who was a good foot shorter than him.

Dario seemed to shrink further towards the ground and shook his head while bowing it to expose his neck. "N-No! Of course not, Your Majesty!" he exclaimed, bringing the binder closer to his chest as if that could protect him. "I was just making a statement to the future queen, of course!"

Henrik didn't look convinced, his nostrils flaring as he released another growl that shook every person and god in that temple.

I jumped slightly, my back going as straight as a ruler, when I felt a sudden small yet firm grip around my wrist. Turning my head over my shoulder, I acknowledged Callie who continued softly tugging at my arm. "Don't worry, Dario," she said to the elderly male, with a thick, cavity-causing sweetness. "I'll teach her all about what to say and do for the crowning while you and Henrik work on his vows," She gave a quick bat of her eyelashes and then pulled me away, Henrik too busy looking over and giving the baron his deadliest glare to spare a glance my way.

As Callie and I walked towards Jerium, who was standing at the end of the aisle and eyeing the statue of Mirro, I could practically feel the heat of Henrik's anger radiating off my back, like tiny licks of flames making me speed up my steps unintentionally.

"I had to get you away from that." Callie leaned down to murmur in my ear and then rolled her eyes, her back straightening into her beautiful posture. "Tension. I just hate tension."

As the last word left her lips, I could hear Henrik's gravely whispers with a few high pitched replies—no, begs—from Dario in between, the sounds lightly echoing off the chapel walls. It was like listening to a mouse having a conversation with a cat, so comical that it seemed surreal.

Callie and I looked at each other, heads slowly turning until our eyes finally met. By the upward twitch of her lips, I knew she herself was suppressing a wicked grin just as I was.

When I heard a particularly loud growl from Henrik followed by a squeak from the planner, I gave the most unladylike snort of the century through my nose and that was it—We both burst into fits of laughter, our heaving chests aching by the time we were standing beside a bewildered looking Jerium, his wide eyes a silent question.

"Gods, did you two burn some mushrooms before this?" Jerium teased and that just made me cackle harder, my body feeling as if it was addicted to the sensation of it. Gods, it felt good to laugh, to hear the joyous sound echo off the marble walls and reverberate it back to us. It elicited a soothing feeling equivalent to stepping in a pool of water after standing in the blazing sun all day, making my whole body relax and feel... at peace.

"No," Callie said quite wheezingly, the first time I'd ever seen a Lycan come close to being out of breath. I wiped tears from my eyes, thanking myself internally for not ever getting in the habit of wearing mascara everyday. "But I think we may need a new Master of Ceremonies."


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