I like to think that everyone has a threshold. A certain point we get to and we just say 'no more.' Staring at my wedding gown, at the garishly beautiful monstrosity of white lace, I realise that I have reached my limit. This- I just can't take it. The gown is looking at me and I am looking it. I cannot do this. I cannot walk down the aisle and make promises I won't keep.
I can hear the clamour on the palace grounds. From my windows in the rooms I have been residing in, I can see the palace staff scrambling to set up the outdoor tents in the gardens. On the other side, guests are signing well-wishing books and getting seated in the chapel. Outside my suite, friends and family are toasting to my health and I can't help the spark of rage that fills me.
Maybe I had wanted this once. If anything, it had been expected of me. Beloved of a king, the papers had announced. 'Jarle Leona, Beloved of a king' I whispered to myself night after night. Even on nights when my cheeks stung and my arms were purple with bruises. I was still Leona, lifted from obscurity. Loved by a king.
My mother is in my room directing the flow of activity. She knew I had considered calling off the wedding. That was why she was here, two feet away and smiling smugly. This was as much her wedding as it was mine. Marrying an impoverished lord for the sake of love had been her greatest mistake or so she had said in a moment of drunken clarity. Marrying into the royal family was elevation for her, my sisters and my father. So she was here, on his orders, making sure that I didn't run.
He had asked me to go for a walk with him last night. "Come out of your room, beloved," he'd ordered sweetly. I couldn't refuse him. Why would I? Refusal would add to the latest batch of healing scratches. So I went with him and came back at midnight with cheeks reddened from forces other than cold.
"Leona darling, you look marvelous!" Mother squealed when I was led out of the dressing room and into my suite's reception room. I knew I did not. I had not chosen the dress. He did. Two days locked without food in my room until I accepted his choice. It was the last time I stood up to him.
My hands are shaking and I can see the pity in my father's eyes. I hook my arm in his and prepare for my execution. Neither of us can escape this. Somewhere in him, I know he regrets taking me to the derby. "One last bet on the horses, darling and we'd be made," he'd shouted over the tens of lords calling out bets beside him. I had nodded and looked away from the scene. How unfortunate that my eyes caught the eyes of His Majesty.
Mother knows what we stand to gain from the marriage as does the rest of the family. Elevated titles for the members of our clan, positions as senior members of the court and land. Lots and lots of land. Her inheritance had run out years ago, and only through luck had my sisters and I been able to finish university. "No more being the laughing stock of the court, Leona," she'd cried the night he proposed. "Don't you want to save your sisters from penury?" She'd raged when I said I was turning him down. Her accusation had struck me square in the chest and lodged itself in my conscience. My defense crumbled not too long after. Leona Jarle, hounded by guilt, signed her death certificate with her own hands.
Would you believe it if I told you it was possible to cheat fate? Never slowing, always coming to fruition. Fate. Destiny. Call it what you want. It is possible, you know but only if you're willing to take the risk.
My ears are ringing from the sound and my father is nowhere to be found. Mother has fainted, just as I knew she would. The priest hits the gun out of my hand and guards run up the aisle. Commotion in the chapel as the guests scramble to get out of the way of a murderous bride. Suddenly I can feel it. The pressure in my chest begins to bubble, travelling up my throat and out of my mouth. It is laughter. I am laughing. Oh God, I am laughing. I double over, unable to contain my mirth. I look at him and I cannot believe how stupid he looks with that hole in his chest.
I know what the papers will read tomorrow. Clear print. Bold type. Jarle Leona, Beloved of a king and killer of one.