Sylvie - Chapter Seven
a grey-brown autumn day, Dryden Fassa waited to see
his wife. He waited where he had been directed to
do so, seated on a curved stone bench that hugged
what appeared to be the trunk of a tree, a tree
composed of grapevines trained around a central
cylindrical frame. It was past the time for grapes
now; they had long since been palate-cleansers for
princesses. The light from the sky was flat and
diffuse, with the sun invisible behind grubby white
clouds. Dryden did not really need his dark
glasses, and there was no reading matter handy, so
he played with his spectacles in his hands, opening
and shutting the hinges of the arms and
kept him waiting for about ten minutes before she
eventually arrived, radiantly pretty even in that
sallow light. There were narrow pink ribbons
threaded through the eyelets of her lace collar and
cuffs, and her lips were like delicate coral.
Dryden rose and kissed her once, on her left cheek,
entering for a moment her little cloud of perfume
and soft powder-scent, then retreating from her
balmy atmosphere to cold outer space. It did not
hurt him too much to do so; the pain was only like
the faint ache in his back that sometimes reminded
him of his wedding day.
are you?' she asked. 'Are you taking care of
managing pretty well,' he said, 'and
fine,' she said impulsively, 'I'm wonderful!' Her
hands were clasped together under her chin; she
looked like a child thinking of her birthday
is good,' Dryden volunteered. 'It was a good idea
to invest in timber, with all this rebuilding going
on. Far be it from me to profit from the
misfortunes of others, but isn't all profit like
sorry to have kept you when you're busy,' she said.
'I'd better come right to the point. Please don't
be upset by what I have to say.'
sat down. He thought he knew what was coming and he
did not feel like standing to hear it.
would you feel about a divorce?'
let his breath out gradually. That had not been too
bad. Not nearly as bad as he had been expecting.
'Does it need to be a divorce?'
... if you still want to be married to
I mean surely we could have an annulment? For
non-consummation of marriage? You'd be properly
free then, with a clean slate. You never really
were my wife, not any really true sense. Your heart
wasn't in it. You shouldn't have to carry it around
with you in name.'
looked puzzled. 'Really? That's how you feel about
want you to be happy. You're a wonderful woman. You
deserve a free choice. I could give you many
things, but I think that's all you really want, and
so I give it with all my heart. And if I'm to be
one hundred percent honest, I'd appreciate being
given my freedom too. This contract was a bad idea
from the beginning, for all our good intentions ...
we've had plenty of signs of that. The fates
weren't exactly subtle about it. That doesn't mean
I'm not sad. But I can feel now that I won't be sad
you, Dryden. Thank you.' Millerna put her arms
around his neck and hugged him tightly. It was the
most open and genuine embrace he had ever had from
her, and it was bittersweet for him to hold her and
know that she would soon give herself to someone
he murmured into the honey-silk of her hair, 'give
my congratulations to Allen, won't you?'
Millerna raised her head and looked at him in
surprise. 'Goodness, it's got nothing to do with
... but then why did you want a divorce? I thought
it was so you'd be free to marry him. I thought I
was being pretty bloody magnanimous, letting you
do want to get married, but not to Allen.
I've gotten to know him a good deal better, and
really ... well, I just ask myself, what was I
thinking? He's a lovely person, of course he is,
but living with him ... I can't imagine it! And
besides, there's his sister ... I do feel sorry for
her, and she seems quite nice, but he'd bring her
wherever he went and I'm not sure I could manage
living with her too. He dotes on her so much I
would have the feeling I always came second.'
Millerna tucked a wisp of hair back behind one ear,
looking a little ashamed at her lack of
who do you want to marry?' Dryden was mentally
running through a list of all the men Millerna
could possibly be speaking of, and kept drawing a
total blank. Millerna told him, her lips opening in
a perfect circle, as though blowing a little bubble
laughed so hard that he had to bend double and gasp
to get his breath back, wiping at his eyes with the
heel of his hand, close to losing his seat on the
don't see what's so funny,' Millerna said,
affronted. 'All right, he's a little bit older than
fifty if he's a day!'
forty! And I suppose he's not conventionally
can't argue with you there ... and you know how I
might have known you'd be silly about all this,'
she said, folding her arms in a huff. 'I love my
Mole and I'm going to marry him, whatever you say,
whatever Father says.'
What happened to the Mister? When in the world did
just ... I don't ... well, after everything that
happened, and you had gone away, and Father wasn't
well, and Eries was depending on me a lot, and he
was just so kind, and always there, and we talked
about simply everything and I felt as though I'd
known him forever and it just came to me ... here's
the right one, all unexpected. I was looking for a
jewel, and I'd only been looking at polished stones
... I never realised that my jewel could be a
diamond in the rough.' The conviction in Millerna's
voice was total, and her tone alone spoke volumes.
She glowed with happiness. Dryden had never seen
her look like this, and the pleasure of seeing it
outweighed the chilly knowledge that he had not
been the one to make her shine.
me for laughing. I wish you every happiness, I
honestly do. I just ... you can't blame me if I
can't believe it at first ... do I really
understand you aright? You want to marry Mr
want to make him your King when you're
want, and forgive me again if this sounds prurient,
but you really and truly want, every night of your
life, to sleep with Mr Mole?'
She swatted at his arm, not really offended.
'That's none of your business.'
suppose it isn't, any more. Good grief. Hey, have
you told your father yet?'
telling him tonight. I decided to tell you first
because I thought you would be the most upsetting
and I wanted to get it over with, but it's gone
much better than I thought, and I'm hoping that's
an omen for the rest.'
good luck! So you haven't told Allen
She looked a little guilty about that.
I tell him?'
I be in the room and watch when you tell
I wait outside the room when you tell him and when
he comes out I'll just wiggle my eyebrows
significantly like this?'
be horrible!' she giggled. 'You mustn't torment
him, the poor boy.'
right, I'll be good. I'll even be nice to him, out
of solidarity. The fraternity of the dumped.'
Dryden shook his head in wonder. 'Mr Mole. Who'd
ever have thought it? I'd ask what he's got that I
haven't, except I suspect the answer is about fifty
pounds of fat. Or
what he's got that
I haven't is you. So he's very much
you,' Millerna said softly. 'Will you come to our
wedding? I would be so happy to see you
consider it an honour. May I bring a
can bring as many as you want,' she said, grandly.
'This wedding is going to be entirely under my
control and of my choosing. I'll never make a Queen
if I just sit round letting people tell me how I
should do things, will I? That's one thing I love
about Moley. He tells me to do what I think is
right, and trust my own judgement.'
Dryden burst out laughing again.
wedding did not take place until Spring, because
Millerna wanted to be married in a field of
flowers, and what Millerna wanted these days,
Millerna got. Great white marquees were erected in
a meadowy valley in the Floresta Mountains and the
champagne bottles were set to cool in a little
stream running sharp with the last icemelt. King
Aston was brought up in a sedan-chair, waxy and
goiterous and grudging, but unable to change his
daughter's mind by either threats or
was generally agreed that the bride looked
absolutely blooming, and her loveliness seemed to
somehow reflect off even her new husband's homely
features, ennobled, at any rate, by immense, gently
proud contentment and love. It would be hard to
imagine a couple more physically mismatched, yet
harder still to imagine a couple who looked more
right together. Their mutual devotion was evident
in every look, every touch.
can't think what she sees in the fat little toad,'
said Allen Schezar, who had had perhaps slightly
too much of the reception champagne. Fortunately,
he was not exactly drunk, only sufficiently
lubricated to forget he was a gentleman on a
low-key verbal level. He was not about to make any
real trouble. Dryden had taken it upon himself to
be his minder, out of the goodness of his heart. He
certainly wasn't gloating at all.
think she sees that he loves her,' he said. 'Cheer
up. Have a cigar.'
said Allen bitterly. 'Huh.' That seemed to be all
he was going to say for a while, but as Dryden was
opening his mouth to make a suggestion he started
up again. 'I'm right off love, let me tell you.
Women? Huh. Off them too. Forever. I'm going to
eschew their company so totally people'll start
rumours about me and Gadeth.'
hardly seems fair to Gadeth,' Dryden said mildly.
Allen's second-in-command clearly fancied his
chances with one of the young women tending the
buffet tables and carrying trays of drinks among
the guests, and was basically doing her job for her
to have an excuse to follow her around.
said Allen again. 'He thinks he's enjoying himself.
They all think they're enjoying themselves. Fools.'
He looked vaguely at the cigar Dryden was offering
him and swatted it away irritably.
indeed,' Dryden said jovially. 'Why, look over
there, there's your sister dancing with young Van
Fanel, and they both look very
With who? How dare he!' Allen looked around a
little wildly for Van and Celena, whose somewhat
erratic waltz, owing to neither of them really
knowing the dance but having a lot of fun making it
up as they went along, had just taken them into the
lee of a very statuesque duchess who masked them
totally from view.
over there,' Dryden went on, pointing with
the lit end of his cigar, 'is Princess Eries, not
dancing with anyone and not looking very cheerful
at all.' They both had a clear line of sight to
where Eries sat, in her garland of buttercups and
dog-roses and her dress of pink and yellow silk,
which didn't really suit her and probably would not
have suited her ten years ago. Some girls are pink
girls, and some girls aren't. Eries was definitely
on the aren't side.
well, we can't have that,' Allen said at
once. 'She won't be a wallflower while I live and
breathe.' He pulled himself together with startling
alacrity, as though he only had to decide to stop
being drunk and it would be so, and strode over to
make the lonely princess a very charming bow.
Dryden watched them, filling in the conversation
which he couldn't hear, thanks to the valiant
efforts of the band.
Eries-hime!' he said, in a very smooth and dapper
Allen-voice. 'By process of elimination, I have
selected you to be the next recipient of my
attention! Don't you feel special?'
I hardly know what to say,' he went on, in a
slightly too high-pitched Eries-voice. 'Except
perhaps yes please, and be gentle.'
you being mean?' a voice said at his shoulder,
while a hand slipped into his own and long, slender
fingers interlocked with his. He turned and found
Sylvie smiling up at him, with a daisy-chain in her
Mean? Never! I'm just nudging a slightly used
knight in the direction of one careful lady owner.
Are you enjoying yourself?'
she replied, leaning her head on his shoulder as
they watched the dancers. 'Now, let me get this
straight. She' ... pointing to Celena ... 'used to
be someone who burnt his kingdom to the
ground, and he killed all that person's
followers and drove him mad, and now they're
dancing, and he just made a rather clumsy attempt
to dip her?'
said Dryden contentedly. 'I don't pretend to
understand it, but I think it's nice as anything.
Don't people come together in funny
I think you'll have to agree with me now that
Millerna's got very funny taste indeed. But I don't
know,' said Sylvie. 'I think sometimes it's
predictable as anything.'
yes?' Dryden arched an eyebrow. 'Do you have an
example to back up that assertion?'
course. You and me. It had narrative inevitability
stamped all over it, I'm afraid.'
wish someone would've told me that,' Dryden
said. 'I could have saved everyone a lot of time
mind. You saw sense in the end, and that's the main
thing.' Sylvie gently swung their linked hands
backwards and forwards in time with the
you want one of these?' Dryden asked thoughtfully,
waving the hand that held his cigar in the general
direction of everything.
a cigar? Of course not. You may breathe in all the
noxious vapours you like but I'm keeping my
lungs pink and pretty.'
I mean a wedding.' He looked as close to serious as
he ever did these days. 'Would that make you
am happy. I don't see that we need to be married.
My parents aren't married. We don't need that
excuse to throw a party.'
you would like a party? Just a
think so. On the beach, so my family can come too.
We'll invite everyone.'
you think that's wise? I can imagine my father
asking your father "How much for the little
can imagine my mother beaning your father with an
you're right, it'll be fun.' He grinned at her, and
glanced down to their swinging hands. 'I think
you want to be asked to dance.'
love how you can take a hint if it's hammered right
up your nose.'
a very cheeky little sausage, you know
band struck up the old Asturian sea-shanty
Whaling, and the bride planted a kiss on the
crown of her new husband's shiny head, since this
was 'their song.' Children crawled under the buffet
tables and rolled prawn balls on the floor. King
Aston snored through the happy din in his
bath-chair, oblivious to the fact that yet again
Allen Schezar was getting entirely too close to one
of his daughters, although this one had a healthy
dose of skepticism on her side and a tendency to
try to lead when dancing. Outside, the day partly
clouded over, though the sun was not masked, and
rain began to fall, pattering on the fine white
canvas of the marquee. Celena Schezar ran out to
get soaked in the sunshower, dragging Van Fanel by
dear,' said Millerna, glancing up at the ceiling of
the tent. 'Isn't there some old saying that for
every drop of rain that falls on your wedding day,
you'll shed a tear?'
you ever heard of tears of joy?' her dear Mole