Dryden and Sylvie - Chapter Seven

On 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 shades.

Millerna 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.

'How are you?' she asked. 'Are you taking care of yourself?'

'I'm managing pretty well,' he said, 'and you?'

'I'm fine,' she said impulsively, 'I'm wonderful!' Her hands were clasped together under her chin; she looked like a child thinking of her birthday cake.

'Business 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 that somehow?'

'I'm 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.'

Dryden sat down. He thought he knew what was coming and he did not feel like standing to hear it.

'How would you feel about a divorce?'

Dryden 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 ... if you still want to be married to me…'

'No, 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.'

Millerna looked puzzled. 'Really? That's how you feel about it?'

'I 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 forever.'

'Thank 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 else completely.

'Well,' he murmured into the honey-silk of her hair, 'give my congratulations to Allen, won't you?'

'Allen?' Millerna raised her head and looked at him in surprise. 'Goodness, it's got nothing to do with Allen.'

'But ... 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 marry him!'

'I 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 charity.

'Then 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 of love.

He 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 bench.

'I don't see what's so funny,' Millerna said, affronted. 'All right, he's a little bit older than me…'

'He's fifty if he's a day!'

'He's forty! And I suppose he's not conventionally good-looking…'

'I can't argue with you there ... and you know how I love arguing.'

'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.'

'Mole! What happened to the Mister? When in the world did this happen?'

'It 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.

'Forgive 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 Mole.'


'You want to make him your King when you're Queen.'


'You 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?'

'Dryden!' She swatted at his arm, not really offended. 'That's none of your business.'

'I suppose it isn't, any more. Good grief. Hey, have you told your father yet?'

'I'm 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.'

'Well, good luck! So you haven't told Allen either?'

'N-o…' She looked a little guilty about that.

'Can I tell him?'


'Can I be in the room and watch when you tell him?'


'Can I wait outside the room when you tell him and when he comes out I'll just wiggle my eyebrows significantly like this?'

'Don't be horrible!' she giggled. 'You mustn't torment him, the poor boy.'

'All 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… no… what he's got that I haven't is you. So he's very much blessed.'

'Thank you,' Millerna said softly. 'Will you come to our wedding? I would be so happy to see you there.'

'I'd consider it an honour. May I bring a guest?'

'You 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.'

'Moley!' Dryden burst out laughing again.


The 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 promises.

It 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.

'I 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.

'I think she sees that he loves her,' he said. 'Cheer up. Have a cigar.'

'Love,' 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.'

'That 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.

'Huh,' 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.

'Yes indeed,' Dryden said jovially. 'Why, look over there, there's your sister dancing with young Van Fanel, and they both look very cheerful.'

'What? 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.

'But 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.

'Oh, 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.

'Hello, 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?'

'Oh, I hardly know what to say,' he went on, in a slightly too high-pitched Eries-voice. 'Except perhaps yes please, and be gentle.'

'Are 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 hair.

'Me? Mean? Never! I'm just nudging a slightly used knight in the direction of one careful lady owner. Are you enjoying yourself?'

'M-hm,' 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?'

'Yep,' 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 combinations?'

'Well, 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.'

'Oh yes?' Dryden arched an eyebrow. 'Do you have an example to back up that assertion?'

'Of course. You and me. It had narrative inevitability stamped all over it, I'm afraid.'

'I wish someone would've told me that,' Dryden said. 'I could have saved everyone a lot of time and trouble.'

'Never 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 music.

'Do you want one of these?' Dryden asked thoughtfully, waving the hand that held his cigar in the general direction of everything.

'What, a cigar? Of course not. You may breathe in all the noxious vapours you like but I'm keeping my lungs pink and pretty.'

'No, I mean a wedding.' He looked as close to serious as he ever did these days. 'Would that make you happy?'

'I 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.'

'So you would like a party? Just a Dryden-and-Sylvie-love-each-other party?'

'I think so. On the beach, so my family can come too. We'll invite everyone.'

'Do you think that's wise? I can imagine my father asking your father "How much for the little girls?"'

'I can imagine my mother beaning your father with an abalone.'

'Yeah, 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.'

'I love how you can take a hint if it's hammered right up your nose.'

'You're a very cheeky little sausage, you know that?'

The 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 the hand.

'Oh 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?'

'Haven't you ever heard of tears of joy?' her dear Mole asked.


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