“My, my, you took your time arriving,” a high-pitched voice tittered through the crowd as we made our way to the loosely forming line.
I saw a figure step aside, facing us rather than the direction the line was heading and recognized the face. Aysu MacKenzie, a newlywed mermaid who was enjoying her full-fledged status as the current leading lady in an offshoot of the Murdock family. Some seven years older than myself, she has held no small amount of disdain towards me for taking her place as the most promising member of our generation. While others have gotten over the jealousy, she seems determined to hold onto it tooth and nail. She has darker features, like my father, and is pretty enough, I suppose. I think the main reason she married Zain is because he fawns over her like she is the most beautiful mermaid of all. He’s easy on the eyes as well, warm brown eyes examining me and mine from his place at her side.
“Perfection takes time,” my mother cooly replied, her tone managing to be both gentle and condescending. It’s always amusing to be the witness rather than the victim to that side of her.
“Why it is always overrated,” Aysu said, a hand patting her slicked hair, her textured hair pulled up to a ponytail where it fell along with several gold and silver strands, complementing her white gown.
“For those who can’t handle the burden, perhaps.”
Mererid Agar, at her finest. I gave Aysu a slight nod of my head, knowing it would irritate her. She was technically higher ranked than myself, both by virtue of birth and marital status. I should have at least dipped into a soft curtsey for her. I would do no such thing, and she knew that. The play smile on her face wilted, and I laughed. That only turned her face into an outright frown, and she turned around, speaking to Zain in hushed tones. Still, she had good taste. He’d caught my eye as well once or twice.
“Back of the line as usual, I see?”
Genuine pleasure filled me as I turned to the side, looking for the source of the deep voice and finding Lord Dai Trefor standing just past what passed for a line. With a little effort, I reminded myself that we were in public. I usually greeted him with a hug or a friendly shock these days. For now, I sketched the perfect curtsey, back straight and gown pooling around my feet. I heard him chuckle under his breath as he extended his hand to lift me back up.
“If only these fine folk knew how well you play the part,” he murmured as he pressed his lips to my hand.
“Then they would continue to love or hate me as they have been doing,” I answered, squeezing my mentor’s hand in my own before letting it drop.
Dai turned away from me to look to my parents, nodding his head at both of them. “Anthony, Mererid. It is good to see you both looking so well.”
“And it is always good to see you, Lord Dai,” Mother said, a curtsey following her words.
Papa extended his hand towards Dai, who clasped it and pulled him into a hug. Dai was one of the few Finfolk my father tolerated…even respected. Dai was one of the few things my parents could agree on. For that, I was immeasurably grateful. The times I could please them both were far and few between, but the day when Dai had agreed to be my mentor was one we had all celebrated and acted like a human family. I only say that since the vast majority of Finfolk marriages were exactly like the one between my parents. A healthy respect was the most one hoped for. But then, there are always exceptions.
“I had a feeling I’d find you all here,” Dai said, letting my father go and looking at us. “Let’s get you inside. Rhys is nervous enough as it is and has been asking about you for the past fifteen minutes. If he bugs me again, I might have to drench him. Then shock him. Then freeze him.”
“Dai!” I cried, smacking his arm lightly.
A few gasps sounded off around us, and I rolled my eyes. Rank be damned, Dai and I were as much friends as we were mentor and mentee at this point. He ignored them and just smirked, mischief in every time-etched line on his face.
“Now, shall we?” He extended an arm towards the door, and I promptly stepped out of line, placing my hand in the crook of his arm so he could properly escort me. My parents trailed behind us, and we all walked past the line of people waiting for their turn to be announced and enter. Just goes to show that who you know is as important as what you know. It’s always nice to have both, though. I know I enjoy it most of the time. We glided past the stares of awe, frustration and apathy, reaching the doormen, who took one look at Dai and held a hand towards the young Finfolk family who was about to enter.
“Now announcing Lord Dai Trefor, accompanied by Terrwyn Agar, followed by her parents, Mererid Agar and Anthony James.”
We nodded to the doorman who had presented us, walking under the grand arch that let us inside the Ceremonial Hall. I took in the decorations with a sweep of the eyes. The walls were draped in the colors of the Gordon clan, blue and gold. Combined with the Casablanca Lillies that sat at every table, which were decorated with strings of pearls and gold wires, the hall did the happy couple justice.
“You certainly took your sweet time showing up.”
My heart lost its step for a moment, although I managed to keep my outward composure as I dropped Dai’s arm and glanced over my shoulder. He was beautiful, as he should be tonight. Deep blue silk shirt, a gold tie and black pants, forgoing a jacket in this mid-summer heat. His hazel eyes shone with all the happiness he felt, and I smiled for him…because of him.
“Told you I’d find her,” Dai said.
“I never doubted you would,” Rhys answered, reaching forward to accept Dai’s hand. “You know her as well as I, I’d say.”
“Then you should know I’m always on time,” I chided playfully. “Of all days, I would not pick today to break that record.”
“I know, I know,” he smiled, walking forward and reaching out to take my hand between his. “Still, I always feel better when you’re around. I’m a nasty knot of nerves tonight, and I can’t seem to shake it.”
“It seems your Consort is fairing much better than you are,” I sighed. “She has quite the task on her hands…”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I gave up trying to hate Marjorie a long time ago. Her voice had a musical quality to it, and I always found myself waiting for her next words. Her dark hair was in loose curls, framing her face and accented with her namesake jewel. Dark brown eyes holding only kohl liner met mine, and I did her the honor of sketching a slight curtsey. When the union was complete, she would outrank me, after all. Marjorie looked offended.
“Stop that,” she grumbled. “You never have done any of that nonsense with Rhys, so you certainly aren’t going to be doing it with me.”
Rhys burst into laughter, pulling Marjorie close with an arm around her waist.
“Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” he asked.
“The same words you told me when I found out you would be the next leader of the Gordon clan,” I replied, helping myself to a chocolate covered strawberry off a passing plate. “So, I will tell you what I told him: I hope you enjoyed that sight, because it will be the last time I ever do so.”
“…would it be wrong if I did?”
She sounded so afraid of my response that I wanted to reach out and hug her, poor dear. I took a bite of the strawberry, shaking my head.
“Considering the very short list of people I have sketched a curtsey for, you should. You, my dear, are among an elite group indeed.”
“I can attest to that,” Rhys smirked. “You get that stubborn attitude from your mother.”
“Oh, I’m sure I get a good portion from Papa as well.”
The comment must have brought up any number of memories as Rhys laughed again. He always was quick to laughter, despite the heavy burden he had to bear. Being a clan leader was no small feat, especially one of the Five Nobles. He had his work cut out for him, but he was well liked and well respected. Between that and the support of those around him, he would do just fine.
Despite myself, I cringed. He always asked at least once every time we were together. As though he wouldn’t be the first person I told if there was.
“Maybe I should go off and find some…”
Rhys snagged me with his other arm, grabbing my own and tucking it into the crook of his free one.
“I think not. You should’ve been here earlier if you were planning to look at the Consort Candidates. Until the night is over, you are my honored guest, and are not to leave my side. Is that clear?”
“Is that an order?” I asked, raising an eyebrow delicately.
“A sincere request.”
I shifted my stance to see Marjorie, trying to see how she felt about the proposal. Her eyes only spoke encouragement, and she was the only way I was going to get out of this situation. Some say the best way to deal with some sort of pain is to just face it up front. Let’s hope those people are right, as it seems I’ll have no choice. I won’t deny the man I love, so I will suffer silently and be the best friend he needs right now.