The initial meeting had gone well. True, it had been set up by their families, two of the most noble houses of their country, but despite that, they found, she and he, that they genuinely liked each other.
That first meeting was little more than dinner and a chaperoned walk through the perfumed gardens of her family’s estate. No, not a walk. A stroll. Of course, he’d been clad in formal attire, and her skirts had been ridiculously voluminous, especially in the August heat, but they’d shared a real moment of connection under the rose arbor.
A marriage to this man might not be horrible, after all, Elisabeth thought. He was funny, he was courteous, he was well-read, he was an excellent dancer, he didn’t mind that she was slightly mad, and while they didn’t speak all the same languages, they shared at least three common tongues. Communication would never be an issue.
Their second meeting, a trip to the opera, had also been pleasant enough. They’d both appreciated the talent of the singers while mocking the absurdity of the story. Their quiet laughter had become a trilled counterpoint that only those sharing their private box could discern.
On their third meeting, though, the moon had been high in the sky after the official festivities of the ball had ended, and she’d been edgy and cross all evening, for no apparent reason. He’d tried to break through her prickly mood with romantic advances – advances she would have welcomed on any other night – but instead, she’d let her dark emotions dictate her response, rather than letting her level head or empathetic heart take control.
He’d known… he’d seen the stains on her hands when the gloves came off, and that had provided all the information he’d needed. She’d barely had time to kiss his screaming mouth into silence before the portal had been opened, and he’d been pushed inside.
Of course, no one blamed her. It was an accident, they said. She couldn’t be expected to control her power. No one in her country had used that sort of magic for years – centuries even.
“Put your gloves back on, dearest,” her mother chided. “He won’t be missed for hours, and by then, we’ll have brought him back.” Unspoken were the next two words: we hope.
She turned her eyes to her mother’s face and nodded, silent tears wetting her cheeks.
The power to rip a hole in the universe had been dormant in her family for generations, until, with her birth, it woke. The consequences – the bloodstained hands, the screams of the universe echoing constantly inside her head – had been mitigated with extensive therapy: hypnosis, meditation, an herbal remedy from time to time.
But sometimes, when the moon was full, and her emotions were riding high – even if they were positive emotions – she slipped.
Well, witty and wise as he’d seemed Henri would not be so difficult to replace. There was always another suitor looking for a rich wife. And as her mother had said, they’d likely be able to fish him out – whatever was left of him – before too long.
Elisabeth smoothed her black satin gloves over her hands and up her arms. No more stains were visible. Her dainty fingers were once again hidden from view.
She wondered, though, if they could see – her parents, her friends, the endless line of Henri’s and Jean-Michel’s and Edouard’s – the stains on her heart and mind. The way every glance in the mirror reflected back a fractured soul.
She adjusted her hat and flashed a brittle smile at her shattered reflection in the window glass, and decided that if she had to be mad, at least she could be mad with style.