The Fiction Wednesday prompts for this week were:
I chose Plan B. I hope you enjoy my story, and thanks, Shiral, for the prompt idea!
The Dream Marriage
“Faster! Faster!” Thomas Battle tried to keep his command to a soft muttering. He’d done what he could to make the chair man run at a speed that hung at the cusp of human possibility, but he dared not do anything further. No use adding to his very soon-to-be-sullied reputation by killing a fellow.
The chair man’s feet seemed almost to glide over the rough cobblestones. Thomas felt slightly sick as his chair lurched around a corner.
And then, they were there, and he prayed to whatever power governed him in this moment that they weren’t too late.
Using all that remained of his strength, he clumsily descended the Bath chair, ignoring the shooting pains in his gout-ridden body, and raced, stumbling slightly in the cracks between cobbles, to the church door, then through it.
The calm of the scene before him was almost a laughable contrast to the mad race he’d just endured. At the altar, a grey-dressed bride and a young man held hands and listened to the pastor. He strained his ears, hoping he’d arrived at just the right time, for that would be one slightly lighter smear on his reputation, to call out what he had to say when asked, and not after everyone had been satisfied that what was going to pass, was fine in the eyes of law and Lord.
"If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else for ever hold your peace."
Thomas knew the words had been spoken with the same soft solemnity as the others, and that it was only for him and perhaps one other person, whom he thought he could make out concealed in the shadows to his right, that they rang through the space and vibrated through the stones of the floor. He took a breath and called out, “They cannot marry – that is not Miss Lyeleigh!”
As he’d feared, the statement was followed by gasps from the well-dressed guests, and looks of astonishment from everyone but the Lyeleighs, including the impostor. But these latter quickly hid their knowledge, slipping on surprised expressions as easily as a hat under the warm sun.
He heard Miss Lyeleigh's fiancé laugh. “But,” he gasped out, “of course it is her! I would know my own future wife!”
This relieved the others, and they all gave chuckles in reply. Still, Thomas knew he might convince them. He might –
“Sir,” came the voice of Charles Lyeleigh, father of the young woman in question, “are you much acquainted with my daughter?”
This was not fair at all, nor was it expected. Privately, the Battles and the Lyeleighs knew each other very well. All families like them knew each other quite well, and had for centuries. In public, though, they never were seen in the same circles, so as not to arouse any sort of suspicion, should one of them be caught out.
“I- ” Thomas blustered. He’d never been gifted at discourse. Blast it.
Even if the Battles and the Lyeleighs had been able to associate in society, I would never have invited Thomas Battle to my wedding. I don’t know how he found out about my plan – sometimes those of us who share this gift simply receive inklings, as though the person performing the spell had whispered them their intentions. And just as he knew what I was about, I knew that he would come to fight it somehow. I’d thought the chair man would have a time with his heavy, gouty body, but of course Thomas had anticipated that, and used a little magick for help. And so he’d arrived at the perfect moment. Then again, even when he made his declaration, I knew I was safe: for who would have believed him?
Everyone believed it was I, Olivia Lyeleigh, at the altar with Peter Dunning, the man I was to marry. Even my family had no real idea of what I’d done. They only suspected something when they heard Battle’s yells. If not for that, I would have bluffed them all.
My intentions were pure and love-inspired. I have seen marriages that quickly become hell for both parties, and I could not allow that to happen to my beloved and I. And so the idea had come to me to create another me. It was a difficult spell, but when it was finished, she – I – was perfect. Nothing in appearance differed between us. All of my memories, my sentiments, my laughter, she shared. Of what I know of the history of our family, no one in my generation, nor in the generation previous, had ever performed such a trick so well.
I would allow this other me to live with Peter for a time – perhaps a year, perhaps more. From the shadows behind a pillar, half concealed by that natural feature of the building, and half concealed by enchantment, I watched as Thomas Battle was escorted from the church. I watched as the nervous laughter of our guests subsided, I observed my parents and brothers and sisters struggling not to exchange puzzled glances. I watched as the other Olivia made her vows, and then I parted. I would travel across the continent. I would observe everything that happened between Peter and this other self of mine, and if things were promising, then one day I would return and take her place.
Two years passed, and every night I visited them in my sleep. I never saw any grand disagreement, and I never saw the love fade from my Peter’s eyes, nor from mine. Still I waited. Perhaps two years was not time enough for first love to die. I let pass five more years. Then five more. Still nothing changed in that happy couple. By now, the other Olivia had brought three children into the world. You might say it is a horror to have created such a being, a falsehood I would replace. These children’s mother would always be a lie. And so I waited, hesitating, watching now absently the places I travelled, the marvels I should have revelled in knowing.
And one day I awoke and saw myself in the looking glass. My reflection was that of a woman of a certain age, a flower faded. I had had my adventures, it was true. But something in me knew I could never go back to Peter. I could never take the place of that other Olivia – that happy Olivia. I’ve always been able to create life and lies, but I could never think of extinguishing either. I should have known that the day I put my plan in motion.
I have no real notion of why Thomas Battle protested what I’d done. I have half a mind to return to England and ask him myself. I do know for certain that, had I or my family listened to him, and had we somehow found a way to wash away evidence of what I’d done, I would be in my rightful place, with my love, steadfast and unfading, by my side. I do know that Thomas Battle’s irruption into the church that day could have saved me.