The Stone Veil

The Stone Veil (1)

Father won’t look at me, of course, but I wish—just once—he possessed the courage to admit how he’s mistreated me. I trace my fingers over the wedding gown’s fitted bodice. If I had my say, I’d wear mourner’s black rather than the kingdom’s finest ivory silk and seed pearls.

Father swallows and closes his eyes as I step forward, his crown trembling.

I adjust the heavy veil to hide my face. “How do I look?” There are no mirrors in my prison cell, sumptuous as it is with tapestries lining the walls and rich carpet underfoot. A cage befitting my station.

He opens his eyes and scrutinizes me. “You’re lovely.”

“You sound surprised.”

“I’m…I’m sorry.”

My laugh is bitter. “For what? Keeping me locked up or forcing me to marry a monster?”

“If I had another option—”

I turn away as hot tears roll down my cheeks, leaving a molten trail. I know what I am: a bargaining tool. Leverage. Lord Rom’s only request was to marry one of King Forcys’s famed daughters in exchange for peace.

Father offers his arm. I hesitate, then lay my hand on his sleeve. He escorts me down the winding stairs. At the bottom step, I draw in the humid air laden with heliotrope. It was winter when the marauder began to devastate the countryside. Killing our peasants, burning village after village, and destroying livestock whenever the moon was full. Nothing could stop him, and eventually news of his bloodthirsty habits reached even me.

But I can’t remember the last time I saw the summer flowers bloom. How long have I been imprisoned?

One by one, each sister kisses my veil-clad cheek with the barest touch of lips to lace before hurrying back in line.

My sisters with their golden curls. Flawless skin. Limpid blue eyes. Then there’s me—I choke back the sob tearing at my throat. I won’t let them see me cry. Already I’ve been forced to give up everything. For their safety. For the kingdom’s sake. So I straighten my shoulders, tilt my chin to a haughty angle, and give them the merest nod as I pass by.

No one waits in the columned great hall to witness the nuptials. No blushing, virginal attendants strewing my path with flower petals. Father wouldn’t dare risk it.

At the far end, the groom stands in his human form, resplendent in a midnight velvet waistcoat and crimson sash. A lock of hair escapes my veil, and I tuck it behind my ear.

“If I succeed?” I murmur to Father as we walk toward Lord Rom. “If I can stop this creature, what then? I don’t suppose you’ll give me my freedom.”

He doesn’t answer. I don’t expect him to.

We stop in front of Lord Rom.

He looks around the empty hall. “But where’s the priest?”

Father’s voice remains steady. “Tradition decrees the bride and groom first see one another before the ceremony begins.”

A curt gesture. “Well, then.”

“Lift your veil, Dissa.”

“Father—”

“Obey me.”

I face Lord Rom. He licks his sharp teeth, and I shudder.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I slowly, slowly draw back the veil. I don’t have to see him to know what his expression reflects.

Disgust.

Disdain.

Terror.

After all, I’m a monster, too.

I open my eyes. “I’m sorry.” And I am, for no one deserves such an end.

In a moment, his face freezes in the familiar grimace all my victims wear. I caught him mid-transformation, his handsome human face blurred with shaggy fur and snarling fangs. I touch his cold cheek.

“That’s enough.” Father fumbles with my veil, snagging his bejeweled fingers on the lace in his haste to cover my cursed eyes and writhing hair. He waves. Guards rush from behind the pillars and grab my arms.

“Please”—I glance from the werewolf, now fixed in stone, to Father—“don’t make me go back into confinement. I swear, I’ll wear a veil always. I’ll never look at anyone again.”

He stares straight ahead. “I’m sorry, Medusa. But this is how it must be.”

The guards drag me, weeping, back to my tower.