The knot in Lorelei’s stomach was monstrous and heavy. It was hardly fair, she’d thought, giving Grace an afternoon to do what she imagined nymphs would take weeks to complete, but her fiance’s family was firm in their decision: in order to approve the union of their son, a nymph, to Grace, a satyr, she must receive a blessing from Nature–yes, capital N–itself.
This was rather run of the mill for her husband-to-be’s kind. They would write an appeal, in the form of a poem, and read it aloud to the forest. If acceptable, and according to Andros, there was rarely, if ever, an instance where it had not been acceptable, Nature would display its approval. As the nymph explained it, the onlookers would take almost anything as a sign: rain meant Nature wept with joy, a stiff breeze symbolized the urge to hurry up and get on with it, and there was even a case where the reader was unceremoniously shat on by a bird mid-recitation resulting in the listeners cheering that Nature didn’t need them to finish in order to give its blessing.
Still, Lorelei fidgeted as she stood amongst the tall and lanky nymphs, as much a physical outcast as Grace herself with her short stature and plain clothes. They looked out on the satyr, standing at the edge of Moonlit Shores Manor’s forest. “A poem?” she’d blurted out when they told her, “You want me to write a poem?”
“Iambic pentameter is customary,” Belen had said with a smirk, “but you’re free to stray to dactylic hexameter or whatever you please. I’ve even heard an acceptable free verse or two in my time.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” she’d said worriedly, her eyes bouncing back from Belen to Andros, but her fiance put a hand on her arm, and insisted it would be fine. Never had there not been a sign, as signs were largely whatever the onlookers decided upon. Still, Lorelei feared the worst.
The satyr bit her lip and clenched a torn sheet of notebook paper from her spot atop a rock. They had, begrudgingly, granted her the great advantage of a cheat sheet, but insisted it was tradition for the betrothed to not be present. Ziah had perhaps smartly not allowed any of their other coworkers to attend, instructing Conrad and Grier to serve as protectors while Andros took part in the satyr trial for approval. Oddly enough, however, Ren had accompanied Ziah here to the woods, but Lorelei couldn’t help but think Grace needed a bit more support, and she offered the satyr a smile and a thumbs up.
Grace turned away from them to address the wood, her hooves clanking on the rock. A sound, small and barely audible, floated out toward the trees. It was something like a voice, but the words were ambiguous.
“Project, my dear,” Belen, Andros’s father, instructed her to snickers from a handful of the nymphs. Lorelei sneered at him, but he didn’t notice, and likely would not have cared if he did.
Grace’s shoulders raised and dropped with a deep breath and she cleared her throat:
There once was a girl from Santorini
She weren’t smart, or talented, or pretty
She spent most of her days
Feeling lots of different ways
But not once did she feel love so fiercely
Then she met a boy who made her heart swell
And they knew against all they had to rebel
He swept her off her feet
Only with him she felt complete
And that’s the happy ending she hopes to tell
There was a long moment of quiet when she finished. Lorelei raised her hands to clap, but Ziah grabbed her wrist to stop her. Instead, she glanced at Andros’s family, standing stark still, waiting, but she noted Kasia, Andros’s mother, was smiling.
There was movement in the grass, like snakes slithering across the forest floor, headed for the assembled. Long and brilliantly green, they climbed from the roots of the trees and to the rock that Grace stood atop. She gasped, spinning around, surrounded, and the onlookers did as well, muttering in shock about how this was unprecedented. But the snakes gave way, revealing themselves to be vines, moving of their own free will, encircling the rock and coating it in greenery to the very edges of Grace’s feet.
Then the vines burst forth with blooms, pink, purple, blue, yellow, each brighter than the last and painting the entirety of the rock. A single stem shot upward, reaching just to Grace’s chest where it stopped, the bud at its end twirling as it bloomed brilliantly red before her, illuminating her already blushing face with a warm glow.
The nymphs fell silent, but only for an instant, and then one shouted, the loudest Lorelei had heard any of them, that it was a sign. The others joined in with cheers and approving words, and only Belen’s mouth stayed set in a tight frown, narrowing eyes at the girl. Kasia laid a hand on his shoulder, “Nature has given its blessing.”
Back at the manor, Grace could not stop smiling as the nymphs took turns congratulating her and telling her they had never seen such a display, but she was determined to see Andros. With newly found confidence, she burst into the sitting room where her family stood in a circle. The furniture had been pulled back away from the room’s center, even the sleeping old man’s rocker was nestled up against the wall though he continued to snore as if nothing had happened, and in its place, a single table and two chairs.
Yaya, Grace’s grandmother, sat across from Andros, hunched over the table with a glass grasped in hand. Her mouth drooped and her eyes were hollow, but she snorted at the boy, “Another!”
Grace’s father stood between the two holding a bottle of clear liquid. He hesitated.
“I said, another!” Yaya slurred, banging her glass on the table.
Andros also lifted his, “You heard the lady.” While Yaya looked like she might fall right out of her chair, Andros sat up straight, grinning.
“Yaya!” Grace shouted, stomping toward them, “What are you thinking? How much of that stuff have you had?”
Her father held up the bottle, large enough to hold at least a liter, to show it was only half gone, but then her brother held up another identical but empty jug.
“That stuff’s like poison!” Grace pushed her way across the room to Andros and knelt beside the table, “Are you all right?”
“Sweetheart,” a satyr from the group laughed, “Ain’t no one ever been more all right than your beau here!” The others nodded and bleated.
“I feel great,” Andros held his glass up to Grace’s father again, “If you wouldn’t mind, sir?”
Grace’s father obliged, filling both glasses and stepping back, the color already drained from his face.
Andros downed the cup, eyes closed, and gently placed it back on the table. He took a deep breath and the satyrs held their own, then Andros belched, and they cheered.
Yaya growled, holding her own full glass up to her lips, “Boy, I don’t know how you done this,” she was blinking, but her lids weren’t working in unison, “but I reckon–” she swayed to the left, catching herself on the table. “Boy, I reckon,” again she swayed, this time to the right, barely grabbing hold of her chair to stay upright, “I reckon–” Yaya thrust her glass forward, the liquid in it sloshing, and then she froze. Her eyes crossed, she mumbled incoherently, and collapsed onto the table, the glass spilling and liquid hissing across the wood.
The satyrs cheered, gathering around Andros and grabbing the legs of his chair. Grace jumped back as they lifted him and paraded him about the room. After confirming Yaya was, in fact, not dead, her father scoffed, “Ain’t nobody ever beat Maw,” and he went up to Kasia who had come to check on the racket. “Ma’am,” he offered her his hand, “I would be honored to have your son as part of the Nomia family.”
Kasia giggled, “And I see in your Grace the daughter I always wanted.”
Lorelei could barely believe her eyes and skirted the room to where Conrad and Grier sat on the couch up against the far wall. They both looked a little dazed and when she greeted them, they were slow to respond.
“Oh, hey!” Conrad tried to stand, but his feet slipped out from under him, and he slumped back onto the couch. Laughing, he slapped Grier’s chest with the back of his hand, “Hey, hey, look it’s Lor–” he stopped abruptly, covering his mouth, his eyes suddenly huge.
Grier’s head lolled back and he closed his eyes, “Hi, Laaar.”
“What’s happening?” she glanced about to be sure the satyrs were still preoccupied with Andros.
“It’s fine,” Conrad nodded in slow motion, “You’re going to have to leave us here for a while though.”
Lorelei took a step back from them, “Do I want to know?”
Conrad was shaking his head then, again painfully slowly, as if he were trying to keep his balance though he was sitting.
Lorelei turned and, with a smile, ushered the group out of the room.
By nightfall, Yaya had recovered well enough to begin a shouting match with Belen when they happened upon one another in the upstairs hallway while the rest of their families celebrated together in the dining room. Lorelei happened upon them and shooed them downstairs into the foyer where they continued to rant to one another, declaring their disapproval.
“Then leave,” Grace’s no longer tiny voice sounded from the doorway.
Andros stood at her side, “We gave you more than either of you deserved. We wish you could be happy for us, but if you cannot, then so be it.”
Belen and Yaya fell silent, staring back at the two with stony faces. Yaya opened her mouth, but Grace stopped her, “You heard him–git!”
Belen turned to Yaya and began shouting at her that this was her fault, and she spewed anger right back, but when Lorelei opened the front door, they both stormed out it. Their voices carried on into the night as they stalked across the yard until they could no longer be heard.
The wedding was to take place the next morning in the manor’s back garden. Lorelei was pleased with the set up that she helped Ziah put together even with Arista shouting at them the entire time. As the guests took their seats, she and Ziah hurried inside to see if there was anything else Grace needed, but were shocked at what they were met with.
A crying Grace, just like how Lorelei had first found her, sat on the edge of her bed. When they questioned what happened, a young nymph pointed to the far wall and the dress bag that hung there. It had been unzipped and inside instead of a gown, tattered white fabric hung limply from the hanger, spilling out onto the floor.
Lorelei went to the tatters, mouth agape, “There’s got to be someone here who can, like, magic this back together.”
“In time to walk down the aisle?” Ziah was behind her, whispering into her ear, “Doubtful.”
Grace sniffed, “No, it doesn’t matter.” Dressed in a slip, she began digging into her suitcase, throwing skirts and blouses across the room, I’ve got something, I’m sure of it. It doesn’t matter what I wear!”
“I might have something,” the nymph sat back, thinking hard, “It’s mostly pink, but maybe?”
Lorelei stood slowly, “I can fix this.”
“Lore,” Ziah cautioned under her breath, “I really don’t think we can.”
“No,” Lorelei smiled, “I can fix this.” She felt her feet flying before she knew what she was doing. In a flash she descended the stairs and hit the foyer, nearly tripping out the front door. At her car, she threw open the trunk, tossing aside her belongings until she found it.
In an instant she was back inside and thundering up the stairs, catching her breath in the doorway to Grace’s room. She couldn’t speak and instead just held out the garment bag, urging the satyr to take it.
Grace unzipped the bag and white tulle spilled out. Wordlessly, she pulled the wedding gown from the bag and held it up to herself. “How?”
Still panting, Lorelei shook her head with a smile then shrugged.
“Okay, how’d you do it?” Ziah was drumming her fingers on the table, eying Lorelei with hawklike intensity. The party had gone on all day and into the evening, and finally the new Aristaeus-Nomia clan had retired leaving Lorelei and her co-workers scattered around a table in the garden amidst empty serving trays and place settings. When she didn’t answer, Ziah leaned in closer, “I know it’s not your forte, magicking up dresses, so how did you do it?” It was clear she was at least a little tipsy.
Hotaru was suddenly staring at her with the same intensity, “What does she mean? Magicking up dresses?” They all learned that Grace’s dress had been shredded by Belen, and similarly the rings had been stolen by Yaya, but only when both Belen and Yaya returned after the ceremony. They two were distraught and after spending the night lost in the woods had seen the error in their ways, confessing to the wedding party. Though Grace and Andros were prepared to be wed in t-shirts and utilizing candy rings, replacements for all had been provided, seemingly, by a miracle.
“Uh,” Lorelei shrank back in her chair, hoping against hope it would not come up.
Conrad and Grier perked up despite the headaches they’d been nursing all day, and even Ren cocked his head so that one long ear was pointed toward her. “Wait,” Grier rubbed at his eyes, his voice hoarse, “So Lorelei did magic?”
“It wasn’t magic,” she said quickly amongst mixed company who knew and did not know her secret, “It was just luck. You know, the same way Grace was able to get Nature to give her blessing or how Andros held his liquor so well.”
Ren reached a long arm across the table and picked a bloom from the centerpiece. He held it before his face between two fingers, and from the stem, roots grew, long and thick, and the bloom itself multiplied. A moment later he was holding a bouquet. Of course, she thought to herself, It’s why Ziah had insisted he go to the forest with them.
Lorelei blinked, turning to Conrad and Grier, “And you two, you were drunk!”
The warlock put a finger to his lips, wincing from her shout, “Transference. It’s complicated, but not difficult with multiple willing subjects.”
Lorelei sighed. She had to tell them. “I had the dress in my car. It was mine.” Lorelei took in their faces, a range of confusion until she saw Ziah’s realization and the woman’s instant regret at having said anything at all. “I was sort of supposed to get married,” she told them, studying the grain of the wooden table with intensity, “but instead I just kinda drove past the church and I ended up, well, here.” When no one spoke she swallowed, “They did think it was really weird I wanted to drive myself, and in hindsight I can see that.”
“You’re a runaway bride.” Grier was grinning from ear to ear, the bastard.
Lorelei cringed, but nodded.
“That’s why,” Ziah was staring past her and up at the manor, illuminated in the darkness. “No,” she smiled, “That was more than luck. That was magic.”
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