Dedicated to Avra, who insisted I turn this image of the sky into a story.
Heavily influenced by an amazing book called The Night Circus that you should read.
The Bride Exchange
The bride exchange happens at night.
When the moon is high, and ladies’ complexions made softer by its glow, when new gowns and coloured jewelry shimmer with each turn, that is when the process begins.
The intending groom brings something: one something to trade for his bride. He brings what he believes a bride to be worth in matters of trinkets or livestock. It can be small as a pearl or large as a prized cow—so long as he can find a fellow to assist him in lifting the creature over the rim.
Some bring money. Their last pence or a cheque for the highest they can reason to afford. Whatever is placed in the empty cauldron disappears and does not return to its owner. A bride is then chosen through the sentiment of the trade, like a wish coming true, or a prayer being answered.
Like every exchange, there are rules to this one.
The Bride Exchange does not allow returns. One cannot trade brides, or another person for a bride.
The Exchange guarantees a suitable match. It promises neither love, nor happiness, but a man is sure to get a wife worthy of his sacrifice.
Some parents send their sons recklessly in love to fetch a more suitable partner. Most return with brides closer to their station and rank, a rare few with the very lady who first stole their hearts. No matter the outcome, there are no complaints. No one dares to rebel against a system that has served them for generations.
Tonight, spirits are high.
The entrance is garlanded with strings of silvery lights that twinkle in the eyes of participants and passersby. The moon seems especially obliging, and shines with a fervor that usually is had only after excess consumption of starberry wine. Brides are cheerful and encouraging. No one bickers or teases. All are joined in a spirit of joy and apprehension; the kind of terrifying thrill that makes strangers clasp hands and speak in hoarse, hurried lines.
One girl stands apart. She is counting the beads in Saffron’s hair while avoiding conversation at all costs. She knows she is not pretty, not clever, and has no money to speak of. The knowledge makes her wary of the fluttering groups of females.
The offerings tonight are varied. She has seen Hilda Toomen go for a lame cow, grinning from ear to ear, warts and all. Not five minutes hence, Bella Carter was chosen in exchange for a diamond hat pin. The night is more hushed without her ringing laughter.
Elisabeth Townsend blows warmth into her numbing fingers. It has been three days already and no one has brought a gift ordinary enough to have her picked. That is the explanation she gives herself. Her hair hangs limp around her uninteresting face; not quite curling, but not straight, either. She is older than she appears. It is not a youthful beauty she can use to any advantage, but rather a consequence of excess weight and a complexion still clinging to adolescence.
When she is sent home again; alone, after the end of the week, it will be another long year before she has a chance.
Anthony Merrow stands before the gate, wrapping and rewrapping a tattered scarf tight around his neck. He is forced there by a mother distraught over family lines. He is the only son of a great lord; a lord whose passing is cause for panic in regards to heirship and possession.
Anthony does not favour the exchange. He has no offering. Nothing seemed right, and he does not want to marry yet though he knows that he must. Upon his departure, his mother offered her most expensive possession for him to take, but her ruby choker was too stuffy for his taste.
He will observe first, and return later that night with a gift.
He watches as men and boys put their prized possessions one by one into the cauldron and leave arm in arm with their brides.
Suddenly, a great curiosity overcomes him, and he finds himself inching ever closer to the gargantuan beast of a cauldron.
The only man not part of the exchange nods.
He leans over, peering at the endless black depths. As he does so, his scarf slips and falls, and just as it does, he realises he meant for it to happen. It was a scarf knitted by his aunt, before his uncle fell ill and her time was monopolised by caring for him. The pattern was not elegant, nor lovely, but made up of thick lines in terribly drab colours: grey and brown, predominately. It had no monetary value, but it was warmth and love and family, and Anthony can think of no better possession to offer.
In the moment he doubts his decision, a tiny orange light appears somewhere in the blackness of the cauldron. It hovers over it a while, sending sparks on his head that warm him nearly as well as his scarf had.
It floats over a lonesome girl, plain, pudgy, and perfect. Anthony’s heart skips a beat, silently begging the little bauble of light not to falter.
The girl touches her hair in awe as if she can feel the warmth too.
“Elisabeth Townsend!’ the cauldron guard calls out, and she locks eyes with Anthony.
I wrote this. Me. Beth Woody. Do not steal it, or you will be doomed. You may redistribute it if you like it that much, so long as I am given credit. :)