People began knocking at our apartment early. First Corrine, arriving with the finished dress to check that it fit right in case she needed to make some last-minute adjustments. As I slipped on the white dress and looked at myself in the mirror, I truly did feel like a princess. It had a heart-shaped neckline and clung to me in just the right places, augmenting the curve of my waist and hips before thinning toward my legs.
“Sheer elegance,” Rose said, admiring me.
“Thank you, Corrine,” I said breathlessly. “It’s more beautiful than I ever thought it would be.”
Corrine smiled before saying, “Now, I suggest you take a shower.”
I did as she suggested, and by the time I was finished, the dragon maids had arrived. First they massaged moisturising ointments into my skin until I was practically glowing. Then, after I slipped on the dress, they began to do my hair and makeup. The makeup was unlike any I’d ever seen; kept in ceramic pots, it appeared to be made from all-natural materials, and yet it looked more natural and flattering on application than any expensive makeup brand you’d buy in stores. It perfectly complemented my face and looked almost a part of it, rather than painted on.
Then Sofia arrived, carrying a bouquet of roses and a bunch of fuchsia cherry blossoms. Sofia and my mom wove the blossoms into my hair while keeping the bouquet aside. I’d never thought that I could look so beautiful. I could hardly wait for Ben to see me.
Rose and my family changed into their own outfits, and soon Jamil was knocking on the door to inform us that it was time. He looked dashing in a dark gray suit, which I guessed had been provided by the dragons.
As Sofia and my mother bustled me out of the room, I was already picturing myself walking down the aisle. I felt a twinge as I thought of my father, who should have been here to give me away to Ben. He almost seemed like part of another life. I wasn’t even sure exactly where he was right now. Still locked up in some Texan jail—that was if he was even still alive. I had drifted apart from my father ever since he’d left my mother, but now, it truly felt like we inhabited separate universes.
I looked up at my brother and looped my arm through his.
“Will you walk me down the aisle?” I asked him.
He looked down at me and smiled. “Of course, sis.”
Kira and Helina were also in the corridor looking gorgeous, along with the dragons’ brides. We all looked excitedly at one another as we made our way down to the royal court. A number of maids were waiting for us outside the court entrance and they greeted us with smiles.
“The grooms await you inside,” one of them said. “You can take it in turns to walk down the aisle. It’s up to you who goes first and last.”
Hanging back with Jamil, I decided I wanted to go last. The doors opened, and the first bride walked through—Sylvia. Once she had reached Jeriad, the second bride walked through, and so it went on until I was the last girl standing.
My heart pounded. It was my turn to walk through with Jamil. My mother kissed my cheek and whispered good luck while Sofia gave me a gentle hug, careful not to mess up my outfit. She handed me the bouquet of roses and put down my veil.
Then, with Rose, my sisters and mothers behind us, Jamil and I emerged in the glittering court. All the orange and red decorations had been replaced with white, and flowers were scattered everywhere. A haunting organ played as I walked.
My eyes fell on Ben, standing at the end of the raised platform where the thrones had been, now where all the couples had gathered. Wearing a black tux, he looked so tall and handsome, I felt quite breathless. Reaching the platform, Jamil let me go. I stepped onto it and arrived before Ben, trying to steady my uneven breathing. I gazed through my veil into his deep green eyes.
A dragon priest who introduced himself as Einhen climbed to the platform with us once all the couples had gathered, as did Theon and Nell. They went through an odd ceremony of Theon and Nell “approving our coupling” before retaking their seats in the crowd. Einhen was handed an old, heavy book by a maid as well as a goblet of shimmering golden rings. He walked to each of us, handing them out. Then Einhen opened his book and he began to recite: “You will be one flesh, both human and dragon, werewolf and werewolf, vampire and vampire, fae and half-blood. You cannot wish the other ill, or act against them, for to do so is to act against your own body. When the husband fights, so shall the wife; when the wife labors, so shall the husband. There is no difference between these two anymore. They are one. They are complete. Now, recite your own vows and exchange rings, before we seal this decree with the fusion of lips, never again to part.”
The first couple on the other side of the platform, Jeriad and Sylvia, exchanged their heartfelt vows, and then the next. My palms were growing sweaty around my bouquet as it got closer and closer to our turn. Soon Helina and Matteo, who stood next to us, were gazing into each other’s eyes and swearing their love, and then it was our turn.
Ben, holding my gaze more steadily than ever, cleared his throat and began in a deep, slightly hoarse voice:
“River, no words can adequately describe what I’m feeling in this moment, but I’ll start by saying thank you. Thank you for choosing me. As your husband. As your life partner. As your friend. You committed yourself to me even when you didn’t have to. You followed me to places you never should have gone. You were there for me in my darkest hours, even when you didn’t realize it. Of everything that I may have done, you are my greatest accomplishment. My greatest pride. I vow to love you, protect you, and dream with you for the rest of my existence.”