A Lesson in Thorns (Thornchapel #1)(2)

It was covered in thorns.


And he had the strangest feeling that as he thought the name of this place, the place thought his own name back to him . . .

No one later remembered whose idea the wedding was, but it had probably started as a fight between Rebecca and Delphine, since that’s how most of their ideas that summer had begun. But once the idea had been voiced, there’d been no doubt that it was a good idea, even to Becket who was really too old for these kinds of things. There was a chapel, after all, and something that looked like an altar, and weddings were something you did in chapels, in front of altars.

There was a brief fight about who should get married, because it seemed common sense that Auden, as the sort of lord of the manor, should be the groom, but Delphine and Rebecca both wanted to be the bride and their fight over it grew so heated that St. Sebastian observed, “You already fight like Auden’s parents, maybe you two should get married.”

This was not received well, by the girls or by Auden, and then Becket the peacemaker pointed out that Proserpina had already wandered down to the chapel proper and so it might as well be her. Rebecca and Delphine sullenly agreed to be bridesmaid and flower girl, respectively; Becket, as the oldest, appointed himself the priest; Auden turned to St. Sebastian and said, “Will you be the best man?”

St. Sebastian sniffed. “I’m already the best man.”

Auden rolled his eyes. He did that a lot with St. Sebastian.

“I’m going to sit in the back and interrupt the wedding,” St. Sebastian declared.

Auden sighed. “What?”

“You know, like in the movies. They say ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’ and then someone always speaks.”

“But that’s not real life.”

“And this is?”

He had a point, but Auden didn’t want to admit it. Something else he did rather a lot of with St. Sebastian.

No one really could remember the order of a wedding service, except that the flower girl came first. Becket and Auden waited by the uneven lump that had once been an altar while Delphine scattered hastily gathered rose petals down the center of the ruin. Then came Rebecca, carrying a bouquet of foxgloves because they were tall and interesting compared with the retiring violets and sorrel. St. Sebastian sprawled in the back, lazily tossing pebbles into the air.

Auden felt strange so close to the altar, like the air around it was infused with an electric charge, or maybe that was merely the oncoming storm, or maybe it was that he was a boy playing a game he hadn’t actually agreed to and he was bored. Whatever it was, he suddenly felt the fierce need to hurt something. Or to feel hurt himself. He couldn’t figure out which, and the two needs tangled up into an untidy knot in his chest thornier than the chapel around them, and it felt like the knot was all he was, all he ever could be—

Proserpina entered the chapel with a crown of flowers on her head. The knot eased; it untangled some. And when St. Sebastian decided that Proserpina needed someone to walk her down the aisle and he hopped up to take her arm, Auden quite literally could not breathe for a second. He didn’t know why—St. Sebastian irritated him, Proserpina fascinated him, but he wasn’t entirely sure he liked her for having that effect on him—so why now, when the two of them approached the altar and approached him, did he think of the need to hurt and the need to be hurt and why did he want to grab them both and pull them into that need? Grab them and somehow shove them deep into his heart of thorns forever?

He couldn’t speak as St. Sebastian escorted Proserpina right to Auden’s feet and then gave her a puckish kiss on the cheek that had Proserpina laughing and Delphine scolding and Rebecca shushing Delphine’s scolds and their resident barely-teenage priest tutting at the disruption of order.

“I thought you were going to interrupt the ceremony,” Becket sighed as St. Sebastian took a seat on a nearby clump of grass.

“I can do both,” St. Sebastian said in an obviously kind of tone.

Becket made a put-upon face, which was only slightly different than his normal pious expression, and then continued with as much as he remembered about wedding ceremonies.

There was a dearly beloved and then a story about Adam and Eve, and then he finally said the part St. Sebastian was waiting for, speak now or forever hold your peace.

They all looked over to the boy, who was currently grinning mischievously and was very busy not interrupting the wedding. Auden arched an eyebrow at him.

St. Sebastian arched one back, but still did nothing.

It seemed like the threat had passed, so Becket moved on to the vows. “Do you, Auden Guest take Proserpina Markham to be your lawfully wedded wife? You have to say I do here.”

Auden, still afflicted with that disturbing and paradoxical need, answered in a distracted voice, “I d—”

“I do!” St. Sebastian jumped in, hopping up between them.

“Ugh, God,” went Delphine.

“Shh!” went Rebecca.

“And DO YOU, PROSERPINA, TAKE AUDEN TO BE YOUR LAWFULLY WEDDED HUSBAND,” shouted the young priest above the chaos, and smiling, Proserpina said, “I do,” even as St. Sebastian once again interrupted her vows with his own emphatic, “I DO!” and yanked her flower crown onto his own head as if he were the bride.

Even Auden had trouble not smiling, although those thorns of hurt were everywhere in him now; he felt like he was going to break apart like one of the chapel walls or fall over like the altar; he felt like he was never going to fit inside his own skin unless he became someone else, something else, somewhen else.

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