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Transformation, Afterwards

Afterwards, matters are—awkward.
Partly because they'd both had so little choice. Azman—claiming to be a prince—in her room, mostly naked? While she had nothing on but her nightdress—a nightdress half torn off her shoulder? And he had not had a weapon. Her door had been locked, from the inside. Some people did claim that she had screamed. Others—including the guards just outside her door—denied that.
And so, within three days, they were at the altar, exchanging vows. Just long enough to summon enough of the local nobles to add some semblance of respectability to the ceremony; just long enough to stitch up a new gown for her, rich velvet clothes—without a touch of green or brown—for him.
Just long enough for her father to start telling stories, to insist that this haste was not to conceal the scandal of finding the princess alone in her bedroom with a mostly naked man, but to save the prince—he would be a prince of sorts after the wedding, at least—from a witch.
Not long enough for her to know him at all.
For all her training, her hands shook during the ceremony. His own skin, when he slid the heavy sapphire ring over her finger, was cold and clammy. He looked, she thought, pale and green, although perhaps the green was only her imagination, the way her own dread was coloring everything.
That night, she'd squeezed herself as close to the edge of her—no, their—great bed as possible, as far away from him as she could be. He did not reach out to her, or say a word. She looked at him from under her lashes in the soft candlelight, her fists clenched.
Bad enough to share her bed with a frog.
This, even worse.
It is no better now, weeks after the wedding. He does not, has not ever reached out to her. She is relieved—grateful even, but puzzled. She remembers, clearly, the way he had said he had wanted a bedfellow, a companion, to share her plate, her bed, her cup.
Or at least, the frog had said this.
The man says nothing at all.
That which thou hast promised must thou perform.
She gives him uncertain glances, pushes her plate towards him.
He flinches.
She pulls it back.
She can't blame him. She had thrown him, hard, against the wall, hard enough that he was still bleeding when they arrived. Had, afterwards, been so terrified that she'd started throwing things—lamps, books, boxes, her table, anything that she could move. It was why, after all, the guards had broken in, hearing the noise and the commotion.
And she had touched him, touched his cold clammy skin.
She knows the stories, grew up on them, even: the stories of girls married to beasts to save their fathers, stories told, she is convinced, to comfort those who must wed for money or peace or power. She knows how the girls in those stories transformed the beasts with a simple kiss.
Stories where the girls were terrified, but obeyed their father’s commands.
Stories where the girls escaped for a time, but returned to their beasts.
For a kiss.
Only she had not kissed her beast.
She takes a deep breath, thinking of the way her nurses had indulged her, her father had indulged her, the way her aunts had showered her with presents, and begged her father to delay her marriage for just a bit longer. The worried looks of her father’s counselors, whenever her marriage was mentioned; she was her father’s only child, after all, and although he had nephews, well respected, well liked, a son-in-law could be another matter entirely. The marriages she has witnessed, even from her protected position at the court. The tales of a cousin, found bloodied in her room, her title of little protection.
Of the way, at their wedding, his lips had only hovered over hers, never touching.
She takes a deep breath.
A playfellow. A companion.
"What games did you play, when you were a child?"
It might be her imagination, but perhaps—just perhaps—his skin is a little less green.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, November 28th, 2019
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