The Lightning Bride - Chapter 1
Part 3 of 4
“Why is he here?” her mother shrieked while the officer holding her chained her to a ring.
“He is under suspicion,” Lord Brackley answered.
“This is absurd!” Emilia continued. “Only women are—”
“Silence!” Lord Brackley bellowed. “We shall begin.”
Maylie trembled, causing her chains to rattle as she was chained to the platform. She eyed her brother, unable to believe they had him for a Trial. They were right, but only her family knew that secret, and even they didn’t understand how it was possible.
Now their town would know the truth, a lie they’d kept private since they'd took residence here when Maylie was three years old and Behn an infant.
Lord Brackley stepped forward. “Emilia, Maydeline, and Behnjamen Shadow, you have been accused of being creatures of the Wicked One and have been brought to a Trial. What say you to these accusations?”
“I plead not guilty!” Maylie shouted as loud as she could, though her voice wavered.
The only calls after were the gulls by the shore. She looked at her family, surprised her mother remained silent. Was she spiting Lord Brackley, or thinking of a way out? If she pleaded innocent and was found guilty, not even Maylie’s uncle could save her.
Her brother stood stiff, his face stoic with stern green eyes. Maylie always forgot he was sixteen as he looked and acted more like their father each day. He would be the spitting image, if not for the brown hair inherited from their mother.
“I plead being a man,” Behn finally said.
He’s clever, Maylie thought. Surely they could not try him now. No one would believe a man could be a creature; only females were. He might have a chance to save his reputation.
“You have made your pleas,” Lord Brackley said. “Begin the Trial.”
Maylie’s eyes widened.
The crowd shouted again, but Maylie’s attention was on the officer carrying a large wooden cask. She was equally grateful and terrified he stepped onto the platform behind her first. Perhaps if she proved innocent, they wouldn’t try the others. She closed her eyes, waiting for the officer to tilt the barrel.
Icy water gushed onto her head, cascading down her body. She held her breath until it finished. It would have felt refreshing if not for the salt stinging her eyes. She tried to wipe them, but the chains restricted her, so she was forced to blink away the burn. Maylie stood drenched and embarrassed, but unchanged.
The crowd hushed, and Maylie could hear a combination of disappointment and relief she was still human. Lucian was one of those rooting for her. He had to be. She hoped.
“Maydeline Shadow,” Lord Brackley spoke, “you have revealed you are innocent of the accusation, still a daughter of the Divine.” She could hear relief in her future father-in-law’s voice.
A different Rosecoat carried a new cask of salt water to her mother. Maylie started to protest, but Lord Brackley shot her a look that could only be interpreted as “hold your tongue.” She swallowed back her words and tears. They would not spare her mother.
The Rosecoat dumped the salt water onto her mother, and the moment it covered Emilia’s body, she dropped to the floor. She writhed and thrashed, crying out in what Maylie assumed was pain. Her mother hadn’t changed in seventeen years.
Under Emilia’s dress, her feet lost their heels and her legs turned inky blue, growing scales as her flesh disappeared and her limbs fused as one extremity, resembling a beta fish’s tail. Her skin lost its peach hue, becoming grey and scaly. Gills formed on either side of her neck, fins on her forearms, and she cried out as her teeth elongated, pointed and sharp.
Maylie realized she had never seen a mermaid this close. Or at all.
She tore her eyes from her mother, who was writhing on the wood like a fish and gasping with her hands over her gills as she tried to breathe through her nose, to look at Lord Brackley. Surprise painted on his face; he hadn’t expected her mother to fail.
He cleared his throat. “Emilia Shadow, we have exposed your sin and revealed you are guilty of the accusation brought upon you. If there is no man to claim you, you will be sentenced to death.”
Maylie looked out for her father. Had he arrived at their manor first only to find it empty? She instead found Lucian, her future husband, standing in the back under the alcove. If she had turned, he would have claimed her.
“I claim her,” Behn’s voice rang out. “In my father’s absence, I am the Man of the Shadow House.”
“You cannot claim one tried on Trial yourself,” Lord Brackley replied, his eyes pained.
“He’s a man, for the Divine’s sake!” Maylie shouted. “He’s not going to turn, so it’s pointless to subject him to the Trial.”
“Please, someone show some compassion and bring a towel to my mother,” Behn said.
“I’m all right,” Emilia choked out. Her tail had begun to dry, reforming into legs, and her skin was becoming pink and fleshy again. She struggled to stand.
Lord Brackley contemplated, and let out the smallest of sighs. “Let the Trial finish. When he is found innocent, he may lay claim.”
Maylie’s heart constricted. The Viceroy, the Rosecoat carrying the third cask, and the entire town believed Behn would pass. She wished he would. Perhaps he could pretend he was unaffected, but her hope was running thin.