Saturday Storytime: Bride Price

This story from S. E. Jones really didn’t go where I expected it to. I rather like the differences.

Late-1800s charcoal drawing of a young woman reading a page she's pulled out of a wooden desk. Circular vignette.
The family hall was tucked behind the children’s hospital. The road was dotted with skeletal plane trees, their leaves long since stolen by winter. Against the brick of the surrounding buildings, the hall looked odd—an Edwardian manor untouched by time.

Well. The great magical families had never been shy about protecting their own property while letting everything else burn. The blitz of World War Two had made much less of a dent in their holdings than in those of the general public. They had lost just as many buildings in the resulting public anger before they had joined the war effort, but that was the foresight of the great families—keeping themselves separate until reality forced them to participate in society.

Not that they’d learned yet—her bride price was not something anyone would be able to bid for. No, only those with magic in their blood need apply.

Kyria slipped in through the old servants’ door. Her footsteps echoed as she made her way down the corridor.

Her father would be in the ancestors’ hall. When built, it had been furnished with a throne and portraits of old men of power. Anything to make visitors feel small.

Now, the throne was gone, and the hall was divided into two meeting rooms, connected to each other by a single door. The walls were a product of the old messy feuds that came with the interbreeding between magical families. Now they just cut down on the heating bills.

Kyria made her way to the first meeting room. The portraits stared down at four chairs, each occupied by a man. One chair stood empty.

So these were her supposed suitors. Quick off the mark. That made them very rich or very poor. Either eager to cement their legacy, or desperate to start one.

Damn them all and all their legacies to hell.

She opened the door with some violence.

Their gaze met hers, they darted away.

Good. They could . . .

The door opposite slammed open. A man stormed through, wearing what was probably his best suit. He spotted her.

“I hope you die lonely.”

He swept past her, and down the corridor to the large double doors which separated the ancestors’ hall from the rest of the manor. Kyria’s jaw clicked shut before she turned to stare at the suitors.

How much had her father asked for her bride price?

A second passed, and then the man furthest from her stood up. He adjusted his tie, his cufflinks—all of them were dressed as if they were going to either court or a funeral—and walked through to the next room.

Raised voices followed.

The suitor left, this time with less fury.

The third suitor stood up and strode forwards, as if readying himself for war.

He lasted longer but he still left.

The last suitor glanced at her, opened his mouth, and then snapped it shut. She followed him as he walked toward the room that held her father.

He paused. She waited for him to protest her presence.

Instead, he knocked, and walked in. He drew the door shut behind him, but left the smallest of gaps.

Her father spoke in calm orders, as always: “Sit. Please, take some tea.”

Kyria pulled her jacket tight around her, and settled against the wall to listen.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Bride Price