On getting married

This is the first chapter of Majestic, a novel I’m about two-thirds into. This was rewritten slightly for a uni project.

On my sixteenth birthday I found out who I was going to marry and it wasn’t who I’d hoped. It was to be a lass named Pauline Devonald. Well, wasn’t that something? For a year or so, I’d wanted it to be Crystal Quaid. I grew up with her and we were only a few months apart in age, she being the older. Our farm and hers look at each other across the canal. We Tulley children used to play with the Quaids’ and the adult folk used to get together all the time more than they did with any other of the families around Low Swales. So you could say the Quaids were close to us.

Crystal was what you’d call a very pretty girl. The Quaids are all dark-headed and Crystal was no different. She had this long wonderful head of jet-black hair that hung down nearly to her bottom. I can still remember those flashing dark eyes and the way she used to bite her bottom lip when she was thinking up mischief. I could go on and on about her face and her smile and her bosom and Lord knows what else, but I’d be missing the point. You see, I grew up with her and she was always around. So I didn’t think of her as pretty in the years I knew her until it was too late. Until the day I knew she couldn’t be mine, then she got prettier every day.

For most of the time before today, she was just there and she just was. The funny thing is, as I’m sure you’ll know, is how someone looks when you don’t see them for a long time. It’s then you realise all those things you knew but never heeded. As I’m sitting here now putting all this down on paper, I’m struck by the memory of how beautiful Crystal was. I can picture that animated face of hers now, that impish grin and that cackling laugh. Lord, but I could’ve seen my days out with her. But I’m glad I didn’t, for I wouldn’t swap the time I had with the girl I did marry for anything promised by heaven.

I’m getting ahead of myself a little here. Obviously, I never married Crystal and our paths diverged more and more from that day I learned who my life’s mate would be. The Mayor of my town drew names out of the lottery hat and paired me off with Pauline Devonald, who I‘d never heard of.

Let me say that this recounting is about my life with Pauline, and not about Crystal. I mention her as she was the first girl outside of my family that I really understood to be a girl. As daft as it sounds.

Crystal ended up with Terry Anderson, and I’d be lying if I said Terry was a dear friend of mine in the short years I knew him. No he wasn’t, God help us all. He was superior, clever, handsome, strong, talented. All those things the average boy wants to be but falls short of. Don’t mistake me – I’ve been called handsome by a few and clever by a few more, but I didn’t compare to Terry Anderson in my sixteenth year, any more than the waning moon compares to the noonday sun. Of the boys of my generation in my general area, he was top dog. The boy we all wanted to be, even if most of us couldn’t admit that to ourselves.

By now you’d be thinking I was gravely disappointed that I wasn’t matched with Crystal, and yes, you would be so very right. Gravely disappointed isn’t how I would’ve put it at the time. In fact, I went down to the canal and bawled my eyes out. I wasn’t coy about expressing myself then – I didn’t see any need. I lived with a family who were open, honest and loving.

So, here I was out on the canal’s edge bleating like one of our sheep when my father, better known to the world at the time as John Tulley, comes along. He figured I had a thing for Crystal and had given me the proper amount of time to let the news sink in, and then followed me out.

‘May as well clean up and head over to the Devonalds and introduce yourself to Pauline,’ says he.

‘Bugger Pauline,’ was my considered answer. ‘I don’t want to marry her.’

A lot of the Devonalds lived in Thurrock Vale, way over the other side of the colony, nestled in the mountains that separated us from the world. Back then, I rarely saw any of them and didn’t know any of their names.

‘Lad,’ my father warned, in that subtle low growl of his. ‘Go clean up, and head out. It’ll take you today and most of tomorrow to get there. Pauline will be sent back with you to see our house and to stay for the usual five day period. We need to rebuild that old house yonder for you two come the day you’re wed.’

I’m not sure if any of that sunk in on first hearing. In a few seconds I became aware of my father’s eyes on me.

‘Saxton, did you hear me?’ My father used my full name, and that was always a sign that he was deadly serious and expected to be heeded then and there.

‘Yes Da, I did.’

He sat beside me and his face took on that serene aspect I knew so well. ‘I would’ve preferred Crystal for you as well. You two get on famously. You’re already friends and that naturally helps when beginning any new marriage. I was blessed that I knew your mother well before we were betrothed. Alas, it won’t be the same for you and I can only give you spiritual strength.’ After all these years I still miss the way my father spoke. He had this manner of diction which was both eloquent and precise. The man rarely said anything crass or vulgar and never wasted his words on people. He led the choir and recital group, and was asked to speak at various dinners, weddings and funerals. None of it rubbed off onto me, as you might’ve guessed. Some said my ways came from my mother’s side, who were Fentons, but that was unfair on her. I’m probably a unique product that was neither Tulley nor Fenton. I got told I was different enough times.

‘Crystal has been promised to another and that’s it,’ my father was saying. ‘It’s foolish to commiserate on what never could’ve been.’

‘I should take her and head up the Alley,’ I answered. Then time stood still. I just said a very bad thing. Heading up the Alley sounds like an innocuous expression to say in itself and to the entire world bar Majestic, it is. But to us, it’s a dreadful, horrible thing. See, the Alley is the sole way into and out of our colony by land. It’s a narrow mountain pass south of Thurrock Vale and it leads to the rest of the world. I didn’t know at the time what lie beyond – none of us did save the First (he had a map) and some of the elders, but to go down the Alley was to leave Majestic. Forever. Those that went out never came back. Very few ever did leave and most of those were banished. There were people farther down the Alley that guarded it and let nobody in, guards belonging to whatever nation lie beyond. So, to say I was heading up the Alley was to say I was abandoning Majestic, my family, the Charter, God, and everything we stood and lived for. In the eyes of some, I would’ve committed treason by uttering that. Sitting there, I expected my father to forgo his normal calmness and start giving me the tongue-lashing of my life.

He did neither. Rather, he gave me this narrow-eyed and knowing look, then got to his feet. ‘Sax, do as I ask. Get ready and go. I’ve gotten the cart out. It’s a twenty-five mile trip and nobody will ride the cart there for you.’

‘Yes, Da.’

As I walked past him into our house, I heard him say, ‘One day I’ll forgive you for that comment. You’ll have to earn that forgiveness. You will need to work hard.’

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