There nothing more magical than a Christmas Wedding – An excerpt from The Dark Tides

winter-wedding-winter-wonderland-ceremony-decor-preston-baileyThere’s nothing more magical than a Christmas wedding. It’s that time of year that makes something as special as a wedding even more spectacular, and nothing ruins a wedding more than an evil sorceress hellbent on total domination. That is the setting for The Dark Tides: Book Two of the Forever Avalon series.

You can really find inspiration in the strangest of places. Christmas is very special to my family, especially my wife. She listens to Christmas music year-round, watches Christmas movies all the time and shops for anything and everything to make the house sparkle even more at the holidays. Being overwhelmed like this, it seemed natural to me, as a writer, to use Christmas as a foil in my novel.

You have that perfect setting of this pristine wedding, like a blanket of new fallen snow, and you throw in a deadly plot to destroy Avalon and resurrect the most vile sorceress in history to boot. So, you are all invited to the Wedding of Ashely MoonDrake, daughter of the Gil-Gamesh of Avalon, to Andrew St. Johns on the floating island of Emmyr on Christmas Eve.

***

On Christmas Eve, all of Avalon gathered on Emmyr for the wedding of Ashley and Andrew. Port Charles closed for the first time so as to allow the ships carrying the many dignitaries to dock for this special occasion. But even with a “who’s who” of royalty attending, the most important people invited were the people of Emmyr. Everyone in the city was invited by the Gil-Gamesh. So they all put on their best clothes for what many described as the wedding of the millennium. It’s not often that ordinary people mingle with the Lords of Avalon, but that’s how the Gil-Gamesh saw himself. He was a person of the people, especially to the people of Emmyr.

This was also a first, for many on Avalon, to see the wedding of two Outlanders hold such fervor with the people; but then again, these were no ordinary Outlanders. In any case, everyone made their way to the city square just outside the Dragon’s Veil. Rows of chairs encircled the statue of Lady Stephanie and her children, divided by small aisles with a main aisle coming directly from the gates of the Dragon’s Veil. A raised dais stood at the rear of the statue, where the ceremony would be performed, draped in white and blue silks. Cardinal Dominici Allistar Magelleon stood on the dais, waiting to officiate the ceremony.

The aisles are lined with iron torchiere, but instead of burning wood, they each held a magical flame, suspended to provide warmth and light. White Poinsettias lined the aisles and around the dais as a symbol of the winter season. Around the square, the large mirrors focused the light from all around on the square.

As the guests filtered into their seats, special attention was given to the arrival of certain dignitaries to the wedding. A herald announced each arrival as they arrived at the wedding.
“Master Dinius Oddbottom, Lord of the Gilded Halls,” the herald announced as Dinius and a small company of Dwarves took their seats. They were dressed in their finest armor, but it’s hard to tell as their long beards hide them from view.

“Lord Baldrid and the Lady Lyllodoria of Alfheimer,” came next, as the King of the Elves and his wife were escorted to their seats by a company of Elves. Though most people have seen Elves before, it was rare to see the Lord of Alfheimer away from his home. As they walked in, most people are overwhelmed by the glow of their presence.

Many others were introduced, including friends of the Gil-Gamesh like the Wizard Browbridge, as well as all of the Lords of Avalon and members of the Wizard’s Council. One of the more spectacular arrivals was that of Kragmar and Nihala, who landed on a stone outcropping just above the square. Though their presence was intimidating, they are looked upon with respect and awe.

The last to arrive was the Queen. “Her Royal Highness, Queen Cadhla Edaline Raewyn Pendragon, Queen of Avalon … Long Live the Queen!” the herald announced. All stand and bow or curtsey as she made way to her seat. She was accompanied by Hunter, who led her personal escort for the wedding, and her son Bowen. Though only five-years-old, Bowen was quite reposed for a toddler. His red hair and freckled face showed off his innocence, something he is well known for in New Camelot, as a well-behaved boy and dutiful prince.

Once the Queen is seated, everyone else filled in the remainder of the seats or stood at the rear as the wedding was about to begin. A chorus sang “Ave Maria” as the wedding party marched in. They are dressed in the finest Elven silks, draped in the colors of the House of MoonDrake.
Stephanie was escorted by Andrew along with her grandson Thomas. She held Thomas’ hand and Andrew’s arm as they walked down the aisles to their seats before Andrew stepped up to the dais. Next, Nevan and Sarafina walked down the aisle, taking their seats next to Stephanie.

Chancellor Ocwyn followed, escorting Mrs. Thurgoode. Bryan and Stephanie wanted to make sure their longtime friends were a part of this special occasion. Rose was escorted by Captain O’Brian, the best man. Rose could barely contain her delight in being able to walk down the aisle with Edan, something she hoped to do again in the future.

Lastly, as the wedding march began and the audience rose to their feet, Bryan escorted Ashley down the aisle. Her dress was a work of art as white silk was layered with a frosted lace that glittered like falling snow. It was trimmed with a white mink collar and cuffs to complete the package. Her veil was also made from the same glittering lace, held on her head by a diamond and sapphire tiara, an early wedding gift from the Dwarves of the Gilded Halls. Around her neck, she wore the blue stone pendant given to her by Merlin. She carried a bouquet of white poinsettias and blue roses.

Bryan walked down the aisle, head held high, beaming with pride. This was something he had looked forward to since the day she was born. Ashley smiled, though it was hard for her to hide her nervous jitters.

“I can’t believe all these people came to my wedding,” she whispered to her father. “If I wasn’t so nervous, I’d probably faint right here.”

“Don’t worry sweetheart, I’m here to catch you,” he joked. “Besides, everyone out there is looking at you and they are totally jealous of how beautiful you look.”

Ashley smiled as a tear rolled down her cheek. “Oh no, I can’t start crying yet.” As they reached the dais, Bryan lifted her veil and dabbed her cheek with his gloved hand.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of family, friends, and our Lord God to bring together this man and this woman in holy matrimony,” proclaimed Cardinal Magelleon. “Who gives this woman?”

“Her mother and I …” said the Gil-Gamesh as he placed Ashley’s hand in Andrew’s before taking his seat. Once seated, Stephanie noticed a tear on her husband’s cheek. She wiped the tear with her hand. She knew that beneath that gruff warrior-like exterior he was really a softy, especially when it came to his children. He smiled then took her hand in his as the ceremony continued.
The ceremony concluded with Cardinal Magelleon announcing to the gathering, “May I present to you, Andrew and Ashley St. Johns of Avalon.” The crowd erupted in applause as the couple made their way down the aisle. One by one, the official party and some of the dignitaries were escorted behind them into the Dragon’s Veil while the square was transformed from wedding seating to a huge reception for all.

Ashley and Andrew took their place at the head of the receiving line, along with Bryan and Stephanie, to be formally congratulated by everyone. Ocwyn hovered close by to ensure they knew exactly who they were speaking too and that the proper protocols were adhered to. Queen Cadhla was the first to greet the happy couple.

Ashley and Andrew bow and curtsey, respectfully, exactly how Ocwyn instructed them as the Queen approaches. “Congratulations to both of you, it was a beautiful ceremony,” she congratulated. “You should be very proud Lord and Lady MoonDrake.”

Bryan bowed, ever respectful of his monarch. “We are honored that Her Majesty could attend.” He then turned his attention to young Bowen. “And did you enjoy the ceremony, Prince Bowen?”

“It was okay, but I preferred watching the dragons,” he said, pointing up the mountain to where Kragmar and Nihala sit. “I’ve never seen a dragon before.”

Bryan saw an adventurous streak in the young prince. “Well, maybe your mother will allow me to take you on a flight around Emmyr so you can see the dragon’s a lot better.”

Bowen brightened up at the chance of seeing the dragons up close and he turned to the Queen for approval. Queen Cadhla hated to burst his enthusiasm, but she knew this was not the right time.

“I don’t think we’ll have time for that today Bowen,” she cautioned, causing the boy to look sullen and disappointed. “But perhaps, the next time Sir Hunter comes home to Emmyr to visit, you can tag along and spend some time here, alright?”

Bowen practically jumped for joy. Bryan and Stephanie were surprised that the Queen, who had been so over-protective of her son since his birth, would allow him to come to Emmyr alone.
“I will look into making the necessary arrangements, Your Majesty, once we get back to New Camelot,” Hunter interjected.

“We would be honored to have the young prince as our guest,” Stephanie added. “Thomas would love to have another boy his own age to play with.”

As the Queen moved off to talk with some of the other guests, Ashley leaned into her mother, looking curiously at Queen Cadhla and Prince Bowen. “Mom, I’m confused … Who is the boy’s father?” she whispered.

“No one knows really,” Stephanie replied softly, so others wouldn’t hear her. “Rumor has it there was this young knight who was completing his training in New Camelot when the Queen fell madly in love with him and seduced him. However, he was honor-bound to his home and left without saying good-bye. It broke the Queen’s heart. He was said to have been killed in Blackbriar Forest, but no body was ever found.”

Others came through the receiving line, including the Gil-Gamesh’s friends Eonis and Dinius. The pair greeted Bryan and Stephanie warmly before turning their attention to the wedded couple. “Congratulations laddie and welcome to Avalon,” Dinius said, reaching up to give Andrew a hearty handshake. Andrew was slightly tongue-tied to the fact that he’s talking to an actual Dwarf and Elf.

“Congratulations laddie and welcome to Avalon,” Dinius said, reaching up to give Andrew a hearty handshake. Andrew was slightly tongue-tied to the fact that he’s talking to an actual Dwarf and Elf.

Eonis gave a courteous bow to Ashley and Andrew. “You are a welcome addition to the MoonDrake family.”

Ashley reached out and gave Eonis a hug before she realized that she might have breached protocol. “I’m so sorry Eonis, I shouldn’t have done that.”

Eonis just ignored it altogether. “Not to worry Ashley … Being a friend of your father, I have come to grow accustomed to involuntary hugging.”

“If you like lass, you can hug me. I don’t mind it as much as the Elf,” Dinius quipped. Ashley knelt down and gave the old Dwarf a hug, leaving everyone with a good laugh. “Andrew lad, the Gil-Gamesh tells me you’ve taken to swinging the axe?”

“Yes sir, Róta and Myst are the perfect weapons to have.”

“Indeed it is laddie, any knight can wield a sword, but it takes a real man to swing an axe …” he exclaimed before pausing and turning to Bryan. “No offense intended Gil-Gamesh.”

“And none taken Master Dinius, as always!” he joked.

Dinius grumbled before he turned back to Andrew. “If you ever need some tips lad, I’d be happy to share them with yeh.”

“That would be great Master Dinius, how about we talk about it over a pint?” Andrew replied, knowing the Dwarf’s fondness for ale, or so Bryan told him.

“Ha-ha, now you’re talking lad! You’re buying!” Dinius agreed as he slapped Andrew in the back, a stronger blow than he was expecting, as it nearly knocked the wind out of him.

After the entire line of dignitaries made their way through the receiving line, they all moved back into the square for the reception. The area had been transformed, thanks to the uncanny precision and meticulous organization of Mayor Henri Beauchamp.

The servers brought out large roasted pigs, peccadillo, roast chicken, chicharones, fried plantains, mango salsa, black beans and more … It is a feast unlike anyone has ever seen in Avalon. Though some ate the food with slight trepidation, others dove in with enthusiasm. It was a rousing success as great food and music brought laughter and love together.

Ashley and Andrew sat at a table on the dais with Rose and Edan. The four young adults were enjoying their meal as well as their time together. Bryan kept a close watch on Edan from down below, but Stephanie nudged him every once and awhile to mind his own business.

Even with all the festivities going on, security was still paramount. Amelia and the other Shield Maidens had been intertwined with the Gil-Gamesh’s Dragon Guard and Knights of the Round Table from New Camelot to surround the square and keep a watchful eye. Amelia wandered around, looking at everyone who came in and left of the square.

One person caught her attention out of the corner of her eye. A woman wearing garish clothes—probably a prostitute from the local brothel—placed a small box on the gift table. The table was filled with a variety of presents from both the dignitaries as well as the people of Emmyr. It wasn’t anything unusual so she just noted it and continued her patrol around the square.

Ocwyn stepped up to the head table and tried to get everyone’s attention, but even he was unable to be heard over the crowd. He finally pulled out his wand from within his robes and pointed it into the air. “Silentium!” he chanted. The tip of his wand glowed as waves of magic rippled through the air cascade from his wand. The load roar of the crowd turned to utter silence as the spell took hold over the square. Once Ocwyn saw he had their undivided attention, he waved his wand and canceled the spell.

“Your Majesty, Lords of Avalon, Ladies and Gentlemen … It is a noted tradition that on Christmas Eve, some parents allow children to open one gift. To continue that tradition, I invite Mrs. St. Johns to pick one of the gifts from the table to open before our assembled guests.”

The audience roared in approval as Ocwyn helped Ashley down to the gift table so she could make her choice. She walked along the table, looking at all the gifts, each wrapped beautifully. People in the audience shouted out advice as to which gift to pick as she walked down the long table.

She finally stopped and spied a small box neatly wrapped. For some reason, her eye was drawn to it and she picked it up, garnering applause from the crowd. She made her way up to the table and stood next to Andrew. Together they unwrapped the ribbon and Ashley opened the box. People stood and strained to see what she would pull out of the box.

Ashley was speechless as she reached in and pulled out a small orb, about five inches in diameter. It shimmered in the light as she fawned over such a beautiful gift. But from near the front, Archie watched as Ashley pulled the orb out of the box and his delight turned to fear.
“Ashley no!” he shouted. “Put that down!”

But his voice couldn’t be heard over the applause and cheers of the crowd. The orb pulsed with energy, drawing the attention of Nihala who roared out a warning, silencing the crowd. Suddenly, the pulsing energy transferred from the orb into Ashley. She looked up as her eyes rolled back into her head; she looked down, bracing herself on the table.

“Ash, are you alright?” Andrew asked. Ashley righted herself and opened her eyes, but it wasn’t Ashley looking back. It was Morgana le Fay.

“Repello!” she commanded, firing a bolt of energy from the orb at Andrew that sent him flying across the square and crashing into the wall.

She turned to Rose and Edan, sitting next to her looking confused. “Repello!” she commanded again, sending the two flying off the dais.

Shouts of horror and disbelief could be heard around the square. Stephanie rushed to help Andrew while Sarafina and Nevan looked after Rose and Edan. Bryan rushed to his daughter but Archie stopped him.

“Ashley, what are you doing?!” he shouted.

“No, no Gil-Gamesh … it’s not Ashley,” Archie explained. “That’s the Orb of Veles. Ashley has been possessed! It’s Morgana … Morgana le Fay! The sorceress has returned!”

***

51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt.

 

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