Bound to Be a Bride

By: Megan Mulry


I sat down under his shadow with great delight,

and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

—Song of Solomon





May 1, 1808

Palace of the Dukes of Feria

Alcazaba de Badajoz, Spain

Seventeen. Finally.

I am Doña Isabella de Suárez de Figueroa y Córdoba, daughter of the Duke of Feria and granddaughter of the Duke of Medinaceli, she repeated to herself, silently mouthing the words as she stood there looking into her wide brown eyes in the full-length oval mirror. The white lace of the mantilla scratched at her tender skin, but she had learned to ignore such inconsequential physical discomfort years ago. She pushed the maid away to make her cease her infernal fiddling with the already-perfect strands of raven hair that curled down her neck. Irritating woman.

“¡Ve!” Isabella rudely barked her dismissal.

Sol, the quiet, solid attendant who had raised Isabella since she was pulled from her dead mother’s body, looked stricken.

“Come,” Isabella said, softening her tone and forcing her nerves to quiet. She reached and pulled Sol into her arms. “I’m sorry.”

Isabella could feel Sol’s slight tremor of emotion as she hugged her back. She knew that Sol loved her as a mother would—probably better than most of the aristocratic absentee mothers of the other girls at the convent where Isabella had spent the past seven years of her sequestered adolescence. But Isabella’s days of obedience were about to come to an end. She had told no one. Not even Sol. Especially not Sol.

She had to pretend that all of her nervous jittering was a result of her wedding day, as if she had become impatient to finally meet the man to whom she was betrothed. Isabella’s father had sent a letter to the abbess nine months ago informing her that his daughter had been promised to the son of a wealthy member of the de la Mina family, and that she should be prepared. After all the years in the convent—the dire, dark, cold, dismal hours, days, weeks, and eventually years—Isabella was at last going to meet him. Or so everyone thought. It would make perfect sense for such a meeting to bring on a wave of vaporish, missish, despicably feminine swooning. Isabella could play that role one more time. And then never again.

Isabella gave Sol one final, firm pat on the back. Their roles had reversed years ago. “That’s enough, Sol. We are going to see each other every day just like when I was a girl.”

“But, my lady, after today, you will be la Condesa de la Mina—solidifying the alliance between the great families of the south and the great families of the north of Spain.”

The way Sol uttered the title with that combination of reverence and fear made Isabella want to kick the perfectly embroidered cushion on the footstool near where she stood. Instead, she released Sol and forced herself to sit back down on the silk cushion of the chair in front of her dressing table. She dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands. Those clenched fists of hers did double duty these days. Isabella thanked God for the hideous antiquated female fashions that her father insisted she wear, for one reason and one reason alone. While every other young woman of her class wore the flattering high-waisted Empire style, she was still constricted in the whalebone corset of her grandmother’s day. Yet, at times like this, Isabella was grateful for the yards and yards of heavy, hot, voluminous, suffocating white brocade. The passé style afforded ample room to conceal the evidence of her frustration: her fists. Her angry fists were always hidden in the folds of her old-fashioned dresses, while it appeared that her hands were clasped in that ladylike way the abbess had drilled into her from dawn until… dawn.

Isabella smiled at her little joke.

“There.” Sol smiled, wiping the last tears from the creases around her rheumy eyes. “That’s the smile everyone wants to see. Enough with your strange mood.” Sol began pattering again, flitting around Isabel in her doting way.

Four more hours, just four more hours.

***

Francisco Javier de la Mina had better things to do than allow himself to be married off to some brittle, privileged girl who had been locked in a convent for the past seven years. A few months ago, on his way home from the seminary in Pamplona where he had been studying, he stopped outside of Burgos to see if he could catch a glimpse of his intended bride. He and his friend Sebastián waited in the small town near the convent and eventually saw a pale blond waif of a girl. She wore a fine hat of pale blue silk. “That is Doña Isabella,” the local innkeeper assured them. The older man, with a conviction that came from a lifetime spent within four square miles, went on to say that his daughter was the local milliner and the hat was of particular quality and beauty. Perhaps if the girl’s appearance had offered even a hint of strength or an adventurous spirit, Javi might have been more convinced of the need to obey his father’s very strict orders regarding the match, but after that glimpse into a future of endless hours in the company of an insipid girl, he was more committed than ever to pursuing his political plans far beyond the borders of Spain. When the weak female passed in front of the window of the inn where he and Sebastián had inquired about the aristocratic girls at the convent, Javi was relieved he would remain an unmarried bachelor. Being a single man meant he would not have to forego his rather unique sexual predilections and the freedom he enjoyed in their pursuit. Family obligations be damned.

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