Miss Annalaye Merrings was to be married at night, beside a shamefully brown boy, and before the barrel of her father's shotgun.
Lucy wove a crown of white flowers for herself and wore a dress that ended too soon revealing a stocky pair of muddy boots. "Annie," she tittered, "oh, Annie, you are going to be married! I've never been to a wedding before. Oh, he is a handsome boy. D-do you think one day someone will marry me? Oh, I hope so! I'll wear a big white dress covered in frills and bells! Will you come Annie? Oh, do come! Please!"
Annalaye smiled and nodded. She laced the neck of her simple white frock and scraped mismatched curls of hair from her eyes. Mother refused to let her wear grandmother's dress. It had been put aside for this day; aside, but never away. As the girl grew Annalaye had often crept into the wardrobe and boldly touched the pure white lace edged with pearl. To a child the billowing skirts were a beautiful testament to a beautiful future. But, as childhood melted away, she began to see the gaudiness of stitched silk and the swelling bodies of sour faced old women.
"Have you got everything Lucy?"
"Are you sure?"
Annalaye pulled a pair of softly worn walking shoes over bare feet. Lucy had replaced the shoe strings with once white ribbon. Crumbled and stained the bow, once tied, was less than beautiful but Lucy gushed over it and clutched Annalaye in a savage bear hug. The scent of porridge and stolen perfume. There, pressed up against the lush curves of her childhood serving girl the bride closed her eyes and steeled herself against what was to come. The ceremony, the departure, and the life beyond her own family's drought ravaged lands. Hunger, probably. Desperation, surely. Love, hopefully. Freedom... that she prayed for. The embrace broke.
The pair left the room. Lucy, flushed with excitement, tried to pick up the tails of Annalaye's dress. The bride gently pulled them out of the woman's hands and shook her head.
"I thought that was how..."
"Only when it comes from my head, Lucy. Remember my grandmother's wedding dress? It's called a veil."
"You don't have one of those."
"No. I don't need it. He's seen me before."
When they arrived in the garden the men were already there. Her father stood beside a strange priest and in front of him was Vint. He was little more than a boy but the corners of his eyes wore the etchings of early manhood. Annalaye smiled softly and took her place at his side, ignoring the forlorn twist of his lips. Father's gun was pointed at him, as it had been for hours.
"Before the one who sees, hears, and knows," the priest spoke, "may he witness this ceremony and rain his blessings upon us. Miss Annalaye Merrings and the Native Vint will be married now before these two witnesses and be, forever more, to each other husband and wife."
It was a stark marriage, void of all but the necessary words to bind the two together. But it was enough. Lucy sobbed hopelessly as the two were proclaimed married without saying a word and scribbled her name as a witness on a document the priest produced from the inner folds of his robe. Her father didn't lower his weapon until Vint too had signed the paper - pen clutched in fist - with three large crosses.
It was then that she appeared, as Mrs Annalaye Native lent forward to put her new flourishing signature beside that of her husband's. Hair piled high, dress black, and fingers wrapped around the long neck of a bottle.
"NO! Stop it! You can't marry him!"
Lucy squealed as the woman bellowed. Father backed away and the Priest scowled. Annalaye turned slowly.
"Go to hell, mother."
Her already flushed cheeks coloured. "You dare talk to me like that, you little brat! I birthed you!" Spit flew from stained lips. "I bore you and I birthed you and it almost killed me! I bled for you!" Then tears. "My only daughter. My youngest child. You were the best! You could have done so much! Lord Torrenson wanted your hand. Why did you spurn him. You could have had land, so much finer than here. Servants not so simple. Money of your own to spend of whatever you want..." A broken sob melted into a drunken moan. "But you, stupid brat, couldn't keep your legs together and now you're ruined. Stupid stupid brat!"
Lucy was in a panic now. Tears rolled down rounded cheeks, hands held over trembling jaw, and shoulders shivering alarmingly. A moan slipped between the press of her fingers. Terrified and unsure.
"Mrs Merrings," the priest began.
"No! Shut up! Shut the hell up!"
"Margret," Father tried.
"I said," Annalaye growled, feeling her control slipping for the first time that night, "go to hell."
"Go to hell! And take your pearl lined wedding dress, your Lord Torrenson, and your broken bloody dreams with you!" She turned away; turned her back to her mother as the woman screeched a string of curses; and signed the marriage document with a jagged ugly scribble. Then, with a quick smile to the bewildered priest and grim faced father she seized the hands of Lucy and Vint and started toward the stables where a horse and cart was waiting. Reins held by a wide eyed youth.
"You'll never get anywhere in life! A ruined girl, a brown boy, and a simpleton!" She started after them, wobbling alarmingly, and hurling her words like bullets at their backs. "Everywhere you go people will turn you out. Do you understand me? No one is going to give you food. No one is going to let you take shelter on their land! You'll be a menace! Like those gypsy rats! Do you hear me?! A menace!"
"Then be glad you are rid of us, mother!"
"Annalaye," Vint whispered. His voice was horse, strained. "She's right. No one will hire me. Or you. I... I don't know..."
"What?" The young bride forced her lips into a cheeky curve. "You? Not know something? I don't believe it. Not for a second."
They reached the wagon and Annalaye climbed up the wheel and onto the wooden stage. Offered a hand down to Lucy who looked nervously at her feet as she carefully planted them on the angled wooden rungs. Vint swung himself on board in a single fluid motion. At this moment her father jogged to meet them. He kissed his daughter, pointed to the packed bags as if she might forget their presence, and sent one last withering look at Vint. Harness whipped, cart groaned, Lucy giggled and then they were moving.
Her mother was still shouting; the priest lurking, hungry for his payment; and a few gathered farm hands watched, eyes baneful. It wasn't the farewell a young Miss Merrings had dreamed of while fingering her grandmothers wedding dress. Nor was it ever described in any of the dogeared novels stacked under her bed. Nor had it been on her mind when she met the boy working alone on her father's parched land.
"Annalaye," Vint's voice rung with the strange hard accent of the sand people. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Voice bore a sharpened edge.
"For this, Annie." Hand waved at the old cart, their scant belongings, and around to Annalaye's stomach.
She snorted. "Whatever happens next I know we won't starve; you're far too good a thief for that." The boy didn't look convinced. "And I know you won't run; I'm far too exciting to leave behind." A flicker of a smile.
"Me too," Lucy chirped happily. "You mustn't leave me behind. You'll miss my wedding."
"Exactly," Annalaye concurred with a wild grin. The horse, leaving the farm gate, began to pick up speed. "Besides, desert boy, I think it might be fun to be a menace. Just like my Ma said. Just for a while."
No more lace bound dreams broken by drunken lords, no more adventure books of knights and maidens worn to a dull death, and no more lines in the dirt. Black and white. Rich and poor. Simple and sane. Just raw, dust coated, freedom. Free of serfdom and servitude, regulations and obligations. Free of pearls and lace.