A month later…
Edmund looked around at the guests, his hands behind his back as he waited beside the vicar in the gardens of Foster Hall. He could not recognize most of them; they were close friends of Sarah’s family, soon to be his family. His bride had requested a small, intimate wedding, thus, today it was a private affair.
However, most of the common folk could not resist the chance to grace the wedding of their Duke, and they sat excitedly now, watching him with smiles. The garden had been arranged with tables and seats while wooden beams had been erected to serve as pillars, decorated gaily with flowers and ribbons and streamers that floated in the gentle breeze. The flowers in the gardens were in full bloom, their delicate petals adding a quiet beauty to the scene as they had been scattered to the ground.
The makeshift altar was covered with satin, and more ribbons and flowers, flanked by small trees on each side with the vicar standing a little to the side. It was enough to make him feel that the whole ceremony was surreal; as though he had been transported into paradise. He turned to look at Mr Hartsfield, who stood talking with an unknown man – a friend, likely. Edmund watched the other man whisper into Mr Hartsfield’s ear, and they both walked away.
Looking around at the guests now, Edmund sighed. He wished his own family were here. The aching feeling of loss built up in his chest at the thought of his father and brother. He would soon have a new family, with Sarah. And he knew it would be enough.
In front of him, the Dowager Duchess sat demurely, nodding at him in encouragement. It had not been easy but she had seen the error of her actions, and after a long thought she decided to apologise. The act was so strange to him.
The guests rose at the sound of the organ that had been brought outside. The vicar stood just behind Edmund, while the choir began a light solemn hymn as the bridal procession arrived.
The sight of her never failed to take his breath away.
A bouquet in her hands, the veil over her face, Sarah walked down the centre of the crowd, her hand in her father’s arm, and the train of her dress held up by her friend, Anne.
Her dress was a white satin perfection with elaborate stitching of silver and gold threads. Ahead of the pair was a little girl holding a smaller bouquet and a little boy with a basket of peonies who dropped them as they walked. While her face was hidden behind the veil and she kept her head down, Edmund knew she was radiant as ever.
Sarah was nothing short of magnificent.
Mr Hartfield stopped at the steps before handing her over to Edmund who stepped forward. He had been unaware that he had moved, focusing his eyes only on Sarah as he led her to before the vicar. Here, he gazed into her eyes, this woman he had chosen as his wife, to be wed to him forever in the sight of God, their families, and all of his common folk, the people who had accepted him as their own.
Sarah raised her head now as his hand held hers, a smile behind the gossamer of her veil. Edmund’s eyes took note of everything about her: the pearl necklace on her neck, the bracelet and matching earrings, the curve of her shoulders beneath the form fitting dress, the fine lace of the sleeves, and her fingers within silk gloves that held a bouquet.
He had never known anyone as perfect as she was now.
Nothing could be heard now, not the vicar’s words, nor the sound of the organ playing and chirping birds; only the faint beating of his heart and the sound of his breathing as he gazed at her in wonder.
Edmund felt a nudge on his shoulder. The vicar nodded at him when he turned, and Edmund dug his hand into his coat to retrieve the rings. They belonged to his parents; his mother had given them to him four days ago after their talk, a sign of her acceptance of Sarah. Turning to her now, he sent a silent ‘thank you, mother’ to her with his eyes, and turned back to his bride.
Here and now, standing before this woman who had become the centre of his world, it felt right that she should wear them; he knew his father and brother would approve.
“With my body, I worship, and with all my worldly goods, I thee endow. Here in the presence of God and these witnesses, with this ring, I hereby take thee, Sarah Elizabeth Hartsfield, to be my wedded wife, in wealth and in health, in illness and in famine, to hold and to cherish, until my dying day.”
Heart thudding as he placed the ring on her finger, Edmund admired the stone setting of the ring as it caught in the light. Sliding it easily onto her finger, he was surprised how well it fit, as though it had been made for her.
She repeated the vows to him, her voice like the soft breeze on his face in the summer, her hand on his as she placed the ring on his finger in turn.
The vicar closed his missal.
“By the power of God, the Church of England and the Crown, I declare you both, man and wife.”
They were married.
He lifted the veil over her face with shaky hands and wrapped around her shoulders a cloak with the embroidered heraldic arms of Foster Hall. Taking it, Edmund spread it open and walked around his bride. A brush of his fingers on her skin as he draped it on her shoulders, he nodded in satisfaction to see her garbed in his family’s colours.
She was now Her Grace Sarah Foster, the new Duchess of Farenshire.
Returning to stand before her, he leaned in to brush his lips on her cheek, to the applause and shouts of joy from the audience. It was a chaste affair and he took her hand in his, the light in her eyes mirroring his in joy.
The reception was held in the grand hall. Tables heavily laden with food were in the centre of the ballroom, while servants filled the glasses of the guests with drinks. There was music and dancing and Edmund was roped into dancing a jig twice with his cousins, Anne, and a few ladies. As a slow ballad began, Edmund let his current dance partner go. “You must excuse me, my lady,” he said to the lady he could not recognize. “I must have this dance with my bride.” Ignoring the tittering of those watching, Edmund strode to where Sarah stood talking with her friends, and gallantly bowed before them.
“Excuse me, ladies. I would have a word with my wife.”
Laughing and broadly smiling faces were all around them as Sarah shyly stepped closer to him. “Your Grace.” A curtsey. “Is there something you require of me?”
“Your Grace,” he responded with a smile, “will you honour me with this dance?”
She smiled as she took his hand, rising elegantly. He led her to the centre of the dance area, and put his arms around her waist as the guests began to watch. Then they began.
With each step, Edmund felt a familiar rhythm. It was almost fluid, their movements; each step mirrored the other, their dance so perfect that it seemed they had done this a thousand times. Edmund did not resist the urge to pull Sarah even closer, and the hand on her back trailed lower, stopping just above the curve…
He spun her quickly, holding her as he had done the night of their first dance together. The audience was quiet now; holding a collective breath as Sarah dipped gracefully under him, her head arched back.
His eyes met hers, and he raised her up slowly, while the music lessened gradually and the guests watched. This close, it was impossible not to follow his instincts as he pressed his lips softly on hers.
Sparks and flames burning were what he could feel, and he saw it in her eyes as he stepped back after the light caress. An excited crowd yelled in glee as he led her back to their table. Smiling at the guests, Edmund returned the handshakes and back pats with appreciative nods.
Another hour passed and evening had drawn near. Edmund and Sarah sat to receive the guests’ bringing gifts and he swelled with pride as each person proclaimed her beauty, and congratulated him on his good fortune.
It was good fortune indeed, he thought, to have met her when he did. It would seem that fate had intended this boon for him after all; and he was beyond grateful.
The last of the guests, Farmer Peter, brought his gift, a wonderfully crafted cup with floral patterns etched on the sides. Clasping the man on the arm, Edmund nodded in appreciation, ushering the man towards the others who began to chant for the newlyweds to kiss.
Turning to take Sarah’s hand, he held her smile which almost melted him where he stood. “Shall we oblige our guests, Your Grace?”
Her own smile mirrored his; this lady who was capable of matching him in spirit and will and humour. “I don’t see why not, my love.”
Edmund laughed, deep and hearty. Slipping his arms around her waist, he gave no heed to who could see or if a display of affection would be proper. He pressed his lips to his wife’s with love and adoration, grateful to have her beside him now.