Chapter One- The Funeral- Part 2
Even though his body was never found, Mikel was declared dead, in accordance with the law in Beautiful. Because of her husband’s great service to their village, the mayor wanted to make sure the blacksmith had a proper memorial. It would also serve as the public declaration that Erin’s period of mourning was over and the time for courting had begun.
Every morning she checked her face in the mirror for wrinkles. Although she had celebrated only eighteen birthdays, she had reason to worry. The small brown bottle was empty on her dressing table, reminding her that time was running out for her beauty.
Erin remembered the first time she saw the small brown bottle sitting on her mother’s dressing table, right next to a silver hand mirror. She had picked it up and tried to pry out the cork when her mother entered the bedchamber and quickly rescued it from her three–year-old hands.
“No! Bad girl!” she had cried in panic. “Don’t play with Mother’s things!” Her mother was wide-eyed and flushed of cheek, still beautiful but also frightening enough to make Erin cry. She was too young to understand the bottle’s importance. Only years later, when she was sent to finishing school, did she realize the tonic’s value.
Her training told her she needed to remarry so that she could maintain access to the tonic. The alterative, turning into a hunched over, shriveled up crone was unthinkable. The only cure was the prince’s tonic, which he was willing to sell to husbands at a high price. But Erin knew that a new husband and beauty tonic that came with him would never cover the ugly pain in her heart.
Was it the thought of marrying someone else, or was it the prince who frightened her? She remembered his eyes measuring her every time they attended the prince’s festivities. The prince presided over every birthday and ball and when giving his blessing, if he was taken with the presumed bride, it was his right–and one he exercised from time to time–to take the woman for himself. Their husbands could not reclaim them, but instead must choose a replacement wife.
The prince could command the hand of any woman he chose, even one with a family. If he took a woman with children, she wouldn’t see her children again until they were wives themselves, visiting the castle for parties. To be at the whim of the prince was part of the price the citizens paid for the tonic.
Some were more willing than others.