The North Wind raised his glass, a tall flute clouded with cold, filled with thick yellow wine so sweet it stung the tongue. All the guests raised their glasses and waited through the speech, which was a warning.
“What is done, undoes. You will not leave here as you came.” All the guests drank, and their eyes opened wide as the ice wine coated their throats.
In walked Snow alone, in a long white dress. She brought a gift of crystal for her bridegrooms, and a curse of chills. Snow made her vow: “I am white and crisp today, and tomorrow I shall be grey and soft.”
The East Wind was brash in her floppy hat, known to be wealthier than she looked, dressed in zephyrs. She took Snow’s skinny chin in her hands and asked, “What do you three desire that a marriage can give you?”
“We want to be strong,” Snow muttered. “Strong enough to survive.”
The East Wind shook her head. “No such thing in this world.”
“Strong enough to leave a mark, then,” said Snow, pulling back out of the East Wind’s grip.
“Ah,” said the East Wind. “On each other? On the world?”
“Yes,” said Snow, as two defiant pink blotches bloomed on her pale cheeks. “We are stronger together. We are ready to sacrifice everything we are now, singly, for what we might be, together.”
The East Wind shrugged and dug her hands into her pockets. She sprinkled sand onto the bare feet of the bride and spoke the lines of poetry she had composed herself: “Let there be no parting/Though the breezes play rough.”
In walked Earth alone and naked, skin gleaming like brass. He brought a gift of gravity for his bride and groom, and a curse of weight. When he came Snow lifted her chin a little, stood straighter. He made his vow: “I am warm and fertile today, and tomorrow I shall be cold and poisoned.”
The South Wind wore his encircling finery of feathers, still bright though they were frayed at the edges. He gave advice that no one could remember a moment after it was spoken, and he looked sad in the candlelight. Once he was finished, he joined the hands of Earth and Snow together, and waited for the final groom.
In walked Salt alone, dazzling in his zirconium suit and purple top hat. He smiled at Earth and he smiled at Snow and they smiled at him. Smiles were his gift and his curse. Snow began to melt just looking at him; her long white hair was plastered to her face and dripped down, darkening her dress.
Earth looked nervous.
The South Wind joined their six hands. As the candlelight broke in pieces upon him, Salt spoke his vow: “I am bright and sharp today, and tomorrow I shall be dull and scattered.”
The West Wind was old, bent, her grey hair sweeping the floor like a cloak. She walked around the three as they clung together.
“You have chosen to die in yourselves and live in each other, and no one may unmake you now. No more may you visit the clean forests, no more may you play in the rich gardens, no more may you lap the warm beaches. You will cling to the skin of the world and consume whatever you touch, freezing and cracking, numbing and corroding, mounting and mounding, stronger than you ever were apart. The drear city I give you as your home and your food, and the briny rivulets of spring shall be your children.”
And all the strange wedding guests raised their glasses again, and this time the glasses were heavy, warm and squat. It was, they imagined, the sharp sip of whisky that brought tears to their eyes, not the sight of the three celebrants in their embrace, for they had seen that so many times before.
Still, was there not something to pull at the heart in that small mound of wet lace and black hair that had been the lovely Snow a moment before? Something in the musk of desperation as Earth dissolved into the humid air? Something in the swirling rime of salt like hoarfrost on the obsidian tiles of the floor?
Only the West Wind downed her whisky without a tear, and walked a few shuffling paces over the floor where the three had been, leaving footprints. She was old enough to have forgotten the trappings of ceremony that marked a wedding from a funeral.
Kate Heartfield’s first novel, a historical fantasy called Armed In Her Fashion, is coming from ChiZine Publications in 2018. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines including Strange Horizons, Lackington’s and Podcastle, and in anthologies including Clockwork Canada, Blood and Water, and Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World. She is writing an interactive novel for Choice of Games based on the Canterbury Tales. A former newspaper journalist, she lives on the outskirts of Ottawa.