I cry out his name and run from the cottage, looking wildly around for him. Where has he gone? Why has he left me? I spot him climbing the path out of the village and run to him, taking his hand and turning him toward me.
“Meremon!” But he won’t look at me.
There’s a hard line between his brows as he says, “Go home, Rhona. It is done.”
“What are you talking about? What’s done? Come and celebrate with us.”
His jaw is tight with emotion. “And then? What am I to do then? I will still have to leave.”
I feel my eyes fill with tears. I don’t understand how he can be so cold all of a sudden. “But why do you have to leave?”
He rounds on me angrily. “Because I will always want more and I can give you nothing in return. I can’t be with you like a husband should. I can’t give you children. Do you understand that? I am a dead thing.”
He’s right. I hadn’t thought about it, that taking the necromancer as my husband means a life without many of the things a normal man can provide. This is my future if the curse is never broken, the wife of a man who is half dead and half alive.
“When I saw you just now with your family I realized how selfish I was being. Go home, Rhona. I’m sorry.”
But I won’t let go of him. He stares at our joined hands, half longing, half angry. Maybe he’s not normal, but normal and right aren’t always the same thing. “Maybe you are half dead, but you make me feel more alive than anyone I’ve ever known.”
His face smarts with pain and he looks away, his eyes glittering. “I want you with me so much it hurts.”
“Then let me be with you. Let me take that pain away,” I whisper, planting soft kisses on his cheek. “It is my duty, as you have taken away mine.”
Meremon’s arms come around me and he buries his face in my neck. “I knew you were braver than me,” he says, so softly that I almost can’t hear it. “I knew that if I only waited long enough it would all be good in the end.”
A moment later Meremon releases me to dig into the pocket of his robes. He pulls out a ring, a silver band with a sapphire so dark it is almost black. He fumbles for my left hand and slides the ring onto my third finger.
“There are no ceremonies for wedding a necromancer,” he whispers, his lips close to mine. “Only a promise. Will you be my wife, deliciae, in death and in death?”
His hands holding mine are cold and they could remain that way for the rest of our lives. I might never break his curse. I have to decide now if he’s enough for me, just as he is.
But as soon as I ask myself that question I realize there’s no question at all.
“In death and in death,” I whisper back, and press my mouth against his lips. His wintry kiss steals the breath from my lungs.
Meremon takes my hand in his, threading his fingers through mine and holding on tightly. Now I am complete, bearing both his ring and his mark on the same hand.
Back home we me we make our way to his bedroom, which I’ve never been in before. Meremon conjures a fire in a grate so dusty that I’m sure it hasn’t been used in decades, and more blankets for the bed so I don’t get cold.
He undresses me lovingly before the flames, the heat and light burnishing my body. He holds me close and kisses me, whispering that I’m his bride, that he’ll always cherish and protect me.
“Will you take off your clothes, my husband?” I ask, going up on my toes to wrap my arms around his neck.
His smile is tight and sad. “There is little point, deliciae. I am dead as a corpse.”
But we should both be naked on our wedding night, and hold each other close. Skin against skin. “Please, Meremon? For me?”
Reluctantly he undresses, pulling off his layers of robes. He’s as beautiful as I thought he would be, with smooth skin across his shoulders and rough hair across his chest and trailing down his belly. His limbs are long and thickened with muscle. I touch him everywhere, wanting to learn him by heart, even the soft parts between his legs, showing him that I’m not afraid or repulsed. Finally he scoops me up in his arms and carries me to the bed, meaning to lick me and give me the release he can feel I need.
But I tell him to wait a moment, and to roll onto his back. Exasperated, he does as I asks, though he frowns and says, “Rhona, my heart. What are you about?”