Standing centre stage in the centre ring, Darius Dark had never been more nervous in his life.
He'd been pursued out of pubs by card players he'd swindled in desperate attempts to win more funds for the Den. He'd had riots – and blood – on his hands when patrons, a bit worse for wear with the drink, had been less than impressed by the unconventional acts in his showcase. And yet, his fear in those moments was dwarfed by what he was feeling now. As he stood there, fixed to the spot and trembling with terror, he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder...
Mister Giggles, forever silent, in a gesture of reassurance.
As the two exchanged looks, Darius nodded in understanding, and drew in a deep breath.
Light pierced the tent as the entrance flap was pulled back. A slender, timid figure in an elegant white dress slowly stepped toward the centre ring, her hair and face hidden by a long lace veil. A second smaller woman, no more than a few inches high, sat upon her shoulder and scattered flower petals, making it seem as if the taller maiden was walking in a shower of blossom.
Darius gasped. For many nights, he'd fantasised about this very moment, making his bride as beautiful as his imagination would allow... and yet, she was still more stunning than anything his mind could have conjured.
Elissandre – for she was the woman in white – took her place beside her fiancé, whilst her companion Thumbelisa chose Mister Giggles' shoulder as her next perch, knowing it would get her a good view of the proceedings without interrupting them. As Darius revealed his bride’s face, he had to smile when he spotted a second, smaller veil obscuring her nose and mouth – drawing all attention to her bright, beautiful eyes. As for the Den's resident bearded man, he stood not behind the couple, but before them.
It was very hard to get a priest to visit the Den of Deformity, and on the rare occasion one did turn up, it was usually to preach protestingly. Giving Darius and his companions such titles as “Satan's Entertainers” - which they'd seriously considered putting on the billing – highlighted how the holy men weren't exactly fans of their work. Still, Samson, despite a lack of both education and ordination, did have an Irish accent, the ceremony memorised and a leather -bound copy of the dictionary lending him an air of authority, so in many ways, he was as good as the real thing.
Samson nodded to Mister Giggles, who handed over two gold rings. Darius had spent what little money he had left on them, having purchased them from a man in the pub – a gravedigger from Castle Slogar hoping to make a quick profit. Darius had been somewhat concerned about where the seller had acquired them, but his desperation had persuaded him not to ask too many questions.
With the rings resting on the pages defining the words “zealous” to “Zeppelin”, Samson began to recite the phrases he had taken great trouble to learn - doing so stiffly and awkwardly at first, before slowly relaxing into the role. As Darius and Elissandre exchanged their vows, pledging eternal love for one another – a moment which had both Thumbelisa and Mister Giggles reaching for handkerchiefs, of which the latter had many on a string in his pocket – the ringmaster remembered that bittersweet but blessed night that had led to this moment...