Path to the Throne (Part IX)

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Cassandra was offered the choice of two widowers, one a father of eight, the other of five, and a young man her age, who was especially pious, and, as a result of that, afraid to even talk to girls. She suspected that if she were to marry that boy, she'd remain a virgin forever. He probably had no idea that babies weren't brought by a stork. Moreover, he was half a head shorter than her, possessed the narrow shoulders of a man who had never in his life done any physical labor and had disgusting white plaque on his lips. The girl always wanted to spit at the sight of him. If he were her brother, she'd pity him, but as a prospective husband, he made her nauseous. She wasn't desperate enough to resign herself to that marriage.

She had to act so cold and stiff that the poor guy first started to stutter in her presence and then just disappeared for good, informing Hermann that his niece was as hard as granite and adamant in her faith.

Widowers weren't especially attractive either. The father of eight children, on top of his piety, turned out to be exceptionally lustful and went out of his way to grope the poor girl or squeeze her leg under the table. Cassandra tried to imagine living with that letch and shivered in fear. She imagined constantly giving birth without any pause. Cheating? That would actually be better, yet his faith would never allow him to—he'd rather drive his woman to an early grave! It's like he would burst if he had to abstain for a few weeks! Not to mention his eight children.

With that groom, Cassandra was even more swift and picked a strong laxative and a sharp pin as her weapons of choice. She secretly added the laxative to his cup and pricked him with the pin each time the man tried to feel her up under the table. After six or eight holes in his hand, he started to forgo such attempts at "courtship." And the laxative, which lasted three or four days each time, finally drove him away from visiting Hermann Likeworth. He did want to marry, but a kitten, not a wildcat. If he had already gotten the laxative, what guarantees did he have that it wouldn't be followed by poison at some point?

With the third candidate, she didn't have to work hard. After noticing no spark of intelligence, but only the light of faith in his eyes, Cassandra started to bring up the subject of wanting to take the veil and serve the Bright Saint—right after her uncle left them alone with each other. In a couple of moons, the man realized there was nothing to be gained there and left her alone.

Uncle was forced to find the picky girl new suitors. He really did want the best for her—which is to say, a husband who was a dead ringer for Hermann himself: a god-loving, level-headed man. That was the opposite of what Cassandra wished. She'd rather break her head against the pavement than slowly die while crushing the last vestiges of intelligence, fun, sincerity, and spirit inside herself. So she became even more devout. Her uncle had no idea that his niece, who was praying five times a day and visiting church three times, was actually using that time to walk around the city making eyes at passers-by, trying to find herself a man.

She met Rene by pure luck. Cassandra was coming from the daily prayer, and Rene, after having one too many the previous night while celebrating a plum order of the Thieves Guild, had spent the night with a lady of the evening, and having paid for her services, was walking home.

The weather was far from fine. The wind had brought clouds over from the sea, and rain was streaming down in torrents. Rene had to wait it out in a bakery, and after a couple of minutes, Cassandra ran in as well. She shook off the water, pulled off her drenched cape—and the necromancer froze. Cassandra wasn't a classic beauty. Her hair was bright red, her green eyes were slanted inwards, her pale skin was covered with a smattering of freckles around the nose, and her features were irregular: a large mouth, always laughing, and high sharp cheekbones. But did it really matter?

His heart skipped a beat and then started to thump so hard he could barely breathe, and something whispered to him from the deepest recesses of his soul, If you let her go, you'll regret it for the rest of your life!

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