The balance of the proxy ceremony dissolved into a blur of images and discontinuous sensations for the Prinzessin Sophie-Vittoria as the gravity of the moment finally fully asserted itself.
The words of Msgr. de Chiaroscuro in the confessional rebounded through the chambers of her mind--the "memory palace" of her mind, as Msgr. de Chiaroscuro had called it during his hours of tutelage, she now oddly recalled--"Now faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Because of it the ancients were well attested. By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible."
Now her tutor stood before her and the Comte de Mazan in a manner almost inquisitorial:
"Vult Fredericus Carolus accípere Sophia-Vittoria, hic præséntem in suam legítimam uxórem iuxta ritum sanctaæ matris Ecclésiæ?--Does Friedrich Karl take Sophie-Vittoria here present, for his lawful wife according to the rite of our holy mother, the Church?"
The Comte de Mazan arched his eyebrow at the ultimate phrase of the question a moment and let a trace of smile dance over his lips before replying to the monsignor, who had fixed him with an unblinking gaze.
"Suo Maiestas vult"--"His majesty will."
Not breaking eye contact with the comte, who impudently returned the stare, Msgr. de Chiaroscuro continued:
"Sophia-Vittoria, vis accípere Fredericus Carolus hic repræséntem in tuum legítimum marítum iuxta ritum sanctæ matris Ecclésiæ?--Sophie-Vittoria do you take Friedrich Karl, here represented, for your lawful husband according to the rite of our holy mother, the Church?"
The silence following the monsignor's question stretched out before the Prinzessin as she contemplated the stygian chasm which yawned before her. All her juvenile imaginings of this moment and this question had left her completely blind to any happy resolution consequent to her reply which all present in the salon now strained to hear. The Prinzessin's dry tongue cleaved thickly to her palate as her childhood infatuations and adolescent fantasies ran riot through her mind and the tableau before her seemed to shrink and take on the character of some distant puppet show like those her father arranged to have performed by the servants for her and her sisters in the nursery. But now she could not credit whether she were watching the performance or were rather part of it, a marionette in golden silk and tulle.
As the reverberation of the monsignor's question died away, Sophie-Vittoria found her downcast, watering eyes transfixed by the golden hem of her gown, which seemed to spill like champagne onto the parquetry of the salon floor beneath her. As the silence filled the salon and began to bear down upon her with its full, terrible weight, she perceived her father, still standing beside her between the comte and herself, drawing himself rigidly to his full height almost as a soldier standing in line of battle.
She perceived her grandmother, standing to her left, almost imperceptibly nudge her lady-in-waiting, the Grafin von Schirnhausen, while the monsignor continued his ocular duel with the comte. As the grafin, seemingly in response to the Dowager Duchess, snapped open her fan, painted in ornate turquerie, and held it before her, the Prinzessin became aware of her father's ungloved right hand, placing itself on hers and squeezing gently. As the scene about her shimmered and dissolved before her, the Prinzessin closed her eyes and lost sensibility of of all around her but the warmth of her father's hand on hers.
She loosed her thoughts again to roam the memory palace of her mind, reliving in that instant the sensation of her father's hand on hers during her countless childhood jaunts through the gardens, at her bedside during the days and nights her twelfth year when she lay stricken with the tertian ague which had so taxed her that Herr Doktor Thanisch had advised a novena to St. Jude before the fever broke, and on the ballroom floor the night of her debut the previous August, which now seemed a lifetime ago.
As the Prinzessin opened her mouth to speak, it seemed to her that her own words merged with another woman's contralto, almost indistinguishable from her own, spoken simultaneously.
[Ed. Note: A joyous Feast of St. Valentine to all--may you especially enjoy the warmth of your beloved today, and may you live to treasure that warmth in a place of honour in the memory palace of your own mind for years to come.]