THE DELETED PROLOGUE

 

Old wives have always known more than young husbands.

 

They smile and nod, sharing social niceties at weddings, painted Matryoshka exteriors all happy and invested. It’s only as the evening falls, as drink does in menfolk’s inhibitions and they piss their testosterone up against the prowess of others, that they pull the new bride into the embracing dusk and tell truths. Hard and painful truths. Whatever the culture, they pass these to the young wife, alongside smoking pipes; or wine goblets; or frangible sacs packed with bull’s blood to fool their half-cut husband. 

 

The bride’s not wise yet, no matter how smart or crucible shaped by hard living. She’ll nod in fear perhaps, stranger-gifted to ties of alliance. Or perhaps she’ll allow them a pitying smile, so sure her love is different, their lessons obsolete. Some words will worm their way into her young brain, protecting her for that night perhaps, or for the start of days to come, when the glamour and magic of a wedding day fade under the light of the realities of a life shared. When finding out, most aren’t really prepared to be even-handed in their dealings; not when they hold all the cards, all the advantages. 

 

As times turn colder, as blooms fade under comparisons with new sprung Spring blossoms, then those words that wheedled their way in to take root at the back of her mind become full-grown wildflowers. They show her how to be resilient, bending only as much as one must, in order not to snap at the stem.

 

Growth. Change. Ageing. When the wheel turns further, and maidenhood passes to motherhood and teeters on the brink of crone, their own sons cease to listen. Now, they suffer from the other side, side-lined, and watch their once-boys swagger. Assured in their strengths and sure of their uniqueness, they strut towards futures their mothers would guide them from, if they could only hear beyond their own lust for worth. The sea calls out, or the sword-clash drum strike of the marching band, and a penny pressed into hands to accompany strong ale carries them away. Hasty marriages, complete with promises impossible to keep, are all they can leave behind. Their mothers shed tears behind closed doors and smile to their faces, painfully aware of the unknowing liars they have bred. Some will take the forlorn, left-behind brides under their wings; some will take them under their power; some will spurn them, turning their face aside. All will see themselves, whether or not they recognise it. All will offer words of advice to their sons on wedding nights, when they blind themselves to all but the bright weavings of futures they project for themselves. Futility never stopped love from trying. Words are ignored, promises made.

 

When they are far away, in the company of other almost men, high on camaraderie and vim, they scoff at the tales they’d been reminded of before leaving far away. To never trust the truths of the Fae folk, nor offer them thanks; that dancing were-lights lead only to destruction; that a mermaid’s song is just a lure on a line cast to catch little land-locked fishes. Brags and braggadocio boasts replace them in their thoughts, and they forget their fathers’ old wives and their tales. But when they find themselves lost and alone; bloodied and broken; a moment away from a watery grave; their piteous cries aren’t for their blushing brides left back at home. They’re transported back to childhood, and weep for their mother’s embrace on Death’s cold shoulder.

 

Old wives have always known more than young husbands.

 

When I’d first taken up the black robes of Perfection, I’d watched it split my mother into two. The pious, god-fearing woman had been proud as punch to see me take up holy orders, the Languedocian impressed by the egalitarianism of my cause. The mother saw the wedding band in the leather thong I tied my robes with. She heard the promises in the vows of my consolamentum. Those words; I wonder if she had any inkling that I’d no more honour them than the sweaty-handed man-child who’d wed the day before he marches off to war. I wish I could remember the face the tears ran down that I lost long ago. I wish I could remember what knowing got written by their traces on her face, as she clutched my father’s arm. I wish I could remember how she’d looked as I watched her age before my eyes.

 

Old wives.