Maryann sat patiently through the ceremony. The priest droned on, sermons building upon sermons, that she very nearly forgot what she was there for, her mind drifting far from her surroundings.
It was then the good Father bid the bride and groom to stand, and she returned to herself.
Ah. Yes. That was it.
It was Maryann Barton's wedding day, and she could not possibly have felt less joyful. Her husband-to-be was an oafish man of business. His was an old family, their fortunes long in decline, until he discovered the veritable gold mine to be found in the trade of human beings. It was to his newfound wealth her father had sought to wed himself by wedding her to this aging and lecherous slaver. That she might be utterly repulsed by this corpulent oaf was of little concern to her father. Of course, Maryann had always been of little concern to her father, save as a bit of decoration, or as bait with which to entice wealthy men. The Bartons were also an old family, with similar fortunes to those of Maryann's erstwhile husband, prior to his lucrative business venture.
As the older man leaned in for the kiss, his vacant leer told her she would be of little concern to her husband as well, save as a source of offspring and a means to sate his trite and simple lusts.
She could bear it, all of it, for her new husband was a fool. A wealthy, foolish braggart who had, in his heavy-handed attempts to woo her, shown her his next scheme. He was poised to take control of a floundering textile business after divesting himself of most of his current holdings. The slave trade was not as respectable a profession as his ambitions required, and had therefore outlived its usefulness.
The formal ball was typical of its type, with food and wine in abundance and all the latest dances. She was partnered by several other leering old men and one dashing young soldier. She paid little attention to him, for all his rakish good looks, bestowing the favor of her fluttered lashes and empty giggles for the others. They would be of use to her later, the soldier would merely be a complication.
She smiled, however, in the early hours of the morning to think back on her dance with the young soldier. She smiled as she looked down at her dead husband, the last of his poisoned brandy soaking into the carpet. It would appear that he drank himself to death, upon any examination by a physician, and his excessive consumption at the ball would provide the necessary evidence. Yes, she smiled to think of the soldier, but laughed out loud to think of the look on her husband's fat face when he'd realized she was murdering him.
"No, my darling," she'd said softly, "do not try to speak. I am told the poison makes such a thing painful." She'd smiled, settling languidly against the plush pillows of the bed. "I have been told," she'd said as he fell to his knees, face red and eyes bulging, "by my mother, since my earliest memory, that a woman's greatest and only ambition is to marry well. That all we have is by leave of men, and all we do is by their will." She'd shaken her head then. "This did not sit well with me." The oaf's throat had swollen closed at this point and he'd gone beyond hearing, but she'd continued talking, "I resolved to prove her wrong." She'd laughed as his eyes rolled back in his head, "Thank you, dear husband," she'd said, kissing the reddened forehead, "for the assistance you are about to offer me in that regard.
"And have no fear, I will make much of the fortune you leave me," she assured him, "more than you ever could."
With a last glance for her departed husband, she rose from her bed and made for the bell that would summon the staff. She had to work herself up a good cry before they came, to be convincing enough as the shocked and devastated widow.
If only she could stop laughing.