"BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR"
The following morning, Paige left her bedroom and rushed downstairs to the kitchen. There, she found Piper preparing food for this afternoon's wedding reception. "Hey, did I just hear the telephone ring?" the younger woman asked.
"Yeah," Piper replied. "It was Cecile. Apparently, they finally got Cole back. And his, um . . . ex-girlfriend is dead." She paused. "Thanks to Cole."
Paige sat down on one of the kitchen chairs. "I'm not surprised. So, when do we . . .?"
"Show up in the Ashera Dimension?" Piper glanced at the clock. "Oh, I'll give it another three or four hours. And then it's on to the McNeill manor for the Wiccan ceremony."
"Hmmm." Paige fell silent, as she poured cereal into a bowl. "By the way, where's Phoebe?"
Piper sighed. "Out in the garden. Talking to Jason on her cell phone." She made a face. "Let's just say that this might not turn out to be a good day for her."
The early morning chill permeated Phoebe's skin, as she paced back and forth across the manor's back lawn. With her cell phone pressed against her right ear, she grimaced as she listened to her boyfriend's rants.
"Jason, I . . ." Phoebe sighed. "Jason, I'm sorry about last night. But the party had lasted longer than I expected."
The billionaire shot back, "You could have at least called, Phoebe. I nearly sat up all night, waiting to hear from you. It's not fun being stood up!"
"For God's sake, Jason! I said that I was sorry! Am I going to be punished forever, for helping Piper at the club?"
A long silence followed. Phoebe rubbed her right forearm, as she anxiously awaited her boyfriend's response. She finally heard a sigh from the other end of the line. "I'm . . . I'm sorry, baby. I realize that you were only helping your sister. It's just . . . I guess I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get to spend more time together."
"Yeah, so am I." The lie rolled off Phoebe's tongue with great ease. She had actually forgotten about her late night plans with Jason. Especially after learning about Cole's kidnapping. To ease her conscience, she quickly changed the subject. "Um . . . about today . . . what time do you . . .?"
Jason inhaled sharply. "How about twelve-thirty? The ceremony doesn't start until two."
"Twelve-thirty is fine." Phoebe paused. "Um . . . bye."
"See you later." And Jason hung up.
Claude Dubois poked his head inside Brion Morgan's room. "Good morning." He glanced at the slight bruise on the Welshman's forehead. "Hey, didn't you get that healed?" Morgan's eyes widened with surprise. "Vivian told me what had happened last night."
Morgan sighed. "I didn't think it was necessary. Besides, Andre seemed to be in more need of medical attention."
The houngan noticed that Morgan still wore his pajamas and dressing gown. "Don't you think you better get dressed? We should be leaving for this Ashera Dimension pretty soon." He paused. "Have you ever been there?"
"No, but according to Gwen, it's considered neutral ground among daemons of other dimensions and sects. It's supposed to have some connection with Ashera, a fertility goddess, who was worshiped in Syria and Canaan and was often represented by a wooden pole. According to myth, the Ashera Dimension is very beautiful. And it's a very popular place for marriage among magical beings." The Welshman fell silent.
A sigh left Claude's mouth before he continued. "Listen, not all of us disagree with what you had tried to do, last night." Morgan's face tightened. "You were only trying to protect Olivia. I probably would have done the same. Hell, I'm still trying to refrain myself from opening my mouth about Cecile's upcoming marriage to Andre."
Morgan frowned. "But Andre is a mortal."
"He's a former bokor," Claude explained. "And a very powerful one, at that. I guess I'm afraid that one day his past is gonna catch up with him. And hurt my daughter in the process. I think we've seen an example of that with Cole's past. Haven't we?"
"Yes, but . . ." Morgan sighed. "I'm afraid I've rather mucked it up with the family. Especially Olivia. I believe it would be best if I didn't attend today's ceremonies."
A third voice added, "Why not?" Morgan shot to his feet. Claude turned around and found Olivia standing in the doorway, clad in a blue dressing robe. The redhead strode into the room. "Mr. Dubois, do you mind if my uncle and I be alone for a few minutes?"
Claude saw dread appear in the Welshman's eyes. But he recognized the fact that uncle and niece needed to talk. Alone. He nodded and headed for the doorway. "I'll see you downstairs." Then he finally left the room and closed the door behind him.
"So, you're not coming to the weddings?" Olivia asked.
Brion found it difficult to gaze into his niece's green eyes, which were similar to his. "No, I . . . I didn't think you would . . . desire my presence."
"Well, you're wrong."
Brion inhaled sharply. "Olivia . . ."
"Brion, we all know that you had only acted out of my best interests." Olivia took a step forward. "And we all know that you had also made a mistake."
"A mistake that nearly cost a man's life," Brion pointed out. "And caused Cole to be snatched by that daemon."
Olivia sighed. "Well, yeah. But so what? I mean . . . all is well that ends well. Andre survived. We got Cole back. And you're obviously remorseful about the whole thing. So, why continue to beat yourself over the matter?"
Brion knew the reason. Only he felt too ashamed to reveal it. "I . . . It's nothing." Then he changed his mind. If his niece could forgive him, then at least he owed her the truth. With a sigh, he said, "I was thinking of Dafydd. I reckon that in my mind, I couldn't forgive you for what happened to him . . . and Rhiannon. And I wanted to prove to you that becoming involved with both Cole and Richard were mistakes. Well, I was wrong. Mother . . . Mother had said so, a few days ago. Only, I didn't listen. As for Rhiannon . . ." Another sigh left his mouth. "Rhiannon . . . made her own choices that led to her death. And I understand about Dafydd. I truly do. You were . . . well, upset over Richard's death. I reckon I simply didn't want to acknowledge any of this."
Tears formed in his niece's eyes, as they widened in hope. "But you're acknowledging this now," Olivia said in a slightly shaken voice. "We've . . . forgiven each other." She paused. "Haven't we?"
"Yes, of course!"
A small smile curved Olivia's mouth. "Good. Then you'll be at the ceremonies."
Once again, Brion sighed. He enveloped his niece into his arms. Deep warmth glowed within his chest. He smiled. "If you insist."
A completely recovered Andre burst into the groom's private chambers inside an altar in the Ashera Dimension. "Sorry to interrupt you two," he said to Cole and Nimue, "but all of the guests have arrived. Along with the bride."
Cole took a deep breath. Nimue responded with a reassuring smile to the houngan. "Thank you, Andre," she replied in her usual soft voice.
"Yeah . . . thanks," Cole repeated. He tugged nervously at his deep blue jacket.
Nimue stared at her son. "Belthazor, is there something wrong with your tunic? You've been tugging at it from the moment I had stepped into your room."
With a sigh, Cole replied, "It's nothing. Except . . . I don't know. I think there's something wrong with this suit."
"Really?" Nimue closely examined the tunic. "I believe it fits your perfectly."
Andre added, "It's the buttons."
"What?" Cole frowned at the front of his tunic.
"The jacket or tunic. It's buttoned wrong."
Nimue peered closely at the tunic. "Ah, so it is." She turned to Andre. "Could you excuse us, please?"
Andre nodded and left the suite. With a sigh, the demoness began to unfasten the tunic's buttons. "Mother, what are you doing?" Cole demanded. "I can do this, myself."
"You're too nervous to do anything," Nimue declared, as she continued to unfasten the tunic. "Were you like this when you married Phoebe?"
Cole grumbled, "Not exactly. I was possessed at the time." He paused, while his mother commenced upon refastening the buttons properly. "By the way, why didn't you show up for that wedding?"
"Because I didn't receive an invitation," Nimue replied. "And I didn't find out about your marriage, until a week after the ceremony. You - or I should say, the Source - never sent word." She sighed. Long and hard. "Which is just as well. It would not have taken me long to figure out what had happened. And the Source would have killed me before I could do anything . . . or tell anyone." She fastened the tunic's last button. "There. You look quite handsome."
A surge of affection swelled within Cole's breast. He opened his mouth to respond to his mother's compliment, when he noticed a tear trailing down her right cheek. "Mother?" he queried. "Are you . . .?"
"What?" Then the demoness became aware of her tears. "Oh." She quickly wiped her eyes. "Well, I best join the others." Nimue pecked her son's cheek. "I'll be seeing you in a few minutes." She walked out of the chamber, leaving behind a stunned half-daemon.
Seconds later, Andre returned. "Ready?"
"Huh?" Cole blinked.
"For the wedding, man!" A frowning Andre approached the groom. "What's wrong? You're not getting cold feet, are you?"
Cole shook his head. "No, I . . . My mother was crying."
In a stunned voice, Cole continued, "My mother . . . the notorious Nimue, had just cried right before my eyes! Well, maybe shed a few tears."
Andre warily asked, "You mean to say that she's never cried before?"
"No. Well . . ." An old memory from childhood resurfaced in Cole's mind. "Well, maybe once. When I was a boy. I was about eight, when I had walked into her bedroom and found her crying." He paused, before adding in a quiet voice, "She was holding my father's photograph at the time. Strange. I never thought she would . . ." His voice faded, as he shook his head to snap out of his reverie. "Never mind. I have a wedding to attend."
Andre punched his arm, lightly. "Let's go."
The wedding ceremony struck a slightly bizarre note within Piper. Never, during her five years as a witch had she ever imagined that she would witness a demonic wedding.
Everything about this ceremony seemed surreal. Paige, Barbara and Cecile wore light-blue, medieval-style gowns that looked like something straight out of "LORDS OF THE RINGS". And speaking of "LORD OF THE RINGS", this garden in the Ashora Dimension reminded Piper of Rivendell - one of the Elves' homelands in the first movie. Even more bizarre, some of the guests wore robes that made them look like members of a secret sect. Others were obviously not humans at all. A small of Piper felt relieved at her decision to not bring Wyatt to this particular ceremony.
Piper thought she had seen everything . . . until she glanced to her side and noticed an amazing sight. The groom's mother happened to be crying! A crying demon? The oldest Charmed One never thought she would witness such a thing.
Still shaken over witnessing a weeping Nimue, Piper noticed that a hush had fallen over the garden. Olivia finally began her march down the aisle and all eyes fell upon her. Like the bridesmaids, she wore a medieval-style gown, only hers happened to be deep red and it possessed large patterns of the sun around the hem. One pair of eyes especially took Piper by surprise the lovelorn ones that belonged to the groom.
Although she had remained silent, Piper had secretly never taken Cole's feelings toward Olivia seriously. Like Phoebe . . . and Leo, she had assumed that the half-demon's interest in the red-haired witch had been nothing more than a simple case of rebound from his loss of Phoebe. Even Cole's ending of his brief, three-week summer romance with her sister - if one could call it a romance - seemed more like a decision made from the realization that Phoebe would never accept him as a half-demon. But until this moment, she never realized how much he had fallen in love with Olivia. And the Charmed One felt a deep surge of pity for her younger sister.
The bride finally reached the groom. Both took a few steps toward the altar and the priest for the ceremony to begin.
"We stand upon this Holy Ground and in the Face of the Universe," the priest began, "to witness the Sacred Rite of Marriage between Belthazor, also known as Coleridge Benjamin Turner and Olivia Jocelin McNeill. Just as we come together as family and friends so we ask for the Greater Powers to be present here within our Circle. May this Sacred Union be filled with their Holy Presence. I invoke the Goddess of Fertility whose name is Ashera, and the God of Love whose name is Eros, to be present in this Sacred Place. In their names are Love and Fertility declared." After a few more words, he turned to Cole and asked, "Are you the groom, Belthazor, also known as Coleridge Benjamin Turner?"
Cole nodded and replied, "Yes." The priest handed him a gold cup. The half-demon continued, "Will you follow me into fire and water, into storm and the sun, into darkness and light; into life and into death?"
"Yes," Olivia replied in a soft voice. She took the cup from Cole and took a sip, before returning it to the priest.
Piper held her breath, as the priest turned his back for a few second. He then focused his eyes upon Olivia. "Are you the bride, Olivia Jocelin McNeill?"
Olivia nodded. "Yes." The priest handed her the cup. She said to Cole, "Will you follow me into fire and water, into storm and the sun, into darkness and light; into life and into death?"
A smile touched Cole's lips before answered, "Yes." He took the cup from Olivia's hands and took a sip.
Then the priest continued, "From birth, through death and renewal, you must put aside old things, old fears, and old lives. This is your death. The death of pain. The death of loneliness. The death of yesterday." Piper peered at the priest's hands and noticed a piece of red fruit in each of his hands. He handed each piece of fruit to the bride and groom. "Taste of it," he instructed, "and be not afraid." Both Olivia and Cole popped the fruit into their mouths and chewed. "For Belthazor, also known as Coleridge Benjamin Turner and Olivia Jocelin McNeill are with each other . . . to the end of time. In Ashera's name and in Eros' name, I declare you husband and wife."
Both Cecile and Andre handed over rings to the bride and groom, who in turn, exchanged them. Then the bride and groom stared at the priest in anticipation. A grin spread across his lips, which struck Piper as odd, given the ridges on his forehead. "Pardon me." He turned to Cole. "You may now kiss the bride."
Applause from the guests filled the garden, as the newly married couple exchanged a long and passionate kiss. Piper glanced at Cole's mother. The demoness' tears now flowed freely. Other demons in Nimue's party seemed to be clapping with enthusiasm. Olivia must be pretty popular with that bunch. Then the Charmed One glanced to her left and noticed the unhappy expression on Phoebe's face. Someone will need some consoling tonight.
Olivia and Cole's second wedding ceremony commenced without a hitch. Gweneth Morgan McNeill glanced up at the blue sky. The God and Goddess had blessed today with mild, seventy-three degrees weather. Which gave the family to hold the wedding in the garden, this afternoon.
The middle-aged witch happily noted that the decorations blended perfectly with the garden's natural beauty. Her brother, Brion, had not only appeared at the wedding ceremony in the Ashera Dimension, but here in the McNeills' garden, as well. It came as a relief that Brion and Olivia had finally made their peace regarding both Rhiannon and Dafydd. She sighed. If only her father could do the same.
The Morrises had been among the first guests to arrive. Olivia and Darryl's co-workers soon followed. Lohdon and his entourage arrived twenty minutes later, followed by Marbus and his family. Veronica Altman's arrival did not take Gweneth by surprise. The McNeills have been aware of her friendship with Cole. But the arrival of Cole and Veronica's bosses - Harold Jackman and Steven Kline did surprise her. The Halliwell party came next - the three sisters, baby Wyatt, Victor Bennett and Jason Dean. Paige headed straight upstairs, to Olivia's bedroom. The moment the family had founded their seats, Scott Yi stood up and headed straight for Piper. Very interesting. By a quarter after two, all of the guests had arrived. And fifteen minutes later, the ceremony began.
Most of the guests sat in chairs situated neatly in the garden. However, special guests - the Morrises, the Halliwells (except for Paige), Brion and her mother, Marbus' family (sans Cole's uncle), Nathalie Gleason, Veronica Altman, the McNeills (sans Harry), and Philip Bowen, stood in a circle, surrounded by another outlined by stones. A tree decorated with ribbons and flowers stood at the outer circle's North end.
The priest, Arthur McMannus, along with the priestess, Gweneth's mother-in-law, faced the couple. Mr. McMannus began, "Let the four directions be honored that power and radiance might enter our circle for the good of all beings."
Gweneth held her breath, as Andre spoke up. "With the blessing of the deep and fruitful earth, we call upon the powers of the North."
"With the blessing of the inner fire of the sun, we call upon the powers of the South," Barbara said.
Then Cecile added, "With the blessing of the sacred waters of the pool, we call upon the powers of the West."
"With the blessing of the clear pure air, we call upon the powers of the East," Bruce finished.
Nodding, Elise McNeill continued, "May the harmony of our circle be complete."
Mr. McMannus took a deep breath. "We stand upon this Holy Earth and in the Face of Heaven to witness the Sacred Rite of Marriage between Coleridge Benjamin Turner and Olivia Jocelin McNeill. Just as we come together as family and friends so we ask for the Greater Powers to be present here within our Circle. May this Sacred Union be filled with their Holy Presence. I invoke the God of Love whose name is Aengus mac Og to be present in this Sacred Place. In his name is Love declared."
"I invoked the Goddess of the Bright Flame whose name is Brigid to be present in this Sacred Place. In Her name is Peace declared," Elise added.
"In the name of the Ancestors whose Traditions we honor . . ."
Again, Elise continued, ". . . In the name of those who gave us Life . . ."
Both priest and priestess finished, "May we all unite in Love."
At that moment, Cole and Olivia marched toward the circle, arm-in-arm, attended by Harry - holding a sword - and Paige. Together, the two younger couple held a shroud over the bridal pair. Gweneth, along with Jack, Nimue and Marbus joined the small party. Unlike the previous ceremony, the groom wore a black suit, white shirt and a tie that perfectly matched his blue eyes. Gweneth saw Nimue wiping something - probably tears - from the side of her eyes. Not surprisingly, Gweneth found herself doing the same, as she stared at her daughter. The cream-colored gown fitted the bride perfectly. And Gweneth could not help but admire her daughter's decision to wear a matching silk shawl, instead of a veil. Besides, the latter would have only hidden the beautiful blossoms that adorned Olivia's red curls.
When the couple finally reached the priest and priestess, the pair exchanged intimate smiles and the long ceremony continued. Mr. McMannus lit a fire in front of the tree. Both Olivia and Cole walked around the fire three times. Harry and Paige finally removed the shroud. The couple kissed and everyone cried out in approval. Then it continued.
After the bride and groom had declared themselves to the guests and to the God and Goddess, Elise and Mr. McMannus summoned Gweneth, Jack, Nimue and Marbus toward the inner circle. Holding a sword, Jack declared, "I bring you Olivia Jocelin McNeill, my child and my treasure." He passed the sword over Olivia's and handed it to Cole. "Take this sword and mind that always you must be strong, whole, and ready in service to protect thy bride."
In a solemn voice, Cole replied, "I, Coleridge Benjamin Turner, do vow this before the Gods of our people."
"Then nothing may stand in your way!" Elise cried out.
Mr. McMannus turned to Olivia. "Take the hand of your love in yours," Olivia did as she was told, "and say after me - by seed and root, by bud and stem, by leaf and flower and fruit, by life and by love, in the name of the God, I take thee to my hand, my heart and my spirit, at the setting of the sun and the rising of the stars. Nor shall death part us, for in the ripeness of time we shall meet, and know, and remember, and love again. Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone, I here, thou there, yet both as one." Olivia repeated his words.
Then Elise turned to Cole and asked him to repeat a similar oath. "By seed and root, by bud and stem, by leaf and flower and fruit, by life and by love, in the name of the Goddess, I take thee to my hand, my heart and my spirit, at the setting of the sun and the rising of the stars. Nor shall death part us, for in the ripeness of time we shall meet, and know, and remember, and love again. Flesh of they flesh, bone of thy bone, I here, thou there, yet both as one." Cole repeated her words.
Taking Nimue by the hand, Mr. McMannus led her toward the couple. Nimue began to wrap a cord around the couple's wrists, as she said, "May you be ever joined as one, happy and together before all you come to meet and know, and before the Divine."
The ceremony continued. For a brief moment, Gweneth felt a slight urge to run for the loo. Fortunately, the priest unbound the cord from the couple's wrists, and the time had arrived to exchange the rings. Elise declared, "All things in Nature are circular - night becomes day, day becomes night and night becomes day again. The moon waxes and wanes and waxes again. There is Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and then the Spring returns. These things are a part of the Great Mysteries. Coleridge Benjamin and Olivia Jocelin, do you bring your symbols of these Great Mysteries of Life?"
Andre handed a ring to Harry . . . who handed it Cole. The half-daemon stated, "I give you this ring as a symbol of my love for you. Let it remind you always, as it circles your finger, of my eternal love, surrounding you and enfolding you day and night. You are my beloved bride and I marry you today with this ring as I give you my heart, my body, and the very breath of my soul." He slipped the ring on Olivia's finger, while she smiled.
Then Olivia received a ring from Paige. She declared, "I give you this ring as a symbol of my love for you. Let it remind you always, as it circles your finger, of my eternal love, surrounding you and enfolding you day and night. You are my beloved bridegroom and I marry you today with this ring as I give you my heart, my body, and the very breath of my soul." She slipped the ring on Cole's finger.
Elise continued, "Then seal your promise with a kiss. Coleridge and Olivia, kiss."
"Let those assembled here bear witness that Olivia and Coleridge are joined in love," Mr. McMannus added. "May their love partake of the beauty, majesty, and power of the sacred land and may they grow together in wisdom, joy, and harmony. My own blessings and the blessings of all those assembled be with you."
Nodding, Elise said, "The blessings of the Goddess and God be with you."
"The blessings of the ancestors be with you," Mr. McMannus repeated.
"And with all that grows from your union."
Mr. McMannus finished, "So let it be!"
And everyone cried out, "So let it be!"
Olivia and Cole exchanged another long kiss.
Gweneth heaved a silent sigh of relief. It had finally ended. Onward to the loo.
END OF CHAPTER FOURTEEN