Author: Josie Gowler
I take my time putting on all the rings that the King gave me; they form an effective but innocuous-looking knuckleduster. The autobot buzzes around my head, brushing my hair until it gleams the stunning reddish-brown that – I’m sure – helped King Ivar choose me to kidnap over all his other potential victims.
“Excited , Madam Berit?” asks the oldest attendant as the autobot departs.
“Nervous,” I reply, like the innocent off-world virgin I’m supposed to be.
On the way to the main palace in the king’s golden skimmer, the ship’s windows have been turned clear for the first time so I can actually see out. The crowds cheer – all of them, King Ivar’s people and mine. I whispered in his ear months ago that it would be better not to send my kindred back to Artak and appropriate their property. Now his tax revenues are enormous and the prosperity has filtered to all. This world is booming. I barely needed to resort to charms at all – not the psychotropic type, anyway.
The streets are clean, with the people waving blue and white flags as my ship flies overhead. No homeless veterans in doorways, and my enquiries tell me that they haven’t simply been shunted off elsewhere. I crane my neck to look down at the river. The water’s lost its floating layer of pollution from the war mech industry. And that makes up my mind at last.
We pull up outside the palace and I focus on being the modest yet comely bride. The Chancellor’s smile is just as pained as I expected it to be as I walk up the aisle, his bow just that bit too shallow. I’m still not sure whether he was behind the assassination plot I uncovered, although I have my suspicions. I’ll finish searching the palace’s camera feeds later.
The ceremony is a whirl. Ivar is actually rather cute, not that that’s got anything to do with anything. After sharing sweet wine from the golden goblet to seal our marriage and my elevation to Queen, we hold hands. It’s the first physical contact we’ve ever had, which is a bit odd considering the whole kidnapping thing last year, but that’s tradition for you. It’ll take a while for me to mastermind its stamping-out. We turn away from the priest to face the congregation.
“My Queen and I will now progress to the summer palace, for the last time,” Ivar says. I glance towards him in surprise, but then collect myself and look forwards. “Three palaces is too many. Next year, I will turn the summer palace into an engineering and ethics college for the poorest youngsters in the city. We will reconcile our traditions with our spacefaring era, but it’s going to take all of us working together to achieve it.”
Ivar leads me back to the skimmer and our new life together. We are flown towards the summer palace, roof down on the ship. We reach the lake, and while my new husband is waving to his subjects on the right, we hit the little uplift of turbulence that I’ve been waiting for. I lean out and toss my bracelet into the water. It’s the first chance I’ve had to get rid of it and its lethal cargo of protein-depleting nanotech. This young man deserves a chance, not death. Who knows, I might even come to love him one day.
It’s not the success my family had expected: they’d wanted a simple assassination in the beginning. But this is better than what they had expected.
I’ve given us peace.