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“Kneel,” King Gallant said.

June rose to her feet. The Sheriff gripped the back of her belt and pulled her to the floor.

“Choose your behavior carefully,” Sheriff whispered. “Or you’ll die for no reason.” The Sheriff raised open palms above his head and rose up to his feet. “Your Majesty, as Sheriff of Hastings, I humbly request your brief audience prior to our trial… if I may?” Kensington pulled a roll of parchment from his breast pocket. He handed it through the bars to Lexifer, who unrolled the parchment beside the King.

“June A. Foster, vows her hand in wedlock to Sheriff Patrick Kensington of Hastings.” Lexifer said out loud, and the half dozen guards behind them twisted their faces in confusion.

“Foster?” The King repeated aloud. “Related to Sheriff Foster of Hastings?”

“Sheriff Foster’s only living son was hung to death by Jimmy Gallows in the Vesper forest,” Kensington said, truthfully. Lexifer perked up at the sentence, but appeared to take no umbrages with the careful truth.

King Gallant closed eyelids over his blue eyes and nodded, the possibility of a Foster daughter did not seem to cross his mind.

“Marriage, you say?” the King asked.

“Yes,” Kensington affirmed. “It was the reason we were heading to Kingdom, for a proper ceremony to be observed by the magistrate. My only regret, your Majesty, is that married women are unable to speak in a public forum without their husband’s consent, so unfortunately she will not be able to testify against Jimmy Gallows once married to me.” Sheriff tethered out his words with care. “And since I did not happen to see the identity of Jimmy Gallows in the darkness of the forest, I cannot bear witness either.”

Gallant nodded his crown, eyes locked with the Sheriff’s.

“That is, indeed, an unfortunate circumstance.”

June nearly puked in her mouth. They were pleading to the King that they wouldn’t speak a word of it. History would ink their story as a tedious wedding journey. The truth would be signed away, along with herself, to Sheriff Patrick Kensington.

“We may be able to arrange this,” Lexifer said, “though it would have to occur in the quadrangle, before the public court in the amphitheater. We have no other capacity prepared for public notarization this week.”

“The stage is perfect,” Gallant said, “The defendant’s stand will serve as an altar,” Gallant said with slow words as his eyes gazed over his fingernails. “Though I doubt they have anything to defend.”

She felt the King’s eyes pressing on her like boot soles. Lexifer placed the wedding contract in the pile of arrest papers.

“I’ll have everything drawn up by tonight, your Majesty,” Lexifer said.

And that was that.

“A pig in wool stockings is more fit for the throne than this man,” Chambers said, stepping forward out of the shadows.

“I’d be keen to clean myself up if I were you, murderer,” King Gallant said. “I anticipate a large turnout from the Librae commonwealth for your execution. You don’t want to look sullied for your big day.”

Chambers spat through the bars. It landed with a white line dripping down the crimson lapel of the King’s tunic. The guards stepped towards the bars, casually, as if it were a regular occurrence.

“A decade ago you came to the orphan yard and spoke to me in the same silky voice, asking for a favor.”

“Silence him!” Gallant said, his bored whisper rising in tone. He waved a hand at the Captain, whose hand snapped to a slurry of keys on a ring.

“You asked a quest of me,” Chambers shouted, “a quest I thought to be noble at the time! He told me Sheriff Foster was mutinous, plotting to poison my innocent King.” Chambers’ eyes found hers. “I was eight years old. I thought honor drove my quest. Little did I know my targets were innocent and the King was a liar.”

The Captain found the key and the door burst inwards, flooding Chambers with guards. Arms and hands were upon him, smothering his face and body.

“Kings cannot lie,” King Gallant said, closing a hand to a fist at his side. “What kings say becomes the truth. And I say that you’re dead.”

Chambers ripped a hand off his mouth and spoke like a drowning man.

“The public knows I’m here! They’ll wonder why I’ve been killed before the execution!”

“Take his tongue and sew his mouth shut,” Gallant said. Chambers was dragged off in the King’s wake by other Blackguards; kicking and screaming to a place where none could hear.

Kensington hugged his arm around June’s head and spoke quickly into her ear.

“Do you remember your horse, the one named Deceased?”

She looked up at him. She blinked.

“Deceased, your horse,” Kensington said.

She nodded.

“It’s illegal to buy horses under Kingdom law, but you can buy dead ones for their meat. Your mother wanted you to have a pony, so your father legally named the horse Deceased and sent the documents to the Kingdom on your sixth birthday. We sat up on your pasture and passed a bottle of whiskey between the two of us, toasting to your life. He asked me to be your Godfather, and protect you if King Gallant came for him. This wedding contract will save your life.”

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