The New Patrick Kensington
Twenty-six letters. Twenty-six marks re-arranged in a certain order were responsible for this entire mess. They had robbed Chambers of a free life. They had robbed her of a happy life. She watched Chambers sleep against the wall beside her, one elbow propped on a bent knee.
The new Patrick Kensington was in the room. He was dressed in black from head to toe. Dress robes. White cuffs from his undermost garment peeked out of his narrow sleeves. He flipped a coat lapel behind his hip, resting the ball of his thumb on the hilt of the Sheriff’s sword. His vest, she could see, was also black.
“Happy wedding day,” the new Patrick Kensington said. A smile tightened across his face. The man was old enough to be her father, but shaved to a boy’s cheek. Although everyone in the room knew this wasn’t Patrick Kensington, the man smiled and looked her straight in the damned eyes. June looked away first.
Some sort of mistress poked her coifed head around the corner. She walked in the timid way June hated women walked in the company of men. Tiny hands crossed over her chest and clenched what looked like a folded white surrender flag. She stopped, bowed her head forward, and extended it through the bars. June grabbed the smoothest and most unpractical material she’d ever felt. New Patrick Kensington raised a torch off the wall and cast firelight into the cell—before she could even see what she held, she saw a grin tug across the prisoner’s stitched lips in the corner. Shining white silk and ridiculous white netting crap unfurled in her hands. Chambers allowed a nasally chuckle. Even with his mouth sewn shut, he teased her.
“Shut it, Chambers,” The mistress bowed away. The sound of her slippers tapped into the dark.
“Please, Ms. Foster,” New Kensington said. “For the sake of pageantry…”
“If they wanted pageantry they wouldn’t partner our wedding ceremony with an execution hearing,” she replied. New Kensington sustained an even composure, his tiny eyelids at half-mast over brown irises.
“Pageantry can be the difference between a wedding and execution,” New Kensington said. His voice was a bad attempt at the stuffy Kingdom accent. “We will be who we pretend to be,” He said. A smile remained starched across his face, she could see a glint of primal fear in his eyes.
Lexifer spoke, “You’ll do right to remember that.”
She glared at the Magistrate, pushing clenched fists through the sleeves of the dress. Cool hands glided down the curves of her hips. She spun around to see Chambers threading the laces up the back of her dress. New Kensington leaned against the bars, arms crossed, as Chambers ran his hands down her arms.
“Turn,” New Kensington said. He closed a bodice around her ribcage and pulled the strings tight against her lungs. “They’ll kill us both if we don’t get married on that stage,” he whispered as he threaded laces up her spine. She felt him tie a neat little bow at the back of her neck.
The gate unlocked behind her but she’d never felt more captive. She walked, stiff as a doll. If she leaned in any direction over her waist, she’d topple. The guards presented her before the desk to be processed. Lexifer spun a rectangle of parchment around on his desk to face them.
FIRST ORDER: One Sheriff Patrick Kensington has summoned audience to collect the following vow from one June J. Foster:
Beneath that, her own words read on the page; scratched seemingly a lifetime ago in the Hastings Sheriff’s Office.
I, June J. Foster, vow my hand in wedlock to Sheriff Patrick Kensington of Hastings.
SECOND ORDER: Two conditional* Blackguard inductions of one Sheriff Patrick Kensington and one June J. Foster.
*Ceremony upon marriage.
“Ah, speaking of old Hastings,” the new Captain said, dropping a papered stack on the desk beside her marriage contract. “Casualty report from the Gallows raid.”
Her eyes jumped to the paper. There were two columns of names, printed in sprawling penmanship down the parchment as though it were a list of meat cuts. She ran quickly down the list of ‘Possibly Deceased,’ recognizing the stable master and his family’s name—they most likely rode the colts straight out of town at the first sign of trouble. She then scanned the ‘Confirmed Deceased,’ recognizing a few acquaintances from around town. Mr. Talmai’s daughter had always been nice—for a Hastings girl. The Tanners had all been killed. At the very bottom of the list was the name Dana Foster Jr.
She pursed her lips.
Lexifer stabbed a finger down on the marriage document. She nodded in acknowledgement; she had already read it last night—until each and every word was burned into her mind. For better or for worse.
Lexifer dismissed them with a wave of the hand and straightened out a stack of papers on his desk. She gave one final glance back to the cell, leaving behind her prisoner’s emerald eyes watching behind the bars.
Up the spiral stairs, the Captain opened the steel latch. They were once again in the marble cloister of the archway, only this time no street-heaps of peasants heckled them. As they walked deeper into the citadel, the familiar roar of a crowd got louder.
“Nearly all of civilized Librae jammed itself into the pantheon to see what will become of the infamous Wesley Chambers,” the Captain informed them. “He is due for certain execution after your ceremony. If you have stage fright, don’t fret, people love to see happy endings; they will embrace your love. It is only those of vice who have to be nervous when it comes to the stage. And if that doesn’t sooth the nerves, just remember these people are here to see Chambers—his name has been on the lips of every man walking the Kingdom streets—you’re merely the opening act.”