31,889
07.03.2019

And Devon was—was a member of—of the family.

"Your Highness, the ambulance is coming. Let me—"

"Leave." One and two and three—"Me."—four and—"Alone! Breathe!"

Nicholas and Alex were huddled above them, staring down, their Baranov blue eyes huge. "He shot Daddy," Nicholas was saying, pressing his face into Alex's stomach. "He shot him to grab me!"

"He paid for it, Nicky," Alex said, and though she was white to the lips, her words were cold. Christina, working up a sweat doing her closed-chest massage, shivered. "Anybody ever comes near you, they can say hello to a skull fracture, too."

"It's like this, Mrs. Baranov—Your Highness. Um, both Your Highnesses …" The doctor, though at the top of his field, had never met a member of the royal family before. Now the private room was filled with them. Alexander and Kathryn had arrived just after the rest of the party.

Prince Alex was gray-faced, but not too rattled to come up with,

"Sleep late for one day

Kidnapping attempts ensue,

What the hell's going on?"

"Not now, Alex," David snapped.

"Just give us the straight shit, Doc," Princess Christina said.

"Well, Prince David was correct—the kidnapper was using animal tranquilizers. A combination of chloral hydrate and ketamine. It seems he has a contact at the Juneau Zoo—"

"Yeah, another distant relative of our mother," Alexandria said bitterly. "Some vet or something. And she was soooo helpful when it came to silly-ass schemes. Her ass is in jail now, right?"

Carol, the head of the security team, nodded absently while listening in on her headset. The security team was jittery and slit-eyed and pissed. Recriminations could come later; right now, nobody was messing with them.

"Er…yes." The doctor coughed. "The tranquilizers themselves wouldn't have hurt Prince Nicholas and would have made him very easy to— um—transport."

"Not to mention, they weren't supposed to hurt anyone—kill anyone," Carol said, thinking aloud. "Because—"

"Because regicide is still punishable by beheading in this country—that law's been on the books for almost two hundred years," Prince David said pointedly. "Devon wouldn't have wanted to risk that."

"Fascinating," Chris said impatiently, "but why is the king still unconscious?"

"His Majesty had a severe allergic reaction to the chloral hydrate. He's in a coma."

Dead silence, broken by David's strangled, "For—for how long?"

Dr. Sarett shook his head. "He could come out of it tomorrow. Or a month from now. Or next year. Or…" He shrugged helplessly. "He's on a respirator for now, but we're hoping he'll start breathing on his own in … I mean . . . sometime."

Just when Christina thought she'd absorbed the sheer awfulness of the news, the magnitude of what had happened, Dr. Sarett hit her broadside all over again.

At first she thought he'd dropped his pen and was looking for it on the floor. But then he was— was he? He was! He was bowing to her, to David. And Nicky and Alexandria and Alex and Kathryn and the security gal were all bowing, too. To them. To her.

"Long live the king and queen," Dr. Sarett said.

"Oh, fuck," the queen said.

PART FOUR

A gold cage is still a cage.

—King David I

Oh, go cry in a bag of money.

—Queen Christina

Chapter 28

From The Queen of the Edge of the World, by Edmund Dante III, © 2089, Harper Zebra and Schuster Publications.

Princess for one night; queen for. . . who knew? The Sitka Palace reeled from the attack, and not just because the king was gravely ill. Although the royal siblings all had genuine fondness for one another, none felt King David was ready. Not to mention Queen Christina.

Not only that, but Prince Nicholas's parentage was finally, formally, called into doubt. King Alexander had done his best to protect his son from slander and inquisitive gossip, but now the cat was, so to speak, out of the bag. The next day, the headline for the Juneau newspaper read DNA TEST, KING DAVID?

Lastly, both within and without the Sitka Palace, recriminations were flying far and fast. How had a Domonov been able to inflict such harm so suddenly? How long had the plot been in evidence? Worse, was there more to it?

Far, far worse: would King Alexander survive it?

These questions threw the royal family into its first crisis since the scandalous death of Queen Dara. Although, some historians argue, this latest crisis was just a result of that earlier one. . . the way sterility is often the result, years later, of German measles.

"It's my fault," Jenny said quietly.

"My dear Jennifer, don't be an idiot. It's my fault," Edmund said.

"Both of you, don't be idiots," Nicholas said gloomily. They were in the king's office on the north side of the building. They had been drawn there, royals and servants alike, to take comfort in a room so strongly stamped with the king's personality. There were dead animals covering nearly every square foot of wall. It was calming, yet morbid. "It's my fault. He was after me. He hurt Daddy because of me."

"It's my fault," Kurt said. "A pharmacist took me out with a serving platter, for fuck's sake. Anybody mind if I shoot myself in the head?"

"Are you madder about the pharmacist, or the serving platter?" Princess Alexandria asked. She got a ghost of a smile for her efforts.

"It's my fault," King David said. "I should have knocked Dad out of the way."

"You were guarding the queen," Edmund pointed out. "Your hands were full."

"It's my fault," Carol, head of security, said. "We were so easily diverted to the plane! I should have left more men behind."

"Hey, the guy had a serving platter," Kurt said, slumping on the end of the couch so that his shoulders made a C-shape. "You can't do much against a serving platter."

"The fault is all ours

We would have kicked Devon's ass

But we chose to sleep."

Kathryn, seated beside her haiku-spouting brother, nodded. "Alex is right. If we'd been there, you would have had more help. We would have kicked Devon's ass up so high, people would have thought he had two heads. But we slept late."

Everyone stared at Kathryn, startled by such a long speech, then looked at Princess Alexandria, who glared back. "What? It's not my fault. I'm the one who took out the bad guy."

"Speaking of," King David said quietly, "how is Devon doing?"

"Deader than shit, Your Majesty," Carol said, not looking up from her Palm Pilot, across which a constant stream of data was running. "Want to send flowers?"

David snorted.

"Forgive me, but where is Her Majesty the queen?" Edmund asked. "Shouldn't she be here with us?"

"She's baking," David said absently. He squirmed in his father's chair.

Alexandria laughed. 'You're like Goldilocks, Dave. "This one's too small. . . this one's too big!' Sit still, you're making me nervous."

"This chair is too big," David said, and nobody commented.

The silence was broken by Kathryn's hopeful, "What's Chris baking?"

"A pie, she said."

"What kind of pie?"

"Jeez, Kath! You almost never talk, and when you do finally speak up, it's so you can find out when you can eat. Can you give your appetite a rest for five seconds?" Princess Alex snapped, smacking her just above the elbow. The outburst was so star-ding, several of the siblings stared at her.

Kathryn looked around for something to toss, gave up, and said in a small voice, "It's a national crisis. I have to keep my strength up." At everyone's stricken expression, she added, "That, uh, sounded a lot funnier in my head."

The door was thrown open and Christina walked in, carrying a steaming pie with the aid of two potholders shaped like pink salmon.

"Oh, good, the new caterer's here," Alexandria said sarcastically.

Prince Alex cleared his throat.

"Somebody's touchy

Today it's acceptable

Still: take it easy."

Christina set the pie down in the middle of the conference table and pulled a knife out of her back pocket, and a pile of napkins out of her other back pocket, which she set next to the pie.

Edmund and Jenny, of course, were on their feet the minute the queen entered. "Good afternoon, Your Majesty."

"Howdy, Jenny. Eds. Welcome back. Sorry your vacation got cut short."

"It's our fault this happened, "Jenny began dolefully. Her lovely eyes were rimmed in red. Hers weren't the only ones, either. "I'm sure I would have recognized him … at least run him through our database … I know most of the Domonovs on sight… at the least I would have thrown myself in front of the darts …"

"Yeah, your eighty pounds would have made all the difference, Jenn. Listen up, everyone. Blame is a pie."

"Blame smells like blueberries?" Alexandria asked.

She ignored the interruption. "It's a pie. Everybody gets a slice. So here we go. First slice to me … I might be new to the royal game, but I've been cooking since I was eight. I ought to be able to spot a fake caterer… or a pharmacist posing as one. He wasn't just nervous because he was about to do a dirty deed. He was nervous because he didn't know dick about food, and he was afraid we'd— I'd—ask him something. In retrospect, duh." She cut herself a small slice; the room instantly filled with the smell of sugary crust and hot fruit. She set the wedge on a napkin and pushed it aside.

"Carol, front and center." Carol put her Palm away and slowly came forward. "Needless to say, Security's been asking themselves some hard questions since this happened."

❮❯