This is Issue #85 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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The knock at the door rousted him; Secta jerked his head up off the table, panting, and immediately put his hands to his temples, uttering a brief, mewling cry.
He opened the door, looking hollow-eyed and unslept.
The servant who served him much in the same way he’d served Jet stared at him, gape-mouthed. “Sir, you–” He cut himself off, and simply kept staring.
“What?” Secta said, somewhat impatient. “Is it time to leave?”
“Ah, yes… Sir, it is, but you–” He gestured at Secta weakly. “You do not appear to be ready, I could–”
“Of course I’m ready,” Secta growled. “Let us go to the Domina; no doubt she is wondering why you haven’t fetched me yet–”
“But, sir, you–”
Secta strode out of his room, away from the door jamb that had been holding him up. He made it one, two, three steps, and then promptly collapsed. He stared at his own hand as it lay on the floor, fingertips weakly pawing at the marble.
He watched the feet of the servant running away, down the hall, slapping on that same marble, until they were out of sight, and then he closed his eyes.
* * *
The declaration of House Venustus and its succession was simple enough; the house did not even need to arrive, but would be at the coronation to formally kneel before the Queen. Jet marveled over the beauty in Secta’s script, at how he had so carefully made certain of the family’s future — he found his heart swell with pride at the thought of his famulo. Soon, he told himself silently. Soon, there will be time to speak, finally, of his heart and mine.
* * *
When they arrived in the hall, Jet felt a measure of relief that he had not realized would come — arriving in the great hall with the whole of the city expectant, he could not help but feel as he did the time he and Key walked into vespers late.
Every head within the massive chapel had turned to see them — he and Kieron had been holding hands nearly until that moment.
Now, they all turned to look, but there would be no Headmaster to issue demerits or promise punishment of any kind. Now, he kept his hand in Lucida’s; she gave his a squeeze as they walked to their thrones in full view of the courtiers and other house representatives. Delegates from the other city states bowed their heads as they went by; everyone knelt with their heads down until Jet and Lucida passed.
They sat, and the ceremony itself began.
Amidst chimes and incense, priests and officials transferred power from Immanis’s line to Lucida. They laid a radiant crown of carnelian and jade on her brow — it looked heavy in the priest’s hands, but she held her head high and looked out over the sea of expectant faces, and beamed with joy.
Jet was recognized officially as her consort; he took off his mask and wore a circlet on his painted brow.
When the fanfare was over, the people were jubilant — vidscreens outside showed the whole ceremony to the city, while vidscreens inside showed the court the celebrations within the city. People marveled at the sheer number of pilgrims who’d come to witness and pay their respects.
Soon, it was time for the Houses to kneel before the Queen and her Consort — they did this with great adoration and humility, proclaiming their loyalty and offering up gifts.
When Gemma and Acer knelt before Lucida, she raised Acer and kissed his lips and then his forehead, thanking him for the multitudes of soldiers he brought. She touched Gemma’s shoulder, and they nodded to one another, wordless.
Jet touched Lucida’s cheek when House Plaga stepped away; she smiled for him, her jaw clenched, the smile forced, but well in place, not at all in danger of slipping. Lucida was a woman who knew well how to handle duty, and the two faces of royalty.
House after hours, city state after city state — Jet waited for House Venustus, but when the military delegations came, he saw the look of frustration on Coryphaeus’s and Nixus’s faces as they each knelt.
House Venustus would not be coming, for some reason.
Doubtless, court gossips would be speaking of it for heavens-knew-how-long, but largely, it went unremarked. There were so many people who had knelt, so many delegations, so many houses, and there was still so much to do.
The ceremony itself came to an end, marked by the priests and officials declaring it so, but then Jet stood before the monitors that showed his face to the world that watched him. He smiled his sharp-toothed grin, and raised his hands. The people within and without the palace went wild with adoration. He gestured for Lucida to join his side, and the people grew louder. Even noble families within the marble hall lifted their voices and stamped their feet, shouting, calling their support.
“My people! Ilona! All of her sister states! The time has come. I spoke to you last night of our enemies and what they mean to do to our beautiful country — what they have done already. I asked you for your loyalty, for your alliance, for your willingness to fight, to bleed, and yes, to die in service for your fellow citizen. Today, we celebrate with you. Tonight, we take to the skies to vanquish an enemy so dishonorable, they come crawling in the night without a formal declaration of war. Tonight, we show them they have no chance at extinguishing our light!”
And with that, he kissed Lucida rather hungrily, and then put on his painted mask. He took off his ceremonial robes and showed off the knives strapped to his painted skin, strapped to his braccae. His golden eyes were lit from within, and he roared aloud, the city’s Guardian come to life before them, challenging the intruders that were coming to destroy the family he’d made for himself.
“Vivat Venator!” The nobles, the palace, the city cried. “Vivat Ilona!”
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