"Your Majesty, I can assure you, such a thing will neuef—"

"Yeah, yeah. Eat your pie. Alex."

"Which one?"

"Both. One for you, for sleeping late ..." She sliced, plopped, handed the napkin to the prince. "Like that's a big crime, but we're all determined to take some of the blame, right? And you, Ms. Smug, you couldn't have taken the bad guy out forty seconds earlier?"

"I despise you," the princess said, but took her pie.

"Edmund and Jenny... for having the nerve to follow orders and actually take a vacation for once in your sad, sad lives ..."

"Kathryn ... and don't you dare toss this... and Nicky..."

"Because they think Daddy's not my—you know."

"Right. And because you're determined to share some blame. But Nick, I'm only giving this to you because you'd be mad if I didn't. It's really not—"

"Never mind," he said, and sighed, and ate his pie, a boy not old enough to shave, or even stay up past ten.



"I hate blueberries," he grumbled, but came forward.

"I don't think he should have a slice," Alexandria volunteered, her teeth blue.

"Bet your ass I should. That guy was twitching all over the place and I didn't see it until the king was down. Stupid. I know better."

"Where's my slice?" David asked quietly.

"Oh, you're being punished enough," Christina said humorously, looking at him over her shoulder. "King David. Or prince regent, or whatever we're supposed to call you. Don't you think? Besides, you couldn't be in two places at once. You decided to stay in front of me, and your dad paid for it."


"There," she said, setting the knife into the near-empty plate. "Now we've all got our blame. Eat up, every bite. Yum-yum. Then maybe we can put this bullshit behind us and get focused, you know? I mean, what the fuck difference does it make who was here and who got hit and who grabbed a chair and who jumped in front of someone and who was scared and who got shot? We're dealing with the now. So that's quite enough breast-beating. It's boring, and we don't have time."

Silence, broken only by chewing.

"Blueberry blame pie," Alexander said at last,

"Would be yummy with ice cream.

Such a tender crust."

"Yeah, yeah. Next time," muttered Chris.

There was a crash as Kathryn set her empty plate down, hard. "He's right. Blame has an incredibly flaky crust," she commented, her tongue flicking out to catch a blueberry perched on her lip.

"Thanks. Now—what's next?"

Edmund set his napkin down and clasped his hands behind his back. He addressed his remarks to the queen. This was a pattern, established the first full day of her reign, that would continue for decades. "The king is in serious, but stable, condition. No change in his comatose state. Parliament is meeting in a few hours to confirm that David is regent, but it's just a formality."

"How about the bad guy? Devon Domonov?"

"His last name is actually Stephenson," Jenny said. "He's a distant cousin, so his last name is different."

"Oh, yeah, that's how he fooled us—what a criminal mastermind," Christina snapped. "I don't care what his last name is. Is he in jail or the hospital or what?"

"He died at 10:48 A.M. Massive skull trauma."

Everyone looked at Princess Alex, who nibbled her crust and stared back.

"This does present a ... a minor problem," Edmund began delicately.

"What problem?" David said sharply. "She defended her king and her prince. I was planning on giving her about a thousand medals."

"Forget it," she said with her mouth full. "They'll set off the metal detectors when I go shopping."

"Yes, but... Her Highness's motive must be called into question."

"Motive?" Christina asked. "I don't—what? What's going on? What's everybody else know that I don't?"

"I've got a master's in physics," Alex explained. "I knew the chair wouldn't break." At Christina's and Nicky's clueless expression, she elaborated. "Chairs never shatter spectacularly like on television. Most of them—particularly the ones around here—are made of hard wood. Very tough. It's like hitting someone with an anchor. You know the anchor won't break, but you damn sure know damage is going to be done. I did. I knew."

"At any rate," Edmund continued, "charges might be—"

"Absolutely not," David said, and looked, for the first time, like his father's chair might fit him. "My sister acted in defense of the royal family and, by extension, her country. The fact that the handiest weapon happened to be lethal, and she knew it, is irrelevant to this king and, I imagine, this family. Furthermore, I'm glad that treacherous fuck is dead, and if she hadn't taken care of it, I would have. No charges."

Edmund bowed his head. "As you wish, Majesty."

Whoa, Christina thought.

"Thanks," Princess Alex said quietly.

"No—thank you. Hand me that last slice of pie, will you, Chris?"

Wordlessly, she gave the last piece to her husband.

"What's next?" he asked with his mouth full.

"Parliament," Edmund said, and Chris suppressed a shiver.

Chapter 29

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

Unlike most modern European royal families, the Alaskan royals actually held quite a bit of power when compared to the average citizen. The king and/or queen could declare war, end war, deploy the armed forces, declare states of emergency, grant pardons, sign death warrants (although the last time this had been done was 1897, when Jonas Weyers II was beheaded for smothering the infant prince Sergei Baranov), grant large sums of money to appropriate charities and/or persons, and sign bills into law. Parliament could and did do all these things, but it was all run by the reigning monarch as, for no other reason, an act of courtesy.

Past kings and queens had varied from total indifference to government affairs, to micromanage-ment.

King Alexander II was known for his outwardly lackadaisical governing style, but he was careful to read every law, every proposal, every grant, and every declaration. He certainly never affixed the royal seal to anything he did not have a perfect understanding of. Parliament, of course, was used to this.

Of course, King Alexander was still alive (technically), so his son, David, and daughter-in-law, Christina, would actually be co-regents, with all the power those titles suggested.

And no one knew what the new regents' management style would be.

Christina was in her wedding dress again. "It's perfect, "Jenny had assured her, fussing with her cape. "It's the opening of Parliament, which is always a special occasion. It's also a—a significant occasion. And it's not a traditional wedding gown—it's more like a formal. It'll show your respect, but it'll also pop their eyes out and remind them you're a queen."

"Great. Because I want eyes popping out."

"You really do, you know," Edmund advised quietly. "It's important to establish your and David's fitness for the throne."

"Mine and David's? Whatever happened to all the 'you're automatically royal when you get hitched, don't sweat it' stuff?"

"It's called hedging our bets," Edmund replied, giving her a slight push.

She started down the aisle, and was again weirdly reminded of her wedding day. Except this was a whole lot scarier. Today they actually expected her to do something.

David was already sitting on the throne at the head of the room. Normally they would have entered together, but she'd gotten her cape caught on the edge of the stove in the west kitchen, engendering hysteria in both the kitchen staff and the housekeeping staff. She herself had been inclined to just leave the cape behind, but no one would hear of it.

She walked past what appeared to be a thousand members of Parliament and carefully sat on the throne (the throne! the throne!) at David's right.

"Sorry I'm late," she said out of the corner of her mouth. "Cape disaster."

"So I heard," he muttered back. He was deathly pale, but managed a small smile for her. "Thanks for showing up. I bet Edmund a thousand dollars that we'd find you on the docks, looking for the next ship out."

"Don't tempt me."

"Ladies and gentlemen," someone she couldn't see announced, "Their Majesties, King David and Queen Christina. Please rise for this, the one hundred forty-second opening of the Alaskan Parliament."

She started to get up, but David's hand shot out and grabbed her forearm, so she stayed put. Everybody else got up, and bowed.

"Thank you," David said.

"You're welcome," she replied.

"I wasn't talking to you," he muttered. Then, louder, "Be seated."

They sat, rustling like a giant flock of crows. Come to think of it, most of them were in black. She herself felt like a fraud, and for more than the obvious reasons. She felt like she should be wearing somber colors instead of jewel tones, because Al was so sick, but on the other hand, he wasn't dead (yet) so mourning was inappropriate.

And speaking of inappropriate, what was she doing sitting on a throne?

"... this Parliament does on this day, the fourth of April, two thousand and four, accept David and Christina Baranov as co-regents of Alaska. So noted."

"Thank you," David said. Christina was amazed he could speak. She was amazed she herself hadn't wet her cape. "Please note that We expect this to be temporary and will only assume this duty until Our father regains his health."

That must be the royal We, she thought. And memo to me—I'm never, ever referring to myself as "We." It sounds stupid. Not when David does it. He can actually pull it off. But I'd sound like a retard. Plus, everybody would laugh, and who could blame them?

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