There Are Things You Can’t Escape – Part 3

There Are Things You Can’t Escape – Part 3

It’s been a bit of a wait for the end of this one (sorry)! But I have finally finished it. Part 4 will follow in a few weeks, but I think this is by far my favorite piece of the story. It came to me in the shower one morning, demanding to be written, and I love how it came out! Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
. . .

“Are you sure about this? This is your absolute last chance to escape this whole debacle.”

Adelle glanced at her reflection in the mirror; at the folds of ivory fabric cascading from her hips, at the crimson waves encasing her shoulders and the scarlet pattern decorating her chest. Gold circlets held her hair in a painstakingly intricate pattern that was already starting to give her a headache. Yet her face was skeptical, as if she couldn’t believe the woman peering back at her was really herself.

She had seen pictures of her mother’s wedding dress, and she thought she looked awkward in comparison. While the royal dressmaker had encapsulated all of her mother’s best qualities, as well as her whimsical nature, with the end result of her toils, Adelle couldn’t help feeling both severe and generic in the dress she wore. It should have troubled her, perhaps, but it was a tiny annoyance when compared to the rest of her marriage arrangements. She was starting to think it would be a small miracle if she didn’t strangle her would-be husband by the end of the day.

“I think it’s a bit late for that,” she said with a sigh as her maid, Mariel, settled her veil over her face. It didn’t obscure her features nearly enough for her taste. Nor would it impede her sight, and she really didn’t want to see much of the ceremony.

Mariel snorted. “I’ve secured a route out the back of the palace, all the way down to the hangar bay, if you’re interested. You didn’t think I’d throw you into the fire, did you?”

Adelle smiled and took Mariel’s hand in hers. If she said she had made such an arrangement, Adelle didn’t doubt it existed. Mariel had always been more than just a faithful servant; she was a dear friend. Which made rejecting her offer all the more painful.

“This is something I have to do.”

“So you keep telling me.” Mariel sighed. “I’m never going to understand it, but I’m not going to abandon you either. In a few months, when you’re sobbing on my shoulder demanding to know why I let you go through with this whole farce in the first place, I’ll make sure you have some way to smuggle yourself to the outer rim.”

“Thanks, Mari.” Adelle chuckled. But she didn’t think it would come to that; she wasn’t about to let some baby emperor break her.

Even so, the opening of the door to the imperial throne room might well have been the slamming shut of prison bars. The vast, cavernous room had never felt so stifling. The great crowd gathered to watch their union seemed like a funeral march, grim faces folded with displeasure as she passed them, each judging her unworthy in some way or another. High above their heads, grand chandeliers hung at regular intervals, still failing to illuminate the far corners of the great hall. The gold-gilded carvings adorning each pillar almost seemed to avert their eyes as she made her way down the red carpet, Mariel trailing behind her, carrying both the train of her dress and the base of her veil.

Let the court hate her if it pleased them. None of them would have to deal with an overgrown child as their partner for the rest of their days. Or at least, the rest of his. He was still human, bound to live a mere fraction of her life. She wondered if that was what made her agree to this spectacle. But even if she escaped as a widow back into the world of freedom and adventure, it would mean leaving her child tethered to the throne, an even crueler fate than the one her parents had contrived for her.

The emperor waited at the far end of the hall. He stood at the base of his golden throne, wearing the same pompous sneer that always graced his lips. He wanted her to think she would be lucky if he didn’t toss her in a pit of crocodiles mere hours after their union, as if each day she continued breathing beyond this one were a gift. But Adelle had known the truth of the matter since she visited her ancient uncle in the chamber that preserved him. Her fiancé was no more in control of this situation than she was. He ruled in name only. Any truly controversial decision would have to pass through his great-grandfather before it could be acted upon. And her untimely death was just as likely to topple him from the throne as it was to set him free.

When he took her hand, his fingers barely brushed her flesh, as if he considered her an unclean, unsavory thing, to be set aside as quickly as possible. Like a child eating only what vegetables he had to in order to make his parents happy, he turned to the priest and motioned for him to hurry the proceedings.

It was all the same to Adelle; she had never much cared for ceremony, and this was a marriage of necessity. While the priest droned about their duties to one another as a couple, Adelle let the words fall away, thinking instead of her mother. Rose Drathmore had done more than her fair share of things she hadn’t wanted to in order to secure the safety and security of her people. But marrying Adelle’s father had not been one of them. Their marriage had been troubled, at times, their love tested by the challenges they faced. But they had endured, and it had been her mother’s name her father cried on his deathbed, swearing in the last moments he had seen her as if she walked again.

She could almost hear her mother chiding her that she should have taken Mariel’s way. But what her mother said and what she did were often two different things, and this was the right choice, even if it was without a silver lining.

Adelle dutifully repeated each of the things the priest prompted her to say, as did the young emperor. Their voices carried by virtue of the room’s acoustics and the sound amplifying devices set across the dais, for each of them murmured the words as softly as they dared, as if to tell the other none of it meant a thing.

Then Mariel lightly draped Adelle’s skirt over the stairs they had so recently ascended and stepped forward. In her hands, she held a ceremonial dagger, the same her mother had once brought into these hallowed halls. The silver filigree had been polished until it sparkled and the navy sheath had never lost its sheen. The maid drew the dagger and set the hilt in Adelle’s outstretched hand while the crowd behind them began to murmur.

“What is this?” the emperor demanded though, to his credit, he did not seize Adelle’s wrist when she set the blade against her left palm.

“The agreement between my father and grandfather, which allowed him to marry my mother, specified that our marriage vows were to follow my mother’s tradition. That is to say, that the ceremonial swearing of the royal family was to take place before the union would be considered complete.”

“She is correct, most majestic emperor,” the imperial advisor murmured, leaning forward, tilting his head to conceal the hint of a grin dancing across his lips. “Your great-grandfather confirmed it the last time he woke from stasis, though he regrets that he was unable to attend the union himself.”

The emperor scoffed. “This is nonsense. What point does it serve?”

“What point does any of this ceremony serve?” Adelle retorted. “It pleases those who put us into this position, so it must be fulfilled. Is that not the nature of throne room politics?” Without hesitation, she dragged her left hand across the dagger, pushing the blade deep enough to draw a thin stream of blood. Then she lifted the dagger and offered it to the emperor so that he could do the same.

With a snort of disgust, the emperor waved at the blade. “Clean that off,” he hissed.

The imperial advisor reached between the couple to take the dagger and cleaned it with a pristine white cloth. He practically had to force the emperor’s hands around the hilt before he would take it. He barely set the blade against his palm the first time he swiped the dagger, producing little more than a slight indentation.

“You’ll need to apply a little more pressure,” Adelle advised, unable to resist getting the jibe in. She’d never met a man incapable of drawing blood with a knife before, though perhaps it was because it was his own blood he was meant to draw.

“Stupid archaic traditions,” the emperor muttered, thrusting the dagger back into his advisor’s hand. This time he presented his left hand so that the man could slice it open for him. “What’s the mixing of our blood supposed to accomplish?”

Adelle smiled sweetly. “Legends say that the blood of Alphalauran royalty can be used to bind a person to a promise. Give a vow, seal it with royal blood, and the oath-giver will be forced to comply or face dire circumstances.”

“And what dire circumstances would those be?” the emperor sneered. “Some curse that causes one to fall from grace? Who believes in such foolish superstitions?”

“Death, actually,” Adelle replied as if she were adding an item to a grocery list. “Failure to fulfill the promise results in the death of the oath breaker. No one has to help them along, the magic takes care of all the dirty work. And your great-grandfather believed in it or he wouldn’t have included it in his contract with my father.”

The emperor held up his hand, blood oozing slowly from the gash across his palm. “So how does this work? You use this ritual of your mother’s to extract one free promise from me? What will it be? Your own pleasure planet? The ability to take another lover without punishment? Or some short-sighted decree you wish me to make in favor of your pet political view?”

“The ritual is to seal the vows we have already spoken,” Adelle replied. She caught the emperor’s left wrist lightly with her right hand, then pressed her bleeding left palm to his. “After all, wedding vows are promises of a sort.”

The emperor looked as though he would rather vomit than participate in the last few minutes of his own wedding ceremony.

By the time Adelle drew her hand away from his, both wounds had already healed. But the bindings were set in place and there would be no escaping them now.

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