The emissary kept on digging his own grave, centimeter by centimeter, word by word. He had been ill served by a poorly trained spy service, but that was no excuse. A coronation was a time for traditional platitudes and ceremonial courtesy, all the small flourishes and grace notes that such formal occasions demanded to ensure that the usual hierarchies were firmly in place and the new names alongside the ancient titles would be honored and respected.
It was certainly not a time to bring up family gossip.
The newly crowned monarch all but glowed with attentiveness, and her attendants, knowing the trap well, made no attempt to hustle the emissary away and move the next dignitary forward. They waited. One idly adjusted the fall of ice-blue fabric that poured from the monarch's left shoulder to puddle at her feet. Snow white her robe, ice blue her mantle, platinum bright the embroidery on her vestments, telling in symbol and sign all the tale of her dynasty.
The dynasty the emissary presumed to speak of. How her mother must be proud of her...at last.
How their blood had returned to the purity of prior generations... eventually.
How reassuring it was that her brother—apologies, adopted brother—would no longer embarrass the chronicles of their line with his whims and oddities.
The monarch made no reply but smiled and smiled until at last the emissary, uncouth as he was, faltered in his performance, like an actor who realizes he must have missed a cue somewhere.
"Esteemed Lady, where is your brother?" No nonsense about his adoption then, the old fool. Simply a direct question that she could answer freely in the comfortable knowledge that the information was too late to be of any use to anyone.
She matched the now-sincere smile on her lips with a gleam of hungry humor in her eyes. "Paris, my dear ambassador. Did you not know?"
* * *
In Paris, the streets were screaming.
Not literally. But nearly. The sound reverberated from every paved road and brick wall. A vibration of thudding feet strummed through lines of traffic stopped by bodies moving too thickly to be pushed aside by mere motors and machinery. Up ahead, a few cars still managed to press forward through the crush of the crowd. One car, anonymous with dark-tinted windows, made as if to break away. The crowd scented quarry and surged toward it.
Another car took advantage of the space temporarily created to nudge its way into an alley. To the uneducated eye, in the darkness of evening, this vehicle appeared to be normal in every respect. The make and age were common, and the occupants were visible behind clear glass—but then the left rear window rolled down, and the high-tech VR glass flickered, dropped its display of an upset and frustrated family of four, and showed instead the pop star, his driver, his manager, and his security.
* * *
The family had been fake, but the frustration in the car was real. "Get that window back up," the manager snapped.
The pop star gave her an apologetic glance, quickly blew a stream of smoke outside, and obediently put the window, and their disguise, back in place.
"Can't you do something about the crowds?" the bodyguard asked him quietly, as if already knowing the answer.
The star took another drag on his cannabis cigarillo and exhaled slowly, not caring where the smoke went. His eyes were very tired. His fingers trembled slightly as he leaned forward and tapped the ash into a used mug sitting between his feet. "Well," he said simply, "it's a lot."
The driver said nothing. In a few minutes the street behind them cleared. The decoy had done its job. The driver maneuvered the car around with a precision that was entirely her own human skill and turned onto the main road.
Behind them, the streets continued screaming.
OWEN OWEN OWEN!
* * *