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Everybody Rolls With Their Fingers Crossed

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The most inept assassination attempt of Attolia's reign occurred three days after her marriage.

 

The unseasonably hot day and her predictably divisive barons had combined to subdue her appetite and Attolia forewent the midday meal in favor of a pleasure ride.

 

A modest, almost meager retinue accompanied her: two lieutenants of her guard and Despina, who possessed the best seat of all of Attolia's attendants.

 

The air was dry, siphoning the moisture from her lips, but the mounts the stable master prepared were eager despite the leeching heat. The blood-bay Attolia rode was too well trained to shift his weight as she mounted, but she still felt his anticipation as she and her escort made their way along the grassy avenue that lead to the edge of the city.

 

Despina's paramour was waiting in the shadow of the city wall, his horse's sides foamy with sweat, three manservants lingering behind him. He was one of Staticos' cronies, a first son of a lesser barony and had spent the previous week and a half wooing Despina with heirloom jewelry and perfume that he could ill-afford. Paros, that was his house.

 

Paros' attendants were ill dressed for the weather, all wearing cloaks that failed to hide the weapons attached to their belts and heavy, thick tunics. One had an eye patch and long, raking scars across his face; another, a nose broken too many times to count.

 

Her two lieutenants discreetly loosened their pistols. Attolia didn't slow the blood bay's even canter.

 

"Greetings, Your Majesty," Paros called, kicking his horse after her party. "And greetings, my doveling," he said, blatantly making eyes at Despina even as he edged his horse closer to Attolia.

 

They rode in silence for half a dozen heartbeats, Despina blushing at Paros, Paros pretending he wasn't drifting towards Attolia, Attolia's two guards wary and anxious as Paros's servants attempted to flank them.

 

Attolia wasn't afraid. She watched the positional maneuvering occurring around her through the corners of her eyes, a part of her mind tabulating the obligations that filled her afternoon, her face as smooth and absent of emotion as a statue's. She ducked even before Despina gasped and screamed "Your Majesty!"

 

Paros' blade swung over her head. Attolia squeezed her heels to the blood bay's side and he leapt into a gallop, moving as if his hooves had sprouted wings.

 

There were two gunshots behind her. She spared a glance over her left shoulder and counted one of the assassins dead –his head gone, body slumped across the neck of his circling horse. Despina was on the ground, her mount running for the stables. One of Attolia's lieutenants was engaging the two hired killers who still breathed while the other officer raced after Paros and herself.

 

Paros' was at her heels, lashing the neck of his mount with the ends of his reins.

 

Before Attolia, there were three miles of clear ground, leading to a boundary of laurel trees and trickling streams edging the pine forest where her court's sport hunting took place. She could lose Paros easily in the shade of the forest but a punishing gallop in the noon heat was poor treatment to the beast under her, a consideration she weighted against the overall ineptitude of Paros' treachery.

 

Attolia shifted the reins to one hand and twisted her fingers into her mount's mane. She pressed her heel into the blood bay's side and he pivoted obediently. Paros shouted in triumph, sword raised high, as she threw the blade that was normally hidden in her hair.

 

It went right through his wrist. He shrieked, dropped his sword, and his horse spooked into hers. Both mounts went down.

 

Attolia fell badly.

 

She freed her feet from the stirrups and managed to pull her left ankle free before her horse's full weight could pin her to the ground but doing so required a frantic scramble across dry ground that broke six of her nails, embedded dirt under the rest, and ripped her riding gown.

 

She forced her body to rise even as her lungs refused to inhale, watching as the blood bay scrambled to its feet, shying away from the beast still on the ground. Paros' mount scrambled at the dusty soil while his rider screamed, his blood splattering the dirt.

 

The lieutenant wrenched his horse to a stop between Attolia and Paros, his mount half-rearing at the rough treatment.

 

"Your Majesty," he gasped. "Are you harmed?"

 

"Not in the least," Attolia answered, liquid trickling across her temple.

 

Paros' shrieks subsided into reedy moans, the keening sound making her temples throb. She considered the information he might hold against Paros' chances of surviving the return journey to her palace as well as the general irritation that would be involved in his transport.

 

 "Finish him and retrieve my horse," she ordered.

 

Even as her lieutenant nodded he was aiming his pistol, the bullet shattering Paros' skull before he could gather the breath to scream again.

 

~~~

 

Attolia did not manage to return to her palace ahead of the news of the assassination attempt.

 

Gen was waiting when she rode into the stable yard. He leaned indolently against a post but the flash of relief when she appeared was impossible to mistake.

 

Teleus handed her down from the blood bay, setting her lightly on the ground. She didn't react as her weight settled on a throbbing ankle or when Gen stepped to her side, cupping her cheek in his left hand.

 

She tried not to dwell on how she must look; hair loose and tangled down her back, dress torn and dusty. Gen pushed her hair back and touched her jaw with his hook. Attolia hesitated fractionally and then turned her head, allowing her husband to inspect the scratch near her hairline. It was still bleeding. She'd refused to stanch it where she could be seen; unwilling to accept the appearance of weakness. As she'd rode through the streets, her people had watched her, silent, gazing upon her bloody brow like they were seeing the Great Goddess herself bleed.

 

"You've lost an earring," Gen said. His voice was light but possessed an undercurrent of fury that her very aware of how near his hook was to her throat. She leaned closer.

 

"Only an onyx droplet," she said. Her face could have been carved from stone. "Its loss is inconsequential."

 

"Is it?" Gen asked, releasing her.

 

Her mask didn't crack, not as her attendants fussed over her, not as she spent the rest of the afternoon conducting affairs of state, not through an interminable dinner she had no taste for.

 

When Gen came to her that night, her face was still implacable and serene, but her body betrayed her. It clutched Gen's shoulders with shaking fingers, dragged shortened nails down his back, gasped as he moved between her legs with a ferocity new to their love-makings.

 

When they were both spent, Gen curled at her feet, stroking her thighs, her arches, tugging playfully at her toes, his fingers feather-light. He kissed her swollen ankle, the touch of his lips almost imperceptible.

 

"My Queen, will I need to steal you back from the Goddess of the Dead next?" he asked seriously.

 

She raised a single brow, considered. "Eventually," she decided. Her expression turned haughty, even as she pulled him back to her and urgently wrapped her legs around his hips. "But I can assure you of a decade or three before you need make the attempt."