Someone handed me a program, and Ian leaned a bit more closely than I would've liked in order to read over my shoulder. The program detailed a list of songs and readings as well as the members of the wedding party. I could tell from Ian's face that he was expecting to see "Unholy Bloodletting" right after the Corinthians reading. His next words affirmed as much.
"They do a good job making it seem so normal, huh?" he asked, not bothering to hide the disgust in his voice. I was a bit surprised at how vicious his attitude was. I didn't remember him being quite this extreme last summer. "Like it's a real wedding or something."
He also wasn't regulating his volume, and I glanced around anxiously, making sure no one overheard. "So you're saying it's not a real wedding?" I whispered back.
Ian shrugged but at least took the hint and lowered his voice. "With them? It doesn't matter. They don't have real families or real love. They're monsters."
It was ironic that he mentioned "real love" just then because at that moment, Adrian and his father were ushered to the opposite side of the atrium. Adrian was always a nice dresser, but I'd never seen him in anything so formal. I hated to admit it, but the look was great on him: a navy suit and vest that was nearly black paired with a pale blue shirt and blue-and-white-striped tie. It stood out from the more somber black and gray suits most men here were wearing, but not in an outlandish or tacky way. As I was studying him, Adrian glanced up and caught my eye. He smiled and gave me a small nod. I almost smiled back, but Stanton snapped me back to reality. I allowed him one last, lingering look, and then I turned away.
"Mr. Jansen," Stanton said in a stern voice. "Please keep your opinions to yourself. Regardless of their validity, we are guests here and will behave in a civilized way."
Ian nodded grudgingly, flushing slightly as he glanced in my direction - as if being so openly chastised might ruin his chances with me. He didn't have to worry, seeing as he didn't have any chance to begin with.
Colleen sent an usher to check on us, and while he spoke to Stanton, Ian leaned toward me. "Am I the only one who thinks it's crazy that we're here?" He nodded toward Stanton. "She thinks this is okay but come on. They held us captive. It's unforgivable. Doesn't that make you mad?"
I certainly hadn't liked it at the time, but I'd come to understand why it had happened. "I hate that they did that," I lied, hoping it sounded convincing. "I'm angry every time I think of it."
Ian actually looked relieved enough to drop the topic.
We sat in blessed silence as the atrium continued to fill up. By the time the ceremony was about ready to start, there must have been close to two hundred people in the room. I kept looking for familiar faces, but Adrian and his father were the only ones I knew. Then, at the last minute, a brightly clad figure came scurrying in. I groaned at the same time Stanton tsked with disapproval. Abe Mazur had just arrived.
Whereas Adrian had made color work with formal wear in a stylish way, Abe used color to offend the sensibilities. To be fair, this was one of the more subdued ensembles I'd ever seen Abe don: a white suit with a bright, kiwi green shirt and paisley ascot. He wore his usual gold earrings, and the sheen of his black hair made me think he'd been hitting some hair oil pretty voraciously. Abe was a dubiously moral Moroi and also the father of my friend - and Adrian's former dhampir love - Rose Hathaway Abe made me nervous because I'd had some secret dealings with him in the past. He made Stanton nervous because he was a Moroi the Alchemists would never be able to control. Abe seated himself in the front row, earning a horrified look from Colleen the coordinator, who was supervising everything from the side of the room. My guess was that wasn't part of her seating chart.
I heard a trumpet sound, and those sitting in the back suddenly fell to their knees. Like a wave, those seated in the rest of the rows began following suit. Stanton, Ian, and I all exchanged confused looks. Then I understood.
"The queen," I whispered. "The queen is coming."
I could see from Stanton's face that was not something she had considered. She had a split second to decide on protocol for this situation and how to maintain our "civilized" guest status.
"We don't kneel," she whispered back. "Stay where you are."
It was a valid call, seeing as we owed no fealty to the Moroi queen. Still, I felt flustered and conspicuous at being one of the only people in the room not kneeling. A moment later, a ringing voice declared, "Her Royal Majesty, Queen Vasilisa, first of her name."
Even Ian caught his breath in admiration as she entered. Vasilisa - or Lissa, as Adrian and Rose continually insisted I call her - was a picture of ethereal beauty. It was hard to believe she was the same age as me. She carried herself with a poise and regality that seemed ageless. Her tall, willowy body was graceful even among Moroi, and her platinum blond hair fell around her pale face like some otherworldly veil. Although dressed in a very modern lavender cocktail dress, she managed to wear it as though it were some grand Victorian ball gown. A black-haired guy with piercing blue eyes walked at her side. Her boyfriend, Christian Ozera, was always easy to spot, providing a dark contrast that worked perfectly with her lightness.
Once the royal couple was seated in the front row - seeming very surprised to find Abe waiting for them there - the throng returned to their seats. An unseen cellist began to play, and everyone released a collective breath as we fell into the comfortable ritual of a wedding.
"Amazing, isn't it?" Ian murmured in my ear. "How fragile her throne is. One slip, and they'd fall into chaos."
It was true, and it was why Jill's safety was so important. An old Moroi law said that a monarch had to possess one living family member in order to hold the throne. Jill was the only one left in Lissa's line. Those who opposed Lissa because of her age and beliefs had realized killing Jill would be easier than going after a queen. Many opposed the law and were trying to change it. In the meantime, the political fallout from Jill's assassination would be monumental. The Alchemists, whose job it was to keep the Moroi world hidden and protected , needed to prevent their society from falling into chaos. And on a slightly more personal level, I needed to prevent Jill's death because against all odds, I'd grown to care about her in the short time we'd been together.
I shifted my mind from those grim thoughts and focused on the next stage of the wedding. Bridesmaids in deep green satin led the procession, and I wondered if Abe had been attempting to match them with his suit. If so, he'd failed.