Retired - Chapter Ten – Wedding

Post time7-02-2021, 14:41

The imperial liner left the base that same day with a formal imperial courier hand delivering the wedding invitation.

The ship would arrive on her parent’s home world in two days. With any luck they would be back here in four.

The empress took Lizell under her wing and she was off. The imperial dress maker was frantically trying to get Lizell’s wedding dress ready on time. The florists were scouring the city for the flowers and the Royal Baker was laying out the design for the wedding cake.

Robert and I were in the great meeting hall. This would be the location for the wedding. I had tried to plan on it being a small gathering of family and friends. I was told in no uncertain terms my thoughts did not matter to anyone involved. The entirety of the Praetorian Guard had requested to be present as well as a very large number of military personnel.

The emperor was chartering in flights for large numbers of Lizell’s family and friends.

I was informed that over three thousand people would witness Lizell’s triumph over me.

“They all want to see a legend fall,” Robert said, with a huge smile.

“I am not a legend, I am a soldier. I do my duty, nothing more.”

Robert actually laughed at me. “Drake, you left your duty behind so long ago, you can’t even remember what it was any more. You always operate above and beyond the call of duty. Now let the men and women who serve under you show you how much they honor you.”

That ended the argument for me. I knew this bunch was going to do what they damn well pleased. I think it had something to do with being royalty.

I had other worries on my mind. I now had a Grand Duchy to run and it was going to interfere with my duties as the Supreme Marshal. I wandered back to the apartment Lizell and I shared in the palace and started to go through the reports on the financials of the duchy.

Daria’s personal accounts had been seized and turned over to me. These accounts contained more money than the other three grand duchies tax base combined. Her tax base account held almost a thousand times as much as her personal accounts. I started to read through the tax monies requests from the nobles under my banner. I noticed that many of them were repeat requests. The one I was currently scanning was from the Duke of Treliem. He had requested money to upgrade the starports on the ten worlds in his duchy. It had been denied ten times in the last twenty years.

I activated my computer and started to filter through the requests. None of them were unreasonable, but why were they asking for money instead of using their own portion of the tax base? I found the answer after a short search. The Grand Duchess had set her portion of the tax base from any given world at ninety percent. She was claiming nine-tenths of all tax income from every world. That meant the taxes on the worlds had been drained away into her accounts.

I looked over the tax codes and discovered one thing in a hurry. I was going to need an accountant to help me figure things out. The taxes seemed entirely over-burdensome to me. I saw any profits made by a person were automatically taxed at fifty percent. I knew they needed to be adjusted downward but I had no way of knowing what they should be. I knew the grand duchy of Spinward was set up on a ten/ten split. The world government took ten percent and ten percent of that was forwarded up the chain.

That was probably a good place to start, but what if I made a mistake? If I set it too low initially and had to raise it afterward…

Lizell came into the room and saw the look of worry on my face. “What’s wrong, babe?”

“I am going over the finances for the Eastmarch. They are a mess. Daria had all but raped the financials of her duchy.”

She came over and sat in my lap. She started to look over the paperwork and reports. Within seconds she was shaking her head. “You are going to need help with these. I have no idea how her duchy is even staying functional. The cost of living there must be outrageous. Look at her expenditures vs. income statements. She has almost a thousand times as much coming in as going out. No wonder she could afford a private army.”


I brooded over the financial problems for several days. I was on the verge of making a command decision and hope I was right. Today I had other worries.

“Supreme Marshal, the imperial liner’s shuttle is on approach. It will be landing in thirty minutes,” a voice said in my ear.

“I will be there for the landing,” I answered over my bob. Then I turned to see Lizell staring out the window anxiously. “They are on final approach, baby doll. Shall we go discover how much your parents hate me?”

She laughed lightly. “I don’t think they will hate you. I am more worried about you hating them.”

I stood and extended my arm. “I don’t think that is possible. They created you and that alone would make them gods in my eyes.”

We gathered ourselves together. Robert had insisted I be in full regalia for this meeting. I threatened to choke him with my service bars. His answer was to threaten me with more medals. I believed him. He didn’t believe me.

When we stepped out of the front door to the palace, we saw a full honor guard of Praetorian Guardsmen standing in the yard, surrounding the imperial family.

“What took you so long, Uncle Drake?”, Cleo asked, as she stood there with her arm wrapped in Makeal’s.

“I really wasn’t expecting an escort,” I said, in an ominous tone.

“We want to meet her family, too, and if we wait for you to introduce them we will all be old and grey.” Robert’s smile was playful as he spoke.

We were soon loaded up into the Imperial limousine and headed to the base. As we rode, my bob activated in my ear. “Supreme Marshal, the background check on Lizell’s parents is completed and they are considered threat level twenty-nine.”

I was actually shocked. A threat level that low was amazing. The walls in the imperial bedchamber were rated at threat level thirty. Conversely, Daria had been rated threat level one. She had held the same threat level as a targeted weapon. “Understood,” I answered, acknowledging the message.

Lizell gave me a funny look until she realized I had been talking to my bob implant. “Why do soldiers call those communications implants ‘bobs’?”, Lizell asked.

“It is an old term. The very first ones were on the outside of the ear and contained a rather large communications crystal. The men looked like they were wearing earrings. The men started calling them Ear Communications Baubles. As time went by, it just got shortened to bob.” I took her hand in mine as I spoke. The gentle squeeze of her hand in mine made me feel a little more relaxed.

“I guess that actually makes sense.”

The imperial motorcade arrived at the gate. The large scale identity scanner and sniffer had been set up over the gate. This was something I had instituted. All personnel on or off the base were scanned.

Once we were through the gate, we headed out to the landing area. The shuttle was on its final landing vector when we arrived. We watched from the car as it touched down and settled like a fat bird. When the ramp extended, we got out of the car and stood in the middle of the formation of men.

At the top of the ramp appeared a couple. They appeared to be in the middle part of their second century. She was in a light sundress that came down just past her knees. On her head was a large floppy garden hat. The man was in a suit that he was obviously uncomfortable in. I had great empathy for him as I stood there in my full-dress blacks.

They walked down the ramp and suddenly Lizell ran forward. She had them both trapped in a hug when they reached the bottom of the ramp. We gave her a few moments alone with them. This was an intensely private time. In full view of the honor guard, they were alone.

Then Lizell started to move towards me with her parents in tow. “Drake, these are my parents, Ezekiel and Beatrice Stanner. Mom, Dad, this is the man I love, Drake Daemon.”

I extended my hand to them. “Sir, ma’am, I would like to formally request your permission to take your daughter’s hand in marriage this Friday at noon.”

Her father smiled. “It would truly be our pleasure, son.”

Then her mother asked me a question. “I have a hard time believing that you are a Grand Duke as well as the supreme commander of the military.”

Robert and his family stepped up behind us as Robert spoke. “It is true, ma’am. He is the commander of my forces and the Grand Duke of the Eastmarch, and fourth in line for the throne.”

I am going to kill Robert if he doesn’t quit sneaking these little bombshells into normal conversation. Since when have I been in line for the throne?

I turned lightly before I spoke. “Sir, Ma’am, may I have the pleasure of introducing his imperial majesty, Emperor Davinal Robert Stavio-Noir, his wife, Empress Astalynn Rythan Melcoir-Stavio-Noir, the crown princess, Cleopatra Joanna Stavio-Noir, Prince Daniel David Stavio-Noir, and Prince Drake Robert Stavio-Noir. Your majesties, these are the parents of my fiancé, Ezekiel and Beatrice Stanner.” Damn! That had been a mouthful! I thought my tongue was going to be stunned.

Robert extended his hand to the couple. I could see the awe in their faces. “I am not anyone special, I am just the person they stuck with running the empire.”

“Your m-m-majesty…” they both stammered.

Asta then shocked them to the core as she pulled them into a hug. “You are going to have to tell us all about how much trouble Lizell was to raise. We need good blackmail material for later.”

After the hugs and greetings we headed back to the limo. I held back and guided Robert to walk with me. “Why did you tell them I am in line for the throne?”

Robert looked at me like I was crazy. “You do know that if the imperial family dies, then the highest ranking grand duke takes the throne, right?”

“Yes, but…”

“But nothing. You are the Grand Duke of the Eastmarch. As such you are in line for the throne. I formalized the succession order right after giving you the title. I did not want the Privy Council to decide. They would probably put that ass Galvor on the throne.”

“Yes, but…”

“How many butts do you have? It is all set up, and I am not going to change it. To be honest with you my friend, you are the only person I trust to run it correctly.”

“Yes, but…”

“Please, Drake! I really don’t want…”

I reached out and put my hand over his mouth. I was probably the only person in the empire that could get away with that small gesture. “Robert, I can’t be emperor. As a former member of the Praetorian Guard, I sign an oath of denial. If I am ever crowned as emperor, I will be committing treason.”

Robert’s eyes grew real wide. Then he pulled my hand away from his mouth. “How do we get you released from that oath?”

“We can’t. It is one of the bylaws of the charter of the PG. We would have to disband the PG.” I had won one. I had actually managed to come up with a reason the emperor could not ignore. I felt like crowing.

“I will have to have a team of lawyers look into it,” were Roberts last words on the subject, for now.

We joined the others in the limo and the entire motorcade pulled out.

The drive to the palace was fun. The discomfort of Lizell’s parents seemed to evaporate as they got to know the royal family. Most people in the empire thought the royal family was a group of distant people. Normal people did not talk to them or deal with them. Lizell’s parents came to understand Robert’s family was trapped. They were held apart for their safety.

Once back at the palace, we showed them the apartment they would be using while they stayed with us. They were flabbergasted. The living room of the apartment was larger than their house. The world they came from was crowded. It was a hub world. A lot of the goods that moved throughout the galaxy went through its ports.

Later in the night, Robert and his family retired to give us some time alone. We had moved to our apartment to talk and just visit.

Then I moved to my desk to give Lizell some time to visit and tell her parents secrets about me. I started to look over the numbers for my duchy again. It was the largest of the four grand duchies with more than four hundred worlds. My problem was simple -- figure out how to adjust the taxes and make everyone happy. I was just about to draft a decree to lower the taxes to a ten-five split. I actually had the notice rough-drafted when a quiet voice spoke from behind me.

“That would be a mistake,” Ezekiel said softly.

I looked back over my shoulder to see him standing behind me. I had not even heard him walk up. “I need to lower the tax rates. People are being crushed under the yoke Daria left me.”

“I see they are currently a fifty-ninety split. If you lower them that much people will go spend crazy and you will put your economy in shock. Lower it just a bit to start with, and the people will be ecstatic. Small amounts will help them in a lot of ways. That also leaves you more room to play. If you see tensions building you can lower it a bit more, later, and everyone throws another party.”

“What would you recommend?”

“Well, looking at your account balances, you have a huge cushion for running the duchy. So you have room to play in all the venues. I would say lower it to a thirty-fifty split. That would be like giving everyone in your duchy a forty-percent raise. Plus your sub-nobles would get a raise of four hundred percent larger tax income. Most of the people will think you are a god for a while.”

“That still has way too much money coming into my accounts.”

“Use that money to fund some of the larger projects for the worlds. Form ducal parks, museums, and libraries. Those will be very popular and will make the people see you are trying to improve their lives. Once things balance out, you can lower the taxes more and people will start thinking you are the greatest thing to ever live.”

I looked him straight in the eyes. I knew in that instant exactly what I needed to do. “Ezekiel, how would you like a job?”

“I have a job.”

“I need you. You know more about finances than I could ever learn. I want you to be my exchequer. You handle the financial part of my duchy.”

“That is a huge responsibility. How would you ever be able to trust me? As an accountant, I know all the tricks for hiding money. I could rob you blind.”

“That is simple. Anything you steal would be coming out of your daughter’s pocket. This will very shortly be her money also. I will pay you ten million credits a year plus room and board in the ducal palace.” Then a thought occurred to me. “I could hire your wife as the palace seneschal. She would keep the palace staff working and you would keep the duchy working. I will pay her the same salary as you.”

By this point Lizell and Beatrice had walked up to us. They had heard the last part of the conversation. In the time Lizell and I had been together, she had never seen the list of my accounts and the monies they contained. She was staring at the screen. “Drake, that account, on the top of the list, is that your personal account?”

“Yes, my love.”

“You had that before the emperor gave you the duchy?”


Beatrice neatly slid a chair behind her daughter as Lizell sank down. “You have to be kidding me! You could have bought your home world.”

I nodded. “I have been military most of my life. The PG personnel are paid very well. It helps maintain loyalty and discourage bribery. Plus each one of the pieces of tin on my career bars come with a cash award. Then there is my pay for rank. I never really had a lot to spend money on.” I then looked at Ezekiel and Beatrice. “Please tell me you will take the jobs. I need someone I can trust to help me.”

They both looked at me then Ezekiel spoke again. “You don’t really know us. We could be party animals and throw wild parties in the palace every night.”

“I don’t give a damn. I will put my personal spacecraft at your disposal for transporting your guests. Just remember the booze is on your dime.” I could see I had won this battle. The pleading look on Beatrice’s face and Lizell’s look of hope would crush Ezekiel’s objections.

“I would need someone to help me draw up the legal documents to change the laws.”

“I will set up an account and you can hire people to help,” I countered.

“We would also have to send people out to survey and find the worst areas, so they could be worked on first.”

“I will make it a big budget, and there are a lot of people out of work who will find employment.” I could see his objections getting weaker as we spoke.

“I am not a suit and tie man. I couldn’t dress the part of a high official.”

I did not even have to answer this. Both his wife and daughter gave him a look that said it all.

By the end of the night, we had a set of documents declaring Ezekiel the new Chancellor of the Eastmarch and Beatrice the Seneschal of my estate. Robert gave them a quick once over for us to make sure we had not declared war on the empire by mistake and they were signed. We even had Robert sign as the witnessing party.

I had now performed my first official duty as the Grand Duke of the Eastmarch.


I woke up in bed alone. I vaguely remembered fighting with someone in the night. My jaw ached and my head felt like someone had tried to kill me. They may have succeeded. I tried to sit up and my stomach commanded me to lay down, quickly.

As I lay there trying to remember what had happened the night before, there was a sudden fanfare of trumpets outside my bedroom door. The sound alone made my head try to run away to parts unknown.

Robert came in the door with a crier preceding him. The crier stepped to the foot of my bed and then spoke in a voice loud enough to be heard at the moon base.

“His Imperial Majesty, Davinal Robert Stavio-Noir, Defender of the Empire, Lord of the Four Quadrants, Lion of the House of Stavio-Noir, Caretaker of the Trust of Mankind, Commander in Chief of the Military Might, and Father of the Royal Line, seeks to bid thee good morning, Drake Daemon, Grand Duke of the Eastmarch, Hero of the Empire, Supreme Marshal of the Military Forces, and Sword Arm of the Empire!”

By the time he finished, my head had managed to explode into bright sparks and scatter around the room. Somehow, even in little pieces, it still hurt.

“Good morning, Drake! How is your hangover?!” Robert had an evil smile on his face, as he shouted his greeting.

In all the time he had known me, I had never drunk alcohol around him. I had never been drunk in my entire life. Then it came back to me, in scattered little bits and pieces. My bachelor party had been last night. I could remember drinks and drunken men singing. I remembered the women dancing in next to nothing. I vaguely remember the next-to-nothing they wore becoming nothing. Then I remember one of the PG noticing me blushing.

“How many men ended up in the hospital?”, I asked, as my eyes tried to swim into focus.

“None! That bunch plays hard when they get together! Maybe we should confine them to a bomb shelter for their parties!”

“Please quit shouting.”

“I’m not!”

My stomach decided it was tired of lying down at that point. I barely made it to the bathroom on time.

As the evidence of my sickness swirled away, I looked at Robert. “Why did you let me drink so much?”

“I was pretty drunk myself! Why don’t you take these pills and drink this? Then you can get in the shower!”

“Is it poison? I could really use a good strong poison right now.”

“No! It is an old home remedy! Asta made it for you this morning! I have no idea what is in it but it seems to work!”

I took the glass from his hand and popped the pills in my mouth. Then I held up the glass and took a long drink. The concoction in the glass bore a striking resemblance to raw sewage. It also tasted a lot like what I imagined raw sewage to taste like. I managed to force it down and was amazed. My stomach quit churning instantly. Maybe it was just stunned by what was being forced into it.

I turned on the hot water and started to strip off. I couldn’t care less about Robert and the crier standing there. I really felt like I needed a shower. I turned to look at Robert and the question on my lips died a quick death. Asta and Cleo were now standing there with him. Asta looked as regal as ever, without so much as a smile to betray her thoughts. Cleo on the other hand, had her fingernail in the corner of her mouth and was staring at my unclothed body.

“Do you mind?”, I asked petulantly.

“Not at all,” Cleo answered, with a devilish smile.

I climbed in the shower and the hot water started to wash away the aches and pains. I grabbed the body soap and began to scrub myself clean.

The voices in the apartment started to drift to me.

“Was he a good boy last night?”, Lizell asked.

“He got in a fight with one of the men, when they tried to get a girl to dance in his lap,” Robert answered.

“Is he alright? Did he get hurt?”

“You have got to be kidding me, Lizell. That man could take on half the military while he is drunk. The fight did start a general brawl and all the men seemed to enjoy themselves.”

“How much did he drink?”

Robert coughed before he answered. “I am afraid your husband-to-be has a weakness. He seems to have a fairly low tolerance for alcohol, unless, he was sneaking drinks and I didn’t see them. I think he had four drinks, and was so drunk we had to carry him back up here last night.”

“So he refused a lap dance, got into a fight, and got drunk.”

“That about sums it up. How was your party last night?”

“You know how we ladies are. We all sat around knitting and talking about how great our men are.” For some reason, Lizell’s answer caused Asta and Cleo to burst into laughter.

I climbed out of the shower and reached for my towel. It was not there. I started to turn to look for it when I heard the apartment door shut. “Don’t turn around,” Lizell said softly. “You are not supposed to see me today, until the ceremony.”

“Isn’t this bending that rule just a bit?”

“Not at all. You just can’t look. I will have to blindfold you.”

I smiled as she pulled a cloth around my eyes from behind. Then with delicate care she tied it in place. I had no idea what she had in mind.

She led me out to sit on the edge of the bed. Then I felt her weight settle next to me. “Drake, does Robert always expect to get his way?”

I chuckled before I answered. “He is the emperor. He normally does get his way. Why do you ask?”

“He is refusing to let me or my parents pay for anything. I feel like I am secondary to the wedding.”

I reached out and placed my arm around her shoulder. “Baby, he wants you to have your dream wedding. He really does mean well.”

“I know he does. I just feel like Asta and he are doing everything and I am just along for the ride.”

I reached over and took her chin in my hand. I could feel her lovely features as I turned her to look straight at my blindfolded face. “No mater what they do, they can not take away the most important part you play in the wedding. They cannot say ‘I do’ and wear the ring. Baby, everything they plan and pay for means nothing without you. They think of us as family, and they want to be part of it all, as well.”

I could feel her smile as her mouth turned upward. “Is this really what you want?”, she asked softly.

“What I want is for you to become my wife. The ceremony is just toppings on the sundae. I would be happy with anything that allowed me to put the ring on your finger.”

I felt her move as she placed her face to mine. Our kiss was gentle and warm. Then quietly she moved away and left the room.


I stood in the throne hall. At the last minute, the wedding had been switched to this room. It would hold more people. It did not even look like the same room. It had been decorated in soft white silk that hung from the ceiling, a hundred feet above, all the way to the floor. Flowers lined the room and a great altar had been set up on the stage. It was all in marble and ivory. The splashes of blue color that showed managed to break up the monotony, but not the unbelievable gaudiness.

“How are we handling security?,” I asked Angel, as she stood beside me.

“I have the two silver units forming our security wall around the palace. There is also a full battalion of the Space Rangers making patrols throughout the local area. Everyone is carrying sniffers.”

“What is the report system?”

“At random intervals, between one and seven minutes, computer call out, one minute to answer.”

I nodded to myself. Between the Silver units and the Space Rangers, we would be as secure as we could make it.

“Drake, there is something I think you should know. I could get in a lot of trouble for telling you this. His majesty has figured out how to release you from your PG oath. He has already signed the paperwork. He said he wants you in the line of succession.”

“Why would he want me there so badly?”

“He wants someone he trusts on the throne if anything happens. He trusts you further than anyone he knows.”

I let it go at that point. If I did my job, I would never have to worry about sitting on the throne. What an amazing incentive to do your job correctly.


The time had finally arrived. I stood in front of my mirror in my full dress uniform, with my medals on full display. I hated this suit. I looked like a walking memorial wall. The rank insignia on my collar sparkled in the light. It was a cluster of five diamond shapes in a circle surrounding a single pentagon. The only concession to the occasion was the single white flower in my lapel.

I had chosen not to wear my weapons. This was a wedding and no man should approach his wedding under arms.

I stepped out of our room, and a full honor guard formed up around me. I would be escorted by a team of officers from the various branches of the military.

I was led out the front door to the palace, where a military limousine was waiting. This would take me from the living area to the throne hall.

Once there, I moved onto the front steps of the building and waited. I did not have to wait long. A grand carriage pulled by six blaze-white horses moved towards me. In the carriage were Lizell and her parents. I could not believe the expense the emperor had assumed. The carriage was custom made. It was all white, lacquered, and trimmed in gold. The horses where bridled in the same blaze-white and gold trim. Even their hooves had been painted gold for the occasion.

The carriage pulled in front of the steps and two of my honor guard stepped towards it. They opened the door and Lizell’s parents stepped out. They stood to each side and Lizell stepped out after them. She wore a dress of pure silk and lace. I was nearly struck blind by the beauty of the woman before me.

Her father took her arm and then her mother took mine. We were led into the throne room. The crowd in the throne room was flabbergasting. The uniformed soldiers and Praetorian Guard sat on one side, while the nobles and Lizell’s family sat on the other. Even the girls of Momma Kita’s were in attendance. Robert had found out about them from Angel’s reports and insisted they be brought in. The imperial family sat to one side.

Robert stood in front of the alter waiting for us to take our slow walk up the aisle.

When the four of us stood in front of the emperor, he spoke in a clear voice. “Who brings the suitor to stand before me?”

“I, Beatrice Stanner, bring His Grace, the Grand Duke of the Eastmarch, Drake Daemon, before you, your majesty. He seeks permission to be bonded to the woman who holds his heart.”

“Thank you, Grand Lady Beatrice Stanner.”

Lizell’s mother let go of my arm and I took a step forward.

Robert looked at me and spoke again. “Your Grace, do you seek the permission of the emperor to be bonded in title and rank to the lady before us?”

“I seek permission and bonding in the eyes of all the witnesses present, your majesty.”

Robert then turned to look at Lizell and her father. “Who brings the bride-to-be to stand before me?”

“I, Ezekiel Stanner, bring my daughter, Lizell Stanner, before you to answer the suit of His Grace, Drake Daemon.”

Lizell’s father then let go of her arm and she stepped forward to stand beside me.

Robert looked into her veiled face. “Grand Lady Lizell Stanner, the Grand Duke Drake Daemon has sued for permission to seek thy hand. Do you so consent for this union to take place in this place and at this time?”

“I consent to this union, your majesty.”

Robert once again turned to me. “Your Grace, will you please repeat after me. ‘I, Grand Duke Drake Daemon, stand humbled before the Grand Lady, Lizell Stanner. I seek your hand in the bonds of marriage, giving unto thee all that is mine. To thee I pledge my heart and love in all things.’”

I repeated his words. “I, Grand Duke Drake Daemon, stand humbled before the Grand Lady, Lizell Stanner. I seek your hand in the bonds of marriage, giving unto thee all that is mine. To thee I pledge my heart and love in all things.”

Robert then turned to Lizell. “Grand Lady, will you please repeat after me. ‘I, Grand Lady Lizell Stanner, take thee, Grand Duke Drake Daemon, as my husband. To thee I pledge my heart and love in all things.’”

Lizell repeated his words. “I, Grand Lady Lizell Stanner, take thee, Grand Duke Drake Daemon, as my husband. To thee I pledge my heart and love in all things.”

Robert looked over the crowd and spoke clearly. “I speak now the words, which are the greatest honor a man can be asked to share. Do you both take each other to heart, promising to be equals? Further promising to keep thyselves only unto each other until death do you part?”

We both said those final words together. “I do.”

Robert turned to face me again. “Do you have the ring?”

“Yes, your majesty,” I said, as I pulled the ring out of my pocket.

“Then you may place the ring on her finger and repeat after me. ‘With this ring, I give you all that I am.’”

With trembling hands, I slipped the ring onto Lizell’s finger. “With this ring, I give you all that I am.”

Robert then turned to Lizell. “Do you have the ring?”

“Yes, your majesty,” she said as she pulled the ring out of the little pocket in her glove.

“Then you may place the ring on his finger and repeat after me. ‘With this ring, I give you all that I am.’”

With rock steady hands she slipped the ring onto my finger. “With this ring, I give you all that I am.”

Robert smiled as he looked out to the crowd around us. “Then I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”

I reached out and with trembling hands I lifted her veil. Her radiant smile captured me, as we came together for our first kiss as husband and wife. I tried for a chaste kiss that would not draw snickers from the crowd. Lizell was having none of that. I learned that my wife could hold her breath forever that day. Our kiss went on and on until I thought I was going to pass out from lack of oxygen.

When we finally broke, we turned to face the crowd.

“With the power vested in me by the people of the empire, I now give you Their Graces, The Grand Duke and Duchess of the Eastmarch, Drake and Lizell Daemon.” Robert said this in a theatrical voice to the crowd.

The cheer that went up was a roar loud enough to be embarrassing. It almost covered up the sound of the explosion.

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