The church was packed with nobles and villagers alike. Gemma was certain it was mandatory for all of Ostfold to attend, as those who couldn’t fit in the church were waiting in the streets outside. The citizens were as exuberant for their King’s marriage as they were for a funeral.

Gemma tried to appreciate the beauty of the building, but her stomach heaved when she saw King Torgen staring her down from the far end of the church. She would have turned around and stormed back out of the church, but a team of three guards were escorting her down the church aisle, and Gemma doubted they would let her flee.

King Torgen sneered, his face twisted in its usual ugly and half-mad expression. Prince Toril stood behind him, looking sorry. He glanced at a pew in the middle of the church and, following his gaze, Gemma discovered he was looking to the Lovland family, specifically Lady Linnea.

Lady Linnea wore her public expression of refinement and disdain, but Gemma could see the noble lady was unhappy by the way she clenched her jaw.

Gemma grabbed the heat charm and the magic thimble from where they hung from a white ribbon looped her neck. (It had taken Gemma half an hour to talk the lady’s maids into letting her keep them, but they had insisted Gemma take the charm and thimble off the silver thread and hang them from the ribbon instead.)

The farther they got down the aisle, the more Gemma’s spirits sunk, and the slower she walked. When she was a few lengths from King Torgen, the soldiers had to nudge her to keep her moving.

When Gemma climbed the dais to join King Torgen and the priest, Gemma said, “I don’t want to marry this man,” to the priest.

The priest—an elderly man who was obviously under just as much threat as Gemma—sucked his neck into his shoulders and looked like he wished himself a hundred leagues away.

“Silence, Gemma Kielland,” King Torgen ordered

“Or what, you will kill me? I would much prefer that,” Gemma said.

Guessing by the gasp in the first few pews, her voice was audible to at least some of the attendees.

King Torgen grabbed Gemma’s chin. Unlike Stil’s tender touch, King Torgen gripped Gemma like a snake hinged on prey. He roughly shook her head.

“I can make you plenty wretched without killing you,” King Torgen hissed.

Gemma kicked King Torgen in the shins. He shouted and pushed Gemma backwards. She would have fallen off the dais if the guards hadn’t caught her.

“Restrain her,” King Torgen growled to the guards, who set Gemma on her feet before holding her in place. “Don’t just stand there, begin!” King Torgen said to the poor priest.

The priest cast an anxious look between King Torgen and Gemma. He shook his head.

“You refuse me?” King Torgen said. Gemma couldn’t see his face as he loomed over the priest, but she could hear the promise of death in his voice.

Gemma sighed. “Go ahead,” she said.

The priest, who had shrunk a foot, looked to her.

“I know you cannot help it. Go ahead,” she repeated.

The priest squared his shoulders and cleared his throat. “We are gathered here today for a…glorious event and occasion. The wedding of our monarch and this…lovely girl.”

The priest warbled on, but Gemma ignored his words—if she took them in, she would start panicking. She turned around so she didn’t even face the priest and King Torgen—who didn’t seem to care—and peered past her guard escort to get a glimpse of the crowd.

She saw two of the merchants she frequently bought fabric and thread from, Otto—the barkeeper of Sno Hauk—and Mrs. Hagen and her neighbor, Mrs. Nystrom. Besides the Lovlands, there were several other noble families, but no matter how carefully she looked over the crowd, she didn’t find the two faces she was looking for: her parents.

Gemma raised an eyebrow. That shouldn’t be a surprise. They have never bothered themselves with me before. Why should they start now?

But what was surprising was the absence of Grandmother Guri, although Gemma suspected it may be because the old woman did not want to see Gemma wed a crazed tyrant.

“—Do you, Gemma Kielland,” the priest started.

“No,” Gemma said.

The priest hesitated, but continued with his speech when King Torgen glared at him.

Gemma only half listened when he did. Her heart twisted in her chest as she pictured her dark future. Almost against her will, she reached up and clasped the heat charm and thimble. “Stil,” she whispered, the name seeped with longing.

She really was cursed. She managed to save him—hopefully—but in the end she was still going to end up with an unhappy ending.

It is just as well I rebuffed him. It will make this ever-after easier to accept.

Gemma lifted her chin as the priest started his ending remarks.

“On behalf of this country—civilians and nobility,” the priest said.

This is it.

“It is with…resignation—,”

Unless King Torgen chokes on a fishbone, I am stuck with him—and whatever torture he decrees to try to force me to spin flax into gold.