Iona stopped before a puddle that blocked her way to the stairs. “Larry, would you please?” she said, holding out a hand. She didn’t mind the mud, but she refused to die in wet socks.
The guard she called Larry stepped beside the puddle and took her hand, helping her to cross. She hadn’t bothered to get his new name - it would only change again. Iona wasn’t even her real name. It had swept into her mind and mouth on a previous change. She liked it though, so she had kept it.
“Come off it!” yelled the mean one, “Why are you helping her?”
She smiled at the guard who was probably not named Larry, ignoring his colleague (equally unlikely to be named Larry). “Thank you,” she said, “When this nasty business is done, I shall be sure to reward you.” Shall. The word seemed right in the air, but it felt wrong in her mouth.
Larry nodded, “Of course, Madam. You expect you’ll live, then?”
She smiled silently and patted his cheek, then walked up the steps to the top of the stone platform. Had it been stone yesterday? Iona couldn’t remember.
The crowd jeered, as crowds at these things do - some tossed mud (as well as other things Iona tried to pretend were mud). The man they called King silenced them, saying, “Has the witch considered her final request?”
He wasn’t a king, she knew, but trying to convince these people of that wasn’t going to help her. It was, in point of fact, what had gotten her labeled a witch and a thief in the first place.
If she was honest - and she rarely was - that had only been the reason they called her a witch. They called her a thief because she was a thief. But they never would have known she was a thief if they hadn’t arrested her for being a witch, so...
It had all happened yesterday, when the world changed again. Iona had inserted herself in the company of the not-yet-king, was winning his confidence brilliantly, and was about to lay the final pieces of her plan to steal something or other (she could barely remember what anymore). Then history swept through, leaving behind yet another new society of laws and faux pas to work out.
Everything kept changing like that, every few weeks or so, but she seemed to be the only one who took any notice at all. At first it had been less obvious - just tiny alterations to the town and time she knew so well. Now though it was all-encompassing, all-devouring, all wrong. She felt they were living in someone else’s history, and she hated it.
Between the lies she was telling and the lies the world was telling, it became a bit too much then. So she had had, well, a moment - one she was perfectly entitled to, thank you. Unfortunately, the now-king and his companions had no sympathy for her outbursts about the different pasts and peoples they’d lived through.
Thus, she was here, being asked about her last request.
“I have,” she said, standing in front of the stake, “And I think I should like a royal title.”
Everyone laughed. Except Iona, who winked at Larry, then passed a warm, indulgent smile across the crowd.
Eventually, wiping away tears, the king replied. *“Oh, should you?* And I should like a--“
“--Yes,” she cut him off, bored already, “I should, and before you say no, remember I am apparently a witch.” A few uncertain looks crossed through the crowd, so she added, “Curses, and such.”
A wave of unease filled the courtyard before settling in with the wet from the previous night’s storm.
The king narrowed his eyes, staring for a moment before he said, “We have no lands to give to a dying witch.”
You have no lands at all. He was still speaking, but she didn’t care. “I don’t want any lands,” she interrupted again, ”only a title. I’ve even come up with one that I’m sure you’ll agree is suitably meaningless.” When no one spoke up, she continued, “I should like to be named the Queen of Un.”
The man who was called king drew in a deep, slow breath and thought for a long moment. The crowd who called him that swung their heads back-to-front-to-back-again, thinking about what he thought and whether they would have thought it, if they were him.
Finally he said, with a gesture of exaggerated magnanimity, “Of course. If it means you won’t curse anyone, I’ll grant you sovereignty over a prefix.” Then, to the guards, “Now burn her and have it done!”
Larry took a reluctant step toward Iona. She held a finger to his cheek. “No! Hold on,” everyone held, “I said I wanted a title. It’s not a title if it isn’t written down. It has to be official. You know, or else.” She did a spooky sort of thing with her eyes and nose.
After more arguing and curse threatening, all was agreed upon. The king had his servants bring out a long, beautiful scroll of finest paper, on which a scribe wrote:
I, Anden, King of the Valley, hereby declare that the witch Iona Plum, is henceforth and retroactively to be known as
The Queen of Un
And granted all power and respect due to such a title, now and in perpetuity, under penalty of curse, death, or worse.
“Happy?” he asked, when it was all settled - in a tone neither happy nor settled.
“Yes, thank you,” Iona smiled and curtsied (another thing that felt right but wrong). Then, with every air of graceful finality she could muster, she walked up to the stake, let her hands be tied behind, nodded to Larry, and said, “Go ahead and bring that torch over, Larry, dear.”