Author’s Note: I had two scenes, one with Gekin and Anokii and one with Anokii and Agache, that had been in between the last scene and this one. I cut them because I thought it gave too much emphasis to a subplot that had gone too far as it was.
If it really doesn’t make sense go to from that one to this one, though, I might need to add them back in.
“I want you to go.”
The queen frowned, turning around. She shook her head, not sure what Agache thought he was doing here, but he needed to leave. “I am not having this discussion with you again, and not now. I am sorry, but the king is supposed to send for me, and Malzhi was glaring at me so much that I feel certain that he is coming. I know you think that I should go where it is safe, but it is not—now is not the time. I cannot leave, and I cannot—I must stay and fight this time. If Malzhi is at last going to force what he has attempted to seduce, I must be ready.”
Agache cursed, coming toward her. “If you think that I could leave you to fight that alone, you do not know me at all, Jis.”
She gave him a slight smile. “I never thought—that is, I know what sort of man you are. I know what you would do to protect all of your people, and I am not ungrateful, but no. You cannot stay. If you are seen here, it will ruin all that we have worked for. You know that as well as I do.”
He pushed back his hood, placing his hand on her cheek. “It is past time for me to reveal myself and be the target that I must be. You must let me do it. Go home. Be safe.”
She frowned. “If you are going to suggest that it is right to risk your life and not mine, you had better not say that it is because I am a woman. I will hurt you.”
“It is not because you are a woman.”
His lips curved into a smile. “I suppose I would be lying if I said that it had nothing to do with you being a woman. It is not as though that is a fact that either of us can deny.”
She felt herself flush. The way he said that made her think that he was going to repeat what he’d done the night of the eclipse, and she was ashamed of how much she wanted that to happen. She almost turned away, she knew that she should, but she did not know that she was strong enough to deny them both what they wanted.
Her door slammed open, wood cracking against the stone, and her eyes flew to the back of the chamber, drawing a breath as she tried to see who had entered. Malzhi or the king? Either one was disastrous. Perhaps if it was the king, if things went too far, they could convince someone that Malzhi had killed him, but if Malzhi died, that would leave no one to plot against the king. They needed to be made to destroy each other, and she thought it would not happen, not if only one of them came. If Malzhi pursued her, if she was forced to act in her defense, then all might be lost.
“Where are you?”
Malzhi. She felt sick, but she was more worried about Agache. She did not think he had left, and that was not something that she could allow—he was the one both sides would need to see them through after the king and Malzhi were eliminated, stability and a familiar voice, even if he was not their leader. Having him once again involved in governing the people would be necessary if the kingdom were not to fall into complete chaos after the king was removed from the throne.
“Don’t answer him. Come with me. I can show you a path to—”
“Go,” she hissed at Agache, trying to shove him away, but she feared that it was too late. Malzhi might already have seen him beside her.
“I should have known.”
“Known what? That you are quite unwelcome here? Yes, I would have thought you would have realized that by now, but somehow you manage not to hear me when I say no. Go away, Malzhi. The king will not want to know that you are here, even if you were not the one to poison us—”
“Oh, my dear lady, don’t you know by now that I know it was you who arranged that? Do not be a fool. You thought no one would suspect you if you drank it, too, but you did not trick everyone. You did not fool me. I have waited long enough for what I want, and unless you want the king to kill you, you will give it to me.”
“He will kill me if I do, and you cannot prove your accusation. Get out.”
“You were deceived by the maid. The worm got you to do it. Tell him that, and you might live.”
She snorted. “I would not be so foolish as to believe that, even were it true. I will not lie. No one deceived me. I will not trade my body for your protection, either. Go. You will not get me to agree.”
“If you insist upon that course—”
“Don’t you dare touch me. I’ll kill you first.”
“You do not frighten me.”
“If she does not, perhaps I will,” Agache said, moving behind Malzhi. The minister jerked, looking behind him. “It has been amusing, watching your clumsy attempts to subdue one woman, but I tire of your ineptitude.”
“You… You’re supposed to be dead.”
“So am I a spirit risen from the dead or am I not dead? If I am not dead, am I now employed by the king—if I am not, why would he have allowed me to live? Do you have an answer? If you do not, I fear that you will not be able to act as is necessary.”
“Spirit or not, I shall take great pleasure in killing you.”
“You will fail in the attempt.”
The queen withdrew her blade, waiting for the right moment to intervene.