Author’s Note: By all rights, the queen should have said no, but Agache was almost logical about all this. Or maybe they’re all desperate.
“I need you to poison yourself.”
Jis blinked, turning back from her mirror. She was starting to wonder why she never seemed to hear Agache coming or going, since her training should be better than that, but she was missing him far more than she should have been. Was she too comfortable in his presence? Was that it? He didn’t make her feel fear or unease, so she did not feel alarmed when he entered or exited. Still, when she thought back to what he’d said, why was it she trusted him?
Perhaps she was desperate. The king had made his intentions all too obvious today, and she knew she didn’t have much time before he killed her and invaded her homeland—and he had promised her too many times that she would suffer before she died.
Still… She couldn’t be that desperate.
“We need to cause a distraction and increase tensions between Malzhi and the king. I want to poison the king, but if you are not affected, they will suspect you. So you need to take it as well.”
That explanation did not make his initial words any better than they had been before. She shook her head. “You’re insane.”
Agache nodded, one of his familiar half-smiles on his face. “That much is true.”
She was not as amused as he was. She knew that the marks had fooled the king this time, but if he chose to remove the bindings, he would see that she had begun to heal, and he would not be pleased. She could not help worrying about what he would do if he realized his favorite toy was broken. “You want to poison the king? That—I thought you didn’t want to kill him.”
“I don’t. I want him to think someone else is trying to kill him.”
“That someone being Malzhi.”
“Of course. It would do little good to suggest that it was anyone other than Malzhi who was acting in such a manner. No one would believe it,” Agache said, stopping when he reached her side. “You should tell Anokii to make the color darker. It needs to look worse than that if the king is to believe the bindings still work.”
Agache reached a hand toward her, but then he pulled back before his finger touched her skin. “When I say I want you to poison yourself, I am not asking you to—what I need from you is a convincing faint.”
She thought of how close she’d come to unconsciousness at the king’s hands and how that relief never seemed to come, shaking her head again. “I don’t faint.”
“Which is why I want you to take some of the herbs. A smaller portion—well, they won’t even be the same, but your poisoning needs to look real. Your collapse followed by the king’s would implicate Malzhi. He has reason to hate you both, and that means that most people will assume that he was behind it even if he was not.”
“What are you planning on doing when the distraction is happening?”
“I am hoping to send a large contingent of my people across the border.”
She glared at him. “You are not going to lie to me, not now. You need to be honest about what you are planning on doing if I am going to put myself through that. I don’t care if my illness is fake or that the poison will be less for me than for the king, I need a good reason to do this. Yes, it is important to make the king think that he is being attacked, to make him distrust Malzhi, but there are dozens of ways that you could do that besides having me poison myself.”
Agache put his hands on her face, his thumb tracing under her eye. “This mark is not one put there by Anokii. It is not paint. It is real. You need to rest more.”
“You cannot say that to me when you never rest yourself.”
He nodded. “I know, but I do not have to be with the enemy. I am not battling the worst this land has to offer on a constant basis. Not the way you are. They both have been hurting you.”
“I am not made of glass.”
“You are still made of things that are far too fragile for my liking. Life can end so quickly for any of us, and you have been… You are an ally that I value and respect.”
“I am still only an ally?”
“Do I dare call you a friend?”
She sighed. “I suppose it is rather desperate of me to want to call you, Anokii, and possibly even Gekin my friends.”
“No, it is not,” Agache told her. He let out a breath. “If we are to avoid war with your people, we must do this. If we are to succeed at all, we must do this. If war begins, it won’t matter to him what happens here, only that he subjugates all your land and your people. That is why we must begin the war here. I need the king thinking this is a real threat to his life. I need him distrusting Malzhi more than ever. I intend to make things look as much like a coup as I can. I want to make Malzhi look guilty and give him only one choice if he wants to live.”
“You are trying to push Malzhi into a coup. Is that wise? He is almost as bad as the king.”
“He is, and we do all fear him gaining power if the king falls. If the king goes to war with your people, I doubt there will be any Nebkasha left in the land. I cannot allow that to happen. I want—need—the king and Malzhi to be so busy fighting amongst themselves that they are too distracted to combat any of our efforts—and I suppose it would be… preferable if they would eliminate each other.”
“And if they don’t? Or even if they do, that is—”
“This has to end, Jis.”
She knew it would, one way or another, and she did not know that she agreed that this was the only option they had, but he seemed set up on it—for once not concealing any of his decision from her. That made this all the more important, didn’t it?
“That means that you will poison yourself?”
“I cannot believe that I am saying this, but yes.”