Author’s Note: On another post, I said I felt sorry for the queen and the position I put her in, that it was a very tenuous balance between how terrible her situation could be and what it was, that one mistake could tip that balance. It did.
Not that she made the wrong choice in helping the people. She had to do it. It just wasn’t something she could do without repercussions, and well… it could have been worse. I wasn’t willing to write that, though.
As I went to post this, all I could think of for the title was that quote, “all that glitters is not gold.”
“I have neglected this for too long,” the king said, stepping to the edge of the balcony. His lips twisted into a smile with too much malice in it, turning back and raising his hand, gesturing toward her. “My people, your queen.”
The king pulled her forward, and she tried to keep herself still, to fight against the instincts that told her to run or to fight. She did not know what would be worse. She might kill the king—though if what she had been told about the king were true, then perhaps all she would do was kill herself. She would reveal her training, and then they would not uphold the treaty. She could not run, either, for that would surely condemn her people. She had to stay, she had to endure whatever he was about to do, and she could not let herself falter now.
She had chosen to intervene, had decided that she should be the hope of the people since Agache must remain hidden, and if she faltered, she would take that hope away once more.
“I believe you know what she has done for you, and now it is time to do something for her,” the king said, and she watched him, almost convinced that he would throw her off the balcony despite the treaty and everyone’s assumption that he would use the necklace as his mark. He leaned close to her ear. “I hear you would like to fly. Should we see if you can?”
“If you wish. Perhaps I will turn into a bird and fly after all.”
“Is that what you do in death?”
She would rather hope so, but she did not think there would be anything after that fall. The king laughed, and she tried to prepare herself for the end. She could accept it as darkness, sleeping forever. Yes, that would be fine. Almost peaceful.
“A queen deserves a mark worthy of her status, do you not agree?” He asked, looking at the crowd, and she was rather dismayed to hear them clapping. They agreed, but they did not understand. At least, she hoped that they did not.
One of the Biskane attendants moved forward, carrying a box in his hands, and the king waved another over to it. He opened it and bowed as he backed away. The king lifted the necklace out of the box, holding it up for the crowd to see. The silence that met it told her enough—as much as the metal and stones gleamed in the light of the suns, as beautiful as the necklace would seem to be, they knew what it meant.
He carried it over to her, and she could feel the bands tightening around her neck even before he brought it close. The metal felt as though it had been stored in the catacombs until now, cool as it settled against her skin, a sense of what was to come, even as contact with her and the sunlight heated it. She thought perhaps it would burn—no, she knew it would if she remained out here for much longer. The sound of the clasps locking in place made her shudder, and she would have run if she thought she would have made it more than a few steps away.
The king tugged on one of the chains, smiling down at her. “How does that feel?”
She choked, trying to fight against the way the bands cut off her voice. She could not breathe. Her hand wanted to reach for it, to try and rip it off, but she knew she wouldn’t get it off that way. Her fingers closed over the fabric concealing the blade, and she almost ripped it free, ready to plunge it into him, ready to take him with her as she died.
He loosened the chains, and she drew in a breath, desperate, aware that he was laughing at her. Agache was right. The king’s face betrayed his intent, just as it had before, when he kissed her, and she felt her stomach turn as he stole another, crushing her lips and robbing her of her breath again.
She thought he’d tell her to expect him in her chamber tonight. That made her sick.
He stepped back, his finger touching her forehead and down her face, along each of the bands, making her think he would go all the way to the low point of her neckline, but he stopped at the final band. “You should be happy.”
He smiled at her. “Now, with those jewels, for once in your life, you can feel beautiful.”
She choked. “Bagquin.”
The bands tightened again, and he leaned close to her. “You will learn silence. Now go.”
She glared at him. “Not… before… you… release… me.”
“You expect me to take it off? That will not happen. You have your reprieve. Go or I will throw you off this balcony.”
She swallowed, not doubting his words. He would do it, even if it meant war. She could not be allowed to defy him, not in the smallest of ways. If she stayed, he would ensure that she suffered, whether it was because of the necklace or his threat to make her fall. She should take what she could and run. She didn’t have much choice.
She forced herself to bow before she left. She did not know that she could make it all the way back to her chamber, not without stopping to rest several times, and even then, she might not be capable of it, not when she could not truly breathe.