A Perfect Sunset

- A Serialized Novel -

A reluctant queen becomes involved in intrigue in a kingdom ruled by a tyrant and on the verge of revolution.

Author’s Note: One deceptive king, a major omission and assumption, and a subplot that refused to be denied all come together to create this part. I wrote it out of order, almost pulled it several times, and in the end, it stayed with some alterations to make it fit better.

Certain Terms of Negotiation

“I think you care about them a great deal.”

“The Nebkasha? Yes, Father, I do. I admire them. Their survival after so many years of oppression and hardship, their ability to work against the king without causing civil war and lots of bloodshed, the way that they care for each other and love each other—Oh, if you saw Gekin and Anokii and the way they look at each other, the way they touch… They are people to envy, sharing something so wonderful that everyone should want it.” Jis shook her head. She let out a breath, hoping her cheeks did not betray any sort of color. “I suppose now you will say I should not come to the negotiations. I have exposed my bias, and I cannot act for our people. I would give too much to them.”

“I fear you already have.”

“What, the land? You know none of our people are willing to dwell there, and they are giving us a fair price for it. That is not wrong. They deserve a life without the horrible heat, a place where they do not have to be punished for who they are.”

Her father smiled at her, lifting her head. “Yes, you are a queen, aren’t you? The needs of the people are your concern.”

“I—I was not a true queen, and you know this. Stop calling me that. It is… it is an insult coming from you. You bartered me off and used my loyalty to you and the esibani to do it, you gave me in the place of Zaze when she should have to face the consequences of who she is just once, and you still have no idea what I went through at the king’s hands.”

Her father shook his head. “I mean it as high praise, daughter, and I hope you see that someday.”

She glared at him. She doubted she’d ever forgive him for any of this, but before she could tell him that, the doors opened, and Agache stepped in, followed by his cousin. Anokii had removed her cloak, and Jis was disgusted to realize her father was attracted to the other woman. “She’s married—and she’d never betray Gekin.”

“Zaze is quite wrong about them. They have a certain… appeal.”

“You are revolting.”

She wondered if Agache had heard her as he crossed toward them. His manner was polite, but no more than that. She thought him rather distant instead of how he had been the day before. “I do hope we can resolve the remainder of our mutual concerns today. I regret delaying the proceedings yesterday, but I was having trouble concentrating.”

“How is your arm today? Do not lie now.”

“Better, and you may ask my cousin if you think I am lying. She will tell you I am not.”

Anokii grimaced. “It is not much improved, but yes, there is an improvement, so he is not lying. He is a bit better.”

“Good,” Jis said, smiling. She felt her father’s hands on her shoulders and looked up at him with a frown. What was this? He did not need to touch her—he should not touch her, not with how angry he kept making her.

“I think we must include a clause that will ensure that we… allies will trust each other,” her father said, and she tried to pull herself free only to be tugged backward. “There is, of course, one way this is traditionally done. The oldest sort of alliance. Marriage.”

Agache drew in a breath. Anokii placed her hand on his good arm, and he covered her hand with his as he nodded, though he did not look at all pleased. “That may be necessary.”

Jis frowned. That she did not care for, even if she had been more or less fortunate to be that bride for the first treaty. Now it would be Zaze, wouldn’t it? Oh, how her sister would hate that. Not that she’d be marrying a Nebkasha. She’d get a Biskane and hate that just as much. “Your new leader would agree to this? He wants one of the princesses as a wife?”

Agache laughed. “No.”

Her frown deepened. “No? You just said it might be necessary, but if your leader is not willing to marry one of the princesses—”

“I want you for my queen.”

“Your queen?” She felt sick. She could not do that again. She refused to be a part of that bargain, even for peace between their lands. “Agache, I do not know who ended up gaining power after the king and Malzhi died, but I am not going to marry anyone just because I was married to the king and—”

“I want you for my wife. That is the only term under which such an alliance would be possible.”

She stared at him. “You…”

He nodded. “I am the king now. Did you forget that I had royal blood? They did not all rally behind me, but they did eventually concede after more bloodshed between my opposers eliminated those supporting them. Without enough support, they could no longer fight, could not gain any advantage or power. A few of them died themselves. I think we all saw that there was no reason to let the killing continue. It was not a celebrated thing, but in the end, they named me king.”

She swallowed. “It… I hadn’t forgotten, but I did not think you wanted to rule.”

“I don’t want to be king, but I will do what is best for my people—all of them. I represent both sides, carry the blood of both nations, and therefore I have an obligation to them both. I know that I am not what some of them want, but they have been willing to accept my leadership thus far.”

“I am glad.”

“You do not seem that glad to me.”

She tried to force a smile. “It is… That is… I did not think you… We… I would not have thought you would want me, not after… This isn’t about releasing me from my vows as an esibani, is it? You do not have to marry me for that. You don’t.”

He frowned. “I had, I thought, been too clumsy and obvious with how I felt, with feelings I had no right to feel. I am not sure how you could not know the way I felt, Jis. I have slipped from the beginning, calling you my esibani, considering you a friend… My curiosity began when we traveled together, when you betrayed depths that your half-sister had never shown before. All the times she was present for the negotiations, she was quiet, sullen, and her opinions lacked comprehension. I saw the differences then, since you had removed your cloak, and yes, I suspected the switch, so when I escaped, I did see a need to watch you. I did, on occasion. I saw the esibani training and much more. A part of me knew that when I went to see you, I wasn’t just visiting an ally. I could have sent Anokii to get you or give you word in advance, but I always wanted to go myself. I wanted to see you. That… It was… foolish. Anokii had told me to find a reason to keep living and fighting. I had not thought I wanted any such thing, and to find it in you was… actually quite unpleasant. I did not want to be in love with a woman I knew I could not have, a woman I knew I had to use to free my people and could end up dead because of my plans and manipulations, even my affection. You were married. I did not want to be attracted to you, not even a little. I hated myself for it. I still do. I am not proud of what I felt, but I cannot deny it. I loved you, and that was why I tried to send you away, why I had to send you away, for both our sakes.”

She could not find the words she wanted. She had so many things to say to him now, but she did not know how. She needed to tell him that he was not alone, that she had fallen and betrayed herself and her vows as well. She had not broken them, not by deed, but in spirit, yes, and she hated it as much as he did.

He took a step back. “If you do not want to accept the terms of the negotiations, we can negotiate others. I would only ask that you excuse me for a moment—”

She rushed forward, unwilling to let him leave. She might not have the words, but she knew that she was not going to let go. She grabbed hold of his tunic and kissed him, holding him in place. They were not under the influence of any eclipse, nor was it all that dark in this room, but she swore she saw that same glow to him, and she could not help smiling as she did. This was them. This was how it felt to be who they were, feeling as they did, being in love, and it was… wonderful. She knew it should not be, not after the wrong they’d done, but she did not think that she had ever experienced a more perfect moment, though she would also hope there would be more to come. Perhaps they did not deserve it, but that did not mean that she did not want it.

She pulled back, needing to breathe and to speak. “You were not alone. I… I felt things I should not as well, and I do not know that it is right even now that I am free, but… I accept. I want to marry you.”

“Zigaime, niniamant.” He laughed, the slight glow to his features shifting in color as he did. “I sound so stupid. I am very clumsy at this. I have never been in love before.”

She shook her head. No, he was nothing of the sort—not stupid and not clumsy. “I do not think you are stupid or clumsy. I am glad to be your first—hopefully your only love.”

“I should think you would be, even given my likeliness to outlive you.”

She thought of his words about the dragon blood and the king’s ancestors. “How old are you?”

He smiled. “I cannot tell you that. Anokii would be very displeased.”


“I’m older than she is.”


He grinned and kissed her again, and Jis decided she didn’t care how old he was. She wanted to spend her life with him. That was all that mattered.

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