Author’s Note: So… I had planned on sending Agache off to meet with the other resistance leaders, but he decided he had to be there to help the queen again. I guess he has to do it after this. I’d say I feel sorry for him, but… I don’t.
He did need to be here for at least one part of this, though. He needed to tell the queen that because she needed to hear it.
The crowds’ noise was overwhelming near the gates, and she found that reassuring. Silence might have meant that the soldiers had begun to attack the civilians. She did not want this to turn into the slaughter that she knew it could be. Beyond the wall led to chaos, and she should be considered a great fool for trying to get there. She could order the gates open, but she knew that command would be meaningless. No one listened to her, even if she was the queen. The soldiers had orders to keep her inside the castle walls, and she could not be certain that they would not kill her if she managed to get outside.
“You should have asked Anokii for a way out of the castle.”
“I did. She refused to tell me of any others besides the one to the catacombs, and that would trap me away from where I need to be.” She turned around, not able to tell Agache from any of the other shadows in this section of the courtyard, though they would not conceal him for long. “Are you going to help me, then, or do you have the same opinion?”
“I should tell you not to do anything, or at least not to put yourself in the position you’re thinking of. The crowds might kill you, the soldiers might kill you, and if they do not, then you might not survive the king. You cannot be certain that you will help any of them. Those you want to aid might hurt you instead.”
“Did they ever do that to you?”
“My position was different,” he said, and she heard something she thought was rocks shifting. She frowned, trying to locate him. There. That shadow had moved, hadn’t it? “If you are determined to go, give me your hand. I cannot tell you the path to follow. I must lead you through it.”
“And get yourself killed?”
He laughed, and she felt his hand take hers. That had been his shadow, then. She smiled as he pulled her close to the wall. “I am a dead man, after all. You need not worry about me. You are the one risking your life now.”
“They lost hope when they lost you.”
“And you wish to give it to them?” He asked, helping her through a small gap in the wall, one that she did not think he should be able to fit in, not after the trouble it gave her. He was larger than she was, but perhaps his people possessed another quality that made Malzhi call them worms, the ability to squeeze in and out of small spaces.
“I do not know that I can give them hope, but I do want to try and stop them before the soldiers do. If they act, people will die. I do not want that to happen.” She stumbled after him, trying to keep pace without getting caught on the stones. The passage was as cramped as it was dark, and she knew now why he said he’d have to lead her through it. She did not think she could have found the entrance, and she did not know if there were any side passages amongst the jagged edges. “How did you find this place, and how do you know how to pass through it without injury?”
“Practice. I had many reasons to escape from the castle when I was a child. I would think you could learn it if you try, but if you do, try and use one of your other dresses.”
“Had I known that this was the way I’d have to use to get outside, I would have. I had thought it best to appear as the queen, but I could not get anywhere where I could speak to the crowd.”
“A good plan if not for the circumstances that require use of this passage to reach the outside.”
“Oh, I am so glad you approve, Agache. Let me test every one of my plans with you in the future.”
He stopped, and she caught sight of his face as the cloak fell back. “I assure you—if I thought you were incapable of acting on your own, I would never have revealed myself to you. You would be a poor ally if you could not think for yourself. We must all do that or none of us will accomplish anything.”
She nodded, and he started on again, his hair illuminating stains upon the walls that she thought might have been made by blood. His blood? From all his attempts to escape?
“Here,” he said, rising from his knees and helping her into a wider gap. “This is… This hollow will allow you to make choices, should you need it. I found, sometimes, that it was a good place to overhear the guards. They will discuss things without realizing that there is not solid stone behind them. That path there will lead you out, and that one there… That one leads to where my former rooms were.”
“Did you make this passage?”
“And compromise the wall? I am not an architect. I would not know what was right to collapse and what wasn’t. This is… It is older than me. Some say it was built to try and free the betrayed princess, but I doubt that legend. I do believe he killed her as soon as his efforts to secure the dragons proved futile, and when he did… the last of the good in him died. The true oppression began.”
“How long ago was that? I know it has been several centuries since the land that once was between ours and this one fell to him, but your people were taken before that, weren’t they?”
“Yes. Had your land been available as a refuge before, we might not be in the state we are now. I believe there are only a thousand or so of us left.”
“You can rebuild if you are given the chance. Let us try and make that opportunity. First, though, I must try and quell that crowd before anyone dies.”
He nodded. “Let me go first.”
She shook her head. “No. When this is done, when the king has lost his power and ability to hurt these people, they will need someone to trust to help lead them. You were their minister before, and you will be again. You are far more valuable to them than a false queen.”
“Jis, I do not know if you have quite realized this yet, but what you are doing for these people makes you anything but a false queen,” he said, ducking out through the stones. She frowned, not sure how there was any kind of exit there, even after he’d pointed it out the direction to her. She’d assumed it was farther away.
She saw his hand poke through the gap, and she took it, stepping out into the light, hoping she had enough strength for what she needed to do.