Author’s Note: Since the pick-a-serial will continue until at least Tuesday, enjoy some more fic. I’m getting closer to a revelation with this one, but I don’t know that it will beat the optimistic deadline for the website on Tuesday. We’ll see.
“How is the queen?”
Anokii frowned. “What makes you so anxious?”
“She was with Malzhi. He used those herbs on her, and I thought she would collapse in the hall. If there hadn’t been a conflict amongst the ministers—something I suspect was the doing of one of ours—he might have hurt her.”
“He is too bold. She is still the king’s wife, and any crime against her will be punished not only by him but also by her people. It could mean war. I do not understand. Why would Malzhi be so foolish? She is not that beautiful. In fact, to his standards, she should be revolting. She’s foreign, and she betrays her people’s avian ancestry.”
“I don’t think that is what matters, not to him.”
Anokii grimaced. She did not like this. The catacombs could offer no comfort when facing knowledge of this sort. She did not think that Malzhi was attracted to the queen. He either wanted her because he couldn’t have her or he wanted war.
He could be planning a coup of his own. If he did, if he succeeded, he might be worse than the king. The only thing stopping his cruelty was his awareness of the reprisal he’d face at the hands of the king, but if he had had a way to overthrow the king, he would use it. Could that be what he wanted the queen for?
“Do you think that he wants war?”
Gekin rubbed his head, moving his hand down to his neck. “I don’t know. Malzhi has never been one that anyone could predict. Agache would know better, if he were still here to say one way or another, but there is a reason why the others lead and I follow orders.”
She nodded, though she had long thought her husband was smarter than he wanted to believe, braver and more capable of leading than he would admit. He wanted to be the one following orders, did not want the burden or the responsibility, not wanting to send others to their deaths. He would risk his own life, but he would not ask others to do so.
“I cannot help worrying about this obsession Malzhi has with the queen.”
“I think someone else is worried, too.”
Gekin nodded. “He intervened, taking her away himself. I think we know why she was asleep yesterday.”
“Malzhi’s herbs,” Anokii said. She should have thought of that before, but she had not believed that the cause for the queen’s slumber, not when she was alone and still dressed. If Malzhi had gotten what he wanted, that would have been different. She should not have been in her own chamber, but then again, what exactly was Malzhi after? It did not seem possible that all he wanted was the woman. Malzhi knew better than that, had more ambition and more cruelty in him than that.
The queen was a tool, one everyone intended to use, but the question was who would be able to use her—and how they would do it.
“You think I should watch her with greater diligence.”
“If the queen is to be anyone’s ally, we want her to be ours. If she is to be used, we want to be the ones to use her. Yes, you should watch her. You should encourage her to share confidences with you. You should do as much as you can that will not put you at risk. I am not asking you to intervene between her and Malzhi—no one should, and I do not doubt that if he knew who I was, he’d have my head for interrupting him earlier—but as much as you feel is safe, do it. We cannot allow Malzhi to use her—whether it is for war or other reasons. She must be our weapon, not his.”
Anokii nodded. She could not argue with that assessment. “I will stay closer to her, then. I will not be able to stop her if she does something foolish, but I can help limit his access to her, perhaps.”
“I think that is what she needs.”
“She asked for information in the past. Should I tell her everything?”
“Tell her as much as is necessary. Answer her questions if you think it wise. Do not tell her anything that would compromise you or our work.”
Anokii placed a hand on his cheek. “You would be a better leader than you think, my ninaimant. Why do you think I am always asking your opinion and advice? Surely not because I am incapable of thinking for myself.”
“I would never think that of you,” he told her, pressing his lips to her forehead. “I must go. I want to know if they’ll tell me who else is watching the queen and why. I doubt I will get answers, but if we do not work together, we will aid our enemies instead of each other.”
“Be careful. Sometimes it is not good to ask these things. You might gather too much suspicion among our people, and that is not something that you want.”
“I am always careful, ninamant. I have you to come back to.”