Author’s Note: Well, I said I was sending Agache south. I still want to, and he still has good reasons for wanting to go, but there is no way he can under the present circumstances.
“I had thought that we would see her getting herself killed,” Gekin said, drawing Anokii close to him. She did not know how he had known to come to her side, but then he had a sense for those moments. Not every one of them, no, but enough of them, yes. He had made his way to her when she needed him, and she could only close her eyes and breath him in, breath in the comfort of his presence in body and hold, the way he supported her when she wanted to turn away and give in to her weakness. He’d held her for so long the day that the king had Agache arrested, and Anokii knew that she should not compare that moment to this, but she had thought the same as Gekin.
She’d believed the queen would succeed in ensuring her own death, that war was coming, even that she’d take Agache’s life with her own in that foolish act, for Anokii knew that the only one who could have helped the queen outside the gate was her cousin. No one else would dare.
“I wish we could hear more of what she is saying.”
“It would not compare to the silence that greeted her arrival, no matter how fine the speech.”
“True,” Anokii said, thinking of the startled hush that had fallen over the mob as they beheld the woman walking toward them. In unison, the men in front had stepped back, bumping those who pushed behind them, and anger had almost resumed the riot until those standing further back took in the queen in her bedraggled finery, staring on in confusion. None of the nobles left the castle by choice, and for the queen—who many believed to be a prisoner—to have done it was even more impossible.
“She has a true air of command. I think she would not care to know it, though.”
“You should not have helped her,” Anokii said, lifting her head from Gekin’s arms to peer back at her cousin. “Are you testing her again?”
“I fear she has already passed any test I might offer, that she has gone beyond what I might hope or want… The timing is unfortunate. I need to go to the south. I was hoping to leave today.”
“The south?” Gekin turned around, keeping hold on Anokii’s shoulder. “Why would you do that? Now of all times? You are needed here. You have to deal with the repercussions of the queen’s act. Even if Onigan does not wish to admit it, you are the one who gives the orders for every member of the resistance in this area, not him.”
“I am not leaving before I know how the king will react, but you know that it is past time that I meet with the other leaders. I have delayed it while making my decision about the queen and trying to give her what preparation I might, but you can see—she has no need of my instruction. I should go.”
“The king could kill her for this. You are not so heartless as to abandon her now.”
Agache sighed. “I intended to go before she did this, and I do not like delaying it since I am not certain that we can continue the way I have been. Without consulting the others, I am not confident in my ability to keep making those decisions—”
“And you are lying if that is your only reason for wanting to go.”
“Did you not hear me say that I am not going until we know how the king will react?” Agache let out a breath, leaning against the wall. “She should not have had to go out there. I did not act. I am a coward. I should have done that myself.”
“I do not agree with that, and even if it were true, it was her choice to make. She was determined to do it—she did not allow her own captivity within these walls to stop her. I fear there was little you could have done to alter her decision.”
Agache pushed away from the wall, starting to pace. “It is all cowardice, all of it. I should go confront the king now and—”
“And kill him?” Gekin shook his head. “Do you not remember what happened when he was having you trained as a swordsman?”
“I do not think I can afford to keep letting people die because of my inaction. No amount of fear of what I might do justifies that.”
“The bloodlust of the kings is a part of you, too. You managed to turn away from it once, but can you do so again? They went after dragons for a reason. Killing men stopped being enough for them.”
Anokii drew close to her cousin, taking hold of his arm and stopping him. “Was it last night that you were caught by the guards or this morning as you aided the queen?”
“Last night, but I can still feel it. I do not understand. This… There should not be enough of the Gichikane in me to make me feel this way, and yet I have… There is too much within me. The things the king did to me when I was his prisoner… That corruption lingers, a wound that festers not in my body but in my soul, and I do not know that I can help anyone. I am… I am losing what I was. You told me before to find something to live for, and I have not. I do not know how to…”
“You wish to leave the castle to try and recover?”
“That had been a part of my reasons for going, yes. Still, if the king punishes the queen, if she is forced to suffer for my inaction—”
“If the king was ready for war, he would already have killed her. She is not in too much danger of losing her life.”
Agache snorted. “Anokii, death is not the only punishment he is capable of inflicting. You know I know all too well the sort of things that he is capable of doing, and none of them killed me.”
She cursed. “I am sorry. I did not mean—I am not suggesting that she will be free even if he is not ready for war. My words were thoughtless. I… I am worried about you, and I have acted… callous toward the queen’s situation.”
Gekin shook his head. “You did try to stop her, and it is not as if you have harmed her, not deliberately and not by indifference, either.”
“She thinks I hate her.”
“I think the people love her.”
Agache moved toward the rail, looking down. “This could be worse than I thought.”