Author’s Note: Not sure how many times I’ve said it, but plans never go as they should, now do they?
“So after Malzhi has left you and the king on whatever pretext he chooses, pour this into your drink and that into the king’s. Make certain that you tip your glass as though you are drinking but do not take any of the wine until after you have seen him drink. He needs to have at least two mouthfuls in him before you collapse. I’d prefer it if there were more. The sicker he gets, the more suspicious he will be, and that would be to our advantage.” Agache stopped, touching the queen’s arm and looking in her eyes. “You understand all that? You need it explained again?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t. I am aware of what I need to do, and I am prepared to do it, but I am not an idiot. You needn’t go through all that again.”
Anokii almost laughed at the other woman’s tone. Sometimes Agache did treat her rather like a child, and Anokii did not blame her for being frustrated with him. She had only come to the land a few months ago, had no real knowledge of its history or the politics that divided it, and while they had tried to educate her, they tended to assume that she did not know what she was doing because she was new. She was more capable than they thought, and she should have proved it by now, but they were slow to change. They still acted as though she wasn’t someone they could trust.
She was the one who would suffer if they were wrong, and she was the only one that could do what must be done. They had to trust her.
“I am sorry. It is… It is a risk, and I do not want you to be hurt.”
The queen laughed. “Oh, Agache, you know if that is what you truly wanted, you’d dump me back in my homeland. As it is, you are still using me, as you said you wanted to back in the beginning. I do not mind so much with you. You have been almost honest with me, and you have not threatened me as Malzhi and the king have.”
“He is nothing like them.”
The queen turned to Anokii. “I know that you are very loyal to your cousin. I have never doubted that. We need not argue about it. I should go. If I am late, it will seem suspicious, won’t it?”
“You are missing something important,” Agache said, his finger going to one of the paint marks on her neck. “You had better not leave before we put the fake bindings back on you, or everything will be over. Where is are they, Anokii?”
“Here,” she said, carrying the necklace over, but he took it and helped fasten it to the queen’s neck. He stepped back and studied her, nodding, and she glared at him, shaking her head.
“Nothing like them at all,” she said, fingering the bindings, and Agache laughed, reaching up to brush back some of her curls. “You are so—”
“Shh,” he said, tapping a finger against her lips. “You’re going to be late.”
“When I wake up, I’m going to hit you.”
“Very well. As long as you make certain that you do wake up,” he told her, giving her a smile as his hand moved across her cheek. He blinked, moving to the side to allow her to pass. The queen nodded, starting out of the room, almost running as she did. He closed his eyes with a curse.
“She will live.”
“Yes, she will.”
“You are not displeased by that fact, are you?”
Agache frowned. “You think I want her dead? Why would you believe that? I do not have that much of the Gichikane in me.”
Anokii shook her head. She had to go after the queen, and she was not certain that she wanted to discuss her thoughts with her cousin. She thought it best that she did not. She should be present when the queen acted. She would need a healer, and Anokii was the only one who could do that without revealing their earlier deception. If anyone saw the bruises were fake, if they knew that the bindings were as well, the king would kill her. He might even know that Agache was alive once he learned what they’d done.
She took a place at the back of the room and folded her hands together, watching the queen as she moved around the room. She circulated amongst the ministers and their wives as was her duty, the most visible woman in the room with her fine dress made of zenie, her dark curls and many jewels, even if one was a torture device. She was quite graceful in all her movements, whether she was walking or bowing, ready to be stolen away for a dance if only there was a suitable partner.
“She should be dancing.”
“You should not be talking,” Anokii said, slapping Agache’s bad arm to emphasize her words. He needed to be silent. His voice was far too recognizable, and he was risking too much to be in the room now. She would never convince him to leave, not when they needed this ruse and he was determined to witness his plan being executed. He had put the queen at risk again, and he had to be there if something were to go wrong. Anokii knew he would not go leave, not until the queen was awake again.
The king took hold of the queen’s arm, and she stiffened. Agache grumbled, and Anokii hit him again. She could not believe that he was being so foolish. He needed to be more careful.
“Calm yourself. Malzhi is with them, and it should happen soon,” Anokii whispered, grasping Agache’s hand to keep him from betraying himself again. He fidgeted when the minister leaned too close the queen. “There. He made it much easier for us by bringing them the glasses.”
“Except if he knows there is no poison in it, he will turn on the queen when he is accused by the king.”
“She was poisoned, too. Few people would believe she did it herself.”
Agache grunted. She didn’t know why he was bothered by his own plan now. They could not stop it—any movement from them, any intervention, and everyone would know that the queen was an ally of the resistance. They would know that Anokii was a part of it, and they would likely learn that Agache was alive. That was not something that could happen. The queen had to use the poison.
Malzhi moved away, and the queen glared at him. The king said something to her, and she paled, turning her attention to the drink in her hands. The king laughed, gulping down his wine, and she sipped at hers.
“She should have—” Agache stopped, cursing as the queen fell. “I thought you said her dose wasn’t as strong.”
“She is foreign,” Anokii said, hurrying forward. She must have gotten it wrong. She had created the mixture as though the queen was one of the Biskane, and that was a mistake.
“Get away from her, worm. You are not fit to treat the queen.”
“And you are?” the king demanded, moving close to them. “What did you do to her?”
The king lurched forward, falling to the ground. Anokii jumped back, giving a terrified shriek though she had known that fall was coming. She swallowed, not wanting to do this, but she knew that she must. The accusation had to be made. “He poisoned the king! He poisoned them both!”
Malzhi reached for her. “You lying worm. You did this.”
“From across the room?” Wenjige snorted. “You are a terrible liar.”
“Let go of her. She needs to see to the queen. Fetch the physician for the king. Now,” one of the other ministers ordered. Malzhi glared at all of them. Anokii started toward the queen again, but Agache had already lifted her into his arms. “Take her. If she dies, you die, understood?”
Anokii nodded. “Yes, minister.”