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: Sometimes it takes more than one person to get a queen ready.

Group Preparations

Anokii opened the door to the queen’s chamber, surprised to hear laughter when she did. She shoved the door shut, hoping she kept anyone else from hearing. She crossed toward the back of the room, frowning as she saw her cousin with the queen. That stubborn fool. She had told him to stay put until his arm was healed, but the moment his fever broke, he must have left his bed. She should have mixed in some herbs to keep him sleeping with those that had worked to reduce his fever. Perhaps then he would still be in his bed.

“Agache, if you don’t allow yourself to heal—”

“The king is back. We do not have time for me to lie about in bed.”

She cursed, still tempted to shake some sense into him. If, that was, she didn’t end up using Malzhi’s herbs on him first. “True, I have come to tell the queen she has been summoned and to help prepare her to face him.”

The queen looked down at her dress and groaned. She was in one of her plainer ones, the ones she kept for when she was alone in her chamber, one she put on after leaving court earlier. “I do not think that we have time for that.”

“You have to change. Do not appear before him without your proper trimmings. That will offend him and the court,” Agache said. The queen looked at him. “I am not lying or joking. Court dress is very specific. You know that. Anything less than your finest would be an insult. You do not want to be late, either.”

“Are you now going to suggest that I fall at his feet and profess my love for him?” The queen demanded. Anokii stepped behind her, reaching for the ties that bound the other woman’s dress together. She jerked. “Anokii! I know we do not have much time, but you—you need to ask. Your cousin is over there—”

“I shall avert my eyes if that is what concerns you. Anokii, hurry. The queen does not have much time. She must go now.”

“I do not think you should be here at all while I am changing. You and your needing less light to see because you’re Nebkasha—you’d be able to see through your eyelids or something like that.”

“Just because Malzhi is obsessed with you does not mean that I am. Not every man finds you irresistible, your highness.”

She glared at him. “I am not assuming everyone desires me. I do not think that Malzhi does other than the fact that he knows he cannot have me. Nevertheless, it is improper having you here. Aside from the fact of your supposed death, if anyone knows there was a man here—”

“What do you expect to do with the king?”

The queen stilled, and Anokii set to work during her confusion. The other woman was too stubborn most of the time. She needed to learn to listen. True, she did not want to be revealing her body to a man who was not her husband, but Agache was an honorable man. He was not going to look or take advantage of her. Of course, after so long with Malzhi, she might assume that all men were like him, and it was possible that Omamhi had at least tried for such a terrible thing before he died. The queen had said no, but she could have been lying.

“I do not know. He doesn’t… He wouldn’t want anything from me that I am aware of, but I cannot say for certain. I do not have much knowledge of the king. He left me alone, even when I was forced to stand beside him at some kind of ceremony, so I do not know what to expect.”

“The more interest he shows in you, the more likely it is that he intends to act against your homeland. He ignores those that he does not care about.”

“It is possible that he will want to… to put a claim upon you,” Anokii told her, carrying over the fancier gown. She lifted it over the other woman’s head, pulling it down, and smoothing out the skirt. “If he hears even one rumor about Malzhi’s obsession with you, he will want everyone to see that he controls you at least until he moves against your homeland.”

The queen closed her eyes. “What claim might that be? How would he intend to control me?”

“In a painful way, that is almost certain. His torture rather depends on the person, though I can think of a few things that he might do. Still… you are his wife. He may decide that a very long and very public kiss is sufficient. Unpleasant for you, I have no doubt, but in many ways preferable to the alternatives.”

“Yes, very,” the queen whispered. “Anokii, will you bring me my necklace?”

“The king did not give this to you. You should not wear it.”

“If the man objects to something given to me by a woman long dead, I cannot help but think him a great fool,” the queen said, taking the necklace from her and lifting it up to her neck. “Besides, I need it to cover the bruises as they have not yet faded, and would you please give me something for my ankle as well? I overexerted it yesterday, and it has not forgiven me.”

“You did not say you were in pain. You could have mentioned it, and I would not have made you go to the catacombs.”

The queen looked at Agache. “When you said nothing of your wounds or your fever? You are so… infuriating. You cannot tell me to admit my weaknesses when you will not reveal your own. We can call each other allies, but there is no trust here, and we are not foolish enough to believe there is.”

Agache moved close to her, adjusting her pendant and then her curls so that they concealed her bruises. “I trust you, esibani, and that is all you need to know. Go. Now. You cannot keep the king waiting any longer.”

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