Author’s Note: So I find this story easier to work on at the moment. It’s been a bit of a rough week. I’m not going to be unfair to my other possible serial, but it may take me a while tonight to get the next part for it written and posted.
In the meantime, here’s more with the queen. 🙂
“We must do something to keep you from suffering in this heat. You seem to be ill far too often for my liking,” Malzhi said, his hand gripping her arm as they walked through the halls. She knew her skin would carry the impression of his fingers after he left her, and she did not know that she could survive him much longer. He had decided that it was his duty to escort her to the court every day, and when she’d tried to refuse, he’d latched on to her arm with a grip that she could only free herself of if she betrayed all of her training to him. If she did that, though, all she hoped to achieve while she was trapped here in the castle would be lost.
“I do not think it was the heat that bothered me yesterday.” She was still trying to recover—and understand—what had had happened to her after the ceremony. She did not know who had been in her room, did not know if they had known about the esibani or if that was her confused mind, and had the water been drugged? Was that what happened, or was it something else?
“Are you suggesting that it was the nitage? We can have it banned, you know. That would outrage the worms, but no one cares what the worms think. Right, my bird?”
She glared at him. She hated him so much, perhaps more than she did the king, and he was the man they all feared. “I am not your bird. Perhaps that is all a legend anyway, some stupid tale of origin that is only a fantasy. We want to be greater than we are, and the truth is that we are nothing.”
Malzhi’s eyes swept over her, and laughter rang against the wall as they did. “We are far from nothing, my queen, and I should very much like to prove that to you. How would you like to see a demonstration of my power? While the king is away, I have the authority to do as I see fit.”
She was, she thought, the one exception to that, and she did not think he would always limit himself in that regard. He grew bolder in his treatment of her by the day—perhaps by the night if he was behind what had happened to her after the nitage, but if he knew about the esibani, why wasn’t she dead? She should be, if he knew, but perhaps he wanted to torture her, leave her wondering if he did know and waiting for the moment when he used it against her.
“Tell me what you would like to see,” he said, tracing a finger along her collarbone. She surprised herself by not shuddering. “I can do whatever you want.”
She snorted. “You would have me give you orders? How much are you longing to indulge your vanity? It is not my will you’d be doing, and you would hardly want it to be. You’re not the sort of man who allows himself to be used.”
“For the right purpose, I assure you that I am.”
She shook her head. She did not know why he kept talking this way. She did not know why he would not leave her alone. She was not that desirable, even if she was a queen. “You and I disagree on what is right and what is not.”
He smiled at her, and her stomach rolled, making her feel that her last meal would return to her. He moved his finger up to her forehead, trailing it down along her nose as he had done the day before, and she felt weak. Had Malzhi done something to her when he did this yesterday, then? Why did she feel like she was about to fall asleep when she had only recently risen?
“What are you doing here, worm? How dare you interrupt me?”
The figure in the cloak lowered his head. “There is a disturbance in the great hall, my lord. I was told to tell you.”
She heard Malzhi curse, and he stalked away from her, snarling as he did. She leaned against the wall, feeling sick, so exhausted that she might collapse on the spot. Was this the man in the cloak the same one who had been in her room? She didn’t know. She needed to hear his voice again.
She wasn’t sure she was capable of listening at the moment, though. She felt a hand on her arm, and she looked for Malzhi, but it was not Malzhi. “Come, my lady. You do not look well.”
“What did he do to me?”
“Malzhi has the advice of an herbalist. Once it is combined in the right way, he can apply the mixture to your skin and influence you. How much influence it has is determined by the individual. For some it is like having had too much of the zhavin—wine—though for you perhaps worse because you are not of his people.”
She groaned, hearing his voice from behind her, and now she was more disoriented than before. She’d have to be even more careful not to let Malzhi touch her. She had not wanted that in the first place, but she could not allow it to happen again, not if he was using her own skin against her. “I think I need to lie down again.”
“Do so, and you will sleep the day away.” The cloaked man’s hand fell from her arm, and she frowned as she saw two of them. Wait. What wast this? She rested against the wall, trying to get her body back under control. She had not felt like this yesterday, and she did not remember seeing double, either. “Go. I will see to her.”
“Do not argue, Gekin. You know you do not belong here,” the second cloak said, and she was almost relieved to know that there were, in fact, two of them. “You have your orders. Go. Now.”
The one cloak nodded, withdrawing, and she focused on the one that remained, trying to calm herself and fight against whatever herbs she’d been exposed to. “There are herbs to counter his, aren’t there? This is not going to… to be permanent or fatal, is it?”
“It seems worse than yesterday.”
“I would say he was disappointed by your ability to elude him yesterday, and so he changed the mixture,” the cloak said, moving an arm around her waist. “You will feel weak, but it should pass. Where did he touch you?”
“Mostly on my face. Why?”
“We should apply something to dilute what he did, get you some water and keep you walking. It is not pleasant, but it is the best way.”
“Why is sleeping is not the best? It seems simpler, and I do not feel like walking.”
“If you were to sleep, someone should have to guard you, unless you wanted Malzhi to come in while you were in that state.”
“Did someone guard me yesterday? Did you?”
He did not answer. She did not know what to think of that. If Malzhi had come to her room—no, she should not let herself think that she would not have awoken. She had training. She had instincts. She would have protected herself. She would not let Malzhi have this kind of advantage ever again. “Tell me what I should do to stop him. Is there something I can take before I am in his company? I do not know that I can always avoid him or his touch. He is… determined.”
“Why would you ask me?”
“I know that I cannot trust Malzhi. That gives me little alternative. You would seem to be it.” She pulled herself away from him. She put a hand on the wall, trying to be sure she could walk without assistance. “However, as you have reminded me that I can trust no one, I shall return to my chamber. Excuse me.”