Author’s Note: So every time this scene was playing out in my head, the jeweler was present and asking about the metal and stones for the necklace. He didn’t even enter into this version, but I don’t think he needs to. This way seems better.
“No. Do not ask me to…”
“No one is asking you to do anything but lie still, Jis.”
She opened her eyes, frowning, not certain how she’d gone from her room back in her father’s castle to this strange small room. The roof was thatched with long reeds that should never have grown in the twin suns, ones she thought perhaps had been taken from the border near her homeland. Was that why she had remembered her father’s last visit?
She grimaced. She did not need to think about that right now.
“Where am I?”
“The jeweler’s,” Agache answered, shifting beside her. She became aware of her hand’s dampness as it clutched someone else’s. His. She had his hand, and she did not know how long she’d been grasping it, but she had to let it go. “I suppose you don’t quite remember that part, do you?”
He nodded. “The king left it tightened around your neck, and we had no other means of removing it. Since he took it off, he has been studying it—creating molds in order to replicate it. The others went back to your room in case someone might look for you.”
“You were unwilling to release my hand despite your lack of consciousness. I decided that I may as well remain with you.”
She withdrew her hand. “I have not done that since the first time I was knocked unconscious in training. I did not release my mother’s hand for almost a day. I am sorry. I did not think it would happen or I would not have taken yours.”
“It is nothing. I was not harmed.”
She turned over onto her side, hating the confining fabric of her court dress. “I wish I had made it to my room. Ridding myself of my other torture device would have helped.”
“Other torture—Oh. The dress. Yes, I imagine that is most uncomfortable. I don’t suppose that one has any removable pieces? You might be able to take one of the layers off—indeed, you might have to in order to have your cloak cover your dress.”
“You carried me here without a cloak?”
“I did not carry you anywhere.”
She grunted. “So Gekin did. That is not what I asked. Do not be difficult. I am not—I almost died earlier, didn’t I? Why should I have any sort of… tolerance or humor at the moment?”
“I cannot give you any reason to have either. Oh, I suppose I might be able to tell you a story should you desire one, distract you as you wait and recover from earlier, since you will need that necklace back in place before we leave, but that is no guarantee of your mood improving. The sort of despondency that comes with an attack from the king is not easy to remove. It does not wash off like dirt might. No, it is a stain. A dark one that forever reminds us of what was done.”
“What did he do to you?”
Agache shook his head. “That is not worth discussing. You need not learn the details of torture for I hope you never repeat such acts, and sympathy, too, is a waste, for I have need of none. We must continue our efforts to end matters, not think of what was.”
She closed her eyes. Was Wikan married yet? Would he have chosen someone else if he thought she’d never return? He knew her to be married, so he must assume that she would never be free to accept his offer, and he had been frustrated long before her departure, thinking she would never say yes even if she’d been able. The idea of a future with him was even more impossible now than it had been when she first contemplated it. Even if the king died, she would not be free.
“Jis? Are you hurting? I have no skill with herbs, but my cousin assured me that I could give you some without causing any harm.”
She looked at him. “It was… I thought of the past. I shouldn’t have, but there was… I had hopes of things that seem so foolish now. I had thought maybe I’d… Did you ever want a family?”
“Me? Oh, no. No, I… There was always too much risk. Passing on the Gichikane blood would have been deterrent enough, but Nebkasha marriages are forbidden, as I told you, and even were they not, the king would have more people to hurt if I cared about anyone. I’d have condemned my offspring or my wife to a life of fear and pain until the release of death.”
“You must be very lonely.”
He let out a breath. “I… I do not think I feel it the same way that you might. It is, I fear, the Gichikane in me—I do not believe I am capable of such deep attachment. I felt very little when my sisters were murdered, and though I am… close to my cousin, she is not… she is not reason enough to want to live.”
Jis frowned. “That is horrible, Agache.”
He touched her hand. “I am your ally. You are not alone. Not that my company should be counted as any great blessing, but you have it nonetheless. I will go see if the jeweler is done with the repairs, and you may alter your garments if you want.”
She nodded. “Thank you.”
“This was my doing, remember? My inaction caused this. Stop thanking me.”
“Not for that. For being my ally. For telling me I am not alone.”
“Oh. That. Well… Then… you are welcome.”