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: Agache would, of course, not travel without his cousin. She would never have allowed that to happen.

Quiet Discussions of Loyalty and Duty

“My lady.”

“Anokii,” the queen said, and the maid surprised herself with how pleased she was to see the warmth of the other woman’s greeting. “Oh, I am glad you traveled with him—though with his stubbornness and injuries, how could you not? He might not have made it without you.”

She laughed, knowing her cousin hated the truth of the queen’s words. “You are correct. He should not have come. Yet I think if it had been anyone other than him, these negotiations would not have been successful.”

“I believe my father will be persuaded to give your people the land near the border. The Nebkasha can be free at last.”

Anokii smiled, tempted to embrace the other woman, despite the difference in their station. She looked to Agache as he sat down on his bed, taking off his boots. He rubbed at his neck, and Anokii had to check and see if his skin had burned. He had chosen not to wear his cloak to the negotiations—a decision she’d disliked, but he was determined to enjoy the freedom that came with the absence of a second sun.

“Where is Gekin?”

“He could not come. Someone had to remain that could be trusted, and that was Gekin. I regret that he could not be here—I know he was concerned for you after he left you here.”

The queen’s hand touched her side. “I… I have recovered. I would thank him for bringing me here, except I am not so certain here is where I want to be.”

“Are you a prisoner here?”

“No. It is just… I no longer feel the same about my home and my role as I did. I have been… too independent to return to the role of an esibani, not wanting to follow orders. I have grown quite angry with my father, and I fear shall soon quarrel with him in a way that cannot be undone.”

“If we are able to get our land, perhaps you could join us there.”

“Oh, Anokii, I would… Except I have taken oaths of loyalty, and my vows, at least, keep me here.”

Anokii turned to Agache. Had he not asked before? “Surely we could include a release from your vows as a part of the treaty. I don’t even know that they should be able to keep you—you were our queen, after all.”

“Zaze was supposed to be your queen. My replacement of her dishonored the treaty, and I am not a queen here. I am only Jis, the esibani assigned to protect Zaze.”

“Zaze does not deserve you,” Agache said, pushing up his sleeve. The queen—Jis—winced as she saw the wound. “I am starting to believe that will never heal.”

Anokii shook her head, going for the herbs that she had brought with her. He should not have forced them to travel at such a pace, but she knew that he did not want to be gone from the castle for any longer than was necessary. His absence could send their country back into chaos. Were it not for the importance of these negotiations, he should not have come at all.

“It will. You need to rest more.”

Jis nodded. “I should go. I fear I have stayed here too long already, and I will lose what credibility I have as a negotiator if I seem too partial. Zaze already thinks that I am biased, and I admit I am after all your people did for mine and for me personally, but they cannot be allowed to know that.”

“It is not that we do not appreciate all that you did as well,” Anokii told her. “Without you, what we have now might not have been possible.”

“No, it would not have been,” Agache said. He closed his eyes. “Do you want us to ask for your release, Jis? You deserve your freedom as much as we do.”

The queen’s eyes shone, but she shook her head before any tears might fall. “No. That is not necessary. I will see you tomorrow at the negotiations.”

She opened the door and slipped out, shutting it behind her before either of them could speak. Anokii frowned. She stopped herself from giving the herbs to her cousin. “Why did you not tell her—”

“The choice is hers to make. She is under no obligation to join us, and she might find she did not feel as though she belonged there, either. If she decides it is what she wants, she is welcome to join us and I will negotiate for her release if need be. If not… Then she is free to remain.”

“I think she is miserable here, Agache, and she may be too stubborn and dutiful to ask for release even if it is what she desperately wants. You may have to do it for her.”

“Perhaps. We shall see what tomorrow is like.”

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