Author’s Note: This seemed like a natural follow up to the last scene, at least in part. I probably should have gone with the decision to take a different path after that one, but I do have a weakness for moments like this. I think the ability to sleep beside someone shows how deep trust runs because we’re vulnerable when we sleep, we have to let our guard down. So, really, it was about trust.
Anokii folded her arms over her chest, looking down at feet hanging over the side of the bed. Two sets, one group smaller and more slender, those of a woman. She supposed someone else would be worried. She was, and yet she was not. She saw enough small details to allay what doubts she might have. She hoped, at least. “Morning, cousin.”
Agache jerked awake, his eyes darting around in confusion. He looked at Anokii and then over to the lower half of the bed and back to her, frowning. She almost would have thought that he was not sure where he was or how he’d managed to sleep there. The position was rather awkward—the bed was longer in the other direction, and he should have fallen off of it during the night the way he was half over the edge. “What—Where—Why are you here?”
Anokii’s eyes went to the bed. Even though she suspected their positions had come about rather innocently, she could not help pointing out the danger of it. “I should ask you that. In fact, you should be glad that it was me who entered and not the king.”
He pulled himself up to a seated position, looking at the queen and shaking his head. “It is not like that, Anokii. We did not—I know that—”
“You got yourself hurt, that much I can see. I assume that the queen assisted you with that wound.”
“It was a poor effort compared to yours, I am sure,” the queen said, rising without bothering to sit up. She was still wearing the dress she’d had on the day before, and Anokii did not think that the other woman realized that she had not changed. “I could have made him sleep on the floor after I was done with him, but before I could ask, he had passed out. Perhaps I gave him too much of the herbs. He seems to be rather confused, doesn’t he?”
Agache sighed. He winced as he touched his side. “Must you tease? I did not intend to sleep in the queen’s room, certainly not in her bed. That was… It wasn’t—”
“You weren’t in my bed. On it, almost, but not in it. I helped you with your wound, as I said, but I got some of the herbs on my hands as well, and while I sat beside you, trying to treat you, I… I suppose you must say that I treated myself as well. I must have closed my eyes and quickly fallen asleep. Neither of us intended to share this space. That is clear from the way we were lying. Nothing happened, and we will be more careful should any similar situation arise.”
“Yes,” he agreed, leaning down to pick his tunic up off the floor. He grimaced, unable to lift his arms to pull it on. Anokii moved over to his side and helped ease it over him. He closed his eyes. “Thank you.”
“I would tell you not to get injured again, but that would be useless. You are altogether too willing to risk your life.”
The queen nodded. “Your cousin is right. You are.”
“You would lecture me? Who did you marry again?”
The queen glared at him, but before she could say anything, her door opened, and she stilled, looking over at the other part of the room in horror. Anokii grabbed her cousin’s cloak, shoving it at him as she forced him as much out of sight as she could. As soon as he was cloaked, whoever had entered would not so much as look at him, but until then, he was vulnerable.
Agache pushed her hands away, and Anokii grimaced, having little choice except to try and block him from being seen, not that the king so much as glanced at them. He went for the queen.
“I’ve decided to inspect the remaining troops today. You will accompany me.”
The queen nodded, bowing her head to the king’s decree, and he stopped, frowning at her. He took hold of her arm, pulling her close, his hand in her hair. “One would think you would dress less… formally when you sleep.”
“And let everyone see all of me when I am asleep and vulnerable?”
“Who has seen you in such a state? Malzhi?”
“No.” She lowered her head. “Perhaps. If he came in when I was sleeping, I would not necessarily know. I would hope not, but how could I be certain?”
Anokii thought the queen was becoming too good a liar, though she could not be ungrateful to the other woman for continuing to conceal her cousin.
The king smiled. “Then you remain mine.”
She nodded, crying out a moment later. “You did not have to do that.”
Anokii had not seen what he’d done, but she sensed her cousin’s agitation behind her. The way he’d bumped her almost suggested he was about to go after the king himself, but even if he had hurt her, Agache could not risk everything for one moment of abuse, even if the queen was their ally.
The king laughed, shoving his wife backward. He walked away, his laughter lasting until after the door closed behind him. The queen shuddered, and Anokii moved toward her. She knelt down, her hand going to the other woman’s shoulder. The queen jerked away from her.
“Don’t touch me.”
“Did he hurt you?”
The queen shook her head. “It… That will pass. Please, leave me alone.”
“If you are worried about my presence, I will go. I never meant to stay this long,” Agache said. He stopped next to the queen. “If there is anything I can do—”
Agache hesitated. Anokii knew that regardless of the circumstances that had brought him here or his need to stay far from the king—they were fortunate that the other man had only seen the queen—he blamed himself for what had just happened to her. It didn’t matter that she’d come here more or less by her own choice, that she’d known what she was doing when she married the king. Agache had been the one who had taken on the king’s abuses before his “death,” but now he had to watch as someone else was forced to bear that burden. Anokii hoped that he would not be foolish now, no matter how much she hated knowing what the king could do to the queen.
Muttering a low curse and shaking his head, Agache turned to leave. “Yes, my lady.”