Author’s Note: So this story has just about reached its end. Once the negotiations were over, there wasn’t much tale left for me to tell, even though I found myself so attached to the queen and Agache that I wanted to do more with them. I just haven’t found a plot that would make a good sequel. Maybe I’ll satisfy my need to revisit old friends with a few short pieces instead.
“We will have to have a second ceremony according to the traditions of our land, you know,” Agache said, speaking again after several moments of silence. Anokii had been wondering if they would walk without conversation all the way to the castle, but then she knew, too, that first awkwardness after taking the vow of marriage, how timid and shy she and Gekin had been with each other even despite having consummated their love and their vows. Marriage changed so much, and for her cousin and his bride, their union was more complicated than most. They had to rule a country made up of two peoples that hated each other, and even with the permission she’d forced out of her father to allow the Nebkasha to settle in part of their land and buy it, tensions would be high between them and their neighbors for a long time to come. Anokii did think the other king had maneuvered things so that Agache would take Jis as his bride, but she did not know that his reasons for that were honorable.
She hoped the man had done it because he knew his daughter was unhappy, if he suspected that she loved Agache, but he could have done it with deception in mind, as he had with the last treaty. True, they knew what Jis was. They wanted her for a queen. Agache needed her. He did not have the luxury of settling in the Nebkasha’s new land. He was the king. He had to find a way to represent both peoples and would have to remain at the castle, at least at first. He would need support and love, and he had both of those things in the woman he’d chosen.
“I do not mind. We have vowed to be loyal to each other, and that does not change with repetition. Some people, though, they should have it and don’t.”
The queen’s lips curved with disgust. “She betrayed her husband for Malzhi. How could she?”
“There were those who considered him attractive.”
He laughed. “I’m not, though. By the standards of his people, he was handsome, and he had power, too. Some find that appealing.”
“They are as sick as he was.” The queen frowned. “You… Do you doubt my ability to be faithful to you after what happened between us? I do not… It is not the same. I had no desire to marry him, did not do it except by obligation, and I am not saying that to excuse my behavior—”
“I do not want excuses. It is not…” Agache sighed. “In some respects, it might be justice to have it all happen again, but I do not think it will. Neither of us wanted to break your vows. Neither of us did, not more than that kiss, and once we had done that… I suppose we should have stayed apart. Had it not been for the king’s death, my ascension to the throne, and the new treaty, we would have.”
Anokii frowned. She did think her cousin meant that—he would not have gone for the queen if he had not needed to negotiate with her people. He would have let her go. Anokii did not know if that was noble or foolish.
“I am rather glad of the treaty then,” the queen said, her voice quiet. He stopped, placing his hands on her face. “I know we are… more fortunate than most in what we now have.”
“You are not regretting returning with me, are you?”
“Of course not. Where you are is where I want to be.”
“We will still have to live in the castle until I can have a modest residence built on the border of our lands. I would like to step away from the throne and give it to someone else, but I see only bloodshed in doing so, and I cannot—”
“I am not asking you to abandon your people now. I would never do that.”
He pulled her close, kissing her. Anokii turned away, not needing to watch. She was glad to see her cousin happy, but she did not want to intrude upon that happiness, either. She knew how much privacy meant to her and Gekin, and Agache had always tried to allow for them to have as much time alone as possible. She could be as considerate in return.
“We should continue on. We still have a long journey ahead of us.”
“Perhaps we should stop for the night.”
“It is not even midday.”
“So?” The queen laughed, wrapping her arms around Agache’s neck. “It will be night, and we both enjoy the nighttime more than the rest of the day. Why not sleep now and wake up when it is night? Or we could not sleep and spend the night together as well…”
He smiled, shaking his head. “You are far too tempting, niniamant.”
“Not tempting enough, though. You are about to make us press on.”
“Anokii wants to be back with Gekin.”
“I know, but she can go ahead without us if she wants. I think we deserve a day’s respite from all we endured before we left my homeland and before we return to our obligations in your kingdom.” The queen stepped up to kiss him, just a gentle one right on his cheek. “Please. We have not had much chance to be alone since we married, and there will be so many distractions, so many responsibilities… We do not have to abandon them, but can we not have one day for ourselves?”
“I do not know that we can as the situation in the kingdom is—”
“I say you may as well stay.”
“Gekin!” Anokii cried, smiling as she ran toward her husband. She had not expected him, thought that she had to get back to the castle before she would be able to hold him again, and this was a wonderful surprise.
“It was too long to wait. I got impatient.”
“You are such a fool.”
“Always, niniamant, always, but only for you.”