Author’s Note: I wanted to write this scene, wanted to give a glimpse of Jis before she became the queen, and this was one of the most important moments in her life before she left her homeland.
This has to be a memory that she went back to often after she became queen, too.
“You must pack your things.”
Jis blinked, lifting her head from her book and frowning. She had not heard her father enter, nor did she know why she had not. She was not that interested in her lessons, nor did she lack training, and her father always entered with such a procession as to make everyone aware of his every move. She glanced toward the bodyguards waiting behind him, the two in official robes, the others hidden as servants, and she swallowed. He did not need all of that in her quarters, and that he had come with such a retinue worried her.
“I had not realized that the negotiations had ended. Is it to be war, then? Is that why you wish me to pack?”
“Yes, the negotiations have ended. There will be peace for a time.”
She set down her book. “How did we manage that? I thought that the Biskane were unwilling to stop their conquest once it had begun. Of course, we are somewhat fortunate in that the conquest has not begun, but that does not mean that they would have wanted a treaty.
“It has been settled.”
“Settled? How do we know that they will honor the terms?”
“Zaze has been pledged to marry the king.”
Jis stilled. That explained it, then. They expected her to go into the Biskane land and protect her half-sister. She didn’t know how they thought that would work. The tricks that could be accomplished here, where the people did not see the princesses much, would not fool the king. He would know his wife—or at least he should.
She rose. “I am surprised that Zaze agreed to those terms.”
Jis turned back to her father. “What? How can she not agree to—”
“You are going in her place.”
She reached for the post of her bed, drawing in several breaths before she could face her father again. She didn’t know how to answer him. She knew what was expected of her. She was to go there and fulfill her duty, as she had always done. She had taken Zaze’s place before, she was the princess’ personal guard whenever the other woman left the palace, but she had not thought they would ever take that this far.
She had been foolish. She had come to hope that when Zaze at last married, she’d be free to have things that she had been denied before. She could finally accept Wikan’s offer, could let him court her. They would both be esibani for the rest of their lives, but Zaze’s marriage was supposed to free Jis from the same role as always. She would not have to pretend to be Zaze, she would still guard her, but it would not be as it was.
“Don’t do this. Please. I have been loyal all these years, but do not ask me to do this. You don’t know what you’re asking. I have pledged to defend you and the rest of the royal family with my life, but that life is meaningless if I have nothing to live for. You promised me that if Zaze married, I could—”
“Jis. You know this is more important than you, than any of us. This is about our land’s survival. Our people’s. You know what you must do.”
She lowered her head. She would go. She didn’t know why she’d bothered to ask for leniency. She’d known he would not give it, and she knew she would not have been able to accept it even if it had been offered. “Yes. I do.”
“I have something for you.”
“Father, I do not want any trinkets or… bribes. I am going. Leave me alone to accept my fate.”
“This is not a bribe,” her father said, placing a dagger in her hands. “This is for the king. You know what you must do.”
She stared down at the blade. “No. It’s not… I’m not an assassin.”
“You will do what you must for your people. You always have.” He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “You are my daughter. You are esibani. You will do what is necessary.”
She shook her head, not able to speak as he walked away from her. She heard the door shut behind the last of the guards, shuddering as it did. Her eyes closed, and she tried not let any tears fall. She was not an assassin. She could not do this.
She could not refuse.
She could not run.
She did cry.