Author’s Note: This story isn’t as close to an ending as the other two I have going, and it’s not as easy to put a new part of it up because I don’t know how to finish it or feel like I can right now, but since I updated the others and I do have this, I will put it up.
Though a part of her wanted nothing more than to hide herself away in her rooms, not to show her neck to anyone until the forgery was complete, not to risk the king wanting to play with his new toy, the queen knew that she could not remain hidden forever. If she were to be a coward, then why not accept the offers Agache and the others had made to send her across the border?
She put a hand to her neck. The bruises from the last time she’d seen the king still ached, and she had not seen Agache or had word of the fake in days.
“Can it be that the king has left you alone? How fortunate am I, then,” Malzhi said, and she cursed as she heard him walking up to her. “I have missed being able to converse with you, my lady.”
“Have you? I rather thought you expected the king to kill me the day he returned from the way you were gloating,” the queen said, aware of the weight on her throat. The king had the key to this horrible thing, and he was the only one who could adjust it without breaking it—some small mercy when she found herself alone with Malzhi—but now was still dangerous for her. Malzhi didn’t need the king’s key to cause her trouble, and she was vulnerable until they were to able to replace the real bindings with a fake. She was beginning to understand the look that Agache had spoken of, the one that warned of the king’s intentions, but she did not know that it mattered. Between the king and Malzhi, she’d die before they were able to replace the damned thing.
“Oh, it would have been amusing, I suppose, but I have yet to know you as well as I’d like, so I’d be disappointed as well.”
She turned her attention to the courtyard, refusing to look at him. “I am beginning to think that it would be a relief. That way I would no longer have to see him… or you.”
Malzhi reached up to touch the bindings around her neck. “You have been suffering, haven’t you? Such a shame that he still fails to realize what he has. What you need is someone who knows you what you truly are and appreciates the value of what that is.”
She almost told him that she had such a person—more than one, even, though she suspected that Wikan would not have waited for her, nor should he after what she’d agreed to do. Still, Agache knew her secrets, that she was esibani, and he valued her skills, had told her that since the beginning of their alliance. She knew that she could not speak of either of them to Malzhi, though.
“I suppose you think that you are such a person, do you?” She shook her head. “I don’t believe you. I know not to trust you—unless you think that I am a fool.”
He moved his hand to her face, caressing her cheek. She flinched, and he smiled, pushing her back against the wall. She shifted, sidestepping under his arm and evading his hold. She needed to leave this balcony. She had to get away from him. Now.
“Why must you be so difficult, my lady?” He started toward her. “We could have a very pleasurable time if you were not so stubborn. You would not object so much if you knew what I could give you.”
“I know what you think I will give me, and I do not want it.”
“Of course you do. You think you cannot admit it because of your husband, but you know you do.”
She glared at him, and he caught her arm. She tried to pull away from him, but he got hold of her other arm, trapping her in place. His breath hit her neck, and she was about to hit him with her elbow when she heard the voice.
“You’re touching something that belongs to me.”
Malzhi let go of her, shoving her forward. “Forgive me, your majesty. I thought I saw something upon the queen’s neck, and I wanted to examine it more closely, but she did not want to let me see it.”
“I would not let you see it if I were her,” the king said, taking hold of her, and she grimaced, knowing that he would hurt her now even if she had been trying to get away from Malzhi. “You are dismissed. Go.”
“Yes, your highness.” Malzhi bowed his head and stalked away, anger in each step he took. She swallowed, looking up at the king.
“You encouraged him?”
“No. Never. I was trying to leave when he caught me the second time.”
“You are mine. I do hope that you have not forgotten that.”
“How could I?”
He turned the key, tightening the cords around her neck, and she reached up, clawing at it as she tried to breathe. She could not do this. He needed to stop playing with her. If he was going to kill her, he needed to do it now. She just wanted it over with already. She did not want to be taken to the edge over and over again. If he forced her into unconsciousness again, perhaps this time she would not wake from it. She thought that she would prefer that.
“Beg if you like.”
She met his gaze, not turning away from the cruelty there. Let him do it. She would not beg. She couldn’t beg. She saw his lips twist, and then he kissed her. She thought it was only the pain he knew he was causing that attracted him, that and the need to mark what Malzhi had tried to take as his and his alone. A part of her wanted to give herself away to someone else to defy him, but that was just a fleeting fancy, not something that she would ever do, even if there were such a person that she was willing to be with instead of her husband—certainly that was not Malzhi.
“I find use in your defiance. Breaking you becomes more and more enjoyable.”
She tried to breathe, but he had not loosened the bands. She blinked, feeling weak, and then the bands gave up their grip, allowing her to suck air in again, and she gasped, trying to make up for the way her body had been starved for breath for too long. She fell to her knees, hearing him laugh as his footsteps retreated from her.