Author’s Note: I almost had another meeting with Anokii and Gekin, but I thought it would be interesting to have this exchange between the queen and the maid, one where neither is quite as honest as they should be.
Still time to pick this as the serial that stays. Details here.
“My lady, Malzhi sends word that he wishes to speak to you.”
Anokii saw the queen shudder, making her wonder about that earlier exchange with the minister. Some of the man’s actions had seemed quite forward, and while she had not known what the queen thought of them, now she thought she did. They were unwanted, perhaps even frightening to the other woman, especially given the isolation and danger of her position.
She did not envy the queen. She might have been mistreated. Her people were not supposed to marry—hers was against the law and could result in their death—but she’d never faced unwanted attention from any of them, since they did not consider her kind at all attractive.
She did not think the queen was that pretty, either, but Malzhi did not have to desire her because she was pretty, only because she was the queen.
“Please tell him I am still unwell.”
Anokii frowned. She had thought perhaps the queen was smarter than she had first seemed, but this would not do. She could not be so disrespectful, not even as the wife of the king. Malzhi must be obeyed by all. It was one thing to defy him to free people kept as slaves or about to be executed, but for the queen to do it simply because she did not like the man—no. She needed a better reason than that if she was going to make a decision like this. “That is not wise.”
“Nothing is, not in my position, but I do as I must.”
“What you must do is answer his summons. He can have you killed. His power is second only to the king’s and he is not a man you want as an enemy.” Anokii shook her head, aware she had failed to impress upon the queen the true nature of her circumstances. “He had another minister imprisoned today. No one knows why.”
The queen laughed. That was the sort of noise Anokii expected from the king, so cruel and bitter as it was. “I might.”
The words gave Anokii an uneasy feeling. She did not like this at all. She thought the queen could be quite frightening when she wanted to be. “What have you done?”
Pausing in the doorway, the queen looked back at her, an expression on her face that Anokii could not decipher. “I could say you have no right to ask me that.”
“No, I do not,” Anokii said, wary. Who was this woman that they had gotten for a queen? What schemes was she creating? How heartless was she?
The queen turned away, shedding as much of her garments as she could while she walked. “Tell me, what would you do for your people? Would you lie? Would you kill? Would you maneuver others that might kill?”
“Is that what you have done? Maneuvered others? Maneuvered Malzhi?” Anokii did not think the queen had any idea the dangerous sort of games she might be playing—or perhaps she did not care. “He will not tolerate being tricked. He will kill you.”
“Yes, I do think he would. Nevertheless, I have made my decision. Tell him I am unwell. I do not want to see him or anyone else.”
“This is a decision that you will regret.”
The queen leaned against the bedpost, closing her eyes. “I have regretted much of these past few months. What is one more poor choice?”
“It could be your last.”
The queen nodded. “Everything can be the last. That is the nature of life.”
Strange. That was a sentiment that Anokii would have expected one of her people to voice, not the queen. Had not the woman lived in relative freedom until her marriage? This place had changed her, soured her very quickly, a poison that ruined all the good to be had. “You sound as though you have lived your whole life here, not a few months only.”
“You know nothing of my life before I came here. I doubt any of you knows my name.”
“You are the queen. It is not for us to call you by name.”
The other woman laughed in that same cruel manner, and Anokii withdrew, not wanting to be alone with her any longer.