Author’s Note: Having Malzhi confront the queen first worked to tie in some scenes I’d already written for this story, and besides, he always shows up at moments like this.
“What a queen you are.”
She stiffened, turning back to face Malzhi. She had silenced the crowd, but she did not know that it would matter now that he had opened the gates. She tried to prepare herself for what might come after she revealed herself to the mob, but she had not expected the cooperation that she’d received. She supposed part of it was due to her sudden and rather surprising entrance. Agache had pulled her out of the passage almost right into the middle of the crowd, and she had only a moment to breathe before they noticed her. She did not know that it was her appearance so much as his, though. She felt sure that they had all heard him ask her if she wanted him to stay, and his voice had made them wonder, giving her the opportunity to speak.
She didn’t remember her words. She had stuttered out something inconsequential as a greeting, but they kept silent, and that was what mattered just then. She had been able to reason with them—if she could count a near desperate plea for them to stop and return to their home as reasoning with them.
“Yes, far more of a queen than he has any right to have,” Malzhi said, stepping close to her, and she let out a breath, looking to the crowd that had started to disperse. She wanted them to go before Malzhi had a chance to notice them.
“I asked them to go. That is all.”
He smiled at her, reaching for her, and she took a step backward, stumbling over the rocks in the street, her ankle protesting as she tried to stay upright. She heard a murmur behind her, and she turned, looking at the stragglers. Why had they remained? They knew they would get themselves killed if they did. If they were not willing to leave, the soldiers could harm them.
“You must have gotten wings, my lady, and flown over that wall,” Malzhi said, catching hold of her. His arm circled her waist, and he leaned close to her. “That I could have seen that moment. Where are you hiding them, my lovely bird? Where are those wings?”
“Let go. The king will not like what I have done, but he will like what you did just now even less.”
“Oh, I shall tell him I am just trying to help you know your place.”
“I think the king would disagree with you as to where that is,” she said, forcing him off of her. She pulled at her dress, trying to straighten it. “I should return to my room. Excuse me.”
“I could hardly overlook my duty. Allow me to escort you.”
“It is not your duty.”
“Then it is my desire,” he said, smiling as he took hold of her arm. “You are aware of how striking your actions were today, how very different they were. No one would have expected that of you, most would have thought it impossible, and yet here you are. You have quelled an uprising and escaped the castle all at the same time. You do make me think that there should be wings attached to that dress of yours.”
“Your obsession with birds has become tiresome. As are your… attempts at seduction. I am not interested. I am not a fool. I am the king’s wife, and I will not betray him.”
“What do you call your actions today?”
She lowered her head. “I did what I had to in order to preserve the kingdom. Someone had to stop those people from causing trouble.”
“That is what soldiers are for.”
“Is that what you use to excuse your own inaction? Was it cowardice or indifference that caused you to remain hidden behind the safety of the castle’s walls?”
His grip on her arm turned tight enough to bruise, and she winced. She tried to pull free, but before she could make a true attempt to free herself, Malzhi had released her. He bowed, stiff and formal. “Your majesty.”
She looked at her husband, trying to determine how angry he was. She did not know what the repercussions of her actions would be, but she did have to accept them, whatever they might be. She did not know that he was ready for war, so she might not die, but she would suffer.