Author’s Note: So I was thinking it’s not very fair of me to link to a story already in progress because this doesn’t stand alone and would make a lot more sense if a person has read the part (or all the parts) before it.
Still, I did have Carry On Tuesday‘s prompt in the back of my head as I wrote it, so… I’ll link anyway.
Here’s to another part of pick-a-serial, another moment with the queen. Almost ironic since the prompt was from a Queen song, “the show must go on.”
Incidentally, I think I’m wrong calling this fantasy. It doesn’t have magic, so… Um…
Anokii entered the queen’s chamber, wondering at her absence when Malzhi had not come for her this morning. When the first sun rose, he had gone north, determined to end the disruption of the troops before the king returned, and the court had been quiet. The queen would have been able to go out among them again without fear of Malzhi using the herbs against her.
Then again, Anokii did not know that the queen was aware of Malzhi’s absence. Omamhi had not reacted well to Malzhi passing his authority to someone else while he was gone, of course, but otherwise, the court was calm.
“My lady, I came to tell you that Malzhi has gone north, and if you would like to—” Anokii stopped, staring at the floor. She was not alone in doing so. She did not think that the queen’s eyes left the man in front of her—or perhaps the blade jutting out from him—and she did not believe the other woman had heard anything since he’d fallen.
She knelt next to the other woman, checking what she could see for any signs of injury. The fabric of her dress had been shredded in places, stained with blood in others, but Anokii did not believe that it was hers. The former avians bled in rivers almost as blue as the sky, or so she’d heard, though she did not know if there was any truth to it. The people of this land bled red as the fires in the sky, and that red had pooled near his body and on parts of her clothing.
Anokii lifted the other woman’s hand, turning it over to see small marks where the blade had nicked her fingers, but they had already stopped bleeding, if they had bled at all. The queen stirred, looking up at her.
“Which one are you?”
“It is I, my lady. Your maid.”
“Oh.” The queen pulled her hand back. She tried to rise and stumbled, almost toppling into the vomit behind her. Anokii caught her, guiding her away from it. The dress was already ruined, but she did not want the other woman making a mess, either.
“Are you hurt?”
“In pride, in body, or in spirit?” The queen asked, blinking, and then she laughed, collapsing on the ground again. “In all, I suppose, though some worse than others.”
“My ankle was twisted. I cannot keep my weight upon it. I do believe that is the worst of it, besides the bruises. He… It was sloppy. He had no skill and I…”
Anokii moved to take hold of the other woman’s ankle, pushing up her skirt as she did. Her eyes went to the queen. The other woman shook her head. “He didn’t. I’m not sure he would have tried, but everything is so… confused. I don’t understand how I… I killed him. I did. Shouldn’t have, but did.”
“He tried to kill you.”
The queen’s eyes met hers. “Is that an excuse for what I have done? Does it give me any sort of immunity?”
When the king heard of this, there would be no mercy. True, an attack on the queen should mean the man’s death, but it did not mean that the queen was allowed to end his life. Anokii could give her no such reassurance. Defending herself might mean that the queen would die anyway.
“This looks to be swollen,” Anokii said, touching the woman’s ankle and getting a curse from her. “I will get something to reduce the swelling and help with the pain. The bruises on your neck and face, they are all of the rest of it?”
“A poor trade for what he got,” the queen said, looking over at Omamhi. She crawled forward, ignoring her ankle. Yanking the blade from the man’s body, she wiped it on the tatters of her skirt. Anokii frowned, wondering if the other woman meant to keep it for some reason. Why would she want the knife that had almost killed her?
“Yes, my lady, it was, but you should be glad it was all he did.”
The queen shuddered, and Anokii felt some pity for her, this stranger who confused her and had even frightened her at times. The other woman was only seen a tool, and because she was a tool, she had been caught in the rivalry between Malzhi and Omamhi. She should not have survived it.
“Will you draw a bath for me?” The other woman seemed gripped by a sudden need to rip at her own dress, tearing more of it off. “I should like to be clean when I face Malzhi.”
Anokii put a hand over the queen’s, stopping her from doing anything more to the dress. She went around to the back, untying the laces. “He has gone north to deal with the troops.”
“No wonder Omamhi grew bold,” the queen said, her eyes going back to the body. She did not seem to notice that she had lifted the blade. “Who must I face, then?”
“We will remove the body.”
Anokii jerked, turning behind her in shock, not certain she believed what she was hearing from the man in the cloak. The queen did not, either. She started that insane laughter again, shaking her head. This could not be possible. Oh, it might be, Anokii supposed, but it should not be. Such foolishness. He must be a leader of the revolution, but to show himself here, now, of all times? He was as crazy as the queen was. Anokii moved to take the dagger from her before she did herself harm.
“Don’t,” the queen said, drawing back with the blade, her eyes dark but very lucid despite her behavior a moment before. “This is mine. What it has done—what I have done—I will accept the consequences of my actions.”
“There is no need for that as well as no salvation in it. You cannot tell them that you acted to save yourself. It will not matter. You will still die.”
The queen pointed her blade at the man. “I do not know that I do not want that at this point. I am besieged on all sides—first Malzhi now Omamhi, and let us not forget what fate awaits me when my husband returns. What point is there in prolonging this process?”
He forced her hand down, making no move to take the dagger from her. “We will take Omamhi’s body. It will not be found until there is no way for Malzhi to prove he was not a part of the man’s death. They were rivals for many seasons. If Omamhi is dead, people will believe that Malzhi was responsible, and that is what we want. Do not tell anyone he came here. He did not speak to you. He did not touch you. You never saw him this day.”
“You want to use me, too.”
“Yes. I will not deny it, but the way I intend to use you will save your life, at least for now.”
The queen sighed. “Very well. Take the body. You have my silence. I’d like a name, though.”
“Why should I trust someone who will not even give me a name?”
He laughed. “Ah, yes, very true. A wise question indeed. Of course, you would not realize that we were denied names long ago, another of the king’s minor oppressions, and most of us have forgotten how to use them. He would prefer us to be… invisible, hidden away under our cloaks without even a name to distinguish us from one another.”
“He is a fool. How is he to know which one of you is serving him? You could change places amongst those cloaks with ease. You’d always be eluding him and his guards and causing a great deal of trouble as you did.”
“Yes, we learned long ago to use his own choice against him, as I will now, in fact.”
“You will take Omamhi out in one of your cloaks,” the queen said, more lucid by the moment. She sat back as Anokii moved in to help the man dress Omamhi in a cloak. No one would think he was anyone important, nor would they care why he was being carried out of the castle.
“Since you asked…” The man stopped to pick up his burden, shifting Omamhi onto his back. The queen frowned, and he pointed to the maid. “Her name is Anokii, though you should not use it in anyone else’s company.”
“I was asking for your name, not hers.”
“You did not specify, and now if you will excuse me, this is rather a heavy load, and I have some distance to go before the second sun rises.”
“Bagquin,” the queen cursed, and Anokii almost laughed, for she had thought the same thing of the man just then.
“Come, my lady. We will get all of this cleaned up, starting with you. We all must continue on.”
The queen nodded. “Of course. Giwament doiseta conannike.”*
*Loosely translated: the show must go on.