Though it’s a bit scary that a prompt of the apology gave me this.
She could not keep herself locked inside her chamber forever. She could not hide here, could not avoid Malzhi. She could not let herself act as a coward would. She was a queen. She was not an ordinary one, either. She had training and skills. She should not be afraid. She should be able to face any of her opponents—king or minister or anything of the sort. She was not going to be frightened or intimidated. She could not let that happen.
She just wished that she had someone, anyone, that she could trust. She hated being so alone. While she had always been prepared to put her life at risk, had always been ready to die if necessary, but she had not realized how hard that would be when she was left alone. She had not known how much she had depended upon the community that she’d been a part of, how much stronger she had been when she was with them.
Being alone was the worst part of being queen.
She heard her door open, and she turned back, half-prepared to beg her maid to stay, half-ready to yell and scream at her to go away and never return. She found herself frowning as she saw the minister that had entered. Tall, thin, he had not the same physical presence as Malzhi, but she knew him to be of the same sort as his rival. Cruel, both of them, as though spawned from the same pool of hatred as the king. She swallowed.
“I do not recall inviting you to enter,” she said, her instincts screaming at her to run. She did not need any sort of magic or sorcery to know the man’s intent. He was more obvious than Malzhi or the king, both of whom had made no secret of how little value her life had to either of them.
“Why would I wait for an invitation? I’m not like Malzhi. I have no interest in pretending to charm you,” Omamhi said, his lips setting in a tight line. “I have given the situation consideration, and I see only one course at this point. Malzhi intends to use you. I don’t know how. I don’t much care. The only thing that matters is that I will not allow him to have what he wants.”
“I think whether or not Malzhi gets what he wants is not for you to decide. If you would like the satisfaction of telling him I would never consent to his… suggestion, then you may have it and go,” she said, trying to appear calm, though she knew her words would not work. If Omamhi had come to her room, he would not turn back from his decision. If he had lacked courage enough to do this, he would have retreated before now.
Omamhi lunged for her, and she stepped to the side, almost avoiding him. He caught her hair and yanked her back with it, causing her to cry out when she would have wanted silence. She knew no one would come to her aid, not even her servants, and she needed quiet for what she must do.
He wrapped his fingers around her neck as the other hand held tight to her hair. “Malzhi doesn’t get to win.”
“Don’t be a fool,” she said, clawing at his hand. “I am still the king’s wife, and he will punish you for this. Is his wrath worth defeating Malzhi temporarily? Is war with my homeland worth it? You will break the treaty if you do this. Think. Stop now. Go.”
“I tire of your voice,” Omamhi said, and her vision wavered as he increased the pressure on her throat. Her hand fell from her useless attempts to pull it free, loosening the blade from her dress instead. She knew what she should do with it—lodge it inside his gut and end this fight now—but she had no interest in killing him.
She swiped the blade across his hand, causing him to cry out and let her go. She stumbled forward, knowing that she’d left plenty of her hair behind in his other hand. She forced herself to her feet, pointing the blade at him. “Get out.”
“You cut me.”
“Yes, and I will do so again.”
“No one does that. No one would dare.”
She thought Malzhi would have, were he here, and perhaps others as well, but Omamhi was lost. He would hear no reason at this point. He snarled, going for the knife, his hand twisting her wrist to make her let it go. She used his momentum against him, letting go and stepping back. He fell, and she jumped over him, rolling toward the dagger. He caught her foot, pulling her back with enough force to make her think she would not be walking for a while.
He hit her with the back of his hand, right across the face, and she could not see for a moment, dazed and unable to think. The hand closed on her throat again, and she almost laughed as she did what her trainers had always said was a sign of a weak fighter—one who had to resort to kicking a man in his most sensitive region.
She knew they would have been disappointed with every part of her performance. They had trained her better than this, and they would never have let her stop at cutting the man’s hand. He should already be dead. That was what she’d learned to do, after all, defend herself and others to the point of killing.
She heard her dress rip as she went for the blade, her fingers almost closing on it when he managed to get hold of more than her ruined skirt. He pushed her leg down, crushing it and her under him, and she was forced to contort herself in order to get the dagger, smiling in relief despite cutting her fingers on its edge. He went to take it from her, and they struggled for control, but he’d made a mistake. His position left him poised over the blade, and he no longer held her in place as he had before. She forced herself to the side, and he went forward.
The blade should have scraped him at the most, but he’d actually twisted it around enough to where he impaled himself on it when he fell. She stared at him, waiting for him to move again. She did not think it could have been that grievous a wound, not at that distance, but he did not stir.
She leaned over him, hearing nothing, not even an intake of breath, and she shook her head. No. She knew she’d been trained, but that had been a sloppy fight that she should not have won. She looked at the man on the ground, at the blade inside him, and she turned away to vomit.
She did not know what to think, could not accept what she’d done. “I’m sorry.”