Author’s Note: So this scene is one of those ones that manages to tear me in two directions. It’s not that I don’t like it. I actually do. That’s what bothers me. It’s dark and hints at terrible things, and I shouldn’t like it. I almost didn’t want to post it. Still, it is a part of the story and unfortunately for the queen… necessary.
The king said nothing as they walked back to her room. She did not know what to think of the silence. He had not gripped her arm as Malzhi did, but that did not mean that he was not angry. The king could—would—hurt her.
He pushed her into her room, and she was, in part, relieved to see that it was empty. At the same time, she was not. She would have liked to know that Anokii or one of the others was nearby. She did not expect their intervention, but she would have preferred not to be so alone now.
The door shut behind the king, and she tried not to shudder. She did not want to be isolated, shut away with him. He could do anything to her here, and no one would see. No one would help her. She could not expect any intervention, and she would have to rely on her training, hoping to do better than she had with Omamhi.
She felt her stomach twist. She did not want to kill. She did not know that it could be avoided, but if she killed the king, what would that do to this land, to hers? Would Malzhi gain the power? Would his obsession with her save her people or condemn them?
She did not think they could remove the king from the throne without removing Malzhi as well.
“I heard that Malzhi has been most attentive in my absence.”
She stilled. She did not know when the king had reached her and Malzhi, and she did not know how long he had watched her, but she could not help worrying all the same. True, she had done no exercise that might betray her training to him, Malzhi, or the crowd, and she had been dressed in her full court attire, but she still felt vulnerable, and she did not care for it. “He has been persistent, but his attentions were not necessary. I had no interest in his offers.”
She considered making comments about no woman wanting Malzhi, but she did not think that the king would appreciate them, nor would he believe them. She faced him. “Would you like proof?”
The king took hold of her arm, dragging her forward until she was right in front of him. His eyes studied her face, and she forced herself not to flinch, willing herself not to recoil from his breath. He’d eaten raw meat or worse before he came to the gates. He might have been enjoying the spectacle, waiting in gleeful expectation for the crowds to be slaughtered. She had spoiled his… fun. He would hurt her for that.
“How strange. I think you are telling the truth.”
“You thought my offer of proof was a bluff?”
He grabbed her by the hair. She gasped but did not cry out. “I dislike your attitude. You had almost earned yourself mercy, but you ruined it.”
She needed his mercy, as much as that thought galled her. “I do not appreciate being called a liar, especially given what that lie implied. I was not unfaithful. I do not treat the oaths I have taken—as your wife, as the queen, as a part of peace between our lands—as things that can be broken.”
He glared at her. “You are too proud. I should break you.”
She wanted to laugh and tell him to try, but she knew that this was only a small part of the evil she saw in him. She knew he would do more than try, and she also knew that she would break. She was not strong enough for this. “Please. Don’t.”
“That is better.” He let go of her, and she let out a breath. She had only just closed her eyes before he had hold of her again, bruising her arm. “I think you are not the only one who needs a reminder of who you belong to. Malzhi and the people must know that you are mine. Mine alone.”
“What are you going to do?” She hated asking, but the ideas she came up with scared her. She had to know before panic overwhelmed her. Perhaps it would not be as bad as she thought. She knew it would hurt, that much seemed certain. A public beating, perhaps, or worse…
“It is customary for the wife to bear the mark of her husband.”
She ran her tongue along her lips, fighting against the dryness of her throat. Her voice did not want to come. “A mark? Like… a brand?”
He smiled at her, and she winced. Agache and the resistance had some sort of plan, but at the moment, her fear wanted to destroy her confidence in it and him—in all her allies. She would give almost anything for one of his interventions, though. She knew she could save herself, but that would mean killing the king, and she knew they were not ready for that.
“Each man decides what his mark will be, but once he has made it, no one can deny it. The mark is plain and visible and known to all.”
She thought of the scar on Agache’s arm and wondered if she would have something similar. Still, if it was one that would have to be visible, it would not be on her arm. “I think I’d prefer that you put it on my wrist. My woman’s vanity does not want it on my face.”
The king laughed. “Is that so? Perhaps I want to mar that face of yours. What then?”
She sighed. “What am I supposed to do? Refuse? Or would you rather that I beg again?”
“I have something special for you. A woman who cannot hold her tongue might just learn how to do so… if she is properly taught.”
She shuddered, watching him walk away rubbing her hands over her arms. Despite the fact that both suns were out, she felt a chill she could not escape.