Author’s Note: This story has some interesting bits of intrigue, not something I’m used to doing, but it’s been an interesting experiment so far. 🙂
This is still part of the pick a serial (yes, you can pick both, details here,) so leave a comment in some way if you want more.
The queen watched the court, her eyes wary. The maidservant had returned with the information that she’d requested last night, but as she lay awake, watching the hideous glare of the sun that never set peek through the curtains, she had debated whether or not she could trust it.
If she had been the king, she would have ensured that only servants loyal to him attended her. She would have given herself no one to trust. So far she lived, and her maidservant had not betrayed her, but would that last if the king returned? What if she was as good as dead then?
She would act before he came back. She had no choice. Better to have died in the attempt than held back in fear for the rest of her already limited days. If the king learned of her treason, he would kill her, and he might well do it without knowing.
No, she must do something now, while she could, while she was almost free.
So she watched. She waited. The ministers’ behavior seemed to match what she’d been told. The ones loyal out of fear scattered when she drew close, and those loyal for the sake of their own cruelty or ambition would glare at her. It was no guarantee of their intention, nor was it proof, but she thought she was seeing some patterns to them, a possible way of determining their course.
She did not know what she would do about it. She had hoped to pit someone against one of his rivals, but she knew too little of these people to manage it.
“What are you thinking?”
“Me?” She turned to face the minister who had been left in charge when her husband had gone south to quell what might have been a border skirmish. She knew so little of the facts—she had to ask her maidservant about more of this land’s history—and she could not say how important the matter was. The king was said to crush any who opposed him, so why his neighbors would squabble with him was hard to say. Her own people had forged a desperate alliance, hoping to keep him out of their land for just a little bit longer.
Long enough for her to kill him.
“You,” Malzhi said, his lips curving into a twisted sort of smile as his hand reached out to brush back a loose hair. “I should think you have been very bored with the king away. No one… occupies you or gives you any sort of attention as is due your position.”
She stepped to the side, evading his hand when it made to come toward her again. “Oh, I suppose I have my amusements. You have some strange customs here.”
“Yes,” she said, slipping her fan free of her sleeve. Snapping it open, she began to spread the air around her, hoping it would keep away the stench of his breath. She swore he only ever ate meat—and he did so in a state as raw as possible so as to leave stains upon his teeth, ones that were all sharp as daggers. “Despite this unholy heat, you all seem determined to spend your days in the sun.”
He gave the servants a glance. “We are not like those who crept from the depth. We are those who bend the land to our will. Those from the bottom should stay there.”
“Is that where they came from? That is why they cannot abide the sun?”
“They are like worms, and someday they will return to that state.”
“Are all like worms to you?”
He laughed. “No, of course not. Some are more like… fruit. Rich, succulent, plump and ready for the taking.”
She had the unpleasant feeling that he spoke of her, and she was tempted to draw on her knife, but she did not want to expose herself that way. She could not show them what she was capable of, not unless she was putting that blade into the king and ending all of this nightmare.
“I should think any fruit would spoil in this heat,” she said, shaking her head. She looked over at one of the other ministers, one that she’d been told was ambitious, wondering if that information was true. Malzhi might do what she wanted without knowing he was being manipulated. His thoughts were far removed from intrigue, and she did not think he thought her capable of it.
“If you mean yourself, I assure you it is not true. You are as fresh as the day you came to us.”
“I doubt that certain parties would agree.” She gave the other minister a dark look. He gave her a wry smile in return, looking rather smug. He should not have been, not then. She snapped her fan shut and turned away. “Excuse me, Malzhi. I do not feel well. This heat…”
“Of course, my lady. I shall have a servant help you back to your room. Worry not, for I will handle all that must be taken care of. I am quite capable of seeing to the needs of the kingdom… and its queen.”