Author’s Note: So I have now officially separated this story out and given it its own category. It has its own listing on the Kabobbles Serials page, plus a page with the summary and temporary cover art here. I am very proud of the cover art for both this and The Stolen Name, as they turned out quite beautiful.
Admittedly, part of the reason I edited in the Three Word Wednesday words into this section was to show off the new organization and the covers. I had to share the covers.
The words today: lanky, destruction, and ultimatum.
“Let me see your arm, you idiot.”
Agache glared at her, but Anokii was not to be stopped. She refused to let her cousin get himself killed or bring back his fever, not when he was their best hope. He would not want that, would hate to know that most Nebkasha harbored secret dreams of having him for their king, but she also knew that he would accept that role if he felt he had to, and he would be the greatest king any land had ever known. He had such compassion and insight, and though he would make mistakes as anyone would, she knew that he would never willingly harm anyone, not even the least of his subjects.
If only he cared that much about himself.
Still, she supposed it would be hard for anyone to put a value on a life that had been threatened since before his birth. His time as child, awkward and lanky, had been gone faster than that of most, aging him well beyond his years. No Nebkasha within Biskane lands knew much of happiness or freedom, but those things had vanished for him before they did any other. He had lived with the knowledge that the king would like to kill him since he was old enough to comprehend that idea, and with that knowledge, who would think they’d have much of a chance to live for any reason? If his time was destined to be short, then he would always be compelled to make it of value somehow, to accomplish one more thing before that time was over, and that meant that he would ignore his health and anything that might help prolong his life, thinking it not worth the bother.
“You should have had me treat this when you first escaped.”
“I did not want to go straight to you or Gekin in case the king suspected I was alive. I don’t know that he remembers that you are also my cousin, or that he would know you under the cloak, but it could have been a disaster if I had gone to you.”
“I do not care about the risk. When will you see that you mean more than you think?”
He met her eyes. “I am not what you think I am. I don’t care what my ancestry is. I am not going to save us all. You and Gekin have done more for that than I ever will. Even the queen has done more than I did. We can say the king watched too closely before my ‘death,’ but that excuse is just that—an excuse. It is not right, what I did. Or didn’t do. That might be a more accurate way of saying it.”
“If you had killed him and taken the throne, would that be enough for you?”
“No. I don’t want the throne, and as terrible as he is, even with all the destruction that I know he has caused, that I know he would cause… I can’t kill him.” Agache lowered his head, and she supposed he thought his words cowardly and shameful. She thought they held more honor than he realized. It could be argued that anyone of them could have killed the king, but what would they have lost when they did?
What would Agache lose? Would the other half of his ancestry come out at the taste of blood? If he were to start down that path of violence, would he be able to turn away from it again? Some legends said that the king’s ancestors were once benevolent, that their pursuit of the dragons and violence had pushed them to the monsters that they now knew. She did not know that it was true, but even if it were not, Agache had always feared becoming too like the rest of the Biskane.
Anokii shook her head. He did not need to wallow in guilt or doubt. “Why would you think that you’d ever be satisfied with what you did accomplish while you worked in his court? Even the most direct step would not please you, and you know you would not take it. Why must you force yourself to feel guilty for what you did do?”
Agache sighed. “This should never have continued for so long.”
She would not disagree with that, but it was not his fault, either. “We have spent many years adjusting to what this land does to us. Were it as simple as turning around and fighting, our people might have done that years ago. That was not possible. We do not have darkness, and we burn in the sun. For many, that is all they know, all they think matters. We cannot accomplish anything according to them. That is not true, but some gave up before they tried. Others are too afraid to try. It is not true, what they think, but we are in the minority, those of us willing to act.”
He closed his eyes. She dabbed a cloth in water, wiping down his face. She did not think that he was feverish any longer, but she still found herself caring for him this way. She supposed it was as comforting to her as it was for him.
“I miss your mother.”
“She was a better healer.”
“I did not mean it like that, Anokii,” he said, catching her hand. “I mean I miss how she made us all feel. Safe. Secure. As though nothing the king did no matter how terrible could hurt us or anyone she cared about.”
“Yes. That was what made her special.”
“Sometimes I feel that with you, but you… It is not fair to burden you with that role.”
She bent and kissed his forehead. “You are the one that gives that feeling to us, Agache, not me. If I can be that for you, then you are welcome to it.”
“I am so tired…”
“I know. It is time you rest.”
“Yes, you can. You will,” she told him, not about to relent on her ultimatum. He needed to rest, and she would not allow him to leave if he did not. “You’re not going anywhere until you do.”
“You sound like your mother,” he said with a smile. She laughed, touching his cheek.
“Close your eyes and know that I will be here when you wake. You are safe here,” she said, but she needn’t have bothered. He was already asleep. She eased him into a better position and settled next to him, combing her fingers through his hair as he dozed.