Author’s Note: I find as I fill in more of these details, that the story fills itself out in ways I did not expect at all. As far as I knew, Agache was never going to tell anyone what he went through as a prisoner of the king, and I rather thought that was for the best.
He shared. No one was expecting it. Certainly not me.
“That is, I fear, as much as I can do to relieve the pain and help the bruising,” Anokii told the queen, applying as much of the herbs to her skin as she dared. She might even have been too generous with the lavande, but the queen was in pain and could not help showing it. At least those plants would ease the sting and reduce the visibility of the marks. She stepped back, nodding at her work, hoping it would be enough to allow the queen to continue on.
“One more thing to test,” Agache said, lifting up the bindings and bringing them over to her. “We should have made certain these still appeared to fit before we left, but I did not want to force you back into them before it was necessary.”
“I am glad you did not,” the queen said, closing her eyes as he set the necklace in place.
“Remember, that is not the fake. The king can still hurt you with it, and as soon as you lock it in place, you will not be able to take it off,” Agache said, frowning as he adjusted the necklace around the queen’s neck. He shook his head. “I do not like this. We should have had—if there was more time or if we could send you across the border—”
“And start a war? I do not think so.”
He sighed. “There should be another way. I cannot think of it, but I still do not like this. Perhaps someone else will have an answer.”
“I am going to the south to meet with the leaders of the resistance. It is a meeting that is overdue—they do not all know that I am alive—and I do not think I can delay it any longer. I have not been as… effective here as I should like.”
The queen reached up, taking the necklace off, frowning at him. “How long will you be gone?”
“That depends. The journey south is at least two days if one rushes, and I do not know how long I will be in conference with them.”
“Are you certain they will let you come back at all?”
Agache blinked. “What?”
“It is something I think you have failed to consider—as have the rest of us, cousin,” Anokii said, for now that the queen had voiced that concern, she could not help worrying as well. They had discussed often how the queen was a tool, someone they could use, but if she was one, Agache was even more so. The resistance would want to reveal his survival, give the people someone to rally behind, someone they had already loved and mourned. They had used him as a martyr, but oh, how they would love to raise that martyr from the dead, to make him the figurehead of their rebellion. They could win over any who lacked faith with a man who had escaped death. They could exploit the fact that he was the only heir the king had. He might not be allowed to return, not until they were ready to use him.
“I do not know that they would do such a thing. I am more useful working as I have always done.”
“I doubt that. How many times have you berated yourself for failing to go out before that crowd? How many times have you said that should have been you? That is the sort of thing people would want from you, not your work in the shadows.”
He grimaced. “I do not want to believe that. All that they would do is make me a target, and they do not want him to act as a hunter. If he is after prey, if he starts down the path of Gichikane bloodlust, there will be no stopping him.”
“Something stopped him before.”
Agache shook his head. “Torture is not the same for him. I… What I know of the Gichikane is lessened by my Nebkasha ancestry, but if I spill blood, I want to spill more. One death is not enough. Notice how the bindings do not have sharp edges. They do not draw blood. That is how he must hurt people, or he would not get any prolonged torment from them. He would kill if he saw blood. He did not… He wanted to keep hurting me, to make the torture last, so when the marks went too deep into my skin, when they bled, he had to remove himself and kill someone else to sate it. His mistake was leaving me alone then. The Gichikane in me gave me strength enough to get up and out of there, to ignore the suns…”
“Do your best to avoid the king until we have the copy. If you must interact with him, be as careful as you can. If you need anything, Anokii and Gekin will help you with it.”
He turned, pulling his hood over his head as he crossed the room. Anokii let out a breath as he disappeared into the passage to the catacombs. Perhaps Gekin would encounter him and be able to help. She did not know that Agache should be alone. That was the most he’d ever admitted about his time in the king’s hands, and she wanted to remove that pain from him though she knew that was impossible.
“His strength… It would not have ended. The king would never have been merciful enough to let him die, would he?”