A Perfect Sunset

- A Serialized Novel -

A reluctant queen becomes involved in intrigue in a kingdom ruled by a tyrant and on the verge of revolution.

Author’s Note: I decided this morning to add this scene. I had skipped to where the poison’s effect on the queen ended, but I thought it was good to have them discuss a few things first.

Waiting for the Queen to Wake

“The apaak was stronger than I realized.”

Agache did not lift his head, not looking up from the awkward position he had assumed at the queen’s bedside. “Gekin, tell her this is not her fault.”

Gekin brushed back some hair from Anokii’s face, cupping her cheek, and she did not know how to react. His touch soothed her—it wanted to soothe her—but she had made a terrible mistake, and it had almost cost the queen her life. Even now the woman did not stir. The king would wake soon, but the queen… she might not. Not ever. “He is right. I know you did not do this.”

“I made both mixtures.”

“Perhaps the queen took more than we thought because she wanted it to look convincing,” Agache said, his eyes going to the woman on the bed. “She is that kind of stubborn, and she was annoyed with my instructions—that is what you must blame, not yourself. You can blame my desperate plan, nothing else. I am the one that caused all of this.”

Gekin grunted. “No one can create a perfect plan or see it go into practice. You cannot control what anyone else will do, even if we agree to follow your orders. There is a point at which we all think for ourselves, and you are correct—the queen could have drank more of the poison on purpose.”

Agache frowned. “You don’t think she… You do not believe she intended to take her own life? I do not know that I gave enough consideration to that possibility. She seems so… strong. She was not willing to return to her homeland, even if it would keep her safe, she did not turn away from the crowd or the punishment the king gave her afterward, so why would she do so now?”

“She has mentioned an inequality in the past—that you are willing to risk your life for our goals. You say it should not be her.”

“Yet it has been. Every time so far, it has been. You would think I was my cousin the way I have caused her to suffer.”

Gekin shook his head. “No. You have remorse, if nothing else, and your cousin lacks that completely. You know… for as much as he banned us from using our names, as much as he treats us as though we are the worms Malzhi calls us, he has taken his own name from himself. He made everyone too afraid to use it. He made himself a monster, not a man, and there is no way to call him by a name and return any level of kindness to him.”

Agache let out a breath. “There never has been such a quality to him. No, this is… Can we move her, do you think? Can she be taken back to her homeland?”

“No. She’s too weak. Traveling would kill her, especially if any of it were done in the twin suns. She needs to recover some before such an attempt is made,” Anokii said. She frowned. “Why do you want to do this now? She is still a part of your plans, isn’t she?”

“She should not be.”

“Nevertheless, she is, and she is not ready for travel. If there are other tasks to be done while she and the king are ill, then do it, but you must wait for anything you’d ask of her.”

Agache pushed himself to his feet. “I would only ask her to go. No more than that. She has done enough, and I will not put her at risk again. Malzhi must be readying his followers now, doing what he can to protect himself, and there is little I can do about that—little I would do, for I would hardly encourage the growth of his ranks. Yet, at the same time… I must allow it to happen. Malzhi must have time to think he can accomplish his coup. Perhaps if there was a fool stupid enough to attempt to finish what the apaak started—”

“He would die. He will die. Such an act would be suicide—for him and whatever faction he is a part of. Do not send anyone to—you were not thinking of yourself, were you?”

Agache looked at his arm. “No. I was not. While I might have more success in ending the king’s life than most, it is also possible that I would aid his healing when I went there. If my presence, the Gichikane in me, wakens him, he will recover faster. I do not think we can risk that. We must let Malzhi act. If I were not so limited by what I am, by this cursed blood within me—”

“You are not cursed. You have done much good in spite of that blood. Do not forget that.”

“Sit down,” Gekin said. “You may as well rest as much as you can. They have left this a test for Anokii to fail, and no one has disturbed her or the queen. You are almost as safe here as in the catacombs—and we have all enjoyed that. Look at us fools without cloaks in the middle of the day.”

“Keeping the curtains closed is better for her health,” Anokii said, though that might be only a hope and not truth. She did like this freedom and semi-darkness, being able to shed her cloak in the castle. “Or so I shall insist if anyone asks.”

Agache smiled. “I do think it probably helps—she is not of this land, not used to the suns.”

“We will get her home safely, Agache. When she is well, I will take her,” Gekin promised, and Agache nodded. Anokii kissed her husband’s cheek, worried and yet pleased that he would make that offer. “I can start making preparations now.”

“If you want.” Agache frowned, studying the queen. “Perhaps you should. I think she might be stirring, and if she is, we need to be ready to get her to the border.”

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