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 wrote this part to bridge the gap between the scene with the queen escaping the bindings and one that I wrote where the queen discusses her name and what it means. I didn’t want to delay that scene, but it didn’t fit before. It does, after this, almost.

Wounded in Spirit

“How are you feeling?”

“I believe you may say I am recovering.”

“In body, perhaps, yet not in spirit,” Anokii said, shaking her head at the queen’s tone. The woman had been rather despondent, even after the real bindings were switched for the fake. She was without either version at the moment, her neck bare and body free in the privacy of her rooms, but none of that seemed to help her at present. Were it only the pain, the queen should have improved after the necklace was first removed. The herbs would have made her almost numb to that. This, Anokii feared, went far deeper than the marks the bindings had left behind.

“Is this the way you are with your cousin?”

“Agache does seem to be as resistant to healing as you are. Sometimes I do not believe he thinks he should heal at all. I can give you the remedies the plants offer, but only you can allow the recovery to begin. If you have determined in your mind not to let anyone assist you, then I can do nothing for you. You will not improve.”

The queen stopped to lean against the wall. “I knew when I came what I was doing—I knew before I came what I had agreed to. Some might argue that I had no choice or perhaps it would not seem as though I did, but I know I could have gone against them if I’d tried. I never tried. Sometimes that feels like cowardice. Sometimes this does, obeying them, wedding myself to a man I knew was cruel only to preserve my people, to be close enough to kill him if I were not such a coward…”

“They sent a princess to kill the king?”

The queen laughed. “I cannot believe that Agache did not tell you. No, Anokii. They did not send a princess. They sent an esibani. A trained bodyguard of the royal house. I am the one that has always protected Zaze, and when she was pledged to your king, I was the one sent in her place.”

Anokii stared at her. “That… That is why Agache calls you Jis, why he sees you as so valuable, why he always says you are not what you seem.”

The queen’s lips curved into a cruel smile. “I am not what anyone thinks, not even Agache. I do not know myself—I was lost in the role of Zaze’s protector years ago. Here I am the queen. It is not the same as being Zaze. My sister, fool that she is, would be dead by now.”

“Yes, I think you have been quite fortunate to remain alive as long as you have.”

“I know I have.”

Anokii set aside her herbs. “That is what holds back your healing, then. You do not want to improve—you feel you have lingered too long already. Your life is already forfeit, perhaps you have felt it so since you came in your sister’s stead. You can allow that feeling to decide your actions and mood, or you can change it. That is not a choice anyone can make for you.”

The queen closed her eyes. “I cannot help feeling that even should I survive, I will not have reason to. What I had before I left is no longer mine, and I think even if it were, it will not be… I should not say it, but I have no desire to return to being Zaze’s protector. I have been a queen. That has ruined me for all else, I fear.”

“You do not have to return. You are our queen, and though the current laws do not permit you to rule, you have some authority and even responsibility to this land. You are one of us now, by marriage and vow, and you do not have to leave.”

The queen pushed herself away from the wall, crossing to her bed. “My oath as esibani comes before the oaths here, and do not forget that the whole fact of me being here is a lie. If the king knew, he’d have every reason to dishonor the treaty.”

“Then why come at all? Why send you here?”

“I told you—they intended for me to kill him. I… I cannot do it, and in failing, I condemn both our nations. It… I think it would be best if… If something should happen before the king learns of it, while he is still unready for war, then it is the best outcome possible now.”

Anokii shook her head. “No. I do not believe that. Nor do you, not truly. You are perhaps as worried about surviving as you are not surviving, but you know that if the king and Malzhi fall without you dying or war with your homeland, that is the best outcome. Peace cannot be undervalued. It is more important than almost anything else. Your land will be safe, ours will be free, and perhaps then the Nebkasha can rebuild and grow again.”

The queen sat down. “I do not believe we have much time left. The end is coming, I can feel it, and if I should make one mistake…”

“Do not let your urgency tempt you into something rash. You and Agache are too alike in that respect. You both must be patient. Do not allow yourself to panic.”

“This would be easier if we had a plan.”

“Ask Agache about that the next time you see him.”

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