Too many years later, Nira was still beautiful, though the fire in her eyes had mellowed.
Dignified, serene, and haughty, she looked more like the queen she was destined to become.
“What do you want, Nira?”
“For you to be quiet. To look at you. There is no rush.”
“I’ll not pleasure you.”
She laughed. “I can get that from any guard here; for that, I would not send for you.”
I bristled at the sharp suddenness, and stupidly replied. “Good to know.”
A brief spark in the eyes, then she gathered herself.
“Enough.” She waved her hand.
I was going to banter some more, but it was time wasting; I wanted to be free of her, and for her not to engage me meant she was just as eager.
“What do you want?”
“I want you to kill someone.”
“She wants my throne.”
“You needn’t concern yourself with reasons. I will point you in the direction you should go, and like a good hound, you’ll find the trail, flush her out, and slay her.”
“You seem to be fond of calling me a dog.”
“You seemed fond enough of acting like one. Stay for dinner; I’ll go over the plans with you then.”
“I don’t want to, but I don’t really have a choice.”
Her smile was imperious, mocking, and condescending. “No, you don’t.”
The guards who led me away last time, a bit more careworn than before, approached me.
I went. “Nice to see you again, gentlemen.”
That got a smile from the older one. “Some things never change.”
I looked back over my shoulder. “No, she doesn’t.”
They treated me to a hot bath, and washing the gritty dirt and sand off, as well as the stink of the camel, was a luxury I enjoyed even after the water was scummy and tepid; I never wanted to leave.
There was a soft knock at the door, bringing me out my torpor. “Leave the towels outside, please.”
No answer, and I didn’t know if they’d gone away, so I said it again. Silence.
It was customary of servants to give answer, and I became a bit anxious; I got out of the water and retrieved my knife from the nightstand.
“Who’s there?” I moved toward the door, hastily donning my traveling robe, which, unlike me, wasn’t washed; I couldn’t answer the door naked, as if a knife couldn’t penetrate the robe. It will, but you can catch the blade in the sleeve and go from there.
I opened the door.
Nira pushed me back inside, her mouth and hands moving; relaxed from the bath, I thought I wouldn’t be able to satisfy her, but I responded quicker than I cared to admit.
“This…is no…way…for a queen…to act,” I said between harsh, hot kisses.
“No,” she said, kneeling. “It’s not.”
She yanked my robe down, kissing and licking, taking me in her hand.
“Oh, look. You’re going to pleasure me after all…”
“I thought you weren’t going to send for me.”
She looked up at me, smiling. “I didn’t.”
The fire in her eyes, as it turned out, hadn’t mellowed at all.
We did have dinner, far later than we thought; the sullen serving girl tried to smile, and eventually Nira told her to stop.
“Go to bed, child. We’ll see to ourselves.”
The girl curtsied, and her smile of gratified relief was genuine. “Good night, your graces.”
Nira overlooked the mistake. “Good night, Jenara.”
I fell to, ravenous, as Nira watched, taking bites of her own, little and careful where I gobbled and stuffed.
“We have more.” She smiled, amused at my bad manners.
I took a large sip of the strong, dark beer they were famous for here. “Plans,” I muttered, wiping my moustache with the back of my sleeve.
“Patience, my friend—”
“I’ve been patient long enough.”
She shook her head. “And you think I’m arrogant.”
I took another sip of beer.
“You’re determined,” she tried again. “Am I that horrible?”
“I’ll ask you a question: Am I here of my own will?”
It was her turn to fall silent.
“Your plans.” Pushing the dishes away, I leaned with my elbows on the table, and looked at her around my hands as I rubbed them on a linen napkin.
She told me, ending with “You leave at first light.”
She finished her wine, red lips smiling at me over the rim of her red crystal glass. “Well, maybe second…”
I laughed, desperate and mirthless, knowing I had absolutely no power to refute her; what scared me more, I didn’t want to.