I woke when Evandir crept into the room, retrieving clothing from the closet. He paused by the bed and tucked a lock of my hair back from my face, with a sigh, before retreating to the bathroom. I waited until they left through Ydian’s door and then rose and showered. My eyes were red and felt as if I had tried to wash them out with sand.
I dressed in one of the new dresses. Dresses for a Queen. I sighed. I reviewed the night before and steeled my heart. I ate breakfast and then made my way out to the village, through the fields. I found Harvest watching seeds being sown. “Would you like to try?” he gestured to the field before him.
“Yes,” I put my bow and arrow down in a safe space. He took my hand and together we threaded our power into the seeds, feeding energy into the root system, pushing the fragile tendrils of green through the soil, bringing plant into strong and vital maturity.
I spent the morning in this way and ate the midday meal in the fields with the workers, in the shade of a straw hat that someone produced for me from somewhere. “You seem sad today,” Harvest observed, his voice toned low so as not to be overheard.
“Tired, perhaps,” I flashed him a smile that I was sure did not reach my eyes. “It is very tiring to negotiate the transfer of a people from one world to another.”
He laughed. “I imagine so,” he agreed.
After the meal, I took my bow and arrows beyond the fields, to a thicket of trees and practised my aim. I found a rough grained rock, and unstrung the bow, to work on the finish. When it was smooth, I thought, I might see if the kitchen had some oil that I might use to stain the wood.
I did not need to turn to know he was there.
I strung the bow and notched an arrow. “Can I help you, Evandir?” I asked, sighting, and then releasing. The arrow struck true, I thought with satisfaction. I walked over to retrieve it, and walked back slowly, considering him.
The green eyes watched me, as if I were a wild creature that might take flight, and he a predator planning to fell it. “We need to talk, Rowena,” he said, with deceptive softness.
“I think we said everything there was to be said last night,” I replied, taking up position again. He moved with impossible swiftness, knocking the bow and arrow flying and bringing me down upon the ground, covering me with his body, his mouth hard and hungry against my own, and his hands seeming to be everywhere at once.
I pulled at his top, reaching beneath for the heat of skin, and felt him moan. “Yes,” he said against my lips, “touch me, Rowena.”
He lifted me up, so that he knelt, and I straddled him, and gathered my skirt up around my hips. I fumbled between us, releasing his trousers, and sank down upon him, his cry of pleasure startling the birds in the trees. He pressed his mouth to my neck, grazing me with his teeth, and lifted his hips. I cried out, burying my face into his hair and breathing him in, headily.
The vigour of his thrusts had my toes slipping in the soil, and he reached for my ankles, lifting my legs until I wrapped them around him. “Rowena,” he groaned. “My Anaz, please...”
I pressed my kisses against his hair, his forehead, his cheeks, the glowing green eyes. My magic rose, and I restrained it, held it back, as I gasped out my orgasm, his name on my lips. I felt him jerk within me, and the spill of his seed, as he pressed his face against my chest, his breath hot against my skin.
“Rowena,” he sounded pleased with himself. “My Anaz,” he nuzzled under my chin with a groan.
I sighed and pressed my face into his hair, breathing him in. “No, Evandir, not your Anaz.” I lifted myself from him and rose to standing.
“Rowena,” he was betrayed. He got to his feet and fixed his trousers. “What is this?” he asked, his green eyes wounded. “What has happened?”
I picked up and inspected the bow and arrows for damage. “I understand you want to rule, Evandir,” I said to him quietly. “I understand that very well. I understand that you need a complicit Anaz to wear the crown, so you can rule through her.” I lifted the bow and arrow and took aim at him. His eyes widened. “But I think you’ll find, I am not as young, naive and in love, or easily ruled, as you think.”
He flinched and drew in a sharp breath, recognising the phrase. “Rowena,” he said, holding out his hand conciliatorily.
“I’ll play the part,” I told him, “and get your people here, to safety. I will do everything I can to see them situated well. But I am not giving myself to a man who seduces me in order to use and manipulate and doesn’t feel anything for me stronger than like. So Anaz-ym, not Anaz. Now, run along, before I put an arrow in you because, right now, I am angry enough to do so.”
“Rowena,” he said, his eyes exquisitely gentle. “There is a meeting; we are already late.”
I blew out a breath. Of course, there would be a meeting, I thought, and he had timed it just so; and as promised, I would hold his hand, and play the part. “Fine,” I said, and let the bow drop.
He took the bow and arrows from me, holding them easily in one large hand. “Thank you, Rowena,” he murmured, and reached out to stroke my cheek. I jerked back from him, angry. His eyes became wary, and he took my hand cautiously, realising he was pushing me beyond my tolerance.
I took a moment to compose myself, breathing in deeply, to push the tears that threatened back away, and began to walk, with him half a step behind. “Who is the meeting with?” I asked him. I saw Harvest, in the field, watching us, his expression unreadable.
“My men. Lysandyr is spreading unease. They need re-assurance,” he told me.
“Of course,” it hurt, oh it hurt how deep the betrayal went, how cold his motivation for every touch. He would walk in today, his hand in mine, his scent on my skin, and his people would know what we had just done; he himself had told me as much. I had rebelled, and he had responded with the ultimate manipulation. Anaz-ym, but might as well be Anaz, according to his people, with his hand in mine and his seed in my body.
“Rowena,” he said, softly, perhaps realising that I had read into his actions. “It is not - ”
“No, don’t,” I needed him to stop, or the tears would win the battle that I fought. “Just, don’t Evandir.”
He sighed, and his thumb stroked across the back of my hand.
We entered the stronghold via the lower courtyard, and into the training hall. The Tratorym had pushed the Arcana to the edges; the dual-toned warriors watching with interest rather than resentment. Isolated for so long, the goings on of the Tratorym had become a spectator sport for them. I saw The Fleet of Flight amongst the spectators.
I led Evandir through the gathered Tratorym; as my presence was noted, they fell back, opening a path for me. A matriarchy, an Anaz-ym held more authority than their Anav. And in that, lay the problem in Evandir’s and my relationship. He needed the authority of an Anaz, in order to lead his people through their current crisis and claim the Dark Crown vicariously.
I could not even be mad at him for that, I thought grimly, for his intentions were noble. They just came at the cost of my feelings, for I loved him, and he saw my love as a tool through which he could attain his goals.
They spoke, these dark-haired men with their hazel-green eyes, their voices rising and falling around me. Men’s business. I was just present to represent Evandir’s authority over their concerns... and to assure them, through our joined hands and his scent on my skin, that I would soon be Anaz, and not just Anaz-ym.
I stood before them, projecting, I hoped, authority and confidence, whilst feeling as if my skin were as fragile as glass, and my heart was something buried deeply in the cold ice of their world. My eyes fell on Lysandyr and Pytric. Lysandyr’s green gaze almost as bright as Evandir’s, meeting mine across the sea of other faces. He had propositioned me, just two days earlier... the same day, I thought, that I had learnt of the depth of Evandir’s manipulations. “She is young, naive, and in love,” he had said, “I can rule through her.”
Lysandyr had warned me that Evandir was... frivolous and unmannerly, had been his term. Evandir had not refuted either claim. We would have to kill Lysandyr, soon, I thought, or he would threaten Evandir’s claim to the crown.
“Anaz-ym,” Ydian murmured from my side, his hand resting against the small of my back. I looked up at him. His eyes were gentle. “Would you like me to fetch you something to drink? You look... unwell.” I was not doing my job, in other words, I realised. My expression must have shown my thoughts.
“Thank you, but no. A momentary... lapse,” I apologised.
Evandir slid me a look under his eyelashes, before replying to a question from a man. I tried to concentrate on what they were saying. “The Anaz-ym and Ydian have earmarked three locations,” Evandir replied to the question. “And the one’s with the old hair will aid us in making them more habitable.”
Old hair; I wondered with amusement what the Arcana and the New Lords thought of that description. The Tratorym, I thought, must also go grey, silver and white with age. It was not age, with the Arcana and New Lords, but rather their natural colouring. All the Tratorym men I had seen, were dark haired and darker skinned.
“The locations are primarily for farming,” Ydian spoke up, releasing his hold on my back as he stepped forward. He was outranked by Evandir and myself, but otherwise, he was above these others socially, I thought, and it was in these meetings that this showed most. “Though one village is coastal. Their fishing methods differ from ours, their waters are not frozen, as you know...”
Evandir stroked his thumb across the back of my hand, and I felt the fission of his touch as sparks along my skin. How traitorous my body to react so to him, I thought with despair, even as my blood heated with memories of his skin and hair against me, his mouth on mine, and the sound of his voice as passion tipped him over the edge.
I would go insane, I thought, by the time this was done with.
The meeting ended, the men reassured, and with bowed heads, they withdrew towards the kitchen. Ydian and Evandir exchanged another long look, before Ydian followed them, his expression discontent, and a muscle ticking in his jaw, as if he were physically holding back the words he wanted to say.
“How do the repairs to the space vessel go?” I asked Evandir when we were as alone as the location allowed.
He breathed out a sigh, relieved I was talking to him. “Better than I had expected. Two vessels are already capable of spaceflight. The fuel is a problem, there is no mining on this planet, and the others are reluctant to part with any as they have no option for resupply until the war with their home worlds is settled.”
“What do you use for fuel?” I wondered.
“We used fossil fuels, mined from below the planet’s crust. The others use something generated from waste products. The Arcana use a combination of magic and gemstones, which I do not understand. We are debating the best adaption for the system of our ships. I was not part of that development, so I know little about it.”
“When the vessels go to your planet, will you be going?” I asked him. Ydian returned carefully carrying three bowls of food. As I took mine from him, he smiled, his eyes warm. “Thank you,” I whispered.
“Rowena,” he murmured.
I led them towards our chambers.
Evandir had been silent, thinking. “I don’t know,” he admitted, opening the chamber door to admit us, and closing it behind Ydian. “I want to go, but my men feel it is an unnecessary risk to take.” He and Ydian exchanged another of those looks that seemed to be a form of communication between them, as Evandir accepted a bowl of food.
“We need to hunt down the Noxyim on this planet,” I told them, moving to sit on the bed to eat.
“Why is that? The Noxyim, Rowena... they are not Tratorym. Their ways are... different.”
“They pose a danger to our villages.”
Evandir considered that. “True.”
“And I need to kill Lysandyr.”
“Rowena...” he started to deny it, and then paused, looked at Ydian who shook his head. “No, Rowena. You have never killed someone before. It is not something you should take on.”
“Have you ever killed anyone?” I asked him.
He swallowed. “No. But I have fought, hand to hand, and hunted, many times.”
“When I was sixteen and my parents tried to arrange my marriage... I told you about that,” I didn’t look at either man. “Some of the village men took my ostracization as, I don’t know,” I shrugged. “An open invitation to do as they pleased, and they caught me on my own one day... I fought, and one of them hit me... and I killed them. All five of them. So, you see, Evandir,” I swallowed. “I have five times the experience that you do at killing someone.”
“Rowena,” Evandir murmured. I met Ydian’s eyes briefly, their hazel-green depths were sorrowful, and then he dropped his eyes back to his bowl.
“So, when it is time to kill Lysandyr, I will do it,” I finished. “I am going to sleep now, Evandir.”
Ydian took the bowls through to his room. I undressed and turned out the light as soon as he was gone. Evandir paused in the bathroom door. “Rowena...” he said softly. “Am I invited back into your bed?”
I sighed. “Yes.” There was no point to keeping him out of it. His little trick of the morning had made a declaration to his people that could not be retracted.
He came across the room and slipped into the covers beside me, curling himself around me. “I am sorry about your village, Rowena,” he whispered.
“I understand why you want to have power; I do. I understand why you want the Dark Crown.”
“But...” he prompted.
I put my hand over his. I just wish he wanted me as much, I thought to myself, but could not bring myself to say it aloud. “It doesn’t matter,” I told him.
“Will you come to the vessel with me tomorrow?” he asked, quietly.
“No,” I told him. “I am learning to use my power to grow fields of food, so we can feed your Tratorym’s when they arrive. I need to practise some more before I will be comfortable to do it myself. And then there is using power to prepare the soil, and plant the seeds... There is a lot I need to learn.”
“Is that what you are doing?” he was amazed. “Rowena,” he pressed his face into my hair. “I do not deserve you. What is the bow and arrow for?”
For me, I thought. “It is handy to have, for hunting.” It was not a lie.
He knew it was not the full reason. “Is that so?” he murmured. But he did not challenge it. His hand stroked down my stomach and I moaned, rolling onto my back, complicitly. “Rowena,” he breathed bringing my hand down his body. “Touch me.”
“Do you never get tired?” I wondered as I complied, and he groaned.
“Do you?” his voice held laughter.
“Not of this,” I admitted, and rolled onto my side to face him, raising my mouth to his.