(What does anyone hide anything for except to have it found?)
As a young girl, the queen of Attolia thought about the manner in which love might strike her. Books gave several examples and her life at court provided several more, and so she wondered: would her love be a flowery garland, to be bestowed sweetly on head after amiable head? Would she feel it as a warm place to rest when she tired of the weight of eyes upon her? Would it creep tendrils around her heart, or blind her at first glance?
Soon after her affiancement the wondering was closed off behind a great many walls and locks, leaving her with a face of smooth stone. She accepted that love was no longer part of the plan unfurling in her mind, the knowledge of what she could accomplish through her own merit.
And it was true. Shadows do not need to love, and a caress passes through them like smoke.
When she met the Thief of Eddis who walked unhindered through her walls and left his fingerprints upon them, when she heard him lie and heard him plead and when she chopped off his hand so that he would never forget what he'd done to her, she felt the click of a lock released inside her and she knew: her love was nothing so pleasant. No wreath of flowers, and far too warm for comfort, so warm that it drenched her dreams like fever-heat and left her shaking. When she told her attendants in an unmoved voice to open the case containing the ruby earrings, she knew how love had struck her, and that it was the love that features in the oldest stories.
Attolia loves as she imagines the gods must have loved, when they mingled more intimately with mortals: her feelings are lightning bolts and transmutation and the endless rage of the sky against the sea. For the sake of the man asleep beside her she would uproot forests and send ash gushing down from mountains, if it lay within her power. This seems a blasphemous kind of thought, but it's not one that she could deny without lying.
The room is warm and lit by the gentle flicker of a lamp, and Attolia sits in bed with her head leaned back against the stones.
"Forgive me," she whispers into the air, to any of the gods who might be paying attention. She's not so much of a fool to think that they've left Eugenides alone, after hurting him so badly and sending him to her like a gift. Like a debt entirely beyond her ability to repay. No: she's no fool.
Her thoughts still touch occasionally on Nahuseresh: his danger, yes, but also the ways in which different loves transform their objects. The Mede's affection, such as it was, was enjoyable. More than anything he wanted her throne, and with his heart fixed so firmly on another object, Attolia had a certain amount of freedom to move, and relished the need to play at being someone entirely unlike herself. Eugenides never fixed his heart on anything but her, and by doing so he pinned her down; trapped her. But not nearly as terribly as he trapped himself.
Beside her Eugenides's breath comes faster; Attolia reaches for the oil light and draws it closer to the bed. The old creases are stark on his forehead and his lips are parted, though he hasn't cried out yet.
"Eugenides," she says. She does not touch his face, or his arm. "Eugenides," and, carefully, "Gen," because his full name spoken in her voice is just as likely to be a part of the nightmare. But he doesn't wake, and when the first groan begins to scrape out from deep in his throat, she takes firm hold of his shoulder and shakes.
"My King," Attolia says, clear and loud, and her husband opens his eyes.
There is a quietness, in which his breathing evens out and they gaze at each other. Sometimes it is almost intolerable, the strength of the feelings that boil through her on his account; this thing that surges at the edges of her mortal body and demands outlet. She curls her toes, unseen beneath the bedclothes, fighting her longing to touch him again.
"What are you seeing?" he asks. The film of sweat on his forehead makes him look fevered; unreal.
Attolia keeps looking at him, steady, until his gaze drops. "A man who chained himself to a throne he hated the thought of, because it was the only way to have me."
Eugenides doesn't look up. "I really think I've been chained to enough chairs in this place without you putting it quite like that."
She can feel the heat drive across her face, prickling, then leaving behind a cool hollowness in her chest. "I wish you wouldn't," she says.
"It's all I've got," he says helplessly. "It's the only weapon I'll ever have against you, and for now I still need it. I'm sorry."
She presses her lips together against the question as to whether his absolute sovereignty isn't enough, because it isn't, not in the ways that matter between them, and she knows it.
"I see a man for whom two queens would gladly go to war," she says instead, and lets the sides of her mouth rise. "I suppose I should be glad that no sea separates Attolia and Eddis."
Eugenides laughs; it's shaky, but there. "You have to admit, Eddis would build a better wooden horse than anything you timberless lowlanders could come up with."
Attolia smiles completely, now. "I remember a conversation I had with Eddis - Helen - about the war fought over her namesake. She has quite a sense of humour, your queen."
Eugenides shakes his head as he pushes himself into a sitting postion. His dark eyes are serious again, but free of pain. "Not My Queen," he says softly. "Not any more."
The Thief of Eddis didn't need two hands to steal a queen, or a country, or a great many other things; it should be no surprise by now that he can keep on unlocking her, undoing her, with no more than his voice. It is an irony truly worthy of the gods that they would send her the boy she was still learning how to want, and he would be carved from the raw material of a king her country could use. A double-edged gift indeed, and both edges so very keen.
She thinks about his stories, about humans made from soil and snow and anger, about the god Eugenides drinking from a cup laced with coleus root. She thinks about Moira's white robe and inexorable voice in the darkness. She thinks about the bitterness that can stain a life when the gods involve themselves in it too deeply.
When she reaches out this time she isn't afraid. Eugenides doesn't smile as she traces the side of his face, but there's no fear left in him either, and he turns his head to kiss her fingertips. He glances back at her with the unguarded warm intelligence that he only airs in public when they are dancing, when they spin through the steps of the dances of Eddis in such a way that their faces are blurred to the gaze of the court, but perfectly aligned to one another.
"What are you seeing?" she asks.
His good left hand creeps closer to the stump of his right; halts without touching it. Attolia takes that as the wordless answer that it is, but Eugenides leans over and kisses her lips before she can speak again. It's the soft, familiar kiss that has begun to replace his spoken apologies.
"I see the Princess Irene, who danced under the trees," he says at last, and she knows it not to be a lie.