If ever there were a time to take Camelot, it would be now. Not with a secret foray to penetrate its borders (after Caerleon's brave, reckless fashion), no, but a massive, undefeatable force to descend on castle and queen. To engulf her, overwhelm her, make her kneel and choke and succumb. As, deep down, Guinevere must long to do.
Instead, Annis leads a visit of state. Perhaps she's getting soft in her old age, but while Arthur was king she began to believe they all might live in peace.
In the aftermath of all Camelot's chaos and death, the five kingdoms seem to hold their breath.
If ever there was a time to take a young ruler under her wing, it is now.
"Sir Leon's a fine lieutenant," she says, after the due honours have been paid, and the knights and servants have retired, leaving the two queens alone in the great hall. "Intelligent, loyal. You'll want to keep him close."
"I'm grateful to have him, still." Guinevere's voice is flat, her gaze empty.
Annis strokes her cheek and asks, "Have you taken pleasure since you lost him?"
"Have I –"
"You understand me, Highness."
"I love no one else."
Annis nods and turns to the wall, the display of a pair of crossed swords. She pulls the heavier one down. "This was his, yes? I believe I've seen it before…"
"Give it to me," Guinevere spits.
"Gladly." She hands it over at once, and then cups her own groin with a loose fist. "I only suggest that you make good use of it."
"That's ridiculous. It's obscene."
"Taking grain from peasants is obscene. So is commanding one human being to kill another. These are things we've learnt to do. Pleasuring yourself?" She shrugs. "It hurts no one."
Annis sits on the queen's throne and spreads her legs, opening a little space along the edge, just enough room for Guinevere's shapely arse. "You don't have to look at me," she says, "you don't have to like me. But come and sit with me for a while. Take some advice from an older sister who knows something about grief."
Guinevere says nothing, but after a moment she obeys, still gripping Arthur's sword.
"Did you ever sit with your king like this?"
She feels Guinevere's muscles flex between her thighs, her breath catch in her chest, and a whisper, "Yes."
"You'll never have him again, and no one like him," Annis says, caressing Guinevere's skin, then slowly gathering up the fine fabric of her gown. "There's no way around that emptiness, that ache. If you take a lover, you must have great care… even if you don't want his prick inside you. Any man who gets close to you will try to own you, because he wants to own Camelot. And you must not let that happen."
"All the men I ever cared for are dead, or… lost to me. And I don't want a woman either."
Annis lets herself smile, recalling the pride of her own youth, the certainty. She wraps a hand around Guinevere's on the grip of the sword, and brings the pommel to press – gentle, firm – against the queen's warm, bared cunt.
"You took strength from him once, Guinevere. Take it again."
Guinevere shakes her head. The thick fall of her hair is more exquisite than Camelot's satin or Caerleon's fur against Annis's cheek. "Arthur's strength was never in his sword. It was in his heart."
"It was both." Annis's voice is sharp as her mind flashes on a few of the thousands of ways she's imagined her husband's death.
Guinevere gasps when Annis works two fingers between her folds. "Let it in, Highness," she says softly, and helps Guinevere open her legs wider, one knee bent up over the arm of the throne. Guinevere rocks the hilt up and down until the pommel slips inside her, and together they draw it in, slowly in, until one end of the gross-guard touches her clitoris, the other rests against her arsehole.
"I can't –"
"You can," says Annis. She presses the metal against Guinevere's nub and holds, holds her fast until Guinevere breaks on a sob and falls limp in her arms.
When Guinevere's breath is steady again Annis carefully helps her to pull out the sword, to grip the wet hilt with both hands, to stand on her own feet. Guinevere's face is wrecked and gorgeous and hard.
"It is yours now," Annis promises. "All of it is only yours."