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A Dove is Not a Pretty Bird

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Dove didn’t mean to be queen. That was supposed to be Sarai’s job; Sarai was much better at being the beautiful butterfly, the one everyone looked at. Dove liked being a moth, sitting at the side where people weren’t looking and seeing the things they didn’t. Ever since she found out about the conspiracy, she had been looking forward to being behind the scenes, figuring out how to make Sarai do what was necessary, and using her sister’s influence to get herself married to a man with an observatory.

She had woken up more than once cursing Zaimid’s name and had only gradually weaned herself off the habit. Don’t hate Zaimid, she told herself, over and over again. You can’t hate Zaimid, because his name is too hard to remember.

Eventually, she managed to forget it; and when she finally started getting letters from Sarai, she was over the impulse.

She rewarded herself for that by adding an observatory to the university she was building. A university was important, she informed her council. Education was the way forward, and they’d start by giving the raka a chance to be just as scholarly as the luarin. What she hadn’t told them, what she left for them to work out for themselves after they accepted the idea wholeheartedly, was that the raka didn’t have anyone qualified to be a professor. If they wanted a university, they would have to have luarin professors.

It wouldn’t work out well for the first class. Dove knew that. She knew the students would terrorize their professors and the professors would retaliate by failing all the raka students. That would happen whatever Dove did. The important thing was that they all have an observatory, where everyone could go and look at the stars where there were no raka and no luarin and when they finally dragged their eyes back to earth, they would be too star-dazzled to see skin color in the dark.

It would have worked beautifully if Kyprioth hadn’t thought it was funny to change the colors of the stars over the Yamani Islands. Only over the Yamani Islands. Dove could have throttled him, if he had showed up for it. Instead, she took Aly to task. Aly had some sort of connection with him. Dove didn’t expect it to do any good - no one summoned Kyprioth - but Aly might bring it up next time he stopped by to season her yoghurt with peppers.

But he did stop by to see her, as it turned out. Dove was sitting late at her desk, her head propped on her hand because she couldn’t persuade herself to hold it up by herself anymore, and she was writing even though her other hand cramped.

“Go to sleep,” Kyprioth said. Dove looked up and raised one eyebrow, a trick she had learned from Aly, who may well have learned it from Kyprioth.

“It’s lovely to see you too, my lord,” she said. Kyprioth pulled a face, and Dove ignored him as he complained. She went back to her work, keeping one hand carefully over the stack of documents at her side in hopes that that would keep her god from altering them as said god complained about people toadying him.

“Are you even listening to me?” he demanded.

Dove turned her head on its side and gave him the most innocent look she had learned from Sarai. “Of course I listen to you; you’re the god I serve,” she said. She tried not to react as his face twisted from disgust to puzzlement to disbelief.

“You’re doing that on purpose,” he said. Dove smiled at him. So he could learn. She had been proving for a long time that she could, and she was proving it every day; they might be able to make this work.

“Is this another joke of yours?” she asked. “Putting the drab and logical sister on the throne of the Trickster’s kingdom?”

Kyprioth huffed. “I didn’t plan for Sarai to run away.”

“So Aly said. I didn’t believe her.”

“You don’t believe anyone.”

“I rule a kingdom of liars. Badly.”

“Not so badly,” he said. Dove raised both eyebrows this time. “Well, you try, which is more than its kings used to do. If you’d let it, you’d find this kingdom runs itself. It’s gotten in the habit.”

“It’d run itself right over a cliff,” Dove muttered. “Look, lord, it’s lovely chatting with you, but I have work to do. Maybe in the morning? You could dress up as the servant come to give me my breakfast?”

Kyprioth slammed his hand onto the stack of papers. If she hadn’t had hers there, they would have scattered everywhere. As it was, her hand stung from the impact of all of his rings. “I said go to sleep,” he said. “Don’t you listen to me?”

“Not when there’s work to be done,” said Dove. “Tricksters aren’t notorious for understanding that.”

“The work will be done,” Kyprioth said. “Go to sleep. I just got a queen, I’m not going to lose her because she won’t take care of herself.”

She looked at him for a moment. It was hard to look a god in the eye, though, and Kyprioth still had a way of sliding out of view if you tried to pin him down. She found himself staring at his nose. When he noticed, it got markedly more bulbous.

“Go, before I make you,” Kyprioth said.

Dove stood up, because one thing she had learned was that a queen never, ever let anyone make her do anything. She looked away from Kyprioth, but not before she caught a flash of confusion in his face - not his eyes, where she might be looking, but in the pull of skin around his jaw. He didn’t know what to do with her, either. They were both learning. Dove was good at learning.

But he was still there when she had slid under the covers. He stayed to blow out the candles, and she spent several light-blind minutes in the dark wondering if he had left yet and thinking longingly of the stars she had given up for him.

“You’re mine,” he said from the darkness. “Nothing of mine is drab.”