by Lexi Summer Hale
17 Sanusato, 381.
To my considerable surprise, the Anahari caravan arrived this morning. It appears the peace talks will indeed take place. Her Majesty confides in me, after perhaps too many glasses of wine, that she desires to imprison the Anahari King Harapsuro in the palace dungeons and personally beat the last drop of blood from his veins with her staff of office. I thought it best not to encourage this train of thought, lest the negotiations become even more aggravating.
My daughter was in excellent humor when she arrived to take dinner this evening. I inquired after her latest conquest, and was not particularly surprised that her first comment on the girl was “great tits.” Despite her typical vulgarity, it is clear to me that - for once - Inaya seems at last to be properly enamored of a woman, and I can only wish the pair the greatest happiness.
It is my great hope her constantly roving desires will now settle long enough to deprive the palace of scandals for a time.
-from the diary of Grand Vizier Isuna Natuko Olatiri
Inaya wasn’t beside me as I woke. Blearily, I pushed myself up on my elbows. Light streamed in through the high windows, jabbing at my eyes. As they adjusted, I saw the washroom curtains hanging aside. Inaya was crouched on the pedestal, facing away from me, her bare back slightly arched as she washed herself.
“Admiring the view?” she called teasingly. Somehow she could tell I was awake.
“Mm,” I murmured, nestling into the blankets.
“What was that, scribe?”
I giggled. “That was a yes, my queen.”
“You’re lucky I’m all wet,” said Inaya, “or I’d come back in there and teach you where to keep your eyes.”
“Mm?” I pulled myself out from the sheets and padded softly over to the washroom.
“You obedient girl, Hani.” Inaya stood and turned, her body glistening in the sunlight. I let my bedrobes fall to my feet and walked to join her at the window.
She gripped the back of my neck and kissed me gently. “It’s so good to have you back.”
I nodded. “I didn’t enjoy the last month.”
She held me tightly, her cheek against mine. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Naya.”
She took my neck in both hands and pulled me forward, kissing me passionately. I ran my hands up her back. She was holding me like I might vanish at any moment.
With obvious reluctance she released me, holding me loosely by my waist. “I don’t think I could survive losing you again.”
I rested my head on her shoulder. “I’m here now.”
Her grip tightened. “And I’m never letting you out of my sight again,” she whispered. She pressed me down onto the pedestal. As much as she enjoyed it when I resisted, I didn’t want to.
She ran a fresh cloth through the trough and sat down in my lap. She gently ran the cloth over my face, holding me firmly by the back of my neck. I flinched at the cool touch of the water. Inaya smirked.
“The first of the ice caravans should be getting in today.”
“It's about time! I’ve been craving a nice glass of sekomone.”
“I had... other plans,” said Inaya, smirking and ticking me in the small of my back.
“You little shit.” I stuck out my tongue. “I wonder how they keep the ice cold so far across the desert.”
Inaya laughed. “Trade secrets, they say.”
“I wonder if they use magic.”
“Oh,” said Inaya teasingly, “you believe in magic, do you?”
“Don't be silly, Hani.”
“Well it would be nice if there was some way to make ice without the caravaneers gouging us every summer.”
Inaya slapped me gently and held me by the chin. “You will not trouble yourself with palace finances, Hani.”
I blushed. “Yes, Naya.”
“Good girl.” She released me. I shivered as she ran the cloth down my chin.
We sat in silence for a while, staring into each other’s eyes. Inaya finished washing my face and kissed me, gently biting my lower lip as she ran the cloth down my body. I gasped slightly as I felt the cool water on my breast.
“Mm, you like that, don’t you?”
I giggled again. “Yes, my queen.”
She laughed. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to hear you say that again.” I felt her fingernails in my lower back.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to say it.”
“Anur alive, we’re one of those couples, aren’t we?” said Inaya. “The disgustingly adorable kind you always want to strangle at feasts.”
“Mm-hm,” I murmured. “Good thing you’re the one the Grand Strangler works for.”
“That is not his title!” Inaya slapped my rear in mock outrage.
“He did strangle a guy, Naya.”
“Just the one. And only because he didn’t have a dagger in reach.”
“I would have thought your father kept a dagger under his pillow.”
“He certainly does now,” said Inaya.
I nestled my head against hers. “Why don’t we do this every morning?”
“From now on, Hani.” I giggled as I felt her teeth on my neck.
“Y’know I’ve never seen you let the servants wash you.”
“You haven’t either.”
“I’m used to doing it myself. You grew up noble.”
Inaya shrugged. “It’s my body. I feel like I should maintain it myself.”
“You don’t seem to have any problem washing me.”
Her fingernails raked my back. “That’s because your cute little body belongs to me too,” she whispered.
“Mmm.” I kissed her on the shoulder. “You always know just the right thing to say.”
Inaya laughed. “It’s a good skill for a queen,” she said. She stood up. “Turn.”
I did, and she sat behind me. “What have I told you about slouching?” she asked. I could almost hear her eyes narrowing.
“That it’s bad for my back?”
“And yet.” She gripped my shoulders, straightening my posture. “I’m going to keep count of how many times I see you slouching, Hani. You’re not a scribe anymore.”
“Oh?” I murmured. “And what are you going to do about it?”
“Oh, you’ll find out,” she whispered. “But you’d better believe it’s going to hurt.”
“Mm, don’t promise something you can’t deliver,” I teased. That earned me a sharp pinch on the nipple. “Ow!”
“In two whole years together I thought you’d have learned not to taunt me by now,” said Inaya, dipping the cloth back into the water.
“Funny, I think I learned exactly the opposite lesson.”
“Clearly my teaching methods haven’t been... severe enough.”
I laughed. My back arched involuntarily as the cool cloth dabbed at my skin. “I am too still a scribe, you know.”
“You’re a queen of the Onamaši people, Hani.”
“And a scribe. You’re staring right at the tattoo that proves it.”
“Actually I was staring at your ass.”
“Of course you were.”
I felt her free hand trace the design of the tattoo on my upper back. “Is that always where they put it?”
“It’s up to the scribe,” I said. “Most of us pick wrists or upper arms.”
“Why’d you pick your back instead?”
“I don’t really know. It just felt right.”
“I think you made the right choice,” said Inaya. “Although I wouldn’t complain if it was on your ass.”
I giggled. “Shut up!”
“I’ll have to have one done there some day,” said Inaya playfully.
“You will, will you?”
“You’re welcome to try and stop me.”
“You think I won’t put up a fight?”
“I think that’s why I’ll have them tie you to the table.”
I laughed, and leaned back against her. She began washing my thighs.
“Any conquests while I was away?”
“Anur, no.” Inaya kissed me on the head. “I would have felt sick. All I wanted was you back.”
“I meant military.”
“Oh!” Inaya giggled. “None of those, either. Harapsuro really seems to have decided he likes peace. Although...”
“There is a cute serving girl I think you might like. Pretty little redhead with freckles and the cutest blush. And an exotic accent.”
I laughed. “She sounds fun.”
Inaya ruffled my hair. “I’ll ask her to join us for dinner. Turn around and put up your legs.”
I obeyed. She dipped the cloth again and began washing them. “I think I’m going to try to expand our influence in the Northwest this year.”
“That doesn’t sound easy.”
“We’ve got something they don’t.”
“You’re going to try to industrialize alchemy?”
“Mm-hm.” Inaya tossed the rag into the trough and stood. “It’s a disgrace it hasn’t been done before. It’s a market we’d completely dominate.” She took me by the chin and pushed me to my feet. “Let’s see them cling to their above-it-all snobbiness when their whole textile industry is dependent on omasije.”
“And if they don’t bite, we own the textile market.”
“Good girl, you’re finally paying attention to economics.”
I kissed her. “Thank you, my queen.”
She finished toweling me down and draped my robes over my shoulders. “We’ll have to break the trade culture,” she said.
“How do you plan to do that?”
“Money, mostly.” Inaya grinned. “I’m going to offer the alchemists a yearly fee for each student they take on. Apprenticeships won’t last long with that kind of an incentive. Ah!” She caught my wrists as I made to fasten my robes, and held them away. “Hands behind your back, Hani.”
I blushed. “Yes, Naya.”
She slid her arms under my robes and took hold of my waist, kissing me as she did. She pulled away, and gently fastened the buttons, tying the belt slightly tighter than I usually do.
“You don’t show off your waist nearly enough, Hani,” she said playfully.
“We’re in a desert!” I protested. “I like my robes loose.”
“I like your robes tight,” said Inaya, taking hold of my cheek. She kissed me gently. “And I make the rules in this palace. If you really can’t deal with the heat, I’m sure we can find you something more... ventillated.”
I giggled. “Yes, Naya.”
She draped her own robes over her shoulders and put an arm behind my back. “Come,” she said. “I have petitioners I need to deal with this morning and I want my beautiful queen lounging on the throne with me while they witter on.”
“Mm. Of course, milady.”