Kelta and I slept on my bed like siblings. I surged awake in the middle of the night with nausea and went into the bathroom to vomit. The cut from my promise to Karatau throbbed in time with my heartbeat, and I felt so sweaty that I wondered if I had gotten food poisoning. I went to bed about forty minutes later and had restless dreams about a thread yoking around my neck while a calendar marched on under wicked, watchful eyes.
I awoke with strong morning light on my face and felt like I hadn’t slept at all.
As I stretched, I glanced at the space beside me. Kelta lay in a fetal position, back towards me. Le breathed steadily.
Slowly, le stirred and pushed aside the light summer blankets. Ler eyes snapped open, and le rushed to a sitting position so quickly that I yelped. The sunlight caught on the dark gun in ler hand. I stilled myself and tried not to move or breathe.
Kelta sighed and set the gun down in a nest of bedsheets. Le said, “I forgot where I was for a short while. We were up so late.” Le squeezed ler eyes shut and yawned. “You tossed and turned —”
“Sorry,” I said.
Kelta raised ler arms and flipped ler palms up, then moved them over ler head. Le arced ler spine. “What do you think about the conversation last night? What they said?”
“I will need to call in sick,” I said. “I cannot work like this. The attempt will happen tomorrow.”
“Do you trust that Karatau Meiyenesi will have a handle on this by tomorrow?”
I shook my head. “No, and I have no ability to pay you for your help.”
“Equilibrium Nexus has hired me to be your bodyguard. The money will keep coming in. They pay very well. If you do something, I will go after you,” Kelta said. Le lowered ler arms and started stretching ler wrists. “Sehutañi might suspect what happened last night. Tsemanok only knows if your luck held. Le could have called friends at Daybreak to let them know about the security lapse.”
“Does le have any reason to suspect me —”
“You are the girlfriend who drugged lim!”
I reached for the back of my neck and felt the base of my skull. The phantom sensation of a bullet entering my head or an electric gun shocking me to death made my hand shake. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to think about waves crashing on cliffs. I needed to think up an excuse for Akah Kara.
“What would happen if we tried the police?” I asked. “We were all very sure that they would laugh at me last night, that they wouldn’t —”
“Who would murder a ruler? They have no reason to suspect Sehutañi.”
“There has to be someone.” I lowered my hand. “Do you know anything about the police reporting structure? Are there any units that we can actually approach without seeming too odd?”
Kelta frowned and looked down at the gun. Le reached for it, turned on the safety, and set it down between ler legs. “The police have jurisdiction over everything but the royal family’s affairs. The royal family keeps its own guard, all trained separately from the police and military. They sometimes work with the police on intelligence. I’ve run into them a few times. I don’t know much about their structure.”
“You’ve run into them? Do you have any contacts?”
“No.” Le clicked ler tongue, yawned, and stretched from side to side. “I meant that I did something illegal. I’m not ashamed of saying that on the record. It was the right thing to do.”
How anything against the monarchy could be right is beyond me, but I need Kelta to protect me. I put my hand over my mouth to stop the conversation. Then, I made a voice call to let Akah Kara know that I was sick. While we spoke, Kelta made the bed.
When the conversation ended, Kelta said, “I don’t trust that Karatau Meiyenesi could put something together in a day. We need a fallback option. Do you have any suggestions at this point, or is it just me?”
All that was running through my head is that I am only nineteen. I am only nineteen, and I have the weight of the country on my shoulders. I am Tehjen, holding up all Narahja because I have become its cliff-rocks. I am Tehjen, who somehow must hold up the country and protect it from ruin. Would the royal family even believe Karatau if le intervened? Karatau is from the Meiyenesi. My family will not trigger bad blood between my ancestral dead and the Fadehin’s, unless the dead speak to one another and the Kaureitha know.
Nothing in this blood oath to Karatau prevents me from acting according to my own judgment. The Kohjenya must work fast, and they might be sloppy. I can supplement what they do.
While Kelta and I ate breakfast, I composed a message to Liga and Karatau. I have the haze of a plan in my head. It is admittedly insane, inadvisable, and crude, but I don’t see another option. I doubt that Karatau has thought of it. Allies don’t take advantage of allies or work at cross purposes. I need to ensure that our plans have symmetry, at least in their rudiments. Maybe saying less is better.
Kelta and I showered. I dressed simply, in dark purple, and packed an extra pair of underwear and my notebook. I decided to carry a fountain pen and ink. I don’t know what to bring for stopping an assassination attempt against the Fadehin. I packed a toothbrush? I don’t know when I will come home. Kelta brought a bag that contains ler guns, spare ammunition, and whatever else bodyguards carry. I’m so inexperienced at this. I have nothing that tells me what to do.
We are now on a commuter pod to the only person I know who has an office within the palace. We need to hurry. I don’t know when advisers leave for work.