Setia insisted on calling both the doctor and the guards this time.
“What are you going to do, stupid king?” she demanded when he tried to refuse. “Bleed on me?”
“You do look exceptional covered in blood.” He smiled, and moved his arm as if to reach for her, only to slump forward towards the ground. Setia jumped forward, catching him in her arms and reaching around to apply pressure to the wounds.
“HELP!” she shouted. “GUARDS! HELP!”
A commotion started in their direction immediately. Setia looked down at Azurite, brushing an errant lock of hair behind his ear.
“You weren’t supposed to take that as a suggestion,” she said with a sigh.
“Black Cage Princess! Where are you?” shouted her guards.
“OVER HERE!” she shouted. “ON MY ESCAPE BALCONY!”
The guards ran in, torches illuminating the area. In the flicker of the light, she could see the dark red stain spreading across Azurite’s back. Against the wall lay Bado, precisely where he had fallen, the sword still near his hand.
“THE KING IS INJURED!” shouted Uloff, her captor-in-chief after the king as he took in the scene. “SUMMON THE PHYSICIAN! TAKE THAT MAN INTO CUSTODY AGAIN!”
He ran towards her, dropping to his knees beside her.
“What happened, Black Cage Princess?”
“My former fiancé tried to kill the king,” she replied. “Be on high alert – he said that someone within the palace released him and offered him protection if he killed the king.”
“Treason!” Uloff exclaimed.
“Yes.” She placed her hand over his, guiding it down to hold the King’s wound closed. “Will you help me to protect him?”
His free hand came across and thumped his chest. “With my life, princess!”
To a man, the other guards all swore their loyalty for the king and his princess. Setia accepted their loyalty as if it were her due, although if she were honest, they should probably have been escorting her from the palace as a trespasser based on the last thing they’d heard their king say to her. Still, it made things more convenient that they did not ask what gave her the right to command to them.
When the doctor arrived, King Azurite was stirring.
“No doctors,” he said blearily, “I’m fine.”
“Your majesty, please, you’re bleeding – “ the doctor replied, gently grabbing his arm.
“I’m fine!” He repeated, his arm sweeping blindly out in the direction of the physician’s voice and shaking off the doctor’s hand. “Fine, I’m fine.”
“Sure, you’re fine, all right,” Setia said, pushing Azurite forward to rest his chest on the bed. “You’re fine the same way that I’m happily married.”
“Setia – “
“Just let him stop the bleeding,” Setia replied. “No medicine needed, doctor, the king’s not the kind of crybaby who would need something like that.”
“Hah! You mean a crybaby like you?” Azurite lifted his head and would have followed with his body, but Setia’s firm hand on his shoulder kept him down. She left it there afterwards, a solid, warm weight that lets him know where she was and made it obvious that she was keeping an eye on what was happening.
“A crybaby like me?” Setia’s voice rose incredulously. “And when have I ever been a crybaby?”
“Please, your majesty – “
“I said no.” Setia took her eyes but not her hands off Azurite to glare at the physician. “His majesty was recently poisoned and has lost his sight. He will not be taking any medicine at all unless and until we have confirmed the poisoner’s identity.”
The doctor’s eyes went wide and his eyebrows raised briefly, setting a series of small wrinkles into his forehead in a there-and-gone moment before he frowned. It was not, Setia reflected, the expression of a man who had known of his king’s condition. He paled dramatically, and Setia could watch the accusation, or at least her king’s consideration of it, roll for the first time through his mind.
“Princess, your majesty,” the doctor stammered, looking back and forth between the two, “I swear to you, I have no idea how such a thing occurred.”
“Oh no?” Setia’s voice was deceptively light. Uloff’s grip on his spear tightened, a hard edge settling into his expression as Setia continued. “Then how is it that King Azurite has been poisoned on multiple occasions from childhood?”
The doctor snorted, his ill ease falling away. “Well that’s easily explained.”
“Easily?!” exclaimed Azurite. “So you admit to poisoning me all these years?”
“Not in the slightest!” the doctor replied. “But you have made more enemies than most and refuse to use a food taster. Of course you have been poisoned multiple times.”
Azurite’s jaw hung open. Setia laughed.
“He’s not wrong, foolish king,” she said. “A food taster certainly would prevent you from being poisoned.”
“Oh, are you volunteering?”
“Maybe?!” Azurite lifted his head, scowling when Setia pushed it down again.
“Your majesty, now that the matter has been cleared up, if I could just – “
“I said no.” Setia repeated. Uloff stepped forward and the physician, who had a bottle of some sort of medicine in his hand, stepped back. “I believe you, but at this point belief alone is inadequate. His wounds need to be closed and bandaged. I can do it without medicine if you can’t, provided you have the proper supplies.”
“It’s possible, certainly, princess, but the pain – “
“ – is nothing compared to death.” Azurite interrupted. “Do as my princess commands. Guards, see to it, or see his head taken off his shoulders.”
“Yes!” Uloff and the other guards replied.
And the doctor, with great reluctance, began to do just that.
Afterward, when King Azurite had been settled among the pillows and blankets of his bed, swathed from head to toe in bandages, Setia lay down on the bed beside him. Slowly, gently, she curled onto her side, leaned ever so lightly against his. Her hand found his shoulder once more, but lightly this time, and with none of the ferocity and insistence it had held before. For a long moment, it was quiet.
“Go to sleep, stupid king,” she grumbled.
His hand stroked gently through her hair. “You’re really going to stay?”
“Well.” She paused. “Someone has to teach you manners.”
“Many have tried,” he laughed briefly, a wince crossing his face before his renewed stillness soothed it away. “How many years are you going to waste on that?”
She closed her eyes.
“As many as it takes.”
His hand stilled in her hair.
“Really?” he said, voice gentle and oddly small.
“Well,” she squinched her face briefly, “at least until you have enough for someone to be your bride.”
“Not volunteering for that, too?”
Maybe, Setia thought but did not say.
After a moment, Azurite laughed, and stroked her hair again. “Go to sleep, princess. You’ve been fierce enough for both of us today.”
She relaxed into the warmth of him and his room, the desert’s warm morning air slipping past the curtains even as they kept the sun’s light out. Just as she was on the edge of sleep, Azurite leant forward slightly, and after a moment, there was a press of warm lips against her forehead.
“Thank you, princess.“ Azurite said before settling back down. “Sleep well.”