The first time that Eugenides, new King of Attolia, demonstrated how he could sneak into the Queen of Attolia's room was the night after their wedding night.

She had heard him before she had seen him, the faint click of the window-catch opening. It was a sound that made her catch her breath, a sound that some part of her had always been ready for, and she reached quickly, quietly, for the crossbow that lay close to hand.

Of course, she could have called for guards and they would have come but that took time. Even a few seconds might have been long enough for an assassin to complete his work, or for a kidnapper to hold a knife to her throat. Sometimes you had to take care of these things yourself. She turned, bringing the crossbow up, ready to shoot the intruder.

Instead she found Gen, grinning as though he had done something particularly clever, seemingly oblivious to the way her heart was banging in her chest.

And she said "I might have shot you."

And he said, laughing, thoroughly pleased with himself, "Tell me again why you need so many personal guards, if they don't even know when there's an intruder in your rooms."

And she said "Shut up."


The second type of visit which Irene, Queen of Attolia, came to expect from Eugenides, were the type when homesickness had become too much.

She knew of it, of course, even before Costis had told her how he sat and watched at the window. It was there in Gen's eyes, as loud as though he had shouted it, the loneliness for a place he would never belong to again.

Sometimes, after days when his assistants had been particularly trying and the distance seemed particularly far, he came and asked if she would allow him to travel home if he wanted it. Always, at those times, she said yes, of course. The court might have talked if its king vanished for a week or two, but it would have been worth it to wipe that look from his eyes. But he never went, and she watched him, and worried over him, and remembered again the quiet girl in grey trapped in her fiance's court and unable to leave for her own country.

And she said "I never meant to trap you here."

And he said "You did once. Twice, even. But I would have figured out the locks in the end anyway." But the laughter didn't reach his eyes, and she worried.


The third type of visit was when he wanted to argue with her. He never would in public, just as she would never argue with him. They were good at that, at politely acid comments which fed the court gossip without leading to any true risk that either of them might lose their tempers.

In private though, it was a different matter. They were free to indulge in raised voices there, in fury and what the hell were you thinking? He laughed at her when she grew too riled, and more than once she threw something at him. It had been a long time since she had faced anyone who did not feel the need to creep around their points with clever words for fear of angering her. It was odd, too, to have the freedom to do that -- to be angry without knowing that half-a-dozen ambassadors might have word to their own lands by the next morning, and be thinking how best to manipulate her anger for their own means.

The attendants never spoke of the ink stains and fragments they cleared up in the morning, and Attolia never mentioned them. Privately, she was thankful for Phresine a dozen times over. If you could not have a compliant king, a discreet attendant might be the next best thing.

And she said, exasperated beyond belief, "You're impossible!"

And he laughed at her, amused, and said, "You knew that before you married me."


The fourth way, ah, the fourth was the most painful. That was when the nightmares had come, and she always knew that when Eugenides appeared at the window, sweat-damp and tousled. There was that look on his face -- a lost, frightened look as though not sure of his welcome. Always, on those nights, she stood and drew him into her arms until the trembling stopped, no matter the mood she had been in before. No anger or irritation was great enough to keep her from him then.

He admitted once that he had to come on those nights, not so much as not to be alone, but because left alone his mind conjured demons all of its own. The idea that this, all this, was a trick, some great joke that she was playing and in the morning there would be guards to arrest him once more. On those nights he had to go to her, to see her face and read no cruelty left there for him, to drive the madness away.

She soothed him, drove the fears away with reassurances and a fierce embrace, but the guilt ate at her soul.

And she said, whispering in case he was already asleep, "I'm sorry."

And he said, sleepy, burrowing into her pillows, "You know how I said you would get bored of me saying that? It turns out it's just as boring the other way around."


The fifth type, the final type of visits were the ones where Eugenides did not stop at the window but coaxed her out with him, teasing her gently as she clung to him, his one hand too steady to ever let her fall. Sometimes she wondered if the guards noticed and looked the other way, kindly enough never to let them know that their doings were observed. Perhaps, and perhaps not. She was with Gen after all.

He brought her out into freedom she had barely known since she was a child, with a living father, and a brother who should mean that she would never have to inherit the throne. Together, away from attendants and guards, they danced beneath the orange trees in the moonlight. Sometimes he would pull himself up into the branches, laughing as she hitched up her skirts to follow, and they would sit and watch until the sun rose to greet the new day.

And she said, half-amused, half-anxious, "If anyone catches us.."

And he said, "They won't catch us."

And she said, "How can you know?"

And he said "You're with me."

And so it was.