"It is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities."

~J.K. Rowling

They settled on the bed and let out mutual groans of exhaustion. Today had been unusually hard. The queen had to meet with all of her barons and assure them that the Crown had a plan for dealing with the resent storms that had wrecked many peoples' crops, and then had to deal with the glares and subtly worded complaints of those barons whose land bordered the seas because she was cutting money from their treasuries. After a late lunch, she'd been forced to break up a fight between two of her attendants—foolish girls who would have found themselves sent back to their families in disgrace if it wasn't for Phresine's timely comment—and then meet with her Minister of Ceremony about the planning of an upcoming festival. Her protests that it was the king, not she, who preferred arranging fancy displays and succulent meals had fallen on deaf ears.

The king, meanwhile, had woken even earlier than she to train with the guards, many of whom still quietly resented him, and then spent the next seven hours in the unbearable company of the Medean ambassador, who spoke in flowery phrases, making suggestions and insults disguised as compliments as the king's wrist ached more and more, until he could barely resist the temptation to dump the ambassador out a convenient window. He'd spent the rest of his day being dragged back and forth by Ornon, attempting to settle a dispute between the Eddisian garrison and the Attolian soldiers, which he remarked icily that Ornon could have handled perfectly well himself, with the assistance of a few sharp words from Teleus.

They'd managed to bow out of that evening's feast after three hours of dining and dancing instead of the usual five, and Eugenides had only bothered to wait for the door to close on his attendants before climbing through the passage to his wife's room, stumbling with tiredness as he dropped through the ceiling. The queen had half-heartedly pulled out the pins and ribbons holding her hair in place before the two of them collapsed on her bed with a distinct lack of dignity or grace.

Looking at her husband now, Irene remembered Relius's comment that he'd only become king to marry her, not the other way around. She resisted the urge to ask if he was unhappy. If he was he'd be sure to tell her himself. Sure enough, they'd only been resting for five minutes when he opened his mouth. When he spoke, however, it was not what she was expecting.

"We should own goats."

"Goats, my lord?" she asked. She would have smiled in amusement if she wasn't so tired.

"Well, they're a better choice than cattle, I believe, and we're certainly not going to raise horses."

Irene sat up a little, wondering if the Medean ambassador had slipped something in his drink. "And what, my lord, has prompted this discussion about the merits of livestock?"

Eugenides smiled at her, waving his hand carelessly through the air. "For our farm, of course."

"Of course."

"I figure we need some way to support ourselves after we run away, and I think owning a farm could be quite pleasant. It's isolated, certainly, and while goats may whine and complain if you don't feed them in time, they won't attempt to assassinate you or steal from your treasury or spy on you or put sand in your food."

"Sand in your food?" Irene asked, her tone sharp.

"For example." Eugenides said, carefully not meeting her gaze.

"So we're planning on running away, stealing a farm, and living out the rest of our lives raising goats?" she asked dryly, running a hand through his tangled hair. She knew he had a habit of running his hand through it when he was agitated, and judging by its state of disarray, today had been as trying for him as it had been for her.

He turned, propping himself up on his fake hand and dislodging her fingers from his hair. "Don't you ever wish we could get away?" he asked, tone serious—or as serious as he ever got. "I wouldn't have to smile and be polite to the man who's attempting to steal my kingdom and enslave my people, and you wouldn't have to bend in half just to make your greedy barons happy. We could just be away from it all, and be alone—really alone—together, and I could spend my time whining about my hand while you made sarcastic comments and told me to get over it." He paused and glanced down, blushing a little. "It's just a thought."

For several seconds she said nothing, watching him closely as she considered her answer. "I think," she said finally, "that goats eat everything they can get their mouths on and then leave nasty messes all over the place. I think that I would make a terrible housewife, and you an even worse herdsman. I think that neither of us can cook to save our lives, and you could not ride a horse even before you lost your hand." She reached out and ran her fingers over the stump, caressing the blisters that had resulted from him twisting his arms to hide his agitation with the ambassador. "I also think that I would love nothing more than to spend hours with you, just you, saying whatever we wanted and doing whatever we pleased."

He glanced up and met her eyes, and both of them smiled.

"But?" he said.

"We would be bored." Irene replied. "Horribly, terribly bored after the first day. Not with each other, but with the monotony. Neither of us has the ability to sit still and do nothing, especially when people we love are in danger. It's why I murdered my first husband instead of letting him take the throne, and it's why you willingly spent a year in Sounis's lower city and prison."

"So that's why we keep doing what we do?" Eugenides asked. "To stave off the boredom?" He wrinkled his nose. "Surely there must be a better way to do so than running a kingdom of thieves and murderers."

Irene raised an eyebrow. "May I remind you, my lord, that you kidnapped me. I was born to this. No one asked you to but in."

Eugenides grinned. "I was bored."

"So we forgo the goat farm, then." Irene said.

"Yes. We trade the monotony of raising farm animals for the monotony of raising farm animals in fancier clothing." Eugenides said, plucking at his sleeve and pouting.

"It doesn't have to be monotonous." Irene said. She reached out her hand and tugged on his hair, pulling him closer.

"No?" he asked, eyes sparkling.

"Definitely not." She assured him, leaning close and planting a soft kiss on the corner of his mouth.