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The Realm

of the


Part I: Denial



In the beginning, there were no women and there were no men, only people. It was known to all that any person could, should they wish to, do anything. Some took to magic and some took to science and others yet to art of the most infinite varieties, from painting like we know it to the rearranging of the clouds in the sky. Every person, whatever their age was free to take the shape they pleased for play, work, sleep, eat, pray, think or fight. Although there was little fight, for the people were not divided.

Then evil came into the world and with evil, came limits to the choices humans could make. Although all humans had the choice to change at any time, evil whispered that this was not right and that only a child would not know who they were. Only in the immature and unready would inconstancy present itself. It was time, evil said, to grow up and be brave: one person was to have to one form, same as the cow and the pigeon. It did not say anything of the frog, of course. To some evil whispered, the male form is so strong, why would you ever wish to be weak and thin limbed if you could always stay like this? And to the others it insisted, clear as day the female shape allows for deeper thoughts and a stronger will, it would be a weakness to leave it just to run around in thoughtless mirth!

And so it was that there were women and there were men. Only some did not believe, they did not pay any mind to what was said of what they were. They knew the Guardians made no mistakes and if change they could, then change they must, for a gift rejected turns to ash.

Anonymous Marcenian Poem

Year IV, Reign of Queen Dluz of Marcen

Chapter one

When they tell me my younger brother has risen against me, I call them liars. There is no doubt in my heart; there is no room for doubt.

My mother has been dead but a fortnight and I am still to be crowned, it’s strategically the perfect moment for a coup, but it’s Dzyer. Dzyer, who is as different from myself in personality as we are close in blood and with whom, somehow, all our differences have mattered little in the face of the isolation of royal life. He might go out and I might stay in, but we both know he is coming back home to me. We both know nobody else can be as close, or as trustworthy a confidant as the other.

My councillors should know better than to speak ill of my only family in a moment like this.

“Your majesty,” Lady Saalam insists, rising from his seat at the round table where I last sat with Mother. The pale skin under his blue eyes is bruised and tender, proof sleep evades him as much as me since...

I stay in my seat, Mother’s seat, struggling to control my reaction, to make him proud even now he is forever gone. I am angry, but I am so tired too... It has been such a long year, of hope and pain and yet more pain. And now it is over; Mother’s gone.

I have no one to advise me but the people in this room, and Dzyer. And they claim...

Lady Saalam is not a shifter nor noble by birth, but his mother ensured he received the best education and attended the best parties. He never did find the man to marry nor had children of his body, but he befriended my own mother before he became Queen Iulia of Marcen. The moment Mother was crowned, he named Lady Saalam to the council. As far as I can remember, Saalam was also Mother’s closest friend when it came to personal matters, as close to an aunt as I can imagine when none of Mother’s womb siblings survived childhood. No one else would be allowed to speak ill of my family, but Saalam I do not interrupt.

He meets my eyes, his own full of pain. “They speak the truth. The palace is surrounded by his troops.”

“To protect us!” I almost scream, my voice rising high like a child’s. I am not given to emotional displays, it would not be appropriate for the heir to the throne. But my voice is naturally high and to be told such a thing, in a moment such as this, when the weight of all my mother’s expectations feels heavier and his support and comfort are forever gone...

Lady Saalam’s lips press together and he motions to a waiting messenger. Barely more than child, she practically drops the missive on my hand before retreating to the back of the room to await a response.

When I see the familiar spikes of his handwriting, I almost drop it myself. Why would my brother write from right outside the palace instead of coming in to talk to me?

I think that’s when I know. 

But I read. I read because knowing is not believing.

The words within are so outrageous I am almost unable to comprehend their meaning. The surrender they demand unconditional, and no explanations of any kind are offered, no justification or acknowledgement of the profound wrongness of the act. He says nothing of our Mother at all and I wonder; is it grief that leads him to pretend he is not ignoring the wishes of the very person he aims to replace?

It also makes it very clear that my loyal councillors have informed me correctly: the palace is surrounded by at least half of the royal army. My army. Except my brother was given command of it two years ago, as he was always meant to be my right hand and war general.

I might not be trained in the military arts, but I was taught to be calm during emergencies. I give myself not a second to process before sending people off to bring me more information.

But it is Dzyer that I fight against, the one person who knows me best. If I ever doubted his insight or suspected him of not grasping the subtleties of command, I am proven mistaken again and again when one route of escape after another proves blocked. Every option impossible, every ally strong enough to aid me turned from me either by having become his or being too far away to be of any use at this time.

It slowly dawns on me that while I mourned, he acted, and much can be accomplished in four and ten days. I realise then that he asked for no immediate surrender, that there is no time limit specified… Because he knew from the moment he put pen to paper that victory was his. There is no need to threaten when one is mistress.

Know thy enemy, they say. Nobody has to be urged to know their friends, but perhaps that would be wiser advice. I do not know how to compete with his complete knowledge of me when I have clearly paid so little attention that this has come to pass.

I almost don’t want to find a solution. Even as I search, in the back of my mind I cannot forget that this is no mere game or screaming argument. If I am to return fire with fire, I might never get to ask him why. If I manage to escape the palace and recoup, the fate that awaits me is to kill him for treason.


How is it even possible for him to do this to me? And if I killed him, what of my own treason? What of the fact that I was charged with his safety by my parents? May I take my vow back like he has done with his? And with it my love as well?

I let time pass and I let my people look. I suspect Saalam—long hair in disarray and wearing the same dress as two days ago—knows what I am doing, but he does not question me beyond urging me to rest. I lie down so that my body does. My mind won’t quit going over the fight... Because it’s the fight now, the last one before this happened, although was that what tipped the scales? Or is it a matter of opportunity? Can something this complex be anything but well-thought and long-planned?

In the dark, with no distractions, my mind goes to the darkest places it can find, to the question it cannot bear to ask: does he secretly hate me?

The great fight had been about two months before… Before Mother’s illness took a sudden turn for the worse and we lost him.

Mother had been well enough then to make military decisions, and, unsurprisingly, Dzyer had disagreed with him. He had argued himself raw and Mother had not given an inch. I personally saw no harm in giving Dzyer a company of soldiers or two to take south for reconnaissance; but when the Queen refused, I vowed to his greater experience and authority.

And as soon as we were alone, Dzyer had turned on me for it, demanding my support. I had tried to calm him down, to explain that he had very little reason to think there was anything amiss in the south and that Mother wanted him around because of his failing health.

He had gone off into a rage, spitting more than talking, which was normal enough for Princess Dzyer that nobody had even come to check on us. He had accused me of obeying orders unthinkingly and trusting Mother above my own sense and I had finally snapped back. I had tried to explain, like I had many a time before, that a queendom divided cannot stand, that a Queen must have the loyalty of his heir if he is to govern effectively and that I needed Mother’s respect if he was to listen to my advice. There was nothing to be accomplished by raising his voice, I reminded him, as he insisted on proving time and again when either Mother, or both Mother and I disagreed with his opinions.

I listened to him even when he did; I couldn’t ignore Dzyer and he often saw things out in the field that I missed from the palace. But just as I would not unthinkingly follow the Queen; I would not follow him, either, and so he never felt I listened enough.

I knew this. But it never occurred to me that he would take matters into his own hands, that he would stop shouting and write instead.

It never occurred to me that he could stop loving me for it. Because I could never stop loving him.

We fought that day like many days before and, I thought, many days after, and I simply went to my rooms and tried to read until my heart quietened down and his words stopped echoing in my ears.

I could have never predicted it. This. I don’t even know what this is. Is he really taking my crown? Does he intend to exile me? Does he suppose any other of the queendoms in the continent would accept an usurper as queen, royal blood or not?

The ideas are so far from the realm of the possible that my mind slips away from them, unable to take them seriously despite all evidence.




On the fifth day, I walk to the doors and open them myself. I ignore the guards posted at the ready by the entrance. They, for all they have turned against me, do not try to stop me from exiting. They do not even move.

There’s no need for them too, here are many soldiers milling inside the palace’s walls. Of course Dzyer didn’t pressure me to hurry; what could I do with the palace guard and a handful of servants against an army already past my walls?

Someone must have alerted him, because a few minutes later I catch sight of Rhina, his black stallion, and the crowd parts to let him through. He is not in armour, even though my rebellious sibling had one made for his smaller female shape in direct contradiction to tradition—Mother had been absolutely furious when he’d seen it—and he could play the warrior queen if he liked.

I almost wish he wore armour and he was shifted into the male bulk of the soldier he left in when I last saw him and not the princess I know so well—features almost unchanged from the little girl he was not so long ago.

Somehow it would show what a stranger he is to me to all that can see. The woman that rides my way, straight and confident in his mount, light auburn hair pulled back by his delicate golden crown, is the brother I have spent countless royal parties glaring into silence. His eyes are still the deepest of blues, his skin still markedly more sunburnt than it’s proper in a royal. He is still Dzyer.

But he wrote a letter that the Dzyer I know would never write.

I pull myself together, knowing I have a role to play. We all know it is women who rule with their heads, and not men with their brute strength and that is what Dzyer means to do: Rule.

Except that Dzyer can look as feminine as he please and he is still on a horse, surrounded by an army of men and I am all alone, overpowered by the sword, not the mind. 

“Brother,” I say, in greeting, like nothing out of the ordinary is going on, using the same word I have always used to refer to my younger sibling. If anyone could claim to find offensive, it is certainly not Dzyer, who transforms into his male form almost every day to go play at war and insists he is the same person in whatever form he takes.

He meets my eyes, confident and unmoved. I had Mikel apply some creams to disguise how little I have slept in the last week but I do not believe for a moment Dzyer can overlook my exhaustion.

I press my tongue to the top of my palate, concentrating on remaining still and relaxed on the outside. My calm is all I have, for all I feared and more has already come to pass. But I will not give up my dignity with my power. He thinks to make a spectacle of his prowess; I will make one of his betrayal. Nobody looking today will see a woman seizing a throne he deserves because he is able to manage it well, but a brute leading an army against his rightful queen. It is a small comfort, in the face of all I’m losing, but it helps me stand upright and not look away from the coldness of his gaze.

He must realise how we look because he quickly dismounts, putting us on level ground, “Brother.”

I manage to repress my flinch at the word. I am entitled to the feminine word on account of my age and he had always used it before. It makes no difference; Dzyer does not need me to flinch to know he's hit a nerve. It is not merely the disrespect of speaking to an elder in the masculine, but also the fact that, unlike him, I gave up my military training years ago in favour of diplomacy and history.

I never saw the need for me to be a soldier as well as a queen. And that’s led to his victory today.

Except that is not true. I could be trained in all the professions of the world and I still would have never seen this coming.

I need him to be innocent so badly that my mind keeps finding ways in which I might be guilty. But he does not look angry; he simply looks certain.

“Come in,” I say, gesturing to the palace doors, still open wide behind me. I have thought the words through, and he might refuse to take the invitation unless I openly acknowledge his victory. But he doesn’t, maybe he is eager to get out of the cold, maybe he assumes my actions are more important than my words.

In that, he is correct, of course, but perhaps if I give him a real choice…

I turn and head back, forcing him to follow after me, and he does. I don’t slow down when we walk inside but I start speaking, “I don't know how you are going to live this down,” I tell him ruefully. “Your reputation was already rather—”

“I don't need to live it down,” he interrupts me, harsh, and he’s already caught up with me. “I will be queen.”

I turn my head to meet his eyes. “Because I asked you in for a cup of tea on a cold night?”

“Because you let my soldiers in,” he replies, evenly but I can detect the anger simmering underneath still.

“Your soldiers?” I ask, raising my eyebrows in pretend surprise. “Marcenian soldiers, obeying their general, naturally. But only because that general is the representative of their queen.”

He meets my gaze unwaveringly, eyes blazing. He is angry, of course, but I knew that already, what matters now is to get him screaming at me until he can get it all out. Then we can really discuss this mess he’s got us into.

I do not think much of leading him to my quarters… How many times has he knocked on these doors and demanded to speak to me? How many times have these walls heard him rage against Mother’s inflexibility?

In a way, the familiarity of it comforts me. This it's my territory, so I think, stupidly, that I will be strong here and he, vulnerable.

Unable to defeat his forces, I settle for defeating him. He bowed to Mother for years, why would he refuse me the same? After all, I have always listened, even when I have not understood, even when I disagreed. What else can he ask for when he was not born to rule?

“And they imagine their queen wishes to be besieged in her own palace?” he mocks, leaning on the door until it closes.

“Besieged? Nonsense! You are here to protect me, I'm vulnerable right now, uncrowned, in mourning,” I let the bitterness come out with the last word, and plop myself down on my settee.

I can see it affects Dzyer, even as he makes himself ignore it. "No."

"No?" I repeat, tilting my head in feigned confusion.

"No, I am not backing down," he tells me. He does not move from his guard post at the door. He must be tired, but I’m not surprised by his stubbornness.

I heave a sigh, looking away for a moment. "This really is not the time for games, Dzyer."

He takes a step closer and I turn to face him on reflex. "It's not a fucking game!"

I stay where I am, like I don't mind having to look up at him, like I can't tell how close he is to hitting me. He never has, at least not since we tumbled about as kids. And he will not do it now, I can tell, reading someone’s body language is actually much more the purview of a politician than a fighter. I make my voice softer. "What is it then?"

"Good government,” he replies, his shoulders relaxing, voice evening out, but he’s still towering over me, no sign that he intends to sit.

"Your government?" I ask incredulously.

He doesn't take the bait, standing his ground. "Yes, a better one."

"Why would it be better for being yours?" I get up, our sides brushing, and I make a show of unconcern by going to the cabinet and serving myself a drink of wine, pointedly not offering him any.

"Because I know our people,” he tells me. I have heard this speech before, but I also know he believes it. I can bear to hear it again. “I have been out there; that is what having a queen who is also a warrior is all about."

“Is that so?” I sip, forcing my muscles to relax against the side of the cabinet. “Queens have not been part of the military for generations. It is true that I have not prepared myself for battle as Mother did,” I glance at him, and let my anger and pain come out of my mouth with my next words. “I trusted you too much, expected way more of your affection than you are clearly capable of. Rest assured that it is not a mistake I will be making again.”

I expect him to retreat at my attack; it is too harsh for anything else. But oh, how I have misunderstood Dzyer!

Before I know what’s happened he has me pressed against the display case, the lower shelf digs into my back but I am too surprised to even struggle. His hands are like vices around my wrists, tight enough I will surely have bruises there later.

Is it really him? I wonder, almost as confused by this as by his treason. If it wasn’t him, it would explain it all. Not only is he being unnecessarily rough when I have at no point tried to escape but he is touching me more than he has in years. I do not have anything in particular in mind when I squint to recognize the mind behind his light eyes; I give no credit to stories of possession and faeries. But behaviour so bizarre requires equally bizarre explanations. The combination of his coup and the touching send both my mind and body into shock. 

Dzyer is not a physically affectionate person. Neither am I, but I permit myself the subtle touches someone of my class exchanges with close family and friends, while the extended company of soldiers has left Dzyer almost stoic when it comes to any touch that is not a blow, softened or not.

In the last year, he last touched me after our mother died. I think it was only because refusing to return my embrace would have been the height of cruelty. I took advantage in my need for comfort and he allowed me the weakness. Remembering that touch now keeps me calm, even if his hands on me are anything but tender.

“You require proof of the extent of my affection?” he grits out, close enough I can feel his breath on my face. His press my arms back harder against the cabinet, but I stand there and keep my head high, my eyes on his. My brother can be childish and this is a time of great turmoil for us both, but that is no excuse.

“I have had enough of that, I believe,” I say acidly. We are not children to be wrestling over a toy. “Unhand me now, this is unbecoming.”

His eyes narrow, almost too close for me to meet without squinting. He’s so near I can feel him tense, like a bow about to release... “Perhaps you missed that you are in no position to make demands,” he tells me this almost calmly, and I wonder if I’m panicking for no reason, if he’s just taking his anger out on me like this, and then…

“What position is that?” I ask, trying for mild, turning my head and meeting his eyes from the side. He looks wild, almost…

“Defeated,” he leans closer to whisper in my ear, breath humid and warm. I can’t help myself, I flinch, trying to pull free of his hold even though I know I do not have the strength for it. “At my mercy.”

I make myself still, heart beating so hard I am half convinced he must be able to hear it, perhaps to feel it where his hands dig into my arms.

“Should I be afraid to be at your mercy?” I ask, disdainful. I do not know what games he imagines he is playing, but if he supposes I cower at a few empty threats, he is much mistaken.

He’s hurting me, but I am not afraid. It is discomfiting to be forced into stillness like this, but nevertheless he can pin me to furniture if he pleases, we both know that is not where power resides. I know it like I know I breathe that he will not truly harm me, no matter how badly he wants the throne. I can understand he might wish to rule, and that in his grief he has found some justification that allows him to take my crown. That does not mean that I should be afraid, except he is talking like he expects me to be.

I’m almost about to insist this is not the moment for mind games when he pulls back to find my eyes and says, “Yes.”

Then he kisses me. Just like that, his mouth is on mine and his body is pressed close and I can only think that it doesn’t make sense. What is that supposed to accomplish for his reputation? Or his power?

It takes me a few seconds to get over the idea and realise his tongue is licking at my lips, that I can taste him in mouth. His hold on my arms has loosened but it is simple desperation that makes me buckle as violently as I can in the reduced space between our bodies and the cabinet at my back, hearing my wine cup tumble to the ground with a clatter. I manage to free my right hand, but it’s not enough. Dzyer is a good deal stronger than me and a trained fighter besides and catches my wrist again before I can push him away. I turn my face aside, almost knocking our heads. “Stop this,” I pant, struggling in his grip like an animal caught in a trap. “Stop this instant!”

“You have lost,” Dzyer grits out, like I’m being a bad loser about our jumping rope competition instead of refusing to let him ravish me. His hands have stilled, but even in female form it's easy for him to keep me immobilized.

“I have lost?” I repeat, dumbfounded. All thoughts of political manoeuvres are gone now. I’m horrified, leaning back as far as I can, trying not to feel the heat of his body against mine. Suddenly, I’m afraid, like he’s struck a chord in the animal part of me, deep where reason cannot reach, and I just know. “What have I lost? What are you doing?”

“What I want,” he says against the skin of my cheek. His breath is wet and his lips are soft and I shudder. This is Dzyer, and he is…

“No,” I say, incapable of any more elaboration, even I couldn’t say if my refusal is for his desire or my willingness to indulge it; or simply the reality of the situation as a whole.

I try to pull away again, he holds me fast, digging his fingers into my arms. “You can’t tell me what to do anymore,” he says, calm, like my anxiety means nothing to him.

I fold. I don’t know if he is playing a game, but if he is, it is not one I can bear to play. I look up at him, hoping to understand, hoping to be understood. “I have lost the throne! I know that, I opened the doors! But not myself! You may kill me, exile me, but you cannot…!” I can’t finish that sentence. I can’t even think it.

“I can,” he declares, and he is meeting my eyes. His are too near and too cold, not like he doesn’t care I’m in pain, but like he wants to see it.

This is when reason joins instinct in terror. But it does not matter; it is already too late. There is no way I can overcome Dzyer even for an instant, I know this.

Except… I decide to start breaking some rules of my own. Changing forms when I’m touching someone else feels almost worse than getting naked, and, in fact, my new larger frame tears the shirt I’m wearing when my shoulders expand, later I will find the cuts on my shoulders where the thread cut, but I don’t notice then. I buckle under his weight, dislodging him with my superior weight.

When he staggers back a few steps, I go for the door, forgetting there is something else he has more practice doing than me: shifting.

In a mere instant he’s got thicker arms surrounding me from behind and my slight advantage vanishes. He hugs my torso and drops us both to the carpet next to the hearth. He takes the brunt of the blow against the floor but I am still dizzy with the sudden movement and he tilts slightly to the side to regain his balance and I’m under him, gravity his ally as well as brute force.

I growl in frustration, but I only get my faced pressed further into the carpet. I have only made it worse by shifting, now the size difference between us is larger. I haven’t taken this form in years and he has spent those years training those muscles into a weapon. Now he does not even need struggle to keep me down. I can’t see his face, but I hear his pleasure. “You are wrong, sister. You have lost yourself.”

He lets go of my arms and I get my knees under him, only to have him yank on my left wrist to turn me around. I stare at him in terror, my hands trapped against the floor, my body stretched under his bigger bulk. “Dzyer!” I don’t know what I’m begging for, but he does not stop. I squirm, knowing it’s useless but unable to stop. I can’t... He can’t.

I am a queen, trained to guide armies, oversee supplies, understand terrain, not do battle myself. Dzyer was not the heir, though, Dzyer could practice fighting with the common soldiers if it struck his fancy. Dzyer could shift into maleness and run around playing soldier as often as he wished and nobody would imagine it a weakness, just a game the princess played to be rebellious. He could join the army, even, as long as it was in a command position.

He pushes my legs apart with one of his knees and my gut clenches, my chest tightening to the point I cannot really draw in air. Something in my mind insists that this isn’t really happening, that my senses must be lying to me. I try to concentrate and use my elbows, but he just presses closer. I struggle anyway, thinking of biting him instead. I could…

But I don't want to hurt Dzyer. I don’t know why he is doing this, maybe it’s the grief driving him to madness. Maybe simply madness. He nuzzles the side of my throat and I turn my head to push him away. He will be sorry when he realises what he has done. I know it. But he is not sorry now, he presses his mouth to the other side of my neck and bites me, and, before I know it, I am driving my head back against his face as hard as I can.

It hurts. My vision blurs even as I hear him swear. He lets go of my wrists, but I can’t go anywhere with him still on top of me. I manage to get an elbow somewhere soft but instead of retreating; Dzyer comes back at me and pushes me on my back, my left leg twisted at an uncomfortable angle under his. His hand comes to rest on my throat, cutting out my air supply, fingers digging into the sore spot where he just put his mouth. I stop hitting him and dig my nails into his fingers instead, trying to pull him off. It must hurt but it’s not enough for him to stop trying to crush my throat. I let go and just hit him with closed fists, panicked and desperate as air becomes all I care about. He eases back, letting me get a lungful all at once.

It was only a moment, but there are tears in my eyes.

I thought exile was the worst that could come of this. I was so sure he wouldn’t hurt me, but he has already… what’s stopping him from finishing it? He kisses me again, strong and invading and biting. I pant desperately for air, not caring that his tongue is in my mouth, just that he is stopping me from getting precious oxygen into my deprived lungs.

Dzyer moves back to find my eyes, and I find myself blinking up at him in a daze. Even if he wasn’t holding me down, I don’t think I could move. My chest and throat hurt and it’s... I can’t think. Strategy is my specialty and now everything has gone blank. All my brain seems to be processing is how huge his pupils are, how close he is, how...

He watches my face, not saying anything; does he want to see me suffer? Or is he making sure he didn’t overdo it? My voice is rasping out of my throat when I ask, hopeless and desperate. If Dzyer can do this, there is truly no hope. “Why?”

Dzyer sighs and I feel it on my face. He’s still resting on top of me, heavy and solid, but not hurting me. For now. “You truly do not know?” he asks, for the first time he sounds like my brother and not... “You don't realise that you've been the centre of everything all our lives.”

“That's ridiculous!” My voice is a thread, unable to reach the higher registers my anger requires. My neck feels tender and it hurts to swallow but this is important, if I can just make him listen... “I'm the firstborn, that's all!”

Dzyer shakes his head at me and I feel it all over. He’s still holding my wrists down but at least that means he’s not putting as much weight on my chest. “No, Lor, you're so much more than that. You were everything to Mother. And I was...” I see his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows. “I was second. Always second. Well, it's over now.” He squeezes harder as if to emphasize the point. “I want to be first. No, I am first, I'm better than you at this: I have been out there and I know our people and their needs, and you believe every word you're fed by your commanders and governors.”

The complaints aren’t new nor without merit, but I’ve admitted as much before and here we are. Not just the palace besieged but my brother holding me down like...

I close my eyes and exhale; I must bend, so we don’t both break.

“So you have the throne, and if you thought me unfit …” My voice breaks, I swallow but I make myself not struggle against his grip as I meet his eyes. I must remain calm, I cannot afford to lose my mind when Dzyer has clearly lost his. I cannot afford for him to make a mistake from which neither of us will ever recover. The throne can wait; I have been waiting for years already. “To rule, that is very obviously solved. Why would you humiliate me like this?”

“There you go again, thinking you’re the reason for it all,” Dzyer says resentfully and leans in even closer. “Let me tell you a secret,” he whispers into my ear, warm and intimate and wrong. “I’m not doing it for you.”

“What? You—”

“Yes, sister,” he says. I would almost prefer for him to call me “brother” again, then at least I could tell myself he doesn’t know what he is doing, that he doesn’t know it’s me. “I am as hopeless to resist you as all the rest. But I will not let you control me any longer because of it.”

He does not sound like himself; I cannot recognize the anguish and resentment beneath the anger. I cannot understand where either might come from. All this from simple jealousy? It does not seem possible that the honours bestowed upon me as first born could garner such strong feelings, not when we’ve always been so close.

“We need to talk…” I hazard to say, anything to gain some time, but Dzyer stiffens on top of me like I have given offense. Once again, I cannot explain why.

“No, no more talking,” he firmly declares and kisses me again, hard, and angry, and not letting me get any air. He keeps a hand on my throat, his fingers digging into my jaw to keep my mouth open for his. I scrabble at his back and pull at his hair with my free hand, but I don’t have enough leverage to cause any real pain. He ignores my attempts and licks at the corners of my mouth. I shudder, then try to speak but I only manage half a syllable before he’s covering my mouth fully with his again. I hit his back with a closed fist but it’s too weak an attempt. I’m scared, but fear itself is my worst enemy; I need to think. It hurts too much to fight him so—against my every instinct, I stop, trying to ignore what’s happening to my body and centre my mind.

The moment I stop struggling I discover another problem in my shifted body besides its unwieldiness. The unfamiliar skin I don’t know how to use to my advantage comes with unmistakeable proof of how aroused it is. I want to weep; but my skin wants to be touched. I don’t even know if it’s Dzyer or the fact that I have not changed in years.

I can’t help myself, I tense up again, as desperate to get away from what I’m feeling as from Dzyer. I want to change back to the safety of my own body. I am afraid, though, Dzyer’s hands are on the flat planes of my chest one minute and behind my neck the next, he is in a frenzy of touch the likes of which I have never experienced. And his words have given me very little reason to trust him. I cannot possibly put myself in a position in which Dzyer and I could have the type of… sex that… Oh, goddess, sex, with Dzyer. I buckle, too desperate to care that my struggle is useless.

A woman of my station should be above tears, a woman capable of leading a queendom cannot break down, but I don’t see a way to resist an impossible force unbent and remain whole. Dzyer’s knees are keeping my arms pressed to my sides while he bends himself in half to hold my face to kiss. I stop struggling, close my eyes and try to calm down, my neck muscles ache from pulling uselessly against my brother’s grip. That which bends, does not break, I think. After an eternity of stillness, Dzyer pauses. For a second I hope I have shocked him into thinking about what he’s doing, but he just takes it in stride, deepening the kiss, letting go of my face once more to slide his hands down to my neck, exposed by my half unbuttoned tunic.

“This isn’t right…” I say, now that I can. “You don’t want to hurt me.”

“I don’t?” Dzyer snorts against my chest and it stirs against hair that isn’t normally there. I have never had sex as a male, I can’t help but imagine what that mouth would feel like over my breast instead. It almost feels like inhabiting someone else’s flesh, almost like this isn’t real. “I’m pretty sure I do, I think it’s only fair.”

“What are you talking about? I never—” Dzyer has opened the tunic up further and found a nipple. All the sensation normally distributed throughout my breasts concentrates now in that small puckered flesh, sending a wave of sensation throughout me and I suddenly can’t breathe, can’t speak. I clench my teeth together to keep myself from making any sounds.

Dzyer either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care because he licks around and then sucks before breathing his next words right over the damp skin, making an incontrollable shiver rush up my spine. “You did. Mostly because you didn’t fucking notice.”

“Please,” I beg, beyond caring about dignity. “Stop, I can’t—”

“No,” says Dzyer “I don’t care anymore.” And without looking away from my face, he puts his hand on my hard cock over the skirt of my dress, as if he could feel the heat of it somehow. I scrunch my eyes shut. I don’t know what hurts more; the shame that he knows of my arousal, or the moan that escapes my traitorous lips when he tightens his grip. Dzyer makes a sound of his own, something like pleasure but closer to surprise. I open my eyes.

My brother is looking down at my hips, instinctively raised to meet his touch.

“You want this…” he breathes and I jerk so violently I hit my head against the floor beyond the carpet. The pain seems to reverberate through my brain, and even then I cannot forget the humiliation his pleasure brings out in me. It is not true. I do not—

I cannot bear for him to continue to see me this way. There’s tears on my face and I feel something twist as I once again get my right hand free. Dzyer doesn’t try to capture it again, instead using his own free hand to tug my dress up from where it’s tangled around our legs, leaving my legs bare.

And then it’s the work of a moment for Dzyer to press my wrist down again and put one of his thighs between mine. The renewed pressure on my groin through the thin cloth of my underwear feels good enough to cry out and it catches me so suddenly, I do.

I’m so distracted by the intensity of sensation in this strange form that it takes me a minute to realise his own cock is pressing against my bare stomach. I don’t understand how but his, unlike mine, is unhindered by clothing and it burns when it slips against the soft skin of my belly. He kisses my neck, licks at my collarbones, and, as he speeds up his thrusts, bites my left shoulder hard enough to bruise. Except something is wrong with my nerves because it doesn’t only hurt, it also, somehow, feeds back into the almost painful intensity in my groin.

Turning my head to the side to avoid being kissed does little to help the situation; any part of me seems to be good to touch as far as my brother is concerned. Despite how much I fight him, the same skin I command to avoid his touch is also electrified by it.

He lets go of my right hand to put his inside my underclothes and that touch bounds me in place like no weight ever could. When I come, I’m holding onto his shoulders and he is kissing my open mouth.

For a few moments, I’m so dazed I can’t think straight, but then I realise that my hands are free. He lets me roll him over but not pull away, instead his arm grips my waist like a vice, pressing me against him so he can push up against the skin of my stomach a few more times before spilling all over it.

The feel of it is indescribable, sticky and hot and real. Burning both the skin it touches and my breath out of my chest. Now that my brain is aware again of what just happened, I scramble away.

This time, he allows it.

I get to my feet, trembling and lost and dirty only to realise there’s nowhere for me to go. Nobody to help me if he wants to do it all over again. I can’t even leave my rooms, his guards are outside. My breathing accelerates as I look around and find no options, no answers, not even a reason. I want to shout at him, rage… but I can’t breathe. Finally, my brain seems to process that there is a door that I’m allowed to open. I run into the bedchamber and close it behind me. I curl against it, hoping my weight will prove enough impediment if he tries to open it.

He doesn’t try.

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