“I cannot accept your love,” said the prince, “for doing so means betraying my own. If I must die to stay loyal to my betrothed, then that is what I am going to do.”
“You are a fool,” Lizana said. “You will have a chance to see your betrothed again if you do as I say. I love you, and because I love you I am willing to let you go your own way. But this is only if you are willing to accept my feelings for you. If you do not accept, the venom from the sting will take hold, and you will die. Your betrothed will mourn you. Is that what you wish?”
“Oh, no,” said the prince, “that is not what I wish at all! I will accept your feelings for me if it means you will set me free!”
“Very well,” Lizana said. “First, you must tell me that you love me and that you accept my love for you.”
The prince said, “I, Prince Ephraim, accept the love of Lizana the Desert Queen, and I fully return the feelings she has for me.”
Lizana’s eyes brightened like turquoise stones catching the light. “Do you mean it?” she asked.
Of course I don’t mean it, the prince thought, to set his mind at peace. I could never say those words to any other than my love, the beautiful Princess Clara of Alingrad. But if I am ever to see her again, I must make sure the desert queen does not know that! “I do,” he told Lizana. “I mean every word of it.”
“Then kiss me,” said the desert queen.
Prince Ephraim began to feel sick to his stomach. “But, my lady…”
“Don’t you call me ‘my lady.’ Call me ‘my love.’”
“My…my love,” the prince stammered, “we have already shared a kiss. Is that not enough?”
“It is not enough,” said Lizana. “I kissed you then. I want you to kiss me.”
“Well…very well, then,” said Prince Ephraim. “Come closer.”
“Can’t you pull me closer?” asked Lizana. “Are you so afraid to touch me?”
This isn’t right, thought the prince. This isn’t right at all. But if I were to die, what would become of my princess? Shakily, he reached for the queen’s shoulders. He touched one shoulder, then the other. He began to pull her in. Her eyes were glistening like the gems in the moat around the shimmering white palace, and he could see the anticipation in them. He had to think about his hands to stop them from shaking. He had to think about each of his actions or else he’d never be able to do it…Pull her in, lean in close, press your lips to hers…
He kissed her, and was left with the taste of the cinnabar-colored makeup on her lips.
The queen pulled back and stared into his eyes for a few moments before she said, “Would you like the remedy now?”
“I would, if you please,” said Prince Ephraim. “The sting grows more and more painful by the minute, and I think I can feel the venom setting in—it is making me feel quite tired and nauseous!”
“Come with me to my palace,” said the queen, “and I will give you the remedy. But you must let me hold your hand while we walk.”“Very well,” said Prince Ephraim. He held out his hand for her, and she took it. Her hand was so warm that it kept his own from shaking, though the rest of his body trembled until he thought it might fly apart before they reached the palace.