The Rains in Sest
By Dorothy Hutchinson
Date: June 20, 2016
Ch. 1010

It didn’t take him long to learn that yes, there’d been a festival the past two days, and the king himself had been in town to address the people. And much of the talk concerned a white girl who’d beaten up one of the king’s guards and then had ridden out of the city sitting beside the king in the royal coach, headed for the palace in Sest City.
At the clothier, Tommy overheard more people talking about the girl.
“I think the king was so impressed by her moxy that he’s going to adopt her,” a man said.
“Makes sense,” another man said. “Maybe the king has given up on trying to beget replacements for the two girls he lost years ago in infancy, so now he’s going to replace them with adopted girls.”
“Don’t know about that theory,” someone else said. “I think the king is just carting her away because he’s afraid she’ll create a scandal here by telling everyone the guard tried to rape her, so the king is planning to drop her over one of them cliffs by Goatsville.”
Tommy’s stomach tightened, and he started worrying more than ever about Karen.
Tommy heard other theories about the girl, but he suspected that his own theory was the real truth: Karen had given herself up to save that little snob, giving Tommy one more reason to dislike Miss Hoity Toity. And now that Tommy knew what had really happened and where Karen was going, Clare no longer had any leverage over him. The way he figured it, he didn’t need Clare, and if she gave him any trouble, ta ta. He made sure he got good directions to Sest, so he wouldn’t need to rely on Clare's map skills.
It was late afternoon when he rode back to Clare, who scrambled down the slope to meet him.
“Karen was abducted, huh? Is that why she paraded through the city with the king, decked in finery?”
“He was taking her to be married, idiot.”
“No, he was making it up to her that she had been attacked by one of his men while she was saving your ass.”
“You really are an idiot. Why was she trying to save my ass, unless she knew the king was a threat to me?”
She had a point, but Tommy wasn’t about to give her an inch. “Your conspiracy theories probably made her paranoid, and she thought the guard was going to abduct her. If she’d been in her right mind, she’d have known that the king wouldn’t have any reason to abduct her.”
“Tommy, I can’t tell you what’s really going on, except to say that the king is involved in getting her married off. You’re just going to have to trust me.”
“Trust you? When you keep secrets from me? And even when you talk, you exaggerate a bit.”
“Even if I told you the truth, you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Exactly right. Anyone who believes that the king would be involved in arranging Karen’s marriage is either insane or an idiot.”
“I was with her when she was fighting the king’s guards, and they were trying to prevent us from leaving. They were following the king’s orders.”
He dismounted and started untying the bag he’d brought. “Well, whatever. All we can do is go to the palace and ask for her… I bought you some clothes.”
“What’s wrong with my dress? It’ll dry off.”
“If you imagine yourself straddling a horse, you’ll realize that if you wear that dress, your thighs will be almost completely exposed, an open invitation to any ruffian we pass.”
“Why can’t I sit sideways?”
“Side-saddle? And what would you hang onto? Me? No thanks. Riding is hard enough without having to grab you after every bump in the road.”
“What’s so hard about riding a horse?”
“If you had any experience with riding, you wouldn’t ask that question. I do have experience—and plenty of it—so maybe you should listen to me for once without putting up a damn fuss.”
“You don’t have to swear at me.”
“If you think that’s swearing, wait until we get to a saloon.” He handed her the clothes.
“Boy’s clothes? Are you joking?”
“The soldiers are looking for a girl, not a boy. I bought you a straw hat that will partially hide your face, and you can tuck your hair into it. I bought one like it for me, too, so it’ll look like we’re brothers.”
“Oh, how flattering.”
“Clare, we’re in the wilderness, remember? No one’s going to notice you. I know that’s a horrid thought for a girl, but get used to life outside the city.”
She unfolded the shirt, sizing it against her body. “This is at least two sizes too big, and it isn’t my color.”
“The bagginess will hide the shape of your body, and the brown color will camouflage you in just about any situation you might find yourself in. Look, I’m tired of having to explain everything to you. Either do what I say or I’ll leave you behind.” He didn’t think he could ever really abandon her, but he wasn’t about to tell her that; he had to keep her on her toes.
”You don’t know the first thing about cities, plowboy. I know the ins and outs of them, and I’ve spent a couple weeks in Sest City.”
“I might not know much about cities, yet I just bought us everything we’re going to need in a couple hours, while yesterday you and Karen spent most of the afternoon shopping and yet you came away with nothing useful.”
“We were having fun, not going on an expedition.”
“Just put the damn clothes on and shut up for once in your life. We don’t have time for this, not when Karen might be getting married to someone else.”
She started crying.
He felt bad getting cross at her, but if he showed her any sympathy now, she’d just use her tears as a weapon at any opportunity. “Get dressed now, or I’ll leave you behind.”
She took the clothes behind the boulder. When she returned, he handed her the smaller straw hat and put on the other one. He stuffed what he could into the saddlebags and tied everything else on, then handed her up onto Lightning. He mounted up in front of her, to shield her from the looks of passersby. “Don’t look at anyone we pass. In fact, turn away from them, alright?”
“I’m not an idiot.”
They rode in silence for several miles, until they saw a town in the distance.
“You need to do some reconnaissance,” Clare said.
“Some what?”
“Enough gibberish, girl. What are you talking about?”
“Why don’t you yell a little louder, so everyone knows I’m a girl pretending to be a boy?”
“I wasn’t yelling. I doubt anyone heard.”
“So, as I said, yell a little louder next time. But in the meantime, I need you to gather intelligence.”

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