The Rains in Sest
By Dorothy Hutchinson
Date: August 22, 2016
Ch. 1313

“That’s disgusting.”
“Disgusting but useful. The king obviously wants to maintain a strong kingdom after he’s gone—which is an honorable notion—and magic can be a powerful tool. But of course the king couldn’t let his children know about his incestuous plans, because they’d certainly refuse to wed each other. So he farmed Karen and me out to different parents, while arranging for us to receive special tutoring that would further us once we returned to the palace. And he told the world—and even his other children—that Karen and I had died as babies, so no one would know the truth. Understand?”
“Yes, but it’s still disgusting. And I’m still not saying I believe you.” He excused himself and went to bed.
The following morning, the professor told them the count’s brother had agreed to Clare’s plan to try to blackmail the king into releasing Karen and the count. Tommy had to admit this lent credence to Clare’s theory that she and Karen were princesses, but he still wasn’t completely of convinced of it.
The professor and Clare discussed the plan for a couple hours, ironing out details. The finished plan was pretty simple. A palace maid would supply Clare with clothes identical to those that Karen would be wearing when she was released. After Karen and the count were released, the professor would take Karen to a bakery where Tommy and Clare would be hiding in back. Karen would step into the back and then Clare would immediately replace her up front. The professor would take Clare out to eventually be captured by the king’s guards, and Tommy would take Karen to safety.
Clare resembled Karen enough to make the guards think they’d captured Karen, especially since the palace guards hardly knew Karen at all, so the guards would call off the search and take Clare toward the palace. But as they neared to palace, Clare would speak to them, and her raspy voice would make it clear to the guards that they’d taken the wrong girl, so they’d release her.
Tommy overheard Clare and the professor talking about the magistrate backing Karen up—apparently using his magic—in case something went wrong and she was captured, but Clare didn’t mention it to Tommy, so he didn’t ask about it.
Clare showed Tommy the city that day, concentrating on escape routes and hidey-holes.
That night, the professor returned to his house with news.
“The king agreed to the blackmail,” the professor said.
Tommy swallowed. It really was true, then. Karen was the king’s daughter, and even if she escaped, she’d be in hiding for years, and Tommy and Clare with her.
“But there are a couple problems,” the professor continued. “The king refused to wait until dusk to release her, choosing instead to release her at noon, making it easier for his men to track her. It also means it’s doubtful that the magistrate will arrive in time to help us. We might be on our own.”
“We can manage without him, if we have to,” Clare said, though she didn’t exactly seem to be bubbling with confidence. “And besides, I feel a little guilty involving him in this, so the less he has to stick his neck out, the happier I’ll be.”
Tommy wasn’t sure he shared that sentiment.
Late the next morning, Tommy and Clare went to the bakery and huddled in the back room. Clare was wearing a rather plain brown dress, one that a normal citizen might wear on the street.
Clare seemed frightened nearly to the point of tears.
“You’re very brave, Clare,” Tommy said.
“Can’t you see how much I’m shaking?”
He smiled. “That’s just it. If you weren’t scared, it’d be easy to be brave. It’s much harder to be brave if you’re about to wet yourself.”
She half-smiled. “I guess I can see now why Karen loves you so much.”
He pushed her bangs out of her eyes. “And I can see why she loves you so much.”
He peeked again through the keyhole. Professor Brock and Karen were in the bakery, coming toward them. Tommy gave Clare a quick kiss on the forehead. “The show is on, and you’re up. Good luck.” He helped her to her feet; she was shaking like a leaf.
Karen came in, her eyes going wide at the sight of the two of them. Apparently the professor hadn’t risked telling her the plan. Clare gave her a quick hug and then walked into the bakery. Karen started to follow her, but Tommy grabbed her and closed the door behind Clare.
Tommy tried to kiss her, but Karen pushed him away. “You’re using her as a decoy?”
He put his arms around her. “Good to see you, too.”
“We can’t let her fall into his clutches.” She struggled to get away, but Tommy was too strong for her.
“If you go out there, they’ll know for sure they’ve been set up, and they’ll arrest all of us.”
She stopped struggling. “Blast you, Tommy. How could you do this?”
“It was Clare’s idea. You gave yourself up for her, and now she’s returning the favor.”
“What good does it do to trade one bride for another?”
“Anyone could tell she’s not sixteen, so marrying her off to Prince Rigel would create a big scandal.”
“So they’ll wait a year or two to marry her to him, and in the meantime, she’ll be their prisoner.”
“No, the guards will realize their mistake when they near the palace and Clare opens her mouth. They’ll release her before they even get to the palace.”
She sighed. “I hope you’re right. If the king sets those meat-hook eyes on her, he’ll know who she is, and she’ll never escape him.”
He kissed her, and this time she melted into his arms. He had to force himself to let go of her so she could change clothes he’d brought her, though it really wasn’t so bad watching her change out of the corner of his eye. After she’d changed, they went out the back exit and melted into the crowd. Tommy took her to the dank basement of the dilapidated apartment building Clare had shown him.
“Yuck,” Karen said when they entered it, contorting her face in disgust.
“They’d never look for a princess here,” he said.
“So she told you, huh?”
He nodded.
“You okay with that?”
“Who wouldn’t want to marry a princess?”
“Knowing she was fleeing into exile, anyone with a lick of common sense.”
He was tired of talking. He took her in his arms and found something better to do.
He managed to distract Karen for a couple hours, but then she started pacing the floor.
“What’s taking her so long?” she asked. “She should have been here by now.”
Tommy couldn’t think of anything to say to lessen her worries. Clare was overdue.
The door opened, and in she came.
“You little twerp!” Karen said, laughing and crying at the same time. She threw her arms around her little sister, and a sob fest ensued.
Tommy went outside. Clare deserved some time alone with her sister. Clare had proven herself a hero, and Tommy vowed to never utter an unkind word to her again.
Well, maybe he wouldn’t go that far.

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