The Rains in Sest
By Dorothy Hutchinson
Date: May 28, 2016
Ch. 99

She met his gaze. “Sir, these men are molesting me.”
“Release her,” the king said.
The guards complied.
“Kneel before your king, child,” the red-bearded man said.
Karen went to one knee, lowering her gaze.
The king stepped right up to her. “Rise, girl, and tell me your name.”
She rose, keeping her eyes low. “Karen, Your Majesty.”
“If you will, Karen, please look me in the eye and tell me what happened.”
She gave him a hard look. She wasn’t about to let him intimidate her. “Your Majesty, my friend and I were merely going to the kitchen for a snack, but a soldier wouldn’t let us go alone, claiming that he wanted to protect us. But from the look in his eye, I knew what he really wanted, and I wasn’t about to let him have it.”
“Can you describe this man?”
“Your Majesty, he’s the soldier with fresh bruises all over his legs.”
“I’ll see that the rest of his body suffers a similar fate, and I’ll compensate you for this somehow. If I may ask, where is this friend you spoke of?”
“She ran off, Your Majesty.”
“We’ll see that she’s found. In the meantime, two of my men will escort you to your room and guard your door. I’ll see to it that the cook provides you and your friend with whatever you want.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“Is anyone staying here with you?”
“My parents, Your Majesty.”
“I’ll discuss the situation with them myself, and accommodate their wishes.”
Right. And their wishes will be to marry me off to whomever you want them to. “You’re too kind, Your Majesty.”

Tommy’s butt screamed for a break from the saddle, and his wet torso begged for a change of clothes, but he wouldn’t stop again until he found Karen. He rode on through the rain.
The pine forest gradually gave way to farms, so he suspected he was finally getting close to Silver City. The sun, now nearing its peak, finally broke through the clouds, and the rain suddenly stopped. He approached a bend in the road.
A figure on the hardscrabble hill above him popped out of nowhere. “Tommy! Tommy! It’s me, Clare! Stop!”
Tommy could hardly believe his eyes. It was Miss Hoity Toity, alright, looking like she’d spent the night in a haystack. A very wet haystack. He reined Lightning in.
Clare clawed her way down the hillside, practically kicking up an avalanche. Tommy had seen drunken fishermen move more gracefully. She fell twice before reaching the road.
She seemed a complete wreck. Her hair was a ragged mess, as though she’d spent half the night trying to pull it out. Her eyes were beet red; she’d probably been crying for hours. She was soaking wet, whether from her tears or the rain, he didn’t know, but she was shivering. She was doing a credible job of putting up a brave front, but he knew she had been in a desperate strait moments before.
“What took you so long?” she asked. “I almost gave up on you.”
“I’d have been here sooner, but it turns out I’m not that great at reading a map,” he said.
“You have a map?”
“Sort of. I think my mother drew it.”
“Let’s have it.”
“Where’s Karen, and what are you doing in the middle of nowhere?”
“The city’s just around the bend, and Karen’s been abducted.”
“Abducted! Who took her, and where did he take her?”
“Relax, plowboy. I know who took her and where they’re going. I just have to figure out the best way to get there.”
Tommy was oh-so-glad to be dismounting; he’d never been so saddle-sore in his life. He slipped his coat onto Clare’s shoulders and handed her the map, which she took behind a boulder and started studying.
“Are you hiding from somebody?” he asked.
She nodded.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?”
“Just because. Do you have any water?”
He handed her the waterskin, and she started guzzling from it.
“Slow down, girl, or your stomach will cramp up on you.”
For once, she listened, drinking more slowly.
He dug up some jerky from the saddlebags and handed most of it to her, saving a couple strips for himself to chew on.
“The map isn’t half bad,” she said. “It’s helping me remember details from real maps I’ve seen, and I think I’ve figured out the best way to get there.”
“Where are we going?”
“I’m not going to tell you until you accept the fact that I’m in charge here.”
“Right, like I’m going to listen to a fourteen-year-old city slicker who doesn’t even think to bring her bag with her?”
She worked her face up good. “I was fleeing for my life from trained soldiers! Should I have stopped to get my hair done, too?”
“Is the city under attack?”
“Then why would soldiers be threatening your life?”
“Well, okay. Maybe I exaggerated a bit. They were going to take me captive, anyway. They were the same soldiers who took Karen captive.”
“Why would soldiers take Karen captive?”
“I’m not telling you anything more until you admit that I’m in charge from here on out.”
“Maybe you’re making all this up.”
“Right! I just love spending the night alone in a wilderness, waiting for some meathead shepherd who can’t even read a map!”
“I got here, didn’t I?”
“But you’re not getting to where Karen is unless you do what I say. I won’t let you foul everything up. It’s my sister we’re talking about.”
“Your sister, huh?”
“Well, she’s like a sister.”
“And you like to exaggerate a bit.”
“I’ve been through a lot in the last twenty-four hours, I’ll tell you.”
“And when you tell me, you might just exaggerate a bit.”
She folded her arms. “We aren’t going anywhere until you agree that I’m in charge.”
“You aren’t going anywhere, maybe.” He mounted up and started riding toward town.
“Alright, alright, we’ll make the decisions together!”
He smiled. That was easy. He kept on riding.
“Karen’s been kidnapped, and you’re playing games?” she yelled.
He reined Lightning in. “We need supplies, and there are soldiers looking for a certain uppity white girl who’d be easy to spot in a crowd. Am I right?”
She nodded.
“So, go back to your hidey-hole and wait for me. Better hurry, before someone rides by and spots you. I’ll be back soon with everything we need.”
She nodded again.
Or maybe I’ll just ride on by you. Serve you right, Miss Hoity Toity.
He rounded the bend and nearly fell off his horse at the sight of Silver City. He’d never expected a city could be this immense. Going to town was bad enough, but the thought of having to wander alone into such a caldron was almost enough to make him retch. He couldn’t blame Clare for spending the night in “the wilderness”—as if a wilderness could exist a half mile from a city.
He rode with some trepidation toward the city, dismounting to test the bizarre white bridge before taking Lightning across it.
He reached the gate, but wasn’t quite ready for what he saw inside. Even having seen how huge the city was from a distance, he couldn’t believe how many people were packed onto the streets and walkways. Was there some sort of festival happening?

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