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the rain queen
stephanie pui-mun law
page 02:05

I rolled my eyes. "I'm helping you. Now, if you don't want to go back with them, will you just move?" I thought for a second she would bolt, but then she fell into step. I wanted to get away from there before the Guards changed their minds. Although I did not admit, I wanted to get away from those impersonal but nevertheless avidly watching spectators. I walked quickly. Somehow, she kept up with me.

Rain Queens.... In my studies, I had often come across reference to such a figure. In the days before the Kings of the east had sent ships out to this land across the sea, in the days when these plains, the golden fields, the oceans beyond had all belonged to another people, these peoples had been held together by the rule and the power of their Rain Queen. More superstitious legends, no doubt, but powerful nevertheless. Consensus belief becoming a reality for them...they believed this woman to have powers that the spirits themselves heeded. And when the Rain Queen reached the age of twenty-five, she would kill herself in a ritual, and one of her daughters would rise to take her place, thus continue the line of the legacy.

But when the Kings came, they laughed at these people; called them primitive, stripped their precious Rain Queen with their scorn and made the land theirs with their plows and walls and cities that soon blossomed everywhere. The Rain Queen and her people faded and were gone, forgotten but for scholars such as I.

And this girl claimed to be the Rain Queen. I closed the door to my apartments, gestured for her to take a seat. "It is a bit cramped in here...let me clear off some of those books first. You're welcome to stay here as long as you wish. I miss having company...." She stared at me, full of hostility. At last I shrugged. "Fine. If you like standing that much. Some water?" I held out the bottle she had tried to steal earlier. She hesitated, wary like a feral thing, and then took the proffered offering, taking a long drink before she handed it back to me. I capped the bottle and put it away, commenting as I did, "Funny how a Rain Queen would need to steal water, isn't it?"

I knew there was nothing to her claim. The folk who had lived this land before the coming of the Kings -- they had been a tall, dark people. This little creature was too fair and small. But she intrigued me nevertheless. "What's your name?" I queried.

She did not respond. I knew she was not mute though...she had spoken in the market square. I frowned. "Come on. Speak up, girl. I'm not going to bite you or do anything. Hell, I just rescued you. Only thing you've said so far is that you're the Rain Queen."

"Because I am," she smiled.

I blinked, startled that she had actually responded. Still no name though. With a sigh, I began to unpack the papers and inks that I had bought earlier that day. "God knows how a little gutter child like you would know of something like that, Risilka," I said, calling her by the diminutive meaning "Little Queen" in one of the older languages. People still used the term sometimes, as a not-so-complimentary term for a spoiled child. In this case, it was for the other connotation though...a little queen indeed. "Have you ever studied the histories of the land? Quite fascinating...."

That was her quota of speech for the day apparently, for she said nothing else until we both fell asleep. I on my bed, she on the pallet my apprentices used to use in the tiny side room. I gave her some of the old clothes one of my old apprentices had left. She whispered something to herself, and lay down. I strained to hear, but it was too soft. Who was this strange child? No...not a child, I reminded myself as I began to drift. A Risilka.

When I awoke the next morning, my first frantic thought was, she's gone! Her pallet by the fire was empty, her old ragged clothes were gone. Damn. I sighed. Ah well. I had not told her she could not leave, and she was not my prisoner. If she wanted to leave, that was her right. "Ungrateful," I muttered nevertheless, then took it back. That was unfair.

I wished her luck, then went about my usual daily rituals, determined that my Risilka would not preoccupy my mind.

That night, when I returned to my apartments after an evening in the keep's libraries, I found her sitting cross-legged outside my door. "Good evening," I said formally, as if nothing was out of the ordinary and I found ragged women seated at my doorstep everyday. She peered up, cocked her head so her hair cascaded over one shoulder.

"What should I call you?" she asked without preamble.

"Lahn, Risilka."

She stood, uncoiling gracefully. She pressed two fingers of her right hand to her lips, then touched my forehead. "My water is yours, Lahn," she said, and I blinked in surprise at hearing the ritual words I had seen in my books. Not from the clans who followed the Rain Queens of old, but from one of those other tribes.

We entered my apartments. I wondered briefly how she had managed to leave and enter the keep once again without me, for my chambers were within the Madruj Keep.

"Stop pretending to be a Rain Queen," I told her as soon as we were within the room. She smiled faintly. "That was for the Guards. You're safe here now. My offer still may stay with me for as long as you like. I really do miss having some sort of companionship."

I paused, looked away. Getting soft. Thinking too much of my age. I did that too often these days. Thirty-three, unwed, a reclusive scholar. Not old by any means, but...the solitude sometimes made me want to cry out. I sighed and lowered myself into a nearby chair. My Risilka dropped to a crouch near the door, looking like a wild thing in the conservative garb I had lent her. For a moment, I let myself believe her fantastic claim. A Rain Queen. Yes, I could imagine the shell crown upon her brow, those large eyes dancing with the fire that could call rain. But that was the faerie tale. The truth crouched on the ground before me, a semi-grubby girl with long tangled hair, a thief I had saved from having her hands cut off. My eyes drifted shut, tired from the strain of reading by candlelight all night.

It did occur to me that others might perhaps be getting wrong impressions if she were to stay with me for any length of time, but since when did I ever care for what others thought or did not think of me?

I heard no footsteps, but she was there beside me, hands smoothing my brow as she sang an unfamiliar song in her low voice.

I must have fallen asleep like that, for the light of morning awoke me. She was gone again, like mist before the sun.