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the rain queen
stephanie pui-mun law
page 03:05
 
 
 
 
 

So things went for quite a while. She would vanish each morning, but at night she would return. I knew not where she went during the day, what she did, but I did not ask, and she did not volunteer. I did not care. The truth was, I came to enjoy the company of my Risilka. She spoke to me more, though it was never enough. Her sparse moments of speech made them that much more special, as if everything she did say was said because she meant them. And she would always listen to me patiently no matter how much I rambled.

One night, she told me how she had heard of the tale of the Rain Queens. Her mother had loved old lore and legends. She had used to tell her daughter these tales to lull her to sleep each night. A loremistress, I supposed one could call her. A scholar of the old world. And Risilka sang some of those old songs to me as well, songs I had never heard. But they were beautiful, melodies that seemed to paint images in the air, choreographing the wind in harmony.

She did not seem to notice the hole in her little Rain Queen story that telling me of her mother had presented. I did not bother to point that out to her, since I had known from the start that she was no Rain Queen. Even so, there were times when I almost wanted to believe it. Her...dignity, perhaps. Even when she was swathed in rags or in the plain garb I gave her. No, it was much more than that. She possessed something else...I suppose it was the very fact that she could make me believe she was a Rain Queen., as if she could make you see the impossible. When I gazed upon her, she made me wish that she was a Rain Queen, and that I was not a jaded historian, but a boy again, and....

Somehow, the story of that day in the market square got out. No doubt the two Guards had laughed as they told the story of the little thief who had claimed to be a Rain Queen and of crazy Lahn who decided to rescue the waif, right after she had tried to rob him blind. I shrugged. It did not matter to me what rumors went on. I was a scholar, above such things. Lord Tohln was my patron, and the extensive libraries of the keep were where I spent most of my days, when my hands were not full with one or another child of his.

But it mattered to others.

The drought was still upon us, and it was the beginning of summer. The raining seasons were past, and there would be little hope of precipitate the farther into summer it became. The cisterns were nearly empty, water was rationed, thieves stealing waterskins more than money now. Those who could tried to leave the City, but the drought was everywhere, not just in the heart of Madruj.

Somehow, Lord Tohln heard of my Rain Queen. Lahn's Risilka. He summoned me one morn. I thought it was to discuss some topics he wished me to research. Instead, he was silent for several minutes. His cheeks were pale pink, hair wet from a recent bath. Of course a Lord such as he would not have to worry about rationed water, I thought. At last, he leaned back in his elaborately carved chair, steepled his fingers and said, "I want your Rain Queen brought to me."

"She is not mine," I replied, annoyed by that designation, although I did not know why. "I cannot command her to anything...she comes and goes as she pleases."

"Lahn, Lahn, Lahn," the Lord said, shaking his head as if I were one of those dozens of children, legitimate and bastard, of his that I taught. "It is for the good of the city. You know that. Bring her, or I will have to take steps myself."

I could not believe the implied threat, but at the same time, I could not press further. His words were a clear dismissal.

I spoke to Risilka that night, worried. I knew she was no Rain Queen. But there had been a dangerous glint to Lord Tohln's eyes when he had told me to bring her. I feared for her. When he found she was not what rumors told, I did not know what he would do.

"I can't go to him," she said, confirming my fears. She sat cross-legged in her usual corner, spine straight and cheeks still thin but glowing now with a health they had been lacking when I had first found her. Dry lips - as we all had these days. Dry throats and dusty skin.

If only you were a Rain Queen, I wished. If only. But we are what we are. "I can't go to him," she said again, and then she stood so abruptly I scarcely had time to react. There was a frantic edge to her voice. "I can't--" And then she started to cry. I reached out and folded her into my embrace, whispering nonsense words that meant everything.

And then I sang her to sleep with one of those strange songs she had sang to me so many times. In sleep she looked older, a woman instead of a girl. I sat there singing until I drifted away as well.

As usual, she was gone in the morning, but that night she did not return. I worried, straining my ears as I read, hoping for the slightest sound, for the familiar scratching against the door that heralded her arrival. There was nothing.

The next night she did not return either, and I feared the Lord Tohln had gotten hold of her. I was frantic with worry. When three rapid knocks sounded on my door that evening, I leapt from my seat, nearly knocking over my glass of precious water. A page stood there. "Lord Tohln desires your presence," the boy intoned, sounding so formal. "And that you bring--"

"Where?"

The page frowned at having been cut off in mid-sentence. "In his private audience chambers. If you will come with me --" I nearly pitched the poor boy over as I ran past him for the third floor where Lord Tohln's quarters were. I arrived out of breath, stood there panting for several moments, straightened my tunic and brushed back my hair with my fingers as best I could, and then knocked upon the door.

"Enter," Lord Tohln's voice sounded immediately. He lounged across several cushions, dressed in a satin robe. One eyebrow arched when he saw me. "Alone? I thought I told Reibert to remind you to bring my rainmaker...."

"I...er...left before he could tell me."

He frowned, clapped his hand, and another young boy appeared at his side. "Tes, go to Lahn's chambers and bring me the girl. I winced a bit at the way that sounded. I am above rumors, I reminded myself. "You...will not find her there," I said before the boy could leave. The line in Lord Tohln's brow deepened. "Explain," he snapped.

"She is gone."