The High Queen Sorceress (complete)
Author: jessicaw

Chapter 12
chapter 12

        

Once out of range of the castle and well off the normal travel paths, Brine slowed the horse and got off, pulling Keara down as well. She stood ridged, her arms still bound. He was going to rape her. She just knew it. Every muscle in her body clenched and her head begin throbbing again. Running was no use, her hands were bound and her legs were to sore and weak anyway. Besides, Brine was a well-built man and at any moment, he could overtake her.

She stood, imaging she was one of the trees around them, her legs and body grew as she envisioned them turning into a tree trunk. Her arms broke free of the metal chains and branched out with large, luscious green leaves. Birds would make their homes in her branches and she basked in the glory of the sun and the quite forest around her. Brine’s footsteps snapped her back to reality. Her branches and leaves shriveled, turning back into small, stick like arms covered in mud and muck. Her body shot back down, slamming her into the ground. She was short and wretched once again. She opened her eyes.  

Brine was watching her in curiosity. He had a key in his hand. “Give me your arms.” He said. Reluctantly, she held them out. He took her by the elbow and unlocked the cuffs. First one arm then the other. The metal, now free of its burden, fell to the ground and lay motionless, as if he had just slayed a great beast.

She continued to hold her arms out as she looked up at commander Joustafix. “Are you alright?” he asked her. Staring down into her eyes. His face was set in a frown, but his body was relaxed. She looked down to his tunic with the king’s crest, then at his purple cape, then down to his purple shoes. He was an important man.

“What do you want from me?” She asked, now looking at the ground, her arms still suspended in midair. His hands came down and rested on her arms, pushing them to her sides. He lifted her chin. “Do you trust me?” He asked her. “No.” She said, the word came out with such definite confidence, it was as if she had placed a wall between the two of them. 

“I don’t blame you.” He said, catching her off guard. She looked up at him, questioningly. He looked down at the ground, studying a small bug heading for cover. “I’m sorry about your head and all those terrible things I said.” He was speaking so low, she almost couldn’t hear him.  

She was shocked. For the first time in her life, a man was apologizing to her. A man! “Look” he said, glancing back up at her. “You’re in no shape to be out here on your own. And if they find you, they will think you bewitched me and kill you on site.”  

 “I’m not a witch.” She interrupted. “I know that.” He said, looking right into her eyes. “There is no such thing as witches and, like any properly educated person would know, magic itself cannot exist in this world. We learned that lesson over four thousand years ago.” 

Ashamed, Keara went back to staring at the ground. She had been on her own since she was nine. She knew very little past how to survive and being invisible. Brine, realizing he accidently insulted her added “I’m not talking about you Keara; I’m talking about the people in the castle and in the city.     Those people who have been given the opportunity and chance of an education should know those things, but that man… That… king.” He almost spat the word out of his mouth, it came out dripping with so much contempt, Keara could almost see it falling to the ground. “That man keeps the people stupid.

He is well aware, perhaps more aware than anyone else in the Kingdom that magic cannot exist here. He leads the people to believe otherwise to keep them afraid and make sure he can do as he pleases. He does horrible things to women because it makes the people fearful. He makes them believe he is their savior. He redeems women and saves them from the clutches of evil if he thinks it will gain him favor. He kills them if he thinks that will gain him more favor. The entire thing is a joke. He is not fit to be king any more than you are.”

Keara’s ears were ringing. Commander Brine Joustafix, commander of the second class of the king’s personal guard, one of the highest ranking positions of the king’s army was speaking high treason. She stood rooted in place, her head floating; the rest of her body had gone completely numb. She forgot about the throbbing pain in her head.

Brine continued, changing the subject. “I am going to change into my civilian clothes, while I change, you need to go down to the river and bathe yourself. Wash your hair as best as you can. I have some alcohol to pour on the wound afterwards so that we can keep it clean. Wash your dress too. We are going to go into town; we don’t need to attract extra attention. We may be out of the main grip of the king, but soldiers in Talahara could still recognize us both. I received a little bit of extra money and we need to get you a new dress and a good pair of shoes. Afterwards, we will go to the market and pick up some supplies. 

You and I have a little bit of a journey ahead of us. I promise I will not hurt you or chain you up again, but you must not run away. I know you don’t trust me, and I know you are not ready to forgive me, but please understand that I am trying to help you. I told you already that I intend to take you to my father. He is a fair and just man. He will take care of you and feed you. I want you to hide there for a few months, maybe even a couple of years. Please use that time to build up a savings so that you never find yourself in this… state again. 

They stood staring at each other for a moment. Keara’s head was swirling. “I don’t understand.” She said at last. “It’s simple, Keara. I’m trying to help you.” “But why?” “Because. You have never done anything to hurt anyone. I knew that the first time I laid eyes on you. You have been beaten down and tread on your entire life. I’m still not sure if that bag you are wearing is indeed an old potato sack, or an actual dress. You are the thinnest thing I have ever seen, and where I come from, women are not treated the way you have been treated.”

“If you have such different views from the king, then why do you serve him?” Keara asked, not entirely positive that she wanted to know the answer.   

Brine took in a large breath as he bit his lip and looked toward the heavens. “I serve the king to protect my family. Years ago, they came to our home. My father was struggling to pay the taxes. The King thought to take my mother and sisters as payment as we had no money to give him.

I volunteered myself to serve in his ranks, scorning my family and their way of life. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I haven’t seen them in eleven years. My sisters were too young to remember me. They will want little to do with me, and I understand their anger, but I did what I did to save them. As for you, well, they might not allow me back into their lives, but they will take you in. They know the way the king treats women. My father will not allow them to do the same to you. At least you will be safe. Please say you will come with me. Please allow me to help you.”   

“I don’t trust you.” She said quietly. Brine sighed. “I understand that, but please, if I promise not to chain you up, will you promise not to run away? I have food. I can protect you.” He said, trying to appeal to her. She stood in silence for a long, long time, hoping if she stood there long enough, she would just disappear.

Brine waited for her patiently. He didn’t dare make a sound. The sun beat down on their heads. Above them, birds flew, looking for food or things to use to build their nests. It was mid-summer and very hot. A small lizard popped up, climbing onto a rock and craning his neck towards the warmth of the sun. In the distance, a mouse could be heard rustling around in a bush, looking for berries to eat. Squirrels chattered to each other in the tree tops.

Brine shifted, his weight crushing the pine needles under his feet. Alarmed by the sudden assault of sound, the lizard scurried under the rock. Keara watched it go. She wished she was a lizard, if she was, it would be easy to slip away. Then she could be invisible.

She thought about her options. She didn’t trust commander Joustafix. He seemed to switch sides very easily. But he did bring up a good point; she would be caught and killed if they found her. Commander Joustafix at least was offering her protection and food. She could rarely find food on her own, if she stayed with him, he might still kill her, but at least she wouldn’t go hungry. After weighing out her options, she decided that sticking with Commander Joustafix would be the lesser of two evils.   

“Okay.” She said at last, rubbing her elbow apprehensively. “I will go with you, but if you threaten me in any way, I will run.” She had such a resolute tone that it took Brine aback. Regaining his composure, he smiled wide. “Excellent choice!”     

He turned to his horse and reached into one of the saddle bags, producing a small, worn out bar of soap. Use this to clear yourself up. I’m going to change out of my commander’s clothes, then we will ride into the city and get you a new dress and some shoes. And we will get some food. Have you ever had a sweet cake? They are simply marvelous. You must have one. I know a shop in town that makes the best sweet cakes you will ever taste!”

Keara’s mouth began to water. She hadn’t had a sweet cake since her mother died. They used to make them together. They would spend the entire day rolling and kneading the dough, layering the cakes, and throwing the scraps at each other. When the cooked them in the oven, it would make the house so warm that they would throw all the windows wide open to keep the house from filling up with smoke. She missed those days. A tear came to her eye. She brushed it away before Brine could notice.          

She took the soap and headed in the direction that Commander Joustafix had pointed. Once at the stream, she stuck a toe in the cool water. It felt so good on her sore body. She waded in and stood in the middle of the stream, letting the crystal clear, slow moving currents wash over her. She sank to her knees, letting her head dive under the surface. She was one with the currents, blending in with them as they brushed past her, imagining as the grime and muck was lifted off her body and carried down the stream, that it was actually bits and parts of herself, slowly dissolving away with the flow.                   

When she and her dress were both washed and rung out as best as she could, she walked back to where she left commander Joustafix. He was waiting for her; he had on a brown tunic with a black shirt poking out from under it. He was wearing black pants and thin, brown leather shoes. He didn’t have on a cape and had shaven his face. At first, Keara was hesitant, she could barely recognize him.   He was a handsome, fairly muscular man of about average height. He turned at the sound of her approaching and smiled. “Did you have a nice bath?” he asked, motioning for her to come sit on a rock in the sunshine. She nodded and sat where he pointed.      

“This is going to sting just a little.” He said, pulling out a small bottle of alcohol. “What is that for?” She asked. “It’s to clean your wound and make sure it doesn’t get infected.” “Oh” she said. She had never heard of that before. Brine poured some of the liquid on to her head. It burned. She tried hard not to squirm from the pain. She closed her eyes as tight as she could and held her breath. As more of the alcohol hit the wound, she squirmed again, biting her lip. “There” Said Brine. All done.   

Keara opened her eyes and exhaled. She let her body relax as the pain in her head quieted down. “Stay here and dry off.” Said Brine. Keara was more than happy to oblige. The sun was warm and felt good against her wet hair and dress. Even though she was hungry and her head hurt, she couldn’t remember the last time she felt this good. 

When she was dry, Brine helped her back on to the horse and they headed for Talahara. Talahara was a small town. The streets were lined with merchants selling everything. Keara could not believe her eyes at all of the colors and things to buy. Men and women hurried to and fro, the buildings loomed high above their heads.  

Women were hanging wash to dry on lines several stories up. Boys played in the street, pretending to sword fight, talking about burning witches. The girls sat secluded, peeling vegetables or sewing shirts. They wore simple outfits and did not speak to each other as they worked. Men laughed and jostled each other, waving happily to Brine as he passed, patting his horse. Women scurried out of the way, keeping their heads low and pretending like they didn’t see Brine. Keara was walking, holding on to the horse’s reins. Brine had warned her to mind herself, and go along with his act. He apologized in advance, just in case he offended her.

Even without Brine explaining protocol, Keara was well aware of how she was to act in public. She kept her eyes low, as hard as it was with all of the beautiful things to look at. The streets were made of dirt, but smooth from being worn down. Although she kicked up lots of dust and it turned her feet brown as it settled around her legs; she was enjoying walked on them. After the journey to the palace without her shoes, walking on the smooth streets was like walking on clouds.

Brine directed her to a small shop. He dismounted his horse and tied her to a post outside. Keara stepped into a small, dusty room. It was dimly lit and the walls were covered from top to bottom with leather sandals. A small, older man with a row of fluffy white hair on either side of his head looked up, pushing his spectacles up his nose with one, thin, bony finger. He ignored Keara, but smiled at Brine.

“Good day sir, what can I do for you?” he said in a slow, seedy voice. “I need a sturdy pair of shoes for her.” He said, indicating Keara. The man looked at her for the first time; his eyes swept her up and down, coming to rest on her small, bruised and dirty feet. “Yes, of course.” He said, drawing the words out as he came around the counter.

He was a slightly stooped man with a small round gut. Liver spots covered his hands and his crooked nose and broken teeth gave Keara a small chill. He looked back at her feet one more time before selecting a pair of sandals from the second row. “Try these on.” He said, placing the shoe by her foot. As she picked her foot up to slip on the sandal, Brine jumped in front of her, scooping it up.

“I said a sturdy pair of shoes! Something that will last a long time, something that will protect her. Not this garbage. I don’t care if she is a woman. She belongs to me and I want her to have good shoes!” Keara flinched as Brine tossed the shoe at the man. He caught it, wincing slightly as his face turned bright red. He didn’t say anything, but slowly turned back to the wall of shoes, placing the sandals back.

He put his finger to his lip, tapping it as he looked for a higher quality shoe to please Brine. He turned once more and stared at Keara’s feet, continuing to tap his lip as he did. The red still burning across his cheeks. 

He turned back to the wall, so slowly, Keara imagined a snail moving. Finally, he selected a sandal with thicker sides and a thicker sole from the fifth row up. He turned to Brine. “Will this one meet your standards, sir?” he questioned, a small bit of contempt hidden in his tone.  “Yes, that will be just fine.” Brine said, looking it up and down in satisfaction.  

The man nodded slightly, and bent ever so slowly to place the shoe by Keara’s feet. She picked her foot up and slipped it on. Brine knelt down before the shop keeper could and began sliding his fingers around. Holding on to her foot, he looked up at her. “Well? What do you think?” She thought his hand was warm and smooth. “It feels good.” She said. Staring at his hand.

“Alright.” He said, looking up at the shop keeper. We will take them. He stood up, his hand slipping from her skin. She could still feel the spot where it had been. She liked the way it felt. Safe and secure. The shop keeper nodded and turned toward the counter.  

“That will be two and three pence” He said. He still had the other shoe in his hand. Brine pulled out the money. “She will be needing the other shoe so that she can put it on.” The man nodded again. “Of course.” He said, handing it to Brine and taking the coins from him.

Brine handed Keara the other shoe and she slipped it on. Her feet felt funny in the shoes. She never had new shoes before, let alone nice ones. She watched her feet as she wriggled her toes. Brine chuckled behind her. She looked up startled. In her excitement, she momentarily forgot where she was, preoccupied with her new shoes.

He led her out of the shop and right across the street to another dimly lit shop. As they entered, she saw see little spots from the sudden change in lighting. She and Brine stood inside the shop, blinking as they tried to adjust. After a moment, they were able to see a tall, thin man almost as old as the shoe maker standing in front of them, smiling. “Good after noon, Good afternoon!” He beamed.  “What can I do for you?”  

There were bolts of cloth stacked neatly behind the large, light colored counter. A Man’s outfit and a plain dress were displayed in the windows, one on each side of the door. A long wooden bench lined one of the walls for people to sit as they waited.  

“She is going to need a new dress.” Brine said, indicating Keara. “Something of good quality, but nothing extravagant.” “Ahh! Very good! Very good indeed!” The man said, smiling down at Keara. “We will need to measure you dear. Hop up here and my wife will be right out.” He indicated a small pedestal.

Keara climbed up as a short, plump woman with greying hair wound into a tight bun came out of the back room carrying a long measuring tape. She had on a simple brown dress with a white apron over it. The apron had white ruffles and two big pockets in the front. She beamed at Keara. “Lift your arms dear.” She said. Keara did as she asked.

 As the woman took Keara’s measurements, her husband turned to Brine. “When would you like to pick the dress up?” He asked. “We can have it ready for you in as soon as two days.” He grinned at Brine as he waited for a reply. Brine frowned. “I’ve never been dress shopping before, but I was hoping you had something we could take with us now.” “Now?” The man got a worried look on his face. His wife, who was done measuring Keara by now came over and stood by her husband. “What’s the problem, dear?” She asked. Her husband turned to face her. “They were hoping for a dress today dear.”  

The woman beamed up at Brine. “Oh is that all?” She asked. “I have a couple of dresses in the back that I made. A couple of them are fairly small, and even though she is the skinniest girl I have ever seen, I think they might fit her. They will be a little big, but she could stand to gain some weight.”  

Brine paused and turned to Keara. “What do you think?” He asked. “If it’s a little big, do you think you could deal with it?” Keara glanced down at her ragged dress. “Yes” She said, as she looked the dress over. “Oh good! The old woman said, clapping her hands together in excitement. “What color would you like? I have a brown one, a blue one, and a green one!” Keara looked to Brine for help. She had never picked out anything before. “I like blue or green.” Brine said. “Blue please.” Keara said, glancing to the ground, unsure of her decision. “Blue!” the woman chortled. “I love blue!” She squealed in delight and hurried into the back to get the dress. The man beamed at Keara. “A good choice!” He said.  

Keara wasn’t used to people being so happy and kind. Most people ignored her, going about their own miserable lives, deeming her not worthy of their time. She thought that these must be the nicest people in the world.

The woman came fluttering back out, the dark blue dress bouncing in her arms. Taking Keara by the hand, she pulled her off the pedestal. “Let’s try it on!” she said, the excitement in her voice sending butterflies through Keara’s stomach. 

 As the woman helped Keara off with her ragged dress, she could hear Brine and the man standing in the front room, laughing and talking in animated tones. She liked these people. They made her feel like she mattered. 

Once Keara slipped on the long sleeved blue dress, the woman began messing with it, adjusting the shoulders and playing with the hem. She pushed the sleeves up past her elbows and pinched the waist together, sizing Keara up, humming as she worked. 

Feeling Keara’s ribs, she looked around the room. “Are you hungry dear?” She asked, handing her a small potato pie. Keara took the pie, thanking the woman. She couldn’t believe anyone could be that kind. The woman giggled, throwing her hands happily in the air as she wandered off. Keara bit into the pie. It was cold, but delicious.  

The woman came back in carrying a belt. She pushed Keara’s arms up, encouraging her to keep eating. She tied the belt around her waist and turned her around, cooing with excitement as she rotated. Satisfied, the woman led Keara back into the front room.                                                                              

Brine looked her up and down, nodding in approval. “My! How pretty!” Said the man behind the counter. He smiled at her, showing off all of his white teeth. He had a nice smile and a shiny bald head with a few pieces of hair still left, combed over to make it look like more. She liked him. He looked friendly. 

Brine grinned at the potato pie in her hand. “Thank you!” he said to the woman, indicating the pie. The woman grinned. “Nonsense. The girl is the size of a twig!” She tittered.    

Brine paid the man for Keara’s dress as well as several yards of fabric. They said their goodbyes as they stepped out of the dim shop and back into the bright sunlight. Keara ran her hands over the dark blue material, relishing in its beauty. “Do you like it?” Brine asked. She looked up at him with gratitude. “Yes. I’ve never had anything as nice as this. Thank-you, I know it was expensive.” Brine laughed the comment off. “It was a gift.” He said, leaning his face towards her and speaking in a low tone only she could hear. “From the queen.” He had a grim, deadly look on his face. Keara glanced away. She recognized the face. It was the same one her mother had when she told Keara about the sorceress and the two worlds.  

“What is the other material for? I can’t sew.” She said, indicating the extra fabric. “Oh, this” He said, a thin smile spreading across his lips as he held the fabric up to inspect it. “This is a gift for my mother, a peace offering, if you will. Now, how about those sweet cakes?” he asked. Keara smiled and they made their way to the pastry stall. 

As they journey away from the town and back into the seclusion of the woods; Keara could not stop thinking about the people in the dress shop. After summoning up enough courage, she looked up at Brine. “Why were the people in the dress shop so nice?” She asked. Brine looked down at her from the horse and frowned. “What do you mean?” Keara glanced down at the ground, her grip on the horse’s rein tightening. She could feel the thick leather begin to bite into the flesh of her bony hands. She knew not to ask questions. 

“Well?” Said Brine. She looked back up at him, letting her grip on the rein slacken. “That woman, she was happy, and the man didn’t mind. He let her do as she wanted. He didn’t yell at her or treat her poorly. And he was nice to me too.”                                                                                                                                               “Oh” Brine said, taking in a deep breath. He thought for a second as he exhaled, letting his shoulders sag.  “There are some people who choose to live their lives differently than how the king says we must. That man is a good person. He allows his wife freedom. He treats her as his companion, not his servant. They love each other, genuinely love each other. He understands that the things the king spews are methods to control the masses and no better than filth, though, if you ask him, he will deny it and tell you he is having a good day. They are playing a dangerous game; living within the town limits like that with all the guards and all the selfish. At any time, someone could accuse both of them the same way those men accused you.”  

“Why did the queen give you money? Did she give it to you on behalf of the king?” “Oh no.” Said Brine. “She gave me that money because she wanted to help us. She helped me stitch you up and clean your head. Most men, like the king would have let you bleed out. The queen understands that. Because I helped you, she wanted to help too. You cannot tell anyone as long as you live though, because it could mean the queen’s head. What she did is considered high treason.”

“So she does not love the king?” Brine spat. That man dresses her up and parades her about the castle like a trophy because she is pretty. But he thinks of her only as useful for his occasional pleasure. He has many women and can have as many as he wants. He keeps her around now only because he is required by law to be married. Of course he does not love her. Officially, she is not allowed to be called queen. She is no better than a whore in nice clothing. You don’t make your wife and child sit on cushions on the floor while you sit in a throne that cost enough to feed three villages for years to come. 

They came to a stop and Brine dismounted the horse. “Alright, we are going to ride fairly hard. We have a few days journey in front of us. I want to cover it as quickly as possible. He helped her up then jumped on behind her, touching the sleeve of her new dress as he did. 

“It’s a little big, but very becoming.” She blushed, her cheeks turning crimson. She was glad he couldn’t see her face. Brine dug his heels into the horse’s sides, encouraging her to hold on as the horse took off in a gallop.

                
                                     

 

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