Chapter 43

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            In the afternoon light that streamed through the slits in the shutters, Rika paced. Every couple of minutes, as she reached end of her route, she’d either peer out through the shutters or check on Elthia. The healer was still banging around the kitchen, cooking everything in sight, making the house smell like a busy restaurant.

            Rika didn’t blame her for it. She was worried about Damek too.

            The morning had been fairly quiet, with Elthia volunteering to stay with Rika so they could dye her hair. They’d only barely begun to set up after giving the house a quick clean when Damek had come bursting back inside. What he’d had to say had had both girls going pale and still.

            Zobah’s soldiers, those men in blue, were fighting with Atelic’s. They’d already pushed half of them out of the city, and were actively hunting down the rest. The whole city was on edge with no one knowing what was going on. Up until then, the soldiers had had an uneasy truce. But now they were openly fighting, with Zobah’s soldiers clearly winning.

 No one dared to interfere. Not even the royal soldiers. Everyone who could, was staying inside, waiting for the dust to settle. Already there were rumours being spread that martial law would be imposed as soon as the blue side won.

Damek had told them all that before heading back out to find out more. After making them promise not to leave the house until he got back. For the first hour, the pair of them had sat on the couch, talking quietly and waiting. But as time had passed, they’d both gotten more and more anxious, until finally, Elthia had excused herself to make lunch. That had been over two hours ago and she was still cooking.

Rika had taken up pacing both to relieve the restless feeling she had and to keep an eye on both the road and Elthia. She worried the healer was going to bake herself into a breakdown. And since they couldn’t leave the house… She shook her head and turned, to walk back towards the windows. If she kept obsessing, she was the one who was going to end up having the breakdown.

The sound of someone coming down the stairs had Rika turning to look despite herself. She saw Ahisu, the first time she’d seen him all day since he hadn’t left his room even for breakfast. She turned away and peered out the shutters, hoping he wasn’t going sit down in the front room. She’d been glad that going to bed early had given her an excuse to skip her magic lesson but she knew that it was only going to make the next one more awkward.

Her silent wishes came to nothing as the mage took one of the chairs, laying his staff across his knees as he stared intensely at the door. That had Rika frowning. She didn’t think Ahisu would have come down here without a reason. He never put himself in the path of possible interaction with the others unless he had no other choice. She stopped her pacing and looked to the door, wondering what Ahisu knew that she didn’t.

She got her answer in seconds when the door opened. With a cut on his cheek and a few rips in his clothes that Rika didn’t remember from before, Damek still looked relatively unharmed. “Are you alright?”

He nodded. “I’m fine.”

Running footsteps preceded Elthia’s appearance. She slid to a halt in front of Damek, hands out and grabbing his face before he could do more than stare. Her eyes shut and Rika guessed she was checking for injuries, much as she’d done to her the night before. After a few seconds, she frowned up at Damek. “You were fighting.”

Damek sighed. “I didn’t really have much of a choice. But you need to sit down. We need to talk. All of us.”

Still looking suspicious, Elthia followed Rika onto the couch, the pair of them tucking their legs up under themselves as Damek dropped into the only remaining chair. Ahisu, who hadn’t moved at all during the other man’s entrance, turned his full attention onto the blue-haired man.

“I’m sorry I’m later than I thought I would be, but I needed to get this information. It’s important for us. Lord Zobah’s men have driven out all or nearly all of Lord Atelic’s soldiers. They didn’t have much of a chance to do more than that and seal off the city before the reason they’d done everything became clear. Lord Atelic’s summoned his entire army. They have the city surrounded. We’re under siege.”

Rika shivered, remembering what had happened in her books during sieges. She hoped they had enough food and water set by that people weren’t about to starve. Or worse, have a disease run through everyone since they were trapped in such a small area. She didn’t know what kind of diseases could come from improper sewage and close quarters, but she couldn’t imagine they were any kind of pleasant.

“Our best bet now is to find some way to sneak out. If we can get out, we can get to Harniche before the lords even notice we’re gone. They’ll be kept busy enough fighting each other that we won’t even have to worry about too much pursuit. Of course, getting out of the city now will be harder than ever and we’ll have to find some new disguises, but if we can do it, we’ll be able to get you home, stranger-girl,” Damek said, a faint smile on his face.

Rika bit her lip. “But what about the people here? Won’t it be bad if escape, leaving them here to deal with all of this?”

He shook his head. “You forget, once you’re gone, they’ll have no reason to keep this up. They’ll both have to find another way to convince everyone they’re the better choice for king. Besides, you were dragged into this unwillingly. There’s no reason for you to have to try and fix it.”

Rika heard a faint chuckle she identified as Shetton, who she hadn’t even seen come in, before a loud knock came at the door. Rika, Damek and Elthia froze, before all three of them turned slowly to face the sound.

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