The rain fell everywhere, ruining our crops, flooding our homes, making rivers of the streets. We gathered, hundreds of us, thousands, half in hope and half because nothing else was left for us to do. I like to imagine how we looked from the tower: the crowd stretching like a turbulent and dark sea toward the horizon. I imagine myself as Rath Ducha, gazing from warmth onto desperation far below. I would have pulled the luxurious furs close against my neck and chin, and moved my shoulders under them like a cat settling. “Bring me their prayers,” I imagine her/me saying, and our voice rings like a silver bell.
Instead I was one of the supplicants, and I shifted my waxed canvas coat not from contentment but in an attempt to protect myself a little from the downpour.
Beside me, a gaunt woman with two small children and a babe in arms tried to interest her older two in drawing in the mud. She had brought along three sticks, one for each of them. “Draw the Lady a picture,” she coaxed. “Draw the sun, Ethan. Beatrice, what can you draw? Why don’t you draw us some nice supper?”
Ethan poked skeptically at the muck. I felt for him: the sludge would hardly hold shape at this stage, especially with such a feeble implement. Beatrice ignored the proffered tool and clung to her mother’s skirt, whining indistinctly. The intent we all comprehended easily enough: hunger, and perhaps some sense of the great injustice of drawing a supper that the rain had washed away.
Sympathetic or not, I shifted away from the little cluster. Before long the baby would start to bleat as well.
My fantasies of Rath Ducha’s life usually veer, here, off to what I’d eat while listening to the people’s pleas. Melted butter would slide from crisp toast down my wobbling chins, cake crumbs would nest in the corners of my lips, peach fibers would lodge between my teeth. I think of the pleasant gray of clouds and water beyond the window, the sweet sound of rain on a roof without leaks. I feast, and clean my face and mouth, and close my painted eyes as the herald sings to me the needs of my neglected people.
Sated, I feel I’d like a nap.
In reality, I slipped away from the family, forward through the listless crowd. The doorman murmured excuses. “My lady is tired,” he told us. “Rath Ducha rests from her labors.”
The men nearby scowled and muttered. One or two spat. But on we waited. It is difficult to foment hot rebellion in a downpour.
The doorman was replaced, as the world darkened further under the clouds. The new guardian carried a lantern, ornate iron curled around a single candle. “Get back, you lot,” he sneered at us. “Do you want Rath Ducha to see your insolence?”
I like thinking of her bed almost as much as her meal. Layers and layers of thick blankets; pillows piled everywhere around her. Occasionally, on nights when my own belly is less than a growling void and I have found a shelter I consider safe, I invite a nubile slave-man into our imaginary bed. He is well-trained to please fat Rath Ducha, beautiful Rath Ducha, and it is as much his pleasure as his duty, a fact that he makes obvious.
But most times, my Rath Ducha sleeps alone, in a perfect marriage of complete unconsciousness and absolute comfort.
My favorite part of the fantasy is morning, when I rise from my wondrous bed and walk out onto my canopied balcony. I observe the sea of my loyal subjects beneath me, and they are sorry indeed for the wrongs they have done and all the irreverences they have ever voiced. So I open my arms to the sky and part the clouds, and the sun shines down on us. The rain flees at my good pleasure, and the seasons resume as they should, and prosperity returns to Ducha’s realm.
In fact I woke in a mud-puddle, with pain in my neck and back. The guard had changed in the night, and the new man said nothing at all. He only grunted when anyone drew too close, and tapped the axe at his side. And we held back, and waited for our queen, our goddess, to be merciful.
Eventually, of course, even the seas will rise.
It must have drawn on toward noon by the time we moved. A splash at first, as it always happens with mobs if not with water. A young man, a relative hothead even in the damp, got too close, got pushed, pushed back. He swung at the guard, awkwardly, ineffectively, landed no blow. The guard swung in return, and cleaved him in two. His head fell near my feet. The eyes were wide as a fish’s, and as cold.
They tore the guard from his feet. I stood too long looking at the dead man, and I didn’t see them avenge him.
We surged up, through the door, into the tower. I prefer to think of the servants of the house not as murdered but as drowned.
We were a wealthy people once, learned and blessed. Our Rath Ducha had taken such good care of us, when I was young.
But that day, we could not find her.
Before night fell we had emptied her larder, looted her rooms. I took some servants’ food, mutton and hard bread. I never saw her bedroom or her throne room until the gold, the pillows, all the best had been taken and what little remained was defiled with mud.
Clouds stay nowhere forever. Rain cannot continue unabated, or it would overflow our borders and drown the world.
We have had dry days. But we are a wet and cursed land.
I have a fantasy, in which I find Rath Ducha’s grave. It is heaped with riches, and inside it something stirs…
Brynn MacNab has been reading speculative fiction since before she knew there was any other kind, and writing it for almost as long. She is delighted to return to Flash Fiction Online, where her first professional story was published in 2012. You can find links to more of her work at brynnmacnab.blogspot.com.
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© 2014 Brynn MacNab