Chapter 24 (Confiding fears)
Kkaj moves away from the palace’s main gates, letting go of Roffor’s hands. With the memory still fresh in his mind, his stomach churned. His eyes watered.
A pair of guards who were standing by the main gate when they passed ran forward and waved their hands. “Master Kkaj,” they said at the same time. “We have to ask you to —”
Kkaj released Roffor’s hand and dropped to his knees, vomiting onto the street.
Roffor spun to face the guards and waggled her finger at the guards. “Listen here, you two. He just recovered from the tournament, and though I told him not to, he came here to drink wine with the king and other monarchs.” She pointed to him as he continued to retch onto the street. “Now look at him! He’s a mess.
The guards started. “But —”
“We are going home!” Roffor lifted Kkaj to his feet and dragged him away from the bewildered guards as if he were about to pass out.
Kkaj wiped his mouth. “Thanks.”
After they turned the corner two blocks down the street, she squeezed the bridge of her nose. “What is wrong with you?”
“The noise … .”
“We’ve established that you don’t like loud noises.”
“It’s more than that.”
Kkaj scrubbed his tongue across his teeth and closed his eyes for a long moment.
A large vendor stall appeared in front of him.
He danced to the side and spun around the wooden monstrosity. Who would build their stall here? Along the side of the street where the king told them to?
Roffor placed her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. “Well?”
“Sorry. I’m trying to find the words. I’ve never actually talked about it to anyone.”
“This is going back to your fear of loud noises?” Roffor wrapped her arm around his waist and guided him through the dwindling crowd in the noble’s market. “Back to the opponent you killed?”
“Yes.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. Pain stabbed into his heart.
“Who was it?”
“My cousin, Reinkk.”
Roffor froze in place and blinked.
Kkaj skidded to a halt in her grip.
Her mouth worked, but only grunts came out.
With his right hand, he massaged her neck. “I loved her.” He swallowed the lump in his throat. “I … know it’s wrong but … being with her —” He swallowed again, but the lump didn’t budge. Was he breathing? His chest ached, and his vision blurred. “— being with her made me feel alive. She was —” His muscles slacked, and he slumped forward, crying into her shoulder.
She patted him on the back. “So, you not only killed a member of your family, but the woman you loved.”
She kissed the side of his head. “And from the way the fear manifests, you did so creating a loud noise akin to a gunshot.”
“Yes.” His voice cracked. “The sound still haunts my sleep.”
Roffor rubbed the small of his back and lifted up his chin.
He stared into her beautiful light-blue eyes. Without thinking, he pressed his lips to hers.
Gasping voices rang all around them.
She brushed her tongue across his before pulling away. “We need to have a talk.”
Kkaj glanced to the gathering crowd. “We should probably get out of here first.”
“You’re right.” Her lips thinned.
They pushed through the gawking crowd and worked their way to JimKar’s northern gate in silence. Next to a massive armored cart, Saffer stood with her arms crossed and a scowl marring her flawless face. She met Kkaj’s eyes then sprinted forward and wrapped him in a hug.
Kkaj grinned. “I —”
She kissed him.
Roffor growled then stomped her foot. “We need to leave!” Her words were curt. “It won’t take the guards long to piece things together.”
Saffer pulled away from Kkaj and glared at her sister, tongue out.
A rolling chuckle spilled from Kkaj’s mouth. “You know Roffor’s right.” He placed an arm around Saffer’s neck and urged her towards the cart with armored horses. Did the horses really need to wear those strange black and silver clothes? “Are the supplies all loaded?”
“Yes.” Saffer popped the trunk on the back of the cart. Several bundles of meat and bread sat beside the casks of water and horse feed. on the far left sat countless bottles of liquor. “I also bought a new set of flasks in case you forgot yours.”
Roffor stepped around them and pocketed the flasks after filling each.
Kkaj shrugged. “I have mine, though I’m dry.” He followed Roffor’s example, topping off each of his five flasks. “Do you have some water and food in the cart itself?”
“Yes. Hot food at that.” Saffer moved to the side of the cart and opened it. “The driver sits inside. An extra precaution against the wastes.” She grinned at Roffor. “Since you had such a fun trip into the palace with my boyfriend, you get the first shift.”
Roffor grumbled something Kkaj didn’t catch, but she climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Shall we?” Saffer climbed into the back seat and patted the seat beside her.
I need to speak with Roffor. He climbed into the cart as Roffor whipped the horses into motion, trying to decide between following his heart and listening to his brain.
Next: Chapter 25