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“It’s rising too fast!” the Princess’s offensive companion, Garrin, shouted. He had to shout to be heard, and even then Sir Lamarr could barely distinguish his words through the pounding rain and rushing water.
The water was rising fast. Moments ago it had been a damp trail. Now it was inches of swift-flowing brown runoff. “Try to find higher ground,” Sir Lamarr yelled back at the man. He grabbed the lead of Trace’s horse in his left hand and turned both of them around.
“Easier said than done,” Garrin complained.
That may have been true, but there was no other option. Already the water was almost a foot high. Sir Lamarr’s eyes darted to some branches floating past. “That way,” he pointed in the direction from which the sticks had come. Water flowed downhill, so high ground had to be the opposite way.
The rope in his left hand yanked out of his grasp. Fear constricted his heart. Sir Lamarr whirled in his saddle. Trace’s name flew from his lips.
Her huge green eyes met his. Her horse collapsed, knocked over by debris in the water. She disappeared under the muddy flow. “No!” Sir Lamarr cried. His heart shuddered to a stop.
Behind him, the Princess screamed. Sir Lamarr didn’t care about what predicament she could be in. He only knew that he couldn’t see Trace.
Yards away, she broke the surface. That was enough to propel him off his horse and into the water himself. Before his feet touched the ground, the current knocked him forward. His metal armor would drag him down—but he fought to stay upright, even if it meant running along at the speed at which the flood pushed him.
As Trace fought, he embraced the current. Years later, seconds later, he caught her. Only when his hand closed around her arm did his heart start beating again. “I’ve got you,” he promised.
But they weren’t out of danger yet. Sir Lamarr’s distraction cost him his footing just as his back slammed into an immovable barrier. Gasping for breath, he looked over his shoulder. Behind him was a tree, and he had narrowly avoided being skewered by a broken-off bough. “Climb,” he told Trace. Somehow she did, despite her sodden skirts, and somehow he followed, despite his water-logged armor.
High in the tree, he could afford to look after their other companions. The Princess clung to the low branches of another tree. At its base, Garrin struggled to hoist their injured friend Verrell by a rope strung over a branch. Sir Lamarr thought it a hopeless struggle: One of the men was sure to lose to the strength of the flood.
To his astonishment, they both survived. Once Verrell was above the water, Garrin tied his rope off and scrambled up the tree himself.
They were all safe—relatively—but their horses weren’t. Sorrow filled Sir Lamarr. That horse had been his faithful and trusted companion for many scores of leagues. Now he was gone, swept away to an ignoble death by a flash flood.
All they could do was wait until the rain stopped and the water flowed away. Then they climbed down into the mud. Sir Lamarr rolled his shoulders and grimaced. It was time to dry off.
The Princess squeaked, “Ow.” Sir Lamarr looked up to see what was wrong. Something small flew at his face. He felt a sharp sting on his cheek before he could slap the insect with his gloved hand. By then the others were echoing the Princess’s expression of discomfort.
He peered at the remains on his glove. Bright red wings, a squishy body—“Carnivorous dragonflies,” he named them to the group. “Run.”
And run they did, as best as they could. His armor rattled with every step. Garrin clutched his side. When Sir Lamarr saw the blood seeping through his fingers, he took Verrell’s shoulder from Garrin.
“To the river,” Sir Lamarr pointed when the stream came into view. They followed him without asking questions. Only hours after escaping the flood, they plunged again into the water’s current.
But the river’s tide was predictable. Even flooded by the recent rain, it was not too strong for the women near the shore. And it kept them safe: The dragonflies didn’t cross moving water.
Exhausted, with skin wrinkled from moisture and peppered with oozing bite marks, they fought their way across the river and collapsed on the far bank. Sir Lamarr dragged his helmet off his head and clawed his way out of his breastplate. The breeze hit the thin layer of his shirt, delightfully cool after the humidity and the impermeable layer of metal he was used to wearing. He dropped to his back with a sigh of relief and closed his eyes.
Sharp pinpricks on his arm took too long to register in his weary mind. When the pain reached his consciousness, he dragged his eyes open. The rustling grass caught his attention. Were it not for his new color vision, he wouldn’t have been able to see the snake slithering away—the toxic torture viper, whose venom caused excruciating pain the second it reached a man’s heart.
Which, for Sir Lamarr, was right about now.