Sweet Revenge Ch. 05byharemgirl©
Karina lay still and pretended to be asleep until Richard left their bed the next morning. She listened as the men mounted their horses and left the camp. She waited a few minutes more just to be sure they were completely out of sight of the camp. Then, she hurriedly dressed in a comfortable dress. She had found a pair of boys' pants in a laundry basket the day before, and she donned them under her dress so that her legs wouldn't be chafed unduly against the saddle. Since there was no sidesaddle, she would have to ride astride, like a man. She looked down at herself and wrinkled her nose. It was not much of a riding habit, but it was the best she could do on short notice. She gathered her provisions and stealthily crept from the tent.
There was a full moon, and the stars shone brightly in the sky. While Karina was glad of the light the moon lent to her, she had to be careful to stay in the shadows of the tents, as she made her way to where the horses were kept. She didn't think anyone else in the camp was awake, but she wasn't willing to take any chances.
She located the saddle and bridle she would need, along with a soft, cotton blanket. Quietly, she made her way to where the small mare she had chosen was grazing, and the horse raised her head and whinnied softly as she approached. Karina offered her a small piece of fruit, and the horse munched happily, as she saddled her and adjusted the bridle. When all was ready, Karina used the towel to tie her bundle of provisions to the back of the saddle, then she led the mare out of the camp. When she was far enough away that no one would hear her, she mounted the horse and reined her toward the south.
Karina had decided to travel for a mile or so to the south before turning due west toward the Nile River. She wanted the villagers to think she had traveled in a different direction, in case they found her tracks. If Richard believed she was headed into the desert where she would surely perish, he might be tempted to spend some time looking for her. Surely he would be concerned for his unborn child, if not for her. That might buy her the time she needed to reach her home and protect her father.
When she estimated that she had ridden far enough to throw them off track, she turned due west and said a silent prayer that she was indeed going in the right direction. Hopefully, the light breeze that was blowing would be enough to erase her tracks before anyone was able to follow her.
A trio of hours had passed by the time the sun finally rose. Until then, the air had been cool, but Karina quickly began to feel like the dark blue dress she was wearing was her own private oven. She plucked at the neckline, trying to release some of the heat that had built underneath. Sweat trickled down between her breasts, and her face was already beginning to turn a bright pink. She wished she had thought to bring something to make a shade.
Karina was careful to drink often from the water jugs she had prepared, and she shared generously with her mount. The last thing she needed was to be stranded in the desert, because her horse had collapsed from thirst.
She felt like she had been traveling forever, but she knew it was not even noon, based on the position of the bright sun in the sky. Her lips felt dry and cracked, and she felt like her skin was on fire, but she pushed ever onward, praying she would reach her home in time.
Richard arrived in the village with his men around mid-morning. He gave his horse a good rubdown and sent it to graze in the nearby bush before heading to his tent. He lifted the flap and strode inside only to find the tent empty. Karina must be with Fatima somewhere in the camp, he mused, as he changed his dusty clothes.
He noticed the bed had not been straightened yet this morning, and his eyes flew to where her bathing things were arranged on a small table. They were all there, arranged neatly just as usual. He stepped closer and saw that the soap and towel were dry. The hackles on the back of his neck stood up, as he mused on how she always took a bath before he returned to camp. Why had she not done so today?
He left the tent with long strides and went in search of Fatima. He found her with some other women, working to prepare breakfast.
"Where is Karina?" he demanded without preamble.
Fatima stopped her labor and looked at him in alarm. "Isn't she in your tent?" At his impatient shake of the head, she felt a feeling of dread seep through her. "I haven't seen her all morning. I assumed she rose and went to take a bath, as usual, and I didn't disturb her."
Richard spun on a heel and went to question some other villagers, but no one had seen her this morning. One of his men shouted, and Richard looked around to see him racing toward him.
"One of the mares is missing, and a saddle and bridle too!" he panted.
Richard made a quick circuit along the edges of the camp and found two sets of footprints, one human about the right size for Karina and one from the horse she was leading. The prints headed due south, into the heart of the desert. There was nothing for miles in that direction.
Richard felt his heart congeal into a cold lump of fear. Damn! He was sure he had struck enough fear into Karina's mind over her father that she would never try and escape. Now she was all alone somewhere in the middle of the desert! And on horseback no less!
Obviously, she had not thought about why he and his men only worked their horses before daylight. The desert heat was too harsh for man or beast during the peak of the day. Only the bravest souls attempted to travel while the sun was high, and even then, they did so only on camels, not horses! God help him, he had to find her before it was too late!
Richard barked out commands for his men to gather some provisions for him, and he saddled a camel himself. Camels were foul-natured beasts, and he usually tried to avoid using them, but there were times like this one when their services were crucial. He ran to his tent and collected the items necessary to build a make-shift tent and donned a long white robe and head scarf.
He returned to the camel and found Amir loading his provisions on the back of the saddle. Richard looked at him solemnly.
"In case I do not return in three days, you will know something is amiss. When night falls tonight, send some men into Cairo with instructions to hide out all around Sinclair's home. If, by some miracle, Karina appears...bring word to me. Is that clear?"
Amir nodded, but he gave Richard a questioning look. "So you don't want us to kidnap her again?"
Richard looked away as he shook his head. "No. I've already caused her too much pain. I should never have made her part of my revenge to begin with. If she makes it home safely, she will stay there."
Amir's eyes were lit with approval. "So, is that all there is to it? You would let her go, just like that?"
Richard gave a frustrated growl. "I don't have time to discuss this right now. I have to find her while there is still time." He turned before Amir could answer and mounted the ornery camel. Kicking it viciously, he steered it in the direction Karina had gone, following her tracks at a trot.
Karina's head swam, as she tried to maintain her balance on the horse. She was so hot she thought her brains had surely fried inside her head. She poured a small bit of water over her head earlier, but that had only provided a minimal amount of relief.
Although she was anxious to make it home, she would have gladly paused to take a rest, but there was nowhere in sight where she could find the merest bit of shade. Her horse stumbled ever onward, her head hung low and listless. Karina worried that the horse felt no stronger than she did, but it was much too late to turn back and head for the village.
She had no idea how far she had come or how much distance was left in her journey. However, she had resolved yesterday that she would either make it home, or die trying. She simply was not going to return to the camp, where Richard would again have her at his mercy.
Suddenly, the mare shied and stepped quickly to the side. Karina had been slumping in the saddle and was not prepared for the quick movement. She tumbled to the ground and landed on her stomach, with her face in the sand. She sat up and cursed the horse, as the mare trotted a short distance away and then turned to stare at her with wide, frightened eyes.
"Damn you, you stupid brainless beast!" she railed, glaring at the horse.
She tried to spit the sand out of her mouth and brushed it from her face. A movement caught her eye, and she turned quickly to see a snake coiled not two feet from her. Her eyes widened in fear, and she froze as she thought about how to get out of this predicament. Very slowly, she eased away from the snake, holding her breath. Just when she thought she might escape unscathed, the snake struck at her and bit her ankle. Karina screamed and scrambled away, as the snake recoiled to prepare for another attack, if necessary.
A searing pain burned her ankle, as Karina stumbled to the mare. The horse was still skittish, but Karina spoke to her in a soothing voice, and she calmed enough for her to catch her bridle. Karina felt as if her ankle was on fire. She moaned in fear. She had no idea how poisonous the snake was, or how long she had to find someone to help her.
She tore a strip from the hem of her dress and tied it tightly around her leg, just below the knee. She looked up at the sky. The sun was past the midpoint, and she estimated it was around two o'clock. She bit her lip in indecision. She had no idea how much further she had to travel to reach help, but she knew it was at least six or seven hours back to the camp. Either way, she likely wouldn't make it in time.
Taking a deep breath, she turned the horse due east again. She had no idea how far she was from her intended destination, and help might be just over the next set of dunes. It was a chance worth taking, and possibly the only chance she had to survive!
Richard spurred his camel to a relentless pace. He had been following Karina's tracks all afternoon, and he noticed how the horse was stumbling. The mare was certainly tired, but he feared more for the condition of her rider.
He frowned as he came upon the spot where Karina had fallen from the horse. He could clearly see the spot where she had fallen, and then he noticed the patterns in the sand where a viper had slithered away. His breath caught in his throat and the feeling of dread he had been experiencing all day turned into a cold hard lump of pure fear. He kicked the camel into a run. He had to find Karina and fast!
He raced across two more dunes before he spotted a slight movement in the hazy distance. He whipped the camel into a frenzy and closed the distance in a matter of minutes, but when every minute was precious, it seemed to take hours to reach her.
Karina was slumped forward on the horse's neck, and her arms hung limply from her sides. Richard jumped down and snatched her from the tired horse. Thank God, she was still alive, but he had to hurry! She was unconscious, and that meant it had already been some time since she had been bitten.
He laid her down on the sand and quickly found the bite on her ankle. Her leg was swollen to nearly twice its normal size. He said a quick prayer of thanks when he noticed that she had tied a tight tourniquet around her leg. He ran to his camel and pulled a small medicine kit out his saddle bag.
Returning to Karina's side, he dribbled the contents of a small vial down her throat, trying to keep too much from running out of her slack mouth. He stroked her throat to coax her to swallow, as he prayed that he had gotten enough of the herbs into her in time to save her. There was no way to know for sure, so he could only hope for the best.
He untied the knot in the tourniquet and retied the cloth around her ankle to cover her wound. Then, he turned to his camel and quickly found the materials he had brought to make a tent. Within a few minutes, he had erected a small shelter for them, where at least they would be shaded from the worst of the afternoon heat.
He spread a blanket on the ground inside the tent and then lifted Karina to bring her inside. Her head hung limply as he carried her to the blanket, and his heart constricted with fear. Please God, don't let her die, he prayed over and over.
He stripped the dress and pants from her limp body. Her face and neck were badly burned. He felt her forehead, and frowned at the feverish warmth he felt. He felt under her armpit, and the skin there was just as warm. He had to cool her off.
He ran back to the camel and brought in several skins filled with water. He wished the water was cooler, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. Wetting a small cloth, he bathed Karina's face and arms with the water.
She moaned slightly, and she opened her eyes and stared at him. She squinted at him and blinked her eyes several times, trying to focus on his face.
"How did you find me?" she croaked.
Richard looked at her grimly. "Sheer luck and nothing else. I almost didn't find you in time!"
His voice was harsh, and he sounded very angry. Karina closed her eyes as her head swam briefly. When the world stopped spinning, she opened her eyes again.
"Could I have some water?"
Richard held her head in his lap and dribbled water in the corner of her mouth, as she swallowed gratefully. As he laid her down again, he gently brushed the hair back from her face.
"Little fool! What the hell were you thinking, pulling a stupid stunt like this?" His anger was spurred by his fear of losing her, and he glared down at her.
Karina turned her face away from him and sighed. "I won't let you take my baby away from me."
She said the words firmly, and Richard stared at her in complete surprise. He had thought only that she was trying to escape from him, not that she was worried about losing her baby. He stared at her for a long moment before replying.
"So you would place yourself and the baby at risk trying to cross the desert alone?" he asked.
Karina swallowed a lump in her throat before turning back to him. "It was worth the risk. I would die before I would give my baby away."
She said the words quietly, but he heard the determination in her tone. He looked at her for another long moment before rising to his feet.
"Lie still and rest. You mustn't move. I will see to the animals, and then I will be back."
Richard left the tent, and Karina tried to relax. Her head throbbed painfully, and she felt as if her leg was on fire. Tears welled in her eyes as she thought about the baby she carried. Would it be harmed because of the snakebite? She prayed fervently that it wouldn't. She would never forgive herself if any harm came to her baby because of her attempted escape. Tears of abject frustration and fear rolled down her cheeks unheeded as she waited and prayed.
Outside the tent, Richard was doing his own praying. Please God, don't let her die! He repeated the prayer almost as a mantra as he unsaddled their weary animals. He didn't want any harm to come to their child, but it was the fear of losing Karina that made him break into a cold sweat.
Richard didn't know much about healing. That was usually the domain of the women in the village. All he could remember about fevers was to try and keep the person cool and still. He would do his best, and he could only keep praying that was enough to save her.
Karina thrashed upon the blanket. Hot! So hot! She had to get away from the intense heat. Her body felt like it was on fire. She opened her eyes to mere slits and saw Richard bending over her. His face seemed to swim in and out of focus, and she squinted her eyes in an effort to see him more clearly. Her tongue felt swollen, and when she tried to say something, it came out as an incoherent mumble.
"Shh. Don't try to talk. I won't leave you," he assured her.
She felt something cool slide over her face and neck, and she mumbled her gratitude before closing her eyes. She drifted in a dreamy haze. She looked around and saw many faces crowding around her.
"May I have this dance, Miss Sinclair?" a smiling young man asked her.
She nodded her head in acceptance. Then, she was being whirled around the floor in a rousing waltz. She tried to keep time with the steps, but they were too fast for her. She felt dizzy.
"I must rest! I'm so tired. So tired."
"Yes, you must rest," the soothing voice of Mrs. White reassured her, stroking cool water over her face all the while.
Karina looked up at her, but instead of her governess, she saw the lovely face of her mother bending over her. Karina reached for her.
"Don't leave me. I want you to stay with me!" The words came out as an anguished sob, and her mother gently stroked the hair back from her face.
"Don't worry, my sweet. I won't leave you, but you must lie still and rest."
Suddenly, Karina thought about her reasons for trying to escape. "No, I have to leave. I have to get away from him," she fretted. "He takes another woman under my very nose! I hate him!" She whimpered the last.
Strong arms lifted her, and she felt water dribble into her mouth. She swallowed dutifully before she drifted again into her dreams. She tried to rise up, but her father held her down by her shoulders, his face stern.
"You will marry Lord Rawlins! I don't care if you hate him. He will be your husband!"
She shook her head in denial and turned to run away from him. She had to escape. She ran down a long corridor, and there were many doors. She went to the nearest one and tried it, but it wouldn't open. She ran to the next, only to find it locked as well. None of the doors would open until she reached the end of the hall. She opened the last door and stepped into a lavish bedroom.
A man stood with his back to her, looking into the fireplace, and she approached him from behind. When she had almost reached him, he turned and she gasped to see that it was Lord Rawlins.
He smiled at her, and came toward her with a leer on his face. "You will be my wife. You are mine to do with as I wish." he stated coldly before closing the distance between them to haul her against his chest.
"No!" she wailed as she struggled against him. "Let me go, I hate you! I hate you! Don't touch me!" She struggled even harder, but strong arms held her still.
"It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you," a voice soothed her, and she looked up to see that it was Richard who held her.
He swooped to kiss her, and she returned his kiss joyfully. He scooped her up and carried her to the huge feather bed, where he stripped her gown and laid her down upon the thick mattress. He disrobed and joined her on the bed, stroking her heated flesh. His hands caressed her breasts and thighs, and she moaned in pleasure. For once, his touch left her feeling cool rather than heated, and she frowned slightly in confusion. She opened her eyes, and Lord Rawlins leered down at her.
"No!" She struggled to free herself of his weight, but he was too strong for her. His hands were everywhere, touching her all over. His touch left her feeling cold. Try as she might, she couldn't rid herself of his hands, and she sobbed her frustration. "Please, leave me alone! Don't touch me!" she implored.
"It's alright Karina. I won't hurt you. Lie still," a soothing voice said near her ear.
Lord Rawlins and his bedroom dissolved around her. Karina lifted her heavy lids to see Richard bending over her, tracing her face and neck with a cool, wet cloth. He placed his hand on her forehead and frowned deeply. What was he doing she wondered, as she tried to sit up, but he pressed her shoulders back down on the blanket.