Bridge Over the River Krim: Chapter 2

Read all previous installments here.

“Are you having trouble down there?” asked Wynefrede Aumberden. “We’re almost at the leper hospital.”

“Well, I tried using my teeth,” said the man between her legs. “That didn’t work. I’m going to have to go in with a knife. I’ll need more light.”

Wynefrede pulled up her skirts, composed of layers upon layers of fabric.

“I still can’t see.”

She reached over to the window and pulled the curtains further open. “Better?” But it barely made any difference. As usual, the sky above Krim City was gray and overcast, and the air thick with that mixture of soot and aerosolized manure that made Krim’s smell so memorable.

“Maybe you should wait until you’re home and the servants can help you.”

“It hurts,” she said.

“The problem is that the skirt got caught in the clasp. Why did you decide to wear a knife harness on your thigh, anyway?”

“It’s Krim,” she said. “I need to be able to defend myself.”

“Here goes. Let me know if I miss and stab you in the leg.” The guard sliced through the inner-most layer of material. “Got it.” With the skirt out of the way, he tried to undue the clasp on the metal and leather harness that held a small knife on the inside of her thigh. But there was still a piece of fabric caught in it and it wouldn’t come open. He tried to force the harness to slide down her heg.

“Ouch.” She jerked away. “Stop that, it hurts.”

“Why did you put it on so tight?”

“I didn’t want it accidentally sliding down.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe you can find some oil or another lubricant and get it off you. Before you start losing circulation and get gangrene.”

The coach pulled up to the front door of Krim’s one and only leper hospital, a must-see destination for tourists. Today, the hospital was closed to the public so that the Royal Season participants could get a private tour.

A servant opened the coach door. The guard looked up from under Wynefrede’s skirts. “My good man,” he said.

“Might we bother you for a little lubricant?” added Wynefrede.

The servant slammed the door shut.

“Well, that was rude,” said Wynefrede.

Outside, Pleasance Pratt, the Royal Season coordinator, approached the coach and spotted Wynefrede’s face through the window.

“Victor, please don’t slam doors on the guests,” she told the servant and reached for the coach door. “Winnie! So glad you could make it…” She opened the door and quickly stepped back. “My word!”

“He’s just helping me with my outfit,” said Wynefrede.

Pleasance pursed her lips. Then her eyes fell to the newspaper on the seat next next to Wynefrede. “I was hoping you hadn’t seen that nasty newspaper,” the coordinator said. “I was going to give that editor a stern talking-to about spreading rumors and lies. But I see I can save myself the trouble.”

“I don’t think they’re going to get us any lubricant,” said the guard, leaning back and pulling Wynefrede’s skirts back down.

“Maybe someone inside the hospital has some oil,” said Wynefrede.

The guard climbed out and helped Wynefrede out of the coach as Pleasance glared at both of them.

“I’m starting to doubt whether you even want to find your true match,” said Pleasance. “And I’ll have you remember that your entry fee and accomodations are completely non-refundable.”

“I do, I do want to find my true match,” said Wynefrede, smoothing down her skirts.

“Then perhaps you might pay a little more to the other Royal Season participants and less to the hired help.” Pleasance sniffed. “You were all carefully selected and individually invited to participate. Among all the billions of people in the metaverse, we have found and brought together the ones who are most compatible.”

“If they can afford the entry fee,” said the guard. Pleasance glared and him and he stepped away.

“I’m sure there are lots of people that I would be just as compatible with, but they’re already in relationships, or busy with work, or just don’t like online dating,” said Wynefrede.

“If you have doubts about the program…”

Wynefrede sighed. “I’m committed, I’m committed,” she said. “I’ll do the program. I’ll place nice with others.”

Pleasance frowned.

Wynefrede threw up her hands. “I swear. I’ll be good.”

“I don’t know if you’re deliberately trying to sabotage your own happiness, or if you’re just addicted to drama, but if I get another report of your misconduct, you will be removed from the program.” Pleasance started to walk away then turned back. “I suggest that, either way, you seek out counseling for your emotional issues.” She turned again, and, with a swoosh of her skirts, walked towards the next coach in line.

Wynefrede rolled her eyes. Where was her guard? She spotted him waiting outside the leper hospital and began walking towards him when she spotted two of her fellow Royal Season participants. They must have arrived just before she did.

“Benedicta! Margarett!” The thigh holster was digging into her leg, so she had to hobble over. “You two are a sight for sore eyes.”

The three women kissed each other on the cheek.

“Is it true you’re sleeping with all the guards?” Benedicta asked her.

“Well, is it true that you’re actually a famous actress?”

Benedicta put one arm around Wynefrede and another around Margarett. “That’s almost true,” she said, as the three walked towards the hospital. “I was in a soap commercial when I was a baby. I’m still living off the residuals.”

“Pleasance just threatened to kick me out of the Royal Season,” said Wynefrede. “But I bet she doesn’t mind that you’re secretly a famous actress.”

“The woman is a snob,” said Benedicta. “But I’m rich, so practically everyone I meet is a snob. I’ve learned to deal with it.” She turned to Margarett. “Are you doing okay? I bet the article was just another crazy exaggeration.”

“What article?” said Margarett.

“Just the local paper,” said Wynefrede. “Somebody collected a bunch of rumors about us. Probably just made most of them up.”

“Well, I hope they stop,” said Margarett. “The Royal Season is all about raising money for charity.”

“And finding true love,” said Benedicta.

“Finding true love, and raising money for charity,” said Margarett. “Bad publicity can really put a damper on things.”

“Oh, pooh,” said Benedicta. “It’s just the local rag. Nobody will ever see it or care.”

Wynefrede glanced back at Pleasance. “She cares.” She looked back at Margarett and Benedicta. “And you know what? I want to stay. I’m having fun here. Krim is different from any other world I’ve been on, and I’m enjoying the company.”

“Well, we want you to stay, too,” said Benedicta. “If I see you even looking at a hot, sexy soldier — or anyone else not on the approved dating list — I’ll throw myself between the two of you.”

“You guys are the best,” said Wynefrede. “Any chance either of you has some oil? Lotion? Personal lubricant? I’ve got a little wardrobe malfunction.”

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