Even though the elephant plodded forward and should have stirred a breeze, to Adina, the air felt thick, like soured honey. The canopy of the howdah did next to nothing, in her opinion, to protect them from the jungle’s sweltering heat. It certainly failed to keep the musk from the animal or incessant insects at bay.
She spun her parasol and then dabbed at the bit of her neck exposed by her snug summer gown and then her cheeks with her sweat damp handkerchief. She tried to ignore the trickle down her spine and her along the back of her legs. She hoped the staff would be able to wash out any stains.
But nothing would be washed clean or cooled by a mint julep or slowly rotating fan, until they headed back.
“Do you know how much longer this might take?”
In the front seat, beside the mahout patting encouragement to his elephant, Gerald laughed. “This is a lost city, Adina.” His arms, bared by rolled sleeves gestured toward the dense jungle. “No one knows exactly where it is, which is why we’re on this little expedition.”
She laid her hands in her lap, ruffling the layers of her pearl hued skirts and pouted.
“But you said this morning that it couldn’t be too far.”
“He guessed, sister.” Cassandra’s distracted soprano drifted into the jungle as they trundled down the littered trail.
“If I had realized that, I would have brought another handkerchief.” She shook out the monogrammed and lace lined fabric like a dirty rag. “Just look at this.”
Cassandra sighed and swiveled. She seemed reluctant to leave the view of dotted Ratchaphruek and the dense spread of vines and wide leaved trees flowing into a single mass of vegetation.
Adina fluttered the limp cloth as her little sister’s sapphire eyes gave a quick inspection.
Cassandra’s oval face added a soft smile to the sheen of sweat. “You can have mine.” Her bronzed hand slipped out another square of fabric from her ginger dress.
“Thank you.” Adina laid her spent handkerchief on the back of the front seat and dapped again at her cheeks with Cassandra’s clean cloth.
Sweat poured on like a bottomless spring as soon as she had one bit of flesh clear. With a sigh, she tucked the square through her silk sash and concentrated on blocking the sun with her parasol.
She simpered in frustration as she failed to block all of the rays. Even the ones she managed to deter from landing on her smooth, fair skin, only warmed her parasol, leaving her under a near flaming lamp of her own creation.
Adina let out a grumble and glared at the flickering insects, the endless jungle and the back of Gerald and Cassandra’s heads as they both seemed utterly content with their journey. With a rustle of petticoats, she stood, grasping the howdah’s columns to steady herself. She tossed another glare down the mashed trail behind them.
The path wound through the jungle until a bend took their trek out of sight. She felt her stomach churn when she realized they had truly left the fort and any sign of civilization.
“We must be close,” she continued, belaboring the point while trying to quell her own nervousness. “Look how far we’ve come already.”
“Adina. Sit.” Gerald’s crisp order sounded as hot as the blaring sun.
“I’m not going to fall,” she snapped. Even so she swayed near to tipping and barely clung to her parasol as the elephant’s steady steps ended. The animal gave a warning trumpet. The mahout muttered under his breath.
“Why…” Adina whined as she reestablished her grip and balance. “Why have we stopped?”
She rolled her eyes with frustration as no one dained to explain. She swung her view back over the elephant’s head to find out for herself.
The canopy gave way to a massive tiered pagoda and accompanying compound.
Adina gripped onto the column of the howdah. Her hand lowered her parasol to the side, drowning her in speckled light.
Through the clearing of trees the sun gleamed down the central spire and on the sweep of gilded tiles coating the wide roofs. The eaves dripped with golden lotus petals dangling in front of the lacquered railings slicing sharp corners around every layer of the tower. Sparkles from encrusted jewels blinked like a million tiny eyes.
“Adina,” whispered Cassandra. “Sit.”
“What?” Then her eyes caught other glints against the leaves.
The sharp edges of dozens of spears flashed in the hands of rows of warriors standing before the elephant’s front legs and across their trail. Streaks of vermillion and ochre struck across their faces and bare torsos, amplifying their already threatening glares.
“Oh my,” said Adina. She dropped back onto her cushion and realized the warriors wrapped around them in an unbroken ring.
By the mahout, Gerald cocked his pistol.
Adina’s reached out and found Cassandra’s hand already fumbling for a steadying grasp.
They both stared out over the overwhelming force and Lost City before them. The same murmur trickled out the sisters in tandem.