The gift of short story for Nil

Winter’s Revelation

The flickering flames warmed my frozen fingers and I breathed a sigh of relief leaning back and resting against my horse’s legs. I found some scraps of food left in my bag and had the last of the water. The storm was in for the night and would be too dangerous to carry on. Adding more wood onto the fire, I took out the map of the kingdom, studying it and working out my next route.

“Soon your blood will be on my hands and I will dance on your rotting corpse.”

~    ~    ~

On the third sunrise, I edged out of the forest and overlooked the snow covered town of Ewhurst. I petted Rain’s neck and lightly kicked him down the slope, keeping to the stone path. My eyes were scanning the landscape when I heard snap of a branch and un-moving I carried on watching Rain’s ears twitch.

Fools.

The ambush came moments later. Rain first kicked the man in front of us and then the man behind us. I quickly cartwheeled off and gripped my two daggers. While the two man lay moaning in the dirty blood covered snow, the others went for the kill, or so they thought.

The fight ended minutes later. Rain and I went off after taking their gold coins. We traveled fast and swift with no more stops. It was night when Bodiam Castle of England loomed over us.

Moat? Why is it always moats? Though I did like the look of that ice.

I needed to find a place to keep Rain. I brushes his main and smiled. Rain was like me, an orphan and had trust issues.

When I was young, a guild had stolen me from mine in revenge towards the master. I was kept tied to a pole for days with only water to kill my thirst. Rain had been stuck there, too. A horse that was meant to be broken but was stronger than anything they threw at him.

At night, my guild saved me along with Rain. I was the only one that Rain allowed to come to him so I learned from the master how to take care of him and we bonded. That was when the master started training me in the arts of war. Sure, I was a girl, but he wasn’t gender biased which was rare for our time. He wanted me to be able to defend myself. I respected him for it and accepted assassination jobs when I turned sixteen. And when I turned eighteen, I started training for my biggest assassination job assigned- killing the king.

Five years had passed since I had started training to kill him. One would think that it was weird to train for so long because most assassination jobs didn’t really need much preparation, but the king was a special case and the man who requested it, gave a deadline of six years. My master told me that the man would use that time to gather allies so he would take care of the kingdom. My master and father respected the man, not the just the money and accepted the job. He gave the job to me.  

It was easy. Dressing up in huge dresses. Flirting with men with status and getting them alone. It didn’t sit well with me in the beginning, I admitted. Letting men touch my arms and allow them to run their fingers up my thigh when they thought that I was a harlot. I actually hit the first man with a broom. My master was close by and he finished the job. It was embarrassing, but soon I learned that their advances were nothing when I had the full control. Alone was when I went for the kill and no one ever linked me to the crimes, unlike my brethren of the guild. Now, my task was to assassinate the king and I needed to get inside the castle.

~    ~    ~

Bodiam Castle wasn’t the king’s but that of his former knight, Sir Edward Dalyngrigge. It had various chambers built around the outer defensive walls and inner courts. High towers were at the entrance and the corners, topped with crenellations. It’s those square wiggly formations at the top that children would draw whenever they would be thinking about castles. And tonight, horses and horse led wagons rode through the entrance. I wasn’t stupid. The best way to get in into a castle like this was during a party.

My master had arranged me an escort who was due to show any minute now. I was to change in the wagon while he was to ride at the front. The man only agreed because he owed my master a favor. I hid Rain and waited by the road.

When a wagon pulled up, a hand made our signal through the blinds and I got inside while a middle-aged man got out and jumped to the front seat.

I found a gorgeous dress which I put on fast. I had kept my leg ties where I slid in my daggers. After I checked myself all over, I pulled my head out and signaled for the man to return inside.

The road was bumpy and we didn’t speak. Less chance of remembering our voices that way. At the entrance, the guards checked the wagon and my escorts invitation. I stayed silent then as well while being ‘thankful for the heavy dress.’ The heat was welcoming. In a way it was warmer than my riding clothing. I hoped that Rain would be okay and that the winter evening wouldn’t turn into a storm.

After we finally entered the ballroom, I looked around the extravagant party before eyeing the place of honor, where sat the king. I had never seen him before so his features shocked me, he reminded me of me. The only difference was the hair. While his was smooth and golden, mine was curly and black as the night.

My escort showed me around and introduced me to his friends. He had many. I nodded, smiled, and responded when prompted. After a time, paintings and trinkets had begun making me uneasy. It felt very deja vu and I hated it. The longer I stood by any of the paintings the more I would remember of a child’s laughter, sounds of little feet running on the cold floor, and heat from the torches.

How could I have these memories when I had never been here before?

After a while, my escort and I got close enough to the king to overhear his conversations. The king was telling of his last hunt. The men laughed at his inserted jokes and I tried really hard not to roll my eyes. The mingling was tiring as always and I started of daydreaming about snuggling next to Rain and playing chess with the men of the guild. However, something weird happened. A knight came up to me and told me to follow him to a chamber where I would gain audience with the king. My eyes widened and I questioned their intentions. The knight assured me that the king had questions about my escort. He wanted to know if my escort would be a good knight and needed my advice as seeing that I was his lady.

Reluctantly, I followed the knight all the while signalling my escort to stay at the party. The king was giving me a chance to murder him without realizing.

My uneasiness grew as walked down hallways and up the stairs. Scents fumed around us that also reminded me of my past. I spied our destination and sighed. I remembered those doors. I remembered their creaks and their soft handles. There was no more denial left in me. I knew this place. I didn’t know how or maybe I didn’t dare to say it out loud, much less think it.

The doors swung open from the inside, two ladies in waiting bowed and showed us. The king and queen entered through another door into the chamber.

We surveyed each other without moving and then suddenly, the queen rushed to me and started crying.

I stood there like a statue, even when the queen was crying hysterically and telling me how I was their long lost daughter.

The story was that the king never found out who kidnapped their daughter and they thought me to be lost to them forever. The queen told me about the room that she created and how it had never been  used. In every castle, there was a room meant for me so I would feel comfortable. I asked them both of why thought me to be their daughter and both answered, simply. The birthmark on my shoulder. They noticed it when I was dancing with my escort. They couldn’t understand why I was emotionless.

They didn’t understand that all of my life that I could remember I had only one master who said he was my father. I had one family, the guild. I came here on a mission, but could I go through with it? The guards, the ladies in waiting… I would have to end them as well. I didn’t know who requested the death of the king. However, I knew that what they told me was the truth. I was their daughter. But, how was I supposed to not to go through with my mission? I loved my master. He was never bad to me. He took care of me. He allowed me to have my best friend, Rain. Why did he take me? I asked if someone asked gold in exchange for me. My parents said no.

After I continued, thinking, I saw uncomfortable fear in my parents eyes. I had a mother…who actually wanted me. I didn’t need to kill any of them, except for my father. If only I could stay here a couple of days and find a moment where I…. what I was thinking? How could I murder a man who looked at me with so much love?

I was stuck. The man who I called father would hate me for not getting the job done. The man who ordered the hit, would order a hit on me. I was done for, either way. Either to have my real father’s blood on my hands or to pay for the sin of accepting the job in the first place. For the first time in years, I felt myself shaking. When my mother reached out to pull me back to her, I stepped back. I saw the hurt in her eyes, but I couldn’t let her console me. Not when I had such thoughts in my head about her husband.

Thinking that I was closed off because of the audience, my father sent the guards and the ladies away. It was not the three of us, big mistake. Minutes passed before my escort joined us in the room. We made eye contact, but before I could stop, he charged with his sword at the king. I reacted by pulling out my dagger and blocking the sword in the last seconds. My mother let out a scream for which my escort hit her over the head with a hilt of another sword after she ran up stupidly to the confrontation. Using those seconds of distraction, I freed his other sword and a full blown sword fight erupted. We exchanged a heated argument over the mission and my finding my parents. The escort didn’t care and confessed that he killed the real one and took his place. He was sent by the man who ordered the hit on the king to make sure the job was done.

The feeling of shock was my first mistake in a long time. In those seconds while I pondered his words, he attacked and I wasn’t prepared. The king, my father, jumped in front of me to save me and I watched in slow motion as the sword cut through his shoulder. My sword that I stole dropped to the ground as I leaped to catch his falling body. The fake escort laughed and ran off. He knew that the deed was done. After all, we lived in the time where medicine didn’t fully come to fruition.

Snow. Falling snow was the last thing that my real father saw before saying goodbye to his wife and newfound daughter.

 

—-

For Nil

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