The King’s advisor leaned against the wall by the closed bedroom door. He couldn’t hear what was being said within, but, under the circumstances, he could make a few strong guesses. The guards positioned on either side of the door wore grim masks of stone, their eyes transfixed on the empty air ahead.
The door suddenly opened, and the small, dainty figure of the young princess was revealed. Her fragile features were sullen and glassy, yet not a tear had left a path along her bright cheeks. Her Lady in Waiting hurried from the far wall where she had been standing and put an arm around the young girl ushering her away from her father’s room. Before she could be lead more than a few steps, the child looked up at the advisor and said in a voice of frozen fire, “My father wishes to speak with you.” then turned with her Lady down the hall.
The advisor straightened himself, always unsettled by the princess’s seeming lack of emotion. It was ever difficult to think that such a child came from such a jovial man.
Well, a man jovial in his healthier years of life. The advisor entered the room and knelt by the king’s bed. The king’s breathing was a ragged, continuous rasp, and his voice was almost lost in it.
“Hansel...” He started, then had to take several minutes to catch his breath. “You need to help... her.... She is young... but strong.... Provide direc... direction.... Please...” The king heaved, labouring to breathe, his body trembling.
“Of course, your majesty.” The advisor answered quietly. A trickle of blood appeared at the edge of the king’s mouth. The nurse maid who had been standing silently by hurried over and wiped it away with a cloth that had already been used for such.
“I will see... you... in the Latter....” The king’s eyes faded, and the light slipped from them. The advisor knelt by the bed for several more minutes, stunned at the quietness of the king’s passing, before respectfully closing the deceased’s eyes.
He left the room slowly, half expecting the king to call him back, knowing full well such will never happen again. He stopped just short of the door, finding himself looking down into the dark pools of the princess’s eyes.
“I...” she hesitated, seeming confused on what to say. “I am to be Queen in a fortnight, am I?” She looked up at the advisor, seeking his help the way the king had for so many years.
“Yes. In a fortnight. Once the time for mourning has passed. You will be Queen.” The young girl nodded solemnly, then turned back down the dimly lit hall, almost vanishing into the darkness.
“Dearest people of this grand kingdom.” Hansel’s voice boomed with the magical assistance of the royal mage. “Mourning has worn heavily on our hearts, but the time to let it burden us has passed. We must prepare for a new ruler, a new future. We must set aside our dark sadness and allow a new light of life to ignite our souls. Tonight, the Princess shall be coronated, and made Queen. She shall continue to usher us in our era of peace and freedom.” He continued on, speaking to the gathered masses of black and grey cloaks, skirts, and scarves. The sun beat down upon them all, yet they endured the heat within their dark clothes.
Once he had finished and stepped back within the castle, his head guard approached him. “Sir, are you sure? She is but a child, only a decade and two years. Should we not have an interim? Did the king not ask that you lead the country until she is ready?”
“This is per the king’s request. I am aware of her age, or lack thereof. She will be fine, I will be advising her.” He sighed and sat down in a cushioned chair, rubbing his face in hands. “In a way, I will be leading the country, through her. I hate that she will literally be nothing more than a puppet, but until she is ready...” He let his hands drop to his lap. “This is how things must be.”
His guard grimaced, then nodded, the advisor’s pain reflected in his own eyes. “As you say, my lord.” He straightened himself. “We have new hopefuls for the Queen’s guard. Many of them have been proving quite impressive.”
“So long as loyalty isn’t going to be an issue.” Footsteps approaching caught their attention, and they both turned to watch the young queen as she strode down the hall towards them. Her head was held high, and she somehow managed to appear a decade older than twelve. She stopped before her advisor, her dark eyes filled with an inquiring light.
The advisor rose and bowed, then gestured to the balcony. “Are you ready?” “I am.” The queen stepped forward, “The people need to meet their queen.”
* * * Atop the roofs of the castle two marksmen were preparing their weapons on near opposite ends. The man was notching an arrow, freshly dipped in venom. The woman was loading a bolt in her crossbow. Both had an excellent view of the balcony where the queen was to appear, and neither had guards to worry about for another ten minutes.
The advisor reappeared on the balcony to announce her majesty. Both snipers took aim, their target a sure shot. None below were the wiser, too busy celebrating their new monarch. The young queen raised her hand to wave to the crowd before addressing them, when the uproar started. People were screaming in confused panic as a body fell to the cobblestone, a bolt through his chest.
The queen was grabbed and pulled back inside, several guards already around her. Her advisor slammed the doors shut quickly.
People began pointing at the top of the castle, where a cloaked figure could be seen running. Guards spilled over the rooftops in a matter of minutes, chasing it.
The figure jumped over an alley onto another part of the castle’s roof, as gracefully as a fox.
More guards down below were corralling the panicking masses as even more moved to investigate the fallen body.
The gates were shut before anyone could leave, and people began shouting even more. The figure above seemed to disappear for a few seconds. Guards were shouting at each other, then the figure reappeared, held by two struggling guards. They disappeared again, down some hatch in the roof. Guards were yelling at the thronging people to calm down and wait for investigations to be finished.
Inside, the queen was taken to a drawing room, where guards stationed themselves at every window and door. Her advisor paced up and down the room while she sat in a cushioned
chair, staring blankly at her hands folded in her lap. A knock came, and the door was opened. In bustled several more guards with their bound captive before them. The queen looked up slowly, into the face of her would be assassin.
A strong woman stared back at her. Her hair was cropped short, rather boyishly, and her eyes were bright lights that pierced her majesty’s dark ones.
Hansel cleared his throat and stood tall before the woman. “What is your name?” he asked coldly. “I am called Mia.” “Mia what?” “I have no other name. I have no rank. I have no family. I have no one to mourn.” Was the stark reply.
Hansel nodded. “You are an assassin, are you not?” “Did I not just cite the creed?” The woman smiled. “Mia, Assassin, you are charged with treason and attempted homicide of the crown, as well as of a child. You will be imprisoned for questioning, and tortured if your answers do not satisfy, before your hanged before the people.”
“I did not attempt homicide on the crown.” “You are an assassin! If the queen was not your target, who was?” “Not her.” “There is still treason.” “What treason? I think you will find I shot the man aiming for her.” The assassin nodded at the little queen, who had not moved since the woman arrived.
“It... it does appear to be true, sir.” One of the guards who had come with the prisoner said. “We investigated the body. Her bolt was in his chest, and he was equipped with poisoned weapons.”
The advisor clenched his fists, then turned back to the assassin. “Your intentions are still unclear. You acted without telling anyone of an assassination attempt.”
“Seeing as I was the one being paid to take care of it, I don’t see the issue with this.” Mia smirked.
“Who? Who paid you?” “I’ll not betray the confidence of my client. I haven’t been paid yet.” “When are you to be paid?” “After the deed is done.” Hansel turned from the woman and leaned his fists against one of the side tables, forcing himself to take deep breaths. “Take her to a cell until I can figure out what to do with her.”
“No.” The voice was soft, almost easy to miss. The queen had stood, and approached the woman. “She saved my life. She should be allowed to leave.”
“Your majesty, that is not” “Of course, seeing as she seems well skilled, she could become my bodyguard.” the Queen continued talking as though Hansel had said nothing.
“Your majesty! I cannot allow!”
“I do appreciate your advice, but I must overrule you. I wish to hire her as my personal guard.” The young queen was making herself appear older again. She stared at him with those deep pools, all the while making the man battle within himself.
“You have many skilled guardsmen already.” “Should I not have a woman guard, though? One with whom I can share my privacy much more comfortably?”
“She’s an assassin.” “Making her all the better equipped to protect me from others.” The advisor turned to look at his queen, who was still staring at him. He collapsed into a chair and sighed. “She has yet to be paid by her current employer.”
“I can always come back.” Mia offered, smiling. “A steady job means steady pay. Sounds well enough for me.”
The advisor groaned under his breath, burying his face in his hands. “So be it. She may go, give her weapons back when you reach the gate.” “What of all else that is happening out there? We are still searching for more.” the guard holding Mia’s crossbow protested.
“He was the only one.” Mia answered. “Are you sure?” The advisor inquired. “Mine and my target’s clients were.... Very close.” Mia smirked again. “Fine. But security is to be strengthened considerably all the same.” The advisor responded wearily.
“Now, please release her and escort her back to the main city so she may collect her payment.” The queen said, turning to the guards.
“Yes, your majesty.” Several of the guards responded, quickly working to fulfill her orders.
Once free of her bonds, Mia rubbed her wrists, then bowed to the queen. “You may as well pledge your allegiance now.” The advisor said. “I’m not getting paid yet, now am I?” Mia smiled at the advisor, flashing white teeth. She turned away before the advisor could say anything, and the queen held up her hand to quiet his stuttering.
The doors closed behind the departing party of assassin and guards, and the young queen returned to her seat, naught but a weary child once more.
Hansel turned to look at her over his fingers and sighed. So young a girl should not be in such a position. So young a child should not have a hety target on her back.
So young a child should not feel the need to place trust in an assassin.
“What happened and why?” The woman’s flowing, raven black hair swirled about as she stormed around a corner, her blood red dress flapping about her legs. She shed a heavy black cloak, handing it to her maid who was skittering along behind her. “Held up for three hours! In that weather?! Because some idiot lost his balance?!”
“That’s not really what happened, my lady.” The tall man answered, coolly following behind her along the hallway, his own dark cloak folded over his arm. “The man was shot, and was found to have dangerous weapons.”
“Aren’t all weapons dangerous?” The woman snapped, entering a room with lavish furniture, and accepting a cooled chalice of wine from a servant.
“These especially. He didn’t not have to hit his target with more than a little nick, and they would have died.” The man placed his cloak on the back of a red chair and also accepted some wine.
“To target the queen before her coronation is official...” The woman buried her face in her wine, glaring at it. “And she being only a child!” She cried once she resurfaced.
“A child has no business running a country; should be running through mud instead.” The man muttered, staring at his own chalice, swirling it lightly. He glanced up at his female partner, who was still chugging her own, and asking for more.
“So disgraceful.” The woman growled, sipping at more wine. “WHy is it so hot? Did you forget to close windows? WHy is it so hot in here?”
The man smirked and lightly shook his head. The servants in the room were watching their lady anxiously, shooting concerned glances at each other.
The woman held her half empty chalice out for more wine, sweating visibly, her face turning red. “Put some ice IN it this time.” She said, and her servants abided her patiently, cautiously. When they returned with her chalice, she turned about to grab it, but accidentally knocked it from her servant’s hand instead. “Oh, how much was that?”
“It was your fourth glass, my lady...” “I can hold my liquor better than this... “ She raised a hand to her head and flinched at the heat of her own skin. She stared at her paling hand, and tried to steady it as it shook more and more violently. She turned back to her partner, who was watching in grim satisfaction as she stumbled and fell, leaning against one of the chairs as her legs sank from beneath her. “Yyou.... Bas.... bas...!!” She tried to snarl at him, her breath already running short.
“Now, such foul language we have here!” The man knelt down in front of her, wiping away a trickle of blood from her mouth with his thumb. “If you had only one drink, as you said you would, you would have taken a few weeks to die.” He chuckled, “but you, you absolute slob. You had to drink more. Now you’ve sped the process considerably.” His look suddenly darkened, and he grabbed the back of her head, twisting his hand in her dark locks. He brought his face close to hers, ignoring her hot panting breath.
“Now you tell me,” he snarled viciously, his face contorting into an ugly mask, “where is it going to be?”
The woman simply spat bloody saliva into his face before revealing a short dagger from her sleeve. She wildly swung it at him, nicking his arm, before he grabbed it easily from her hand and plunged it into her chest. She collapsed like a wooden doll, her head landing heavily on the carpeted floor, bloody droplets splattering about.
The man wiped the dagger and his thumb off on her dress, then stood. The servants were all cowering against a wall, one holding the other as she sobbed. “Make sure this gets cleaned up. Completely.” He said softly, as though nothing but dust was found in the room. He turned and left, letting the door slam behind him.
Another man appeared out of thin air, his face a twisted smile. “My lord’s wish is my command.” he laughed.
The screams were shrill and cut off quickly.