She nodded at her brother, stepped out of the circle, and did not look back. She could not let personal concerns or social connections cloud her purpose. She had to be driven, single-minded, intent.
Her steps crunched over the dead leaf litter of the forest. The darkness was chill as it wrapped her in its folds. The leafy branches that she pushed aside were dew-drenched. She focused on these things because they were easier to focus on than what awaited, what she had left: the closeness of a circle of friends, alike in their minds and hearts in a way that it had taken her years to find, even though she counted her brother among that group.
They were the best friends that she could hope for. And she was unsurprised to that tears stung her eyes.
If this went wrong— Even if it didn’t—
She broke from the forest’s cover and looked across the sloped, green grounds towards the castle on its high, natural pedestal of red stone.
She paused for only one fortifying breath before she set her slippered feet into the wet grass.
She kept her eyes ahead, on the glowing windows of the castle, one in particular, the highest in the highest tower.
He would be there, watching the world like an eagle in its eyrie, lord of all he saw, and predator to all of it too. If he should see her— But he knew nothing of their plot. He would assume she was out for a stroll. He would assume she had been summoned to a lover’s tryst.
At the entrance to his tower room, she paused and touched her fingers to the corked bottle in the secret pocket of her dress, hidden where none would dare look, discreetly, as if she was straightening her front.
He turned towards the door when she pushed it open. He smiled at her, bright and warm, and his eyes traveled from her face to crown to toe. “Your shoes are wet from the grass, my Mel. What took you to the grounds at this late hour?”
He did not wait for a response, but said, “Take them off, child. You’ll catch a chill. Put them by my fire to dry,” he added, indicating the hearth with a sweep of his pale hand.
She obliged him without protest, took the moment to check again for the bottle.
Now that she stood before him, her fingers trembled touching the cork.
He was beside her when she straightened from setting down the shoes. He slipped a hand around her waist, and she let him draw her in for an embrace. She allowed him to kiss her cheek, hoped that the leaves’ dew-fall had washed away enough salt that he wouldn’t taste her tears, trying to enjoy how gentle he could be, trying to remember how cold and how hard he could be too, remembering the children’s cries as the horsemen had run them down, the wails of those whose houses had been burnt along with them, the shrieks of those who felt the torch, remembering the sounds of breaking bones, and his laughter over all.
“Where is your brother tonight?” he wondered.
“Abed already after the hard day of training.”
“Your brother trains well,” he agreed.
“Come, Mel,” he said, and he drew her to a chair by the fireside. He sat down in the chair beside hers. “Share my cup with me,” he said, pouring two goblets of dark red wine, “and tell your father of your day.”
Whoops. I lost track of the time while cleaning my apartment.
This is the second of Kate Kearney’s lines that has become a piece for me about assassins. I’m not sure what that says about me or her or us. Check out More Than 1/2 Mad for Kate’s original piece, “Blood and Raisins,” using this line of hers that I thieved.