The market place was bustling. People were all around. The noise and the chaos added to the excitement of being out. She just stood there for a moment breathing in the spices and the fish. Uncooked spices and fish did not smell as appetizing as cooked fish. She did not care. A smile slowly spread across her face, and her walk acquired a skip. She almost ran to the scarf stall as the bright purple fabric called to her. It was not necessary, she did not need it, but today, she wanted to treat herself. She did not count the expense, she just bought it. The color and the print matched with what she was wearing. The exuberance did not die down the entire evening. If she was tired it did not show, she slept like a baby that night.
She was a helper to the mistress, somewhere in China. The times were mixed and new changes were coming. Magic was being frowned upon and people did asked for evidence. Superstitiousness was being frowned upon by a few elites, as it was being used wrongly. Some defied tradition and because they were people of influence they were slowly gathering followership. It was in secret, of course, nobody dared oppose customs and ceremonies in public.
It did not matter to the girl. Her life had little to do with those matters. She did not attempt to understand any of it. Her day to day survival was the only matter for concern. Her parents had sold her to slavery, yet she was lucky to be rescued by the kind mistress of the house. She did not care about the mistresses' business. For the girl, all that mattered was that her mistress was her lifeline. For having been saved by her, the girl would serve her for life. The mistress did not fail to remind the girl, her place. Although she was not a slave, her life was no different from one. The girl did not mind the servitude. She was used to it. If it meant her life, she would do it to survive.
Her mistress was clever. She knew how to manuevor situations to get her own way. She invariably got what she wanted. No one knew how deep her mistress’s deceit ran. The girl, being with her for more than a decade, started to slowly unravel the happenings. Whatever it was, she had pledged her loyalty to her mistress in her heart and she was not the one to back out.
Her mistress did not have a business, but she may as well have been a business woman. She never said or did anything without an agenda. Her deceit lay in her honesty. “I never lie…” she would say. She mostly never told the complete truth either. She was a master in reading people and she was perhaps a master of playing with other people's perception. She would have done well in court, why she wasn't there, the girl did not know. She never claimed to be a business woman. She always spoke in what seemed like riddles.. It was only her long standing clients that understood her language clearly. The girl admired the mistress. She had an ingenious way of helping people, till the girl got acquainted with her darker side.
Strange occurrences were not unusual and that day changed the girl's life forever. He came and asked to see the mistress. He was well dressed and carried himself with a deliberation that was rare. The girl could usually place people and she knew the kind that visited her mistress, but she could not place this man.
He seemed like an elite but was not as fine as one. He seemed like a warrior but seemed to follow courtly courtesy. He seemed familiar with the mistress, but the girl who was familiar with all those who knew her mistress was not familiar with him. Whilst he exuded confidence and inspired trust, something about him made the girl feel eerie. He bowed gracefully and inquired to meet the mistress. The girl was instructed to refuse any inquiry that came. If they were not meant to be refused, the mistress would meet the guests herself. The house helpers were never informed of anything. For some unknown reason even though the mistress did not come, the girl could not refuse the guest. The girl’s legs seem to acquire a life of their own and she proceeded to inform her mistress.
She had never seen her mistress panic. That day her mistress lost her composure and she said "If you want your life.. send him away." He was an assassin, and the girl suddenly put the pieces together. The whispers and the stories.; the hidden talks and the money exchange. She had seen the man before, but he had always dressed differently. Her mistress was a person who would take contracts and pass it onto assassins. They were independently trained in the arts of killing. No one knew of its existence and often orphans with no future were recruited to serve. She faced her mistress knowing that punishment was imminent. The mistress pursed her lips in response. This was a very bad omen. The mistress never pursed her lips. Almost never. It was a matter of grave fear. Finally the mistress signalled to escort the man in. The girl could sense danger but did as she was told. The mistress asked the girl to stay as she escorted the man in.
They spoke softly.
"You have failed us." The man said. "My men were caught and paid with their lives because of your lies. Our vow to our kind of life is our business, but we have a code that keeps us from chaos. If it wasn't for the good will and the shelter that you had given us, our code tells us that we should have your head."
The mistress kneeled down. "Grandmaster, forgive me for not receiving you and seeing you immediately on arrival. I have not served you well. On hearing of your arrival I had to prepare for this to be the last moment. Grandmaster, I will not lie to you. The client has political interests…"
It seemed like a moment where the man known to the world as the Grandmaster of assassin's grew even more still. As a guardian of the creed he held a higher responsibility that prevented him from acting on impulse. Known for his astuteness, wit and wisdom, he maintained balance and with it peace. He did not seem like much but that very thing, he played to his advantage. Very few people knew this man to be the Grandmaster.
"He promised me money and introductions to new elite clientele. I made a choice to be a part of the trap. He had an agenda to ride up the ladder at the cost of lives of Assassins who interfere with the order of the world. While I was aware of some aspects of it I did not foresee the far reaching consequences. I crossed the rules and made a decision for power. I truly believed that being to gain more power in this manner will help me bring a better balance and to have more control over the clientele I get. I was hoping that I could spare the lives of innocents by promoting a political agenda." The mistress continued.
The Lord was a molester and pedophile. His arrangements were being threatened to become public. Eliminating conflict was no longer enough. He needed to establish good will. He needed to satisfy his urges and needs. Sabotaging Assasins to gain good will with the community that were his enemies and political allies was necessary. The web of lies had to paint a picture that would serve to grow his influence and power. He ordered an assassination and informed the people who he had ordered assasination on. He manipulated the situation to look like the mistress had a hand in the political arena and was trying to establish her ground. Whether this was in cooperation with someone else or not was not known. Things that were not known created more paranoia.
Grandmaster remained still and silent for many moments that seemed to stretch into eternity. When he spoke, his soft voice reverberated in the room. "You will have to pay for what you have done. Our trust in you will have to be earned again. We live by a code and refuse to be manipulated. While we are not for moral judgements, we will not be slaughtered to take the blame for the hand that wields us. We have never refused a request but henceforth if there is any suspicion of deceit we will have to make choices in such circumstances. We shall be prepared to face any threat that may loom upon us.".
Assassins were not to take sides. Their code was simple, life or information for money. They lived a life of anonymity. Few knew who they were. They were a rogue community that were not loyal to any crown. They served for a price. They did not refuse any contract and were not interested in why a certain task was assigned to them. They took pride in their work. Because of the advantage they provided of anonymity and to work outside the boundaries of norm the arrangement offered several advantages. Their existence was tolerated. They never dealt directly with leaders. They did not know whom the tasks came from or why it needed to be done. Mistress was an intermediary. It looked like she was running a brothel, but women were well respected. Undue harassment led to punitive actions and she was very strict. No girl who worked for the mistress had to ever worry about their chastity. It was not a matter the mistress was bothered about and she was ferocious about defending her people. When the mistress was around things were always safe. She had saved many lives and the gratitude was paid back in service. Mistress not only demanded it but inspired it as well. No one knew how the mistress came to be or who she was. She was simply known as the mistress in the lands.
"I understand," she said. If she was relieved, it did not show. "Do you have any instructions on how I could make amends?".
"Yes… you have to restore our anonymity and de-link us from this preposterous and dangerous situation. I want the person who did this to pay."
The creed of Assassins was considered a myth. Those who knew of their existence took it to their grave. They were stories told in taverns but no one knew of them.
The politician would have to be discredited and the people who died would have to be shown as a part of him. The mistress would make an enemy for the first time in her life. She did not have a choice.
It was a grand banquet, one of the biggest organised by the mistress for a lord of the land. He showed great promise of ascending in the king's court. He had been a soldier but realised that his political acumen would serve more than his military prowess and he had transitioned. He was the cleanest man around. He wanted to come to the notice of the king and this banquet would serve such a purpose. The banquet was not a celebration but also a call to lords and lady's of the land to contribute to the goodwill of people. After the case of the Assassins this was organized to put bad happenings in the past and renew friendships and comradery for the greater good of the community.
The girl had a job to do. This banquet was a window of opportunity for her to repay her mistress for the kindness she was shown. What she did would save her mistress and set a path to the lord's doom. Although, she never attended these gatherings … to make her present was not difficult or unusual as the mistress was organising the banquet.
People were placed to receive guests. food and wine kept flowing. The girl had made a few friends and that day she was serving with a girl who was like her sister. After a lot of running around the girls feet started to hurt. She started to feel sick. She kept on a brave front and continued her duties. She had to keep up her work and not let the mistress down. This was the day that the mistress would set things right. Mistress noticed no matter how much the girl avoided it. She called the girl's sister "I don't want the girl to be ill at my banquet and take my attention away. Take this girl away and get her well." The girl looked pale and her sister bowed to the mistress and summoned her. The girl had no choice but to follow. She was led to the servant quarters through the guards and as she went she turned pale. She saw the Grandmaster. He was there as one of the guards. The girl became pale and started to retch. She could not contain it. As they went into the servant quarters, the sister sat her down and asked… "Tell me what the matter is."
The girl knew it was a secret but could not hold it in anymore. "I heard the mistress talking to one of our visitors the other day when she invited me in…" she hesitated. Sister squeezed her hand to reassure her. "The master guest, the lord, pleasures children. He also got his servants killed and said that they were assassins sent to attack him. Mistress was distressed because she was blamed. She was forced to keep this banquet for him. I am afraid for us sister and the little children in mistresses care. This lord seems good but sounded like a bad man.".
Messages travelled through servants faster than it did through messenger's. Without meaning to, many servants heard what the girl said and the news travelled to lords and ladies through the banquet. Willingness to cooperate gave away guardedness and suspicion. The lord who was avoiding the mistress and even treating her like his staff found his way to her.
He gently pulled her aside and said, "What did you do? We both planned for Assasins to take the fall and political progress for me. I entrusted you and now I hear rumors that make me the culprit."
The thing about rumors like legends is one cannot confirm them nor can one ignore them especially when the origin is vague. Everyone knew that overheard conversation is likely not made up. If it was reported to be so, then then the discretion and the code comes into question. It was a delicate aspect and no one dared touch it for all had secrets.
"My Lord" said the mistress with utmost sincerity. "I am your humble servant. I am not aware of this matter, but I beg you to grant me permission to investigate this matter. It is against my life and reputation to take any action against you. I hope that you will continue to consider me to serve you as always." The Lord had no choice but to agree.
The mistress called for Grandmaster who approached her. "Guard," she said. "We are worried that there maybe infiltration by the rumoured Assassins in this banquet. You know what to do. I want this matter investigated and a report sent to me as the safety matters have been entrusted to you."
The banquet went through the motions. Agreements made were reluctantly followed through. No lasting relationship were forged. Lord slowly became an outcast in the society. There was no formal decree but a judgement had been passed. The creed of assassins remained a myth. The belief that it was a name used to externalize wrongdoings sealed the story.
Mistresses' house continued as though nothing had changed. The girl now accompanied the mistress in all her transactions and communication.