My steel shackles thundered against the walls of the prison carriage, the horse behind me rearing. The heavily armored knight who was supposed to be riding the massive beast flew through the air. He couldn't have weighed more than a feather by the way he was flung off, crashing into the dead tree beside my cage. The force of the impact shattered the dry wood, the entire trunk toppling onto him. The dead plant consumed him, and moaned. I agreed with the tree, I would cry too if I lay atop him. That knight stunk terribly.
The caravan stopped, horses galloping to the back. They circled my cage on wheels like I had caused the ruckus. Which I totally had. I was slightly sorry for the tree though, it didn't deserve to be brutalized.
A black stallion adorned with gold baubles and decorations strutted up to the bars in the back. It made sense as the rest of the cage was solid steel, though I did want to witness the rider yell at a wall. It would make the mad look in his eye more understandable. I chuckled as the horse huffed at me, the thick metal band around my mouth muffling the sound. This was going to be good.
The man riding the midnight stallion clicked his tongue, his jewel encrusted rings sparkling in the sunlight. “Looks like the drug is starting to wear off.”
The knight squashed under the tree grumbled, causing branches to flutter as if they breathed.
“Help the imbecile up,” the stallion’s rider yapped.
Knights hopped off their horses, racing to the massive tree. They hauled with all their might, grunts echoing through the wind. The group gave up, beginning their chorus of panting. The tree had moved an inch. I giggled.
The stallion stared at me, the wickedness of its owner rubbing off on him. “You’ll regret that.”
I glared up at the rider whose face was cut off by the roof of the carriage. There were a lot of things I regretted, but this was not one of them.
“Pass me the knife,” the rider cooed.
I grinned, shifting my long black hair aside to flash golden eyes at the nervous guards. They whispered to one another, shifting uncomfortably on their mounts.
A horse stepped forward, the knight's eyes glued to my glimmering metallic ones. His horse was as pale in terror as he was. The poor thing shivered.
“Your Majesty-” he began.
The stallion and its owner slowly turned, each step more calculated than the last. They had moved just far enough away that I could make out the back of the rider’s head adorned with a glistening crown.
“Knife, now,” the king spat.
There was rustling as the knights searched for it, eventually producing a small wooden box. The knight who had spoken nudged his horse forward. It took several soft kicks before the creature moved.
He rode up to the king but might as well have been trudging to the gallows by the pure panic that rolled off him. I breathed it in, savoring the cold salty smell.
The knight presented the box to the king but whispered so softly that none of his companions could hear, “Please remember who she is.”
The king snatched the box from the man’s trembling hands and tossed me a wicked smile. It curved too high, his eyes too dark. “I know exactly who the assassin is.”
I offered him a slight nod, not for respect but to strike pure icy fear into the knights’ blood. I was the most feared assassin there was, my name almost too much to utter aloud. Many people asserted that if they breathed it, or even thought the letters I would appear on their doorstep and the whisperer would be no more. Let’s just say their terror may be well placed.
The king laughed, his dark eyes absorbing the daylight. He dismounted from his stallion, waltzing up to me. The smile deepened, cracks in his lips splitting wide.
He opened the box, pulling out a thin dagger. The metal gleamed in the sunlight, the wood handle simple yet elegant. This knife wasn't made for a king but rather the frightened knight who offered it to him. The captain. This whimpering buffoon had somehow snatched a real position. Too bad it wouldn't last.
I smiled to myself, the captain's fate hanging from my fingertips and he didn't even know.
The king flipped the dagger between his hands to test its weight. It sliced through the air, creating a perfect arc every time. The king scoffed, “No wonder you were able to capture her with this, the knife is wonderful.”
He stopped playing with his new toy, gripping it tightly. The king reached through the bars with his free hand, grasping for my arm. Even though I was pinned up so tightly to the wall the shackles around my wrists and ankles sent blood trickling down my spine, there was so much I could do with his hand. He should have sent the captain.
I raised my knee, curling it through the air until it came down in a hard crack. I had pinned the king's hand beneath me, the sound generated from the force of his palm meeting the steel floor. Knights screamed and tried to drag the king to safety but he ignored their pushes and pestering. His eyes remained locked on me, sick admiration floating through their depths. He threw the knife at my leg, but I swung it out of the way. The movement regrettably let his crushed fingers spring free. His warped hand caught the dagger and I tried to disarm him, but my movement was too slow thanks to the poison that still sludged through my veins. He buried the knife deep into the back of my thigh, the tip brushing bone. I stifled a scream, pain curling around every fiber of my being. The poison sprang through my body, swirling up to my heart. A chill trickled through me, paralysis freezing my bones.
The king laughed, yanking out the dagger. “It works quite fast when there is still some in your system doesn't it?”
He backed away from the bars, signaling to a serving boy. The lad rushed forward, the wood box open wide. I hadn't even noticed him take it.
The king tossed the dagger inside, “Bring me some cloth and wrap the assassin’s leg. I want her alive. Beauty like hers cannot be found just anywhere.”
The boy nodded, running away for the materials. The king mounted his horse, the stallion scowling at me. I returned the favor.
The boy ran to the king's side, offering a white bandage. His Royal Highness snatched the material, beginning to bind the mangled bloody hand. Without raising his gaze he stated, “Open the cage and lock the boy inside.”
The captain frowned, “Your majesty?”
The king offered no explanation or response. Repeating must be beneath him.
The captain raised his hands, waving them about without meaning. “Lock him up.”
The boy's eyes were wide, mouth hung open with a response he was too scared to give.
“Make sure he has the medical materials needed to tend her wounds,” the king added.
The servant relaxed slightly, knowing he wasn't being caged for treason but to nurse a criminal. Even so, they seemed dangerously similar.
The captain rode forward and unlocked the iron bars. They sprung free, allowing me to give the king my uninterrupted death glare. It had stopped many hearts before, but there was nothing left in this man's chest to freeze. Only an empty cavity where his heart should have beat.
The boy was shoved inside, a bag overflowing with bandages and jars tossed in with him. The bars snapped shut, lock clicking into place.
“Let's be off then,” the king stated, trotting to the front. He paused by the massive overturned tree, “Get that bloody fool off the ground.”
The king proceeded towards the front as a swarm of knights attacked the tree. This time they managed to move it. The man beneath had gouges across his body, but the red humiliation spattered across his face was what hurt most. I could feel it as though it were my own.
The man jumped onto his horse and the caravan paraded forward. I took a deep breath, settling my gaze on the serving boy. He was digging through his bag, glasses clinking together. He paused, feeling my stare.
“Hurt?” he asked, the sound broken and wispy. I wanted to strangle him for asking such a stupid question, but his voice made me pause. That and the heavy dose of paralysis poison that coursed through my veins.
The boy stopped shifting through his things, lifting his hands and signing “blink once for yes and twice for no.”
I stared at him, shocked. He was deaf. It explained why his voice was fragmented, he had never heard it. I blinked once, confirming that the gouge exposing bone in the back of my thigh did indeed hurt.
The boy's mouth dropped open, amazed that I actually understood him. I blushed. I knew many languages, most of them needed for … hunting, although I hadn't done so like that for a long time. Not since the king dragged me onto this bloody continent. He and I went way back.
The boy hauled out a jar of green sludge and signed, “This is going to be painful.”
I blinked once and shut my eyes, preparing for the minty goo. I expected a sting to ensnare my thigh, I did not expect to be lit on fire. My teeth ground together as everything boiled. Blood poured down my leg, the goo opening a dam. My head pounded as a high pitched scream battered my ears. I pushed past it. Ignored the pain.
The ringing slowly ebbed away, the burning disappearing with it. I forced open an eye to see the serving boy white as a sheet. His hands trembled so violently I thought the glass jar containing the goo was going to shatter. He met my eyes and screwed the lid back on that horrible jar.
“It’s a strong disinfectant, but wasn’t supposed to do that,” his eyes were grave, “the poison must have-”
I blinked once, telling him I understood. He threw the container into his bag with disgust.
The river of blood continued down my leg and I realized just how lightheaded I was. His eyes flashed to the wound. He cursed.
I wanted to giggle but it would only warrant more guards once we reached the castle if they thought I was crazy. I highly doubted they saw his brash sign.
The servant removed an armful of white bandages, surveying my wound. “We might need more than this.”
I rolled my eyes and blinked no. I would tend to the wound myself if I could, using only a scrap of the mountain he held. He nodded, chucking the folds aside as he pulled out a wicked looking needle.
I blinked twice for no, the needle sending dread coursing through every crevice, bracing as he began to weave the wound shut.
The caravan screeched to a halt outside the castle and knights dismounted. The serving boy had just finished telling me about the small farm he grew up on until it was burnt to a crisp. He slowly opened up along the ride, realizing I would be a great listener chained and paralyzed. There also wasn't anyone else to talk to, no one bothering to understand the beautiful signs he made with his hands and body. My heart constricted. This boy deserved so much more than the scraps these men threw him.
“Get the horses to the stables,” the king ordered. He strolled to the captain standing behind my cage, “Unlock the assassin.”
The captain shot me a wary glance, “I can gather some men to carry her-”
“That won't be necessary. I will bring her down to the dungeons,” the king snapped.
The captain opened his mouth but quickly shut it. He didn't want to lose his tongue, how strange.
The bars swung open, the serving boy scampering out. No one even looked at him.
The king moved inside and began unlocking, snapping, and shattering the restraints that held me. His face was so close our breath mingled, but I couldn't move to rip it off. The poison surged as if to remind me it was still there.
He removed the last clasp and I toppled forward, right into him. A sickening smile spread across his face as he lifted me into his arms. He ducked out of the cage, my head against his chest.
“Let’s go,” he shouted.
A mass of guards surrounded the king, everyone worried except for His Royal Highness. He beamed at me as we spiraled down, deep below the castle to where the dungeon lay.
“It’s been a long time since you’ve been in my arms hasn't it?”
I hissed, the sound taking extreme effort. He laughed.
We finally reached the dungeon, guards opening a cell for the king to sweep into. He laid me down on the stale hay, fanning my hair around my head like a halo.
“Don't try to escape again my siren,” he muttered and walked away, the guards locking the door and following him out.
I grinned against the band still encircling my mouth. Oh I did not plan on escaping. I had far worse things planned for him and this corrupt kingdom. They won’t even know what hit them.