The bright, colorful gaiety of the festival was at stark contrast with my mission here. The crowds of adoring people cheered at their King as he appeared on the stage. The people in the city of Sunderra loved their King, loved the riches he gave them, loved the gloriousness of their city that was visited by people near and far and gazed upon in wonder. In their eyes, the King and his court could do no wrong.
They were all blind fools.
I made my way through the crowd, the vial I held in my pocket weighing heavily, although it was only small. Bottled magic had a price to pay and I would pay it today.
I tried to avoid it, but my eyes fixed on the tall, glittering figure that was never far from the King.
Pierre de Pur. The Captain of the Guard, foremost Knight in the Kingdom. A simple man, strong and brave and true. A man with a good heart, a heart which was held by a treacherous snake – chasseresse au clair de lune.
I forced my eyes away from him, forced my thoughts to shut him out and focus only on the task at hand.
I was well-known amongst the people, a renowned huntress, purveyor of the fine meats they dined upon, Leader of the King’s Hunt that caused such excitement among both the rich and the poor, and the strange, wild beauty of my Arbre, my moonlit horse with eyes of rich honey.
Now, however, I forsook my glittering silver for the shadows, a long, pale blue cloak blending in amongst the colourful crowd. To an unsuspecting eye, it simply looked as though I was weaving my way through the crowds to get the best view of the King as he was giving his speech. To an eagle-visioned eye, they would see the silent purpose behind my movements.
Eyes like that of Pierre
Closer, closer I crept, my body feeling heavier and heavier, the potion burning like fire in my pocket with its mere presence. I gently caressed the vial, feeling the icy coolness of the crystal glass.
Finally, I made my way to the edges of the crowd and near the podium. I risked looking up and smiling brightly at the King, aware that to lower my face in his presence was a sign of disrespect, of hidden intentions. I weighed up the chances of my face being recognized with those of looking down and thought it would be better to be discovered as the great Leader of the King’s Hunt than as the assassin I now was and forevermore would be known as.
I watched the movements of the guards, the way their eyes roamed the crowds, ever alert. The King’s guards were among the best in the Kingdom, indeed among most of the known world.
And Pierre was the best of them.
I struggled hard to avoid looking at him, knowing if he saw my face my resolve would crack under those warm brown eyes flinted with cold hard steel. He would know too, from one look at my face, exactly what my plan was. He had always been able to read me like an open book, something I had loved, knowing someone knew me when I did not really know myself.
But today I knew who I was and knew what I had to do.
And I knew that if he saw it on my face too, it would kill him.
The King’s speech was barrelling towards its end and I had calculated the movements of the guards.
It was now or never.
I reached down and pulled out the vial, the liquid, just for a moment seeming to suck all the light out from the sun. I hardened my resolve, uncapped it and poured it down my throat.
Fire and ice exploded in my head.
I let out a moan that was drowned amongst the crowd‘s noise and I resisted the urge to collapse to the ground in agony, instead clenching my hands so tight my fingernails drew blood.
Abruptly, the pain ended and when I looked down at my body, I saw nothing but the rough cobblestones of the street.
I was all but invisible.
Knowing the clock was already ticking, I deftly weaved my way through the outskirts of the crowd and up the steps to the podium, avoiding the eyes of the guards and their determined, alert pacings. If I touched one of them, I would once more become visible and shot on sight. My intent now would be clear for all to see, as plain to see as the sunlight reflecting off the silver dagger I now held.
I could not subject Pierre to that.
The King was tall but so was I, and in his arrogance he never wore any armour. He trusted in the men defending him to not want to lose their heads if an attempt was made on his life, and he trusted the magic his sorcerers had put on him.
Nothing could touch him now, except for me and the sorcerer he had so unwisely discarded.
Slowly, slowly I made my way towards him until I was in position, my dagger held right near his throat, the blood pulsing through his veins. I was surprised he couldn’t feel the cold purpose of the blade poised there now.
I licked my lips, waiting as I channeled all my will, all my rage into that thrust.
Almost of their own accord, in a moment of pure selfishness governed by something far greater than myself, my eyes turned towards him. Pierre. At the same time, he turned his head and stared at the spot where I invisibly stood.
I felt his eyes lock onto mine, even though he should not have been able to see me. Something told me that he could though, as his eyes widened and he reached out a hand to stop me.
I pushed down with all my might and the dagger pierced warm flesh, the King’s voice becoming a startled gurgling as red blood began pouring down his velvet robes and pooling onto the floor.
The cry that came from Pierre’s lips pierced my heart and for a moment I wanted to simply run to him and bury my head in his shoulder and take our pain away.
But for now, as my invisibility slowly began trickling away, for now I had to run.
He found me where I knew he would. Our secret place, that only the two of us knew about.
I hadn’t meant to come here. I was meant to meet the sorcerer on the outskirts of the forest to report to him. He would offer me another potion to negate the effects of the invisibility one, but I knew people and I knew them well.
There was no cure for the potion he had given me. There was no going back from what I had done. We had both known how the story would go.
So instead, I had stumbled to this place, half-hoping, half-dreading that he would come.
My waiting was now at an end.
I sat in the ruins of the northernmost tower of the castle. The castle wall had been rebuilt further in, away from this one which was hardly defensible, and the rubble had fallen in and obscured the entrance to the inside of it. But we had found it, quite by accident.
Inside the ruined tower, nurtured by the rays of sunlight that streamed in through a long-forgotten window, was a glorious rose bush that was always in bloom.
These roses were not the rich reds like those the castle gardener nurtured. Instead, they were white, and not just any white but the white of creamy silver moonlight. They were fitting, these roses, for a pure white knight and a chasseresse au clair de lune - moonlit huntress.
I leaned against the wall, a cold fire raging through my body as I felt parts of me bending and pulling, the shadowy nothingness I had been in calling me back, the world losing its focus at times.
I heard him as he approached and managed a smile.
“Hello, my love,” I said, although I no longer deserved to call him that.
He did not rush to me, nor return my greeting, nor did he raise his sword nor call for back-up now that he had found me.
Instead, he just stood there, which was somehow far worse.
After a long, heavy silence, he spoke.
“Why?” he said, the word filling the silence like a death knell.
I managed a chuckle, although my body felt terribly weak.
“You tell me. You know me better than even I do. Tell me why I killed our King.”
He was silent for a long moment, staring at me, piercing me with his gaze.
“There is something I don’t know. You do not act without reason, you do not kill without reason. You say you still love me,” his lips twisted in a bitter smile, “yet you betrayed everything I stood for when you drew that knife. So, what haven’t you told me?”
My eyes closed for a long moment, cold air whistling through my lungs.
“The King’s Tour,” I said.
“The King’s Tour? I heard it was a great success and the people were happy to receive the King, hence why the King left me behind to handle Sunderra,” he said, confusion overtaking him. Then he looked at me more carefully and spoke slowly. “There was something different about you after you came back though. I thought perhaps it was exhaustion from hunting for so many mouths constantly, but something troubled you, something you could not, would not say, even to me it seems. As you said nothing, I thought little of it. You are never afraid to speak your mind when it matters, or at least, you weren’t. What happened?”
He drew closer, and I reached out to touch him but my hand dropped before I could even lift it halfway and I gave out a little grunt of pain. I could feel the insidiousness of the potion now. It is said that sorcery requires mastery over your emotions, that the more powerful the emotions the more powerful and more potent the potion or the spell.
The sorcerer’s hatred was unmatched.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, concern suddenly overriding the small fact of me killing our King, and he reached out to hold my hand.
It seemed, maybe, he still loved me too.
“Cadmus,” I hissed.
Pierre’s face darkened.
“Cadmus! Why did you trust Cadmus? The King expelled him from court for his questionable practices. He’s a snake! You foolish chasseresse!”
“He is a snake. Revenge was his motive, while mine was justice. A perfect mix of black and white, dark and night. I knew who he was and what I was doing. He will be someone to contend with in the upheaval to follow. I expect you to deal with him,” I said, trying to give him a devilish smile.
“Oh, I intend to. His ire for the King has long been known to me and the guard. He will be hard to remove but I will endeavor to do so. Now, what is your ire with the King?” he said, his voice going cold again, although his hand on mine didn’t move.
“All is not well in the Kingdom. The King knew and he did not care,” I said simply. “There were many things that showed me that, but nothing so much as this.”
I tried to sit upright but found I couldn’t move my arms or legs and the swirling black and white light called for me again and I felt a shadow pass over my face. Pierre’s eyes suddenly widened in fear and I managed to shake my head at him.
I did not want to know what I looked like. I needed to finish this.
“Five days ride from Sunderra is a large village. When the King and his retinue arrived, the whole town still stood. After we left, only half of it still stood. The other half was blackened ash. The King and his men burned it.”
I shook my head to forestall his protests.
“Some of the villagers stole food, food to feed their families. The villagers were skin and bone, haggard, haunted. All of them were in every village, but especially this one. They begged the King for food and he laughed. So, they stole it. And the King burned down half the village and slaughtered at least a dozen of them.”
“It is treason to steal from the King,” Pierre intoned.
“I counted the food stores, Pierre. Do you know what they stole? Three small loaves of bread and a slice of venison for a dozen people. That was all. And they and their families were slaughtered and half their village burned. You would not be the man I know you to be if you defended those actions in the slightest,” I growled.
He was silent.
“Also,” I paused, wondering if I should say it. It would anger him and throw him into a deep spiral of self-doubt. No, better that he knew. “When we were far North, a rider came in the shadow of night and dined with the King. I could hear laughter floating from inside and I wondered who it was. When he finally came out I still couldn’t see his face clearly but I saw the emblem on his gambeson. A red hawk on a sea of black.”
Pierre reeled back as if he had been hit.
“A man from the Kingdom of Beauclair? They are forbidden in our lands. Many good men died expelling them, stopping their conquest of us all. Why would the King be dining with one? And how did he get past our border patrol?” The questions shot at me rapidly like arrows, but I only comprehended half of it.
One side of my body was tingling with fire and the other burning with ice and my mind became hazy, just like my whole life before the age of twelve was a misty haze I had never been able to see through. Now, it threatened to cover all of my memories.
I cursed Cadmus for not warning me of a slow, lingering death.
“Lucia? Lucia?” came his voice, and I snapped back to see him hovering over me.
“I do not feel good,” I said unnecessarily.
His eyes swept over me and I could see him wince.
“You don’t look so good either,” he said.
“You can’t say that to a lady. You’re meant to say I look ravishing,” I murmured.
“You aren’t a lady though, are you. Instead you hunt by the light of the moon and pin the cloaks of poor, unsuspecting, defenseless knights to trees so they can’t touch your snared rabbit.”
“I apologized for that,” I huffed.
“And I forgave you, although my pride was wounded for a long while. You may have looked like a moon goddess but it’s embarrassing for the greatest knight in the land to be pinned down like a deer by a woman.”
“Your pride recovered when my bow and arrow kept saving you, more than once, in more than one fight. You were also secretly proud when I became Leader of the King’s Hunt, for you were the one who found me,” I said.
“And I saved your life, many times, when your arrows were not fast enough and the enemies too close. It was I who threw the spear to stop that wild boar from goring you when your arrows couldn’t pierce its hide,” he chuckled.
“And you made me wear a dress at the King’s ball and mingle among the rich. I hated you for that for a long while,” I complained, the memory of that night burning clear then fading away with all the rest of it.
“You shouldn’t. You were the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on,” he whispered to me.
As I looked at him, I knew that he understood why I had done what I had done and he had forgiven me. A King who breaks bread with his people’s sworn enemy and a King who makes his subjects suffer unduly, did not deserve to be King.
I followed his gaze down to my arm and bit back a cry. It was a ghastly sight. My arm was a crisscross of black lines, interspersed with pale skin that at times became translucent so I could see the ruined floor through my hand and through the veins.
Magic always had its price.
“Does it hurt?” he asked, reaching out to stroke my hair.
My first instinct was to say no, for I hated showing weakness or fear, but I couldn’t help the small whimper that came out and the tear that rolled down my face.
He smiled at me, a sad smile.
“Never one to admit weakness,” he chuckled, “reminds me of the roses. I don’t think they’ve ever stopped blooming, always strong, always vibrant. Eternal. Just like you.”
I turned to look at the roses behind him, the shaft of light hitting them perfectly so they almost seemed to glow with a soft, pearly light like that of the moonlight on the night I had first met him.
Suddenly, I felt something cold and sharp pierce my chest and I gasped.
Pierre’s tears fell down to mix with the blood now dripping from the dagger buried in my chest and I wanted to comfort him, tell him it would all be okay.
But the blackness was coming quicker now, no longer slow and insidious, but all-encompassing like a wave crashing over me, blanketing me in a warm, almost comforting darkness.
Then there was nothing.
In the silence of the ruined tower, the only sound to be heard was that of a heart breaking.
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This was an amazing story. I love the imagery you use and you do such a great job portraying the emotions of all the characters. I loved reading this.
Loved the vivid and poetic imagery in this! :)
Hehe I do love vivid and poetic imagery for sure. My other story “Ghosts and Falling Leaves” is even more vivid. Thank you for reading! :)
Dang that twist at the end!!!
Hehehe thank you ;) Was painful to write but it felt like the right thing to do.
I really love this story! There are so many dynamics to it, and I love that Lucia's actions were noble in deed if not in act. This is such a great level of complexity! My favorite stories tend to be those without cut and dry happy endings, and this certainly qualifies. Truly heroic actions and yet she had to pay the ultimate price to accomplish the deed. I would love to see how the rest of the tale played out, but it is also such a perfect short story in that the future is kind of a blank slate but you understand why whatever is coming ...
ohmygod i wasn't ready :''( I loved your portrayal of Lucia, her hesitation and her character came through really well. the last line bROKE me but all in all, superbly written!!!!!<3
You are perhaps my most favorite commenter at the moment and this is my favorite comment! I’m glad I was able to portray Lucia well and yes I know that last part broke me too :( but that’s how it had to end for them. So thank you so much!!! <3
The beautiful story. You have an excellent way with the words to describe doubt and remorse. One of the most beautiful stories I have read here, flawless. Knight tales was a place in my heart.
i really liked this story and the last line made it even more heart breaking :( WELL DONE!
Hehe thank you for reading! Yes, the last line made me very sad too. :( but it simply had to be that way.
I really liked this and it was great. Did you ever think of expanding it into a full novel? I think It would work very well. Flesh out the characters and the story. However, as a short story it stands as a tour de force. Happy writing!
“Tour de force.” I like it! Thank you for reading! I am definitely getting full novel vibes from it and I may pursue that at some point definitely.
This is a cool story, truly one of the greats. You used amazing imagery and I felt like I was right there along with the characters. Like they say, "All great love stories end in tragedy."
Oh wow thank you! The amount of pain and sweat it took to write this story though I tell you... I almost quit but I’m glad I didn’t! Yes, the ending made me very sad but it simply had to be that way. :(
Oh my goodness! You did such an amazing job with the small details, which kept me invested in the story all the way to the end!! I cannot say how sad I was once I realized there was no more story to read, that's how amazing the pace and the tone you set was! Great job!!
Oh my gosh thank you so much! This story was sooo painful to write but I’m glad it turned out well! I thought the pace was going too slowly but after re-reading I think it goes well. Thank you for your comment and feedback! :)
Great story and I LOVED the twist at the end. Some good use of imagery. I felt like this could be the basis for a cool fantasy novel.
Yesssss, I didn’t want that twist at the end but it just felt so right that that was how the story went so... :( But I am glad you liked it and thanks for reading! :)
wow! just amazing! I really enjoyed the intense, vivid descriptions and the twist at the end left me just gaping at the screen. Weaving betrayal into past love, and the way you introduced the setting was just amazing! hats off to you, and can't wait for your next submission :)
"Magic always had its price," and the quotes you used, as well as the intricate way you introduced the setting was just perfection. Like I said, hats off to you - it pulled me in from the hook, took my heart in the prose, and destroyed it at the end. I'm amazed at how you just pulled me in >o<
Your comments are the best comments ever! Thank you for the gushing of love and praise. I’m so glad you thoroughly enjoyed it and yes the ending even made me like oooh for a second, even though I knew it was coming! >_< sorry I destroyed your heart! :(
I seriously cannot even say my love for this... it totally felt like I was reading a chapter from a book and I couldn't wait to read the next. It was such a simple and lovely story, and it was so real... great job!
Thank you so much Emily! I’m glad you enjoyed it! :) Yes, I’ve had a few people say it would make part of a great full length novel so maybe I shall pursue that...
I love the descriptions. I love to read and write this kind of story. Great work.
I loved your story. It is well-written, giving a sense of the characters and the setting. I noticed some references to the current political climate but appreciated your story not dwelling on it. The backstory of love was wonderful and compelling, left me guessing until the end.
This was amazingly written. The theme in the writing of the setting, the festival, the contrast, and the characters hooked me from the beginning. To agree with fellow commentators, the imagery was a massive success in this work. I also was ecstatic regarding your last line, because so many authors lose me there, somehow you did it!
WOW! This is a nice way to use this prompt. I like the medieval theme. The only thing I would say ( I had to examine very closely to find anything) is to refrain from using said.
This is an amazing story! I love your character's love for Pierre, and I felt my heart breaking at the end. (I also like how you snuck in some Greek mythology there. Cadmus? The snake? I see you ;D) Awesome job!
Hi, I really liked this. So many commenters are saying this could be turned into a novel and I agree - it feels like you’re telling us about a world that’s already fully formed, complex and natural. I love the matter-of-fact mentions of magic, they make it’s existence in the story more real. I also like the different treatments of the concept of betrayal: the king has betrayed his people, the young couple themselves, the sorcerer’s treatment of Lucia. Very nice :)
The story had me hooked till the very end! Loved the way you described their nostalgic moments and the settings of the story! And, If you don't mind, would you give my story, "A Delicious Adventure" a read and give me your feedback?