Chapter Eight: Planning

The sun was setting on the beautiful country of Sintra, with the capital city of Nilon in the very center. The mountains to the east of the city almost seemed to be lit with a golden fire from the sun's dying rays. Alleyways and side streets become even darker as merchants began to pack up their wares for the day. The clock tower bell tolled the hour as bars began to fill and the city's nightlife wandered from the holes they slept in during the day.

Joline was currently rushing around the house helping Grendel and Sophia get ready for another dinner party that they were attending. She kept a cool head as first one sister would bark an order and the other would snap something else to her.

"Joline! Wash my hair!"

"Where's my dress, Joline?!"

"Bring me my new ruby necklace, you worthless servant!"

After ever command there came an obedient, "Yes, miss," that was becoming increasingly more strained. Joline rushed around as fast as she could, but the pain radiating from her back forced her to go slow. She knew if she has used her normal pace the scabs that were starting to form would more than likely rip open and she would be bed ridden for another day; bringing upon her head more punishment.

Four days ago, Riam had escorted Joline home after spilling her oils in the market place. The smile that Quertol had been wearing that afternoon when she returned home had been trouble for her as she expected. Apparently, Quertol had caught sight of Riam and, being the little snitch that the man was, he had gone straight to his mistress with the information that Joline and been caught talking to a strange young man.

Martaine was still the woman that had lowered her from her station as a respectable noble to nothing more than a lowly servant eleven years ago. She was still very ruthless and very cunning when it came to elevating her own daughters above her step-daughter. If Joline married at all, her dowry would be used, and Martaine's extra cash would be gone from her forever. Not only that, but if Joline happened to marry a wealthy young man Martaine's secret would be revealed and she would be shunned for the rest of her life. Trying to hide her step-daughter from society's eyes was not seen as respectable. Joline's father had also had many high standing friends that were curious about Joline's supposed entry into a convent. None of them said a word, however, because there was no proof that Joline hadn't entered the convent.

Ever since Joline had begun to attract the stares of young men around the city, Martian had kept her on a short leash to make sure that she would never marry. Any effort by Joline to escape her step-mother's household through marriage had gotten the poor girl a thorough beating. Four days ago had been no exception, but this time Martaine had been in a particularly bad mood and decided to use the whip on Joline's back.

She had been whipped so badly that she had been forced to stay bed ridden for at least a day. Martaine hadn't been pleased, and once more punished the brunette cursing the whole time. Joline took every lash in stride, and hadn't said a word throughout the ordeal upsetting her step-mother even more.

Sighing Joline bustled around the small house as fast as she was able. The bell had just tolled the first hour after sunset, which meant her family would be leaving the house very soon. Then they would be out of her hair and she could escape the house once more.

"Joline!"

The shrill voice of her step-mother cut through the air making every servant in the household wince. Joline hurriedly shuffled towards Martaine's room and timidly knocked on the solid wooden door before entering the room.

Martaine was standing in front of her vanity checking her appearance in the mirror. The dress that she wore looked stunning on her. The purple silk trailed down to the floor with a foot long train. Her corset-flattened stomach was covered by an intricately woven pattern of blue cloth that had probably been crafted by the elves. Sharp brown eyes assessed the young woman in front of her as Martaine pinned up the last stray hairs that had come loose while she dressed.

"Is there something you wanted ma'am?" Joline asked when Martaine didn't speak to her.

"I need you to tell Alani that I want this house spotless by the time I return home this evening. His royal highness has decided to grace us with a visit tomorrow morning and I want to make sure he enters a clean home. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes ma'am." Joline exited the room and made her way down the kitchens where Alani was eating her supper. The older woman was sitting at the end of the bench where all the servant's ate during meal times. She sat down next to the older woman with a wince and told her what Martaine had said. Alani snorted and continued to eat her meal.

"This house is always spotless," she told Talo who was sitting in front of her. "It's an insult to my work to say otherwise. I promised her ladyship I would always keep this house clean and that is what I intend to do!"

Joline had to hide a smile behind her hand at Alani's hurt pride.

"She's just trying to exert her authority and show us who owns this household," Talo responded, shaking a spoon at Alani.

"Well, she needn't worry about that. How could any of us forget?"

"Then don't take it personally. If I were you I'd give the housekeepers the night off, seeing that the witch and her toad children aren't going to be around," Talo said, winking at Joline. Joline smiled and took that as her cue to leave. None of the other servants noticed her departure as she crept silently out the back door to the kitchen. From there all she had to do was walk around the side of the building and out the front gate. Martaine and her daughters hadn't left yet, but the coach that was taking them to the dinner party was waiting patiently outside.

Joline made her way out of the front yard and on to the streets of Nilon. By now everything was dark and overshadowed. Gamblers had crawled out from their homes as well as the drunks. Scantily clad women were prowling the streets with glittering jewelry hanging from any possible place. They looked like cats hunting for mice.

There were a few shouts in Joline's general direction as she walked along the darkened path, and some men were even bold enough as to approach her. However, one look at the sheen coming from the metallic blade of the dagger hidden in her shirt sleeve sent them away. The brunette women quickly came upon the Meager Mouse and stepped inside. Once more the tavern had done a complete turn around. The place was packed as small groups of friends celebrated small triumphs. Joline caught the eye of the bartender as she entered and he nodded towards the back where the mysterious young man named Ian had resided when Joline first met him.

Joline began to push through the crowds, trying to find Tatiana. Men and women alike greeted Joline in a friendly fashion calling her by her thief name. Every so often she would be nudged in the back by a passing elbow. Each time the pain in her back increased, but she kept going. It was good training for her. Shortly after making heading into the crowd of people, Joline spotted Tatiana sitting at a table with four other people. Three of them she expected; one she did not.

Tatiana sat in the farthest corner, her brown eyes flashing almost dangerously. A scowl was set on her mouth and her arms were folded across her chest in a very threatening manner. On her right was one of the few full time thieves in Zule's guild. His was a tall thin man with plain features. Someone that you would forget in an instant if you ever saw him. The brown hair on his head looked a mop and his skinny fingers were folded on top of the table. On his right sat a woman with curly blond hair that went down to her waist. Her chest was nearly busting out of the top of the low cut bodice as she batted her eyes flirtatiously at the young man sitting on her other side. That young man was Ivan. He was clearly interested in the woman sitting next to him as he whispered softly in her ear. On Ivan's right sat the one person Joline had never expected to see again.

Riam.

Stepping forward towards the small group, Joline made herself noticeable. Tatiana was the first one to greet her with a silent nod of her head. Ivan turned around and caught sight of the young woman behind him. A scowl very similar to Tatiana's found its way onto his face. Riam also turned around and was shocked by Joline's presence in the bar. His blue eyes were wide and his mouth was hanging open.

Joline schooled her face into a mask of unconcern when she saw Riam's face. Praying to Redash that he wouldn't saying anything, she pulled out an extra stool out between Riam and Tatiana.

"Zule. Dranem," Joline said, nodding in their respective directions with a confident smirk. Dranem smiled in return while Tatiana kept her scowl.

"Niko," Dranem replied. "I'm surprised to see you here tonight." If at all possible Riam's jaw dropped even further.

"I was able to get away from the duties that called to me," I murmured. I noticed Ivan nudging Riam in the ribs to get him to stop staring.

"Pity," the blonde woman muttered.

"Only for you, Caterayne," Joline answered turning to the woman. Green eyes glared at Joline while she glared right back. The two had never gotten along even in all the years they had worked together. Both young women had lost their parents as children and both had been taken under Tatiana's wing. The difference was in the methods that the two used. Caterayne used her beauty to lure her victims in while Joline used her skills to steal. They were the best in Zule's Thieves and were always competing to show the other woman up. It had grown into a bitter contest and so far Joline was winning. A sneer appeared on Caterayne's face before she broke eye contact with the thief.  

"So, Zule may I ask what's going on?"

"These two gentlemen have come to explain the specific job that you will be performing," Tatiana spit out. She was not at all happy about the plan. "I'm sure you remember Ivan, but I don't believe you've met Riam."

Joline turned to her right to look at Riam. He was watching her carefully waiting to see what she would say.

"Are you another representative to the prince?"

"I suppose you could call it that," he replied. Joline noticed Tatiana glaring at Riam from the corner of her eye. It was a good sign that she didn't trust the young man sitting next to Joline.

"I suggest you be a little more specific. I don't like surprises," Joline returned coolly. He was the one that had gotten her in trouble with Martaine four days ago. He was the one that had spilled her oil, and he was here now saying that he worked for the prince. The feeling of trust that Joline had felt earlier evaporated the moment she saw him sitting at the table next to Ivan.

"He's the advisor to the king," Tatiana spat.

"You're a little young to be the advisor to the king," Joline said to Riam with a mocking smile.

"I've been training to be in the profession for quite some time."

"Is it a family tradition, then?"

"I suppose so."

"Is it or isn't it?" Joline demanded. Riam shrugged casually almost daring Joline to overreact. Instead, she smiled and turned to Ivan instead. "So, I'm assuming that your employer has decided to give us the details."

"Yes, he has decided to fill us in completely, and let's just say I'm very tempted to turn down the deal," Tatiana cut in before Ivan could even open his mouth.

"Zule, I appreciate your concern, but I would like to hear the offer for myself."

Tatiana shifted uncomfortably before turning her glare on the table in front of her. Dranem could only smile smugly as Joline's overprotective aunt fought to drop the deal that had come between the two groups of people.

"Well, the job that we have asked Zule's Thieves and more specifically you, to do is to assassinate the Crown Prince of Sintra," Ivan said. He almost looked relieved to be explaining it to Joline.

"I thought so," she muttered to herself. Joline was disgusted with the idea; however, it wasn't the killing that sickened her, but rather the idea of someone killing their sibling over something as stupid as money. She herself had been brought down from her station as a noble to be nothing more than a peasant and you didn't see her trying to kill Grendel in her sleep. Leaning back on the stool Joline let out a breath getting ready to turn down Ivan.

"Let me explain a little better," Riam broke in. "There will be a ball a month from tonight where the Crown Prince must find a bride. If he does not find a bride that night he will lose the inheritance."

"Then why kill him when there is a possibility that he won't chose a bride?"

"Because his Royal Highness, Zander, believes that Prince Charles will attempt to kill him at the ball that night," Riam said with all seriousness.

"And why would he do that?" Joline asked, not at all convinced. "He is the first born son and the youngest son of the king would not be a threat to the Crown Prince."

Riam and Ivan shifted a little uncomfortably before turning their gazes on the table as Tatiana had done earlier. Riam, who seemed to be the leader of the two, glanced back up at Joline and cleared his throat.

"You're smarter than I thought." Riam muttered to himself. He bit his lip a little bit before coming to a decision. "You have to swear not to reveal what I am about to say to you."

"Only if you promise a few things for me."

Joline's eyes glittered as she and Riam stared each other down. They both understood that this was business. They might still remain distant friends outside of their dealings, but during them they were both ruthless.

"And what might those few things be."

"I'd like the bounties on Nirme Hangthan, Janrrel Mithraw, and Yedas Revret removed. This is non-negotiable," Joline listed. She had thought about those bounties for the past four days just waiting to lay them down.

"Done."

"All right then. What's the secret that no one else can know?"

"As you know Zander is the second born son, however, most people do not know that he is in fact the Crown Prince," Riam uttered softly. "When Zander turned ten the King transferred the throne to him instead of Charles…no one is really sure why, but the transfer was kept secret. Prince Charles still uses the title to help keep the secret from coming out, but he will not be the next King on the throne."

There was silence at the table as Riam finished his explanation. Joline glanced around and found that everyone except Ivan was just as surprised by this information. Tatiana was no longer scowling while Dranem showed his surprise through raised eyebrows. Caterayne made a big show by gasping loudly and puffing out her chest making sure that Ivan was watching. Joline frowned at the blonde's reaction knowing full well what she was trying to achieve.

"All right, then," Joline said, cutting through the silence. "So, Prince Charles is going to have the real Crown Prince assassinated so that he will gain the throne?"

"Correct."

"Then Niko is really killing the prince to protect Prince Zander's life?" Tatiana asked leaning forward. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously at Riam before glancing over at Ivan. The young auburn haired man wasn't even frightened by the gaze as he continued where Riam had left off.

"Yes, that's why we've decided to use the plan that Zule doesn't seem to like," he replied.

"Speaking of which, what is this plan that I have to perform?"

"The night of the ball, we want you to enter the palace as one of the women seeking to become the prince's bride. We need you to do whatever you can to get close to the prince and lure him away from the ball long enough to kill him. We will have several indicators ready so that when you arrive at the ball Prince Zander will know who you are. That way if any fingers are pointed at you Prince Zander can cover for you."

Joline sat back for a moment trying to digest the information given to her. It seemed to be a pretty solid plan until the end of course. There were too many ways that it could go wrong in the final stages. The prince might suspect what was going on, or there could be an ambush waiting for her. Now that Prince Zander had contacts with the famous Lady of the Night would he use them to betray her? She glanced at Riam and Ivan who were now absorbed in a quiet conversation. Neither of them looked like they would betray her, but she could never be sure. Shaking her head, Joline sat forward once more.

"I'll do it."

The quiet reply brought Ivan and Riam out of their conversation with smiles on their faces.

"Great," Riam said. Both he and Ivan began to move from the table.

"Sit down!" Tatiana shouted. "You little whelps are outrageously rude. We haven't even discussed payment yet."

"Oh, right," Ivan replied sheepishly. Half-way to their seats, Joline cut in. "We'll discuss payment another time. Ivan you may leave or wait here for a moment while I have a private word with Mr. Riam."

Once again, eyebrows rose along the table. Dranem gave Joline a sly smile and Caterayne was glaring once more. Rising from her stool with a wince, Joline beckoned for Riam to follow her. She pushed her way through the crowds once more and ended up by a back wall where there was some room to talk without having to worry about anyone overhearing.

She stopped beside the wall and waited for Riam to extract himself from the mass of bodies surrounding him. When he reached Joline, he sighed and leaned against the wall she was standing by.

"So, is there something wrong with your back or do you normally flinch every time someone nudges it?" he asked, catching Joline's gaze and holding it. Embarrassed Joline dropped her eyes down to her feet.

"I—I…"

"You're finally at a loss for words?"

"I…well, I hurt it a couple of days ago," Joline finally managed to get out. She couldn't believe that she had let her pain show. She should have done better to keep Riam from seeing it. At this point in the game, any kind of weakness could be taken advantage of.

"Doing what?"

"I…was lifting a…some pails of water and I just…pulled a muscle."

"Right. What did you want to talk to me about?" Riam finally stopped staring at Joline and she pulled herself together.

"I want to know what you're doing here."

"I've already told you."

"There's something odd about this whole plan that you and Ivan have put together and I want to know what," she demanded with a glare. The brunette crossed her arms over her chest and took up a threatening stance.

"I honestly don't know what you're talking about." Joline didn't buy it for a second.

"I know you're here for some other reason or there's something about this mission that you're not telling me. I suggest that you do tell me now before I decide to kill you."

The threat was not idle and Riam could tell. Joline kept staring him down, while he shifted uncomfortably once more. She didn't keep a look on the men and women enjoying themselves around her. Thus she missed seeing the drunken man barreling towards her at an alarming rate. Riam did, however, and grabbed her around the waist flinging her to his other side.

Joline didn't quite know what was happening as Riam sprang forward and grasped her waist with one hand and her back with the other. At the sudden contact, her back exploded in pain. It almost felt like a blossom of fire opening. When Riam released her, the momentum he had created kept her going back towards a table on his other side. She struck it once more with her back. The pain exploded once more, but with three times the intensity.

Joline cried out sharply just before her eyes rolled up into her head and she fainted.

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Yes, I know I took my own sweet time getting this chapter out again, but like every other teenager I do have a life. Anyways, I have to say I'm not quite happy with this chapter, but it'll do for now. I'm hoping to keep Dranem and Caterayne in the story, but they may not exactly fit in. Hmm…I guess we'll see. Speaking of them how did you guys like them? I know you only got a glimpse of them, but they seemed pretty good to me.

Thank you to Kiyume, who cares4, chicken, serif, cRYstal aNgELS, oreos, and Lorelei Fayeri for reviewing. I really appreciate it.

No shout outs this time. I'm just trying to get this up.

Question: I've decided to start getting down to business and reviewing other people's stories. Which story would you like me to review?