7-30-07: Now Edited and Improved. I hope.
Moth to the Flame
Moth settled in on the wide ledge outside the window. It was Prince Aodh's room, he'd made sure of that earlier, and now he simply had to wait until the prince returned for the night. Once the prince had returned, Moth just had to hope he didn't feel the need to open the window, after which Moth merely had to wait until the prince was asleep, slip in, slit his throat, strangle him with a pillow, stab his heart, take his spleen, drink his blood, or whatever caught the assassin's fancy. The king hadn't been specific about which method Moth should use to kill him, so long as it was done quietly and quickly.
Moth had a few days leeway before this task had to be accomplished. He'd bargained hard for those days before he learned that the king had his brother 'safely' tucked away in a rural palace. Then Moth had been at a loss as to what to do with the extra days. He could have taken longer to arrive- stopped to see the sites on the way. Or he could have taken the extra time to study the palace, and make his plan foolproof, but Moth had never been much of a tourist, and, after reaching Prince Aodh's 'safe house,' he had realized this would be the easiest job of his life.
The palace had been so simple to slip into, the assassin had wondered briefly if the king had planned on having his brother killed when he sent Prince Aodh there.
Then he remembered what his job was, and who had hired him.
Due to the tumultuous politics of the times, the king had placed his brother, Prince Aodh under unofficial house arrest. Ostensibly it was 'for his own protection,' which meant the enforced holiday was nearly devoid of company for the prince, and that most fun activities were curtailed. This made the prince's routine very routine, and Moth had barely needed half a day to learn the entire thing and make his plans.
Honestly, he was a bit disappointed in the lack of a challenge this job presented.
Moth didn't mind an easy job now and again, but it was easy to be overconfident on them, so he had to be careful to make sure that something like a maid airing out the room didn't ruin the whole job.
Speaking of maids, the assassin moved farther back into the shadows as one came in to light the fire. She placed between the sheets, and then vanished for just long enough that Moth started to wonder if the entire palace was going to burn down and make his job even easier.
Prince Aodh entered the room as the maid was leaving; she curtsied, and he nodded in passing. Moth watched from the window as the prince went through his mundane bedtime routine, ready to move if the prince showed any signs of coming towards the window. An assassin could be caught and killed because his target had decided to get a breath of fresh air before retiring for the night.
Finally, the prince moved over to his bed, where he stripped off his shirt before climbing under the covers. Moth was silently appreciative; it was too bad that the king didn't look like his brother, if he'd been golden and strong and beautiful, perhaps the common folk would have been able to overlook his cruelty, selfishness and ignorance. As it was the people loved the younger prince, and the more the people loved Prince Aodh, the more his brother hated him. Hence Moth's job.
It didn't help that Prince Aodh was better than his brother at nearly everything, from swordsmanship to military strategy.
Actually, Moth had heard lots of praise about Prince Aodh's skill with a sword. He almost wished he'd been able to cross blades with the prince. Or at least see him at work. The ageing guards the king had permitted his brother take were hardly a challenge in the sparring ring.
On the other hand, if the prince was really as good as everyone said he was, then Aodh couldn't take the chance of an open fight. That was why Moth had decided to kill the prince in his sleep; no matter how well Prince Aodh fought in his dreams, Moth's steel would end them.
Breaking out of his reverie, the assassin saw the fire had died down to a few low and flickering flames. The prince had long since tucked himself into bed, and Moth figured it had been long enough for him to fall asleep.
Moth carefully opened the window and slipped into the room. He padded softly over to the prince's bedside.
He looked down at Aodh.
Aodh looked up at him.
They both paused in shock for a moment, and then Moth lunged on top of the prince, his knife aimed at Aodh's heart. Aodh evaded being stabbed, rolling with Moth's lunge, even as he pulled a knife from under his pillow. Shortly, Moth found himself tightly entangled in the bedclothes, staring up at his target, steel biting at his neck.
The prince blinked down at him, perhaps waiting for his mind to catch up with his body. "My brother sent you?" It was only partly a question. The prince shifted his weight enough to pull his left arm from where it was crushed under Moth, and he used the freed hand to pull the assassin's mask away from his face. He studied Moth for a moment, and then softly said, "I've never hoped my death would be so fair." Aodh smiled a sad smile.
Moth was baffled; he certainly wasn't in any position to kill the prince at the moment, and Aodh would have to be a fool to allow the situation to slip that far out of hand. The knife moved away from his throat, although there was still the blankets and the physical presence of the prince to prevent Moth from moving. Instead of trying he simply watched his captor silently.
Prince Aodh looked at him again for a moment. "I know," he said, in response to the unasked question. "But if it's not you, it'll just be someone else, and at least death will end my boredom." He paused, and seemed about to say something else, but then leaned forward and kissed Moth's lips instead. Aodh's lips were soft and moist, and Moth was too shocked to respond. The prince pulled back after a moment. "The kiss of death, I suppose; but whose?" Aodh looked very sad for a moment, then shook his head and tossed his knife across the room, sitting up.
"Your name before you kill me?" Prince Aodh asked, still sitting on Moth's hips.
"Moth," he said quietly, seeing no harm in answering. What matter if a dead man knew his name? Or, if the prince was playing at some trick, then his captor had a right to know his name.
Aodh simply sat there and stared at Moth, who watched him quietly, still too enfolded in the blankets to move, becoming more and more certain by the moment that the prince would call for the guards. After a long moment the prince liked his lips and opened them to say something, but instead of a shout that would start a chain of events ending with Moth chained in a cell, the prince said, "Sleep with me."
Moth didn't say anything, but his shock and confusion must have shown in his eyes.
"I don't want to die a virgin." Aodh moved off of Moth, lying down on the other side of the bed. Moth began to disentangle himself as the prince spoke. "I've always known I didn't like women, I just kept it quietly to myself, put my attentions into other things. I always figured that something—that someone would come along." He paused, then shook his head. "It doesn't matter now." Unafraid and unashamed he looked up at Moth, who was leaning over the prince now, the knife was still tangled in the bedclothes, and Moth's fingers wriggled through them carefully, seeking out the touch of steel. "It's my final request, I don't want to die pure, unknowing. No one will know. Just…you're so beautiful. Please." The last word was said quietly and sadly, like a child asking for a ray of hope.
Moth studied the prince again. He was handsome, all blonde hair and tanned skin; it wouldn't be difficult for Moth, not by a long shot. The only question that kept the assassin from immediately granting this odd request from Aodh was whether he'd still be able to kill the prince after. A few flickering flames from the fire reflected off the prince's golden hair as the assassin watched him. Moth's hand slowly found and freed the knife from the blankets, and he leaned over Aodh to place it on the bedside table. The gold would haunt his dreams if he refused, Moth knew, and, like the prince had said, no one would know.
Moth leaned back over Aodh and, resisting the urge to ask if he was sure, kissed him. He slid a hand up a smooth tanned chest, and heard Aodh's breath catch slightly in his throat. The prince slid his arms around Moth's waist, pulling the assassin fully on top of himself. His hands found the space between Moth's shirt and pants, sliding up across bare skin. When his hands moved downwards again, ghosting across Moth's skin, it was the assassin's turn to catch his breath.
The hands explored his back for a while; the prince was in no hurry, and then one moved around to the front where it fumbled a bit with the ties on his shirt. Moth shifted slightly to one side, so Aodh could get at them easier, and brought one hand up to run through Aodh's hair. The ties came undone, and Aodh slid his hands under the shirt, rubbing slowly down Moth's arms. Moth shuddered slightly at the sensations of cool air and warm hands on his skin, kissing Aodh's neck and running his fingers up and down the prince's sides lightly. Aodh made a strangled gasp, and Moth did it again, this time accompanied with a thrust of his hips, which gained him an even stranger gasping noise, and the prince stopped moving his hands, frozen for a moment before he thrust back.
They went slowly, the prince wanting his first night to be worthy of being a last night, and the assassin hoping he could get a lifetime's worth of memories out of one night. Exhausted at the end, they both fell asleep, curled together under the blankets that protected them from the breeze that came through the open window.
Moth awoke as the sun leaked across his face from the open window. He frowned a moment, trying to place himself, then smiled softly as he remembered. He and the prince had managed to disentangle themselves during the night, and now he rolled over to look at Aodh. Prince Aodh was lying on his back, a pool of sunlight reflecting off his bare chest. Moth sighed inwardly. The man was even more beautiful in the light and close up than Moth had thought. And, what's more, he didn't think that he could kill the prince now. Or maybe he could, hardened assassin that he was. Moth reached across the bed and the prince, to grab the knife off the bedside table. He leaned back to his starting position, and then noticed that Aodh was staring at him.
"Are you going to kill me now?" the voice was merely curious.
Moth looked back at him. "No," he said simply. Moth climbed out of the bed, located his clothes and put them on. The prince watched silently.
"I'll see you tonight," Moth said as he climbed onto the windowsill.
"I'll tell the guards," the prince responded.
"It won't matter." And Moth was gone.
The guards did seem a bit more alert the next night, although Moth still had no problems avoiding them. He hid again on the window ledge, and waited until Prince Aodh was in the room. He opened the window as soon as the prince was alone, hoping to use surprise this time, since patience hadn't worked so well the night before. He lunged at Aodh, who sidestepped and pulled the knife out of Moth's hand as the assassin whooshed past. Moth was unable to stop himself and ended up sprawled face-first on the bed.
Aodh threw the knife in the corner with his from last night as he moved to lie over the assassin. "I don't think you want to kill me." He ran a hand under Moth's shirt, and nuzzled the back of his neck.
"I don't think you want to die," Moth said quietly.
"But I have to. If not you, then another will do the king's biding. It won't end until I do." And then, quieter, "or he does." There was a long silence, and the prince's hands stilled. "Moth, if I asked you to, would you kill the king for me?"
"I am a killer for hire, I don't kill for free."
Aodh moved away from Moth, who sat up.
"I will pay you what he is paying you, and more if you ask it. And perhaps my gold is better than his." The prince twisted a lock of golden hair around his finger.
"What good will it do you? Your nephew would be king." Moth hated himself for even considering it.
"He's barely two, I would be regent in his place, and I could raise him better than my brother."
"Would the guilt kill you?"
"Not as surely as my brother's lack will."
"It's not an easy decision to make. I have a few more days allotted in my contract, I'll use that time to think on it."
Aodh gave a bitter smile. "I think I can wait for a few more days to die."
There was a pause, and then Moth got up and walked over to the prince. "If you pay me some gold in advance, it may speed my decision," he said, reaching up to tug on the prince's hair.
The prince laughed as he followed Moth's tugging to the bed.
Moth woke first again in the morning. Rolling over, he stared at the glowing golden prince. Surely there was no better sight to wake up to of a morning. The prince was unbelievably handsome, intelligent, well loved by the people. He'd make a much better king than his brother, which was probably why his brother hated him so much. If Moth were working for the good of the kingdom, or even for the moral right of the world, he would easily switch his contract as Aodh had asked. He wasn't, though.
Moth had never pretended to work for the good or the right. He killed people at the direction of other people. For money. It wasn't about morals, and it never had been. Moth's interest in this was getting out alive, preferably with some monetary or other personal gain.
Of course, Prince Aodh's offer was much more appealing that King Tynan's, but a few nights in the prince's bed was hardly worth giving up his job and way of life. So it rather depended on how long the prince's gold would last.
Moth reached up to the prince's hair, stroking it lightly, and Aodh opened his eyes, smiling when he saw who was leaning over him. Aodh rolled on top of Moth, kissing and nuzzling at his chest and neck.
"Stay," Aodh said.
"What?" Moth responded. They heard footsteps coming down the hall, and the assassin realized that it was later than he'd thought, and now the maid was coming. "Let me up!" he hissed, not wanting to be caught.
"No. Stay," the prince insisted.
"You're not allowed to have visitors!" The footsteps were getting closer.
"I can if my brother sends them," Aodh said with a wink. "Hold still," he added, pulling the blankets over Moth. The prince positioned himself half over the new lump, pretending he was still asleep.
The door opened. "M'lord?" the maid said from the doorway.
"Mindy?" Aodh responded, lifting his head slowly and blinking at her sleepily.
"It is almost time for breakfast, m'lord."
"Already? I slept so poorly. I dreamt of assassins." He paused tiredly. "Could you bring breakfast here? I think I will try to sleep more now that the sun can keep the dreams away."
"Of course, m'lord," Mindy said, and closed the door.
Moth fought his way out from under the covers and the prince. "Dreamed of assassins, did you, m'lord?" He used the title mockingly.
"Mm-hmm, one sent by my brother, no less. It is a reoccurring dream, I'm afraid, these past few nights. But a sweet one, and one I would like to have again and again."
Moth hit him with a pillow. "You're a sappy romantic."
"I'm not the one slipping into my lover's room in the moonlight for a secret tryst."
"Tryst? Is that what they call murder these days?"
"Isn't that when you steal the heart of another?"
"No, that's thievery."
"I thought that was the price of milk in Thanula."
Moth rolled his eyes. "That's an arm and a leg."
"Then what are these?" Aodh asked, curling his hands around Moth's limbs.
"No, that's—those are—that's um. My um, ahh…" Moth trailed off with a moan, unable to think of a proper response as Aodh's hands slid to other parts of his body.
There was a knock at the door.
"M'lord?" came Mindy's voice. "I have your breakfast." She swung the door open and Moth had barely enough time to fall to the floor on the far side of the bed. She placed the tray on the bedside table, and spent some time fussing over the prince, while the assassin held his breath. Prince Aodh endured as much as he could before sending her out of the room.
Moth climbed up off the floor, and the two set about demolishing breakfast.
They spent a pleasant day together in the prince's room, playing and talking. Moth found himself growing even more attached to the clever and witty prince. More than that, every second spent in the prince's presence made it harder and harder for Moth to think of killing him.
But if Moth didn't kill Aodh he'd be out of a job, and the king could send someone after him, as well as another after Aodh. The prince was right when he'd said that it would only end with one of them dead.
But what would happen if he killed the king? Moth would stick around long enough to collect his pay, and then he'd have to find some other line of work- no one would hire an assassin who broke contract. Prince Aodh, meanwhile, would return to court where all of the women, and probably some of the men, would undoubtedly try to seduce him. Most would be after his power as regent, of course, and some his beauty. There might even be a few who saw Aodh for who he was, and wanted him for that.
Moth envisioned a noble wrapping himself around Aodh as Moth had done the past few nights. He thought of one sitting in front of a fire on a cold night, sharing a glass of wine and a warm blanket. He thought of the prince waiting in the night for a lover that wasn't him, and Moth felt the most profound surge of jealously and possessiveness, followed by a black and murderous rage.
Then he paused and blinked to himself. Well. Moth had never really figured himself the possessive type, but then, he'd never really had anyone to protect. A reaction that strong must also mean that he already had deeper feelings for the prince than Moth thought he would ever have for anyone. It wasn't so much that he wanted the prince all to himself; it was simply that, like a dragon, he found a need to hoard his gold. And, dammit, if he couldn't have the gold, then no one would.
If the prince wasn't paying forever, Moth would fulfill his contract.
As the shadows lengthened once again with the onset of evening, the two curled up on the bed, watching the flames flicker in the fireplace. Moth turned to look up at Aodh from where he rested. "Will you keep me?" he asked softly.
"Forever," Aodh replied simply and drowsily, continuing to pet Moth's hair.
Moth sat up, pulling away slightly. "If I kill your brother, and you returned to court, will you keep me?"
"Once you've killed my brother, and I pay you the gold we've agreed on, the question is 'will you keep me?'"
Moth was about to speak again, but Aodh put a finger to his lips.
"I knew what I was offering. I also knew what you were asking just now. So I'll repeat my answer; forever. I will keep you, unless you let me go first. And if I stray, I have no doubt that you're perfectly capable of killing me and my lover, which would be all that we deserve."
"But what will I be at court? You're trophy concubine? You're caged killer? The man you run to when you slip from your wife's bed at night?"
Aodh shook his head. "You'll be my spymaster."
"Well, I'll need someone to keep an eye on my enemies, if an assassin was sent after my brother, what would stop one from being sent against me as well?"
Moth rolled his eyes. "What about marriage? You're an eligible bachelor, and as regent, every lady in the land will be after your hand."
"I'm not interested in any of them, nor will I ever be. As regent they can't force me to marry, and, assuming they do somehow coerce me into it, I'm sure that after you've taken care of my first few wives they'll stop trying."
Moth frowned at him. "What if it's a political marriage to prevent a war?"
Aodh sighed. "There's no one near that has an eligible daughter, and, even if they did, I'd make it clear to her that it would be marriage in name only. Stop trying to make things complicated."
"I'm trying to be practical." Moth was annoyed now and shifted farther away on the bed. "Part of my job is to consider every possible outcome of a situation."
"That's why I think you'll make a great spy."
"So it's fine that I'm practical in my work, just not about our," he waved his hand vaguely, "relationship?"
"No, you can be…" Aodh trailed off, mumbling. He paused for a second, then spoke up again. "What else have I not thought of, O Wise One?" It was only half in jest.
They spoke about it for hours, hashing out the details of what would be their lives once Moth killed the king. Moth wanted it to still be 'if' he killed the king, but he'd just be lying, and they both knew that. He'd decided finally the moment Aodh had said 'forever.' The rest was just details.
Moth waited silently in the dark for the king to arrive. He was in an old abandoned church outside of town, waiting to report that he'd killed Prince Aodh, carrying a ring as proof of the deed. There was the slight glow of a torch from one of the doorways into the room, followed shortly by the sound of footsteps, loud against the stone walls. King Tynan followed the sound of his footsteps into the room, alone.
The king stood across the room from Moth, but spoke quietly. His voice skittered across the dry stone and rasped into Moth's ears. "Well?"
"Ill news, my king, your brother is dead." The title was used, but Moth's voice lacked the proper tone of respect.
"I have heard nothing of this."
"It seems, my lord, that your brother went out riding. He hasn't yet returned." Moth moved closer to the king as he spoke.
"I don't recall that my brother was ever in the habit of riding."
"He got bored, imprisoned as you left him, said that he was going to escape, if only for a few hours. He left near to nightfall, and may have gotten lost, he will no doubt return in the morning." The platitudes were empty, of course.
"Surely his guards know the area well enough to-"
Moth was still advancing on him, and now the king started retreating. "He neglected to take a guard, I'm afraid."
"My brother is no fool, he knows he's away from court because there are people that want him dead, why wouldn't he take a guard?"
"He gave no reason when he left, my lord." Moth had now backed the king against the wall. "Although I do know it."
King Tynan swallowed nervously. "W-why?" he asked.
Moth smiled, teeth bright in the darkness. "It seems, King Tynan, that Prince Aodh was planning to meet with an assassin. Turns out that he wanted someone dead."
"W-who?" The king stuttered again, asking the obvious question.
"You." The simple word followed by a knife plunging into the king's chest. Moth took a moment to reflect on the differences between the two brothers, as the late king slumped against the wall. Moth had no doubt that Aodh would have figured out what he was up to, and probably would have killed him, as soon as the intimidation started. That first step closer would have meant a cheaper bill, assuming the job had been completed, and a second chance if it were not. Tynan was probably still trying to figure out what had happened. Although, if Moth were honest with himself, he was rather disappointed; Tynan was supposedly as good a fighter as his brother, and reputedly almost as smart. Moth had been hoping for a fight. Well, perhaps the prince—the regent now—would be willing to spar against him. He'd have to ask when he saw Aodh in a day or so. After all, someone had to bring him the news of the king's death.
If anyone wondered, the original ending was right where Moth leaves that first morning. yeah, it was pretty evil. Aren't you glad I put the rest up?
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