Greetings. I am FreezingRayne, and it is very nice to make your acquaintance. I wrote this story sometime last summer and finally decided to post it somewhere. Enjoy.
The day had been hot.
The stifling weather had put everyone in the mansion in a foul mood. My mother and I got into a silly tiff before breakfast over what I was to wear to the Duke's masquerade next week. She felt I was too young to clothe myself all in black. I thought sixteen was quite old enough.
I sat outside by the pond throughout the afternoon, trailing my fingers through the cool water and wishing I could just plunge in. I had never gone swimming before, and it seemed like such fun. I was almost considering it, when a lady's maid arrived and announced we were to have guests for dinner and my mother bade me come inside and dress.
I must say I was quite uninterested when I descended the staircase to the front dining room. My father was the king's chief war advisor, and he often entertained foreign diplomats from our allied countries against the Kingdom of Leilira. They were always the same. Old, boring men with thinning hair and too much around their middle. Some of them spoke our language, while others didn't. An interpreter would be forced to stand at their side all through dinner, relating the things the two men said to each other in a yawningly monotone voice.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I entered the dining room and found myself face to face with a man no older than eighteen. He was tall and well-built with large hands and muscled shoulders. His eyes and hair were very dark, and his skin was the color of warm chocolate. I felt like a marble statue next to him.
"Ah, Crysanthia," my father greeted me. He was an older man with graying hair and eyeglasses. He no longer went into the field as a spy, but worked behind a desk as a diplomat, ironically. He motioned to another man at his left. "This is Sheik Ammar, leader of our friends to the south." My father never called a neighboring country 'friend' until he had a formal document tying them as allies.
I curtsied to Sheik Ammar, who bowed in response. "And may I present my son, Barakah?"
"An honor," the younger man said, taking my offered hand and kissing it. From out of the corner of my eye I saw my mother glaring disapprovingly.
Wanting to goad her as much as humanly possible, I answered, "I am much obliged to make your acquaintance, Lord Barakah." He smiled warmly, sparks dancing in his eyes. When we were called in to dinner he offered me his arm.
"That is a beautiful dress you're wearing," he said, in such a way that I couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not.
I looked down at my blue and silver gown. It was pretty, though not one of my best. Barakah's clothing…well, there wasn't much to comment on. He wore no shirt, only a gold-embroidered vest and pants of purple velvet. I guessed this was the custom, as his father was dressed in much the same style.
"You're eyeing my clothes quite dubiously," he said as we took our places at the table, still smiling.
"On the contrary," I said, matching his grin with one of my own, well aware the rest of our party was listening in, "I imagine it must be quite liberating."
This made Sheik Ammar laugh. "Yes, it is. But you see, Lady Crysanthia, our women don't dress quite so…openly. You wouldn't wear something like this if you lived among us."
"Pity," Barakah said. He muttered it under his breath so no one else at the table heard, but I was certain he'd said it. It took all the composure I had to keep myself from blushing.
"So, tell us, Barakah," my father said, as we began the first course, "What do you do for amusement at home?"
Barakah set his goblet back on the table. "I hunt when the mood takes me, I ride nearly everyday. And I swim." He flicked his eyes toward me as he spoke this last statement, amusement in his eyes.
I found myself almost choking on my soup. Was it possible he could have known my sudden desire to drench myself in the pond this afternoon? Of course he couldn't, I assured myself, taking a sip of wine.
Sheik Ammar and my father began to talk of the drought that had been affecting both our countries over the last month or so. I found I didn't have much to say on the subject, so I kept quiet. Barakah didn't speak either, nor did his eyes leave me once as the meal progressed. It was rude, but I was no stranger to boy's glances, and who knew? Maybe this was a form of flattery in his country.
He sat back after awhile, finished with his meal. From his pocket he drew a tiny silver ball, which he proceeded to roll around his fingers. Soon the ball was nothing but a blur, flashing in and out of sight. I found myself transfixed, both by the silver and the motion of his slender fingers.
A sudden thumping sound made us both look up. My mother had set her wine goblet down forcefully, slopping a few droplets onto the snow white tablecloth. It spread across the fabric like bloodstains, and my eyes were drawn to it for just a moment. It was in that moment I felt the most horrible sense of foreboding. It was like a chill hand squeezing my heart. I was suddenly no longer staring at a tabletop, but at a dark wooden floor stained with red.
The spell was broken by my mother apologizing profusely to Sheik Ammar.
"Honestly, I don't know where my mind went," she twittered. I resisted rolling my eyes. I knew exactly what she had been thinking. I could tell she didn't approve of Barakah, nor did she approve of my apparent fascination with him.
Just to be spiteful, I glanced back his way again. He was looking at me in the most peculiar fashion, as though seeing me for the first time. I wondered vaguely if it had anything to do with my brief moment transfixed by drops of wine. I just smiled in response. He returned the expression, though more warily than he had earlier in the evening.
We got through the rest of the meal without further incident. After the last plate had been cleared away, my father summoned a manservant to show Barakah and Ammar to their apartments. The servant bowed to him and the two men bowed to us, thanking us for a wonderful meal. Barakah's eyes lingered on me, for perhaps a moment longer than was completely necessary, before he turned and followed his father.
I quit the dining room as quickly as possible, but was promptly ambushed in the hall by my mother, which was what I'd been expecting.
"Mark my words well, girl," she said, shaking a finger at me the way she had when I was a child. "Where that boy goes nothing good will follow."
"How do you know so much of him?" I asked, putting my hands impudently on my hips.
"I know of his race," my mother hissed back. "They are tricksters, liars, sorcerers."
I started. Whatever it was I had been expecting it certainly wasn't this.
"Sorcerers?" I breathed, "You mean, real sorcerers?"
My mother nodded severely. "Yes, real sorcerers, Crysanthia. Believe me, that boy will charm his way into your good graces. Who knows? He may have bewitched you already."
I tried not to think about the sudden panic I'd experienced at the dinner table. "Mother, please. I'm going up to my room now. You have nothing to fear." I left her in the corridor.
That night I left my window wide open, trying to coax some breeze in from the countryside. For reasons unknown, I couldn't seem to fall asleep. I tossed and turned, unable to keep my eyes closed. At one point (it must have been around midnight), I rolled to face my window and found I was not alone in the room. The curtains twitched, revealing a dark silhouette.
I sat straight up in bed, just managing to stop myself from shrieking. The stranger hopped off the windowsill, moving into the light the moon cast. He held a finger to his lips.
"Quiet, Crys, it's only me. Do you mind if I call you Crys?"
I fought to control my breathing. "Barakah?" I gasped, hand on my heart.
"Of course," he said, perching on the side of my bed.
I was shocked by his forwardness, but I thought I would look rather stupid if I reprimanded him. Here was a man who didn't abide by the laws of society and was not belittled by that fact. Instead, he seemed to make the rules themselves look like fools.
"What do you want?" I demanded.
"I wanted to see if your eminence would like to come outside."
Now I knew he was mocking me. Your eminence? It hardly seemed to suit.
"Outside?" I repeated. "You mean…" I glanced at the window.
He nodded. "No one would ever know."
I shook my head earnestly. "N-No, I couldn't. I—."
"Do you always do exactly as is expected of you?" Barakah asked.
I made a face. He was provoking me and I knew it. "No, I don't," I said. It came out as more of a whine than an assertion.
"Then come outside. Do something you want for once, just because you want to."
"How do you know I want to?" I asked stubbornly.
Barakah laughed softly, the wind stirring his hair. "I know." He offered me his hand.
I took it, tentatively. I made a move toward my wardrobe, but he shook his head. "Leave the ridiculous get-up here. I don't know how you move in those things."
"Practice," I told him. I followed him to the window, dressed only in my underskirt and bodice. He put a bare foot up on the sill and I eyed him critically. We were nearly three stories up. How had he gotten here in the first place?
That question was answered at once as he grabbed my hand and pulled me forward. We jumped and I clung to him, scared senseless. A moment later, however, I realized we were not falling, but drifting slowly downwards, as though walking on the air.
Sorcerers. So my mother had been right.
We touched down to the ground at the edge of the wood, past the gardens. I glanced behind to where the house stood, silent, massive, and rather ridiculous looking if you thought on it long enough. It suddenly felt wonderful to be free of it. Barakah smiled at me encouragingly. Then, taking my hand, he led me off into the wood.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"Where you've always wanted to," he answered.
I had no notion of what he meant until the sound of the river reached my ears. We came to the bank, a place where it deepened into a wide pool before growing steadily narrower before it reached the mill.
"How did you know?" I asked. "Can you read minds?"
Already in the process of removing his vest, Barakah just smiled. He leapt from the bank, forming his body into an elegant dive. The surface barely rippled as he slid under. My descent into the river was not quite so nimble. I climbed awkwardly down to the edge. Leaning forward, I swept a hand through the water. It was pleasantly cool.
"What are you waiting for?" Barakah asked. He was treading water out where the current was non-existent, his wet hair slicked back.
I tried to smile, but I'm afraid it fell flat. "I can't swim," I informed him mournfully.
Barakah swam toward me. "In my homeland, a woman who cannot swim is a thing unheard of."
"Your home sounds…"
"Barbaric?" he supplied.
"Different," I finished. "Don't put words in my mouth."
Barakah shrugged. "Come into the water. It's not deep here."
I was just about to take my first step into the river, when a shout ran out through the woods.
It came from the direction of the mansion.
I froze. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Barakah asked, his attempt at casual falling flat.
"I'm going back," I said, straightening up.
Barakah grabbed my hands. "You can't."
"Let me go!" He was almost inhumanly strong, and I may well have been a dry leaf trying to escape the wind. Barakah's demeanor while he restrained me was as it had been all night; utterly calm.
He spoke his next words the same way he might if we'd been sharing a pot of tea.
"If you go back you will be killed."
For just a moment, I thought he was joking; just another layer to his enigmatic personality. But he didn't laugh, he didn't smile, just let his stare burn into my face.
"Killed?" I gasped, my voice constricted. "Killed by whom?"
"By Ammar," Barakah said, his hands tightening on my wrists.
"Ammar? Sheik Ammar?" I was laughing now. "By your father?"
Barakah shook his head, tiny droplets flying off the tips of his hair. "He is not my father, nor is he a Sheik. The two of us are not diplomats, and we do not work for our king."
I could feel my blood running colder and colder. "Then who are you?"
"Assassins." The word dropped from his lips like poison. "Ammar and I are partners. He is the killer and I am the charmer."
My mother had been right again.
"You're both sorcerers!" I cried, trying once again to pull away. Futilely.
"Yes we are. And we were commanded to assassinate your father and his family. I do not know why, as it is not my place to ask."
The memory of blood splashed across wooden floorboards returned to me like a breath of foul air. The floorboards in my parent's bedchamber were that hue. I needed to get away, I needed to warn them!
"Let me go!" I screamed again.
"No!" Barakah said. "There is nothing you can do. They will both die."
"Why are you telling me this?" I demanded. "Are you planning on killing me here and now?" I was too angry to consider being afraid.
"There was no order to kill you, just to kill your dog of a father."
"Don't you dare insult my father!" I nearly shrieked.
Barakah jerked me forwards suddenly, and the two of us crashed into the water. I sputtered, but he still wouldn't let me go. "You think your father does not deserve everything I call him?" he hissed. "You think all he does for your king is strike deals with foreigners?" He laughed spitefully. "The war between our two countries has cost many lives on my side, many of them ended by the advice your spymaster of a father gavt your king."
I wanted to argue, but I couldn't find the words. I knew my father headed an espionage network, but I had never bothered myself with what might result from his mens' exploits. And I had never expected retaliation, especially not from this handsome and charming foreigner. Still, it did not justify the murder of my family. But what could I do?
I let my muscles go slack. "Fine, just kill me then."
"I already told you, I'm not planning to," Barakah said, still holding me up above the surface. "I was expecting you to be just another wealthy girl with a head full of nothing besides hot air, but then at dinner I saw you predict the future."
"What?" I had not been expecting that.
"When your mother spilled the wine," he said, rolling his eyes as though I was a stupid child. "You saw death, didn't you?"
I nodded hesitantly.
"Then I am offering you a chance to become something," Barakah said. "Your power rivals that of those much older than you are. Join Ammar and me and help us end this mindless war."
I didn't have to consider anything. I laughed in Barakah's face. "Oh, you'd offer me that chance? How kind you are, sir. You'd give me the opportunity to work for the people who killed my family? Thank you, but no."
Barakah pulled me closer. There was barely an inch between our faces now. "Pity," he said, for the second time that night. He drew a hand out of the river. For a moment he just held his arm up, muscles tensed. Then a faint golden light started at his shoulder, working down across the dark skin, and concentrating in his palm. He meant to kill me, I knew it.
Suddenly, I realized he had let go of my wrist to use his arm. Without thinking, I copied him, holding up my hand. A light appeared around my skin as well. Barakah's eyes widened in shock. Apparently he had not thought me quite such a fast learner.
As though obeying orders, I shoved my palm against his bare chest. The light flowed from me to him like a liquid. He screamed, letting go of me and reeling back into the water. I had no notion of what I had just done, but I was free. All dignity thrown to the winds, I stumbled to the shore and pulled myself up. Clinging to the branches of the trees lining the river I managed to get to dry grass without bodily injury, though I was hampered by my trailing skirt. I wished I could just rip the damn thing off!
The moon was almost full tonight, and I caught glimpses of it through the trees as I tore back toward my home. I wondered how long it would take Barakah to recover from my magical onslaught. Most likely not very long. He had no doubt been practicing sorcery for most of his life, while I'd just come into my power a few hours ago.
I burst out of the trees to find the mansion rearing up over me. The familiar feeling of horror welled up inside me, almost to the point of nausea. Even as I sprang off across the garden, skirt flapping about my ankles, I already knew I was too late. Everything around me became a blur as I barreled up the steps and down the empty halls. The ornate tapestries and rich paintings that lined the corridors filled me with a sort of despair I couldn't explain.
I didn't need to enter my parents' room. I knew what I'd find; I could see it perfectly already and it made me sick. Instead I turned the other way on the fourth floor landing, letting myself into my own chamber. It was just the way I had left it less than a half hour ago. Bedclothes thrown carelessly aside, the window open and the curtains fluttering. Numbly, I crossed the room with the mind to close the shutters, but the sight of my reflection stopped me dead.
It had changed.
I'm not addressing the fact that my underskirt was torn and muddy and my hair was wild, though that certainly was something that hadn't happened since I was a child. No, the difference was internal. Perhaps it was the dead look in my eyes. Perhaps not.
I felt the sudden presence behind me like a stirring at the corners of my mind.
"I'm sorry," Barakah said. He sounded sincere, but I already knew him to be a superb actor.
"Get out," I commanded in a voice that did not sound like my own.
"Crys, let me—,"
"I'm not as powerful as you yet," I said. My eyes were dry and my voice was even. "If we fought, I'd lose. But keep a weather eye out, for one day I will be as powerful."
There was the slightest rustle of curtains and I knew he had gone.
I don't know how long I sat there. It may have been a single hour, it may have been five. The morning sunlight stealing in through my open window stirred me at last. I rose soundlessly, moving out into the silent landing. There was no one else alive in the house, not a servant, not a stable hand, not a soul who could tell the tale. Don't ask me how I knew this. I could feel it, as easy as I could feel the thick carpet beneath my bare feet. Ammar's and Barakah's plan had gone off without a hitch.
Unless you counted me. Barakah had left me alive, foolishly.
I was planning on being a hitch to be reckoned with.