The war is over but this new war that is brewing shall find no equal match. Crimson blood shall burst forth and flow like rivers through the streets. And I pledge that I shall play no part in my own destruction, no matter whom or what I may be.
"Only the dead have seen the end of war" - Plato
Seven years. Seven years ago we were at war. Our lands were threatened by warriors from across the sea, who hungered for power and cared not what they destroyed for this. Seven years ago our king was alive. A fair man and the truest of any, who gained all honour as his time passed in that noble position. Seven years ago he sent his finest warriors off to quell the threat to our lands. Amongst them, men who lacked neither courage nor skill. Seven years ago the king sent amongst his warriors, a boy but on the brink of manhood. A boy that was his son and heir to the throne. A boy that was also my husband.
Like many wars this one played its brutal course with more fatalities than survivors. But at long last after battle after battle the war came to an end. And those that had left seven years ago, having survived were to return today. The high prince was to return a King, after his beloved father's death two years before. Our land was to see the return of its monarch, and I now this land's Queen would be reunited with my husband. Seven years we had spent apart - longer than any time we had spent together. Feelings that had once been lay almost forgotten and dormant. Would they return again? Who would my King be on his return? The girl, his young wife that he had left had faded almost unrecognisably into me. Would it be the same for him?
The castle was unusually full of activity for such a bleak winter's day. Servants and nobles hurried about drawing their furs closer to their bodies. The browns and greens a stark contrast to the white landscape that surrounded the castle. Guards roamed the grounds their weapons drawn tight. Over the last few months security around the castle had almost doubled. Trouble was stirring; there was much talk of rebels and their plans. I glanced out through the walls of the castle, over the tops of houses and buildings that made out our vast capital city and into the hills. There, small black spots wound round the hills. Visible was a royal blue banner ever so faintly was flapping in the harsh wind. The royal blue banner of the King.
Dark clouds were gathering. A blizzard was coming and it looked as if it was going to last a while. I shivered and turned from the window to the flickering red flames of my fire. I seated myself before the fire letting its warmth flood me graciously. My eyes fluttered, exhaustion sweeping through my body after the many sleepless nights that had come since the news of my Kings return. Two strangers would be reunited later today. For now I found a simmer of contentment as light waves of sleep brushed over me, spiralling me into a warm slumber.
"Lady Alara, wake up," a soft voice called to me in the darkness. Slowly I opened my eyes and wriggled my stiff neck and shoulders. Staring down at me was one of my handmaids. Jessica's youthful eyes widened and she excitedly proclaimed, "The king has entered the fringes of the city, he is but an hour from the castle!"
I sat upright. Had I really been asleep that long? I rubbed my forehead and summoned for my dressers. Jessica left the room and returned only moments later with two older women. Behind then followed two servants. One carrying my robes and the other the Queen's jewels. My hair usually worn loose was braided and bound around my head several times, a tradition of any noble woman that I would have to adhere to now. Rules that had been once so flexible in the absence of a monarch would surely be stricter now. I stepped into the dress, royal blue as was fitting for a woman of my station. The bodice was pulled in tight and the material floated down skimming my hips. A hint of kohl was placed under my eyes. Lastly a small, simple yet still magnificent tiara was placed amongst the soft folds of my braided hair. A glance in the mirror proclaimed me the Queen that I was. The strict hairstyle aged me and the gown served only to emphasise the woman that I had grown into. Cold eyes stared back at me. If it had not been for the racing of my heart even I might have been fooled by my calm cool exterior.
Not long after I was dressed I was chaperoned round the winding steps and drafty passages of the castle to a small room. Another noble woman stood before me. She was much older yet her back still held straight and her face elegant. She carried herself just as a Queen should. And a Queen she had been but two years ago until the death of her husband. She surveyed me blatantly until she stopped and a look of approval brushed across her noble pointed features.
She nodded her head. "I'm glad to see you've tamed that wild hair of yours. It would not be fitting to have a Queen that gave an impression of unruliness."
Her voice was quiet yet her tone was harsh. I simply nodded brushing away her words, as I have done so often. She was still my superior; until I was officially crowned she was still above me. I glanced at her attire. She had been a great beauty once, a glimmer of that beauty was still visible even as her features had softened. In fact, ironically her appearance gave an impression of warmth. Her hair was covered as was the tradition for women once their hair began to loose its colour. Her eyes were oval and of the deepest blue, like the royal colour, still even now framed by thick lashes. I could remember but a few details of my husband, his eyes were one, an exact replica of his mothers.
Only today she had decided to come out of mourning, and had swapped her black gown for one of silver that hung on her tall and lean figure, which gave her an elegant and demure appearance. Demure, indeed, the illusion was great. Only I seemed to be made aware of her true coldness.
I removed my eyes from her and settled them on the wall to my side, aware of her eyes watching me, like a hawks. A calm had now rested over me as I accepted the imminent arrival of my husband. I should have been overjoyed and excited yet I felt wary and uncertain. The door clicked and a short man dressed in black robes entered the room. He was a familiar face to me, and one of the very few people in the castle that I might consider a friend. He ran a hand through his thinning hair and smiled at me slightly. He was worried too. He did not know what to expect from this new king. Like me he had a connection with the King's past as a mentor when he was but a boy. Yet I knew this connection did little to stop his nerves.
In the ailing health of the late King and the absence of the heir, Sir Gerald had taken the role as the High Governor, leader of parliament; he had effectively been in control of the country. He was not the best governor there has been in our lands but he tried his best to keep things settled between the nobles and the common people. Often I had attended parliamentary meetings. This had been much to the disapproval of the Queen; "Politics do not concern women", she had said once. Sir Gerald had always listened to my ideas and sometimes used them. It had given meaning to the dull days spent in the castle or around snobbish high society. Now, looking at Sir Gerald's furrowed brow I could feel his concern, his job, his livelihood was all so uncertain.
"Lady Beatrix, Lady Alara" he acknowledged us with a silent smile. "It is time you took your places in the great hall." The door to the great hall swung open and I could hear the voices of the nobles. Beatrix brushed past me and whispered "Shoulders back," as if I were a child. I followed her through and noticed the watching eyes of the nobles, who had all gathered to welcome my husbands return. I stood higher than them by a couple of steps on a lavish platform. I now stood in the centre as was my right, and Beatrix now stood to my left. I surveyed the rest of the great hall, with its high arched ceiling, grand marble pillars and dazzling chandeliers that hung and glittered in the light. No expense here had been neglected. I scanned the faces of those around me, faces were familiar, faces were recognisable and some I did not know. One particular face caught me eye. His skin was darker than most and his black eyes seemed to fix themselves upon me. His gaze made me feel uneasy and I found myself turning from him. "Who is the man over there, in the deep purple robes?" I whispered quietly to Beatrix. She turned and looked in the direction that I showed her. I watched her.
Something flickered through here eyes for a moment. "My eyes aren't what they used to be, I can not make out who the man that you speak of is. I expect the man you talk of is some noble from the coast." She said. I wasn't sure whether I believed her, but before I could question her more a horn sounded. The crowd in the hall was silenced, yet the sound of a cheering crowd far outside the castle could be heard. He was here.
The doors creaked open and a small procession of men made their way down the centre of the hall. The nobles cheered and shouted at them. I, like Beatrix stood still and waited. I glanced at her, her eyes were brighter and for a moment she seemed almost human. At last she would be reunited with her son.
The men neared. There were seven of them. Seven warriors. At the front a tall and broad man led them. His dark blue cape flowed behind him and with every stride his asserted his dominance and confidence. This man was a King. This man was my husband. Clearly so far removed from my young husband, who had left me on his twentieth year. He took the steps before us in a few mere strides. First he came to his mother. She embraced him, and I saw not an old cold woman but a mere mother, who had longed for her son's safe return. I watched him, pull back and mutter a few words to her. His jaw and chin had widened as with most men, he looked different yet I could still just about make a connection with the appearance of the young man I had married. His skin was tougher and darker, but it suited him, his eyes blazed with blue a intensity. It unsettled me.
He moved to me and kissed my hand lightly. "My lady," he whispered. I dropped my head. "I hope you are well," he murmured. But before I had a chance to reply he moved onto Sir Gerald beside me. He shook the High governor's hand and they smiled warmly at each other. They had known each other well; Sir Gerald had helped with his studies when he had been a boy.
Markus turned and faced his people. "People of court. My father was a great leader and if I can be half the man he was then that is all I can wish for. This land has its leader now, and I shall restore it to its former glory."
His words were simple and short but the hall burst into applause. I saw a flash of deep purple thread it's away through the people and vanish. Something was not quite right. Before I had a chance to think on this any more I was being led back into the small room just outside the hall.
I was the last to enter and watched as mother and son embraced each other again. "I shall retire to my chambers now, but I expect a visit later," the fondness and warmth exhuming from the woman was clear. She seemed so different from the cold woman earlier, and I could see the love she felt for the one man left in her life.
A servant followed her as her silver gown trailed out of the room.
I stood in the corner of the room watching the men. Sir Gerald and the rest of the council stood around the new King. "I know you have just returned and must be wearied by your travels, Lord, but there are important matters we need to discuss."
"It is my duty now, I will rest later. What is so important?" He said calmly, accepting a warm cup of cholo from a servant.
"Rebels, my Lord, they threaten our nobles. Deaths have been frequent amongst those most noble. The people begin to question us and the safety of this land."
"Perhaps we should discuss this in private Sir Gerald," Markus spoke, his eyes resting on me.
"Yes, of course, my lord." Sir Gerald said, glancing at me cautiously. "Lady Alara perhaps it would be best if you left us."
I blinked, I had never been asked to leave. I knew already about the rebels yet I also knew Sir Gerald had been hiding something from me. I had intended to find it out now. Normally, I would have been an integral part of this conversation. "But I-" I began.
"My lady, these matters are of no concern to you and I wish not to worry you." Markus replied. His voice was hard and his eyes stern, welcoming no reply. I caught his meaning well, I as a woman had no place here. He was my master now, and I was expected to abide to him.
He had only just returned so I nodded accepting his weak explanation and excused myself from the room. Later we would discuss this and I would not be so easily swayed.
The soon to be Queen, stood on the half raised platform. She looked magnificent. Her body was calm and displayed no emotion as she scanned the crowd. Beside her a short grey man, fidgeted with his robes, his feelings of uncertainty clear for all to see. The other side stood the old Queen, a smile upon her lips. Her son would be returning to her and the joy in her withered body was clear to see. I watched them through the crowd that had gathered to welcome our new King home. I could not help but wonder what she was thinking, this new Queen. She was beautiful and regal but she was not warm. This was perhaps that was why she was not particularly popular among our people as the woman who stood beside her. The old Queen had been warm and now she gave a welcoming smile to those around her. This new Queen was rigid and intimidated those before her. So unlike the small girl I had once known.
Her eyes suddenly stopped and fixed upon my own. Was there recognition? No but there was curiosity. It had been a long time ago, much had changed then, of course she did not recognise me. She would not remember anything. I watched as she muttered something to the old Queen. Then they both glanced in my direction. Beatrix, looked on at me, I knew she recognised me, but guessed as she muttered something back to Servina that she denied this so. It was not in her interests to reveal anything. Secrets amongst the monarchy would remain guarded as much as they could.
The doors flew open signalling the new King's arrival. He strode down the hallway. Arrogance exploding from him. The war had turned him into a man. People spoke that he had really come into himself since his father's death. It was no secret that there was little love loss between the late king and his son. Rumours had circled many years ago that Prince Markus had earned the disapproval of his father somehow and hence why he had been sent to war. But then again they were mere rumours. I watched as he approached his mother, than Servina, their meeting was civil. Unlike those littered in great literature it was in no way romantic. He turned to the crowd and a trivial and meaningless speech fell from his lips. But it was what the crowd wanted and they accordingly cheered their new king. There was no doubting in looks that he was a replica of his father. Yet there was air of impulsiveness about him that would perhaps conflict with the duties of a monarch. I glanced once more back at Servina, her gaze fixed in a seemingly mindless gaze. Yet I knew too much intelligence lived behind those eyes for it to be so innocent.
Servina had always been a quiet child, seemingly lost in her own world. It seemed strange to see the grown woman that she had become, eternally trapped in my mind as a wide eyed child. Alara, she was named now. She would be less than prepared for what was to come. Some believed that the return of the Monarch would bring peace to our land. Yes, the war had been fought abroad yet there was a new kind of war brewing and it was stirring amongst the very boundaries of this land. I had seen all I wanted to see and melted away into the crowd. This would not be the last time I saw her again.
The blizzard had arrived. Torches outside illuminated the swirling flakes and the veracious winds. I had a better view of the tumbling hills from here, although they were swathed in fog. My rooms were no longer mine, and I had been moved to the Kings quarters in the castle. Vastly more extravagant and high up one of the towers. I pulled my robe closer to me and turned from the turbulent weather. Standing in the door way he was. His presence swathed in black was impressive in the flickering candle light.
"My lord," I greeted him calmly. He nodded with the slight of his head.
"It's been a long time Alara."
"Yes," I replied. An awkward air seemed to flit between us and I had no intention of easing it. He moved closer and I felt as if a stranger was in my presence. He reached me and placed a gloved hand beneath my chin raising it. My eyes met his. Silence held between us until at last he broke it.
"You have changed much." A curve of his lips followed to make not quite a smile.
"Maybe." A slow answer escaped from my lips.
He smiled at my response. "You are a beautiful creature, but you are cold to me."
His frankness shocked me, I had forgotten it. "You have been gone seven years, a lot has happened since you left. Time has changed much between us. What did you expect? Me to throw myself into your arms?"
"Seven years ago you would have."
"I was young."
"You loved me." I did not reply. Words were not needed. The unspoken truth lay in his words. He leant forward and brushed his lips upon my own. I felt nothing.
He pulled away and looked into my eyes. Searching for what was not there. Giving up he turned and walked to the doorway.
"You shall not be staying here tonight?" I questioned him. I wanted to get tonight over with.
He turned not and his back answered me "No, not tonight." A gloom appeared to surround him. I forgot he had returned from a war. That he had seen many deaths. I watched as he left the room. I could not help but wonder what he must have been thinking. Why did he not stay tonight? Why must he prolong my agony of uncertainty?
It is clear to me I do not love him anymore. I think I knew this even before I saw him. He knows it. He also knows I offered myself to him tonight, to make it pass quickly. Yet it shall be another night, which I wish will not come. Perhaps he may take a lover.
The slums of the city fed on disease, pain, hunger and sewage. Dank, dirty dwellings sank into the lower regions of the hill that housed the great city. Yet this part of the city was not so great. Grand lights glistened in the distance. Shallow, lifeless people tucked up in the security of their beds up there. Yet one household had not been safe tonight.
I plundered down the narrow street, unaware of the rotting smell; it was like a second skin to me. Whores appeared at doorways and called out to me. If it hadn't been for the blood I would have been tempted to screw one tonight. Perhaps later. They called out to me, and I felt the sexual need in me heighten. I grimaced and moved on, brushing aside the beggars that clawed at my feet. I entered a dark tall building and climbed the steps past numerous cramped rooms. The slums were always full of noise, unlike the upper parts of the city, which were dead at this time. A baby was screaming and a wave of irritation coursed through me. I had the mind to kill it, that baby with it incessant screaming.
I reached my part of the building and tore the blood stained garments from me. I examined the scratches on my chest. Bitch! She had clawed her way through my skin. But her killing had been more satisfying than I had imagined it would be. I had stayed longer than usual, to watch the life flee from her eyes. Also to watch the horror freeze on her delicate face as she herself had watched the crimson flow from her skin. It had been a beautiful sight. Blood had rushed around her broken body mixing into her fair hair.
I washed the dry dark blood from my hands. Blood had a nasty way of sticking to the skin. I scrubbed until only a small layer remained of that rusty colour lay on my skin. Then carefully I pulled out my three daggers. My three weapons, and cleaned them with as much love as a mother has for her child.
I pushed through the flapping material that separated my hovel from the small terrace that gazed out across the horrific slums. This was my home. For reasons unknown I found an attachment to the poverty and scum here. It was much easier to remain inconspicuous here. Much easier to kill and remain unknown. How many men, women and children have I killed? I could not say, but the half a dozen tonight raised my ever-growing death count. My top lip curled in satisfaction. I was getting better. A fluidity had taken over my actions, and my murders had become like an art to me. An art that thumped and coursed it's way through my beating heart.
"Your job is done." I spoke into the shadows behind me.
There was a silence. A presence had crept up on me, but my senses had been alert. I was always aware.
"You left no trace?" The sultry voice whispered from the shadows.
I turned to face the woman. She leaned against the side of the opening accentuating the curves of her body.
"Only rivers of their noble blood."
She smiled. "Good." From around her hips she untied a small pouch and threw it to me. I counted the gold coins and when satisfied with the amount glanced back up at her.
"I may call upon you again, soon." The words spilled from her crimson lips. I simply nodded and she was gone.
I felt a stirring in me. I had only been in contact with the woman a few times yet something excited me about her. It was her coldness, the way she had contacted me. Unlike most of my clients she had shown no strain of guilt or expression of revenge when she had hired me. I liked that, very much. She was strikingly beautiful and I could tell her heart was vicious. I could only imagine what she would be like to fuck. My imagination stretched wide.
For the first time in a long while I wanted to know more. But my code demanded that I did not ask questions. It was not my place, I did the job and that was all. Yet, I had been more than intrigued. The woman was of nobility that was clear. But what was she doing in the slums? Why had she hired a contracted killer? And why should she wish for the deaths of such high nobles that I had mercilessly murdered tonight?
A/N:I have not made a mistake in this. A character is meant to be called two names. Reviews would be much appreciated!