Proper summary: The land of Abidon was once a rich and prosperous land, until the usurper of their King's throne, the Queen Dalal threw the country into ruin over the course of two years. Rebels have tried their luck to assassinate the wicked Queen but few have ever even managed to come close...until Aisha, the peasant daughter of a ruined merchant, makes her own attempt of assassinating the Queen and instead finds herself in the throne room and made a total fool of. Fearing death as her fate, she is suddenly introduced to the Prince Luca, the rightful heir to the throne of Abidon, who is so impressed with her attempt on his wicked aunt's life, that he proposes a partnership. But when Luca learns about who she really is, will they be able to carry out their plans? Or will love lead them astray?
It only took her a single moment to discover how badly she'd screwed up.
Raising her eyes above the crowds of nobles who stared at her with shocked eyes, she saw the wicked bitch herself...Dalal, Queen of Abidon, sitting upon her throne with her hand playing at the throat of a lovely young man. But her facial expression showed just how much she disliked having her peace broken, especially by someone who was trying to assassinate her.
Aisha rose carefully from the marble floor, trying to hide her eyes from the countless lords and ladies that surrounded her, who tittered and whispered and muttered shocked words to one another, those ladies who were dressed from head to toe in the most luxurious of fabrics and jewels and pearls, and the men who wore long peacock feathers on their hats and stood with rubies in their swords...all while Aisha and the rest of the people of Abidon were quietly starving to death in their villages, hoping that someday the Queen would find mercy in her wicked heart and take pity on them.
Rising to her feet, Aisha rose her head high and let all who wished it to look upon her. She was dressed in the manner of a beggar's daughter, ratty clothes that were completely soiled with dirt and muck, and hair an impossible mess, and a face that would have been beautiful if only the caked blood and dirt could be washed away. Wherever she turned to look upon the nobles, they all gasped and the ladies threw their palms over their mouths, as though the very sight of her would make them sick.
Aisha looked and saw her dagger on the marble ground, only a few feet from her. If only she could grab it, and she had the Queen within her full sights. Perhaps she wouldn't fail just yet.
The Queen stood to examine the assassin a little more carefully. It was the first time Aisha had ever set eyes upon the wicked bitch, but she could spot her out of any crowd. Who else had that hard, white faced pinched at all ends with dead black eyes and a sour disposition, who walked about with jewels lining her jet black hair and the longest of trains on her beautiful dark gowns? Aisha's father described her only too well.
For a solid moment Aisha thought of grabbing the dagger and making a jump at her. The nobles would grant her way; no one would dare be touched by such a filthy peasant such as she. And then she would have her full chance to strike the heart of that loathsome witch and kill her, and watch the blood flow from her heart, and laugh hysterically with glee as the guards dragged her off.
As a matter of fact, where were the guards? She was an assassin after all, why were they not so eager to throw her on her face and execute her then and there?
Quite on the contrary, instead of screaming for the guards, the Queen began to smile a wicked smile, and looked Aisha up and down. "My, but don't they send sewer rats to impose justice these days."
The crowds of nobles began to laugh, and Aisha's hands curled into fists and shook just slightly. She was indeed no sewer rat; back when there had been a King to rule over Abidon, she had been a scholar amongst the girls in her village, her father being a merchant. And now since Dalal had taken the throne, the villages were thrown into ruin over high expectations of her Majesty, over the wheat and the milk demands, and the needs for fine silks and cloths. Dalal had robbed the villages of the land of everything they had, until they were thrown into ruin.
"Call me sewer rat will you," Aisha spoke up, her voice echoing about the walls of the throne room, catching the Queen off guard. "I am more educated then you could ever hope to be, Abidon's swine Queen!"
Gasps of horror rang out around the room, Aisha had been expecting as much. She was also expecting that at any moment one of the guards would shoot her with an arrow and she would fall down dead on the marble. But nothing happened; and the Queen only stared at her with daggers. And so she spoke up again.
"I am from a village that was rich and prosperous, and you!" she pointed directly at the Queen, and watched the nobles as they gasped. "You ruined the people, and you soiled the King's name, all for your jewels and your fancy balls, and decorating your slaves, and appeasing only your own bored self!"
Now the nobles turned their eyes to the Queen, to see just what she would do. But it was obvious that the Queen was inviting the attack, watching Aisha with calm eyes and a foul disposition on her persona, as if waiting for the right time to attack, like the snake who stalks the mouse that provokes it.
Without another moment to lose Aisha swept forward on the floor, eliciting gasps from the people, and clutched her dagger in one fist and rose to her feet in an instant. She ran at the Queen in a full sprint, watching the people as they backed from her, and she need only jump the steps and slice at the Queen's neck, and her duty would be done, her destiny fulfilled.
Aisha only saw her face when she screamed the death threat for all the hear, and then in the next moment the Queen drew forth a scepter and swung it directly into Aisha's stomach. The young woman gasped as the wind flew from her body and the pain bruised her skin, and then she was thrown back with such a force she knew it could only be a sort of witchcraft.
Only a moment later Aisha landed hard onto the marble floor and she coughed blood from her lips. There was a heavy silence that filled the room, and Aisha could hardly move. Her arm screamed in protest as she tried to sit herself up, and therefor she cried out in pain that echoed out through the room. But she could raise her eyes and see the Queen looking down at her, scepter in hand that had thrown her back.
"Next time you peasants wish to make an attempt on my life," said the Queen to her directly in a hard voice. "Make sure they do not send an animal, who's only worth is to be slaughtered."
Aisha growled low in her throat, but the Queen had no more to say. She turned, set aside the scepter, and went back to her throne where the boy slave she'd been teasing was still staring at Aisha in shock. The rest of the nobles in the room where unsure what to do; should they stare the poor pitiful peasant girl until the guards dragged her away, or should they disregard her as though she were a stain on the floor?
But she needn't look long before she was hauled up onto her feet but two hard hands that gripped her tightly. She hardly had the stamina to complain. She stared at the metal plating of their armor and knew that they were guards, the two of them, and they began to drag her away from the Queen.
"Come on, to the dungeons with ya." snarled the one guard, who judging by the tone of his voice, had obviously had his share of trouble with the peasants and didn't care to deal with them. Aisha watched the Queen as she was dragged away, and the nobles stared at her as long as they could before they turned their attention back to each other and carried on with their tittering.
Aisha squeezed her eyes shut, for in her head there was a painful throbbing and her stomach hurt from the blow she had taken. And her back was sore from when she had landed on the marble, and she was sure her arm was broken; why else would it have protested so?
She was dragged out of the throne room completely; the two heavy doors closed behind her, blocking off her view of the Queen, and her task. Her face fell in silent defeat; she had failed miserably.
The halls were dark even with the light of the torches that lined the beautiful crafted marble halls. If Aisha turned her head carefully she could look out the massive windows at the night sky and see the moon, not quite so full, sitting in the dark sky and she knew she would never make it to her village again, never see her father again, and that she had failed completely.
"You lot get younger every year," said the one guard to her in a disgruntled snort. "Think you can assassinate the Queen, like she was just another human. Why do you suppose she keeps no guards in the throne room?"
Aisha thought on that a moment, and her stomach jumped into her throat. Of course there hadn't been guards in the throne room...because the Queen was fully capable of handling herself. Oh gods how foolish she was, thinking she could assassinate the Queen with only a simple dagger! Her head hung, for now she would pay for the mistake with the rest of her life as she withered away in the dungeons.
But suddenly, as they turned a corner and continued down into another of the elaborate halls, there came from behind them the sound of quick footsteps, and then a voice. "Stop!"
The guards halted, and Aisha who now hung like putty in their arms, halted with them. They turned around to see who had stopped them, and Aisha tried to raise her eyes, but her neck ached as she did so.
A young man stood before them there in the hallway, accompanied by another guard who held a torch for him in the darkness. Aisha tried to focus on him but from what she could see, he was only a man draped in linens and silks of white, and a slim belt of solid gold curled about his narrow waist. Aisha decided he would only give orders for her swift execution, probably the command of the Queen.
His next words surprised her. After a moment of silence, the young man spoke again. "Take her to my chambers."
Aisha remembered the voice; it was the only real thing she would remember about this entire thing, she was sure. He had such a beautiful voice, a low husked voice...so very beautiful.
The guards nearly dropped her, and Aisha tried again to lift her head to give whoever this was a good scowl. She didn't know who he was, but there was no damn way she was going to anybody's chambers. Then again she hardly had the stamina to make the argument.
Nervously the guards looked between each other. "Sire, the Queen has-"
But the young man would not hear it. "Do as I say!" he bellowed.
There wasn't another word spoken. The guards hauled Aisha directly onto her feet and marched her away in a different direction altogether. Aisha had never been inside the castle, she had no idea of its layout, but she was certain of one thing; wherever they were going to put her was probably not the dungeons.
But unfortunately the throbbing in her head was overpowering her consciousness, and she hung her head, thinking now was more appropriate a time then ever to pass out and sleep a little.
When next she woke, Aisha was lying on her back and opened her eyes to look up at a crisp clean ceiling, and she felt cool all over, and the aching was gone from her arm and from her head. She remained dormant for moments, listening for the signs of life about her, but she was in a quiet room, or so it seemed. There wasn't a sound anywhere. Not even the wind blowing in through the windows made a sound as they caressed the silken curtains.
Her feet were bare. Where were her shoes? She tried her hardest to sit up, but that was all she could do before her head became very heavy. She still wore her old ratted clothes, that had not changed, but everything else had. She peered about the room curiously. She was sitting on a single cushioned bench in the middle of a small round room, white in colour, very pristine. There was a warmth at her back and when she looked over her shoulder there was a fire booming in a marbled fireplace.
Panic overtook her as very slowly she began to remember just what had happened in the throne room and then in the halls when the guards had been dragging her away. She was obviously still in the palace, but these could not have been the dungeons. She longed to get to her feet and go to the windows, to see if she could make a crafty escape, but her body demanded rest of her. Her mind, especially, seemed worn out from the evening's activities.
She rose her hands to rub her eyes, and to rub the sleep from them, when she found that she could not bring them up all the way. They were shackled in white cuffs, and the chain fastened at the far end of the bench. Aisha wanted to swear angrily but she didn't, it wouldn't do any good if one of the palacemen couldn't hear her.
Perhaps this was the dungeon after all.
At least from here she could see the moon, and she looked out at it with a heavy heart. She knew that in her village out in the hills and away from the palace, her father would be looking up at the moon and wondering what had happened to her, and if indeed she had been slain in her attempt to assassinate the murderous bitch. He had warned her that it was too dangerous a job for a girl her age but her own fury of the Queen's actions had fueled her want to take revenge and rid the kingdom of her evil dominance.
But she had failed, and failed miserably. She had failed in such a way that if any of those people in the throne room ever saw her again, they would know exactly who she was just by looking at her. And they would whisper to each other, and laugh at her appearance, and wonder why the Queen hadn't executed her herself there in the throne room, and then they would nod because of course, if the Queen had done so, the marble floors would have stained with peasant blood.
Gods forbid the marble floor must be stained when there were peasants starving to death in the hills of this Queen's kingdom.
And they had obviously taken away her dagger, not much of a surprise there. She examined the cuffs they had put on her wrists. Perhaps, but not likely, if she had her dagger she could work at the cuffs and free herself. But even if she did, where would she run to? Out the window? Perhaps the way she came, and make yet another spectacle of her foolishness for the second time in an evening.
Aisha sighed as the throbbing in her head began to dull, and the warmth at her back was very welcome. She wanted to stand up and sit right at its hearth and let it warm her all over, which was a complete luxury in her village, but she could nary move what with the cuffs.
And she was about to have an audience, or so it seemed. The sounds of a heavy lock being thrown open on a door was heard and Aisha rose her eyes to the double doors ahead of her, which remained closed, but she could hear the workings of the doors before them. Someone was coming.
She wanted to stand but due to the shortness of the chain on her cuffs she was only able to sit comfortably, which she despised. If she was about to have a discussion with an enemy, she preferred to stand and meet them eye to eye, show them she wasn't afraid, something her father had taught her long ago.
The doors were thrown open at last, and Aisha stared expectantly, and two guards came into the room carrying torches, and placing them in the holds that sat on either side of the door. They then stood beneath them, very still, and another man followed them inside.
The young man from before, she could place him in her memory because of the linens he wore across his frame, the simple whites. And in the light that was now provided by the torches she could see him a little more clearly. He was a tall man, probably stood a few inches above her, and he had a fine frame with his firm build. She could see muscles playing at her beneath the folds of the sheets that covered him, in his arms and his chest. He came inside with such grace, and quietly, and when he looked to the guards, his shoulder-length brown hair swept with his motions like a cape.
"Let us speak privately, and do not enter until I tell you to." he said to them quickly, and Aisha remembered the voice she had heard in the hallway, fine and husked and silken and beautiful. It made her feel a little more calm, but then she watched the guards leave the room and close the doors behind them, and she wasn't so sure what to feel after that.
The man made no hesitations; he came towards her with even steps, and the closer he came the more she could see of him, and of his face. He was, all-in-all, quite remarkable to look at. His skin was a golden colour, especially here in the firelight, which intensified his strong chin and narrow cheekbones. And he had the most beautiful shade of blue eyes, lit in the firelight and insightful.
Aisha was, for moments, quite in awe. She had never seen such a man before. It were as though he was one of the gods.
However in his next words, it was quite obvious that he hadn't just brought her here so she could look at him. He held a very dominating aura, that was gentle in the most subtle of ways. But it was more than obvious that he was quite annoyed with what she had tried to do to the Queen.
"Well," he began with a quick sweep of his majestic voice. "Your fine sensibilities will have my guards at arm tonight, little assassin."
He began to pace back and forth, his eyes always on her, and she always rose to meet them. "No one, no one has ever come so close to killing her."
Aisha frowned, as this bit of information surprised her. Hardly skilled as she was, she assumed that there were more powerful people who had tried to assassinate the Queen and would have come closer than she.
But she wasn't about to indulge this rich prick, whoever he was. Her hands curled into fists and she gently tugged at her restraints. "I had my reasons."
He looked at her steadily, and for only a moment, a tiny smile played on his lips. "Don't we all."
His calm demeanor was beginning to puzzle her. Obviously he was one of the palace, why wasn't he furious with her for trying to do what she did?
"If it's an apology you want-"
"Apology?" he cut her off, and the shock in his voice was surprising to her, as though she had said the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard, and then he almost laughed. "Not at all, it's not necessary. You nearly did me a very fine favor."
Now Aisha stared at him with a frown. What was he talking about?
"I've never had the power to destroy her myself. Even in time I never will. But you came close. And that is something to applaud. Something to reward." his eyes were glowing, as though he were in complete admiration of her, and judging from his speech, he most certainly was.
Aisha was confused now and she shook her head. "Who are you?"
He took in a breath, and then he lowered his chin humbly and spoke steadily. "Begging your pardon. My name is Luca."
Shock went through Aisha's system as soon as he had spoken those words. "Oh god you're the prince..."
When the King was still alive, it had been presumed and said to the people that his son Prince Luca would become King in the event of his father's death, but once Dalal had come and taken the throne, there was very little talk of Luca. Everyone presumed that he had gone off far away and become a hermit, or perhaps he had married and was living on a remote island. One thing the people knew was that he was nowhere near the castle.
And yet here he was, before her. She felt the apples of her cheeks go bright red as she slowly digested the information: she was in the presence of the prince. If you had told her a week before that she would be in the audience of Prince Luca, she would have laughed right in your face.
The prince managed another strange little smile. "I was the prince...before that woman treacherously robbed my father of the throne and me of my rightful inheritance. I know she was responsible for the death of my father, what woman could murder her own brother..."
And then the prince looked at her very seriously. "How much would you give to be rid of her?"
Aisha let a little smile tease on her lips, and she shrugged a little. "Everything."
Luca stared into her eyes deeply, which would have made her sheepish at any other time, but she knew that he was about to propose something. "As would I."
They were quiet for moments, simply staring at each other. Aisha suddenly wished she didn't look so horrible; she knew he must have been repulsed by the sight of her clothes and her hair and the mud on her face. If only he had seen her in the days that his father had reigned, she had some of the finest clothes a peasant could own.
After a moment Luca turned towards the doors and called for the guards, and they came inside. He then called them forward, and turned his eyes back to Aisha. "Take this woman to the dungeons and hold her there until I say. Tell no one she is here, especially not my aunt."
Aisha sat and blinked at him. He was sending her to the dungeons? Why? What had she done? But the guards complied with bows and came forward to pick her up from where she sat, unlocking the cuffs that held her and hoisting her to her feet. She looked to Luca immediately for an explanation, but he offered her none. He had his back turned to her and was standing at the window staring out at the moon. For a moment she wanted to call to him but the guards shuffled her out of the little room in almost an instant. Her eyes never left him as they did.
The guards walked her through the halls gruffly and quickly and Aisha struggled to keep footing with them. Neither of them spoke, neither even breathed, so it seemed. They took her through the darkened halls, for now it was full night and the palace would have been asleep, and then at the end of the hall they descended down stone steps into a much darker portion of the castle. The smell of mildew and human body odor caught in Aisha's nose and she wanted to plug it. She realized that they were now descending into the dungeons. A single torch at the bottom of the winding stairs allowed her to see a long line of cells, some that were empty, and others that were filled with moaning, begging prisoners.
Panic began to rise up quickly in Aisha as she realized that the guards certainly meant to lock her in a cell and leave her there. She wanted to scream and struggle but she was paralyzed, looking at the faces of the prisoners she passed, messy and disgusting just as she, those with evil and hunger in her eyes. For a moment she was grateful that she could not be so easily identified as a woman, what with the hair and the clothes.
The guards unlocked the furthest cell from the stairway and gave her a little shove inside. It was empty, thank god, but it smelled horrid of blood and feces and the stone was cold on her feet. She turned around just as the guards locked her inside and it was then that she found her voice, and her body was able to move.
She ran to the bars and gripped them in her hands and began to tug at them, even though she knew they would make no difference. "Wait...wait!"
But the guards moved down along the line of cells as though they couldn't hear her, or any of the other prisoners for that matter. She continued to call to them but she could see them turn the corner, and then she could hear them begin to climb the steps. They were gone soon.
Aisha swallowed and began to take in frightened breaths. She pulled away from the bars and huddled herself against a corner so that her neighboring prisoner wouldn't see her as easily, and not find reason to say anything to her. She gripped her filthy top in both hands and squeezed, and then she closed her eyes and tried to remain calm.
She was only going to be here for a little while, she told herself. Prince Luca had a plan, he wanted to include her in it, he was just putting her here for safe-keeping. That was all this was...wasn't it?
Aisha could feel tears pinching at the corners of her eyes and struggled not to let them fall. She curled herself into a ball and collapsed to the floor, still in one corner, and she bowed her head into her knees and tried not to be frightened, tried to convince herself that she wouldn't be there very long.
Eventually she slept, although she didn't know how she allowed herself to. Images of her father and her village drifted in her thoughts, and the way things used to be. But perhaps some things were about to change.
She woke only after a few hours, and realized with great fear that she was no longer alone in the cell.
A/N: Bit of a tricky start...but it'll get better.
Next chapter: Aisha faces a test of survival.