It’s my turn to provide a story for The Infinite Bard, and I’ve chosen a fantasy tale, The Princess and the Assassin. If you’re stuck for time, you can always come back – the story will be here (and free) whenever you want. Alternatively, here’s a PDF version you can download or even send to your Kindle: The Princess and the Assassin. Don’t forget to check the Infinite Bard for lots more free stories by a whole host of great writers.
Without further ado here’s the story. I hope you like it, either way let me know in the comments!
The Princess and the Assassin
Daniel stared at the camp fire, paying scant attention as his comrades went about their various tasks. He still didn’t quite believe the direction his life had taken, nor the company he was now keeping.
‘You look lost.’
Daniel turned to look at the approaching figure of Cora, the assassin, the elf. Both ideas still seemed ridiculous to him, but clearly not to his new-found associates.
‘I’m just trying to work out how I fit into all this,’ he said.
Without waiting for invitation, she sat opposite and threw a few sticks into the flames.
Daniel tried not to stare but couldn’t help himself. Of all his new companions, she was far away the most exotic. He wanted to ask her so many questions but had no idea where to begin.
Cora loosened her boots, shook out debris accumulated from the day’s travel and stood them to one side then sat back, resting against a tall tree. She adjusted her ragged, pale-green scarf, rubbed her hands together as though they’d been washed then sat still, relaxed, yet waiting.
Daniel still didn’t know how to ask his first question. He wasn’t even sure what his first question was. Was she really an elf? And were elves here like the ones in the films, all archery and old magic? Was she really an assassin? How many had she killed? Who was she going to kill next? Why…
‘I could tell you a story,’ Cora said, interrupting his chain of thought. ‘If you’re interested?’
‘OK. I’d like that. I’d like, that is, are you really…’
He petered out. After several days travelling he still felt he knew Cora least of all those involved in this other reality.
‘My story is just that,’ Cora said. ‘A story. It’s called The Princess and the Assassin.’
Daniel’s pulse quickened. His whole attention was on the elf.
‘You might not know, but in our lands, elves tend to live apart, even those with more than a little human blood in their veins.’
Daniel nodded. He’d already gathered elves were shunned, though what crime they’d committed nobody would tell him.
‘Some fifteen years ago, one such group lived on the edge of the forests to the south, in a fertile valley with room for all. They were ruled over by a Lord. The lord was as fair and reasonable as any other Lord, treated his people well, didn’t raise the taxes without reason and treated all equally. All that is except his daughter. He called her his princess and lived for her happiness ever since his wife had passed away.’
Daniel found all this talk of lords and princesses ridiculous, yet here he was living among them.
‘Does this princess have a name?’ he asked,
Cora answered at once.
‘Everyone has a name, but for this story the name Princess will suffice. Please, no more questions. I have to be on watch soon. If you don’t want to hear the story just say so.’
Daniel was unsure if he’d upset her, but afraid she’d leave and go about some other task, shook his head vigorously.
‘No, I mean yes, please tell me the story. I’m sorry, I didn’t… I mean, please go on.’
‘So, we have the Lord and we have the Princess. Of the many people on the Lord’s estate, we also have the Tailor and the Tailor’s granddaughter.’
The Lord was once again changing the arrangements for the Princess’s birthday party. He changed the menu with the cook, the seating plan with the steward and the choice of music with the bard. This was the second time that day alone and all the staff were on edge. The party was still a week away. How would they endure?
At that moment he caught sight of an elderly elf making his way from the upstairs rooms. It was the Tailor.
The Lord signalled the older elf to come across.
‘You have all the Princess’s measurements?’
‘Yes,’ the Tailor said, nodding.
The Lord turned to find someone else to query, but the Tailor coughed politely. The Lord turned back.
‘Yes?’ he asked.
‘If I might, but where’s the silk?’
The Lord heard the words, but for a moment they held no meaning. The silk? Silk? THE SILK!
‘Ah yes, the silk. Here, it arrived yesterday.’
He led the Tailor to a side room and showed him a parcel of the most beautiful material the Tailor had ever seen.
The Tailor stroked a fold with the back of a hand, amazed at how cool if felt and how its iridescence caught the light.
‘It’s the finest silk I’ve ever bought,’ the Lord said. ‘Take care with it, do not make any mistakes. I want the Princess’s birthday to be perfect.’
So saying he went off, leaving the Tailor to wrap the silk and arrange for it to be taken to his cottage.
The Tailor worked for several days on the dress before for it would be taken to the Keep for a fitting. As he worked, his granddaughter helped by threading needles, modelling (she was a similar build to the princess, if taller) and collecting together the various scraps from the cutting. She’d never seen anything so beautiful, and dreamed it was she who wore the dress to the party, she who was the centre of attention, she who had a bright future to look forward to. Dreams don’t feed bellies, she thought to herself, and went about making dinner while her grandfather was away.
Two days later the dress was finished. To the Tailor’s old eyes it was the finest dress he’d ever created, the kind he’d always wanted to make for his granddaughter; to her eye’s it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. Her own outfit was plain in comparison – well made, fetching, yet dull.
The Tailor saw how she looked at the dress.
‘I have a surprise for you,’ he said.
His granddaughter was curious. What surprise could he have in mind? They had little money and her grandfather had been occupied making the dress his every waking moment.
He went to a drawer and brought out a small package.
She snatched it from him. Opened it; discarding the wrapping as she revealed a scarf. It was no ordinary scarf, but one made from the same material as the Princess’s dress. It was a thing of great beauty and contrasted well with her own outfit.
‘I had some spare material. It seemed a shame to let it go unused.’
His granddaughter grinned and hugged him.
‘Thank you, thank you. You don’t know what this means…’
The Lord looked around the hall, beaming, His guests, servants and all those who lived nearby seemed happy. There was food, wine, music and decoration. All that was needed was his daughter. It was almost time. He took one look round to make sure all was ready. He nodded to a steward who sounded a gong. The room went quiet as the Princess made her way down the stairway. She seemed to float as she descended to the admiring crowd.
Several of those gathered clapped, some of the women muttered to each other and many of the guests couldn’t take their eyes from her.
As she paraded the room, the Princess bathed in the glow of admiration, envy or desire from each of those gathered. Then she saw the Tailor’s granddaughter.
She raced across and slapped the girl in the face before tearing the girl’s scarf from her neck.
‘What is the meaning of this?’ she screamed to her father, holding the scarf aloft. She was turning an unattractive shade of burgundy and veins pulsed at her temples.
Her father raced across as the Tailor held his granddaughter tight to him.
‘How dare you?’ the Lord asked. ‘How dare you!’
The audience went silent as the Tailor cowered. Even the musicians stopped their play.
‘Please, my Lord. I meant no disrespect.’
The Lord was in no mood to forgive. He summoned his guards who dragged the old elf to the centre of the room.
‘Take his hands,’ he ordered.
The Tailor tried to struggle but was no match for the guards.
The Lord took the scarf from his daughter and ordered one of his men to tie the Tailors hands together before forcing them onto a table. The Tailor screamed, then fainted.
The Lord asked for a dagger and while the room watched, plunged the blade through the scarf, through the Tailor’s hands and into the table.
The guests gasped.
‘The party is over,’ the Lord shouted. ‘Leave. Now!’
As the crowd parted, the Lord shouted one last batch of commands.
‘Take him out of here. You,’ this was addressed to the granddaughter. ‘You have one day to collect your belongings and you both leave this valley. For ever.’
Daniel didn’t know how to react. Cora told her story without emotion, without any sense it was other than a tale, yet Daniel felt the truth of her words as she spoke.
‘So, what happened to the girl?’ he asked, forgetting Cora’s earlier prohibition against questions.
All the way back home the Tailor whimpered in pain. One of the guards took pity and placed the old elf in a cart and drove him and his granddaughter back to their cottage. The girl wept with anger and sorrow. She vowed revenge, begged the gods she didn’t believe in to take pity and sobbed when she saw the pain the old man was in. By the time they’d returned home the scarf was soaked in his blood. She removed it and attempted to patch his wounds.
By the end of the next day she’d loaded the cart with the most useful of their few possessions and placed her grandfather in the back. She had little skill in guiding a horse. It was one of many things she would learn.
By the time the Tailor’s hands healed (for elves are a long-lived race, not prone to dying unnecessarily) they were no more use for dressmaking. They were twisted and stiff, suitable only for the most menial of manual labour. The granddaughter took what work she could, but they were among humans now, humans who looked at all her kind with fascinated loathing.
Over the course of several months they moved from place to place. Each time the story was the same: poor lodgings, begging for work, abuse, and even violence. Few choices remained and while the wounds on the old elf’s hands had healed as best they would, the wounds in the girl’s heart festered and their poison consumed her soul. Her grandfather began to starve himself so she may eat. She never noticed until one day he woke no more.
She looked at their poor lodgings, their few possessions and took one item from a bag. It was the scarf. It had been cleaned several times, but its lustre was gone. She’d tried to mend the damage, but her needlecraft had never been the match of her grandfathers. Any hope of following in his footsteps dashed by her poor skills with eye and needle. She took the scarf, wrapped it round her neck and left to join the assassin’s guild.
Elves might be hated, but assassins were at least feared, if not respected. Many of her kind made up the ranks of the paid killers and she found camaraderie of a kind but never friendship. She was good at her trade, perhaps more ruthless than necessary at times, but good enough to earn a living.
One day she’d decided she knew all she needed. She set off back to the valley by the southern forest.
Infiltrating was easy. It was months until the Princess’s next birthday and she had a surprise for her. Several.
Changing the colour of her hair and her accent made it easy for her to get a job in the kitchens. She waited until she was no longer a stranger then began. First the Princess’s favourite dog broke its leg and was put down; the Princess’s horse went lame and the Lord, still young by elven standards, began to lose his grip on reality. He’d forget things, he developed a tremor in his hands, his hair began to thin and turn grey.
Flower gardens failed to bloom, and the general mood of the people declined.
Four days before her birthday, the Princess found her father dead in his chambers. Any plans for a party now became invitations to a wake. On the day of her birthday the hall was once again filled but with mourners and sombre conversation. The traditional toast to the dead was drunk by all those present, and within minutes, all save the Princess fell to the ground. Dead.
Horrified the Princess looked around her. From a shadow came one of the servants.
‘Do you remember me?’ the girl asked.
The Princess was confused. The girl spoke again but in a different accent.
‘Perhaps this helps?’ the girl asked. ‘And the hair, it should be darker than this.’
The Princess began to scream.
‘What’s going on?’ she demanded.
The girl smiled and pulled a piece of cloth from inside her blouse.
The Princess shook her head, then looked. It seemed familiar. Then she knew.
‘Yes. The scarf my grandfather made. The scarf you ripped from my neck, the scarf your father had bind my grandfather’s hands before crippling him.’
The Princess’s shoulder slumped. She listened as the girl told her some of what she’d lived through. The abuse, the death of her grandfather, sacrifices she had made, people she had killed. The girl explained how easy it was to poison people if you worked in the kitchens. Slow poisons, poisons for plants, poisons to bring on death through mental decline, fast poisons like the one used for the toast. She’d even made sure both she and the Princess had taken the antidote that morning as part of their breakfasts.
She explained how she wanted the Princess to suffer.
The Princess knew there was no point in begging the assassin for mercy. At that point she cared nothing for life, nothing for herself and nothing even for her dead father. She watched as the girl took a dagger from a boot…
Cora paused. For the first time she seemed emotionally connected to the story. Her eyes glistened in the firelight. Daniel was horrified and yet moved, wanting to reach out and offer comfort.
‘So you killed.., I mean the assassin killed the Princess, getting her revenge.’
Cora bit her lip and a single tear rolled down her face.
‘No,’ she said. ‘The assassin took her own life.’ She paused and, as she turned, finished her story.
‘I was the Princess.’
© (2019) Tony Jones
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This book is a work of fiction. Characters and events in this novel are the product of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.