Chapter5 The Assassin From an early age, Leo knew that attempts might be made on his life. There hadn't been an assassination in generations, but there were always radicals out there. Always men who blamed the royalty for their troubles. Still, he had to know what to do if someone came for him.
He learned how to wield a sword when he was young. Learned how to throw blades and use his fists if he had to. As heir to the strongest kingdom in the Alliance, he had one job: to stay alive.
He had always been taught to run from a fight if he could- to get out of sight and let the guards take care of the threat. It was their job to die for him, and it was Leo's job to let them. But if all else failed, the prince knew how to fight.
And he knew that Mara, the sweetest woman he'd ever known, didn't stand a chance against the man cornering her. He was too fast for any of his challengers to get in a good strike, and he seemed to hit with twice the strength of a normal man. More concerning still, he didn't seem to be slowing down at all. If this assassin could kill half a dozen trained soldiers in a matter of minutes, he could take her down in seconds.
If his parents could see him rushing to the defense of a servant, they’d be disgusted. Stupid, reckless child, they’d say. Don’t you know your place? Your worth? Do not treat the rest of them like they are your equals. They are not. To Leo, though, there was no question. He commanded his shaking hands to grab his sword.
Before he could make a move, though, there was a shout from the back of the boat. It was the servant girl from the carriage- Oriel.
"Hey!" she cried, hurling a rain-soaked cushion at the assassin. "Leave her alone!"
The soggy pillow glanced off the man, who looked genuinely shocked.
She looked like a child- black hair plastered all around her face and chest puffed up like a soldier. She was holding another soggy cushion by her head, threatening to throw it. Leo had never seen something look so pathetic yet so vicious at the same time. He snorted.
He couldn't afford to stare, though. He had maybe two seconds until the man noticed him. The girl's distraction was all he needed.
Leo lunged forward and drove his sword between the man's ribs, not stopping until the hilt touched his back. The man looked down at the blade protruding from his chest with disbelief. Leo yanked it back out and kicked the man forward. Once it was clear he wasn't getting up again, Leo dropped his sword to the deck and staggered sideways.
Blood pulsed in his ears, and his heartbeat pounded at the walls of his chest. The sound of the rain around him seemed to fade in and out. A shiver came over him- the kind he got when he woke up from a nightmare. I just killed a man, he thought. I killed him. But no. The man was still moving. Lying on his stomach, he coughed and gasped. It sounded eerily like a laugh. Leo grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him over.
For a man as strong as he was, his face was gaunt. The shadows under his wild eyes were purple. He had an exotic look about him. He definitely wasn't from Shail. His skin was darker than someone from the northern kingdoms but not nearly as dark as the Tenchi. And his eyes were narrower and more angled. His bloody lips curled into something like a smile.
He wheezed and said, "Well, that hurt a lot more than I remembered it."
"Who are you?" said Leo. "Where did you come from?"
"We," said the assassin, "are smarter than you thought."
"Who are you?" Leo repeated, trying to control the fear in his voice.
The man took a few shallow breaths. He coughed, and blood dripped from his lips. "The king's not as dead as your people would like him to be. The knights will come for him." He said. Then, the assassin began to choke. The spastic rise and fall of his chest stopped, and his head fell back. For a moment, a triumphant smile was still visible on his dead face.
Leo sat back on his heels and stared at the pile of dead soldiers while the rain poured. They were draped over top of each other, their limbs limp and heads thrown in different angles. He started to count them but stopped at three. For whatever reason, he just couldn't do it. It felt wrong.
Everything was wrong. He had been anxious about his ascension earlier, but that fear seemed idiotic to him now. What was I so afraid of? He thought. What is wrong with me? Now, he wished more than anything to undo what had happened. It's my fault. I wanted there to be a delay. I wanted it to go wrong. But not this wrong. "Are you hurt, my prince?" Said a man's voice.
In a daze, Leo looked over his shoulder. It was a guard with a bushy blonde, beard and long, blonde hair stuck around his face in wet strings. He looked to be in his early forties, but gruesome scars covered most of his grim face. He had his hand over a wound on his arm.
So, one survived, thought Leo. Somehow, it only made him feel worse. Shame and guilt gnawed on his insides.
"My prince?" The man repeated.
"I'm fine," said Leo. If it weren't for the survivor, he probably would have sat there for hours, letting the horror of the massacre sink in. But he couldn't let himself be seen in such a weak state. He'd survived an assassination attempt. He'd done his job. Now, he had to get up.