An Assassin's Loyalties

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Chapter Five

This is probably stupid. This is probably reckless and bad, but Sazami was so livid by the king that she had to get out and away from the castle. The guards didn’t even know what was happening until the girls are already across the bridge, zooming past them and the gates in a blur of grey.

Sazami could feel Aela’s arms coil around her and her legs gripping Sazami’s hips. She let out a strangled squeal when the girls bolted from the stables, the stableboys leaping out of their way to let them pass.

Sazami almost wanted to apologize; Aela hated whenever she got like this. Sazami always had a hard time controlling her anger. Aela always claimed that Sazami acted rather scary and rather stupid; and she’s right, for the most part. Her temper was one of the issues Sazami had, it being the reason she got into so many scuffles while growing up.

They zoom through the streets, citizen crying out and cursing them as they pass. Sazami looks back, only for a moment to see Aela’s face pressed against her back, her eyes shut and gripping onto Sazami for dear life. She can’t help but laugh at the princess.

The make a sharp left, breaking for the side exit from the city, Aela squealing again. This time her head lifts and she squints her eyes slightly. As she beholds their intended direction, she tries to tell Sazami to stop, but her words are swallowed by the wind.

They’re through the city exit, the whoosh of the archway briefly shadowing them. The mare’s hooves pound against the cobblestone bridge, kicking up leaves. The sea of trees explodes around them in a vast blanket of green and red and orange. Sazami is riding as if the denizens of Hell are behind her and the princess. Aela can only do her best to keep in the saddle.

The stallion moved swiftly as lightning as they thundered into the canopy of the trees. She moved so fast Sazami’s eyes began to water from the wind.

Aela didn’t say anything as they made curve after curve, dodging thick-trunk trees. Left and right, right and left bearing west until they broke through into a clearing, the Stallion Mountains their backdrop accompanied by the wide open blue sky and fluffy clouds. Sazami revels in the sound of hooves pound, pound, pounding against the ground.

She feels Aela grip her shoulders, digging her nails into her skin as she shouts, “Are you out of your damned mind?!”

Sazami simply laughs. She could tell the princess was debating on either throwing her off, or throwing herself from the horse, but Sazami jerked her chin towards the expanse ahead. “Live a little, Princess!”

Her lips twitching for a moment into a snarl, Aela suddenly smiles like a fiend. “I was just wondering if you’re ever going to show me how fast this horse can really run.”

And with a wild grin, Sazami taps her heels into the mare’s sides. Aela holds onto Sazami, keeping her own cloak pressed to her back, Aela’s billowing out behind her in a wave of purple. The girls pass under a stretch of magnolia trees just finishing losing their petals. Sazami reaches up a hand and yanks at a branch, and the petals of the flowers fall and trickle, dancing in the wind. Despite herself, Aela smiles and reaches up a hand, yanking on the next branch.

As the mare hits the hard-packed earth, she gains speed, faster and faster. Sazami lets out a whoop, tilting her head back and letting it echo across the plains.

Aela then suddenly has a moment of clarity as her hair whips all around her in a craze and tears at the skirts of her dress. Of all the girls in the world, she is here surrounded by trees and mountains – astride a horse with a skilled assassin, running faster than the winds of time. Most would never experience this – and yet she can experience this in her life. When was the last time she felt so . . . alive?

And for that one moment, she tastes it. Freedom – so bliss and so complete that she tips her own head back and laughs, howling to the heavens.

The girls bound across the plains, cresting knoll and after knoll until, in a flash of sunlight, the green of the grass fades off into red dirt, and towering stacks of red rock rise. Walls of the rock emerge into view as the girls surge closer towards the canyon. Red Rock Canyon, if Sazami knew her geography well – which she did. With its river dividing it cleanly down the middle and leading towards the Gulf of Mira, the Red Rock Canyon is the main crossing used by travelers to get from the Wardlaw Shorelines to Valerie.

A wide opening in the wall of the red rock appears, twisting away from sight. Aela doesn’t say anything as they plunge the canyon, the walls surrounding them. The beating hooves echo like firecrackers. They wove and turned with the passage, so fast the rocks become a blur; a streamline of red. Sazami navigates the mare to take a small rocky path up the canyon walls.

That’s when Aela’s hands grip Sazami’s sides enough that it hurts. “What are you doing?” Aela calls.

Sazami looks over her shoulder to the princess, her sapphire eyes gleaming with worry. “Just trust me on this.”

The princess whines and burrows into Sazami’s back. Sazami bites her lip with slight regret – Aela hates heights.

The horse continues up the northern wall of the canyon, fearless and huffing with exhilaration. Then the roar of waters hits their ears. The path widens and soon they find themselves under an overhang of the walls, the roaring getting louder. Sazami lifts her head and nudges Aela slightly. The princess lifts her head enough to peer over Sazami’s shoulder and her eyes widen in wonder.

A waterfall flows down heavily somewhere from the rock above them, and into an oasis that so clear, she can see the fish swimming from their height. To Sazami’s surprise, Aela leans out ever so slightly so see the white foam of the water as it crashes below. Looking ahead, the path takes them behind the waterfall, the stone moist with sprouts of greenery.

Sazami slows the horse as they become sheltered by the water. Reaching out her hand, Sazami touches the ice cold water, smiling to herself and cackling as it sprays onto her and the princess. She shields herself, squealing, but smiling.

The mare continues on trotting up the path, higher and higher until they reach the top of the northern rock wall. The entire span of the canyon is in their sights and that feeling of being on top of the world boils in Sazami’s stomach.

With a snap of the reins, the horse takes off again. Aela’s tight grip returns and this time the panic is clear in her voice. “What are you doing?! Sazami!”

The assassin gives a fiendish grin. “We’re taking a short cut. What good is an Orvryn horse if it can’t jump?”

She watches Aela’s face grow pale. “You can’t be serious.”

The jump would be at least thirty feet – and the fall after that was much longer. But what Aela doesn’t know is that Sazami has made this jump many times with Tallie before. But Tallie is a purebred of the Stallion Mountains, they jump over caverns like they’re simple creeks. In Orvryn, they have bounding plains and steep hills, but this jump would be a new for them. Who knows, the horse might even buck them off.

And yet, Sazami can’t seem to find her care.

“Sazami!” Aela cries.

Her adrenaline has clouded her thoughts and her logic and her sense.

There is isn’t enough room for them to stop, anyway. Even if she tried, they wouldn’t have enough space to slow down. They would just fall over the edge.

“Sazami –!”

The horse gives a sudden burst of speed and Sazami can barely hear Aela praying to anyone, anything as the edge nears. She hears Aela gasp, her body tensing, and then they are over the lip of the ravine, which goes far, far, farther down that Sazami remembers. And the horse is soaring, only air beneath them, nothing to keep the girls from the death that awaits to snatch them with a clawed hand.

The sunlight catches in Aela’s hair as they fly over the ravine, and Sazami loosens a joyous cry that sets the whole canyon humming. A moment later, there is rock under them, solid rock. They land on the other side, with only inches to spare.

Sazami feels Aela grip her tighter as they land atop the rock wall on the southern side, the impact exploding through their bones, and they keep galloping.

Sazami cackles, letting out another whoop when they come out of the other side of Red Rock Canyon. She turns to find Aela still there, her face still buried in her back, but her eyes are still wide in ecstasy.

They enter the green and forest again, riding through the fields heading east back towards the capital. The sun is nearing the horizon. Gods know how long they’ve been gone; it only feels like minutes.

When the horse was too winded to keep running, Sazami finally stopped them just outside the kingdom’s walls, the cobblestone bridge the only thing keeping them outside. Aela was silent behind her, her knuckles white from their grip. When she feels the horse stop, she slowly lifts her head, her hair now a tangled mat of red. Sazami looks at Aela, wildness still in her eyes. “Wasn’t that fun?”

Breathing hard, Aela doesn’t say anything. Her cheeks are flushed pink, and it looks as if her freckles have multiplied. She merely gives her own crazed smile as she punches Sazami so hard in the face that the assassin goes flying off of the horse and tumbles into the grass.

Sazami just clutches her jaw and laughs.

The girls make it back to the castle by early evening, the setting sun turning the stone buildings into a soft gold. Despite Aela promising she won’t claw Sazami apart, Sazami insisted that Aela keeps the horse, claiming she needs to stretch her legs.

Letting the skirt of her dress drag along the sidewalk, Sazami kicks a couple of rocks smiling to herself. The hemline of her dress is stained and dirty, and the fabric is wrinkled, but the assassin only keeps smiling. Aela has since adjusted to sitting side saddle and lets the horse walk as she tries to tame her hair. Her hands work to pull it back, a hair tie clenched between her teeth. Sazami snickers as she watches Aela try to smile politely as citizens wave and greet her. Quickly her hands fiddle and her hair is secure, a few strands left to dangle beside her cheeks.

Her skin is still slightly red, possibly from wind burn, and her the skirts of her dress look frazzled. She keeps close to the road so that she can keep talking with Sazami, the horse seemingly better after a stop for water. It was more forced than suggested, the mare simply striding up to the fountain in the Square and drinking freely. No one stopped her simply because Aela was atop her.

“I don’t know whether to thank you or hate you.” Aela says.

Sazami turns to her, shrugs, and smiles. “I suppose you could do both.”

Aela returns her gesture. “That was honestly the most fun I’ve had in days.”

“You’re welcome.” Sazami gives an exaggerated bow and the princess rolls her eyes. Both of their cloaks miraculously stayed on them, but look more stretched out then before.

“My mother and handmaid are going to be so upset when they see me. They’ll probably chastise me for being in public like this.” Aela says.

“Tell me about it; Talani will wallop me when I get home. I think this was one of her favorite dresses. That and it wasn’t anything cheap.”

Aela giggles, tucking the stray curls behind her ear. The girls grow serious as they approach the bridge to the castle, the guards approaching with their weapons ready. Sazami keeps close to the princess and the horse as one guard approaches. “Your Majesty, are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”

“Your father won’t be happy about this.”

“Not if he doesn’t hear about it.” Aela says sternly, her chin high.

“My Lady, understand –”

“It was my fault.” Sazami interjects. Heads turn to her and she dramatically sighs. “I, I was upset about something, and I was desperate for fresh air. I – I saw the horses, and I got excited and –” Sazami cleverly stutters, using her hands to exaggerate innocence and naivety.

The guard easily buys her act, sighing and shaking his head. “Alright, we’ll look the other way this time. But try to be smarter next time.”

Sazami nods her head gratefully, bowing before Aela leads them both across the bridge. Once out of hearing range, Sazami leans close and says, “How about I smack him upside the head with my dagger? That would be smart.” Aela giggles, nudging the assassin with her foot in the stirrup.

The stableboys don’t mention anything about the girls’ wild escape, but simply tend to the horse quickly and quietly. The girls head back through the servants’ passageways, making their way up towards Aela’s room. Sazami is surprised the princess can still walk after considering how long they’ve been on the horse. Sazami is used to it by now, she’s been riding for years.

Once inside Aela’s chambers, the girls practically collapse onto her down mattress, dirtied dresses and cloaks and all. Aela moans as she rolls onto her back, exhaustion seeping in her bones. “You never realize how tired you are until you actually sit down.”

Sazami laughs as she nods. “Frankly I don’t think it would be fair to have me get up and leave this comfy bed.”

Aela props herself on her elbows. “Are you saying you want to stay?” Sazami shrugs her shoulders nonchalantly, but gives a coy smile. “You are more than welcome to stay.”

“No, no,” Sazami denies, grunting as she pushes to a sitting position. “I don’t want to intrude.”

“It’s fine I assure you!” Aela insists, taking the assassin’s hands. “Please keep me company until morning, before I’m forced to endure the squabble of those babbling idiots.”

Sazami laughs as she nods her head. Veered with new excitement, Aela hops out of bed and skips to her bathing chamber. “Just let me wash up and the tub will be yours.”

Waving a dismissive hand, Sazami unclasps her cloak, she lazily slinks off the bed and towards the fireplace. Her hair felt fine even after their crazy ride through Red Rock, but her dress as suffered dearly and her bones feel so exhausted she expects them to break.

As is the result of her impulsive decisions, as always. It always makes her exhausted whether through physical or mental means, as she designed them to. When she gets all of her anger out, she’s left with release and fatigue.

It won’t seem unusual for Sazami to spend the night unannounced, at least. She hears the water start to run and Sazami removes her shoes.

Aela’s chambers are incredibly spacious for the occupation of one person, set in the west wing of the castle. Consisting of the bedroom with an attached bathing chamber and dressing room, it branches out to a small dining room and music room, and a personal library. Each room is donned in wood with the colors of red and gold, with tall windows and two connecting balconies. A large scenic oil painting and a tapestry decorate the walls of the bedroom, and plush couches and deep-cushioned seats are scattered around in a tasteful manor.

Sazami is already aware of the guards posted just outside of Aela’s front doors, and of the others posted beneath the balcony with hands on their swords, or arms folded. Oh, if only they knew of the danger that beheld the princess, if the situation was different.

Looking into the princess’s armoire, Sazami finds the shelf that Aela always kept sectioned off for Sazami and her spare clothes. Folded nearly and bearing colors mute and pale, they contrast highly to the rainbow mix of Aela’s dresses. She’s often wanted to borrow her clothes, but it is upsetting she is a couple sizes bigger than Aela. Sazami always was a little jealous of her, naturally skinny without the need to exercise, a fine silhouette and feminine form; yet the princess wishes she had Sazami’s physique: muscled and toned.

Huffing through her mouth, Sazami plops herself onto the couch in front of the fireplace; her clothes in hand. She shuts her eyes, mentally reminding herself not to fall asleep. But nearly a half hour passes before Aela’s voice echoes through the chambers.


“Yes?” she replies slurring.

The door opens and out steps the princess in a crimson silk nightgown, long-sleeved and its skirt hugging her hips down the floor. Steam plums out around her, curling and waving before dissipating like a ghost. She’s wringing her flattened hair out in a towel, smiling as her bare feet pad across the wood.

“The bath is all yours.” She smiles.

“You didn’t leave the water?”

Aela’s nose wrinkles in disgust. “No, why?”

“Because then it’ll take the servants more time to set up another bath.”

“But you’d be bathing in my wet dirt.”

“So?” The assassin shrugs. The princess merely shakes her head and wanders back over to her bed, leaving Sazami with the empty tub.

After her own bath, setting aside her hidden daggers and tossing her ruined gown, Sazami couldn’t be happier to be dressed in warm night clothes. Snuggled beneath the covers with the princess, the girls keep continuing talking while snacking on a dessert tray spread with chocolates and candy. The conversation drifted to Sazami and her trip to the Frozen Wastelands, the assassin groaning from the anticipation.

“I’ll have to buy a whole other set of clothes just for the travel there. I’ll have to put on layers and layers of clothes just to survive traveling to Jokul.” Sazami sighs, popping a chocolate eclair into her mouth.

“At least you’ll have a guide there the entire way. And maybe you can get some extra things from Chelsea. They’ve added some new shops since they’ve become a city for travelers.”

Sazami simply shifts in the bed, sighing. “What’s wrong?”

“I still can’t get over why the king is even using me in the first place.”

“Want to go for another ride?” Aela asks, trying to diffuse the tension, but Sazami only shakes her head. The princess’s shoulders slouch and she shifts to propping herself on her elbow, hand holding her head. “I’m sorry, Sazami. But my father really is desperate and he does believe you can solve this case.”

“He just hopes that I die in the process.”

“But you won’t.” Aela says. When Sazami keeps her gaze to the ceiling, Aela sets a hand on her shoulder. Sazami turns her head to Aela’s freckled face. “You won’t die, right?”

Sazami gives a half smile. “Of course. Don’t you know who I am?”

The princess pushes her arm and Sazami laughs. Aela is about to say something else, but Sazami rises to a sitting position her head scanning the room. She feels the princess shift, and the air grows colder. “What is it?” Aela whispers.

Sazami scans her eyes across the room, taking in the windows and the one exit of the room.

A shadow passes over one set of the balcony doors.

Sazami is already out of bed and her dagger in her hand as she stalks towards the doors. She says nothing, and Aela stays in the bed, slowly readying herself to launch towards the doors.

As Sazami nears the balcony doors, flipping her dagger outwards, she presses herself against the wall. All of her uncle’s assassins knew of her friendship with the princess, and Sazami herself forbade them from ever targeting her. Granted she was sixteen at the time and her authority was often challenged, but after Arthur spoke out against her, he – as well as the rest of the assassins – knew better than to challenge her again after she nearly gutted him.

Angling her head up towards the overhang of buttresses and stone arcs, the shadow moves again and she sighs. Relaxing her muscles, Sazami opens the door and sends her dagger flying. It whistles before being cut off sharply.

Sazami steps back as a body plummets onto the balcony but landing soundlessly onto the stone. As Aela gasps, quickly covering her mouth, Sazami rolls her eyes and folds her arms. Cloaked in blackness, the figure rises, the blade of Sazami’s dagger clasped between his fore finger and middle finger. He hops down from the balcony and slips inside.

“A little harder next time,” he grins. “You nearly took out my eye.”

“I was hoping I would.” Sazami says as she steps aside, allowing Fabian into the princess’s chamber. Her eyes dart to Aela and she quickly tugs up the sheets to cover her chest even when her nightgown doesn’t even have a low neckline. Smiling to herself, Sazami shakes her head. “What do you want, Fabian?”

As the assassin removes his hood, he shakes his head, his bangs falling over his eyes as it always does. Running a hand through his hair, Fabian simply flashes a handsome smile and turns to the princess. He gives an exaggerated bow low as he says, “Your Majesty.”

Sazami has to fold in her lips to suppress her smile as Aela’s cheeks turn as read as her hair. As Fabian adjusts his cloak – a calculated move as always with him – she sees the multiple straps and belts of daggers around his waist, accompanied by the short swords on either of his sides. That and he’s showing an outfit that had to be new, and expensive. “I’m here to bring you a message.” He answers, that smirk still on his face.

“Oh, so my uncle has now degraded you to courier now?” Sazami grins meanly as she approaches him.

“No, he just deemed it important enough to get it to you immediately; seeing as how you won’t be coming home tonight.” He emphasizes with his eyes trailing up and down Sazami’s body. The assassin only shrugs her shoulders. At least she’s not in one of her luxurious nightgowns.

Fabian digs through his cloak pocket and pulls out an envelope with a red royal seal. He holds it out to her and she approaches, taking it with a nod. Aela slowly emerges from her cocoon of sheets and rests at the edge of the bed.

Flipping open the paper, Sazami’s eyes read the writing of the king. In her peripheral vision she can see Fabian make himself at home, plopping one of the armchairs and slinging his legs over the arm.

“And how are you, Your Majesty?” Fabian asks, Sazami sensing the smile on his lips.

“I – I am fine, thank you.” Aela stutters. “I would ask how you are, but I don’t think I want to know.”

“I assure you I do more than simple killing. My hands have more skills to them than just holding a blade.” He says coolly.

Sazami jerks her head towards him, seeing that devious smile. No doubt Aela is blushing beyond comprehension. Talking with boys never really was Aela’s strongpoint, but it comes from a place of innocence and inexperience. Aela even consulted to Sazami on how she manages to keep her sanity when around so much testosterone. Truthfully, Sazami simply forgot about it. When she’s with the rest of the assassins, she is on business; there’s no reason to mix business with pleasure. And with Fabian being relatively attractive and a criminal outlaw, he’s the near-perfect mixture of danger and fun that every court lady drools for.

Aela slinks her way out of bed and scurries over to Sazami, as if to hope she can make it before Fabian can converse with her any further. She hugs herself as if to try and conceal her form as she comes to Sazami’s side.

“What does it say?”

“It’s a letter from your father.” Sazami says, her eyebrows furrowing as she keeps reading. “It says he wants to have a meeting with me tomorrow morning. He wants to talk about who I’m to meet and such when I make it to Jokul.”

“Jokul?” Fabian chimes. “That ice kingdom in the Frozen Wastelands?”

“None other.” Sazami sighs.

“You’re going all the way out there for your first mission?” Fabian shifts so that his feet are on the floor, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, hand folded together. “Why wouldn’t he start you out here in Valerie?”

“Because he wants me dead.” The assassin sighs as she goes and joins him, sitting down in the next available seat. Aela has her hands nervously folded in front of her chest, a worried expression across her soft features. “Or rather he hopes I’ll die in the process. His intent is while he needs my help, he’s hoping I die while solving the case.”

“I can’t say I didn’t see that coming. I was wondering why he wouldn’t just send his esteemed Captain of the Guard to investigate.”

“Apart from the fact that he doesn’t want to send his captain out so far, as quoted by him: “It takes a monster to kill a monster.””

“Sazami, if you don’t want to take the case just say so.” Aela suddenly pipes, her tone frustrated.

Looking to the princess, her arms are now down, hands clenched at her sides. The flames of the fireplace send her form a blaze with its mixtures of red and orange. Sighing through her mouth, Sazmai says, “I’m sorry, Aela. I didn’t mean any disrespect, I’m just, blabbering.”

The princess relaxes, though still remains standing in front of the two killers in front of her. Fabian leans back into the chair as the brief tension deflates. He folds one leg, his ankle on his knee. “I hope he is aware of The Faceless hiding out in those regions. Perhaps you could pay a visit.” He grins.

Sazami groans. “I can still feel the pain in my muscles from their practices.”

“The Faceless?” Aela chimes.

“Yes. I’ve told you about them haven’t I? When I went to their headquarters that one summer to train.”

“Maybe that’s another reason why the king is sending you, because you have connections.” says Fabian.

“My uncle has the connections.” Sazami corrects. “I just follow his orders.”

“I was actually worried; I thought he had received word from Queen Gwendolyn already.”

“No,” Sazami shakes her head towards the princess. “She can take her time with that. I’m not in any rush to go back.”

Sazami rises from her seat as she claps her thighs. “Well, thank you for the delivery, Fabian but I believe we must be getting back to our dues.”

Fabian chuckles, “What dues? You two were lying in bed eating chocolate.”

“Yes, and we would like to get back to it, please.” Sazami says, ushering him towards the balcony doors.

“I really hate how you keep kicking me out.”

“I can do it physically.” Sazami says, but Fabian holds his hands up in submission.

“I’ll just show myself out. Your Highness.” He bows to Aela and walks towards the doors. As he sets a gloved hand on the brass handle he turns to Sazami. “Will you at least let me see you off?”

It was rather sudden: the way his tone grew so soft, the way his eyes became filled with longing that Sazami was left speechless for a moment. She blinks and clears her throat. “Sure, I don’t see why not.”

Fabian nods. “Thank you. I will take my leave then.”

With that, the assassin steps through the threshold into the shadows of the night. All Sazami hears is a whoosh of fabric, quiet tips of stone and then silence. After waiting a moment to ensure he was off, she tentatively closes the balcony doors.

“Well, that came out of nowhere.” Aela chimes. Sazami turns to find the princess back in bed, snuggled down with a chocolate covered strawberry in her fingers.

“I’m sure he was just teasing.” Sazami dismisses. “He’s been doing it since I was young.” Shrugging her shoulders, the princess finishes the fruit before moving in on to a hazelnut. “I don’t know, for a moment it seemed like he was going to miss you.”

“I’m surprised you saw anything. Your face was so red I thought it blotted your vision.”

The princess opens her mouth and sticks out her tongue, revealing the mush of food still on her tongue. Sazami waves her hand, motioning her away.

“How are you a princess?”

Aela rolls her eyes. “Anyway, I hope you’ll still be staying for Samhain. They’re going to have a big fire and everything.”

“I hope so. I don’t think I’ve missed one festival while in Valerie.”

“First time for everything.”

Sazami quirks an eyebrow and then gives a devious grin. She nudges Aela’s hand as she reaches for the last chocolate éclair, snatching the dessert. The princess squeals and gives a scoff, but Sazami simply pops the pastry into her mouth.

She smiles triumphantly – even when the princess smacks her arm.
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