Rheyo sat on his heels in silence while he watched the sun come up. He had been in that position all day and all night.
That was no easy task for a nine-year-old boy. “It’s finally over.”
His master, an aging woman, who had more gray hairs than black and a foul temper that seemed to sour every time a strand lost its color, spent the whole night in the same position turned to look at him. “What’s over?”
“The night’s training.”
She jumped to her feet. “Nothing’s over. It’s time to run.”
“Let me get some blood running through my legs.”
“Now, or it’s another day and night on your knees.”
Rheyo sat in the closet watching the window. He had been there all day and half the night. He gave a silent word of thanks for the training his master had given him. She had always told him, “An assassin will always die in that one situation they never trained for.” And kneeling for days on end before being made to sprint had served him well over the last five years.
His patience and training were rewarded when he spotted a silhouette climb down a rope and came into the window, and he could tell it was a female figure. When she landed in the room, Rheyo brought the blowgun to his lips and blew. The dart hit home, a cry escaped the assassin’s lips, and Rheyo got to his feet.
The old man sat up, What’s going on?
Rheyo emerged from the closet wearing the unrelieved black livery worn by the servants.I got your assassin.
Claudia Stonehaven was a beautiful woman. A little taller than average with A tan that suggested regular nude sunbathing on the roof, blonde hair and blue eyes, not to mention the physically fit body of one who endured hard physical training.
She looked up at him. “I thought you left.”
â€œNo, I just changed disguises. It’s amazing how a servant can be invisible. How many times have you used this disguise to get close to a target?
Devin Stonehaven looked to his wife.Why? Rheyo heard the old man’s voice crack and noticed his cheeks were wet.
Claudia smiled. â€œDev, if I weren’t an assassin, I would have married you for love.
â€œMaster Stonehaven, some of my ilk marry wealthy lovers to collect the inheritance so they can buy their freedom from our guilds.
Claudia murmured, Isn’t he in enough pain? Just kill me so he can move on. There were tears on her cheeks as well.
Stone snake venom was a fun little poison Rheyo liked to use. First, it caused a jolt of crippling pain followed by numbness in the arms and legs. The last thing to lose function was the mouth.
“You have five minutes to live and three before you’re no longer able to talk. I’m going to leave you too alone to say what you need to.”
He left the soon to be widowed man with his soon to be deceased wife. Devin Stonehaven was in no danger, and he thought Claudia had the right to be honest with her husband before she passed into the void. Nobody was ever more honest than just before they took their last breath.
The commotion roused the entire house, and a runner was sent to fetch Devin’s son Marcus while Rheyo started boiling a kettle for tea to serve Devin. Healing and tea were two things at which all poisoners excelled. Not the brewing of it, but the blending of herbs and flavors.
He had as special blend designed to calm the nerves and cause drowsiness within an hour of consumption. He kept a tin on hand for this very reason. This blend also acted as an intoxicant when he boiled it down to a concentrated form.
Marcus burst through the kitchen door. He was a younger, less weathered version of his father. Both men were tall, dark of hair and eyes with broad shoulders and square jaws.
Where’s my father, is he safe?”
“He’s grieving. His wife just died, and you paid to have it done.”
“Where is he? I need to see him.”
“No, you don’t. Have a seat.”
“My father needs me.”
Rheyo made his voice soft, not exactly a whisper, just quiet. That’s right. He needs his son, and he needs a shoulder to cry on. Do you know what he doesn’t need? He doesn’t need to hear I told you so. Claudia may have married him for his money, but she grew to love your father. Her guild was happy to let him die of natural causes until they got wind of her feelings for him.
Marcus swallowed hard. I understand.
“Go get him.”
The kettle was getting close to boiling by the time father and son entered the room.
The old man locked eyes with Rheyo. “She recounted the exact moment she fell in love with me. Was she lying.”
“In my experience, I’ve found that almost nobody is willing to let their last words be anything but the whole truth.”
“I’m old. why didn’t you let Claudia kill me?”
“I’m not paid to make moral decisions. I leave that to the people who hire me.”
Rheyo modified his tone and demeanor. “I’ve made some tea.” You two have a lot to talk about.
When father and son were seated and sipped tea, Rheyo left the room unnoticed.
Rheyo had his things gathered and was on his way to stable his horse mere minutes after leaving the kitchen.
It was an assassin’s duty to appear cold and unconcerned, but the night gave him the cover to let his tears fall freely.
When had the horse saddled and the bags packed, He rode hard into the darkness.
After a week of uneventful travel, Rheyo made it to Kage village.
Home not so sweet home.
In a village of assassins, the only shopkeepers were those who got lucky enough to live to see old age.
One trader who looked old enough to make a mountain seem young called out, “Oi, Rheyo!” Who was it?
The old man shook his head. “It’s always the pretty ones.”
“The master wants to see you.”
“She can bloody wait.”
“Just because she raised you don’t mean she won’t skin you.”
“She wouldn’t dare, I make that old biddy too much money.”
He was having a laugh at his quip when he felt someone twist his short hairs.
“Owie owie owie. Hello, master.”
“Hello, Rheyo. On your toes.”
It was the master who purchased Rheyo, raised him and trained him. She was the closest thing to a mother he had ever known, and she made his entire life unbearable. She was also the most accomplished assassin in the village.
Even though she was beautiful in her youth, she had no desire to make her kills laying on her back as she called it. She trained in stealth, poisons, small arms, And infiltration. She completed every mission until her thirtieth birthday when she counsel informed her that she was eligible to retire and train a new generation. She kept taking jobs till she was forty when she purchased Rheyo and decided to retire and take a vacant seat on the elder council.Â After ten years she became the master.
Now she was marching him on his toes all the way to her home and didn’t let go till she pushed him through the door.
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Give it a rest will ya?”
“Quit whining. You’ve been through worse.”
“You would know, you put me through it.”
“Did you die?”
“Almost died a few times.”
She jabbed her thumb over her shoulder at the whole, tanned hides of the assassins who failed and had the nerve to come back alive. The skinners kept their victims alive for as long as possible while they carved the skins away from those unfortunate souls. There had only been one skinning in Rheyo’s lifetime. He had been five at the time, and the screams still chilled his blood.
“You almost failed a few times, but you still have your skin.”
She pointed to a chair. “Sit.”
She handed him a scroll. “Princess Sinesse of Preira believes somebody is trying to kill her father. She has specifically requested you.”
“So, I have to protect some fat old king from some ham-handed amateur who can’t even keep from being discovered long enough to kill their target.”
“That sounds about right.”
“He’ll be dead by the time I get there. They usually are if the killer is a professional”
“You will take this job Rheyo, or so help me; I will skin you myself.”
“You don’t know how.”