No one would look at my life in the Assassin’s castle and call it perfect. But neither could one say I was living a hell of a life. I worked hard and I dreaded the nights spent in my cold cell. At times, I would recall a certain friend’s face, or a kind word from my father, and the realization that I would never again see them would leave me melancholy for the remainder of the day.
But the work was satisfying. I could certainly never say that I didn’t eat well. I wanted for nothing, save my friends and family.
I think that missing my past relations is part of what made me determined to bring out the human in the Assassin. I was lonely, starved for human companionship. And while few would accuse the Assassin of humanity, I found myself searching for it in his actions.
“Why do you always keep on your hood?” I asked one lunch as I refilled his tea cup.
“That was a waste of a question, Beauty,” said the Assassin. “Why does any lackey of the night hide his face, be he assassin or thief?”
“No,” I said after a few moments of silence. “I don’t think you’re trying to hide from the world.”
The Assassin’s movements grew careful. He wore his emotions on his sleeve, but guarded his thoughts zealously. Now it was all guarded. “And why does Beauty say that? What other motive could an assassin have?”
“I think you’re hiding the world from something.”
An eerie silence fell about the castle. It was like there had been voices chattering in the background, white noise, only to heard when they fell silent.
“My question for Beauty is this. Would you like to see what I hide the world from?” His voice was nearly dark, but not quite. I had grown adept at reading him by his voice, since I could gather nothing from his face. But the realization that he was offering me the chance to see the forbidden features was enough to make me not realize until later that he had affirmed my guess concerning his hood.
“What would the thing you’re hiding do to me if I’m no longer hidden from it?” I asked.
“Ah, Beauty has found her brains. But I’m afraid you’ve used up your question of the day.
I lifted my chin, perhaps a little too boldly. “As have you. And why does Beauty say that?" I mimicked.
A smile grew under his hood, a dangerous one. “A question, yes. One that you answered even. But not one directed at you.”
A blush warmed my cheeks. I should have seen that.
Did I want to meet the monster under the hood? A part of me, a large part, was afraid. But another part of me was stricken with curiosity. And possibly... bravery?
“Yes,” I said, voice nearly breathless.
The Assassin nodded. Then he resumed eating. I waited dumbly for a few moments, not touching my food.
“I see Beauty isn’t using her brains again,” said the Assassin in a mocking tone.
Blush deepening, I returned to my meal. I felt a fool for thinking that he would show me. Why would he have any reason to pull back his hood for a serving girl?
The next day I knew what my question would be long before lunch had started. I suddenly found myself unable to forget the idea of what might be beneath that hood.
“Will I be allowed to see?” I asked when lunch time had finally come around.
The Assassin cocked his head.
“What you hide the world from,” I added, raising my eyebrows in my own mocking manner.
“My question first,” said the assassin. “Why did you answer yes?”
I wanted to argue back, but couldn’t. This was the beast’s game, and he the master of it’s rules.
“Curiosity. Bravery. I want to know what changed you from the man you once were.”
“What made me into the monster I am.” His teeth flashed in a smile. I was startled at his use of the nickname I had for him.
I care enough to be curious about him. I heard the words in my mind, as though they were a passing thought. But as the silence drew out, I realized it was not my own thought. And yet, it felt so much as though it were.
“You will see,” the Assassin finally answered.
“I don’t suppose that you’re willing to tell me when,” i said in a half-mutter as I put my tea-cup to my lips.
He only smiled.
The rest of the week, I spent my questions trying to whittle down when I could see under the hood to a specific time. But the Assassin was maddeningly elusive as ever, and I drew no nearer to a satisfying answer.
But I had something even stranger than the beast’s hood to occupy my mind. When I had suggested that the Assassin was hiding the world from something, a strange silence had fallen in the air. But now rather than simply hearing it’s silence, I could swear I could hear the noise that had vanished in the first place.
I only heard it when I found myself drifting off or daydreaming. It was like a chorus of voices, chattering in the background. I thought that, perhaps, my unbidden thought concerning my curiosity of the Assassin had come from one of these voices.
The possibly non-existent voices remained a chorus, never becoming individual enough to make out words. It was quiet enough, rare enough and anonymous enough that I hadn’t questioned my sanity.
Until the teacup spoke, at least.
The beast sleeps for you. He begins to accept. The voice, barely a whisper in my mind, came distinctly from the same tea-cup I had chipped nearly a week ago. I was so startled that I ver nearly dropped it again.
“Something wrong, Beauty?” asked the Assassin, tilting his head at me. I set the cup on the table, then picked it back up again. I twisted it in my fingers, frowning.
“This cup. It’s chipped. Uh, the one I chipped.”
The Assassin only faced me for a moment. “Your point?”
“Why use it? It’s chipped.”
“How observant of you,” he said dryly. “I happen to like to rotate the china, and it was time for this set. I presume that was your question of the day.”
I set the cup back down and filled it with tea. “I suppose it was,” I said regretfully.
The Assassin went on to ask me some ridiculous question concerning whether or not I snored. But I was only half-listening; my other ear was trained on the cup.
But the voices never presented themselves so flagrantly again, and in time they faded again to a hardly-noticed white noise.
Time slipped by. Each day presented the same checklist of chores, with a free hour or two spent in the precious library I had a key to. I kept no real track of time until one day, when I was outside to fetch the water, I found the world covered in snow. Suddenly, the colder and colder nights clicked into place.
I came into the dining room with the tray of tea. As I poured some into the beast’s chipped cup, a thought occurred to me.
“I wonder what the date is,” i said. I had grown careful not to throw about haphazard questions. If I were lucky, and the Assassin was in a good mood, he would oblige to giving me the required information.
“I believe it is the seventeenth of December,” he said, not looking up from a letter in his gloved hands. “And why was Beauty wondering that?”
I rarely dared to not answer his wondering.
“It’s snowing,” I replied. “It nearly always snowed on the days leading up to my birthday in Tearian.”
“We’re technically in Tearian,” said the Assassin. “And so the tradition continues. I’ll have to bake a cake in four days.”
“How did you know my birthday is in four days?” I asked suspiciously, forgetting my caution concerning questions.
“It seems Costas liked the idea of having a parade to celebrate your birthday. Someone asked me to assassinate him during it.”
I nearly spat out my tea.
“Are you going to?”
“Ah, ah. One question a day.”
“I wonder,” I said, biting back an angry sigh. “If the Assassin might permit Adalina to look at his letter.”
The piece of paper was slid beneath my saucer.
I request that you assassinate Prince Costas at the Princess’ Parade on the twenty first of December. Price to be discussed on consultation.
“It doesn’t surprise me much that she would want him dead,” I commented, setting down the letter. “Our kingdom isn’t the first he’s tried to take control of. And the White Kingdom was less compliant than my father’s.”
The Assassin appeared interested. “Is that so?”
“We were desperate. My father was willing to do anything to save our kingdom from imploding, including marrying me to Prince Costas.”
“Save give you up to me.”
I could remember my father screaming at me not to go, and the way Assassin had been adjusting his hood when he joined me outside the great hall doors.
“Some people’s beasts are better hidden than others,” I answered.
The Assassin was very silent.
“You dislike Costas, then?” he asked after a moment.
“Very much,” I replied. “Although my family is indebted to him for several reasons.”
“Then you shouldn’t care too much if I killed him.”
“Of course I would!” I cried. “He’s a greedy lout, but that shouldn’t mean a death sentence!”
“And what would? Perhaps, say, killing an entire army? Kidnapping a princess? Assassinating a prince?”
A few months ago, I would have answered yes without a second thought. Such a man was worthless. But now the man had a name. He had a face, even if I hadn’t been permitted to see it. He had habits, quirks, kind moments, a family.
And for an inexplicable reason, the idea of that man dying felt... odd. Perhaps it was simply because the entirety of my life had become centered around the beast that the idea of him simply ceasing to exist in my world seemed a strange idea.
“You’ve already used your question of the day,” I reminded him, thinking of his question concerning my dislike of Costas.
The voices were silent as breakfast was resumed.