“Only some wings to chase after my love,
I begged of the wise old elf,
To come down from your kingdom, the sky above,
and save my love from himself.”
I looked up at the still Assassin.
“Keep reading,” he commanded.
“But that’s the end,” I explained.
“Doesn’t she have to keep The Red One from finishing the spell?” he asked.
“Well... the author never says if she succeeds. The poem is about her wanting to save him from his own magic, not the story line itself.”
“Can’t say I’m fond of poetry then,” said the Assassin. “Read another.”
“Poem?” I asked.
“Isn’t it nearly time you lock me up in my cell to shiver the night away?” I asked.
“I suppose it is cold down there,” he said, disregarding either of our original points. “Another poem. Now.”
I certainly didn’t understand the beast’s sudden interest in my reading aloud to him, but far be it from me to argue. I turned the page and began another poem.
“Each man, like a glade, has secrets with’hid,
Withdrawn, within, from passerby...”
The night stretched on until I found my eyelids dropping. Both they and my book felt unfairly heavy. I don’t know how the assassin knew, unless something in my voice gave it away; I certainly wasn’t going to press my luck by arguing with him.
Mid-poem, he stood up abruptly.
“That will be all. And then he lead me to my cell and locked me in.
And so we gained another tradition. Each night, when all my duties had been completed, we sat in the library and I read to him. While he seemed to almost dread the exchange of questions at lunch, he seemed nearly eager for our nightly reading.
I was eager for something else.
“Will you allow me to see under your hood today?” I asked a lunch.
“Why ever would you want to do a thing like that?” mused the Assassin.
“Perhaps I want to see if your monster can be tamed,” I suggested mildly.
Not a hint or a whisper of voices.
Then I saw his hand, ever hidden beneath a glove, very tightly gripping the chipped teacup.
And I grew very, very afraid.
“You think this can be tamed?” he asked in a dark, snarling voice. He ripped back his hood.
His face was that of a man’s halfway up. Then it sprouted fur, like a man’s beard in reverse. His nose bunched into a scowling snout, and his ears were long, pinned back with anger. But all that could be overlooked were it not for his eyes.
They were insane. Mad, glowing, waxing and waning pupils as they focused and unfocused in a demented frenzy.
I had been prepared to see any horror and react as though it were nothing. But this shocked me.
Just as quickly as he had pushed the hood off, he flipped it back up.
“Dungeon,” he snarled. “Now.”
He thinks I’m scared, I thought. But strangely, I wasn’t filled with fear. I had been shocked at what he’d kept hidden, yes. But somehow, I had been more afraid of not knowing what was there.
“Why?” I asked in a tone that mimicked his own mocking voice. “Do you think you’ve made me lose my appetite?”
“Don’t play games,” he growled. “I know what you saw. I know what I saw in your face. I saw your face. Go.”
“No,” I replied. I took a sip of tea.
“Go, or I will rip off your skin and use it as a hearth rug,” he screamed.
“I’ll admit, you could use a shave, but it really isn’t worth all that fuss with the hoo-”
My nonchalant answer was cut short as he grabbed me, his massive gloved hands encircling my arms. How have I never noticed how large they are? The finger tips were shredded away, claws poking through like a cat who’s had a fright.
“Let go!” I commanded.
“I give the orders.”
He dragged me into the entrance room, then hurled me down the stair-case. I slammed into the wall at the first landing and knew there would be a bruise along my shoulder by morning.
And he spun away in a whirl of robes.
I couldn’t understand why he cast me out so angrily. Did he simply grow tired of my constant questioning about the hood? Did the idea of me taming his ‘monster’ enrage him so?
Or maybe he’s simply a beast, and he doesn’t need a reason for acting like a monster, I thought. But no, there was still a man there.
Unable to puzzle it out, I curled up in my frigid cell to sleep.
The next morning, the Assassin wasn’t in the castle. In and of itself, this was nothing. My beast was often away on his little missions. But after yesterday, any chance from a perfectly normal routine felt ominous.
I felt as though any misdoing on my part might send him into another rage, so I worked as diligently as ever, even though my shoulder protested furiously.
When another day went by without him, the scenarios became more elaborate. Him killing a noble then beings slaughtered by guards. Villagers with pitch-forks. The bloodshed in my imagination grew until a blizzardy day, when the castle’s front door was thrown open, sending a flurry of snow all over the freshly mopped floor.
“You’re back!” I said suddenly. What servant sounds that eager about her master’s return? “You made a mess, and you haven’t been home thirty seconds,” I said more scoldingly. My heart was in my throat as I awaited his reaction. Angry? Calm? Short-tempered?
But it was just tired.
“Home,” he repeated, shutting the door behind him.