The dungeon was quiet. All that could be heard were the prisoner's snores and the distant drip of water. Feet wrapped in thick, black leather tread silently on the stone floor. The figure in all black dodged between the torches, eyes darting for guards or other kinds of sentries. This kingdom was known for employing the help of animal familiars. A rat scurried out a hole and the person froze, watching intently. It grabbed a few pieces of straw then went back.
Once in the back of the dungeon, the assassin crouched in front of the cell. The inmate was awake and staring at the bars, dull eyed.
"It's about time," the man murmured. "I figured this would come soon."
The assassin picked the lock and slipped through before the hinges could make too much noise. They stood before the man who looked up.
"But I wonder, which one are you?" The assassin didn't answer. He sighed. "I've prepared myself. I know what I did. Tell your employer, though, that I have no regrets. If I could do it again, I would."
The assassin hesitated but drew their poisoned dagger. The man stood.
"May I at least see the face of my death bringer?"
The assassin slowly unhooked the face mask. The man's jaw dropped. Before he could say anything else, they dug the dagger into his throat. The man fell to his knees, blood pouring down his neck and onto his shirt.
"Never... thought... I w-would die at-at-" He coughed more, his eyes going out of focus. "The hands of an angel."
The light left his eyes and the assassin removed the dagger. They wiped it clean and slipped back out of the cell. They dashed back up the hall and the stairs. A guard was standing outside the door and grabbed the assassin's arm, pulling them to a side room.
"You did it again, didn't you?" the guard demanded.
"Turn your back, Roland. I'd like some privacy, if you don't mind."
The guard rolled his eyes as he turned. The assassin stripped from the leather outfit, long red curls falling to her shoulder blades. Princess Rose grabbed the dress her father had sent and struggled into the heels.
"One of these days, revealing your face is going to get you in trouble," he lectured while she changed.
"Oh, relax. He knew I was coming. He was ready to die."
Roland grunted. "Regardless, you know how dangerous that is. I ought to tell your father."
"Sure you will," she said sarcastically. "Are you done lecturing me? We'll be late."
Roland shook his head, knowing it was useless. She shoved the clothing in the hidden compartment. Roland passed over her tiara and she sat it on her hair primly. She flashed him a winning smile, her hazel eyes bright.
"Let's go see Father."
Roland was still grumbling as they made their way back up the stairs and to the foyer of the palace. It had been a risky operation; her father, King Samuel, had been wanting to ally with this kingdom for many years. However, when news reached them that the spy from their enemy was in the dungeons, he couldn't resist the opportunity. Rose happily took the job. It had been many years since he had given her something to do, after all.
When they reached the foyer, her father was talking with the kingdom's rulers, King Brennan and Queen Jennifer. Rose made sure none of the blood had gotten on her then walked forward, Roland a few steps behind her.
"There you are," her father said, beaming as she curtsied to the king and queen. "You sure took your time freshening up."
Rose giggled and took her father's arm. "You know how long it takes to get ready!"
Queen Jennifer laughed. "She does speak the truth, Samuel. We women have to practically sell our souls to look presentable!"
Everyone laughed politely and the king looked at his pocket watch.
"I'm sure he'll be here soon," the queen said. "It's a big day for him."
"Oh?" Rose asked. "Why?"
The three rulers shared a look before her father answered.
"We'll explain once we're all in the parlor."
Rose made a face but accepted his answer. They had arrived at Ymbra that morning after a week long trip. Her father hadn't said why they were coming, just that he hoped they would finally sign the treaty that would merge their kingdoms. They made idle chatter for another few minutes when footsteps on the stone stairs got their attention.
Rose turned and tried not to hide behind her father. She knew Prince Costa only by his reputation and his current demeanor suggested the rumors were true. He was in an outfit of silk and velvet, a pin on his chest that proudly displayed his prowess in battle. Even though he was young, Costa had been to several and won each one. He had cropped brown hair and blue eyes that were currently fixed on his father. She was surprised to see he looked angry.
"Ah, it took you long enough," his father said jokingly, patting him on the back. "What kept you?"
"My studies," the prince answered. His voice was very deep and made chills run down Rose's spine. None of the men she had gone up against intimidated her as much as this man did. "Perhaps if I had been given more time to prepare," he added.
The king cleared his throat and Costa fell silent. He bowed to Samuel and Rose.
"Welcome," he said.
Rose curtsied. "Thank you for having us."
"Let's go sit," Queen Jennifer suggested.
The five of them went into a side parlor. It was decorated lavishly with red and silver carpeting. Tapestries hung on the walls and paintings depicting landscapes and elegant horses. Most of the parlor consisted of couches and chairs but a chess table sat by the window and a bookcase held a collection of books. A fireplace was lit, warming the room from the bitter winter outside.
"Tea and scones, please," Brennan said to the servant. "What do you think?" he asked Rose when he saw her looking around.
"It's very comfortable," she said. "The paintings are gorgeous."
"Why, thank you. It was my great-grandmother who made them. Sadly, I didn't get her talent for the brush, though."
She smiled politely. No one spoke until the refreshments were brought in. Rose accepted her tea and sipped it, looking around at them all.
"So," her father said finally, sitting up straight. "I know this meeting wasn't planned and I apologize for that, Prince Costa." The prince didn't reply. "My daughter and I have come because we have come to an agreement with your parents."
Rose perked up. They had been arguing over negotiations for nearly six years now. Even though their kingdom, Kelvig, had crops that Ymbra would benefit from, it never seemed enough for King Brennan. As for Ymbra, Kelvig desperately needed the protection their large army would provide.
"What wonderful news," Rose said.
"What terms did you agree on?" Costa asked.
Brennan looked to his wife but she shook her head in a manner suggesting it was his news to tell.
"Your marriage to Princess Rose."