With a jump Elthana startled awake from her squatting position on the bed. She grabbed tighter around the curved daggers and was ready to cut anything that moved. Nothing moved. She could hear voices out on the street, the sun was up shining through the thin slices in the wall that served as windows. What time was it? She couldn’t remember falling asleep.
Minutes passed, the familiar chatter of more and more voices outside slowly calming her down. With shaking muscles she lowered the daggers to the bed and stretched out her half asleep legs. Elthana had waited for this day, known it would come eventually, but she wasn’t ready to die yet.
A few days back Elthana had noticed that the questioners stayed behind in the village after the yearly inquisition. Rumours said that they stayed behind only when an assassination had been ordered. They were to observe and make sure the assassination was successful. She’d understood death was near.
Never had she dreamt of outsmarting and actually killing three assassins. Three white masked assassins from the Blood city. Elthana swore out loud.
“Blasted wasteland, what should I do now?” Her eyes fell on the wooden door in the roof. She was afraid of what to find up there. She was afraid someone else would find it before her. She was also afraid of the fact that killing three people hadn’t affected her as it should’ve. Didn’t normal people become shaken after killing someone? Didn’t they feel sad for the lives they cut short? During her hours awake last night waiting for the fourth to come down through the door she’d thought about the killing she’d done. The lack of guilt she blamed on the fact that she’d never seen their faces, where they even human? Some villagers said they were creatures from the shadows.
The fact that she actually felt joy over being able to kill someone… that scared her more than anything. Did all assassins enjoy killing? A barrel falling over outside her window made her jump. She cursed, since when had she become a jumper?
She couldn’t stay here for long. One of the assassins had escaped when Elton had shouted for her. Sunburn, she could’ve killed the fourth as well if her warder Elton hadn’t interrupted. That would’ve given her some more time to prepare for whatever she had to do. Now the killer could be anywhere.
Too many could and would. She needed to decide what to do now. As she stepped off the bed she yawned widely, her foggy head trying to figure out a plan. Elthana stripped out of her clothes from yesterday, they were dirty and torn. She grimaced as the cloth tore loose from her blood clotted wound at her waist. It started bleeding again, of course, she sighed. The slash was a horizontal shallow line at the edge of her ribcage. It was covered with dried blood and small threads from her clothes.
After a quick cleaning in the water barrel and some ointments on the wound, she dressed in another set of leathers. Her warder Spring had put two dresses in the clothing chest, hoping that Elthana would get tired of playing with her swords and daggers. Spring hoped that Elthana would outgrow this childish wish to be an assassin. “The village didn’t need assassins, they needed farmers, builders and good wives”. Elthana snorted as she pulled up high leather boots up to her thigh, like she’d ever be a wife to anyone. And she did help out with the family business to help the elderly in the city. A part of Elthana actually enjoyed Springs lessons in ointments and healing. She liked to help the helpless. Though only the wind knew. If her warders knew they would throw away her weapons for good and proclaim they did what was best for her. Elthana was surprised they hadn’t already.
She tied the boots up and slipped in a dagger in each. Over a thin black long shirt reaching her thies, she put on her favorite leather shirt. It was tight to the body, satisfactory making her feel every muscle as she moved. Same wonderful feeling with the dark brown leather protection she strapped on her arms. Three steel needles were stored in each arm and two small daggers in the leather shirt. She slid down her clean curved knives down into the scabbards attached on the tightly strapped belt. The black head scarf was ruined from the night before. She took her big sandy brown head scarf and wrapped it loosely around her neck and then around her body. She fastened everything with a black leather cord. Before pulling up the scarf over her head she braided her long hair tightly. She needed to be able to see everything clearly.
Climbing up the wall outside the house would raise to many eyebrows, which left only going up the roof door. Elthana was surprised when the door fell open with ease, she could’ve sworn the assassin had barricaded it with something. No sounds coming from above, she threw a pillow straight up a few feet. It fell back down without being pierced with a knife. Elthana didn’t think the man would still be there, but one could not be too careful. With a grab onto the ledge she vaulted her body up on the roof, crouching with both hands on the daggers. Empty. Not empty as in no living person present, empty as in nothing at all. No bodies, no sign of a fight except a few blood stains that easily could be explained by saying it came from her failing in practicing the forms correctly.
After a few moments of breathing and feeling the morning wind filled with sand hitting her face like small needles she drew up the cape over her nose and rose. The wind tugged at the fabric wrapped around her even though it was fastened tightly around her body with the leather cord. The fabric covered all her weapons and at the same time didn’t hinder her movements.
Wherever the fourth assassin went, Elthana was relieved he’d taken his dead comrades with him. He probably didn’t want anyone to know they were here. The Gathering did all their filthy business in the shadows, quiet from the wind.
One problem out of the way. Now she needed to find a way to warn her mother about the assassins, she would probably be a target as well. Jumping down back into her room and closing the door behind her she walked down the stairs and out onto the narrow streets. Almost everyone in the village wore sandy brown clothes and Elthana blended right in. The wind wasn’t as harsh behind the protecting walls and the sun gave more warmth than out in the open cold savannah. Out there everyone wore black to gather every ounce of warmth the sun could give through the greedy wind that carried almost all the heat away.
Even though everything looked normal in the village, Ethana felt non-existing eyes staring at her from every corner. A few people smiled as she passed, why did they smile at her? Why did some people turn away as she came closer? Without turning her head Elthana noticed one pair of eyes following her more than the others. A woman in her middle years pretending to compare fruit while her gaze picked out Elthana in the crowd spread out over the small market-place. Another woman in her middle years walked up to stand beside her.
With the cloak hanging over and partly covering her face no one should be able to recognize her, but to be sure she walked around more houses than needed to reach her mother’s house. Stopping to wait at a few hiding spots, then changing to walk fast a few houses Elthana was after a while certain that no one was following her.
Without knocking on the door she ducked down and entered Ikana Heartbeat’s small abode underneath another house.
“Who enters?” a fierce voice half shouted and half whispered from behind the only wall dividing one big room into two halves.
“It’s me” Elthana said removing the fabric from her head as Ikana peered out from behind the wall.
“Elthana, my blood child. It truly is good to see you.” Ikana walked up and embraced her daughter hard and long. Elthana held her mother close, trying to soak in the love and warmth.
“Are you alright mother?” Elthana asked after a while, pushing Ikana back to take a look at her.
“I am fine child. It is you I am worried about. Last night did not feel just right. Why are dressed with weapons?” Ikana said worriedly spelling out every word as is custom from her village of the northern green hill.
“I’m fine as well, but all is not well. Mother, they’ve sent assassins.” Elthana whispered the last words, glancing around not trusting the walls to keep her words in, the wind was everywhere. Ikana gasped and sadness covered her eyes.
“I am sorry Elthana, I truly am.”
“Sorry mother? For what? Please sit.” Elthana suddenly didn’t trust Ikanas legs to hold her up, she looked near fainting. They both sat down at two barrels serving as both chairs and storage.
“It is all my fault. If I had not come here to search for you…”
“You are my Blood mother. I wish the wind would tell no other story than this one where you are in front of me right now” Elthana said fiercely clasping her mother’s hands. Where they sat facing each other Elthana felt like looking into a mirror of her future self. Ikana had the same facial features, high cheek bones, small lips, sharp eyebrows and of course the flowing red hair. The only big difference was their eyes. Ikana often said Elthana had her father’s eyes, sharp and observant. Always watching, always analysing. To Elthana the biggest difference between them was that her mother was soft, there wasn’t an ounce of warrior in her. Ikana was a born seamstress and proud of her profession. Elthana had never been a calm person. As a child she made enemies instead of friends when she started fighting instead of talking out problems. Being an assassin was in her blood her warder Elton had said a few times until Spring forbade him to talk such nonsense.
Ikana smiled sadly.
“I would wish no other story to be told by the wind either. If I did not find you, I would regret it until my deathbed. But if my selfishness puts you in danger…” Ikanas eyes changed. “When do you think the assassins will strike? We have to get out of here.”
“Mother, they came last night. I killed three of them, but one got away.” Elthana felt a stab in her heart as Ikana flinched and put her hands to her chest.
“You killed them?”
“Oh let the sun shine down on you and give you warmth.” Ikana looked near fainting again.
“Maybe only I should leave, you must think I’m as awful as the white masks.” Elthana stood and prepared to walk away, tears burning behind the eyes.
“No!” Ikana almost shouted, making Elthana jump for the third time this day. Her mother caught her hands and held them as she stood up.
“No my Blood child, in this world we do what we must do. Your father used to say ‘Death will fall upon those who deserve it. The one to deliver it only does what must be done.’ “ Ikana now smiled a sweeter smile as she remembered her lost husband. “Your father was also trained in the profession of assassination, he protected our village from several bands of raiders in his young days.” Ikana curved her mouth in a sad smile when she saw Elthanas surprised expression.
“I did not tell you this before because I did not want to encourage you to continue down this path.” Ikana smoothed her hand over Elthanas cheek meeting her eyes that widened in surprise. “But you are too much alike him, you have chosen your path and your father would have been proud. So proud Elthana. Even though I do not approve, I am also proud.” They were both close to tears and embraced again.
“I wish I could’ve met him” Elthana said in her mother’s hair.
“So do I.”
They separated and Elthana forced her tears to retreat.
“But you are here, and both of us need to very careful. The questioners are still here, and at least one white masked assassin. It should be a few days at least before reinforcement get here, but we need to be out of the village before they arrive.”