“Why are you telling me this?”
It had been a busy day, running errands for her warders and her own at the same time. A lot of things needed to be prepared before they ran away, she and her blood mother. Elthana couldn’t help but feel a bit of joy to finally live solely with her real mother. Sure, they would be hunted and they needed to hide, but they would be together. At first light they would sneak into carts of the merchants or bribe their way into them. This was a small village, trying to leave unnoticed without hiding during the day or in the night, from who knows how many eyes keeping watch on them, would be almost impossible.
Almost everything was packed; a small bundle lying on her bed and a note under her pillow for her warders. They had to understand. She didn’t really dislike her warders, they’d taken good care of her, but she’d felt like a bad substitute for their blood child her whole life. She wished she could give them back their real child, but he or she would be grown by now, with a life of their own. Just like she planned on having. She and her blood mother would travel from village to village, stray out of sight and somehow make a living without being noticed.
She rested her back on the wall listening to the evening bustle outside, carts creaking, horses hooves on hard packed soil, people talking. She’d miss the sounds of her home, but perhaps it was the same in any village. Elthana had wanted to go back to her birth village, but her mother had advised against it. The Gathering would send people to look there. Besides, Ikana told her, it wasn’t a village but more like five houses in a small hill. But together with around five houses in every of the twelve close by hills it made a pretty big village, but very spread out.
Elthana closed her eyes and let her mind drift as the sound calmed her mind. A black haired man appeared, he had serious dark grey eyes that glistened in the sunlight, a trimmed black beard going up and around his mouth and touching his hair by the ears that made his features even sharper. He was her height and dressed as a merchant with bleached yellow colours. With the hood down she saw his finger long hair going every direction in the wind and his sun tanned face clearly.
She snapped her eyes open angrily, this unknown man had actually crashed into her, then held onto her as if she’d fall over from that little bump. She started pacing back and forth in her small room. It wasn’t the bump itself that bothered her it was two other things; one that she hadn’t noticed him until they crashed together and second that even though she’d never seen that face before he’d seemed very familiar. The voice. She hadn’t been able to place him until she saw him in the market later with the two middle aged women with stares that had bothered her earlier. The women had to be from The Gathering, which meant so was he. She must’ve heard him speaking in the market.
When she’d seen him with the women Elthana wanted nothing else but to run to her mother and run for their lives. Her blood mother needed her protection, at the same time she didn’t dare to go back straight away. What if someone followed? What if someone already had followed her? The black haired man had seen her coming out from the house, but Elthana was sure she’d closed the door before and Ikana would not let anyone in before they announced themselves. She was safe, she had to be.
The room grew darker as the sun set and Elthana lit three candles. She waited until her warders said good night and until the darkness was complete. The front door would surely be observed, maybe even the roof but it would be easier to escape assassins from the roof, or kill them, without anyone else noticing.
She opened the hatch and waited. No sound. She put on the last piece of her disguise and took her bundle before swinging herself up. The night was quiet and not a soul to be seen, even the moon and stars were covered with unusual clouds. When she turned around to pull up the hatchet she froze, the blood in her veins boiling and freezing at the same time. There he was, lazily sitting against the chimney looking ready to murder someone. The dark haired man from The Gathering was angry, very angry, but he didn’t move a muscle, arms still crossed over his chest.
“You waste no time do you? But looting? And are you going to leave the body down there to be found?” he said, dark eyebrows drawn down.
What was she supposed to do now? Her disguise worked better than she’d hoped for, but she couldn’t answer him he would recognize her voice. Slowly she pulled up the hatchet and secured it.
“Well, speak up youngling. What team do you belong to? Where are the others?” He narrowed his grey eyes, studying everything about her and especially her white mask. She’d run around all day trying to find the right things to copy the mask of the white masked assassins. No one really knew how the masked looked like except that they were white. No one had lived long enough to examine them, but she had, and she’d copied it real good. But perhaps not good enough to stand for a close scrutinizing.
She would have to fight him.
“You…” he said and looked like he was trying to solve a problem and almost got it. Elthana released her bundle and grabbed her curved knives in one swift movement and almost launched at him. She was stopped by the sight of his outstretched, not armed, arm.
“No, wait Elthana” he said hastily. “Wait.” His gaze seemed to penetrate the mask into her eyes and she wanted to cut his eyes out for that. He lowered his voice significantly.
“I’m not here to kill you, I’m here to warn you” he said still with right arm outstretched and the other he held out into the air by his side. When he seemed sure she wouldn’t attack him he continued.
“They’ve sent more assassins, I don’t know this team but I fear they are the kind to go for the weaker kill first to unsettle the stronger one. I haven’t seen any of them around your house yet, which means you’re blood mother is in danger.” As the words blood mother came out of his mouth she leaped forward and put her daggers at a cross at his throat.
“You do not talk about my mother” she spat at him, he had no right, no right to talk about her. Instead of looking frightened by the sharp blades at his throat he gave her a small smile, that sunless pile of shit.
“The mask is really well made, almost exactly like the white masks wear. Though, you forgot to add the thin black lines at the edges and the clothes you wear are very unconventional for a white mask.”
Elthana wanted to take of the mask and push it down his throat.
“Why are you telling me this?” she demanded.
“I’m tired of people getting killed for no good reason.” He shrugged, as if that was an good enough answer. She tightened her daggers at his throat and leaned forward.
“Then why don’t you tell them to stop? Why don’t you just kill them?”
“If I told them to stop I would be the one to be killed.”
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you instead right now?” she said through gritted teeth, she had no time to chat with this man, she needed to protect her mother.
“I’ll give you two” he said, all serious again. Elthana felt something sharp piercing through fabric and leather to her skin over her heart. “If you cut with your daggers, this goes in as sure as I die. Second, I don’t think you want to kill me.”
She was almost willing to have the thin needle in her heart just to slit his throat for saying that.
“You have no idea what I want to do” she whispered.
“Truth. And you do not trust my intentions” he said matter of factly.
“Truth” she said sardonically and he smiled.
“But I do believe that you want to save your mother” he said all serious, again, and she could feel the small needle disappear from her chest.
“I don’t trust you.”
“Then stay” he said gently pushing away her daggers. He didn’t let go of her gaze, even though he couldn’t see it through the mask.
Elthana rose to her feet, but didn’t put away her daggers. After a short moment of disbelieving stares she started to walk away on the roof, her mind set to protect her mother. Before she could jump of the roof the man’s words stopped her again.
She turned her head to look at him as he stood up.
“If you encounter the white masks to fight you should take of your mask or you’d be at a disadvantage. They can see through their masks.”
“So can I” she said and lowered her brows, though not that anyone could see.
“No, they have a special material that renders the mask transparent.”
Why did he tell her this? What was his end game? Why he had changed his mind about killing her this time she did not know, and right now she didn’t care. She had to protect her mother, nothing else mattered.
Without saying anything more Elthana started to run on the roof and took a big leap to another house close by. She continued to run and jump from house to house, confident in her silent feet not to wake up the people sleeping under her.