King of Blades – Chapter 6 “Assassins”
Over the next several days, Coulta met privately with all twenty of his spies currently in Ryal, with Teeya present to help fit the new fighting gear to each man or woman’s specific proportions. The masks that went with the uniforms were made of a dark, breathable fabric that would allow each spy to breathe while being unidentifiable by any of the others. The rest of the uniform was made up of long leather pants, long-sleeved leather shirts, gloves, and hood to cover the hair that was attached in such a way that it would allow all manner of head movements and not fall back. Only each person’s eyes were left uncovered.
Coulta was impressed, though he had known Teeya was skilled enough to design something that would be effective. The impressive part was how quickly she managed it.
When all of his spies had uniforms that were fit to them, Coulta asked them to meet him in the Great Hall to be formally trained in combat. Shelton took time away from meeting with other sorcerers to observe the first training session, as well.
The twenty men and women were undefinable in their identical uniforms, silent and mostly androgynous. They all bowed to Coulta and Shelton, which both royal men acknowledged.
“You will be learning how to fight,” Coulta began, “because the jobs you take for your country put you in danger. You all know that we lost one man recently, and many of you have faced injury and risked death doing your duties. Some of you may know basic combat skills already, but I want to be certain that I do what I can to ensure that you have a chance to make it home from missions assigned to you. That is my duty, as the one who puts you into danger and asks you to risk your lives. I will do all that I can to train you in the use of your body, concealable daggers, and everyday objects you may be forced to resort to, as weapons.”
One of the taller spies took a small step forward, head bowed. “Your Majesty, will we use magic?” he asked – the voice was definitely masculine.
Coulta glanced at Shelton in surprise. He hadn’t worked with this spy very much, clearly, because he hadn’t realized any of his spies had magic.
“Are you a trained mage?” Shelton asked the man.
“Yes, Your Highness. I was finishing my schooling when I first joined the royal spies. It was my master’s idea. He taught me much combat magic, and concealing magic for my work for the crown.”
Shelton was nodding. “Yes, I remember you. If you would like to join the mages I am working with, you are welcome to do so. Or you may stay with the spies. The choice is yours.”
After a moment the man looked up. “I think I would like to be a mage. I’ve been a spy for quite a while.”
The Former Second King motioned to the door of the Hall. “Come, I’ll tell you what we’re doing.”
As the man followed Shelton, he paused by Coulta and bowed. “I’m sorry to leave you, Your Majesty.”
Coulta gave him a smile to reassure him. “It’s all right. You’ve served well, and you will continue to serve well with the mages.”
The man bowed again. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
When Coulta began the training session with the remaining nineteen spies, it became very apparent which ones had learned fighting skills elsewhere. Coulta began with simple hand-to-hand, weaponless combat strategies that could be use defensively or offensively, depending on the situation. A few of his students needed a lot of practice, but others he was quite satisfied with – including the petite woman who managed to completely flip one of the largest of the men down onto his back. Everyone else in the room, Coulta included, stopped and stared in complete shock and awe. Though the man seemed all right when he got to his feet after a few dazed minutes on the floor, Coulta sent him to the healers to be safe and ended the session.
The woman tried to apologize to Coulta afterward, but he just waved her off. “I have a feeling it was a learning experience for everyone,” he told her.
This was definitely going to be a challenge.
Anil was improving, according to Myri, and was soon to be off bed rest. Myri was apparently confident that the risk of miscarriage had decreased enough for her to go back to work in the royal stables – making sure that the operation was being properly run and giving her suggestions on breeding pairs and training methods to the master breeder and trainer, not actually working with the horses themselves. Anil seemed resigned to the fact that her contact with the animals was going to be limited to rubbing faces and looking into stalls and arenas with a barrier in front of her and someone by her side at all times for the next few months, though it wasn’t at all what she wanted.
So, Coulta was somewhat surprised when a young man entered his office one afternoon while Coulta was trying to decide where to take his spies’ training now that more than a week had passed. They had been practicing daily, and Coulta felt that they were ready to move on, but to what he couldn’t decide. The visitor bowed to Coulta just inside the door, clearing his throat.
Coulta finally looked up at the noise and asked, “Yes?”
“Forgive me, Your Majesty,” the man said, still bowed. “You must not have heard my knock, so I checked to see if you were here. I’ve been sent by Queen Myri to attend to Queen Anil.”
For a woman about to be off bed rest, she certainly had a number of attendants. But Coulta knew better than to question Myri’s actions. He told the man where Anil’s room was and went back to his notes on the spy training.
Shelton entered the office only moments later, disrupting his thoughts again. “I’ve never seen you leave a door open,” he commented, shutting the office door.
Coulta was confused for a moment, glancing up from his notes. “Oh, that was Anil’s new attendant. He didn’t close it, I guess.”
There was a look on Shelton’s face that filled Coulta with sudden fear. “Coulta, I approve all of the personal servants to this wing of the castle. Anil has no new attendants, and none of the ones she has are men.”
Coulta stood up so fast that his chair toppled, realizing, “The bastard never knocked!”
If Shelton understood this strange outburst or not, Coulta didn’t find out. He was running to Anil’s room before he even realized he was, bursting into his bedchamber, through it to Wildas’, and slamming into Anil’s door with enough physical and magical force that it flew open and ripped almost completely off its hinges.
The man was crouched over Anil, one hand clamped over her mouth, the other holding a jagged dagger. Coulta could see the terror in his wife’s eyes as the man turned to look at him. Without pausing, Coulta grabbed the man by the back of his plain brown tunic and threw him against the wall. The attack sent the dagger flying from the man’s hand and onto the floor all the way across the room. Coulta pressed the assassin against the wall with enough force to make him cry out.
“Who sent you?” Coulta demanded, practically snarling. When the man didn’t answer, just stared defiantly at him, Coulta pulled him a few inches from the wall and slammed him back against it. “Who – do – you – work – for?” he growled.
“Coulta!” Shelton’s voice commanded from the doorway. “If you’re going to torture him, save it for the dungeon, not a queen’s bedchamber.”
Coulta had to admit that his mentor had a point. He could hear Anil sobbing behind him. “Will you get me some Guardsmen to arrest this bastard?” he asked Shelton, not taking his eyes of the wincing assassin.
Shelton walked up to them and firmly forced Coulta back with a commanding hand on Coulta’s shoulder. The assassin hardly had time to smile victory at Coulta releasing him before Shelton slapped him so hard that he spun to the ground, a faint purple hand print slowly fading from his cheek.
“Gladly,” Shelton declared, turning to leave the room at a pace that could only be described as a march, and that made him look oddly terrifying in his swishing purple sorcerer’s robes. A sorcerer on a mission was not a person to get in the way of.
With the assassin magically unconscious thanks to said sorcerer, Coulta turned his attention to Anil. His heart ached with the fear he had seen in her eyes, and the tears she was crying. He climbed onto the bed with her and pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly. She clutched at him, weeping against his chest.
“I thought I was going to die,” she sobbed.
Coulta hugged her tighter, deeply disturbed by how close he’d come to losing her, not to mention their child. “He should never have gotten in here,” he admitted. “I never should have believed him. I’m so sorry, Anil.”
“You saved me.”
But only after he’d put her in grave danger. He wasn’t about to argue, though. Instead he simply did his best to soothe her and ease her shock. He held her, kissed her hair, and rubbed her back, not speaking because he never knew what to say to comfort anyone who was suffering. Finally, Shelton returned, with two Guardsmen and Myri. The Guardsmen and Shelton took the still-unconscious man away, while Myri fell to comforting her wife. Coulta remained on the bed, but handed Anil over to the healer.
“Coulta, will you make her some tea?” Myri asked, reaching out with one hand to grasp his.
He nodded and got off the bed to heat the water at the small hearth. Myri gave him directions and he followed them while trying to ignore his wet shirt. When the tea was ready, he handed it to Myri and sat down on a plush chair by the bed, rubbing his face.
He was appalled that he had let the man into their rooms, that he had believed that Myri had sent him and that he’d directed him right to Anil. He should have realized that the man hadn’t knocked, and that Anil had never had a male attendant. Every healer that Myri had sent to look after her had been a woman. Why hadn’t any of this occurred to him?
Wildas arrived a short time later, looking like he had expected a worse situation than the one he found. He immediately sat down on the bed and pulled Anil into his arms, and Coulta could see him shaking. It was too much for Coulta. Overwhelmed with guilt for having let the man get so close to Anil, he left the room.
Now in Wildas’ chamber, he leaned back against the wall and slid to the floor, burying his face in his hands. He didn’t cry, but he felt close to it as the guilt practically overwhelmed him.
A hand on his shoulder a moment later made him look up. Wildas was next to him on the floor, and Coulta let him be pulled into his husband’s arms.
“Anil said you were blaming yourself,” Wildas said quietly. “I wanted to make sure you’re all right.”
“I let him in,” Coulta said, his voice strained. “I told him how to get to Anil’s room. I almost killed her. I almost killed the baby.”
Wildas held him tighter. “Don’t think about that. Think about the fact that you saved them.”
“Only because of Shelton.”
“So?” the Grand King demanded. “You still prevented murder – assassination. That’s two of us that you’ve saved now,” he added.
Only Wildas could make Coulta feel almost happy in such a situation. “Oh please, don’t let me have to save Myri next,” he half-joked. “I don’t want there to be any more assassination attempts on my family.”
Wildas sighed heavily and leaned his head against the wall. “Neither do I.”
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