1 Chapter One: The Tavern

"Hey! Waitress! Ale for all!" A brute yells across the tavern, demanding more ale for all his friends. Yet again. I hurry over to his table, refilling the mugs there with ale.

"Talia! Get over to the northwest corner table and make that lad leave! He's been nothing but trouble for business!" The owner of the tavern called out, his deep baritone voice bouncing off the walls.

I was a mere tavern waitress, I live on my own and have never left this village. I knew every face in this tavern, but the lad at that one table wasn't from here. And he is wanted for several counts of murder.

I carefully walk towards the table the tavern owner had indicated and sat across from the young man. His black cloak gave off a dangerous feel to his whole demeanor, he had a sword strapped to his back, although it looked peculiar, and I could barely see his face. This young man was obviously an assassin, but not a beginner at what he does. He is a master at the art of killing, and most likely will kill me or anyone else if I don't get him out of this tavern.

"Excuse me, young man, but the owner of this fine establishment wishes you to leave. It would be great if you would leave right now so that there is less of a possibility of any deaths, for that would look bad for this tavern." I said, the cadence in my voice soft and sweet. I use my "charm" for situations like these, to help get unwanted customers to leave.

"I am deeply sorry, young maiden, but I have no wishes to leave. I have been waiting here for my previous employer to come and give me my payment for the previous job I have completed." He tells me, his voice unwavering.

"My boss won't be happy and will most likely pick a fight with you, which I'm sure you would win if that were to happen, but I wish it to not occur. So, if you please, leave now." I stand up, trying my best to be intimidating. I have never been one to have others back down to me, I am the submissive maiden that men wish to have in their beds at night and in their homes a day.

The assassin stands up, appearing to walk past me only to whisper in my ear: "Be careful of the men here, they all seem fishy," and then he walks past for real. How could he know if anyone here was dangerous or not? Sure, some of these people seemed to be dangerous, but that doesn't mean they are dangerous, and who is he to judge others?

The young assassin leaves the tavern and I serve the other guests what they ordered. Soups, ale, bread, and some kind of meat -- called mystery meat here -- is what most of the guests order, while some of them try to charm their way into things that only my future husband would get. The last time I thought about having a husband was when I lived with my family, which was a few years ago. You see, I have been living on my own in this village since I was 13 and everyone mocked me for that, but what they didn't know was how I made a living since that young age. I was hired at this very tavern a couple days after my family left my village for some "exotic vacation trip" and they never came back. I get letters every day from them, my sisters telling how much fun they are having in the new village they moved to, my mother and father wishing me good luck on finding a husband on my own, and I write back saying that I'm doing fine.

"Talia! Come out to the alley, I need to discuss something with you!" My boss yells to me. I reluctantly go out to the abandoned alleyway, where he talks to his waiters and waitresses.

"What is it, sir?" I asked, keeping my head low in respect to his superiority.

"Well, I have noticed you spacing out more while you work. That is a very bad habit to have at my tavern, lassy, and I will not have it happen again or I will be down by one waitress, and that is bad for business." He tells me, his voice stern and strict. This man is by far the scariest one I have ever met, but he is also the kindest one.

"Sir, I have been distracted by family matters. My parents are to come by this very tavern on their way to the Royal Palace, I do not wish to disappoint them. I won't let myself be distracted while I work, I assure you that I will do my best from here on." I reply, my voice slightly higher than usual and my tone as submissive as I can muster. I'm not naturally submissive, but in this kind of job, I have act like I am.

"Go home for the night, Talia, and do not be late tomorrow!" He yells the last part as he enters the tavern through the back door. I hear the many locks click, the sound of his footsteps retreating into the tavern. He actually left me alone out here, he's making me walk home in the middle of the night!

I leave the alleyway, it was so dark that I didn't know which street was which. As I walk along, I hear someone having a conversation. I continue walking, past whoever was talking, and I start to feel like I'm being watched so I pick up my pace.

"Maiden, halt in the name of the Queen!" Someone booms from behind me. I turn around, slowly walking backward, and see that the person who called out was a knight of the royal guard.

"Sir, I have not done anything wrong. I am returning to my home after a long day's work, so, if you would please excuse me, I must get going." I say, my tone steady. The knight walks up to me and pins me to the wall of a cottage, his grip hurting my shoulder and I could tell then that something wasn't right. This knight wasn't a knight, it was an assassin but not the one I met mere moments ago, it was Augustus Serien, the most feared assassin in all the nine kingdoms.

"Oh, so you know of who I am. I can tell by the horror in your eyes, youngling, that you do not know what to do when faced with such a man as me. Well, sweet dreams, prin--" He is cut short with the sound of an arrow being fired from a bow, I see him with blood coming out of his mouth and I know then that he's dead. I push Augustus away and start running up the street, I don't look behind me for I fear that a man much like Augustus was there as well. I also fear that I may die any moment now.

I feel someone grab my arm and I'm pulled into an alley much like the one at the tavern. I try to fend off the mystery man but I'm then shoved against another wall. I see the assassin from the tavern checking my arms, probably to see if I'm injured, and then I watch him unsheath a dagger. He hands it to me but my shaking hands refuse to grasp the handle, so it drops to the cobbled surface underneath our feet.

"You need to protect yourself, maiden, for it is highly unsafe at night to be walking home alone." He whispers, looking around. This assassin just saved my life and is giving me a weapon that I can use against him, which is against assassin protocol. I know this because I've read many books on the dangers of living alone in this village, which is called Firelight.

"Why are you not acting like an assassin?" I mutter my question, not expecting him to hear. He focuses his attention back on me, I look him straight in the eye. What I see there isn't what I expected, I saw light and sorrow in his hazel eyes.

"I am not an assassin tonight and I was sent here by an extremely high payer to protect you by any means." He says, grabbing my hand and pulling me back into the street.

He came with me to my small home and I fed him whatever I had in the cabinets and pantry. I offered him my bed to sleep in, but he kindly refused and curled up on my little sofa. I knew he wasn't asleep yet and I wanted to ask him his name and who sent him to protect me. I am not a very important young woman, I know this to be true, but I could wait until morning.

I walked into my bedroom, I undressed from my work dress and got my nightgown on. I despised dresses but I had to wear them because it was not acceptable for women and girls to wear what men and boys wore. It was one thing I wished could be allowed, so then I wouldn't have to hitch up the skirt of my dresses when I walked or ran. After I do some other things about my small bedroom, I plop down on my bed and fall asleep. All I saw all night long, or the rest of the night, was assassin after assassin trying to kill me.

I wake up the next morning to see the assassin from last night hovering over me, he seemed confused and worried about something. I motion for him to move and I sit up, the assassin then leaves my room and I hear a door slam shut. I still didn't know what the assassin's name was, not that I particularly cared much for that small bit of information, but it would be great to call him by something other than "the assassin" or "assassin". I walk swiftly into the main room of my home, only to hear someone talking from somewhere.

"Sir, Ms. Talia is still fast asleep in her bedchamber. She is not to be interrupted by anyone for any means, now, if you may, please leave." I heard someone say from the other side of the front door.

"You can't be serious, Jason! The Queen hired you to protect this young girl, you have so much time left on your hands! Take another job, it'll take until midday!" A deep voice answers the other.

"You must go before she realizes who I am talking to. Leave at once!" The first voice says, loud and clear.

I move away from the door and into the kitchen, I grab a piece of bread from the cabinet that wasn't touched last night. As I eat the bread, the front door opens and closes. I peer around the corner to see the assassin running his fingers through his short, light brownish hair. He then removes his cloak and I see he's wearing what seems like the uniform for a member of the royal guard, the shirt being dark blue and the pants being dark red. I feel my cheeks heat up as his eyes meet mine, I quickly go back into the kitchen. Was I just checking out an assassin? I am insane for thinking about nothing but him at this moment. The uniform seems to fit him perfectly like it was made just for him. What am I thinking?! He's a dangerous assassin who is protecting from who knows what!

"Do you like the view?" I hear a slightly husky voice whisper into my ear from behind, making me jump and almost hit him the face. He laughs, it's almost music to my ears. Gah! Stop thinking about him like that, Talia!

"What do you mean? I wasn't looking at you or anything." I scoff, but my cheeks heat up again. I hate myself at times like these.

"Don't lie, Talia. I know you were checking me out. To be honest, I hate this uniform!" He exclaimed, laughing a bit. He is such a weird assassin…

"Then why are you wearing it? You could just wear a shirt and pants as all the other males do." I tell him, trying not to reach out to him with my hand. "I could even help get you some comfortable clothes, I know a tailor nearby who owes me a favor, he could make you a set of clothes..."

"You are too sweet, princess, but I cannot make you do that for me. I'm the one who's protecting you, no need to repay me."

"On the contrary! You saved my life already, I don't know you're here to protect such a lady as myself, and I don't know your name!" I tell him, walking past and into my bedroom. I close the door behind me and take off the stupid nightgown that I hate so much. I slip on a dress that looks like it's made of rags but really it's the fabric it's made from.

"Maybe young maidens like yourself should keep your guards close by, right?" A voice says from my left, where my window is. I look over to find a man in a dark cloak, his hood up, holding a dagger or short sword. The cloaked man came in and tried to pin me down to the ground but luckily I had kicked him where it hurts most. I then ran out of my room to the kitchen. I run right into a dark blue mass. I look up to see the assassin looking down at me with worry and curiosity on his face.

"What's wrong? Why did you come running in here?" He asked, looking in the direction I came from.

"There is a guy in the bedroom with a dagger! He came in through the window and tried to pin me to the wall!" I tell him, quickly hiding behind his back. He walks towards my bedroom, me practically clinging to his back. Once we enter my bedchambers, there is only a message carved into the wall. The man, or assassin, was nowhere in sight and he left his dagger stabbed into the wall.

Why are they all coming after me? What the hell did I do to deserve to be the target of so many assassins? How did I get myself into this mess?

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