Three different outfits, a compact bow hidden in an alcove, and a single arrow tucked into the seam of my tights. There’s been weeks of planning in order to get to where I am tonight. I can last a few more minutes.
Sweat drips down the back of my neck. There’s leaves in my braid. My shoulders tremble from the weight of the taut string in my hands.
I have one shot.
It’s meant for the lord of the castle.
Women in pastel dresses twirl along the floor. He’s been out there dancing for over an hour. A servant took his suit jacket a few minutes ago. In only a white shirt and tie, the blood will be quite prominent when I let go of my arrow.
When… If… I still can’t believe I’m up here.
It started as a passing joke. The lord himself put the money up. Should anyone be capable of stealing his heart, they would be given a bounty.
Over a hundred men have attempted this particular job. Some were brutes who crashed through the front door and were shot down before they could make it to the Lord’s chambers. Others were sneaky. They crept along the outside of the castle, pulled themselves up to the highest windows, and snuck in during the earliest hours of the morning only to be caught in traps and sent scurrying back to their hovels with tales of horror to recount to any who would hear. One person tried to lace the Lord’s food and accidentally killed a passing serving girl instead. He was sentenced to death by the same poison.
Every entrance to this castle has been monitored since then. The windows are rigged with bells and spikes to deter assassins. The lord doubled his prize, tempting anyone else to try their hand at his death while also testing out his security.
Of course, no woman has attempted before me.
The men posted at the doors hardly glanced my way. No one saw me change out of the maid’s outfit into that of the kitchen staff. None still caught me pulling off the apron to stand in this tight suit at the balcony. I climbed the rails, pulled myself up towards the ceiling, and made my camp above the ballroom while all of the table settings were still being placed for the guests.
And then I waited.
I’ll continue to wait, my muscles straining and breath barely gracing my lips. This has to be perfect. I can’t hit anyone else. I must strike him in the heart.
I’m going to be the lady of this castle. I’ll never eat out of the garbage again or have to slink through the alleys behind the bar to collect the change dropped by drunken customers. I will have his riches and his home and the freedom I’ve chased since I was old enough to realize that being born a woman was a prison I couldn’t escape.
A servant rings a bell, quieting the band. The women in their pastel dresses do a final twirl and then leave the dancing area. Together with their assorted chaperones, they cling to the edges of the room, looking towards the center for whatever is planned to happen next.
This is it. He’s alone. There’s nothing between us. I have my arrow aligned with his heart.
That prize is going to be mine.
My new life is one breath away.
Before I can release the arrow, he looks right at me and winks.
No. No, no, no. I can’t get my fingers to let go now that his eyes are on mine. This isn’t how this is supposed to go.
I can’t breathe. Can’t swallow. Can’t think.
Why has it never been mentioned before that Lord Durinhan has green eyes?
“Esteemed guests,” he calls out to the gathered crowd, that penetrating gaze never wavering from mine. “I’d like to introduce you to the lady of the night.”
Me. No. How could he have known?
When I don’t move, he clears his throat. “You may come down now.”
This is a trap. It has to be. I’ve heard the rumors of people punished for attempting to take the Lord’s life. Leaving the safety of the eaves could be my last voluntary action on this earth.
I don’t know what to do. I could still let the arrow go. The prize would be mine.
Or he would move. The arrow would pierce his shoulder. He would live and have me executed for this attempt on his life.
“We’re waiting,” he calls from the lower level, his deep voice stern.
I could make a run for it. They can see me, but I’m quick. No one knows who I am. I’ll retrace my steps, jump down onto the balcony and find a window to leap through and not stop running until I’m back…
At the bar. Where I rent a room that takes most of my pay. A place where assault and violence and mishap live hand and hand with strife and despair and the loss of innocence.
“Miss, you can come down or my men will bring you down. Your choice.”
I don’t really have much of a choice, do I?
I’m not going back to the bar. This was my chance to get a new life. Taking a deep breath, I let the string loosen and pull the arrow away.
“How would you suggest I join you?” My voice is trembling, containing none of the power his does.
There’s a mischievous gleam in his expression as he lets his lips pull into a grin. “Since you’re so far up, I could catch you.”
He’s asking me to fall for him. Ridiculous. Disgusting. Lame.
“You could drop your weapon first,” he offers as I try to figure out how to slink off of the wooden beam.
Never. Not an option. Looping the bow string around my left shoulder, I hang onto the shaft of the arrow in my right hand and then swing my legs over the side. It’s a far drop. My shoulders tremble from my weight as I lower myself down and dangle from the beam.
If he doesn’t catch me…
There’s no time to think about it. My palms are slick with sweat. My shoulders scream from the exertion of waiting with my bow for so long only to be forced down in this show of authority. I can’t hold myself.
I’m grabbing the beam and then there’s nothing between me and the floor. Air whooshes by my face as I fall. A gasp rings through the room. There’s no time to cover my face or catch my breath and ready myself for the impact.
Lord Durinhan keeps his promise. He snatches me away from the air’s greedy fingers. Letting out an oof, he crashes onto the ground with me on top.
Guests run from the corners of the room to help us up, but I’m already moving. On my feet, I brandish the sharp end of my arrow like a knife, daring them to come closer. These rich, spoiled people with their thick makeup and frilly clothes let out exasperated cries, stumbling over each other to get away from me. I’m too busy focusing on them to realize that Lord Durinhan has gotten to his feet.
He clamps heavy hands onto my shoulders and lets out a chuckle, speaking over my head to the gathered people. “What an entrance! I believe this will be a story for all to tell for years to come!”
While they titter at his words, he leans down to me, the stubble on his chin grazing my ear. “Come quietly. We can talk in my office.”
“Why not just make an example of me out here?” I snarl back.
He tightens his grip on me. “You’re the closest to winning. Don’t you at least want to discuss a portion of the prize?”
Yes. Of course. This can’t be real.
“But, I didn’t take your heart.”
A shiver shakes my spine as he lets out a low laugh. “You still have time, Miss.”
Happy short story Saturday, readers!
This one was such a fun dialogue prompt to start with. Just two characters. One with a bow and arrow, the other knowing their life was on the line and smiling up at them. I read it on Pinterest and immediately had a spark for the woman who would climb into the rafters and try to win her freedom with violence.
I hope I’ve left you wanting more. Tension and a spark for a story that could be developed into a bigger novel is my specialty here. It’s fun to take breaks from my regular projects to do these little scenes and even more fun to get feedback from all of you!
Let me know in the comments below if you enjoyed this story!
See you next time 🙂