Night in the in the Torrif capital of Hala-Sen was just enchanting this time of the year. The moon hung low in the sky, full and breath-taking; the cool trade winds blew gently off the gulf. The city seen from the air was as quaint, as the evening was delightful. The buildings in this part of the world were mostly single story with the occasional second level landing. The houses were built around a central courtyard, the visitor or family member could enter through a wide weeping arch way, after climbing a few stairs. The actual buildings were built above the ground to facilitate cooling. The central courtyard was more garden that living space. A patio spread out around a central fountain, marble bench and table were spaced tastefully about the shrubbery. Discreet paths lead to either the main building were the dining room and areas used for entertaining. The right path lead to family living quarters, and the left path found servant’s quarters, kitchen and all manner of storage. The whole layout was usually surrounded by an ornamented ten foot wall with double gates, made of black iron bars, again artistically designed with numerous scrolls work. The stables and carriage sheds were behind the servant quarters, while behind the family living unit, were self contain guest quarters.
Most citizens in the small coastal kingdom were as well off as some aristocrats in other lands. The poor or homeless were practically nonexistent. Most of the population in Torrif made their living either in the desert, farming, or the sea. Many served in the highly trained army. Torrif scientist and inventors found a ready market for their wares and services to both the masses and nobles. As a result the street lamps were oil lit, and the roads paved. A coach that rode the two rails throughout the city, pulled by four horses, transported the citizen through out the city.
The marvels of the kingdom were freely employed in the royal palace, the seat of the Torrif government sat high on the central hill, and the view was magnificent. Tonight of all nights, it was all the more beautiful to the man in bare feet, wearing his red trousers, the gold strip down the outside, his white shirt was un-tucked, the ruffled cuffs were rolled back. He carried his boot in one hand, and a crystal wine goblet in the other. The handsome face looked out over the harbor from his veranda on the second story. The coal black hair, long and loose about this shoulders ruffled gently in the evening breeze. His strong commanding face highlighted his dark deep set eyes, as they moved restlessly searching the darkened city. He dropped his boots and sank into a whicker, wide back chair, his dark face bursting into a smile, shortly … he grinned just thinking of the coming ‘adventure’. He heard the rattle of the door knob in his chamber and stood in eager expectancy. The oil lamps fastened to the walls were turned down low, and when the woman stepped through she seemed as mysterious as ever. King Albert sat his goblet on the polished mahogany table and stepped through the double French door. The thick carpet ticked his feet and he grinned in anticipation of … well the woman. She wore a white dressing gown that barely covered her nakedness, her light brown body was partly hidden by the dressing gown, and her long raven hair piled high on her head as was customary. She moved slowly toward Albert, every step designed to build the man’s suspense and anticipation. Mara was no stranger here, she came often to this bed chambers, and she knew that Annabel, the queen, slept in another chamber. It had been thus for years. The queen didn’t like the man, any more than Mara loved him. Annabel actually took her own lovers, originally to spite him, now it was more for the need of company. But tonight Albert and Mara gave no though to the estranged queen. Already the king moved toward the bed, slowly unbuttoning his shirt. She reached up to kiss him, standing on the tiptoes of her delicate bare feet. Then suddenly she stiffened; a small gasped escaped her ruby lips, and her dusky eyes widened in painfully surprise. Albert looked up startled as she collapsed, and fell into him. He caught her, holding her in an awkwardly manner as he looked at the arrow that had materialized in her breast, making any close contact impossible. Albert stared stupidly as she slowly slid to the carpet, the blood pumping from the wound in her chest, staining his white shirt. He recovered from the shock quickly, and straightened yelling for the guards, then he choked on his words, and the suddenly pain in his back made him turn sluggishly, his arm clumsily reaching for the arrow that took him between the shoulders. As he slipped to the carpet beside his lover, he could see men, dressed in black tunics, breeches and soft boots, their faces covers by a black mask, swarming into his chambers. When the two guards opened the double doors, they both died as two of the invaders loosened an arrow each, both palace guards died in quick secession, the metal barbed head taking both men just above the iron cuirasses. As they tumbled to the floor, one man lost his and brass helmet with it distinctive red plume. Fortunately for the palace, and unfortunately for the attackers, the man died with a stifled gasp, while not loud, the other guards on the landing heard.
“Unit One, right, Unit Two, left, we will hold the escape route. You have two minutes,” their leader hissed.
The intruders well trained and thoroughly briefed in the palace’s layout spread out in two directions. The leaders looked to his men; his eye’s raised in puzzlement above the black mask. It seemed to be taking the guards a long time to get organized.
The sad truth was, they were taking a long time to get their wits about them, one officer gave them one set of orders and another countermand them and a third, well no one was sure what he was raving about. But the two minutes it took to get organized, was disastrous.
Unit One, ran through the king’s bed chamber and climbed out on the small ledge and dropped to the ground, already they could hear the sound of the alarm spreading out here as the guards on the grounds had been discovered. Naturally they did what any good patriotic soldier would do; they went bravely to protect their monarch. The five men dodged the ensuing chaos and headed to the building set a short distance from the palace, here Countess Valla Stewart, third wife of the king was confined. Unfortunately, her fit of madness and depression couldn’t be cured by the court physician so, the king like any caring husband had her consigned here, to be looked after while he quickly divorce the lunatic, wed his former lover, now current sleeping in her own estrange bedroom. However, Valla was a smart woman; she didn’t kick and scream, even when Albert was screwing Amabella. So, she waited, her father, the sheik of the Sand People wouldn’t let her rot too long before he brought his hordes to rescuer her, for the last seventeen years she had clung to that delusion. Truth be known, the sheik had been told she was dead. Everyone wept dutiful over her grave at the desert oasis, it had been a beautiful and moving service. What little remained of her sanity gradually slipped away over the passing time.
Now, Unit One closed quickly on the small compound. Here the guards, alerted by the noise, formed up under a rather efficient officer, he took his men at the double heading for the palace, having left a token four men behind. The gallant captain had been the one who had been looking after the countess for five years now, and the king had only come to see her once in all that time.
The king had been heard to say, “Why can’t you die like a normal crazy woman.”
However, it was considered bad luck to kill anyone who was touched, but the captain figured his men were needed elsewhere, and if a crazy woman died, or wandered off in the night, no one would care.
The men guarding the countess were quickly dispatched, there passing left not a whisper, and even if there had been, there was one to hear. The intruders burst in the small manor, the few servants were swiftly cut down, either as they gathered sleepily to see what was happening, or those still working, seeing the approaching evil, fled screaming.
Countess Valla was stilling on her bed, a young woman sitting with her. The ‘mad’ woman was calmly combing out the girls hair. The sixteen year old clutched her pale blue night robe about her, screeching about her modesty.
“Quiet Kathleen, honey.” Valla voice was controlled, her calm assured and poised, even if it seemed a little strained.
She looked at the men gathered around her; saw the gruesome weapons, some of them dripping on the thick carpet. The men in the room couldn’t help see the tick at the corner of her eye, her hands busy in her lap, grasping at tiny bits of fabric she had found on her frayed sleeve.
“I’m truly sorry, Countess,” the leader spoke softly.
Valla recognized the voice, for a brief seconds clarity passed before her eyes. “Promise me, that it will be quick, and there will be no rape.”
Kathleen screeched, “What … are … you … talking …about, mother!”
She looked desperately at her maternal parent, but the glazed, slack eyed look was back. Kathleen glared at the intruders, her dark eyes blazing, the reddish brown hair wild about her dusty skin.
“Come honey, sit and let me finish your hair,” Valla said vaguely, now even her poise and dignity had fled…again.
“It will be as you ask,” the man said sadly.
Kathleen backed from the bed. “You … can’t … be ….serious, mother, tell them that there is some kind of mistake.”
“The only mistake is that you came to get you hair done tonight,” a second intruder said.
The assassin moved foreword, and Kathleen stepped forward and with the flat of her hand, hit him hard in the nose. The man dropped, blood gushing from his broken nose, and the young woman seeing her chance, vaulted over the man lying on the floor squirming in pain. The leader watched the girl run, strangely not making any attempt to stop her. He nodded, briefly as, with no thought to her dignity or modesty, she literally dived through the open window. He turned his gazed back to the bewildered countess; Valla looked at him in disbelief.
“Now, why do you think she did that?”
The leader, drawing his sharp knife, looked at her as he slowly moved forward. “I don’t know for sure, countess, maybe she forgot something.”
The guards had rallied and valiantly fought their way to the king’s chambers, unaware that they were an eternity to late. The attackers from the main group were hard pressed to hold the position. Three guards were down, as were two of the black garbed intruders. The leaders in the back slowly counting, had only reached 68, they had to hold on for a little longer. Below, they could hear the thumping of boots on the polished tiled mosaic floor.
Unit Two was moving swiftly along the second floor landing. They could hear the sounds of desperate combat coming from the landing behind them. Their first target was two doors down the hall. They didn’t have time for niceties, they simply bowled the door, and in a flurry of steel, the old nanny died even before she had a chance for her aging mind to accept she was under threat. Two youngsters, eight, and thirteen were sound asleep. Even as they finished with the gristly work, they were moving to the next room.
As they burst the next door asunder, the young man, obviously hearing the sounds of his brother and sister’s grisly demise in the next room, was already climbing out of bed. As the first attacker lunged for him, he grabbed up the thin blade from the scabbard leaning on the chair next to his bed. The dark hair, still sleep tousled, the thin, carefully cultivated mustache made him look
incredible young, and the few dark hairs scattered about his light brown bare chest only reinforced his age. The handsome youth, no more than sixteen bravely faced his attackers, and just as bravely died, his defense beaten down by a quick savage thrust, even as the youth had drawn up in the classic en garde position. His startled eyes looked accusingly, gaping at his assailant, unable to accept that his killer hadn’t fought fair.
They were running out of time, and still three rooms. The intruders ran from the room even as Prince Alando slid to the floor.
The subsequently chamber was empty; it didn’t look as if the occupant had fled, so the attackers didn’t even slow. They thundered to the next room, bypassing it entirely, they knew that Prince Jerro, Albert’s eldest son, and heir to the throne, was with the army in Moro-Sen. Their thumping down the hall with their soft leather boots, sounded as loud as their pounding hearts and the harsh breathing. The raiders stopped at the last room on their list. The door here was more solid as benefiting royalty; however in this case the two guards drew their weapons as the intruders charged down. The palace guards superbly train, utterly fearless in the defense of their queen, put up a valiant resistance. In the end they succumb to the pressure of numbers, but four attackers lay on the floor, no long worried about going home. Three more either lay whimpering on the wooden flooring, or leaned tiredly against the walls, suddenly needing the support to help keep them up right. One of the raiders mysteriously produced a set of keys and they swiftly left themselves inside. Queen Anabella laid draped across her bed in a drug induced slumber. The woman used to be a real beauty, obliviously the reason behind the king’s initial interest. However, seeing the woman lying on the burgundy bed covering, her pink nightdress, askew, barley covering her nakedness, they could see that time and politics had taken its toll. Her body, once lovely in her youth, had now succumbing to gravity, a good portion of her anatomy changed. Marrying late, in her late twenties, then three children, a ‘passionate’ husband and advancing years had not been kind to Annabelle. Her dark red hair fanned out in a tangled mess, her heavy makeup smeared, looking as if water had been dribbled across her face. Her exposed skin deeply tanned, the more intimate area of her body, still milky white, marking her as coming from one of the cooler climates, maybe Jasper or across the sea, possibly one of the city states. She used to worry about herself, but when the king began seeing the new tart, she had taken lovers in spite, then after two beheadings, the king exerting his will, making her life untenable, her will slowly began to erode. Now the laudanum and the wine bottle, the crystal goblet on her bedside table, had taken its toll.
“This will be nice,” one raider growled as he began to undo his breeches.
“No, our orders are not to touch her. It is to be quick and clean.”
The would be rapist hesitated, lingered on the exposed flesh, still tantalizing to someone not so choosey. He looked into he cold eyes of the leader, sighed and let his arms drop. The leader drew his hunting knife and advanced on the comatose queen.