An Assassin's Flower Series Novella
Copyright 2013 Lionrod
All Rights Reserved
Cover Design by Quantumystic
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, trademarked products, events and locations are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
How I wish I could have protected you.
Table of Contents
Author's Notes and Acknowledgments
About the Author
More Books By Lionrhod
Dark Moon Gates Sneak Preview Chapter 1
DMG Chapter 2
DMG Chapter 3
DMG Chapter 4
DMG Chapter 5
An Assassin's Flower Series Novella
My weapons-instructor and I were about to exit the training arena when the elegant woman stepped from the shadows of the viewing stands.
"Ru'al Harani." Holding her veil so that it did not flap away from her face, the instructor bent in graceful obeisance, braid dragging in the sand, and I did likewise.
The High Assassin merely waved a manicured hand, sending the scent of ripened fruits and musk floating towards me. Amber sunlight flashed from gems in the carved bone skull-and-spider ring that weighted one slender finger.
I wiped my own hands on my tunic, leaving a grimy smear. The ever-present dust of the arena crusted my face, mixed with my sweat, making stiff streamers of my long black hair. Why did my mother always have this effect on me? Despite my nineteen turnings I felt like an awkward child. I tried to picture the High Assassin covered in the sweat and dirt of battle practice.
It was impossible. Surely even in the throes of combat the Ru'al Harani Illistanirda would be fresh as a field of dawnstar flowers, her silks still crisp and unsullied.
How long had she been watching? Had she seen me nearly disarmed of my weapon, or had I at least been spared that embarrassment?
Illistanirda looked a question at the instructor, who made a handsign, imperceptible if one did not know what to look for. I braced myself for the inevitable question.
"D'hara, your instructors tell me that you still have not accomplished the Change. Is this true? Are you certain nothing has happened which is...different? Something you have failed to tell us about?"
"No, revered mother. The signs I was to watch for have been absent. I have felt no nausea save when given that horrid medicine for the chill I caught last Dark season." I answered by rote. A trickle of sweat ran down my neck and beneath my collar, tracing a ticklish line to the small of my back. "Nor have I felt dizziness even when chasing pigeons with Talil on the high minaret."
"You know that heights are forbidden whilst you await the Change, daughter!" No mention that Talil, seven turnings old, should not have been there either. It irked me that they treated me more like a child than my younger brother. I drew a deep breath, refusing to shrink in the heat of the High Assassin's ire. "Revered mother, please. It has been six turnings now since my thirteenth birthwake. What if I should never Change? Will you forbid me forever? And should this Change come over me, how shall I know if you won't tell me what it is?"
"It is not discussed with the uninitiated. Trust you would know." She paced across the sands, lifting filmy skirts so they would not drag. When she again spoke, it was to the ghosts of her nenfaron, those infant males sacrificed for her birth. Straining to catch her words, I shivered. I never spoke to my own nenfaron, only half believed in their continued existence. Yet Illistanirda often seemed to be in communion with unseen presences and to receive information that even her vast network of spies could not have provided.
"I do not understand," she whispered. "All but one of the girl's nenfar were males--a strong sign. The name of the d'har is not lightly given. Could the priests of Shagul have read the entrails wrong?" She turned back to me, lifting my chin in long fingers. "You have your father's eyes."
"I--" I spread my hands. "I regret that I am a disappointment, revered mother."
The High Assassin leveled a measuring stare and turned away. As she passed the instructor, she made a handsign which I did not know.
We followed her from the arena. The field beyond was scattered with tents, all of indistinguishable black cloth. My instructor bowed to me and wended her way to her tent for her mid-waking meal. Only by its placement did she know which was hers, for the identities of both instructors and students were carefully shielded until the students Changed.
I alone did not have to hide who I was. As the Ru'al Harani's daughter, such subterfuges would be cumbersome.
As I watched, a litter borne by four slaves came through the gate at the far end of the field, its draperies expensive, but not ostentatious. I waited until they placed the litter on the ground before me. Stepping in, I drew the curtains tight and knelt among the cushions.
Aldrar pushed herself up, made clumsy by the awkward weight of the childwealth. She busied herself with an assortment of pots. Her dusky face was painted, as it had been for many hands of days, with the red ocher spiral sacred to Eltanii. The effect still startled me, but beyond the paint, her eyes lit with familiar warmth.
"Aldrar, look at you, you are huge. You overwork yourself," I scolded my nenfari.
"We have had this argument for some months now." My born-for slave chuckled, laying a platter of succulent meats in front of me. "Will you not name me victor? It was enough of a concession that I use this litter." She waved her hand at the draperies that curtained us. "The priestesses of Eltanii say that activity will strengthen me. Nor do I trust any other to prepare your food."
"Prepare it then, if you must," I said, "but have a slave bring it to me."
She uncovered a dish of fruit. "What slave have you that I may trust not to poison you?"
I flung up my hands. "Only you." A smile tugged my lips. By the laws of nenfar, when a noble child was about to be born, the priests of Shagul chose ten common women near term to give birth to slaves for the noble one. Nenfar were not common slaves, however. Their status was far above that of a soldier or free tradesman. They answered only to the nobility and no one but the Khalji might punish another's nenfar. Nenfar could not be given away, nor sold. Who can sell perfect loyalty? Aldrar and I had been chosen for each other by the gods, reared together. Closer than blood.
Aldrar poured a goblet of fruit nectar, sipped it, handed it to me. When she had first told me of the childwealth, I had implored her to stop tasting my food, but obeying me in most else, she would not in this. The gods had gifted me with but one nenfari, but they had gifted me well.
The rest, being nenfaron, males, had been sacrificed. Men were allowed to keep male and female nenfar. Males born-for women, however, were used in casting prophesy. Only in this way might the men--other than our fathers or husbands, of course--know which women were harani, assassin caste, and which were not. Even so, prophecy was not promise, as I well knew.
Those who were assassins was otherwise a secret the men would not gain from us. Thus it had been from the time the Men From Beyond the Mountains had conquered the haraniis through treachery and superior magic.
Aldrar wrapped a slice of goat around a date and passed it to me. "How passed your waking, D'hara?"
"We captured a spy in the Ru'al Harani's apartments," I said, biting into the meat,
"What did he say after torture?"
"Little enough. We assume he was sent by Sulios."
"So certain it was Sulios? The assassins have other enemies." She flexed uncomfortably, hand against the small of her back. "Perhaps a spy for the rebel-prince?"
"The rebels? I doubt they would be so brazen or so certain of immunity. But the spy had the pain-block discipline. Few do save we and some of the priesthoods. What other priesthood than Shagul's would intrigue against us?"
"This is Ifarsadh. Who in this city does not intrigue?" She shrugged. "He will confess eventually. Oh, I near forgot." She reached behind her, pulling out a bundle of cloth. She shook it out. The goat-silk billowed lightly, shimmering between gray and azure hues. "A gift from the young lord who spoke to you in the bazaar last waking." Her brow twitched. "He may ask the Khalji for you."
"Send it back."
"The slave who brought it said it was in honor of your birthwake."
"Which is more than a month away?"
She laughed. "There is no impropriety in accepting it, D'hara."
I reached out to stroke the delicate silk. It caught on callused fingertips. For a brief moment I allowed myself the memory of his eyes, dark and warm with approval, the strength of his arms as he helped me down from my cabris, the gentleness of his manner. What matter. I was hardly marriageable without...the Change.
Everything came back to that. "Oh, are not all husbands the same? I will obey his edicts, bear his children, remove his enemies--"
Aldrar paled. I fell silent. "All husbands are not the same," she whispered.
I looked away, knowing I had reminded her of the Khalji's guardsman who had fathered her babe. It was not common for a nenfari to take a lover, but I had allowed it. He had died during an assassination attempt on his lord and now rested in the halls of the death god, Argath. There were times when I was regretted allowing their liaison. Times when I was jealous that she might need any other person than myself.
Her hand came down on my shoulder, soft but firm. "The Ru'al Harani?" she said, intuiting the true cause of my foul mood. "Again? Will she never cease tormenting you?"
I shrugged, embarrassed by the unintentional cruelty of my words. Aldrar never even mentioned his name anymore.
"She was at your apartments earlier this waking."
"The Ru'al Harani."
"Near the Third Wind. Asking if I had noticed signs of the Change. She has not yet lost hope."
"Will she never--?" I controlled the torrent, turned angry words into a huff of breath through clenched teeth.
"She was exceedingly polite. She asked after the babe and my health. Many lesser nobles would find such pleasantries to a slave beneath them. Yet...she scares me, D'hara."
"I was saved from having to answer by the chiming of the bell which hung outside the litter. Though assassination was forbidden in the training areas, habit caused me to pluck up my staff and use that to draw the curtains. Caution was advisable always, lest bolt or dagger end my troubles early.
The woman outside the litter wore harani black, face veiled. By her height and frail build, this was the instructor most versed in poisons. I had no name for her, and would not until the Change.
"The fourth wife of the Lord Faru is in labor. You shall help me administer the d'har." A breeze caught her veil, threatening to lift it. She moved her hand to hold it in place, and the skull and spider ring which marked her as harani--silver, for only the High Assassin's ring was bone--glinted in the orange sunlight. I averted my eyes, hoping my anger, my envy, did not show.