Friday, 4 December 2015

Do you have something you want to tell me, little girl?

In one sentence is the spark of a story. Ignite.

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“Do you have something you want to tell me, little girl?” The young crown prince strode through the room stripping off his leather gloves as he walked. The child had ducked under the legs of his guards and now stood in his path breathing heavily and glaring at him as if looks could kill, or she hoped they could.
He stopped to look down at her and made an abrupt gesture to stop his guard from touching her. He waited for her to get her breath back and answer his question.
“I am going to kill you,” she hissed at him.
“Ah,” he said. He tucked the gloves in his belt, crouched down to her level and looked into her face. She looked nervous but intense. “Okay,” he agreed. “I need to know your name, though.”
“To make sure that no one else kills me in the meantime. It might take you some time to grow big enough to hurt me. Say, ten or fifteen years.” She did not look more than seven or eight years old. He was maybe eighteen.
A frown creased her brow.
“You wouldn’t want to waste your chance,” he pointed out reasonably.
She thought about that and then gave a serious nod. “Amira Ulhas.”
“Ulhas,” he repeated as if it was familiar. “We need to swear it.”
He spat on his bare palm and held it out to her. She solemnly did the same.
“I will stay alive for you, Amira Ulhas.”
“I promise to kill you when I’m ready, Prince Jago.”
They shook hands and one of the more sensitive guards rubbed down his arm as goose bumps prickled his skin.
The prince released her hand, but didn’t stand. She backed away; glaring at him the whole time until she turned and darted off into the shadows.
One of the guards stepped in her direction.
“Let her go. And leave her unharmed.”
The guard glanced at him. “But my Lord, why?”
The sensitive one answered, “Didn’t you feel that? They made a deal.”
“Indeed. And it would be wrong of me to break it.” He rubbed his hand down the leg of his trousers and looked pensive. “Find out how she got this close to the door of my apartments.” They hurried off to do his bidding.
He stood for a moment still rubbing his palm with his fingers. “Such pretty eyes,” he murmured.
It seemed that Prince Jago was unable to be killed. Dozens had tried and dozens had failed. Over the years, combatants had seen him bleed but every time one was poised to deliver the death strike, he evaded it in a freakish manner, or he healed from mortal blows.
There was a whispered rumour about some kind of magic deal he had made; sold his death to a demon, it was said.
He stood in his apartments and poured two glasses of wine. He held one out to the darker shadow near the terrace doors. “For you?”
She stepped out into the light and shook her head. “No thank you.”
“Is it time, Amira?” He studied her. She had grown into a beautiful woman; slim and graceful. Her long dark hair was braided and hung over her shoulder. Her eyes were still her best feature; a startling pale green in her tanned skin.
Her chin lifted. “You tricked me.”
“I gave you what you wanted.”
“Not yet; you’re still alive.”
He threw himself into a chair; relaxed and casual. “As are you. I suspect you have been difficult to kill, as well.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Hmm?”
She blinked at him. “I wanted to die. I was alone on the streets. I couldn’t even starve to death.” She took a shaky breath. “You knew. You knew that was how the deal would work.”
“I recognised the name.”
“You took advantage of a child.”
“You’re not a child, now.” He took another sip of the wine as she yanked a dagger from her belt. “There’s just one thing you ought to know before you kill me.”
“What?” she demanded.
“I didn’t murder your family.”
“What?” her voice was a breathless whisper.
“There was no way you would have believed me before. So I did what I could to protect you. Listen to me, now.” He sat forward in the chair. “Ask me to swear it on whatever you like, I will do so. I did not murder your family.”
“Swear… swear on your mother’s life.”
He rolled his eyes. “Give me your hand.” He rose to his feet and reached out to her.
Holding the dagger in one hand, she reached out to take his hand with the other. He clasped it in both of his and held it over his heart. “I swear on my mother’s life that I did not murder your family.”
She shivered. There was a pause.
“It’s hard to tell if it worked.” He cocked his head. “But I can’t hear any shouting from the queen’s quarters.”
She was looking shocked; blinking quickly. He was still holding her hand.
“There is something I do need to confess,” he added.
She waited.
“Hugh. He’s mine.”
Hugh was her trainer and her friend. An older man who had found her on the streets years ago and taken her in. Everything she knew about weapons she had learned from him.
She tried to jerk her hand away but he held her tightly. “That’s how you knew I was here tonight,” she accused.
“Yes. I had to make sure you survived. Hugh was insurance.”
She couldn’t speak. The betrayal hit her hard. She was rewinding their history; looking at every event with clearer eyes. “I wanted to come a year ago. Hugh wouldn’t let me.”
“I wasn’t actually here. If you had exposed that deception, it would have had dire consequences.”
“I…” She sat suddenly in his vacated chair. The dagger fell to the floor.
He knelt in front of her and passed her the wine. She had taken a sip before she realised what she was doing and put it back down. She kept shaking her head. Finally she asked, “Why?”
“Your family were magically powerful. They were killed because of a prophecy that an Ulhas would make me immortal. It was one of those badly worded things where it was so vague that no one could really get what it was saying.” He waved a hand in the air. “I was young and thought I was clever to send you away unharmed when you had promised to kill me… but when you said your name, it all fell into place. I didn’t even know that ‘an ulhas’ was a person.”
“I don’t understand.”
He sat on his haunches and tore his shirt open. “Look. Stabbed in the heart.”
Her fingers brushed over the scar. “You didn’t die?” She sounded astonished.
“That’s what my enemies were afraid of. They worked it out first, and killed your family to try and stop the prophecy.”
“But they made it happen,” she said. “I would never have gone near you… except for…” Their eyes met. She believed him.
“Look what we did together. We cheated death, Amira. Do you know how rare that kind of power is?” He was intense, desperate to convince her. “Only an Ulhas can kill me. Only you.”
“So I still can?”
“Yes. But I’d prefer you smothered me with a pillow when I’m over a century old.”
She frowned at him. “What makes you think I’ll still be around?”
“You could have stabbed me when I first came into the room, you could have cut my throat while I was holding your hand, or you could have poisoned my wine before I even opened the door.” He smiled at her. “And you’re still rubbing my chest.”
She snatched her hand back.
He laughed. “Our lives are linked. If you kill me, perhaps you will die as well.” He whispered in her ear, “I don’t think you’re ready to go yet.”
She seemed to be thinking about it. “I’ve spent eleven years obsessed with you.” Thinking about him day and night. “You still tricked me.”
“I was not as smart as I thought I was. I was very lucky you didn’t promise to kill me the next time we met, eh?”
“What did I say?”
“You don’t remember? You said ‘when you were ready’.”
“And I said: ‘I will stay alive for you, Amira Ulhas.’ For you.” He stood and held his hand out to her. “Come and meet Mother.”
Her eyes gleamed. “Are you worried she’s dead?”
“Nope. I want her to meet the girl I'm going to marry.”