Who is she?
No one of consequence, sir, a serving girl. She is to be sold in the northern slave markets.
Send her to my room.
The list, written in pale gold ink, was an assassin’s list. A list of lives that no longer served their purpose. A list of servants no longer loyal to their masters. A list both priceless and rare.
Cinara blew gently on the paper, picking it up by a corner and shaking sand onto her desk. Shadows cast by candle flame danced on sandstone wall to the cries of mourners. A priest chanted a prayer of protection to the distant gods.
Tonight there were prayers.
Tomorrow there would be no one left to pray.
Do you know who I am?
Do you know how a falcon is trained?
You feed them, care for them, and even when they are given their freedom they return to you, because they love you. You are my falcon. I will set you free, and you will return to me, bloody and wild, because you love me.
Silk skirts swept the floor as she walked to the armor, unbuttoning her overcoat as she moved. The maids had been sent away, leaving her alone to divest the blood-red mourning clothes. The bone crushing corset, the heavy skirts, the cage of bone - Cinara dropped them on the floor. If the silk ripped, the skirts stained, it no longer mattered.
Are you a slave?
Do you know what your beauty would fetch in the market?
I am of infinite worth.
To my family- to my parents. I am their only child.
Where are they?
Then you are worthless. But I will give you worth again. A new family, a new name, a new life with silks, jewels… adoration. All men will love you.
That isn’t what I want.
No, but it will get you what we both want, in the end.
Stripped of the noble regalia, she stepped into dull gray pants that flowed over her limbs. There was a sweeping sensation of freedom, intoxicating rebellion, as pulled on a matching shirt without corsets beneath. The scent of stone and earth clung to the fabric. Cinara shivered, enjoying the thrill of stolen moments.
She should be weeping, broken hearted, for the loss of her beloved father. When the candle burned out, she should be sleeping, haunting the land of dreams.
From under her mattress she chose a thin knife, one of many, and laid it on the table while she pulled on soft boots. There were no tears tonight. Silk and jewels did not buy love. The tears meant for a father had been lost too many years ago, when the banner overhead was a field of blue with bright stars, not the green snake and dagger.
Wealth bought obedience.
Loyalty bought love.
What do you want me to do?
I want your loyalty. I want your help in the war.
The war you’ve just won?
No. The war I haven’t started yet. The one I will win.
She left the candle flickering. No one outside would notice the errant light on a night like this. Let it flicker. Let shadows dance. Tonight blood would splash the walls while the scent of flowers perfumed the air and mourners cried.
Tonight the war began.
Tomorrow she would return to him, the falcon to her master.