It’s been a while since I completed something for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. This one’s late, but I mouthed off about finishing something the previous week, so I figured I needed to do this.
The challenge was to include three things chosen randomly from three lists. I chose an assassin, a magician and a sword.
A fishmonger! Yes, Ned thought. That’s what he could be. He could sell fish, or cheese or be a farmer or, hell, he could muck the byres for yet another farmer. Anything other than what he was doing right now, which was picking his way, more or less silently, up a rocky hill. At the top of this hill was a stone keep, and within this keep lived a magician. That’s what the guy had said, when he hired Ned at the tavern last night, but Ned was pretty sure magician meant wizard, and wizard meant that by sunrise he might be living his life as a sugar glider, or something similarly small, cute, harmless and stompable.
Edges on the rocks tore at his Assassin gloves and poked holes in the soles of his soft leather Assassin boots. His Assassin cape flapped in the stiff wind, occasionally whipping around his face and blinding him. They had been a package deal, along with a menacing Assassin hood and matched Assassin knives, one of which had snapped at the tang the first time he’d thrown it at a tree. Ned had seen them on a merchant cart in the Lion’s Quarter, and they had called out to the coins he had earned mucking byres, as well as to his need for a change of career. It didn’t matter that he had no experience as an assassin, or as anything, really. He had drive, he had confidence, and he considered himself a man who could fulfill a task and keep a secret. He also considered himself a man who would look sharp in Assassin clothes while quaffing ale at the tavern. Thus, when the odd-looking man approached his table at the Randy Hound and offered him a contract to kill a magician with a specific sword Ned had accepted, promising secrecy and discretion.
Now Ned sat on the rocks, not twenty feet from the foot of the tower, and wondered how he could go on. His hands and feet were tender, bloody and exposed. With every step he took, the sword banged on the rocks. He wrapped the cape around himself and considered just going back to town. Working on farms wasn’t all bad, he thought. Perhaps adventure was overrated. But he had taken the job and accepted the sword. If he couldn’t walk how was he supposed to fight a magician? He looked down at the cape he was absently stroking then pulled out his remaining Assassin knife. He took off the cape and cut it into strips, wrapping the soles of his boots and the palms of his hands. He took the sword off its hip belt and slung it over his shoulders so it wouldn’t drag, and he continued up the hill.
Newly invigoured, he arrived at the base within minutes and began looking for an entrance. There wasn’t one, at least not one that he could see. He realized that a keep of this size would have both stables and some sort of drainage, and searched around the edge of the stone broch until he found a culvert, hidden by a bush, with a trickle of dirty water. The culvert was big enough for him to crawl into, but it was tight. He got on his hands and knees and began creeping up the tiled tunnel until it opened into a midden sorely in need of cleaning. He didn’t see or hear anyone in the open centre of the keep, so he ducked into a nearby doorway. He wiped muck off his hands and drew the sword over his shoulders. He crept silently until he came to a flight of stairs, then stepped slowly and carefully up them until at the top he came to a well-lit and cozy room where an old man read in an enormous chair. Ned brought the sword into a high guard, and prepared to strike at the old man when, without looking up from his book, the man made a quick hand gesture and Ned was frozen in place.
“Another one sent to kill me?” he asked, looking up. “Well, at least you’ve made it further than the rest. I’ll relieve you of the sword, then.” His outstretched hand clenched into a fist and the sword tugged itself from Ned’s hand and flew across the room, where he caught it and leaned it against a wall.
“So, why do you want to end my life?” Ned didn’t answer.
“Of course, one moment.” Another hand gesture and Ned had control of his body once more.
“I don’t want to kill you,” he blurted. “I mean, I was hired to kill you, but I don’t even know who you are. I just thought it would be better than shoveling cow shit for the rest of my life.”
“My boy, shoveling cow shit is honest work, and nothing to be ashamed of. Still, I see your point.” He stroked his beard. “What was your name?”
“Well, Ned, my name is Waldric, Master Waldric to my apprentices. How would you like to become my apprentice?”
“But…” Ned looked around. “But I came here to kill you!”
“Yes, but you didn’t succeed, did you? What you did was to perservere, make creative use of what you had on hand, and find a way in which was difficult and less than pleasant. These things make me think you could handle learning from me.” He picked up the sword and absent-mindedly fingered the designs etched into the sheath.
“You should know, of course, that if you don’t accept I shall have to kill you.” Ned gulped.
“I think being your apprentice would be more of an adventure than being an assassin,” he said. “I accept. Can I sit down now?”
“Not so fast, my young friend,” Waldric said, flicking the sword out of the sheath and directly under Ned’s chin. “This is a sword of judgement, and I have one final question. Who hired you to kill me?” His eyes bored into Ned’s.
“Um…well…it was…” the sword moved a little tighter to Ned’s chin, but he let out a sigh and relaxed onto the blade.
“I can’t tell you,” he said. “So I guess you’ll have to kill me.”
“You can’t tell me? And why not?” At this Ned stood straighter.
“Because I gave my word that I wouldn’t. I may not be any kind of assassin, and honestly, I’m fine with that. It was a really bad choice on my part. But I don’t go back on my word, so please kill me and be done with it.” After a pause, Waldric moved the sword away and resheathed it.
“Correct answer, Ned. Finster chose well.”
“What do you mean chose well?” He patted his neck to make sure it hadn’t been cut as Waldric leaned the sword against a wall and sat down on a bench.
“I grow old, and I have not had an apprentice for some years. I sent Finster to look for someone of character, someone who looked interesting. When he saw you, a stable boy who would be seen publicly in that ridiculous garb, he thought you might be cut from a different cloth than many who pursue my arts.”
“But I know nothing of magic!” Ned protested. “I barely went to school!”
“That is no matter,” Waldric replied. “Given enough instruction a monkey could learn to cast a simple spell. I can teach you the magic. You, however, are tenacious, creative and honourable, and those are qualities which cannot be taught, and are necessary for the responsible use of magic.” Ned beamed.
“So what shall be my first task, Master Waldric?” The magician stroked his beard.
“Well, the byres haven’t been mucked out in a while. Start with that.”