To Assassinate a Prince
Prince Christopher of the kingdom Weirlyn sighed. He was on his way to meet his grandparents, the former King Murain and Queen Antonia. Antonia – Granny, as he called her – was on her sickbed from a broken leg she’d gotten while racing with Murain. Granny was at least ninety. Grandpa was at least eighty. So why had they been racing? He could already tell what Granny would say – “Just ‘cuz we’re old doesn’t mean we can’t do physical activity as though we were fifty years younger! Why, back in my day, I was the personal guard to the Queen – Murain’s adoptive mother – and Murain himself! Bet you wouldn’t risk your life to protect someone!” She’d probably want to say more, but Grandpa would roll his eyes and say, “Come on, now – did I really need protecting? I managed just fine on my own, thank you very much. Plus, remember a few times when you needed rescuing?” And they’d argue for a few minutes, before finally calling a truce, sharing that special look, and then turning back to Christopher – “Little Chris,” as they called him – and chitchat for a while. And he hated it. He hated that he was there to break up their special time together, and he hated that they acted as though they didn’t care when he could see that they truly did, and most of all, he hated the way that they acted so natural together – a strong-minded beauty with a strong-minded looker. A prince with a bodyguard. An eighty-something year old grandpa with a ninety-something year old grandma. They had so many differences – their ranks from before they married, their beliefs, their likes and dislikes, even their ages! And yet they acted as though nothing between them was ever awkward. It was like they forgot that they had so many differences and, when they were together, they were just two people who were very much in love. Normally, he could cope. Normally. But this wasn’t normally. This time, he was angry at someone – a very particular someone. A girl, the daughter of a duchess and duke. She was beautiful, with a long, elegant swan’s neck, and long, tapering fingers, and thin, graceful arms, and a tiny waist, and long, thin legs, and pale skin, and a small nose, paired with big clear blue eyes and full, red lips in a heart-shaped face, framed by white-blonde hair. Even her name was elegant – Lisabeth. But her brain was far from brilliant. The conversation they’d had right before he left went like this: “Hello, Prince Christopher.”
“Good morning, Miss Lisabeth.”
“How was your day, Prince Christopher?”
“I can’t tell, considering it’s the morning right now, but I can tell it’ll be okay.” A frown.
“What does the morning have anything to do with how your day was?” He struggled not to stare at her. How could she not know what the morning had to do with the day?
“The day has only just begun, Miss Lisabeth. I can’t tell what the rest of the day will be like.”
“But how was your day?”
And it had continued like that. Sure, she was as pretty as a pond lily resting on a crystal-clear lake, but if you looked through the lake, to the very bottom, you could see that nothing but mud and weeds lay there. She was enough to make Christopher want to scream with frustration. Right when she left, leaving him panting, with a red face, and clenched fists, he felt a heavy slap on his back. He turned: It was Mary, one of the many cooks in the palace. Although only seventeen – two years older than himself – she had won the respect of every kitchen staff member and had been nominated as head chief. “Cheer up, would ya? Everyone knows she’s just a ball of fluff, like all the other court ladies. Pretty as a swan, but dumb as a worm.” He smiled at her, but in his head he was wondering, How come the only girls that I actually like are always low-class and…ugly? It wasn’t an insult. It was true. Mary had a big, fleshy nose, slightly red skin from constant exposure to the open, scars all over her fingers, and small, far-set dark eyes in a dark, square face. Short, chubby – she wasn’t exactly what you’d call pretty. And the only girls who actually spoke to him non-formally and were stubborn enough to get a lot of what they wanted, plus were brave enough to do things other people won’t were ugly commoners. All the pretty court girls were just that – pretty girls that you meet in court, that fainted at the sight of blood, did what they were told without protest, and didn’t have a smart bone in their bodies. But he couldn’t say that to Mary; so he nodded, pasted a smile onto his face, climbed into his carriage, slammed the door shut, and shut his eyes, wishing for peace and quiet. When he finally opened his eyes again, he was at his grandparents’ house. And though he wasn’t a mage, he could still tell, as he climbed out, that something bad – very bad – would happen here.
“Hey, Granny, Gramps,” Christopher called out as he slammed the door behind him. He dropped his bags with a thud. “Granny? Gramps?” A hand closed around his neck. Instinctively, he slammed back with an elbow, resulting in a bruise and a tingling running up his arm. “Yowch!” he yelped, and jumped forwards, away from the door. A strange laugh came from his left. He whirled around. “Gramps,” he said accusingly. A voice – a male one – came from his right. “Don’t blame me – don’t you recognize one of Toni’s pranks when you see ‘em?” Christopher couldn’t help but smile happily as he faced his laughing grandma, who was holding a crutch in her right arm and holding her belly with her left, doubled over with laughter. “Granny…” She stood up straight and wiped a non-existent tear from her eye. “Sorry, I couldn’t help it!” She flashed him a small frown. “And, please – don’t call me Granny. Call me Toni. Granny makes me feel old.” Christopher rolled his eyes – was there anyone else who didn’t call ninety-something “old”? – but still said, “Toni. Was that necessary?” She snorted with laughter. “Yes, it was. I haven’t had any fun at all these past few days, courtesy of…” She jerked her head towards his grandfather, Murain, who rolled his eyes. “Come on, Toni! You’re ninety”-“I know someone who died at the age of a hundred thirty-two,” Toni mused-“with a broken leg”-“Did I tell you about the one-legged and armed girl who killed five bandits on her own?”-“and there are wild wolves all around”-“Did I tell you about the hundred-year-old man who single-handedly defeated an entire wolf pack?” Murain threw up his hands in defeat. “Fine! You win! Do whatever you want!” Toni laughed. “Now, I don’t want to go and kill myself, do I?” They shared that special look while Christopher shuffled back and forth between them. Finally they took notice of him again. “Oh, I hope we’re not boring you,” his grandfather hurriedly said. Christopher managed a smile. “Don’t worry. I’m all right, Gramps.” “And don’t call him Gramps for goodness sake!” Toni cried. “He’s only 80-something years old!” Christopher rolled his eyes. “Okay. Murain.” Toni smiled. “There we go. Now, make yourself comfortable, won’t you?”
Christopher woke up in the middle of the night to a loud crash. He bolted upright. Was Granny…? He rushed outside to the hallway, where his grandmother was wrestling with a black, clothed figure on the floor. A wickedly sharp knife lay on the ground, a short distance away. “There you are, my boy!” she cried upon seeing him. “Help me knock this one unconscious, won’t you?” Christopher rushed forward and solidly thumped the newcomer on the head. Instantly the assassin’s eyes closed as he fell unconscious. His grandmother panted as she slumped down on the floor, and winced as her leg hit the ground. “Granny…” “It’s Toni. How many times do I have to tell you that?” she asked, irritated.
IN THE DUNGEON
Christopher stared around him in amazement. How long had his grandparents had these dungeons underneath their house? And how had they kept them hidden for so long? Seeing his questioning gaze, Toni said, “We’ve had them since we bought the house. They were originally storage rooms, but we converted them to cells and storage rooms, so that they could be used for either purpose.”
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