Clara of Cesfati: Slayer of Kings
“Please, help! Someone help me, please!”
Clara sighed and pulled back from Donatello. She had been so close to kissing him. Trying to work up the courage. Clara had sensed for a few days now that he wanted to kiss her, too. But so far, he hadn’t made any moves on her.
She had sat down beside him and leaned in closer to see what he was drawing in the dirt. Just waiting for him to look up at the right angle. And boom! She had been ready to plant one on his perfect lips.
But as soon as he heard the cry for help, good ol’ boy Donnie had leaped up and raced off to the rescue without so much as a backward glance.
“C’mon, Clara!” he shouted as he raced around the corner of the building. “Let’s go see what’s going on. Someone needs our help.”
Clara sighed and stood up. She angrily scuffed up what he had been drawing with the toe.
“Why was she like this? Nothing else really scared her. So, why couldn’t she work up the nerve to just tell Donatello the truth? The worse he could do would say he wasn’t interested. Right?” Clara thought to herself as she followed that gorgeous knight around the corner.
Donatello was already up in a tree with a kitten in his hands. He pet the tiny creature gently with his huge hands to calm it down. Then he tied his cape around in front of him to make a sling for the little reddish-gold ball of fluff.
The young girl with long, dark hair clapped gleefully and jumped around as he scrambled back down with her pet. Before Donatello even had a chance to turn around, the child had already grabbed onto his leg and hugged him gratefully.
“Thank you, Donnie. Thank you. You saved Zolapia. She couldn’t climb down and I was scared she was going to fall.” the girl exclaimed breathlessly.
“Hey, calm down there, Lady Assunta. She’s a cat and climbing trees is what cats do. They like to be up high where they can see everything.” Donatello said gruffly as he wiped a tear from her eye. “Don’t cry, little lady. She’s safe in your arms.”
The young girl squeezed her cat tightly and sniffed as she nodded up at Donatello with a smile. “Okay. I won’t. It’s just that she’s still so small. I thought she might not know how to stay safe up there. And it scared me.”
Donatello patted her head roughly and then pushed the child back toward the castle. “Better get her back safely inside. If you stay near the tree, that little kitten is going to want to climb it again. Next time it will go up even higher into the small branches I can’t climb.”
Clara smiled at Donatello when he noticed her standing there. “You’re too nice, Donatello. I would have told her just to wait for it to come back down on its own.”
He just smiled and shrugged as he tried to untie the knot he had made in his cape to form the sling around his neck. Clara stepped in close to help and brushed her fingers against his as she untied it with her nimble fingers. She didn’t back away after finishing and smiled invitingly, hoping he would take the opportunity to kiss her.
Donatello cocked his head and looked at her questioningly. But before he could say anything, they heard another loud scream. The shrill, blood-curdling scream of something terribly wrong. It sounded like her friend, Filomena. This time, it was Clara who took the lead in running around the corner.
Filomena was bent over at the threshold of the building. As Clara got closer, she could see someone’s boots just inside the door. She rushed forward and pushed past Filomena to get inside. The body of Abramo, her friend and a member of the group, lay on the floor in a pool of blood and vomit. Tears welled up in her eyes as she bent down beside him.
Donatello stood up as she came in. Licked his finger and wiped it off on his pants as he stepped back for her to take a look. Clara circled Abramo’s body before kneeling beside him where Donatello had been.
“What happened, Filomena?” she finally managed to ask.
“I didn’t mean to. It was an accident.” Filomena wailed as she stood up. “Please! You have to believe me. The baron will punish me for this.”
Donatello was standing behind Filomena. She turned to him and fell on his chest, sobbing. He held her up and demanded to know what had happened.
“I had just made a plate of food and set it down on the table. I went out to wash my hands. Abramo came in and teased me by saying he was going to eat it. I told him he’d better not or else I would kill him. But it was just an expression. Just a manner of speaking. When I came back, I found him like this.” the distraught girl wailed.
Emanuela and Lino came racing around the corner just then and wanted to know what was going. They were shocked when they saw Abramo lying on the floor. Lino fell to his knees beside his friend’s body.
“No, no, no!” he moaned. “I don’t believe it. I was just talking with Abramo a short time ago. What happened?”
Emanuela was one of the smartest of the bunch and liked to make sure everyone knew it too. She kneeled down for a closer look at Abramo’s face.
“It looks like he might have been poisoned,” she said. Emanuella stood up and walked over to the table to look at the plate of food. She didn’t touch it. Emanuella picked up a fork and poked at the meat and potatoes, sliding them around as if looking for something. Then she picked up the plate of food and walked toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Donatello asked.
“Throw it to the pigs. If they die too, then we know it was really poison in the food.”
“Who could have done this?” Lino asked angrily.
“I swear it wasn’t me.” Filomena continued to sob. “I shouldn’t have left the plate there. If he hadn’t eaten it, then Abramo wouldn’t be dead.”
Clara grabbed the sobbing girl by the shoulders and looked her dead in the eye. “Listen, stupid girl. It’s not your fault. That poison was meant for you. If Abramo hadn’t eaten it and died, then you would have. You would be the one lying on the floor right now.”
Filomena’s face turned pale as the realization of what Clara was saying meant to her. Then she really started to bawl up a storm.
“But why? Who would want to kill me?” Filomena finally managed to say.
“C’mon, Filomena. We’re all assassins,” Lino said. “We’ve all killed people. It could be any number of people wanting to exact revenge. Besides, you know that all assassins are eventually betrayed.”
Filomena’s face puckered up, and she started to cry again. “But I’m not really an assassin. I’m more like a spy. Why would someone put poison in my food?”
“Whoa! Wait. Hold on.” Clara managed to blurt out. “What do you mean we’re all assassins?”
Lino stepped forward and stopped right in front of her. “Look, I’m sure you suspected it. You just joined our group here these days. You haven’t been initiated yet. But we invited you for a reason. You didn’t just think we’re a regular group of knights in shining armor. Did you?”
Clara nodded. She looked at Lino, Filomena, and Donatello. Filomena blushed and looked down. Donatello shrugged and nodded in acknowledgment.
“You don’t think we fight battles and let the bad guys walk away, do you? We’re an elite group of assassins. Our job is to kill the bad guys before they can do bad things. We prevent their evil deeds.” Lino said so sincerely that Clara almost believed him.
“So, the Baron just tells you to kill people and you do it?” Clara asked incredulously.
Lino nodded and added, “And we get paid handsomely for it while we’re at it. You don’t think we live in a castle and are this well off just doing normal knight tasks. Did you?”
“Yes, I just thought we were going to do normal knight things, like protecting the Baron and his castle,” she responded, still in shock.
Clara’s mind raced as she processed all of this information. Lino tried to apologize and gloss over what he said, but she wasn’t paying much attention. Remembering everything that had been said when she had received orders to come to the Baron’s castle. No one had ever mentioned anything about becoming an assassin.
“Look, I’m sorry to break it to you this way. I know it probably doesn’t sound very good. The Baron should have been the one to tell you when he was ready. He would have made it sound better. I just thought you had an idea. I didn’t know you were so naive.” Lino rambled on apologetically as Clara’s mind raced.
“Wait! Where’s Emanuella?” she asked, stopping Lino mid-sentence. “She was just taking the food out to the pigs. She should have made it down to the pigpen and been back by now.”
Clara rushed out the door and raced down the path toward the pigs. Clara was there. Lying face down in the dirt. About ten paces away from the pens. Blood and vomit surrounded the area where she had fallen.
The plate of food on the ground. The potatoes and meat scattered around. None of the pigs had even eaten any of it. They could smell it though and all pushed against the fence, trying to squeeze their snouts through to get the food that had rolled close to them.
Clara threw herself down beside Emanuella and shook her. She rolled the girl over and shook her shoulders while yelling for Emanuella to get up.
“No! No! No! This can’t be happening,” she screamed as Lino, Donatello, and Filomena came up behind her.
“What? How did she die?” Lino gasped.
“Did she eat the food on the way down here?” Filomena sobbed. “I could have cooked her more food if she was hungry.”
Lino rolled Emanuella over and pulled her hair up, looking for wounds or anything else that could have killed her. He gave up in disgust and tossed her hair back down. He stood up and asked Filomena, “How much food did you put on your plate? Is it all here?”
Filomena looked and threw up her hands. “I don’t know. It looks like it. But I didn’t count each potato and slice of meat. I just put in the amount that looked like enough on my plate.”
She picked up the fork and began scooping the meat and potatoes back onto the plate. “It looks like the same amount. Minus the dirt and twigs that are mixed in.”
Filomena took the plate of food over and chucked them into a deep pit, where the maidservants threw trash that the pigs couldn’t eat. She pushed the cover back over the top of the pit and turned the rest of the group.
“Well, that’s gone. Now, nobody else will die from it.” Filomena said, brushing off her fingers.
“Just need to make sure you throw the rest of the food away, too,” Lino growled.
He picked up Filomena’s body and turned to walk back to the building. Clara fell into step behind him. She glanced over at Donatello, who was leaning against a tree. He just shrugged.
“Comes with the territory. Welcome to the team.” He said gruffly.
They followed Lino back up to where they had left Abramo. Lino turned back and scowled at them. “Aren’t you gonna bring Emanuella?” he asked Donatello.
“No way!” the big man retorted. “No telling what’s killing them. It might be contagious.”
“It’s obviously poison,” Lino growled. “Someone poisoned them.”
“But Emanuella wouldn’t have eaten the food. And neither did Filomena.” Clara pointed out.
Lino let Filomena’s body down to the ground. He stood up and got in Clara’s face. “And just how do you know what did or didn’t kill them.”
“I don’t,” she replied.
“You know what I think, Donatello?” Lino asked. “I think Clara poisoned them or did something to kill them.”
“What?” Clara said in shock. “No, way. I just got here. I didn’t even know them. Why would I kill them?”
“Exactly,” Lino growled in her face. “You didn’t know them, but you were paid to kill them. To kill all of us. I’ll bet you, that you and I are next, Donatello.”
Lino looked over at Donatello. Clara took a step back from Lino and glanced at Donatello, who shrugged.
“I guess you could be right,” Donatello said.
“What?” Clara exclaimed. “I can’t believe you two seriously think I had anything to do with this.”
“Lino is thinking logically,” Donatello said without blinking. “You show up and our team starts dying off one by one.”
“But, but I was over there with you while you were drawing in the sand. How could I have killed any of them?” she exclaimed. “And besides, they obviously weren’t poisoned by what they ate.”
“Right! So, you do know. Which means it was poison on the plate or utensils. When they touched the plate or fork, the poison was absorbed into their bodies.”
“You’re crazy,” Clara replied hotly. “I had nothing to do with this. And that doesn’t make sense either. Why didn’t Filomena die when she first put the food on the plate then. She should have died before Abramo.”
Lino looked at her and smiled grimly. “That means the poison was on the silverware. Right? You sure know an awful lot about what happened or should have happened for someone who claims to not know anything.”
He took a step back and pulled his sword. “I think you did it, and I’m going to kill you before you have a chance to kill me or Donatello.”
Lino feinted with his body and Clara leaped back. He jabbed his sword in her direction. Clara knocked it aside with the protective armor around her forearm. Lino pulled back and came back in for another attack. He swung the sword toward her neck. Clara ducked and pulled back.
“C’mon, Lino. You’re not thinking straight. I didn’t kill anyone here,” Clara yelled as she continued to move down the path toward the pigpen to stay out of Lino’s range.
She kept yelling for him to stop, but he came swinging. “Help, Donatello,” Clara yelled.
Donatello just shrugged and leaned up against a tree in his typical lazy slouch. He licked his fingers again and slid his hand back inside his pocket. Then pulled an apple out of the other pocket and took a bite. Clara screamed in frustration. She was close to the pigpen and couldn’t keep backing away.
“I’m gonna pull my swords and fight back, Lino,” she screamed in frustration. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. You’re just saying that so Donatello doesn’t suspect you. Now, you’re going to try and kill me while making yourself look innocent.”
He kept swinging and stabbing until Clara’s back was against the pigsty. Finally, Clara felt like she had no choice but to pull her own swords to defend herself.
“You asked for it, Lino,” she murmured softly. “I really don’t want to hurt you, but I’m not just gonna stand here while you try to kill me without fighting back.”
Clara blocked his first swing and took a step forward. Lino stepped back to get enough range to swing again, and she blocked it as well, continuing to move him back toward Donatello.
Lino had never seen her fight before. She had been caught up in getting situated since she arrived and hadn’t yet been to any of the training sessions. So, he seemed caught off guard that she really did know how to fight back as well as she did.
After he collected his wits about him, Lino switched tactics. Instead of coming straight toward her, the furious knight tried faking her out using fancy footwork and fast attacks. But it wasn’t anything new, or that Clara wasn’t already used to seeing.
She continued blocking his swings with the sword in her right hand. Occasionally, Clara used the sword in her left hand as well. What Lino didn’t know was that the woman he was fighting was left-handed. And that the sword that she held in her left hand was actually five inches longer than the other.
Clara blocked and parried his clumsy swings and blows. It surprised her at how bad of a fighter Lino was. Somehow, she had expected more from this elite team of knights that they had sent her to join.
Eventually, she grew tired of deflecting his blows and evading his swings. She went on the offensive and took a few swings and jabs of her own just to tire him out quickly and let him see she wasn’t one to be trifled with.
Lino was soon panting and took a step back to catch his breath. He held his sword in front of him, as if waiting for her to strike at any moment.
“Take it easy, Lino. Can’t you see that I’m not trying to hurt you? You’re the one who attacked me. Just put your sword down and we can figure things out.” she said.
“Mmm-hm,” he nodded. “Then you’ll kill me when I’m not expecting it, just like you did to all of my friends over there that are dead.”
“Of course not,” Clara said as she flipped the sword over to slide it back into its sheath.
Lino took advantage of the movement, thinking that she was off guard. He leaped forward to attack her with a wild swing. Clara didn’t bother to flip the sword back up. She simply turned to the side and blocked his blow with the sword still pointing down. Then brought the point of her left sword up against his throat.
“I’m not trying to kill you or anyone else,” she said adamantly. “If I were, I would kill you right now, but I’m not. So, back off.”
Lino sighed and took a step back. Then suddenly rammed his head forward and running the tip of her sword through his throat. Clara jerked the sword back. But it was too late. The cut was too deep. Lino gurgled and turned before falling to his knees.
Donatello was standing just behind him. The realization that Lino had been shoved into the sword by the other man behind him made Clara’s head spin. She was horrified at the thought. Not Donatello, the gentle giant she had wanted to kiss earlier.
“What did you just do, Donatello,” Clara gasped.
The tall, broad man shrugged. “Doing you a favor. He would have tried to kill you later. Now, you’re safe and you don’t have to worry about it.”
“No, no, no! What is this? This is madness. The baron is going to think I did this.” she gasped.
“Don’t worry about it, little bird. The baron isn’t going to do anything about this. Trust me. Let’s just get this mess cleaned up and get everyone back inside.”
Donatello picked up Lino’s body and slung it over his shoulder. Then bent down to pick up Filomena. “Why don’t you go ahead and grab Emanuella,” he ordered.
“No,” she exclaimed. “We can’t just act as if nothing happened. What are you doing?”
Clara followed Donatello back up toward the building. He tossed the bodies he was carrying onto the floor beside Abramo like sacks of potatoes. He turned to go back outside. Clara blocked his way, still demanding to know what was going on.
The big man shoved her aside and went back toward the pigpen to pick up Emanuella. Clara kept trying to block his path, but Donatello walked around her and made his own way.
The idea that he was responsible for their deaths still seemed difficult to grasp. She couldn’t believe that Donatello would have done such a thing. Finally, she just blurted it out.
“It was you! Wasn’t it? You killed them.”
“Duh!” Donatello said with a shrug of his shoulders. “Was it really that hard to figure out?”
“What?!” Clara screeched, as if she couldn’t believe it. The truth was that she didn’t want to believe it. The idea that she had actually liked this guy and wanted to kiss him earlier was infuriating. Clara couldn’t believe that she had been so deceived by him.
“Hey! Listen. I’ve got nothing against you.” Donatello said softly. “I know you didn’t even really know them and weren’t a part of this group. So, if you can let it go, I’ll let you live. Okay.”
Donatello stood in front of her with his palms in front of his chest, as if trying to keep the peace. But she could tell by his stance that he was braced for an attack.
“Why did you do this, Donatello?” she asked.
“I can’t tell you now. But in time, you’ll find out,” he said with a gentle smile.
“No, you tell me. Or else I’m going to tell the baron right now what you’ve done.” Clara said as she pointed to the door.
He just shrugged and gave her that same goofy, stupid smile she was beginning to hate. “Fine,” she said, and turned to leave.
“Hey, wait,” Donatello said. “I’ll tell you everything.”
Clara turned back to face him. He tossed something in her direction from a towel in his left hand, and she instinctively reached out to catch it. As soon as she caught it, she realized what it was. A fork. Just like the one that everyone else touched before dying.
She dropped the fork as fast as she could. Donatello just stood there, grinning at her. He held a towel in his left hand and licked the fingers of his other hand.
“The poison wasn’t in the food. It was on the forks.” Donatello said as he tossed the towel onto the table.
“You and Lino didn’t touch them. But I have to admit that it was fun watching you fight him. You’re a pretty good fighter. Too bad you couldn’t just play along and join me. You would have been a great asset to my new team.”
“But why?” Clara asked. She took a step forward and felt her legs going numb.
“I know you liked me. Wanted to kiss me. I like you too. Wanted to kiss you back. But that would have been too cruel knowing that I was probably going to have to kill you too.”
Clara eyed his pocket. Whatever he had been licking on his fingers must be some kind of antidote. Every time he had been near one of them, she had seen him licking something off his fingers.
“Well, then kiss me one last time before I die. Making a dying girl’s dream come true.” Clara said softly as she stumbled toward Donatello. She wrapped one arm around his neck and the other around his waist to support herself.
“No, no, no, my dear. Can’t kiss you now. Sorry.” Donatello said as he let her slide down to the ground.
He was nice enough to hold her arm and support her as she slid to the floor, which gave her enough time to slip her hand in his pocket to grab the vial that was there.
“What are you going to do with us?” she asked.
Donatello turned to pick up Filomena’s body and set her on top of the table. Clara popped the top off of the vial and gulped it all down. She noticed Donatello licking it off his fingers in small doses. But he did it several times and hadn’t even directly touched the poisonous objects himself.
She could feel the poison working in her system. Shutting her down, and she needed to clip the effects fast. Clara hoped she wasn’t taking too much that might actually have the opposite effect.
Darkness came on fast. Clara knew she was going to pass out and didn’t know if she would ever wake up again. The vial started to slip out of her fingers and she had enough sense to shove it clumsily into her pocket before losing consciousness. The last thing she saw was Donatello stacking the rest of her friends onto the table and shoving furniture underneath as if it were an oven that he was going to light up. Then she was out.
Donatello finished shoving everything that would burn underneath the table. He picked up Clara’s body gently and carried her over to the table. Then set her on top of her friends’ bodies. He caressed her face gently before turning to leave.
He slipped his hand into his pocket for another dose of antidote, but the vial wasn’t there. Donatello quickly ran his hands over all of his pockets and searched the floor. He couldn’t find it anywhere. He nervously brushed off his hands and hoped he already had enough antidote in his system to fight off the effects of any of the Strasinth Futhorax they had given him to pull this off.
The person who had given it to him claimed they were only a messenger. They delivered the money they had promised him, as well as the poison. There was another small vial wrapped in paper that let him know it was the antidote.
Unfortunately for the messenger, he must not have known about the powerful effects of the poison, because he had died before Donatello left the room. He never did say who had sent him, so Donatello didn’t even know who had hired him to do this job.
He felt bad poisoning this group. He had actually come to like them in his own way over the past three months of working and living with them. But it was what it was. Most everyone who entered his line of work knew that they would get a taste of their own medicine someday.
Even Donatello knew that someday, someone somewhere would seek revenge for someone he had assassinated. They would attack. He would try to defend himself. But they might be just a little bit faster or a little bit stronger.
Then they would manage to get the upper hand over him, just like he had to so many others before him. After that, his life would be over. So, in the meantime, Donatello just wanted to make as much money as he could and live as well as he could until his time came.
Clara came to with the smell of smoke filling her nostrils. She coughed and gagged as she struggled to sit upon a pile of bodies underneath her. Clara didn’t recognize any of them. She looked around but didn’t recognize where she was. Flames were licking up along the edges of the hut and racing along the thatch roof as smoke curled up through the eaves.
Heat along her back made her turn around and she realized flames were licking up from under the far end of the long table where she was sitting as well. She leaped onto the floor, away from the flames, and turned to pull the others off the table as well. But then she realized they were dead.
Her head felt heavy and foggy, as if she were thinking through a cloud. She couldn’t recall where she was or why she was here. Or for that matter, even who she was. The smoke filling the room was getting thicker and the flames coming down the walls.
The girl knew she needed to get out of there, and fast. She looked around for the door, but that side of the building was covered with the most flames. Clara raced toward the back end of the building and checked each of the rooms.
A small window in the corner farthest from the burning flames seemed like her best option. She raced across the floor and leaped through it, not knowing what might be on the other side. Fortunately, she was on the ground floor and she landed safely in the grass. Clara lay there for a moment, looking up at the building being consumed by flames in front of her.
She stood up stiffly and checked her body for cuts or broken bones. But other than bad stomach cramps and the fogginess in her head, everything seemed fine. Clara moved up along the trail toward a large castle-like building in front of her.
Other buildings had caught fire as well and were burning around her. She could see bodies lying on the floor in some of them. Clara knew there was no point in trying to save them from the fire. They were too far gone.
When she arrived at the castle doors, she could see men on the far side of it fighting desperately for their lives along the top of the walls. Clara looked down at her armor and the swords at her side. She felt the cape blowing gently in the wind and flapping against her side.
Clara flipped it around and looked at the crest embroidered in it. She didn’t recognize it. Clara couldn’t remember what it represented or why she was wearing it. She must be a part of whatever group was inside the castle and defend it. She could see they were under attack. But she had no idea why or what they were even fighting for.
She pushed open one of the wide-double doors and looked inside. Maybe someone inside here would recognize her and could tell her who she was. She stepped inside and waited a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness inside.
Slowly, she made out a few silent shapes scattered along the floor in the back. She made her way carefully toward the back where they had conglomerated. They seemed to have been coming from the other room, running this way, when they fell dead.
Clara entered a large dining hall. There were dead people everywhere. Lying across the tables. Fallen on the floor from where they had been sitting. They all held their forks in their hands, or their forks were on the floor where they had fallen as well. She felt no sadness or pity for them. It felt as if she were in a dream observing everything that was going on, yet completely detached from everything taking place around her.
A long, loud scream made her move quickly across the large dining hall and out the far door. She moved quickly and silently down the long hallway. Moving deeper into the darkness. She checked each room on her way down, but they were either empty or if there was someone there, they were already dead.
She came to the end of the hallway. Clara looked right and then left. Everything dark and silent. Whoever had screamed was probably already dead, so there wouldn’t be much sense in searching each of the rooms down these long halls for them.
Clara turned to return to the front door and help the members of her crest. Whoever they may be. Perhaps one of them could tell her who she was and what was going on if they survived this attack.
Just as she turned, though, her ears picked up the sound of someone’s voice coming from one of the rooms down to the left. It sounded as if they were yelling or arguing loudly. Clara moved down the hallway quickly in the direction she had heard the sound.
The yelling had stopped, and everything went silent again. She moved from door to door, putting her ear up against each one. Then the shouting began again, farther down the hall. This time, Clara moved swiftly but silently down the hall without having to stop at each door.
When she arrived in front of the door, the yelling stopped. Clara stood to the side as she leaned up against the wall in case someone came out. The voices were speaking quietly now. She waited until they picked up again so that they wouldn’t hear her lift the latch.
Clara pushed the door open slowly as she held her breath in the hopes that it wouldn’t creak. She peeked through the widening crack in the door until she could see what was going on inside.
“That’s how it’s going to be, Baron. And don’t forget that we have your daughter. So, if you don’t comply, well, let’s just say that if Lady Assunta lives, she’ll probably be so ugly no one will ever want to look at her again, much less marry,” a tall, broad man said with a dull, wicked laugh.
The Baron roared and struggled against ropes that bound him to a chair in the center of the room. He attempted to kick at the man who stood in front of him and mocked him.
Clara noticed that the tall man who was standing was also wearing a cape with the same crest that she had on hers. She pondered that for a moment. Why was this baron here? Wouldn’t the castle be his, she thought to herself? So why would someone with the same crest as her have him tied up?
She stepped forward into the room and waited for the men to notice her. She didn’t want to get too close to either of them until she had a chance to assess the situation and understand what was going on.
The Baron noticed her first. His eyes squinted and darkened when he noticed her standing there.
“You are a part of this too, Clara? I knew I shouldn’t have trusted either of you two newcomers.” The Baron growled. His eyes flicked over to the other man and said, “I thought you said you killed the rest of the group, Donatello?”
The woman processed this information. He called her Clara. The other man’s name was Donatello. Both names seemed familiar. However, her head still felt too foggy to remember what that meant or who they were.
Donatello whirled to face her. He frowned when he saw her, as if trying to understand what she was doing there.
“Clara! What? How?” he mumbled. “No one survives the Strasinth Futhorax. Oh, wait! I get it now.”
The large man suddenly slapped his head and guffawed loudly. “Okay! I get it now. You stole my vial of antidote. Didn’t you, you sneaky little thief?”
Clara said nothing. Her foggy head reeling with all this new information. This man poisoned her? Was that why she couldn’t remember who or where she was? She waited for him to continue to see what else he had to say.
“Clara? Hello! Are you okay?” he asked, snapping his fingers in her direction.
“I don’t remember anything,” she finally said honestly. “I don’t remember who I am or what I’m doing here?”
“Really? Oh, that too bad, Clara! I’m so glad you’re alive, though. You don’t remember when we almost kissed this morning? I was drawing in the sand and you leaned in for a kiss. But then Lady Assunta screamed because a cat was up in the tree. And I climbed up to pull it down.”
Clara shook her head. Digging deep. Trying to remember something. To recall anything from earlier.
“What are we doing here?” she asked.
Donatello said, “The Baron here brought you in as part of his team of assassins. We were making preparations to kill the king of Pelarese. You were the lynchpin of our team. Does any of this ring a bell?”
“Of course it doesn’t, Clara. We didn’t tell you about your part. To pull it off and make it seem convincing, we never told you what we were doing and what your role was to be. That way everything would seem believable and convincing during our mission.”
Clara looked from one to the other in disbelief. “Are you kidding me? I’m not an assassin,” she said to Donatello.
“Not yet,” he replied, pointing to her swords. “But you are an excellent fighter. Just like when you killed Lino with those swords earlier today.”
She pulled a sword from her sheath and felt the weight of it in her hands. Clara saw some dried blood on the tip of it that ran down the edge of the blade. She swung the sword in her hands. The weight felt good, almost natural. She slid it back into her sheath, but kept her hand on the hilt in case she needed to use it again.
“Look, this is great that you’re here,” Donatello said, taking a step forward.
Clara took two steps back quickly and pulled her sword again.
“Whoa, calm down. I’m not going to hurt you. This is a good thing. We have a second chance now. I wanted you to join me. Remember?” Donatello asked.
“And I refused, so you poisoned me. Does that sound about right?” she retorted.
“Hey, look! It is what it is among us assassins. It’s kill or be killed. Just like you killed Lino.”
“Why? Because he was working with you?”
“No, but he thought you were to blame, and he attacked you. You beat him so easily. We know that you have what it takes to join us. You’re a survivor. Just look at you standing here now.”
Clara looked over at the Baron. “So, what’s the new mission now?” she asked.
“This,” Donatello said, pointing around them and stopping at the Baron. “The King of Pelarese was willing to pay more than the ol’ Baron here was. All I had to do was take down the castle from the inside while his men stormed the castle walls. It wasn’t even that hard with the Strasinth Futhorax. And by the sounds of it, we’re winning outside as well.”
Donatello walked around the Baron toward the open window overlooking the courtyards and the wall where the sounds of battle echoed. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes briefly.
“I’m sorry it had to come to this Baron. But I did warn you of the dangers of attempting this mission before we started.”
“But you betrayed us by telling the King of Pelarese of our plans.”
“Oh, no! You can’t blame me for that, Baron. The king has spies everywhere. He learned of your plans from someone else. A man approached me and told me that our mission was already doomed. They offered me a handsome sum to assist them from the inside. I would have been killed if I had refused to take part. This would have happened with or without my help. And well, you know what they say about assassins working for the highest bidder.”
“Fine! Let me go and I’ll pay you ten times what they are offering. In fact, you can have all my wealth if I can escape with my life.”
“Hm, sorry. I don’t think that’s a valid offer, Baron. You no longer have any wealth. As soon as King Pelarese breaks through those walls, he will claim all of your treasure for himself. Part of our deal was that I deliver you to him, dead or alive. I get paid more if you are still alive, though, which is why I have you tied up. And as long as you cooperate, I will make sure Lady Assunta is taken care of. So, just sit still a little longer.”
Clara listened to them talking. Trying to process everything as fast as her foggy brain could think. She tried to remember who the King of Pelarese was. Clara tried to decide whose side she should be on, which was difficult without her memories.
Right now, all she knew was that she wanted to stay alive. But a fight broke out and push came to shove, Clara didn’t know if she should continue to fight for her crest or against it. Was the Baron wrong for trying to kill the king of Pelarese and use her as part of his assassination team? Or was he right in what he was doing, and she was with them for a reason?
She wanted to go back to her room to see if she could find anything to jog her memory, but at the moment, Clara couldn’t even remember where her room was. She reached inside her pockets to see if there was anything there.
Her hand brushed against something small, hard, and cold. Clara’s slim, nimble fingers wrapped around it and pulled it out. A small vial. Donatello had said something about his antidote. Suddenly, a rush of memories hit her. Not much, but enough that she remembered what had happened from the time she had woken up earlier that day.
Abramo, Emanuella, Filomena, and finally Lino. She remembered Donatello pushing Lino into the tip of her sword. She couldn’t remember anything before that yet, but she knew enough to realize that Donatello must pay for his crimes against her friends.
Donatello was still looking out the window. She pulled a dagger and stepped forward. Clara slid the blade between the cords that bound his hands and motioned for him to remain silent. Then placed the dagger in his hands.
The Baron continued to sit on the chair as if he were bound to it. Clara stepped to the side and coughed loudly. She bent over and grabbed her head as if she were in excruciating pain. Donatello swiveled in her direction and came over to assist her.
“Come, Clara. Lie down here on the bed. The poison is powerful. It may still be affecting your body. Do you have any more of the antidote or do you remember what you did with the vial?”
She stood up and shook her head. Donatello turned to help her walk toward the bed. When they passed the Baron, the furious, vengeful father stood to his feet and ran the blade of the dagger that Clara had given him into the small of Donatello’s back. Sliding it up between the joints of his armor.
The fact that the Baron hired assassins didn’t mean that he did not know how to kill himself. He immediately removed the blade and plunged it in higher up the man’s back. Aiming for his heart. By the time Donatello reached his hands behind his back, the Baron had already withdrawn the blade. This time he drove the dagger in from the side. Once again, aiming for his heart. Twisting the blade to inflict as much damage as possible.
Donatello fell to his knees with a loud groan. The Baron stepped in close and ran the blade deep along his throat from ear to ear. Then he took a step back and pushed Donatello’s head forward.
The large man fell slowly forward and hit the ground with a loud thud. A pool of blood flowing from his throat built up around him. The Baron turned to thank Clara profusely.
“Come on! There’s no time to waste. We must find Lady Assunta and get you both out of here.”
They found the girl in her room. Locked in her closet with the cat. She hugged her father and told him that Donatello had locked her in there. The Baron went to look for his wife but soon returned with a silent shake of his head that she was dead without Lady Assunta knowing.
“Come, there is a secret passageway that we can use to escape. It leads out to the river,” the Baron said breathlessly as he bustled them along the corridor toward the secret entrance.
Clara nodded and motioned for him to go on. She didn’t trust him as far as she could throw a brick of gold. He might try to kill her so no one would know where he had gone.
“I’m going back out to help defend the walls and stop the king of Pelarese,” she said.
“No, that’s foolishness and madness. You will die. Your duty is to protect my daughter and I. Escort us to our king in Barlegnano. We will raise up an army and make Pelarese pay. I will richly reward you for your courageous services.”
“It’s okay!” Clara said quietly in the silence of the dark hall. “I have a plan. After you leave the passageway. Hide somewhere close to hear me call. If my plan works, you can return. If not, I will escort you to the king.”
“What if you die or get wounded?” The Baron asked.
“Don’t be so pessimistic, daddy,” Lady Assunta said with a serious look on her face. “She’s going to be fine. Think positive.”
“I’m a practical man, honey. I can’t afford the luxury of daydreaming and fantasies.” The Baron said gravely.
Clara smiled at the young girl and brushed her cheek. “It’s okay, Lady Assunta. Your father is a wise man and only thinking of a backup plan to keep you safe. If I don’t show before the moon comes up over the horizon, then continue your journey without me.”
She watched as the Baron and his daughter let themselves down into the secret passageway. Clara helped close the trapdoor behind them and threw a rug over the top so no one would see it.
Then Clara raced back to the room where Donatello lay. She felt along his body for where he kept his vial of poison. She found a glass vial similar to the antidote tucked away safely in his side. It was wrapped in a small cloth bag with a drawstring.
She held the vial up to the light and shook the clear liquid around. The symbol of a Pelarese dragon etched into the glass. Clara could see a small white wick with a brush at the end. It wasn’t what she had expected at all. She had expected it to be some kind of powder, but it made sense that they had diluted it in some sort of liquid that the human body could absorb.
Clara jumped up and raced down to the Baron’s study, where he kept some of his most prized possessions. He had once been a mighty warrior himself when younger, and achieved many glorious victories. Now older and well along in years, he served as the king’s counselor and right-hand man. And the Baron loved to tell stories about his conquests. Everyone knew about his achievements.
The Baron kept the rewards and prizes that they had given him for his achievements in his study to show all who came to visit him. That was when he got his chance to retell his stories and brag about his former conquests. But there was one, in particular, that was the envy of every king on the continent of Vicetone. It was the Eye of Scafallo.
The Eye of Scafallo was a large, legendary Wolloitine set into a base of precious metals that had been encrusted with other jewels surrounding it. Wolloitine a bright red stone that glowed in the dark. It had been given to the Baron after he helped the King of Scafallo defeat a dragon that had terrorized the land for almost an entire year. The people of Scafallo and been so grateful that they were willing to give him anything he wanted. It was the only thing he asked for and they gave it gladly.
So, Clara knew that if the King of Pelarese or any of his men broke in here, this would be the first thing that they would come looking for besides the Baron himself. She opened the vial carefully and brushed the sides and base of the Eye of Scafallo completely.
Clara also brushed poison from the vial onto two other objects in the room as well. They looked like they would draw the enemy’s eye. She made careful note of which objects had poison on them so that she could be sure to tell the Baron not to touch them when he returned.
On second thought, Clara got to thinking that it might not be such a great idea to just leave it there. The first men to come in would touch it and die. Then the king and none of the other men would touch it. She knew she needed to come up with a better plan.
Just then, she heard a loud splintering roar. She glanced out the window and saw the men of Pelarese were breaking through gates. They had killed most of the people with Donatello’s poison. The few that survived and fought valiantly, but there were too few left to hold them off.
Clara ran down to the kitchen and grabbed a large gunny sack. She raced back up to the Baron’s study and threw the bag over the Eye of Scafallo. Clara knew she had to be astute if she wanted to kill the king. If she simply walked out and handed it over, he would be suspicious. She had to find a way for them to catch her and make them feel like they were taking it from her.
The gate was open and the army of Pelarese streamed through into the courtyard. Clara ran down to the front door as if she were trying to get away. She waited for some of the men to see her before running back through the kitchen and out into the yard, where she threw herself up against the wall.
The two men running after her never stood a chance. They didn’t even know what hit them. They raced out the door and stopped when they didn’t see her. Clara ran them each through with a sword at the same time. They fell to their knees and began to topple forward.
Clara grabbed the smaller one by the collar and untied his cape. She quickly undid her own and threw his cape around herself. Then she picked up the bag with the Eye of Scafallo in it and tossed it over her shoulder.
There were knights and soldiers everywhere as they swarmed the castle looking for the Baron. Clara walked through them unnoticed to the gate. She saw the king standing beside his horse in the center of the courtyard.
“Find me the Baron! And bring all of his treasure out there to me.” the king shouted to the men running around.
Clara watched from the side as the men cleared the castle room by room. They stuck their head out the windows and yelled before throwing stuff out into the courtyard to the king. The men standing outside would pick it up and bring it over to the king.
The king kicked at a few items to roll them over with his boot for a better look, but he didn’t reach down to pick anything up. She knew it wouldn’t do any good to walk over and simply throw the Eye at his feet.
“Remember not to touch any of the forks,” the king shouted. “The forks have been poisoned. Everything else should be fine, but be careful.”
Clara knew she needed to act fast before they made it to the study and found out that some of the Baron’s treasures had been poisoned. She began walking across the courtyard toward the gate. The king was less than twenty paces away. She could feel him watching her.
“Hey! Hey! You there with the bag. Where are you going? What do you have there?” he shouted.
She glanced at him and kept walking a few more paces to make him suspicious. He yelled for her to halt and took a step in her direction.
“Come here! You aren’t stealing from me, are you? Let me see what’s in your bag.”
Clara stopped and turned slowly. She tried to look as nervous and suspicious as possible. Her hands shook as she slid the bag off her shoulder.
“No, of course not, your royal highness,” she let her voice quaver.
“A woman dressed up as a knight using our crest?” he asked. “Methinks you are trying to flee with some of me treasures. Come here, lass.”
The king took another step forward. The surrounding knights remained relaxed and at ease, thinking she was just a maidservant dressing up like them to escape.
She stepped forward and made a point of clutching the gunny sack tightly, as if she didn’t want to give it up.
“What have we here, little lady?” the king asked.
“Uh. Um. Just some food, sir,” Clara replied, letting her voice tremble slightly at the end as if she were going to cry for having gotten caught doing something bad.
“Food? Huh? That looks too heavy to be food. Let me see what’s inside. Don’t worry. If it is, we’ll let you go. We’re not here to kill the women and children.”
Clara continued hanging on tightly to the bag. She closed her eyes, willing herself to shed a tear. But none came. She wasn’t as good of an actor as she would have liked. Clara took a deep breath and opened her eyes.
“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know what’s in the bag. They gave me orders to escape with it.” she said quietly. “Please don’t be angry with this humble servant.”
“Ha! I knew it wasn’t food. I could tell by the way you walked that you looked awfully suspicious. Go on and open the bag. Let’s see what you’ve got there.”
Clara opened the bag a little so he could get a glimpse of what was inside.
“What in the name of Scafallo?!” the king exclaimed as he grabbed the gunny sack from her hands. “No wonder. You were trying to sneak away with my treasures, you thief. I’ll have your head for this.”
“Please, sir. I was just following orders. I’ll do anything. You claimed this castle, so now I’ll serve you.” Clara begged, getting down on her knees.
The king kicked at her and ordered her to get back as he reached inside the gunny sack to pull out the Eye of Scafallo. With his hands around the base, the king pulled the gunny sack down around the shining jeweled object until everyone around him could see the exquisite piece.
A soft, red glow illuminated the king’s face as he pulled it close and kissed it.
“It’s more beautiful than I could have imagined,” he whispered.
The knights crowded in around him to touch it and place their hands upon it.
“Yes, men!” the king said. “Absorb its power. Legend says that all who rub it receive power to rule. I am not greedy. I will share its power so that together we may grow and expand our kingdom.”
The king extended it out to the knights, who came running from all directions. They lined up to rub it and kiss it as their king had done.
“We’ve made a complete search of the castle, my lord!” one of the last knights to struggle out of the castle said as he came running forward. “But the Baron is nowhere to be found.”
The king scoffed and said, “No worry. Let the outcast vermin run for his life like a coward. He is at this very moment fleeing to his king in Guiples. We will deal with him after we conquer all of Barlegnano and take down the Castle of Guiples. It will be a long and arduous fight, but now that we have the Eye of Scafallo in our possession, we shall prevail!”
The men cheered and jumped around the courtyard. The king coughed and brought his hands down weakly. Knights around him mistook his gasping for weakness and quickly grabbed the Eye of Scafallo from him. They passed it on to others and grabbed the king to hold him up.
The knights gathered in closer and reached out to touch it. They continued to dance and chant madly as they passed the poisoned object around the crowd from hand to hand.
“Death to the Baron! Death to our enemies! Barlegnano shall fall before us as we ride toward Guiples!”
Clara had been on her hands and knees before the king the entire time, with our hands on the hilts of her sword. Ready to pull them at a moment’s notice to strike death to the king and those around her. Willing to fight to the death and lay down her life for the Baron and his castle.
But with the way things were going, it didn’t look like she would even have to lift a finger. Every man in the courtyard had rubbed their hands on the Eye of Scafallo at least twice.
She backed away slowly from the men still dancing around her. They didn’t seem to notice yet that the king was down on his hands and knees with his face in the dirt. The knights closest to him staggered around him before falling to their knees.
Clara stood up and walked through the men to the outer edges of the party. Some of the men stopped dancing when they noticed the king wasn’t moving. They rushed to surround him, leaving Clara alone near the wall. She leaned up against the wall to watch events unfold.
One by one, men began to fall to their knees beside the king. Others simply toppled over where there stood. Their companions tried to support them and pull them back up, but soon fell over themselves.
Finally, the last man standing fell over onto the pile of men who had already died around them. The Eye of Scafallo buried underneath a mass of poisoned flesh.
Clara pulled her swords, just in case any of the knights weren’t quite dead yet, and tried to attack her. She stood on a pile of rubble by the looking over the circle of dead and dying knights before her. Their bodies lit up by the flames of the burning huts and homes around them.
She hopped down from the mound she was standing on and walked around the group until he spotted a familiar red glow shining up from underneath someone’s lifeless arm. Then picked up the gunnysack and tossed it back over the Eye of Scafallo to return it to its place in the Baron’s study.
The few remaining survivors who had managed to stay hidden came out to the courtyard because of the silence. They looked at Clara in awe as she walked past them into the castle.
Clara lit a torch and opened the escape hatch to make her way down the tunnel toward the Baron. He was surprised to see her so soon. At first, he was suspicious and refused to return to the castle because he thought she was setting a trap for him.
When she finally convinced him that everything was under control, the Baron and Lady Assunta followed him back up to the castle. He stood at the door of the courtyard in complete and utter astonishment.
“I’m flabbergasted,” was all the Baron could say for several minutes as he walked around the courtyard cautiously, as if he expected someone to jump up and attack him any minute.
Clara told him the entire story of everything that had transpired. He didn’t seem very pleased that she had chosen to poison his beloved Eye of Scafallo. In the end, though, he admitted that it had been the only thing that would have caused the now-dead king of Pelarese and all of his knights to throw caution to the wind and all want to touch, bringing down their downfall so swiftly.
“I’m absolutely astounded,” he kept saying over and over as he walked around the courtyard. “I don’t know how to thank you. You saved me. You saved my daughter. You saved my castle. And quite possibly, you’ve saved the entire kingdom.”
The Baron insisted on knowing how she wanted to be rewarded, but Clara just shrugged as if it were no big deal. She had come from a small, humble family in Cesefati which was a small city to the north. She had just finished her training and started her career.
All Clara wanted was to be successful in life. She had been an active tomboy and a good fighter. So joining the military ranks seemed to be her best shot. She had quickly worked her way up the ranks to where she was now. Clara felt good about what she had accomplished so far.
So she wasn’t really sure how to answer the Baron. She wanted a better life for her family. But Clara wasn’t sure what would be a proper reward for someone of her status. So, she asked for some time to think about it so that she could consult with people she knew and trusted.
The Baron agreed. He even proposed a marriage, which shocked Clara.
“Marry me, Clara. My wife is dead. Lady Assunta needs a mother who can protect her. Half of everything I own will be yours.”
“I am flattered,” she replied, even though it didn’t seem like that exciting of a reward for her.
Sure, the wealth would be nice. And even though the aging Baron had probably been quite good-looking in his prime, he wasn’t exactly the kind of person who Clara had grown up imagining she would marry.
“Thank you for your kind offer, sir,” she finally managed to reply after the shock of his words wore off. “Although, I’m not sure that I would be the best choice to meet the demands of a Baroness. I come from a humble family and have never been inside a castle before. I’m not sure I would know how to behave myself before all the fine lords and ladies. Besides, I think I’m better fitted for the open fields and fighting battles. Surely, there are many other beautiful ladies properly trained to fulfill the duties you desire.”
The Baron patted her gently. “Of course, my dear. I understand. Don’t worry. We’ll think of an appropriate way to reward you for your faithful services.”
Clara giggled giddily with excitement and nervousness. “Well, now I know that you brought me to join your team of assassins. Since I’m the only one left, I guess you’ll just have to put up with me.”
He laughed loudly and said, “Yes, you are the best assassin I have ever hired. Clara, the assassin who eliminated the army of Pelarese and its king without ever even drawing her sword.”
She smiled as the Baron and those around him began calling her “Clara the Slayer of Kings”.
The Baron ordered the men to repair the gates and the women to clean up the castle. He had them fix up the largest and best guest room in the castle for Clara.
“Yours, for as long as you chose to stay here with us. Once we fix and clean up the mess around here, you’ll ride with me to give your report to the king, Clara the Slayer of Kings.”
“Since I’m the last, living person who will ever touch the Eye of Scafallo, I guess I’ll hold its power forever.”
“Only until someone else with the antidote will be willing to take that risk,” the Baron replied. “Which I’m sure won’t be long till they try. I’ve had people trying to steal it from me ever since I first acquired it.”
“Well then, I guess we just better not tell them by what poison the King of Pelarese and his royal army really died. We can call it by the name of some other poison.” Clara said.
“I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard for people to guess what kind of poison was used since it was so deadly. But don’t worry, by time we make our journey to the king, news of your feat will have traveled the entire land to a hundred kingdoms. Each person who retells it will embellish it and make it sound even more incredible. Before the story of your victory reaches the farthest lands, there will be a hundred different versions of how you killed the King of Pelarese and his indomitable army.”
“Hm! So, it’ll be Clara the Slayer of Kings, who defeated an entire army with her swords. I like that version.” she said with a grin.
“Oh, that one. And the one where Clara the Slayer of Kings defeats them with a snap of her fingers. And another where they all keel over dead when Clara the Slayer of Kings looks in their direction. And so on and so on and so on. Every bard will add his own spin to the tale, and every minstrel will twist it to fit his song. All we have to do is not tell them the authentic version.”
The Baron instructed every one of the survivors to never tell the true story of what had happened that night. They could tell any version they wanted, but he made them swear to never tell of the actual events.
“And the bonus is that anyone else who tries to steal my precious Eye of Scafallo is in for a nasty surprise.”
“Yep! That’s for sure. They’ll all be shouting, ‘It’s the Eye of Scafallo’ in the thrill of the flight before dropping dead.”
“Ha! Yes, and you will be the last known survivor who stalks her prey in the night after touching us all with the Eye of Scafallo.”
They both liked the sound of that.
“I can’t wait to hear the songs they write about you,” the Baron said as he looked around his study.
“I’ll just have to place it up high and out of reach so that none of my friends or family brushes against it by accident. Somewhere that a person would have to work really hard to get to it if they wanted to steal it.”
“Well, let them try,” Clara said. “If they come, I’ll kill them. I will slay them all. And I will protect you and Lady Assunta as long as I have breath.”