The streets of Kerenth bristled with uncharacteristic activity for an overcast morning. Aveline scanned the crowd from above, hidden from view in an aging tower that loomed above the centre of the country. The colorful booths set up inside the business district stood out flamboyantly from the neglected buildings behind them. Their attraction not only drew out the citizens who lived nearby, but also the reclusive upper class. It wasn’t hard to see why.
Droves of people pushed each other to catch a better glimpse of the performers and unique items for sale. The items imported from the trend-setting country of Rondev were extravagant, but also expensive. The average citizen in Kerenth could only dream about owning such luxuries. Despite being unobtainable, the populace seemed content admiring the rich pieces—something that had always baffled her.
Within an instance, the bustle of the crowd faded. Her right hand went straight to her side. Soft fingers gripped the rough leather hilt, drawing the weapon in a blur. Aveline spun to the space behind her, her dark brown eyes narrowed and focused. The years of her training showed as she pinpointed the length of the blade against the throat of a man with dark black hair. He loomed above her by seven inches, but that was not what she noted about him first. The toned body was steady and had not flinched at her drawing a weapon suddenly. His cold black eyes seemed to penetrate every barrier around her. A thin scar above his eyebrow drew recognition as to who this person was.
“Your senses are impeccable as always,” the man drawled in a dark tone of voice, “Aveline.”
She relaxed her stance, pulling the weapon away from the man’s throat. The assassin, though she knew the newcomer, did not put her weapon away. Aveline watched as he took a spot next to her, watching the district as she had done before, but with less interest.
“You never come to watch initiations.”
The man smirked. Her eyes focused on a man clad in brown linens, like most of those who crowded the district. However, the sandy-haired man below was on a mission. The commonly dressed person passed by someone dressed in fine silk—dyed a rich blue and accessorized with golden jewelry—pricking them with a small needle laced with poison. However, the person made two mistakes in the exchange.
It was disappointing to witness as the man looked back at his victim and carelessly left the needle on the now-dead council member.
“He’ll have to be killed,” the man next to her said. “That was embarrassing.”
Her eyes followed the doomed trainee as he disappeared in an alleyway. The man hadn’t even made it to the meeting place when his body fell to the ground, void of life.
“You knew,” she remarked, not fazed by the quick, but gruesome exchange she had witnessed. She turned toward the taller man next to her.
“Of course, I would never let a fool destroy my work.”
“However, to ensure his death is not the only reason why you’re here, Kier.”
The man faced her, looking her in the eyes. His face was expressionless to everyone but her.
“Your missions have gone well; I am pleased with the quickness upon which you eliminated your top target.” He paused. While praise from Kier was rare, she knew that there was more to come. “However, I am uncertain if you will be able to execute the next part of what I have planned.”
“You know that among all you have trained, there is no one better than I,” she said, insulted that he would even suggest that her skills were sub-par.
“I know. In terms of execution, there is none to rival you aside from me. That is not the issue.”
She frowned. “What is the issue then?”
“I need you to scope a potential target at the masquerade at the King’s ball tomorrow night.”
She scoffed. “That is hardly a challenge.”
“I want you to do it from inside the palace. You must secure an invitation as a guest. I will have the clothes and further instructions delivered to your place tonight.”
Before the full effect of his words could sink in, the man had disappeared from her sight. Aveline stared at the empty space where the taller man had once stood. In order to obtain an invitation, she would have to go as a guest to a nobleman. She had seen the way that the noblemen picked their women before. It was a disgusting process. The more one shared of their skin and batted their eyes, the likelihood of them going increased.
“But I’m not charming,” she uttered.
Aveline moved from her position and began to climb down the winding stairs. Most of her life had revolved around being an assassin. She never learnt how to be a proper woman, much less a charming one—a flaw that had never been a problem before. However, part of being excelling in the field included adapting to the current situation. That was what she had to accomplish here. Even if she was clueless as to how she would accomplish that.
A deep gong rang through the city, indicating the start of a new hour. With it, Aveline shifted into her role as an assistant baker. She pushed past the droves of people in the streets, making her way to the outskirts of the business district, and to the edge of where the upper class lived. A well-kept, white stoned building rested on the border between the two differing areas. Elegant statues of men and woman alike littered the pathway to the entrance. Many often commented on how the place bore great resemblance to a church as opposed to a bakery—a statement she agreed with.
Aveline walked into the building, already dressed for work in the gray wool dress and white apron required by the owner of the place, Mister Tomas Freynor. The usual monotony of the place was replaced with lively chatter and hoard of giggling young maidens. Her eyes glanced over the workers, curious to find out the reason why they were so eager. However, she could not draw a conclusion based upon their simple actions. Ignoring the irritating laughs of the rest of the group, she found her post and set to work.
Her job included several precise calculations and efficiency if they were to make production for the day. She set to work. It had only been a week since she took this post, and could already let her mind wander as she worked. Memorizing the recipes had hardly been a challenge, but it did require more care in mixing them than she had originally thought. Slowly, her muscles were growing used to the motions, making it easier for her to accomplish more.
A person sat at the bench next to her, also beginning their work. Aveline glanced over and nodded at the newcomer, whom she noted wore an odd amount of jewelry. She frowned. Now that she thought about it, all of the women had worn several pieces of flashy jewels. Odd that anyone would wear it, since the ornaments usually hindered their work.
“Good morning, Miss Frost!” the woman next to her exclaimed cheerfully.
“You are a bit cheerful this morning, Miss Leav,” Aveline commented, returning to her work.
“Of course I am! It’s an exciting day.”
“Do you mean in regards to the booths from Rondev?” she inquired.
The woman, Exandria Leav, giggled. The assassin waited patiently for the other person to provide a satisfying explanation as to why the day was so exciting.
“I keep forgetting that you’re new,” the blonde-haired, green-eyed woman said happily.
Aveline kneaded the dough, taking her frustrations of having to navigate banal chatter before garnering vital information out on the mixture for raisin bread. She bore her knuckles in deeply at each annoying laugh that filled the air.
“On the last night the merchants from Rondev are here, the King throws a masquerade at the palace,” Exandria explained. “Those invited are the merchants and the upper class. Master Freynor gets invited every year for being the King’s baker.”
“What does that have to do with the strange behaviour everyone is exhibiting?” Aveline inquired.
“Oh, it’s not strange.” Aveline raised an eyebrow.
Could have fooled me.
“Master Freynor always brings a guest with him. Instead of choosing women from the upper class, he brings one of us. Everyone would kill for an opportunity to see the inside of the palace.”
“So that’s the reason why they’re acting so ridiculous,” Aveline muttered. Exandria laughed at her statement.
“You’re so funny!”
Aveline did not understand what was so hysterical about her words. The women in the bakery, who were shortening the skirts to their dresses and adjusting their jewelry, reminded her of the upper class. Her stomach churned at the thought of acting that way. It was an appalling idea for her to even consider. Words from her earlier encounter never strayed far from her mind. If she wanted an invitation, then she supposed she would have to act like that.
Just for one day.
She looked down at the bottom of her dress, pulling up the skirt a little, trying to imagine walking around so bare. Aveline played with the length, trying to decide how short she should pin it when the doors burst open. Her attention immediately went to the man who had entered. Brown hair slicked back with oil, in a low ponytail and thick sideburns. He wore a tailored black suit with a dyed red shirt. He walked with a cane though he had no need for one. A preference she didn’t understand.
The man passed everyone by and smiled at them, greeting them. Aveline gladly let her attention wander back to her work, noticing that Exandria had dropped a spoonful of pepper instead of poppy seed into the grain mixture.
“You’ll have to restart,” Aveline commented in a low voice. The young woman let out a squeal in embarrassment before quickly discarding of the ruined batch before their boss noticed. Mister Freynor stopped by each station to inspect their progress and give them positive remarks about their work. However, the women took this as an opportunity to flirt and fling themselves on to the owner of the bakery.
It was sickening to listen to. A shadow loomed behind her and Exandria. The woman next to her giggled endlessly as the man complimented her work. She excitedly chatted about how she grew up dancing in her mother’s kitchen. Aveline did her best to tune out the endless chatter.
“You, Miss Frost, are very good at your work,” Mister Freynor said near her ear. She had resisted every instinct to pull out a knife at the man standing uncomfortably close behind her.
“Thank you, Master Freynor. I only do my best,” she said in the most humble tone she could muster.
“It’s incredible what you have accomplished in a week.”
She could feel his gaze wandering from her hands to her legs. To her relief, her skirt had fallen back to its normal length instead of the ridiculous height she had pondered before he had entered. He chuckled.
“It seems you’re the only one who isn’t trying to get my attention.”
“I don’t feel that I should gussy myself up to get attention,” she stated.
Mister Freynor let out another chuckle. “You’re right. You are already charming enough,” he whispered in her ear.
Aveline suppressed a shudder. The man had stood too close for her comfort.
“Ladies!” their esteemed Master announced in a loud voice. Everyone stopped their production to look at him. Aveline watched as the man surveyed the room with a goofy grin. “As many of you know, I have been invited to attend the King’s masquerade this year. I wish that I could take each of you as a “thank you” for the work that you have done. However, only one of you can attend with me. The person that I have elected to take with me: Miss Frost!”
The assassin froze from shock. Never did it cross her mind that he would choose her out of all of the eligible women present. It seemed no one else did either. Anger burned in several of their eyes, making her feel uncomfortable. Aveline did her best to smile.
“I am honoured, Master Freynor.”
“Thank you for all of your hard work! Please, let us resume production! We have many pastries to make before the ball tomorrow. The King wants nothing but the best!”
His words snapped everyone out of their daze as they resumed their work. Aveline started a new batch of dough after finishing the last. Even though she was not looking directly at the other women in the room, she could feel their eyes glaring at her. She did not care. At least she had secured her invitation as requested.
To her, that was all that mattered.