I skulked in the darkness, listened at keyholes, prowled the secret passages in the walls. I saw and heard everything that went on in that godforsaken place. Every plot, every crime, every intrigue, every secret. What I knew could topple the kingdom and destroy those who clutched it to their cold, iron little hearts.
But I couldn’t do anything with my information. It wasn’t just my status, or lack of it—even the lowliest can wreak great havoc with that kind of knowledge, if they do it right. But I was as mistrusted as I was mistrustful. And if they knew how much I did know now, how dangerous I was, and the extents I would go to destroy them… I wouldn’t survive the night. So I stayed out of the away of those who meant me harm, but only just far enough out of the way as to see without being seen. I lived in the shadows, soaking up secrets, waiting. And when I got the chance, I would be avenged.
And finally, the chance came. Or at least, the opportunity to make a chance. I heard a whisper that a delegation from Agrivaia was to arrive, in a last ditch attempt to avoid war. And I began to plot.
The night they arrived, I stood in the shadows in the back of the hall as our king welcomed their diplomats. I watched their every movement, observed the tension between their leader and our king, picked out who each of the major players must be. The older, well dressed man was the ambassador, of course. The woman next to him had to be the princess, though she hardly looked the part—her dress was formal enough for the occasion, but not fancy, and her face was more sensible than pretty. Still, she was clearly the highest ranked among them, and the deal they hoped to make included her marriage to King Onisy. The two women—girls really—next to her were her ladies in waiting; then came a few minor nobles, and the man my plan hinged on—Taield, the Agrivaian spymaster.
I observed him carefully throughout the evening. Though I was too far to hear words, and he was of course civil to his hosts, he seemed… wary. Duly wary, to my mind, and I smiled inwardly. Perhaps I had a chance. I followed him back to his room, then snuck around into the secret passage, and watched him from there. It wasn’t particularly interesting. He wrote at the desk for a while—a report, and a personal letter, I thought—then went into the connecting bathroom and came back a bit later wearing only a towel. He blew out the lamp and went to bed. I waited long enough to be sure no one joined him, then retreated into the passageways of my own lair.
I made my move the next evening. I dressed in my most seductive outfit and used the normal hallways to get to his room. I knocked on the door, and when he opened it, said in my sultriest voice, “I have a present for you.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not interested.”
“I know; you’re happily married,” I said, pushing past him into his room. Once I was inside and out of earshot of any possibly passersby, I told him, in my normal voice, “It’s not what you’re thinking. At least hear me out.”
“Fine.” Taield shut the door and locked it, and I saw he was holding a dagger in one hand, but as he wasn’t being particularly threatening, I ignored it. I took a seat on his bed, and he turned the chair at his desk to face me and sat there. “How did you know I’m married?” he asked, true curiosity, as well as worry, in his voice. Because that wasn’t common knowledge; it was well known that he kept his private life private—a wise precaution, for someone in his line of work. I would have done the same, if I’d had a family to keep secret.
“I know everything,” I told him. He didn’t laugh at me—a point in his favor.
“Is that what this is about then?”
I pretended not to know what he meant. “Your wife?”
He waited for me to say more. I waited for him to say anything. Finally, he did. “Is this a warning, then? Or blackmail?”
I laughed. “No, I told you. I’m here to give you a present.”
“That present being information.”
“From me, of course.”
He regarded me carefully.
“Who do you serve?”
“Then who are you?”
“Me? That hardly matters. I’m nobody, really. Better to ask, what do I have for you?” As I spoke, I leaned back against his wall, subtly reached into the passage behind it, and withdrew a package of papers, which I hid behind my back.
“I’ll bite, what do you have?”
“Information on Onisy’s plans for conquering Agrivaia, what he means to do to Princess Aldasha, the truth about what happened to his first wife, the truth about how he took the throne in the first place, and various other tidbits you may find interesting.” I handed him the packet of papers, notes I’d carefully, dangerously, written out in preparation for this.
“Are you saying he plans to attack Agrivaia, after the treaty is signed?”
“No, no. I’m saying he’s planning for Agrivaia to attack him after the treaty is signed, and crush you in a defensive move. I’m not asking you to take my word on it; surely you have spies who can verify my information?”
He stared at me.
“I’ll give you some time to read through those and look into it. I’ll talk to you again tomorrow night.” I got up and started for the door.
He stopped me. “Wait. What’s in this for you?”
“Does it matter? Perhaps I simply enjoy watching things burn. Metaphorically speaking, of course.” I left.
When I returned the next evening, Taield was not alone. I was about to bolt when I realized the second figure was Princess Aldasha. She was sitting on the bed, where I’d been the previous evening, so I took a seat on the floor.
“As far as I’ve been able to find out, your information’s good,” Taield said.
“I know it is.”
“We mean to act on it,” Aldasha said.
“No one else knows,” the spymaster said. “I had pieces of the information verified by my informants, but only the three of us know the whole thing. You’ve been invaluable in providing this information. Do you want to help us make our plans?”
“Yes, if you’ll have me.” I was surprised at the offer, though of course I’d planned to be involved, but I’d thought I’d have had to work from behind the scenes.
“The question is, is there any way to avoid war?”
I shook my head. “If the treaty fails, it means war. If the treaty goes ahead as planned, he kills you and starts a war.”
“What if we reveal his plan?” Taield mused.
“Reveal how? You can’t just say Aldasha won’t marry him because he’s going to kill her; he’d use an insult like that as an excuse to declare war.”
“No…. We’d have to wait and prove it, first,” Aldasha said slowly.
She exchanged a glance with Taield. “You can’t risk it,” he said gravely, and I realized what she was thinking.
“You mean, marry him? Let him try to kill you?” Aldasha nodded. “But that would still cause a war, wouldn’t it?”
“Not if I’m the only one left to wage a war against.”
We sat in silence, considering it.
“You know he won’t kill you himself,” Taield said.
“I think he will, actually,” I argued. They looked at me. “It’s just… more his style. He strangled his first wife. Of course, you still have to be open to the possibility of an assassination. What you should do is….” I outlined my plan.
We argued it over for a few more hours, working out the kinks, and of course, some changes were made to it during the following months.
But half a year later, Princess Aldasha and King Onisy were wed, and Aldasha was crowned queen. I waited in the passage outside their bedchamber. Taield guarded her during the ceremony and on the way back to the room, and just after I saw the newlyweds enter the room, he joined me. We watched in tense silence as they consummated their marriage. We had to, he could have tried to kill her at any moment, but that barely alleviated the awkwardness.
Finally, he grabbed her throat. Aldasha screamed, a gargled, choked, scream, but we hardly needed the warning. I burst into the room, holding a tiny jeweled dagger, stabbed the king, right in the heart, and disappeared back into the passage.
I watched as Aldasha grabbed the dagger, then ran to the door and screamed, “Help! Help!” Guards burst into the room, and Taield went around and followed them. I watched Aldasha tearfully explain how her husband had tried to kill her, and she’d stabbed him in self-defense, and he was d-dead! Angry red marks had appeared on her throat, and her story wasn’t questioned.
So Aldasha took the throne. As far as I saw, everyone was glad; Onisy had not been a good king. She made me her spymaster; Taield was to return to Agrivaia, and his wife.
“So, are you happy with the way things turned out?” he asked me before he left. “You never did say what your motivation was.”
“No,” I agreed. “And I never will. But I couldn’t be happier.”