Sunday, June 21, 2020


King Grafian III drank alone in his vaulted and cavernous conference room. This half hour of solitude remained inviolate to all, including the seven-year-old princess, light of his life. Keeping the kingdom secure meant taking extraordinary measures he once dismissed outright. They were also supremely dangerous, but these were dangerous times. A spirit of lawlessness sought to establish the rule of the jungle.

The assassin reeled down silently on a special cord, unnoticed, and sat cross-legged on the table.

Grafian noticed her after a time, being expectant of certain news. "Jili." He straightened to a more kingly pose. "You delivered my warning to King Carrimon?--the knife next to his sleeping head?"  Carrimon liked to pay agitators to spread lies and discord.

"I though it better," Jili said, "to plant the knife next to his wife's head."

The king nodded. "A good ploy. A man's defiance evaporates when someone he holds dear is threatened."

"There is something else. I caught an assassin, and used truth potion to learn who hired him. That led me to a wealthy merchant, who led me to Duke Tranten. All three of their heads now grace his throne."

Despite appreciation of her ruthless efficiency, Grafian labored under misgivings. Jili operated in disguise, which even gave her access to the princess in her capacity as messenger for a wizardress named Sisra--who furnished trinkets related to fairies, a subject most intoxicating to the princess. Jili had an unnerving way of revealing herself from a crowd with a wink.

"You're right to be troubled," said the observant assassin.

"Shouldn't I be? This calls for a level of trust I find hard to embrace."

Jili rose and paced the length of the table, silent despite her arsenal. "I grew up learning my craft in this castle. I only got caught once, and tossed out on my head.."

"And greatly enriching your fellow thieves in the old quarter. Just how much swag is enough? How far does one go to obtain it? What whispering does he pay heed to?" There, he'd said it, no matter how much it offended her.

"You refer to trust." Jili came back and settled down again, regarding him with shaded eyes. "Money and power mean nothing. I'm very fond of the princess and the queen."

"But. . . .what if I should take a course of action you disagree with?"

"If you ever became a cruel tyrant, I would simply go elsewhere, only taking action against forces in the field--never against the kingdom. There must be lines that are  never crossed. You call it trust, I call it integrity."

As the half hour was nearly up, the princess came skipping into the antechamber, fairy wings bouncing. The assassin folded into a stealth spell and flowed out of sight.

"How met, Pumpkin?" The king hoisted his daughter onto the table. "Have you tired of your fairy toys? Perhaps we shall consider mermaids next."

The princess wielded a toy sword. "Remember those tall women in red armor?"

"The Red Claws? Don't tell me you wish to be an amazon warrior!"

"I want to ride on one of their dragons!"

A double tap on his back furnished Grafian with the assassin's opinion. "I. . . .oh, blast, I suppose the thing could be arranged. But only if the messenger is right there with you."

"Good!" The princess clapped. "That lady is so clever. She knows all about knives and poisons."

"Hrrm, yes, we shall have to discuss that with her, most sternly."

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