Ground Zero

 

Life was a constant struggle.  The citizens often relied on their sovereign to keep them safe from invasion and keep them from starving to death. The strong and powerful people protected the weak and defenseless. Among this strong and powerful group was one young man who was making a name for himself.

She remembered the first time she had laid eyes on him. As far as she knew, he had no family left. Father and brothers were killed during battles; she did not know if any of his relatives were alive. That day, the king’s army was coming back from battle victors over their enemy. The king’s banners flapping in the wind announced the arrival of the troops.  He was black and blue, bloody and dirty, but alive. She had spotted him because his face stuck out among the other warriors.  He had a grim expression on his face even though they had won. Her father knew him, and  he was the man her father spoke of so highly.  He was not very tall but he was agile and cunning, or so she had heard. Despite his young age, he had quickly proven his worth at developing innovative offensive and defensive strategies. He was definitely a smart person.

There would be a feast that night to celebrate the king’s victory over his enemy. A feast that would be set up in the palace’s largest rooms lit by torches to make it almost as clear as day. First, these warriors would see a healer, and then given whatever services they wished, be it a bath or intoxicating drinks, or even women if they wished so. Life was hard and whichever luxury treatments they would ask for, the king would give as a reward for their loyalty and bravery. I wonder what he is going to request, what he wants the most.  I wish there was a way to know, she thought.

She knew this from her father, who was the king’s blacksmith and responsible for the king’s artillery chambers. She always asked questions; her thirst for knowledge was unquenchable and despite being of a young age, her father had told her. She knew the man would have anything he wished, simply because he was the reason they were victors. War strategies were not his only set of skills; he was the best spy the king had. He knew how to get near their opponents without being caught, and should it happened, he knew how to talk himself out of any predicament or how to escape. He was that highly cunning. She had heard tales of his skills from her father, who had made her promise to keep this man’s secret. However, she could hardly reconcile these skills with the profound sorrow he exuded upon coming back from battle. He looked defeated, worn down, unable to rejoice at their victory. He could not be so ruthless and cunning and feel so profoundly; it made little sense.

A few years later, they were introduced to each other. It occurred at midday while she was bringing food to her father.  She was allowed to the smithy; the guards knew her. On that day, he was there discussing with her father. She felt a gaze on her the very moment she set foot in the smithy. Scanning the room, she saw her father had company.

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