It was time.
I settled down onto my stomach, set my cheek slowly onto my outstretched arm, and squinted one eye. The folds of my cloak were soft against my face. Carefully keeping my eyes on my target, I slid one hand back to my belt and curled two fingers around the feathered end of an arrow. I withdrew it from my quiver and, with the experience of executing the same movement thousands of times, knocked it to my bowstring. My forehead tickled as a bead of sweat ran down it and slid off the bridge of my nose.
Muscles taut, gloved fingers tight around my bowstring, I drew it back and sighted down my arrow shaft, my eyes locked onto the erect, proud form of the Baron Lockhilt.
This was it. Six hundred gold pieces for a man’s life. When I was done with this job I would have the first good pay I had ever received after living alone since…since Father died.
He had been a knight, a commander for the armies of the kingdom. Even with the pressure of his important job, I could never recall thoughts of him frowning. Before, when he had gone into battle, I had waited at the gate of our house for him to come back. I had cried when he went to leave, but he had always comforted me before he left. And when he would return he would swing me up into his arms and laugh—a laugh just for me. “I love you, Tay.” he would say as he beamed up at me and then closed his arms around me in a tight hug.
What would he think of me now, barely twenty years old, an outlaw to the kingdom, a hunter of men for money? Would he love me now?
I shoved the thought deep back into my mind. It didn’t matter now. Father was gone.
I wet my lips with my tongue. I felt my biceps go rigid as they always did just before releasing an arrow. I knew that if I released this arrow I would not miss. I never missed. That’s why I had started this job. Archery was the only thing I was ever good at, and my heart was emotionless. A perfect killer. Murderer.
I hissed at myself and sighted down my arrow shaft again. The setup couldn’t have been any better for this job. I was on a tall building roof and the Baron was in the middle of the road, there for all to see, heading straight toward his castle’s portcullis. Here it was. Now or never.
Then the portcullis opened, and my heart broke.
Out of the opening came a small, redheaded boy with eyes so bright and happy they shone like the sun. “Father!”
Baron Lockhilt laughed and galloping toward his son, he closed the distance between them. He swung down off of his horse and landed on one knee, his eyes twinkling and a smile so wide on his features it looked like his face would split. “Adren!”
Lockhilt’s son leaped into his father’s arms and the two hugged each other tightly. “Oh, I love you, Adren!”
My eyes blurred involuntarily and I felt streams of sweat flowing down my face. Not sweat…tears! It couldn’t be! I hadn’t cried since Father’s death. I hadn’t even cried when I’d seen Father carried home from the battlefield, a deep cut through his neck and chest. That was when my heart had gone cold. I liked it that way…but no. No I didn’t. It was a lie, a lie I had told myself over and over again. I liked the emotion I had felt when I watched Father come galloping up to the gate. I liked the feeling of my Father swinging me into his powerful arms and bellowing out a laugh. A laugh just for me. He had loved me, and I knew right then he still would if he was alive, no matter what I had become.
Though Father was gone, Lockhilt wasn’t. He was down there now, in perfect range of a killing arrow, hugging his beloved son.
In my mind, I saw myself let go of the arrow, saw it plunge into Lockhilt’s back. I saw his eyes widen in horror from the pain, struggling to cope with it, then fall onto his face, lifeless. I saw Adren leap back in horror, screaming to his father. I saw his eyes, so bright and happy, go dull and cold. I saw Adren…becoming me.
I gasped at the realization, wishing for the thought to disappear, but it wouldn’t. I was heartless, cruel, cold. The boy below me could not turn into that. Never.
In sudden rage I leaped onto my feet and broke the arrow that could have pierced the Baron’s back. I threw the pieces to the ground and then broke my bow over my knee as well. I unslung the quiver of arrows from my back and dashed them to the rooftop. Then, with tears still streaming down my face, I turned away from the scene of a father and son’s joyous reunion.
I would never kill again.
A question remained though as I hurried down the steps leading from the roof. Would I ever have feelings again? Would I ever feel my heart warm when I saw a person’s face, would I ever grieve if someone died? Would I ever laugh at a joke, or whistle cheerfully as I walked down a street?
I didn’t know. My heart had been so cold for so long. Would it ever thaw?
But I felt it. I felt the stir in my heart as I ducked into an alleyway and pulled the hood of my cloak over my tear-streaked face. I felt the soft trickle of warmth that had begun to flow in my chest. It wasn’t much, but it was there. Perhaps it would grow. Perhaps it would turn into something that would change the ways of my life.
Perhaps. When the time was right.
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