Amelia Robinson

Hey there! I'm a student at the University of Kentucky and an aspiring writer. This blog serves as an outlet for all the things I want to talk about that are writing-related. I'll post some of my writing, too, for your enjoyment and critique. Thank you for stopping by! If you'd like to know more about me, feel free to visit here!

Short Story: A Deal with a Death Rider

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Deal with a Death Rider

by Amelia Robinson

May 7, 2013

Description: The royal heir approaches Sebastian, a former Death Rider, to ask his assistance in tracking down a rogue Rider who attempted to assassinate her.

“I need your help.”

Sebastian sighed. She was too confident. She figured he’d roll over for her because she was royal. But while he reeked of fish and unwashed flesh, and there was dirt caked between his exposed toes and dirty water splashed up to his knees, he was a Rider. Retired, but a Rider.

Death Riders were many things, and being the personal bloodhound to the royal heir ranked far below the bottom of that list.

“Riders don’t get involved in back country politics,” he said. He took quiet enjoyment in the way the lady’s face flared at the jab. He wondered if she’d try to force her guards to arrest him. He smirked openly.

“Consider this a matter of morality.” She said it with the tensity of someone holding to the tethers of their patience.

“Don’t discuss morals with a man who carried the souls of the dead for a living,” he said. “It makes people twitchy.” He took his weight off the wall he’d been leaning on. “The sainthood houses are just round the other side of the bay. Take a candle with them.”

He made to leave. She stepped in his path. He looked at her and gauged how easy it would be to cast her aside and ruin her fancy dress. She gestured for him to wait, then went to her carry bag.

Why wasn’t he leaving? There had been a time when he would’ve already been gone, would’ve never stayed past her first four words.

“Recognize this?” Turning to him, she held up a scrap of mottled colored silk. The half-light behind her was enough to illuminate the strangely dyed, familiar patterns along the length of fabric.

He raised his eyebrows coolly. He would not let her see how the presence of a Rider’s scarf made his lungs feel too small in his chest, how he wanted to tear the silk from her plain, aristocratic fingers and find the tiny stitching at the ends that identified its owner. His mind wrenched him back to a sprawling field smudged with black from the funeral pyres, the smell of burned hair and flesh sweeping into him like a spirit, while his lantern remained warm from the candle inside rather than freezing from the presence of souls.

“I found this on the ground next to my face,” she said. He refocused on her face, bold and challenging. “Where I landed after someone tried to assassinate me.”

He wondered how much it would annoy her if he sighed again. She’d tracked him down for this? The presence of a Rider’s scarf and an assassin who, though she didn’t say, probably attacked from the shadows? Every common criminal worth his salt attacked from the shadows. It took someone of a Rider’s magical caliber to use the shadows to transport from place to place, and the existence of those with that capability was scant.

He crossed and uncrossed his arms, trying to harness his agitation before it got away from him. “Oh, majesty. The nobles of The Court must be stupider than I thought if they let you chase me down with so little.” She opened her mouth, eyebrows drawn severely. “A Rider’s scarf?” he overrode her, gesturing at it. “That’s it?”

She gave a small smile. “I realize you’re behind the times, spending your days burning under the sun for a few scraps of fish, but this empire is a leap away from peace and only a step from chaos. This,” she raised the scarf, “cannot be ignored. I can’t assume I’m safe because it’s unlikely to be a Rider.”

“If it’s a plant, that’s the entire point,” he said. “They’ll want you to come after a Rider.”

“If a Rider is keen on my death,” she said, “then it must be stopped.” Her smile turned more genuine. “Assassination attempts tend to put a damper on my days, as you can imagine.”

He raised an eyebrow at her, wondering if there was a point to her boohooing within the next century.

His imperious expression must’ve put a twist in her corset, because her eyes narrowed. “My bodyguards are no match for a Rider on the hunt. You’re the only Rider to have left the service alive, so that’s why I’ve come to you. I’d like your assistance.”

Sebastian’s frustration released from him in a huff as he turned away from her. “Well, I’d like land and a title, but the gods don’t--”

“You’ll have it.”

He turned back to her, a sudden wave of fatigue washing through him. “Excuse me?”

She straightened her spine and for one moment, Sebastian thought she looked like the regal idols that stood in the courtyards around the city: tall, humble figure, and kind, but with a fierce hostility surging right under the surface.

He’d heard stories of this royal when he came into port every spring. What did they call her? The Miracle Turner.

“If land and a title is your price, then I will pay it,” she said. And then she was just a girl with far too much time on her too soft hands.

Sebastian gave her a smile he hoped was pitying. He wasn’t quite sure he managed it; the muscles were tight from misuse. “What I want you can’t give me, princess,” he said. His hopes and dreams had died on that field with the people who had screamed into the night filled with the pain of knowing their souls would not know salvation and peace. He’d already lain down his aspirations, and nothing this lady said or did could ever pick his honor up off the floor of the abyss in his heart.

“I still have a few miracles up my sleeves,” she said with the naive confidence of the inexperienced. It prickled his irritation.

“I have no faith in miracles,” he said as he turned towards the door. “Let alone yours.”

The low whistle of an airborne blade alerted him a second before the knife slammed into the doorframe half a foot from his head. He stared at the quivering hilt and, with a flicker of amusement, thought that he had been working fishing nets too long if he hadn’t known the lady hid a knife in that silk waterfall she called a dress.

He glanced back at her. She met his gaze squarely and lifted her chin in challenge.

“Your faith is no concern of mine,” she said bitingly, “but I will not let your tarnished ego get in the way of this empire stepping its way towards peace.”

He raised an eyebrow at that.

Unfazed, she continued, “I don’t just want a Rider’s help. I need a Rider’s help.” Her voice lowered and her face softened: “I know your reputation, I know what happened at Sawn Tau Blu.”

You think you know what happened. Sebastian’s stomach soured at the pity on her face, the belief that she understood what dwelled in him.

“But I don’t have the sleep to lose for you to throw a temper tantrum over spilled tea,” she said.

So that’s what she thought he was doing? That he was throwing a hissy fit because he wasn’t a celebrated Death Rider anymore? That he had been stripped of his rank and religion, that he was in exile? Well, he thought, wouldn’t that be a tender world, if that was all that had happened.

With a strong yank, he pulled the knife from the doorframe, flipped it into his other hand, and went to her. He stopped just short of touching her, and realized as they shared the same air, that she wasn’t much shorter than him. He’d expected to loom over her. As it was, he stood so close to her he could make out the rings of color in her eyes, the freckles brought out by the sun, the eyelashes turned thick and dark with dyes.

He felt a quick brush of amusement at the unchanging expression of fearlessness on her face, the way she didn’t move or tense at his proximity.

“Princess,” he said softly. He pressed the knife into her hands, then guided the tip until he felt it press against his chest. “Next time you loose one of these at me, aim true.” He slipped the blade from her limp grasp then slowly reached his arms around her, careful to only barely brush her skin through the fabric of her dress. His fingers found the sheath strapped at the small of her back and he snapped the knife into it. “You may not have the chance for a second try.”

To her credit, she didn’t flinch or jerk away, but he saw her swallow slightly, and he smiled at the crack he’d found in her armor.

He took a small, discreet breath as he pulled away, filling himself with her scent of lavender, leather, and sweat. A heady aroma for a man of the sword like him.

He had a foot in the street when she called after him: “Do we have a deal, Rider?”

He turned his head an inch or two to each side to give the impression he was scanning the street, when his mind was really on the strange mixture of hard work and soft femininity that was still lingering in his nose.

He knew that she watched him closely, because she was a woman that also reeked of desperation as much as she did of the gardens that surrounded her lovely palace. He relished her anticipation.

He flipped his hood up and, in the shadow of his cowl, allowed himself a real smile. “Let the god of misfortune smile, princess, for you have caught my interest.”

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