(1 of 1. Originally posted on February 17, 2023 for the prompt “A broken promise.”)
I don’t know which shocks me more. That my cautious, meticulous apprentice has gone so far off script, or that a high-ranked noble would invite a common girl to dance with him in public. I took a contract on that man. If she doesn’t finish him soon, I’ll have to do it myself. I was only meant to watch over my apprentice’s first kill. Then to make a show of pretending to try to save him, in my official capacity as Court Apothecary. But I’m never without my tools. They cut a path across the dance floor like a whirlwind through a grainfield. Her simple cotton dress stands out among the billows of silk and lace, its path marked by a series of gasps and stumbles as the noble ladies see the odd couple pass.
Their personalized cups rest on the table they abandoned. A gold cup set with gems in the pattern of his house crest next to a simple wooden cup, decorated with a hand-painted flower. A lone servant guards the table. Maybe she means to distract the target while I poison his cup. She doesn’t know my secret. I never poison the cups.
I stand near the dance floor, tracing the couple’s progress around the room. I lift my own empty cup, turning it so one of the tubes I’ve hollowed out through its thick side lines up with my mouth. Her head rests on his shoulder, and she’s smiling up at him. I know her smiles. I know the faux innocent smile she uses to get out of trouble. I know the charming smile she uses to distract men. I know the far-away smile she gets from happy memories. I’ve never seen this smile, but I know it. That faint blush in her delicate cheeks gives her away. The way she presses against him.
She’s falling for him.
Jealousy stabs me through the heart, a world-shaking sneak attack. Shock at my own reaction makes me tremble. I have to close my eyes and draw a slow breath to steady my aim. Even without a contract, I’d want to finish him now. But her eyes. I can’t look away from her eyes, how they’re locked on his face, full of wondrous joy. If I finish the job, she’ll be broken. I can’t do this to her. But if I don’t, my anonymous client will start hunting me.
My heart makes a choice. Rotate my cup one quarter turn, lining up a different tube. A quick puff. The target twitches. My apprentice stiffens a moment before he does, knowing what happens next. As soon as he falls, I rush to his side.
“Stand back. He’s been poisoned.” I kneel, and go through the motions of checking his vital signs, palming the dart before anyone sees it. “He doesn’t have much time. I must get him to my lab.” I lift the man onto my shoulder and hurry out with him, studiously avoiding eye contact with my stricken apprentice. Her heart will break, but even she must not suspect that I used a non-lethal dose. I’ll have to keep him hidden as long as I can, to buy myself time. Time to hunt my client, before he learns of my broken contract and begins to hunt me. When it’s over, I hope she forgives me.