Breath Stopped

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It had come down to this moment as I knew it would. And here I was, unable to do it. I had assured the captain I was capable of this mission. This would be my chance to rise above the common man in our band. I would become one of the heads, inferior in status only to the captain himself.

About time too, after seven bloody years of service and measly portions of the riches. I remembered stroking the finger that would bear my new gold ring as proof of my position as I spoke with the captain, telling him that I would not fail him, not in this imperitive moment. So he sent me off, alone, to complete the dreadful task.

I had killed before, certainly. Seven years in a band of thieves doesn’t come without a price of human blood. But it had always been a price I was willing to pay. The men I fought with and removed from this life were always giving just as much effort to my death as I was to theirs. And I couldn’t let that happen. So I killed and I ran. Later, I pushed the memories of their faces from my head with the help of a deck of cards and a jug of ale.

My assignment was simple: eliminate the captain of the King’s Guard without a fuss. We knew he would be home on leave this weekend, sent to spend a few days with his wife and children and take some time off from the stress of being constantly personally responsible for the king’s physical well-being. He was given a holiday such as this one in a regular cycle – every three months came with its promise of three days of leave – and my own captain had reason to want him dead. As did we all. The man had been nothing but trouble for our well established band since his appointment to his current position.

So it was my job to get rid of him while he was at his ease, taking a few days break from his professional vigil. That’s why I had crept into his house in the dead of night, opening the door without a creak and stepping softly through each room of the grand home that the man shared with his family. Though the city was a busy one, no one raised the hue and cry at this time of night. All were asleep besides the gutter rats and the watchman. No gutter rats lived in this sector and the watchman had turned the corner just before I stepped into the street.

I’d never thought of myself as an honest man or a good one. No need to lie to myself like that, as some of my comrades did. It would be hard to continue to tell myself that I was doing it for the greater good or some other such nonsense as I unclasped a bracelet from a sobbing lady’s wrist, so I didn’t bother. It was enough that I did it for my own good.That was probably why the captain was finally considering promoting me to be one of the heads, his leaders who never hesitated to be sure that his will was carried out by those beneath them.

The captain of the King’s Guard had become a rather wealthy man through his own seven years of service to a different master. His home was full of beautiful things which I kept from touching as I went. It was not the time for collecting trinkets.

It wasn’t hard to find the bedroom he shared with his wife and come up next to his sleeping form. My shadow blocked the moonlight through the window from illuminating his wife’s face and she shifted slightly. In the morning, the kingdom would be one beautiful widow richer.

I slid a short dagger from a sheath at my belt and held it a breath away from the clean-shaven throat I was prepared to cut. Breathe in, breathe out, and slice. That was the best way. I took my breath in.

“Dadda?”

I snapped around and raised the knife at the intruder.

A girl of about seven stared back at me, mouth wide open. She had been rubbing her eyes, but now they were frozen on me. The girl had blonde hair in waves to her shoulders and shivered in the thin nightgown that was her only garment. Her barefeet must have been ice on the floor.

I stepped closer to the girl, refusing to wake her father and my target. “Go back to bed,” I hissed. “Unless you want me to hurt you too.” I held my blade before her eyes, bending close to her.

“Are you going to hurt my dadda?” Tears began to well in her eyes, but she spoke softly, not rousing her parents. She brought her hands to her mouth, covering it, and let the tears fall.

I recoiled at the girl’s reaction. I had expected her either to flee or scream, but she stood fast, shaking from cold and fear. I shook my head and moved back to her father’s side. If I killed her father before she could wake him, I would have only her mother to deal with when she did cry out. I could handle a terrified woman.

I put the knife back to his throat, taking my breath once more. But my hand did not complete the sliding motion that would complete the man’s life. I tried again. I couldn’t do it.

“Please, sir, don’t hurt him.” The girl had lowered her hands a moment to make her soft plea before replacing them and resuming her position as a trembling statue.

I turned back to my target, frozen with indecision. I must do this if I wanted to be a head. But I made the mistake of glancing back to the girl. One of her tears fell to the floor. I shook my head and looked back to her father. Do it. Just finish it.

I bit my tongue and pulled the knife away. As I slid it into the sheath, I knew I sealed my fate. I paused next to the girl on my way out the door. “Not a word of this to anyone,” I breathed.

She stood shaking, giving me no reply, and I disappeared back into the dark.

Kira

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