The scarlet light of the twilight began settling gently as evening slowly embraced the skies. A fresh, soft breeze was cooling down the stuffy air of the afternoon arising small curls of dust on the dry road. The first cool breeze in days. Summer had been at its peak for three weeks already. The land had begun to scorch in the absence of rain, and resources were diminishing. With every wheatear that withered dead, so did the hopes of the Kingdom ever reaching its former glory again. But that was perhaps the price for ignorance...
The man walked along the market stalls, skimming through the products with indifference. Most merchants hadn't had much luck selling anything in a good while, but the sight of this well-dressed man gave them some hope. However all their best efforts to interest him were in vain. He walked on past all of them, silent and visibly unimpressed. His expression made him seem like a harsh, sour man and his eyes betrayed arrogance and disgust. From time to time he would adjust his precious satin robes and slightly brush them of peasant dust. They were clearly of great finesse, stitched with coloured strings in beautiful ornamental waves and flower patterns. Children stared at him curiously from a distance pointing and laughing at his strange appearance. The man leered at them arrogantly in return. He was clearly was not one of the crowd. He was relatively young and he carried himself very dignifying.
A group of younger men rumbled nearby, eyes stalking the unusual guest.
"Who is this strange fellow?" one of them asked.
"I have no clue. He looks a bit..."
"I was going to say 'misplaced', but on second thought..." a youth said and gasped.
"What is it?" the others gathered closely.
The young man grabbed one of them by the shoulder, tilted his head closer to his friend's and began gesticulating theatrically.
"Do you see that? That elegant walking fashion, that-that wonderfully coloured robe, that smooth, glowing skin....Could it be...?" His friends awaited his verdict with wide, curious eyes. "A woman!?" he chirped making his friends burst out loud in laughter.
"If that's true, he's still a lot prettier than your sister." teased one of the men.
"Hey! Stop that!" objected the younger, upset of being caught in his own joke.
Just a moment later, a heavy hit over the back of youth's head made him hunch and yell in pain.
"You bunch of softheads." huffed a gruffy old man.
"Grandfather, why did you do that?" the boy moaned as he slowly got up.
"To get some sense back into you before someone else does." the old man said hitting him over the back with his wooden crane again. " That 'strange fellow' over there," he paused poking another in the stomach, "could have you beheaded if he so much as dislikes the look on your face."
"Who is he?" asked one of the other men.
"Some kind of court official; a lower rank eunuch, it seems. You see that silver carved symbol tied to his waist? That's the imperial seal."
"An eunuch? Here, in this part of the country? What does he want?"
"I don't know." the old man shook his head and began walking away. " Probably here to claim those taxes we couldn't pay for since last year. Whatever it is, it's no good. No good at all..." the old man's voice melted into the village's humm as he got further away.
People that knew who the strange man was looked at him rather confused, their eyes filled with status-imposed respect, but also fear. After the horrifying war that took away their loved ones, the famine and disease that struck afterwards, and after the people put their life and their future in the hands of the king, what more could they ask of the poor? They could never udnerstand. Life at the palace could not possibly compare. How would the higher ranking understand poverty in its truest form?
He looked around. Evening was drawing near and the people were slowly vanishing off the streets. Merchants were closing down their stalls,one by one, although some still tried to haggle, even if it meant selling for less. Less money is better than none when you have a family at home. Children ran barefoot towards home, carefree and engaged in innocent play. Seeing them play was a bittersweet sight, knowing that they might probably go back home and not find anything on the dinner table. And it was a crude reality, that, in some cases the children had to take care of their sick parents by themselves, or struggle as orphans as best as they could. They made little money and they created their future with their own small, fragile hands, without any hope of overstepping the stake for the new generation.
The eunuch turned to his way. He wished he didn't have to be there at that time. There was hardly anything or anyone to make him feel more at ease, bring about some familiarity or provide him with some kind of entertainment. Of course, he had his guards, but they were hardly the most entertaining people on his journey. The chief of the village, however, was a dfferent story. The former chief that had passed away rather unexpectedly and left all the responsibilities of his work to his completely unprepared son. So it's to be understood why there was a lot of sweat, coughing, and uneasiness during the official meeting. There wasn't much excuse for the lack of knowledge of protocol and etiquette, however nothing was as bad as the mini banquet that followed. It was downright ridiculous; a distasteful parade of women, misplaced jokes and dull food. Normally, he would have such a person arrested, instead he simply decided to replace him after reporting back to the capital.
"Just a damned piece of Kingdom."
That's all he kept repeating pityingly from time to time, sometimes to his guards sometimes only to himself. The people had no enjoyment for life, draught had kept the lands unfruitful...; the Kingdom of Akras the land that had once been a majestic force, under the blessings of the Heavens, transformed it into a graveyard. Nothing seemed to explain the violent blow that damned the nation to almost complete collapse, but if the Kingdom was a human body, like the elders would say, it would be one in sheer agony with a weak heart to pump life throughout.
The eunuch felt upset and a bit crushed by the negativity all around; he would have done anything to not have to bother with any of this. But all he could do now was to watch the golden sunset drop slowly down the last bit of sky as he left the now quet market. He headed towards the guest house, on the other side of town.
Behind, in the distance, three people came out from behind a corner and persistently gazed in the direction the eunuch was heading. Their eyes finally met each other seconds later and, for a moment, they all exchanged mutual messages through the sparkle in their eyes, that read the same thought. One last glance towards the man and the three vanished behind the buildings once again...
Early night had cast a sparkling white eye in the center of its glory over daylight. The moon floated gracefully above the kingdom on the warm silky sky, unveiling half of its pale face from under the veils of night. It was a still and quiet darkness that covered the earth that evening.
A devious sly shadow slid alongside corners of a building, beneath trees and roofs. Studied moves. Light and silent footsteps. Eyes on the target. A mysterious and dark clothed figure emerged from the growing shadows of the evening tip-toeing carefully along the buildings. Their eyes betrayed no emotion as they stalked their pray like a tiger. Anticipation spread shudders of emotion and pleasure throughout their body as they drew near.
The eunuch was now only a few streets away from the guesthouse where he would spend the night. Distracted and calm he walked at his own pace, not minding the darkness that settled in, or the dangers that might be lying within it.
His two guards were following him closely behind; weary, skimming every building and every turn for sign of threat.
At one specific crossroad one of the guards caught a movement in the corner of his eye. He walked on, however, believing that it was nothing more than an illusion. But what if...? He hada bad feeling. He had to go back and check again.
"Sir, I think I saw something at the last turn." he finally whispered to his fellow guard.
"Really? I didn't see anything... Go back and make sure." the higher ranking guard said.
The soldier left to check with a short military salute, while the nobleman and the single guard slowly continued their way.
Arrived back on the scene, the man carefully skimmed the shadows again, but saw nothing. Reassured, he turned to run back to his superior and report when something hit the ground behind him with a thud. Too soon for him to react in any way, with a swift movement, a rope was wrapped around his neck, leaving him unable to breathe. A hand from behind quickly covered his mouth and pulled him off the road in almost complete silence.
Noticing the prolonged delay of his partner, the other guardian said:
"Could you please stop, my Lord?"
"What is it?" the nobleman turned.
"I believe there might someone's following us." he whispered.
"Do not worry, my Lord. I will take care of this. Please remain here."
Preparing for battle, the guard slowly pulled out his sword and walked cautiously back down the road they came on, while the nobleman remained behind and watched. Only the man's footsteps were audiblein the night. Suddenly a shadow shifted on top of a roof just above the man.
"Hey! Watch out!" the eunuch yelled.
But taking advantage of the moment of confusion the person on the roof jumped off right next to the soldier and began wielding his sword towards his opponent. Their swords clinked as the guard attempted to react defensively, but the battle was over probably as soon as it began when the attacker landed a kick in the man's stomach and face and slashed his skin open, blood gushing out. As soon as the wounded fell unconscious to the ground, the attacker picked him by his shoulders and dragged him off the road, into the darkness.
"Hey!" called out the nobleman in fright, seeing how his only left defender was being annihilated.
There was silence all around once again. It felt deep and disconcerting. His mind was racing in all directions, not being able to grasp what his next move should be, when all of a sudden, he felt the cold sharp edge of a blade against his neck. The man paralyzed with fear.
"I'm sorry I kept you waiting so long." the person spoke calmly.
"Wh-Who are you?" the man demanded.
Pulling the blade away, the attacker kicked him in the back making him hit the adjacent wall and fall helpless to the ground. They then pointed the tip of the sword towards the man's neck again.
"For what I want from you, you don't need to know my name." the person replied coldly.
"You...You're a woman!" he exclaimed after hearing their voice.
She sneered and crouched down next to the man. She reached up to the cloth that had been covering up her face, leaving nothing but her sparkling eyes exposed, and uncovered her mouth. The hazy moonlight didn't reveal much, but seemed to prefer to play on her face: revealing her feminine face shape, but hiding the essences of her features.
"How dare you..!"
His words stopped mid-sentence when her fingers lightly touched his lips.
"Shhh..." she whispered.
Holding the blade across his neck still, she slowly got closer. Her fingers slipped from his lips to his chin and down his neck. They slid across the width of the blade and down his body again from there. Subtly, her hand slowly reached under his robe. Her fingers played and fiddled their way in until they felt something of a different texture tied to the belt.
She smiled seductively. He stared at her in confusion.
Within a second, her muscles contracted, pulling out what she had indeed conceived to be his money bag. The same moment, the man instinctively reacted trying to snatch the bag away from her. She stopped him with a simple push of blade. One more thrust and the sword would have pierced his skin and probably killed him. She got up on her feet and looked at the nobleman pityingly.
"People like you should never be called 'noble'." she said in a deep tone and with a swift hand movement, she slashed his arm with her sword.
She tucked her sword away and ran off into the darkness. The eunuch was left crying in pain while she disappeared, melting in the shadows without a trace. Confused and humiliated, the man yelled furiously, as though only just now understanding what had really happened, how he'd been fooled and robbed and how he couldn't do anything against it... other than scream.
And then silence fell once again.