A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 5
He came at me and I tried to jump back, but I was still sitting in the tub and only managed to dunk myself under the sudsy water. I came up coughing, sputtering, and blinded, arms waving like windmills as I tried for a handhold and balance. My hands collided with several objects, one of them surely a body part and another the mask he was wearing. I heard something metallic hit the stone fairly far away in the room and realized I must have knocked one of the knives out of his grasp.
I tried to get away and in the struggle I felt the second knife slip past my throat and cut in, not deep but painful. I threw myself to the side, my eyes beginning to clear up, and I heard the knife cut the air as it came past me and caught my shoulder.
I fell to the stone floor heavily, bruising my right side and painfully catching my right foot and left ankle on the edge of the tub. The assassin, which he clearly was, pinned me as I tried to roll away, and I threw a punch, catching the chin under the mask in a lucky shot. It made him pause for a moment and I took advantage of the breath.
“AARON!” I hollered as loudly as I could.
The assassin put a heavy, mitt-like hand over my mouth before I could yell any more and I tried to punch him again, catching his wrist and sending the second knife spinning away. Apparently he decided that I was being too much trouble and he would get rid of me another way because the hand over my mouth closed over my nose too as he began trying to smother me.
I hit his chest and it had no effect so I punched his crotch. He grunted in pain, but then leaned down on my harder. I was quickly running out of air and the pressure was hurting my head.
Then the door burst open.
The assassin jumped off me and I gasped for air, rolling over on my side. Aaron blocked the door, standing ready for the assassin. The assassin feigned to the right and then dodged left. Aaron grabbed him by the scruff of his neck as he attempted to get past, but the assassin twisted in his grasp, hit a spot on the MAGI’s neck, and quite abruptly Aaron collapsed. The masked man dodged out the door and I heard Lolani yell in surprise as the assassin fled past her.
Then he was gone.
Aaron sat up slowly, rubbing the back of his neck and looking a little cross-eyed for a moment. Lolani stepped around him and carefully helped me up. I winced, moving slowly as I felt the bruises already forming. Lolani threw my robe around my shoulders and I winced again as the material hit the cut on my shoulder. The blood started soaking through and Lolani gasped in horror.
“Ah! I’m sorry, Mistress! I’ll ring for ointment and bandages right away!” said the Bird, scurrying out of the room.
I tied the robe closed and looked over at Aaron to see him starring. I limped to where he was sitting and carefully sat myself down next to him.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
I nodded thoughtfully.
Then I punched him as hard as I could in the shoulder.
“I didn’t see anything!” he protested, going a bit red.
“Didn’t say you did.”
“Then what was that for?”
I growled low in my throat.
“You never said anything about assassins on this mission, you ass!”
He blinked at me stupidly and I scowled.
“What, you think I always invite strange me in masks into my bath to smother me? Sorry, but that’s not my kind of foreplay.”
Even his ears went red as he blushed and I took a some small satisfaction in making him uncomfortable.
I punched him hard on the shoulder again.
“What was that one for?” he demanded, scowling and still blushing.
“For seeing me naked.”
“I told you I didn’t see anything!” he protested again.
“Before I even asked. Your too quick answer calls you a liar.”
I punched him once more and stood.
“That one,” I said with a smirk before he could ask. “Was for thinking about it.”
I limped to the tub and fished around until my hand came into contact with the wet pages of the book. I knew I’d heard something fall in. I pulled it out and looked at it forlornly. Sure, it wasn’t my favorite book in the world, but it was still a book and any book coming to harm was a cause for sadness. I sniffed loudly.
I turned a sad gaze on the MAGI, holding up the book for him to see.
“The poor thing. It’ll never be the same after this trauma.”
He rolled his eyes and sighed loudly, finally picking himself up off the floor and moving to my side.
“I’m pretty sure you have a bigger concern right now.
“Well, I suppose you haven’t noticed that you’re looking a bit too much like yourself.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, giving him a puzzled look.
He pointed to his neck and I reached up, putting a hand on my own. Something was missing. The amulet! The cord must have gotten cut when the assassin went for my neck. The cut was still bleeding as well and I brought my hand down, wrinkling my nose at the blood. I leaned down and rinsed my hand off quickly in the still full tub.
Then, I pulled a clump of my hair in front of my face, just to double check that I was looking like myself again. Sure enough, it was very auburn colored hair and not black anymore. I tossed the hair back with a sigh.
I began fishing again, this time with Aaron’s help. He found the amulet shortly and handed it to me. I took it and sighed.
“No I have to worry about finding a new cord before I’m seen.”
I took one limping step toward the door. Then, so swiftly and smoothly that I had no time to protest or fight back, Aaron swooped me up into his arms and I suddenly felt even smaller than I usually did when he was around.
“What are you doing, you mammoth lug?” I demanded, voice a bit higher from my surprise at being swept up into the dwarf’s arms.
“I’m your bodyguard. That means protecting you from yourself, too. You clearly shouldn’t be walking right now with the way you’re limping.”
He walked into the bedroom as I grumbled.
“Sure. Now you start acting like a bodyguard. Where were you earlier? Put me down!”
The MAGI deposited me gently on the bed and looked down at me, towering imposingly as he liked to do.
“You stay here. You can’t be wandering around without your face on and you’re hurt to boot. I’ll get you a new cord for the amulet and see if Lolani’s gotten that ointment yet.”
He went to the door between the bedroom and parlor, glancing back at me.
“Stay,” he repeated before closing the door behind himself.
I crossed my arms and glared at the door. Stupid assassin. Was this deal between King Malyon and the Duke really so heated that someone had to send an assassin after me? But wait, why after me? Was there someone who didn’t want the negotiations to go well? Someone who wanted a continued struggle between the two peoples? Who would that be? Was it the Duke? Or the King? But they were the ones who had called the liaison in, weren’t they? Or had NORTH simply imposed its will and sent the liaison in without having been asked? That might explain why the actual liaison disappeared at the last minute. It also seemed like something NORTH would do and I know that I would have been pretty ticked if I was the King or Duke. Of course, if it was one of them, I wasn’t feeling very neutral to either party anymore.
I laid back amid the green and white bed with a sigh. Suddenly, this mission wasn’t nearly as straight forward as it had been and depending on how long the Duke chose to take getting here, it could take weeks before the first meeting!
I shuddered at the thought. No. Somehow I would make sure it didn’t take that long. Transformation amulets had their limits, like all magic, and after the dunking mind had just taken, I didn’t want to test them. The absolute last thing I wanted was my actual face showing itself anywhere near the Elven Kingdoms, much less in them.
Lolani knocked softly and came in, bearing a jar of ointment for the bruises and bandages for the cuts. I didn’t think the bandages would be necessary, but I took one look at the sweet Bird’s worried face and suddenly didn’t have the heart to tell her so. I silently let her tend my wounds and as she finished lathering my foot and ankle and wrapping both, I smiled at her.
“Thank you, Lolani.”
“Anything for you, Mistress,” she replied, returning my smile. “What else can I do for you?”
“Well, I could really go for whatever they were serving for dinner. I don’t really want to wait until one of their servants brings it.”
“Right away,” she chirped, bouncing up.
Then a thought struck me.
“But maybe you should wait until Aaron gets back. He’s being suddenly very protective and I don’t particularly want to upset him by leaving me alone.”
“How thoughtful of you,” said the MAGI as he opened the door. “And you’re right. I would have been rather irritated. The assassin clearly waited until you were alone and defenseless to strike. I don’t think you should be alone for the rest of this mission.”
He raised an eyebrow at me, face completely made of stone.
“You’re not joking. Lovely.”
I flopped back into the pillows, instantly regretting it as my bruises protested and I winced, but it was only momentary.
“So basically you’re going to be with me at least half the time from now on, is that it?”
“That’s it exactly.”
I sagged down a bit further into the pillows, frowning at the wall.
“Trust me, I’m looking forward to the quality time with you just as much,” Aaron shot back. “By the way, I got this.”
He tossed me a length of black cord and I caught it, brightening up immediately.
“Don’t think this means you’re going anywhere for a couple days yet. Not unless the Duke shows up tomorrow, that is,” the MAGI cut in.
My smile turned into a scowl.
“And why not?”
“Because if you don’t spend some time off that foot, you’ll only make it worse.”
“Fine, fine, mother hen,” I shot back. “But you had better find me some amazing books to read. And a lot of them.”
He smirked and rolled his eyes.
“Yes, yes. I’m sure we’ll find something to keep you occupied. I’m going down for dinner.”
“You had better bring me back a whole lot!” I shouted after him.
I could hear him laughing as he left and I leveled a glare at the door as my stomach growled.
“M-Mistress, I can still go down and get you something...” began Lolani hesitantly, but I shook my head, crossing my arms and not letting my glare lessen.
“No, we’re not going to give him reason to complain about me out loud. I can wait until he’s done stuffing his face first. Then I’ll just give him a piece of my mind about not feeding the wounded properly.”
“Will you get me a book?”
“Of course, Mistress.”
But much to my surprise, we didn’t have very long to wait for Aaron to return. He was pulling a small food cart behind him laden with things that smell absolutely wonderful and my stomach rumbled when the smell reached me. The MAGI smirked, hearing it, and I made a face at him.
“Well, looks like I can’t lecture you after all.”
I watched him with a suspicious gaze as he set the food out on the bed and finally he met my eyes and sighed.
“You’re being nice. I don’t trust you when you’re being nice.”
He rolled his eyes.
“Oh just eat already.”