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Anassa's Blade

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The il-Aziz Clan were the most successful and dangerous assassins in the world, and they trained all those born into their ranks.

‘Trained’, of course, being the operative word. Expectations of exactly what would be done with that training differed dramatically based on what was between the trainee’s legs. Women were expected to be the next generation of teachers, to pass their skills down to the sons and daughters they would eventually bear. Only the men of the clan were permitted to take actual assassination jobs.

Sayfiya il-Aziz had the misfortune to be born female, but in possession of the drive and ambition to perform a man’s role.

She had a knack for poisons that her instructors said verged on that of a prodigy, and there were places women could go that men could not. The same was also true in reverse, admittedly, but it was easier for a woman to bind her chest than for a man to develop what he didn’t have. Besides, if someone feared an attempt on their life, they still looked at a maid or court lady with far less suspicion than a male stranger.

She had tried all of those arguments, and more besides, to no avail.

The best she had received was being ‘permitted’ to assist the current teacher of poisons, and tutor those boys who were struggling. Not that said boys were at all grateful for her help. Sayfiya had very nearly given into the temptation to  let them bear the shame of failure, if they cared so much about what was under her clothes.

There had to be a way to prove herself worthy of being an assassin, and Sayfiya wouldn’t give up until she’d found it!

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Eurydike, daughter of Alexander and the Horae Eirine, Lady of Asia and Queen of the World, had been young when she inherited the throne upon her father’s sudden death, born only a year or so before her father's ascension to the throne of Macedonia, but had quickly proven herself to be no inexperienced child.

The proof of her compentence was easily found in how swiftly powerful nobles with an eye on controlling a puppet Queen went from attempting to marry the new ruler, to commissioning assassins to attempt to kill her.

Further proof was apparent in the fact that the young Queen still drew breath and appeared in the pinacle of health, while three of the il-Aziz clan had yet to return. Two more had returned, and been demoted back to the lowliest trainees when they failed to provide what the elders deemed an adequate explanation for their failure. It was possible that the ones still missing were playing a long game, and equally possible that they were imprisoned or had chosen exile over shame.

Sayfiya very carefully said nothing. She continued to say nothing (albeit a subtly mocking nothing) when the demoted trainees approached her about counters or antidotes to the rarer paralytics. Sayfiya made a mental note to look into such things for her own sake, but the disgraced men had been among those who laughed loudest and hardest when she had expressed her desire to become an assassin. Sayfiya would learn from their mistakes, but saw no reason to exert herself on their behalf.

Especially not now, when her chance to finally prove herself worthy - nay, better - as an assassin, once and for all, had finally presented itself.



Unlike her ill-fated predecessors, when Sayfiya set out to kill Queen Eurydike, she did not rush in.

Assassins from the al-Aziz clan had been sent after the Queen’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather (the last at the behest of Queen-Consort Eurydike , the current ruler's great-grandmother and namesake, who went on to rule for a further decade until her son reached his age of majority.) None of them had been easy to dispose of, either. Perhaps it was a dynastic trait, like their reported tendency to hear the word ‘impossible’ and take it as a personal challenge.

Queen-Consort Eurydike had been the first woman to openly in political and military operations, even if only as Regent, rather than as a figurehead for a council. Her son, Phillip, had stopped the Persian Army in their bid to conquor the world, driving them back to their own borders. Alexander, the current Eurydike's father, had continuted the trend and went on to conquor most of the known world, his way smoothed by the diplomatic efforts of his daughter, who even their enemies had praised as having a gift in the art of peacemaking, and was now the first woman to rule that kingdom in her own name and right.

None of those feats were achievable without a certain amount of cunning and the ability to plan for most eventualities.

None of the ones sent after Alexander claimed credit for his eventual death, and most had been caught and killed before they got near him. The ones who came closest had been accused of targeting the then-Princess Eurydike, and suffered particularly public executions. It only made it more insulting that Alexander had gone on to die of what was reputed to be a natural illness.

The assassins who had come before Sayfiya were used to slipping in and getting the job done before making their escape, and perhaps they had been blindsided by one of the unexpected tricks the entire wretched dynasty was famous for. On the other hand, Sayfiya’s entire life had been comprised of anticipating and finding her way around obstacles. A target who expected danger was more alert than one caught unaware.

Sayfiya would wait and watch before she made her move.



It wasn’t hard to bribe a slave to run for freedom, allowing Sayfiya the chance to slip into their role. No-one paid attention to a slave, after all, any more than they did a piece of furniture. The cover involved a lot of gritting her teeth and forcing herself not to react to all kinds of indignities, but it rendered her all but invisible.

The next step was to work out Queen Eurydike's routine, and determine the optimal time to strike. There were a number of ways to do that, from getting her hands on the ridiculous number of notes that the Queen’s secretary wrote down, to pretending that she had some minor chore that would require such knowledge. Both of those, however, carried a much higher risk that someone would call Sayfiya’s bluff than she was comfortable with.

In the end, winnowing information from the constant stream of gossip that flowed through the palace like lifeblood, was the most effective.

Rumour flew on wings almost as swift as thought, here as much as at home, if not moreso. Assassins were better at keeping secrets than status-obsessed courtiers who treated gossip as proof of how much favour they were in. In a way it was - information was power, after all - but Sayfiya disagreed that knowing in advance what the Queen would be wearing that day was somehow a mark of the courtier’s importance in the grand scheme of things.

Rumours about Eurydike herself were plentiful; that she was powerful enough to stop an army, forcing them to surrender and make peace, that she was the result of a threesome between Alexander and two goddesses competing for his attention, that she surrounded herself with a bodyguard of other demigods, that the gods favoured her for halting Alexander's never-ending conquest, that the gods would curse her for making peace rather than war... Sayfiya wondered where they got even half of those ideas. Perhaps the one about the threesome; everyone knew what sort of things the Greek Pantheon got up to, and the Conqueror was known for creative solutions to problems. 

Separating fact from fiction was one of the first things Sayfiya had learned. Queen Eurydike was unique in another way, it seemed; she inspired an impressive amount of discretion in her attendants and general staff. Most rulers couldn't have a bodily function without their attendants babbling about it within the hour.

Still, the courtiers provided plenty of gossip, albeit more fiction than fact, and Sayfiya pieced together enough for a mostly reliable idea of how the Queen’s standard day went.

The best time to strike would be an hour or so before dawn. The Queen rose with the sun - something about sacred dawn rites that only the ruler could perform, and clearly a Macedonian ruler performing Egyptian rites was better than no ruler at all - and the last thing Sayfiya wanted was to walk into quarters bustling with servants and handmaidens. Better for Queen Eurydike to be dead and Sayfiya well away before the body was discovered.



The mottled black and midnight blue clothing was as familiar to Sayfiya as a second skin. Each tool of her trade was carefully placed, her hair bound up and out of the way. Her footsteps ghosted over the floor, out a window, and over the carvings that decorated the top of the walls, silent enough that not even the birds nesting on the roof stirred.

Sayfiya slipped into the Queen’s room, making a note to either strangle or congratulate the locksmith - she had to spend a good five minutes that she couldn’t afford to waste picking the lock on the window to get it open. Soft snores came from an adjourning chamber, likely a handmaiden or two, ready to come at their mistress's call. Sayfia drew a dagger, tipped with a poison of her own making, with barely a whisper of bronze against hardened leather.

Glancing back to where the handmaiden’s still slept, and to the door where the guards remained at their post, Sayfiya turned to the Queen’s bed, triumph singing in her veins.

The Queen’s eyes were open, and looking straight at her.

 

 

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The instant she realised that her target had seen her, Sayfiya tried to bolt.

The instant after that, Sayfiya found herself trapped in place, unable to move as serene, blue-grey eyes pinned her in place. “You made it further than I thought you would. Agathe will want a word with my guards.”

Sayfiya tried to yank herself free of the unseen force that bound her, and failed, “Why can’t I move?”

The Queen smiled with all the languid, predatory grace of a shark as she sat up in bed. “Protections based off hostile intent, an inherited trait from my mother. Anyone who means me harm is trapped.”

The rumour about Queen Eurydike being the daughter of a goddess was true? The Queen wasn’t unattractive, but the female demigods Sayfiya had heard of were supposed to be breathtaking, or so powerful in their wrath to be mistaken as goddesses themselves. Sayfiya didn’t give up her struggle to free herself. “How does that work?”

Queen Eurydike reached for a shawl as the door to an adjourning chamber opened. “I can sense when someone means me harm. You...”

She tilted her head, frowning slightly, as if Sayfiya was a complex puzzle to be solved, and was distracted when a handful of women rushed into the room, led by one who could only be the Queen’s sister, who even a spectacular case of bedhead couldn’t prevent from being the most stunning person Sayfiya had ever laid eyes on. Her, Sayfiya could believe to be the daughter of a goddess... which was very little comfort when lovely blue-grey-green eyes hardened to an icy glare. “How did this one get so close?”

Eurydike pushed back the covers, sliding her feet into fur-lined slippers before standing. “She intended my death, but it wasn’t her primary goal. A bigger goal consumed her until the last moment. Don't fuss so, Thalia, it's good that we’re aware of the loophole.”

Another woman, this one dressed in solid leather armour, scoffed, sliding her hand into Thalia’s. “Don’t think that’ll save your guards from answering to me for their oversight.”

Eurydike smiled, her body language relaxing among those she trusted. It was a pity that the handmaidens’ body language made it equally clear that Sayfiya would find no discontented allies there. “Of course not, Agathe, just make sure that you leave me some still fit and willing for duty. Now, assassin, who sent you? Why are you here?”

Sayfiya opened her mouth, a pretty lie ready on her lips, but the words refused to leave her mouth. She tried again, and again, before the truth was wrenched from her lips. “Nobody sent me!”

The force of her answer startled even her, and Sayfiya’s eyes landed on a very smug-looking handmaiden. “What did you do to me?”

The handmaiden brushed blonde curls out of sky-blue eyes. “My Lady isn’t the only one who carries the blood of the gods in her veins. Much as people are more inclined to peaceful solutions in my Lady’s presence, they find it very hard to lie around me. Answer the question.

Lovely, the rumour about demigod bodyguards was true as well, if in a less conventional sense.

Sayfiya tried to resist speaking, but failed. Her plan to prove herself, her desire to be seen as an equal, how she had come so far... all of it was pouring out of her before she was even aware of having opened her mouth. Even biting her own tongue did nothing to stem the flood, the handmaiden’s eyes boreing relentlessly into her soul until the whole shameful story was laid bare.

A handmaiden so beautiful as to throw even Sayfiya, who rarely noticed physical attributes in anyone, male or female. At least one more who was a deadly warrior, and one who could force the truth from even the most unwilling of lips. All loyal to a Queen who could sense those who wanted her dead, and had the power to stop her would-be killer in their tracks.

No wonder none of the other assassins had succeeded. Sayfiya had been better-prepared, more careful than any of them, and she would still join the men who never acknowledged her as their sister and equal in the humiliation of failure. All of her dreams, her hopes, her only chance to be more, were shattering to pieces around her.

A faint rustle of fabric drew Sayfiya out of contemplating that particular downward spiral. She inhaled deeply, trying to put on a brave face. “What will you do with me now?”

There was a quick discussion, conveyed mostly through facial expressions and raised eyebrows, before Queen Eurydike sat down again, her posture still and upright as Thalia and a handmaiden pale enough as to be almost sickly began brushing her hair. “That will depand heavily on you.”

Despite the phrasing, Sayfiya felt no sense of dread, no threat in the Queen’s words. A glance out the window showed the rising sun, and no chance of fleeing undiscovered. “I am listening.”

A handmaiden with windswept hair and sea-green eyes scoffed under her breath, and recieved a sharp jab and a glare from the muscular but aggressively plain woman beside her. Eurydike ignored the byplay. “The way I see it, you have two choices. First, you can keep trying to kill me, which I don’t advise. Even if you succeed, whoever currently holds the contract for my death will claim and be given the credit. If you’re lucky, they may mention your assistance.”

In her focus on completing the assassination, Sayfiya hadn’t thought too hard on what would happen after. When she did, it was to dwell on the certainty that the clan would have to admit that girls could be worthy of the same training, and the same opportunities as their male counterparts. As much as it galled her to admit it, the Queen was probably right. Five experienced assassins had already failed; none of them would be willing to admit to her success.

That didn’t mean that Sayfiya had to like it. “I suppose that you have an alternative to offer me?”

Queen Eurydike smiled, a dangerous glint in her eyes that didn’t seem to be aimed at Sayfiya herself. “Become my bodyguard.”

She couldn’t have heard that correctly. “What?”

The truth-telling handmaiden sniggered, silenced by a quelling glare from Agathe. The queen ignored their byplay. “As the maxim goes, ‘set a thief to catch a thief’. Or, in this case, contract an assassin to stop other assassins.”

Perhaps Sayfiya’s hearing was fine, and the young queen was just insane. “What makes you think that you can trust me? Or that I’ll succeed in preventing attacks?”

Despite the identical threatening glares that Thalia and Agathe aimed at Sayfiya, Queen Eurydike didn’t seem offended by the question. “I think that your drive to prove yourself has already brought you further than anyone expected. I know that going back to obscurity is less appealing than forcing the ones who laughed at you to either publicly acknowledge your superiority, or name themselves as incompetent.”

That was... a compelling argument. Still... “You seem to be doing well enough by yourself.”

Another glare from Thalia suggested that Sayfiya might like to be less informal. Queen Eurydike only gave her a faint smile. “I’m far from helpless, but it’s starting to get exhausting, and I’d like to get through a bath without interruptions.”

Agathe grimaced, whether at the prospect of trusting Sayfiya, or at her own failures. “Stopping the first assassin was a matter of luck and chance, as much as my own skill, and without Theodora to assist in his interrogation, we wouldn’t have known enough to stop the next four. As it stands, two of them escaped to carry tales.”

Sayfiya decided that inquiring about the fate of the other three would be pushing both her luck and her credibility. “If it helps at all, their explanation wasn’t very coherent, and few believed them.”

Agathe shrugged, “Even a few is too many, and there are other assassin clans that can be approached if yours stop accepting contracts.”

That was also true. The offer was compelling, and she could always change her mind later. “Very well, I accept. Is there anything else I should know?”

Queen Eurydike started to shake her head, then paused, “Oh, one last thing. I don’t object to my attendants, even my core handmaidens, having a personal life, but I do ask that you let me know if you’re going to meet a lover or visit family. Mostly so I know whether or not to worry if you aren’t back by a certain time, but also so I can arrange for someone to cover your duties in your absence.”

Sayfiya made a dismissive gesture. “My clan takes vows of chastity, and my family has probably disowned me by this point. If you ever find a note claiming I’m off with a lover, assume that I’ve been somehow abducted and send a search party.”

Eurydike laughed. “I’ll bear that in mind. Out of curiosity, is it a precaution against getting emotionally involved, or something else?”

There had been a few cases of assassins having second thoughts about giving up what Sayfiya assumed must have been truly fantastic sex, but the actual reason was different. Different, and fairly amusing. Eurydike had a very nice laugh, and Sayfiya felt like listening to it again.

She smiled slyly, inviting the Queen to share in a secret. “The Al-Aziz clan trains all who are born into it. Once that became known, every family with an unwanted child and a high-profile local assassination came flooding in, claiming the result of a brief fling. Since the assassins rarely bothered remembering who, or how many, they’d dallied with, we wound up with too many mouths to feed, and not enough room to house them. Training and equipment aren’t cheap either.”

Eurydike covered her mouth to stifle a burst of laughter, caught between delight and mortification at what might be seen as an insult to Sayfiya’s heritage. If Sayfiya minded a bit of mockery at her Clan’s expense, she wouldn’t have said anything in the first place. “A few of the Matriarchs suggested gelding, if our operatives were so incapable of keeping their hands - and other things - to themselves, but were talked down to a less permanent solution.”

Theodora’s eyes sparkled with humour, far less intimidating now that she wasn't part of an interrogation, and she patted Sayfiya on the shoulder. “You’ll fit in nicely. Have a nap while we get Her Majesty ready for the day, if you haven't slept yet. You can learn the rest later."

 

 

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After thinking of where I wanted the story to go, I realised that it honestly worshippers better as a historical fantasy.

The completed version is available on Amazon as "The Queen's Blade, under the pen-name Natasja Rose.

I won't take the story down, but I won't be finishing it, either, so in the unlikely event that someone wants to continue this, feel free.