“Here is your payment.”
The Assassin took the heavy bag of coins, weighing it in his palm. He nodded, pulling the peak of his hood down a little further, before he looked up at the Witch-Queen.
Her skin was like alabaster, and as smooth as marble. She had full lips that scowled permanently. He couldn’t see her eyes. Some said they were green, but he couldn’t be sure. The Witch-Queen wore a cowl of her own, but the fabric of her fine cloak was a luxuriant red velvet. She wore a pale blue dress underneath, held at the waist by a simple gold belt.
From his place, the Assassin could hear the Prisoner singing from the dungeon. He knew why. The Prisoner knew the Witch-Queen. They were old enemies. It was an odd song, but it was hard to turn away from the Prisoner’s voice. It wasn’t particularly nice, but it had a melody to it that made him shiver. And the song. Goodness, the song.
Liars and traitors, punishment and revenge… The Assassin had never felt more uncomfortable.
The Witch-Queen curled her lip, irritated by both the Prisoner’s sharp words and the fact that the Assassin was still standing around.
“Well?” she said, tersely, “Are you going to leave or are you waiting for more pittance?”
The Assassin tried to keep from scowling, “Of course,” he inclined his head and walked away.
He walked until he was in the wild brush and hid there, watching. As soon as the Witch-Queen turned her back and made for the dungeon, the Assassin lurked in the brush and slunk into the prison, avoiding the dozing guards.
He heard the voice of the Witch-Queen.
“Remember the last time you were chained up?” she said. The Assassin sensed a smile in her tone, “Earned you that scar, didn’t it?”
Someone spat and the Witch-Queen shrieked in revulsion.
“You will pay for that!” she said, “That and much more! You thought you were so high and mighty, didn’t you? With your army and your fortresses? Your small, petty victories? Your small, petty payments? Pah! You know what they call me here?”
“I know what the should call you,” the Prisoner muttered.
The sound of the slap was so harsh, it made the Assassin flinch.
“Don’t speak unless I expressly give you permission,” said the Witch-Queen.
“You asked me a question,” the Prisoner replied, “Quite a few of them, actually. You realise that the point of a question is to query about something in order to receive an informed response? Like, an answer?”
The Witch-Queen hit the prisoner again.
“They call me the Witch-Queen, around here,” she continued, ignoring the Prisoner completely, “You know what that means? I have power. I have majesty. The people respect me. They fear me. Something you could never get your mercenaries to do.”
“True. Everyone besides them did fear me, though, so I can let it slide.”
“I am respected.”
“They call me the Witch-Queen.”
“They ought to call you the Bitch-Queen.”
“You realise that you are in a tight position?”
“I don’t know. Why not do me a favour and tell me, oh someone-who-is-clearly-unreceptive-of-sarcasm-and-mockery?”
The Witch-Queen hit the Prisoner a good few times. The Prisoner grunted. The Assassin suspected blood.
“You talk tough, alright,” said the Witch-Queen.
The Prisoner spat, “Are you sure you know what ‘talking tough’ means?”
The Witch-Queen ignored her, “But it’s only a way of hiding your fear. You’re scared, that’s what. A scared little girl. A stupid scared little girl, who’s trying to disarm me, and trying to show how very brave she is. Well, it’s not going to work.”
“Sure, sure. Whatever you say.”
“You know it’s true.”
“I can see it on your face.”
“I’m laughing at you.”
“You’re laughing nervously.”
“Actually, I’m laughing quite, quite confidently.”
The Witch-Queen stamped her foot, “No. You are not.”
“You know what? Think what you like. I really couldn’t care less. You lived a whole life of lies. You played on my sympathies. You messed with my psychology. And you fooled everyone about your piety and your innocence. I mean, it was never enough, right? You got one of the most respected positions. You were a person fighting for the rights of those who couldn’t, for the greater good. But it wasn’t enough.”
“Oh, don’t you try to act all innocent–”
“Innocent?” the Prisoner laughed manically, “Will you listen to yourself? Me? Innocent? My sweet idiot, I have killed so many people in so many different ways that all your ancestors and all your successors, from Genesis to Kingdom Come, would turn in their graves and die in your loins – by just you hearing about my countless murders! We all know that I am anything but innocent! But this isn’t about me, is it? Of course not. Why would it be about anyone, but yourself – so avariciously narcissistic as you are? Do you want to know what will happen, ‘Witch-Queen’? People will doubt you. Someone with a mind of their own will rise amongst the people you tyrannise and they will sow the seeds of doubt. I find it laughable that you’re still listening to me, by the way. Why, pray tell, would a human take up residence in an elvish domain – if they weren’t thrown out of their own world? And why should any elvish person, in their right mind, seek to obey an outcast like you?”
The Prisoner’s head smacked against a wall. The Assassin took a brief peek. The Prisoner’s temple was dripping blood, a severe gash – red and raw – streaked across the Prisoner’s cheek, but her gaze was intense as she stared at the Witch-Queen. The Witch-Queen punched her again and again, opening more gashes. The Prisoner, bound to the wall by chains, did little to resist. The Assassin watched in awe as the Witch-Queen pulled away and the gashes began to close up and mend themselves.
“You will suffer–”the Witch-Queen started.
“We let you go, you strumpet! We let you walk away! We didn’t pursue you!” the Prisoner barked, “You want to start a new chapter to this story? Good.”
“Oh, is it?”
“Oh, yes. Because when I get out of these chains and I stand over your dying body, my sword dipping deeper and deeper into that scrawny little neck of yours – you’ll know exactly, the full magnitude of your stupidity!”
“You seem to be under the impression that you will get out of these chains, Mariqah.”
“Oh, don’t you worry, Witch-Queen. I will. And when I do, you’ll know the real meaning of fear.”