Assassin's Accomplice

Lady Rachel Whitely finds her entire world flipped upside down when her father is assassinated. Forced to flee, she seeks vengeance against the man she believed killed her father; the King. Rachel finds herself slipping into the castle walls, obscured as a maid, with a hidden agenda. To find the King and make him pay. Her plan seems to be working perfectly, until she is fed another shocking piece of information. Rachel, under the guidance of a former King's assassin, must travel across the land in order to save everyone from a violent ruler and a terrible fate. Will she make it in time, or will she be condemned to a life of servitude while watching her country fall apart right before her emerald eyes?


5. Chapter Four

A long winding hedge separated the two regions, thick and bushy and practically impenetrable. Many had petitioned for many years of it's removal, but the movement had never been passed, and so the hedge grew. Wilder and thicker with each week, winding and growing, tangling within itself, a never ending dance of twigs and leaves, of branches and hedges. Those brave enough to travel through form their own path, armed with swords to slice down the enemies, both the hedge and the bandits that occupied it. Rachel paused when she reached the thicket, a looming twisted silence. She urged her horse onwards, slowly, cautiously. She trailed the edges of the hedge, pushing, straining for a week section in the phenomenal defence. When she found it, a small section that caved in where she pushed, she drew her sword. She lashed out at the section, as though she had a personal vendetta against it. Her strokes came large, long and harsh, the thicket falling away under her expert hands. Rachel inched forward, her horse following leisurely behind as she ventured further into the darkened hedge, the air getting more bitter with each cautious step. Shadows leapt like fire in the hush of the thicket, winding and growing, nipping at her heels, snarling. She turned, her hair curly and wild, falling out of the twisted braid. Her horse skittered nervously as she desperately slashed at the hedges that surrounded her, seeming to trap her. Growing back when she sliced it, fighting against her hits. She spun in a circle, hacking and pushing until a path began to forge. The moonlight spilled across her back, pooling around the edges and leaving trails in the form of her shadow. Her pale skin looked ethereal in the sliver glow, her red hair a glowing halo in comparison to her dirtied face. Her long fingers grasped the rein of her horse tightly as she moved down the now evident path.

It was early morning by the time Rachel reached the clearing. She unclipped the pack from her horse's bridle, forging through it for the dried fruit she had placed in there mere hours earlier. She raised the sweetened food to her lips when the sound of voices reached her ears. Her eyes flickered to the side of the clearing furthest away from where she had just come, frozen in her spot. When the voices drew nearer, she dropped the fruit and brandished her sword in that direction. The bushes pushed backwards and she slipped into a familiar defensive stance. 
“Boys, please!” A young man laughed. His skin was as warm as coffee, laughter etched across his face. “We all know I am the best hunter!”
He turned to Rachel, honey eyes locked on her as he tilted his head. “Well, what do we have here?” 
Rachel's heart pounded and she paused in recognition. It was Andrew, the son of Duke Fountaine. They had come to visit many years before, when Rachel had been but a ten year old. She wondered if he recognised her.
“Who would you be?” 
Obviously not.
Rachel paused, uncertain of whether she should reveal her identity to him. “They call me Rachel.” She finally responded.
“Rachel.” Andrew repeated, letting the name roll off of his tongue. “And what exactly, Rachel, are you doing out here in the woods? Are you all alone? You are aware that there are bandits out here?”
Rachel nearly smiled, he was being ever so sweet to worry about her safety. “I am alone.”
“You are but a girl!” Andrew exclaimed. “You cannot defend yourself.”
Rachel's eyes narrowed. “I think I can defend myself against bandits.” She snapped.
 Rachel ducked, her hair a dancing fire behind her, her eyes narrowed and concentrated. The sword gave a familiar sound when being released from it's scabbard. It was comforting. She waited for the bandit to engage her -the man was particularly unsteady on his feet, it made Rachel cringe- and he did so, stupidly. He ran straight for her, the sword gripped too tightly in his hand, in comparison to the loose grip of Rachel, sword hung by her side. At the last moment, she tightened her grip, her wrist flicking upwards and containing the strength of not only her arms but her wrist and back as well. Rachel's sword caught ahold of the other man's hilt and sent it scattering across the stones, the rattling a painful sound for both parties. Rachel looked up at him then, raised eyebrow and disdainful expression. "Well?" 
 The man stood there, looking positively shocked. 
 "Go!" Rachel exclaimed. 
 The man turned and fled as fast as his stubby little feet could carry him. 
 Rachel blinked, coming out of her daydream. 
 "Look at this!" the man teased, "Dazzled by my charming looks already?" 
Rachel stared flatly at him. “Charming looks?” She frowned, “Don't see any here.”
One of his knights whooped and laughed at Andrew, who was blushing furiously.
Rachel shook her head, she knew that she needed to travel with these boys in order to deliver her message to the Duke, though it would be a great pain on her behalf. 
“My apologies, young lady,” Andrew replied tersely, “But if you would not like to continue with us, I must ask you to leave.”
Young lady? Rachel thought incredulously. He's a mere two years above myself. 
Instead of pointing this out, she smiled winningly. “I would prefer to come with you, Andrew.”
Andrew smirked before faulting. “When did I tell you my name?”
Rachel's eyes widened slightly. “Of course I know your name,” she lied smoothly. “How could I not know you, Lord Andrew.”
One of his knights snorted. He was far stockier than the lithe Andrew, with much more muscle. His eyes were light with laughter and his skin far tanner than Rachel's own. “Lord Andrew,” he teased mockingly. He bowed, far more sarcastically than Rachel thought possible.
“Shut up, Carter.” Andrew replied without looking at him.
“Andrew,” Rachel pressed. “I'd like to travel with you.”
Andrew shared a dubious look with the man he'd called Carter. “Rachel...” He began uncertainly, “We cannot protect you, we have other important things to do. I'll have William escort you to the border, however.” 
Rachel scoffed, “I did not ask you to protect me. I wish to travel with you,”
Andrew narrowed his dark eyes at her, she was pushing him, irritating him and she knew it. He snapped. “If you can beat my in a fight-” he paused, holding up a hand to stop the knights' whoops. “You can join us.”
Rachel smirked. “Bring it on.” She accentuated each word with a flick of her sword. 
Andrew drew his own sword out of it's sheath. “I promise I will not be too harsh on you. It is a personal value of my own that I do not harm the incompetent.”
Rachel rolled her eyes at the boy's antics, loosening her grip on the sword.
“See here boys,” Andrew motioned to her sword, “A rookie mistake, letting her guard fall.”
Rachel charged at him, a whirlwind of barely repressed anger. Her sword flew in untraceable lines, this direction and that, so fast that Andrew did not expect the flat blade against his chest. He stumbled backwards, barely able to regain his footing as Rachel came again. This time, he knew. He ducked behind her in one smooth motion, frustratingly fast. He pressed the sharp of his blade to her back, cocky in his expected win. He thought not of Rachel's quick feet, and when he ended up on his back, eyes looking up to the tops of the trees, he had absolutely no clue as to how he ended up there. All he saw was Rachel's smirking emerald eyes -and when did they get so pretty?- swimming above him inconsistently. A heavy hand gripped his own, pulling his entire body weight upwards and to his feet. 
“Carter?” He mumbled, slightly dazed, very embarrassed. 
“Yes, Andrew.” Carter laughed mirthlessly. “You got him good,” he directly addressed Rachel. 
Rachel now looked slightly concerned, “I never meant to hit him so hard.”
Carter laughed, supporting Andrew with an arm around his waist. “He'll get over it. Eventually.” 
The knights burst into laughter behind him, teasing, mocking. Rachel began to back away, looking surprised.
Andrew grasped Rachel's pale wrist, “Stay.” 

“Remember that time,” Carter grinned, half an hour later, “that Andrew got beaten by a girl.”
“Remember that time that I put you in the stocks for an hour?” Andrew replied, smirking.
Carter was, surprising, silent. 
“Thought so.” 
Rachel laughed as they pulled their horses to a halt. She slipped off easily and waited for the knights to do the same. Carter bumped shoulders with Andrew as he walked past, muttering a solemn, “I hate you.”  
Andrew called after his retreating back, “Now, now, Carter. That's treason.”
Carter ignored him in favour of picking him some firewood. He grinned, tiredly, at Rachel. “Who's making dinner, I'm starving!” He teased.
“I'll do it,” Rachel offered, standing up, her pack falling from her shoulder and spilling its contents across the ground. “I'm hardly as tired as you, and I have better supplies than your own.”
William looked at her, and gruffly stated, “Our supplies are better, and I'll cook.”
“No,” Rachel insisted, “It's-”
“Sit down.” He ordered. 
Carter shrugged at her, taking a bite out of an apple that had fallen from her pack. “Will's like a bitter old man, Rach-”
“Don't call me that,” Rachel interrupted. 
Carter continued as though she hadn't said a word. “If he says his cooking you dinner, he's cooking you dinner. Don't bother arguing.” He paused, took another bite of the apple, “and I'm still calling you Rach.”
The redhead sighed and caught Andrew's eyes, who, for the first time today, looked truly happy. He laughed at Carter when the knight fumbled with the apple, clapping his hands like a delighted child. Rachel grinned at the sight. Maybe, she thought, I could get used to this.

Morning came like a wickedly cruel slap to the people resting in Cattlestorm, Medowvale. Last night, a desperate rider had torn through the town, immediately demanding that they were to be taken to the Count and Countess' court. The townsmen, slightly, if not very, drunk from the end of harvest celebrations, slurred the directions at the petite girl with heavy lidded eyelids and drooled speech. The rider, however, sobered them all up quickly when she spat her news. She had escaped from the Blackcoast region, she said. The region had been taken more than a month previously by the knights and assassins of the Imperial Region. They killed the Duke and the Lady Rachel where they stood, the place was on instant lockdown, no one left, no one came. Anyone who fought against the new regulations was slaughtered, their bodies burnt unceremoniously with no funerals permitted. Four thousand had died. The rider had escaped yesterday and travelled far through the regions, Erifield, Baymoor and Freydale had been taken by the assassins too, it's people enslaved by their cruel hand. Working along the coastline, and consequently from biggest to smallest, Medowvale was to be next. As far as the rider could see, and she dare not get too close, the assassins came at night. They killed the leaders and enslaved the people, all by the Royal house's orders. The rider, Grace, insisted they were to get ready. She did not see the other regions at work, but she had barely escaped her own. If the assassins came, and they would, she assured the villagers, there would be bloodshed.  

The sunlight peeked through the trees sheepishly, tentatively. The knights had yet awoken, with the exception of William who had stood guard for the past hours. He watched the rising sun, counting away the minutes until they were to travel further. The man creaked his shoulders, shadows falling across his youthful face, manipulating it's features to become haggard, old. His trained ears picked up the dulled harsh ringing of a sword being edged out of it's scabbard. His own hand dropped to his curved dagger, and in a flurry of movement, he was on his feet, blue cloak wrapping protectively around him. His eyes narrowed at the bushes where he first identified the noise, he edged towards it cautiously. The thicket rustled, and for a single tense moment there was silence. Like a cannon, the raiders burst out of the trees, surrounding the makeshift camp with their weapons drawn.
The camp sprung to life like a wild and fierce fire. The knights attacked the newcomers with a vigour unparalleled by their opponents. They stormed the raiders fiercely, the sword work clean and precise. The bandits were no match for the trained knights, falling away in spite of their larger number. Rachel swiftly disarmed the leader, kicking him in the shin harshly and watching him fall. He scrambled backwards, fright evident on his face as Rachel's sword dangled threateningly above his chest. His hands scrapped along the gravel in his desperate attempt to remove himself from the situation. The raiders, upon realising their situation, retreated, leaving their leader on the ground merciful to Rachel. She stepped back, pushing the sword into her scabbard. “Go.” 
He took her advice.
Andrew wiped at his forehead, “What was that?” He asked, “Raiders never come here.”
One of his younger knights shot a fierce glare at Rachel, “My lord, may I speak with you in private?” 
Carter raised his eyebrows in disbelief whilst Andrew agreed with trepidation. 
The knight shot a look behind him, assuring Rachel was out of earshot before bowing respectfully. “My lord? It is about the girl.” He began.
Andrew smiled, “Yes, she has been a wonderful asset, has she not? I admit I was doubtful at first, but she has shown her worth.”
The knight looked at him, flatly.  “Andrew, come on, everything has been atrocious since she got here.” The knight held his stance, head high. “She's the problem, I do not know what she did nor who she alienated, but I know that we mustn't trust her. I say we leave whilst she sleeps. We will, of course, leave her with supplies, we are not savages, but she is becoming too dangerous to be around. She is but a commoner, Sire! We know not who she is, nor what she has done. No longer can we protect her, she said herself that she should be fine on her own.”
Andrew's eyes grew cold and menacing, narrowed in disgust. Through gritted teeth melded into what could otherwise be mistaken as a smile, he spat, “We are not leaving her in the forest. Have you no integrity? Neither I nor you shall be leaving her, or else. Do we have an understanding?”
The knight grew incredulous quickly, “Are you threatening me?”
“That depends,” the Lord hedged, “on whether or not you take my advice.”
“And if I don't?” The knight challenged.
Andrew raised his eyebrows haughtily. “Then henceforth consider it a warning.” He snarled and swept away mightily, leaving the confused and angered knight in his path.

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