Alice and the Assassins
“They’re saying a devil did it. He must have turned himself into a tornado and blown it down in the dead of night.”
Standing before the remains of a building that really did look as if it had been through a tornado, two men conferred. The larger man was clad in dusty brown work clothes that had clearly been put to good use. He was tall, well over six foot in stature and his features were keen. He had shaved his head, which served to make him appear quite intimidating to those that did not know him – and occasionally to those that did know him too. His hands were on his hips as he looked at the ruins of what had once been a perfectly good house, one he himself had spent many hours building. “Haven’t heard of any devils with a specific eye on guest houses before,” he said, lifting one powerful hand to rub his jaw.
“Well something did it, William,” Frederick, the village elder summed up the obvious with consummate skill. He was an older, rounder man formally attired in a faded red silk robe and tatty gold sash. They were his robes of office and he wore them every chance he could get, rain, hail or shine. Scarbroke wasn’t a rich village, its remote location saw to that. There were no proper roads leading to it, merely tracks wending through the forest which grew dense and thick all around. The tracks were under constant threat of obliteration by the fast growing foliage and only the efforts of locals to trim and sweep paths kept the thin tan lines tracing through the wilderness open. None of that stopped Frederick from ruling the place as if it were the seat of the kingdom itself. His delusions of grandeur were as famous as they were persistent.
Around the two men, villagers went about their business. The little school had let out early for the day to allow the children to help their parents prepare for the upcoming ceremonies, and they poured out of the little school house, chattering happily and followed by the silhouette of the teacher who was responsibly ensuring that her charges went to their homes, and not into the forest. An indulgent smile lit her youthful face which was all that was really visible under the black cloak she always wore fastened high at the neck. Temporarily distracted by the exuberant squealing, the two men looked up, smiling a little at the antics of the youngsters rushing hither and thither like so many monkeys.
Some of them stopped to gaze at the ruins of the guest house and at William himself. He was something of a village curiosity. Among the children it was said that he could crush a man’s skull with his powerful hands, and more than one tired parent had threatened their children with a visit from William if they did not eat their dinner or go to bed on time. If only the man William was speaking with felt the same way, he might have been able to have some peace and quiet.
They were soon hustled off to their various homes and the tasks waiting for them, and as the squeals of the children died down, the two men regarded the ruins with a more serious intent. “How long have we to mend this?”
“Three days,” Fredrick replied. His eyes glinted with the joy of giving orders. William got the strong impression that he enjoyed assigning nigh impossible tasks simply for the fun of it.
Looking at the fallen timbers which were all that remained of the guest house, William shook his head. “This is not a three day job.”
Fredrick smiled mirthlessly. Like many bureaucrats before him he had documented his sense of humanity and filed it away in a drawer somewhere. He only smiled when inflicting irritation upon those who allowed him a measure of authority. “Better get started then,” he said over his shoulder as he walked away to ensure that all floral arrangements being put out in front of the little wooden houses that dotted the village were hung at the correct height.
The village was preparing for the arrival of esteemed dignitaries sent by the king himself. As the honorary village craftsmen, William and his men had been hard at work preparing the facilities for their arrival. William had two assistants, Mika, his right hand man, taciturn, but implicitly trustworthy and Len, a younger, jovial fellow who was happy enough to follow orders most of the time. Both had come with William to the village and settled there with him at the start of the last rains.
Scarbroke had been on the brink of destruction when William and his men had arrived. Plagued by bandits and bullied by tax collectors, the people had grown poorer and poorer, barely able to sustain themselves on what little of their crops did not go to bandits, taxes, or animals. The villagers had been kind none the less when the three of them traipsed into town, weary, wounded and on the brink of collapse. They had offered food and shelter to the tired travelers, and given them a warm place to sleep.
William and his men had stayed on since that night, and slowly but surely, things had improved for the villagers. Bandits began to steer clear of the village, and even the tax man seemed to stay away. There were whispers that William and his men were more than mere traveling craftsmen, but if they were, they certainly gave no sign of it, spending most of their days fixing what needed fixing and building what needed building.
As Fredrick wandered away with a satisfied smile on his face, Mika and Len roused themselves from where they had been resting in the shade and came up to stand alongside William. “It looks like this will be us for the next day or two,” William said, running his hand across his shaved head.
Mika nodded silently. Very little was of interest to Mika, tasks were tasks, one was done and then another took its place. Len was less enlightened in his view of such matters, and made a rather rude gesture to Fredrick’s retreating back then yelped as William’s large palm clipped him over the ear.
“Mind your manners,” William cautioned him. Len grinned unashamedly at his master, and William shook his head. “I swear you will never grow up.”
“I hope not,” Len said, leaping nimbly to the top of the fallen timbers, his shirtless muscled physique gleaming in the sun, the golden braid of his hair sweeping over his shoulder dramatically as he crouched down to begin work. Len was a favorite with the ladies in the village, though not with the men who often suspected him of sniffing about their private patches. Had they known the truth of their suspicions, William had no doubt that they would flay Len alive. The fellow was cursed with his good looks, and took advantage of them every opportunity he got. One or two of the youngest children in the village bore a rather striking resemblance to him and though he never claimed explicit parentage, there was a certain pride in his gaze when he laid eyes on the small white haired brats invariably giving their parents a hard time of things.
“Let’s get this done,” he declared, tossing a plank down from the top of the stack. Following his lead, the three of them began work, dragging the individual timbers out of the pile and stacking them in tidy rows. They were all in good condition, not warped nor broken as one might have expected them to be.
“Will,” Mika addressed William in his typical taciturn fashion. Mika was a tall man with dark hair graying slightly at the temples. He hailed from the distant north and it showed in his high cheekbones, narrowed eyes and in the hard vowels he spoke with. Some might have regarded him as being past his prime, but he still possessed the wiry musculature perfectly suited for building – and for fighting, which he had done a great deal of in his time. He nudged a piece of timber with his foot. “The pegs are gone.”
Frowning, William examined the ground around the site carefully. Mika was right. Amidst the rubble were planks and stays, but the wooden pegs driven through them to bond them together were missing completely. Not a single peg remained of the many dozens that would have once held the structure together.
“Sabotage,” Mika said.
“So it would seem,” William agreed, crossing his arms over his broad chest as the frown established itself more firmly on his face. He was fond of the village, and he did not appreciate interference with it. “Makes more sense than elemental devils.”
A flash of movement in the undergrowth caught his eye as he stood in contemplation. Another man might have ignored it, after all what was a shaking branch to worry about in a forest that never stopped moving? But William did not ignore it. A prickling at the back of his neck told him that they were being watched.
“Stay here,” he muttered to his men. With soft steps he wandered casually to the edge of the forest and quietly entered the tree line. As he stood still in the dappled forest light he could hear the slight rustle and the whisper of bare feet on leaf mulch as the spy who had been watching them ran away.
Though he was a large man William knew how to move in the forest. He gave chase, his bare feet landing with great alacrity amongst the knobbly tree roots and rocks that littered the path. The spy had a good head start and in spite of William’s best efforts, he was unable to get a look at the person fleeing before him. He didn’t need to see the fleeing man to know where he was though, the rustling of leaves and tumbling of pebbles gave the fugitive’s movements away. The spy seemed to be picking up speed, so William did too, slipping under branches and dodging tree trunks as he ran.
The trail died off abruptly as he burst into a clearing, startling two occupants, a crow which leaped into the air shrieking and squawking hysterically, and the village school teacher, who gasped and emitted a small shriek of shock as William came hurtling out of the trees. There was no sign of the spy, he had lost the trail. He turned to the teacher. “Did you see anyone go by here?”
“Er, no,” she replied, quirking her brow slightly at his question as if he were an unruly child who had burst into her classroom. She gathered her robe tightly about her as she stooped down to pick up the book she’d dropped in her fright.
William nodded curtly. “I apologize for the intrusion,” he said with a short bow, still scanning the area.
“Are you hunting someone?” She walked over to a fallen tree trunk which had been worn smooth by hundreds of bottoms sitting on it. “Is it someone dangerous?”
“Someone has sabotaged the guest house,” William said. “I spotted someone lurking in the trees nearby and gave chase, but,” he gave a small rueful smile. “I appear to have lost him.”
The teacher was barely listening to him. “Oh yes, the guest house. I saw that. It is terrible,” she said in a dry far away tone, flicking through her text, looking for the place she had been reading.
“Yes.” William agreed. There was a queer tension in the air as they both stood there, silent and awkward.
William had never paid the teacher much attention before, she kept to herself, as did he, and their paths did not often cross. Looking at her now, he realized the care with which she secreted herself, stooping in her cloak, hiding in clearings, burying herself in texts. He also realized that he didn’t even know her name. “I apologize for my rudeness,” he said with a smile, bowing courteously to her. “I am William.”
She looked at him, a smile twisting at her lips.
He waited a moment to see if she would volunteer her name, but her eyes had dropped back to her book. “And you are?”
She looked up, seeming surprised that he was still there and paused a moment before answering him. “Alice,” she admitted eventually. “Miss Alice Allington.”
William smiled. “It is nice to make your acquaintance, Miss Allington”
The teacher smiled a slight smile that didn’t strike him as being at all genuine. “Likewise,” she replied, her tone strained with the effort of politeness as she glanced back at her text.
William got the not so subtle hint. Bowing once more he said courteously, “I shall bid you good day, though these forests may be dangerous with spies about.”
She laughed and began to take her seat once more, clearly relieved that he was going. “I am not afraid of spies,” she said, sitting down as he turned to leave.
It was perhaps a strange comment for a humble school teacher to make, but William thought little of it. He turned and was about to re-enter the forest when a quiet clinking sound at the very edge of his hearing got his attention. He turned his head back and his eyes swiveled to the teacher just in time to see a builder’s peg fall out from under her cloak, roll along the log with what must surely have been an agonizing slowness, and fall onto the ground below. With a humorless smile on his face, he turned back around to look at the young teacher, his thick black eyebrows raised as he did so.
She had not noticed the peg falling, or if she had, she was determined to keep up her bluff, returning his look quizzically, watching calmly as he walked slowly over, crouched down in front of her and picked up the peg between thumb and forefinger. He locked her forest green and gold flecked gaze with his own. “And what.. is this?”
The game was up. A reckless and unholy smile spread across her pale lips. Quicker than he could ever have imagined her moving, she rolled and slid off the back of the log, putting it between them. She was watching him closely, her stance erect, her gaze alert. Gone was the mouse like school teacher who scuttled hither and thither and in her place was a lithe vixen. Her hood had slipped backwards, revealing strawberry red hair tied back in a ponytail. A dusting of light freckles spread across her nose, giving her an impish look when she turned her face up to the sunlight. She was quite beautiful and now that she stood erect rather than hunched like an old lady he realized that she was actually quite young too.
The discovery disturbed him, his life had often depended on his talent for observation and somehow he had overlooked this little beauty who had been under his nose for months on end. As he looked at her incredulously, he got the feeling he was seeing a side of the school teacher few other people ever saw. “You took the pegs out of the guest house.”
She tossed her head and came up with a mischievous smile that looked genuine. “Yes.” There was no shame in the admission, no guilt either.
“I had my reasons.”
William quirked a brow at her. This was a fully grown woman, playing pranks and behaving like one of her own children. She should have been sorry. She should have been begging for his forgiveness. William was quite well aware of the image he presented, most women and many men gave him a wide berth because of his apparently brutal exterior. For this slip of a girl to be dismissive of him was almost unthinkable. “It will take my men and I quite some time to rebuild what you destroyed,” he said, hoping to inspire some kind of contrition.
She cocked her head to the side consideringly. “For that, I apologize.”
An apology at last. It was better than nothing, but he was not going to let the matter drop there. “Now, what to do with you,” he mused aloud.
She laughed, clearly amused at the idea of something being done to her. “Nothing, of course.”
He almost joined her in her laughter. “Nothing? No, I think not, you will have to make amends for what you have done. By rights I should report you to Frederick.”
A slow smirk spread over her face as she shook her head. “I don’t think you’ll do that.”
“Oh? And why not?”
“You wouldn’t want everyone finding out about your little late night training sessions, would you?” The smirk became a broad grin.
William’s eyes bored into hers for long moments. Evidently she had been spying about the place for some time. He had thought that none of the villagers knew of the training sessions he, Mika and Len did almost every night, deep in the forest, near the village graveyard where the villagers dared not tread after night fell. How many times had the teacher crouched in the darkness and watched them?
Determined not to be sidetracked by her revelation, he persisted with what seemed to be an ill-fated attempt at disciplining the young lady. “You will atone for your misdeeds,” he said quite calmly. “If you want to betray my confidence after the fact, so be it.”
The look she gave him was a mixture of defiance and school marm scorn. “I will atone for only that which I decide I shall atone for. Now run along and finish your job.”
Restraining anger, instead laughing at the nerve of this, this woman who was barely half his size and who clearly had some ideas far above her station, William shook his head curtly. “Meet me at the training ground this evening when the moon rises, and we shall see about your behavior. I advise you to meet me there and not make me come find you.”
They say one servant cannot serve two masters, but some brats are more than a one man job.
Who is Alice? She pretends to be little more than an innocent village school teacher, but after being discovered in acts of clandestine sabotage she finds her layers of mystery being stripped away by two strong men harboring hidden truths of their own. They won’t stop before they know exactly what she is, but Alice guards her secrets much better than she manages to guard her impudent bottom and what started out as a simple question soon becomes a struggle for control between a young lady and her would be masters.
ALICE AND THE ASSASSINS is a 20,000 word novella containing themes of dominance and submission, spanking discipline and some menage elements.