Last week you met Olesia the 20-something, half-British, half-Portuguese queen of a future-medieval Britain as she met a cousin she hadn’t seen in almost two decades. The two will fall in love though as you could see from the humour they shared, it’s going to be more along the lines of Benedick and Beatrice than Romeo and Juliet. Today, I want to introduce you to that book’s protagonist, the assassin who in the first book was supposed to be a secondary character but soon took on a life of his own. This is the moment from the first book when we start to realise that there are some great depths to this assassin…
‘Move and you die. Stay and you live. We have archers in the trees. You cannot escape,’ said the man who’d slapped him. Once Aquilino nodded in approval, he removed the gag from the Italian’s face.
They could have been lying about the archers but he wasn’t willing to test the hypothesis in a suicidal escape attempt. His capture was, so far, intriguing more than anything else. If they were going to imprison him, he would be by now. They hadn’t killed him, nor had they attempted to do so which meant that they probably needed him.
They untied Aquilino and disappeared into the trees in separate directions. Aquilino turned around, trying to get a good view of the surroundings but did not try to run. He did not recognise this part of the woodland and could not see the castle. He guessed that they’d travelled quite a distance. Pine was dense and abundant here, as was the familiar barren forest floor that accompanied woodland dominated by this particular tree. Nearer the castle, he’d noted more beech, oak and willow.
Birds sang in joyful celebration of the pleasant weather and the gentle wind that had become so familiar during his time in France rustled in the trees. There seemed to be no clear track through the woodland here and the chances of somebody stumbling upon the situation and rescuing him, he suspected, was minimal.
‘Victor Aquilino?’ The gentle voice stunned him as it had seemingly come from nowhere. It was usually himself doing the creeping and affecting people’s heart conditions, right before he garrotted them.
Before him was a small figure wearing a black cape similar to those worn by his abductors. Her hood was down. She had soot black hair tied back from her olive face and two emerald green eyes that had an intense and soulful look. She eyed him with caution and uncertainty. She had a small mouth with a natural pout and what he would normally call a ‘pig’ nose. Aquilino smirked at having remembered Gervaise’ “fat” comment; she was nothing of the sort.
‘Victor Aquilino,’ she repeated, ‘do you speak English?’
Aquilino gulped on a dry throat. ‘Yes I speak English. You know me?’
The woman nodded, switching from Italian. ‘Thank you. I hope you don’t mind because my Italian isn’t as good as it should be.’
‘English is fine; the language is second nature to me… Princess Olesia. That is who you are, isn’t it?’
‘I’m Queen now.’ A suspicious look passed across her face and she crossed her arms. ‘My father is dead. He was murdered a week ago.’
Aquilino shook his head. ‘Sorry I just… I forgot… I did know. Sounded horrible what the killer did to him. I didn’t know about it until two days ago.’
‘I don’t believe you.’ Her expression did not change.
‘I promise I didn’t do it.’ Aquilino pleaded, remembering the comment about archers in the trees.
‘I certainly don’t doubt that,’ she concurred, ‘I just need to know if Tauris was involved.’
‘He might have been. I don’t know for certain and that’s the truth.’
‘You work for him and he didn’t tell you something as important as a planned Regicide?’ She turned away from him then and marched back up the path only to do an about turn and return to him.
‘He only tells me what I need to know. The rest? Well, it can be quite expensive uncovering the business interests of your employer so I try not to make a habit of that unless I know I can benefit from it.’
She cocked an eyebrow. ‘You have such little respect or trust for your employer?’
‘See it as life insurance rather than disloyalty. I know that someday he will grow weary of me, of what I know and he will have me killed. Such information is a bargaining tool.’
‘You mean blackmail?’
‘In my line of work there is no difference.’ Aquilino forced a sly smile. ‘Blackmail, insurance… it is all relative in my world.’
This is their first meeting and it will begin a professional relationship that will be core to the rest of this first book and the current sequel in progress.