This story is by Cassidy Taylor and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Edlyn Crowheart was going to fall.
She was going to plummet to her death and there was no one around to bear witness except for the parched leaves tumbling from the giant oak tree in the palace courtyard.
“Curse you,” Edlyn murmured at the crisp autumn breeze that plucked at her long, brown curls. Her fingers slipped on the windowsill and she yelped, her toes scraping the smooth stone of her tower. Her bedsheet rope had long since tumbled to the courtyard below. It was sheer luck that she had grabbed onto the ledge. This wasn’t how it turned out in fairy tales.
Not for the first time, she lamented her inability to take no for an answer. But Prince Danyll thought he could boss her around just because he was a few years older than her and a magic wielder. He called himself her protector, but he was more like her jailer. Just because she couldn’t write spells or manipulate fire didn’t mean she was helpless.
Except now, dangling from the window, she’d never been more helpless. All she’d wanted to do was go to the King’s Tournament, watch the games and see which men her father picked to be the next Casuin Assassins. They were there because of her, after all; the winners would be sent across the Impassable Strait to hunt the escaped queen who would, as long as she lived, be the only threat to Edlyn.
Well, unless Edlyn died first.
“Hello there!” someone called from far below her.
She couldn’t look down, afraid that any movement would loosen her already tenuous hold on the window. “Who’s there? Can you help me?”
“Uh, well, yes,” came the voice again. It was the voice of a boy her age, not quite a man, and she groaned. Just her luck. She hadn’t seen a boy her age in years. Prince Danyll certainly didn’t count. “Don’t move.”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” she grumbled.
There was a strange plucking sound and something whizzed past her ear. Leaves on the gabled roof above her fluttered past her to the ground, and something brushed Edlyn’s back.
“You’ll have to grab the rope,” the boy called.
Carefully tilting her head back, she saw a rope attached to some sort of claw that he had shot up and over the roof ledge. It dropped past her all the way to the ground. “Grab it and do what?” Edlyn hollered.
“Climb down.” She couldn’t see him, but she felt his shrug.
Her arms trembled as she looked between the rope and her fingers on the window ledge. How did he expect her to let go of the ledge? “I can’t,” she said, tears pricking her eyes in fear and desperation.
“You don’t have much of a choice. Falling is inevitable. The rope will at least slow you down.”
“Will you catch me?” she asked.
“Sure.” Who was this boy with his nonchalant attitude? She was about to find out.
Her legs went first, trapping the rope between her ankles and finally, with a quick gasp, she let go of the ledge. She dug her hands into the rope but to little avail. It slowed her some but he was right; it was only marginally better than falling. And it burned. It was all she could do to hold on as her feet and her hands chafed against the rope. Was this how fire wielders felt with their skin aflame? She couldn’t help it. With a wail, she let go of the rope and tumbled backward. But instead of hitting the cobblestone courtyard, arms went around her waist and someone went down beneath her with an oomph. From her spot on top of the boy, she looked up at the tower to see how far she had come.
“I have to get going,” said the figure beneath her.
She scrambled off of him and extended a hand to pull him to his feet. “Thank you, sir,” she said. He was incredibly tall and lean, and his golden-brown hair was too long, though his face was clean-shaven. His skin, while lighter than hers, had that brown undertone that warmed the Duskan complexion. Black tattoos on his arms wound beneath his shirt and peeked out over his collar, the words or pictures indiscernible.
“I’ve never been called sir before.” He stooped to pick up a wooden bow and a quiver of arrows, slipping both onto his back. “Can I take you back to your quarters? I’m already late for the tournament, a few more minutes won’t make a difference.”
“If I wanted to be in my quarters,” she said, “I wouldn’t have been hanging out of my window.”
He shrugged. “It did seem a strange way to pass the time.”
“I would rather accompany you to the tournament.” She threw her shoulders back, aiming for confidence. As if he didn’t know the princess wasn’t to be out of her rooms.
His eyes raked her from top to bottom in a way that was very un-Sir-like. “Why not, Highness?” he finally said. “Trouble seems to find me everywhere I go. Why fight it now?”
He loaned her a brown half-cloak that she used to hide her face as she entered the tournament ring with him and joined the spectators behind the fence. Edlyn had not been around this many people in years, not since her sister had been stolen from them and her father had chosen to lock her up to keep her from the same fate.
His dais was only a few feet away. He and Edlyn’s mother sat in their gilded chairs while her older brother, Rin, stood behind them, his hands crossed properly behind his back. Even after four years without his twin sister, it was still hard not to see him as half of a whole. Edlyn always looked for her in the crowd; she did not think she would ever stop.
Her savior took his spot in the line of archers. He was the youngest but not the smallest. The archers took turns aiming at targets of straw. Twang-whoosh-thunk. The sound made her think of him shooting the claw over her head and set her heart to racing. One by one, they were eliminated until only her new friend stood against a single competitor. The targets were now so far that they were nearly outside of the ring.
The first archer fired. Twang-whoosh-thunk. His arrow stuck in one of the outer rings, the shaft wobbling wildly. Then the boy stepped up and Edlyn swore he closed his eyes. Twang-whoosh-thunk.
An orator announced his name to the crowd. “Evenon Feathermark, winner of the archery contest.”
A woman beside Edlyn murmured to her friend over the applause. “And his brother won the melee. A talented family.”
When a servant handed Evenon a white rose, he turned to her with a mischievous smile. Did he know what he was doing by bringing her into the spotlight? The trouble that he would bring down upon them?
Trouble seems to find me everywhere I go. She would bet that he knew exactly what he was doing.
He thrust the rose at her with a sweeping bow, but she hesitated. Her parents were watching, but they might as well know. They might as well see that she could be trusted to be outside without coming to harm. As she reached up and took the rose from Evenon, her fingers brushing his, Danyll burst onto the dais, her wielder prince, her master and her betrothed. He was frantic, his eyes brushing over every face, looking for her. Finding her, his mouth dropped open in disbelief as she leaned forward and kissed Evenon’s cheek, lingering too long against the corner of his mouth.
Her smile was victorious, even as the guards seized her arms and hauled her away.
From the window in her room, now sealed closed, Edlyn watched the ship sail away from the palace on the Cobalt River, passing between golden-topped trees and carrying Evenon and his brother on their mission to kill the missing queen. No Casuin Assassin had ever returned, but she hoped that this time would be different. An orange leaf pressed itself against the window glass, teasing her.
“Not thinking of leaving again, are you?”
Edlyn turned to face Prince Danyll who leaned in the doorway. “Not yet.”
“Is it really so awful?” he asked.
“Being here with me?”
“No,” she answered. “It’s just not . . .” She didn’t know how to tell him. How it felt to fall, her heart in her throat, and how it felt to trust that someone would be there to catch her. Someone who didn’t mind trouble landing in his lap. “Not love,” she finished.
“Not yet,” Danyll said, joining her beside the window. “Maybe someday.”
“Yes,” she said, her eyes on the boat sailing into the sunrise. “Maybe someday.”