The Blood Rose Assassin – Part 1
The Kingdom of Kalaeris
The sound of wood striking wood filled the air at Rydell Manor one sunny afternoon. The gardeners tending the flowers and the guards on watch at the estate heard every high-pitched grunt and parry, but no one moved to intervene. They knew better.
“My father hasn’t come out looking for me yet,” one of the wooden sword wielding children said as he parried his opponent’s wooden sword in an attack.
“Pray he doesn’t, this is too much fun!” said the opponent. She lifted her sword and lunged at him again. Their swords clashed, and with their feet, they moved in a dance of play blades.
“Pray your father doesn’t find out about you playing with swords,” he grunted as he tried to push her back, their small faces looking at each other between their crossed wooden blades, eyebrows furrowed in concentration in a fight of strength.
All too soon, she overwhelmed him and he fell back, breathing heavily. “Yield!” He announced, waving his play sword in the air. She laughed and danced around, her jade green dress twirling around.
“You’re not supposed to hold your breath! You taught me that. What happened?” She asked, stepping over to him and offering her hand.
“You’re getting strong,” he said, taking her hand and getting to his feet. She handed him back the toy sword. She couldn’t be caught with it. “Took me by surprise.”
“Well, what’d you expect? We’ve been at this since we were five!”
“So we have.”
They smiled at each other, both ten years old and of completely different ranks. He was the blacksmith’s son, learning his father’s craft that he would take over when he was older. She was a noble, born of House Rydell, and destined to be a Lady and marry some other Lord or someone of higher rank.
“Niklaus! We’re ready to leave!”
They looked over to the large door of the manor where their fathers stood before sprinting over to them.
“Isolde! Don’t run! It’s not in the nature for a Lady to run!” Her father said, and she slowed down, pressing her lips together and folding her hands at her abdomen. “You know better than that.”
“Yes, Father,” she said, bending her knees briefly in a curtsy. “May I see your new sword?”
Her father laughed and cupped her cheek. “You needn’t worry about such things.”
Isolde wasn’t worried. She didn’t understand why her father was assuming she felt a certain way. She smiled sadly, nodded, and glanced at Niklaus, who shrugged.
“Take care now, my Lord.” The blacksmith said, his hand on his son’s back as he steered him away. Isolde mouthed a small “bye,” before Niklaus looked away.
“Isolde!” she heard her mother calling from inside. “I have your new dress!”
“Oh, really?” Her face lit up, and any upset over not being allowed to run or see a sword was gone.
She fast-walked toward her mother inside the grand entrance. The floors were polished and servants bustled about, with a large stairwell leading to the second floor across the entrance doors.
Her mother held a gorgeous blue dress with emerald lacing and design. Isolde squealed and held it close to her. “Can I try it now?”
“I don’t see why not, but do keep your voice down, it’s not polite to scream like that.”
Shut down again by something she seemingly couldn’t control. Was it really so bad to show a bit of excitement about anything? Her personal handmaiden and nanny, Marianne, a pale blonde woman, appeared just in time. “I can help you change into it, my Lady.”
“Thank you, Mari,” she said, heading toward the stairs. Once in Isolde’s room, Marianne helped her out of her dress and into the new one. When she was shown the matching slippers, Isolde squealed again, and Marianne shushed her, though smiled nonetheless. Unlike her parents, Marianne didn’t mind that Isolde was naturally excitable, loud, and energetic. For that, Marianne was one of Isolde’s favorite people in the world, right next to Niklaus.
“I knew you would like these slippers, here, put them on.” Marianne said. Isolde carefully lifted her dress up to reveal her feet. She slid them into the slippers, one by one. Marianne tied bows to secure them, and Isolde let her dress fall around her. “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she twirled from side to side, loving how the dress swished around her form so elegantly.
“Did you have a nice time playing with the blacksmith boy?” Isolde gasped softly at Mari’s words, looking worried. Marianne smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. You know I keep all your secrets.”
Isolde held her hands at her waist and nodded. “I had a lovely time. Do you think he’d like my dress?”
“Do you want him to like your dress?”
A rosy blush warmed her cheeks and she looked away from the mirror. “I don’t know.” She mumbled to herself. They were only small, but she couldn’t help hoping that Niklaus thought nicely of her.
“I think he would.”
Isolde crossed to the window of her bedroom and looked out. The estate’s grounds were surrounded by trees and overlooked the rest of the northernmost part of the kingdom. She took in a deep breath and exhaled dreamily.
“Don’t you want to see the earrings?” Marianne asked, her voice breaking Isolde’s trance. She turned and smiled brightly at her.
“And bracelets, too?” Isolde asked.
“Bracelets, too, and hairpins!”
Dresses, footwear, jewelry and accessories came and went as the years passed. Isolde loved and cherished every single garment. She insisted on wearing every piece of fabric and leather until it wore out or until she grew out of it, no matter how many times her mother reassured her she could simply buy new ones instead of wearing the same ones over and over again for a couple of months at a time.
The dress for her sixteenth birthday had to be her favorite yet. It was revealed to her in a large box with matching slippers. It was a deep rose red, form-fitting petticoat with gold accents and trimming. It was the most lavish, softest fabric she’d ever felt on her skin. Against the warm undertones of her skin and her cool blue-grey eyes, it wore perfectly.
“This is… beautiful…” she said, holding it to herself. “Thank you so much, Mother, Father.” She twirled in it, still in her nightdress in the early morning. “This is a lovely present. I couldn’t want anything else. We don’t even need to have the ball. I could wear this always.”
Lord Rydell chuckled and gave her a warm smile. “We’re glad you like it. You’ll look stunning for your ball, and especially for your suitors.”
Isolde stopped swaying and folded the dress over her arms at his words. “My… my suitors?”
“Of course. You’re sixteen! It’s about time you seek out a husband with a strong title of nobility like us or higher. Joining Houses will strengthen our defenses and economy,” he told her.
Even though Isolde knew this day would come, it still didn’t change the fact that her world seemed to crash all around her, especially when she held intense, hidden emotions for Niklaus after so many years of sneaking to the back of his father’s blacksmith shop to practice using play swords.
“It is your duty as a Lady of this House to marry well. You knew this, dear,” Isolde’s mother said.
What was she to do? She didn’t want this. She wasn’t ready for this. For a moment, Isolde was silent, only remembering that she had to respond. “Right. I suppose it just snuck up on me, the time, I mean.”
And stabbed her in the heart.