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The Bodyguard MAG
by S. S., Hudson, NH
The party was whirling frantically around the ballroom, like a maniacal dervish. Drink flowed as fast as it could, literally pouring from a fountain in the center of the room. Food was consumed as quickly as it could be replaced, and the music only served to heighten the fervor of celebration. Colorful costumes, outlandish and bizarre masks adorned the guests, who chattered like a field of migrating birds.
Tren was an outsider in this room, watching the party ebb and roll around her like a torrential river. Dressed with an elegant simplicity in contrast to the lavishly costumed celebrants, she studied the room with a cold intensity, and was ignored. She was no guest, and so the surging enthusiasm swept her by with little more than a glance. They knew Tren.
And Tren knew more than enough.
For one thing, she knew that somewhere in this elegantly decorated ballroom, a knife was hidden. Standing silent and motionless amid the near chaos of the festivities, she perused each face, silently searching for some clue of a secret knowledge, of a destructive conspiracy. A chill followed the track of her eyes, and certain souls fell silent until her inspection passed. But she detected no sign of trouble.
Tren saw everything, eyes lingering nowhere. She noticed a woman fluttering in a crowd of admiring young men, her costume and mask artfully designed to reveal as much pale, rosy flesh as possible, and to tempt with the promise of things unseen. Recognizing the girl as the King's consort, Tren's eyes slid easily past her; it was not her duty to report on the other woman's infidelities. That would be a full-time occupation.
She saw drunken diplomats, flirtatious married women, and cooing lovers. Nothing unusual, nothing implying a hazard. As satisfied as she expected to be, Tren turned abruptly for the door.
Silent, icily distant, she passed through the crowd. The huge room was cramped with the overdressed and overfed, but not so much as the hem of a skirt brushed against her as she walked. Eyes skidded out from under her gaze, and a wintry silence followed her steps, only to vanish as she passed.
Near the door, a drunken man in a fox's mask and a vivid orange costume stumbled into the path cut by Tren's eyes. She lifted her gaze to meet his through the sweeping eye holes of his mask, and the sodden smile, half-formed beneath his half-mask froze. His eyes unglazed and an instant of lucidity flashed over him long enough for him to step out of her way and disappear into the crowd, two shades paler than before.
Tren glanced briefly after him, having seen his fear and wondering what he knew. Then she turned back toward the door and strode onward, giving every appearance of having forgotten him, but not letting his pale visage slip far from her immediate memory. She strode onward toward the door.
In the main hall, eerily silent despite the thin strains of dancing music penetrating the thick stone walls, the feeling of danger abated. Here, there were no dangerous eyes to pry, to test her, and no silent questions. But the peace of the chamber did not cause her pace to slacken, and she did not pause until the main hall was behind her, and she had passed through the curtains and the hidden doorway into the King's readying chambers.
Although far from lavish, this room could never be called functional. It reflected the King's expensive tastes, as did the party. Tren's sharp features flinched just a bit each time she entered this room. The decor was irritating, it attracted attention from what was important, what was happening. Tren preferred the plain to the opulent, and the bare to the ornate.
His Highness turned as she entered, and a dresser brushed at his costume with some distress. The King waved him away and regarded his bodyguard with an accustomed brand of uneasy trust. Her eyes focused on his with the impartial blue serenity of a glacier, and he asked her the only question he had ever asked her.
Sarcastically, "Well, what has The Best to say?"
He had always called her "The Best," because that had been how she introduced herself months ago when she arrived seeking employment. As though to remind himself that her skills compensated for her gender, and that her slight frame and lack of threatening stature belied her uncommon strength and amazing dexterity, he called her simply, "The Best." She doubted that he even remembered her real name. Her short, white-blond hair made her look old, and her slim body made her appear fragile, but it didn't matter. People feared her anyway. Perhaps it was her eyes, their lack of human emotion which unnerved even her employer.
"Highness," Tren began, taking macabre pleasure in his unease at her frigid demeanor. "There is a danger to you in that room. A blade craves your blood."
The King scowled at Tren's patient face. She regarded him in silence. He had never disregarded her advice, nor brushed off her warnings. Despite his nervous skepticism, he knew that she was the best, and there was no way around that.
For the first time, he wavered before her words. This party was important for so many reasons. He knew that there was dissent among the people, especially the minor nobles, who felt that their power was being usurped by the army the King had been amassing. He had been blamed by red and blue blood alike of allowing the soldiers to ravage the land, to commit the crimes they alleged to prevent. Pillaging and plundering were placed on his head, and he had gathered his lackeys as well as the dissenters today to restore their faith (or at least their fear) of their Supreme Ruler.
"Well, Best," began the well-coifed man. "We'll just have to brave the danger. The elected officials of every province are out there, and I'm in the royal privy already with them. If they think I'm avoiding them, they'll likely toss me down the hole. I suppose I'll have to put my life in your hands, won't I?" He did not seem as nervous as one whose life was being threatened. But then, he was well cared for - Tren's oath of fealty swore that she would warn him of any perceived danger, and stand by his side during any threat. And so she would, to the last.
Tren's arctic blue gaze rested on his face, until he flushed slightly beneath the decorative powder he wore and looked away.
She bowed slightly, "As you say, so be it, Majesty."
* * * * * *
The feverish pace of the huge gathering did not dissipate when the trumpets sounded. Instead, it stilled, quivering, to a pause full of tension and the warm smell of over breathed air. Faces without identity turned toward the King's entrance, masks hiding expression.
Tren's slow, confident stride kept her one step behind the King and her remote expression hid her thoughts. Again, she scanned each face they passed in search of a secret. She tried to see around the masks, to discern which of these faceless men and women could know of a plot to kill the King. She made contact with each pair of eyes peeking through holes in the coverings, searched each soul with methodical precision. And still, she could detect no sign of a threat.
Slowly, with the stately stride of an appearance-conscious monarch, the King smiled and nodded his way toward the royal dais, on which he would sit, aloof and removed from his subjects, easily guarded. Each graceful step, each silent settling of a slippered foot carrying him toward his destination was matched by the sharp click of a booted heel on the marble floor. Each hand reaching for the grace of his touch was subtly but quickly inspected. Nothing escaped Tren's observation.
The King's consort was waiting near the edge of the crowd, having sloughed her admirers. She reached for him, smiling, avoiding Tren's cold, steely glare. Her rosy flush deepened as she and the King ascended the platform. Tren ignored her. When the King had seated himself with his lady at his right hand and his Best at his left, the tension of a silent crowd erupted into the frantic chatter and wild motion of spinning dancers. One by one, dignitaries extracted themselves from the melee to greet their leader, only to be caught once more in the inescapable confines of gaiety.
Listening to each word of every conversation, watching for signs of warning or conspiracy, Tren listened wryly to the King's repeated apologies for the difficulty with his soldiers. Over and over, he promised to decrease the size of his army, a promise he had been making for months. She trembled imperceptibly, knowing without doubt that he would never have another opportunity to ignore his promises.
"Highness," she murmured after the departure of one noble and before the arrival of the next. "Once more I must warn you of the danger here. Someone will try to take your life this evening, and I seriously doubt my ability to stop them."
Not taking his eyes from his guests, the King said only, "Nonsense."
He had never before disbelieved her, but then, she had never accused his gentry of conspiracy.
Then his belle spoke up. "Oh really, guard, it's a silly thought. The King is loved, and none of these loyal subjects would have reason to wish harm on their ruler. You exaggerate, and this talk of death is upsetting to me."
Somehow, Tren's expressionless face appeared sour, but the King did not notice. "Indeed. You know full well that only you and the guard carry weapons this evening, and so we shall hear no more talk of death or murder. Is that clear?" He finally glanced up at her, and glimpsed a chilling frankness in his bodyguard. For no reason, he shivered. Turning away, his voice took on the tone of a proclamation when he murmured to his lady, "Shall we dance?"
Tren did not react. Her only thought was that of the word "knife" spinning ceaselessly within her. She felt time growing short as she followed the King and his woman as they descended into the whirling masses of guests.
They danced, and she observed closeby, thinking furiously. He did have enemies in this room, she knew, those who would kill him for the actions of his army, for the lives lost among his own people due to his carelessness, and there was a knife, a knife, a knife.
The orchestra picked up the tempo. Laughter, tinny and hollow, was all around. Inebriation was in the air, and masks appeared vacant. In the close press of the dance floor, there was no way a knife could be perceived before it was too late. She had searched the eyes of each guest, and none harbored the knowledge of the hidden knife. None was a threat.
No one looked at the King as he spun across the floor, around and around with his lady, here and there and back in an instant, flitting heavily to the rhythm of a waltz.
As he drifted past Tren, the ice in her blue eyes cracked, and water poured out, down her face. No one saw her cry as she sank the knife into the back of her liege.