Prompt: A female assassin turns out to be a queen, hired by the royal family that stole the throne from hers.
“We got another letter from her,” Arch-Adviser Grackle said nervously, nearly wiping the sweat from his forehead with the envelope. He spoke in hushed tones, because anything louder might get his name written down inside one of those black letters with the gold writing.
“Bring it over here,” King Stork ordered his underling. They were in the royal bedroom, and the king was in his frilly napping attire. One of the old guard told him that the king from three generations ago had died in that napping gown, so he was quite attached to it; it helped him feel a connection with the royal family, and like he deserved the post he’d fought so hard to attain.
He slipped on his slippers and shuffled off the bed and to the writing desk. Though it didn’t immediately look it, the writing desk was a battlefield. Thirteen had already lost their lives thanks to the letters that came and went from that desk. If one looked closely, they would see its wounds: an acid burn on the slatted cover, scorch marks in the back, and scratches everywhere as if someone had tried to neuter a porcupine atop it.
The Arch-Adviser waited for the king to take his seat and put on his tiny spectacles before approaching. He had the black letter on a metal tray that was meant to serve champagne flutes, but it had been conscripted into the battle of the the throne like every other household object in and around the writing desk.
Carefully, with a pair of tongs, Grackle pulled the letter by one corner and laid it flat on the desk before the king. Both of them held their breaths until it was perfectly in place. King Stork asked if anything was out of the ordinary in terms of the letter’s delivery. Grackle informed him that it was the same routine as always: the letter arrived on the castle doorstep, tucked between two boards like a knife thrown into it, and with no sign of the person or animal that had delivered it.
Wielding his trusty letter opener, once owned by Princess Finch, or so he’d been told, he slid it under the envelope’s flap until it popped open. They both flinched, but there was no smoke or sparks or poisonous earwigs… this time. Perhaps the infamous assassin they’d hired, known only as Cordelia Corres-Pond, had finally settled down. They did pay her extremely well after all, there was no need to keep up her reputation at this point. They thoroughly believed everything they heard, even the more absurd details. Some rumors suggested she was actually a giant bird that delivered her letters by dropping them from a mile up and never missing the doorstep.
Of course, the letters were only black for business dealings. The ones she used to kill her targets were disguised as any other piece of mail: advertisements, love letters, bills, and even strongly worded complaints from neighbors. With his gloves on, the gloves of Prime Adviser Hawk, as suggested by the monogram AH anyway, King Stork carefully extracted the paper and unfolded it.
To those it may please,
I am writing to tell you of the resounding success of our last joint venture. The daughter of the castle baker, the, it must be pointed out, very rude young woman known as Maria Sparrow, has died by the sudden and violent bloodletting caused by an iron-sharpened piece of paper dragged across the throat.
It’s a brilliant technique that requires two forms of magical craftsmanship. First, iron filings must be bonded to the paper’s edges to turn it into a four-bladed masterwork. Then it must be sharpened. Most would foolishly, and probably at the loss of two to seven fingers, attempt to then put the weapon directly into the envelope. This would result in the blade ripping through its packaging and anything else in its trip to the floor. They key was to bond iron filings to the inner corners of the envelope as well.
The second form of magic was for the letter to fly out upon being opened and slice the nearest throat. Sometimes the magic can confuse the stem of houseplants with the supple neck of a young lady, but my thorough surveillance beforehand confirmed that there were no such plants in Maria’s bedroom or entryway: the two most likely locations for reading a letter.
I wanted her to feel safe, to die somewhere comfortable, so I wrote her a marriage proposal from a very wealthy boy in the stormy castle of gulls past the highway. I had him promise her a wedding on the sea cliffs, but without the blustering wind that so defines that kingdom. I told her that he had learned magic to quell the wind just so she could look perfect overlooking the sea.
I knew the girl wouldn’t find it ominous, as she lacked my worldly experience. She was too young to know that a seaside cliff is no place for a woman. That’s where grieving widows lose the strength in their legs and fall to their death. I gave her that fate, the one she must have wanted if she read the letter so closely that it was able to nearly decapitate her. She dropped to her knees and grieved, though I’m sure it wasn’t for the boy from gulls.
King Stork and his adviser breathed a sigh of relief. With Maria’s death, there was no longer a single witness left alive. They’d never intended any witnesses, but when a plan to usurp the throne falls apart you can’t just give up and tell the people at the gallows that you really tried your best. There would be no consolation crown, so it had to get messy. Stork, Grackle, and their other co-conspirators had taken knives to the backs of the proper royal family.
The true king was dead along with his two adult sons and two adolescent daughters. The queen had been out on a diplomatic mission, but her caravan had never returned. Stork assumed bandits and hoped they didn’t leave anything left of her. Still, he’d warned Cordelia Corres-Pond about the queen in the first letter he sent to her.
The assassin came highly recommended from the same man who sold him the best backstabber he’d ever used. Even with all her tricks, she’d proven worth the cost. All the people who fled from the castle that day had fallen in awe of her personalized letters. There was nobody left to accuse Stork of stealing the throne. He was the doctor that had overseen the royal family’s sudden and disastrous bout with the flu. While it would be normally to question why a doctor would take up the crown in their stead, Stork had the testimony of Grackle and other advisers who insisted that it was the true king’s dying wish.
I’m so sad to be done with our partnership. It has been such fun. Won’t you give me a parting gift? I would love to know your success is total and complete. Please send my final payment in a gold leaf envelope closed with the royal seal. If you are thing, it is yours to use yes?
All the best, which I know you’ve had since you got letters from me,
King Stork’s relieved sigh almost blew the letter away. It had been difficult, adjusting to royal life. Deep down he didn’t feel that he deserved it, but if he could use enough royal possessions, wear enough of their clothes, it would eventually rub off on him, much like that powdered poison Cordelia had put in the sixth letter.
She was right. If he was going to do the job, he had to use all the right tools. Grackle helped him locate the seal in one of the smaller drawers of the writing desk. He melted the wax after sealing up the final deeds of ownership he was transferring to her as payment. The mark left by the seal was the beak, eyes, and wings of a wren. So, this was Queen Wren’s desk.
Much of her writing crossed it still, as Queen Wren had always preferred to rule from the shadows. No competing kingdom ever suspected that her friendly invitations could be so sinister. When word came that her family had been murdered, the woman had no trouble transferring her skills to assassination.
It was good to kill all those disloyal subjects, who knew about the coup, but said nothing for months. Stork and Grackle were helpful in getting her all the right information. Their fate was sealed with the seal, impregnated as it was by her favorite curse. When her husband had plucked her from her coven and made a lady of her, she never got to use it anymore. Diplomacy needed subtlety.
One good stamp with the wren simply made one explode into confetti.
The wren never brought good news, but it always landed on the right doorstep.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by writerlee during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!