When Yonke entered the building, it took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of the interior. As she stood there blinking, a well-dressed man approached her. “Hello, Madame, how are you today?”
Yonke looked at him in confusion. “Fine,” she answered, unsure why he was talking to her. She looked beyond his shoulder further into the building that Yorsk had indicated for her to meet him. She didn’t see him at a glance though.
“Right this way,” the man said and walked away. Yonke continued to look around for Yorsk, but just saw chest high walls throughout the large room. “Coming, Madame?” the man asked and Yonke realized that he was speaking to her. Perhaps Yorsk had instructed him to summon her, and had further instructions for her when they had moved further away from the door. She followed the man beyond one of the chest high walls, revealing tables and benches lined along the edges of each wall. The man indicated a table to her, and she sat down on one of the benches. He handed her a booklet. “Your waiter will be here shortly. I hope you enjoy your meal.”
She looked down at the booklet he had handed her. The cover said, “Onadell’s Steak and Seafood House.” Glancing up, she saw the back of the man retreating to the door of the building, where he was greeting an elderly couple, and lead them to a different booth along the same wall. Looking around her the other direction, she saw a middle aged man eating a large chunk of meat at a booth diagonally across from her booth, lining one of the chest high walls. She stared down at the booklet in front of her and opened it up. She saw different sorts of meat written on the inside with varying numbers in a column beside them. Uninterested in either salmon or noodles with mushroom sauce – the only entries she remembered reading – she closed the booklet again and looked through what she could see of the building for any sight of Yorsk. She could only see several of the booths from where she was seated, and she was sure there was more seating behind the other chest high walls she had seen. Although she was itching to see if Yorsk was hidden elsewhere in the room, she was sure that the man had brought her to this specific seat for a reason, and that it was the only building in the area that had matched Yorsk’s description. She would be patient for a few more minutes before going to search the building.
“Good evening, Madame, what may I get you to drink?”
Yonke turned to see that the annoyingly too cheerful voice belonged to a young man in black pants and a starched white shirt addressing her. “I don’t require anything,” she replied quickly, turning away from the stranger.
“No drinks? Well, if you’re sure. Have you decided what you’d like to eat yet or would like some more time with the menu?”
“Why does everyone assume that I want food?” Yonke burst out, taking the booklet and shoving it at the stranger’s chest. “I wish to be left in privacy,” she added icily, staring across the booth at a small stain on the fabric of the opposite bench.
Yonke’s outburst only seemed to fuel the stranger’s cheerfulness, because he laughed openly. “Ok, I will respect your wishes, but do not be surprised to find others surprised that you are sitting inside a restaurant, where the sole purpose is to serve food, without ordering anything. I don’t think there are any rules against you sitting here, though, so I will let you be in the peace you so desperately crave.”
She heard his footsteps retreating. There something oddly familiar about his voice, but Yonke couldn’t place it. His footsteps soon returned and walked past her to the elderly couple’s booth, and asked them the same question about drinks. This gave her a good opportunity to study his side profile, yielding no clues as to why his voice had been so notable. He matched the current fashion of the area with shoulder length hair and a trimmed beard. He laughed at something that one of the elderly people had said, and promised to return quickly. As he passed by her again, he smiled widely, almost as though he knew a secret that she didn’t. This just infuriated Yonke more and she quickly pulled her gaze away from his.
Without anything else to do to pass the time, Yonke watched the middle aged man eating his meat with a knife and some other pronged instrument. She turned away, repulsed. Did he realize that he was consuming what had once been a live and breathing animal? Without this man to watch, there really wasn’t much for her eyes to rest on, except for a couple paintings, and Yonke had absolutely no interest in any sort of art.
The cheerful man walked passed her again, bearing a tray with two glasses containing a dark blue liquid that he placed on the elderly people’s table. He removed a pad of paper from his pocket, wrote something down, smiling and nodding as he did so, then replaced the pad and took the people’s booklets. He paused as he passed by Yonke again. “Are you sure you don’t need anything?”
“If I did, I would find something myself,” she replied coldly.
“Personally, I always find myself hungry after extensive travel, but perhaps not everyone is like me.”
“How do you know that I was traveling?” Yonke hissed. She half stood up and grabbed the man’s shirt, ready to punch the stranger if necessity required her to do so to protect her identity.
“Oh, just the very different style of clothes and the oddly short hair for a girl give you away as being from a different region, combined with the fact that I don’t recognize you,” he answered, indifferent to the fact that he was being threatened. Realizing how inappropriate her response was, she quickly released him and sat back down. Her outburst would in fact make her more noticeable, which was what she had been trying to avoid. The man continued to speak, “Plus people often travel when they receive instructions to do so from their long-separated younger brothers,” he replied with a grin. “Of course, there are some heartless siblings who cannot be bothered to…”
“Yorsk?” Yonke questioned, astonished. He nodded. “H-how?…”
“We can talk at length when I finish work. Until then, allow me to bring you something to eat. I’ll cover the cost,” Yorsk offered.
Yonke found herself silently nodding as she stared at her brother’s face. Mentally adding several years and longer and facial hair to her old picture, she managed to find the old recognizable part in the strange new face grinning down at her.
“I’ll be off in an hour,” he explained, glancing at the wall above Yonke’s head.
She followed his gaze to some odd piece of art, unsure of why he`d suddenly be giving his attention to it.
It wasn’t long before Yorsk returned with a plate of raw vegetables and a generous slice of buttered bread along with a tall glass of water. “Your meal, Madame,” he said with a flourish and slight bow.
“Cut it out,” Yonke said under her breath. As though expecting that response, Yorsk just laughed.
~ ~ ~
An hour later, dressed in the common leather and wool clothing of the area, Yorsk escorted Yonke out of the building, telling her that his house wasn’t far away. They walked through the unfamiliar chilly night air, Yonke attempting to ignore the shiver-bumps lining her arms. She needed to prove that she didn’t require the use of the owner’s jacket since she hated having an unnecessary link between them, and it was one else favour to need repayment.
Yorsk’s house was positioned on the bank of the river that the town relied on for its existence. The river smelled sharply of fish, and Yonke was sure that she saw fishing nets outside of the neighbouring house. Trying to mask her disgust, she took a seat near the window on the road side of the house despite the slight breeze blowing through the opened plane of glass. At least there was a lessor fish smell wafting in there. Evidentially not where Yorsk had been planning to sit, he had to bring in a chair from another part of the house. They sat for a moment in silence, looked up at the nearly full moon through the window. “You’re cold,” Yorsk stated after moment. Yonke shrugged. “I’m going to grab you something, I insist,” he continued, ignoring Yonke half-hearted shake of her head. She stopped being so stubborn when her brother returned with a wool sweater, knowing that if she didn’t accept it, he would force it onto her anyways. Besides, it was safer to borrow from family.
“So.” She said once she was covered.
“So.” Yorsk replied.
“What did you send for me for?”
“I was unaware it had become a crime to want contact with one’s own family,” Yorsk replied half-sarcastically.
“No, really,” Yonke continue, “Why me? Why now? What sort of trouble are…”
“I’m not in trouble,” he quickly cut her off. “Nothing like that. No, I just wanted to see you, and I have a fantastic opportunity for you, if you’ll accept it.”
“What sort of opportunity?” Yonke asked suspiciously.
“Farming,” Yorsk replied, leaning back in his chair.
“Seriously,” Yonke dismissed.
“I am being serious,” Yorsk insisted. “I know you, Yonke. Growing up with someone causes that to happen. I remember what you asked Father when we were children.”
“Yormick can’t come back anymore,” Yonke replied bitterly.
“This isn’t about Yormick. It was never really about Yormick. Like you said yourself way back then, Yormick was a nice guy. You liked him, sure, but you were never truly in love with him. You longed for the farm his father would someday pass onto him, and the animals especially.”
“You also heard what Father said,” Yonke reminded her brother. “It is not meant for us to be such. Our family is above such…”
“You can’t lie to me, Yonke. I know that you don’t really want this life.”
“So what? What do you expect me to do? Run away like you did?”
“You’re here now.”
“Father thinks I’m on a mission. By the way, how are you doing?” Yonke suddenly changed the conversation, taking charge again.
“Good. No, better than good, amazing. I have a job working at the restaurant…”
“The restaurant. Where we were earlier. It’s a place where people go to buy a cooked meal.”
“Aren’t people born with the capabilities to care for themselves here?”
“Well, yes, they are, and for the majority, they do prepare their own food. It’s just nice for them to get out every once in a while, and not have to worry so much, especially when they’ve had a long busy day.”
“Rubbish, if you ask me. And people actually go there?”
“Yes, they do. Tonight wasn’t busy, being a weekday, but it’s usually busier on the weekends.” Yonke shook her head disapprovingly but said nothing more. Yorsk continued, “I really do enjoy it here. I’m actually doing some good in the world, being useful.”
“That’s debatable,” Yonke replied.
“Better than our ‘esteemed family business’,” he retorted.
“More useful? You think that walking around being lazy people food is more useful? We do good things.”
“Do we really? Perhaps in the official records, but you and I know what actually happens on these missions. Half the time innocents get hurt. Half the time the guy is really an innocent himself. I don’t think helping revengeful families settle their petty feuds is ‘helpful’.”
“Not all our clients are the Oftsborts. And there really are some truly wicked people out there who are better off eliminated.”
“You mean dead. No need to provide euphemisms around me, sis.”
“An assassin’s life is never glamorous, and I don’t pretend that it is.”
“You may think you fit in, because you happen to be skillful enough to carry out their commands, but I know you’re not happy doing it. I know you hate the killing,” Yorsk stated to his sister’s stone face.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Sure it does.”
“Like you can change my life anyways.”
“That’s the thing! I can! I can let you run the farm you always really wanted.”
“How so?” Yonke asked guardedly.
“There’s a farmer living here, a fellow named Brett Baltston. Well, his wife died in labour a month ago, giving birth to his son.”
“Brett can’t run the farm and raise his children on his own. He has his son, and a two year old daughter. I was talking to him at the restaurant. He comes there more often lately since he doesn’t have anyone to cook for him anymore, and he needs to work in the field all day. By the time he’s done he’s too tired to even think about cooking himself, plus even if he does try, he ruins over half the meal anyways. He’s looking into remarriage, and soon.”
“What does this have to do with me?”
“Don’t you see? You could be that wife.”
“You assume I’d want to marry him.”
“You’ve always wanted a simple life surrounded by animals, away from all the horror and killing, and he can protect and care you, and he needs someone to help him. Everyone benefits.”
“I just don’t know…”
“I wouldn’t have suggested the match if he wasn’t a good and caring man. You’ll learn to love each other.”
“Yorsk, this is not what I expected from you. You, always the dreamer, always talking about true love, and now you suggest that I marry a man I’ve never met? And someone with children already? How do I know that I’ll actually be happy here?”
“Wouldn’t anything be better than being an assassin?”
“Seriously, why did you beg me to come here?”
“I missed you.”
Yonke crossed her arms. “You thought I could come out on a whim? I’m busy.” She started to stand up to leave.
Yorsk grabbed her wrist. “I think I know what your next assignment is,” he hissed.
Yonke frowned. “How would you…”
“Does the name Berend Shrayt ring a bell?”
“Yes, I remember Father mentioning him before. Isn’t he supposed to be some sort of thief or something?”
Yorsk looked out of one of the windows before replying in a low voice, “He’s labelled as one, but he’s not. He refused to allow a nobleman to marry his daughter is all. Seriously, he’s not the one you should be after. If anyone deserves to be ‘eliminated’, it’s the nobleman who hired Father.
“And why didn’t you mention this earlier?”
Yorsk glanced out of the window again. “That nobleman happens to be extremely powerful. He has spies everywhere. He seems to know everything that’s going on. Brett has more information about him.”
“The one who lost his wife?”
“The same one.”
“Oh,” Yonke replied, “I understand now.”
Yorsk raised his voice again. “So do you at least agree to just meet Brett? You don’t have to get engaged tomorrow, but if you’d just talk to him for a bit?”
Yonke sighed, and replied in a louder voice, “I’ll meet him, but that’s all I promise to do.”
~ ~ ~
Brett Baltston was a tall, muscular and better looking man that Yonke had imagined him to be. He looked warn and tired, but extended a friendly smile when she and her brother came to his farm the next day. He motioned for them to follow him into his house. He lit a candle and lead them down into the cellar. “I think this is a safe enough place to talk,” he said as he set the candle on a table and brought out chairs that were stacked against one of the walls. “Berend Shrayt, a man of good standing in this town, loyal and noble, a man of principals, has a daughter who is fifteen years. A nobleman by the name of Wildred Shangrath came through town a couple months back, and was very interested in this daughter, and tried to seduce her to come away with him. Berend caught him in the act of sweet talking her and chased him out of town, warning him to never try that again. Shangrath was extremely angry, and began many false rumours of Berend being a thief and traitor against the Crown. I happened to come across him one day at the cross, but hid behind a bush so that he wouldn’t see me. He was meeting some sort of shady character, and gave him something. He mounted his horse and left immediately, and as soon as he was gone, I came out and ambushed the other guy. I found this letter, and I assume it’s what Shangrath had given him.” He slid the letter across the table to Yonke.
The letter wasn’t long, and just carried instructions addressed to her father, detailing all of Berend’s faults and a reward for his assassination. Yonke had seen many letters just like it in her time as an assassin. She nodded once she had read through it.
“I would say that he needs to be brought to the authorities, but bringing him to himself doesn’t seem like it would accomplish much,” Brett said dryly. “Still, he deserves judgement.”
“How do I know that you aren’t lying to me, that this letter isn’t a fake, or that Berend really deserves justice himself?” Yonke asked slowly.
“You don’t,” Brett replied bluntly. “We’ve got our words and reputations, but nothing more.”
In spite of herself, Yonke half smiled. She was beginning to like this Brett fellow. She liked his honesty and directness. “May I meet this Berend then? And I promise no weapons, I just want to know who’s involved before making any decisions.”
“Most certainly,” Brett replied. He went into a side room off the cellar, and returned a short while later with another man. “I’ve been letting him stay here for safety,” he explained.
Yonke looked at him and watched his reaction to her intense stare. He didn’t show any signs of nervousness, but stood straight and tall. “What requirements do you have for a man to win the hand of your daughter?” she asked.
Berend, although he looked slightly confused why he’d ask him that, replied without hesitation, “He must show that he loves her. To prove his love, he must show tenderness to her, must listen to her, must protect her, and must hard to provide for her.”
Yonke nodded. She continued to question him with seemly random questions to determine his personality without him realizing the significance of the questions. At the end of fifteen minutes she felt satisfied that he did not deserve to feel her blade.
“Where do I find this Shangrath?” she asked. Brett provided her with a map and outlined the best route to take to his castle. He escorted her out of the cellar with her brother following behind. Although Yorsk insisted that she come back to his house and have lunch first, Yonke started out to the castle right away.
~ ~ ~
The castle was not open for tourists when Yonke approached it. The gate was closed and the drawbridge raised. This was only one of the many situations that Yonke had been trained to deal with, and she expertly snuck to the side of the castle and swung her grappling hook which caught on the top of the wall precisely where she had wanted it. She was inside the castle within the blink of an eye.