Cindy Paul – Heading Straight for the Castle

‘So that’s the plan?’

‘Yes,’ Nash said, looking at everyone.

They looked back at him,
varying levels of nerves and excitement showing on their faces.

Nash thought the absence of fear was both a reassurance and a danger.

But that was okay.
He’d been afraid enough in his life to balance it out.

‘Let’s go then,’ Nash said, climbing through the window and lifting himself onto the roof.

‘Yeah!’ Ilta exclaimed. ‘Let’s kill the crown prince!’

‘Shut up,’ Cas hissed, clasping a hand over her mouth.

Ilta’s green eyes lost their excited gleam and she nodded once.
Back to business.

She couldn’t distract them.

Nash needed all his focus to be on killing the mysterious, shut-in crown prince.
Yeah, right.
There was nothing mysterious about ruining a kingdom.

The castle grounds were predictably busy.
Good thing they were going via the rooftops and walls.

Nash flattened himself against the roof of the stables,
the tiles still warm from the afternoon sun.

But the sun would soon be gone.
And so would the crown prince.

Ilta crawled beside Nash,
and he nodded once, giving her the okay.

Keeping an eye on the guards in their vicinity,
especially the ones that would see them scaling the castle walls, Ilta slowly slid the pipe from her boot and brought it to her lips.

Deep intake of breath,
and release.

One guard touched his neck,
then the other and their confusion lasted a second or two before they both dropped down,

Nash imagined it being the crown prince, and hoped it would be this simple.

Probably wouldn’t.

So far, nothing in his life had ever been simple.

Ilta slid her pipe back and Cas immediately sprang to his feet, throwing the grappling hook with a precision only hours and hours of practice could’ve produced.

Nash knew.
He’d been there.

If there was one thing in his life that had been simple,
it had been recognizing the pain in Cas’s eyes,
and seeing the thoughts Nash had grown used to having.

Their friendship had never been called as such,
but it had been there before they’d even known each other’s name.

Scaling the walls of the castle was something Nash had done once before, when he’d been three and had lived in the castle.

Though the crown prince was a vague memory,
Nash remembered the rest of the castle, looking at him like he was a crease in the carpet, a smudge on the mirror.
He couldn’t remember how the crown prince had looked at him, but it couldn’t be any different, because at age four, Nash had been thrown onto the streets with

Above him, Ilta was climbing much faster than he was,
so Nash followed her path, trusting her to pick out the safest route.

A concept that growing up on the streets made him believe wasn’t necessary.
How could it be when he’d traded food for-

But Ilta’s bright green eyes had challenged him,
again and again,
picking unnecessary fights with him, and others,
to show she could be trusted.

Not once had she looked at him like he was
out of place.

Nash’s fingers almost slipped on one of the stones,
and he grunted as he had to use all his muscles to lift himself up again.

When Ilta looked down,
he glared at her.

‘Should’ve practiced your wall climbing more,’ Ilta grinned.

Their grins disappeared when they reached the left tower,
and their focus sharpened as they reached the sixth window.

The chamber of the crown prince.
The place he never left.

Nash liked the tower.
Less people there.
You had to have a purpose to visit the tower,
like ridding the world of the crown prince’s cruel regime before he became king and impossible to kill.

And he needed to be killed.

A prince who never went outside,
never saw for himself how his people lived their life in absolute poverty, was no prince.

Nash used years of trying to find a warm place to sleep to unlock the window,
the only difference being that he left his past desperation behind.

Ilta and Cas went first.

When Nash’s feet touched the carpeted floor,
Ilta had used three darts already, while Cas was using precise jabs to pressure points to knock out the rest of the guards.

‘What if we can’t knock them out?’ Ilta had asked.

‘We kill them,’ Cas had answered.

Their heads had turned to him,
and Nash had seen it in their eyes.

His call.

‘The crown prince has to die,’ Nash had said. ‘The rest is up to you.’

Trust went both ways.

The crown prince was reading a book,
his back turned towards them.

That’s as far as Nash’s observation went,
because while Ilta carefully closed the door behind them,
Nash carefully closed the distance between him and his objective.

With a steady hand,
Nash gripped the chair and tilted it back.

The crown prince who hadn’t set foot outside in fifteen years,
who would turn eighteen tomorrow and no longer be crown prince, but king,
fell on the floor with a yelp.

Nash immediately produced his twin daggers from his jacket,
eliminating the distance between his blades and the crown prince’s heart.

Eliminating another decade, or perhaps century, of poverty and cruelty.

They locked eyes in the eerily silent moment where the crown prince breathed his last breaths.
The prince chose to use one of them to utter,

It was his name that made Nash aware of what he was seeing.

It was like looking in a mirror,
a horrible mirror,
because Nash saw the life slowly leave his own blue eyes.
No, that wasn’t right.

He saw the life leave his brother’s eyes.

He heard Cas suck in a startled gasp behind him,
though Nash hadn’t heard him come closer.

Then, Ilta’s shocked voice broke the silence,
shattered the mirror.