This week's flash fiction piece is brought to you by me trying to find something to share from my camp WIP, but not thinking any of it fit to post yet. So I wrote this scene up. It's just short of 1000 words. Not sure if it'll make it into the final draft, but regardless, it was a good exercise in getting into third-limited again before camp happens in June. (She says as she goes off to write in omniscient elsewhere...)
No warnings this week, I believe. Although the word r**e (if the word triggers you, odds are you can guess what it is) does appear once.
The chief cleared her throat and set her pen down on the darkened desk. She felt the sweat ooze down her skin beneath her silk robes and considered calling for an attendant to turn on the fan above her – but it was midnight, and all the attendants were asleep. Even her loyal bodyguard was probably asleep just outside the office door.
Cairn stared at the contract before her and read it for the hundredth time. It was her handwriting that spelled out the terms, but it was Lord Ramaron Marlow’s signature that swept across the bottom of the parchment. An extra line existed for Cairn to put her name and stamp the official seal of the Second Tribe. Only then would the contract be binding and the mission granted.
What am I doing? The image of a swath of blond hair walked by before Cairn, although there was none there to touch. She heard the conservative laughter in her memory. My love, what have I done?
Folly. Signing the contract would be pure and utter folly. By selling Sonall Gardiah to this julah Cairn put the peace of Second Tribe at jeopardy – what would happen should death befall Cairn, its great chief? With the second in command away and unfit to assume duty, chaos would rule as mercenaries fought to take the deposed chief’s place. And why shouldn’t something happen to Cairn, considering the name beside Sonall’s on the contract was none other than Sulim di’Graelic, the sleeping bodyguard just beyond the door.
I doom us all. Truly, the odds that doom would descend with this contract were slim to none, but if Cairn’s predecessor had taught her anything it was to always assume and plan for the worse. But if what Ramaron Marlow had told her was true, then Second Tribe would cease to exist if nothing was done.
“I need your two best hands, your greatest team.” With the gold to back him up, any chief would have jumped at Ramaron Marlow’s proposal, idiotic or not. But even the promise of gold could not sway the chief’s heart in this matter. She could not sign the contract.
No, she would. She had to. She was Cairn di’Cerilyn, the chief of the Second Tribe of Cerilyn. It was her duty to put her mercenaries and their livelihoods above her own desires, something her esteemed predecessor had failed to acknowledge. They were as good as her children, the whole lot of them, including the looters and the rapists that made her life hell every time lawsuits were brought up against them. They depended on her decisions to feed and clothe them, and if what Ramaron Marlow said was true…they depended on her to keep them existing.
Cairn picked up the pen and tapped the edge on the contract. She wrote her adopted name as slowly as her heart beat beneath her robes.
She was still safe, since the seal was not planted yet.
Her throat was dry, but she still managed to call out to the slumbering oaf in the corridor. “Sulim.” Her voice sounded like the doom she would bring them all.
A thump, and then the door opened. Sulim staggered in as she rubbed one eye. A stronger chief would have reprimanded her, but all Cairn could see was the swath of blond hair and the taut lips that laughed when they were alone.
“Ugh, what?” There was no laughing that night.
Cairn gazed at her and then at the contract. “Come here. You must help me.”
Sulim appeared too tired to question Cairn’s strange request. She stumbled to the desk and stood beside Cairn’s chair with a sway that made the chief wish she could send her to bed. And I would follow you. Instead the chief picked up her seal from her desk and put it into Sulim’s hand.
“Help me stamp this contract.”
“Then can we go to bed?”
Cairn chuckled. “As many times as you like.”
“Once should suffice.” Sulim yawned as her hand traveled along the seal and met Cairn’s palm. Together they pushed the seal to the contract and were done with it. “There. Now please tell me you’re going to bed so I can get some sleep.”
Cairn opened her mouth to tell Sulim what she had just helped her sign. But how would she say it? I’ve sold you again, after I promised I wouldn’t. It didn’t sit well.
It could wait for the morning.
“Go.” Cairn shooed her away. “I’m just as likely to die on my way to bed tonight as I am in my sleep. Go get your own.”
She watched Sulim bow her head and take leave of the office. They exchanged no pleasantries, as it was assumed they would see each other again soon enough.
Alone again, Cairn foisted her head into her hands and sobbed. A tear crept through her fingers and splattered the edge of the soiled contract. My love, my love, what have I done? Cairn stood in defiance to herself and left the contract to rot on her desk. I’ve sold you and killed you, that’s what I’ve done.
Come morning she would have to tell Sulim what she had done. Until then she had a few blessed hours of pretending she had not agreed to send her bodyguard off to her death.
Those hours were best spent abed, Cairn decided. She picked up her remaining things and trudged into the corridor towards her apartments, alone and unguarded. She would have to get used to it in the coming weeks.
For if Sulim di’Graelic died, Cairn would not take another bodyguard, so her own death could come that much quicker.
My love, my love, I’ve sealed our fates. Cerilyn is doomed, and we’re all to die.