“Dead? What do you mean, dead?” The king’s voice, cold and raspy, sent a chill through Ada, filling her with a terror more complete than if he’d screamed.
“Murdered. Stabbed through the heart in his bed. I saw it. A runner will be here within the hour to inform you.”
“How is it possible that an assassin could sneak up on a sorcerer and murder him in his bed?”
“I cannot say, Majesty.”
“You have one purpose, and that is to see. If you do not fulfill that then why should I let you live?”
“I will try again, Majesty.”
Ada bowed and shuffled from the room. Down the corridor, to the servants chambers, then below, through a dimly-lit hallway to her chamber.
She prepared the herbs and mixed them in the bowl, and called forth the vision she’d seen earlier.
A figure in a black cloak crept into the darkened room. The sorcerer’s home was remarkably ordinary. But for the closet filled with witchery, it could have been the cottage of any well-to-do merchant. The sorcerer was a man in his middle years, dark-haired, snoring through a hooked nose.
The cloaked figure approached the bed and raised a knife. The sorcerer snorted and shifted in his sleep. The assassin paused, knife raised, until the sorcerer settled back into rest, then plunged the knife into his chest.
As the figure turned, Ada caught a glimpse of a face, pale and smooth, obscured by shadow. A young boy? Or a woman?
The vision started to fade. This was where she’d lost it before. She focused her energy and held on to the image. The assassin went to the closet and pawed through its contents, finally selecting a bottle and hiding it in a satchel. The hood of the cloak fell away, revealing the face.
A woman, barely beyond girlhood.
There was something familiar about her. Ada was certain she’d seen the girl before, but where or when, she couldn’t place.
The vision faded then, and Ada was back in her chamber. “Who are you, Girl?” she asked aloud. “Why did you kill him? A personal vendetta? You were a lover scorned, perhaps? Or were you hired? And if so, by whom?”
Ada mixed more herbs, created another potion, and looked into her bowl again.
The picture that formed was of the future. The same girl, the assassin, rigged some sort of trap on the North Road, just before it reached the forest. A short while later, a carriage came along the road. The horse stumbled, the trap sprung, and a tree fell, crushing the top of the carriage. From inside, a woman screamed. The assassin girl ran toward the carriage. “Are you hurt?” she called out.
“No, I’m just trapped,” the woman inside answered.
“I’ll see if I can help,” the girl said.
“No need. Stand back.”
There was a rumble of thunder, then the carriage shook and broke apart. A tall, elegant woman emerged from the rubble, her rich gown torn and dirty.
The girl assassin rushed forward. “You’re a sorceress. Do you need any help?
The sorceress smiled at the look of awe on the girl’s face. “Thank you, child, but I’m quite all right.”
“At least let me take care of your horse. He looks frightened out of his wits. Come, you can stay at my home to be refreshed until a replacement carriage can be summoned.”
The sorceress nodded. “Thank you.”
The girl unharnessed the horse and led it toward the sorceress. “Will you ride or walk?”
“Let me help you up.” The girl stood behind the sorceress, making as though to boost her onto the horse’s back, then, hands moving so fast Ada scarcely saw what was happening, she pulled a knife from her belt and shoved it in the sorceress’s back. Straight through the heart.
The girl searched the woman’s body until she found a pouch hanging from the woman’s belt. Using her knife, the girl cut the pouch loose and stuffed it in her satchel. She took the horse and left the sorceress’s body lying by the side of the road.
Ada let the vision fade. The girl was murdering sorcerers. The men and women who had come from all over the world to answer the king’s summons for anyone who could practice magic. But why?
Ada concocted one final potion, attempting to see into the motives of the assassin.
She looked into the bowl and was confronted with such a barrage of images she was thrown backward.
A purple gem, dripping with blood.
A monster that haunted the forest running in fear of something even worse.
Herself, and everyone in the palace, in the city, the villages—everyone in the whole country writhing in agony, caught in the throes of death.
When she woke, Ada was lying on her back on the stone floor. The candle had burned almost to a nub and her head throbbed. Tears streamed down her face as the truth of the future overwhelmed her.
If the girl assassin used the amulet, everyone would die.