Assassin’s Guild (intro)
The young man looked at the stoic face of the Master. There seemed to be nothing on that face to signify any emotion whatsoever. He studied this face, which at once seemed timeless and old. The skin appeared to be wrinkled and weathered, in that way which did not bespeak of a lifetime of joy and love. Those wrinkles he remembered from his mother and father, which radiated from the corners of the eyes and mouth from years of smiles and laughter and lullabies and sponge cake were nowhere to be found on this ageless individual. Not a mean or hateful face, either. Nothing like the hooligans who tortured and robbed his parents, leaving them to slowly die on the side of the road. Their faces were covered with the scrunchy lines that come from the too-frequent expressions of hate and anger. No, the face before him was simply old and wrinkled, stoic, yet at peace.
The eyes were another story. They were a golden brown, a sign that his parents were not of the same race. From his general appearance, the young man assumed one was from the north country and the other from the south. He wondered if this old man was ever attractive enough to make the ladies swoon, but decided not to ponder on that aspect of this old Master standing before him — it just somehow felt wrong to even contemplate things like that.
While the old man was modest in his dress, it was certainly of the finest materials and cut, tailored with precision. As the young man looked it over, there just seemed to be endless folds and pockets and recesses, tucked about in ways that were not immediately obvious to the casual observer.
All in all, this old man could walk through a crowd, and not one person remember he was there.
“What seekest thou from me?” came the query from the old Master. His voice was neither harsh nor friendly; just as the old Master’s appearance: a fine balance between everything you might expect, and yet still somehow commanding your attention.
“Me parents were doned by hooligans. Tortured, they were, for longer’n such as I can say, and, finally, left t’their agonies, slowly to die. I’m want’n to become n’assassin, as ye are, so avenge ’em I can.”
The old Master stood there for a moment, then replied: “We seek not for revenge. Find someone else to help ye.”
“Me da’s dyin’ words was f’me t’find ye. He said ye’s friends when’r were younger. He told me t’find ye and become your apprentice.”
“Our friendship was far long ago for it to matter now. We do not train boys to go to die a revenger’s death.”
“Them hooligans’ll kill a’gain. They probably doned others b’now.”
“Tis no business of mine, young master. Go and seek another’s help.”
“Me da d’na send me t’nother, he sent me t’ye. Wa’must the likes a’me do to get ye to help me?”
“My boy, you are not prepared to take the oath needed for my training.”
“D’na lay o’me wha’I ca’na do. Tis a’man I be, a full sixteen years…”
“Silence, boy! You know not of what you speak. Filled with anger and a blood lust for revenge are you. And you ask me to take you on as my last apprentice, just so you can go running off after some worthless hooligans? You insult me enough to deserve a swift death of your own! Go away…”
They both stood there in silence, looking at each other in earnest. The old Master looking for the slightest hint that this sapling, barely a man, was worthy of his time. After all, this boy’s father was the old Master’s younger brother, or, more accurately, his half-brother. A confidence he knew his half-brother would never betray. If he was going to take on one last apprentice, there was something intriguing about keeping it in the family, even if the boy would never know.
The young man stood there, brash as a young oak, stretching upward to overtake the masters of the forest. He did not dare tell this old Master that his father told him this old Master was an assassin who would teach him the ways of his guild. The father’s dying wish was for his son to learn these ways and use them to avenge the death of his parents as well as clean out all of the riffraff from the area. He stood there, scared to death of this old man, but resolute: he would not take “no” for an answer, no matter what it took. So mustering all of his courage, he stood there looking the old Master in the eyes.
“Tell me wa I’s t’do,” the boy said, looking the old Master square in the eyes, hoping his nerves didn’t lose his bladder as he stood there.
“Go and fetch me a brace of coneys before sunset and we will talk.”
After the young man had cleaned up from the dinner of fried rabbit, he sat on a chair in front of the fire, close to the old Master, and yet far enough away to see him completely as he sat back watching the sparks rise up the chimney.
After a long silence, the old Master asked: “Do you like cats?”
“Na, sir, n’er been t’fond o’em.”
“Good. A true assassin hates cats,” he said, with a side-wards glance towards the young man. “Vile creatures, they are. Watch those doleful creatures as they go about their day. Your first assignment is to go out into the world and watch cats for five days, and return to tell me what you have learned.”
“An wi’ch cats shall I be wa’chin?”
“Yea, it matters not, for they are all the same. Small cats, big cats, farm cats, ferrel cats, house cats, pampered or stray, anywhere ye like. Make it thy sole purpose for the next five days to observe all ye can, and bring me your lessons learned.”
“Aye, sir, I be on it,” said the young man, not sure what lessons he could learn from watching cats.
“Can ye write?”
“Nay, sir, ’tis naught the likes of me has been t’schoolen.”
“Then to school it will be with ye. To be an assassin, and a member of the guild, ye must be lettered. We have a teacher here to get ye mastering your letters. And, pray, she’ll teach you to speak properly as well.”
Going to school? The young man could hardly believe his ears!
“So, my boy,” the old Master said as the young man returned from his first quest, “what have ye learned from the cats?”
“E’faith, sir, ’tis little I learned. They’ll come t’ye and mew prettily, then steal y’r food and soil y’r clothes an i’gnore ye as ye call. They lay most all the day long then go a’mousin. A’when they snatch t’mouse, they smack n’hit at d’prey while it strug’ls t’free i’self, then eats it alive. I di’na like cats b’fore and I du’na like cats now.”
“My boy, what lessons have ye learned?”
“I du’na, ‘cept I du’na like cats.”
“Think, boy, think. Ye have told me the story, now lay out the lesson.”
The young man thought about what he had already said, and tried to turn it around and give it as lessons. He had heard g’pa tell fables, but it was a bit ago. He struggled to think, and the old Master sat there waiting.
“Fair we’ther friends, they are. Nice are they as ye give t’em, and reward ye with shat.”
“Good, that is a good insight. What is the lesson?”
“Them that is jes y’r friend f’good is worth’lss as a cat.”
“Acceptable. What else?”
“Lazy they are, ma’kn naught all th’day until a mouse hap’ns by.”
“And the lesson from that is what?”
“I’ye du’na work, ye’s a lazy cat.”
“Okay. What else?”
“Cruel hooligans to boot, they torture th’prey n’most cruel ways an’eat ’em alive.”
“Good, that is enough. What lesson did this teach ye?”
“Cats be us’lss hooligans and all who torture th’prey are worth’lss as cats.”
Those are good enough lessons for the moment,” the old Master concluded. “We will continue with more lessons after ye have learned to read and write. Ye must keep thy lessons in a journal.”
“But,” the old Master continued, “the lesson is this: Assassins of the Guild do not torture their targets. Ever. It is a shameful thing. Assassins of the Guild who do so are blackballed from the Guild, and if they continue, they become targets themselves. Remember always this first rule and lesson: Assassins of the Guild to not torture. Thou makest a clean kill without horror or warning or torture of any kind. If thou doest become a member of the Guild, then laying out death is thy bound duty to thy liege. It is not for glory or honor or revenge or pleasure. Do ye understand these points?”
“Aye, sir,” the young man said. Still he thirsted to find those who so cruelly murdered his parents.
He daydreamed about it while staring off into the forest. Until, that is, he felt a seething pain across his back and shoulders.
“What have I said to ye? Revenge is not acceptable!”
The young man, struck dumb by the pain of the strike with the old Master’s walking staff across his back, fell to the ground, limp.