In my peripheral vision, I sense the table between us, the candle, the flittering moth, the book, and the other thing.
Where am I?
I don’t dare glance around for clues.
Maybe this is a pub, and we are waiting for the girl to bring us our mead.
The room is small, dimly lit, and warmer than I expected.
Is he a friend or foe?
We stare at each other like two friends who have not seen each other in an age. I do not think he is my friend. The man who sits on the other side of the wooden table is a mystery. He is also a knight. Even through his armor, I sense he is a large man-full in the chest and broad-shouldered. He is as big as me. If we fought, I am uncertain who would be the victor.
I must blink soon. He doesn’t blink, so neither do I. To a trained warrior, a blink is an eternity.
I scan my body for pain. I am surprised when I find none.
But I am injured; am I not?
When I probe my mind for the specifics of my injury, I get nothing. If I am wounded, I need to proceed with caution.
My eyes are rascals that want to look at the other thing on the table: a broad sword (his, I presume). It lies unsheathed on his side of the unfinished wooden table.
Somehow, I know she is behind whatever has happened to me. Whatever reality lies behind this madness is her doing. I don’t see my sword, and I don’t dare look for it, lest he sense my eye movement and choose that moment to attack.
Why doesn’t he act?
Why hasn’t he killed me already? It is clear that is what he came to do.
Aha! He doesn’t know what weapons I might have secreted upon my person.
Perhaps he thinks my sword lays beneath the table, out of sight. So, he sits there. Patient. A sphinx, watching without care as the centuries pass like sand blown by the desert wind, waiting for the perfect moment to mount his attack.
I’ve long sat here in this chair. Why do I feel nothing from my legs? Shouldn’t they be restless? I am not a man accustomed to sitting for long periods.
Also, I had a job to do. My liege had sent me.
But what was it?
My task, it would seem, has vacated my mind.
Was this man my task? Did my king send me here to assassinate this man?
I am an assassin.
Why does this knowledge surprise me? Have I been sitting here that long?
I put the question to the side. I do not dare let myself get distracted for even an instant. Death is that close as long as he is seated across from me.
We sit here like two friends having tea.
But he is not my friend.
No, of course not. He is also an assassin, two killers sent to murder each other. Only one can be victorious.
But the witch…
She doesn’t matter now.
Pay attention to him.
He’s the only threat to you now.
The memories of her invade my mind despite knowing it’s reckless to let my mind wander.
I remember finding her hut deep in a dark, thick woods, filled with the unholiest sounds. Here there is only the hiss of the candle flame burning, the soft beat of the moth wings flapping.
The sounds I noticed when I first sat down. I do not hear them now. When I listen for the sibilant hiss or the soft swish of papery wings, I hear neither.
My senses are honed instruments serving me, saving me time after time. For now, all my focus is on my sight.
The man before me is a formidable opponent. An ill-timed blink could cost me my life.
Or him his life!
I realize something. I’m not blinking.
That should concern me, but I don’t dare take my attention from him.
Her hut, a stone cottage in the hostile forest where I thought I would surely die. Or worse.
Standing in deep snow, peeking through the loose shutters in her home.
I did not see her, but I saw her implements on a table before the fireplace. Rows of daggers, metal tins filled with herbs, crucibles of oil, and jars containing god only know what vile elements, all arranged in preparation for some dark ritual.
In the corner beyond the stone fireplace, a black leather-bound book sat on a wooden pedestal. In the opposite corner sat a mirror. Mirrors are foul wretched things, especially in the hands of a practitioner of the dark arts.
The rumors were true; she was a witch. And I was dispatched here to end her life.
I felt my blood run cold. Witches are hard to beat in a fight. But I had the element of surprise; I remember thinking as I stood there gazing into her home. Soft, golden light filled the room, tempting me to enter, for it was a bitterly cold night. The array of sharpened metal implements inviting me to retreat. Still, my eyes studied the interior.
Suddenly, her face pressed fully against the glass. I leaped backward three feet and drew my sword. But my memory grows hazy after that, only fragments of that time.
Lying in the snow-so cold.
A diminutive figure in a black cloak dragging me into the cottage.
Rescued from certain death.
A rag suffused with some foul concoction held tight to my face.
I have been here for an eternity.
Before I was here, I stood in the snow outside, spying, studying the cottage interior.
Now there is only the warrior before me, the frozen candle flame, and the hovering moth, floating inches from the immobile flame.
The knight sits frozen, staring at the mirror on the table. His consciousness is locked in the plane of silver-coated glass. His body sits hollow, like a house without occupants.
The witch closes the door to the attic and returns to her studies below.