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He held his breath, hoping against hope that he wouldn't be seen. Through the crack in the closet doors, he watched the men in dirty leathers finishing their work. When it was over, they stood there, cleaning the blades that were now sullied with the Duke's blood. Slapping each other on the back, the men readied themselves to leave. Biting his lip, Pethn choked back sobs. Yet some sound must have escaped him, for moments later, one of the men had to clean his blade a second time.
She thought the pain would never stop. It burned in her night and day, a constant reminder of Pethn's death. When her brother died, she thought she would die as well. But stubbornly, her body continued on, waking, eating, sleeping. Neighbors and close friends came by bringing food and sweets as if that would ease the pain. She took their food numbly, wishing for them to leave. She just wanted to be left alone with her misery and loneliness. Nightly she cried herself to sleep, waking to a damp pillow and another dismal day. Her father never left his bed, sleeping nearly continually in his grief. Only after several weeks had passed did he rouse himself and go to work, operating as though he were a mindless automaton. When he came back from work, he ate only enough to continue functioning, and then slept. Karal was unable to do the same, for her dreams haunted her, playing scenes of Pethn and how he had died.
But that all changed when the Duke's Guard came. They held no sympathy for her self-pity. Hauling her to her feet, her comrades placed a sword in her hand, and attacked her. Instincts awoke and she fought as she had never fought before. Thrusting, parrying, and blockingshe nimbly defeated one after another. When, finally, there was no one left to fight, she stood alone, sweating, exhausted and bruised, but with a new grasp on life. Panting, Karal loosened, letting out the tears that had been threatening her for days. Protectively, the Guard ringed around her, shielding her from prying eyes. When she had finished, she wiped her nose, and looked up at her friends. Her captain slowly walked forward, holding out a friendly hand. Karal looked at her, and just as slowly, extended her own hand, clasping it.
"Thank you." Her captain nodded, understanding shining in her eyes. The rest of the Duke's Guard stood as well and they all made their way to the nearest tavern, knowing that drink softened even the deepest grief.
Afterwards, stumbling down the street, Karal laughed. It was the first time in days that she had done that. But during the fight, she had realized what had to be done. And she knew that the Duke's Guard would understand.
In the small hours of the morning, Karal donned new, gleaming black leathers and buckled on her sword, the scabbard now festooned with the runes for mourning and revenge. Silently slipping on her chain mail, holding the links so as not to wake the rest of the Guard, she slipped out of the barracks, shoving a small, sharply honed dagger in her belt.
Before leaving, she stopped by the small treasury, a dusty, little-used room that housed the money for salaries. There she removed the pay she would earn for the position she was taking on. It was a large sum, but one that came with several strings attached. Dumping it into a coin purse that hung around her neck, she made her way to the kitchen, another small building and one that was used exclusively by the Duke's Guard. It was there that she had eaten, drank, and laughed with all her friends and where she had first met her Duke. She had spoken with Pethn at that old, stained, and gouged table, and stuck her own knife into the table to drive a point home. She blinked back tears, and reminded herself of her duty. Quickly gathering up some food and other necessities, she silently bid farewell to her father and the Guard and slipped out of the town.