The wind blew hot air into town, making it stifling in Layla’s hiding place, making
it hard to breath (the scarf covering her mouth didn’t help). It protected her face against surprise sand storms, but did nothing to help her breathing. Layla had taken her hiding place as soon as the last sliver of sun dipped beneath the horizon. Her foolish hope had been that the air would cool so she wouldn’t be cramped and miserably hot. So much for that.
She had watched the palace for days, looking for an opening in the palace guard’s rotation, and to find a place to start her attack from. The perfect place came in the form of an indent in the building next to the palace walls. She suspected that it had once been an early start at a new window. Fortunately, the owners had decided to hang a long tapestry over the hole instead of finishing their work. Behind the tapestry she now sat with her knees pressed against her chest and her neck craned at an angle that she will regret later.
The sun scorched air blew the tapestry away from the wall. In the distance, Layla could see the Kabir Desert dotted with camels and tents from the caravan that had arrived earlier that week. The caravan had been the catalyst for why she was curled into the wall waiting for her opening.
The second part of her plan was a bit more complicated. The guards switched shortly after midnight. This left a small span of time where she would have her opening. She would jump from her place and fall ten feet down onto the wall. Landing without injuring herself would be the hardest and most dangerous part of her plan. In her midnight-colored clothes, she would slip easily into any shadow the garden on the other side provided. She would be most vulnerable on the top of the wall where anyone could see a dark mass falling out of the sky.
She glanced up and confirmed she had only minutes until her opening. Her muscles tensed. The guards turned in unison and walked away disappeared into an alcove that led down inside the wall. Her muscles released like tightly pressed springs, and she flew. The few seconds in the air sent spikes of adrenaline straight through her veins. This feeling is why she did what she did, and the money was fantastic. Her feet hit the bricks and she tightly rolled to take the pressure off.
One breath. Two.
Layla remained crouched and glanced to her left where the new guards would come from. The snap of boots against stone echoed to her. In one movement she reached the opposite ledge and swung over. Climbing down the was more time consuming than she would’ve liked. She jumped the last few feet and bolted to the nearest tree for cover, catching her breath she waited for alarm bells or for the drawing of swords, or any other indication that she had been seen.
After a moment, she darted from tree to tree. Sunrise would come sooner than she liked, and she had a mission. She had a prince to kill.
She stopped at the edge of the garden. Before her was a column expanse that stretched wide. There were hanging lanterns lighting up the space for anyone looking to take a midnight stroll. A set of guards turned the corner and into view. Layla caught her breath while she watched them approach. It only took a minute for the armed men to reach and then walk passed her. She slipped behind them and silently ran for the servant’s halls that were only supposed to be used by the Sultan and his family’s personal servants.
The hall was dark.
The prince didn’t know it yet, but he had already lost. Her purse would be heavy tonight. But first, she had to make it to him. The halls led directly to each family member’s room. One for the Sultan and his wife, two for the princesses, and one to the adored prince.
She knew the way to the prince’s room like the back of her hand. Leaving even a single stone unturned was what got her comrades caught. It’s what got them killed. That was why she tripled checked every possible escape route, every twist and turn of the hall, and even managed to get her hands on the captain of the guard’s rotation schedule.
The prince’s room had two guards posted on either side of the door. That made it near impossible for her to slip inside that way. She had also considered going through his window, but it was three stories up and completely without cover. She would’ve been spotted before she’d made it halfway.
What others didn’t know what that all the rooms were connected by small rectangles where the walls met the ceiling. The were meant to keep airflow in the palace so it didn’t become a stone oven, and they were much too small for any normal man to climb through. But she wasn’t normal, nor was she a man.
The door nearest the servant’s hall was a lounge that could be enjoyed by the Sultan’s family or any other visiting nobility. Layla snuck from the hall into the lounge. On the right wall was a bookcase that perfectly mimicked a ladder to the ceiling. Silently, oh so silently, she went from one room to the next. This was time consuming and tiring. By the time she pulled her hips through the last opening her arms shook with their hatred for her.
Without much thought for subtly, Layla stalked to the Prince’s bed. She knelt next to the pile of pillows and thin blankets. She was amazed he could even sleep with how unusually hot the night was. Pulling a knife from her hip she placed the tip against his neck.
Fabric rustled behind her. “Not yet.”
She glanced over her shoulder in time to see a pillow swinging at her head. She jerked away, but not fast enough. The pillow to hit her shoulder and arm. Her mind reeled. She managed to dunk the next swing, and on the third she grabbed his wrist. Muscle memory took over. Before he could blink, the Prince was on his back with Layla on top of him; knife to his real throat.
Layla pulled the scarf away from her mouth and fixed him with her most vicious smile. “Now you’re dead.” She leaned over him putting the slightest more pressure on the knife. Not enough to draw blood but enough to prove a point.
Akon smiled back up at her. Using his elbows he pushed against her knife and kissed her. He broke the kiss and his grin somehow got wider. “I missed you.”
She smiled back. “Don’t think you can seduce me into forgetting that I won.” She moved the knife so it pointed to his chest. “You owe me a lot of money.”
He sat up and she shifted to let him without moving from his lap. If the guards walked in, it would look a lot worse then when she was about to kill him
“We can talk shop in the morning. Right now, I’m just glad you didn’t get caught.”
Before that night, Akon had been sneaking her in through the guise of being a servant or a pile of fancy silks. When the caravan arrived three days ago, she had mentioned that they should increase security because the palace was vulnerable. Layla hadn’t realized how offended by that Akon would be. It quickly became the worst argument they had ever had. So, he bet that couldn’t break in and ‘kill’ him before the caravan left. That had been the last time she saw him.
“You should be concerned about how easily I got into the center of the palace and into your room.” Layla slipped the knife back into her belt.
“Surprised, I am not. You’re the best thief in the entire country.” He rested his hands on her hips and pulled her closer. “And why would I be worried when I have you as my guardian.”
“Akon,” She mumbled trying to keep her glare serious.
He smiled. “There are writing tools on the table. In the morning you can list all the ways my father’s captain is failing and I will personally deliver it to him.”
Layla glanced at the table to confirm that he was telling the truth. She took a deep breath and sighed. “I suppose that’s a start.”
Akon kissed her again. “Good. Now, can we get some rest before the sun rises?”
Layla glanced out his window and saw the lightening horizon. Sighing, she stood to unclip her weapons belt and take off her shoes. Akon stood with her. He took her hand and pulled her onto his bed. He rested an arm around her waist and pulled her closer; how they slept until the sun came creeping in.