Scare Tactics

“She’s got as much energy as a hummingbird, that one.” A guard gestured to me from the doorway, smirking at the other one beside him.

Their armor clattered as they sauntered toward me. I shifted away from the dead bushes near the corner and stood, moving across the garden with my box of tools.

“See that? Always flitting from one place to the next. A rat with wings.” He laughed, kicking his steel toe into the cracked dirt. “I hear she even got cozy with the queen.”

The other slapped his shoulder, grinning. “Y’know Damien would hate to hear that one, seein’ as he ‘spects to marry the queen. Sees it as a right, he does.”

I turned to them as I wielded my axe. “The queen will marry whoever she sees fit. Now, I suggest you move along and do your jobs so I can do mine.”

The first guard approached me, towering over my as gripped his sword in its sheath. “Or what, you planning on chopping some heads?”

I tightened my grip on the axe, turned and swung, connecting with a dead tree. The dried wood cracked with the force of the blow, flying across the garden. The guards stepped back, wide-eyed with their hands raised.

“One badass hummingbird, if you ask me.” The second guard peeked out from behind the first. “Remind me never to cross her.”

The first one shoved him. “Just shut up and go, Duncan!”

He stumbled forward. “Okay, okay! Jesus, Andy, don’t have to put your hands on me!”

“How many times do I have to tell you-”

Duncan hung his head. “Right, right, Andrew, sorry.”

Their voices faded as they left, continuing to bicker. I sighed, letting my axe drop from my hand. I picked up the broken part of the tree, tossing it onto the pile of dead debris of the day. I heaved the box full off of the ground and carried it inside. I broke the bigger pieces up and dumped the entire mess into the compost grinder, grabbing the handle to turn it all into dust. Before I could start, a voice floated in from the doorway.

“Don’t you ever stop working?”

“That’s what you hired me for, isn’t it?”

She closed the gap between us. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Actually, you can help me with the compost. Looks like I put a little too much material in there to grind it all myself. Wanna give me a hand?”

“Are you sure you need it, considering what you did to that tree?”

I froze. “You saw that?”

She gripped my shoulder. “I saw the whole thing from the window. What did they say to you?”

I shook my head. “Nothing worth repeating, just messing with me is all.”

“Zinnia…”

“It was nothing, really. Besides, I scared ‘em pretty good, so I doubt they’ll be bothering me anytime soon.”

“If they ever do anything like that again, and I’m not there to see it, I want you to come and tell me. I’ll make sure it’s taken care of.”

I nodded without saying a word. Instead, I stepped up to the grinder, gripping the handle. Alexandra placed her hand over mine, holding the handle with her other hand.

“One, two, three.”

With our combined strength, the dead mass didn’t stand a chance as it disappeared into the grinder to get spewed out as dust and broken bits. When we finished, I emptied the bin into a composting setup in the corner, digging my hands in the top layer of mulch to mix it. For a moment, I watched the worms tunnel in and out around the additional material before wiping my hands on my apron.

Alexandra peeked over my shoulder. “When did you have time to get all of this?”

“Most of it I scrounged up from what was left in here. Pine boxes, scrap metal, and the like. I did stop in the market to get worms from the fish merchant, though.”

“You built all of this? You’re amazing!” She paused. “Wait, I’ve never seen you leave the castle. When did you go?”

“Early yesterday morning. Five, I think.”

Her eyes widened. “You mean you woke up before sunrise? Then you stayed up to sing me to sleep?” She gripped my hands. “How are you still functioning?”

“Lots of practise. I’m used to it.”

“Then I need to get you used to taking a break! How about stopping to have lunch with me?”

I opened my mouth to protest, but she wouldn’t have it.

“Consider it an order from your queen.”

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