This week’s Writer’s Carnival team challenge was to write a short story that begins with the following sentence: My life will never be the same…

life will never be the same again, once I reveal myself. I clung to the final moments of anonymity. The sunlight pouring in through the imposing window slanted across the flagstone floor, banishing darkness to the farthest corners of the castle’s cavernous great hall.

I had become accustomed to staying in shadows, sacrificing my happiness on the altar of revenge.

I’m no longer in hiding. For twenty four hours a day, the linen binding around my chest which flattened my breasts helped in creating a safe identity. The tunic I wore molded my shape to that of a youth. I bided my time and wielded my knife. Borrigan berries gave me a euphoric feeling of fearlessness, and four knights died at my hand. Drinking mead and ale until they could barely stand made them easy pickings, and they never considered that the enemy could be inside the castle.

Taking another step forward, I could see past the stone pillar. He sat at the banquet table alone. Although his face was streaked with dirt, pools of blood sat in the creases of his throat. The smell of battle hung in the air. Blood. The stench of melting fat and charred skin was a familiar one, as the bonfires raging in the courtyard burned the vanquished to prevent disease.

Red wine stained the aged wooden tabletop like dried blood. My vision blurred as I remembered my father’s fatal wound pumping blood between my fingers, despair seeping through my soul.

“I failed you, Arienne. Stay safe, Thomas…”

Thomas had helped me, fitted me out in squire’s attire and showed me how a ‘man’ walks. But not anymore. I wore a gown for the first time in six months, the bodice pushed my breasts up into the ripe swell of a maiden. Although, I could not disguise fingernails broken and stained with dirt, nor the callouses on my palm where the hilt of my dagger had spent so many hours in my hand.

I set a smile upon my artfully painted face, the dash of olive-colored henna on my lids accenting my green gaze. Pinching my cheeks to redden them, I stepped forward into the light.

The knight’s head snapped around. The goblet in his hand toppled over, the dregs of ale flooding the table. The scowl etched on his face deepened as he surged to his feet. I fell back a step as he strode forward, his fingers digging in as he gripped my shoulders and pulled me into his body. I yelped as the muscular band of his arm around my body crushed my lungs and his mouth covered mine. His tongue dipped in between my lips, seeking mine, his kiss hard and insistent.

My knees shook as a light headed feeling weakened my body. I grabbed his leather tunic, my knuckles white as I held on tight. His own breathing sounded harsh as he settled his hands on my shoulders and, holding me away, studied my face.

“I thought you were dead. When the King’s equerry brought news, he said the ladies in waiting and you…”

“Merek, they raped and slaughtered every female.”

The muscle in his jaw twitched. “They paid for their treachery. I’m sorry I could not save your father. So how…?” Taking my hand, looking down, he turned it over and studied the bruises and straight edged cuts in my calloused skin, and understanding dawned. “You pretended to be a squire?”

I smiled. “I looked too young to be a knight.”

As if noticing it for the first time, he ran his fingertips ran through my short, rough cut hair. He smiled. “This will never do My Lady.” Suddenly dropping to one knee and pressing his forehead to the back of my fingers, he said, “The King is dead. I swear allegiance to my new Queen.”

For the first time in six months, I took a breath that did not hurt. I had thought my life would never be the same again, and I was right.”