From where he lay on the roof, Ballard caught a flicker of light from her bedchamber. No more than 500 feet. A clear night, low breeze. Perfect to take the shot. So it had come to this. He sighed and lifted the spyglass he had taken from the Swiss guard’s body only a year ago. How many men had he killed? Dozens?
Three for sure, the Swiss guard close enough Ballard had heard him cry “Mama,” as he fell. But that was war. This — this was — murder. How was it different from any other kill?
The spyglass shook in his hand. Stop thinking about it as murder, Ballard. You’ll never make the shot like that. He took a deep breath, like he had learned to do before each volley. Calms the nerves.
His hand steadied and he lifted the spyglass to his eye. He peered through it at the light in the window, twisted it to focus until every detail stood out — he could see the ruffle of lace on the canopy over the bed as the breeze stirred it. No one was there.
But what had the sheriff said? Sometimes she drank a glass of wine down in the kitchen before bed. That must be where she is.
So, he would wait. It was like war, then. How you waited and waited and watched to see spear tips rise over a hill. For the gleam of helmets. To hear the snap of sigils against the wind, the thud of plated boots.
He reached for the wood box he kept his bolts in, opened it, felt the slender piece of wood between his fingers. One last shot. That’s all he needed. Then freedom. Kill the woman and freedom. The sheriff paid him a handsome fee, enough money to buy passage back to England, or even the New World. The promise of new life. Death then freedom.
He nocked the bolt and attached the spyglass above the bow on notches he had made himself so he could make long shots like this. And as he lay there, again peering through the glass, his ears began to ring. He shook his head. They kept ringing. Then: “I see you.” A whisper, a woman’s voice. His heart hammered. He took a deep breath, and looked back. Just darkness. “Come back to the window,” the voice said.
It was a clear voice inside his head. A woman’s voice. Or maybe it was a demon. He had seen madmen — demon-possessed — raving about voices in their heads as priests hauled them off in chains to prisons. This was his punishment for murder, for all the lives he’d taken. “It’s no punishment. Look to the window.”
As if willed by the malevolent spirit that had overtaken him, he glanced at the window. A figure stood there now, half in shadow, but human. A woman.
“See?” the voice said. “I’m no demon.”
“Only a demon would say that,” he muttered to himself. His hands shook. And only a sane man would know that.
He raised the bow, peered through the spyglass, rested his finger on the tickler.
“Are you really going to do this, Owen?” Only a demon, or Francesca, his lover for three years, would know his real name. His finger tensed against the tickler. A beautiful demon, a slender blond woman with a bruise over one eye.
“How long have you known me, Owen? Do you think I would stop you from this? It’s your job. Your obligation. If it’s what you really want. Look at me, Owen.”
He zoomed the spyglass onto her face. The bruise deep blue and miserable. Demons don’t bruise. Demons aren’t beautiful. Ballard knew who the real demon was. The man who did this to her and wanted her dead.
“Do you think I want this… this… life? Maybe I want you to do it. Maybe I want it all to end like you do. All the pain, the grief. That’s what you want, isn’t it Owen? To end all the pain?”
“It’s not what I want,” he said aloud.
“You want peace,” she said. “I can give you peace. You know that.”
He imagined a life with her. It would be better than what she had now.
“It would be a good life,” she said, “you and I.”
The bolt pierced her heart. She slumped to the ground.
It would have been a good life, he thought. He slung his crossbow, turned, climbed off the roof and walked into the dark city streets below, a free man.
Todd Glassock writes fiction and journalism. His first speculative fiction publication was in 2016 with the story “About Jake” at Bewildering Stories. You can also find him in blog form at Exile on Ninth Street, where he writes about writing, books, and whatever else strikes his fancy. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas.