Rosy fingered dawn crept into her room and tried to pry Anne’s eyelids open. She resisted for some little while until she finally gave up the unequal struggle. Anne reached out and pulled the curtains to her bed apart.
“God’s teeth!”Anne exclaimed as she sat up and started to shake Jack awake where he lay snoring next to her, “Get up!” she hissed, “It’s past dawn…if my father should find us all will be lost!”
Jack slowly came to, and then seeing the sun shining in through the window he let out a surprised yelp and jumped naked from the bed and almost tripped over one of his boots. In a panic he started to pick up his clothes while at the same time trying to dress. Time for a little slayer common sense thought Anne.
“Stop!” Anne commanded, shocked Jack did as he had been told, “Now my love get dressed quickly, but more importantly quietly.”
This seemed to steady Jack’s nerves a little; his original panic had after all been quite understandable. No young man wanted to get caught in the bedchamber of the daughter of one his father’s business associates. Even if they had spent the night reading the bible together, which Jack and Anne had most assuredly not, it would still have the most terrible consequences for all concerned.
While these thoughts were going through Jack’s mind, Anne had been sitting in bed watching her lover dress and thinking how slightly ridiculous men looked with no clothes on. Suddenly all thoughts of naked, well muscled young men fled from Anne’s mind.
“When will you be back?” Anne pulled the sheets up around her neck to hide her own nakedness.
“That depends on the Spanish,” Jack was now fully dressed and buckling on his rapier, he hesitated for a moment and looked down at Anne, “whatever happens I’ll be home by the Autum. The Spanish won’t try anything in the winter.”
“But…” sniffed Anne her eyes filling with tears.
Jack sat back down on the bed beside her and took her in his arms as he had done the night before.
“Fear naught lass,” he tried to sound reassuring, “there hasn’t been a Spanish ship built that can catch the ‘Peter’, nor a cannonball made that can sink her.”
“You’re right of course,” Anne sniffed and wiped her eyes with the corner of the sheet. “you go off and burn the King of Spain’s trousers; the Queen needs all the seaman she can get,” the young couple smiled at the old play on words.
Jack kissed her one last time and then stood up, boots in hand, and tip-toed towards the window.
“Don’t forget,” he called softly, “I’ll be back no later than the Autum and I’ll ask your father for your hand and we’ll have a fine wedding.”
Jack opened the window and climbed out on to the roof, in a moment he was gone. Moment’s later Anne started to cry again. She didn’t cry for herself, she cried for her darling Jack. She knew he would be as safe as anyone in the fleet, and even in peacetime a sailor’s life was hard and dangerous, she understood and accepted that.
She cried for Jack because, by the time he came home she could well be dead. She knew that slayers had short lives. It was one of the reasons she had let him into her bed the night before. She was not frightened of falling pregnant, she didn’t expect to live long enough for it to be a problem.0=0=0=0
Anne sat in the small office at her father’s warehouse on the banks of the river Thames. She cast her eyes down the long columns of figures in one of her father’s ledgers. Noticing a mistake she crossed out the number and replaced it with the correct one. She recalculated the total and placed the revised amount at the bottom of the page.
She sat back and admired her handy-work and thought herself a lucky young woman. Not many fathers would pay to have their daughters taught such useful things as bookkeeping and mathematics. They would be useful skills for any wife of a merchant had she not been chosen by God to be The Slayer.
“Daughter?” it was her father’s voice from below in the warehouse.
“In the office father,” Anne listened as her father made his way upstairs to the small office where she worked.
“Good-day to you Daughter,” he stood in the doorway catching his breath before he entered the room and sat down in the only other chair.
“Good morning Father,” smiled Anne turning away from her ledgers, “what can I do for you this morning?”
“I can’t visit my charming and beautiful daughter without wanting something?” her father said in mock surprise, “Maybe I just wanted to see how you were faring this bright spring day.” He paused for a moment and sighed wistfully, “It does seem to me that although we live in the same house, these past few months I’ve hardly seen anything of you.”
“’Tis the pending war Father,” Anne knew exactly what her father was talking about, “it makes business so much more difficult. As you know Captain Howard and the ‘Peter’ left for the fleet two weeks hence…”
“And young Jack with him too.” her Father added with a smile.
Anne was about to protest but her Father held up his hand for quiet.
“You know I don’t mind you having sweethearts by dear, you’re a sensible girl,” her Father sat back in the chair and relaxed, “and Jack’s a good lad, and his father a good and honourable man; but Jack is not the match I had planned for you.”
Anne sighed, almost every day the subject of her marriage came up. Before she’d become the slayer she’d have followed her father’s wishes without complaint, but now… Now it was just another bothersome detail in her already complicated life. Plus she didn’t expect to live long enough for it to be that important.
“What am I to tell Sir Philip, daughter mine?” her Father wanted to know, “He is a most learned and rich man. You and your children would want for nothing.”
Yes, thought Anne, Sir Philip De Gyles was indeed, rich, well read and, strangely for someone that old, a very jolly fellow. She did in fact like the man even if he was more than twice her age and had children by his previous marriage. These ‘children’ were nearly as old as she was. If things had been different she would have sadly kissed Jack farewell and married Sir Philip without a qualm. But now…now with her being the slayer it would be unfair on the good Sir Philip to widow him twice.
Anne thought for a moment, quickly she came up with a plan that would keep both her father and Sir Philip happy.
“Father, in six months when I turn seventeen,” explained Anne thoughtfully, “Only then will I marry Sir Philip, and not a day before…you have my word on it.”
“I can tell Sir Philip?” her father asked smiling lovingly at his daughter.
“Indeed you may,” she smiled at the joy on her Father’s face, trying to hide the sadness that was in her heart.
Not only had he done his duty by his only child, but he was fairly sure now that she would be happy and well cared for after he had died. Anne smiled at her father, one more problem solved she thought, by the time she was seventeen she would no doubt be dead. The idea brought a tear to her eye; her father thought she was crying with joy and gratitude.0=0=0=0
Several nights later Anne stood and wiped the blood from the blade of her rapier; she looked down at her blood stained clothes. She was wearing a suit made for the son of a wealthy banker; the lad had died before it had been finished, so he had no use for it now. It had joined Anne’s wardrobe of disguises. Her doublet and hose were covered in blood; it would take Master Thomas’ servants’ days to get it back into wearable condition again.
God’s teeth, how she hated having to kill Catholics. Everyone knew that Catholics were the spawn of Satan but they looked and sounded so much like honest English people. Even if they did plot to kill the Queen at every turn and bring England low, she still hated having to kill them like this.
Killing the men, that Anne could stomach, they at least could fight back however ineffectually. It was the way that the mothers tried to protect their children that broke her heart. The way they begged and prayed for mercy brought tears to her eyes even as she ran her sword through their bodies, and as for having to slit the throats of the children that made her sick to her stomach.
Surely the slayer was better than this? Surely the slayer should be the protector of the people, be they Protestant, Catholic, Jew or other heathen, and not be their executioner? She would have no more of this she thought as she walked from the room where the bodies lay and away from the smell of blood. From now on no matter what the powerful men who sent their orders to Master Thomas said, she was ‘The Slayer’ not some hired footpad with a sharp knife.
She stood and looked back at the bodies of the family she had just killed; she heard Master Thomas enter the room and looked round to study his face in the flickering candlelight. There was no sign of remorse or pity there, as she was sure there would not have been any had the positions been reversed and a Catholic girl now stood where she did.
“I will have no more of this,” Anne announced in a voice that would brook no argument. “You can tell your Master’s that the Slayer does not kill people anymore. If they want this work done in future they will have to employ their own cut-throats.”
“But Mistress Anne,” Thomas cried urgently, “the slayer has always done the bidding of the council, and…”
“NO MORE!” Anne whipped her blade up to Master Thomas’ throat, “I have said I will kill no more of God’s people no matter how misguided they may be. However,” Anne narrowed her eyes as she pressed the blade of her rapier harder against Thomas’ throat, “if they wish to press the matter, I’m willing to make some exceptions…enough of this!” Anne cried as she sheathed her sword, “Let us away.”0=0=0=0
Anne didn’t know how much the Council of Watchers knew about the dreams slayers dreamt. As they never asked after them or mentioned them, she suspected that this was a secret know only to the slayer herself.
Sometimes she dreamt of dangers that she would have to face, other times she found she could commune with the ghosts of slayers past, and sometimes she found she was talking to slayers as yet unborn. They spoke strangely and wore outlandish and immodest clothes, but they were all her sisters. There was one young blonde slayer who lived in the far future who she often dreamt about, but she’d never been able to speak to her.
Anne found herself watching episodes from this Slayers life as if standing in the pit at the theatre watching a play. Sometimes she would find herself laughing in her sleep, other times she woke up crying as a cruel fate played with this girl’s life. It appeared to Anne that this particular slayer was very important, but she could never work out why, and however hard she tried she could never break through the invisible barrier that separated their lives from each other.
As Anne walked along the darkened streets towards Master Thomas’s shop she made a promise to herself. No matter what, and with Gods help, when she eventually died she would appear to all future Slayers and tell them that they should avoid killing people in all but the most extreme of circumstances.