“From the stage that brought you Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre,” Allyn-a-Dale proclaims before the curtain, “here’s Ever On Word’s original talk show, Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell.”
The curtain rises, the studio audience applauds, and Will Scarlet himself walks smiling and waving onto the bright, cozy set.
“Hullo, everyone! Let’s jump right into it, shall we?” Leading by example, he hops into his armchair. “Allyn, who is our guest character today?”
As the guest enters from the other side of the stage, Allyn reads the introduction, as provided by author Tirzah Duncan:
Thirteen-year-old Wren has been a servant in the secret assassins’ guild headquarters ever since she can remember. If you can keep away from the boss’s fingers, it’s not bad work—and the assassins might even teach you a few of their tricks over the years.
But when the old boss gets knocked off (you know how it is in an assassins’ guild), the exquisitely handsome man who takes his place is… you know, exquisitely handsome, and Wren will do everything in her power to come to his notice as his most helpful, most loyal, most above-and-beyond servant.
It’s all small errands and daydreams until she stumbles onto the new boss’s most perplexing secret habit.
“Welcome, Wren!” Will greets the girl now seated in the chair across from his own. “So glad you could join me. First things first – this new boss of yours: Is he more exquisitely handsome than me? Be honest; I’ve got thick skin. Thick, radiant, reasonably blemish-free skin.”
Wren shrugs one shoulder. “Well. His skin may be far more scarred up than yours, but that’s a plus in my eyes. You’re very pretty, sir, but not my type. Skin and voice and feature, I prefer my men rugged.” She pulls a face. “I say that like I have any man at all.”
“Rugged, hmm?” The corner of Will’s mouth tugs down to a dissatisfied angle. “I expect you’d prefer my cousin Robin to me, then. Meh, well, you wouldn’t be the first. So,” he says, rallying his good spirits, “how’d you get your foot in the door with an assassins’ guild, anyway? One of those ‘not what you know, but who you know’ deals, or…?”
“Mum was with them until a plague took her. I was almost old enough to be of help, so a couple of her friends put up with me until I could. I don’t know how she got the job.”
“Pity about your mother; my long-belated condolences. But hey, focusing on the potential positive…” Will’s brows jump upward. “Have they let you assassinate anyone yet?”
The girl’s eyes widen. “Chance’s Dice, no! I serve assassins, I’m not one myself.”
“Oh, fine; less chance of me getting knifed or poison-darted during the interview, that way. Now, say you were to make a career move. What do you suppose you’d like to do? Got any particular aptitudes you could capitalize on, or dreams you wish to fulfill?”
“Truly? I’d not thought on it. But, well, I do know bits and pieces of this thing and that. I might make a good… I’m not half sure what. Pickpocket, liar, thief, code reader, knife fighter, and so on. I was just interested in learning what they were interested in teaching.” She looks contemplative. “If I ever want to move up, though, I’d only need to improve at what I already know, and I reckon I could be an assassin, or something near it. I’d not thought on it.”
“Well, you’re young yet,” Will says cheerfully. “Time enough to decide what you want to do with your life – especially if you decide to go the ‘truly great legend’ route and live forever, like some of us do. On a maybe, maybe-not related note: About this ‘perplexing secret habit’ of your employer’s. Can you give us a hint about what that secret might be? Or, y’know, just blatantly blab the whole thing?”
She looks offended. “And if I did my job as badly as all that, I’d be long dead by now, Master Scarlet! Only reason I’m telling you any of this is because you’re in a whole different world. But if it’s the boss’s secret, it’s his to tell or keep to himself as it pleases him.”
Will shrugs in good-natured defeat. “Oh, well. Can’t blame me for trying. Speaking of secrets, though, I’ve made no secret about what’s coming next. Tell me, what is your author Tirzah’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious secret?” He grins. “Or would you rather kiss me?”
Wren’s cheeks go a shade scarlet, and she squirms back in her seat. “I told you, you’re not my type. And Tirzah’s not my boss, nor an assassin—” (“That’s what YOU think!” Tirzah yells from the background) “—nor any other part of my guild,” Wren continues, “so I guess I can tell the world what she’d not like it to be knowing.”
“Ohhh, goody.” Will rubs his hands together in anticipation. “Go on, tell all!”
She searches her author’s brain for a moment. “Well, seeing as you all know my crush, you may as well know one of hers. D’you know Mycroft Holmes, as played by Mark Gatiss? Old, funny-looking, always carries an umbrella? Well, she doesn’t half fancy him.” Wren snickers, finding her author’s taste hilariously bizarre.
“I like him for his personality,” Tirzah defends from the background.
“He has the personality of a block of ice,” Wren retorts.
“A block of hilariously snide, very powerful ice,” Tirzah mutters from the background.
“Well defended, Tirzah,” Will chuckles, then leans forward to shake his guest’s hand. “Thank you, Wren, for that revealing end to a charming interview. Give your regards to your boss for me, eh? On the off-chance he ever wants to take a turn in the hot seat, he has only to ask. Now, Allyn, how ‘bout a quick word from our sponsor?”
“Today’s Kiss & Tell segment,” says Allyn, “was brought to you by Tirzah Duncan’s ‘Cry of the Nightbird’.
Look—it’s a shadow, creeping on the wall.
Look—it’s a nightbird, feathered, black, and tall.
Look—o’er your shoulder; think ye twice,
Look—out, ye wicked rats, pray he finds ye nice.”
Risen suddenly to lordship of the fiefdom of Cavernad, young Ferlund struggles to fill the shoes —and carry on the marriage engagement— of his late father. Doubly sorrowed by the old lord’s death and his duty to part ways with his common lover, Ferlund also seeks to pursue his suspicion that his father’s death was no accident…
Elsewhere in this fantasy-tinged novella, another man is recently risen to power. Joreth, formerly an assassin by trade, is newly the master of the assassin’s guild responsible for the elder Lord Cavernad’s demise. Wren, a servant girl deeply enamored of her new boss, seeks to gain his favor, and happens upon his strangest secret.
A lone vigilante stalks this landscape of cloak and dagger, sense and madness, and grudge and ardor old and new; the preying Nightbird stands in judgement of injustice masked by night or noble station. In this tangle of stale bitterness and fresh affection, who will stand justified, and who will fall condemned? And will the cry of the Nightbird sound loud enough to go down as more than a washerwoman’s four-line ditty?
“That’s ‘Cry of the Nightbird’,” Allyn concludes, “currently available in e-format via Amazon.”
“Thank you, Allyn,” says Will. “And thank you, my beautiful audience. Remember, authors – if your characters would like to appear on the show, simply follow the guidelines provided in this post, and we’ll get them on the schedule. ‘Til next time, lovelies: Scarlet out!”