The Grey Room

Poltan forces are invading Malizan allies and declaring war against the most powerful country in the world. Yet as they start to suffer, the pressure on Maliz is straining in their fight for freedom and Justice.

At sixteen, Ida dreams of fighting and escaping from her life of royalty and expectation. When her brother leaves with his wondrous discovery left at the palace, she jumps at the chance to prove herself. So begins the journey that will change her and show Ida the truths that will reveal her heritage as she experiences things beyond her imagination: Sirens, Phoenix's and the thief of her heart

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4. Chapter 4

Storming into my room, I flung myself on to my bed and punched my fists against the mattress. Anger fizzled inside of me, desperate to be let loose. I could feel tears pushing against my shut eye lids but I refused to cry, I was not weak.

             I stayed like that for a long time before I let my body go limp. Taking in deep breathes to calm myself, I thought over what had happened.

            Pilet had given me no time to explain myself, and now he had left on bitter words. They had escaped my tongue before I had time to consider my thoughts. They were the snakes bite, digging its fangs deeper into an already bad cut.

            I had scolded at him for thinking small minded and not going after the Phoenix’s when I had told him about what I learned from Variel. He refused to see any other way, to let me get the ticket to the end of the war, and left me here, in the castle. My body shook with agitation.

            Yet, what use was it to lie on my bed mopping over what had been said, Pilet would return and I would have done nothing to prove myself. If he was going to stay blind to the truth, it didn’t mean I had to too. I was my own person and could take my own risks.

            Standing up, I dived under my bed, looking for a leather back bag. I found two in perfect condition and another ripped. An idea formed in my head as I clutched these bags in each hand. A list of supplies and people filtered through my mind and I jumped up, desperate to get going.

            I would go to Ram first, he would support me and probably knock some sense into my head before I thought of too much all at once. I trusted him to have his own bag, and stuffed the others back under my bed. Rubbing my hands together, I took one final look around my plain room before shooting out the door and towards Ram’s little cottage outside the main castle.

            Within ten minutes, I was knocking on their door. Sweat lined my forehead from running at midday, but I persisted on my insane quest while panting for breath.

            The door opened to reveal Ram’s father, Monto. His aged face was browned from the hours spent working outside. Though he had been through much, he always wore a smile which made his hollow cheeks look thin. He had been ill for a while and still refused to stop working.

            “Eed! How lovely to see you. I’m guessing you’re here to see Ram?”

            I stepped inside as he threw the door open and beckoned me to enter. The small wooden hallway lead to four rooms either side of it. A single painting adorned it’s rather miserable existence. It hadn’t always been like that, Monto had told me, but while his wife had been alive, there had been fresh flowers and objects scattered all about the house, mainly old books and new toys for the boys.

            “Yes, I have something quite important to talk to him about actually. And Monto, this place is starting to look like the stables; maybe a few days off work would not be such a bad idea.”

   

            He laughed and called to Ram, who he said had been nursing a sore back since yesterday and I snickered in response. A rather bedraggled form of Ram came out of the room he shared with his brother. Scratching his chest, he grunted as a hello in my direction.

            “I see you haven’t even bothered to get dressed properly for me.” I teased him. He wore only a pair of old, grey trousers that hung around his shins. “I think you might need some new clothes to.”

            Ram ignored me and rubbed his barely opened eyelids. Then, in an attempt to smarten himself up, ran a hand through his thick, black hair that hung across his forehead, nearly covering his blue eyes.

            “Better rat? Maybe next time you won’t wake me up so early. Or nearly brake my back.” Sticking my tongue out at him, I strode into his room and fetched a clean white shirt.

            “No, try this. It might actually fit you.” Throwing it at him, I jumped in time to miss his incoming punch. “Oh, and get better aim. What if I was an enemy soldier? Or does your poor back hurt too much?”

            Glaring at me, he grabbed the shirt and put it on. Then turned to my sneering face and scowled some more.

            “You need to learn some manors. You know that, right? The day you start being nice, I swear I will run through the castle and town naked.”

            I grinned at him, knowing that a lot of women would be more than happy to see that.

            “For me? How nice of you. I’m sure Kamaria would be pleased.” My grin widened as he blushed scarlet. His shyness was a contrast to the confident persona he put on.

            “I don’t know what you mean.” Looking down, he did the rest of his buttons up, trying to hide his red face. I laughed, but then grew serious.

“I came here purposefully, Ram.” He looked up sharply, sensing the tone of my voice. Crossing his arms across his broad chest, he gave me his full attention. “It’s about the Phoenix.”

            Walking towards him, I took his arm and led him to the kitchen. I felt more comfortable if we were sitting down; he was quite tall compared to my slight build.

            Once we had sat down, I told him about what Variel had said. He kept quite most way through, only asking the odd questions here and there. I had to repeat the bit about Bleddyn a few times; he claimed that it couldn’t be right; my brother wouldn’t do such a thing.

            His muscles grew tenser as I neared the end of my tale. We sat in silence for a moment, as I let my words sink in.

            “So, what are we going to do?”

            “You’re in?”  I leaned forwards with anticipation. Probably a little too zealous.

            “Of course, since when was I never in, rat? With your crazy ideas.”

            Eyebrows crocked up, he looked at me as if I really was mad. I kicked him under the table and stood in time to miss his retaliation.  I laughed at his weak attempt and sat on the table, out of his feet’s reach. I shuffled a bit to get comfortable. The wooden table was as old as the broken cottage and not in any better repair.

            “My plan. Quite simple really. Get Cináed.  Leave this place and find Phoenix’s. Oh, then bring them here and win the war. How does that sound?”

            Ram stood up and faced me. Eyes boring into me, he simply said “When we going, Eed?”

            A sly smile spread across my lips. “We’re going to have to bust Bleddyn out first.”

            He nodded. “Who we taking?”

            “I trust you to decide, maybe Finn though, I like him. Not too many either, five others will do.” Nodding again, faster this time, he scratched his head. I could almost see his brain ticking; see the faces of people he works with go round his head.

            “Can you get me the potion?” I asked him.

            “Yeah, that should be easy enough. Could even do that tonight.”

            “No. Not tonight. You sort out your solders and supplies, make sure they rest and that we have everything. I’ll sort Cináed out. Then we’re all set for tomorrow night.”

            Again he nodded, seeing the sense in my plan.  “Remember that as soon as you get him out, we’re going to have to move.”

            “Yeah. I see that. This shouldn’t be hard, I’ll get you the names of the soldiers tonight. It’s the next bit I’m worried about. How you going to get the poison in him?”

            I smiled and told him my plan.

 

 

 

The rest of the day I went about the castle, collecting clothes, blankets and other supplies that Cináed and I would need.  I tried to stay as unnoticed as possible; any suspicion could ruin it all.

            I checked through the supplies I had rummaged five times before I was satisfied. A burning ache in my chest to get moving had started and I couldn’t keep still. I stayed in my room in case someone noticed my restlessness, however that only lasted an hour before I had my hair into a ponytail and a sword in my hand.  I hoped a bit of fighting would burn of my agitation.

            Unease hit me as I entered the training field. Grass just about covered the muddy ground which could hold up to three hundred soldiers training at once. It was usually filled with the noise of laughter and clashing metal as the men and woman trained. A strong whiff of sweat normally filled the air and steam would curl from the working bodies into the cold, crisp air of winter.

            Today it was empty apart from a few partners.

            I shouldn’t have been surprised, we were at war and the soldiers were needed at the front line. With sudden dread I realised that some of Ram’s pick might not be here. I thought of Finn and hoped he, at least, had been left behind.

            I recognised two of the fighters, they had been here as long as I could remember and were at least six years my elders. One was a woman called Laya, she had a sleek, athletic build and short black hair which had been tied into a small ponytail. She faced a man twice her height and width. Muscled arms heaved a sword I dared not even try to pick up. I had hardly met Greth, his fierce physic and aura had tempted me to keep my head down and stick with who I knew.

            Today I watched them. I wasn’t far away, but they never noticed me, far too wrapped up in their small competition. Even though Greth out matched his partner in power and strength, Laya was quick and lethal with her light dagger that was as long as her forearm. They were well matched and what the other lacked in, the other had a great advantage in.

            I watched two rounds, both lasting quite a while. Laya and Greth had great skill and each won against each other.

            When they stopped for a break, I approached them. Both simultaneously straightened in time with each other and made quite the impression. My respect for them instantly went up a notch.

            Laya’s brown eyes looked at my suspiciously, her eyebrows slightly furrowed, wondering what I was doing. Her companion was different, his blue ones held a welcoming grace and respect. I liked him instantly.

            “Hello.” I started. “Mind if I join?”

Greth instantly beamed, while Laya’s frown deepened.

            “Sure, that’ll be an honour your highness.” Greth answered. His instant acceptance made my heart melt slightly.

            “Ida, please.  While on the field I’m no higher than you.” I answered.

            Greth looked at me, astonishment lining his pale face which bore two ragged scars at the base of his jaw. They weren’t from a sword and I wondered how he had got them.  I could tell they were old, but looked out of place on his big, friendly bear face.

            Laya shooed Greth’s big frame from the fighting square as she crouched down to spar with me. A glimmer of anticipation flickered behind her green eyes. She wanted to beat me. She wanted to see my backside on the ground beneath her.

            “One round?” I asked and pulled out my sword. If she expected me to go easy, she had another thing coming. I put my weight from one foot to another and twisted the sword in my right hand. I felt it become part of me, twisted it until it connected to my skin, my body.

            Then she advanced. She was fast, faster than me and her movements blurred in front of me. Right, left, up and down before I could blink. My foot reached the end of the box with in a minute. She held the sword, pushing her weight against me as I leant back, nearly falling over. I felt my arms ache, yet I refused to let go.

            Suddenly I ducked and stopped pushing back against Laya. Falling on my back, she had a moment of confusion before I crawled from underneath her. I turned back to face her.  This time, though, I was ready.

            She came at me again. I took my eyes from her weapon and to her hips, her arms and her eyes. These were the parts that I could judge her moves from. It was almost as if reading a mind. Her hips swayed and I was ready for her move seconds before it came.

We fought for a while. She dazzled me with fluid movements and was constantly on the attack, constantly trying to overcome my slight frame. The tricks that worked on Ram didn’t faze her as I twirled and kicked. But I had the advantage and I recognised her fighting genre.

Finally, I won.  I knelt over her fallen body panting as I tried to regain a steady breathing.

“Well done.” Laya grumbled as she went got up and ignored Greth’s jeering smile.

“Need to keep fitter than that Ida.” Greth started. I looked at him, relaxed without a single flicker of exhaustion in his face from the previous rounds. Then I looked at Laya who hadn’t even had to catch her breath. “I’ve never seen you on the runs round the city, you do it?”

I looked at him in confusion. “I haven’t heard about it.”

“Every morning we go round a route in the city, from five to nine in the morning. Welcome to join.”

“It’s a large course,” Laya grumbled. “It’s hard for beginners, most are normally sick after they’ve pushed themselves too hard.”

Biting my lip I nodded. “I’ll be there. Will the route be marked?”

They both grinned at each other and laughed. My cheeks burned as I realised there humour was because of me.

“’course not. Just follow the soldiers” Mocked Laya. “We’re down the pub now for some dinner.”

“Coming?”  Greth turned his big eyes onto me. Pausing for a second, I undid my hair and returned Greth’s stare to see if there was anything behind his invitation.

“Okay, I guess.” I had never been to a pub before, I supposed it would be a good experience.

 

The pub chosen by the two soldiers was called “Mum’s Pot”. A rather odd name, I thought to myself as we entered the dark room. It was busy with people gossiping loudly round tables in the middle and a few strugglers drinking in the shadowed corners of the room.

A rather large woman with greying black hair and a bright pink dress, stood behind the bar, chatting and flirting with rusted old men, drink dribbling down their beards. Looking at her in amazement, I nearly got knocked over by a flying pint of beer.

I turned quickly and spotted a wheezed man glaring at Laya and Greth.   

“Stupid soldiers. Get out the Pub.” He shouted at us. Standing in shock was all I could do. He had just disrespected the people who lost their lives protecting him and anyone he cared about. The pub was a strange place, I thought as the room stilled and stared at us.

“What?” I asked this crazed man. His sharp features turned on me. Pushing back his chair, he walked towards me, limping as he half dragged his right leg across the floor.

“Ya heard me, pretty. Ya one of them to?”  He sneered at me. I held his gaze. My chin lifted as I took the man under his arm and dragged him back to his seat. He was too weak on alcohol and malnourishment to fight back. The beer stunt had put him out.

“Stay there till you realise how pathetic you are. Then come and talk.”  I told him, after dumping him back on his chair.

Turning round, I saw Laya and Greth look at me in astonishment. Shrugging, I beckoned them to continue. I was starved. Following them to the bar, Greth introduced me to Millie, the shabby woman behind it. She ginned at me, revealing a gappy mouth and thin lips.

“What ya want deary? Never seen you around.”  Millie loudly chattered, obviously used to the noise that normally surrounded the place.

“What is there?” My stomach grumbled as I asked. She pointed to a chalk board behind her head that had barely legible words scrolled across it.

“Chicken stew? And half a pint of beer.” Nodding at my order she went behind a door after Greth and Laya made there’s.  A second later she was out again.

The rest of the evening passed quickly, I hardly said a word as I ate my bland food. I only spoke to Greth and Laya; even then the conversation was dry and tense. Finally I plucked up the courage to ask what had been bugging me as soon as we had walked in.

“Why does that man hate soldiers?”

They both looked at me, a frown crinkling between their eyebrows.

“Sure you want to know?” Laya asked me.

“I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t” I replied, my interest instantly rocketing.  Greth rolled his eyes and shook his head, declaring it nonsense and superstition.

“Just tell me, please.” I protested as they kept trying to change the subject.

Laya answered me. “They think we’re to blame for the war.”

“What?” I stood up in outrage.

“Bloody sit down will you?” she scolded me. I cringed at how she spoke to me, but sat down. I could tell she was used to people following her orders.  “It’s been going on for too long. Folk’s minds get jumbled when faced with the grief they’ve had. Think of all the deaths and all the loved ones they’ve lost because of it.”

“It’s hardly our fault, don’t they realise how much worse it’ll be if Poltan takes over Maliz?” A high pitch squeak come out of me followed by fast paced words. I couldn’t believe it.

“There’s a lot of stuff you don’t know about people, isn’t there?” Laya gently prodded. I scowled and ignored her jab. “Learn this, Ida. When people don’t know things they put two and five together and make four. But it sounds good, it gives them something to aim their anger at, gives them a purpose.”

I clenched my fists on the table and locked my jaw for a moment, thinking about my time outside the castle. I’d been shut off from the world, surrounded with faces I recognised and pampered. Maybe it was time for me to learn about people.

 

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