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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3. Phoenix

I had changed into a darker, softer dress which allowed me freedom and scarcity down the private hallways of Maliz’s power house.  Most had gone to bed, but I could still hear the faint, drunken laughter of those who were left in the Hall of Shadows.

Swiftly and silently I past the grand paintings and master pieces that were so famed and boasted about by the Malizan people. Personally I did not see the beauty in them; their colours were faint and their likeness of reality limited. As for in a light darkness, their features blurred and became grotesque, their faces turned verminous with a cruel knowledge behind their fake eyes.

To advert my brain from the pictures either side of me, I shivered and moved quickly on only thinking of what my brother promised.

Twenty steps is plenty My child’s brain started singing rhythmically as I neared where Pilet  stood in brown breeches and a light, white top. Fifteen steps, it’s got between.

            “Ida. You took your time, Variel will wonder where I am if we take too long.” I ignored him and gestured for him to go ahead.

Raising my eyes so they rested on the back of his head I spoke calmly to carry on a sense of friendly mutuality. “How far along is she now?”

He turned around for a brief second to catch my gaze.  “Since when did you care about Variel or the baby? In fact when did you start caring about me again?”

I never stopped caring about him. It was him who turned away from me, who shut me out after they died. I answered with equal tones so he did not guess my feeling of injustice with that comment. “Since I realised that you will make me second guardian in case you die.”

This time he did turn around completely. He was stunned I had guessed, I could see it in his eyes even though he tried to cover it with a small smile. “I always knew you were a sharp one.” His smile broadened a little. “You would be a great Guardian for Kradiaous and the only one I would trust with him completely if I do die.” Taking my shoulders he shook me gently like he wanted me to understand. “We both know you will be better than Variel” he paused at the statement that pained him. “This way he will also be able to take his place as the rightful king of Maliz, after you.”

“Even if you do die Pilet, I would not take the child off of Variel. I will take Guardianship but that is all, I will oversee his education and development but I will not have an attachment to him.” I now took his shoulders and met his deep blue eyes screwed in thought.  “Those will be my terms, brother.”

His hands dropped from my shoulders and he started to walk away. “So be it.” Came his groan already fifteen steps ahead.

            I let out my breath and went to catch up before he disappeared in front of me. I had thought the matter of Kradiaous over last night while I could not sleep. It would not be right, I had concluded, to take him off Variel because she was his mother and I understood that loss if it happened. Yet we could not trust that fickle woman to do what was best for a child, she could hardly do it for herself never mind making important decisions for a baby. Therefore I would see to what happens when the situation is too big for the fragile hands of his mother.

            Pilet knew my reasons but refused to understand, I knew that he would want what was best for his to be born son, but so would Variel and in this matter I knew that her opinion, yes, she would likely finally have one, which would conflict with Pilet’s own. And, on this occasion, I would be on Variel’s side.

            “I will be leaving for the battle tomorrow.” Pilet’s voice cut the tense silence between us. “The battle of Royal Dawn has been moved forward due to advancing enemy forces. And, Ida, you will not be fighting.”

            I stopped. I would not be fighting? It is something I had longed to do and claim my bravery once and for all, to not fight in the thing that I had been counting days down for a year.

“You promised.” My fragile retaliation came. I knew it sounded childish, but I could not contain myself.

            “You are soon to be a guardian-“

            “And you a Dad!” I broke in, confused at how he thought my role was more important than his. His answer was silence and my last outburst echoed off the stone walls and pelted through the black air.

            He stopped by a metal door and drew out a key from his back pocket. Holding it for as second, doing nothing, he then turned to me with it still in his hands. His eyes were glistened with tears and a pang of guilt flooded through me. I kept my face cold.

“You’re my little sister Eed.”

            As quickly as it came, that random show of love was gone as he blinked away the tears and walked through the door he had just opened and down a passageway of steep, round steps. All I could do was stand there, my chest rising and falling as I absorbed his words and stopped myself from losing my composure. My thoughts and feeling were muddled as I pushed them to the back of my mind and hurried after my brothers fading steps.

          

            “Now,” Pilet started to say to Treasach, a guard who was soon to take a round of watching the stairwell of the phoenix, and I. “Firstly it is important that nobody knows of tonight’s events nor the location or the sighting of the Phoenix. Treasach I am putting my Sister in your trusted hand for she is to see the beast.” His head bobbed in response to my brother’s orders, his lips in grim, formal line. “And then you are to feed it, lock it up and stay here till Ami takes your place at one hundred hours.  Ida, you are going to go in and come out swiftly, do not be stupid and try to touch or talk to it. We still do not know of its full powers. Make sure she follows my orders and keep an archer in the door well. After all, she is the heir to the throne.”

            Putting a hand to his forehead then to ours, he left me standing there, gazing at his fading back. A chill of fear and excitement ran along my spine and I could feel my legs shaking slightly under my skirt. I was finally going to see him.

            “You will do exactly what I say if you want to live.” Came the short and to-the-point voice of Treasach. “Follow me.” Taking a bow and two arrows from the wall, he made his way to the final door between me and my destiny.  The bow he had picked, I noted, was strange; it looked as if it was made of ebony and not yew or antlers, and the arrows were curved and finished with black Finlish feathers which meant that they were longer than an average bow. That would cause more drag and more time for the target to react. Then it hit me. These bows were not for killing but for threatening and injuring.

            If he attacked me he would be able to kill me. I would die before him. I swallowed nervously, butterflies wiggled in the pit of my stomach as he brought the key to the lock.        Another door, another step.

            Tons of keys jolted and rattled loosely under the one that mattered, one that looked like the rest except for being a slightly redder colour that would be unnoticeable to the passing eye. The keys to every door in the palace, access to every archive and secret corner of the counties heart. If it fell into the wrong hands, Blinsier could only save us then.

            Watching him turn the key made my heart jump and leap and sing and cry all at once. The thick metal door, adorned with nothing but a number opened and a soft candle light filtered through. Treasach drew his odd bow and motioned for me to enter. I ran my hands down my thighs to straighten my simple dress and swam my fingers through my hair in one last attempt to delay the moment and calm my scattered nerves.

            My feet started to move through the door, I felt my head turn and then to see. I saw a boy. A boy with his eyes closed and leaning against the cell wall with a knee propped up, relaxed but most certainly alert. He didn’t look much older than me, but he was magnificent. His hair, for example, wasn’t blond or copper, but the purest gold in small, thick ringlets that framed his perfect face. His jaw was strong and smooth with no beard and his eyebrows arched softly which were lightly painted onto his creamy white face. Full, slightly red tinted lips rested in a natural line across his angel like face.

            I remember standing there, just standing there looking at his tall, muscular frame and beautiful, fierce face. Those few seconds seemed to drag on to what seemed like hours, days.

“Come out now your highness.” The killjoy sound came from behind me. Ignoring it I took a step closer to the wonder in front of me. “Ida. Come. Listen to me.” I took another step and another until I heard someone behind me.

            “Leave me Treasach! Stay where you are, that is an order.” I heard myself say, and before I knew, before I fully took into count the possibilities of my situation, I had opened my mouth and let a calm, even sound escape from my voice box. “What is your name?” it asked, neither demanding nor fouled.

            The boy turned its head to face me and slowly opened his oval, old eyes to reveal a colour that I had never seen before. They were brown, nearly red, like dried blood or a dying soul.

            “Hello, Ida.” My name sounded different on his lips, foreign, yet like home on his smooth, controlled voice. For a second I was stunned he had spoken but an inner side of me soon took control and made me demand, more intrusive this time.

            “What is your name?”

            Chuckling he took his arm from his knee and swung round so his body sat opposite to my standing frame. I held his light gaze, as if it held a trance over my body and mind. It scared me but, at the same time, I never wanted to look away.

            “Cináed. Does it mean anything to you, Ida?”

Cold hands suddenly reached for me, and dragged me out of my wonder, dragged me away from the lonely soul inside a barricade of idiots and drunks.

            When the door of the cell had been shut, Treasach turned on me with fire burning out of his emerald eyes. He said nothing, just stood there and held my unfaltering gaze. His tight features unnerved me, the look of authority made me want to obey, yet, my desire to be heard trumpeted and flattened all other emotions flying around my body.

            They treated him like an animal, like something that was lower than them and more barbaric than the savages that guarded him.  His bed was nothing but a thin, dirty sheet on the floor and his food, thrown in the same place.  They were all too scared to go near him.

            “Where’s my brother?” I demanded. I saw Treasach’s mouth loosen and shut again. He turned away from me and took to the stairs where my brother had gone earlier. Following him up, I took one last look at the steel door that had been shut immemorial before Cináed. Suddenly, I spotted a shape in the door. I stopped and took a closer look. It had five pointed edges like a star. I wondered what it was, but turned away and hurried to catch up with Treasach and thought, instead, of Cináed.

            Disappointment flooded my stomach. The name meant nothing to me, I was wrong.

             With each step, I heard the small bracelet tinkle on my ankle, it’s blue Rafilian and gold charms twinkled in the near darkness. My father had given me this small, priceless gift which fitted my ankle like it had been made for me. He travelled all over the top world, bringing presents from wherever he went.

            My favourite was a small, leather bound book with strange circles and patterns woven onto it. He had told me of a strange woman who had bestowed him with the gift, saying to give it to me. But not why or who she was. There was nothing written on the inside and I had not added to the faded white pages.  Though I did want to, my head clouded and froze at the end of the quill.  Yet now I had an over powering desire to sprawl my thoughts over the misted, vacant sheets.

            “He won’t be happy.” Treasach decided to inform me as we reached my brother’s door.

            “I know he won’t. Aren’t you supposed to be guarding Cináed?”  I snapped, wanting to rid him of my side. Why did everyone feel they had to accompany me places in my own home?

              “Who? The beast?” Eyes wrinkling, he looked at me as if seeing me for the first time.

“Yes, the beast as you call him. But since when was a phoenix ever subjected to treatment less than a human?  Go now.”

            Treasach sensed my mood and swiftly went while I knocked upon my brother’s door. However, it was not Pilet who came, but a black haired beauty with drooping eyes.

            Variel looked at me dumbly, her whisper smile half dazed, half giggle, still aluminated off her face from earlier.

            “Ida! Did you enjoy this afternoon!” She squealed at me, grabbing my arm and pulling me into their elaborate chamber.  “Oh, isn’t Pilet brave? He caught a horrid phoenix, and you know how scary they are! I wish I was so brave. Don’t you? How lucky we are Ida!”

            Trying to get through to her, I took hold of her shoulders like I had seen Pilet do. “Where is my brother?”

            “Oh! And everyone looked beautiful! All those gowns, but Lady Simoona looked awful-“

            “I don’t bloody care what Lady Simoona looked like!” I shouted at her, my bubbling anger finally releasing itself. It did the trick, however, her mouth was shut and her eyes widened at me in shock and fright.

            I spoke slowly, pronouncing each word carefully. “Where. Is. My. Brother?”

            “He left an hour ago. I thought he was with you.” Her tone surprised me, I could hear her bitterness in each syllable. “You’re not the only person here Ida and you have to except that he has other priorities now.”

            I stood for a second, sizing her up.

            “What would you know of priorities?” Asking this gentle, I walked to the window, wanting to understand but not.

            She laughed and answered my question with more force and passion then I had thought her capable of.  “I’m not this… Dipsy idiot everyone thinks I am.”

            I didn’t turn, regretting my previous harshness. I was too proud to admit it, I changed my approach.

            “Do you know where he went?”

            “No.”

            “Then I am sorry I intruded on your privacy.” I turned to leave, wondering where he was, why he wasn’t with his wife when he told me that’s where he was going. He should have been back by now.

            “Ida, please. Don’t leave.” I Stopped and waited. “Did you see him?”

            Her eyes crinkled and her shoulders tensed up. Realising she was nervous, I played a soft smile on my lips even though my body felt like screaming at her.

            “Who do you mean?”

            “The phoenix, did you see him?”

            I faced her, she was the first person to refer to him as a person and not an it. My smile faded as quickly as it had come and she instinctively took a step back, closer to the grand, four poster bed behind her.

            “What do you know of Phoenix’s? Variel?” I stepped towards her, sending her a questioning gaze. She hesitated, caught between telling me and fleeing from my scrutiny. Grabbing a pillow, she answered.

            “Pilet will listen to you. I grew up in the east, I know more about Phoenix’s but he doesn’t want to know.” She fiddled with her diamond necklace, a small frown of unease appeared.

            “Know what?” I accidently snapped. Taking a breath, I said more gently, “What doesn’t he know?”

            “I only want win this stupid war.”

            “I know. Just tell me, what is it that you know?”

Dropping the necklace, she hugged the pillow closer to her. For a second she said nothing and buried her head along the mass of white fabric.

            “Someone knows where there’s more. He doesn’t tell anyone but one Phoenix alone isn’t powerful enough to stop a whole war.” She took a breath and sat down with a humph on her bed. “He knows them. He took me there once, but he didn’t let me see where he was taking me. There’s some who can tell the future, you know. They’re awfully scary, but powerful. And it’s my fault he got captured, I told Pilet what to do, now they are going to hate me but, you have to win this war and with a whole load of phoenix’s hating you, that’s going to be hard.”

            “So we find them. Get them on our side. Where is this man?” Reaching, I pulled the pillow further from her face, forcing her to look at me.

            “He travels all over Maliz,” she stumbled, worry creasing her pretty face, “only the Phoenix’s know where he is, they have some sort of sense that means they can find him.”

            I dropped my hand and started to pace about the room, I thought about it. I had never heard of anyone who could communicate with them. How were we to find him? Cináed should know where he was, but I failed to see a reason why he would help us.

            “For his freedom.” I said out load. “Phoenix’s stay in groups?”

            “Yes. Completely undefeatable when they’re together”

            “So why was he alone?”

Variel came to stand beside me. She took my hand like a sister or a friend would, and lead me to the table and chair by their window.

            “Sit down, Ida, that pacing is making me dizzy. I don’t know much about Phoenix’s and what I do know is very limited. But they don’t tend to travel alone unless they have been banished. That means he’s unpredictable and dangerous. They don’t banish them for no reason.”

            She was right, but I still dismissed the thought of not doing anything. We sat in silence for a bit, listening to the gentle slushing of the river far below. The whole thing seemed pretty simple to me, I just had to convince Pilet of this mission.

            I would take Ram and five others, we didn’t want a party too big so we were discovered or word spread and were ambushed. However, we would have to keep Cináed from getting away and I didn’t fancy keeping him in a cage.

            “How do you capture a Phoenix, Variel?”

She looked at me sharply, trying to guess why I had asked. But softened as she spoke. “There is a potion that can be given or injected into them to make sure they bide to your every word. I don’t know the facts, but Bleddyn should have some.”

            “Bleddyn? But he’s the dog handler.” Confusion lined my face, I could feel it. I could not see any reason for a dog handler to have some of this substance. “Where is he?”

            “In the dungeons.” Looking down, she pulled a face of regret. “He didn’t want to give it to Pilet, didn’t believe in capturing the creatures.”

            “So my stupid brother threw him in the dungeons.”

            “He isn’t stupid Eed.” She stopped and flashed me a glance after using my nickname, “It’s just that he’s from Newholl, he could have wanted to steal Phoenix’s from Maliz.”

            I suddenly raged at her loyalty to my brother. The Phoenix’s did not belong to us and we had no right to tell someone else to use it and then use it ourselves.

            Prince Dyami’s words flashed into my mind, and I went cold. Could he be right about Pilet?

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