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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2. Sunset

I watched my brother rise from the throne-like chair that he always had for banquets, and listened as the crowd fell silent. His brown hair had started greying at the roots which could only have been from stress and the horror he had faced in his twenty-five years.  Yet it was noticeable under the light crown he wore.

            Blue eyes crinkling in pride he spoke, “Your highnesses, ladies and gentlemen.” He paused for effect, soaking up the excited tension that reverberated around the beautiful silver room. “At the stroke of midnight this morning the most bazaar yet most extraordinary thing appeared to me and my fellow brave knights that made me confident we could win this war once and for all!” The whole room gasped and cheered all at once, it pounded with excitement and ecstatic need as they heard the words they had being dying to feel in their ears.

A smile spread across my face and I crossed my fingers so hard it hurt, but I dared not let myself hope. What could have been before them?

Pilet held up his hand for silence and the room obeyed. “As you all know, the Poltan forces have taken over many of our neighbours and friends, and through our duty and honour, the rest of had to be brought together to defend the countries that were left and to win back those taken. His army is vast, and strong and unmerciful. But I believe in our people, in our allies. But most of all, I believe this will win it for us, for us all.

This thing, this creature, was of course,” he laughed as if he hardly believed it himself. “A Phoenix” barely speaking the word, utter silence echoed the room as it held the present in its shadows.

He had caught a Phoenix. I couldn’t believe it. Phoenix’s were a race we knew so little about, they were creatures beyond our understanding or capability to understand. If his words were true, then the people of Maliz and its allied countries would no longer have to sleep in fear or add to the river of tears that had swallowed our country these past two years.

Catching my brother’s singing eyes as the room erupted into joyful chaos, I pressed my palms onto the table to steady them. My questioning gaze formed a slight frown on Pilet’s forehead. I trusted him with my life and would never think twice about what he told me, yet I found it hard to fully accept that he had found one, much less imprisoned one.

He put his thin fingered hand to the roots of my hair and slid it half way down my unruly curls. “I shall show you him, Eed, He’s magnificent in bird and human form.”

“I hope so.” I murmured half under my breath.

“Meet me tonight at ten, I’ll show you him then.” I could hear the childish glee in his now deepened voice. A glimmer of his past self shone out through his warm, loving eyes. “You are beautiful Ida,” he lifted my chin as a sad smile passed by his face. “You remind me so much of your Mother.” And like that he had turned round to his wife and left me staring at his back.

I was silent, I couldn’t remember her face. My heart was beating harder, pushing against my chest. “Pilet?” he didn’t seem to hear me. “Pilet” I said, raising my voice to be heard over Variel’s loud chatter. Biting his lip, he looked around at my disturbed body. “What’s his name?”

“Does that matter?” he sounded slightly irritated. He hated pointless questions so I don’t tend to ask him anything.

“Yes. What’s him name? They say it say’s something about a phoenix.” Meeting his gaze I was unsure of myself, was it their name or colour that I had heard about?

“I don’t know his name. I never asked. There are more important things than getting friendly with these beasts.” He returned to his pregnant wife, purposely ignoring me and turning back to the person power and responsibility had made him.

The wine glass in front shimmered as a shadow passed its red liquid. I wondered in which echo were my parents laughing, smiling or singing.  I always thought I would feel them in here, know which one was them breathing old breathes or seeing sights for the first time all those years ago. But I didn’t. They all felt the same way, cold, hollow, hungry. It made me realise how much of a fool I was to assume that they were different, that I was different. Not even my thirst to salvage those moments I had had with them in the hall could I tell which shadow they were.

It made me laugh at how naïve I had been. Picking up my fork, I twirled the food around on my plate, picking at the well-cooked venison and all the while thinking of my parents. Hardships had taught me to be strong, how to take agony or bitter disappointment. However hard you fight you always end up drowning, struggling to stay afloat on top of protocol, expectations and a freedom so controlled and suffocated that it was a pointless fight in the first place. Then there’s denial.

Denial is something I had sustained; it went hand in hand with my careless nature that I had adopted for that year I was beside myself with so many emotions that, in the end, I just felt numb and exhausted. That was a grievous year in which I had learnt little and lost a lot.

Standing up, I excused myself and picked my way behind the fellow dinners, smiling and curtsying as I headed for the door.

“Ida.” A few more steps to the door. “Ida!” I turned round to see a tall, handsome, black haired prince make his way towards me. “I’m glad I caught up with you dear Ida.” His words were spoken softly, as if we were old friends. But I was not fooled; I knew his cold, steal grey eyes.

“Prince Dyami,” I curtsied and kept it as formal as I could. “It is a pleasure to see you. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Ida, please do not keep it so formal. We must get to know each other, you never know what the future holds for such young, good looking people such as ourselves.” I didn’t like what he was implying, there would be no future between him and me.

“Prince Dyami, If I may pass I have to rest, I do not feel too well.” I held my stomach to empathise my lie and hoped he would believe me or, even better, get my hint and leave me alone, forever. Unfortunately he didn’t.

“Oh, let me see that you get to your chamber safely and we shall have the pleasure of each other’s company a little longer.”

Great.

He offered me his arm and I had no option but to take it.  I tried to not to touch him as we left the hall together and, fearing eyes on our departure, I did not look back at the crowd of wealth, yet stared into the corridor ahead of us.

            “So, my friend,” he started when we had left and were away from prying ears. “You must be proud of your brother and his magnificent catch.”

            I paused a minute, trying to guess where this was going. “Yes, he is a brave man and a good brother and king.”

            He turned his head to study me, I could sense his eyes look me up and down as if sizing me up.

            “Do you think he is fair?”

            “Of course... Why do you ask? Do you?”

            “Ida, of course he is with his own people.”  I didn’t understand. Not answering I sped up the agonizingly slow pace at which we were walking. I did not intend to spend any more time with this man and his ridiculous questions and sly small talk.

            I saw the door to my tower ahead and my patience was thinning with this self-centred man. Twenty steps, my child’s voice sang, says it’s plenty. fifteen steps, its got between. Ten steps, it’s for men. Five steps –

             “Would you like to meet me later? When you are feeling better?” he asked me, cutting off the rhyme in my head that I used to sing. Deciding that he must delude himself I smiled sweetly at him. He must have women falling at his feet, his good looks, money and power would make most people thirsty for him. But I did not care for what he had to offer, I was free to choose anyone, I could afford my own security and had my own power.

            “I am afraid I have already made an appointment. Goodbye Prince Dyami” I curtsied then, in formal tradition, put two fingers to my forehead and to his, then I left him standing there.

            I flopped onto my bed, the day’s events so far had left me ready to sleep for a hundred years. Kicking off my shoes I grabbed my book from the side table and curled up on top of my mattress glad of the peace and quiet.

After about five pages I put it back down. Too much had gone on that day and I was too excited and nervous to see the phoenix that I couldn’t concentrate. What will he look like? I heard that they were creatures beyond imagination, that their song could tame the wildest beast or make a thousand people fall in love with it at once.

I was going to see one for myself, talk to one. It was an idea that made me want to jump and run to my brother and force him to show me now, but also to shudder at the idea of meeting something so untouchable that I half believed I shouldn’t.

A blonde woman’s face smiled at me from my bedside table, her Brown eyes wrinkling in pride and beauty. This was the woman I longed to be like, her strength, her bravery, her passion and her wise mind was all that I desired.

“Oh, Mother.” I whispered at the faded photograph which I clutched in my pale fingers. “Show me the way.” I held my breath, hoping, wishing, needing something to happen, for a sign or message, anything to show that she was still there. I held it, till I could not bear it any longer and gasped for air. Nothing had happened except for the usual sound of the dulcet footsteps of maids echoing from inside walls. The familiar shiver of disappointment slivered down my spine and through my palpitating heart.

            Carefully I placed my most treasured item back down and stroked the face of my mother who had once been and loved me. Ever since she died I had felt so alone and desolate I dared not dream, I dared not wish but I fought. I fought for what could not be or what should not be wished. I fought for my people and I fought for my brother and the way he had become. But most of all I fought for myself and the dead feeling that had grown and taken control of my thirsty heart.

            I missed her. I wasn’t ready to let go, even after all those years  I could still see the death soar its way into my soul and rip apart my young, innocent frame. Then, that tortured physique of mine, watched my sixteen year old brother take the crown of the largest, most powerful country in the world. I would watch it tear and shatter him into a million pieces as my own body began to fix itself back into a patchwork puzzle that didn’t quite work.

            Warmth suddenly flooded my room as the grand oak door opened to reveal a petite frame with bouncy blond curls and blue eyes which shone with naiveté and trust. Acacia twirled the ends of her brown maids dress in nervous slim hands as her knees bent into a curtsy.  Downcast eyes made her look vulnerable and I could not bear the sight of her like that in my doorway. She made the walls look greyer and my unaffectionate room colder.

            “Don’t stand there like that,” I snapped at her, my patience thin as I rose from my bed.

            She quickly straightened her back and moved forwards, away from the only exit in the room. “Sorry your highness. I-I…” her stammer frustrated me, I did not have the frame of mind for it, it made me feel unapproachable or different to her, someone more or less the same age as me.

            “You what?” She shifted on her small feet which poked out from under her ankle length dress.

            “Your father asked me to give you this- I didn’t realise you were already seventeen.”

            “My father?” I asked ludicrous. Her round face nodded as she passed a thin envelope with my name scrawled in his handwriting. “But- how?”

            “He said that you would ask.” Eyes narrowed in confirmation then doubt before she answered. “He also said I should tell you the truth. I come from Plactic, a village in the north by the sea. It’s never had good money or shipping because the coast around there is way too rocky and the weather to unpredictable, but the fishing does well there, but only the locals. That was when the trouble started and people went looking for witchcraft or something, but I never really knew because I got sent here when it started, you know to keep me safe.  At first I wasn’t sure why, I mean I thought I was normal. My ma said that the others would get jealous of my hair and eyes and would accuse me of witchcraft because of it.

            Not that I really believed that. But anyway, when I first came here I trusted in what my ma said and was always putting my hair up and stuff an till I realised one day that that was not the reason I might be thought of witchcraft and that I was different. I was in a bit of a scrap with this other maid, Rayia, her brother had just died and I felt very sorry for her and wanted to help her. She could never talk to him again she kept on saying-“

            “Wait” I pushed in thinking ahead to what she was about to tell me. “Is this the part that you tell me you can speak to the dead?”

            “How did you know? I mean you-“

            “I am smarter than you give me credit for” I said bitterly. Yet I understood this girl and her reluctance to tell me what differentiated her from humanity from the general person who lived a normal life.

            “No your highness, I did not mean anything I just assumed,” I shook my head to wave of the comment. I knew what she meant, and signalled her to carry on telling me her story.

            “Well, Rayia brought it up in front of the king didn’t she? But what she didn’t know is that the king had heard of Gragers” I clocked on that Gragers were the name for people with her abilities. “And sent her away telling her that she is to forget this day and never say a word about what she found out. Of course Rayia had to obey, but the king also told me not to say anything to because not many people knew about Gragers and that I was special and that he had a mission he needed me to do. That’s where he gave me that letter which I kept safe all these years to give to you when you were seventeen.”

            I was stunned. I wanted to open the letter and absorb his last, final words to me, but there was one thing she had so importantly missed out. I was not yet seventeen, not for three whole weeks. Though I was not going to tell Acacia and have the chance of my father’s letter taken off of me. I knew that whatever my fathers did had a purpose, whether it is waiting three weeks to read something or two minutes, those seconds could make all the difference in their meaning to you.

            I turned my sharp nose and soft lips to face Acacia; she had done her duty without fail. I knew my father would have wanted me to reward her once I knew she was to be trusted.

            “Thank you. I will see that you get your just reward. Now if you please, I am tiered.” I dismissed her and looked away as she left the room.

            The letter stared at me through pasty white coloured eyes. Ida was boldly written in the middle of the paper and was tempting me, begging me to open it. Turning it round I traced with the tips of my hard fingers over my father’s seal. Or what was his seal that is now a different version of my brother’s.  Fire enclosed a phoenix coming out of burning ashes, you could hardly see the bird but it was its legacy that made others stammer with recognition of such a magnificent creature that people remembered it was the symbol of Maliz. A stronghold, a country that you shall never have fear. Or so the scripture goes.

            I took one last look at the letter and shoved it into my pillow case hoping that no one will find it for three weeks. Outside I heard the cries of the young children whose parents had been summoned to the palace for the celebrations.

            Walking to the window I saw them smiling as they played, chasing ribbons and rounding dragnorts. I couldn’t help but smile at their play.

They were pulled away from outside though, as the night slowly closed in. As each child left a new pang of excitement filled my body and when all the children had gone I stood there watching the stars fade into the ground and away from the ones on top and sank to the people under our feet.

Sunset was my favourite time of day, I watched it every day and thought of nothing but the radiating colours that twisted through the blue sky and through my plain, clear window. I opened that window, wanting to be able to feel the beauty of the colours, to be embraced and surrounded by them. I felt the gust of wind that came with them when the sun left the top, and I closed my eyes to accept it and to feel it within me.  It relaxed my heart and cooled my brain so it was not so full of pulsing thoughts or bitter memories.

The twisted metal handle of the window dug into my palm as I clutched it. The sky started to grey when the rays fell from my air and were sucked through to the underside where they would become a new sunrise that I would never see. That idea excited me, there could be people there but we would never know, people who shared the same sunset and air as me. Then again, there are people on the top who I will never know and yet share so much with.

A small shimmer of desperation burned with in me, the clocks black arms pointed at eight o’clock. Two hours were left. I needed rest before I went to see it, my head ached and I was having trouble keeping my eyes open as the darkness deepened. An hour of sleep would not do any harm and told my clock when to wake me.

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