My eyes shoot open a split second before the door hits me in the face.
"Ow." I rub my head; I must have fallen asleep behind the door. A black haired man stares at me with his hands on his hips. His expression just makes me want to go back to bed.
"You overslept Ivy! I can't believe you! I told you to be on time!" His hands touch my shoulders as he pulls me to my feet. I wrap my leg around the back of his knee and he crumples to the ground.
"Don't touch me." The look on his face changes in an instant and a note of respect replaces the commanding look. He shakes it off and stands.
"Come on, you have training to attend to." I follow him, struggling to keep up as he walks briskly down the halls.
We reach the military training room which is filled with men of all ages. Some are running laps, some are sword fighting, some are working on aim. All confidence flees and I back out of the room.
"Um, I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to be in here." The feeling of being caught settles in my stomach.
"Oh yes you are." He drags me back into the training room and leads me to the aiming section. He places the handle of a dagger in the palm of my hand and then points to the target.
"I want you to throw that dagger and hit the target." A lot of the knights stop and watch. I throw them a small smile but inside I'm scared to death. Too much pressure.
I pull my arm back and let the dagger fly. I have to admit, it feels good when the dagger leaves my fingertips as I exhale. The knife goes straight but lands a few feet from the target. The men watching snort and turn back to what they were doing.
"Good. Now, I want to imagine the thing you hate most right in the center of that target. Think of snakes or bandits or whatever you hate most and use your anger as the force." This'll be easy. I accept the dagger he hands me and as I exhale I focus on the target.
Hate pours through me but I control it and force the knife from my hand with an order to kill. The knife hits the target and half the blade gets buried in the wood. I catch a few impressed glances from the knights and I turn to Riley with a smug smile. Sure, the second throw didn't have as much finesse as the first but it was harder. It was a blow to kill.
"Impressive. You've got skill. I have to ask though, what did you think of when you threw the dagger?"
"You." He scowls at my answer and his deep brown eyes narrow.
"That's not very nice." I find him irritating.
"Riley, when I took this job I never promised to be nice." He scowls at me but controls it quicker than I thought possible. I have to admire that. His face goes emotionless and I start to believe I've offended him. That thought simply wants to make me stick my tongue out at him.
"Have you ever handled a sword before?" His question startles me out of my thoughts. I shake my head no.
A smile lights up his face and he leaves me to fetch a few swords. He hands me one that's short and light weight. The blade isn't as impressive as Dai's sword and I feel like this sword is meant more for thrusting. Riley stands back and takes in the sight of me.
"Swing the sword for me please." Confused, I do as he says finding that the blade is too light in my hands. Riley shakes his head and switches the sword in my hand for a different one. This one is much longer and I have to use two hands to lift it. A long sword, I believe is what it's called.
I swing it before Riley asks and the weight of the blade causes me to fall forward. I catch myself before I fall on my face and hand the sword back to Riley. He has a small grin on his face that he tries to hide and I glare at him.
Finally he hands me a broadsword. This is a weapon I can handle. I hold the wide bladed sword with my right hand admiring its beauty. The sword, although plain, is expertly crafted.
"I think that'll work for what we'll be doing first. Eventually I want you to be able to use all of them." I bounce on the balls of my feet ready for anything. Riley waves his hand over the hilts of the swords until he finally chooses a rapier.
His eyes briefly meet mine and with a flick of his wrist my sword is on the ground. I gape at my empty hand and try to figure out how on earth it happened. Slowly I pick my sword back up and point it at him.
"Don't hold it like that. A sword is an extension of your body. Your moves should be fluid." He demonstrates and I note that when he thrusts he keeps his left side back out of the way. I keep my left hand down and raise my sword across my body. Being a thief means that I'm quick to learn, quick to recover and quick to defend.
I exhale with my eyes closed, focusing myself. I open my eyes just as Riley lunges. Thinking fast I push his blade into the ground with my own. The success fills me with happiness and I lose focus for just a second. In that second my sword gets ripped from my grasp and thrown to the ground.
"Focus." Riley hisses and I'm reminded once more that he can be scary. Picking up my sword I get ready to attack.
"Stop." I freeze at his words and lower my sword.
"You're not focused. Every swordsman has one thing that focuses them. You must think of that and only that. I focus on the coolness of the blade as I fight so we'll try that first. Focus on the coolness of the blade." I think only of the cold metal beneath my fingers as I launch into an attack. My attack is sloppy and Riley disarms me in seconds. He frowns thoughtfully as I pick my sword up for the fourth time.
"Perhaps you should instead think of how easily I could kill your sister."
That does it. Anger pours through me filling my veins with liquid fire. I fake lunge to his right side and he falls for it leaving his left side completely unprotected. In an instant I've shifted my weight and my sword cuts through the side of his shirt. I spin the blade in my fingers knocking his sword to the ground. Panting, I point the tip of my blade at his neck.
"Never say that again." A smile grows on his face and I suddenly realize I just used a bunch of moves I haven't ever learned nor practiced. Honestly they just felt right.
I step back and point my blade to the ground as he retrieves his rapier.
"Well, I think we can safely say that when you fight you should focus on your anger. You just performed moves better than some of the soldiers in the King's
Own can. Maybe I won't have to teach you from scratch. Want to go another round?" I shake my head no; I've had enough swordplay for now. He nods in understanding as he collects our swords.
"Every morning at dawn and every evening at dusk the soldiers here run laps. I want you to join them starting with only one lap for now. One lap around the castle, that is." My mouth drops. The castle is huge! I'm almost afraid to ask how many laps the soldiers do.
Riley takes in my expression with a smug smile before continuing.
"Today I managed to get you a job mucking stalls down in the stables." I cringe but don't get the chance to complain before Riley sends me on my way. He shuts the door behind me and I scowl at it before following the symbols to the stable.
Upon entering I notice the stench immediately. The horrid smell of horse excrement fills the air and I have to try hard not to hold my nose. The Stable Master finds me and instantly I notice the disdain in his eyes when he looks at me. Already irritated, I have I feeling I won't like this job.
"You could have been here earlier," he comments as he inspects me and I glare at him.
"Pitchforks are in the corner start cleaning stalls. I want them sparkling!" He sends me off and I glare at him before grabbing a pitchfork.
I start at the end of the hall and find that luckily the stalls are empty. I begin emptying the stall of straw only leaving behind the clean straw. My pace is slow and my arms and back ache from the strain.
After finishing three stalls I'm covered in sweat despite the fact that Harvest Season is well on its way. My black servant's clothes are soaked through and I've determined that I hate this job. I would take running laps over this any day.
The Stable Master comes over and inspects my work with a frown on his thin lips.
"None of these stalls are clean! There is horse crap all over the floor servant! Is this how you clean the rest of the castle?" His outrage is not well received. I slam the pitchfork into the dirt so hard it stays.
"If you think my work is so bad then why not do it yourself, master," I mock him and his eyes widen in shock. Then I realize who I'm talking to and who I'm supposed to be. I'm supposed to be a servant.
He whirls around and runs from the stables and I know exactly where he's going. To the King's First Advisor. Riley. I sprint after him making it to Riley's rooms just after he does.
We both start speaking at the same time and I notice a flash of anger cross the Stable Master's face. His hand contacts my cheek before I realize what's happening.
"Were you raised in a hole? Don't you know it's rude to talk without being spoken to?" I clench my fist but hold my tongue. If there's one thing living on the streets taught me it's never question authority even if you don't agree. Only harm can come from it. He smoothes his shirt and turns back to Riley.
"This servant is pathetic. She is way too slow and can't even clean stalls properly. That on top of the fact that she spoke out of place and she mocked authority. I want her out of the stables and if you won't do it then I'll take it to the king. This filthy animal is a disgrace to the castle!" Riley cringes but I refuse to back down. I will admit to all of those, except maybe the part about the clean stalls. Riley rubs his eyes and sighs in defeat.
"Ivy you will hereby be dismissed of your duties as a stable hand." Inwardly I'm jumping for joy. Outwardly I'm frowning. The Stable Master throws a smug smile in my face before leaving. As soon as he shuts the door I sigh in relief.
"Good riddance," I say and I mean every word of it. Riley glares at me.
"You're supposed to be keeping a low profile. Talking back to the Stable Master is not keeping a low profile!" I raise an eyebrow at him and cross my arms.
"First of all you never said anything about keeping a low profile. Second of all-"
"I thought the low profile thing was understood. I-"
"Second. Of. All. I was taught never to argue unless you know you're right. I was right." I stare at him, daring him to challenge me. To my disappointment he doesn't. He steps closer forcing me to look up at him.
"You are to return to your room for the rest of the day except for meal times. I'll see if I can find you another job of tomorrow. I want to see you at dusk for training. Don't be late." Understanding that I'm dismissed, I turn and open the door.
"Oh, and please bathe before I see you at dusk. You reek."
I pick at the food on my plate. It's dinner and although the food here is better than anything I've ever had I'm not used to the richness. It's too much even though it's only the scraps from the royal family's meal.
This is the first time I've been out of my room since this morning. For once I actually listened to orders but I don't think I could return to my chambers for the rest of the evening. No, I have plans this evening. I lean closer to Zelina.
"Do you know who the captain of the guard is?" I ask her. Dai carries a sword which must mean that he's a guard of some sort. She shakes her head.
"No, I don't but I can direct you to a friend of mine who might. His name is Aulani he has really dark hair and he's not much taller than you. He's got freckles and blue eyes." I smile.
"Thanks." I stand and take my plate over to the kitchen servants. The nod in thanks and I leave the servant's hall. If I planned everything right I should have enough time to see Saf before I have to return.
Slipping into my thief mode, I disappear into the crowd of servants leaving. Sliding away and exiting the gates are easy. It'll be coming back that'll be difficult.
I stride into town, confident out of the castle gates. Saf's current hideout is the third house on the left of Opal Street. I slither through the streets as invisible as the breeze. It's just like old times.
I knock on his door twice and wait for him to open it. He cracks the door and upon seeing me, opens it the whole way.
"Ivy." He sighs in relief as he pulls me into a hug. Looking at him I notice that he seems to have aged 5 years. I'm curious as to what is going on but I know what he's going to say first.
"Ivy, you need to get out of the castle. It's not safe for you." And there it was. I roll my eyes.
"You know, a few days ago you were trying to convince me to get into the castle to kill the king. Why is this any different?" His expression turns murderous and
I know I just crossed the line.
"When I tried to convince you to steal into the castle I was going to give you a team. I'd have every angle covered and it'd be an in and out thing." I let out an exaggerated sigh.
"Look, now that Riley's training me I'll be better suited for the job." His eyes grow wide.
"He's training you?" His voice betrays his disbelief and I nod. I don't understand why he's making a big deal about it.
"Ivy, listen to me. First Advisor is going to train you to be his personal thug. His assassin. You need to get out of there fast. I can give you a place to hide if you leave now. This is your last chance. Ivy, come back. Get out of there." I back away from him toward the door.
"Saf I can't. You know I can't and won't." Sadness enters his eyes and he looks away, gaze hardening.
"Then consider all your ties broken. No contact with the outside world and when you finally finish being First Advisor's thug don't come find me." I take a deep breath to keep from strangling him. I'm going to put him in his place. This is over dramatic. He needs to settle down about this. Being in the castle is not going to turn me into Riley's thug.
"Sapphire Pine my sister always told me to play nice but clearly she didn't know you when she gave me that advice. I'm through with all your selfish ways trying to keep me from the castle. I happen to like it there. You're playing with a bomb Saf, don't be surprised when I blow up in your face. You've crossed the line too many times. Saf, I don't care if you're not waiting for me when I leave because I'm not coming back." My anger fades quickly and sadness replaces it. I feel as though I've been stabbed. My heart is breaking and I'm the one who said goodbye.
"Goodbye Sapphire." My brother. My guardian. My partner. I should've known he would give me heartache.
My bottom lip quivers but I bite it in attempt to hold back my tears. The truth lies. And lies divide. That is clear as I walk in the opposite direction. I don't know what I knew before but now I know I want to win the war. I'll kill the king if that's what it takes.
I run to the castle gates as tears stream from my eyes. I can't believe what I just did. Riley might be right when he said that my anger focuses me but it also destroys me.
I sprint through the doors to the castle, not caring if anyone sees me. I'm almost late for dusk practice but I don't want to go. I just keep running. Down corridors and through doorways I go, not even giving a thought to where I'm going.
Something looms in front of me and I don't get the chance to stop before I run into it. Hands grasp my shoulders and I try to stop the tears but end up choking on them. I'm vaguely aware of words but my own guilt and sadness swallow me up. I collapse into the person's arms soon I find myself in the air.
Heavy footsteps echo out as the person carries me away. I squint through the tears but the only thing I manage to make out are two worried brown eyes. Dai. It must be. I close my eyes and suddenly the world goes black.