Copyright Kelly St. Clare 2015
I sleep on the lumpy mattress in my cramped room filled with the echoes of the night. I force my eyes to stay open as long as possible, but eventually I fall asleep to the beautiful strains of Blizzard’s music. It sounds odd though, without Flurry’s snores punctuating through at regular intervals.
Despite this, I feel curiously content when I awaken the next day. I’d intended to return to the castle, but there’s other business to attend. If I do it today, I won’t have to return to the Outer Rings. Jovan may be a little irked by my delay in returning to the castle. I did say two to three days though, and I’m not sure when I’ll get another chance.
The mess room is in full swing when I enter. Avalanche is serving up breakfast from a large pot. Ice slides a plate full down the table to me as I sit.
“You got yerself some followers,” he says.
I dig into the food, swallowing a hot mouthful of eggs. “What?” I ask, eyes watering. The others share a grim look.
“Two men. Never seem ‘em before, so I guess they aren’t taking their eyes off these barracks because they’re taggin you for someone,” he replies.
A thought occurs to me. I open my mouth to speak, but I’m cut off. “Not King’s men,” Ice continues.
It’s gratifying to know Jovan didn’t go against my request.
“Can you find out who they belong to?” I ask.
Ice snorts, spraying eggs over Crystal. Shard and I share an amused glance as she picks the bits out of her strawberry-blond hair, a disgusted expression on her delicate face. “Course I can, girly.”
I start to rise from the table, eggs forgotten, but a pointed look from Avalanche has me sinking back down and picking up some bread. He’s as soft as fur despite his scarred features, but he’s still four times my size, and he gets offended when people don’t eat his meals.
“I’ve got things to do today. I’ve got to go see Wi-, uh, Leila,” I say.
“You need the tags gone?” Ice asks. I nod.
“Preferably. I don’t want to cause trouble for the brothel.” I shovel the last bite in and stand. This time Shard stands behind me. Across from me, Blizzard folds his arms over his muscled chest and grins.
“You’ll have your chance to visit the whorehouse. But I think it’s high time you did some training. That fancy stuff at the castle has probably taken your edge away,” Shard says.
They do have a point. I have all day. A smile spreads across my face. A little training can’t hurt…
I hobble down the laneway in the direction of the courtyard. Training hurt.
I blink as a hunched woman waves at me displaying all three of her teeth. I swear that very same woman told me to fuck off last sector. It doesn’t stop. As I continue, children run ahead of me, giggling, and toothless men dip their head as I pass.
The thrashing crowd parts like a hot knife through butter.
What on Solis is going on? The habits from my childhood kick in, I measure my gait, and relax my shoulders, never once giving away my discomfort. But unlike my mother’s court, the people around me don’t seem hostile. In fact, it seems like …approval?