Etana the Coward: Part Five
Etana gazed at herself in a full length mirror. She had mixed emotions. A petite white Draik stared back at her, dressed in a flame red gown embroidered with golden vines. She wasn’t yet used to having wings, and was still learning how to control them. Her appearance wasn’t the only thing she was having trouble coming to terms with; to go with her new job, new species and new wardrobe Pedin had given her a new name. Etana felt like she was intruding on someone else’s life.
Etana sighed. “Can’t you, at least, call me Etana?”
“You’ll never get used to it if I call you Etana all the time,” Pedin reminded her, “Anyway, put this on.”
He held out a roughly cut teardrop stone on a short gold chain. She got the distinct impression the chain had been shortened to fit her better.
“Thyora’s Tear? Pedin... I can’t!”
“Oh, come on, Etana. I’m trying to keep you safe!” He grabbed one of Etana’s paws and dropped the necklace into it. “Just take it, ok? Anyway, the Water Faerie in the legend said it herself – it will keep the same fate from befalling you as your brother.”
“No more, though – promise?” Etana reluctantly secured the necklace around her slim neck.
“You know I don’t make promises,” Pedin reminded her, moving across the room to his desk. “Now, secretary Adonia, are you ready to start? We’ve got quite a few letters to write today...”
Etana glanced one last time at her reflection. She looked different, but she still felt like Etana the Coward.
* * *
“Adonia. That’s a pretty name.” Oakes smiled warmly, passing her a mug of strong tea. “Are you from the city?”
“Yes. I used to sell specialty bread at the market,” she lied. Pedin had warned her that it was best to tell lies that could be true. Since Etana was familiar with bread making and had lived opposite a specialty bread shop back in Fourth Town she supposed that she could be a convincing bread specialist.
“Oh.” Oakes looked surprised, but hid the expression quickly behind her mug. “So... what are you doing here? Surely someone who sells specialty bread isn’t exactly qualified to be an Advisor’s secretary?”
Ah. Maybe she hadn’t thought this through properly. She concentrated on her drink for a moment, waiting for inspiration to strike.
“Well, stranger things have happened,” Oakes said, thoughtfully. “I grew up in Second Town. I didn’t have any connections. I had to work very hard. I suppose it couldn’t have been easy for you, either, dear?”
“No, it definitely wasn’t easy.”
“Was it worth it?” Oakes put her mug down and gazed interestedly at her companion.
Etana thought for a moment, the events of the last few weeks playing through her mind. “Oh yes.” She smiled, then politely added, “What about you?”
Oakes beamed. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love my job. King Moris has been very good to us; past Advisors have had much less power, you know.”
The Advisor’s Chamber door swung open and Winch strode in, towards the stove. Oakes looked up as he poured milk into a mug.
“What about you, Winch? Did you have to work hard to get where you are?” There was a challenge in Oakes’s voice as she spoke. Etana glanced at her in surprise.
“Paths are different for everyone,” Winch replied gruffly. “A piece of paper isn’t the only way to be qualified for a job.”
“Connections,” Oakes whispered to Etana.
The door flew open again, revealing a breathless blue Shoyru in the uniform of a messenger.
“Advisor Oakes, I have a very important message for you!” he squeaked.
Oakes hurried from the room.
* * *
“We have a problem.”
Etana spun to face Pedin as he slammed the door. She was shocked by his appearance: he looked exhausted and his clothes were mismatched, the buttons on his waistcoat done up lopsidedly.
“What’s wrong?” Etana asked in alarm, absentmindedly correcting his waistcoat.
“The Rebel Leaders... in the dungeon. They were caught in the city, trying to pull off some stunt or another.” Pedin ran a paw over his face, then said in a tense voice, “There’s no saying who’ll say what now. Etana, be careful. Stay here. I’m going to see what I can do...”
Etana, heart racing, put a paw on Pedin’s arm. He was rubbing his eyes and shaking his head. Etana didn’t need to see his eyes to know he was sick with shock and helplessness, as Etana had been not so long ago.
“I don’t know what to do. I really don’t know what to do.” He sighed. “But there must be something...”
“Promise me you’ll be careful, Pedin,” Etana begged, giving his arm a little shake.
“I don’t make promises,” Pedin mumbled, more out of habit than anything – then he left.
“Why are all my friends Rebels?” Etana murmured, sitting down heavily on the sofa, chewing her lip concernedly. As it began to get dark she lit candles and huddled in front of Pedin’s fireplace for warmth. She imagined Pedin in the dungeons, maybe even sharing a cell with Brogan; she’d heard that pets accused of similar crimes often had to share dingy, mouldy rooms.
Etana remembered clearly the day she saw Pedin for what she’d always believed would be the last time. She’d shut the memory away for such a long time she thought it would be dusty and blurred – but it wasn’t. Etana hadn’t considered at the beginning of the Rebellion that supplying the king with potions would put her in danger. A small group of Rebels took it upon themselves to ‘change her mind’, towards the middle of the Rebellion. It had been her dear friend, Pedin, who’d saved her from the burning wreck that had shortly before been her beloved shop. He’d refused to let her stop on the street to see her shop one last time – and the next thing she knew she was in Brogan’s library...
Somehow remembering it now wasn’t as bad as she’d expected. It was just a memory. Most of the fear and pain had been washed away and it was just a memory.
Her mind had just roamed to Brogan when she heard voices in the corridor. She scrabbled to her feet, losing a shoe in the process, and threw herself at the door. Her heart was in her throat – and there, in front of her, Pedin, his arms held tightly by one of the dark-armoured King’s Guard. Etana held onto the door for support, her legs feeling weak. The guard’s visor was up and the malicious grin on his face was too familiar – Thomas, the red Gelert who’d drunk her roseatte juice and eaten her chocolate cake and then taken Brogan.
“Adonia...” Pedin warned, a meaningful look in his bright eyes. He looked rumpled and there was a tear in his waistcoat. Etana let go of the door and found she could stand up without it. Thomas gave Pedin a tug that made his jaw clench and eyes press shut for a moment.
Etana chewed her lip, undecided. Every bone in her body begged her to lunge at Thomas, to take advantage of his open visor. She surreptitiously felt along her belt, her paw resting on a couple of small vials; freezing and burning, just like Brogan had carried only more potent. But some other part of her knew that attacking the guard would get her nowhere – except maybe the dungeons. She stood still and watched as Thomas began to force Pedin away, along the corridor. She could hear Thomas cackling.
“Adonia, promise me you’ll be careful,” Pedin called back, turning his head as if he could see her.
“I don’t make promises,” Etana replied loudly, seeing the sudden look of fear on his face. She shut the door behind her before Pedin had turned the corner, sickened and dizzy but still standing upright.
She was fed up of relying on everyone else to save her friends. She gritted her teeth. Shakily, she opened a huge chest that sat beneath an arched window. She gazed thoughtfully at the mini-armoury within for a moment, then she selected a Palace Guard Sword. Grinning at the irony she tested it in her paw and, happy, hurried through to her own chamber.
She changed hastily, swapping her bright gown for black garments. She threw a cloak over her shoulders, concealing her white ears, wings and tail. She ferreted through all her new clothes until she came across a dark grey veil, the edges adorned with large red poppies. She tore the flowers from the veil hurriedly and shoved them back into the wardrobe.
Returning to the mini-armoury, Etana considered the selection of potions. Frowning at the faded labels Etana realised she recognised the writing; these were her own potions, from before the Rebellion. A smile twitched at the edge of her lips. She took all of them, just in case – everything from the Dehydration Potion to the Cooling Ointment – then tied the bag around her waist with a length of gold cord, tugging her sweater down to hide the silken rope. As she began to stand she noticed something else, wrapped in cloth – a Sleep Ray. She frowned, then took that, too.
She left her chamber at a trot, keeping to the shadows, one paw on the hilt of her sword at all times. She pressed further into the shadows as she neared the dungeon door. Unthinkingly she took the Sleep Ray from her bag, aimed and watched as both the Lupe guards slumped against the wall, snoring. There wasn’t time to congratulate herself on her success – she stooped to gently remove the loop of keys from the guard’s belt, then she shot through the door. She took a flaming torch from a wall sconce and began peering through the grilles on each and every dungeon door. She was starting to feel dispirited when she finally heard voices. She followed the sound to a door midway down the next passage, her heart swelling when her gaze fell on the five bedraggled characters. She recognised Pedin first, then the three Rebel Leaders – then her eyes fell on the dirtiest and thinnest of them all. Brogan. Etana laughed, relief shooting through her. The tenseness that held her upright slipped from her; she slumped forward, her forehead touching the grille. She felt she might cry with relief; her heart felt huge in her chest, leaving negligible room in her lungs for breath. Brogan was looking at her confusedly but it didn’t matter.
“I knew this was going to happen.” Pedin groaned, letting his head drop forward onto his knees.
“Stop complaining,” Etana scolded, although she couldn’t keep the grin from her voice. “I’ve come to rescue you. Hold on.”
She stepped away from the door and began trying keys, listening to the muffled voices within. She heard her name a few times, and then one of the keys clicked and the door swung open. Smith climbed to her feet and was first to the door. She scowled at Etana for a moment, then sighed.
“This is either very brave or very foolish. I’ll let you know when I decide,” Smith promised, then pushed past Etana into the passage. Etana didn’t care.
Pedin and Alice were helping Brogan to his feet. He looked like he hadn’t stood up in a while, and his face was crumpled with effort as he moved towards the door. Etana bit her lip and swallowed her words. They had to escape first.
“Don’t forget to lock the door,” Smith called, already walking away. Etana obeyed.
Out in the corridor once more Etana slipped the keys back onto the guard’s belt. She followed Smith, who was mumbling and glancing around, moving deeper and deeper into the palace. After a while Etana couldn’t hold back the words any longer.
“Aren’t we leaving?” she asked, hurrying to walk with Smith.
“It’s not over yet. We have to see it through now,” she answered, not looking at Etana. “If we can pull this off...”
They stepped into the royal baths.
Etana turned around in time to see Alice lowering Brogan to the tiled floor, and watched curiously as the slim Elephante waded into the bath and disappeared. Etana stepped forward, slightly alarmed. Smith shook her head and signalled that Etana should keep back. The water seemed to glow with all the colours of the rainbow, shimmering and rippling from a point in the middle of the bath. Etana already knew the bath water here had magical properties – after all, this was where Pedin brought her to become a white Draik. Etana shielded her eyes as the water burnt a blinding white, and when she lowered her paws a dripping wet royal Ixi with lapis lazuli eyes, dressed in a stained forest gown, was standing on the tiled floor. Etana gaped, then felt something sharp in her side. She glanced to her left. Smith was nudging her with an elbow, ducked into a deep bow. Etana followed suit, ignoring her veil as it dropped to the floor.
“Oh don’t be so silly,” Alice demanded, smirking. “Be sensible, all of you. You’ll make me blush.”
“Etana, let me introduce you to Princess Alastrine – the Rebel Princess.” Smith smiled, as Etana straightened up.
“Oh. Hello,” Etana murmured, uncomfortable. Then she turned to Smith. “I thought you hadn’t kidnapped the princess?”
“We didn’t!” Smith said indignantly.
“They didn’t,” Alice – Alastrine – replied. “I escaped my kidnapper not far from the palace but I didn’t dare go back. I ran to the Rebels instead and they looked after me. I always knew I’d have to come back someday; I just hoped it would be on my own terms...”
“There’s no time to wait any more.” Smith added briskly, “If what we’ve heard is true, King Moris is planning to pass on the throne whether Alastrine’s here or not. It’s our last chance to take charge of Thornstone and turn this place around.”
“I wanted to wait,” Alice explained. “I wanted to know my enemy before I returned. Six years, though, and we’ve learned nothing at all.”
“I’m sorry, I tried,” Pedin cut in. He was crouched on the floor beside Brogan, holding a glass of water.
“But, as Smith said, we’re out of time – it’s now or never.” Alice looked down at her ragged clothes. “Oh! This was my favourite dress...”
Etana didn’t know what to do with all the information she’d just been given. Instead she walked across to Brogan and rummaged in her bag.
“Here, drink this,” she commanded, passing Brogan the Cooling Ointment. “It will make you feel a lot better.”
He smiled at her and drank unquestioningly. Etana beamed at him happily.
“I thought I’d never see you again,” she confessed, touching his shoulder gently. “I’m sorry I wasn’t more help when the guards took you. I should have done more – fought more, poisoned their drinks or... something. I should have done something. I’m so sorry.”
Brogan shook his head. “You just saved us all. I think you’re the last pet that should be apologising.”
Etana blushed. She wished she’d put her veil back on.
“We can’t linger here,” Smith called suddenly. “Come on, I know a forgotten servants door – then you and Alice should come back through the main entrance. Make it look like Alice just staggered up to you or something...” Etana nodded to show she understood, then helped Brogan to his feet. He seemed much stronger now and he didn’t need help walking.
The gaggle of Rebels followed Smith through the deserted, dark corridors and out through a door hidden behind a tapestry. The air was cool outside. Glancing sideways Etana noticed Brogan shiver and quickly folded her cloak around his shoulders. He raised his eyebrows questioningly but Etana looked away.
Looking up at the dark sky Etana was hit by the enormity of her actions, and the task still left to her. She was going to be alone, without Brogan or Pedin – and she was helping the Rebels seize the throne.
She gave Brogan and Pedin a brief hug, concentrating very hard to keep the tears at bay, then joined Alice to wave goodbye.
At the last moment Smith turned back, unsmiling. “You were very brave tonight, Etana. Thank you.”
Then they disappeared. For a fleeting moment Etana wondered if she’d ever see them again – then she turned towards the palace. The night wasn’t over yet.
To be continued...