Chapter 5: The Distant Thunder
Misty was gently woken by the warm sunlight and the quiet whisper of the waves. Everything was so peaceful, she didn't want to get up yet. She pulled the soft covers up to her chin and closed her eyes again- then opened them again when she realized that there was another sound besides the sea. The sound was so rhythmic that she hadn't noticed it before- someone was softly snoring. Misty bolted up in a panic only to find Ash leaning against her bed, fast asleep and still completely dressed. He looked terribly uncomfortable. His knees were bent up to his chest, and his head was lying on the edge of her bed, his neck at a painful angle. Misty grabbed her pillow and smacked him hard in the face. Ash awoke with a start.
"Huh?!" he gasped.
"Ash! What are you doing in my room!" Misty demanded.
Ash gazed at her sleepily as if he weren't quite sure himself.
"That's me. Now answer my question- what are you doing in my room?"
Ash seemed to become a little more lucid now.
"It's not what you think!" he explained quickly, holding up his hands to divert another hit.
"Then what exactly is it?"
Misty didn't hit him, but she kept her pillow raised in case his answer wasn't satisfactory.
"I thought . . ." Ash stammered.
He seemed unsure of how to explain his presence, but Misty was growing impatient.
"You thought what?"
"I thought you might be in trouble."
There was a silence as Misty waited for him to finish his explanation, but he said nothing else.
"Why would I be in trouble?" she asked suspiciously.
Ash looked relieved when she lowered her pillow.
"Well, I talked to Philip last night-"
"You talked to Philip?"
"Will you let me finish? You're the one who wants to hear this."
"Sorry." Misty said. "I was just surprised."
Ash began again. "I talked to Philip last night, and he said something weird."
"Weird? Weird how?"
"He said that he was going to . . . do . . . something . . . to you."
"Well that's specific." Misty complained, annoyed.
"Sorry, but he didn't say what he was going to do. He only said that he wouldn't hurt you. But I don't trust him." Ash scowled.
Misty was a little confused.
"Philip threatened me? Why?"
Ash blushed for reasons Misty couldn't guess and stared at the floor.
"Because you're . . ."
She was quickly getting tired with his avoidance.
"You're my friend."
That made sense. Philip bore a grudge against Ash, and while he couldn't hurt the prince directly without severe consequences, he could hurt one of his lower classed friends.
"What else did he say?"
But Ash didn't answer, and he wouldn't meet her eyes. Misty sighed inwardly. He still wouldn't talk about Philip. She'd never had this problem before. Usually she could get Ash to talk with some encouragement. But he took this matter with Philip very personally. Misty could understand a little. It was a disagreement between brothers and none of her business. She was close to Ash, but she knew when to give him some space. But she hated to see him suffer alone. Misty wished he would open up to her.
I just-" Ash started, "I just don't want you to get hurt because of me."
Really, Misty was happy that Ash had worried about her. But she wasn't about to let him know that.
"Well you can stop worrying, because I'm not afraid of Philip. Now get out of my room!" She punctuated her sentence by throwing her pillow at him, then laughed to herself as he scrambled out of the room. When he was gone, she got up and started getting dressed. She pulled a pale yellow dress out of her trunk and over her head. Then she laced up her brown boots, brushed her hair, and washed her face in her wooden basin. Misty started to head out of her room, but before she could take two steps she bumped right into Ash. They both yelped and jumped back.
"Ash! What are you doing here? I told you to leave!"
"You only said to get out of your room, you never said anything about leaving."
Misty rolled her eyes.
"Well I'm telling you now, leave! I have things to do."
Which was not really true, but as there was no school today, she had been looking forward to spending the day reading and writing. But Ash apparently had no intention of leaving.
"No. I'm staying with you until I'm sure Philip isn't going to hurt you." he insisted.
"Ash, I told you, I'm not afraid of Philip."
She was a little insulted. She could take care of herself; she always had. She didn't need Ash to protect her.
"I don't care!" Ash argued. "If Philip hurts you, it'll be my fault, and I'm not going to let that happen!"
"So then you're just going to follow me everywhere?"
"Until you think I'm safe."
Ash stared at her with eyes full of resolution. Misty groaned. She enjoyed Ash's company most of the time, but she was a little of a private person, and she valued her time alone. She didn't want him tagging after everywhere. But there was no shaking him when he determined to do something. So she was stuck with him. Indefinitely.
"Fine," Misty acquiesced, "just try not to bother me. I'm going to the library, so you'll have to be quiet."
"The library?" Ash complained. "Wouldn't you rather-"
But Misty cut him off with a deadly glare.
Once at the library, Misty found a seat in the warm sunlight, and Ash sat across from her. Then she opened the book she had been reading most recently and started in. Her concentration, however, was soon disturbed by an incessant tap-tap-tapping on the table. It was Ash, of course, drumming his fingers in boredom. Misty stared at him with as irritated a look she could muster, but Ash seemed oblivious. The drumming continued for several more minutes, Misty becoming more vexed with each beat. Finally, she snapped.
"Ash! Must you do that?!"
"Huh?" came Ash's reply. "Oh, sorry, I didn't realize I was doing it."
"Fine, just don't do it anymore. Why don't you get something to read too?"
Misty could tell from his expression that Ash was not too excited about this idea, but he complied to mollify her. He grabbed the first book he came to off the shelf and brought it with him to the table.
Misty returned to her book, but, having been distracted once, it was hard to focus. Especially since Ash was turning his pages much too quickly (and loudly), probably looking for the pictures. Misty coughed deliberately.
"What now?" Ash sighed, his tone hinting annoyance.
"Stop rattling your pages!"
"Rattling my pages?"
She blushed. It sounded absurd, even to her, but it still bothered her. Ash put his book down, but he didn't look very disappointed. He made a show of sitting strait and perfectly still in his chair, obviously mocking Misty, but she ignored him and went back to her book. But soon, she was grinding her teeth as if in pain. She snapped her book shut with a bang.
"Oh, am I breathing too loudly for you now?" Ash asked in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Yes!" Misty exclaimed.
This was ridiculous. She was never going to get any reading done with Ash sitting there. She needed absolute quiet and solitude. Suddenly, she had an idea.
"I know, I'll read aloud to you." she suggested. "That way, I won't be distracted, and you won't be bored."
"Just listen, would you?"
She began from a passage right in the middle of the book. Ash paid good attention for about ten minutes. But then Misty noticed his eyelids beginning to droop. In another five minutes, his head was laid on the table and he was sound asleep. Misty smiled at her own cleverness.
"Sleep tight, Ash." she whispered as she tip-toed from the library.
She quietly made her way back to her room. It wasn't as comfortable as the library, but it would do in a pinch. She sat cross legged on the floor, took out her book, and found her place. As many books as she had read, this one had quickly become one of her favorites. It was a book of myths and legends from all over the world. Myths had always been Misty's favorite part of her history lessons, so she had been delighted when she had found it, quite by accident, hidden in an old, unused corner of the library. She already loved all the old stories of Kanto, but she had read them so much that she had memorized them all. It was wonderful and refreshing to discover some new ones. And in the ancient tales, Misty discovered the cultures of foreign lands. Indeed, she thought that they were quickest way to learn the true heart of a people- their beliefs, their values, their practices. She envied the book's author, who had had the opportunity to visit so many strange and beautiful places.
Maybe that's what she would do when she was older. She would leave the castle, board a ship, and never look back. Life at the castle wasn't so bad, but she wanted to explore the world she'd read about in books. Who knew, maybe she would even find her homeland. It wasn't very likely, but it wasn't impossible either. Misty set her book down and daydreamed about how she would escape. Really, escape was probably too drastic a word. Most likely, the present king would gladly let her go. But it made the prospect seem so much more exciting. Misty wondered what kind of work she would get when she left. Waitress? Maid? There really weren't many choices for a woman. And the world was a dangerous place, or so she had been told. Still, Misty was willing to take the risk. It was better than a life of boredom here at the castle. But there was still one thing that bothered her. If she left the castle, she really would be completely alone. She wasn't sure if she could bear that. But there was really no use worrying about it. It was probably only an idle dream anyway . . .
Just then, her thoughts were disturbed once again when she heard someone's footsteps coming down the hall. They were coming toward her room.
"Ash." Misty thought as she rolled her eyes.
"Ash, I told to-" she started as the footsteps neared her door.
But it wasn't Ash at all. It was Philip who rounded the corner, looking casual and relaxed. He leaned against the door frame with his arms crossed.
"Ah, Misty! Just the person I was looking for!"
Misty eyed him warily, wondering if she shouldn't have stayed with Ash after all.
"What do you want, Philip?" she asked.
"Just to talk to you." Philip replied, looking rather insulted.
"Right." Misty replied. "Philip, you've never spoken one word to me before now."
Philip approached her now and bent down to look her in the face.
"Yes, and that's a shame. It's high time we had a friendly chat. Wouldn't you agree?" he didn't give her time to answer. "What's that you're reading?" he asked as he snatched the book away from her.
"Hey, give that back!" Misty demanded.
She was a little embarrassed of her obsession with books, and Philip was the last person she wanted to share it with.
"Myths and Legends of the World," he read from the cover. "Ah, yes, you're always reading fairy stories like this, aren't you?"
"You're very observant." Misty hissed, though she had to admit that she was surprised he had noticed. He ignored her comment and continued his thought.
"It's too bad your own fairy tale was ruined for you."
Misty frowned, confused.
"What do you mean?"
"Come with me, and I'll show you." Philip responded casually, handing the book back to her. He started out the door, but Misty made no move to follow him. He stopped and turned.
"Not coming?" he asked innocently. "Of course, you don't have to. I understand if you're afraid of me."
"I'm not!" Misty spat.
She spoke more confidently than she felt, but her pride wouldn't let her show her fear.
"No, no, I understand. You have no reason to trust me. I'll leave you alone."
Now, Misty knew perfectly well that he was only trying to bait her, but pride and curiosity won over common sense.
"Wait!" she cried. "I'll come."
"Good," he said, letting her catch up to him.
Misty followed him through the long hallway. But she was wary of her companion, and tried to imagine what she would do if he turned on her. Back in her room, she had felt so confident that she could outsmart him if the need arose. But as Philip lead her up a dark, deserted stairway, she was beginning to think that her self-sure attitude had been foolish. Philip could easily overpower her if he wanted. Would anyone even hear her if she screamed? Still, though her fear grew with each step, Misty pressed on. Her pride had abandoned her, but her curiosity had not. She was dying to know what Philip had meant. What "fairy tale" was he talking about? What did he know that she didn't? Or was it all a ruse to get her to come with him? But Misty couldn't go back now. She needed to know the truth. She trembled, her heart pounding with fear and anticipation.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked at last, trying without success to keep her voice steady.
But Philip acted as though he hadn't heard her question at all. He didn't pause a single beat. Misty swallowed hard. That was not a good sign. But just as her fear reached its height, the twisting stairway ended at a small landing. She blinked as the darkness gave way to dazzling sunlight. Philip waited patiently while her eyes adjusted. But even through squinted eyes, Misty could see the grandeur of this hall. It was wide and long, and the ceiling soared above her head. The floor beneath her feet was covered in a plush red carpet. One wall was full of tall, intricately designed windows that overlooked the sea, and the other was made of a beautiful, glittering white stone. Misty stood, awestruck, almost forgetting why she was here. She couldn't believe that she had lived in the castle her entire life without seeing this place.
"Welcome to the royal hall," Philip said with a bow and a laugh.
"It's beautiful . . ." Misty choked out.
"Yes, I suppose it is." he replied. "Now, follow me, we're almost there."
She suddenly remembered her purpose and hurried after Philip. They walked the length of the hall before coming to an oaken door engraved with the sun, the moon, and the stars. Philip stopped here and opened the door. Misty peered inside, bursting with curiosity. But she saw nothing out of the ordinary. The room was more exquisite than most, true. Its walls were of the same glittering white stone as the hall, and the floor was covered with a dark green rug. There was an ornately carved vanity with a against one wall, and near it a matching bureau. It had a tall bed with white covers and canopy. The canopy fluttered slightly in a sea breeze that came from a small, open window.
But it was strange- Misty knew that she couldn't have possibly been in this room before, yet it seemed somehow familiar, like something remembered from a dream.
"Wh-where are we?" she stammered.
"You don't remember?" Philip replied mockingly.
Misty's breath caught in her throat. What was he getting at? But before she could ask he left her side and knelt over a chest that sat at the foot of the bed. He pulled something from it, though Misty couldn't see what. Philip motioned for her to come closer.
"What is it?" she asked.
Philip held up the object in answer. But whatever Misty had expected, it wasn't this- a tiny pink dress covered in lace and bows. A doll's dress. Philip handed her the garment, and she fingered the frills carefully.
"I don't understand," she said, "what is this?"
"It's a dress." Philip said bluntly.
"Well I can see that, but what does it mean? Whose is it?"
"It's yours," Philip replied, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world.
Misty laughed at the absurdity.
"Somehow I don't think it would fit me very well."
"Well, not anymore, of course. But you used to wear it, when you were little."
Misty stared blankly at him.
"You really have forgotten, haven't you? You don't even remember her?"
"Who?!" she all but shouted.
Philip's little game was driving her mad. She wished he would stop toying with her and just tell her what she wanted to know.
"The late Lady Catherine, of course. The woman who adopted you, brought you into this castle. Of course, you were very young at the time, I don't blame you for forgetting."
Now Misty was incensed. How dare he imply that she had forgotten her own mother!
"I have not forgotten!" she yelled, throwing the dress aside. "I just don't understand what all of this has to do with my mother! Why are you showing me all . . . this . . ."
Misty quickly glanced around the room again, a sudden realization coming to her.
"This was her room, wasn't it?"
"Ah, so you do remember!" Philip said happily. "That woman did so much for you- taking you in, having such nice clothes made for you- she really did treat you just like a little princess."
Misty froze. Her mother had raised her like a princess? Her early memories were hazy; she could barely see Catherine's face. She remembered nothing of her life among royalty
"Who knows where you might be now, if she had lived." Philip was continuing. "I do believe she would have married you off to some prince. Just think, you could have lived in splendor like me. It's so tragic that she died when she did. Would you like me to tell you how that happened? It may give you some insight."
And finally Misty saw the point of Philip's plan.
"Ash . . ." she murmured.
"Oh, so you already know, then." Philip said, seeming genuinely surprised. "That's right. She died when Ashton was born. He took something important from both of us- my throne and your mother. We have a lot in common, you know. We ought to-"
"No!" Misty shouted, coming closer to Philip. "I have nothing in common with a bully like you! It wasn't Ash's fault! He would never hurt anyone on purpose! Besides, he's your brother and he loves you! How can you still hate him so much?"
"I hate him simply for being born." Philip said cheerfully.
"That's sick!" Misty yelled. "You're a horrible person, Philip! You don't deserve to be Ash's brother!"
"Maybe. But you'd better careful what you say about me." he advised. "Like I said, we're really the same. I hate Ash, and so do you. The only difference is that I don't mind admitting it."
"That's not true!" Misty yelled.
"But of course it is! You know, I'd say you're even worse than me. At least I'm honest. But you pretend to be a saint- such a liar. I think it would be right for you to come clean."
"No, I'm different from you! I'm different . . ." Misty trailed off as her voice broke.
Philip sighed as he saw the first tears come streaming down her cheeks. When she was finally able to look up at him, she saw pity in his eyes- strange to observe in the stoic Philip. There was a silence that lasted several minutes.
"I can see I'm getting nowhere." he said at last, looking away from her as she sobbed. "That's fine. You're just not ready to accept it yet. But think about what I've said. You might change your mind."
Misty stared at him blankly.
"You know," Philip said, "I can see why my brother is so fond of you. You're quite pretty."
"You're just saying that to butter me up!" she choked out.
"Yes," Philip agreed, "But that doesn't mean it's not true."
For several minutes there was no sound but Misty's choking sobs.
"Stay as long as you like." Philip said finally. " No one comes here except for father, and then only at night. Take the old stairway we used on the way up when you leave, otherwise someone might see you." he paused. "But when you do change your mind . . . well, you know where to find me."
And then he was gone.
Misty found that all her strength had left her. Her legs suddenly felt wobbly and her knees buckled. She sank to the floor, still crying. She picked the little dress up from the floor and clutched it tight against her heart, mourning the loss of something she'd never known she'd had until now. Had her mother lived, her life would have been so different. She would have lived the life of a princess, complete with balls and jewels, and handsome young princes to woo her. The life she could only dream about might have been hers. But Misty knew better than this. There was no use wishing for what could not be; the past couldn't be undone. Yet the knowledge summoned a thought, one which Misty could no longer fight.
"If only Ash had never been born . . ."
How many times had she battled these words? As much as she cared for Ash, sometimes she couldn't keep her resentment from resurfacing. It slept inside her, just waiting for its chance to show itself. But how had Philip known of the ugly thing she kept buried in her heart? Perhaps it was as he said, and they were more alike than she wanted to admit.
Misty sat alone in that room for a long time. She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't even notice day turn to nigh. But when she heard footsteps in the hall, she immediately snapped to attention. Was it King Ashton? Misty shuddered to think how he would react if he found her here, an intruder in the shrine of his beloved wife. She held her breath as she frantically searched the room for a place to hide. But then she saw a small light in the hall, and realized with a sigh that it was only the servants lighting the torches for the night. Still, Misty took this as a sign that she should leave, and be quick about it at that. She wiped her tears, folded the little dress, and put it back in its trunk. But as she did so, she had a thought. Why shouldn't she take something, a memento of her mother? King Ashton would never notice anything amiss, and even if he did, he would never guess that Misty, whose existence he barely noticed, had taken it. So after replacing the dress, Misty turned to the vanity and opened the drawer closest to her hand. In it were all manner of jewels and perfumes, but none of these appealed to her. It wasn't until she reached the bottom of the drawer that she found something that spoke to her- a small hand mirror. Misty quickly closed the drawer and gave one last look around the room, making sure nothing was out of place. Then, her treasure safely concealed in her pocket, she sneaked out of Catherine's room and back to her own.
Later, sitting on her bed, Misty studied her mother's mirror by lantern light. It was made of pewter and had a design engraved on the back. It was simple, but in its simplicity was its beauty- a little like the face she remembered, she thought. Misty gazed at the face now reflected in the mirror- her face. Philip had called her pretty. Quite pretty, she thought with a smile. But even a pretty face could hide terrible ugliness. She laid the mirror under her pillow, not wishing to look at herself any longer. It was a good thing that she hid it when she did, for at that very moment, Ash came rushing into her room, huffing and puffing.
"There you are!" he cried breathlessly. "I'm so glad! I was sure that Philip had you!"
"No, I just couldn't stand your snoring anymore." Misty replied with more bitterness than she had intended.
Ash was the last person she wanted to see right now. Her heart was in such a turmoil over what she had learned. A weed was threatening to choke out the friendship that had blossomed between them, and Misty needed time away from him until one side had won. Her irritation at his presence was only making her more confused.
"Um, sorry I fell asleep like that . . ." Ash was saying, "But you shouldn't have left! Philip could've done anything he wanted to you!"
Misty could tell he was a little angry, but she didn't care. She was getting angry too. Hadn't she told him that she could take care of herself? It didn't matter that she might have been wrong. Her pride was hurt all the same.
"Ash, I told you, I don't need you to protect me!"
"And I told you that you do!"
Both their voices were getting louder. Misty crossed her arms defensively and threw her head back.
"Tsk, what do you know about it? I'm tougher than you think, Ash."
"I don't care, Philip is my brother, so I'm responsible for what happens!" he paused to regain his composure. "Where were you, anyway?"
"Um," Misty faltered. She couldn't tell Ash what had transpired between her and Philip that afternoon. It was better that he didn't know Philip had spoken to her at all.
"I was right here reading." was the lie she gave.
Ash arched his eyebrow.
"No, you weren't," he said, "I checked here several times."
"Then you must not have seen me, because I was here."
Misty realized that it was a silly comeback, but it was all she could think of in the few seconds she was given.
"Ash, if I said I was here, then I was here! So stop pestering me!"
Ash seemed surprised by the force of her anger, as was she. He backed up, his eyes wide.
"All right, sorry, Misty!" he said defensively.
Misty suddenly felt guilty. She was letting Philip get the best of her. She couldn't let that happen, she had to fight it back. That's right, she would fight it back, just like she had always done before. This time would be no different. So what if the resentment was a little stronger this time? She could handle it. Misty cradled her head in her hand.
"No, I'm sorry, Ash." she said. "I shouldn't have left without at least telling you where I was going. I'm just . . . tired. I think I need some time alone."
Ash sighed softly, relaxing.
"All right. I'll leave you alone for a while. Tonight I'll sleep outside your door."
Misty groaned to herself. Ash really didn't understand. But she supposed it was better than having him sleep right next to her. She felt a little uncomfortable changing into her night clothes with him sitting right outside her door like that, but she did so and blew out her lantern. But she couldn't sleep for the thoughts churning in her head. Was she really a liar like Philip said? Did she really hate Ash? That couldn't be. Just because she held some old resentment against him didn't mean she hated him. He was her friend, she cared about him. Or was that only a lie she told to make herself feel better? And was being a liar really so bad? Surely it was better to be false and spare someone's feelings than to be honest and cruel. She couldn't really be as bad as Philip . . . could she? When Misty finally did fall asleep, she tossed inside restless, confusing dreams. Outside, the surface of the sea was calm. But the cold waters that laid beneath stirred restlessly, waiting for the storm that was surely approaching.