Birdcage

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 13 (v.1) - Chapter XIII - Mistakes, or: the story told at winner

Submitted: July 30, 2019

Reads: 19

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Submitted: July 30, 2019

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A few days after the night we stood waiting for Camazotz to attack, the Knights gathered at the palace to receive a speech from the king. Only the bare minimum Knights were left guarding the wall. The Squads stood in lines in front of the castle. Our line was the shortest.

 

King Tasciovanus walked out onto a balcony overlooking the crowd. His two retainers, Johnson and Reynolds, stood behind him. The Knights bowed when we saw our King. He smiled and began his speech.

 

“A few nights ago marked the tenth anniversary of the great purge,” he said in a hollow voice. “Each and every one of you, I would wager, lost someone on that fateful day. I personally lost my dear wife Dietlinde. Our hearts, torn asunder by that fateful day, have beaten as one ever since.”

 

“We have spent much of the past decade cowering in fear, waiting for the next evil to threaten our great Kingdom,” the King continued. “Many of us feared the return of the vampire wars. But, the anniversary of his latest death passed without incident. Allies of ours in the Southern Seas have confirmed that the fortress on Mist Spire Island is empty. The Vampire King is dead, for good this time. Now we can start to move on.”

 

The King stepped back, and Firebrand Johnson took his place. “Okay, here’s the deal,” Johnson said as he took the stage. “After the Abrumian Crusade, we decided realized we didn’t have enough manpower to survive another large scale military operation. We’ve spent the last six years hidden behind these walls, stockpiling men and resources. In doing so, we made ensured Cieleta would survive in the event the Vampire King returned.”

 

“Holding back has come with its own problems,” Firebrand continued. “The treasury is nearly empty. Worse, we still haven’t reclaimed any of the land lost in the Purge. We don’t have enough farmland to provide for our citizens, and have been forced to buy food from other nations. At first, this wasn’t an issue; but, like I said, the treasury is empty now. We estimate that we can survive for another six months before we run out of food. Now that we know we Camazotz isn’t going to be a problem, we can use our military might to fix this problem”

 

“Enter the Reclamation Project, a plan to begin reclaiming the world outside these walls. Our first target is Stonecage, a mining town on the border of the Naitumon Mountains. The tunnels beneath Stonecage are rich in gold, iron, magic crystals, things that can save Cieleta. If we can reclaim Stonecage and set up a safe route between it and the Capital, our troubles will be over.”

 

“We’re sending a large expedition team, comprised of approximately half of the Knights, to Stonecage in three weeks. Captains will be informed in advance if their Squads will be needed. Preparations will begin immediately.”

 

We discussed development as soon as we returned to the barracks. “A journey outside the wall, to reclaim a fallen city and save the Kingdom,” Cas said. “It sounds-”

 

“Insanely dangerous,” Pollux interjected.

 

“I was going to say exciting, but I guess you aren’t wrong.”

 

“I’m not too worried about the Reclamation Project,” Sterling said. “Lest you forget, we’re considered by many to be the weakest Squad. Someone has to stay behind and handle wall duty. Don’t be surprised when that’s us.”

 

“We aren’t that pathetic,” I said. “We managed to put up a pretty good fight against that Eric guy.”

 

“Correction, we managed to survive long enough to watch that Eric guy run away,” Sterling said.

 

I strapped my sword to my back, preparing for a shift guarding the gate. “Hey Ernest, you up for a round of sparring tonight?” Pollux asked.

 

“Can’t. I have dinner with my grandfather once a month. Otherwise, he worries,” I said.

 

“Your grandfather, the vampire slayer?” Cas asked.

 

I shrugged. “I guess,” I said.

 

“It must be awesome, having someone so cool as a grandpa,” Cas said. “I bet he tells you all sort of cool stories.”

 

I rolled my eyes. “There’s a finite amount of stories Grandfather knows. I lived with him for ten years. It gets old after a while,” I said.

 

“Poor you, having a loving family member who wants to spend time with you,” Pollux snarked. “It sounds unbelievably horrible.”

 

“If you want, you guys can come along and meet him for yourself,” I said.

 

“I’d love to!” Cas said.

 

“Don’t be so intrusive,” Pollux shouted while elbowing in his brother in the ribs. “Ernest deserves to spend time alone with his family if he wants to.”

 

“Don’t pretend you don’t want to come,” Cas shot back.

 

“I mean, I do, but I’m not going to be pushy about it,” Pollux muttered.

 

“Really, it isn’t any trouble,” I said. “Sterling, do you want to come?”

 

“I mean, if everyone else is going, I suppose I could stop by,” he said.

 

That evening, the four of us showed up at Grandfather’s house. Anna answered the door. She eyed us over for a minute before turning and shouting. “Grandpa, Ernest and his friends are here!” she yelled.

 

“Distract our guests for a few minutes while I finish dinner!” Grandpa shouted back.

 

Anna stood in the doorway, not moving or saying anything. “I’m, uh, Castor,” Cas said. “It’s nice to meet you. What’s your name?”

 

“Anna,” she replied.

 

“Can we come in?” Pollux asked.

 

“I don’t know, can you?” Anna asked.

 

I shoved past Anna, leading my friends into my old home. “Welcome to our house,” I said. “It isn’t much, but it’s home.”

 

Pollux and Castor looked side, at walls covered in hanging paintings of monsters. “Interesting interior decorating,” Pollux muttered.

 

“Grandpa paints a lot,” Ernest said. “It helps him with his nightmares.”

 

“Speaking of nightmares,” Anna said. “Ernest used to-”

 

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence!” I shouted.

 

“Ernest used to get really bad nightmares,” Anna said. “Like, wake up with soaking sheets every night level of bad nightmares.”

 

“Anna, you’re embarrassing me,” I muttered.

 

A few minutes later, Grandfather came out with several dishes full of food and a large bottle of ale. “Sorry if there isn’t enough food for you boys,” he said. “The prices have been a bit high recently.”

 

“It’s more than enough, sir,” Cas said.

 

We all sat down and dug into the food. Anna ate in her room. “Now, I know Ernest pretty well and I met MacDonald a few months ago, but I haven’t been properly introduced to you two,” Grandfather said while taking a sip of ale.

 

“I’m Pollux and my brother’s Cas,” Pollux said.

 

“I thought you two looked alike,” Grandfather said. “How do you like being a part of Squad V?”

 

“It’s great, sir,” Cas said.

 

“You know, I was the Captain of Squad V for a number of years. I could tell you a few stories from the good old days, if you’d like.”

 

“We would like that very much, sir.”

 

“Okay, here’s a good one for you,” Grandfather said, beginning a story I’d heard a dozen times before. “My Squad and I were traveling between the islands surrounding the Vampire King’s base, Mist Spire Island, when a magical fog surrounded our boat. We couldn’t see five feet in front of us. That’s when it struck.”

 

“A large bat-like creature, with massive black wings and pointed teeth, descended on our boat, picking us off one by one,” Grandfather continued. “Calvin did his best to keep us safe, but it wasn’t enough. The beast with too quick, and the fog kept us from seeing it as it flew by.”

 

“What did you do?” Cas asked.

 

“I closed my eyes and waited. As the beast drew close, I heard the sound its wings made as it glided through the air. With a single swing, I cleaved the beast in two, saving my Squad.”

 

“Wow, you’re so cool, Mr. Zuckerman,” Cas said. “I hope I can be like you when I’m older.”

 

“Don’t worry, kid, your story is just beginning. I’m sure there’re great things in your future” Grandfather said. “For example, I heard that Calvin hired you two after you helped Ernest and MacDonald fight off a dark mage.”

 

“I mean, Ernest and Sterling did most of the work,” Cas said.

 

Shortly afterward, we heard a knock on the door. We opened it to find Captain Cross, with a dark look on his face. “Hello Jim, might I come in and talk to my Squad?” Cross asked.

 

“Of course, Calvin. Why don’t you stay for dinner?” Grandfather said.

 

“I can stay, but I’m afraid I may ruin your meal with bad news,” Cross said. “I just finished up a meeting with the other officers about the Reclamation Project.”

 

“So, are we going to Stonecage?” Pollux asked.

 

“Firebrand Johnson requested that I personally go along, due to the defensive capabilities of my verse, while you four stay here and continue watching the gate,” Cross said. “Of course, I told them that I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my Squad alone, especially after what happened eight months ago.”

 

“So we aren’t going to Stonecage?” Pollux asked.

 

“Well, the thing is, Firebrand may have misinterpreted my request,” Cross said. “He decided to send all four of us to Stonecage.”

 

The reaction to this was mixed. Excitement from me and Cas, worry from Cross and Pollux, and a mix from Grandfather. Sterling stayed silent. “Don’t worry, James, I’ll ensure that these boys stay safe during the Stonecage mission,” Cross said. “Ernest, Castor, Pollux, and Sterling are under my protection.”

 

“Sterling, that’s MacDonald, right?” Grandfather asked. “You know, I must’ve heard someone call him Sterling sometime before now, but it only just clicked in my head. Your name is Sterling MacDonald, isn’t it?”

 

“It is, sir,” Sterling muttered.

 

“I’ve heard of a knight named Sterling MacDonald. You wouldn’t happen to be him, would you?” Grandfather asked.

 

“Depends on which Sterling MacDonald you’re talking about.”

 

“I’m talking about the one that received a lot of attention ten years ago. The one that became a Captain at the age of nineteen.”

 

“Wait, Sterling was a Captain?” Cas asked.

 

“Are you the Sterling MacDonald I’m thinking of?” Grandfather asked.

 

“I am,” Sterling said quietly.

 

“I thought so. You’re the infamous traitor, aren’t you?” Grandfather said.

 

“That’s quite enough, James,” Cross said.

 

“What’s he talking about, Sterling?” Cas asked. “What does he mean, the infamous traitor?”

 

“If you’d stop interrupting, maybe we’d find out,” Pollux said.

 

Sterling stood up. “I think it would be best if I left, Mr. Zuckerman,” he said. “Thank you for inviting me into your home.”

 

“Sterling, wait,” I said.

 

Sterling walked away, ignoring me. The door slammed behind him. I turned back to Grandfather. “What was that?” I asked.

 

“Your friend never told you about his past, did he?” Grandfather asked.

 

“I don’t care about his past,” I said. “Sterling’s my friend. He’s saved my life on multiple occasions.”

 

“Doesn’t really wipe away the people he doomed though, does it?”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“I know you know a lot about the Purge, Ernest. Did you ever hear about the Dark Duo’s inside man who helped them pull it off? What if I were to tell you that Sterling was that inside man?”

 

Cross slammed his fist down on the table. “That is enough, Jim,” he said. “If you have problems with MacDonald, take them up with me. I hired him because I trust him and know he’s a good man. I don’t know what kind of rumors you’ve heard, but I assure you, they’re false.”

 

Grandfather glanced at his bottle of ale and sighed. “Maybe I’ve had a little too much to drink,” he muttered.

 

I left after that. I found Sterling sitting on top of the wall, looking out over the empty plains. “Hey,” I said as I climbed up.

 

“Hey,” Sterling said.

 

“When we first met, you said that you made some mistakes when you were younger and ruined your reputation,” I said.

 

Sterling sighed. “It’s a long story,” he said.

 

“I’ve got time.”

 

Sterling looked at the night sky for a moment. “It’s a full moon tonight,” he said. “That’s funny. It was a full moon on the night before the Purge, too.”

 

“Grandfather said you were responsible for the Purge. Is that true?”

 

“The magic, the planning, the execution, I wasn’t a part of that. But I played my roll in it, I suppose.”

 

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?”

 

“The purge didn’t begin as a hurricane. It started with the flapping of a single butterfly’s wings, that grew into a nightmare. The King’s dead wife, Dietlinde, she belonged to a bloodline containing powerful magic. Black and Darkholme sacrificed her to begin the Purge.”

 

“And your role in all this?”

 

“Back then, I was a novice Captain. The queen was doing a tour of the Kingdom, visiting various villages damaged by the raids. My Squad was put in charge of guarding her. The night before the Purge, a mercenary hired by Darkhomle attacked us on the open road. I was the only member of my Squad he spared.”

 

“I’m sorry,” I muttered.

 

“After the Purge, the King didn’t take kindly to my survival,” Sterling said. “A lot of people thought I betrayed the Knights, that my survival was a gift from Darkholme for my cooperation. The King wanted to execute me for my crimes. Calvin, an old friend of mine, stopped him.”

 

“Did you betray the Knights?”

 

“Do you count failure as an act of betrayal?”

 

I placed my hand on Sterling’s. “Do you remember what I told you, when we woke up in the hospital? I told you that I’d help you restore your reputation,” I said. “I’m not about to break that pact because of a few mistakes.”

 

“You’re a good man, Ernest. You deserve better than me.”


© Copyright 2019 Casey Jarmes. All rights reserved.

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