Birdcage

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

Chapter 17 (v.1) - Chapter XVII - Tea, or: the cursed child

Submitted: September 10, 2019

Reads: 10

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Submitted: September 10, 2019

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I had mixed feelings about the events in Stonecage. The mission was, on a technical level, a success, in part thanks to my actions. The town was cleared of monsters and the mine was put back into use. But, a heavy toll came with this victory. A dozen knights were dead and one of the most dangerous men alive had resurfaced after years in hiding.

 

On a more personal level, it was hard to feel any sort of pride over my actions. I saw with my own eyes how deep the gap between me and Jericho Darkholme was. This man, a monster I swore to kill, was far stronger than I had realized.

 

He trounced me without any effort. Worse, I was left with the feeling that he wasn’t even trying. The way he joked around, with quips and sarcasm, it angered me. I wasn’t even worthy of his respect.

 

My injuries were minor, but Firebrand’s were severe. He lived, but only barely. I was told that he would be out of active duty for months. His wife thanked me when we returned to the Capital. I just stood there awkwardly, unsure what to say.

 

A week after we returned from Stonecage, Captain Cross requested I accompany him on an important meeting with the king. We entered the throne room. The throne was empty. “Where’s the king?” I asked.

 

“His majesty rarely spends time in the throne room, excluding ceremonies and similar events,” Cross said. “We’ll be meeting him in his tea room.”

 

The tea room was small and cramped, containing only a coffee table and a few chairs. A roaring fireplace sat in the corner, the only source of light in the dark room. The fire cast her shadow across the room. The king sat by the table, pouring three cups of tea. A woman in plate mail stood by the fire, her hand resting on a sheathed sword. She had short silver hair and glowing red eyes. Her name was Raia Reynolds and she was one of the King’s two retainers. I’d heard of her but never met her in person.

 

Cross and I bowed as we entered. “Please, stop bowing and have some tea,” the King wheezed.

 

We sat down by the king and he passed us steaming cups of tea. I took a sip and burned my throat. Cross blew on his cup while I struggled to hide the pain. “Thank you for the tea,” I said, holding in a cough.

 

The lava-like tea was refreshing, especially since I drank it in a cramped room next to a fireplace. I didn’t say anything about my discomfort; insulting the King felt like a bad idea. “I’m glad you brought the boy, Calvin,” the king said. “It’s always nice to praise my Knights in person.”

 

“Of course, my liege,” Cross said.

 

“I heard of Squad V’s performance during the reclamation of Stonecage,” the King said. “Calvin, you took out a powerful monster that could have ruined the mission.”

 

“I don’t deserve all of the credit, your majesty,” Cross said. “MacDonald and the Gemelo brothers played a big part in the victory.”

 

“Of course,” the King said. “As for you, young Zuckerman, you pursued Darkholme even as others fled and stopped him from killing Firebrand Johnson and destroying the Stonecage Mines.”

 

“He got away though,” I said.

 

“Seldom in life are we given absolute victories,” the King said. “Enjoy your win, you don’t know when the next one will arrive.”

 

“As much as I enjoy your praises, my king, I have a feeling that there are more important reasons you requested our presence,” Cross said.

 

The King sighed. “Unfortunately, you are correct,” he said. “I’d like to talk to you about a young man you fought four months ago, a warlock named Eric.”

 

“I remember him, he infiltrated the city using the name Roland Rice,” I said.

 

“Do you remember who was in charge of guarding the gate when Eric broke in?” Reynolds said from the corner.

 

“Calm yourself, Raia,” the King said. “Eric is a wily one. Most of our Knights would have fallen for his deception.”

 

“I wouldn’t have,” Reynolds mumbled.

 

“Besides, Squad V did an excellent fighting Eric considering their small numbers,” the King said.

 

“But, like with their fight with his father, they failed to keep him from escaping,” Reynolds said.

 

“His father?” I interjected.

 

“Yes, his father,” Cross said with a frown. “Eric is the son of Jericho Darkholme.”

 

“You didn’t tell me that when I fought him,” I said.

 

“It didn’t seem relevant at the time,” Cross said. “Besides, I didn’t want you tearing yourself up for failing to stop the son of that fiend.”

 

“How noble of you, deceiving your protege because you don’t trust him to keep his emotions in check,” Reynolds said. “Eric is not merely Jericho’s son, he is the inheritor of Jericho’s knowledge. Jericho taught his son everything he knew. All of his spells, all of his incantations, every dark art he could think of. Eric is every bit as dangerous as his father. And, much like his father, he has attempted to destroy this city.”

 

“Destroy is a bit of an exaggeration, Reynolds,” Cross said.

 

“How typical of you to downplay the actions of Eric,” Reynolds snapped. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you let him escape on purpose.”

 

“I assure you, any kinship I once felt for that boy has long since shriveled up,” Cross shot back.

 

“Kinship?” I repeated.

 

“Should you tell him, or will you?” Reynolds said.

 

Cross sighed. “Years ago, Eric was a student of mine,” he said. “This was before he dedicated himself to the dark arts and became an outlaw.”

 

“He was a student of yours?” I asked.

 

“Perhaps I should start at the beginning,” Cross said. “I first met Eric two weeks after the Purge. Back then, the Kingdom was still embroiled in chaos. So many people had died in an instant. We didn’t know Black and Darkholme were responsible, we just knew that the world as we knew it had ended.”

 

“Our mages figured out that the epicenter of the death wave was Blackhold, a city on the eastern border of Cieleta,” Cross continued. “I was sent to Blackhold to find out what had really happened. I found Eric in the home of Nathaniel Black, the nobleman in charge of the province. He’d been chained up in a basement for weeks without food and water, barely alive. Dark magic had been carved into Eric’s face, similar to the ones that collapsed the tunnel at Stonecage. Ones set to explode as soon as someone else came close to him.”

 

“Who could do that to their own son?” I said.

 

“Jericho Darkholme,” Reynolds said.

 

“I don’t think Jericho ever really cared about his son,” Cross said. “I think Jericho was always a demon pretending to be a man. I think he just pretended to be a normal man to further his goals. His son was just another way for him to come across as normal. When his plan failed, and the world was exposed to his cruelty, there was no reason to keep pretending. Eric had served his purpose.”

 

“Still, to do that to a child,” the King said.

 

“Jericho left Eric as a present to whoever figured out he was responsible for the Purge. A way to kill his son and those tracking him down in one fell swoop,” Cross said. “But, thanks to my Verse, Eric and I survived the blast. I brought him back to the Capital and treated his wounds.”

 

“A mistake that haunts us to this day,” Reynolds said.

 

“Perhaps in hindsight, but I refuse to apologize for saving a dying child,” Cross said. “Besides, Eric’s the one who told us who was responsible for the Purge. Without him, it’s possible we’d have pinned the whole thing on Nathaniel Black.”

 

“You said Eric was a student of yours?” I said, wanting to get the conversation back on track.

 

Cross sighed. “Eric was a troubled boy, as would be expected of a boy in his situation. He was brilliant, determined, creative. But, there was a darkness within him. A lust for the forbidden, a contempt for authority, and an obsession with the dark arts,” he said. “I took him under my wing and tried to steer him onto the right path. He lived with me for a year, during which I taught him how to fight. I had such high hopes for him. I dreamed of him becoming a knight, using his abilities to help people.”

 

“Then he killed one of my retainers in cold blood and fled the country to study the dark arts,” the King said.

 

“I failed Eric,” Cross said. “If I had tried harder, maybe I could have saved him. I stay up at night, wondering if I could have shaped Eric into a good man.”

 

“I disagree,” Reynolds said. “Eric is his father’s son. No matter what you did, he would have always taken this path.”

 

“I can’t accept that, Raia. I can’t accept that people are bound by the choices of their parents,” Cross said. “There was good in that boy’s heart, I know it.”

 

“It doesn’t matter what you thought of him as a boy,” Reynolds said. “What matters is what he is now. Four months ago he came to this city. Don’t pretend he won’t come back.”

 

“Can I ask a question?” I said quietly. “What was Eric after the day we fought him?”

 

“That is the topic at hand, young Ernest,” the King said. “In the tallest tower of this palace lies a priceless treasure: my young daughter.”

 

“I wasn’t aware that you had a daughter, your majesty,” I said.

 

“I don’t advertise it, especially after what happened to my wife,” he said. “Princess Theresa seldom leaves her room. For her own protection, of course. My wife was a member of a powerful magic bloodline. Jericho used her to start the Purge because of the power in her veins.”

 

“Four months ago,” I began, “Eric leaped from that tower-”

 

“My daughter was fine, thankfully,” the King said. “Eric only took a blood sample. But, he must have tested it by now. He’ll be back.”

 

“I agreed to watch over the princess while Johnson handled the reclamation project,” Reynolds said. “But, now that he’s unable to fight, someone has to take over his duties.”

 

“I have decided to send Raia to Stonecage and place Squad V in charge of protecting my daughter,” the King said.

 

“Against my recommendation, mind you,” Reynolds said.

 

“You want us to guard your daughter?” I asked.

 

“This job calls for a small but talented Squad,” the King said. “After your performance at Stonecage, I think Squad V is the best option.”

 

“Once again, I’d like to voice my objection to this decision,” Raia said. “I’ll admit, Cross is the best fighter in the Knights behind Firebrand and myself, but he is incapable of being objective when it comes to Eric. Zuckerman and the Gemelo twins are untrained, and we all know the problem with MacDonald.”

 

“Sterling has proven his dedication to this country time and time again,” Cross shot back.

 

“Your affection to traitors knows no bounds,” Reynolds said.

 

“Enough,” the King said. “I’ve made up my mind. Squad V isn’t perfect, but they’re the best option. Starting tonight, Cross, Zuckerman, and the Gemelo twins will take over guarding the princess.”

 

“And MacDonald?” Cross asked.

 

“Ultimately, Reynolds is right,” the King said. “I don’t trust him and don’t want him near my daughter.”

 

“You want us to fight without Sterling? I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” I said.

 

“Ernest, quiet. We’ll discuss this back at the barracks,” Cross said. “Thank you for the honor of this mission, your majesty.”

 

We finished our tea and headed back to the barracks. Cross explained the events of our meeting to Sterling and the twins. “So, the King doesn’t want me protecting his daughter?” Sterling said. “I can’t say I’m surprised.”

 

“There has to be a way to convince the King to change his mind,” I said.

 

“There isn’t,” Sterling said. “Besides, it isn’t worth trying to change his mind. You should take this opportunity and forget about me for a few weeks.”

 

“What are you going to do in the meantime?” I said.

 

“Think I’ll head to Stonecage, help with the mining,” Sterling said. “I’ll have to watch out for Reynolds, though. The mistrust is mutual.”

 

“As strange as it sounds, I hope Eric attacks soon so we can get this over with,” I said.

 

“Be careful with your wishes, you don’t know when they might come true,” Sterling said.


© Copyright 2019 Casey Jarmes. All rights reserved.

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