Birdcage

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

Chapter 18 (v.1) - Chapter XVIII - Princess, or: the cage in the sky

Submitted: September 10, 2019

Reads: 9

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Submitted: September 10, 2019

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The four of us climbed the winding spiral staircase of the tower, inching towards our new mission. “Are we close to the top yet?” Cas asked.

 

“I’d say we’re about halfway up,” Cross replied, eliciting a flurry of groans.

 

“Why is the stupid tower so high?” Pollux asked.

 

“To keep the princess safe from those who wish to harm her,” Cross said.

 

“Oh, I get it. It’s such a pain in the ass climbing these stairs that no kidnapper would dream of touching the princess,” Pollux said.

 

“Your complaints accomplish nothing,” Cross said. “Shut up and climb.”

 

We shut up and climbed. Eventually, we made it to the top of the tower. A metal door covered in locks sat atop the tower, a replacement for the wooden one Eric broke. A gate covered a small opening at the top of the door.

 

When I saw the door, it looked less like the door to a royals bedroom and more like the door to a cage. Reynolds stood in front of the locked door, arms crossed. “You’re late,” she snapped.

 

“The staircase took a bit longer to climb than we anticipated,” Cross said. He glanced at the twins, who were collapsed on the ground from exhaustion. “We can take over now.”

 

Reynolds kept her place in front of the door. “The princess is very important to his majesty. Under no circumstances shall harm come to her. Understood?” she said.

 

“Understood,” Cross replied.

 

“The princess is given food and water twice a day, brought up from the kitchen on the first floor of the palace. You pass this to her through this slot,” Reynolds said while gesturing to the grate on the door. “The previous guards kept a bench up here so they could rest during their shifts. I threw it down the stairs; I want you to be alert at all times.”

 

“That sounds great,” Pollux snarked.

 

“This door contains five locks. Each of you will be given a key, with the extra key going to Captain Cross. This door is to be opened only in the event of an emergency. At least two of you are to stay here at all times. To reiterate, if anything is to happen to-”

 

“We get it, Raia,” Cross said. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

 

“Can we open the door and meet the princess?” Cas asked.

 

Reynolds narrowed her eyes. “Why?” she asked.

 

“I mean, we’re going to be guarding her. It’d be nice to introduce ourselves, get a rapport going, that kind of thing.”

 

“Your job is to ensure the safety of this girl, not to befriend her,” Reynolds said. “I’d recommend keeping contact with her to a minimum. Personal connections will interfere with your ability to do your job properly.”

 

A faint melody drifted out from beyond the locked door and into my ears. “What is that?” I asked.

 

“A few years ago his majesty decided the princess should learn to play his favorite musical instrument: the piano,” Raia said.

 

“I feel bad for the guy who had to carry that thing up all those steps,” Pollux said.

 

“The princess often plays simple melodies to amuse yourself. I’d recommend ignoring it.”

 

“It’s beautiful,” I said.

 

“Personally, I find it to be grating.”

 

Suddenly, the music stopped. The scream of a young girl echoed through the top of the tower. Each of us drew our weapons. Each of us but Reynolds, that is. Reynolds simply sighed and glanced through the grate on the door.

 

“That was a scream,” I shouted.

 

“Yes,” Reynolds said while slowly pulling a key ring from her belt.

 

“The princess, is she okay?” Cas asked.

 

“I glanced through the grate. The princess is fine.”

 

Cross ran over and looked through the grate. “She’s lying on the floor, clutching her chest!” he said.

 

“Correct,” Reynolds said while undoing the first of the locks.

 

“That means she’s hurt!” Cas shouted.

 

“No, it means she’s lying on the floor clutching her chest,” Reynolds said while undoing another lock. “There is one more thing you need to know if you are going to guard the princess.”

 

Reynolds undid the final lock. Cross, the twins, and I burst through the door into the princess’s bedroom, tripping over ourselves and landing in a pile in the process. We glanced up to see the princess sitting at a small table, holding a metal teapot and metal cups.

 

“The princess lies,” Reynolds said.

 

“Hello, would you like a cup of tea?” the princess asked.

 

She was young, the same age as my sister. She wore a white dress with flowing sleeves that covered her arms. Long silver hair, tied into braids, hung down over her dress. One braid was far shorter than the others, a remnant of her meeting with Eric. Her skin was pale, untouched by the light of the sun.

 

“The princess has a long history of deceiving and manipulating guards into bringing presents for her, or worse, unlocking the door built for her protection,” Reynolds said. “Like I said, personal connections with the princess will interfere with your ability to do your job.”

 

“You know what my favorite thing about you is, Raia? The ability you have to talk about me as if I’m not sitting here,” the princess said.

 

“We’re leaving,” Raia said as she walked towards the door.

 

“Can you at least stay for tea? Pretty please?”

 

“I’d personally like to stay for tea,” Cas said.

 

“That’s great! We can have a wonderful tea party, just the two of us! And you know what the best part is? Mean old Raia isn’t invited.”

 

“I’m twenty-six,” Reynolds muttered.

 

“Reynolds, I don’t see any harm in us staying for just a moment,” Cross said.

 

Reynolds gritted her teeth. “Fine, but afterward you are to keep the door closed and locked at all times, understood?” she said.

 

Cross nodded. The four of us sat down on our knees by the small table. As the princess poured our four cups of tea, I glanced around the room. A bed sat against one wall of the room, covered in stuffed animals. A piano and bench sat by the other wall. A small bookshelf, covered in books with worn down covers, sat next to the piano. Across from the door, on the southern side of the room, lied a great window covered in metal bars.

 

“So, what are your names?” the princess asked.

 

“My name is Captain Cross-”

 

“No, it isn’t. That’s your soldier name. What’s your real name, the one your friends call you?”

 

Cross paused for a moment. “Calvin. The boys with me are Castor, Pollux, and Ernest,” he said, pointing at each of us as he said our names.

 

I took a sip of my tea and immediately gagged. I’d expected it to be like the tea the King served me, so hot that it burned every part of my digestive system. Instead, it was cold and thick.

 

“Sorry about the tea, Raia doesn’t let me have anything that I can use to make a fire up here,” the princess said.

 

“It’s fine,” I said, holding back my disgust. Cross and the twins put their cups down before taking a single sip. “That music you were playing earlier, it was very pretty.”

 

“Thank you. I learned it from a bird,” the princess said.

 

“A bird?”

 

“Sometimes songbirds perch outside the window. I learn from them.”

 

I glanced over to the window. “You must be able to see pretty far from that window.”

 

“Oh yes, I can see all of the kingdom from up here. Plains and forests, lakes and rivers, villages and wilderness, countless places I wish I could explore,” the princess said. She forced a smile. “Sometimes, before my father added the bars, birds would fly in and soar around my room. I’d give them names, pretend they were my friends.”

 

“Those bars, were those added after Eric tried to kidnap you?” Pollux asked.

 

“He didn’t try to kidnap me, he just wanted a sample of my blood.”

 

“Okay, were the bars added after Eric tried to take your blood?”

 

“No, they’ve been here forever. It’s a funny story, really. When I was younger, I told my father I wished I could be like a bird, and fly out that window to see the world. He, uh, didn’t interpret that very well and ordered the knights to put the bars up. They actually replaced them after Eric’s visit, so they’d be tighter.”

 

“Don’t worry, princess. We’ll make sure Eric never bothers you again!” Cas said.

 

The princess frowned. “That’s nice of you, I suppose,” she said.

 

“You don’t seem happy about that,” I said.

 

“No, it’s fine. It’s just, I was looking forward to Eric coming back, as strange as it sounds.”

 

“That’s crazy. Eric’s a pretty bad dude,” Cas said.

 

“I suppose he is,” the princess muttered.

 

“Princess, would you mind explaining why you pretended to be hurt earlier?” Cross interjected. The princess didn’t respond. “You must have heard our conversation with Reynolds, and known that she wasn’t going to let come in. Princess, did you scream to force us to open the door?”

 

“Does it matter?”

 

Cross sighed. “It must be very lonely, being locked away in this tower for so long. Your father made this choice for your safety, but I don’t think he thought about how it would make you feel,” he said.

 

“I’d be wary when talking about the king like that,” Reynolds shouted from the doorway.

 

The princess slammed the teapot down on the table. “No talking from people who aren’t part of the tea party!” she shouted.

 

“Eric is one of the only people you’ve spoken to in the past ten years, and the only one who isn’t your father or a knight tasked with keeping you imprisoned. To you, he’s something intriguing, an escape from the dull life in this tower. I’d imagine he was kind to you when you met him. That kindness is a facade. Eric is a dark mage, the son of the man who killed your mother and countless others. When he comes back, and he will come back, you mustn’t let him take you.”

 

“He was nice to me,” the princess muttered.

 

“Okay, this has gone on long enough,” Reynolds said as she charged into the bedroom. “This tea party, if you can call it that, is over.”

 

Reynolds drug us out of the princess’s room. The princess waved goodbye as we walked away. “Let’s talk again soon!” she said.

 

Reynolds slammed the door close. “I despise that girl,” Reynolds mumbled. “Manipulative little brat.”

 

“She’s a child, Raia. A child who has been put in a miserable position,” Cross said.

 

“You fell for that, didn’t you? The sob story about her wanting to be free, to endanger herself and this country our of childish whimsy? You aren’t the first. In the past, she has tricked ten different Knights into betraying their country and opening that door, knights I hand-picked because I believed they were strong enough to resist temptation. I suppose you’ll be number eleven, Calvin? You always were sentimental.”

 

“Do you really think locking her away like this is a good idea? For crying out loud, she’s so deprived of human contact that she’s willing to let Eric Darkholme kidnap her if it means leaving this tower. Isolating her like this, forbidding us from speaking to her, it’s cruelty.”

 

“This wasn’t my decision though, was it? It was her father’s decision. If you have a problem with how he raises his daughter, say it to his face.”

 

Reynolds tossed the keys to Cross and walked away. “One last thing,” she said as she disappeared from sight, “Don’t give her any sharp objects.”

 

---

 

“If you could eat all of the food you needed to eat for the rest of your life in one sitting, would you do it?” Cas asked.

 

“I’m not sure I understand the question,” his brother replied.

 

The three of us were sitting outside the princess’s door. Captain Cross had gone down to the kitchen to get her dinner. “Okay, imagine that there’s a giant table in front of you with all of the food you’re destined to eat,” Cas said. “Would you eat it?”

 

“It isn’t a question of if I would, I couldn’t eat that much food,” Pollux said.

 

“Your stomach is bottomless.”

 

“So, I’d get really fat, is what you’re implying,” Pollux said

 

“Also, wouldn’t the food get cold and nasty before you finished it?” I added.

 

“And your mouth muscles would get really tired, to the point where you wouldn’t be able to eat any more,” Pollux said.

 

“Also, would I still have to make food? If I picked up an apple, would it be transported back in time to this table?” I said.

 

“You guys are missing the spirit of the question! You don’t get full, you don’t get fat, you don’t get tired, the food doesn’t go bad. You eat now, you don’t ever have to eat again. Do you eat?”

 

“No,” Pollux said.

 

“What? Come on, think of all the time it would save!” Cas said.

 

“What time? Eating that much would take dozens of hours,” Pollux said.

 

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t have to eat ever again, so it’d save time in the long run.”

 

“It would take literally the exact same amount of time. The only difference is this way is disgusting.”

 

“I’m also going to say no,” I said. “I like cooking too much.”

 

“I’m going to say no, but not for the reason you think,” a voice said. We turned to see the princess looking at us from behind the grate.

 

“Why are you going to shoot down my wonderful idea?” Cas asked.

 

“People eat a relatively stable amount in a day. There is some variance, but not to the point where you wouldn’t be able to estimate how many days of food would be on that table,” the princess said. “This question isn’t about whether or not you’d like to eat like a pig, it’s about whether or not you’d like to know how long you have to live.”

 

Cas gulped. “I, uh, didn’t think of that,” he said.

 

“Imagine saying yes and seeing only a single apple on the table,” the princess said.

 

We all laughed at this morbid idea. “So, is this what you guys do all day? Stand around discussing unlikely hypotheticals?” the princess asked.

 

“I mean, we sometimes fight monsters. But yes, we mostly stand around doing nothing,” Cas said.

 

“Sounds wonderful,” the princess said.

 

“It isn’t really that special. We’re just doing what friends normally do,” Cas said.

 

“I’ve never had friends.”

 

“Oh, right.” Cas’s face turned red. “Tell you what, why don’t we be friends?”

 

“I thought Raia told you that you shouldn’t get close to me?”

 

“I may be speaking out of turn for saying this, and if I am I’m so sorry, but Raia’s an asshole,” Pollux said.

 

The princess laughed. “What do you do all day?” I asked.

 

“Watch the birds, play piano, pretend to have friends, that sort of thing.”

 

“I saw a bookshelf in your room, do you read a lot?” Cas asked.

 

“I used to, but I’ve read all them so many times I know them by heart,” the princess said. “There’s a library on the second floor of the palace that I’d love to go to, but I’m not allowed to leave my room.”

 

Cas grabbed Pollux and me by the shoulders and pulled us into a huddle. “Okay guys, I have a plan,” he said. “We need to get our new friend to this library asap.”

 

Pollux groaned. “Two minutes. She talked to you for two minutes and you already want to let her out,” he said.

 

“We aren’t going to leave the palace and we’ll be with her the whole time. Don’t think of it as letting her out of her room, think of it as moving her room.”

 

“We’ll get in trouble if we get caught,” I said.

 

“So?” Cas said. He pulled his key out of his pocket and stuck it in the lock.

 

“What do you think you’re doing?” Cross said. We turned to see him standing a few steps down from us, holding a tray full of food.

 

“Definitely not taking the princess to the library, sir,” Cas said.

 

Cross looked cross. “Okay, maybe we are, but only for a little bit so she can get some new books,” Cas said.

 

“What do you mean we?” Pollux said.

 

“Pollux, go to the library and get some books for the princess. Castor, give me your key. You clearly can’t be trusted with it,” Cross said.

 

Cas looked back into the grate and mouthed the word sorry.

 

---

 

One morning, Captain Cross helped the King up the spiral staircase to the princess’s room. Before long, Cross was forced to carry the older man over his shoulders. “Sorry about the inconvenience, Calvin. My legs aren’t quite what they used to be,” the King said.

 

“Think nothing of it, my liege,” Cross said, sweat pouring from his face.

 

The twins and I bowed as Cross carried the King up the final set of stairs. “At ease,” the King said as Cross sat him down. Cross collapsed by a wall and caught his breath. “Would you mind opening that door? I’d like to spend some time with my daughter.”

 

Cross tossed me his keys. Pollux and I opened the five locks and let the King into the bedroom. The princess hugged him as he stepped through the doorway. The two sat and talked for hours, the King telling story after story of the young girl’s mother. As the afternoon wound down, the princess began to play a song she wrote on the old piano. The king sat and smiled.

 

“You must be proud,” I said.

 

“I am,” the king said.

 

Then he noticed it, the stack of books Pollux had brought up from the library. He frowned. “Those aren’t your regular reading material,” he said.

 

The princess stopped playing. “Captain Cross got those for me,” she said quietly.

 

The king walked over and opened the pile. “Calvin, in the future I’d appreciate it if you asked me before bringing things to my daughter,” he said.

 

“I didn’t think it would be an issue, your majesty,” Cross said. “They’re just books.”

 

“Books can be dangerous, Calvin. Books can inspire unsafe ideas. Have your men take them down to my office, so I may read them and decide if they are appropriate for my daughter.”

 

The look the princess gave Cross at that moment haunted me for years. Without a word, she begged, through eyes barely holding back tears. Cross sighed. “Yes, your majesty. I get on that,” he said.

 

The princess hid in the corner of her room and cried after her father left.

 

---

 

“Pull harder,” Pollux said.

 

“Oh, shut up, I’m the one doing all the work,” I shouted back.

 

It was the morning after the King visited daughter. The four of us stood in the princess’s room, our arms wrapped around the bars on her window, pulling as hard as we could. “Why are you doing this?” the princess asked.

 

“Because I’m sentimental,” Cross muttered.

 

The bars gave way and the four of us fell over, landing in a big heap. Cross climbed to his feet and wiped the dust off his armor. “The King usually tells us in advance when he comes to visit, so we’ll be able to reattach the bars before he sees them,” Cross said. “This afternoon I’ll send one of the boys down to grab some new books for you.”

 

“You’ll be in big trouble if my father finds out.”

 

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

 

The princess walked over to the window and pushed it open. For the first time in years, she felt the breeze. A bird flew through the window and landed on her hand. “Thank you,” she said, tears of joy running down her face.


© Copyright 2019 Eugene Conard. All rights reserved.

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