Birdcage

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

Chapter 7 (v.1) - Chapter VII - Recover, or: the pact I made

Submitted: June 19, 2019

Reads: 24

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Submitted: June 19, 2019

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A few days later, I finally woke up. Every inch of my body felt like shit. Fortunately, I wasn’t in the crypt. Some knights had found me and brought me to the temple, where the clerics tended to my wounds using their magic.

 

The first thing I saw when I woke up was MacDonald, lying in the bed next to mine. His legs were covered in casts and his face was covered in bruises, but he was alive. “Hey,” I muttered. “How bad do you feel?”

 

“About as bad as you look,” he replied.

 

I glanced down at my own body. My armor had been stripped away and most of my body was wrapped in bandages. My right arm was covered in a thick cast and suspended from the ceiling. One of the clerics, a girl shrouded in a white hood, knelt next to me holding a staff. Silently, she summoned healing energy and directed it into my busted arm.

 

“That bad?” I joked.

 

The cleric finished healing my arm. “Try moving your fingers,” she said.

 

With some effort, I managed to make a fist. “Is that good?” I asked.

 

Instead of answering, she brought her staff down on my arm, striking it as hard as she could. I yelped as pain shot through my body. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I yelled.

 

She hit me in the arm again. “Stop hitting me in the arm!” I shouted.

 

The cleric paused for a moment before striking me in the shin. “That wasn’t what I meant,” I yelped.

 

“You’re such an asshole,” she said. “Going and getting yourself hurt like that. Nobody knew if you were going to live.”

 

At that moment, I finally saw the face beneath the hood, a face so similar to mine. A face with green eyes full of tears surrounded by blonde curls. “Grandpa and I’ve been so worried, Ernest,” she said.

 

“I’m sorry, Anna,” I said before she struck me once more.

 

“I take it the two of you know one another?” MacDonald said.

 

“MacDonald, it’s my absolute pleasure to introduce you to my younger sister,” I said. “She’s been training with the clerics for a few months now.”

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” MacDonald said.

 

“Yeah whatever,” Anna said. “What the hell were you thinking, Ernest, agreeing to go down into monster-infested sewers on your first day? You should have waited for them to train you or something.”

 

“If I may interject for a moment, Ernest fought admirably in the tunnels,” MacDonald said. “He’s still here for a reason.”

 

“Is that reason dumb luck?” Anna shot back.

 

Sister Nancy walked into the infirmary. “It seems the two of you are feeling better,” she said. “How do you feel?”

 

“I felt better before Anna started hitting me with her staff,” I said.

 

Nancy sighed. “Anna, I’ve told you about this kind of behavior before,” she said.

 

“I was going to heal him eventually,” Anna said.

 

Sister Nancy sent Anna away. “She’s a skilled healer, but it seems her bedside manner is something we’ll need to work on,” she said.

 

“Believe me, I know,” I said.

 

Nancy walked over and placed her hands on my arms. “The injuries the two of you sustained in the catacombs was substantive,” she said. “We’ve managed to stabilize you, but it will take several months of pain before you’ll be able to fight again, if you even want to.”

 

“I’ve been through worse,” MacDonald said.

 

“Perhaps. Regardless, I wish you luck on the recovery process. May the holy mother watch over you,” Nancy said.

 

Nancy left to go tend to some other patients, leaving me and MacDonald alone. “So, we’ve got a break from fighting,” I said, trying to start up a conversation.

 

“I suppose we do,” MacDonald replied.

 

“I’m not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, I really don’t want to have to face another ogre anytime soon. On the other hand, I have a feeling we’ll end up doing something boring like paperwork or cleaning for the Knights once we’re healthy enough to go back.”

 

“Assuming they want us back, of course.”

 

“What do you mean?” I asked.

 

“The Knights don’t exactly have a track record of being friendly to the sole survivors of massacres. It’s likely that there are those out there who will label us as cowards, or perhaps even traitors who killed our own squad mates,” MacDonald said bitterly.

 

“That’s absurd, who could believe something so obviously untrue?” I asked.

 

“Your naivety is charming.”

 

“The knights will take us back. They have to.”

 

“Perhaps. Of course, that raises another question: do you even want to return to the knights? You’ve seen first hand the horror that we endure. No one would blame you for wanting to quit.”

 

“I can’t do that. I need to be part of the knights.”

 

“Why?”

 

I sighed. “Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a hero,” I said. “I wanted to slay monsters and fight dark mages and make the world a better place. I wanted to avenge those who died in the Purge. I wanted to fight for the greater good like my father and grandfather before me. The knights are the only way I can accomplish that dream.”

 

Captain Cross arrived not long after MacDonald and I had our talk. Part of me expected for him to be angry at me and MacDonald for failing to protect the rest of Squad V. Instead, he was just sad. I think something inside him broke a little when he heard that Squad V had perished.

 

“I blame myself for what happened,” he said in a quiet voice. “I could have protected you two if I had been there.”

 

“It isn’t your fault, sir,” I said.

 

“No, it is. I should have sent scouts into the tunnel to make sure it was safe. I should have asked another Squad to accompany you. I should have been there instead of sitting in on some stupid meeting. There are a million things I could have done that could have prevented this.”

 

Cross got down on his knees. “I’m so sorry,” he said.

 

“Get off your knees, soldier,” a voice said from the doorway.

 

Cross turned around to see Anna and my grandfather standing in the doorway of the infirmary. “It isn’t fitting for the Captain of Squad V to wallow on his knees and beg for forgiveness,” Grandfather said. “Captains are supposed to command respect, to be someone their troops can look up to.”

 

“To be fair, there isn’t really much of a Squad left to look up to him,” Anna quipped.

 

“Nonsense. I see two fine soldiers right here.”

 

Grandfather walked over and placed his hand on my shoulder. “It’s good to see that you’re awake,” he said. “I would have come sooner, but the clerics wouldn’t let me in until you were stable.”

 

“It’s fine,” I said.

 

“I take it your first day didn’t go that well?” he said.

 

“No, not really,” I said.

 

“Welcome to being a Knight,” he said. “You get the shit beat out of you, you watch people die, and you pray that you don’t join them. But, even as I say that, I have a feeling you still want to be a knight, don’t you?”

 

“Yes,” I said.

 

Grandfather sighed. “I’m starting to regret teaching you how to fight,” he said.

 

“Honestly, your teachings saved my life. Well, your teachings and MacDonald, if I’m going to be honest.”

 

Grandfather turned and looked at MacDonald. “You’re MacDonald, I assume?” he said.

 

“That’s correct,” MacDonald said.

 

“Thank you for protecting my grandson.”

 

Grandfather scratched his chin. “MacDonald, where do I know that name from?” he muttered.

 

I turned and looked at Captain Cross. “Captain, I wouldn’t mind staying on your Squad, if you’d let me,” I said.

 

Cross sighed. “I’m flattered,” he said, “But I don’t know if that will be possible. Firebrand is going to be stopping by soon, and I have a feeling he’ll relieve me of my command.”

 

Ten minutes later, Firebrand showed up to talk to Cross. “Calvin, would you mind meeting with me in the hallway?” he said.

 

“There’s no reason to keep this private,” Grandfather said. “I have a feeling what you’re about to say will affect these boys as much as it affects Calvin.”

 

“Fine,” Firebrand said. “We’re dissolving Squad V.”

 

“What?” I yelled.

 

“Relax, kid. You aren’t fired, you’re just going to be moved to a new Squad. As for Cross, he’ll be placed on administrative leave until we figure out what we want to do with him.”

 

“But, Captain Cross hasn’t done anything wrong!”

 

Firebrand rubbed his temples. “Look, kid, I know you mean well, but Squad V is gone,” Firebrand said. “You can’t have a Squad without any members.”

 

“There are still three of us,” I said.

 

“Ernest, let it go,” Cross said. “I’m not thrilled about this, but it’s something that has to happen.”

 

“We can rebuild it, we can get new members,” I said.

 

“I can’t move members of other Squads to Squad V, and I’m not about to give you every single new recruit,” Firebrand said.

 

“We can find our own members,” I said.

 

“That would work,” Cross said.

 

Firebrand sighed. “You know what? Fine,” he said. “Squad V can stay. You won’t get any new recruits, and we’ll only give you bottom tier missions, but you can stay if it’s so important to you.”

 

Firebrand left, annoyed. Captain Cross offered me his hand. “Thank you, Ernest,” he said. “That was a kind thing to do for someone you just met.”

 

“My grandfather said you were a good friend of his, that means your a good person,” I said. “Besides, it didn’t seem right for the great Squad V to end like this.”

 

Anna, Cross, and my grandfather stayed for several hours, chatting with me and MacDonald. Eventually, Sister Nancy sent them away, saying MacDonald and I needed our rest. “Can I ask you a question?” I said to MacDonald.

 

“Go ahead,” he said.

 

“You never said if you would stay with Squad V or not.”

 

“No, I didn’t.”

 

“Well, are you?”

 

MacDonald ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. “I’ll stay,” he said.

 

“Why?” I asked.

 

“Loyalty to Calvin is part of it, I suppose. Then again, it’s not like I have much of a choice. It’s not like any of the other Squads are exactly jumping to recruit me.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“To make a long story short, I made some mistakes when I was younger. My reputation with the Knights isn’t stellar. I’ve been working to make things right for a long time now.”

 

“Why don’t we help each other? I want to be a hero, you want to redeem your reputation. Our goals aren’t that different. We’ll have an easier time if we make a pact to work together.”

 

I sat up and offered MacDonald my hand. “Together?” I asked.

 

He smiled and shook my hand. “Together,” he said.

 

I leaned back in my bed. “It’s Sterling, by the way,” MacDonald said.

 

“What’s sterling?”

 

“My name. You asked down in the tunnels.”

 

I grinned. “You know, Sterling, I think this’ll be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 

There is not a single man who has affected my life more than Sterling MacDonald. That mysterious archer with the messy black hair and that old bow was always behind my side, through good times and bad.


© Copyright 2019 Casey Jarmes. All rights reserved.

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