Birdcage

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

Chapter 8 (v.1) - Chapter VIII - Gate, or: the meeting of future friends

Submitted: June 19, 2019

Reads: 30

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Submitted: June 19, 2019

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“Would you rather have really big feet or really big hands?” I asked.

 

Sterling leaned back against the gate and scratched his head. “Define really big,” he said.

 

“Like, five times as big.”

 

“Five times as long or five times as heavy?”

 

“Does it matter?”

 

“Just trying to make sure I know what we’re discussing. Although, if I’m going to be honest, the answer is the same in both scenarios: Really big feet.”

 

“Really? Wouldn’t that make walking difficult?”

 

“Really big hands would make nearly every activity difficult. I wield a bow for a living, you can’t shoot arrows with oversized hands.”

 

“Can't you just get a bigger bow?”

 

“That isn’t how archery works. Besides, if it's too inconvenient, I can just cut off the extra parts of my feet. I can’t cut off parts of my hands without making them useless.”

 

“Damn, that’s hardcore,” I said with a laugh.

 

Sterling and I were standing by the gate located on the wall of the Capital, guarding it. We did a lot of guard duty in those days. Not the most glamorous of occupations, but one we gladly took. It was six months after the tunnels incident and three months after Sterling and I had returned to active duty.

 

At any given moment, a large portion of the Knights could be found guarding the wall. Some by the gate, some patrolling atop the wall, and some outside, striking down the monsters who came near the Capital. Due to our membership problem, we on Squad V spent most of our days doing guard duty.

 

Some days, like the day where Sterling and I had our conversation about oversized appendages, Captain Cross worked with us. But, when he was busy with paperwork or meetings, it was just me and Sterling. I have a lot of wonderful memories from those days, from before we began taking on real missions.

 

Guard duty, especially front gate duty, isn’t extremely interesting. Sterling and I spent most of our time talking, playing word games and discussing hypothetical scenarios. Hence, the hands and feet question. “Which would you chose, by the way?” Sterling asked.

 

“I’d go with giant hands,” I said. “I bet I could do some serious damage if my fists were the size of a boulder. Besides, more people notice big hands than big feet.”

 

The gate was ten feet tall and twelve feet across. It was made of crossing wooden bars. Two stone towers sat on either side of the gate, containing mechanisms to open and close it. Captain Cross climbed down from one of the towers holding a small telescope.

 

“See any monsters?” Sterling asked as Cross walked up to us,

 

“I spotted a few sandcrawlers down by the river,” Cross said.

 

“Should we go stop them?” I asked.

 

Cross shook his head. “No, I’ll tell Squad VII and let them handle it,” he said. “If you want something to do, you can deal with the merchants congregating by the fountain again.”

 

I looked away from the gate. I squinted and managed to see some tables and people around the fountain. I sighed. “Sure, we can handle it,” I said.

 

Sterling and I made our way to the large fountain in the center of town, an ornate marble fountain created as a memorial to the late queen of Cieleta. Small tables covered in goods surrounded the fountain. Sterling climbed on top of one of the tables, knocking over a pile of books in the process.

 

“Excuse me,” Sterling said from atop the table. “This area is not intended to be used as a marketplace, by decree of the King. Seriously, people, this is the third time this week we’ve had to tell you people this.”

 

The people in the market ignored Sterling and continued shopping. Sterling rolled his eyes, hopped off the table, and placed his hands on the fountain. With his Verse, he altered the shape of the fountain so it sprayed water down on the merchants and shoppers. Most of them shrieked and ran away.

 

An egg flew through the air and hit Sterling in the face. Without a word, Sterling wiped off the raw egg and scanned the crowd, searching for the culprit.

 

Sterling fixed the fountain and walked over to a table covered in old weapons and tools. A boy in a cyan stocking cap and patchwork clothes sat behind the table, smiling as water from the fountain dripped down from his nose and splattered on the table. “Is there something I can help you with?” he asked.

 

Sterling glanced behind the boy in the cyan hat. Another boy sat behind him on a crate, this one wearing an orange hat. The boy in the orange hat peeled a hard-boiled egg, ignoring Sterling’s stares. Soaked pieces of firewood, a pot of water, and a basket of eggs sat in front of the boy in an orange hat.

 

The boy in the cyan hat moved his head, blocking off Sterling’s view of his brother. “We sell used tools and weapons at prices much lower than local blacksmiths,” he said. “Also, we’ve started selling hard-boiled eggs as of last Tuesday. It’s a funny story, really, this lady needed to by a pan but didn’t have any money, but she owned some chickens and had a ton of eggs. We tried eating them all, but we got sick of eggs-”

 

“You there, in the orange hat, what’s your name?” Sterling said.

 

“That’s my brother, Pollux,” the boy in the cyan hat said. “Don’t call him Polly though, he gets mad. He usually lets me do all the talking because I’m better with customers. I’m Cas, by the way.”

 

“A few minutes ago, I was hit in the head by an egg,” Sterling said.

 

Pollux looked up from his egg. “Interesting,” he said.

 

Sterling narrowed his eyes. “I see that you have a basket full of eggs right there,” he said.

 

“Do I? Quite frankly, I hadn’t noticed. I was too distracted by the sudden rainstorm soaking my clothes and ruining my fire.”

 

Sterling narrowed his eyes. “I don’t like you,” he said.

 

I walked up and put my arm around Sterling’s shoulders. “What’s going on here?” I asked.

 

“Just talking to a pair of merchants,” Sterling replied.

 

“We sell all kinds of armor and weaponry. I’m sure we have something that Knights like you two could use,” Cas said with a cheery smile.

 

I picked up a rust covered sword. “This sword seems to be very...nice,” I said. “Where did you get it?”

 

“People in this city have a really bad problem with throwing junk in the river,” Cas said. “We fish it out, shine it up, and sell it. Really, we’re doing a public service.”

 

“That’s nice, but the king doesn’t like merchants setting up shop by the fountain,” I said. “We’ve told you before to sell your goods somewhere else.”

 

“There isn’t really anywhere else we can go,” Cas said with a pout. “The market district still hasn’t been rebuilt after that sinkhole swallowed it up. Besides, we’ve been doing this for months. Why is it only a problem now?”

 

“You have an hour to leave. Otherwise, Sterling’s going to turn on the rain again,” I said as Sterling and I walked away. “Also, don’t throw eggs at people.”

 

“They’ll be back tomorrow,” Sterling said as we walked away.

 

“Think on the bright side. It’ll give us something to do instead of just standing by the gate all day,” I said.

 

Sterling and I made our way back to the gate. I climbed up one of the guard towers and stared out at the world beyond the walls, at the wide-open world I hadn’t left ventured out into since my mother died. I stared at the fields of overgrown plants and fortifications built to deter monsters. I stared at the river that ran along the edge of the city, once used to ship goods throughout the kingdom, nearly abandoned after the Purge.

 

And, in the distance, I saw a cart filled with goods speeding towards the castle, pulled by two horses. I grabbed Captain Cross’s telescope and zoomed in on the cart. A man in blue armor sat on the cart, covered in blood and clutching his arm. I looked behind the cart and saw a dozen red-eyed wolves chasing behind the cart, teeth gnashing.

 

I jumped down from the guard tower. “Open the gate!” I shouted.

 

“Calm down, what’s going on?” Captain Cross said.

 

“There’s a man outside the wall,” I said.

 

Cross looked out through the gate. “That isn’t good,” he muttered.

 

In the distance, the wolves descended on the man’s cart. The man pulled a knife from a box and cut his horses loose. A few of the wolves switched targets and chased after the fleeing horses.

 

The man rummaged through the boxes in the back of the cart as it slowed down. One of the wolves jumped onto the cart right as the man pulled out a match and a bottle of oil. Striking the match, the man smothered the cart and wolf in flames, leaping off to avoid being burned.

 

“What are we waiting for? We need to open the gate!” I shouted.

 

“We can’t let monsters into the Capital,” Cross snapped back. “The smoke from the burning cart will catch the attention of one of the Squads patrolling the wall. They’ll handle the wolves.”

 

“By the time they get here, that man will already be dead!”

 

The man ran from the flaming cart. Most of the wolves ran in the opposite direction, scared by the flames. But three wolves chased after the man, unphased by the inferno. One of them pounced and sunk its teeth into the man’s arm.

 

“He’s dying, Captain,” I said.

 

An arrow flew through the gate and struck the mauling wolf in the center of its skull. I turned to see Sterling holding his bow. “It’s your call, Captain,” he said. “I can buy him some time from back here, but he will die if we don’t let him in.”

 

Cross sighed. “Ernest, climb the guard tower and be ready to lift the gate when, and only when, I give you the signal,” he said. “Sterling, keep shooting. I’ll deal with anything that gets through myself.”

 

The man kept running, drawing closer and closer to the gate. The two remaining wolves grew closer and closer to the running man. “Open the gate!” he yelled.

 

I reached the top of the guard tower and began turning the crank to lift the gate. Inch by inch, the gate began to rise. “Crank harder!” Cross shouted.

 

Sterling got down on his knees and placed his hands on the ground. Using his verse, he created a pair of stone hands that lifted the gate enough for the man to slide through. As he slid under the wooden bars of the gate, two wolves rushed through after him, slipping through before Sterling could destroy the hands.

 

Cross sprung to action, striking one of the wolves with his lance and instantly turning it to dust. I jumped from the tower and swung my sword down on the final wolf, cutting off its head.

 

Sterling, Cross, and I all walked over to the injured man. “Thanks,” he said in between heavy breaths.


© Copyright 2019 Casey Jarmes. All rights reserved.

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