Swamped Chapter 17 Page 17

Three cousins.

You do know of three siblings in the Marshguards… or rather, two now. And now that it’s crossed your mind… there’s more than a little resemblance.

You kick him to the floor and step on his back.

“Let me take a little guess. Siblings. Two brothers and a sister. The brothers got in trouble and ran away from home, to here. Still kept in touch. Then their parents died. Am I getting close?”

“What the hell?”

“Because if they’re your cousins, you’ve got some nerve showing your face around here.”

“The hell is wrong with you? You don’t like me, fine, but at least tell me why.”

For whatever reason, maybe just because you need to get it off your chest, you tell him.

It was three years ago. Gods, you were in a bad place then.

Rider was chewing you out over something, no doubt deservedly. But then Spark and Lighter interrupted.

They’d gotten a message from their sister, abandoned after their parents died. She’d been turned away by their uncle, refused for some petty reason.

Not just refused. Forced away.

With nowhere else to turn, she said she was heading for the swamp. She couldn’t afford a carriage, so she was walking.

But the rain was coming. The annual storm. The boys hadn’t written about the rain before; hadn’t wanted to scare her. If she arrived, she might try to push through during the rain. And there was no chance of getting a crow back to her in time.

So they begged Rider to let them leave and try to catch her, even though the fortress was to be locked down later that day.

Rider refused. Said it was too dangerous. Told them it was a fool’s errand. Finished giving you an earful and left.

That’s when you stuck your goddamn nose into things. Between your anger at Rider, and the fact that you practically didn’t care if you got eaten by rainspawn at that point, you told them, hell with Rider, let’s save your sister.

You stole enough rations to last the rain, and knocked out three guards on your way out. Who knows how much that delayed the lockdown. You sure as hell didn’t care.

Reckless as you were, it all might have worked out if you hadn’t run into a Bogknight patrol as you headed for the edge of the swamp.

Their leader said you were in Bogknight territory, and with the rain so near, that meant it was best if you surrendered.

That wasn’t an option for Spark or Lighter. And you, you didn’t think a cell would offer the release you were after.

Lighter was the first to act. He struck the squad leader in the face and told you to run.

They were still fighting when you reached the underbrush. You heard the leader shout to his squad not to pursue; to leave it all to him.

Somehow, you made it out before the storm hit. You got caught in the rain, but it was on the periphery of the swamp, beyond where the rainspawn ventured. Far enough out to catch the girl as she arrived.

She didn’t remember her brothers that well, she’d been so young when they ran. At first she thought you were one of them.

But despite your ill state, you told her the truth. Told her of the dangers lurking in the rain, and that they had most likely claimed her brother.

She cried for days. She didn’t have much else to do as you waited for the rain to stop.

As for you, you spent every day of that month asking yourself “why didn’t I fight him instead of Lighter”. She deserved the company of both her brothers, not your worthless self.

She seemed to appreciate you, though. Called you “bird man”.

In time, though, it ended. And you made your way back.

Rider was furious. You took the fall; Spark had suffered enough from losing his brother. You were confined to quarters for a while, until Rider had calmed down and worked out a more suitable punishment.

When he finally let you out, he lead you down the corridor and told you that Spark wanted to be called Scratch now.

Scratch as in “nothing”. He wasn’t the same without his brother. Could barely even stand to look his own sister in the face; he thought he’d let her down.

You didn’t have anything to say to that.

Then Rider introduced you to your new squad. Said it was your job to get them in shape. You recognized a few of them; troublemakers, mostly.

And then he introduced the last member. You hadn’t noticed before, but you recognized her and lost it.

Then she told you her new name was Starling. Another bird. Holy hell, did she actually respect you? You didn’t deserve that.

Jackson just listens. Even after he’s heard what he wanted to know, he realized you needed to get this out.

“My father was a goddamn asshole,” he says, looking down at the ground. He’s ashamed, and you can tell because you’ve worn that same expression yourself many a time.

“I wasn’t even there when he kicked her out. I was in the navy, because I wanted to get away from him. Wasn’t in touch with his sister’s side of the family either, there was some falling out I never knew the details of. I only found out she and her partner died last year.”

“So Lighter’s death must be news to you, too.”

“I never knew him or his brother,” Jackson sighs. “But the main reason I came here was to find Starling. To extend the hand my father refused her. When I learned about the Bogknights, I signed up, hoping I might find some way to talk to her.”

“She’s a Marshguard now. I doubt she’ll leave the swamp. This is her family now.”

“Maybe. But I want to give her the choice.”

Goddamn you messed that up. You let your anger get the better of you. Why should this man take after his worthless father? Not everyone’s as bad as you at escaping the shadow of their parentage.

“Tell you what,” you say. “I’ll introduce you to Starling, on one condition. You may have noticed that reading material is a bit sparse around here.”

“That’s one word for it. Not many readers in the Marshguards?”

You’ve been working on improving that, but it’s true.

“Yeah. But we’ve got some avid readers around here who could always do with more. And from what I understand, you’ve got more books at your base.”

“Our medic’s got a small library. Archivist has a bigger one, though he’s not as willing to part with the books. So, what, you want me to get you a book when I get back? That’s your favor?”

“It’d help me out.”

Jackson shrugs.

“What’s the book called?”

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Suggestions:

actually let’s just set up a full underground book rental deal

 

Fall of Alexandria

Author’s Note:

I just realized I wasn’t explicit about who the Bogknight squad leader in the story was. Shouldn’t be hard to figure out, though.

When writing that backstory, I put the names down as “Spark and Lighter” because I thought that’s what the suggestion said, since they were thematically related. I’d written up a fair amount before realizing the suggestion was actually “Scratch”, so rather than correcting it and losing the thematic connection, I came up with an explanation for the name change. Which turned out to be pretty bleak.

We also learn here that, aside from Starling, Corvus’ squad was specifically made up of Marshguards who had been having trouble on other squads.