This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table
-Alistair Vermilion, 17 years old-
A year had passed since I had last seen Vell as well as a glimpse of someone who I thought was Fior… but I didn’t expect to see either of them this year. This year’s festival, I would be by my lonesome, something that hadn’t happened since I met the two nine years ago.
Ahhh… what can I even say to them if I happen to run into them? I was the one to cast Fior away, and in turn, was cast away by Vell due to my inability to handle my issues back home… It’s all my fault, isn’t it? I thought, lying face-up on my bed.
Looking at the clock on my wall, I despaired, as there remained two hours until the door to Japan would open. There would be no point in spending time in the hangar; I had long run out of materials to craft with, and there was no replenishing the stash, as even the purveyor assigned to me had fled the castle. What remaining fuel I had, I had put into the tank of the Vassar pre-emptively, in case of…
“Yes?” I called out.
“I have what you requested ready, young master!”
I dragged myself off the bed, an act that took more effort than should have been necessary, and opened the door to see Olivia on the other side. In her hands, she held a handmade duffel bag, something I had asked her to sew for me in her already sparse free time.
“Thank you so much. I know you’ve had your hands full recently with all the other maids leaving, and -”
“Don’t worry about it. I am staying here of my own volition, and am aware of the risk.” She began to curtsy, but I stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
“You don’t need to do that… It’s only a matter of time before the rebellion faction decides they want to storm the castle, anyways. By now… the monarchy is nothing more than an empty shell, so I can’t really say that there’s any difference in our statuses,” I said quietly.
“O-ok.” She hesitated, then completed the curtsy, disregarding my attempt to treat her as an equal.
“... So how’s Elizabeth?” I asked. Elizabeth had been one of the maids to leave the castle earliest, and I didn’t blame her. From snippets of conversation I had overheard, she was working to provide for her siblings that lived downtown, and she couldn’t afford to be caught up in the coup when it happened.
“She’s fine, although her letters have slowly waned.”
“Oh. I see. Well, that’s good.”
The castle shook once violently and suddenly, interrupting our conversation. Hurrying to the windows, I could see dark smoke billowing from the castle gates - the insurrectionists had decided today would be the day to pull off the coup. Since many of the guards had quit as well, there was no doubt that they would be roaming the halls of the castle soon.
How the hell did they get explosives, anyway? The commoners shouldn’t have access to things like that, unless...
Taking hold of Olivia’s wrist, I pulled her into my room and closed the door.
“Young master, this is hardly the time to be- why are you moving your nightstand?” she asked, flustered at first.
I ignored her and flipped the switch, unlocking the hatch to the hangar. Turning the wheel to open the hatch, I motioned for her to follow me down the ladder. As soon as I reached the floor of the hangar, I scrambled to get my toolbox, picking out a small pocket knife and a bag full of bolts and nuts, and put them in the back pocket of my pants.
Wide-eyed and slack-jawed, Olivia stared at the Vassar, a machine whose design was completely alien to the people of Redjuve, in amazement. “Y-you had this down here all along? Wait, how did you make this? And how did you keep this secret?”
“You should’ve noticed earlier. Didn’t you and Elizabeth talk about the soot stains on my clothing before?” Checking the fuel gauge, I verified that there would be barely enough gas to get to the mainland in favorable conditions. “Alright. You stay here until I return.”
“What? Are you not going to stay safe down here?” she protested as I began climbing up the ladder back to my room.
“The Vassar has room for one more person… I’ll try to see if I can get my father to safety,” I replied, closing the hatch and sealing her in.
Easing the door slightly open and determining that the hall was void of any rebels, I closed my fist tightly and gritted my teeth. As brave as I had tried to appear to Olivia, throwing myself into the fray was nerve-wracking. While I had brought along tools to escape capture, there was no doubt that all eyes would be on Father in his office, and my escape wouldn’t be guaranteed.
Deep breaths, Alistair. Deep breaths. In, and out. In, and out.
Alright. Let’s do this.
I dashed into the open hallway, where I could see a large mob streaming through the castle gates. With the pillar of smoke continuing to rise, there was no doubt that someone of significant standing would be guiding them. In that case, they would have a direct route through the castle, without having to navigate the castle they had never visited.
With an uncontrollably wide turn, I sped into the hall where Father’s office was… which was surprisingly empty. Had they really not reached it yet? Had they chosen a different target to strike first?
“Father! Are you there?!” I shouted at the closed doors.
There was a moment of silence before I heard a voice shout in reply, “Don’t come in! It’s a-”. Before I could react, something punched a hole through the thick wood and grabbed me by the collar.
“Kukuku, the rat that I thought would walk around our trap instead dived straight in? What fun!” shrieked Viscount Marbesias, who grasped me tightly with a mechanized gauntlet. “Men! Tie him up!”
Tch. It was a trap.
Going through the other, unbroken door panel, two rebels approached me with rope and tied my wrists together. The Viscount, with his other hand, reached around the door, and pulled me into the room, where several other rebels were lying in wait. Tied up in the back of the room was Father, who had been roughed up, evident by the black eye and cuts on his face.
“Alistair! Are you okay?!” he shouted, his eyes full of genuine concern.
“Throw him in that corner of the room,” ordered the Viscount, pointing at the opposite corner of the room from Father. The rebels moved me into place with a kick, knocking the wind out of my lungs.
“Kuh- Why are you doing this? What did the monarchy ever do to you?” I pleaded, trying to appeal to any sense of logic the rebels had.
Unfortunately for me, they stayed silent as the Viscount laughed evilly, twirling his moustache. “You’re just in time - the Duke will be arriving soon, and he’ll explain everything to you.”
As he waited for Duke Westoff to arrive, I tried to evaluate the situation, looking around the room. There were five rebels, each equipped with rope but no weapons. Their eyes weren’t hardened and stern - these were civilians, not soldiers of fortune. What reason they had to rebel against the monarchy, I still didn’t know, even after two years of thinking.
Soon, the Duke arrived, dragging along with him a maid bound with rope. As soon as he saw Father and I, tied up and unable to move, he sneered, and motioned with his hands. The rebels in the room tossed her to a corner as well, this time the one closest to the door.
“Ahh… What a wonderful day to be your last, no?” he asked, gazing out of the window in the office. “The skies are blue, the seas are calm, and,” he glanced at Father, “the streets will be stained red.”
“Wha- surely, you don’t mean to execute us today, will you?”
“Oh, but I will! Not here, though - the execution will be public, so that the commoners of Redjuve can see that a new era is beginning!” He cackled a bit, then coughed into his handkerchief. “Apologies, my health has hit a few speed bumps recently, though I’m sorry to say that I’ll still be healthier than you at the end of the day.”
Through gritted teeth, I growled at the Duke, “For what reason are you performing this coup? Surely, you have no discontent with the monarchy? I don’t believe that the royal family has ever wronged yours, or any of the nobility, for that matter!”
“You don’t believe…?” He turned to the Viscount and waved his hand, who led the rebels out of the room. “Well, now that we’re alone, I suppose I can tell you. After all, you two won’t be around to ruin everything after today.”
Pacing around the room and fiddling with his ugly suit, he spoke. “You see, you’re right in that the monarchy has yet to wrong the nobility. So why would we possibly rebel?” He stopped in front of me and rubbed his fingers together.
“Money, of course.”
“Money? Why could you possibly want money? As the owner of one of the big factories, your pockets are lined with gold - surely, you should be satisfied?” Father asked in complete disbelief.
“Oh, but it isn’t enough! You see, I have plans. Plans much larger in scale than my measly factory. To achieve these plans, I need more money than I could ever make with the way things are now - and to get that money, I needed the king out of the way.”
“And why would the king being out of the way make you more money?” I inquired.
“Well, the royal administration handles all trade with the outside, right? If I could sell directly to foreign countries, well, I would be able to sell everything at a higher price, would I not? And,” he grinned, “there’s the Clockwork Palace as well. If I could put all those engineers to work making money for me, instead of making random inventions that wouldn’t sell, that would be more efficient, no?”
A lightbulb lit up in his head, and he continued to speak. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to tell you this, but those rumours of weapons? I made those. Trading a large shipment of weapons would be difficult to sneak past the ports, but a couple suitcases of firearms? Easily smuggled on dinghies to the mainland. Even the Coast Patrol has its cracks.”
“You son of a b-” I tried to scream, but the Duke quickly slapped a piece of tape onto my mouth.
“Shut it, pesky rat. I am tired of your drivel.”
Shit! I should have noticed that he was acting suspicious a year ago… but even if I did, would I have acted? Paralyzed and demoralized by the idea that Redjuve could be exporting weapons, would I have been able to find the motivation to confront the Duke?
As the Duke looked away, watching through the window as chaos unfolded around the castle grounds, I fumbled behind my back for the pocket knife. I flipped it open and began cutting at my ropes. Once I was done, however, I realized something.
Tch… Father is too far away. If I try to cut his ropes too, the Duke will have restrained me, or even worse, he’ll call the rebels that might still be outside. Then my fate will be sealed. Olivia can’t operate the Vassar - she’ll be stuck, starved to death in the hangar, unable to survive within the castle.
However, Father looked into my eyes and caught onto what I was planning. Smiling warmly, he began to mouth some words.
Escape. Without. Me.
I felt a pang of guilt as I realized that even though he was rarely around to be with me when I was a child, he was still trying to protect me. If I had felt any of this parental love when I was a kid… would I be as lonely as I was?
Nevertheless, I had to escape. Casting away the sliced ropes onto the floor and making a break for it, I shot one last glance at Father and seared it into my mind. The memories of him in my mind were scarce; all I could hope was that I would never forget that warm smile of his in that moment.
“So the rat flees…” cackled Viscount Marbesias, who was waiting outside the door “Men, get him!”
Reaching into my back pocket, I threw the nuts and bolts at their eyes, causing the rebels to stop for just a moment - but just a moment was enough. I had managed to gain enough of a lead on them that all I had to do was pray that there were no more in wait up ahead.
Fortunately, my prayers rang true as the path was clear. Arriving at my room, I slammed the door closed and fumbled to get to a coil of wire that I had laid by the nightstand. A quick couple of turns around the doorknob with the wire formed a makeshift lock - hopefully it would keep the rebels at bay for long enough before I managed to fire up the Vassar.
A crestfallen Olivia awaited me when I finished my descent of the ladder. “... So I take it that you were unable to save His Royal Highness?”
All I could do was shake my head with a downward gaze, before moving quickly to turn on the Vassar’s engine. The air in the hangar began to warm as the engine roared to life, a comforting sound. However, just having barely enough fuel to reach the mainland, I had to hurry. Motioning to Olivia to climb into the cranny behind the seat, I opened the hangar door, causing the sea breeze to flood in. Usually I would stop to breathe deeply, but now was not the time.
I climbed into the cockpit and gripped the joysticks tightly, knowing that this would be my last flight with the Vassar. As a fugitive with no money on him, there was no way I would be able to refuel on the mainland. I would have to abandon this project that I had worked so hard to complete.
As the Vassar achieved take-off, I immediately had to take it in a sharp turn around, as the hangar was on the side of the island away from the mainland. To get to the mainland, I would have to fly over Redjuve… one last bird's-eye view. However, just moments later, I saw something fly past the cockpit, just narrowly missing the left wing.
A bird? No, birds fly in flocks…
Another one streaked past, this time almost striking the tail fin.
If it isn’t a bird… then it has to be…
A third projectile came flying at the Vassar, this time forcing me to dodge and lose altitude.
Artillery… How did they prepare this in advance? There’s no way they should’ve known that I would be escaping via the air… Nevermind that, I can’t just dodge forever… I have to get going before they -
Before I could finish my train of thought, a fourth, fifth and sixth missile approaching forced me to lurch upwards violently to dodge. The rate of fire had increased - the rebel forces had brought more artillery than I had predicted. If they had known about the Vassar in advance… they would be shooting at me as long as I was over the island… perhaps they even had anti-air boats covering my flight path to the mainland. There was no way I would be able to make fine adjustments to my trajectory to dodge the artillery as I flew over Redjuve… nor could I hover in the air indefinitely.
Shit… How do I escape?