A Special Announcement | #writephoto

It was finally here. The call to arms Vasilis had been waiting for since he’d been inducted into the army as a lad of seventeen. And boy, was it beautiful: the usual black-coffee-baritone of the General now closer to a treble in his emergency shouts, the comrades he’d been having his lunch with until about fifteen minutes ago now taking up their positions in the bailey as if gathered by some automatic force yet to be invented, and most of all— the stone curtain. Oh, what a queen, that towering wall devouring all light that fell on it as though it was its only sustenance, that majestic piece of art running all around the citadel that sat within. 

Vasilis stood with his back to it, near one of the battlements, clutching his crossbow and feeling the sunned stone on his body, waiting for that glorious four-letter-word: Fire. From the time he’d first been shown around the fortress, Vasilis had stuck to that wall exactly like that countless times during his breaks, practicing a drill no one else wanted to be a part of. It wasn’t that he felt safe with the curtain wall so close to his body, or that he didn’t want to look up directly at the towering ramparts from afar that still intimidated even the oldest of soldiers, or that he liked the way the stone felt on his back; no, his connection to the wall was something most didn’t have, or at least would never claim if they did. This menacing structure was the only thing in the entire world that gave him comfort, not because of a sense of safety, but because of what it was: a cold, hard obsidian monolith always ready for war, its parapets always ready to take lives from afar.

This silent, stoic wall understood him. He was a part of it. Vasilis had known that it was not ‘normal’ to remain unperturbed after watching a man bleed to death from the metal-shoed kick you’d given his head as a lad of seventeen, and that it was even more abnormal to replay that memory in your head with a nostalgic sense of calm. He’d played the part of the aggrieved fellow soldier well, of course, biting his tongue to keep himself from smiling like an indulgent grandparent, and No sir, I dunno what went down sir, he’d been telling me about his wife and kids just this morning, sir, a valuable fighter, a good friend, and a kind man, it’s a tragedy. 

With the wall, he didn’t have to be an actor while being a soldier. She understood him like no one else did. She was his solace and the site of most of his sanguine fantasies, and the mature companion who took his beatings on the bad days and cradled him stonily afterwards when he was tired. She gave him the bird’s eye view of the entire town with its fragile inhabitants, and the upturned night sky littered with its strong, steady stars. He didn’t like the moon itself, but her in it. His wall.

Vasilis couldn’t tell the exact day he’d started thinking of the Curtain as ‘his wall’— it was probably one of those full moon nights when she glowed so— but now, he thought, they were effectively betrothed, seeing how she was the place for his first battle battle, his first special announcement, his first time not pretending to be devastated by what his job involved but to revel in it. The lad of twenty-one kissed his wall to solemnize the union. 

There came the four-letter-word: Halt. And then, more. Withdraw. Retreat. Retreat. 

Vasilis couldn’t understand; what was it that had managed to overwhelm his wall? He couldn’t see any enemy projectiles landing on or behind it, nor any wounded soldiers, nor feel it shaking. He glanced at the King, a tiny figure visible in a window far behind, but unmistakably the King. He looked perfectly fine. What was the matter?

The army quickly gathered into the inner section of the bailey, again as if gathered by some automatic force yet to be invented, breath abated for the instructions. The Chief Minister and the General were standing on the elevated marble platform leading to the steps. 

The Chief Minister cleared his throat and spoke. “I make this special announcement on the behalf of His Majesty the King. The kingdom of Itraflia has agreed to a truce on one special condition finalised by both the honourable kings, in whose boundless wisdom we all have complete faith. Battle, they said, will inevitably involve bloodshed on both the sides, and we can certainly reduce it, if not avoid it completely, since both Vlakopolis and Itraflia are formidable lands known not only for their power but also their rivalry. Therefore, they have quite reasonably agreed to behead seventeen soldiers each from their armies and present the heads to the opposing kingdom to display on their ramparts.”

Whispers erupted amongst the usually disciplined soldiers. Some found it foolish, others cowardly and dishonorable, still others genius. Everyone, however, was speculating as to how the unlucky ones would be picked and who they would be. Would it be a test of skill to weed out the weakest links? Would it be a test of simple lineage to determine who had the least noble blood of all? Would there be duels?

The General raised a hand and the whispers went away. Vasilis was probably one of the few who hadn’t shut his mouth at this, because he’d been confused still throughout the announcement. 

“Comrades, I know this is sudden and perplexing, but those who are chosen today will breathe their last in the most respectable and ceremonial fashion right here on the towers of the Stone Curtain. The powers that be have deemed it so, and in their boundless wisdom we hold no doubts whatsoever,” he said, his voice back to the usual baritone. “Do we? If any one of us holds any doubts, let him step forward. We will hear him with welcome ears.” 

No one had any doubts. 

“Right, then. You are intelligent men.” He pulled out a thin scroll from his pocket and began reading out the names of the damned. The soldiers silently stepped forward as their names were called. No one questioned their fate. Except one, who was instantly beheaded as a traitor to his kingdom on the spot with a swift swoop of the General’s rapier. 

Fifteen names. Sixteen. It was time for the last one.

“Vasilis Khordopoulos.”

He stepped forward. He did not protest, because there was nothing to protest against. He’d be dead anyway, and it was better to let his blood quench the thirst of the bastions of His Wall than the grass beneath his feet.

“Remember, men. You die as martyrs for your homeland.”


 

Written in response to KL Caley’s weekly #writephoto prompt. The featured image used belongs to KL Caley and their blog. 

And there it is, folks: my second prose piece in a row! (I hope you’ll forgive me if it doesn’t meet the expectations I may or may not have set after my latest story, since this is an actual first draft which I wrote directly on the wp editor because I’m too tired to edit because I’m a college junior now and no that is not a Whoopee! moment at all.)

Why this author’s note, though, you might be asking. Well, that is because Vasilis is not the only one with special announcements here.

Friends, wordpressers, netizens, lend me your ears. I… have been published!

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In this gorgeous book! Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair! It’s a book, an honest to god paperback, and I’m also gonna receive royalty for it this time! IT IS A PRETTY POETRY BOOK WITH MY NAME AND MY WORK IN IT!

Ahem. So this book, The Sound of Solace, is a poetry anthology published by an international publishing house called Inkfeathers, with poems themed around comfort as you can probably guess from its title. They had a form and stuff open for writers where you could submit your work, and then its curator selected some, and I happened to be one of those. (Which comfort poem have I written? Well, perhaps you could read and find out…) Oh, and so was this little idiot of a tiny bean who you probably know as my sister aka Anushka. She’s the youngest author in that collection and that’s cool, I guess. Okay fine, improudofher now go away.

So yep, if you decide to buy the book, you get to read both our published poems, and we both get to earn a coin. If you’re in India, you can get it as a paperback via their official store or on Amazon. If you’re not, you can get it in ebook or kindle format from the same links (I know, I know, I also wanted the paperback to be available internationally). No pressure, though. But yeah, it’d be nice to get paid writing and you will forever be a dear friend.

So… yeah. I dunno how to conclude, so, well…. thanks for going through that author’s note, thanks for reading the story, I do want to hear what you think even if it’s mostly critical, and thank you to KL Caley for making this challenge.

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7 thoughts on “A Special Announcement | #writephoto

    1. Thanks, KL! I’m glad I could do justice to your prompt.
      And thank you so much for inviting me to the author feature! Very kind of you.
      I went through the Geoff Le Pard one, and although it seems a very fun thing to do, I don’t think I’m as qualified to be a part of this fantastic initiative as Geoff was, since the book I’ve been published in isn’t solely my creation and is an anthology with other writers’ work in it as well. I hope to publish my very own book someday and then be an author worth being interviewed 😀

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