I hadn't seen Mr. Thacksworth since the revolution began thirty years ago. I was there when it all started too. He didn't know it, but I was right there, sitting no more than a half dozen feet away when he committed his betrayal.
I remember it well, despite being six beers deep. I didn't think much of him when he first walked into the pub. The only reason I took notice of him at all was because of his blue, metallic prosthetic arm. It nearly shook loose from him as he walked through the pub, taking a seat discretely in a booth at the back of the bar. His pupils were as big as olives and beads of sweat dotted his forehead. He didn't mind being sat in the booth next to me. Either he didn't see me or assumed a drunken sailor like me wasn't worth hiding from. He must have been ashamed of the dirty deed he was about to commit because he hid behind his menu. He peered out over the top, keeping a close eye on the door. Finally, she arrived.
General Kone. All six foot two of her. She glared across the room, making sure everyone took note her towering presence darkening the doorway. Then she spotted Blue hiding in the back booth. With intentionally loud steps against the wooden floor, she marched her way towards him. This is when I knew this guy was up to no good. What other reason would he have to be meeting with a beast like this?
“You're the guy,” General Kone said, standing in front of the booth.
“General Kone,” he said. He gestured towards the seat opposite her, begging her to take a seat.
Like a serpent, she slid into the seat, never once breaking eye contact with him. Never once blinking. She flattened a note on the table. “You sent this letter.”
Blue nodded quickly, his eyes glistening with terror.
“Is it true?” she asked.
“I swear it,” he said. “Most of it I witnessed with my own eyes.”
“Most of it?”
Blue nodded again. “But the rest comes from reliable sources.” His brow was running with sweat.
Then they spoke in hushed voices. From my seat, I couldn't quite hear what they were saying. I leaned in a little closer, trying to listen better while keeping myself at a close distance. Just when I was about to get in a good position, the server appeared at my table.
“Another beer, sir?”
I grunted in an affirmative tone. The server swooped out silently to fetch my ale. I leaned back in to listen.
“Then I'll rally my men,” General Kone was saying. She slammed a fist on the ground. “And I swear if this information turns out to be bad . . .” She cut him down with her eyes. She didn't need to explain what the consequences would be.
“You h-have my word, general,” Blue said, his eyes wide. “This . . . this information . . . it's good. I swear.”
Kone stood up from the booth and excited the pub without another word. She spoke to no one else. She looked at no one else. I examined Blue's face. It had been drained of all colour, covered in sweat. I could almost hear his panicked breathing. I assumed he would be relieved that she left, but I could tell from his face that for him, this was only just beginning.
And by God, was I right.
The next day was the Battle of the Crypt. Hoards of Mutarians flooded in to liberate the city. But Kone had troops waiting in ambush. It was supposed to be easy, clean, without much bloodshed. What was supposed to be a day of triumph was washed away with a sea of blood. We lost a lot of good men that day. And it was all because Blue couldn't keep his mouth shut. Whatever information he gave to Kone led to the demise of the Mutarian army. I wept that day. I thought all our dreams of freedom had died with those noble warriors. I thought it was all over. But like I said, this was only the beginning.
An interesting thing happened in the days following the failed attack. Ordinary citizens banded together. A butcher, a blacksmith, and a drunken sailor--your's truly--were trying to drown our sorrows at the pub. The same pub I saw Blue at previously.
“It's a damn shame,” said the butcher. “I thought this was really going to be the end of it all.”
“It should have been,” I said.
The blacksmith hung his head low, staring blankly into his ale. “I knew most of those men. I armed many of them.”
“It should have been different,” I said.
The butcher nodded in agreement. “I don't know what went wrong.”
“I do,” I said, spitting on the ground. “That damn traitor leaked the attack plans.”
I pointed an unsteady finger towards the empty booth where Blue had sat a few days prior. “He sat right there.”
I shrugged. “I don't know his name. The man with the fake arm.”
“Yeah,” I said, taking a long drink from my stein. “Metal. Painted blue.”
The blacksmith sat up straight. “Damn son of a . . .”
“You know the coward?” I ask.
“I made the arm.”
I downed the rest of my drink, and truth be told, I don't remember a whole lot else of what was talked about at that table. All I know is that by the end of the day, we'd rallied together several dozen men and inflamed their hearts with such anger that they were willing to rip the city apart. After a couple of more days, the sentiment was viral. Every person in town was infected. They had curses on their lips and poison in their heart. They were willing to give their lives in the effort to liberate the city. And indeed many of them did.
I remember it very well, the night the fires started. The western block went ablaze first. When the city guarded headed went to quell the riots, several hundred more rioters sprung up in the east. Piece by piece, day by day, we took that city apart. Like I said, many lives were lost. The end goal was ultimately accomplished and the city was liberated. But it wasn't supposed to be like this. The original attack was to be swift, clean, and with as few lives lost as possible. But Blue ruined all of that.
Thirty years may have passed, but I've never forgotten that filthy rat for what he did. When the fires had been extinguished and the city liberated, at last, I set out on a new mission: to find Blue. With the help of my blacksmith friend, I learned that the man I called Blue was a gentleman by the name of Mr. Thacksworth. I dedicated the best part of my life to hunting him down. After many years of coming up empty, I assumed that Mr. Thacksworth must have died in the riots. While it was satisfying to know that he got what was coming to him, a dead man is no use for revenge. To my delight, I learned last year that Mr. Thacksworth is still very much alive, living a solitary life up north. He started a turnip farm, selling the turnips in large quantities to merchants as they passed by, who would, in turn, supply them to the city markets. I ate some of the turnips. If I had known where they came from, I'd vomit them up.
So I hitched up a wagon, pulled by a mule that was five years beyond the age when a mule should no longer be pulling things. After a three days journey, much to the mule's delight, we came upon our destination. Blue Thacksworth's home. I rolled off the wagon, stumbling to the ground. The stupid thing was too high off the ground, making me look like a drunken fool climbing down out of it. I took my time walking up to the house from the road. The cobblestone path leading up to it was horribly uneven and I didn't want to give Mr. Thacksworth the pleasure of watching me fall. Finally, I stood in front of the door. It was plain, dull, and completely uninteresting. With a clenched fist, I pounded against the wood.
A moment passed without a response. I pounded again. Three decades of hate and anger was boiling over in my heart.
“Coming!” said a man on the other side of the door, his words dancing through the air like a song.
The door opened and I saw him. He looked nothing like I remembered him. Those sinister, traitorous eyes were now soft and pale blue. There was almost a sparkle in them. His devilish dark hair had grown long and adorned with strands of silver. His sharp chin was now covered in a fuzzy beard, making him look more like a teddy bear than the grizzly that had been living in my memory. Despite the few changes, it was unmistakably the same man. He was only half leaning in to the doorway, so I couldn't see his prosthetic arm. A moment of doubt forced me to verify his identity.
“Uh,” I said, stopping to clear my throat. I wanted to ensure my words were sharp and direct, lest this fiend mistakes me for a friend. “Are you Mr. Thacksworth?”
The man hesitated. “Have we met?”
“Answer the question.”
“Come in and sit down,” the man offered. “You look like you've had a long trip and,” he paused, examining the state of my clothes and my face, “perhaps you could use a rest.”
I nodded in agreement and stumbled in through the door. Once we were seated in the parlour, I planned my questioning further.
“You never did answer my question,” I said, sitting in a hand-made wooden chair. It creaked a little as I rocked back and forth on the seat.
“What question was that?” said the man, as he floated into the room carrying a tea pot and two cups. It was then that I noticed his arm. Blue and metallic.
I smiled. “Never mind.”
Mr. Thacksworth sat in a chair across from me, having poured the tea. “So what brings you my way?”
“I was . . . looking to inquire about some turnips.”
Mr. Thacksworth laughed. “Well, I doubt that's the truth. But okay, let's assume that's the case. What can I do for you?”
I was stumped. My mind was running a little sluggish. “Why don't you tell me about yourself first? Why do you grow turnips?”
“Well,” the man started. He stroked his whiskers, thinking about where to start. “I wasn't always a farmer. I'm not proud of my past, but let's not dwell on that. I came up here to start over. To give something back to the kingdom that I . . . well, again, let's not dwell on that.”
“What did you do?” I asked, wanting to hear the confession from his own lips.
“Let's not dwell on that,” he said again, sipping his tea. “So I came here to grow turnips. They're a root vegetable, you know? You put this little tiny seed in the ground and give it time. Pull some weeds to make sure it has enough space. It's important to plant the seeds far enough apart because, well, they take up a lot of space underground. They swell up and spread out, completely unseen by us above ground. If they're too close together, they don't grow properly. By the time you pull them up, they're a completely different thing than the seed that was planted. Unrecognizable.”
I nodded along.
Mr. Thacksworth paused a long time, smiling to himself as he thought. “I believe I'm like that. I needed to come here, away from everyone else, and wait until some time has passed. Like that little seed, I'm a completely different person than when I first planted here. At least, I hope so.”
Enough was enough. I had to say something. “You caused the uprising.”
Mr. Thacksworth sat up straight, his eyebrows jumped. Taking a long breath, he slumped back in his chair again. He chewed on his lip. “Yeah. I did.”
I was nearly shaking in my chair, wanting to jump across the room and strangle him. “Is that all you have to say? Do you know how many people died? Do you realize how--”
“Yes,” Mr Thacksworth said, cutting me off with a firm voice. “I realize all of it. Believe me, sir, nobody has thought about this more than I have. Thirty years I have thought about it. Solitude tends to leave you a lot of time with your thoughts.”
“And where have your thoughts brought you to?”
He pressed his lips together and stared down at the floor. “That is a good question,” he said. “And if it's all the same to you, I'll keep that to myself.”
My mouth hung open as I sat on the edge of my seat. This creature was giving me nothing to work with. His old man facade made him seem humble, defenceless, and dear I even say, repentant. The more I looked at him and examined the years on his face, I started to feel that he was sincere. My anger for him started to melt.
Mr. Thacksworth continued speaking. “We all do things in life we're not proud of. We do the best we can at the moment. I sold my integrity for thirty coins and thirty years of guilt. Those coins were spent within the year. It was a poor trade on my part. I realize that now.”
And I realized it too. My revenge against Blue wasn't up to me. It never was. The man I hated for so long was suffering the entire time. I didn't need to hunt him down. I didn't need to make him pay. He had already paid the price and continued to pay it every day. But my anger cost me. For thirty years, my mind was consumed. My heart was burnt raw. Every relationship I held dear was torn to shreds because nobody would tolerate my rage. And my poor liver, worst of all, took the brunt of it. I walked across the room, looking Mr. Thacksworth in the eye. I stretched out my arms towards him like I did a million times in my dreams. But instead of strangling him, I embraced him. I cried big, heavy tears. I poured forth years—decades—of pain and anger and begged the world for forgiveness. I begged him to teach me how to have a better life as he did.
“As long as there is breath in your lungs,” Mr. Thacksworth told me, smiling warmly, “you will also have hope for a better life.”