• Published 16th Aug 2014
  • 3,051 Views, 92 Comments

The Last Trumpet's Call - Cold in Gardez



A gryphon survives a battle in the north. His friend does not. He wonders, sometimes, who really won.

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 3,051

The Last Trumpet's Call

I woke several hours later from a dream I could not recall.

Sometimes, in my dreams, I felt as though I was blind. I was crippled, and could only crawl. I shouted, but no one could hear. There was never any context to those dreams. Being blind and crippled and mute was the beginning and the middle and the end. Hours, it felt, would pass, and nothing would change.

In time, the dreams became more clear, and I realized it was not darkness that blinded me but rather light; blinding, glaring, burning my retinas. I squeezed my eyes shut to block out the pain. I was not crippled; I trudged through mountains of snow, straining to put one foot in front of the other. I was not mute; the screaming winds carried away my voice.

I woke in Cirrus's house, and for a moment I thought I might remember something, but too quickly it was gone, and I was alone in the night.

What am I doing here?

I closed my eyes, let out a long breath, and rolled out of the bed, landing silently on the soft cloud floor. The hallway was as dark as my room, but downstairs I saw a faint glow – one of the gas lamps left on overnight, I guessed. It provided more than enough light to navigate down the stairwell, back to the living room where I had shared my stories with Cirrus's parents.

I hadn't gotten a very good look at the room earlier. Now, alone and with no distractions, I let my eyes wander across it, taking in the bookshelves, the framed paintings, and the clutter and grime that foals seem to cultivate. The room was busy. It was alive.

I came to a stop in front of the gas fireplace. Above it, resting on the mantle, was a framed picture of Cirrus wearing his dress uniform. He was grinning, and on either side stood his parents. Cumulus smiled for the camera, but it was Aurora who stole the spotlight. She was radiant, beaming, almost in tears, overjoyed to be with her son on the day of his commission.

To the photograph's left was a simple wood shadowbox, filled with all the medals Cirrus had earned. There were dozens. Far more than I had known about – I never saw Cirrus in his dress uniform, and we didn't talk about medals out in the field.

On the photograph's right was another frame, this one holding a letter. It was written in a flowing, elegant script, filled with loops and whorls, too much for me to puzzle out in that foggy, half-asleep state. I recognized the signatures at the bottom, though: Their Royal Highnesses, Celestia and Luna, written atop an intaglio sun and moon.

Above all three, hanging from the wall in the place of honor, was a piece of foal's artwork done in crayon. It depicted a pegasus family – two large ponies, colored like Cirrus's parents, with a smaller one standing between them. The figures were simple, almost like stick-figures, and the sun had a smiling face drawn on it to match the expressions of the ponies below.

I don't know how long I stared at that drawing.

In time, I realized I wasn't alone, and I turned to see Alto sitting at my side. He blended in well with the night, his soft blue coat an easy match for the mix of cloud and shadow that overtook the world. Only his tan mane gave him away.

“Hey,” I said.

He ducked his head. “Hi. Mom said you were leaving in the morning.”

“I will. Shouldn't you be in bed?”

“I had to use the bathroom.” He paused. “Did you really fight with Cirrus?”

“I did. Your brother was a very brave pony.”

“Celestia said he was a hero.” He pointed with his nose toward the framed letter. “She said we should be proud of him.”

I nodded. It was a platitude, rendered meaningless with overuse, but she was still right. He was a hero.

Perhaps I should have said something. I should have had some answer for him, something to steer the conversation to safer ground, where we could abandon it and both return to our beds. But instead I just stared at that old crayon drawing, and I barely heard Alto's next words.

“I want to join the Patrol too,” he said.

“You do?” I asked. It came out as a whisper.

He bobbed his head excitedly. “Yup! I'm going to join the patrol and fight monsters and save ponies, just like him!”

I pondered that in silence for some time. I imagined Alto grown, as tall as Cirrus, wearing that same uniform. I imagined his parents, standing by his side. I wondered what their expressions would be.

I looked down at Alto. “Would you like to hear a story?”

He shuffled his hooves. “Is it about Cirrus?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Okay!” He bounced in place, and then settled down with a glance toward the stairs. “Okay,” he said again, much more quietly.

I lay down on my belly, so my head was level with his. “Good. Listen closely, please.”

* * *

A week had passed since that first battle. Every night the windigoes attacked. They fell, and their corpses were like fountains of winter, pouring out cold. Not even Cirrus could keep us warm against them, and the camp slowly fell apart.

The deer moved in with us. By now it was clear they weren't our enemy, and they fought alongside us as best they could. I never saw the doe from our first meeting in the woods, but many of the grown deer were able to use slings or spears, and they did their part. When we were wounded, they used their skills and herbs to mend us. When their tents were trampled beneath the windigoes hooves, we sheltered them in ours. All without ever exchanging a word.

And every day we lost a little more. Every injured pegasus or gryphon was flown out the next morning, as soon as the gray dawn light penetrated the east clouds. None ever came back.

I don't know how many windigoes we slew after that first. At least one every night, but it made no difference. They danced above us, countless, filling the sky with their light. They could have swarmed us, falling on us by the dozens, and wiped us out. But for some reason they held back.

We caught what sleep we could during the day. Gryphons, like pegasi, aren't usually bothered by the cold, but for the first time in my life I felt like I was freezing. I huddled with Cirrus, sharing both our blankets, exhaling my breath into his coat. He did the same, and together our mingled warmth was enough to keep us alive.

The end came with the call of a trumpet. Rapid, frantic, it sounded retreat.

Cirrus and I tumbled out of the tent, untangling our wings from each other. The sun was just setting, and another night was on the horizon, but the world around me was as bright as day. The sky was filled with a thousand sapphires, and I gawked up at it, my mind still hazed.

An armored pegasus broke my reverie. He shook my shoulder, and shouted in my face. “Move it, soldier!” Just as quickly he was gone.

“What's going on?” Cirrus asked. He was groggy with cold and sleep. Frost had started to form on the tips of his feathers.

“I think we're leaving,” I said. Above us, pegasi were already in flight, forming ranks in the air and arrowing south.

“What? Why?” His wings shook, and for a moment the cold around us faded. The ice clinging to my talons melted, dripping onto the slushy ground.

To answer, I simply pointed up. His gazed followed, and together we stared at the heavens.

There must have been hundreds of windigoes. They were like leaves falling in autumn, or snowflakes in a blizzard. They tore across the sky in serried ranks, bending the clouds around them, leaving avalanches in their wake. They cavorted over us. They were filled with joy.

“Oh Celestia,” Cirrus whispered.

Gryphons don't swear on the princess's name. I shook my head and turned back to the tent, where what little possessions I had were stored. “Come on, we need to hurry.”

“Right.” He stumbled after me, his head still bent up. More than half our force was already airborne, circling, ready to leave. “What about the deer?”

I slung my bags over my back, not bothering with the strap. “Huh? What about them?”

“They're...” He stopped, staring around the camp. “We can't leave them.”

The deer had come out and huddled together in groups of three or four. Most stared at us or up at the windigoes. Some seemed to be asleep on their feet.

I swallowed. “They'll be fine. They'll run, like they did before. Now come on.” I grabbed at his wing and tugged.

He snapped it away. “They won't be fine. Look at them! They're practically dead on their feet!”

I looked around frantically. Almost all the other pegasi and gryphons were airborne by now and heading south as fast as their wings could take them. In the distance, I still heard the sergeant-at-arms' trumpet sounding retreat. Above us, the windigoes were coming closer.

“Cirrus, we need to leave now. We don't have time to—“

He snagged my wing with his teeth and pulled me back. “We can do this, Corvus! I can keep us warm, and you can fight them off! We can do it together!”

“Do it together?” I gawked at him, lost. “Cirrus, look at them!” I pointed skyward again. “Look at us! We lost, and now we need to get out. Come on!”

“But they'll die—“

“Then they'll die!” I roared. He flinched, but I continued. “We can't save them, Cirrus. All we'll do if we stay is die with them. That's not why we came out here!”

We stared at each other, both panting, sweat somehow pouring from us despite the barren cold. The wild look in his eyes faded, replaced by something calm. For a moment, he looked like the Cirrus I remembered.

“Why did we come out here, then?” he asked.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I looked around, desperate for help, for another pegasus to reason with him, but at last we were alone. Only the wretched deer remained, and the windigoes high above.

“Cirrus, please. Don't do this.”

“I'm staying.” He turned and walked back to our tent, emerging a few seconds later with his wingblades draped across his pinions and my spear in his teeth. He held it out to me.

I almost took it. Gods help me, I almost took it.

“Cirrus, I'm begging you.” I wanted to scream, but I could barely breathe. It was all I could do not to faint. “You can't stay.”

He didn't move. His trembling had stopped. He stared at me; I remember those green eyes of his, like emeralds in the grass, the warmest color in that dismal night. They challenged me.

I could imagine it; reaching out to take the spear, standing by his side no matter what might come. Fighting until our last drop of blood spilled out and froze. Dying as we had lived, as comrades, as brothers. I imagined myself doing the right thing.

But I didn't. I fled like all the rest.

* * *

Alto stared up at me, his eyes wide, as I finished. I waited there, in the dark room, in the silence, for him to curse me, or scream at me, or even attack me for my cowardice. I closed my eyes and wondered if it was time to flee again.

I felt his small legs wrap around my neck. They barely encompassed me, but it was enough for him to rest his head against my feathered shoulder.

“It's okay,” he whispered.

I swear I didn't cry. I didn't deserve his comfort or his family's forgiveness. I owed them the truth; I had a speech.

I did not cry; those were not tears wetting my cheeks. But maybe I did begin to sob, and in time I felt another set of legs embrace me, and through blurry eyes I saw Aurora and Cumulus join us on the floor.

I did not deserve forgiveness. But they gave it to me, nonetheless.

Author's Note:

My thanks, as always, to Filler for his incredible assistance.

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Comments ( 70 )

Haven't read this one too closely yet, 'cause I promised myself I wouldn't read anyone else's entry too hard until after the contest was over, but this looks pretty promising. Good luck, yo!

Your stories are always amazing.

After finishing this, I thought for quite some time on whether or not Corvus did the right thing. While he did leave Cirrus behind, could he really be blamed for it? He knew it was a lost cause, just as Cirrus, the other Rangers, and possibly even the Deer themselves knew it was. On that note it could also be argued that maybe, in some strange way, Cirrus didn't make the right decision. His heart was in the right place, but did sacrificing himself really change anything, or did he just end up adding another body to the count? Both sides could be argued, but in the end, the choices themselves weren't real moral of the story, were they?

Stories about ponies really are stories about people.:twilightsmile:

I saw the description, and it made me think of one thing.




img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20051019062538/redwall/images/4/4b/TheLongPatrolUS.gif

of course this wasn't from reading the content, just the description.

There's no way you're losing this. Not after that. I only wish it hadn't ended so very abruptly.

That w...well that was

:applecry:

Oh, ambiguity. Was Cirrus' decision to stay the greatest act of selflessness he could have performed, or was it the single most selfish thing that he could have done?

After giving it some thought, I suppose the answer would be both. To those close to Cirrus, yes, his death could be perceived as selfish - an unneeded sacrifice. For he and his companions, the way out was clear. All he had to do was fly away and he would have spared his friends and family a lifetime of doubt and grief. Praised as a hero or not, at least a mother and father would still have their son. And because this story is told from his partner's point of view, of course Cirrus' decision to stay would be seen as foolish.

But what if this tale had been told from the perspective of one the deer - perhaps a doe with a fawn in tow - who could only watch as their so-called defenders left both her and her family, everyone she knew, to be killed by the windigoes? Now imagine a lone pony staying behind, rising up over the chaos, spitting out commands, - fighting the windigoes - so that this doe and her newborn daughter could escape. To the deerfolk, would this unnamed pony be remembered as a hero? The most selfless being to ever walk the earth? By giving away his own life, how much lives was this stranger able to save?

And even after coming this far, I'm having a hard time deciding if Cirrus made the right choice.

Who can say really... perhaps there isn't one. :ajsleepy:

Gardez posing the tough questions that are even tougher to answer. And I love it.

The sign of a good story is when you're left feeling satisfied, but also wanting more. If that's true, then this one has enough flashing neon to put Las Vegas to shame.

But seriously, I loved the way you used Corvus's visit to Cirrus's family as a frame for the snippets of war stories that Corvus has to tell. His present-day situation is unobtrusive, serving to highlight the snippets rather than detract from them, while building empathy with his character. It also gives weight to Cirrus's final decision, because we've seen the repercussions already.

If I become as deft and subtle as you when it comes to overall narrative structure, I'll be very happy.

Another positive point: you avoided overwrought descriptions. In some of your stories, I feel that your descriptions go too far. They can be too long or too beautiful, and while these are a genuine pleasure to read, they can take away from the mood and feel of the story.

(For example, I felt the description at the start of For Whom We Are Hungry pushes into this category. While it's important to establish what Ponyville seems like through the eyes of a love-starved changeling, the description goes too far, and so becomes less of a lens, guiding our attention, and more a set of binoculars riveted in place with a sign next to them saying, in bold-faced print, LOOK THIS WAY.)

(For example II, this actually adds to the mood of several of your stories, especially the ones that a simpler and more driven by moral choices than the others. Heyyoooo, The Glass Blower.)

Back on track now: All the descriptive text gelled pretty damn well with the mood of the story, and just added to the flavour.

On the whole, I loved this. I think I have a special place in my heart for stories in which the narrator consciously telling the story. It gives me that "by the campfire feel" and harkens back to some of the novels that I've enjoyed the most (Narnia, as a kid, although I don't like it as much now; and Watership Down, more recently.) The complex moral choice at the end really hooks it as well. I've been left thinking about what I would do, and wondering what happens to the characters.

Great stuff.

P.s.

"thousand thousand" - Ch. 1 - might be a repeat
"skills and herbs" - Ch. 3 - double space
"fscared" - . . . Ch. 1? - typo.

Typo in... second chapter I think. "fscared"

Might want to look into that.

you wouldn't have by any chance read the Redwall series now would you? :rainbowhuh:

"O vermin if you dare, come and visit us someday,
Bring all your friends and weapons with you too.
You'll find a good warm welcome, let nobeast living say,
That cold steel was never good enough for you.

You won't find poor helpless beasts all undefended,
Like the old ones, babes and mothers that you've slain,
And you'll find that when your pleasant visit's ended,
That you'll never ever leave our shores again.

All you cowards of the land and you flotsam of the sea,
Who murder, pillage, loot, whene'er you please,
There's a Long Patrol a waitin', we'll greet you cheerfully,
You'll hear us cry Eulalia on the breeze.

'Tis a welcome to the bullies who slay without a care,
All those good and peaceful creatures who can't fight,
But perilous and dangerous the beast they call the hare,
Who stands for nought but honour and the right.

Eulalia! Eulalia! Come bring your vermin horde,
The Long Patrol awaits you, led by a Badger Lord!"

All I could think of as I read this, and definitely a heavy story. And with that mindset, it actually clears up alot of the ambiguity people have in regards to whether Cirrus staying behind was Selfish or Selfless. Personally... I see it as the former. He was a member of the Long Patrol.

He did his duty.

CiG, this was just... perfect.

You have my admiration.

Daf

This is fantastic. That's all I have to say.

It was an excellent story that certainly echoed the tale you told in your blog. The only issue which is independent of the quality of the story itself is that I am not sure how much of the prompt it hits.

No one really knows [how?] windigoes fly.

Not sure if was supposed to really mean what it says, but it felt weird to me and really ripped me out of the story.
ADDENDUM: Later context implied that the word is definitely missing.

I had a speech. “I was... I wanted to—

Inverted close quote (nasty little buggers).

Let me put that in perspective – before that day, over the past fifty years, the Long Patrol recorded three <> windigo sightings.

Extra space.

Aurura was just finishing dinner

Typo.

and proudly told his parents before being dragged off to bed that he wanted to be a gryphon when he grew up.

Oh how I laughed!

It depicted a pegasus family – two large ponies, colored like Cirrus's parent[s?], with a smaller one standing between them.

Parents?


As for the story itself, superb ending, but it couldn't hold my suspense through the middle part. Oddly, while the opening is much the same in pacing and tone as 'Hungry', the lack of a shift for the second chapter actually works very well. I'm not sure if it is because the slightly monotonous pacing is perfectly in keeping with the tone, or simply because you've done a good job of inviting speculation on the part of the reader (which totally worked on me, planned or not).

A good read, but I'd have to limit myself to 7/10, and that's being a little generous considering it's a relatively weak use of the prompt. (though I'd rather have a good story and damn the prompt, it's a weakness for competitive purposes)

Good luck in the competition.

-M

wow....you killed it very very good story !!!

4861856

Ugh, the perils of writing on a laptop in your barracks. Editing sucks.

Thanks for those. I'll fix them ASAP.

The Long Patrol just made me want to go EULALIAAAAA!

:twilightblush:

Great story.

I'm honestly not sure what to think about this story, but I did enjoy it.
Thanks for writing!

4860182
You aren't the only one who was thinking of that passage.

4862287
EULALIAAAAAA!

Ahh, and there's the ambiguity implied in the blog post.

Honestly, I dunno what I think of Cirrus's actions, but to really decide I think I need just slightly more details than we are given. Did staying actually save any lives? Did his sacrifice somehow allow some of the deer refugees to survive that otherwise would have not? Given the situation described in the related blog post I can only assume that everyone who was unable or unwilling to fly away died where they stood, in which case I can't really see staying as accomplishing anything other than turning a few more people into mourners.

But, that's pretty easy to write from my couch.

Goddamnit Cold, now I have to choose between yours and Aquamans. Now that's a difficult moral choice.

EDIT: Or maybe I should check to see if there's even a voting process before I decide to be a numbskull. Well whatever. If there was a voting process, THEN I'd have to choose! :flutterrage:

The Long Patrol?

Brian Jacques, is that you?

4857780

Thanks for fixing the rating, btw. I think my thought process was something along the lines of, "Well, there's no sex in this story. Rating: Everyone!"

Wow! I must be getting old and very emotional.......That ending had me.....well I guess Old Sgt's do shed a tear here and there.

You monstrously abuse my emotions, and for that I can only continue to thank you.

That... hurt.

"Outside Insight" stands to gain SO much by including this in the top three at the very least. I knew the prompt would inspire some incredible stories, but this is...just amazing. Combine story and culture into this result? Without a doubt, something I'll be recommending to my friends.

As always, thanks for the amazing story. They are gifts, every last one on them.

I think I'm going to go lay down. I think a good night's sleep will sort out this pile of emotion you just gave me.

This is a beautifully written story. While I read it, I couldn't help the feeling that a lot came together for you on this; all of your writing skill, your life experience, touches of themes from other stories (such as your very enjoyable take on pegasi family culture). Absolutely one of my top favorites of your stories.

And... I'd like to add that little Alto was freaking adorable! :twilightsmile:

4876431

Sort of. Same characters -- different universe. Aurora in 'Trumpet doesn't obsess over her son, Alto is a boy not a girl, etc.

But there are quite a few similarities as well.

Very well done. Of course, as a devotee of happy endings I like to think Celestia [1] showed up in time to save the Deer if not Cirrus... :fluttershysad:


[1] As princess of the Sun one would think this would be a situation where she could be useful for a change... :trollestia:

you make my heart ache with all of these emotions, but by god some of the best stories i have ever read. thank you

Well this is definitely a contender.

4885065 I never even noticed that; I'll have to go look again. It's probably my favourite episode anyway, so I won't mind :P

I'd intended to read this far sooner than I did, and having finished, I do regret my delay, since it's gotten me all philosophical.

It's an interesting piece. Certainly thought-provoking, as expected. There are plenty of questions raised by both this fic and the scenario on which it is apparently based. One can't help but pull out their invisible scales and start weighing the actions of everyone involved.

From a utilitarian perspective, all the actions make sense. The military mind often operates according to this framework, as it has to. It was undoubtedly such thinking which led to the call for retreat. If the odds aren't stacked in your favor, you're a fool to fight; if no good will come of fighting... well, that's kind of the heart of it, isn't it?

What good can Corvus do in that situation? He can join his friend in death, maybe delay things a little longer, maybe even save a few lives from the onslaught (though from your description even that seems unlikely). Or he can heed his orders, retreat from a hopeless fight, and live to carry the banner another day.

Which does the most good? Is it better to end one's story with a note of honor and glory, or is it better to continue the story and see where it goes? Is Corvus better off for running, even if he's forever haunted by guilt? Does Cirrus's family benefit from his telling of the tale?

Do we?

In the final weighing, maybe that's the question that tips the scales.

4905451

I've always had the most headcannon for pegasi. Of the three tribes, they're the most obviously different. Getting a chance like this to really explore those differences was half the fun :)

Okay wow! Just...WOW!

I really cannot describe how much I love your work Cold in Gardez. This story is both extraordinary and ordinary - it is an extraordinary read, and yet I don't think I've ever read anything from you that wasn't.

I can't wait for whatever you post next, because everything you post reminds me why you are my favourite author on fimfiction, and one of my favourite authors period.

Dude, congratulations on winning second place!

Awesome take aside I'm running a campaign with wineshop and this is awesome storyteller fodder

Grats on taking home the silver medal!

4909453
That is very true, though sometimes I find headcanon of that sort that both makes sense and makes me uncomfortable.

4879677
Glad I thought to check the comments before asking. I was extremely confused when I saw that Alto was a colt

I absolutely loved lots of things about this. The use of imagery is outstanding, the writing is superb and the world-building is fascinating. (PresentPerfect has already noted the "adoption for a night" thing: sheer genius.) It also has a wonderful ending. So certainly a favourite of mine. I'm not personally a huge fan of militaristic gryphons, but that's sheer prejudice on my part. And I guess I saw Cirrus's exact fate coming quite a way out. But a story I'm very glad to have read.

Long Patrol?

Should I belt out a Eulalia! or what?

intaglio

Ohhh new. That doesnt happen to me very often. Neet!

Oh damn that ending. All of the feels.

5362919
Haha! I was wondering if anyone else was thinking that!

Beautiful. A story of courage, triumph, acceptance, and forgiveness.

Again, I regret that I can only upvote this once. You are deserving of far more. :twilightsmile:

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