Chapter 16: THE GIANT'S STRENGTH
Patrick, for being as tall as he was, made short work of the killer skeleton, as it bared down on Brynn, with its gnarly teeth dripping with a sort of coagulated blood, and a knife in its hand dripping with fresher blood. Patrick had heard the scream from the castle and had come bounding down, being careful not to knock anybody over in the town, or step hard on any buildings. He still came fast, recognizing the voice of Brynn, and also the terror in it. He didn’t know much yet about being a royal child, and all the things that come with it, all the manners one has to learn, but he knew that if you had guests of the family, they shouldn’t be hurt in less than a day. The Lishens shouldn’t have the reputation that if you visited you might be harmed in the streets or the alleys of the town.
When the Royal Giant rounded the corner to the alleyway where he was positive Brynn was because of the way the townspeople were all turned in that direction. They had heard the scream, but unlike Patrick, they weren’t too curious or too concerned themselves to go and investigate just why the girl had shrieked. The people of Springborough were just occupying themselves with the shouting of their loved ones, and it was only the ones closest to the alley that were listening for more of Brynn’s shrieks, and only the ones in Patrick’s way that were wondering just what the Giant was up to. He assumed once he fixed the situation, they would all go back to what they were doing.
Lucky the Bear was with him, right by his side, like a good pet, when he came upon the alleyway, and so Lucky could see what Patrick saw. Brynn, alone, standing face to face with a skeleton who held in its grip a knife. The same kind of skeleton that Patrick had seen in his barn. The same dead collection of bones that could move, and stalk, and seethe, and walk. So, while the sight was probably paralyzing for Brynn, who seemed to not only see the skeleton but dozens more as she looked about herself, her skin covered in goose pimples, Patrick was quick to act. He stepped forward.
Brynn didn’t see him, but the skeleton did, and it looked up, and snarled at the Giant as Patrick brought his fist down on the skeleton’s head, sending the skull down, crushing every vertebrae in its spine. The skull continued to grunt as it went into and broke apart the rib cage and further down. By the time Patrick was done with his assault, the threat of death was now just a pile of broken bones.
The Bear had not advanced like Patrick did into the alleyway. Instead, it was at the opening, looking about itself at something Patrick couldn’t see. The Giant was worried the Bear could sense more skeletons coming, and that they would be out here for a long while, crushing more and more into piles of bones. And the more piles of bones Patrick produced, the more holes he would have to dig behind the castle. He would run out of trees, and he would have to do the labor by hand, and there he’d be, while everyone ate dinner, sweating into the Earth, putting these malicious skeletal figures to rest. He wondered just how many there could be.
It was that question that opened his eyes to the answer. While most of the dwellings in Springborough were two stories high, there were still some that were only one level. Patrick, with his most recent growth spurt, could reach out, and touch a roof. He could lean on the top of the building with his elbow to rest, if he didn’t fear crushing it underneath his weight. And since he could peer right over these small huts, he could also see the dark figures laying on top of them, starting to move in the sunlight; the bones rising up, hearing the shouting of the villagers under them.
Patrick did not know why the skeletons were waking now, or how they got on the roofs, but if the taller buildings were similarly littered with figures, the Kingdom of Springborough was about to be in serious danger.
“Are you all right?” Patrick asked Brynn whose eyes were wide looking at the skeleton now resting at her feet.
“Yes, thank you,” she said, remembering to breathe.
“What are you doing out here all alone?”
“I’m not alone.”
Patrick remembered that Brynn could see spirits, and that she was probably seeing them right now. He felt uncomfortable that he had been so concerned with not stepping on or shoving aside any of the townspeople that he didn’t think about how, at any given moment, and quite possibly right now, he was stomping on the poor spirit of someone that was just clamoring for an audience with Brynn. Matter of fact, it did feel unusually chilly around his waist and below, whereas the upper part of his body was hot from the air and the sun. He could feel the spirits, and he wondered if that was what Lucky the Bear felt also.
He looked back at his pet who continued to sniff the air and look around. Yes, it did seem as if Lucky was actually seeing something as well. Skeletons? Or ghosts? And why was there such a distinction between the two?
“I guess I should bury these as well,” Patrick said as he reached down and began to collect the bones into a pile. He didn’t see how he was going to be able to get them all without dropping any.
“There are many more on the roofs, you should get back to the castle-“
JJ and an unknown man came racing around the corner just then to see Patrick, the pile of bones, the bear and Brynn, unharmed, but still pretty spooked. Nobody saw the ghosts other than the girl, but everyone felt them. Patrick watched as Jonathon James went to his sister, checking to see if she was all right, but noticing very quickly that she was, maybe slightly beside herself with the recent fright. The Giant also looked over to this strange man, this man wearing the sailor garb of a loose fitting shirt and tattered shorts, who looked like a special kind of dirty compared to the villagers of Springborough. And Patrick also saw that this man was clearly caught off guard to find a giant in the alleyway, and a bear away from the woods. He looked back at Patrick with bewilderment in his eyes, and when he looked over to the Bear, the man clearly expected a fight.
Lucky the Bear, meanwhile, just huffed at him, uncaringly.
“Sister, are you all right?”
“I’m fine!” Brynn shouted back, a little too harshly.
“I’m sorry,” JJ responded, hurt.
“No, I’m sorry. It’s not just us. There’s spirits all around, and they all want something from me, and I can’t hear anyone or anything. That skeleton snuck up on me, because I can’t see anything past them. I’m sorry! Everyone has to leave me alone! We’re going to have to figure out a system, because this is not going to work!”
As Brynn shouted at thin air, Patrick did his best to keep his head down, and his mind on collecting all the bones, and fragments of bones of the skeleton. They seemed very light in his hands. Although large stones felt light to him, these bones seemed to feel parchment thin, as if, instead of being solid bones, they were rather burned logs still holding their shapes, but yet the slightest breeze could send them all into the air as dust. He did his best to collect them, but they were crumbling in his fingertips, frustrating him. The only thing that was remaining solid was the knife in the middle of it all. The handle was wrapped in fabric that was dirty, and the blade, curved up at the tip. To him, it looked like a knife the castle cooks used to clean fish, but he wasn’t sure. He was sure that it was blood that was coating the blade, blood and now bone dust.
“Hey, hey!” The man who came with Jage shouted at Patrick as the giant held the knife now dwarfed in his grasp.
“Yes?” Patrick asked him.
The man began to step toward the Prince with his hand outstretched, but the closer he got, the more agitated Lucky became, and pretty soon the Bear was stepping forward, its large body of fur shaking. Another step taken by the man, and the Bear was up on his hind legs. It seemed Jage was too distracted by calming down his sister to notice the incident unfolding now, and Patrick was worried if this man kept advancing, either the Prince would have to show his strength, or the Bear would show its claws. And even though Lucky still nursed a wound and a bandage, he was pretty sure a bear would win in any hand-in-hand combat versus a regular man.
“Jage!” Patrick bellowed. “Control your friend.”
JJ turned around to connect eyes with the man who was looking back at him. The man was as shocked that the Giant knew Jonathon James name as he was that he was standing in front of a Giant and a standing bear. Patrick almost felt sorry for him. Almost, but not quite sorry enough to not attack if he felt any more threatened. The man had been advancing with his hand out, and Patrick felt that he was also looking to take the knife from him, which made Patrick even angrier. He was taller than this man, why should he not have a knife? Was he not to be trusted with a knife? He didn’t need a knife, clearly. He had crushed two skeletons with his bare hands.
“Juba, that is Patrick, the Prince of Springborough. Patrick, your majesty, this is Daniel Juba, my first mate on The Hampton Chase, and friend.”
Patrick stood up, showing his great height, his shadow completely blocking the sunlight on this new man, this sailor. Juba looked up at him, his mouth suddenly dry as it hung open. The cold air of the spirits now almost becoming too much for him without the sunlight to give him some warmth. The Prince was glad to see his appearance could have such an effect on a strange man. He was quite sure it was a power he wouldn’t have to be conscious to yield. Just the sight of him was going to make enemies quiver.
Not enemies, Jage had said- this man was a friend. But, what was he doing here?
“I crushed this pile of bones trying to hurt your sister,” Patrick stated, noticing Lucky going back to getting aggressive with the invisible spirits.
“Thank you, Patrick.”
“These aren’t the first ones I’ve seen. There was a skeleton in my room this morning that I also had to kill. The roofs are filled with them.”
“Roofs?” Jage’s friend said, looking up at all the buildings surrounding them.
“I fear skeletons aren’t the only things we have to fear today,” Jage said, looking at Juba. Patrick followed Jage’s eyes to Juba, knowing that this dirty sailor man in front of him probably had news of darker tidings that Princess Kyrstin should probably hear if he wasn’t stone-faced and ashen at the mere sight of Patrick, and now at the impending threat from above.
“What’s wrong with him?” Patrick asked. “I meant to intimidate him, not turn him to stone.”
“He’s never seen a Prince before.”
“Can I have the knife?” Juba asked, not taking his eyes off the roof, but holding out his hand for the weapon.
“I don’t give weapons to strangers,” Patrick said, and handed it over to Jage.
Juba, coming out of his shock, then realized just how inappropriate he was being, and genuflected to one knee. He rested his forearm on the upright knee and bowed his head, exposing his neck, as was the custom when coming in contact with a royal. My life for yours was the common meaning. Patrick did not know of any time his parents might have taken a blade to the exposed neck, but it was all he could see currently; Juba’s neck, saying “cut if you wish.” He was glad he was third in line for the throne, because he never wanted to behead anyone. Anyone alive, anyway, he thought. He was hopeful to run across another skeleton and just see how far he could punt one.
“Arise, Daniel Juba,” Patrick said, trying to put as much bass in his voice as his father usually had.
Juba rose, and with it, color came back to his face.
But, on the other side of the buildings, voices arose again, people calling out for their parents. Springborough was growing louder and louder, and Patrick had the sensation that this would quicken the pace of the skeletons coming down from the roofs. Pretty soon the kingdom would be under attack.
“I think we need to get back to the castle. I do not feel safe out here any more,” Patrick stated, seeing the sweat on Juba’s head, the worry on Jage’s face, the panic in the Bear, and Brynn’s slow decent into madness from everything invisible surrounding her. “Help me with these bones.”