Chapter 23: THE WALLS OF SPRINGBOROUGH
Brynn couldn’t think about the fact her brother was about to leave her again.
Again, she would be left alone in a place she was pretty unfamiliar with, and she would be left to wait. Sure, this time was different because she was surrounded by people, and probably was going to have a wealth of food at her disposal, but once again she would be left to worry about what current predicament her brother was getting into, and she would be left to worry about her parents alone. She couldn’t quite tell if she was angry or sad about it all, so for now, she kept her emotions bottled inside as they walked out of the castle doors and into the town of Springborough.
Jage had quickly given Kyrstin and Thomas hugs, thanking them for their dinner, and the comfortable chaise lounge the night before to rest in. Upon announcing that he was leaving, Stella and Jasper came from somewhere in the castle, and Jasper gave JJ some almond cookies for the journey, a fresh batch that had just come out of the oven, which made Jage think that the boy had just come from the castle’s kitchen quarters. Stella gave Jage a handkerchief with the Lishens shield on it. She also gave him one of the kindest smiles in her arsenal, and Brynn could tell that the smile would act as a beacon for her young brother to get back to Springborough.
With the knowledge that the walls were closed, and could not be easily reopened, it was decided that Patrick the Giant would accompany the Quakenfalls pair in order to help Jage and Juba get out of Springborough and get underway toward Fortis. So, Patrick, towering over everyone else, grabbed Lucky’s leash and tied the bear to one of the pillars in the Great Hall, giving the bear’s head a hard rub down before showing him how to lay down and rest. Patrick inspected Lucky’s bandage one more time, noticing that the spots of blood from the stitched wound seemed to be diminishing.
“What should we do if your pet wakes up, Patrick?” Kyrstin asked.
“Feed it?” Patrick responded in such a way that seemed miffed. “Jasper, is there anything we can give him?”
Jasper nodded, keeping one unsettled eye on the beast. The boy who shared the same brilliant blue eyes as his sister Stella, but with longer, darker hair, knew beyond a doubt, that he would never get close enough to the bear to actually feed it. He wondered, actually, in that moment just how far he could throw a steak. He was certain, by the time night came, he would be finding out.
“Let’s go, then,” Patrick said, leading Brynn and Jage out.
Brynn kept her head down, already hearing the shouts of the people and the spirits that seemed to have come with the sunlight. As soon as the warmth hit their faces, the shouting hit their ears, and even Patrick seemed surprised at the overall disarray the Kingdom had become. Rodolfo manned the doors, nodding to the Giant Prince as he walked out, and all four of them looked out at the streets where people were bellowing at each other, being overall nasty.
“Your majesty? Any news?” Rodolfo asked.
“I should be asking you,” Patrick replied.
“Had some reports of walking skeletons,” Rodolfo replied. “A lot of them actually.”
“We’ve seen them. Tell my sister and brother, please. I have to take JJ and this man, Juba, to the walls. They are going to Fortis.”
“Fortis?!” Rodolfo sounded alarmed before he could control his first reaction. “I assume you know how dangerous that could be?”
Brynn shot the knight a look that could melt a sword. Of course the three of them knew how dangerous it could be, but nobody needed to voice it, or keep voicing it. But, Brynn was not known to Rodolfo, and according to the laws of Springborough, Rodolfo, as a Castle Guard, held authority over Brynn. So, even if she did verbally scold him, Rodolfo could simply laugh and go about his day.
“A trip to Fortis isn’t the only danger we’re all facing today,” Jage replied. “It looks like you all will have your hands full here as well.”
Rodolfo couldn’t argue with that as he ducked in to see Kyrstin and Thomas and talk of the current infestation of skeletons. The three children began their long walk toward the walls of Springborough through the streets of the town where everyone seemed generally unhappy about something. It seemed the townspeople knew full well that Patrick was the low man on the totem pole, because other than sheer awe and fascination at the nine year old giant’s nine foot growth spurt, the people did not present Patrick with any problems. Which, currently, was absolutely fine with him.
Patrick knew that when he returned from this task of getting the two men over the walls that he was probably going to have his day cut out for him to bury all the new piles of bones everyone was going to create. As they walked through the streets, he wondered to himself whether or not a variety of different holes on the north side of the castle was the way to go or whether he should just resolve himself to digging one large hole and filling it with all of the bones collected and filling the hole back in with all of the dirt. He wondered just how out of hand these skeletons were going to get.
His question was quickly answered as he heard a woman scream on the other side of one of the smaller huts. He knew Brynn and Jage were too small to see over the building, to see that the woman, a fairly strong lady about twenty years of age, and dressed like a milk maiden, was being attacked by one of the black-boned, evil beings. Patrick put a hand out for the other two kids to stop and was just about to jump over and help the woman when a man appeared and, with sheer force and protector-mentality, grabbed the skeleton’s skull and ripped it from its spine. The body of leg bones, pelvic bone, rib cage, and arm bones collapsed to the ground as the jaw of the skeleton moved a couple more times in the man’s hand. The man threw the skull to the ground, and crushed it under his sandaled foot.
The woman had been hurt. She had a large gash in her shoulder, and blood was beginning to soak her shirt. The man, now done with the attacker, ran to her, holding his hand on her wound, and before he could scream for help, Patrick, using his large voice, did it for them. “We need some help over here!” He shouted, pointing over to the hut and to the alley where the man and women now looked up at him in fear. The people in the street also strained to see what Patrick did. “A woman has been injured!”
The people still stared up at Patrick, and the hut he was pointing to. Nobody seemed to move. Not for him anyway. A couple people still decided that complaining about their own problems was more important than to listen to the giant Prince. This, of course, angered him to the fullest.
“Now!” He demanded.
He didn’t slam his foot down as hard as he could have. He knew the tremor of that action would put more people in danger, or would hurt more people because their homes would crumble on top of them, but he did kick the ground to send a vibration up through the soles of everybody’s feet in the immediate radius to where he was standing. Brynn, Jage, and Juba felt it at once, and probably the most. It reminded the two sailors of what it felt like when their boat crashed onto the rocks the day before. In fact, the feeling of the quiver made Jage smell salt water, and he was surprised at just how those two senses, touch and smell, were so intricately linked.
Patrick had gotten his point across, and the people who were closest ran to the alleyway to help the woman up, and out of the sun.
With that settled, the crew continued on toward the wall. The closer they got to the gigantic doors, the more piles of bones they could see scattered through the streets. There was also more wounded in Springborough. Patrick reminded himself to tell his sister that while it seemed closing the doors was the best idea, it also trapped enemy skeletons inside the grounds, and trapped the people in with them. So, while it might have kept them safe from anything outside (anything that might be stealing or luring parents away) it did not seem like they were completely out of the woods. In fact, the farther from the castle they walked, the more battle heavy Springborough had come to be.
A townsperson walked out of his hut, drenched in sweat, a couple scrapes on his arm, but, in a blanket used as a makeshift stretcher, were the bones of three skeletons. The townsperson, tired from a heavy fight, breathing heavy from dust and effort, took the bones to the street and dumped them right in front of his door. The kids saw this from afar, and the closer they got, the more they realized that this pile was going to be the beginning of a fire. The townsperson went back into the hut, grabbed some wood, brought it out and placed the logs amongst the bones, and underneath the blanket. He went back into the hut, and came back out with a large branch of wood, one end wrapped in a shirt that was on fire, and began to light the pile of bones in many places.
Patrick didn’t know much about skeletons, and didn’t know whether or not bones would burn. He had assumed, based on the black soot-like dust covering the bones he had come in contact with, that these skeletons were skeletons because the bodies had gone through some sort of fire. But, the bones were spiritless, according to Brynn, and therefore might not have been living humans at all.
“Miss Brynn?” Patrick began, not really knowing how to address a friend of the royal family.
“Yes, your majesty?” Brynn responded in kind with a courtesy.
“Do they scare you? The spirits you see? The ghosts? Do they frighten you?”
“At first, it was alarming,” Brynn replied, thinking back to the fact that the first spirits she actually saw were the ones of small, cute critters like rabbits. Or the squi-bi-x’s, which were a natural, nature combination of squirrels, rabbits, and foxes. Either way, they were all cute. It wasn’t until she got used to seeing the ghosts of cute animals, that she came in contact with Jimmy, who, while seemingly a creepy voice in her head, quickly became a friend. She didn’t see Jimmy for a couple of months, and by then- they were pretty good friends. “But, I would never say they were scary. Whatever you are thinking they look like, you probably are far off if you don’t think they look just like living folk, except they are see through. Their eyes aren’t, but the rest of their body is.”
“But, they don’t look dead?” Patrick asked.
“No. Just see through people.”
“What about my grandma? My sister says she was murdered. Says Lucky Bear ate her fingers. Does she still have her fingers as a spirit? Does she look all massacred like?”
Brynn smiled. “No. Your grandma is very beautiful. She has all of her fingers. She doesn’t look like she was murdered at all. The scariest thing I have seen in the past twenty four hours are these skeletons. But, they don’t seem very threatening.”
“No, I agree,” Jage said, turning to see the pile of bones still burning, but the bones weren’t not turning to ash, despite the townsperson continually prodding them with a branch. “They seem very containable, just as long as their numbers do not get out of control. Anything, if it out numbers you, can be quite dangerous.”
When they got to the great doors of Springborough’s walls, both Brynn and Jage took in how impressive they were. They had to be constructed out of many different trees, old ones, with expansive girths, and those trees had been laid side by side, and multiple, large steel spikes thrust through all of them, binding them together. Who and how they raised the doors up into the air so they could be secured to the sides of the doorway of the walls was anybody’s guess, but the three kids could only imagine it was by the strength of hundreds of Springborough residents that the doors were put in place. What locked them shut was a large beam that was locked in place with more steel. Even Patrick, with his giant strength, would not be able to unlock the door without ruining some of its construction. He could only imagine how angry his sister would get if he ruined their doors.
On the side of the doors, going up the wall, was a narrow staircase Jage could only assume was not on the other side of the walls. The staircase was used by guards and watchmen who would patrol the narrow pathway on top of the walls, keeping a look out for enemies. But, since Springborough really didn’t have any enemies this in generation, the watchmen and guards usually spent their time on top of the wall playing cards, and looking out for storms. Today, there were only two guards on top of the wall, and they were facing inward, looking at Springborough, keeping their eyes trained on skeletons and trying to point them out to the people below.
The stairs were almost too small for Patrick and Juba, but they carefully managed them behind Jage and Brynn who easily climbed them to the top of the wall. The foursome looked out over the land, at the large puffy afternoon clouds in the sky, dotting the blue area, throwing shade over the fields of grass, and the forest of trees beyond that. Beyond the walls it seemed so much more peaceful than what was currently happening within them, and Patrick secretly wished for a moment he was going with Juba and Jage to Fortis. While his legs were still sore from yesterday’s walk to his grandmother’s cottage, he’d endure them to get away from the skeletons and the eventual digging he would have to do.
Patrick knew, through watching guards practicing their skills, that their was a rope at the top of the wall that could be lowered to the other side, with a basket, so that when the doors were closed, a visitor could deliver something for the Kingdom without being let in. Since the doors were never closed before, this method of delivery and retrieval never had to be used, so the rope was used mainly for wall climbing training. And since there was no plans to ever go into battle, training was essentially guards fooling around with the rope on the walls.
The basket was a large tub made of wicker a long time ago, and not looking very stready, Juba and Jage opted not to use it to be lowered to the other side of the wall. Instead, they decided to just climb down the rope.
“No worries, I’ll simply lower you. Less rope burn that way,” Patrick stated.
“No, thank you,” Juba stated, grabbing his stomach which was ample from all the food he loved to eat. “I’m quite heavy.”
“I’m a giant,” Patrick stated, as if this fact wasn’t evident.
Before Juba knew it, the rope was tied around his stomach, and almost effortlessly, the nine foot, nine year old was slowly, and skillfully, lowering the grown adult man to the grass outside of the walls of Springborough. While Juba, absolutely beside himself with witnessing yet another amazing thing, watched the ground get closer, Jage and Brynn hugged at the top of the wall.
“Be careful, brother,” Brynn said, trying to memorize his face. “You be careful, make peace, and come right back. I won’t leave here until you return, and we’ll go back to Quakenfalls together.”
“Deal,” Jage replied. “It shouldn’t take too long. I’m only convincing a village of five hundred people not to go to war. How long could that possibly take?” he asked with a smile.
“I guess, simply, I want to tell you to not die.”
“Don’t. Die. Got it,” Jage replied, and smiled at his sister.
And with one more hug, Brynn and Jage separated for the second time in their lives. This time, it seemed even less certain that they would see each other again.