Chapter 32: THE GIANT AND THE TOWN CHILDREN
In almost every fairy tale that was told in the Kingdom of Springborough, anything mystical was not to be trusted. It was the regular, typical humans that were good, and it was anything out of the ordinary that was only there to fulfill fate’s darker desires. Once Patrick was born, all talk of giants being bad people, like the legends of Tinks, a girl giant from long ago that people said used to accidentally step on the townspeople, crushing every bone in their body and driving them down into the mud of the roads, was hushed down. It wasn’t a proper royal decree from King Daniel or Queen Jenniffer, but everyone simply believed that to talk ill of giants after the birth of Patrick was to talk ill of the royal family themselves, and so therefore no one did.
This wasn’t to say Patrick didn’t catch wind of some of the tales. He would rest in his barn and read books that his sister and brother brought to him to keep him company on the nights he couldn’t sleep. He’d light a couple lanterns and read until his eyes grew tired and he’d fall asleep, the book collapsing on his chest. Some of the books weren’t edited before getting to him, so he’d read stories of giants that would eat animals raw, bones and all, in one large bite.
One story had a giant living in the clouds, and a kid grew a giant vine up to the clouds to steal items from the giant’s house. Since it seemed like the boy was supposed to be the hero in the story, Patrick didn’t understand why the giant was the bad guy when he was the one being robbed. But, the giant was, and defeated in the end. Of course, Patrick knew it was made up from the beginning because there was no way a cloud would hold up a giant’s weight when Patrick couldn’t go to the second floor of a building for fear it would all collapse on him.
So, giants were supposedly ignorant creatures, which was why Patrick read, he conversed with people when he could, and he showed off his intellect any way he knew how. Sometimes, if Thomas was having a hotheaded fit, Patrick would appear stoically by him, arms crossed, chin in the air, showing that even being three years younger, and a fabled, bumbling giant, that he could be more mature than his older brother. And, all the time in the barn left him highly introspective, constantly thinking of things he might have said or done wrong that day, and vowing to be better the next day.
“You are a giant,” Queen Jenniffer once told him. “And while this isn’t something you chose, this is a quality bestowed upon you that is going to give you a great advantage, but also put you in higher scrutiny. You must try harder than anyone else, for you can succeed more.”
That one lesson was a constant in Patrick’s mind. Everyone is wary of you. Be better.
As Patrick turned around during the great Battle of the Skeletons, as he was calling it in his to-be written history book in his mind, he noticed a different sound than the struggling townspeople, the swords of the knights, and the wind whistling in his ears. He noticed the crying of children, and he remembered hearing that parents had been missing all over Springborough. What was reported was by the middle-aged people who would venture to the castle to report their parents missing, but it made sense that the younger children, the ones who wouldn’t know how to gain counsel with the Princess, were the ones trapped inside their homes, not knowing what to do. And how terrified they must be to suddenly be surrounded by undead skeletons, snapping their human-toothed, bare jaws at them.
Patrick snapped in motion, and just like the fairy tales he once read, the giant began to collect the children. But,… in a good way, he thought.
He wondered if the history books would say the same.
The skeletons, like everyone was finding out, were just more a nuisance than anything else. One would spring up, and Patrick would flatten it with his fist. The skulls were easy to remove with a swipe. The skeletons couldn’t grab fast enough when he ran so he would essentially traipse right over them. They’d bounce off his knees, and crumble to the dirt path, where they would crunch under his feet.
He’d be careful running if he saw dirt fall from the roofs of building, which showed him he was stepping too hard, running too fast, and that the trapped inner mass of his gigantic nature was still there, ready to topple the entire Kingdom. His blessing and his curse- an agile nine year old boy who could not run.
He found a little boy crying in one hut, huddled in the corner, a blanket on top of him, but even hiding, his whimpering was loud enough to be heard from the street. Patrick hoped he didn’t find all the kids like this, because they were so defenseless. The skeletons, while easy for adults and a giant to deal with, would make short work of this child who was so scared he did not move from the corner, even when Patrick came in, all nine feet of him, and offered his hand. The boy just stared at him, at his large hand, and cried harder.
“You need to come with me, I’ll take you somewhere safe.”
The boy continued to cry, clasping his hands closer to his chest, as if the simple act of hiding them in his arm pits was enough to keep him from being moved out of the building. The royal giant could see himself in this child, in his temper tantrums. He could see Thomas’ refusal of some of their father’s commands, or Corson’s instructions, the days when Thomas would not get enough sleep, and therefore be, what their mother would call, a “brat”. To Patrick, this five year old who didn’t want to be saved, who wanted to stay in the corner of the hut, where a skeleton could swoop in at any moment and claw him to death, was just being a brat. And, if Patrick wanted to carry a kid screaming and crying through the streets, he most obviously could, but, then, what would the townspeople say about him? “There’s Patrick the Giant, carrying a screaming kid, just like the fairy tale with the giant and the vine-climbing thief.” Why, Springborough might think Patrick was on the verge of eating all of their kids, and he couldn’t have that.
The kid cried more when Patrick stood up, and hit his head on the ceiling, forgetting how much taller he had grown. He could feel his face redden with anger at hitting that sweet spot on the crown of his skull, the one that sent him immediately into a rage. He wanted to pound the ceiling with his fist, but that would most definitely crumble the structure, and bury the child. So, he swallowed his anger, groaning to himself, and the kid, thinking the giant was getting out of control and angry with him, cried even harder.
A skeleton entered the doorway, and with one punch, Patrick sent it flying out the doorway and across the street, it’s bony body separating into dozens of pieces.
“Look, kid,” Patrick said, turning around to the bright red-eyed boy who now could not take his eyes off the skeletons bones. “There are ugly things out there. You keep crying, there will be ugly things in here. I want to take you closer to the castle, but I’m not going to force you. I’ll leave you here, and find other children to save. It’s your choice. It’s no sweat off my back whether you come or not.”
Patrick lied. He knew if he left this kid to his own devices that he would be extremely anxious the rest of the day, wondering what happened to the red headed boy in the corner with the green and gold woven blanket laying on top of him. But, he wasn’t lying about the fact that he was also antsy to get on with his mission of rescuing the other town’s children and this child was holding him up. It was high time to continue on.
Patrick turned toward the door, toward the sounds of battle, of bones breaking, and people shrieking, and sword fighting. He turned, and he heard more children, close up and far away, crying, and he heard the sound of the child behind him start to choke up, and swallow down his previous fear. Just as Patrick got to the doorway and felt the sun on his face, he heard the shuffling behind him of the kid standing up. When the royal giant turned around, the boy was already just a few feet behind him, wiping the tears from his cheeks.
“Are you-?” the boy stammered. “Are you the Prince? Patrick?”
Not “the giant,” Patrick noticed. Not the easiest observation that I’m a nine foot nine year old standing in his hut, but he looks at me as just another member of the royal family. Which I am. I am just a member of the royal family, and I have a duty.
“I am Prince Patrick, and you’re going to stick by me, okay? There’s a lot of children out there that need our help, and we’ll collect them all, and get to the castle. Okay? So, you be brave, because you’re the first, and therefore, you need to show them how brave they have to be. Just like you’re doing, okay?”
The boy, with every question of “okay” seemed to stand a little taller, a little stronger, a little braver. To Patrick, he was so young, and so little, and so frail. He was lighter on his feet than Patrick had ever been. When Patrick was a newborn baby, he must have weighed fifty times what this five year old weighed now, and who knew what the difference was now. It was his first time with a child from town, and he now understood why parents didn’t bring them around to play with him. He assumed it was because non-royal children couldn’t play with royal children, but now he saw that it had to be because it would not take much for the royal giant to make a colossal mistake and hurt a typical child.
Right as Patrick was about to leave the hut, he felt a tickle on his palm and looked down to see the boy was placing his hand in the his. Patrick smiled, but shied it off.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Patrick said, thinking that if the boy was so close as to touch, he might be too close for safety.
But, the boy reached back, holding Patrick’s pinkie, and the giant didn’t feel like he was going to avoid it. Maybe it was better if Patrick knew exactly where the kid was when they ran down the street, in case a skeleton grabbed him or the kid tripped and Patrick didn’t see it because he was too busy looking for other kids.
As the sun began to set on Springborough for another day, Patrick went hut to hut, collecting the children who didn’t know where their parents were. The children had cheeks wet from tears, running noses, and voices that seemed to break from mucous running down the back of their throats. The kids who were scared of Patrick, but not of the other kids, followed him. There were a couple of babies in bassinets that Patrick trusted the older kids to carry, and every time a skeleton jumped out at them, Patrick would take his fist and ram it hard down on the skull, crushing the spine, rendering it immobile.
Every time he did, the kids’ fear of the skeletons would turn to smiles, and they’d clap, applauding him.
Never once in any of the fairy tales that Patrick had read, did the children applaud the giants.
He felt special.