Chapter 33: PRINCESS KYRSTIN
She felt safe and trapped.
She felt useless and powerful.
Princess Kyrstin stood on her balcony, looking down at the town, and the soldiers who were carrying multiple weapons, handing them out to the villagers who were once fearful for their lives; who were just recently running back and forth from the skeletons, and now were charging at them, swords and maces in hand, and sending the attacking black bones into piles of rubble. From all the way up in her castle, looking down she almost felt as if she wasn’t apart of the situation at all. She had no fear that she might be attacked at any moment. She was simply an observer, observing an era of Springborough’s history that had never been seen before. She couldn’t recall such an attack on the hallowed grounds of her family’s kingdom, and even if this attack, this rebellion of skeletons if you will, was so easy to combat, it still looked as if there was no control.
Kyrstin felt this was her fault.
She watched her brother Thomas expertly wield his sword, cutting into everything around him. She watched the other guards fight valiantly. She could see Patrick, his giant frame, roaming from hut to hut, collecting children behind him. Every once in awhile, a child would scream at a skeleton approaching the group, and they would cower behind her brother, and Patrick, with one swipe of his giant strength, would dismantle the skeleton and the children would laugh, and clap, and kick at the bones. As the battle waged on, it seemed like less and less skeletons were roaming about, and Kyrstin believed the battle to be weakening. Patrick had mentioned that the skeletons were coming from the roofs, and, from high above, Kyrstin could see, even as the sunlight faded, that the roofs were clear of any bones.
At the rate they were going, it would be finished soon, and they would have to send out search parties, just to make sure all the skeletons were gone from the shadowy corners before the dead of night; before the living bones, that were black, were almost invisible in the moonlight.
She made a mental note for the people to light extra torches that night. Springborough was to be well lit.
Getting back to her thoughts of the morning, Kyrstin knew that there was so much more going on in her Kingdom than just attacking skeletons. She was hoping that the skeletons weren’t the missing parents, and that they weren’t condemning them to eternity by destroying them. In effect, the missing parents had to be somewhere, no? And was it just coincidence that the people went missing at the same time the skeletons showed up? Could they not be one in the same? The princess hoped not, but she also did not believe in coincidences.
She understood why she had to be in the castle, why not every member of the royal family should be put in harm’s way at once. Patrick had ventured out to see that Jage got off safely with his mate Juba in order to talk with Fortis before another battle occurred. Kyrstin couldn’t see where the girl Brynn had gotten off to, but she was pretty sure the resilient girl who lived by herself on the cliffs, and hunted the forest of Fortis would be okay in this situation. She was hoping one of the guards had found a bow-and-arrow set for her, letting her attack in the best way she knew how.
The princess turned back into the castle, leaving the sounds of the town’s battle behind her and stepped back into the cool, damp air of the grey bricked castle. Yesterday morning, Kyrstin had discovered her grandma’s cottage empty of the Ex-Queen, but covered in blood. She had found out through Brynn that her grandma had been murdered by someone, and then subsequently had her fingers chewed off by Lucky the Bear, because they were covered in mashed blueberries, and that put her bones in the Bear’s stomach, letting her spirit come to the castle.
Kyrstin entered the Great Hall, the room where her parent’s thrones sat on the elevated floor with a couple of steps up to them. When it was as quiet, as it was now, the torches on the pillars roared with flames, and the embers fell to the ground, where they were put out by the moist runner. The windows let in light, but only at the perfect time of day, which dusk was not. The windows only let the occupants peer up to the sky, and the clouds, which looked like fire from the setting sun. The room was bathed in orange when Kyrstin entered, orange from the fire and the dying sun, which complimented the green and gold colors of the Springborough banners hanging throughout the Hall, the Eagles on the banners, the olive branches in their talons, the Lishens saying of “With Hearts That Never Falter.”
The olive branches were a symbol of victory and peace, stating that with victory came peace. The story her father, King Daniel, told her was that ever since the days of yore, since the first battle fought by the Lishens was won, the Queen at the time, Queen Cora, planted an olive tree in the ground to symbolize it was Lishens ground, and as the tree grew, so, too, would the Lishens power grow. With the power came the responsibility to make sure no more battles would ever be fought to take ground, but only to hold their own. So, to offer someone an olive branch was to offer them the power and promise of peace with the Lishens.
Kyrstin didn’t know if the story was true or just a story. She did know that she couldn’t find one olive tree in Springborough so if Queen Cora of yore did plant one upon the defeat of an enemy to claim ground, the enemy wasn’t Springborough, and the Lishens, at one point in time, did venture forth to conquer something else, the Kingdom of Springborough. She highly doubted the Kingdom was just gifted to them, but neither King Daniel nor Queen Jenniffer nor any of the people talked about it. Not to her, at least, and as her young mind raced with the questions of what happened to her grandmother, Queen Grace, she had to think of the possibility that she was murdered by someone either attempting to conquer them for the first time, or for revenge for the last time.
Or, was it for the ring? And if so, was her brother Thomas now in the most danger of anyone?
Aside from the Queen’s disappearance, there was also the witch’s, Leila. As far as Kyrstin knew, she was the last one to see the witch, walking through the woods in the storm as if the rain and the wind and the cold did not bother her. The witch had given the Princess a choice, to either save her brother, who she was told was a hostage in Fortis, although the Princess didn’t really believe that, or to go after the Bear, who, Kyrstin thought, might have killed the Queen, the Bear who was now resting in the Great Hall, but had picked up his head when his nostrils caught a whiff of the Princess.
Kyrstin stepped toward the beast that was now her brother Patrick’s pet. Its bandage from the arrow wound was drying, the blood now a deep purple, and was falling off its fur. The town doctor, more used to cleaning the cuts from children’s skinned knees and telling sick people to drink water to cleanse their bodies, did his best with the bear, but essentially, the bear was just going to have to rest, and let the wound fuse back together. With all the commotion outside, Kyrstin agreed with everyone that the Great Hall was probably the best place for this great big beast, even if she felt slightly unsafe being in the same room with it.
“How are you doing, boy?” Kyrstin asked, not getting too close. She feared the bear might have gotten out of its chains, but once it lifted its big head, the big silver links rubbed against each other, alerting both of them to their presence. The bear looked at her, its black eyes searching her, its wet nose twitching. Obviously, the beast was hungry. It hadn’t been fed all day. At the same time, Princess Kyrstin felt her own tummy rumble, and she wondered simply how rude would it be for her to eat if everyone else was fighting outside.
“You hungry?” She asked, and the bear smelled at her more, as if saying- What do you have?
“Is there anyone left in here?!” Kyrstin shouted to the echoing walls of the castle, not hearing anyone reply. There was no one in the castle. When Corson had come in for all the weapons in the armory, he asked some of the servants to venture out and fight. It seemed they had all taken up the call. When Kyrstin stepped forth, Corson put up a hand, and simply asked, “How are you doing, your highness?”
“I’m fine. How does it go out there?”
“Your brothers are doing great. Skeletons are no match, and the towns people, with weapons, can get practice for whatever Fortis brings.”
Whatever Fortis brings, Kyrstin thought. Should we really prepare for a war? Could it be that my family’s Kingdom is going to be threatened?
Kyrstin went into the dining hall for food, and it seemed that the servants, before leaving, had put out the dinner spread as well. There was always food on the table. She had no idea where the waste went, for she knew her family didn’t eat it all. She barely had an appetite, preferring simple items with little taste. Bread and potatoes were a staple of her diet. Sometimes she’d eat vegetables, but she left a good portion of everything else for everyone else. She knew that the meat went out to Patrick who had a healthy appetite. Thomas ate a little of everything, and the servants were welcome to whatever they wished as long as their work was done. Kyrstin felt her brother’s pet was probably just like him, and would relish the chance to rip at the pig that was stewed or the chicken meat that was baked and shredded.
So, she grabbed a serving plate, and piled it high with the meat. She placed a couple rolls in her pocket for herself, and grabbed handfuls of potatoes that had been sliced and baked in oil with a spice she didn’t care for, a woody one, but she was starving and ate it anyway. She carried the plate of meat back to the great hall, pretty disgusted by the smell.
Lucky the Bear could smell it from rooms away, and was standing at attention as she entered. It was very concerning to her, this bear taller than her, standing with its nose in the air, its front paws hanging down, its bandage now off and on the ground. It looked stronger than it ever looked since she first laid eyes on it.
“Get down,” Kyrstin said, wondering how domesticated the bear had gotten in such a short time of being in the castle.
The bear did, whether it understood her or not, resting back on all four of its paws as it waited for her to bring it the plate of meat. Kyrstin, a good bit off, not really knowing how long the chain was, put the serving plate on the ground, and started to gently nudge it with her feet toward the beast, the sound of ceramic on concrete sent shivers up both of their spines. The bear, for all of its viciousness the day before, waited patiently for its food. It did not strain against the chain, did not approach the Princess at all, just stood there, smelling, waiting.
When Kyrstin was finally close enough to reach out and touch the bear, she left the plate there and retreated to safety, far enough away where the bear couldn’t get her. She kept her eyes on it, watching as the bear sniffed at the meat.
Kyrstin brought a roll out of her pocket and began to pick at it, and tear it into pieces before popping them into her mouth.
“Go on and eat,” Kyrstin told the bear who was still sniffing at the plate. “It’s good meat. I promise you. Fit for a king.” But, the bear only sniffed, and Kyrstin had to wonder whether the red meat on the plate, cut thin and fried in a pan with cloves of something, was really what the cook, a man named Hawken, said it was. He said it was cattle, but if the bear was unwilling to eat it, could it possibly have been bear?
As the bear sniffed and smelled, suddenly a low growl started to sound in its throat. Kyrstin was almost sure that she was attempting to feed the Lucky bear meat and she felt horrible. Lucky’s guttural sound turned into low grade snarling, and the Princess stopped chewing her bread and watched as the bear’s teeth began to show, and saliva dropped from its jaws and down to the plate. It picked its head up and looked right at her, mouth open, teeth framing the dark hole where her grandma’s fingers recently were swallowed, and Kyrstin stood still, paralyzed in fear.
Lucky roared at her, absolutely angry, beside itself for whatever Kyrstin had done. And before she could figure out just what that possibly could be, a hand clamped down over her mouth. She struggled at the large, looming figure behind her that she hadn’t even known was there. Its hand covered her mouth and nostrils, completely blocking any chance of breathing.
She struggled against its arm, tearing at the fabric of its sleeve with her nails, but it was no use. The arm, the hand, the person behind her was so much stronger than her. All she had going for her was the bear roaring in her direction, but even Lucky didn’t struggle against the chains. The bear didn’t attack, perhaps knowing what they both knew. Kyrstin was too far away. All Lucky could do was open its great big jaws, and rattle the room with its voice, but the distance between them in the Great Hall was too great, and she was at whoever’s mercy behind her.
She ventured a look, and only saw a tall man, dressed in shadows, wearing a purple robe. The sleeves were black, the eyes were light, the man stood two feet taller than her, and raised her in the sky with his hand over her face, clasping her back into his chest. She couldn’t tell whether she was losing consciousness because of the lack of oxygen, or whether she was really seeing clouds of black envelope them, but either way, in just a couple moments, the world went dark, and she didn’t feel like she was in the Great Hall of the Lishens Castle in Springborough anymore.
No, Princess Kyrstin felt very far away indeed.