Chapter 34: THE CALM AFTER THE STORM
Pretty soon it seemed that Thomas was just walking the streets of Fortis. He had seen his brother a couple moments ago, herding a large group of children to his field beside the castle, and at first, Thomas wondered just how good an idea that was, because it was by the barn where they first became aware of the skeletons, but then he figured the space was wide-open enough, and the barn large enough, to hold them all. They could also decide later whether or not to keep the children in the castle, but then wondered if the townspeople would get jealous of that, and attempt to storm the castle for their own safety.
Safety from what, though? Thomas wondered as he wandered the streets, looking for any more skeletons moving about. He held his sword at ready, the steel blade scratched in some places from driving through bones all afternoon.
He walked about, but nothing moved. He had nothing left to kill. That was a funny thought for him, because just the other day he was telling Corson how useless the sword training was because he never thought he would ever wield a sword, not to kill anything anyway, because he was a man of peace. The instant his people were threatened, the instant it became apparent that there was a threat to Springborough, he had raised his sword and he had thrusted, and parried, and stabbed with fury in order to make sure that no harm was brought to his people. He knew he wasn’t one hundred percent successful; he knew that some people got hurt. It was inevitable and unpreventable to save everyone from harm as it seemed the skeletons were everywhere and everyone was running all over the place, seeking shelter even from the guards.
Corson’s plan to invade the castle’s armory, to arm everyone, seemed to have worked. The citizens were standing tall with a variety of weapons, and the streets were littered with bones. Everybody looked around them, at ready, but not seeing anything that might be a threat. As Thomas walked by, they nodded at him, and smiled. They tried to catch their breath, wipe at the sweat glistening on their faces, they slapped at the bugs that came out in the evening, and they inspected any scratches they had, inspecting how badly they had been wounded.
That is where Thomas found the girl named Brynn. She was in a hut, placing a wooden rod next to a man’s calf, and using strips of cloth to tie it in place. The man screamed in pain, trying to choke it back and be brave, but it was apparent he was suffering considerably. Every time Brynn tied another piece of cloth in place, the man whimpered, his face going a little more white. Thomas watched from the doorway, Brynn looked like an expert in what she was doing, but also seemed to be distracted by something close by her. Finally, she looked up and took notice of him. And he looked over, and took notice of the half skeleton at the wall, still clamping its jaws.
“Be strong for him,” Brynn was telling the man, which Thomas only slightly heard.
Thomas walked over with his sword, resting the tip of it in the skeletons eye sockets, and pushed the blade into the skull. After that, the skeleton was motionless.
“Thank you. That was starting to get annoying,” Brynn said.
“No problem,” Thomas responded, turning to the girl and the man. “What happened to him?”
“Broken leg as far as we can tell,” Brynn guess, and Thomas looked around for the other half of the “we” knowing full well it was probably a spirit he couldn’t see. Or two. Or five hundred. How would he know?
“Is he going to be all right?”
“Yes, he’ll live. He just can’t put any weight on it. He’ll have to rest in his bed, and we’ll find some crutches for him so he will be able to get up, go to the bathroom and everything.” Brynn said this to Thomas, but kept her eyes on the man, hoping he would understand.
“Can you- can you remove the skeleton, please?” The man stammered, starting to pull himself back, toward the bed.
Thomas reached down, grabbed the skeleton’s upper arm, the black bone that felt cold and wet, and lifted, thinking the whole upper body would come with it, but instead, the skeleton came apart, falling into a pile against the wall. Thomas sighed, looking around for a blanket to help him transport these remains to the street. He found a basket by the door, and emptying it of bags of flour, since this man was obviously a baker, and begin to place the bones in the basket to take them out to the street.
“I’ll help in a second,” Brynn said, looking across the room at something, her thoughts obviously somewhere else.
This got Thomas’ attention, and he watched across the room at where she was looking, and nodding, and smiling. And suddenly, before Thomas’ eyes, an osprey appeared. A great big bird, with sharp claws, and eyes that seemed to see everything. It wasn’t a vision. It was pure, flesh-blood-and-feathers and real, its talons digging into a mantle above the bricked-hole in the wall where the bakers’ oven was. It was the exact spot where Brynn knew to look, and Thomas pointed, guessing it was her handiwork that the bird appeared. He didn’t know what to make of it, and neither did the man, apparently, as he just let his emotions go and began to cry.
“Is that you’re doing?” Thomas asked Brynn, pointing to the grey and white bird with the yellow eyes that seemed to be looking at the man. The bird, for being as large and threatening as it was, almost looked as if it wanted to eat the man, and Thomas had half a mind to slash at it with his sword. He knew the bird would be the first thing he ever struck that would bleed. Maybe, he thought, if it did just appear, it could be mystical as well.
“That’s his father,” Brynn said, indicating the man. “The father had come and gotten me when I was finishing sewing the shoulder of the seamstress who was attacked. The same thing happened with her mother, except her mother had turned into an owl. This man’s father has turned into a hawk.”
“Why birds?” The prince asked.
“How would I know?” Brynn responded, a little too curt.
“Aren’t you the expert of dead things?” Thomas asked, wondering just how many spirits he had offended that could possibly be listening to their conversation at the moment. Brynn looked over at him and smiled.
“I’m no more an expert in “dead things” as you call it, than you are an expert in the criminal practices of Fortis.”
It made sense to Thomas, for he had just been kidnapped the day before, so he knew Fortis had crime, but to the extent of it- he had no clue. In fact, he was almost curious to know whether or not Captain Jonathon James, Brynn’s brother, had befallen a similar fate, but he knew better than to share that thought with her, as she was probably already worried about him. It had been hours since Jage left, which meant they were more than likely at Fortis by now, or close. He sent good thoughts their way for a successful journey.
“I was just walking the town, making sure the skeletons were all dead, making sure the people were okay. Do you want to come?” Thomas asked.
“Sure,” Brynn responded, and said her goodbyes to the man and his bird father. Thomas nodded at them both, promising to send someone to check in on the man, and they walked out.
As soon as they stepped outside, they ran into Corson and a handful of servants passing out weapons. The servants were following him, and a cart full of killing things, as they had set upon themselves a path and were roaming up and down the streets, taking note of everything they saw. Thomas looked up at the sky, noticing how quickly the sky was darkening. Night would be on them very soon, and it seemed they had so much more to look at, look for, and observe.
“Brynn!” shouted the house servant boy who held a bow and arrow. Brynn struggled to remember his name.
“Corson, have some people begin to set up torches throughout the town. I don’t want any darkness tonight. Not in the town, anyway. Get all the candles from the castle if you must, but I don’t want any of these skeletons hiding in the shadows for when our people are sleeping.”
“At once, your majesty,” Corson replied, and sent two of his men to do the Prince’s bidding.
“Corson!” A guard shouted from afar, his running sending a cloud of dirt and dust up behind him, making him look faster than he probably was. As he got closer, Thomas could see it was Dominic, tired and out of breath, running from the direction of the walls. When Dominic got closer, he in turn saw that Corson was talking with the Prince, and immediately curtsied for Thomas, bending his knee and dropping his gaze to the road. “Your highness. Sorry I didn’t see you.”
“What is it, Dominic?” Corson asked.
“Two guards, at the wall, coming back from the beach with a satchel of bones asking for entry.”
“Bringing more bones with them? I think we have enough bones in Springborough.”
“I think those were the men my sister sent out to find ol’ Jimmy Edwin’s bones,” Thomas said, reminding Corson. “But, there’s one easy way to know for sure.”
Prince Thomas knew what Corson was fearing. With all the talk that Fortis was planning an attack, and because the last time they attacked, they pretended to be soldiers to gain access, it was Corson’s fear they would try the same thing again; that they would hope the children weren’t up on their history lessons, and use the same tactics as John Parsell the First, and play dress up, and find themselves in no time eating at the royal table until their bellies were full. Which, speaking of full bellies, Thomas’ belly was not, and he grumbled that for the second day in a row he had forgotten to eat. This Ruler business was time consuming.
They walked toward the walls, Thomas and Brynn leading with Corson and his three men following. All of them were looking into huts, at the destruction the skeletons caused, the broken pots, furniture, and walls. While material things were broken, the piles of rubble were no match for the piles of bones everywhere as well. Thomas recalled his sister telling Patrick to bury the bones, but Thomas remarked to Corson that even Patrick will need help collecting all of these. They planned together to send carts out, drawn by horses, and have the people collect the remains themselves, and perhaps they could just bring them to the north side of the castle for Patrick to bury. This would have to wait for morning, though. No sense to do detailed work at night, no matter how many torches they lit.
As Corson and Thomas talked, coming up with this plan, they didn’t notice Brynn stop walking. She stood in the middle of the road, at first absolutely confused, and then instantaneously the color drained from her face, her mouth dry. Just a couple of huts away from the wall, Thomas looked to his side, and found her gone. He turned to see her, all alone, and scared out of her mind.
“What is it?” The Prince asked.
“Those are our guards, all right,” she said. “They brought Jimmy.”
“And?” Corson asked.
“Jimmy brought a message from Leila the Witch.”