Chapter 37: THE BARN OF CHILDREN
Once all the kids were safe in the barn, Patrick began to prepare the second floor area for them to go to sleep. With his feet on the first floor, he was able to reach up, setting up the beds, as all the kids, who climbed the ladder, looked down at him. Some of them held candles in their hand, illuminating where he was working, and his face, but it was so dark, his feet could not be seen.
He set up bunks for each one of them, bundling up the hay, grabbing blankets that were used for the horse’s backs, to be placed between the saddle and the animal, but would be as comfortable as he could get for the kids who were all looking around at their new resting quarters and missing their parents even more. Their fear of the giant was still evident, but they realized that Patrick would never hurt them intentionally, so their fear now was that they had to be on alert, because getting in the Prince’s way, a simply, accidental touch, might hurt them quite a lot.
“Your highness,” one boy with freckles spoke, “won’t the hay be itchy?”
“That’s why I got you blankets,” Patrick said, working diligently.
“Horse blankets,” a dark skinned girl said with a raspy voice. “Aren’t those itchy as well?”
“I am not prepared for overnight guests. This will just have to do.”
“Where are our parents?” said a boy with olive colored eyes and jet black hair, who Patrick had already tucked into the hay with the horse blanket in the corner of the room.
“I don’t know,” Patrick said, not giving it much mind.
“How do you not know?” Olive eyed continued, clearly not caring that the other children were waiting for their own beds to be made. The barn orphanage took shape before their eyes as they merely tried to stay out of the extremely tall nine year olds’ way. Some of the older children, the fourteen year olds, longed to help, even feeling like they were more intelligent to do so, more knowledgable in the area of setting up beds and watching over children than the nine year old Prince, but they dared not anger him, or make him feel inferior. So they stood, and watched, and took note, and knew, sooner or later the giant would not be around, and they would fix the children up appropriately.
Above all else, what the giant didn’t know, is that in the town of Springborough, the poor did not have access to hay. The hay was put aside for the livestock, and would be too important to use for the children’s beds. These kids, most definitely slept on the floor on recycled parchment. If they were too stay there for an extended period of time, the older kids would till the floor, make it softer, and spread the parchment over it. But this, they kept to themselves until they figured out what was going on.
“I don’t know where your parents are, like I don’t know where my parents are,” Patrick responded.
“I thought the castle knew where the King and Queen were,” the oldest girl, a long-haired redhead said, her tone immediately accusatory, which Patrick didn’t like.
“Look, do you all want beds or not? Enough with the questions.”
“Where are the King and Queen?” Raspy voice, dark-skinned asked, ignoring Patrick’s rules.
“How long have they been gone now?” A goofy-looking blonde kid, who Patrick figured had an accident or something, since his face was slightly off kilter, asked.
“Do you think all of our parents are together?” A small, five year old girl asked.
“First off,” Patrick said, snapping a large blanket, and putting it down over three areas, letting three more kids lay down, and kick off their shoes, which two of them were wearing. The third child, the raspy voiced one, simply had dirty bare feet. “I am a Prince. I am a Lishens. You don’t just talk to me like I’m one of you. I’m not one of you. You address me as sir. Your majesty. Your highness. Any of the above.”
The older kids, the ones who had been schooled in the rules of royalty understood this perfectly, and wondered just why it was that they had forgotten that this was a member of the royal family in front of them? Was it because he was also a giant? Which was a unique take on royalty if there ever was one? Was it because he was young? Or was it because they seemed to all be on the same playing field with all of them being shacked up in the barn together?
“Your name’s Patrick,” stated the five year old, one of the younger ones who could communicate, but probably had not yet gone to school.
“That is my name, but my title is Prince.”
“What’s my title?” Freckles asked.
“You don’t have one.”
“Because you’re not a Prince.”
“Because your parents weren’t Kings and Queens.”
“Because their parents weren’t Kings and Queens.”
“When did all this King and Queen business start?” Olive eyes asked, and Patrick sighed.
“I’ll leave you for the skeletons, all of you, if you don’t stop asking me questions.”
Raspy- “Can we ask you questions if we call you, your majesty?”
Patrick looked around at the all of the children. At most, there were twenty. There were two babies who had cried themselves to sleep during the walk over. He would have to find milk for them, he believed. There were four older than him, he could tell, because even though he had experienced a growth spurt, it had only been two days since he was barely three feet tall, and he still had those small, young, fresh eyes and still looked at the kids fourteen years of age, like his sister, Kyrstin, as being so much older than him. He could feel these kids, judging him and his barn, but he tried not to let it bother him.
“Do barn animals sleep in here, too, your majesty?”
“No. My bear does, though.”
This immediately got their attention as all of the kids looked around the dark corners, and the shadows, as if they didn’t notice the great, big, brown beast in the room with them. Patrick knew Lucky the Bear was not. He knew that the bear was safely tied up to a column in the great hall, probably hungry, and probably irritated for being chained up so long. But, with all the chaos the Kingdom suffered that day, no matter how much domestication Patrick had forced onto the bear, he was almost sure that the bear would have eaten someone by now.
He told himself that, as soon as the kids were resting, he’d try to sneak into the castle and grab some meat from the table for Lucky, some cow’s milk for the babies, and some other dining room table fixings for the rest of the children. It felt good to Patrick to take care of the kids. All his life he was the baby, and now he was the provider. He always felt like when Kyrstin and Thomas, would come out to hang out with him, it was a chore for them, something they had to do because their parents had said so, but now he was seeing it more from their side. There was a certain kind of reward in providing for someone else, to see them look at you with that simple gratitude that you were alive. Until now, Patrick never felt it. He only felt like a burden; the burden in the barn.
“Do you think your parents are dead?” a mischievous six year old boy asked, crawling onto his blanket, and Patrick suddenly wondered when the questions would stop. “I mean-… your majesty. Are your parents dead?”
“Stop,” Patrick said. “People are trying to sleep.”
He pointed to two of the kids who had already closed their eyes and were drifting off. As if on cue, as if that was all it took, the ones who had beds curled up, and closed their eyes, trying to force their minds to shut off. The older children who were holding the sleeping babies, cleared out feeding troughs, and used them for bassinets, being careful not to wake the infants as they left them there, and then they, too, climbed the ladders to be with the other kids. One of the fourteen year old girls, one with brown hair and an awkward smile, whose father, Patrick knew, was an archery instructor took a moment to stand in front of the giant, her candle flickering but still catching his face.
“Your highness, I just want to say thank you,” she said. She knew that, for most of her life, she had judged the royal giant. She had looked down on him for his size, and even as they stood in the barn, she had criticized his bed making. She looked at him like a nine year old, an arrogant one at that, who probably was selfish because he was a royal. But, she was seeing more and more that he was like them, just a step up. They were floor sleepers, and he was a hay sleeper. He wasn’t like the goose feather sleepers who slept in the castle walls.
Patrick smiled at her. “You’re welcome…”
“Paige,” the girl said, and grabbed the twelve year old boys’ shoulder next to him, a handsome brown haired lad with curious eyes. “My brother, Cillian, your majesty.”
“Sir,” Cillian said, studying the giant’s face in the light.
“I’m going to go into the castle to grab more supplies,” Patrick said. “Can you two watch over the barn while I’m gone?”
The brother and sister nodded.
“Are you bringing back the bear, your majesty?” Casey said, half excited and half scared.
“I don’t think so. He’s probably too hungry to be around children.”
And Casey gulped.
“Do you think we’ll find our parents?” Paige asked, adding- “Sir?”
Patrick thought about it. He thought about his father’s smile and his mother’s hug. He thought about their visits at night, the King’s belly-shaking laugh, and his mother’s sarcastic humor, his father’s curly red hair and his mother’s button nose, and deep inside of him he felt a warm hurt. His heart ached inside of his chest, and he tried not to cry giant tears in front of these kids whom he had just met.
“I don’t know,” he said honestly, with no strength to lie. “But, I know we can start searching tomorrow.”
Paige and Casey nodded, equally missing their parents as well.
Patrick left the barn filled with orphans knowing full well that before he started any parent expeditions, he was going to be responsible for burying the hundreds of skeletons. He was not looking forward to it. But, if the past two days was any indication, he knew, tomorrow he was going to wake even larger. So, when he thought he was far enough away from everyone, he let himself cry.