Chapter 38: THE RULER
“What did Leila say?” Thomas asked the necromancer, happy to hear the Witch was somewhere. Unhappy to hear that the Witch was dead. He had really become fond of Leila, and her beauty. But, in the end, she was a witch, so maybe she would come back to life. He really had no idea, no concept of what magic could actually do, but he had seen enough in the past couple of days to know the dead weren’t all that dead.
“Jimmy says that she said the dead were coming,” Brynn responded.
“The dead are already here.”
Thomas looked down from his Kingdom walls at the field of skeletons, the field of death, the field of brainless, mindless, clucking, clacking, clicking, grinding bones that, for some unknown, unheavenly reason, wanted simply to tear into and kill the humans that were in the Kingdom. The Kingdom he was now in control over. Just yesterday, Prince Thomas Lishens was immature, and a genuine shirker of responsibility. Now he had more on his plate than anyone he had ever known. As he looked out over the field that used to be green grass, a place to run wild with your arms out in the afternoon sun, it took him a second to simply process that he might not be the right man for the job.
Luckily, he wasn’t alone. He looked over at his sword instructor, Corson, the man who came from a kingdom of soldiers, of battle torn vets who had never lost a battle. And as Thomas looked at him, he started to smile underneath the surface of his cheeks, because he was so relieved to have him by his side. But, that all changed when he noticed Corson was nervous as well.
“What do you think, Corson?” Prince Thomas asked.
“I think we’re trapped,” Corson replied, and Thomas noticed his servants and his guards look at Corson, fear immediately gripping them. The Prince grew angry at his instructor for being so loose-tongued with the people around them.
“Leave us,” Thomas demanded, and Jasper with the others began the slow descent down the rail-less stairs toward the street. Already, torches were being lit everywhere as per the earlier instructions and the night was being met with fire. “You stay,” Thomas told Brynn, and without a word, the archer girl stopped following the rest of the group, turned, and resumed her spot watching the skeletons knock into each other below.
“Let’s not go scaring the Kingdom, Corson,” Prince Thomas said. “A man cannot be trapped inside his home. A man is simply home.”
“Sorry. I don’t know what else to call not being able to leave. Ever.”
“My brother’s out there,” Brynn said, absent-mindedly, but nobody listened.
“We’ve rid Springborough of them. We know they came from the storm. We’ll search the roofs, making sure there’s none left up there. We’ll search the grounds, making sure none are down on them. We’ve taken care of them easily.”
“The kingdom grounds are but a small land area compared to the rest of the island, and now the rest of the island is here. All of these skeletons, as far as the eye can see.”
“I’ve killed twenty myself today.”
“I’m sure you’d kill twenty ants if I put them on you, your highness. But, if I put a thousand ants on you, they might have their way.”
“You’re trying to scare me,” Prince Thomas said, turning toward the field. The moonlight making it hard to see what his ears were easily hearing.
“I’m trying to help you see we are in a very, very bleak situation here.”
Prince Thomas looked down at his gold and green ring, the dragon eye encased in stone. It moved slightly, as if the dragon was breathing in its sleep, the inside of the ring pulsating. Thomas pet the ring with his other hand, pretending he could feel the wet, hard, warmth of the dragon’s scales, at once, trying to soothe the dragon and at the same time wake it up. He envisioned the eye opening, a dragon on the horizon, and a stream of fire burning the skeletons to ash. He was sure if the ring could summon a dragon, his fiery grandmother would have done so long ago.
“If they were people down there, real, living people, I’d say we’d just wait them out. People have to eat, they have to drink, and a crowd that size- it’d only be so long before they would have to stop their siege and move on.”
“Perhaps we should catch a skeleton,” Thomas ventured. “See how they work. See what motivates them, what exactly kills them.”
“We know what kills them. Sticking sharp things in their nonexistent hearts or brains. What good is studying them going to do? It’s a form of black magic, and the witch is dead on the shores.”
The two men let the argument go, realizing their emotions were getting the best of them, and what they were saying was not necessarily what they were feeling. They were simply scared of what was before them, and they were scared that neither of them was confident in attacking it. Thomas was more scared because Corson was a little scared, and Corson was a little nervous because he had never know failure before and he felt like he could taste a sample of it on his tongue. He usually thought to himself if King Daniel was here but now, in the back of his mind, he felt that King Daniel would also be indecisive about the current predicament, which worried Corson even more.
“You’re right, your highness,” Corson began. “We should get some skeletons, study them. For only that way will we know if there is an easy way to rid the entire island of them all. We’ve heard tales of other creatures, of other places and times, where things had to be dealt with, and maybe we don’t find a way to kill them all, but find something they hate, and that way we can make a path through them to open up the outside world.”
“And maybe,” Thomas continued to theorize, “there’s something they want other than humans. And if we can find a pathway through them, we can lead them to the cliffs of Quakenfalls, where they will fall off to their doom. They can’t climb these walls, I doubt they can climb the cliffs.”
“If Jimmy and Leila are right, they already have.”
“These aren’t what they are referring to,” Brynn said.
“No? They said the dead were coming,” Prince Thomas posed.
“These are skeletons. Solidified spirits of the storm. This isn’t the same as the dead,” Brynn continued. “This is a different kind of dead. The skeletons are simply that, shells of evil. What is coming is the dead of Baku. All of Baku. Hundreds of ships, sailing from the South, carrying with it the remains of a civil war. Thousands of soldiers who killed one another in the land down South on the field of battle. And now, in death, the dead of Baku share one common goal.”
“What’s that?” Prince Thomas asked, not really wanting to know.
“To kill everyone else.”
Prince Thomas’ only slightly positive thought was that with a field of skeletons, and the Kingdom being completely surrounded by evil, that there was no way that Fortis could attack them now. Through happenstance, the one enemy that Springborough had, that the Lishens children held a direct threat from, the people who wanted to kill the three royal children and overtake the Kingdom, could not get anywhere close to them any more.
In front of the walls, the darkness of night was over the sky and over the ground. Behind them in Springborough, the flames of the torches were everywhere. It was almost as if Springborough had its own sun, giving off its own light; a beacon in the world; a light in the dark for all the evil that wanted to harm it. Even knowing this, Thomas felt the torches were necessary. They had to clean within first, and then they could deal with all the promises of peril heading their way.
“An army of dead Bakuians… Great…” Corson said, already knowing Thomas was going to put him in charge of a Springborough army who stood little chance.
But, the Prince organized his thoughts elsewhere.
“First things first, let’s figure out where we’re going to keep the skeletons we’re studying. I doubt my sister would be too enthused if we kept them in the castle.”