Even though the pocket was dry and the enormous body just on the other side of the fabric was very warm, Jae shivered uncontrollably. He wavered between soundless, body wracking sobs to bouts of anger and misplaced bravery.
‘I’ll wait till he puts me down and run’ said the braver part of his brain. ‘And if he tries to grab me again, I’ll find something sharp and stab him in the eye! Both eyes even!’
Then the other side would rear its head and whimper in a small shattered voice, ‘No, don’t do that! They’re so much bigger than you. They’ll just squish you with their feet, with those ginormous boots. Don’t cause trouble and maybe they’ll let you go. Maybe they really wont eat you...like they said.’
‘Yeah right! They’re liars and murderers. Even if this one doesn’t eat you, the bigger one sure will!’
The braver voice was becoming more quiet as the giants walked along, insouciant about their little captive. After all, why would they pay him much mind? They knew they had him trapped. One of their steps was a dozen of his own and he was very high up. If he fell, Jae was sure to break some very important bones and most certainly his skull.
‘Even if you ran, they would catch you. The big one caught you right off earlier without even trying. You can’t run. You’re caught. And when you’re caught...’
‘...you’re lunch.’ The once brave voice answered. Fresh tears poured down Jae’s face.
He was regretting not drinking the water when he had the chance. He recalled how he had pulled himself from the cart after it flipped with an earth shattering crash. It had been the first sound before the ox’s dying wail. And then silence. Everyone was laying down on the ground oddly. He called for Tebard, the oxman. But he didn’t answer. He just lay still on the ground beside the pond. Eyes open and mouth agape. He called for Rita and Horrand, for their daughter Senny who he had played tag with just yesterday. Before it rained and they had to climb into the cart and huddle beneath blankets. Their mothers didn’t want them to catch a cold.
He called for them too. And like the rest, silence was the only answer he received. For hours he walked about the pond, looking at the faces of his dead companions. He found Senny curled up with her mother, Rita. Horrand was near by. He found his parents laying close to one another. They were dead.
They were dead.
All of them.
Jae could not rightly remember what else had happened. Hours surely must have passed, but all he really recalled was crying. Hard and fast, the cold chill in the air burning his lungs. He screamed. For anyone. Someone. He called out to every God he could remember and begged and pleaded. Please don’t let this be real. Please let them wake up. They had survived for so long, been through so much. This couldn’t be how it ended. He couldn’t be all that was left. He couldn’t be alone.
“I don’t want to be alone,” he told the sky.
I don’t want to be alone…
In the throws of his grief, he slammed his fists into the muddy earth and his hand caught something, the force of his blow causing it to skitter away. It was a cup. Hand carved. Well worn from years of use, but cared for. He did not have to be alone, he thought in a daze. He could join them.
Drink the water...
He approached the water with slow and careful steps, minding the dead. He tipped the cup into the cold clear water, careful not to let it touch his fingers. An odd precaution, but it seemed important. His hands trembled as he brought the cup close to his face and the water inside jiggled and sloshed.
Jae looked to his left and to his right. He was the last one. He was alone. And above all else, he did not want to be alone.
So he raised the cup…
“Over this way,” came a loud voice.
The sound startled Jae and he dropped the cup and it fell into the water, disapearing into the shallow depths. He looked towards the voice and watched in horror as two towering figures emerged from the thick fog.
Far in the back of his mind, Jae recalled something about being careful what you wish for. Because you might just get it. He had begged the Gods to send someone. Anyone. And one of those smartasses sent a pair of giants.
He didn’t remember falling asleep, but waking up was not very pleasant. His neck hurt, his eyes were sore, and his head thrummed with a headache. Curious as to what it was that woke him, the boy shifted and stretched, but froze when he realized his bed was moving. His breath caught in his throat when he looked about him and everything came crashing back. Jae was still sitting in the giant’s pocket, swaying lightly with the large man’s movements. He was walking down the largest hallway that Jae had ever seen. The floor was dark flagstone with a carpet of deep rich crimson running down its length and covering the impossibly high walls were huge tapestries.
The other giant from before was walking alongside Jae’s captor, dressed in a long blue coat. Unlike the dark haired giant of whose pocket Jae was currently occupying, the other giant was taller and a bit thicker bodied with long greasy red hair and an unkempt beard. His sharp green eyes, as though sensing that he was being watched, shifted to peer at Jae. The boy was quick to duck further into the pocket, but he kept his eyes on the huge man. When Jae did not look away, the man just smirked in response.
The pair was silent as they walked along the hall until they came upon a set of double doors. The red haired giant pushed the left door open and held it open for his companion who stepped through wordlessly. The room beyond was huge. Shelves upon shelves of books and tomes and scripts of all imaginable varieties stretched up to the ceiling. At one end of the room was a large window staring out onto the expansive lands beyond and in the middle of the room, dominating the space, was a long table. Heavy wooden chairs with plush red cushions lined each side, enough for twenty giants to sit comfortably. A jug as tall as Jae sat in the middle of the table on a platter with several goblets made of the same metal as the jug.
“Don’t suppose you’ve got any of that wine a’ yers left, Warren?” asked the red haired giant.
Warren, Jae recalled belatedly. That was the giant’s name. The King. The King of Vhasshal. The boy gripped the edge of the pocket tightly until his knuckles turned white. The pain between his temples throbbed and he felt sick.
“Help yourself,” the King, Warren, told his friend as he made his way to the far end of the table. “I have a feeling we’re going to be needing it.”
The red haired giant walked over to a wall of books just at the level of his head and reached out as though to pluck one of the books from the shelf. However, when he pulled, an entire section of books pulled away to reveal a false door, behind which sat a large decanter filled with dark red liquid. He pulled the container of wine out and closed the fake books back into place.
Jae bristled at the sudden movement of the King reaching up to his pocket, little heart hammering. Fingers reached in and wrapped around Jae’s chest, pulling his up and lifting the little boy free of the fabric.
Jae squirmed, breathing hard as panic began to set in.
“Easy there,” murmured the King. He sat Jae down on the table, but did not release him. Instead, Jae found himself being held somewhat loosely between the giant’s hands. “No need for that, now.”
Despite trying to keep as still as possible, Jae could not keep from shivering. He stared ahead of him, but not focusing on anything in particular. It was too much too quickly. He had just lost everything mere hours ago and suddenly he was sitting on a giant’s table, cradled in the hands of one. One of the large hands gently patted his back. There was the very real urge to bite him.
The red haired giant sat the decanter on the table with two of the table’s goblets in his hand. As he poured the dark liquid into both, his gaze flickered over to Jae for a moment.
“Dismissin’ the council’s gonna be messy,” he was saying. “Captain Baynor won’t like it either.”
“Might not be the most reliable fella if things get thick. His son was apart of the garrison at Riftside.”
“Aye, I remember,” Warren replied, his tone grave. “Mourin died there too.”
“If you’re thinkin’ of clearing house, you may be forced to keep some folks you’d rather hang.”
“And I suppose you have some ideas?”
“Let’s hear them then.”
The two giant’s conversation wafted over his head.
Jae stared at the lines in Warren’s hands, the way the flesh pressed together where his fingers bent and the pattern of the faint ridges and lines of the skin. The smell of the room reminded him of the tax office back in Silvaara. Lots of paper and ink and oddly enough, wine. Jae remembered the clerk who would file his father’s business license always seemed a bit over-watered and red faced. He wondered where the clerk was now. If he was dead. Where had he died? Had he been captured when the capitol fell? Had he been eaten like so many others? He was vaguely aware of the sound of a door opening and words being spoken. Someone entered.
‘How many giants are in Vhasshal?’ Jae wondered absently. Or just in the castle. Was he even in the castle? He had to be, everything was huge. Even to the towering men that spoke above him. Everything was so big. So much bigger, more powerful. In control. It was all too much too soon, too fast, too much. Too much.
After a moment, the human boy heard the giant speak and it was another moment before he realized he was speaking to him.
“Jae,” said the King gently. The boy looked up, the visage of the giant blurred by the tears pooling in Jae’s eyes. “This is Matron Dana, she’s going to get you cleaned up.”
His head whipped around he saw a lady giant standing to the side of the table, dressed in a black gown with a matching scarf covering her head. She was older, the lines at the corners of her mouth making it look as though she were perpetually frowning. Her eyes were gray and void of warmth.
“Be gentle with the boy,” the King said, lifted Jae up and holding him out to the woman giant. “He’s still quite scared.”
“I’ll see to it that he is taken care of,” said the woman lowly. Her hands were shockingly cold despite the warmth of the room. She held him awkwardly, her fingers twitching as she seemed to struggle to find some way to hold him without letting a good portion of him dangle in open air. “Shall I have Jerrard bring up some dinner, sire?”
“Yes, that would be good,” replied the King. “And some more wine. We shall be here a good while.”
“Very good, sire,” the woman replied, bowing slightly, and turning to leave the room.
The moment Matron Dana stepped out of the room, the door closing behind her, her entire demeanor changed. Her placid face turned into a disgusted snarl and her hands that has been cupping Jae shifted and he found himself held aloft in the air by his shirt. When he cried out in fear, she shook him.
“One sound and I’ll snap your filthy neck,” she hissed. The woman stomped down the hall. “Wash it? Wash it?! No amount of soap could clean the filth from you, disgusting little rat. You’ll be lucky if I don’t drown you.”
Jae fought the urge to kick and scream, very aware of how precariously the woman was holding him. His shirt was big on him and he feared he could slipped through even without the woman’s help. The red carpet flew passed below his feet at a frightening speed. He chocked back the bile rising in his throat.
The woman continued to mutter angrily as she weaved through corridors and hallways.
“Matron Dana,” called a deep voice. The woman paused and turned, catching sight of a tall giant dressed in a white and gray tabard, a black shirt, and black breeches. A sword hung at his hip. Matron Dada immediately dipped into a curtsy. Despite himself, Jae yelped as the motion swung him about. The woman scowled at him and shook him again.
“What did I say?” she growled down at him. “Sir Baynor, good evening, sir. How may I be of assistance?”
The giant caught sight of Jae and matched her scowl. “What have you there, madam?”
“The King brought this rat from his hunt,” she spat, shaking Jae again. He clamped down on the scream rising from his throat. “Ordered me to have it washed.”
The man snorted and shook his head. “Our King has lost his mind. First that old archivist, now this pathetic creature? How many humans does he plan on allowing in the castle?”
“Filthy vermin, the lot of them.”
“My concern lies more in the fact that we do not know these creatures,” said the large man. “Bringing in random waifs and strays. What happens when one of them makes an attempt on the King’s life?”
“I would never allow that to happen,” said the woman sternly. “I have served the royal family for decades. I helped raise the Princes and Princess when their dear mother, Gods preserve her soul, passed. Now our King has lost his mind in grief! Taking in strays and rats. My Son was disfigured by a Silvaaran mage, good sir. I’d gladly see them all burn. But by the Gods, I’m to wash one.”
Captain Baynor appeared thoughtful for a moment and then his lips curled back into a wicked grin.
“I believe, my good woman,” said the giant, reaching out and plucking Jae from her grip. She did not resist. “...that it would be in our King’s best interest to learn that this behavior cannot stand.”
“What do you suggest?” she asked, crossing her arms.
The giant gripped Jae around his chest, one of the large fingers pressing to his face and muffling any cries.
“That perhaps it best if this little one,” said the man, raising Jae up and poking at the child’s flailing feet. “...was to simply disappear.”
The boy feared his heart would burst from his chest or perhaps it would simply explode. The adrenaline in his system felt like lightning striking his extremities and he struggled. He kicked and tried to bite, but the man’s glove was too thick. He couldn’t breathe.
“That’s all very good and all, good sir, but what do I tell the King?” asked the woman. “He’s expecting the rat be returned to him.”
“You’ll tell him that you did as you were supposed to and when you went to fetch a towel or some such thing, the human had disappeared. No where to be found. Run off, let’s say. Such as an ungrateful little mite is want to do.”
The woman smiled, her teeth were yellow.
Jae’s struggled were ignored for the most part and it was beginning to become very difficult to breath. The finger silencing his cries blocked both his mouth and nose. No matter where he tilted his head to free either, the finger followed. It kept him silent. After a short period of time, the edges of his vision began to blur and gray. The pure terror and lack of oxygen took its toll on the poor boy’s body and blackness overtook him.
“And just what are you expectin’ me t’do with ‘im?” asked a gruff voice. The blackness retreated and Jae found himself draped over the side of Sir Baynor’s gloved hand. The air was thick with the smell of herbs and spices, making his already tender head even more so. He shivered and shifted, moaning when the fingers around him tightened.
“What you do with captured humans,” snapped the voice of Sir Baynor and Jae was pushed forward. “Cook it.”
“Is that what ya do with ‘em, eh?” growled the other voice with a warning edge. “King outlawed it, Baynor.”
“You’ll address me as Captain, cook. In any case, our beloved King should not be burdened with the minutia of lowly criminals or how they are dealt with.” replied Baynor. “Trespassers need to be punished.”
“Aye. But again. King outlawed eatin’ humans. Don’t matter if he knows about the runt ‘er not. Still outlawed,” said the other in the same voice before huffing a humorless laugh. “I’m sure ya remember well, Captain. Seem to recall ya were quite irked ‘bout it.”
“Careful of your words, now. It is in your best interest to do as I command, Farris.”
There was a frigid pause.
“Is that a threat, Captain?”
“Now don’t go mincing my words-”
“Because if it was a threat,” said the other giant, his voice low and hard. “Best be knowin’ it’s generally a poor choice to be doin’ such a thing when the one yer threaten’ has a very large knife.”
“I could say the same thing, my good man,” said the Captain, matching the other’s tone. “Or do you think this sword here is only for pageantry?”
Jae was roughly grabbed from the Captain’s hand. He lay limp and disoriented in the new giant’s hand, his frazzled brain desperately trying to reboot. His breath was ragged and quick.
“Good man,” said Baynor, the smugness of his voice easily discernible. “Nothing fancy, mind. A simple stew I think. Not much to the wee brat. Best use up what’s there. Hate for him to go to waste now.”
The other giant didn’t respond, but Jae could feel more than hear the angry growling. Still dizzy, Jae lifted his head just as Sir Baynor turned to leave through a green door. It shut behind him with a sense of finality.
The fingers around Jae’s ribs tightened marginally and he whimpered, expecting to be crushed.
“Gods piss on it!” snarled the giant and he turned swiftly. Jae saw the flash of metal and watched in horror as the giant raised an enormous cleaver in the air. Jae flung his arms above his head. The cleaver came down and plunged itself deeply into the wooden surface of the table set in front of them. Just as he felt the relief of knowing that the knife was not aimed at him, Jae was abruptly and unceremoniously dumped onto the same table. Two large hands slammed down on either side of him and Jae screamed, curling into a ball. “What the fuck are ya doin’ wanderin’ around and gettin’ yerself caught by the likes of that bastard, ya lil’ git? Ya stupid in th’head ‘er somethin’? Lookin’ t’be gobbled up are ya?”
All the terrified boy could do was whimper and whine. A large meaty finger poked at Jae’s side, hard enough to hurt. “Answer me, boy.”
“P-please...” Jae wailed. “Don’t cook me!”
“Well that fancy faced fuck’s expectin’ lil’boy stew,” the giant grumbled harshly. Jae could feel the giant’s hot breath along his neck and he could imagine how close the large man was, hovering above him. His voice dropped into a lower octave, his words but an angry whisper. “So what exactly am I supposed to be doin’ with ya then? Be doubtin’ the stockades come in miniature.”
“Please...” Jae was openly sobbing, chest and shoulders heaving. “I...I d-didn’t tres...pass. He took me, I p-promise! I didn’t do anything!”
“Took ya from where?”
“M-ma...matron Dana gave me to him. She said she was gonna drown me and...”
“And where might she have been gettin’ ya, then?”
Jae dared to peek up from his defensive curl. The giant was leaning over him, piercing green eyes staring down. “T-the King. He told her...ah, she was suppose to give me a bath or something. I don’t know. I didn’t want to come! But he brought me here and now...”
The giant’s already dark expression turned murderous and Jae curled back in on himself, fearing he said something wrong. “Please don’t hurt me!”
There was a heavy sigh and he heard the giant utter a guttural snarl. A hand, thick and warm, came to rest over Jae’s back, startling him badly and he tried to skitter away. The hand pressed down, pinning Jae to the table and the boy squirmed and whined in fear.
“Shush now. Ain’t gonna hurt ya, lad,” said the giant, his voice now quiet and soft. Sympathetic. A thumb gently rubbed his back as his other hand came down to meet Jae’s front and gently scooped him up, setting him back against his other palm and held him there, not unlike the way the King had. “Yer safe.”
“No where’s safe,” Jae mewled, shivering.
“Well. Down here ya are,” he replied. “Lots of big angry fuckers with knives to stand between ya and those who’d actuality wanna see ya dead and roasted on their plate. None of my boys would hurt a child.”
Jae, desperate for the smallest spark of hope, slowly looked up. The giant was watching him carefully and Jae felt his mouth fall open in shock. This giant and the red haired giant the King hung out with looked exactly alike. The differences were minute. Such as the other giant having long greasy hair and a short thick beard, this giant’s hair was decidedly non greasy and cut short with thick sideburns that extended down to his square jaw. But they had the same face and same sharp green eyes.
“Y-you look like...” Jae began, but stopped and looked away.
“Keral,” supplied the giant. “Big ugly fucker who never washes his hair? Aye, he’s my brother. I take it ya ran into ‘im too?”
“Uh-huh. He...he was with the King when he found me,” Jae replied, scrubbing at his eyes. “Actually...he found me first. And the King brought me here.”
The giant opened his hands, releasing Jae. He bent down and rested an arm on the table, the other planted at his hip. Green eyes regarded the frightened youth curiously. “And why’d he do that?”
“Because...” Jae rubbed his hands together in a nervous fit and looked away. “Because...someone poisoned the pond and everyone drank the water but me and...they died and I was alone and...I guess he...”
Again, the giant sighed heavily, running a hand down his face and staring off at something along the far wall. A moment passed and he turned his green eyes back down to the waif cowering atop his table.
“How old are ya, son?” he asked softly.
“Almost eight...” Jae muttered.
“Cripes...” The giant pinched the bridge of his nose and cursed. “Gods piss on the lot of it.”
Jae swallowed hard, shifting so he was sitting cross legged and fiddled with the hem of his knitted shirt. “Y-you’re really not gonna cook me or nothing? Even though he told you to?”
“Not a chance,” replied the giant bitterly. “That fucker’s lucky I ain’t lacing his food with fuckin’ nightshade. He’ll get his stew, alright. But ya ain’t gonna be in it.”
“Won’t he notice?” Jae asked, worried.
The giant straightened his back and crossed his arms as he smirked down at the boy. “Do I look like I give a fuck?”
Jae stared and blinked. “Uh...no?”
“That’s right,” he replied with a nod. “So here’s what’s gonna happen, boy. You are gonna stay in here til I can get a message up to the King explainin’ what you’ve told me. Baynor ain’t no little fish to be underestimated. There’s a reason he’s Captain o’ the Guard. But I ain’t no pushover neither.”
Jae nodded slowly, wiping at his red eyes, and the giant watched him for a moment.
“Got a name, boy?” he asked.
“Name’s Farris,” said the giant. “I run these kitchens. Meanin’ what I says goes, got it? Listen good and ya just might get out a’ this shit with all’a ya intact.”
Jae was left on the table while Farris went to write the message to the King and whatever he had planned for duping Captain Baynor into thinking he was getting his little boy stew. Thankfully, Farris took the large cleaver with him. It did leave a formidable gouge in the wood, though.
The fragrantly scented room was much smaller than the rooms that he had seen thus far in the castle and it was quiet, an aspect he was very grateful for. It took several minutes, but Jae managed to calm his heart rate close enough to a normal rhythm, but he could not truly relax. There was the fear that any moment another giant with less than good intentions would slip in and get him. Every little creak or small noise had Jae jumping in fear and looking to the green door.
The tears came back and he wiped them away with the collar of his shirt, sniffing miserably. His mother had knitted it for him, making it big so that he could grow into it. She was always complaining he grew out of his clothes too quickly.
The green door opened and Jae stiffened, waiting for death to walk under the lintel. Instead, Farris walked in with a swathe of clothe draped over his arm. One glance at Jae, and the giant easily picked up on the morose expression and the new tear stains on the boy’s shirt.
Farris walked over and scooped the boy up. Though Jae did tremble at the contact, he tried to keep still. He knew Farris was trying to help and the last thing Jae wanted was to seem ungrateful. Instead of grabbing him around his middle or chest as everyone else had, Farris cupped Jae in one hand and used his other hand to steady the boy and hold him to his broad chest. Wordlessly, the giant took Jae to the far corner of the room where there was a door way and a set of narrow stairs leading up.
“King’ll be getting my note soon,” Farris said, stepping into the room at the top of the stairs. Like the room below, it was small and it was noticeably colder. It appeared to be his personal quarters. There was a bed in the corner, a lit lantern on the wall, and a small table at the center of the room that was covered in books and scraps of parchment. The window off to the side was dark. Night had fallen. Only the light from the lantern lit the space, casting it in a dim golden hue. “Just sent a footman up with the food. Not sure what he’ll do, but it could get rough. Doubt his majesty’s gonna take the Captain’s behavior in stride. So we need t’be prepared fer shit to get thick. Here me, Jae?”
Jae nodded absently. “What...what do I do?”
“You, lil’un,” he said, carefully lowering Jae onto the bed. “Are gonna stay here and stay hidden. If anyone comes lookin’ fer ya I don’t feel has any business knowin’ where ya are, they won’t.”
Before Jae could formulate a response, Farris pulled the swathe of cloth from across his arm and wrapped it around Jae and tucking in the corners. He then reached into the pocket of the apron around his waist and pulled out three bright green apples. The fruit looked absurdly small in the giant’s palm and he tipped his hand to let the fruit roll in front of Jae.
“Here,” he told him. “Ya don’t look like yuv seen decent food in a good while.”
“Thank you,” Jae said, staring at the apples, but instead of feeling the urge to scarf them down, all he felt was nausea. All the adrenaline and panicking had left his tummy feeling sour. “But I’m not hungry...”
“If I come back and I don’t see at least one core,” Farris warned as he pinned Jae with an unamused look. “I’ll reconsider addin’ ya to the stew.”
Jae froze, looking up into the giant’s face to gauge the seriousness of the threat. Farris’s expression was stern and unwavering. Reaching for one of the apples, and bringing it to his face, Jae took a small bite to appease the large scowling man. Jae chewed the mouthful slowly. It was cold and crisp and sweet and tangy all at the same time. And so delicious. He took another, bite, bigger than the first and chewed faster. Then another, more fervent than the others, fat goblets of juice dripping down his chin. Within a minute, all that was left of the first apple was a meager core. His stomach did not protest the food and seemed perfectly happy with the turn of events and growled loudly, begging for more. Jae reached for another, pausing when he heard Farris laugh.
“‘Not hungry’ my arse,” Farris chuckled before turning to leave the room and closing the door behind him.
The apples had been reduced to cores and what little flesh was left was quickly turning brown. Jae rolled them around some, tossed them in the air, caught them, and generally tried to find some way to occupy his mind. But after a while, all pretenses were put aside and Jae stopped ignoring the swirling miasma of his inner thoughts.
And he cried. Hard and long and proper.
He called out miserably for his mother and father, knowing they would not come. He cried out of fear for being where he was, in the situation that he found himself, and wished that he had been awake to drink the water with everyone else. Let whatever poison lacing the water take him into a dreamless sleep. He would have drank with the others, unknowing of the danger so close.
Here in this place, he was painfully aware of how much danger he was in. Everywhere he looked reminded him that he was small and helpless and very alone. Pulling the cloth tighter around his shoulders, Jae walked over to the large lump that was the pillow and burrowed underneath it and turned his body so his head just barely poke out so he could breath fresh air.
He stayed there for some time, happy to be warm, and slightly hidden should some hungry giant come strolling in to try and find themselves a convenient snack. So it was unfortunate that as such a thought crossed the boy’s mind that the door opened and a giant that he certainly did not know strolled inside.
The giant was younger than any other that he had met and was carrying a small metal platter. Jae froze under his cover, slowly easing back under the pillow and hoping the giant would not spot him. The giant was looking around the room, peeking at the table, under the table, and even lifting some of the parchment, ostensibly looking for Jae. The giant’s brown eyes wandered over to the bed and swept over the pillow, but doubled back. Jae had been spotted.
With a fearful squeak, Jae pushed himself all the way under the pillow.
“So, uh...” came the muffled voice of the giant. “Farris sent me up here to check on ya and keep ya company fer a bit.”
Jae remained where he was and did not answer the giant.
“Uh. So, m’name’s Kol,” he said, stammering awkwardly. “Ya don’t gotta hide from me lil’ guy. I ain’t here to hurt ya.” He laughed. “Shit, Farris’d skin me or worse. And he’d do it too! Ya never wanna piss Farris off. One time he got so pissed at a guard fer...uh, something, that he threw a carving knife at him! He missed, mind ya, but not fer lack a’ tryin’. The guy was a right fucker. Think he died at Riftside. Ah, anyway, uh...you gonna come out? Kind awkward talkin’ to a pillow, ya know.”
He still did not answer.
“Look,” Kol said. “I know ya gotta be scared outta wee head, but you’re safer here than any part a’ the castle. Save fer maybe with the King. He sent a note back to us by the way. Wants to us ta keep ya safe with us fer a bit till be can get things handled proper like.”
Slowly and carefully, Jae pulled himself out from under the pillow, just enough to meet the giant’s gaze. Kol was standing near the end of the bed, a healthy distance away as though he were trying his best not to frighten the already terrified child. When Jae emerged, the awkward half smile on Kol’s face faltered and turned sad.
“Fuck,” he muttered. “Farris said ya were a lil’ thing, but...cripes. Yer a just a babe.”
Jae did not protest the statement. Seeming unnerved by Jae silent staring, Kol glance around awkwardly and when his eyes caught onto the plate in his hands he smiled. “Oh yeah, brought up some more food in case ya were still hungry. Got some bread and cheese and some more apples.”
He moved closer to the where Jae huddled and sat the metal plate down on the bed. There was a hunk of bread almost twice his size and a hunk of crumbly white stuff of equally large proportions. There was a small ceramic bowl filled with more green apples. Jae’s mouth watered at the sight and shimmied out from under the pillow. It was enough food to feed twenty people easily. Possibly more. Certainly more. He thought back to all the times they had to ration meager portions of beef or rotting vegetables and it made him sad.
Kol was smiling at him though, encouraged by Jae willingly coming out, even though the little human was still eyeing him warily.
“Said yer name was Jae,” Kol said. “That right?”
“Uh-huh,” Jae replied, scooting closer to the food.
“Well, like I said before, I’m Kol. Work here in the kitchens. Under Farris. As a baker.” He pointed to the chunk of bread. “Made that there myself. This mornin’. Well, me and couple a’ other fellas. We make all the bread fer the castle. Which is a lot. Oh, here.”
Kol, seeing the way Jae was staring at the plate, reached into his apron and pulled out a small knife and sat down on the edge of the bed. Jae froze, staring with wide eyes at the sudden flash of metal. But all Kol did was use it to cut off a small piece of bread and cheese and put them close to the edge of the plate where Jae could reach them before slipping it back out of sight. As though it were a normal thing to be hiding small knives about ones person.
Maybe it was a kitchen thing? Still a little shaky, Jae leaned forward and snatched the pieces of food, watching Kol at the corner of his eye, but the giant just watched him patiently.
There came a peculiar sound from outside the window and Kol was on his feet in an instant, genial expression flashing to a more sternly concentration. Pressing himself against the wall, the young giant leaned carefully to peer out at the world below through the dirty glass pane. He did not look happy.
“...what is it?” Jae asked, ready to dive for the shelter of the pillow given the word.
“Nothin’ ya gotta be worryin’ about,” Kol told him gently as he pulled the drapes closed. “We’re just gonna stay up here. Let the big guys deal with it.”
“It’s because of the Captain right? The...one who wanted to eat me?”
Kol walked over to the other wall where the lantern hung on old brass anchors and pulled it up and off the bracket, setting it down on the floor and the room became darker. “Sir Baynor is a very powerful man, but no one who defies a direct decree from the King and should be expectin’ there to be no recompense fer it. I’m not much of a mind fer politics, but it doesn’t take a scholar to figure out trying to eat a human for the fuck of it is beyond the pale. Personally, I hope they hang the bastard.”
Kol looked absolutely enraged. “We finally be gettin’ beyond all that shit and he comes strutting up trying to get on with it, on the side like? Farris should’a ripped the fucker apart.”
He sighed then.
“A’course it’d have just made a bigger mess.” he paused, seeming to recall who his audience was. “Sorry. Don’t mean to be talkin’ ‘bout all that nasty business. Like I said, though. Yer safe as can be up here.”
“Thank you,” Jae murmured. “For the food too.”
“Think nothin’ of it,” Kol replied.
The night stretched on and Jae wondered if it really was too much to hope to see the sun rise again.