The Bone Giants
Cord walked slowly uphill from the creek where he had drawn water all his life. His hip hurt and when he put down his bucket he sighed, almost groaned, with relief. He poured the water into the basin next to his home. Once a sturdy house, it was a leaning, leaking, lean-to that had nearly become a hovel.
It had been a year since he had performed his duties. The lapse weighed heavily on him, but his age and health prevented him. All the years of his life he had carried six buckets up the winding path to the top of Stone Mound where the Bone Giants were embedded in the stone as though the stone had grown around them. Each day he had washed them, polished them to glistening whiteness, and kept weeds and growth from obscuring them.
Sadly, no more. A year ago he had fallen. His hip healed poorly and he could no longer make the trip. He could still see the giants - barely. They glistened as white as ever but he felt somehow that their neglect might show to a stranger. At the beginning, when he was a lad, there had been fourteen of them. They called themselves keepers, Keepers of the Bone Giants. They lived here with their families and made a small village. Some thought them mad, but as was - rarely - explained, the land was good, the creek was never dry and the village prospered. What matter if they kept the bones?
As he poured his bucket into the basin, he felt a pain, a light-headedness that he had long feared. He knew his time was on him. His great sadness was not that he would die, but that he was the last Keeper of the Bones. He fell, his back to the wall, and looked on the Bone Giants as he died.
He did not die. Down from the hill along the winding path he had traveled all his life came the Giants. They travelled in single file, their great, long arms swinging in rhythm. They traversed the path in moments it had always taken him a quarter of an hour to climb.
They stood around him, a circle of bone. Though he had no flesh, the tallest of them spoke to him, "You are the last?"
"I am," Cord whispered.
"There must be another." Reaching down, the giant took Cord in a hand as wide as his torso. His arm broke, ribs creaked. "You are killing me!"
They strode, the seven of them, Cord and the six Bone Giants to the creek where Cord had always drawn water. Five of the giants stepped into the water and began to dig. They flailed and swirled and flung aside the muddy bottom until they had uncovered a bed of fine stone flecked with bits of silver and gold.
"Trust," said the giant that held him, and thrust Cord under the water until he lay flat against the stone. Cord could not but panic but calmed almost instantly when he realized that he could breathe.
For hours he lay there, the sun traversed the sky above him and the Bone Giants stood about him immobile. He looked at them as he never had. They were not the bones of men. The legs seemed short for their great stature. Their arms longer than a man's would be even if of such a height. Their heads were enormous in proportion to their bodies, with bulging foreheads and jaws that jutted forward as though for chewing or biting. They were of a perfect smoothness, too perfect to truly be of bone.
Lost in his thoughts he found himself surprised when he heard the word, "Rise." Cord did so and learned that he was no longer himself. His name was no longer Cord, he was "Patience". He knew the other giants' names now too. The tall one that he felt was the leader was Will; the others were Knowledge, Fury, Death, Strength, and Temperance.
Will spoke, "There must be another," and Patience knew that he meant another keeper.
"Follow," Patience told them, "I know where to go."
In single line, arms swinging, their seeming slow pace eating up ground at a deceptive rate the Bone Giants followed Patience to a pleasant place of low hills along the same creek where he had drawn water for years. Sheep grazed there and some dozen shepherds tended their communal flock. Near the water, small houses were surrounded by gardens and women and children went about the business of the day.
Panic struck them all at the sight of the giants. Will called in a tone that Patience felt could command the very stone and sky if he chose "Come!"
As the shepherds came down from the hills and their families gathered around Will spoke to Patience "Tell them," and strode away.
In a flash of images, Patience knew what he must say and why. More Bone Giants would be born, Justice, Night, Day, Sky, Fire, Water, Earth, Magician, and thousands more. Their numbers would increase all the years of the world even to the end of time. Then, an army more formidable than any ever to have walked the earth, they would be the protectors of mankind. Their enemy lay deep beneath the waters of Ocean. Buried in the mud, sleeping until the last day of the world when it would wake to devour all. Sea Serpent, the Great Dragon, whose name was Oblivion.
Patience led the village to the place where he had lived. For a year he lived among them, brought their things from their own village, led their flocks to a new home, helped to plant new crops. Each day he taught them and their children the duties he had known. He ingrained in them the rituals he had learned as a child. And at the end of a year he left the Keepers of the Bone Giants and strode up the winding path to his own niche where he would abide until world's end.