Running with Titans
The mountains reached high up into the clouds. They were capped with snow and all along the valleys at their base they were arraigned in royal green and cloaks of shadow. The sun poured in on their easterly faces. The light deepened every crease and line across the ancient countenances of the old sentries. With the rising of the sun came the first ancient heartbeat. It rolled like thunder, but this thunder came from beneath the ground. It shook the tall trees of the mountain valley, and those weakened with time collapsed from the frightful jolt. Atop the mountains the ice and snow that had gathered that night came cascading down. Every mountain released an avalanche, pouring down to meet the firs and ash and oak of the forest stretching up from below.
The second heartbeat sent another tremor through the awakened earth, making the trees dance without wind, and shaking free the last of any loose snow on the mountain peaks. Beneath the ground stone hands pulled upon thick ropes. Stony faced dwarves, with crystal white beards pulled on the lines tied to the hammer. They sung as it rose inch by inch:
Rise ye old mountain hammer,
Rise to meet the dawn
Awaken now the heartbeat
Awaken now your song
Bring life to land and wave to sea
Bring down the mountain’s peak
Lay low the thunder of the sky
Ne’er silent shall ye be
With that twenty thousand hands released their holds and the ropes slipped free. The hammer fell. It was vast, comprising the whole center of the mountain. It was a pillar of stone a quarter mile wide and three high. Its top was the old peak of the mountain, and could be seen from outside. The top of the mountain fell back to its place. The smooth shaft of the pillar disappeared into the tunnel cut for it. The thunder rolled again, sending the trees dancing and the earth quaking.
The hammer rose again as the Dwarves began another verse. As it rose it revealed the anvil it had struck, upon which sat a weave of crystal white thread. A single Dwarf shifted it on the anvil, the black stone anvil that had received the entire weight of a mountain falling upon it. The Dwarf held the weave steady as the verse concluded and the hammer came down again. The tip of the hammer was barely an inch across, and the chamber filled with rushing wind as it came down. The weave of crystal flared red beneath the hammer and the fibers joined together turning a few shades darker, approaching the glossy black color of the anvil on which they were laid.
The hammer continued to rise and fall as the Dwarves toiled beneath the mountains. All across the mountain range other hammers rose and fell as the light of day fell upon new mountain faces. At the eastern edge of the mountain range, where morning had already slipped toward midday, there was a vast forest. The trees seemed to spill out from within the mountian valleys, flowing southward in an ocean of trees. They waved in the wind, now well enough away from the pulse of the mountain hammers that they were not disturbed by the stone smiths of the Dwarves.
Yet here, there was a pulse to the land as well. It was a pulse of music, of thousands of voices. The song drew life up from the soil, and rain from the sky. In the ancient forest of the elves the trees grew tall and broad. A single branch from any one tree was tall enough to be a tree in its own right. These living mountains might not have reached up to the clouds as the stone mountains to the north did, but they held cities just as the mountains did.
The great forest swept southward in a crescent until it terminated in a vast moor that continued on to the west all the way to the sea. In the gulf formed by the mountains, the forest, and the moor, was an expanse of land comprised of plains in the north, and scattered forests and rolling hills in the south. In the moor were harbored the Drow. Who were the cast aside by both man and elf, the resulted of a hated union. Upon the plains ran the Giants. The clans of the Giants traversed the vast spread of land that was all that was left to them. Amongst the rolling hills and scattered forests were built cities and town of men. It was here that temples had been built. In these temples men in red robes stood before circular altars. They reached their hands up, touching finger tips as they stood in a ring, looking down at the glass surface of their alters. Their eyes were full of greed, lust, and hate. Each of them had a similar expression upon their face. It was either a grimace of pain, or a twisted grin of pleasure.
As one, all across the country, these red-robed men lowered their hands to their alters, and at the touch, their minds came to a united cause. They could see the silver thread of their intention sweeping outwards. It sunk into the ground at the base of the mountains and tore up through the stone. The face of one of them ripped open, freeing the mountain hammer from its casing. The hammer tipped to the side, sending the Dwarves falling into the darkness of its open shaft. The pillar of stone fell into the valley to break upon the ground becoming only so much rubble and dust.
The men turned their minds to the forests of the elves, and there they rained down lighting, catching fire to the trees. They saw with their power the flow of the elf song, which brought rain to quench the flames. They tried again, but the elf song turned away their power, so they turned their powers to growing crops and feeding armies. These armies went out to the forests of the elves. The magic of the elves could not hold back the armies of man. They had not the strength of arms to withstand him, and the ancient trees fell. The forests were pushed back, year by year. Man spread, and all else receded from him.
Amidst all this there came to be a man. He awoke as if for the first time, standing upright. He stood at the center of all things, just at the edge of man’s land. He stood within sight of the elven forests, yet still on the plains where the Giants roam. The grasses of the plains seemed to bow at his feet, for there was no other living thing to acknowledge his presence. His name should have been sung from the highest mountain peak and echoed from the lowest depths of the sea. For an aura of command exuded from him that might have affected the very earth to respond to his presence. Yet no name was sung from the heights, nor was it even whispered in the depths. It could be argued that this was because it would not be sensible for the world to suddenly release a tumultuous clamor for the sake of some man who seemed to have merely just awoken to a new day. Though for anyone who could understand the future of the world they would know that the only reason the heavens did not rend themselves open and pour forth its praise upon him was that, very simply, because he had no name. He himself did not know it, nor did any other living soul, as was suitable for one such as him.
Despite the power that seemed to flow from him, he was dressed very plainly. His torso was armored by a simply crafted chain-mail shirt. Overtop this he wore a simple brown tunic, woven from plant fibers, and his pants were of much the same make. Covering all of this was a tattered black cloak, suitable for travel at night should one wish to avoid being seen. At his side was a simple scabbard, in which a marvelous sword was sheathed. The hilt was made from wood and bone, solidly made but artistically inlaid with polished stones. The blade though, was glossy black, like the crystal blades of the Dwarves. Upon it though, was no mark of the Dwarven craftsman who had made it. The blade, like the man, had simply come to be where it was with him, and was as much a sign of his purpose as was the only other weapon he carried. This second weapon was by far the greater, but was not so readily apparent. For while the man’s face was young, his eyes betrayed him for something more. His eyes were old, revealing the mind behind them.
The man possessed no true memory of the world in which he existed. Instead he merely possessed knowledge, though not of just one world. He knew of other places beyond his present existence, though of these he also possessed no memory. In the entire universe there was no other being like him, for he knew so much, but had no memory of how he had attained such knowledge.
It would have been a simple task for this man to stand there reveling in the fact that he had come to be, for he knew he was not of some ordinary breed of animal, though he still had no reason in memory to know why his reality was not normal. Instead of resigning himself to a task of endless contemplation over his own existence, he stepped forward. Immediately his confidence seemed to lessen. It was not because he found his feet unsteady or the ground to his disliking, rather it was because he was afraid that whilst he was capable of moving he knew not where to move to. Shifting through the numerous truths in his mind he came upon the knowledge he was seeking. Maps, as if they had been painted from an observer in the sky, appeared in his mind’s eye. Slowly he reviewed the information he possessed. First he took note of his own position, which was well away from the sea and toward the north of humanity’s empire. That meant that he stood in a contested plain between man and the hill giants of this land. Farther north would be the mountains known to him as the Rippling Sky Peaks. To the west were the ancient forests, home to the hapless elves which had retreated into the confines of their dark conifers since man’s arrival in these lands.
After ascertaining where it was in the world he was he needed to decide where in the world he must go. This proved to be a more arduous task, for with it he would decide the entire future of the world. To walk north, south, east, or west would change the way that the entire universe would eventually sway.
He stood there in silence for but a moment, then he turned to the north. He knew of man and the cruelty they performed on others. He knew of elves and their mistrust of man. He knew of the Dwarves who hid from everything. So it was to the giants he would turn. They honored strength and valor. He would go to them; it was through them that he would begin to change the world. He walked evenly, without rushing, without slowing. When he was hungry he fed upon the roots of plants and the berries of wild brush that grew in patches throughout the plains. When he became weary he rested upon the soft turf of the fields, with a mattress of grass and a blanket of open sky. It was not terribly comfortable, but he did not fret, for he had no memories of anything better. He knew how those in this world lived, and he knew that there was something better.
It was a matter of only a few short days before he found one of the nomadic tribes of the Giants. They were running, as they always did. On their backs were bound pieces of tanned hides. They bore with them many weapons, axes and spears for the most part. The Giants stood fifteen feet tall, and their bodies were broad, even for their size. Their hair was predominantly dark, and the Giants for the most part had short beards. The Giantesses were plain faced and leaner than the Giants.
The Giants ran in formation, the chieftain taking the lead, his warriors then followed behind him surrounding their women and children. They were running straight at the nameless wanderer. When they saw him they stopped short, then four warriors drew their weapons and surrounded him. He did not draw his blade; rather he waited for the chieftain to step forward.
The heavily muscled giant eventually addressed him as if impatient that he would not draw his weapon, “What, human, would you be doing in these parts? Speak quickly and truthfully or we’ll cut you down where you stand. Where are your fellows who would seek to trap us and take us as captives and slaves off to some distant shore?”
The man looked at him without any sign of fear and said evenly, “I walk where I will. I follow only the path that is behind me, for there is no road ahead. There is no trap waiting for you. I am alone.”
The giants, who towered over him, now seemed uncertain. He had spoken with neither lie on his voice, nor any smug confidence that would show sign of insult. He spoke to them with complete sincerity. “We’ll not let you walk along your pathless way human; for you are our enemy, I’ll not allow you to continue, turn back to your lands and harass ours no more.” The giant commanded.
“There is no land which is mine to return to. I seek not to disrupt the flow of your lands. I have no desire to taint your lands with my presence; no, rather I wish to make your lands mine.”
A roar of anger went up from the giants, “What insolence is this! You have driven us farther and farther north and now a single man comes forward to demand our home from us! We’ll kill you and raise your corpse to the sky so that your body would be picked clean by the birds!”
“You misunderstand me oh noble war-master. I do not intend to claim them solely for myself; rather I intend to join you and your kind in your wandering. I have no purpose save to find purpose, so I shall seek it amongst your kin. If you would have me I wish to join you in your travels.” Even as he said this, his voice remained even and calm, despite the bulk of the titanic warrior towering over him.
The giant threw back his head and laughed, “Well then half-height if you want to join this clan of titans you’ll have to prove that you can fight like a titan! If somehow you can manage to survive a duel with my warrior then you can join my clan, though I think it more likely that you die in the process.” Then he gestured to the warrior on his right, who took the axe that hung on his back and dropped the rest of his equipment to the ground.
The axe wielding giant stepped forward and brought a stroke downward straight at the man’s head. He took a single step to the side and allowed the blade to be embedded in the ground, then he calmly said, “If I may I would like to request that this duel be to first blood rather than to the death.”
“Why little man? Are you afraid that you might not be able to stand up to a giant?” Then the rest of the cohort roared with laughter at their chieftain’s jest.
“No, I’m more concerned about having to kill one who I’d rather have as my comrade.” The giant who had engaged him did not allow him to continue; instead he pulled its axe from the ground and began to press the attack once again.
The man of no name did not dive hastily out of the way of the vicious swings. He took to keeping but a hair’s breadth away from the hefty blade. The giant became enraged as the man evaded his every stroke. The giant pushed more and more until at last he drove his axe into the ground as he had on his first attempt. Now the nameless man ran behind him, drawing his sword and slashing. The blade flashed bright and black in the sunlight. It was as reflective as a mirror of glass, but inside the reflective surface, it was as black as death. Yet, the Giants only saw the blade for a moment, for it returned to the sheath the instant that it finished its arc.
The giant clutched at his bleeding throat which he had exposed when he attempted to retrieve his axe. The nameless man calmly turned to watch him fade. The giant attempted to chase after the man, to crush him with his bare hands, but it proved futile. The giant’s blood left him too swiftly. In moments his body crashed to the ground.
Upon seeing this the chieftain drew his own axe and roared with rage, but as he prepared to charge the man spoke, “Oh, noble clan lord, you would not see fit to cut me down for having met the terms of your challenge. I have upheld my end; I have killed your warrior. Now you must uphold yours, or is this Giant not but a cowardly dog! You promise mine enjoinment to your clan, but the moment it comes to fulfill this oath you act to turn on me. I would not think for a moment that you would seek to do me harm, not before at least granting me entrance to your people. Far be it from you to turn away from your word so quickly! A warrior’s word is the worth of his life; would you forfeit what you are for such a small vengeance?”
The giant, already red with rage, became pale, “I would not,” and then he returned the axe to his back. Without looking away from the man he called over his shoulder, “I, Dúratar, chieftain of the clan of the northern wind, join this…titan of a man, to my clan!” At this all of the giants loosed an outcry of rage and despair. When it subsided Dúratar continued, “All his kin, who are eligible, may choose to leave their respective clans to join us as he has. He shall take responsibility for the position to which he has been assigned, to partake in war, and it’s spoils, to partake in labor, and it’s fruits, to care for the dead as is custom, and in time to die…for the good of the clan!” He shouted. A sullen silence followed. It was broken once more by Dúratar, “You will stay behind to take care of Drordor’s funeral…Kortratar!” A younger giant came forward from the protected center of the formation, “Kortratar will instruct you in the ritual,” with that the rest of the giants began to run again, leaving the young giant with the nameless man and the corpse.
After a few moments the man turned to Kortratar and said, “What is it that I must do?” the only response he received was a series of elaborate hand motions that Kortratar performed. Unimpressed he asked, “You are mute?” Kortratar responded with a nod. “Perfect. Please explain to me the method in which I am to perform this ceremony, slowly…”
Kortratar began making a waving motion with his hand, after a moment the man was able to understand. He began to cut through the long grass around the corpse and heaped it over the body. After a moment Kortratar joined him, using a short sword to cut swath after swath of dry grass to place upon the corpse. Once a wide area was cleared so that the fire would not spread to the plains beyond the man went to the abandoned supplies. There he found a fairly large piece of flint and a striking iron. With a few sparks the fire was ignited and Drordor began his journey to dust. Then he turned and prepared to follow the giants on their way when Kortratar grabbed his arm and began to point at the man and the fire frantically.
At first he thought the young giant wanted him to jump into the fire, but thought of this as folly. Very few of even the most barbaric of societies actually require that rituals be performed in a fire, especially one meant for the dead. Then he realized that he was meant to leave a gift. After a moments consideration he took off his cloak and shirt and mail. He examined the chain mail for a moment and then tossed it onto the fire; he would need to travel lightly to catch up with the rest of the giant clan.
“Is that all?” the nameless man asked. Kortratar nodded, and pointed in the direction that the rest of the giants had left in. The man nodded back and said, “Yes, we’ll join them now.” With that the two of them headed off after the giants. They ran in silence, taking long strides in order to better preserve their strength.
The grassy fields rushed past them as they followed the trail of crushed grass, which had been trodden over by heavy footfalls. In due course they found the tall tents of the giant clan. The ring of tents was made like a mobile fortress. Each tent was connected to the one next to it by a fence of wood. Sharpened spikes were angled outward over the top of the fence. Any cavalry that sought a raid the camp would be impaled on the many deadly protrusions. Just outside this fence was a much shorter fence made of thin strands of animal sinew. The rope encircled the entire camp, and was fitted with bells of bronze or copper. This small ring was almost invisible in the dark, and should someone bump into it the bells would alert all within earshot to the intrusion. It was not quite dark enough to be effective when the two arrived and so they stepped over the small alarm system and entered the camp easily.
A large fire had been erected at the center of the camp, around which sat the Giant warriors and their wives. Those boys who were still too young to act as warriors in the clan joined the unmarried women and the younger daughters at smaller separate fires around the inside of the circle of tents. As the nameless man and the young giant stepped into the light the giant warriors stood shouting an alarm, which brought everyone to their feet.
Upon seeing whom it was the giant chieftain said, “Act carefully when you approach a giant’s nest, for we are likely to cut you down before realizing who you are. It is best to announce yourself. What name do you have that we should address you by, and so that we may know who it is that calls to us from the night?”
“I have no name of any worth to your ears. Whatever I was before our meeting is now no more. I wish not to be a man amongst giants, but rather a giant amongst his kin. Give me a name suiting of a giant and I shall take it.” The man replied, hoping that they would not question him further on the matter.
Dúritar seemed somewhat angered by this request, but quickly calmed himself, “You may have slain Drordor, but that does not make you a giant. I bargained foolishly with you, and wish with all I am that I had never spoken those words. So, I shall give you no name for a giant, though you must claim Drodor’s station as my right hand. Now, I shall ask again, what be your name?”
“I wish not to bear my past with me to what future awaits. It will honor me then, since you do not wish me to possess a giant’s name, that you would call me Little Giant. I need not take a high position in your hierarchy if you so choose, but I shall run with you where you go and fight your battles like they were my own,” the man said smoothly.
Dúratar stared at the human, as if willing that the man would grow taller and become a giant, so that he would end his embarrassment. Nonetheless such magic did not exist that could make a man a giant and so the man remained a man. At length the chieftain replied, “You shall have this name then, Little Giant, but you shall not escape your responsibility as my right hand warrior. Be warned, our laws dictate that upon you shall be a heavy burden of our tribe. None shall challenge your authority until the moon has made a full cycle across the sky, at which point any subordinate may challenge you for your post. You cannot relinquish your responsibilities save in times of extreme illness, otherwise you will perform them with all diligence or those under your command receive the right to call you out en mass and have you banished, regardless of your prowess in battle.”
“Very well then, I shall perform my duties, but first I would like to know what they are.”
“As my second you shall be in command of my warriors whenever I am away. You shall be in command over the sheltering of the women and the children in any time of crisis. If at any point I am killed in battle then you are to take charge and finish the fight, then the warriors are to convene and vote on who is to be the next cheiftain. Other than that you are to act as any warrior of the clan.”
“It sounds like that would be within my abilities. Now, may I ask where it is that we are going?”
Dúratar looked long and hard at the man before he finally said, “We go where we go, and you need not know of it beforehand.”
“I see,” Little Giant said. Then one of the giantesses came forward from the light of one of the smaller fires and placed a bowl of soup before him. He bowed to her, even though he was already sitting, and thanked her. He proceeded to eat the large helping of boiled meats and vegetables. A great variety of spices had been added to the food to ensure that the flavor was suitable to a giant. For a man it was a large meal, but for a giant it would be a frugal proportion. The giants ate in silence glaring at the abomination in their midst. The giants finished long before Little Giant and sat waiting for him to finish.
When at last the man set down his empty bowl one of the giants asked, “Human, how is it that you came to fight as you do? Few men can hope to stand up to a Giant on his own.”
The man thought for a moment, and came up with what he thought of as a good fabrication that would appeal to the giants, “I’ve said before that I wish to leave my past behind me, but perhaps its best you know why I no longer wish to remain with my blood-kin. From my youth I took to the sword. I learned to use a blade better than most men know how to walk. My skill drew challenges and I gained wealth from my many victories. Yet, amongst my kin I saw little of the honor I sought to gain. Thus I left them, seeking any sort of reprieve from the empty life I once had. Please pester me no more of such futile wasted days, I wish to begin anew.”
Dúratar contemplated this answer and a slow smile spread across his visage, "It is rare that a man should give up his greed in search of something as great as honor. We Giants have always sought to carry this righteous banner. While I may hate man and his decadent ways, I think, in time, I may be able to learn to trust you. If, you truly seek to take up a more noble cause than greed."
Little Giant nodded, “I assure you, my intentions are far beyond what any man has ever had the ambition to dream of.”
“Then sleep well this night in the warrior’s tent, as we shall have far to travel in the morning.” Dúratar instructed, and then he dismissed those gathered around the fire.
The man was given a place inside one of the tall cone shaped tents. They were made from skins tied together by thin strips of hide. The ground was left bare but thick blankets made from furs were arrayed around the tent. In the center was a bare space, left open should there have been need of a fire. The other giants in the tent went to each of their own portion of the tent. All of them laid down and prepared to slumber, each with his weapon already in hand. Little Giant went to the only remaining space left vacant. He lay still, pretending to sleep. Yet, he could find no rest, for the giants around him slumbered like great bears. He remained awake, expectant of one of them to rise up and try to kill him in his sleep, but none of them did. The man found no rest, and when morning came he greatly regretted it.
The morning meal was comprised of the same soup they had had the night before. It was reheated over the open fire and distributed in bowls. It wasn’t long before the meal was over and camp was torn down. The warriors did not carry the tents or the extra wood; that was the responsibility of the giantesses. The giants carried their weapons, and stood on the outside of the formation. As soon as everyone was in place the chieftain roared the order to run and run they did.
Little Giant was able to keep pace for just a few minutes, but the Giants’ long strides greatly surpassed human abilities. It was simply beyond any man to match a Giant in a foot-race. The Giants did not slow; in fact it seemed that as they saw him slow they hastened their steps. The man was left to follow their trail northward. The path of grass that they had crushed provided an easy trail to follow, but he was unable to keep them in sight for long, as the open fields became increasingly uneven. They entered the shadow of the Rippling Sky Peaks. It was long after nightfall that the man entered the camp of the Giants. One of whom stood on watch.
“Hail, brother!” the Giant said sarcastically, “It seems that our rear-guard has made his final rounds and sees fit to turn in for the night.”
Little Giant allowed himself to chuckle at the jest. He spoke between heavy gasps, “My greetings to you as well. I have followed up at a distance to make sure no one was trailing us, and then in turn I caught myself trailing you!”
“Well then take yourself to the holding tent so that we may question you of your intentions later,” The Giant said.
“That I will,” The man replied and continued on into the camp, only to find that each of the tents were empty. Startled by this Little Giant began to cautiously circle the camp, hoping to see some sign of the rest of the clan. Then he saw it. A small light flashed in the shadows. A window had been opened for a brief moment, revealing the hearty fire inside. He sighed in exasperation, thinking of how wearisome the giant’s ploys were. Expectantly he crept through the night, seeking the hidden homes of the giants. It wasn’t long before he met a second sentinel. They had of course been expecting him, so they did not out rightly cut him down in the dark, but the giant took advantage of the element of surprise nonetheless. The giant jumped from his hiding place and tackled the man like an avalanche crushing a lost squirrel.
The giant got up and said smugly, “Why brother! I did not know it was you! Little Giant, you should be more careful to announce yourself. Dúratar has warned you once already. I could’ve killed you!”
Little Giant struggled to his feet, checking himself for broken bones. After regaining his breathe he replied, “Were it possible that I know when and where to announce myself then I shall, but I’m not going to go about shouting to the empty grass and brush that I have arrived.”
Then to the man’s absolute surprise the ground next to him stood up. A second giant roared with laughter, “You may need to do just that, or you’ll never have the chance to survive your journey to our summer retreat. I shall take you the rest of the way.” So the two of them made their way to the camp, all the while the giant progressed as noisily as he could, presumably to keep from surprising any more of the giant guardians. In a matter of a few minutes they had crossed to where Little Giant had seen the light of a fire. The Giant reached his hand forward into a thicket of brush and drew it aside, revealing a dark and imposing gap in the brambles. The man stepped forward and found that there was a second veil, composed of thick hide. He pulled it back and was greeted by the light and homely smell of the Giant’s summer dwelling. Kegs of liquor that stood as tall as a man rested in one corner. Long tables lined the walls on either side of the front door. Across the way was the blazing hearth, and in it roasted several freshly killed boars. The giants sat at their tables somberly drinking down the brew. The man went and stood on the nearest vacancy on the bench.
He turned to the giantess next to him and asked, “Is there any custom that I must hereby engage, now that I have taken up the banner of second in command?”
She whispered back to him, “Dúratar has already told you of your responsibilities, but be wary for every giant in here has pledged to challenge you for your position as soon as custom permits.”
“How much time do I have?” Little Giant whispered back.
“On the morrow it will be twenty-eight days until they may call you forward.”
“Thank you for your warning. May I ask what it is they call you?”
She hesitated for a moment then replied, “I am named Thetre.”
“Thank you again, Thetre, and I shall remember this kindness when it is my time to return it.” Then Little Giant dropped down from the bench and went to get a drink from one of the barrels. To his surprise the beer had been diluted with water. Most likely to preserve what they had in short supply. The summer would be the time to replenish their stocks here. The man finished his drink and then crept outside in order to find the other hidden dwellings of the clan.
He cautiously went about trying to find each of the other structures, comprised of every form of vegetation and skin imaginable. All the while that he searched he made sure to be as loud as possible, so that any hidden sentries would know where he was and what he was doing, so as not to catch any of them unawares. Several of them ambushed him regardless, as if only for the excuse to hit him, but other sentries would always step forward before the brutal beatings cost him more than his pride. The vicious attacks didn’t deter him, and before the night was out he had located the majority of the giant’s hidden dwellings, ending his short quest in the sleeping quarters of the warriors. There he promptly fell asleep and slept like a stone until morning.
As the light of the sun broke the horizon the giants quickly began their day. The warriors would trade their axes and spears for hammers and plows. The safety of their mountain refuge was where they could practice the activities often denied to the warlike clan. The simple life of agriculture that they had actually once reveled in was now only practiced under the protection of secretive seclusion. Little Giant aided them as best he could, despite the fact that all the tools he had to use were greatly disproportionate to his size. Due to his authority that he had been granted he also spent much time devising ways to correct inefficiencies in their refurbishing of their hidden homes. There wasn’t much that he changed, as they were concealed well enough already. The days went by, far too quickly. Little Giant saw very little opportunity to avoid having to face the next challenger. Then, his opportunity presented itself, in the form of a vast bear.
It wandered down from the mountains, only three days before the restriction on his challengers would be lifted. The bear was massive. Even on all fours it was as tall as a giant. The giants assembled outside, quietly watching as it hesitated on the outside of their settlement. It snorted at them, its breath steaming in the cold morning air. The confrontation lasted only a few moments, before the bear turned back to the mountains.
“What sort of bear was that?” Little Giant asked Dúratar.
“It was the Lokogo. The great bear of the Rippling Sky Peaks. It is one of the beasts that changelings hunt. It carries within its breast a heart-stone. Those amongst us giants that hunt the mighty bears of the mountains are heralded as great heroes. I myself have broken a Lokogo’s heart-stone and drank the changing liquor. I can alter my form to be like that of the bear I killed,” He answered.
“This is a task I should like to undertake. Tell me, what must I do to hunt one of these titan bears, these, Lokogo?”
“Man hunts them like he would any other animal. To claim the great bear’s form is one of our warrior’s greatest aspirations. We do not hunt as man does, for he is without honor. We hunt the bear, as the bear would hunt us. To hunt this bear you are to be armed only with claw and tooth, like the bear himself.”
“Is there any ceremony in which I must partake, or any rites I must undergo?”
“If truly you wish to hunt the Lokogo you must follow all of our customs for doing so. First, you must stand as an observer at your own death pyre. Then you will be armed with the bear’s tooth and claw, to go and to hunt him in the mountain with but three day’s worth of provisions.”
Little Giant smiled, thinking of the strange idea of standing at his own funeral, it was a sensible custom however, a very forthright warning. Still he was not put off by the idea, and understood that if the bear was difficult to kill for a giant, for him it would be doubly so. “I will hunt the bear, what preparations must I make?”
“None, we shall make them for you.” Dúratar concluded. That night all the arrangements were made, and a small funeral pyre had been built, on which was the crude likeness of a man. The pyre was lit and Little Giant watched the effigy of himself burn into ash. Then he was given the skin of a bear to wear, tanned and cut to fit him. Along with this he was provided a knife made from the bear’s claw, and a spear, from the bear’s tooth. Lastly he was given a small leather satchel, which contained bread and dried fruit, enough to suffice for three days.
As the giants were seeing Little Giant off Thetre stepped forward from the gaggle and shouted after him, “Be wary Little Giant, for the mountains have more than simply the Lokogo. There you will also find the Dwarves, who would hate you as they hate your one time kin! And stay away also from the Nudathan, the hunter of the Lokogo! For while he is a far greater prize, he is also a far greater threat. Do not let your pride get the best of you, know your limits, and avoid the bear hunter!”
Little Giant waved his hand to her in the dark, offering reassurance. After hearing this though he was now intrigued. He had intended on hunting the bear, but if there was something greater than the beast, then he must bring it down. Then when he returned the giants would understand that he was not to be trifled with and that he would do well as their chieftain’s right hand.
Hunting the Greatest Hunter
It had been a full three days since Little Giant had struck out from the Giant’s encampment. The first day he had been sure to eat nothing other than what he could find in the forested valleys between the titanic mountains. Food was plentiful enough, and he survived comfortably off of wild plants, just as he had done so in the plains. All the while he gathered strong lengths of wood, sharpening them into more spears. They weren’t as sharp as his bear tooth spear, but they were sharp enough. The next two days he was laden with well over a dozen spears, which he bound together with vines. This was the last day that he would spend in the sheltered forests of the valley. His pack was now filled with as much food as it could hold. Over his back he had his spears and vine rope. As he had seen neither a giant bear nor its hunter he chose a mountain at random, deciding to begin his search in the heights.
He began his climb in the early morning light, the chill air biting at his hands and his face. It did little to dissuade him, and he marched up the rocky side of the mountain. The steep talus at the bottom of the mountain was comprised of loose stone and boulders, and slipped under his feet. He proceeded, much of the time on all fours. Yet, by high noon the air was warm again, and he gratefully drank from one of the many small tributaries that trickled down from the snow capped peak above. The delay for rest lasted only a few moments, and Little Giant didn’t even bother to survey the valley below from which he had ascended. His focus was now singular, find a Nudathan, and kill it.
Little Giant ended his fourth day of the hunt by climbing under a rocky outcropping to protect from the night’s chill air. He ate meagerly from his pouch, knowing that he may have to search the mountain for a long time before he’d be able to return to the bounty of the forest. He slept well, but was awakened in the early hours of the morning by something moving outside of his shelter. Quietly he gazed around the stone of his shelter, and saw what appeared to be a short man. Little Giant watched as the dwarf rearranged a bundle of wood he had been carrying. The Dwarf was dressed in green dyed clothes. His hair spilled down his back, coming to a stop just below his shoulder blades. Both the Dwarf’s hair and beard were a crystal white, like ice that had been cracked. When the Dwarf turned so that Little Giant could see his face, he saw that the Dwarf was in fact stone grey. Little Giant crept up beside the stout being and asked, “Could you tell me where a hunter might find his quarry?”
The dwarf jumped, and let the hefty bundle of wood fall from his shoulders. He raised a woodcutting axe before him, and looked Little Giant over carefully, “I will tell no man where he might find the home of the Dwarves. I’d die before I uttered a word of it to you,” he paused and then asked, almost skeptically, “How is it that you survived to get this far north? The giants would have killed a man the moment you were seen.”
Little Giant looked surprised, “Why I think you misunderstand me my friend. I do not hunt the Dwarves, worthy hunt as it might be. No I hunt the hunter, the killer of the great bear. I hunt the Nudathan of the mountains! Please, I must bring down one quickly, and I’m sure you must have a better idea than I of where to find one.”
The Dwarf stared at Little Giant, as if he were trying to discern his sanity. At length he asked, “Why do you hunt the Nudathan alone? Few men would dare such a feat, and would at the very least bring a servant or two to carry supplies and weapons. Here I see you alone, in wilderness in which man is not welcome. It brings me to wonder at where it is your fellows make camp, and where it is you’ll be going after you finish your hunt.”
Little Giant scoffed, putting on a display as if the Dwarf had insulted him, “You think me a man? I am no man! I am a giant, second in command of Dúratar’s clan! The clan of the North Wind!”
“Indeed,” the Dwarf said, “then if you are a giant, you would have a giant’s strength. I shall make you a bargain then. Carry my wood up to the snowline, and I will tell you where to hunt your prey. But, if you stumble, then I will have you thrown from the highest peak of these mountains.”
Little Giant glanced at the Dwarf’s bundle that had slipped down the slope some way below them. He breathed deeply, and then answered, “I’ll take your bargain.” The Dwarf chuckled, and the man descended back to the abandoned cluster of fresh logs. He hoisted them up on his shoulder, along with his spears. He was bent forward by the weight of his burden, but, settling the weight on his shoulders, he pressed back up the mountain. The Dwarf took up place behind him, axe at the ready. Little Giant didn’t stop though, even as the sun reached its apex he kept climbing, following the path that the Dwarf pointed out before him. Little Giant struggled up the mountainside, until at length, he came to the first spattering of snow, there, he collapsed in a heap. “There I’ve reached the snowline; my part of the deal is finished. Now, hold to your end.” He said between gasps.
The Dwarf roughly pulled the logs from Little Giant’s back, and then he pointed up the mountain, “Well above the snowline you will find an ice cave. It is how the beasts make their home. All about it will be the bones of the animals that it has killed. You will know it when you see it.”
“Thank you oh noble Dwarf,” Little Giant said as he picked himself up off the ground.
“I should have killed you when you fell over, but it doesn’t matter, the Nudathan will kill you anyway. Now, go!” The Dwarf shouted, pointing up the mountain. Little Giant didn’t hesitate; he resumed his walk, eternally grateful simply to have the heavy weight removed. It was not long before he found a trail in the snow. It was fresh and made from the footsteps of a large animal. The trail led him to the den of the bear killer.
The mound of ice and snow was a crude construction, but more than a serviceable shelter. Just as the Dwarf had said, bones of all kinds of creatures lay about the front of the den. Judging from the freshness of the trail, the beast was inside. Little Giant crept forward cautiously, peering into the gaping entrance of the cave. Inside, was the hulking mass of what appeared to be a Giant in a bear’s skin. Lying before it was the corpse of a boar, freshly killed. He watched as the creature reached out with its hands and ripped open the body of the pig. The large boar was split in half, and blood drained upon the floor of the cavern, adding to the already deep red of the interior. The Nudathan buried its muzzle in the corpse, ripping and tearing the tender flesh. It tore out one of the ribs of the boar and bit through with its bearlike maw. The bone cracked and split under crushing power of the animal’s jaws.
Little Giant slipped back, away from the grim display of strength. He knew now that he had found his quarry, and must prepare for bringing it down. He surveyed the area, trying to determine where it would be best to set a trap. The cave was situated on a small outcropping of rock, being more level than much of the rest of the mountain. Directly behind the cave was a sheer wall, of about forty feet in height. Little Giant gingerly climbed up on top of the Nudathan’s den, carefully plotting out his course. Then he quietly took the spears from his back, and set to work.
He used his bear claw dagger to dig out small pockets in the roof of the Nudathan’s layer. In these he drove in the spears he had made, so that their tips pointed skyward. He arranged all but two of them in the ground. Then with his coil of vine, his knife, and his three remaining spears, he scaled the ice wall. Once he reached the narrow ledge above he found a place to tie off his vine. There, at the top of the wall he left two of his spears, one of which was his bear tooth spear, because he knew it would be the best one to finish the Nudathan with. He then returned to the bottom of the wall, climbing down the vine, and landing at the bottom as quietly as he could. He checked once more to make sure that everything was in place, and then he returned to the entrance of the cave.
Inside the cave the Nudathan had finished with its meal. It lay on its side, facing away from the entrance. Little Giant watched as it breathed evenly. Stepping into the beast’s lair he realized the creature was far taller than even a giant. He would have to move quickly if he was to climb out of its reach before it got to him. For a moment he considered trying to stab it in the eye as it slept, finishing it quickly before it had a chance to awaken. Its head was facing the other way though, giving no clear shot of that vulnerable target, so he crept down to the legs of the huge sleeping animal. He readied his spear, and then thrust, forcing the spike of wood as deep into the Nudathan’s calf as it would go. A fierce bellow of rage and pain filled the small icy hovel, and Little Giant ran from the cave as quickly as he could, sprinting to the vine. Suddenly the top of the cave burst outward, and the Nudathan emerged from the scattering snow. It had broken its way through the top of its lair, and was far closer than Little Giant had planned at this point. Hurriedly he climbed up the vine trying to get out of reach before the beast was close enough to attack. It snorted once, looking at its dangling attacker, then threw itself at him.
Little Giant jumped to the side, swinging wide of the creature’s attack. At the apex of his swing he kicked away from the wall, swinging outward around the animal. The bear-beast swung wildly, and caught the vine in its hand. Little Giant’s attempt to swing past the Nudathan was cut short, and instead, he was abruptly swung straight into the unsuspecting creature’s face. He stabbed the Nudathan in the eye with his bear-claw knife. It roared, and flailed, trying to crush him. The claw was not long enough to kill the creature, but it was certainly adequate to blind the eye in which it was now embedded. Taking his opportunity Little Giant began climbing again, this time without the aid of a rope. The Nudathan was disoriented by its pain, and he was able to reach the top before it had come to its senses. There he shouted down from the height, getting its attention. The beast looked up at him, its last good eye alight with rage. It bellowed, and drove its claws into the ice, each one like a pick, helping it to climb. Little Giant waited, holding his spear ready, in full view of the beast. He continued to bellow and roar, like an animal, trying to infuriate it further. The titanic creature replied in turn, making its howls echo across the mountain peaks. Then, as it neared the summit, Little Giant stepped back, disappearing from its view. He quickly passed to the side on which its bad eye was on, and stood poised to make his final attack. The moment it raised its head above the edge Little Giant struck. He stabbed at the bloodied eye, and its ear, and its neck. The beast bellowed in shock at the fierce attack, and swept at him with one of its claws. He ducked the blow, and then drove the bear tooth spear into the other claw, which held the Nudathan to the cliff. Its grip slackened, and the creature tipped backward, falling from the wall. It let loose one final cry of primal fury and landed firmly on the upward facing spears below. There it lay, and the mountains became still and quiet.
With the battle finished Little Giant calmly climbed down from the ledge, and stood next to his slain quarry. Even in death it was an imposing sight. The long spears were not enough to peirce the whole way through the Nudathan’s body, and so it looked almost as if it were not injured at all. It was, as he had though before, very much like a giant in a bear’s fur. It was quiet human in from, but larger than even a Giant. Its face was that of a bear, the most bear-like aspect of the whole animal. Its good eye was still staring at him, unfocused and glazed. The iris was gold and black around the deeper darkness of the extended pupil.
Little Giant circled around to the other side of the Nudathan’s head and cautiously removed the knife from the Nudathan’s eye. Then he unceremoniously cut to the center of the beast’s chest. It was an arduous task, but the warm blood was refreshing to Little Giant’s frigid body. He could not help but to practically bathe in it as he worked his way to the heart-stone. So consumed by his labor he did not hear the many feet gathering about his kill. “Oi! You there, Giant or man, whatever you may be! Come out!”
Little Giant started at the call, and climbed up from the partially opened chest cavity. Blood drenched him entirely, and his dissection was only partially complete. He had had to work his way around spears and bones that had been broken and forced throughout the body. He stood, holding his dagger at the ready, and one of the spears he had removed from the shattered form of the Nudathan. Around him were nearly two dozen Dwarves, aiming arrows at him from a safe distance. “What is it that you come here for?” Little Giant asked, wary of the many weapons aimed in his direction.
The Dwarf crier replied, “We’ve come here to see to it that the beast was finished, if you had failed in your efforts to slay it.”
“Clearly I have made no such failure. My task is done, and so too is yours, why do you linger?” Little Giant asked.
The Dwarf answered, sounding just as wary of the man as he was of them, “We are friendly with the Giants, and wish to know how much of your story is true. Obviously you are not a normal man, but we cannot allow you to simply leave on that merit. We will accompany you back to Dúratar’s clan, where we will sort out the truth of this.”
Little Giant, now sure that the Dwarves did not intend to kill him outright, dropped his weapons before himself and held out his hands in surrender. “Then all I ask that the body of the Nudathan is brought as well, I would not have my kill forsaken to the mountain’s ravaging.”
“Very well,” The Dwarf said, and gestured for his companions to do as the man requested. “We will bring it in it’s entirety with us.” The Dwarves proceeded to cut apart the body, skinning it expertly, and all the portions and organs were collected, to be carried down the mountain to the Giant’s village.
They managed to get below the cold air of the peak, and lit fires with wood they had brought. Little Giant washed as best he could in the icy water of a mountain stream. He ate from his supplies, and the Dwarves were even generous enough to cook a piece of the Nudathan’s meat for him. They ate nothing though, and carried no food. That night Little Giant slept soundlessly, exhausted from the day’s trials. The Dwarves did not sleep, and instead watched the night sky and the forests below until sunrise came again.
The Dwarves traveled quickly, and Little Giant, weary as he was, had difficulty keeping up. Yet their haste was in the end beneficial for him, because by midday they had reached the village of the North Wind Clan. The sentries called for Dúratar when the gaggle of Dwarves walked out of the forest. The Giant Chieftain came out and, upon seeing Little Giant asked, “Did you help him with his kill? That is not how it should be done!”
“Hold friend,” the leader of the Dwarves replied, “we merely carried it down the mountain. I wanted to speak with you about this man. It is obvious that you know him,” The two of them then went to talk about Little Giant.
Thetre came to Little Giant and said, timidly, “I am glad to see that you survived your hunt for the Lokogo, but I take it the Dwarves have not allowed you to drink from its heart-stone yet?”
“No they have not,” he replied, smiling that she hadn’t realized what he had done yet.
“Then I will have it brought, the task must be done, otherwise you may have challengers before you even have the chance to drink,” She then took the heart-stone from the dwarf who carried it, and used a stone drill to wear a hole in its side. Then she handed it to Little Giant and said, “Drink it. Drink until the liquor turns bitter, then you have had enough.” Little Giant nodded, and then put the stone to his lips, drinking the changing draft. He fell to the ground clutching at his throat, as the ghastly fluid seemed to sear its way through his body. Had he been able, Little Giant would have screamed, and for a moment he thought that Thetre had poisoned him. Then, just as suddenly as the pain had begun, it subsided.
“Is the taste bitter yet?” Thetre asked.
“No, but it burns like fire,” Little Giant replied.
“Then you must drink more,” She answered simply.
Little Giant looked at the nearly perfect stone sphere in his hands. He took a deep breath and then drank more. His muscles clenched tight as the Nudathan’s essence ran its course. He drank until the fluid became horrifically bitter in his mouth. At once he spat out what remained of it. Then he let the nearly empty heartstone roll out of his hands.
Little Giant cautiously stood up from the ground where he had fallen. The Dwarves stood around him observing him uncomfortably. For a moment Little Giant stood unsteadily on his feet, but then he found what it was within himself that had changed. Enacting the new power he had gained from the magic fluid his body began to shift. His form swelled and he grew taller, muscle grew in tight and hard across the entirety of his body. The bearskin clothes he wore were split and torn by his expanding form. In moments the transformation was complete, and the Dwarves stood back in surprise and horror. Thetre looked up into Little Giant’s eyes, now the eyes of an animal, “It was not the Lokogo that you killed. It was the Nudathan. Little Giant, you are as foolish as you are brave.”
Little Giant’s transformation did not go unnoticed. The Giant’s began gathering around in awe, looking over the man’s changed form. After giving them a fair time to stare Little Giant changed back to his more mundane body. Yet even then the Giant’s and the Dwarves looked on him with amazement. Little Giant spoke, “Hail brothers, my hunt for the great hunter is complete. Now I am the greatest hunter.”
Killing Friends and Making Amends
The Dwarves left the very same afternoon that they had come, as they needed to go and speak with their lord on the matters they had witnessed. Little Giant prepared to face his challengers. He clothed himself in his old cloak once more, but gave the women the skin of the Nudathan to be made into other garments. He sat with Dúratar and discussed what was to be done next.
“It is obvious to me that my new form would be more suiting to travel with a Giant’s clan, but truly I have no weapons suitable to a Nudathan’s size,” Little Giant pointed out.
“Yes, that is true, and we have few weapons to spare. We can make you a crude spear and shield, but that is not really worthy of your abilities. Normally, on such an event as this, we would make a trade with the Dwarves to have them construct you an axe or sword more befitting to your new body, as even a Giant’s axe is somewhat small for a Nudathan’s hand. As it is we do not have the resources to make such a trade. It would take many raids on human settlements to gather the items that the Dwarves would usually request for the forging of such a weapon.” Dúratar explained.
Little Giant smiled wryly as another warrior came down to sit by them. He had watched the Giant approach, and had been expecting a challenge to a duel, but so far none of the warriors had challenged him. Turning back to the chieftain he said, “That is well enough for me. A spear and a shield are some of the oldest weapons ever made. They will serve me well enough for the time being. As for raiding human settlements, I think it is something that I would conduct well enough. I long for the chance to show you that I am a Giant and that I will go with my brethren into battle, to share in that ultimate bond. I want to show you that we are on the same side, you and I.”
Dúratar nodded, “It is true that many of my warriors still do not trust you, and I must say, I don’t yet trust you all that much either. Still, man pushes northward year after year. His relentless expansion will leave us with little land south of the Rippling Sky Peaks. If we are caught between him and the mountains we will have little room to maneuver to safety. I suppose a few summer time raids might be enough to slow his progress.”
“I’m not interested in slowing down man’s expansion. I say we push him back. It need not be a major push, but we can force him back subtly. It will give us room to better survive during the winter months when we must move away from here because of the cold.”
“You are a brave one you. But it is only so long that you can rely upon your strength and wits to keep you alive. A good warrior must also be cautious, and know when to lay low and weather out the storm. Someday you’re going to have a sword rammed through your stomach and you’re not going to be able to do a thing about it.”
Little Giant chuckled, “I’m sure I will soon enough, but for the moment I plan to be the storm that our enemies must weather out. Do you know of any semi-permanent settlements that could be vulnerable to a raid?”
Dúratar nodded, “Aye that I do, but none that would be particularly vital. If you really want to learn which ones might really be worth attacking, especially if you want to know how to halt their northward expansion.”
“Damn!” Little Giant exclaimed, “I missed my chance to barter with the Dwarves this morning. I’ll have to wait for them to return.”
“Fear not, Little Giant, they have taken much interest in you. They’re sure to be back within the month.”
“Then in the mean time I plan on practicing a new ploy of mine.”
“Ploy? What ploy is this?”
“You see, when we go on raids, the men will not expect me to be accompanied by Giants. In this way we’ll be able set up traps for them. Your warriors are excellent in hiding, and would be able to ambush traveling traders with ease. We’ll have enough resources to make any kind of trade with the Dwarves that we might need.”
Dúratar tugged at his beard for a moment, thinking over the possibilities, “Very well, you will have your raiding party. I want to see how you fair in organizing an attack. I will let you take five of our clan’s warriors to go and raid their traveling caravans. You may conduct your attacks any way you see fit, but you must succeed in bringing us valuable spoils. I don’t want to see worthless woven rugs or other such refuse.”
“Never fear my chieftain, I shall bring you the greatest spoils of war that can be had.” Then the two of them went to pick the five warriors that Little Giant would take with him on his raid. They would not be able to raid any of the larger cavalcade that travel the roads, so Little Giant chose the warriors that would be best suited to ambushing a smaller number of human soldiers. The Giants that were chosen were named Taerador, Thaledun, Nuraktar, Ishtak, and finally Kortratar.
Each warrior was chosen for his traits and skills. Little Giant knew that it would be important that they would be able to work together, so he chose Taerador and Thaledun because they were brothers, and had been in many battles together. They would help to hold the group together. Nuraktar was chosen for his skill in concealment. He was one of the best guardsmen that they had. He would help to set up their sites for ambush. Ishtak was chosen because he was a great brute of a Giant. He could change his form to that of a Lokogo, and he was massive in stature and strength. No man could look at him without cowering away from his might. Lastly Kortratar was chosen because Little Giant wanted someone who might be mistaken for a man. He had also chosen Kortratar in order to gain favor with Dúratar, as the young giant was his son the chieftain would enjoy hearing of the boy’s exploits, so long as they brought him honor.
The six of them packed lightly, or at least as light as Giants ever pack. Little Giant traveled in the form of the Nudathan, as it was easier for him to carry the supplies he would need. He could not issue orders as his mouth was that of a beast, but it was more important to be able to bear their tools. They ran southward, travelling for days, resting meagerly, only when the night provided too little light to travel. The Giants stopped when they came across a road that lead east and west, a connecting road between frontier settlements, and a well traveled one from the look of it. They gathered reeds and grass from the surrounding field, making entwined mats of straw, which they laid over their supplies. These mats were not tightly woven, so that grasses beneath them could poke out making them appear to be nothing more than a natural part of the ground.
The other giants worked to construct similar coverings for themselves while Ishtak and Little Giant scouted up and down the road, in their respective bestial skins. By nightfall of the first day of their raid they had located a box wagon, guarded by a meager compliment of soldiers, was traveling to the west. Ishtak had spotted it on his scouting venture, and because he could travel so much faster in his bear form they had much time to prepare. The Giants lay in wait while Little Giant collapsed in the dirt some way down the road. There they waited until the armored wagon approached. The driver of the wagon saw Little Giant lying in the road, and stopped his horses short. He called out to his companions saying, “Oy, it looks to me that a man has dropped dead in the road ahead! Move on ahead an’ get that corpse out the way. I don’t want to have to run it over and carry the stench with us for the rest of the road!” With that two of the six guardsmen on the ground began to walk forward. On top of the wagon four archers sat lazily gazing out at the landscape, far less alert than they should have been. Next to the driver was another archer, this one armed with a crossbow of strong draw. In total the men numbered twelve, two to each of the warriors in hiding.
Little Giant waited to give the word. He watched them approach, running through different scenarios in his head. Overall what he was most concerned about were the archers, who posed a threat to the Giants in hiding. They would have to have their bows empty when the Giant’s rose to attack. Formulating a quick plan Little Giant stood, before the two approaching soldiers were upon him. Startled they stopped short. “Good morning to you!” Little Giant said, stretching and speaking in a welcoming tone. “What baggage is it that you’re bringing westward?”
“None of your business wanderer. Have off with you or we’ll leave you lying where you were, only as dead as the dirt this time,” one of the men replied.
“Have peace Jonavan. There’s no call for threats. Please, we are transporting a prisoner to be executed where she caused havoc. She has lackeys in these parts, and we thought that you might be one. Simply stand aside and let us through and there will be no trouble.”
Little Giant nodded, and turned as if to leave, but at this angle, it also concealed him reaching for his sword. He turned back, whipping up his blade at the two men. The one whom he would have struck blocked the cut with his spear, though it cut the haft in two. The archers stood, aiming their arrows at him. Little Giant engaged the two men with his sword, while the other four soldiers on the ground charged forward to help. Little Giant dispatched his two adversaries as quickly as he could, making the range clear for the archers to fire, and fire they did. All five archers released their arrows at him, and Little Giant raised the corpse of one of his fallen foes in order to shield himself, then he shouted, “Now!”
With that the five giants broke from their hiding places. Ishtak, Nuraktar and Kortratar charged the wagon, ramming their shoulders against it before the archers could reload. The wagon was turned on its side, along with all its passengers. The Giants fell upon the hapless archers like a winter avalanche upon a valley floor. Their axes and spears found their marks with all assuredness. While those three Giants butchered the guardsmen still around the wagon Taerador and Thaledun rushed the men who had been going to attack Little Giant. The two brothers easily bypassed the spears held at them to keep them away, and crushed the men beneath them before they could as much as squeal.
Ishtak did not wait to assess their enemies, and instead went straight to opening the wagon. He grabbed the door, and with one heave of his massive shoulders the bolts and barring came loose, ripped from their holdings. He looked inside the wagon, and groaned. Little Giant, now by his side asked, “What’s the matter my friend, is our prize unsatisfactory to you?”
“Aye, that it is, have a look for yourself,” Ishtak gestured into the overturned wagon. Little Giant peered in to find a very bruised and battered woman. Her long black hair hung down around her shoulders, offering her an elegance that the dirty, single piece poncho did not afford her. Despite her injured form she still glared at Little Giant and stood defiantly on the wall of her tilted prison. The chains about her wrists were stained with blood where her narrow wrists had been scrapped raw.
“What is this that I see looking at me?” Little Giant asked, “I think I see a demon in the dark, I swear those eyes would pierce me with arrows given the chance.”
“Give me a bow and you’d already be dead,” replied the woman.
“Kill me and you’d be set to rot in this cage. Let me help you though, and I’ll set you free.”
“I’ll believe that when you’ve willingly given me a bow, arrows and the keys to my chains,” she replied evenly.
“Then wait right here and I’ll be right back,” Little Giant said, then quickly went about searching the bodies of the guards.
Ishtak helped Little Giant search, but he couldn’t keep from inquiring, “What is it you plan on doing with this woman, Little Giant? Are you longing for the comfort of one such as her? Or perhaps you are too soft hearted to leave a female to her own devises? We are to be collecting the spoils of war; all that a prisoner would be is but another mouth to feed.”
Little Giant laughed, “No, she shall not come with us. I will send her on her way. She is a criminal, a disruption to our enemy. In all likelihood she will be apprehended by our enemies once again, but until then she will be a thorn in their eye.” The Giant nodded, but didn’t reply. Then they all jumped at the jingling of some keys, Kortratar held them up triumphantly. “Ah, where did you find them?” The young Giant pointed to the body of the driver. “Good, excellent work,” Little Giant took the keys and grabbed an unbroken bow and a quiver of arrows. All of these he tossed in to the woman.
The Giants lined up in view of the door, far enough so that they would not appear to be a threat, but close enough that should the woman try to attack they could get to her before she could make much use of the bow. The woman cautiously climbed out of the prison carriage, making sure that no one was about to ambush her. Seeing that Little Giant truly intended to keep to his word she lowered her bow and unstrung her arrow. “I’ll remember this when it is my time to repay it. I assure you, I shall follow my promise as you have done for yours. If ever you have need then call upon the bandits of Hawthorn Wood and ask for the Violet Raven. I shall be ready for you when you seek me out.”
Little Giant bowed, slightly, and said, “Never fear for your honor, for I believe the Giants of the plains will have need of you soon enough.” The Violet Raven bowed in return, and then began to jog down the road.
Nuraktar asked, “When would a Giant ever have need of a human wench?”
“I think you may see the time much sooner than you think.” Little Giant replied, “But not quite yet. For now let us gather up these weapons, and those horses must be turned upright before they are harmed any further. We’ll take these away from the road, and hide them away until we have a better bounty to return to Dúratar.”
All in all they managed to salvage some items of worth from the wrecked wagon and its guards. One of the horses that had been pulling it had been killed, but the other was still in good condition. The fields were too dry though for the animal to find much to eat. Rather than try to find food for it they sent it off the trail, letting it find it own way south.
They concealed their spoils under a mat of grass, leaving clues around the area so that they could find it again. Then they set off down the road, in the direction that the wagon had come from. Obviously it would lead to a settlement large enough to have a tribunal or consulate of some kind. They kept off to the side of the road, being sure to keep the travelers unaware of their presence. Ishtak traveled as a bear, allowing him to venture within sight of the highway without being suspicious. When they at last located the settlement they withdrew to a place further off on the plain. There they drew up a plan in the dirt, plotting out their attack plan for the following night.
As the sun fell Little Giant prepared to play his role as the distraction once again. This time he garbed himself in a crude jerkin made from grass woven in the field. He ruffled his hair and stuck reeds in it, and swathed his body with fresh mud, making himself wild and unkempt in appearance. He took one of the spears from the guardsmen that they had killed, and thusly clad charged into the settlement.
He arose as great a raucous as he could manage, screaming and shouting through the streets. At one point he even slew one of the pursuing guards and took the torch he had carried, with this he began lighting fire to anything that he could. Meanwhile, as the guards and citizens of the town chased him about, four of the giants went through the town carefully taking away anything that they could carry, particularly items of metalwork, as the Dwarves were fascinated by such crafts. The last Giant went to help Little Giant, as he had begun to amass a following that was too much for him to handle. Ishtak took his Lokogo form, and emerged from behind one of the buildings. Little Giant ran straight up to him and turned to face his pursuers. They stopped short, upon seeing the vast form of the Lokogo bear before them. It bellowed a titanic roar, and Little Giant followed it with another one of his enraged screams. Then he changed his form there before them. He became a Nudathan, and roared with his own primal power. The men turned and ran. Then the two of them ransacked the town, breaking in walls, tossing about hapless adversaries, and sending the humans fleeing into the night. The last things that the two shape shifter’s destroyed were the watch towers. These they pushed inward to the town, landing heavily upon the burning buildings. Then they too fled into the night.
The Giants did not linger in the open plains that night, even though they had much to celebrate. They returned to where they had left their previous loot, and gathered it up. They loaded the horse with as much of the plunder as it would carry, the rest they slung over their shoulders and took to the north. They traveled all night and the next day without rest, in order to ensure that there were no pursuers. They did not sleep until the moon was in the sky again. Then they collapsed upon the ground and slept heavily without a watch, even though they needed caution. They were all simply to weary to remain awake. The next day they tied much of the plunder to Ishtak, who remained in his bear form in order to carry more. From there on they continued easily northward, reaching the mountains in four days time, as they ran far less than when they had first come south.
They at last reached the safety of the Giant’s hidden village about noon of the fifth day. The Giant’s all bellowed a triumphant howl of victory, alerting their comrades to their return. Ishtak and Little Giant at last turned back to their more familiar form. They dressed themselves quickly and then the six returning warriors went to meet with Dúratar.
“Welcome home my victorious kin!” he said, looking at Kortratar when he spoke. “How is it that the battles fair in the south? I see that you are all whole, and carry with you a fair supply of recovered items. Tell me what has transpired?”
Little Giant opened his mouth to speak, but Nuraktar interrupted, “I watched carefully, Clan Chief Dúratar, and I believe that Little Giant is an able captain. He makes sure that the greatest risks rest upon his shoulders, even though we would gladly take them for him. He fights with honor, though, with an undue amount of deceit. He is cunning, as is the way of man, but none the less honorable. He fights the way that is necessary for him to fight, though none the more underhanded than is needed to survive. As a Giant he would win himself little in terms of honor for his tactics of war, but he would win the battle.”
“That he has,” Ishtak spoke, “and he shall be a terrifying foe to man. Man he once was, but he cuts down man in droves, as any Giant would.”
Thaledun, the older of the two brothers then also spoke, “Clan Chief Dúratar, I might also add that he has an eye for his enemy’s vulnerabilities. Little Giant need not take more than a moment to discern where he must strike to do the most harm, and how to most quickly disable or slay his opposition. I would like to request that after an adequate time to rest, that we go to raid human lands once again. Perhaps even with a greater host this time. If we contact other Giant clans we might be able to dissuade man from coming further northward.”
Dúratar stared at them blankly for a moment, and then spoke, “No, we will not involve the other clans. This shall be a matter for us. We will not antagonize man any further this year. While we may be able to crush him under foot it doesn’t fall to us to combat his armies directly.”
Little Giant shook his head, “Our Clan Chief is right my battle brothers. It is not yet time to confront man’s armies as of yet. We’ll have to be better prepared, though,” he said turning his face back to Dúratar inquisitively, “I do not agree on not pressing our attack while we have the advantage. There will be other ways to break man’s hold here without exacting a full military response.”[RK1]
“No matter,” Dúratar replied, “for the time being we have other matters to tend to. You are in luck, the Dwarves have returned, and now will be your chance to trade with them for whatever you like, and it seems that you have a significant number of items they may be interested in,” to emphasize he raised up a metal pail, which would have been of little value to anyone else. “Such metal work is not beyond us, but man makes items far more intricate than anything of our craftsmen. The Dwarves are fascinated by any craft of creation, though they specialize in stone masonry and woodwork. We have little metal to trade them since there are no safe places for us to mine anymore.”
“Really?” Little Giant said, intrigued, “in that case we may have more than just our salvaged spoils to offer them, please lead the way.” Dúratar took Little Giant to one of the tall tents, which had been set up well away from the actual village of the Giants. The ring of tents was in full use, in order to complete the illusion that the Giants were staying there. The two clan leaders entered the tent, and found a half dozen Dwarves already seated on the heavy skins covering the center of the tent.
“Greetings Clan Chief Dúratar and warrior Little Giant of the Northwind Clan. I am Ijol, and I have been authorized to trade with you by King Nor of the Dwarves.” The most lavishly clad Dwarf proclaimed. He stood, and bowed gracefully. Little Giant and Dúratar bowed in return, and Little Giant offered his hand in a handshake. Ijol hesitated a moment, and then accepted the handshake. The stony skin was cold in Little Giant’s hand. This was the closest Little Giant had been able to observe a Dwarf. He quickly looked the stout being over, and determined that his skin was not only the color of granite, but in fact was granite. The cold grip of the Dwarf’s fingers served to support this observation. The white beard and hair of the Dwarf were in fact thin crystal growing stiffly from the Dwarf’s head.
“I’m glad to have met you Lord Ijol. I would like to ask first if there is anything that you would want of us to trade, before we begin making our offers,” Little Giant said as he released the Dwarf’s cold fingers.
“There is nothing that we would ask of you. Just name what it is that you want, and we will name the price,” Ijol replied.
“Very well,” Dúratar intoned, “As is custom we would like you to construct a weapon from the bones of the Nudathan that Little Giant has slain. The weapon of course would be of his choosing, and the cost will be upon him to pay. He has already gathered a supply of weapons and materials from raids on man’s northern settlements.”
Ijol looked expectantly at Little Giant, who finally decided on his weapon, “Make me an axe from the femur of the beast. I know your crafts usually are made to be elegant and functional, but I would prefer a different design for this axe. It must be terrifying. Make it brutal and fearsome to look upon. I want my enemies to cower from the savagery of it, and it must be made to fit the size of my Nudathan form, for that is the shape which I will use to wield it.”
For a moment Ijol pulled at his beard, “Very well, for this commission we will trade you this axe for all the supplies you have stolen. In addition to that you must give us fifty more spear heads and two hundred pounds of raw iron, already smelted.”
Little Giant nodded, “Thank you, it is a fair trade,” he said, even though the Dwarf was demanding an exorbitant price. “Although I have a second trade to make.”
Ijol looked at the man speculatively, “Continue,” he said, waving his hand.
“I wish to trade knowledge for knowledge. I offer you a chance to learn a technique of metal working which is rarely known amongst even man. In return I would like to know the most valuable settlement on the northern border of mankind’s kingdom.”
Ijol pulled at his beard again, “What craft of metal making?”
“There is a technique used in the forging of aluminum which is not widely known amongst man. The metal can be derived from a rock called bauxite. I’m sure the dwarves have found this ore in a great abundance. The metal can be drawn out from the stone with caustic soda. After that the procedure becomes more complicated, but I’m sure you’ll be able to manage it. I’ll write everything down in detail.”
“How do we know that the information you give us won’t prove to be false?” Ijol asked.
“If the knowledge I provide you is false, then you will certainly know where to find me. Besides it’s not as if I wouldn’t want to sour my relations with the Dwarves already. There is much we can learn from one another,” Little Giant said.
Ijol pondered this for a while, running his granite-skinned hand through the shimmering crystal of his beard. “And what is it that you want to learn from us?” Ijol asked, looking suspicious.
“Don’t fear, I’m not going to request any secret craft of the Dwarves, nor any whereabouts of your dwellings. I will not even inquire into your people’s customs. Instead, what I want is to know about all the settlements in the north. I know that you have spies and eyes watching these places, and I want to know what you have determined. Every piece of information will be valuable for what I am planning. Nothing can be left out. In return I shall give you an equally detailed report of the uses of this metal. It is an exceptionally common material; this process is simply not well known to many people.”
“How is it that you came to know of this technique? You are a warrior are you not?”
“That I am. I have always been a warrior, but I am also fairly well traveled. My skills took me many places, and showed me many secrets. I would be willing to impart more knowledge upon you, but I do not at the moment require anything more to trade. This is a fair bargain, and you have nothing else that I want.”
“And what if we do not see this as being a good trade. Our knowledge is valuable after all. It is difficult to judge what information you have offered against what you have asked for.” Ijol said, “This offer I will take back to King Nor. He shall decide what it is that will be done. In the mean time I suggest that you write down the finer points of this metal working so that we may have more to work from.”
Little Giant nodded, “I’ll have it ready for you when you return. I’ll elaborate on the process as best I can, as well as the tempering and mixing of the aluminum with other metals, as that is ultimately the purpose of this metal.”
“Very well,” Ijol nodded, “We shall take your offer back to our holds, and there will determine its value. We shall also take back with us the spoils of your raids, and will begin the construction of your mighty axe.” The Dwarf this time offered Little Giant his hand, and Little Giant accepted immediately. With the negotiations concluded the Dwarves headed back to the Rippling Sky Peaks, to disappear between the trees.
After they were well away Dúratar asked, “What are you planning, Little Giant?”
“I said once before that I do not believe that we should stop raiding human settlements and I meant it. We must continue our push. It must become costly for those heading northward to stay here. They must genuinely begin losing ground. I will not make this an overly risky venture though. With the knowledge that the Dwarves will bring us we will be able to determine which are the most valuable settlements in the north. These we will burn down, and those communities that rely on them will have to retreat. If we make it look as if the attacks are unconnected then it would be an even better result, as it would be unlikely there would be any serious military action against a group of disjointed attackers that simply put on several raids.”
“Then what would you have me do? I am clan chief you cannot do this without my support, but it is obvious that you are looking to make a name for yourself, and win honor on the battlefield. I’ve warned you once already that you are to reckless, but I see that you are thoughtful in your approach. If you truly believe that this will work then I will request the aid of other clans. First, though, I would like to see proof that you are truly able to destroy these communities as you say you can.”
“I will eradicate them from the frontier. These invaders will be pushed back out of our lands. Starved for resources and shelter. The first thing I would ask of my clan chief is for him to help me find the location of a certain human. She has promised her support for us, as we saved her from her execution. She is a thief, though, I am unsure how honorable she may be. Either way, she will likely have colleagues, and their bows will be useful to us.”
“Bows? Bows are such a useless human weapon. The arrows are but splinters of wood!”
“To a Giant that is true, but to man they are deadly weapons. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. She is our enemy’s enemy. She will fight with us, and hopefully she will at least have a small cohort to bolster our numbers. So I ask that you send out Ishtak to follow her trail and find where it is that she takes up refuge.”
“Ishtak is one of my greatest warriors. He is strong and powerful, and you would have him prowling the countryside looking for this woman?”
“He is strong, and brave, and an excellent warrior. He is also the only one besides myself that has seen her and can change his form. He will know what she looks like, and would be able to follow her scent. In the end, he is the only Giant for the task.”
Dúratar held his head in his hand for a moment, weighing the possibilities against each other. “I shall ask him of his opinion on the matter. He seems to like you, so I think he’ll most definitely agree to it, but mark me human. You fight well, and you are strong and cunning, but you have not completely convinced me as of yet. What concerns me most about you is in fact your cunning. Were you simply a stupid but capable warrior I would not have to watch you so carefully. I wonder at the possibility of a plot against my clan, and I won’t stand for that.”
Little Giant shook his head, “I told you, I will fight your battles as they were my own. I do so now. Standing back idly and hoping that our enemies will eventually give up and leave is far from a battle plan. We must hinder their progress and put sand in their war-engines. They must be stopped.” Dúratar sighed and began to go in search of Ishtak. Little Giant knew that the warrior would already agree to the mission. In the mean time Little Giant went and scrapped up as many scraps of parchment, animal hide, and white birch bark to use for his paper. He contented himself with scrawling out all that he knew of metal working with aluminum and the alloys it could make.
It was only four days until the Dwarves returned from the mountains. They brought with them a set of scrolls, which were encased in clay tubes. The scrolls were of maps and reports written by Dwarfish scouts. Little Giant had finished his own writings and they traded the materials with little conversation. Little Giant took the scrolls and reviewed them with Dúratar and his senior warriors. They focused on an attack plan to sabotage the growth of food in the north, or any form of mining that would be of particular value. Dúratar provided much information on the clans and their whereabouts along the mountain range’s valleys. They looked over stolen trading manifests and routes. When Ishtak returned he told them of where he had found the Violet Raven’s hideout. With this conglomeration of minds they eventually came to plot out their battle plan. Their destination was called the Fort of Tratal.
The fortress was located nearly three weeks travel from their current location. It was nearby the forest where the Violet Raven took up her mischievous trickery. They had no description of the fortress itself, a serious drawback in their planning stage, but not overly detrimental. They did know that the fortress was manned by a total of twenty-five knights all of whom were assumed to be fully armed. There was also a regiment of archers, and any number of peasants capable of bearing a spear.
Yet the finer points of the meeting did not fall upon the very real problems with distance and the ignorance of the fortress’s layout, but rather fell upon a single demarcation on one of the Dwarfish scrolls. A scout had reported an altar being brought in through the front gates, along with three men in red robes.
“We dare not antagonize any Scourge Callers. If these men get the chance they will be able to send word back to the greater cities. News of an attack like this would bring armies up from the south, and they’ll act to exterminate us. Unless you have a very clever scheme up your sleeve then we must find another locality to attack,” Dúratar said.
“This is our greatest opportunity for crippling man’s efforts in the north. Nearly every merchant goes through this fortress. Destroying it, or at the very least, rendering it uninhabited, will quickly cut off the other settlements from support. The fact that they have sorcerers there is nothing more than a greater reason for attacking. All we need is a little more surveillance and an effective plan. If we are cautious-“
“If we were cautious then we would choose another location to attack. There is too great a risk that they will be able to send word that the fort was attacked, and that would only bring on their rage. Yes, an honorable battle would be welcomed, but what you propose is folly! Your zealotry to exterminate your kin is striking,” Dúratar interrupted before Little Giant could finish.
Little Giant shook his head, “With the proper planning it may be possible to take this fort without losing any Giants.”
“I meant the men in the fortress that you would have to slaughter. Are you sure you would kill a whole battalion of archers? Not to mention the peasants that will work there. Are you ready for that?”
“I’ve told you before; they are no kin of mine. I am as much a Giant as you.”
“You are a zealot of war,” Dúratar said dryly.
“No, I am a zealot of survival. You know as well as I that man’s advancement to the north will push us beyond the mountains. Every Giant clan would be captured and made into slaves, or would be forced to try and survive in the frozen wastes.” Little Giant countered.
Dúratar sat in silence for a long time, weighing the many possibilities of what Little Giant was proposing. His warriors sat around him, ready to do whatever he thought best. At last he spoke, “Very well. You shall take fifteen of my warriors, that is, half of my available warriors at this time, and take them to the forest where the Violet Raven hides. If you can enlist the aid of those brigands and cutthroats in the forest, then you may formulate a plan to attack the fortress. I want as few of my warriors dead as you can manage. If it means using the Violet Raven’s forces more heavily than ours, then do it. I’d rather have my Giants sitting in boredom around a fire than laying dead on a field of defeat.”
Little Giant stood and bowed, “Yes clan chief Dúratar, I shall do as you say. I swear, no Giant’s life will be pointlessly lost, even if I must stay to finish the battle alone. The fortress of Tratal will be left empty, and will not cost you more than you are willing to pay,” with that Little Giant took to readying those Giants that Dúratar was willing to send with him. All of the Giants from his first series of raids came, except for Kortratar, who was commanded by Dúratar not to go.
The next day, at midmorning, Little Giant departed with his host of Giants. Their need for swift travel meant that Little Giant had to travel in the form of the Nudathan, which greatly reduced his abilities to communicate. In the Nudathan’s form Little Giant armed himself with a spear, made from a small maple tree. It was crudely fashioned, but that suited his purposes excellently. His feral form was only exemplified by his savage weapon, and he hoped it would send his enemies running when the time came. Little Giant was determined that the three weeks spent on the way to the Violet Raven’s hiding place to be unnoticed by their enemies. What he did not expect was to be found by friends.
“Ishtak! Ishtak is that you?!” A great voice called from a nearby gully, and a swarm of about fifty Giants rose out of the shallow ravine. The Giant’s from the Northwind clan stopped dead in their tracks, caught off guard by this friendly voice.
“Vishtin? It’s been too long brother!” Ishtak called back to the one Giants running toward them from his hiding place. The other Giants hung back, as if evaluating Ishtak and his comrades.
The two Giants embraced then Vishtin, turned and looked Little Giant up and down. He considered for a moment then said, “I bet anything its Thaledun,” he said confidently.
Ishtak shook his head, “No, and you’re not going to guess who he is. He is our new second in command, he bested Drodor.”
“Really? And why is it he sees fit to travel in the form of the Nudathan?” Vishtin inquired.
Before Ishtak could answer another Giant came up from the party by the ravine, he placed his hand on Vishtin’s shoulder, moving him aside so he could talk to Ishtak. His voice was as deep as his chest was broad, “Forgive your brother for his unruly inquiries, but I have questions of my own. You probably remember me Ishtak, from when your brother was joined in my clan, the Clan of the Sunridge.”
“Yes I remember you Clan Chief Garthage. Dúrata is still my clan lord, and no I will not join you in your mad crusade,” Ishtak replied.
“I intended to ask of you no such thing. I only wished to know what it was you were doing this far from your clan lord’s land. He does not take interest in the happenings this far from his home. Is Dúratar finally breaking from his close minded ways? Or are you simply on a mission to find more lodgings for your expanding clan. Last I knew none of your warriors had drunk from the Nudathan’s heart-stone. I didn’t think any of Dúratar’s warriors were so ambitious,” Garthage said.
Ishtak gestured in Little Giant’s direction, “This is Dúratar’s new second. We call him Little Giant.”
“Little Giant is it?” Garthage said, stroking his great black beard, “Why is it that he does not change back to his own form in order to speak with me? It seems rude that he does not speak for himself.”
Ishtak hesitated a moment, and then said, “Well he’s a rather ugly Giant, and I’d think he believes you’d find him less offensive as a beast of the mountains than as himself.”
Garthage stared at Little Giant for a moment, and then began to roar with laughter, “Well he must be one ugly brute! Still I’d like to know what you and your Giants are doing in these parts. As you may see my ‘crusade’ and I are making a strategic retreat. Man’s armies patrol these parts, and you’ll be lucky to get through them undiscovered. If it’s blood you’re looking for though, you’ve come to the right place. I just hope you and your warriors fair better than mine. Oh, and a word to the wise, tarry not long in any one place. Man’s scouts are everywhere, and they will as soon bring down the storms of the Scourge Callers as send out their armies to meet you.”
Little Giant nodded, and uttered attempted thanks, but managed only a vicious guttural rumble in the back of his throat. Then Garthage and his clan headed off again along the concealing ravine, and Little Giant took his much smaller band onward in the opposite direction. The next two days were spent in a rushed march across the fields. Little Giant wanted his warriors strong in the event of crossing a scout troop. They met none, and finally reached the forest where the Violet Raven made her nest. They camped just inside the brambles of the freshly budding branches.
The night was curiously still, yet for the first time they caught sight of their enemy in these parts. A caravan passed by on the road headed to the Fortress Tratal. It was a fully armed caravan, and the sentries that marched with it were very alert, and watched the silent woods as if they expected the very trees to rise up and attack them
During the night Little Giant had returned to his own form, and so when his warriors handled their weapons hoping for battle, he was able to instruct them to stand their ground. He didn’t have the warriors to spend their blood on a simple caravan. Instead he sent Ishtak after them in the form of the Lokogo, following them at a distance, until they came to the gate of Fortress Tratal. Ishtak spent the remainder of the night circling the fortress, taking in every detail that might be of use. By early morning he returned to the Giant’s silent camp.
Returning to his original flesh Ishtak announced himself from the brush, “Hail brothers! Bring me clothes and drink! I’ve brought news, for I’ve laid eyes upon the destination of our raid. Tratal lies just down the road, and is a site for war to be held.”
“Quietly Ishtak,” Little Giant cautioned, “We are not alone. In the night, during your absence we observed several human scouts passing through the forest. They have not wandered by for some time, but we are fairly certain they saw us. I know you must need your rest brother, but we have not the time to linger here. Quickly, guide us to the perch of the Violet Raven.”
Ishtak quickly clothed himself and gestured for them to follow him into the forest. They did not walk more than a hundred paces before they were confronted, by a tall woman carrying a bow, and dressed in a deep violet cloak. “Stop trespassers,” she said.
“Well, it seems we need not search any further,” Little Giant said, stepping out from behind his titanic companions, “We have come to call your debt to pay.”
“And you would presume to come to my hiding place to find me. My archers would bring you down where you stand were it not for the fact that you once saved my life, be gone from this place, and consider my mercy a repayment of whatever I owe to you!” She replied.
“A thief in a thief’s hold. Of course you’d want us to leave. However, it just so happens that we intend to grant you a great opportunity. How many thieves could resist the chance to steal an entire fortress?”
“You come to take Tratal?” The Raven asked.
“Of course,” Little Giant replied.
“And what is it that you need my help with?”
“Our numbers are not sufficient for the task, and I’m sure those under your employ would be glad of the opportunity to loot the treasury of the duke’s coffer’s,” Little Giant said, examining the trees and picking out the perches and hollows where shadowy figures lurked, bows and blades glinting in the rising sun.
“So you would like us to better your odds? And why should we trust you? I’d expect it would be more likely that you would leave us bleeding on the battlefield as you charge on to take the city yourself.” The Raven said as she tested the tension on her bowstring, as if to make sure it was still in her hands.
“Actually, I was hoping to have a more intricate plan than something so straightforward. Obviously Tratal receives a great number of traders passing through to other places along the way. All I need is for you to capture one of these merchant caravans and I will handle the rest.” Little Giant explained.
“And how will you do that?”
“I will enter the fortress, and pretend to be one of the guards from the caravan, and I will get the knights in the fortress to ride out, to apprehend you. Of course, they will be expecting thieves in the forest, not a host of Giants as well. Once you overpower the guards head to the fortress. By then I should have opened the gates, killed any Scourge Callers inside the fortress, and as a final act to make sure you know I am ready, I will start a fire in the center of the fort. Look for the smoke, if you see none, then you know I have not yet succeeded, and if there is none by nightfall, then you will know I am dead. At the very least you will have killed off several of the royals out here, and made off with the goods of a merchant, as well as the knight’s armor and weapons. All in all, you’ll have little risk, with a great potential for gain.” Little Giant smiled as the Violet Raven relaxed her hold on her bow.
“You’re sure you can succeed?” she asked.
“I’m only as certain as anything I have ever done,” Little Giant replied.
“Very well,” Then she raised her arms, “Well boys! It looks like we’re going to have guests tonight! And tomorrow we’re going to be rich!”
Cheers went up from the trees around them. Dozens of gruff looking men and overly armed boys started slipping out of the woods. There were significantly more than Little Giant had anticipated, and that meant that they were going to be all that more useful. “It’s good to be doing business,” Little Giant said, bowing deeply.
“Good indeed,” the Violet Raven replied, “Good indeed.”
The next day, in the early hours, the Violet Raven and her lot of brigands overtook a caravan, just as was planned. Little Giant dressed in an assortment of garments taken from the traders, though he still bore his own sword, and inflicted a small wound to his left arm, to add to his disguise. No more than an hour later he stood before the great oak gates of the Fortress Tratal.
“Hail guardsmen! The merchant wagon I was guarding has been stolen, and I have come to request the aid of those noblemen stationed here who are charged with hunting down such bandits. Please, open your doors!”
The guards on the battlements of the wall waved down to those on the other side, and the great oaken doors opened outward, revealing the dusty, grimy, and yet still thriving town within the walls of Tratal. There, on horseback, was a small assembly of knights, already armed and waiting. At the fore of the small cavalry division was a knight dressed in armor of a slightly brighter metal than those around him. He wore a white cape, and donned a full helm, though his silver beard was still visible poking out beneath the facemask of his helmet.
“And who is this that comes knocking at my gates just as I am leaving to investigate rumors of Giants coming down from the north. Tell me, why is it that you abandoned your companions and come running for aid, what form of coward are you to abandon your station?” The silver-bearded knight asked.
“Good sir, I am no coward! I slew four of them, and we would have been able to stave off the attack were it not for that damnable wench in a purple cloak,” Little Giant indicated his arm, “It was a near miss, but distracted me for but a moment, and as you know a moment is enough in battle to change the field of battle against you. I was spared only because that dire woman seemed to take a liking to me, and stopped her compatriots from cutting my throat then and there. I escaped only barely, and I have not the skill to overpower twenty men! I did what I believed was the best thing I could do, I came here to gather those with the strength to hunt down these buffoons.”
“Four you killed was it?” The silver bearded knight asked, “And a woman in a purple cloak? Why! You were assaulted by the Violet Raven and her lot. I must have misjudged you sir, for we ourselves have had trouble enough with her. Just a few weeks ago she was to be executed here in Tratal, but by some unfortunate chance she escaped,” The knight reached up and removed his helmet revealing a grandfatherly face, lined with concern and laughter, “I am the Duke Hevastin the Third, and I believe that you are a man of good standing. So, my men and I will go and hunt down the ones that stole your charge, and will then continue on with our mission to see if there is any evidence of Giants in the area. You may wait here, and my consort, Rigel, will take you to the keep.” The knight gestured to a wry man walking beside him.
The little man bowed gracefully, “Gladly, my lord.”
“And give him good respect, and all the hospitality that we have to offer. I could use another swordsman, so make sure he enjoys himself. As for us, off to kill the purple witch of the wood!” The Duke drew his sword and brandished it above his head, and his knights and he were off down the road.
“My good sir,” Rigel bowed, “Follow me if you would, to the keep, where we may treat your injury and provide you with the comforts you desire until the Duke returns with news of victory.”
Little Giant bowed in turn, “I will go with you, but my wound is not a severe as it appears, and in truth, after my run here, I am famished, please would it be possible to go to the kitchens first so that I may eat my fill before other accommodations are made?”
“Of course,” Rigel nodded, and then led the way through the town. Little Giant watched every doorway and alley with a keen eye. He quickly determined the lay of the city, which was circular, and each road was built in a circle, like ripples in a lake. The houses and stores were arranged along each road, with branches reaching outward from the center keep, which was protected by its own wall. On this the archers stood at the ready looking more attentive than those on the outer wall. Instead of the great wooden gates like those at the entry wall, the entrance to the keep was a portcullis, wrought of a dark iron.
As Little Giant passed under the wall, for it was rather thick, and the portcullis opened onto a hallway, still lined with some greasy black tar, he realized that there must have recently been some form of trouble within the town itself. The tar was left over from having been poured into the hall, to burn away those assailants trapped inside, and there was an uncanny stillness about the streets themselves. It also accounted for the archers on the inner wall to be more attentive then those at the gate. He smiled to himself, realizing that it was less likely that he would have to face the peasants as well, bettering his odds greatly.
Rigel noticed Little Giant’s smile, “What is it good sir?” The consort asked.
Little Giant gestured to the great stone walls around them as they passed into the courtyard contained by the second wall, “This is a great work of craftsmanship. Truly what do we have to fear in these parts if this is the kind of fortress that guards our northern reaches. Why I would believe it impossible for any dim witted Giant, or any minute Dwarf to ever conceive of taking a fortress such as this!”
Rigel seemed to like the comment, “Why thank you my lord, I have served here all my life, but truly while a fortress such as this is difficult to take, it all truly depends on the lord who guards them. Duke Hevastin is truly a worthy man for that task. I think you may come to like him as much as I, and he will likely hire you on as a man at arms, once he sees if you are of skill enough.”
Little Giant nodded, “Ah, that I am friend that I am. I do not mean to boast, but a weapon such as this,” he patted the hilt of his sword, “is not easily won, but I had the good fortune to once gamble a man and win it from him.”
Rigel examined the hilt more closely, and then gasped in surprise, “Why good sir! That sword is of Dwarven make! Such a weapon is worth a great many fortunes. And you use it in battle?”
“It is a serviceable blade, and seems incapable of faulting its wielder. True, it may be slightly heavier than a normal sword, but I have strength enough to carry it, and the extra weight adds force to my blows.”
“Speaking of which, I’m afraid I must relieve you of your weapon, it is not allowed that those strangers be allowed to carry such instruments through the castle,” Rigel said, sounding sincerely apologetic.
“It is no problem, I suspected as such,” Little Giant relinquished his weapon to the consort, who handed it to a squire to take to the armory. Then the two of them continued on into the kitchens of the castle, where Little Giant took the liberty of preparing a small meal. He ate quickly, and then proceeded to give his dishes and cutlery to the maidservant who was there with he and Rigel. Yet, he subtly slipped the fork from his meal up his sleeve, rather than hand it over to the maidservant.
“Now, I would like a time to wash and rest, so that I may be ready for the Duke’s return,” Little Giant said.
“Ah, but my lord, if I may be so bold as to make an offer, we have a select choice of elfin maidens, which you may be interested in. It is not every day that the Duke’s three mistresses are to be made to anyone’s disposal, but he said you were to be treated in a manner that would make you wish to stay. If you would accompany me to their chambers then I could have your selection ready for you after you have bathed.”
Little Giant sat in a confused silence for a moment, trying to weigh the possibilities in his head. At last he nodded, and smiled slyly, “Well I would hate to insult the Duke by refusing his hospitality.”
Rigel smiled, and patted Little Giant on the back, “Good choice! As I said this isn’t an opportunity one receives every day!”
Rigel proceeded to lead Little Giant through the many halls of the keep, and down many flights of stairs. Little Giant kept careful track of everything he saw, marking every object as a possible weapon, and every window and door as an avenue of escape. Rigel led him into what would traditionally be the location of a dungeon. Here, in Tratal, it was the holding place for the Duke’s concubines. A dingy wooden door, without any window, was guarded by two men, in full battle regalia. Upon seeing Rigel and Little Giant they stood at attention. “Good morning,” Rigel said cheerfully as he opened the dank door into the cell chamber beyond, “After you,” The consort said, smiling.
Little Giant couldn’t afford to hesitate, so he stepped through the door, ready to throw his weight against it should they attempt to lock him inside, but they did no such thing, and Rigel followed him in immediately after Little Giant passed through the door.
Inside was a pitiful scene. There were five cells, wide and spacious. Each one was open to the other, blocked off only by metal bars, so that the entire room could be surveyed at a glance. Two of the cells were empty, but in the other three, was the evidence of Hevastin’s true person. Elfin women were chained to the wall, their wrists held to the highest extent above their heads, with their toes, just barely able to support their weight on the floor. They were hung naked, unclothed and vulnerable, two of them appeared to have just been awakened by the closing of the door, the other stared off into the corner of her cell, keeping her eyes there even at the noisy entry.
“Feast your eyes, and pick the one that tickles your fancy,” Rigel said, grinning from ear to ear, like some kind of vile reptile.
Little Giant kept his expression guarded, but carefully looked over the three elves. All of them were beautiful to the eye, in fact, they were so beautiful, even in their week and unhealthy state, that he was barely able to contain his lust, but they were so poorly treated, he could not help but pity them. Cautiously he approached the one closest to the door, the one who stared at the corner of her cell. Immediately the elf next to her, the one in the middle, began to shout, “Please no! Leave her be! Let her alone! Take me! Take me! I swear I’ll do whatever you want! Just leave her alone!”
Little Giant looked over the silent elf, who had short black hair, and her skin was exceptionally pale. In the candlelight of the cell it was possible to see bruises and scrapes all over her body. Her thin form was still beautiful, despite the abuse. Her eyes were amber gold, and glinted in the firelight. Her jaw was set firmly, and her features were drawn. She obviously knew Little Giant was looking over her exposed body, but she barely showed any sign that she even noticed him, save for a slight shaking in her legs.
He carefully walked over to the other elf, situated between the two, “Yes, thank you!” She cried, “I’ll make you happy! I’ll give you what you want!” She cried, sounding both afraid and relieved. Her hair was a deep brown, and looked to be almost black in the dim light, and her body was far less abused then that of her other companion. Her figure was healthily fed, and her skin less drawn.
Little Giant said nothing as he continued on to consider the third elf. As Little Giant passed the second elf’s cell she immediately became quiet, though she continued to watch him. This third and final she-elf was by far the most ill treated of the three, she was bruised and bloodied. Her eyes were a fierce blue, and in the light of the candles they seemed to burn with hatred. It appeared as if she refused to eat, because her body was very thin, and her ribs protruded harshly from her chest. Her body was so diminished that her bosoms had almost been completely consumed by her body’s need for nourishment. Around her mouth was a cloth, to keep her from making a sound.
“What’s this one’s name?” Little Giant asked.
“Who cares?” Rigel replied.
Little Giant nodded, “Why is she gagged?”
“She has tried to bite out the throat of men who take her. The Duke doesn’t use her anymore. She’s a fiery one that, and will try to put up a fight. We have to keep her tied if you want to use her though, she’s tried to kill herself too many times.”
“Could I examine her more closely?” Little Giant asked. Rigel nodded and stepped up to the door. He took a key from his belt and inserted it into the lock, but never had the chance to turn it. Immediately Little Giant slipped the fork out of his sleeve, covered Rigel’s mouth, and stabbed the fork into his jugular. The old man jerked in surprise, and Little Giant twisted fiercely, ripping and tearing the vital vein, he whispered into the old man’s ear, “Have peace friend, have peace, nothing is wrong. Hush, hush.”
The man’s confused eyes quickly unfocused, and Little Giant allowed him to fall to the floor. He turned the key which was still in the lock, pressing his finger to his lips, to let the elves know to be silent. He walked up to the thin, abused she-elf and whispered into her ear, “Quietly now, and do not be trouble for me. With my help you could be getting out of here today,” Then he dragged Rigel’s body into the cell. He proceeded to untie the she-elf’s mouth, and unchained her from the wall, and then he wet his hand in the dead man’s blood and swiped it across her face.
She spat and sputtered at the unexpected taste of blood. Little Giant leapt back, out of the cell, and shouted, “Guards! Guards! Help quickly!”
The two guards at the door rushed into the room, and seeing Rigel’s body they hurried into the cell to beat the she-elf, but Little Giant was right behind them. He took the man’s sword from its sheath, while reaching around with his other hand and stabbing him in the eye with the fork. The guard shouted, but not in time to alert his comrade to the treachery, and Little Giant rammed the sword into the other’s stomach. For good measure he beheaded the one who he had stabbed in the eye.
The elf who had been unchained picked up the other man’s sword, and leveled it at Little Giant, “Go,” she said through clenched teeth.
Little Giant backed away, not wanting to injure the already quaking she-elf. He tossed the key to her, but she wasn’t able to catch it in the dark, and she fell to the ground looking for it, dropping the sword, and immediately she began sobbing. Little Giant placed his hand on her shoulder, gently. She started at the contact, and then he knelt down, and picked the key up from the ground, and placed it in her hand. She eyed the sword lying next to them, and the sword still in Little Giant’s hand. He smiled, and threw his weapon to the other side of the room, and then placed his lips to her forehead, and whispered, “Fear me not, for I will take nothing from you. Stay here, and protect your friends until I return.” Then he picked up the sword from beside them, and handed it to her.
He left them there, and traveled without his weapon, all the way back up through the corridors. He searched through the many hallways, until he at last found what he was looking for, a solitary servant, quietly sweeping the floor. The servant was an elderly old man, So Little Giant casually walked up and placed his hand on the old man’s shoulder. The servant jumped at the light touch, and he backed to the side of the hall, as if to let Little Giant pass, “I’m sorry to be in your way my lord,” the man muttered.
“Fear not good sir,” Little Giant said, “I have a question to ask of you. Tell me, do you know how many Scourge Callers there are in Tratal?”
“I can’t be sure, my lord. I have always been told that there are three, but I’m just an old man, and my memory has failed me more than once,” the old man replied keeping his eyes on the ground.
“Do you know where I can find them?” Little Giant pressed.
“Yes that I know well, they stay in the temple, it is behind the servant’s quarters where I sleep. They are always there; they even sleep in that place. I go to pray sometimes, but they give me strange looks, and sometimes ask me when I plan on dying. I fear that perhaps they want me for some blood ritual.”
“You won’t have to fear of such things for much longer.”
Little Giant turned to leave, but the old man spoke up again, “My lord, if I may presume a question upon yourself?” Little Giant turned back giving the old man his attention, he nodded for him to continue, “You have blood on your sleeve. Have you been killing?”
Little Giant smiled a grim smile, “Yes, that I have been.”
“And you are to kill the Scourge Callers?”
“How much killing is to be done on this day?”
“I would think it to be enough to coat the streets and to leave Tratal emptied of those royals who claim to rule here, and all of their loyal servants,” Little Giant replied dryly.
“Then could I ask that you allow me to go to my family, and warn them to leave this place? How long do I have?”
“The attack shall not start until there is a fire large enough to be seen from outside these walls. The smoke is the signal. When you see it then you know you are too late. I suggest you go to your family, and stay inside your home. Do not go into the streets. It will be fast, and we will not be taking time to hunt those that won’t fight us. Stay hidden, and stay safe. Go and tell those you trust of this, but make sure that no one loyal to Hevastin will know of it.”
“Yes, my lord,” and with that the old man leaned his broom against the wall and slowly made his way along the hall in another direction. Little Giant headed off to find the temple of the Scourge Callers.
Less than an hour later Little Giant pushed open the heavy oaken doors of the temple. Inside was a great circular room. There was a single circular altar in the center, erected on a raised platform. A man stood with his back to Little Giant, his head was shaved, and his robes were dyed a bright red. Quietly Little Giant walked up behind him. Before going up the raised steps he asked the man, “Are you a Scourge Caller of this temple?”
The man turned quickly, as if surprised to be addressed so directly, “Yes, I am, and who are you?” Little Giant started up the stairs without answering, “Stop!” The man shouted, “It is against the law for anyone but a Scourge Caller to stand on the threshold of a crystal altar!”
Little Giant walked up to stand before the old monk. “I have broken many laws, many of which have never even been written. So too, have you. I think it not feasible that you should judge me, nor that I should judge you. Instead we shall leave the division of man’s worth to someone better qualified. But you will at least have the advantage of not being able to do any more wrong,” And Little Giant grabbed the man by the head, and brought him down, driving his knee into the man’s face. With a quick twist and a low grinding crack Little Giant broke the monk’s neck and the Scourge Caller fell to the ground, blood draining from his shattered nose.
Little Giant took a brief moment to look upon the circular altar. The altar itself was hewn from a grey stone. It looked to have been carved from a single great boulder and had been smoothed down and polished until it possessed a slight luster. The light coming in from stained-glass windows arranged above it caught upon its reflective surface. The surface of the altar though was encircled with a ring of small spheres. These spheres were made of a completely different kind of stone. They were small, easily held in the palm of a man’s hand. Little Giant looked upon these small orbs and realized that they were in fact heart-stones, for they reminded him of the heart-stone of the Nudathan. To what creature they had previously belonged to though, he could not guess. The strange unwholesome thing sent a sensation of unease through him, as if the stone itself was watching him. Having seen enough Little Giant climbed down from the platform on which the altar sat.[C2]
With the room now empty of any witnesses Little Giant stripped off his clothing and hid them in the shadows. Then he transformed, growing into the towering Nudathan. He hunkered down behind a pillar, concealed on one side by the arched stone wall, and on the other by a scarlet curtain that blocked the window. There he waited for the other two Scourge Callers to appear. His patience paid off shortly, as two more scarlet robbed monks entered from behind a tapestry across the room. They caught sight of their fallen fellow and rushed to his side to see what had happened.
Little Giant broke from his hiding place before they had made it halfway to the altar. He leapt over the raised platform, and fell upon the old men like the titanic beast whose body he possessed. He left nothing to doubt about the certainty of their death. Their bodies were broken completely, and their blood streaked the temple, from the floor to the ceiling.
With his dire task nearing its finish Little Giant squeezed his massive form out of the temple’s entrance, and looked up at the sun. It was barely past noon, and he had yet to finish what would be the most dangerous part of his mission. Still in the form of the titanic beast he set out into the open, where he was seen immediately, and guards came running from every direction. People ran and screamed at the sight of him, and with a bellow that could cause an avalanche he instilled fear even in the bravest heart amongst them. He went with great purpose to the town square, where he found the gallows erected. There, he took the thick poll from which the dead were to hang, and he wielded it as he would a club. The archer’s arrows did little more than aggravate him, and the spears and swords could not match the animal’s primal strength, joined with Little Giant’s skill. At last they turned to man’s ancient weapon of old, fire. They ignited their arrows, and brought out torches, to try and chase him away.
They guardsmen died in droves trying to kill Little Giant. When the torches were finally brought out Little Giant had already piled high the dead, and amongst them was the broken wood from the gallows, as well as added fuel from a number of buildings he had smashed in his fight. When the first man to throw a blazing torch at him, Little Giant snatched it up, and set fire to his pyre. With the fire set, he at once charged through the remaining guards, straight for the front gates. With the weight of his massive form, and the speed of his charge, he threw his shoulder into the great oaken gates. They bowed outward at his impact, and then with his second strike they were broken open.
There, riding up the road was Duke Hevastin accompanied by another of his knights. They both appeared to be battle worn, and the Duke had an arrow embedded in his right shoulder. The knight with him was still armed with his lance, and seeing the Nudathan, he leveled it at the creature. He kicked his horse into a full charge, and Little Giant threw his great club, which broke the horse’s legs beneath it. The knight was thrown from its back, and Little Giant calmly crushed him underfoot. The Duke prepared to ride off, but out of the forest a number of thieves and Giants came out, still in pursuit of their fleeing quarry. The duke turned his horse to run northward, but an arrow launched from the Violet Raven’s bow embedded in his leg, and he lost his balance as the horse reared around. The duke fell from his horse. The animal fled at Little Giant’s bellows, as the thieves surrounded the injured noble.
One of them prepared to kill the Duke, but Little Giant put his hand between them. At first the thief seemed angered by this, but Little Giant gestured for one of the giants to give him clothing. Thaledun took the cloak from his back, which Little Giant wrapped himself in. Then he returned to his human form.
“You!” The Duke shouted upon seeing the man who he had allowed into his fortress.
“Be silent old defiler,” Little Giant replied, hiding none of the venom in his voice.
“Come now, let us kill him,” one of the thieves said.
“No, he is to die, but not by your hand. Keep him here, and keep him alive. We will return with his proper executioner. Now, harm not the commoners of this place, they have been under the boot of this man for long enough. Those that remain inside should not be harmed. They will give you no trouble, and possess nothing of value, leave them be, because the coffers of the Duke are open to you, but harm none save the Duke’s lackeys. And enter not the dungeons of the keep, you may have friends there, but I want no mistaken injuries; that must be handled with more finesse.”
At that the thieves and Giants poured through the city gates, and Little Giant returned to the form of the Nudathan. They crushed the remnants of the Duke’s guard, and in under an hour the keep was theirs.
Once the battle was done, and the accounting of the Duke’s fortune was underway, Little Giant rushed to the armory, where he reclaimed his sword, and then he went to the temple of the Scourge Callers, gathering up his garments and clothing himself as he had been before. Then he went and met Ishtak and the Violet Raven outside the door of the keep.
“Why is it that my men have been forbidden to enter the keep’s dungeons?” The Raven asked.
Little Giant turned to Ishtak, “Remain here, and make sure we are not followed,” he said, and then turning to the Raven, “Follow me, and you’ll see why the eyes of man were not allowed to wander to the holds of the dungeon.” The two of them then descended, taking the many stairways and halls to the place of the Duke’s concubines.
Little Giant came to the door, and entered first, his hand on the hilt of his sword, ready for ambush. There was none, rather, the three elves were huddled together some distance from the door, fawning over their weakest member. The Raven looked at their frail forms, and she carefully entered behind Little Giant. Upon seeing them two of the elves shrunk back, fear in their eyes, and docility beaten into their hearts. The other though, the one who had been gagged, climbed to her feet, raising a sword from one of the slain guards.
“Three elves? They’d be worth quite fortune…or perhaps you want me to help you get them out of here without my men noticing so that you can make off with them?” The Raven asked.
“No, I want you to keep your men under control, so I can bring them up without any trouble. Can you promise me that?” Little Giant said.
The Raven paused, looking the armed elf up and down, “They’re unkempt, and filthy. If you can ensure that your Giants will keep close, I’m sure I won’t have any trouble keeping my men under control.”
“Good,” Little Giant gestured to the elf that was looking back and forth between them, “Put that down,” he said calmly, “I’m about to give you a chance to go home.”
All three elves stared at him, shock in their eyes, “He’s lying,” the one with the sword said.
“Why would I lie?” Little Giant asked.
The elf holding the sword shouted, “You’re trying to fool us! You’ll take us away, and sell us, or rape us. Just like all men want. You defiler! I’ll not be-”
Little Giant drew his weapon, knocking the elf’s blade to the side. Then he grabbed it by the hilt and forced it from her grasp. She fell to the ground trying to keep hold of the weapon. She looked up at Little Giant, and for the briefest moment a look of fear broke through her expression of hatred. Little Giant heeded neither; instead, he dropped the sword out of her reach, and said, “If I wanted to have you, you would be mine. Keep that in mind. I do this out of my choice.”
“Why would you help us?” She demanded.
Little Giant didn’t answer; instead he took off his outer cloak and draped it over her. He turned to the Violet Raven, and after a moment she gave up her cloak as well. Then they led the elves through the castle to the courtyard, where Ishtak joined them, and escorted them out to the road, where Duke Hevastin still sat under the watchful eyes of the Raven’s thieves. Upon seeing the elves there were murmurs amongst them, but they did not make any advances.
Duke Hevastin was not so cordial, “What’s this? I’d rather you kill me; at least I’d die by the hand of a man, and not by some mangy she-elf. Give me a warrior’s death!” The duke struggled to his feet.
Little Giant walked forward, his expression cold and hard, and then he walked around behind the duke. Just as the duke was turning to face him he drew his sword and cut the tendon in the duke’s ankle, sending the old man falling to the ground again. He shouted in surprise and the thieves jeered at him. Little Giant walked steadily back toward the she-elves, his expression still cold. He said to the thieves, “Gentlemen, I would appreciate it if you would be willing to give up three knives for a moment. Our executioners have need of them.”
There was a short pause in which the thieves considered, and then they drew out daggers, throwing them to the ground at the elves feet. “Damn you!” The duke cried, “Damn you!”
“No,” Little Giant said quietly, “It is you who is to be damned,” and then he stooped, and took up the daggers, placing them directly into the hands of the elves. For a moment they looked at the implements, barely grasping what they were. Then, they turned their eyes to the duke.
They set upon him, knives flashing in the sun. The duke was helpless under their blades, and they savored it utterly. His face was rendered unrecognizable, and every digit was removed from his hands. The ground around him became a thick red mud, pooling with his blood. The elves slid in it as he tried to get away from them, but they removed his armor and carved into his unprotected body. It wasn’t until the vultures circled overhead, and the elves were too tired to continue, that they finally ceased their doom dance. Little Giant had them carried away by several of the women from Tratal who took them and bathed them.
That night Little Giant and the Raven bartered out who the spoils would go to, and they both came to a conclusive agreement. Then, the Raven and her band of brigands retreated back into the forest and in the early morning the Giants began their journey back to their shelter in the mountains, except for Little Giant and Ishtak. They headed east, Little Giant in the form of the Nudathan, and Ishtak traveled as the form of the Lokogo. The Elves rode on their backs, eagerly watching the horizon for any sign of the tall forests of their home.