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In a clearing in the woods on a cold gray evening, a fire roared, spitting up at the sky and setting the silent trees aglow. And by the fireside, on a great fallen tree, sat a giant.
If he were standing, the giant would have been eleven, twelve feet high. His tangled, matted hair hung over his face. He wore a coat of old bear pelts, red and brown and frayed from years of use. Hi face, streaked with dirt and scars.
He looked down his long, crooked nose at the bundle in his arms, a bundle of rough sac-cloth, the size of a goat, gently stirring in the warmth of the fire.
The giant spoke, soft and crooning.
“Shh, shh… there, there, my lad. Listen to me. Listen to Papa. Papa has a story to tell you. Listen, my child.
“Long ago, there lived a clan of big folk. A family of hunters, proud and strong. They slew the red elks, the mammoths, the bears and the lions, and wore their pelts and ate their meat. There was not a fiercer family in all the land.
“But this clan of Big Folk had gone sour in the head, after years of perfect success. Always, they sought the next great challenge, the next beast to be skinned for supper. And so, they turned their eyes on the little folk, the humans, the creatures with swords and spears and bows and arrows. And the Big Folk said, ‘There, at last, is game worthy of our hunt.’
“And hunt, they did. They descended on the kingdoms and the villages of the humans, and they plundered and pillaged and ate their fill. Try as the humans might, with their swords and spears and bows and arrows, they found themselves helpless under the trampling feet of the big folk. Houses burned. Kings hid in the depths of their palaces. And the Big Folk ravaged the countryside, and finally left, crying, ‘What good sport!’
“The villagers pleaded to their kings, asking for help rebuilding their homes, asking for justice to be served upon the big folk. ‘Alas,’ said the kings, ‘there is nothing to be done. A man would be a fool to face a giant on the field of battle. Lock your doors, bar your windows, and pray that this storm does not blow by again.’
“The villagers, terrified and heartbroken by the wanton destruction of the big folk, went back to their homes, if their homes remained standing, and huddled in the corners, shivered and shuddered, fearing what terrible creatures might be lurking out there in the forests, the caves, the old abandoned castles. Ah, but one man did not sit and shiver and shudder. One man had lost his home, his wife and children, his parents and his friends. He had nowhere else to go, and nothing else to do, but to follow the big folk. ‘I will bring back their heads, for all the kingdoms they have trampled, or I am not a man,’ he said. ‘And yet, I do not know how.’
“Now, my son, no one knows for sure how, but somewhere out in the woods, on the vengeful man’s path, he acquired a sword. A beautiful silver beast, so sharp and swift that it might cut the legs off a fly in mid-flight, or fell a great oak in one blow. Some say that the sword was enchanted, given to the man by a wizard in the woods. Some say it popped out of the earth, others, that it fell from the sky. But really, it does not matter. What matters is that when the man found the clan of Big Folk – for find them, he did – the man was as good as his word. He cut down the proud hunters, cleaving through their legs where they stood, and slitting their throats as they hit the ground. Soon, the man stood alone among the dead; the big folk were slain.
“And so, the man sent messenger hawks to all the neighboring kingdoms, and each hawk carried in its talons a giant severed head. And every great palace mounted these heads high up on their battlements. There was great rejoicing from all. All except, however, the vengeful man with the enchanted sword. He wanders the earth still, slaying dragons and ogres and trolls… and giants. Oh, yes, the big folk. That is all he has left, you see. And he does not hesitate to cut us down and chop off our heads.”
The child yawned and shifted in the giant’s arms. Its eyes closed, and it drifted to sleep.
The giant smiled. “And why do I tell you this story, my son?” he asked. “Because that man with the enchanted sword is our legacy. The legacy of the Big Folk to the human race.”
He held his son tight in his arms. “Remember, my child,” he whispered, “always remember… You are flesh and bone. A giant, yes, but not a god, not a spirit. We too often forget the delicacy of our lives. Do not forget, my son. You are not invincible, and you are a god to no one. You are what you are. And you are my boy, and I love you.”
The giant, whose name was Stanislav, held his unnamed son close as the evening wore on. The fire sparked and spat and eventually softened to a red glow. And shadows stole over all.
It was not long before the hair of Stanislav dulled to gray. The lines of his broad face deepened and sagged. As his back grew ever more hunched, and his limbs grew ever thinner, his son grew ever taller, ever stronger. And his son’s name was David.
David found a fascination with the world of humans. For many a day in his youth, David would peer out of the dense forests of their home, out at the farmers plowing their fields, the children skipping rope, the business of life.
“It’s all so very different, Papa,” David would say. “There are so many of them. And they live so close to each other. Can’t we live near more big folk? I could make friends, we could make our own skipping ropes…”
And Stanislav would smile and say, “My dear boy, I wish that you could have all the friends in the world, and that you could play with them with a skipping rope a mile long. Truly I do. But I’m afraid that while the little folk number many, we big folk number few. To find a friend of your own size… would be remarkable. No, son, we must satisfy ourselves with the other privileges of life – the fresh fruit, the open sky, the singing birds.”
“But we’ll find them one day, right, Papa? Not a kingdom, not even a village, but… just one other, just one like us?”
“Put it from your mind, my lad. Yes, we will – but do not make yourself certain of it. Now follow me. There are sheep to sheer.”
And the years wore on.
Soon David was as tall as his father, and the two of them lived in peace in their cave in the woods. Often, Stanislav would send David to the river with barrels to collect water. “Be discrete, David,” Stanislav said. “Best that the little folk not see you.”
“Yes, Papa.” And sometimes, David would ask, “Why, Papa?”
“For our well-being, David. For theirs and for ours.”
A day came when Stanislav sent David for water, and David did not return.
Into the evening Stanislav waited, and then into the night. He kept the fire burning outside their cave, in their little clearing, and he waited on the great fallen tree.
He shall return, he thought. What has he to fear? As large as he is, as strong as he is. And yet the moon has risen. And now it begins to fall…
Dawn came, and still there was no sign of David.
Stanislav set out for the river.
He tread carefully through the brush, under and around the trees, nearly silent, nearly invisible, a wind in the woods. And soon enough, he arrived at the river.
On one side of the river was forest, the forest through which Stanislav peered. All but deserted. On the other side, an enormous collection of villages, radiating out from the king’s palace, a palace of high towers and turrets piercing the horizon in the distance. Smoke billowed up everywhere. Life, everywhere.
Assessing the danger, making certain that no one was watching, Stanislav ventured onto the riverbank and cast his eyes about the forest’s edge. No signs of his son.
A great cheer rose up across the water. Stanislav looked up, and his world cracked.
A great bonfire had been started on the opposite shore. Into that bonfire, villagers, the size of insects from across the river, tossed red fuel into the fire – limbs and bones and animal pelts.
And on a spike, raised up high, overseeing all the world, was David’s head.
A villager shrieked, “The giant is dead!”
The cheering swelled.
Stanislav vomited on the shore and ran back through the woods, a ferocious gale, tearing through everything to escape the smoke and the looming head.
He stood at the dying fire. Still as stone.
What shall I do?
The sun was dying fast. Soon Stanislav would have to restock the fire.
Or he could do something else.
I have lived for so long. Here, in my cave, in my woods. But not my boy. He did not live for nearly long enough. Not at all.
He shivered and shook and wheezed in the firelight. Too old, he thought. A giant is not meant to live to be as old as I.
And why not?
Because a giant is not a creature of peace. A giant hunts.
But I do not. I have lived with peace, with happiness, without the hunt. Only the fresh fruit, the open sky, the singing birds…
And now here I am. Old and alone. A shell of what I was. What I could be.
Stanislav reached into the fire and tore out a burning sapling. A fiery club in his massive, quaking fist.
What do I want?
I don’t know.
… Yes. Yes I do. I want to share my rage.
Their heads? Will their heads assuage me?
I am not a murderer.
The burning sapling seemed to speak to him, taunt him, tempt him.
You are not a murderer, true. You are a giant. You may crush them all, if you wish. And you would be within your rights to do so. Tell me, Stanislav, last of the big folk – are you a giant, or aren’t you?
Yes. I am.
And will their heads assuage you?
Stanislav swung the branch before him, a burning arc, leaving an imprint of light lingering in the air. His eyes widened.
Yes. Their heads would assuage me.
You are a giant.
I am a giant.
Master of all.
Master of all.
Go claim your prize –mastery over all living things.
Stanislav gave the fire in the clearing a final, fleeting look, then turned and set out for the river, for the villages, for the world, his fiery sword setting the forest ablaze behind him.
And the roar of Stanislav thundered throughout creation.