My father is called the Giant King. Not because he is particularly large, or because he rules over a people of great stature. It is because he defeated them.
Before I was born, the northern edge of our lands were deserted of human civilization. Twenty leagues spread from the foothills of the mountains before the first villages appeared. It was farmable land, but no families ventured onto the fertile plain for fear of the midnight raids by wandering bands of giant-folk.
I heard tales in the nursery of entire villages burned to the ground, crops eaten in one night, church steeples knocked over, crossroads marked with severed heads.
And I heard stories of my father galloping into battle, sword raised, cutting giants down single-handedly. He led cavalry across the empty fields and into the mountains, hundreds of brave men and women with him, climbing up and up onto the peaks.
And father returned alone, with only two of his best men. At the loss of nearly all, we have triumphed! he yelled from the city gates. Five days of celebration followed, and he was crowned king, though his cousin was the true heir.
At first, people were tentative, but after one winter free of raids, and then another and another, the citizens allowed the threat of giants to pass into story.
By the time I was seventeen, giants had become memories of massive beasts with curling horns and rows of fangs. Their eyes glowed yellow and they dripped green pus from open sores. Not one had been seen in a generation, and the empty fields held some of the grandest deer hunting in the kingdom. The foothills were known for their dangerous boars.
I was there with a party of cousins, to take down our first wild pig. Stefen and Charles Peterus charged ahead, to find sign, and I kept back with Mitchell and my favorite cousin Darius. We’d told the footmen we were after deer today, and over night hid our heavy boar spears behind the gate of the Mountain’s Edge manor. It was the only way to keep away a dragging escort of men-at-arms and horsemen.
Five of us, we were certain, were more than enough for a boar.
We were very wrong.
The boar was the size of a lion, with bristles like knives. Our horses broke first and the spears would not even lodge through its hide. I was on the ground before the pig made a second pass, scrambling for my spear and yelling for Charles and Darius to get out of its way. I saw Darius gored through his middle on the long left tusk, and his body smacked into a tree hard enough to crack his skull. Mitchell threw himself in front of me, and I shoved to my feet with my spear, and we braced ourselves. The enraged boar charged, and our spears dug into its neck, but it never slowed. Mitch tossed me away so that the tusk only gouged my thigh.
Its squeals broke my ears, splitting through my head and chest, as I watched it stampede over Mitchel, mushing him quickly to pulp.
Charles screamed, waving his spear at the pig. It wheeled around toward him and he yelled, “My prince, run. Run now!” His words barely penetrated the sharp squeals, but I saw his mouth move. Run! Run! before he spun and fled himself. The pig followed, two giant spears sticking out of its neck and snapping off against trees as it crashed after my cousin.
I tried to call after him as I crawled backwards. My thigh was freezing and burning, my head whirling dully. There lay Mitchel, blood bubbling from his broken face, and across the clearing Darius slumped against a tree, eyes wide and bulbous. Stefan was nowhere. I hoped he’d escaped, even if it was for being a coward.
A fallen log blocked my path. I gripped the damp bark and strained to pull myself over it. Fire erupted from my thigh, spreading up my torso to my neck and head, whiting out my vision with its lightning. As I passed out, all I smelled was blood and bright spring rain.
It was thin smoke and rich, cooking pork that woke me. A fire crackled nearby and floated back into my body. I lay on soft leaves, feeling slow and dim, but live. My thigh throbbed gently with my heartbeat, but there was no pain.
“Hungry?” a voice growled. It sounded like rocks crushing together.
I peeled my eyes open. If not for my shock and injuries, I’d have run.
He sat with his legs crossed several feet from me, yet still his hair brushed the leaves of the tall trees surrounding us. His sword was as tall and broad as I myself. He wore dirty clothes, rusted chain mail, and boots covered in thick fur that must have come from mountain bears.
“Little man,” he rumbled again. “Are you hungry?” One hand like a horse’s head gestured at his fire.
The lion-boar hung from a spit made from the entire branch of a tree. I swallowed bitter vomit, thinking again of Charles and Darius and Mitchell. “Did you see,” again I swallowed, my throat burning, “did you see my companions?”
“Three dead and gone, little man.”
Tears burned behind my eyes. And I was soon to join them. We had been such fools! But why hadn’t the giant shoved me on his spit? The Giants preferred human flesh to all things. What did he want with me. “You – you saved me though.”
“Poor little man, yes.” He nodded the boulder atop is neck. “You bled much, but the wound will heal.”
Glancing at my thigh, I discovered my trouser had been torn away and the gouge was wrapped neatly. I snapped my head back up at the giant. “Thank you,” I said, trying not to sound grudging.
“Many welcomes, little man. Are you hungry?” He reached for the boar, and with a knife longer than my arm, cut a slice of meat.
I suddenly wanted very much to devour that pig. So I nodded and sat further. The giant put the hunk of meat into my hands. It was hot and sticky with drippings. I didn’t care. It smelled delicious.
The giant ate, too, easily a third of the beast. I couldn’t even finish the slab in my hands. I gave it back to him and he swallowed it hole. Then he offered water. I drank and washed my hands. Still my thigh did not hurt.
What was a giant doing here? I had thought they were all dead. “Sir, what are you doing here? Your… kind… has not been seen in these lands for a generation.”
He blew out a sigh that shook the trees. “I am the last, little man. Our villages and towns were destroyed twenty-seven long years ago. Raiders came on horses when we, our warrior bands, hunted high in the peaks. The raiders slaughtered our wives and our babes. We returned to empty homes and fields, rich with the blood of the dead.”
The boar’s meat hardened in my stomach.
“It is a sad tale, little man. One sung on long winter nights when we had no women and no children with us. For three summers we waited and hoped and burned offerings to the mountain gods, but no surviving wives and no surviving babes returned. None. We, who are so warm even in freezing blizzards, many of us sat out and died. Others of us disappeared into the far-beyond peaks where the rainbow lights flicker and dance.”
The giant closed his eyes, and a humming came from his lips, filling the grove with a gentle, mournful tune.
Wives and children. Is that what my father had done? Killed the helpless, the weaponless? Babies in cradles? It was not possible. He could not have built his honorable reign on such treachery and dark deeds. He fought warrior-giants, and defeated them. He did not fight giant families as they milked their giant cows and fed their giant children. “What – what will you do?”
“I will travel and sing their stories, little man,” he said. In the firelight, a tear reflected upon his cheek.
“You’ll tell everyone?”
“All who will listen.”
I believed him. The humming pressed gently, sweetly against my skin. It felt like sunlight and flowers pushing out through snow. Everyone would believe him. “Thank you for saving my life,” I said.
“Again, many welcomes little man.”
The leaf-bed he’d made me cradled me as I lay back down. He continued to hum, and I listened, far into the night. But just before dawn, he rolled himself down and slept. His snore covered any noise I made as I shuffled to my feet an took up the dagger of his that was as long as my arm.
I put the tip to the soft underside of his chin, and with all my weight I thrust it up into his brain.
I am my father’s son.
*This week, our common prompt comes from patesden. The illustration is by Rolf Winkler and comes from the story MUGEL THE GIANT.