“Get out of my way,” he growled.
The five Gal brigands surrounded him. Two in front two behind, and one amidst the trees to one side armed with a sling. They had thought that their show of numbers would be enough to part some coin from him. He shook his head.
“Once I unsheath my sword it will end badly for you,” he growled. “All of you,” he emphasised.
The lead ruffian wiped his nose with a snort. “That may be. What’s your business in these parts?”
“My business is my own.”
“That may be, but perhaps I can help you on your way.?’” He smiled gruffly, revealing his browned rotten teeth.
“”Is there a giant in these parts?”
The brigand narrowed his eyes, glanced at his companions, reappraising the situation. He shifted into a more relaxed conversational stance, “Giant, eh? Like you?”
There was a snort from behind him. Uneak stood a good foot taller than any of them, but even a bear could be downed by a pack of hungry dogs. They needed a little goading, a show of dominance, confidence, and the alpha here was building up to it. At least with his yapping.
Uneak elbowed his cloak wide as he drew his sword, just at the briggand nodded and leaped forward with his club. Uneak side-stepped and ducked lifting the sword tip to the side of the briggand’s abdoment. From his heel through his leg, rotating his hips, he drove the sword up through the abdoment into his chest, sewering the brigand mid-step, his face transfixed with shock. Uneath stepped away removing the sword from the wound with a wide arc till it was raised high above his head as a warning to the others, the body slumping to the ground like a sack of bones, which was hat it was. The others stepped back, the slinger winding down his spin.
Uneak took a wide crossstep, the blade fell, he rotated his wrist and lunged into the second man through his gut. Like an elestac, he sprung back, the sword flashing high and wide in a great loop, slashing into first one man behind, and as the fourth stumbled backwards, Uneak leaped forward athen with counter-rotation swung the sword from the gash made in the third, slicing leather and skin into the spine of the retreating man. The slingsman, barely a man at all, was scramblin gpu the grassy bank, his way to the road blocked by his fallen comrads.
Uneak raised himself to his full height and commended the boy to stop. He glanced both ways of the road, then knelt to first rip then slice off the remains of a wasitcoat from one of the bodies. He carefully wiped the blood from the blade, being sure none had dripped into the hilt.
“Were any of these relatives of yours?” he asked.
The young man nervously eyes the bodies, and Uneak who stood calmly. He shook his head.
“Find me my giant, and I shall spare you your life,” said Uneak and the boy nodded. “Speak it!” barked Uneak.
“Yes, I wil, thank you Sir.”
The goat herder jabbed with his chin, indicating it was close. Uneak stared at him coldly. The goat herder shrunk and pointed up ahead. “Just there,” he said, his voice thick with dis-use. He lived a lonely existence up here at he edge of the trees, leading his herd in and out of the forest, scrabbling for the outcrops of grassses which thinned and gave way to the mountain rock..
UUrak approached the opening into the forest. It was as he imagined. A trail thrinto the forest, tree trunks snapped like twigs, flattened likground, branches trailed through the dirt, as if a herd of gippos had passed through here. By its’s width
A trail through the trees, heavy branches broken and strewn o through the dirt, a tree angled, roots partially excavated. By thwidth, he estimated the passing of something taller than the trees, perhaps forty feet in all.
He turned back to the goat-herder who was already making his way back, smotes of snow swirling in the wind. “Have you been How many more of these have you seen?”
The herder shrugged. The forest to the west of here is criss-crossed with these trails. Noone travels here. The land is cursed. The shadow deepens here, the night is long and dark.”
Urak stood silouetted in the opening, a boy in the space made by the passing giant. He pulled his hood over his head and turned to follow the trail. It whad entered the forest here, and though the trail was over a week old, it was a start. For the trail to persist this long, he thought, it was powerful presence, in the realm of the being he hunted. This was no hill giant. THis was a mountain giant. He gritted his teeth and clambered over the ruins left of the forest floor, glancing briefly to note that the boy dutifully followed. A crack of a smile, the boy was more afraid of Urak than the giant. Wait until they met it. He would be hardpressed to know the difference.
After following numerous trails, whenever they crossed, he would carefully judge the time of passing, the lay of snow, the sap from the broken which seeped from the broken branches, the ice formed. In the footfalls. AllHe would gauge the level of detail, the scale of the passing, and make his decision. .
They were sleep ing when he was woken by the sound of birds, crows complaining, the wrong time for them to be flying. Something had disturbed them. He caught their flight in the silver light of the moon, and gathering his weapon, he jogged into the forest in the direction from where they came.
He stopped for hearing, only the beating of his heart in the silent silent trunks, the gentle swaying above. At last he heard something, breaking of a branc, perhaps a trunk, and then the slow thumping of steps. He headedin its direction. The sound was impelling, and soon he saw it, across tha gulley. The trees racked up the side of the gulley on the opposite side, the moonlight off the branches, and there was the disurbance, branches shaken, snow flurries falling to the ground, a dark trail from where it was going, heading up the gulley.
Urak headed up the gulley at a jog. He would have to press hard if he was to match its speed a.
He ran into a thicket of thorns and cursed, cutting away from the gulley before he could find a way thraround the thicket. He began running, risking stumbling over the undergrowth, slowed to heaving through fthe ramains of ernslayered with snow, srambling up a loose rock slope, and he stopped, his heart thumping, sweat rollion his face, his leathers clining to him, his legs burning. He held his breath and localised the sound of the giant — it was close. He burst through the undergrowth into its trail, and there to his left was the hulking great thing, wider than he expected, and sodouble tand as tall as the trees. It was pushing its way through the trees and hadn’t heard him or noticed him.. An advantage , one of the few advantages of being a sixth of the giant’s size. The floor of the forest was strewn with broken bracnhes, flattened ground, rocks flattened into the ground, he swiftly foollowed the trail as he brandished his weapon.
Mouthing a incantation as he ran to meet it, his voice rising to a shout as he shouted out the final wording, his mind becoming hard and edged like the iron of his sword, he hurled himself at the beast and sliced through its thigh.
A tramendous roar issued form the thing, and a great arm spun, and it spun around, a great arm a large as a trunk swatting Urak , spinning him to the ground with a glancing blow, his sword dislodged and twirling in the air to thud between distant trees. Urak lay concussed on the ground. , Coming to his senses, the great beast before him in the moonlight, its a, twisted back on itself, trying to gauge the damage to its leg. Urak realised his sword was not at hand, and fear gripped him. He swore., and lay there looking up at the great beast. It turned around and scanned the ground, searching for what hat cut him. In its automatic response, it had lashed out, and in its immensity had hardly felt he blow he had given Urak. A work, a bear, perhaps? But there was a single cut, it was man’s doing. A trap set in the forest, a spwswinging blade.? Urak saw it calculate the possibilities,, and he lay silently where he had fallen. If it noticed him there,
Holding his breath. He held his mind still, his eyes defocused. If the giant noticed, it could take a step and crush him underfoot.. The grotesque mishappen head faced one way, another, the steam of its breath from mishappen nostrils, until it finally turned its lumpen head to the sky and howled with anger and fear. , Before it turned back to its path and with greater vigour pushed between the trees, throwing its weight against trunks which bent and buckled, and uprooted, bracnhes snapping and falling in its wake.
Urak let out his breath and sank his head into the snow.
He lay there, resting, feeling his injuries, how sore, how accurat ethe the damage to his ribs. It had been a glancing blow, spun him more than struck him. He had been lucky. He repllayed the vision of the thing in his mind. Its grey skin in the moonlight, the mishapen shoulder, the characteristic diffrence of left and right side of tbody, the lump of head,, its ears ha were so deformed as to be holes, themouth ful, the dislocated jaw, the squahed eye, the deformed skull. Clearly it was in pain, constant pain, having deteriorated over months alone, lost and deranged. And as he lay there, sizing up his inuries and considering the lot of the tortured giant, he felt an overwhelming sense of compassion. It was why he did the job. That this thing was alone out here.
Reluctantly he heaved himself to his hunches and searched and found his sword. He held it in his grip and shook his head. A rookie’s mistake, parted from his blade. He checked the garsu stone remained central in the hilt, next time he had to reach for the spine. , Or hack through the leg clean, even at the ankle. He had inflicted a cut, that was all, a potentially defatal mistake on his part. He would not survive many such mistakes..
He was puled from his recollections by the eyes of the boy peering between wide-eyed from the shadows between the trees. Brave enough to follow, eh? Plucky.
He turned on his heel and slowly followed the trail THere was no point chasing, not at the rate the giant was travelling now. It was a matter of following until the giant tired, and hope that the it didn’t break clear of the tree line.
It was sitting forlornly like a sostrone outcropping in a clearing. A hazy steam rose from it which coallsced in the moonlight, blurring its surface. There was something of recognition in the thing that its time was up. How many were trapped in that thing, Urak pondered. THis was more than a couple of score. The level of detail, the persistence of trails. It was wanting to be found. But as many as there were that wanted to be foundthere were an equal number which had mutinied, lost all hope and sense wwith it, driving it in a mad rush of survival, away from civilisation, out into the most inhospitable areas. Urak still did not understand its pmotivation. Why these most inhospital areas? It was hardly afraid of man. If vengeance was part of its make up, it wcould destroy villages, but they seldom did. THere was a general movement towqrds the Everdark, but ithey would zigzag to and fro, as if attractd and yet fearful of wht it might find in the darkness. Mad, for sure.
Urak stepped from the shadows ot eh trees and slowly rounded the clearing to stand before it, outwith reach., his sword held before him, ready.
He slowly intoned the incantation under his breath, his focus on the garsu crystal in the pmel of the sword, his intent hardening with the length of iron, his being thinning, weaponising. He knew only a few specific mathix calculations, without flexibility to modify. This was the purest form, knowngly, before his prey. His audience drawn in, all of them, along the edge of his sword, towrds this single point..
The thing heaved on to its feet, its great arms swinging like logs loosly at its side. It head turned slowly, its great eyestaring down at him. It throated something, like a stretched out caugh.
Urak ignored it, ignored the pteasing of curiousity, promising his future self he would rememcall the sounds, but for now he was one thing, single intent, his wil iron.
THe thing screamed at him, and jumped forward, its great arm swinging through down upon him. With iron confidence, Urak leaped into the air, agains the ar and redoubled his height and thrust the point of the sword into the thing’s dropping jaw. Hfelt the shudder as it slpenetrated sinews and momently paused at bone before puncutring the underside of the skull.. The thing twisted, Urak was flung to one side, but he remained gripping the hilt two handed, and was. Feeling the sword well placed, he fell to a roll on the ground as the whole heap of the giant slunk to the ground. QUickly, he rose and clambered over the limp limbs till he was at its head, its eye upturned agains the moon, his shadow upon it. Breath gugled from its punctured throat as Urak lay his hand on its head, as big as he was tall. He slowly intoned the final mathix caclulation, as he saw the last whisps of breath escape into the night air. Urak breathed deeply, sadly, and wished them safe journey back to their home.
He leapt onto the trunk of an arm and rebounded high into the air, a miraculous inhuman leap witnessed by his attendant peasant boy, the sword gleaming in the moonlight, destinted to pierce the neck and enter through the spin into the skull of the giant, a single arspear-like thrust, as if the sword had a trajectory like an arrow, the flight as light as a feather.
Urak recognised the characteristic long-term deformation, the calcified joints, inarticulate shoulders, the kneck swollen with tendon, the solid overbrow. This thing had evolved into a rock giant, a thing of the wild open spaces. Whateer was inside it was polarised between fear and feirsome will, fear expressed as will. The more it was afraid, alien to this world, the more its spirit became enflamed with the willpower to live. In this way, it troe its way through the forest leaving a wake of destruction.
He knelt at examined the fine details, the taste of sap from broken branches, the splinters from torn trunks, and rubbing leave, the scent of crushed foliage. It was It wasn’t quite there, Urak felt, but it was a good start.
He murmered as he crossed the trail, examining the remains, whispering whenever he met a new trail, and ain his murmering ruminations, he would rise to his feet and with certainty in his stride, change the trail he was following.
In a local outhouse, around the between the warmth of a blazing fire and a round of friendly bodies, and within him swirling the warmth of beer, Urak let himself go, laughing loudly at the local joker, swearing passionately with their prejudice of the neighbouring settlement, holding two lassies in his lap, one oneach thigh. He was expressive and warm-hearted, the heart of this makeshift tribe, amongst his own.
In a lul in the proceddings, while another round of drinks were sought, paid for generously by Urek’s generoristy, the peasant boy who had accompanied him coughed and woke him from his temporary slumber.
“How did you manage to fell such a beast?” Urak’s eyes blurred and he snorted and collapsed back to his slumber. “It was only what you saw,” he slurred.
“”I have never seen anyone carry a sword as you do. It is alwaost like it wasn’t there, so light it is in your hands.” Said the boy in awe. Villalagers encouraged him to speak, and the boy retold the scene in the moonlit clearing in the forest, the stone giant bearing down on Urak, the superhuman leap to sewer the things head. It was increudolous, but the boy spoke with the honesty of seeing with his own eyes, and his awe was infectious.
“We were told of there are several giants in this reach, how did you know which it was you saught?”
“I won’t get paid if I get the wrong one,” snorted Urak and swigged more beer.
“There were so many trails to choose from, how did you know which one would lead to the one you wanted?”
Urak eyed him and blinked the bluriness from his eyes, and turned to the villagers who were listening enrapt, hoping to learn something should they ever encounter such a thing face to face.
“Each has a name, you see. They are not monsters, as such. They are lost souls. And if you utter its name, you can its trail livens, sharpens… enlviens before your very eyes,” he said and fixed his gaze on the eyes of one of the girls who sat on his thigh. The brightness of his spirit shone, her eyes glinted, life sparkled between them. Here was the vitality of life. “You know what I mean?” he said, a wry smile closing one eye, the other winking slowly.
“To the those who were lost who are now found!” cheered Urak raising his tankard, and his companions raised their mugs in concert. “May all beings find their home!” To distant homes! May each day bring usbring them nearer.”
(How can he tell which giant is which?) naming it, trail has more definition.