The Boy Giant
The old pine door, made of crudely cut logs fastened with thick rope, swung open wildly as a gust of teeth-rattling wind rushed over all those reclining at the stained tables of Squabs Nest Tavern. It was nearly midnight.
Guttural growls and curses snarled as the door remained open, its back tapping against a broken chair as it swung gently in the piercing winter air.
Red-rimmed eyes peered over beakers of Dragon Beer as even after the grunts of disapproval, the shifting snow drifts—white shadows in an icy landscape—remained visible through the door frame. Then, in a slow, measured movement, a huge head appeared timidly around the dented archway.
The last screeching note of Old Ron’s Wives, being painfully plucked out on a harp, faded as a strange mountain giant entered the room.
He shuffled forward, black beady eyes darting around the room from behind a shield of matted hair and beard, aware that all eyes were on him.
All the patrons, from the regular customers made up of shifty looking men in their fifties all the way to the young women leaning over tables giggling quietly fell silent and stared back, narrowing their eyes curiously at this stranger. There was nothing wrong per se, with the mountain giant that stood awkwardly twirling his moustache at the entrance of the local mountain tavern.
He, like all the males of his kind, wore layers of drab, baggy clothing under a shaggy poncho of braided beard and head hair. This poncho helped the giants to survive the freezing mountain altitudes they called home.
However, it wasn’t his clothing that was unusual, though the fact that he was younger, perhaps twelve to fourteen summers (hard to tell under all the hair), was an oddity in a tavern of that reputation.
No, it was the fact that he was blushing. Bright red spots blossomed onto his cheeks, adding even more to the very un-giant-like behaviour he was displaying.
After a minute of contemplation, a slurred voice belted out, “Shut…the…door!” and the merry tavern noises resumed in the form of loud guffaws, slamming pints on tables and the dreadful harp began a toiling journey through a first round of Aunt Anne’s Admirer.
The boy giant, forgotten now, stayed with his back pressed firmly against Squab’s Nest Tavern’s log wall, trying to be as inconspicuous as his seven feet, one inch figure could be in a tavern mainly composed of short, thick-set mountain people.
It had been a long journey for him, his travel guided by tracks. The tracks that crept away from his home in the mountains into the village, leaving only a rope tied to the boy giant’s fence and his dog missing.
He waited, savouring the warmth of the tavern after the bitter cold of his journey across the river and plains. It did not help that the Ice Faerie, the monstrous being that tormented the region with long, freezing winters, had caused the frigid temperature to plummet even more in the last few hours.
Presently, after canning the tavern several times and coming to some sort of decision, he took a deep, shuddering breath and shambled forward into the rest of the room, eyes set on a far table.
Low, black clouds of harsh tobacco smoke swirled overhead, swimming under blackened rafters and cutting at the boy giant’s eyes until they streamed. Uneven boards stood out from the floor, ready to trip him as he navigated his way through the crowd of raucous humans. Slim, bare-shouldered brunettes. Squat young men trailing them with fierce, boyish love in their eyes. A man held by his ear as he was being marched out of the tavern by a housewife.
All small, in the boy’s eyes, but incredibly wild and active. All pushing and pressing their way through with insults. All swarming like weird insects across the wooden floor in every direction.
After a final, desperate push the boy giant found himself tumbling to a stop before the table he was after. It was situated in a wooden booth, separating the occupants inside from the rest of the tavern. Gold, red and brown triangular cards were scattered across the table along with green and blue player pieces in what looked like random positions. It wasn’t a game the boy giant recognized.
The sour smell of strong spirits spilled out of the beakers steaming on trivets, biting at the boy giant’s nose and nearly causing him to gag. At this noise, one of the two men staring intently at the game glanced up.
“What is he?” He nudged the small, black bearded man sitting beside him, pointing a clawed hand at the boy giant while scratching his stubby chin with the long, yellow nails of his other hand.
“Looks a man, though I ain’t ever seen un as tall an’ as hairy.” The only woman at the table, perched at the edge of her seat and clutching a green game piece, declared this loudly. Half of her hair was straightened, giving her a wild appearance.
“He’s a giant you idiots.” A smaller, bearded man growled in a deep, husky voice. Unlike everyone else at Squab’s Nest Tavern, his thick, black cloak still rested on his narrow shoulders. His hands too, were covered in leather gloves, over which the long sleeves of his shirt were pulled. His eyes, a light blue, almost gray, were uncanny as he stared unblinkingly at the boy giant. “What do they call you?”
“My name’s Aviur, sir,” Aviur mumbled.
“What are you doing down the mountain, Aviur?” The cloaked man pressed, still fixing him with a cold stare.
“I-I’m looking for…”
“Speak up, boy, didn’t hear the last part.” He snapped sharply. Aviur flinched and nearly shouted. “My dog, Gra’ka. He hasn’t been home in hours. He’s a small type, one of the few breeds we share with mountain folk. A bernie mountain dog, I think.”
The three mountain folk shrugged and turned back to their game.
“Ain’t seen ’im,” the woman stated flatly. Her eyes crossed as she crouched low beside the table, carefully lowering her game piece upon it with delicate precision.
“Try the Drinker.” The cloaked man said quietly, finally taking his eyes off Aviur and concentrating on the game. “The one who tends the drinks,” he added as Aviur didn’t budge from his spot.
Aviur, not daring to try his voice again, nodded and backed away before straightening and glancing around nervously. He squeezed his hands into fists, his fingerless gloves damp from nervous sweat.
With his height, it was easy to spot the tavern bar. It was a long, slightly uneven spruce table lined with three legged stools. Stacked behind these and the bar were huge barrels, big enough for even boy giants to sit in.
Aviur slowly made his way over, swiping a finger at the sweat beading on his curved lips. As he watched, brooding men sitting at the counter pulled drinks closer to them, silently handing over their wages to the “drinker.”
“Need anything, son?” A huge burly man turned around, a half pint clenched in his huge hand.
He was easily the biggest human Aviur had ever seen both in height and width. Only a couple years ago they would’ve stood at the same height.
“Yes…” Aviur stammered. “I’m looking for my dog.”
“Anything to drink with that?” The Drinker sent the beaker whizzing down the table, where it was caught by a hoofed hand.
Aviur blinked, his brows knitting together as he stared at the disheveled bartender.
“Water is fine.”
“First time I’ve heard that…fifty years of business…” the Drinker muttered. He soon had a beaker of shimmering water, alight from the lanterns hanging like fireflies above the bar, in front of Aviur.
“Sixteen bits, that,” he drawled, only after Aviur had drunk half. The boy giant nearly choked. “I don’t have—”
“—No need to pay fer that till the morrow.” The Drinker continued, scrubbing at the bar table with a dirty rag. He paused mid-motion and his bulging eyes searched the tavern.
“Listen here, giant.” The Drinker lowered his voice suddenly, leaning in. “Someone knows ’bout your dog. He’s expecting you upstairs.”
“That doesn’t make sense. I don’t know anybody here.” Aviur frowned, confusion etched across his features.
“I’m just the messenger.” The huge man shrugged, threw Aviur a heavy copper key and was engaged in another conversation before Aviur could blink.
Dazed, Aviur stared down at the key in his hands. It was almost the length of his pinky. Black ink, faded but still visible, showed the number thirty-one. Partly because he was suddenly feeling very conspicuous as the only giant in the tavern and partly because he did not wish to draw attention to himself, Aviur decided to look for his room to think things over.
The dark, narrow hallway jutting away from the tavern closed around him. As he made his way up a cramped, spiralling staircase, the noise of the room behind him became only a low murmur beneath his feet. The wooden steps creaked beneath his weight and with a sigh of relief he made it to the top floor.
It wasn’t like the other floors he had passed. Instead of musty, long hallways lined with black-stained doors this one had a single varnished entrance. A mat in the general language spoken among the mountain species lay before the stairs reading WELCOME.
Aviur carefully pressed the copper key into the keyhole, turning it carefully and pried the door open. He ducked through, the splintered wood grazing his scalp. The door snapped closed behind him.
To his surprise, the room was already lit and prepared. A merry fire crackled in the hearth and every coloured lamp and candle had been lit, giving the room a cosy look. The blinds had been pulled open to reveal, through frosted panes, the blurry image of the snowy plain, frozen river and black mountains beyond.
Aviur rubbed his hands together, a wide grin spreading across his face.
“I’ll find you soon, Gra’ka. As soon as I warm up.” He sighed happily, rubbing his hands together and began to move toward the hearth.
Aviur spun around with a yelp, leaping back as he found a grizzled man staring at him.
He looked to be in his fifties, age already beginning to crinkle the edges of his face. His black, wet hair hung down to his waist, soaking half the wool tunic top he wore. He was barefoot, and from the odd way he greeted him, palms up, brown thumbs tucked under his first three fingers and holding on to his pinkie, Aviur knew he was from the Ma’shi tribe, one of the Seven Tribes of the Peaks.
The courteous gesture was quick and Aviur saw that the man’s sharp black eyes had narrowed to slits.
“What are you doing here?” The man asked, lifting his chiseled chin with a challenge in his eyes. “You think you can just prance in here and take over my room?”
“What? No!” Aviur’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “I didn’t mean to barge in. I’m looking for my dog, Gra’ka.”
The squat man’s sharp black eyes considered him for a moment, his brow furrowed in concentration. After a long moment he spoke, scratching at his stubby face. “Ah, so you’re the giant. I was expecting an adult.” He muttered but Aviur was able to catch his words.
In a louder voice the man continued. “I am Calder, chieftain of the First Tribe, the Ma’shi. Who are you?”
“Aviur,” the boy giant mumbled a greeting.
“Aviur,” the chieftain nodded to himself thoughtfully. “I know where your dog is. I can help you get him back.”
“You can?” Aviur’s face lit up, an excited grin spreading across his face. He straightened eagerly and almost at once grimaced as his head thudded against the rough, black rafters of the ceiling.
Calder smiled to himself. It was a fleeting, amused smile and for a second it was easy to imagine a handsome face beneath all the scars he bore.
“Yes. It was me who, er… found him alone and brought him here. Sold him for a good price as well.”
“You—you sold Gra’ka? To who?” Aviur sputtered, eyeing the chieftain with sudden horror.
“To the tavern cook of course!” Calder announced matter-of-factly. “Ever had rabbit stew? Cook the dog the same way, add more pepper and it’s delicious. Or so I hear. Us tribesmen are not fond of it like the mountain folk are.”
“I must get him back!” Aviur cried out, moving towards the suite door.
“No!” Calder leaped in front of him and though he was much smaller than Aviur something in his fierce, burning gaze told the boy giant that trying to fight his way out would end badly for him.
“You are but a boy.” Aviur was surprised to hear the accusatory tone in Calder’s voice. “Do you have coin? The only way you’ll get him back is with coin.”
“No.” Aviur breathed, eyeing the fierce little old chieftain with trepidation. Back in his village, upon the tallest peak of the mountain chain that overlooked the region, he had always been protected from fierce strangers like this one.
Unlike most giant boys his age, he had never had the urge to stray far from home to hunt for food or learn to shoot a bow and arrow. He always backed away from the dangerous things other boy giants did, like plunging down the waterfall behind his house into the deep summer pool. Or exploring the vast caverns that covered the mountain sides like gaping mouths ready to swallow him whole.
In fact, as the only giant child in his household, Aviur had enjoyed the attention and protection of his parents and had never thought to leave. Until now.
“Then how do you expect to pay for his return?” Calder waved his arm around their luxurious surroundings. “Or get a room to sleep in? You will freeze out there.”
“I…I don’t know.” Aviur admitted, his face falling.
“I do.” Calder walked over to a long, leather couch overlooking the cold landscape. On either side skinny tables held lit, sweet-smelling candles.
“You have two options. Simple.” Calder began, stretching out and interlocking his hands beneath his thick, long hair. He leaned back.
“You either leave my room, leave your dog to be eaten and walk back to your mountain through this blizzard…” He paused and the sound of the windows rattling in their frames as the wind threw itself against them was very unwelcoming to Aviur’s ears. “…or I buy your dog back and pay for your own, warm room. For a single favour.” He flashed Aviur an ingratiating smile. Aviur glanced from the door, to Calder, and finally out the window.
He narrowed his eyes. “What is this favour?”
“I cannot tell you until you accept it.” Calder was grinning now. He was enjoying Aviur’s indecision. Aviur looked away from him to the window.
Through the billowing snow, dancing with a life of its own, he could barely make out the dark masses that could only be his mountains. He thought of Gra’ka, tied up somewhere and maybe minutes away from becoming stew. The thought of him—his first and only friend—not waiting for him by his front door when he went back home brought tears to his eyes.
“Fine.” He agreed, locking eyes with Calder. But instead of uncertainty, his gaze held deep, burning anger. A dangerous expression settled over his face and he straightened, looking suddenly as huge and formidable as a dangerous mountain cavern. “This is the last time you’ll cheat me, Calder.”
The chieftain’s smile faltered a little. He knew Aviur’s words to be true. He was not foolish and knew that giants were wise creatures who never repeated mistakes. Aviur would never allow anyone to take advantage of his situation again and, most importantly, Calder was reminded as he looked at Aviur that even the most quiet giant could be more dangerous than an avalanche.
“It is,” he admitted, now serious. He leaned forward, elbows on knees and stared up into Aviur’s bushy face.
“I need you to summon the Ice Faerie.”
“The Ice Faerie?” Aviur’s worried expression returned. “I’ve heard stories of her powers. Only a fool would call her.”
“Then I am a fool.” Calder reached under one of the skinny tables and withdrew a bottle of Dragon Beer. “And you are a giant. Only a giant can summon her.”
“What do you want with the Ice Faerie?” Aviur demanded, giving the outside world a frightful look. It hadn’t occurred to him what lay out there when he had come searching for his dog. What could have passed by him as the sun turned the snow around him the colour of blood before sinking below the horizon.
“I want what she took from me.” There was an edge to Calder’s voice. “I am not just the chief of the Ma’shi, Aviur. I am the chieftain of chieftains. I am above all the Seven Tribes.” With a loud pop, the cork of the bottle flew up, making Aviur flinch.
“When I was made chieftain, I received the necklace that proved I was the rightful leader. It has the same meaning as a crown for us tribesmen. That same night, when I slept, the Ice Faerie stole it.”
Calder tilted his head back, his Adam's apple moving up and down as he chugged down the Dragon Beer. He sighed, drawing the back of his hand over his mouth.
“I am being challenged as a leader. I must win my tribes back. You must steal the necklace for me.”
“How?” Aviur’s voice cracked. A growing fear claimed him, threatening to overwhelm him.
“By tricking her.” Calder’s eyes glowed maliciously. “Tell her you have something better in exchange. Promise her treasures, riches! Anything! You must bring the necklace to me!” He rose, an unnaturally eager glint in his eyes. Aviur backed up a step, alarmed.
“A-alright! I’ll do it!” He stammered. He looked around the room, noticing a door leading out towards a wide balcony.
“Where are you going?” Calder called after his retreating back.
“To meet the Ice Faerie.” Aviur called back, placing his hand on the bronze door handle and pulling it open. A chill flooded the suite, making the candles flicker and casting distorted shadows upon the walls.
“All giants know she doesn't come inside. She’s too big.” And with that, slamming the balcony door behind him, Aviur stood very alone and very cold upon the gloomy balcony.
Shivering from cold or fear (he couldn’t tell which), Aviur stepped forward and faced the plain. The snowstorm was passing, leaving dunes of snow in every direction. The thin strip that could only be the frozen river he had crossed snaked away towards the mountains. He looked around. Behind the tavern the rest of the village rested silent and still. Only a few, lonely lights stood sentinel at windows.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and thought of Gra’ka. He let his breath out slowly, shakily, and with eyes still squeezed tightly shut he called.
“Come, Ice Faerie, I summon you!”
A great gust of wind rushed forward, nearly knocking him over. When Aviur opened his eyes, the figure of a woman could be seen coming from the mountains.
Snow, ice and wind took the shape of a colossal human. She opened her mouth and the moaning of wind echoed over the entire region, her shrieking shaking the frozen ground itself.
She was enormous, taller than the biggest giant, than the tavern itself. As she came, the wind whipped her icy hair around her sharp, angry face. The folds of her skirt was a snowstorm and when she grew level with the tavern a giant sheet of snow and ice flew over it, half burying the building. Her massive, angry face leered at Aviur and when she spoke, her breath was icier than the highest mountain peak.
“What do you want, boy giant?”
Aviur was left momentarily speechless, shocked by her violent and sudden appearance.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” She screamed and when she opened her mouth Aviur saw that her teeth were icicles. He closed his eyes and braced himself until the teeth-rattling gust had passed.
“I—I want to make a trade!” Aviur stammered out the lie, beady eyes wide as he gazed into the Ice Faerie’s face.
“Well, what is it?” The Ice Faerie demanded, her snowy eyebrows furrowing.
It took a moment for a terrified Aviur to find his voice. “I have a priceless treasure to trade for your necklace. The one you took from Calder, chieftain of the Seven Tribes of the Peaks.”
“If it’s priceless, why would you want to trade it?” The Ice Faerie demanded and the wind around her head, which seemed to have a life of it’s own, made her hair swirl higher into the air.
“Because I’m a giant and I don’t care for gold.” The lie slipped out before Aviur could think.
“Gold? Why would I want gold?” The Ice Faerie boomed.
“It’s not just any gold.” Once he had started, Aviur couldn’t stop. He met her ice-grey eyes, the lies pouring out of him so fast he wasn’t half-sure what he was speaking about. “It is a gold that contains all the coldness of every place on earth and the creature who holds it will control winter itself.”
The Ice Faerie straightened, a greedy look crossing her face. Aviur knew he had her interest.
“I have it right in my pocket. But first, the necklace.” He said firmly, and was delighted to see that the Faerie was considering his words.
Her hair, which had been billowing around her a second ago, fell flat as she pondered. Even the snowstorm that edged her snowy dress grew still, turning into a soft snowfall of flurries. Finally she spoke up. “I will give you the necklace. Let us trade.”
And with that she lifted up a giant hand and removed from it the necklace that she had been wearing as a ring. It glimmered in the moonlight, its blue pendant catching the light of the stars and spiralling in the air as she carefully handed it to Aviur.
“Now,” the Ice Faerie nodded stoutly. “Give me my gold.”
Aviur’s grin melted from his face.
“Calder told me to lie.” He muttered to himself and began to tremble as the Ice Faerie leaned closer, her head growing stormy once more.
“About the gold… I don’t have it with me. It’s in the mountains…”
“LIAR!” The Ice Faerie screamed.
She swung her hand forward violently—Aviur cringed—but the blow never came. Instead, several long, cold icicles wrapped tightly around his torso and when Aviur opened his eyes he found himself rising from the balcony, suspended in the hand of the Ice Faerie.
Her hold tightened as he was brought before her face. He gasped for air and the shallow breath that filled his lungs froze his very being.
She screamed her fury at him but Aviur couldn’t hear her. His ears were crusted with ice from her storm. His eyelids were heavy with snow and his hair seemed frozen to his body.
The pain grew agonizing as she prepared to freeze the life out of him.
“It doesn’t exist.” He groaned. What was the point of lying now, as he stared death in its cold eyes? “The gold and its power… I made it up.”
Even as he spoke his eyes closed. Just as blessed darkness began to claim him, the Ice Faerie relaxed her grip and he was brought back to painful reality.
“What did you say?” A queer expression had come into the Ice Faerie’s face. The storm around her died away and she shifted uncomfortably, staring at Aviur.
Even through the haze of pain Aviur felt puzzled. “I said that I made it all up. The gold is not in the mountains. I tricked you in order to get Calder’s necklace back.”
A shudder ran through the Ice Faerie and Aviur’s heart skipped a beat as she nearly dropped him. “So this is my curse.” The Ice Faerie licked her blue lips, increasingly nervous.
“That I lied?” Aviur asked her and fear came into her eyes.
“Stop your honesty!” The Ice Faerie cried out in sudden fear. She stared down and Aviur saw that chunks of her snowy body were falling, dripping off her in sticky chunks. “The truth…my curse…I cannot bear the truth!”
But her words fell on deaf ears. Aviur was thinking of the terrible tavern, of its confusing people, of Gra’ka being tied up away from him, of the tricks that the Drinker and Calder had played on him, of his parents…
“I just want to go home.” He whispered. Then several things happened at once.
One moment he was plummeting to the ground, falling because the Ice Faerie’s hand was no longer there. In fact, she had just disappeared, blown away from the mountain region and the village, the tribes and the giants’ mountains.
Even as Aviur landed in a large snow drift the wind that had carried the Ice Faerie away continued to sweep through the village, uncovering the houses and tavern.
Then, quite suddenly, Aviur was surrounded by mountain folk and creatures all rejoicing at the defeat of the Ice Faerie.
Soon Calder was at his side, clapping him on the back. Gra’ka was barking joyfully in his arms and for the first time in living memory, the moon shone brightly over the tavern and the village, unhindered by the Ice Faerie.
From that point on, there were warm summers without snow and pleasant winters every year and the Ice Faerie could never find the entrance to Aviur’s mountains again.
Dear reader, whenever you hear the wind howl quite suddenly during a snowstorm, know that it is her vengeful lament because her evil was thwarted by truth.
If you walk outside as the wind rises and your face is splattered by snow, know that it is only the edge of her skirt as she passes, always searching but never finding.
Aliyah Joy is a 16 year old writer from Canada.