“Run!” I shouted.
And as the scouts had trained to do when caught unprepared, we split up into all different directions.
“Op,” the giant exclaimed, “we can’t let you go quite yet.”
With that tone, I knew that the prince had been targeted. Skidding in the mud, my legs pumped to bring me back to where the giant was trying to cut off Alan’s escape.
A hand as large as a full-grown boar reached down to grasp a member of the royal family with enough strength to crush him into a mush that would be indistinguishable from the muck at our feet.
In the last few feet I dove and drew my blade.
The monstrous creature bellowed in pain as it grasped one hand with the other. Two of its fingers lay at my feet like crooked logs ready to be burned. I turned back, ready to collect more firewood. I was not, however, ready for a giant, booted foot to slam into my side and send me flying into a nearby tree. Air fled from my lungs as if escaping from a fire, and at that moment, I believed the fire in my chest was real.
When I opened my eyes, the enraged giant was raising the same foot to grind me into the earth. I lifted my sword, barely more than a nail, but he wouldn’t enjoy stepping on that.
“Run!” I screamed at the prince, comforted in the knowledge that my distraction would at least let him escape into the night.
“Stop, Vutner!” croaked a voice that cut through the night sharper than my blade did with giant’s flesh.
Everyone froze for an eternal moment. Clumps of mud dripped onto my face from the giant’s boot less than an arm’s length away. Prince Alan had halted as well, cut off by the two giants that now lumbered into sight at the bottom of the hill.
One of the new giants held Jasmine with one hand by the back of his coat. My trusted lieutenant appeared unconscious but otherwise unharmed. The giant’s other hand supported her companion as they climbed toward us in the light of a huge torch that fizzled with each drop of rain.
The foot hovering above me moved away and the giant called Vutner turned to the newcomers. “He took my fingers,” he bellowed in complaint.
This much talking among giants already had me out of my depth. In the heat of battle, there wasn’t much talking. It was all smashing and stabbing. This whole situation felt very odd. I hissed and waved to Alan to join me.
“And he’s never received injury at our hands?” the giant that needed the support of his companion said as they came to a stop nearby. He pointed a cane at me and my missing eye.
Vutner bowed his head to his apparent superior, sufficiently chastised. He grunted at me as he tried to slow the bleeding in his hand.
“I got ya, Vut,” the female giant said as she set Jasmine against a tree. She was dressed in similar leather armor, and aside from the knives strapped to her thighs, each bigger than a greatsword, she only had a bag slung over her shoulder which she removed and started pulling out what looked like bandaging.
Seeing a good gamble, I stepped forward and sheathed my sword. “My apologies,” I started. “I thought you were going to kill my companion here.”
The frailer giant with the cane and a cloak of patchwork furs raised an understanding palm. “An understandable mistake. Vutner has a tendency to leap before he looks.”
Vutner met my gaze as his hand was being seen to by his companion’s practiced hand. We nodded a soldier’s understanding to one another.
“I am Shaman Harrek, from the Grey Cliff clan,” the older giant said through a wrinkled and smiling face. “And these are my aides, Ritithia and Vutner, whom you have already met.”
The prince and I nodded to each of them.
“My name is Ken,” I said as I stepped forward before Alan could. “And these are my lieutenants, Jasmine and Shaw. We are a scouting party.”
The giant’s glanced at one another before Harrek spoke. “I guessed as much, but is this not Alan, the human prince?” He pointed the cane at the young man behind me.”
He stepped out openly. “I am Prince Alan.”
My head dropped into my hands in frustration.
“Do not worry, Ken. We won’t harm him.” The old giant smiled kindly with wrinkles as wide as my fingers.
“As long as you are right,” Ritithia added quietly.
My body tensed again. “What was that?”
Harrek waved Ritithia off. “We will come to that, but what I can assure you is that none of you are in danger tonight.” He caught my glance toward Jasmine. “Yes, well, not any more. Riti, Vut can finish that himself. Let us have at least a little shelter.”
With that, the giant pulled even more out of the bag she had been carrying. A kind of hide tarp appeared, which she expertly tied to the trees to keep the rain from soaking us further. She then produced a giant-sized folding chair, which the shaman accepted gratefully before settling down into it.
Vutner had finished bandaging his hand, and had dragged his club beneath the tarp, setting its least muddy side up. “Have a seat.”
Alan and I did so, and Jasmine was soon resting at our feet.
“I’m sorry,” I began to say almost as soon as I had sat down. “But I’ve never known such hospitality to exist among giants, and I’ve been studying you all my life.”
Ritithia grunted and Harrek smiled sadly. “We could say the same about you. We look at one another only in the context of warfare. Have any of us tried to truly understand one another, more than just to find the other’s weaknesses?”
I couldn’t disagree. “So, what is happening now.”
“A dialogue,” Harrek said as he stuck the torch he had been carrying into the ground between us, a blazing bonfire that illuminated the hope and fear in his eyes. Vutner and Ritithia took up a watch around the small shelter.
“About what?” Alan asked.
Shaman Harrek fixed him with an unblinking stare. “The truth.”
“Truth?” Alan was just as confused as I was.
“More specifically,” the shaman explained, “the truth about the past. Tell me, do you know why we are at war?”
The prince looked at me and back to the giant. “Because you keep attacking and killing us. You are a threat to our existence that we strive to eliminate.”
Harrek chuckled dryly, but the mirth didn’t extend beyond his mouth. “And that is the same reason we fight against you.”
Silence followed which allowed the humans to realize what he was saying. The giants were just as worried about us as we were about them, and thought they were just as justified in killing us. The thought went against everything we had been taught for generations. However, something about it stroked my heart with a gentle ease.
The shaman continued. “But we have been fighting for so long that none of us can remember why the war began. I assume it is the same with you.”
Prince Alan looked at me, and I nodded. He passed that nod to the giant. “Yes, but there is no way to rediscover it.”
The smile that spread across Harrek’s face showed the most genuine happiness I had ever seen on a giant. “I believe there is. But I’ll need your help.”
Alan’s eyes widened as his mouth searched for the right words. “I can’t…What could…How?”
“With your blood.”
The sword was in my hands and I stood in front of my prince before any of the giants had moved.
Vut glanced back at me with a smirk.
Shaman Harrek lifted his palms in the universal gesture of peace. “Oh, not like that, Ken,” he assured. “Only a small amount will suffice. I’m sure he has lost more in training with you.”
The prince put a hand on my arm and guided me back to my seat. “How can my blood help?”
“It would be easier to show you with my own,” the shaman assured.
Ritithia spun around and knelt next to him. “No! You don’t have enough strength left to do it twice. You said we would only be looking for the truth through their ancestors.”
Harrek’s voice was suddenly hard. “They have as much of a right to the truth as we do. And if they realize it, we could end the war tonight.”
This thought sparked a hope inside me that I hadn’t realized could exist, and my heart pounded with anticipation at what the night would bring.
Apparently, the prince hoped for the same thing, because he voiced what I was thinking. “What can I do?”
The Shaman sighed. “For now, just watch, and listen.”
We received a glare from Ritithia as she stood back up, but I sensed it was based more from fear, than actual malice. That however, didn’t lessen the danger I knew was behind that glare if things went badly tonight.
“If this is a danger to you…” I began.
“It is worth the risk,” Harrek insisted. “And I accept whatever consequences come, as you must, Riti.”
With a reluctant bow of her head, she turned back to keeping watch.
The wise, old giant began to draw the tip of his cane through the muddy forest floor. “I call it Blood Memory, and it is a very difficult magic to perform. At least it is for the moment, as I have just recently developed it.”
I’d had an inkling that magic would be involved, and I voiced my opinion. “Can we trust this magic, my prince? I mean, we know that magicians haven’t been the most honest people.”
Alan didn’t have a chance to answer before Vut cut in. “And they are the most trustworthy leaders among the giants.” That shut my mouth.
The shaman continued. “It draws on the memories retained in the blood of the lives of the subject’s ancestors.”
“And’s it’s danger?” Prince Alan asked.
“Is to the performer of the magic, not the target. It draws on my life energy to access the memory. I was one of the clan’s greatest warriors before I performed it for the first time.” It was a pained smile that he gave us.
He finished drawing in the ground, but I couldn’t recognize any of the symbols. The tip of the cane was placed in the center circle of the design, and Harrek closed his eyes.
For a time, we only listened to the wind and the rain, but a low humming began that I assumed was from the shaman. But as it grew louder, I felt like it was coming from below me. I could feel the vibrations in my feet. Then a faint flash added itself to the light of the torch. It came again, and I could see it was green. The next flash steadied into a consistent verdant glow that traced the pattern Harrek had made in the ground.
Shaman Harrek opened his eyes, which hinted at a similar hue as the magic light in the dirt. He exposed a hairy chest beneath his cloak and a stream of red began to leach from his pores, stringing its way over to the top of the cane, which now stood straight of its own accord, glowing with similar markings along its surface. The blood gathered into a blob, hovering in the air.