The rain drizzled down like a thousand tiny hands patting me on the back for my good work. Or it could have been smacking me on the behind for being so horrible. I couldn’t tell. The spirits knew I had plenty of sins for which I had yet to suffer.
I pulled my cloak closer, hoping that the cloth and my leather jerkin would keep me dry until we could return to camp. Though the mud soaking me from underneath made that cause futile. But I continued to crawl and scoot my way up the slope as smoothly as possible, despite the discomfort.
A quick brightening of the horizon froze my progress, and I hissed, signaling to my two companions to hold their position. My one good eye scanned the darkness around me for movement, but I only saw the outlines of bushes and trees, perfectly still but for the occasional tremble from drops of rain. The light beyond the hill grew into a steady glow reflecting off the canopy above its source.
I clicked my tongue to resume our journey, yet more cautiously now that we knew the enemy was near.
Creeping toward the trunk of a tree at the crest of the hill, I peeked my head over. I might have lost an eye in battle a few years earlier, but I had no trouble seeing the monstrous size of the army we faced. They were giants, of course, so their towering frames were no surprise when this war had been going on for generations. But we had never seen them gathered in this large of numbers. They had set up a gigantic barricade of fallen trees, but I could make out the tops of many of their heads. And those were only the tallest, I knew there were others just out of my sight. And the encampment stretched as far as I could see in either direction.
“Well that looks less than encouraging.”
I looked to my sides as Jasmine and Prince Alan came up beside me. “Very, very true, my prince.”
“What are they planning?” Jasmine asked.
The encampment seemed set to fight, but I couldn’t feel the charge of nervous energy typical of a night before battle. Nervous laughter and easy conversation reached my ears on the wind. If I had to hazard a guess, I would have said the giants seemed more confused than anything else.
“It’s hard to tell,” I said in answer to Jasmine.
“We should get a closer look,” the prince suggested, and he shifted in preparation to continue.
I laid a hand on his shoulder. “No. We are going to head back and report what we have seen.”
“But we need to know what’s going on,” the prince argued.
My eye, which had seen dozens more battles than the young prince, met his glare, which quickly softened. “That is true, but they aren’t making preparations for immediate battle. And more importantly, I won’t put a member of the royal family in any danger if it is not necessary.”
“I can take care of myself.” A hint of the glare returned.
The hand on his shoulder tightened. “I know that, as do all the bruises you gave me, but I am still your superior officer for now, even if you are my prince. Besides, putting you at risk would be like stretching my neck out under the headsman’s axe. Have you found your father to be a very forgiving man?”
Even speaking those words in the wrong company could be considered treason, but I knew Alan. I had trained him. And he had a better heart than most.
Prince Alan considered my words and smiled. “Captain’s orders.”
I nodded at Jasmine. “You lead the way.”
As we all scooted around to start crawling back to camp, a gust of wind whipped twigs and leaves into our faces, followed quickly by two trembles I felt in the ground beneath me.
“Aw, spirits,” I muttered as I reached for the sword on my back.
“Going somewhere?” a deep voice rumbled above us.
The giant was armored in thick leathers, protecting its already tough skin. Its legs were easily mistaken for tree trunks in the darkness. A true tree trunk rested on its shoulder, banded in iron that made it a quite intimidating club.
“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.
Faintly at first, but with increasing detail, the orb of blood took shape, and with its shapes, the entranced giant narrated what we saw.
“Long ago, we giants didn’t live on this world. It was a land of vast wilderness and roaming beasts.” I could see all these things in the bright red hue of the giant’s blood, and one giant, with shaggy hair and large teeth stood out among the dulled details of the rest. “One day, my ancestor found a strange and tiny creature in the forest. It was a tiny child, no bigger than his finger, with insect-like wings.
“When nobody else came along to care for the creature, he took the female child home, and raised her as his own. Years later, when she had grown to her full size much like you humans, they were wandering the forest once more, when they came upon a tree they had never seen before, and at its base, was a pool of the clearest water they had ever seen. But when they touched the water, it would not let go, and ended up dragging them both into its depths. They awoke in another world, where creatures the size of his adopted child ruled the land. Yet the humans were in turmoil. The first giant and his daughter decided to help the humans, who were fighting against hordes of monsters controlled by a cursed sword.” The monsters shown in the blood seemed to leap right out of my nightmares into my vision.
“In particular, they accompanied a brave knight whose mission was to destroy the evil sword. Through their many harrowing adventures, it appeared that his daughter and the knight had fallen in love.” The memories showed the giant coming upon the couple embracing or stealing a kiss when they had the chance. “And my ancestor gave his consent for them to marry after they had destroyed the sword.”
“However, when they reached their goal and confronted the possessed sword-bearer, the bride-to-be took a fatal blow that would have killed her knight. In doing so, she created the opening he needed to defeat his enemy, and the giant destroyed the sword.” I watched the blood-image pick up the blade and snap it into several pieces.
“With her final words, my ancestor’s daughter declared her love for her knight, and for her father, who knew their lives would hold a great emptiness. But while they shared their grief, they could not agree on what to do with the girl’s remains. The knight, who had become a hero-king to his people, wished to entomb her in a shrine dedicated to her sacrifice where people could be reminded of her always. Her father, however wished to take her back home and return her to the nature where he had found her.” The images showed the giant and knight alternating between shaking fists at one another and pleading on their knees.
“With her body awaiting a decision on the funeral altar, the grieving men agreed to sleep on the issue to see if they could come up with a solution.” The giant separated from the knight and laid down in an oversized bed. “But when my ancestor awoke, he entered the altar room to see the knight at the open door on the other end and the body of his daughter missing.” Something caught my eye at that moment, but I couldn’t quite tell what.
“After arguing and accusing the other of wrongdoing, the giant fled the spears of the humans who had newly united into a strong force. With the resources he could find, he learned what he could of magic and opened another portal back to his world. But instead of going home, he brought more of his kin and friends who had loved his daughter as well, and they vowed to get her remains back from the traitorous humans and take her home.”
The blood converged back into an orb for a moment, but soon returned in a stream back into the shaman. When it had returned, the glow disappeared, and Harrek slumped over in his seat. Both Vutner and Ritithia came to his sides, providing a flask of water and checking his breathing. He seemed to be struggling to take in any air at all, and he was slumped even further over in his seat.
After a few stressful moments, he waved off his two aides, grabbed up his fallen cane, and looked at us with raised brows and a strained grin.
“We haven't heard of any such incident,” I explained, and the prince nodded in agreement.
“As I suspected. Until I saw it through the blood, the knowledge had been completely lost to the giants as well. But I hope what you saw helps you understand us a bit more.”
“You are saying you are justified in attacking the humans who you feel stole a member of your family?” Prince Alan suggested. “But why come to us about it? You could just keep trying to kill us and find her body.”
“Did the memory show that humans took her?”
The prince’s brow wrinkled. “Well it looked like– “
“We saw what my ancestor saw and nothing more. Even he did not know exactly what happened. I believe it is possible that he let strong emotion lead him to assumptions.”
Alan smiled. “And that is why you need me.”
Shaman Harrek nodded. “I used other spells to find out where I could find a member of the royal line, and we were lucky enough to catch you out here, tonight.”
“Well,” the prince said as he slapped a knee, “let’s get this going. I’m curious.”
I raised a hand in front of my eager companion. “You say that the spell won’t hurt him, and I’m willing to believe that. But what will happen afterward? If you find out that this knight did steal the body, what will the giants do? If you find out that he is not the culprit, will that change anything?”
The smile that had been on the giant’s face lessened as his eyes turned to me. “Sadly, that I cannot say for certain. No matter the influence I have, I do not rule completely. It will need to be in agreement with the other clan shamans. If we find that the knight had betrayed my ancestor’s trust, they might want to continue the crusade, but if the humans are willing to admit fault, and maybe help return her remains, that could sway them to stop aggressions. If we find that the knight was honest about his innocence, we might just try to find a way to our original home.”
“Then again,” I added, “With all the bad blood built up over the generations could be too much for anyone to let go, and nobody would stop fighting.”
Harrek nodded somberly.
“It’s worth trying,” the prince said. I’d seen his jaw clenched like that before, and there was no changing his mind. I nodded my assent.
The shaman took a deep breath, and started as he had before. Soon enough, a stream of red began seeping right through Prince Alan’s clothing. Instinctively I stood up to keep him from danger, but he waved me down. “I think I can see it, more than just in the blood image.” His eyes had gained a similar greenish glow to what we had observed before.
“As do I, young prince. Tell us what you see.”
Alan began to describe the events that were shown in the image of the Blood Memory. While the relation began around the time that the knight first encountered the giant and adopted daughter, the majority of the tale was the same. Although, the times that the couple spent alone were a bit longer. In the end, we came to the grieving men arguing over the body of the departed woman, concluding that they would find a solution the next day.
“The knight-king returned to his room and fell asleep. The first thing he does when he wakes up is check on the remains of his love.”
In a scene so similar to what we had already seen, we watched the blood image of the knight open the door, only to see an empty altar and the giant standing on the other end. The ensuing argument was exactly the same as before, but the ending changed when the giant fled from the king’s soldiers.
“The knight talks with his advisors, and they assume that the giant somehow took the body back to their world. But later on, he gets reports of the giants appearing in force, attacking the kingdom’s strongholds. He surmises that the portal is still there, and that his former companion was only trying to prevent him from doing what he intended to. He would fight through the giants to find the portal and return with his fallen love.”
Yet again, the glow faded and the cane fell to the ground, but this time, Shaman Harrek fell with it before Vutner and Ritithia could reach him. The prince only seemed a bit winded, but we both got up and rushed to the giant’s side as the others laid him on his back.
“Shaman! Are you okay?” Vutner’s voice shook almost as much as Ritithia’s hands trembled as she spilled water over his lips.
His eyes flickered open, and his breathing was very shallow. His great voice came out in a whisper that could barely be heard over the patter of the rain. “I think I’ll be alright. Though you might need to build a cot to carry me back.”
“I’ll get it,” Ritithia said as she sped off into the night.
Harrek raised a weak hand. “Prince?”
Alan took the giant’s finger in his grasp. “I’m here.”
The giant turned to face him. “We must end this never-ending war that is based on a mistake. We could not find the whole truth tonight, but we did discover something.”
“We aren’t enemies,” the prince assured.
“Not just that,” I added, grasping another of the giant’s fingers. “We started as allies, and that way, we can conquer anything.”
It was a comforted smile that spread across the shaman’s face. “I’ll do all in my power to end this war.”
“Not if I end it first,” Prince Alan chuckled.
The shaman’s laugh quickly turned into a cough, but Vutner gave him water to ease his throat. “I think I’ll go to sleep now. I look forward to seeing you again, my little human friends.”
He closed his eyes and brought his hands to rest on his chest, resting as still as death. I was not so certain we would see him alive again.
After we gathered Jasmine’s unconscious form between us, we set out to return to our camp. But before we left, I turned to Vutner as he watched over his shaman. “Be safe, and I’m really sorry about those fingers.”
Vutner smiled and winked at me, something I hadn’t been able to do for years. “I barely used those ones anyway.”
I caught myself in fits of chuckling as we marched through the night that didn’t seem so dark.
This dream and story basically represent the opposite of what I see in most of the world today. If you judge by today’s current examples of interaction between people on opposing sides of any issue, it often results in absolutely vicious verbal attacks, sensationalized media, and even violence. In a sense, people are at war over whatever issues they are dealing with, but instead of addressing the issue, they decide to fight the people on the other side of the issue. If you take any single topic and look at “discussions” about it on the internet, you can find some of the most hate-filled, baseless, person-attacking comments that are out there. And for the most part, they attack the person with the opposing view and not the view itself.
Basically, that was what turned into an all-out war with the humans and the giants. While the original issue was to obtain the remains of a loved one, it quickly devolved into hateful attacks on their enemies and eventually a multi-generational war that left everyone off worse than before. And they didn’t just fail to accomplish their original goal, they forgot what it was completely. I fear that this is all too similar to what happens nowadays.
So, what can be done to improve the situation?
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of observing something completely different take place on the internet. Two of my friends, one of which has conservative views on many political topics while the second sees things more from a liberal viewpoint, started to talk about something political on the internet. I feared that it would be like many of the internet interactions that just leave people feeling angry. However, they had a true discussion. They brought up points that were relevant, they recognized where their arguments might not be as strong as they had thought before, and they even saw value in what the other was trying to accomplish with their side of the issue. While they might not have solved the problem they were addressing, I believe they were both enlightened and came away with more understanding than before.
The answer to the earlier question can then be that by having a true discussion we can help avoid the hate that proliferates our world. But still, that raises the question of how they did that. How did they have a true discussion that didn’t turn from its original purpose?
My answer is that they knew one another.
These two friends did meet through me, but they got to know one another in a completely different kind of environment that let them learn that they actually liked one another and had a lot in common. And with the primary base of mutual friend ship and respect, they were able to maintain that desire to resolve the situation, and not just win a pointless argument. Their goal was to understand the issue from all viewpoints in order to come to a productive conclusion, and in so doing, people can come to understand each other more.
Everyone has developed their opinions on an issue for a reason. Everyone has different priorities in their life. The more we talk to one another as people who have had experiences as real as ours, the less we will treat one another as hated stereotypes representing an opposing viewpoint.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape gives advice to his nephew Wormwood on what to do to lead a man’s soul to darkness, misery, and eventually to hell. Part of this advice reads, “Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things that the patient can control.” Since this is what a demon would want us to do, I think it’s safe to say that it is a state of mind that we should avoid. The opposite might even be a good idea.
Luckily for Prince Alan, Ken, and the other humans, the giants initiated a true discussion, and they were able to get to know one another better. They used magic to try and find out a truth that helped move the discussion in productive directions. And while we don’t have magic in our world, we do have well-kept histories, unending information at our fingertips, and all sorts of tools that can also help us understand and interact with one another in productive ways. The hard part, but the most important part, is to use that to generate true discussions and understanding. And that is always a lot easier to do after you personally get to know the other person, whether they are family, a random person you come across, or a giant in an army you have been fighting your entire life.