A Fairytale Retelling
Erik didn’t think he’d one day regret his decision to ignore history, but he did when started reading the first chapter of Frost to address his many questions. It soon became clear the author assumed readers would be familiar with the Victorian Era, which Erik was not (to his shame; he loved Sherlock Holmes). Fortunately, Rena’s copy of Frost had detailed footnotes and appendixes, so he didn’t have to figure things out. Unfortunately, Erik’s life-long habit of losing focus when reading history kicked in, and it wasn’t long before his eyes started to droop.
Erik woke up some uncounted time later when he registered the foot prodding his ribs. The next thing he noticed was the sound of an infant screeching under his chin. Said baby was taken away in short order by her mother, Rena, who gave Erik a hard look as she did so. Though she said nothing, her stare stated “you useless sack of dying cells!” very eloquently.
“I was tired,” said Erik to explain himself.
“I can tell,” Rena huffed while turning Danielle around like a box attached to a Ferris wheel.
Danielle quieted down, but then Rachel woke up and demanded that Erik read her the not-princess story. Rena went away while Rachel pestered him, mercifully taking Danielle with her.
Erik sighed as he opened Frost again. After he considered both the book and Rachel, he concluded if he narrated the story as is, he’d get bombarded with complaints and questions. So he decided to try a different tactic.
“Long ago, in a faraway world, there was a long catastrophic war,” Erik began. “No one knew for sure how the war started. I mean, people knew what triggered it, but…Okay. Background: in this world, our country doesn’t exist, at least not yet, their version of Europe was united under the Great Alliance, and the East Asia equivalent was under the rule of the Han Dynasty, aka the Empire.”
“Boring!” Rachel declared.
“Yes, I know and I agree,” said Erik. “But you need to know who’s fighting whom when you talk about a war. Now about this war: ten years before it started, the Great Alliance nations were gobbling up huge tracts of land in the Empire like potato chips, and the Empire was okay with it because they made a lot of money trading with them. But then something awful happened.”
Rachel waited breathlessly as Erik paused for dramatic effect.
“The Empire sent an entire army legion to the southern coastlands where the GA settlers lived and burned their towns to the ground. Only one family escaped the slaughter and sent the famous message: survived alone…”
Rachel’s eyes were now as large as shot glasses and her knuckles were white from gripping her blanket. Erik, who’d just exhausted all the fictional history he knew for sure, flipped to chapter five’s notes. He let out a soft yet triumphant sigh when he confirmed he’d retained everything he read before falling asleep.
“The family was asked, many times by many different people, what could’ve provoked the attack,” Erik said, reciting from memory. “But they couldn’t name anything. Nothing solid, at any rate. Perhaps the coastal natives were jealous of their wealth. Perhaps someone had offended a government official. Perhaps a native merchant made a disastrous deal and somehow convinced the Emperor that they were bandits. Either way, since the Empire attacked them first, the GA Nations decided they had to fight back. So they sent a fleet of ships and destroyed all the port cities along the southern coast.”
Erik paused and put on a straight face.
“Which was very stupid of them, by the way,” he said, deadpan. “Speaking of stupid, the Great Alliance nations thought the attack would scare the Empire. Pfft, as if. The Empire sent troops and bombed twice the number of GA cities in retaliation. After that, all bets were off and both sides started mustering their forces for a full-out war. I should note most people thought the war wouldn’t last for more than six months.”
“Did it?” asked Rachel.
“No,” said Erik. “Weeks turned months, and months turned to years…All in all, the war lasted seventy years.”
Rachel gasped. “That’s longer grandpa!”
“Just about, yeah,” said Erik, hoping he got his father’s age right. “Now Lieutenant Weaver, the narrator of this book, was born at the height of the Seventy Year War. His parents gave birth to him between deployments, in the middle of an air raid.”
Rachel nodded. She appeared fascinated to the point of speechlessness. Her reaction relieved some of the guilt he felt when he inserted the last bit of embellishment.
“Here is something you need to understand about Weaver,” said Erik, moving on. “By the time he was born, the war had been going on for so long, hardly anyone knew what it was like to live without it. For him, military service wasn’t a choice, but a fact of life. Something as inevitable as death and…dying. His entire childhood was a long preparation for military service. And enter military service, he did. He went through evaluation on his sixteenth birthday, and after proving himself intelligent and athletic, but psychologically unfit for killing, he got assigned to be a combat medic.”
“Do you know what a paramedic is?”
Rachel nodded confidently. “They ride ambulances!”
Erik decided that was good enough for a five-year-old. “That’s right. A combat medic is the military version of a paramedic. They provide first aid and frontline trauma care in the battlefield. Now, back to Weaver: after he finished his combat medic training, he got deployed to this place called Putin—” Erik showed Rachel a map insert that depicted the place— “and he stayed there for six months. A horrible battle happened there. Many GA soldiers were killed, and Weaver was captured by the enemy forces.”
“Did he die?” asked Rachel urgently.
“No,” said Erik, thinking irritably that it should be obvious Weaver didn’t die since he lived long enough to write Frost. “He got tortured, and then someone rescued him. This person—” he flipped to the first chapter to make sure he got the description right— “was a young man, no older than twenty, but his hair was pure white. You might think he’s an albino, but no. He had black pupils, and albinos have red or light gray pupils. But the most striking thing about this man was that he was seven feet tall.”
“He was taller than daddy?” Rachel exclaimed.
“Definitely taller than daddy; he’s only six five,” said Erik, while being acutely conscious of the fact he was five eight. “This man took Weaver to the nearest Albion barrack—Weaver was from a country called Alba—and left him at the entrance. When Weaver’s fellow soldiers found him, they caught a glimpse of the mysterious white-haired giant. He was far away and marching towards Mount Evra.”
Erik then took a break and re-read the opening paragraphs of chapter one. Frost didn’t cover Weaver’s experience as a prisoner-of-war, but now, after explaining the character’s background to Rachel in simple terms, Erik noticed something he’d missed on his first read.
“When Weaver recovered, he was so grateful of the giant, he wanted to say thank you,” said Erik slowly. “Mind, he had no idea who this person was. He couldn’t even say for sure if this giant was real. It’s not like there were a lot of seven feet giants. Even his best friend Sebastos Helix said Weaver must’ve dreamt it all when he told him what had happened. But Weaver still believed a real, pure white giant save him. Remember, he wasn’t the only person who saw him. The people at the barrack saw him, too, and he left footprints.”
“Footprints! That’s important!” said Rachel excitedly.
“Oh, yes,” said Erik, nodding. “The giant couldn’t be a ghost since he had a body, and the footprints were huge, befitting a giant. The barrack soldiers also noticed the stride.”
Erik stood up.
“See my feet?” he said, pointing at them. “A stride is the length of a step you take.” He took a step. “For me, it’s about a foot. Your dad, it’s probably a few inches more. Your dad is taller than me, yeah?”
“Uh-huh!” said Rachel, nodding vigorously.
“And he has longer legs than me?”
“That’s why his stride is longer. So the longer the stride, the taller the person. Does that make sense?”
Rachel screwed up her face as she pondered this.
“I guess?” she said, at last.
You don’t get it, do you? Erik thought. He decided not to press the subject. “Okay. Good. So based on the footprints, Weaver knew the giant was no less than six feet ten, maybe seven feet.”
“I agree. Anyway, Weaver wanted to find him. Trouble is, he didn’t know where to look. So he convinced his best friend Helix…”
“That’s a funny name!” Rachel interjected.
“Not as funny as his nickname,” Erik grinned. “It was Doctor Sigh. People called him that because Helix’s parents gave him a full name that had the initials S.I.G.H. and because he did things that made a lot of people sigh.”
Rachel giggled hard at the lame joke, which made Erik smile.
“Weaver convinced Helix to help him,” he continued. “As it happened, Helix knew someone who knew a lot about the Empire, particularly its people. She was Detective Inspector Eareckson.”
“A girl!” said Rachel, delighted. “What was she like?”
“Mmm, well, she wore an eye-patch.”
“She’s a pirate?”
Didn’t I just tell you she was a detective inspector? Erik griped to himself. “No, she lost an eye in a labor riot.”
“The police in Weaver’s world got assigned to do riot control when they make major mistakes.”
“Labor riots can be very dangerous. It involves a huge crowd of angry and dissatisfied people who are out of work. They’re more than happy to throw things at you if you get too close. It’s worse if you’re from the police.”
“Okay,” said Rachel, shrugging.
“Are you actually listening to me?” Erik complained.
“I am!” said Rachel indignantly. “It’s just not important! The story is! So gimme the story!”
Erik sighed. “Fine. Helix took Weaver to the police station and introduced him to Eareckson. This was important.”
“You’ll know in a minute,” grumbled Erik. “Listen to this. Just keep in mind this is Weaver talking.”
Then without further ado, he started reading:
“You’re the most knowledgeable person here in regards to the immigrant population in this city, Eareckson, particularly those from the Empire,” said Helix. “Now tell me: Do you know anything about the Snær Jötnar?”
“Excuse me?” asked Inspector Eareckson, blinking.
Helix clicked his tongue. “In other words: no.”
Eareckson looked at me. “What is he talking about?”
“An obscure people group from the Empire,” I replied.
“Then why didn’t you say so?” said Eareckson. “I might have heard about them but by a different name. What do they look like?”
Helix perked up again.
“They’re composed of seven feet giants who look like albinos, except they are not.”
“Are they heavily spotted?”
I felt my heart race at the unexpected question.
“No. The one we have in mind had clear skin.”
“Might not belong to the tribe I have in mind, then,” said DI Eareckson. “Snær Jötnar is old Norse, Snær meaning ‘snow’ and Jötnar meaning ‘giants’. The people dwelling in Mount Evra, the Aurum, have stories about a large, mud-covered barbarian race called Kang Admi.”
“Kang Admi,” I echoed. “What does that mean?”
Ping. Ping. Ping…
Erik stopped. He took out his still-vibrating phone and checked the text messages he’d just received. The first one was Sean babbling something about production sending blood-curdling error messages. The rest were his work’s database monitoring software sending ominous notifications.
“Sorry, Rachel, but you’ll have to wait,” Erik muttered. Then he shouted at Rena that he had to go to work.